Every year it feels like there are two types of movies that get released: the films that mainstream studios think will be big hits with the general public and the art house films that don’t have the distributors that major studios have. There is no real reliable mechanism for widespread distribution of your indie film outside of Harvey Weinstein showing up at your doorstep. Therefore, if you want to watch high quality movies you have to actually seek them out and find some way of obtaining them that probably makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. Oftentimes consuming art house media feels like binge-drinking and trying to get behind the wheel of a patrol car. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” we can hear you say.
There has been a good deal of talk in the Hollywood community about how to get your voice heard. Some folks have embraced digital distribution. This model makes it quick and easy to get your product out to your fans, but it is expensive and very difficult to attract recognition for your film even if you’ve done an impeccable job with it. The theory behind this model is the “Field of Dreams” model. The idea behind “if you build it, they will come” was that there was something big worth coming to see, a spectacle to behold if you will. Well, your average indie art film isn’t going to create a lot of spectacles. You’re not going to see Iron Man get attacked by a Transformer in other words and that is what Hollywood thinks sells movies. Alas, that is not what sells tickets, but try telling them that and let us know how that goes.
The alternative model is to crowdfund your film, have a limited release theatrical run, maybe make the festival rounds and then try and sell it to a digital streaming service. This is another tough model for filmmakers because crowdfunding is very labor intensive, any kind of theatrical run is going to require some sort of distributor with vision and in order to sell off the rights to your film to a Netflix or Hulu you need to demonstrate that there is a market for your film among their audience. No one’s really figured out a way to do that yet, but if anyone has any good ideas please let us know. There is of course the tried and true method of submitting your film to Sundance and praying that your film will beat out 98% of other applicants, but what does that really get you? Sure, you can meet with some producers and a guy who might know a guy who worked with this distributor back in 1997 during the Clinton impeachment debacle, but…yeah, you can see where this is going.
All in all, your best bet is to get your script in front of an agent who knows actors who would be “perfect for that role.” Yes, it will destroy your budget and it won’t be the beautiful gem of a product you hoped it would be when it was conceived, but everyone has to start somewhere and distribution is the toughest game in town. No one knows how distributors work anymore not even the big boys. They’ve just got suits only there’s fit better. So, what does all this mean? Well, there are a lot of great movies out there that you’ve never heard of. The choices at the box office are often so limited that you’re not making a choice between good products at the end of the day you’re just trying to see something that won’t make you cringe. That’s a bar that Hollywood actually can hurdle…sometimes. Imagine if indies had the same access to distributors that mainstream studios have. That would be a nightmare for the major corporate conglomerates and they know it, which is why they are working every day to make sure this never happens.
Despite all of this there are still notable films that you can get access to. There are two of our favorite films: “Blue Ruin” and “Omar” which are available on Netflix. Hooray! Other notable films like “Calvary,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Nightcrawler” can be found on DVD or online. If you want to see “Birdman” and you don’t live in LA, well, good luck with that. “Inherent Vice” had a theatrical run, but the film is a little too heavy handed to be watched in theaters, we actually recommend you wait until that one becomes available for you to consume at your own leisure. It’s a bit like “The Master” in that there are a lot of moving parts.
All in all, most of what is actually worth seeing this year isn’t available at your local box office and that’s unfortunate. Truth be told though Hollywood didn’t release a whole lot of movies worth seeing. Sure, Edge of Tomorrow is interesting enough and Selma does give you a bird’s eye view of the Civil Rights debate, but are those worth going out of your way to see? It really depends on whether you want media that’s easy to consume and won’t make you think or whether you want your art to stand for something. In this debate there is only one viable option and that is indie film. Better ideas will win out against clichéd rehashes of old ideas every time. The only question is how difficult those who currently hold a monopoly over your viewing habits will make it for the next generation of storytellers to get their stories out to the general public. We hope that you decide that art is more important than a P&L statement and that true art ought to be delivered to the masses at the same rate as re-packaged ideas, but ultimately this is a fight that only you, the consumer, can wage and win. We hope that you fight though because without the consumer demanding better media from the entertainment industry there won’t be an industry that entertains us anymore.