Recent advances in video technology have made making movies easier and affordable than before. To be sure, I am not referring to your parents homemade birthday videos of you as a baby blowing out the candles on your cake, I am talking about real movies, either documentary or narrative, made on a shoestring budget that have a reasonable chance at getting a theatrical release to movie audiences and perhaps making a profit. What has made this possible is the advent of affordable High Definition video cameras that produce an almost film-like picture quality. The cost of film stock was once the most expensive, and cost prohibitive aspect of shooting a movie. Now amateur filmmakers have the choice of either shooting on much less expensive digital video tape or shooting the footage as straight data stored on digital video disks or flash storage devices. If the movie is purchased by a studio for distribution, they will then pay the expensive price incurred from “blowing up” or otherwise transferring the tape of digital video to film stock. Other essential equipment such as sound, lighting, and editing equipment has also become more affordable with the prices ranging in accordance with the quality; in this industry, "you get what you pay for", so it behooves the aspiring filmmaker to choose wisely when shopping for gear. Even special effects can now be easily created on home computers running easily available and inexpensive visual effects software. Filmmaker John Russo estimates in his book, "How to make your feature movie for $10000.00 or less" that with the reasonably current price of production equipment, a technologically good quality film can be made now for $10000.00 or less (Russo, J, 1995).
Film school is often cited as a great place to start a film career but there is an increasing opinion among independent filmmakers that this is not the case. Some even go so far as to say that going to film school is a waste of money, if not time and that the thousands spent on tuition would be better served in putting towards the cost of making your first film (Kaufmann, Collins, 2009). Everyone knows of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppolla, all of whom attended and graduated from such famous film schools as University of Southern California and California State University film schools to make feature blockbusters, however there are also the Kevin Smiths, Steven Soderburghs, and Quentin Tarantino’s who never set foot in a film school who have achieved similar mainstream success. Kevin Smith actually attended the Vancouver Film School for four months before dropping out to write, direct, and star in his début feature indie film “Clerks” while Quentin Tarantino often claims that all he ever learned about filmmaking was from simply loving to watch movies and that "Trying to make a feature film yourself with no money is the best film school you can do” (Quentin Tarantino - Tarantino's Advice: Don't Go To Film School, 2008).
Once your film is made you will want to seek distribution; basically a way of getting it out there to be seen by the masses. Most of the mainstream distribution is controlled by the major movie studios thus making the possibility of getting your indie flick into prominent theaters very difficult, unless of course your movie is the next "Avatar". What many first time indie filmmakers do is shop their movie to the film festival circuit with the hopes of it being seen and picked up by any of the number of studio sales representatives whose job it is to buy films they think will turn a profit. One thing to remember is that as stated before; movies are becoming easier and more affordable to produce therefore there are more of them to compete with, especially at film festivals (Kaufmann, Collins, 2009). In response to this many filmmakers are now opting for self distribution or otherwise shopping the movie themselves. This usually involves creating a dynamic and splashy website explaining what the film is about as well as a way to order it direct from the filmmaker. Websites such as Amazon and I-tunes also strongly urge indie filmmakers to use their sites for distribution and both have created programs that enable filmmakers to sell through either via an fair profit-sharing program.
The mainstream movie studios have began exercising tighter controls over how their films are released and support a sort of indirect control over movie theaters as to what and for how long certain movies are shown in theaters. The result of this is with bigger budget films being made the studios need to put their movies in as many theaters as possible to get a quick return on their investment, particularly in the opening weekend; that is one reason the opening weekend gross’ of films are so important. Added to this already considerable price is what is known as Print and Advertising; the costs incurred in printing copies of the movie for theatres as well as that of the advertising campaign. In many cases, the price of print and advertising can often cost as much as the production of the movie itself, doubling and sometimes tripling the movie’s budget. Consequently, an expensive special effects driven movie such as “Iron Man 2” must make well over half their budget back in the first two days of release to be considered a box office success.
What this means to the indie filmmaker is that the chances of his/her low-budget film being seen on the big screen (in America at least) are very slim. However, there are other media outlets to target; cell phone movies are films that were created to be filmed specifically on cell phone networks and as smart phones become more advanced, so can the films expected to be shown on them. Micro-cinemas, films shown in such venues as coffee houses, pubs, libraries, are another way to show your films to a mass audience. Also, the overseas market is not as exclusive or profit driven when it comes to shopping for movies. An auteur can take her personal non special effects driven film to Europe with a relatively more likely chance of it getting picked up for distribution by either their television or film market.
With ongoing advances in newer inexpensive filmmaking technology as well as the creation of more media outlets needing content, the time is right for those wishing to make films. Although film school is good for making connections, those same connections can also be made from simply directly undertaking the film production process and making one’s own movies. Where once it was a gamble that your self-made film would be distributed or seen by anyone else but family and friends, now the democratization of the film business due to the internet and other alternate methods of distribution can give indie filmmakers a fair chance of getting their films seen worldwide.
Quentin Tarantino - Tarantino's Advice: Don't Go To Film School. (2008, May 23). retrieved 9 April, 2010 http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/story/tarantinos-advice-dont-go-to-film-school_1069493
Kaufman, L, & Collins, A.W. (2009) "Produce your own damn movie!" New York, Focal Press
Russo, J. (1995) "How to make your feature movie for $10000.00 or less"
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