I daydream about giving acceptance speeches at film festivals. I try to sound grateful and surprised even though I’ve rehearsed the speech 50 times. Should I wear a suit and tie? Or maybe that cool hoodie that makes me look skinny?
Those days may be coming to an end, however. The times, they are a changing. Festivals won’t disappear overnight, but I foresee some big changes coming in the independent world that will at least make hauling your film to festivals unnecessary.
The Way It’s Been
Up until recently there have been gatekeepers standing in the way of every filmmaker. Suits sitting behind desks in office buildings judged your ideas. Equipment was prohibitively expensive and access to quality cast and crew was hard to come by.
Then there were the distributors. They’re the ones that decide which films hit theaters and which fall to the wayside, never to be heard from again.
I read somewhere that independent films have a 98% failure rate. I really feel for the filmmakers that came before me; it must be maddening to work as hard as you have to in this business, only to be shut down by somebody you’ve never even met.
Film festivals are the marketplace where most independent films are bought and sold. Even if you’re not there to sell your film, winning a those coveted laurels are an industry stamp of approval next to your name. They’re a mark of legitimacy in an increasingly crowded playing field.
But soon, none of that will matter.
The Way It’s Going
The gatekeepers are disappearing. Equipment prices are plummeting and cast and crew are plentiful. The distributor? Well. Welcome to the internet age, where anyone can self-distribute their own films.
The past several years have seen filmmakers like Cory McAbee succeed on their own terms. Projects like Joss Wheadon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and the sublime Indie Game documentary sold almost exclusively online. Heck, even comedian Louis CK even got in on the action.
As technology and market acceptance of digitally distributed media improve, independent filmmakers will be able to stand on their own two feet.
A New Emphasis
For us at Macedonia Films, the fan comes first.
That’s why when we looked at our film festival experiences we really started to scratch our heads. Why, if we’re thinking about selling directly to our fans, are we spending hundreds (and potentially thousands) of dollars on festivals that are almost solely attended by other filmmakers and industry types? We’re not there to woo a distributor, and really, who outside of filmmaking circles cares about laurels?
Since we’re in the sci-fi / fantasy world, it started making more sense to be where the fans are.
A year ago we started screening John Gray at regional comic conventions. Six months ago we started blogging about all the random sci-fi / fantasy stuff we love. So far so good, and things are getting better as we look ahead to the release of Avarice.
What About The Festivals?
I don’t think festivals are going anywhere fast, but if they are going to survive, I think they need to shift their focus.
As more and more filmmakers self-distribute, the festival’s role as a marketplace will diminish. Why not take a cue from the con circuit and be fan-centric? Many niche and genre festivals already are.
While I may not be giving as many acceptance speeches, I do spend a heck of a lot more time on the floor of conventions talking to diehard fas. I like that a lot more. I really do. And best of all, nobody really cares what I wear.