Over a hundred thousand scripts will be written in 2017, as well as tens of thousands of independent films made. Hundreds of contests will be entered and most filmmakers will not move very far towards their goal of a distribution deal or theatrical release.
What once seemed like the “impossible dream” has now almost become a thing of the past. Yet, so many filmmakers go forward as they make their films like the magical payday myths of the industry still, if ever existed.
Most distribution deals and all of Hollywood have created an accounting system where only they get paid and the creative winds up with accolades (hopefully) but empty pockets. Crowdfunding has been a big move forward to help mitigate the ever shrinking traditional access to funds but after a film is made the blue print to a sustainable business model is rarely understood. It is especially hard for women and women filmmakers of color, where financing a film can be a Herculean event – as well as finding access to, and building an audience large enough to not only pay cast, crew, and themselves but make enough to distribute it and then do it all over again.
The industry has changed even for Hollywood. This change began decades ago but was solidified when the markets crashed in 2008, and demystified with access unprecedented with digital cameras, the internet, and streaming platforms. This is a new and ever more inclusive frontier yet so many indie filmmakers still structure their business model like it’s the 1970’s – still believing in the big payoff yet never realizing that filmmakers getting paid on the net receipts has been an inside myth perpetuated by industry media to entertain the public and string along hopeful filmmakers since time began.
The power of the industry is shifting but the new paradigm must be created by the independent filmmakers themselves. Big business has always had too much of a say and taken all of the profits. We, as creatives, are the reason they have built fortunes, mostly because we have wanted others to take care of the business while we concentrate on the creative. The other truth of many creatives is we haven’t developed the emotional and mental stamina for the business side of our filmmaking and have often blindly handed the responsibility over to others. This is a wake up call to build that muscle and take full control of our careers and creations. Owning our IP and figuring out how to distribute in a way that puts the rewards back into our own business is key to growing and maintaining a healthy and striving independent film ecosystem for all of us.
All of the diversity talk since the Oscars is a very good thing. Already new production companies are being formed in Hollywood by women deciding to own our narrative, but it will barely be much more than just a conversation unless we see greater action out of studio executives and powers that be, that isn’t just predicated upon the momentum of bad press.
It is great to see our allies – like high profile filmmaker J.J. Abrams and Women Filmmaker’s of Color like Queen Latifah making concerted efforts to change the paradigms around Hollywood’s overwhelming diversity problem, yet let’s take a second and expand this conversation to include not only what’s going on in Hollywood but the diversity of location.
Diversity thinking (as it relates to our domestic film and television industry) should also start to include filmmakers, production companies and studios all throughout the United States. This country learned an important lesson a few decades ago about company towns. Detroit and the people who worked for those car companies could never have imagined the long term economic devastation that continues to have withering effects. I believe those who run Hollywood aren’t imagining, nor can fathom, the long-term effects of their blockbuster spending, monopoly mind-set, and narrow parameters around casting, production location and story lines.
With the increasing affordability of making movies and media, the plethora of exhibition platforms and ever increasing media innovations the powers-that-be of Hollywood can’t continue to ignore what is clearly a shifting paradigm. There are so many talented filmmakers who live all over the US by choice or by economics. Many of us don’t want to live in Hollywood for varying reasons, and yet it often feels impossible to think of any levels of success without doing so. And just before you think I am off the subject of diversity, believe me this is a conversation about diversity most of all. Any industry that is disproportionately dominated by white men gathered in one geographic location has a severe diversity problem.
And again, yes, there are waves of change happening in small ways in Hollywood every day. Certainly Channing Dungey, the first black woman to be president of a major network is an incredible move forward, but it’s 2016, this shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.
What if Hollywood were to open itself up to be more like other big industries, where it doesn’t demand it be the sole beacon to riches and success? Every actor, producer, director and Broadway wannabe doesn’t have to move to New York to fulfill their dreams of the stage and make a living (it’s a bonus, not a requirement). In fact, there are few industries I can think of that control their product with such a myopic segregationist viewpoint. Even in tech you can live in your parents basement or college dorm, create something and become a billionaire overnight-ish, you don’t have to move to Silicon Valley or Austin in order to thrive.
I do realize that there are successful companies outside of Hollywood – Harpo and Troublemaker Studios are at the top of these success stories. But I think most would agree that there is something inherently screwy about a system that has the deck stacked so in favor of just the Hollywood big boys.
It is definitely time for a new paradigm. If those of us in this industry work towards more diversity – in casting, on sets and when writing our screenplays – and stop holding Hollywood as the Mecca to all things film (which ultimately dilutes talent pools in Indie communities) then the economic structures of sustainability and profitability can change. I believe that this could eventually even impact television, which as we all know is nearly an impossible dream unless you want to live in Los Angeles or New York. These shifts in thinking and action will help the economics of filmmaking communities of color, women, LGBT – all independent filmmakers. Sure, it’s not going to happen overnight, but these conversations are inroads. Let’s continue the conversation but add lots of action, great ideas and solutions so we, as independent filmmakers, can create a diverse and sustainable industry for us all.