“Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.” — Michael Cieply, New York Times
This is how Geoff Edgers made Do It Again, his Kinks movie. This is how Jason Bitner and Joe Beshenkovsky are making their LaPorte, Indiana documentary. This is what many filmmakers are being forced to do if their project is not “commercially viable” in the exact right way (subject to change whenever and for whatever reason)(or no reason at all), and it’s been the case for the past thirty years. The difference now, of course, is that the studios’ stranglehold on the means of distribution and production has been eased (somewhat) by technology, and there are at least options now for filmmakers, Kickstarter among them.
The Times article also talks about Anvil!, the excellent documentary on an also-ran Canadian hair metal band:
“Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” a documentary about a Canadian metal band, turned into the do-it-yourself equivalent of a smash hit when it stretched a three-screen opening in April into a four-month run, still under way, on more than 150 screens around the country.
“I paid for everything, I took a second mortgage on my house,” said Sacha Gervasi, the film’s director.
Mr. Gervasi, whose studio writing credits include “The Terminal,” directed by Steven Spielberg, nearly three years ago, began filming “Anvil!” with his own money in hopes of attracting a conventional distributor. The movie played well at Sundance in 2008, but offers were low.
So Mr. Gervasi put up more money — his total cost was in “the upper hundred thousands,” he said — to distribute the film through a company called Abramorama, while selling the DVD and television rights to VH1.
What’s interesting is how close Gervasi’s approach to distributing his film is to what the band does in the film to make a record: borrow money, load up the credit cards, roll the dice. I left Anvil! feeling like I had just witnessed a 90-minute commercial for why Kickstarter exists. The level of passion that they and their fans feel for their music is proportional to how little the record companies care for them or understand what they’re trying to do. And for many artists, that’s the end of the line.
It’s not the end of line for Anvil because the filmmaker took drastic measures due to simple necessity. Every month or two we get trend articles like this one on inventive, creative, and potentially demeaning things people have to do to have their work seen, and it will often paint these decisions as political or a form of protest. But, Radiohead excepted, it’s not that: it’s just that they have no other choice if they want to present their vision without compromise. It’s necessity.
Technology — and Kickstarter in particular — can offer a different path to all kinds of creative endeavors, and people are increasingly choosing that option. It enables passionate pursuits to be more than commodities in some multi-national conglomerate’s portfolio, and it helps these things to exist in the first place. The less we all have to rely on the entertainment-industrial complex for our passions, the better.