Those of you who've read my editorials for awhile (especially the past few months) know that I see a radical reinvisioning of the distribution paradigm emerging. In the past, self-marketing and self-distribution was often done due to the fact that, if Hollywood could not or would not distribute your work, you had to come up with alternatives. Of course, this was always seen as a last ditch effort when all festivals and distributors had been thoroughly exhausted. We lived with dreams of El Mariachi, Clerks, and The Blair Witch Project, which stated that films that were made for small sums of money could be sold in one fell swoop for millions of dollars.
Now, Hollywood is reeling as the world changes radically, unable to keep up with the flow of technology or the viewership they should be targeting, their shotgun approach is no longer resulting in acceptable profits. Much like the record labels who haven't been able to sort out what to do with a technologically savvy audience, the studios are in a similar state of dishabille. Plus, they are now finding theatrical competition from the most unlikely of sources: stage plays, ballets, and live concerts! Thousands of theater owners feeling the pinch of the recession and the lack of solid box office gold from Hollywood (movies like Avatar are all too uncommon), have been working with groups that are more connected to television than with film to bring live distributed showings of famous plays, ballets, and music acts for single night engagements. If you're living in Seattle, it's now possible to see a live streamed version of The Barber of Seville at the same time as audiences in Chicago who are watching it at the original venue.
Amongst the mess of all these things, it's becoming increasingly logical to use the tools at our disposal to completely avoid the Hollywood scene altogether. However, this choice must be intentional, not accidental. Hollywood is currently trying to get in on the microbudget bandwagon and certain studios have decided to greenlight a number of microbudget movies each year. However, with no guarantees that these films will ever be supported to completion or that, even if they are completed, they will ever enjoy theatrical distribution, this new trend in Hollywood is very likely to be a tar pit that entangles a number of talented filmmakers and leaves them disillusioned with filmmaking in general.
Because of all these lures, if you're going to avoid Hollywood, it must be because you have a better answer, not just because you don't think you can get into the Hollywood system. (Hollywood requires new blood to survive but, as it's highly restrictive nature makes a transfusion very difficult, many “samples” of this new blood end up being discarded. I'm reminded of Stephen Spielberg's On The Lot, which nobly attempted to bring new filmmakers to Hollywood. However, the winner of the film who received a $1 million development deal with Dreamworks was never able to find a film he and the studios wanted him to make. Jason Epperson, the runner up, returned to Kentucky and has gone back to making out-of-studio lower-budget films, some of which one of the writers of this magazine has worked on.) So then, what better answers are there?
Well, by harnessing social media, you can truly connect with your audience in a way that's simply impossible for the massive media engine of Hollywood to address. Moreover, you have the ability to be as liberal or conservative with your creative content as you desire. For instance, if you create a franchise that is highly adaptable to spin-offs, you can make it easy for filmmakers to do so, sharing some of the profits with you, while earning money on their hard work. (One of our writers is good friends with a number of well known filmmakers in the fan film industry, where they will tirelessly slave to create films they can never profit off of because the franchises are owned by the Hollywood Studio system, which has no use for creative commons or other specialized copyright options.) You may not have the ability to do the widespread marketing things that Hollywood does, but your ability to attract fans can be far more effective than there's is. Plus, you have the passion for the project that simply can't be matched by a massive marketing firm. (This is not to say that marketing isn't important. In fact it's terribly important, but it doesn't require Hollywood's resources to accomplish.)
Because of the change in the world we find ourselves in, MFM will be sponsoring a new feature film that will be harnessing these new technologies to create both a feature and a universe the film is set in. While it will require a huge amount of labor to pull off, I believe that it will end up being far more powerful than it could ever be if it was created through the Hollywood studio system.
Stay tuned. These are exciting times!