Each year that MFM has existed, the landscape of film, distribution, and definition has changed radically. When we started, I was advised by a dear friend in the industry to not call a magazine devoted to filmmakers shooting on predominantly digital video “MicroFilmmaker Magazine,” lest that cause people to think we dealt with actual “film.” A year after we were founded, the definition started to change across the board until filmmakers were considered to be those who created works of art in moving images, regardless of original format or final destination. Where some had thought we were misguided, we were instead on the forefront of the microcosm which is changing things across the world.
This is appropriate, because as things changed on that front, the definition of distribution was radically overhauled. In 2005, although YouTube was starting to show the promise of a different methodology, feature film distribution was still measured via traditional theatrical runs, usually gained through acceptance in a large film festival or market and purchased by a traditional studio. Although anyone could print up their own DVDs with companies like Discmakers, the ability to get your DVDs out to the general public without studio funding was almost impossible.
Then a new paradigm shift occurred in the form of the increased clout of Amazon.com, the empowerment of NetFlix, and a more efficient methodology for communicating through social networking like Facebook and Twitter.
Amazon.com purchased a brilliant company called CustomFlix, which was allowing filmmakers, musicians, and authors to publish their own work and sell it on Amazon.com. Renamed “CreateSpace” after Amazon purchased them (to cash-in on the cultural currency of MySpace), this would give filmmakers direct access to masses of people with high quality, professional DVDs that the filmmakers wouldn't have to pre-purchase ahead of time. More recently, CreateSpace will now allow filmmakers to release their films through AmazonUnbox, a pay-per-download feature for digital purchase and some rental options.
Meanwhile, on the dedicated rental front, NetFlix increased popularity, superior selection, and innovative streaming capacity began to edge out Blockbuster and came to be looked at as a company that was more likely to give Indie Filmmakers a shot at getting rental distribution. Because NetFlix is a monthly subscription, the user doesn't pay any more money to try out new films from lesser-known filmmakers that come from outside the Hollywood studio system, thus giving no-budget filmmakers a far greater chance of finding an audience. Even more so as NetFlix delved more fervently into the realm of streaming content and is currently very anxious to provide users with as much as possible. (They plan to test an all-digital download plan in Europe next year.) Filmmakers who can get in on this wave of immediate availability will have an advantage over many studio films that are waiting until all other forms of monetization have been exhausted. Eventually, most films will be available this way, but, even then, because it won't cost extra, people will be far more likely to at least give a film ten minutes of their time to see if it's any good. That ten minutes of time could translate into hundreds of thousands of fans for a film that would never get discovered if the watchers had to shell out cash to watch it the first time.
Facebook and Twitter allow filmmakers to announce to the world about new additions to their films and new ways that people can see them. Additionally, it's a great way to provide a personal connection between your audience and you. Trent Reznor has shown this very cleverly by making interaction between his fans and himself much more streamlined and, as one of the most outspoken of encouragers of the new Creative Commons license (which can give an artist the ability to allow people to use their work without making it public domain), has gone on to allow new NIN music to be remixed and used for nearly any creative venture. (For filmmakers, it's not quite a dream come true, because his Creative Commons license is more restrictive than some CC licenses, preventing you from making a profit off anything his music is used in and also stipulating that your film must have the exact same sort of Creative Commons license, as opposed to a traditional copyright. While this makes it preventative for feature filmmakers, short filmmakers may be willing to accept these stipulations.) Other bands are increasingly exploring the Creative Commons concept as well, especially as more of them are using CreateSpace to publish their albums. Fortunately for filmmakers, some of these artists are more likely to have less-restrictive CC licenses which permit feature filmmakers to use the music in films that could make a profit.
All in all, as we end 2009, we are looking at a world of change which is truly beneficial to the low-budget filmmaker. Even more so because, if history is any roadmap, 2010 should mark a radical shift in the economy. Throughout the last hundred years, every 30 years there's been a marked economic boom right after a stagnant economy. The last time this occurred was the '80's, which started a boom time after the crippling economy of the 1970's. (Before that, was '50's, with the boom after the return of the troops after the hardships of the '40's. Before that was the roaring '20's which followed the hardship of a decade which had been capped off by WWI. Still before that was the 1890's, which marked a massive amount of economic growth and expansion. You get the idea.)
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God Bless,