Where do indie filmmakers go from here?
Not every film gets picked up by distributors during the Sundance Film Festival, which leaves many independent filmmakers wondering whether anyone will see their film again.
Increasingly, however, it appears the Internet might offer the seemingly stranded artists a second, more independent, shot at making it in the business.
Slamdance film veterans Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, who claim they have managed to attract a fan base of 50,000 over the Internet, shared their expertise with their peers last Wednesday evening at the Slamdance Festival.
The filmmakers’ first movie, "Four Eyed Monsters," premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2005, and went on to screen at various other festivals like South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, but attracted no deals with industry members.
To make matters worse, in an effort to support the promotion of their film at festivals, they drained their bank accounts, they say, and moved into Buice’s parents’ house.
In late spring, the two began to create five-minute video podcasts for Apple’s iTunes and for their personal, Myspace pages.
Last week, Buice and Crumley aired eight of the video Podcasts at their Slamdance Festival chat.
The set featured edited, self-contained episodes detailing the relationship between the filmmakers, the struggle to make "Four Eyed Monster," and later, documents the filmmakers as they tour the film festival circuit. The public can download Buice and Crumley’s shorts for free individually, or choose to subscribe to receive all of the episodes automatically.
The two 20-something filmmakers may live in their parents’ basement, but they have managed to drum up a following, and have since attracted distribution companies to their film.
But once they had found their audience (they estimate their episodes have been downloaded about 150,000 times) they chose not to take any offers, they say.
"When the distributors contacted us, we thought, ‘why give a DVD to someone to offer something, when we can hold onto the rights?’" Crumley recalled.
Instead, Crumley and Buice will bypass sales reps and high-priced publicists, in order to be one of two pilot film projects of The Distribution Lab, created by the company, Withoutabox.
"Basically, we’re [trying to] change the way people distribute their film," said Withoutabox CEO David Straus at the video podcast screening.
Straus says he contacted the filmmakers after reading about them on the online film forum, indieWIRE.
Withoutabox began as, and continues to be, a vehicle for independent filmmakers to submit films to festivals through its website.
The Distribution Lab, according to Straus, will provide independent filmmakers the resources i.e. marketing, networking to release their films, and reach their audience, while holding on to their intellectual property rights. The company will bear all the costs of building out the new services, he says, however, in the future, the company will implement a revenue plan to send some portion of the monies generated by the films back to the company to support the program.
Straus predicts The Distribution Lab will influence the way the industry works, but does not believe it will replace any one way to promote a film. The way films are promoted and distributed now, will only give distributors more options when it comes to promoting a film.
At Slamdance 2007, Straus plans to showcase the progress, success and failure of the projects promoted by The Distribution Lab in a documentary film.
Without the help of Withoutabox, however, representatives from Internet and Internet marketing and distribution companies seem to agree that the challenge is to help the audience find a film.
At a Slamdance "Fireside Chat," a series of panel discussions sponsored by the festival, slamdance.com designer, Dave Richardson admitted that Slamdance’s online film short festival, Anarchy said he was working on creating a community for the festival’s online short film competition, Anarchy.
"[Anarchy] is not very popular and we’re looking for ways to create a community to recommend films to one another," he said.
Christopher W. Klaus, founder and CEO of Kaneva, Inc., an online destination where filmmakers can expose their work to those seeking on-demand films, videos and games, was also part of the panel.
He said his mission through Kaneva was to democratize the entertainment industry and said that, in the future, the public’s relationship with filmmakers and game makers would be more "organic," similar to the way artists Buice and Crumley have attracted an audience for their film.
Much like the world of music and CDs, he predicts films on DVDs will be a thing of the past. According to Klaus, people will download their entertainment in every form games, film and music. Thus, increasingly, the challenge will be finding a community or a hub, like iTunes, America Online or Kaneva, that directs and recommends independent entertainment to consumers, he says.
Today, however, people are still used to DVDs, so Klaus advised filmmakers that the Internet should be just one of many tools when it comes to promoting entertainment.
For now, "[The Internet] should be a component to market your film," he said, "but you wouldn’t want to limit yourself to just that."
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