You all know me – I’m always looking on the bright side. Wait, that’s a lie. Anyone who knows me is all too aware that my fault is looking at every lost silver coin and assuming that I am about to receive the rain. Still, it’s been really, really long years, so your friendly / depressed neighborhood movie columnist is actively looking for a few chunks of cash amid the covid clouds gathering once again.
Now playing this game is undeniably an exercise in sadness, I know that. It’s kind of like looking around a post-apocalyptic world and thinking, “Well, at least I’m going to learn some useful survival skills.” True, but it would be more fun if learning how to build a hut was just a hobby, rather than a matter of life and death. But we’re talking about movies here, and while a film career might be a matter of figurative life and death for Maine filmmakers, it’s almost literally murder trying to break into mainstream success.
So where can low-budget and no-budget independent filmmakers look, amid the unprecedented chaos and deprivation of an industry-shaking global pandemic, that silver lining? As two impossible years under house arrest approach, here are some benefits I see for independent filmmakers going forward. Of course, every benefit comes at a cost, which I’ll also outline, because we can’t have nice things.
Streaming is now the default movie option. Last week’s disappointing box office for James Gunn’s comic book extravagance âThe Suicide Squadâ (yes, $ 26 million is a crushing disappointment for such things) shows that the pandemic stranglehold on mainstream cinema does did not fail to relax. Yes, theaters are open (the ones that haven’t closed permanently after dark for a year), and some have even resumed in-person attendance (and sometimes write about it). But if the superhero-hungry audience couldn’t be lured out of their sofas by the thought of Gunn – who directed “Guardians of the Galaxy” – working his gleefully unsavory action comedy magic on a gang of stars. DC’s colorful anti-heroes, then there’s something fundamentally transformed yet about the way people watch their movies.
With huge theatrical attractions (like Marvel’s competing super-saga, “Black Widowâ) Do more business by selling and renting at home that in theaters that are still sparsely populated, it is clear that the old model of a massive hit, tent pole, and studio saver rules multiplexes could be gone for a long time / forever. While life may be back to normal, people got a taste of the major first-run movies on release day, right at home, and they love it.
This may have only accelerated an inevitable push towards comfort and convenience, but home viewing is now the norm and, being us, convenience, once taken care of, isn’t easily. discarded. Hell i wrote many columns chronicle my quest for involuntary locking home entertainment, a relentless search for elusive “content” that currently sees me and my lovely wife perusing the 1970s British murder anthology series “Thriller” on the streaming service Tubi. None of these entities were known to me before the pandemic, but that’s what the insularity of a nervous, movie-deprived quarantine does to you.
So what does this do for independent filmmakers, exactly? After all, no one crowdsources a budget and their meager savings make a Marvel movie in their hometown. Well – and here’s an unusual optimism – the shackles of the film industry leave the door open for creators and consumers to take a moment to look around. The gears of the industry have slowed, but our need for films has not. In fact, it has accelerated, as home viewing has become a lifeline in very difficult times.
It’s ugly for local movie theaters (although places like PMA Films are, with all the necessary precautions, reopened for live screenings). As I wrote (what looks like a hundred years ago) by unthinkably swearing to go to the movies, the perniciousness of this ever-deadly pandemic is that it guarantees that someone is going to suffer. But it also opens those doors.
Films are not a meritocracy. Like other systems, it is riddled with prejudices, preconceived ideas and the ever-unequal distribution of capital, all of which have the function of perpetuating the film industry in the image of those who hold the keys to it. Theatrical releases are a rare prize, awarded by those who relish the power of the Guardians to determine what’s worth it. But the old system is beaten and broken, perhaps irreparably. And where the old system crumbles, the smart, the hobbyist, and the do-it-yourselfers see an opportunity.
Streaming is cheaper, more available, and unprecedentedly more democratic than theatrical release. It brings its own hurdles, because, with the doors down, your little movie is just one option viewers choose to watch in a wasteland of unruly and often confusing content. You can stream your movie for free on YouTube at any time, but it will get lost, and even using the services of an aggregator Selling your movie to the myriad of streaming sites scrambling to meet the needs of subscribers only means that the domain is slightly quieter for viewers’ attention.
But this is where the ingenuity of the independent filmmaker comes in. Anyone who has watched the Maine movie scene grow over the past decade knows that the people who make movies here already know all about tough fights. The market has adapted to provide tools for filmmakers on the lowest budget to at least launch their films, and an audience now accustomed to digging beyond the flashy crust into the fascinating and fruitful depths of this favorite streaming service. week is more likely than ever to give an unknown film or filmmaker a chance.
Is it easy? Hell no – nothing about making movies on a budget ever is. But with the film market changing so sharply and so dramatically over the past year or so, this ground is much more receptive. Any money-based industry will never truly be a meritocracy, but if there’s one skill set that independent filmmakers have, it’s the combination of hustle and bustle, ingenuity, and self-promotion that ‘they learned the hard way. The doors are just not as strong as they once were, the guards not as strong. Opportunities are just a click away from the remote.
Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.
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