23 April 2009

a self-distribution roundtable

Recently, I was invited via Twitter by Alejandro Adams to participate in a roundtable on the self-distribution problem. My contribution is at the bottom, but here's what I wrote:

If the current system was broken (and it is), then taking your film's destiny into your own hands makes a lot of sense, if for no other reason than the tangible satisfaction you'd get from being out there on the road, doing something.

But lately I'm wondering if that satisfaction is all you'd get. Honestly, how effective is it?

The thing is, we've already got a pretty extensive distribution model in place, one that can get your film in front of hundreds of people around the country passionate about indie film. But for all the benefits of the festival system, it doesn't do a whole hell of a lot for a film's bottom line. The average filmmaker will easily spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars simply getting into festivals and then make 0% of the festival box office. And while it's easy to say that perhaps festivals could kick a percentage back to the filmmakers, a lot of the small festivals are struggling to break even. The extra money is just going to come in the form of higher entry fees, which defeats the purpose.

The solution, I think, has to lie in finding a way to use the existing festival infrastructure in a way that can help filmmakers break even (and enable them to make another film) without canabalizing the festivals that do such a great job of introducing audiences to filmmakers. Festival directors have already connected with cinemas, so why not use that connection to bring films back for limited runs later in the year? Audiences in the city are already familiar with the film (and will hopefully tell their friends), and a screening in conjunction with the festival would also give the fest an excuse to promote itself apart from their normal window. If nothing else, it's a good starting point for your self-distribution, and those festival laurels can validate your film to an audience and convince them to open their wallets.

It's a pretty simple solution (and if it's already being done with any sort of scale, I haven't heard about it), but what I'd really like to see is those filmmakers using the sort of social networking that made this roundtable possible to promote fellow filmmakers. Say I'm doing a screening in Denver. I should be finding fellow artists I believe in and showing their shorts or trailers of their features in front of my own. It's as easy as a series of emails. And not just filmmakers, but musicians, and painters, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Plus, maybe you'll meet someone who can score your next film.

It's not the greatest, most revolutionary idea, but I think it's a pretty good one. More importantly, I think it's do-able.

Anyway, you should go and read the entire roundtable and follow the various contributors on Twitter, as they have lots of interesting things to say.

What's that? You aren't on Twitter yet? What the hell are you waiting for?