See that red box above? Here’s a quotable for you:
“[…]I am a bit tired of all the markets and conventions full of ‘learning how to deal with the industry.’ I am a director, I just want to make films…”
This pulled straight from the Facebook exchange I conducted yesterday 2012 Talent Campus award-winner, Israel’s Rafael Balulu, who took top prize in Berlin in February for his short film, Batman at the Checkpoint.
As a working PMD, his comment “stung” momentarily because teaching indies how to delicately navigate the rocky shoals of the DIY distribution universe is part and parcel of what we PMDs do. Encouraging independent filmmakers to shuck off the burdensome shackles of gatekeepers’ dictates – with their rules, regulations, and stipulations for getting your film the needed traction it rightfully deserves – is what we are paid to do and how we provide value to our clients.
But in reading – then re-reading and re-reading again – Balulu’s line (the entire exchange is above), I sensed the simmering undercurrent of futility he had with the entire DIY process and, speaking more generally, I can feel the blowback gradually massing within the indie community as creatives get massively fed up with the thousand-and-one spinmeisters who preach their take-no-bullshit it’s-all-up-to-you-and-no-one-else line.
You see, Balulu is right…to a degree…
There is that “false god” thing going on in the indie scene too. DIY-everything is not the cure-all for what’s ailing the majority of independent filmmakers.
Marketers who are viciously adamant that going the distribution route totally alone — either in whole or in part — is the only solution available to filmmakers today are not being entirely truthful about the marketing and distribution process because filmmakers like Balulu are the evidence arguing against that. Distribution deals are still being made, prizes are still being won, and directors like Rafael Balulu are still being approached by aspiring European and American producers at events like the Berlinale’s Talent Campus in the wake of their creative successes.
The good films, as I’ve said many times before (or here), will always score a distribution deal, no matter what the pundits say. Films that good will always be discovered. Films that good will always be popular and filmmakers who are behind these sorts of projects have a bright and solid future ahead of them. Trust me. There’s is nothing “false” about that god.
Since there are still heaps of ways to skin a cat in this business, Balulu’s stated feelings about creatives stealing too much precious time away from their primary task – writing, shooting, and cutting great films – is a sentiment I hear echoed once too often at events I attend throughout the cinematic year. And these filmmakers are right…to a degree…
The sad reality is that the overwhelming majority of filmmakers aren’t like Rafael Balulu. For that reason they don’t win awards, either. They don’t get offered distribution deals or MGs for their scripts. They don’t get approached at prestigious international festivals by roving producers to take on other projects on commission. They’re just spinning their wheels and aiming their flamethrowers are the wrong targets. Elvis, for them, has not only left the building, he’s on a private jet back to Memphis.
- they don’t shoot compelling material that draws in an audience. An audience, mind you, which isn’t only interested in what a filmmaker’s up to today…but who is in it for the long-haul. These are career fans, not “fans-as-startup.”
- they don’t test market ideas in formal settings (read: focus groups) before dumping all their resources into it. They don’t get the opinions from the people that matter.
- they don’t have a target audience for their film before setting out.
- they cut corners in the wrong areas, scrimping on what needs to be spend and squandering on what needs to be saved.
- they don’t earn enough from sales to pay back their investors. Instead of honing filmmaking careers, they enter long spirals of debt servicing and bone it up. They rack up credit card debt and are fiscally irresponsible.
- they don’t meticulously edit scripts and seal up narrative holes. They don’t map out their story twists like professional scribblers.
- they don’t cast properly, so a great “on paper” tale never makes it past its final cut because poorly-casted players botch their lines and look lousy in the frame.
- they aim their rockets at the wrong target. Rather than landing on the moon, they drift off towards the endless barren reaches out outer space. They end up burning up in the infernal sun.
It’s for this reason that indies now require the services of Producers of Marketing and Distribution and other marketing types to assist in them in marshaling a project through the production cycle to ensure this never happens. PMDs need them, but I’m starting to think that for the vast majority of filmmakers, they need us.
Think of the indie community as an Amazonian ecosystem: flap those butterfly wings in one far-flung part of the jungle, and it’s felt profoundly way over on this side. How that works exactly is as inscrutable to the modern “21st century mind” as the mysteries of Nature’s functioning of the Granting of the Ten Commandments at Sinai, but indies need to be more responsible to each other and to their intellectual properties. Because when indies do poorly on the basic determinants above, it’s bad for all of us collectively. Said in sailor’s language: if indies fuck it up for themselves (go right on ahead, if that’s your fetish), they fuck things up for all us as a unit, making the rest of us look like a bunch of knuckle-dragging banana-chomping chimpanzees.
So, to my lovely filmmakers: DO create like there’s no tomorrow. Just DON’T create with reckless abandon.
Skip any of those steps I describe above, perhaps you may very well need the key services of a PMD in the future. Perhaps those “markets and conventions,” as Balulu lampoons in his above comments, may be of some use to you after all…
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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