17 Apr

Screaming into the Abyss: Why it’s the worst time ever to be a filmmaker

NAB just ended. And, over the past week or so we’ve been flooded with press-releases and excited blog posts about all the new technology coming our way. To summarize: cameras are amazing, lighting is amazing, software is amazing. On paper, this is the best time since the creation of cinema as an art form to be a filmmaker.

And, yet, it’s also the worst. Much has been said about the democratization of media creation—everyone has a camera! Everyone is a cinematographer! It’s easier than ever to go out and make stuff. However, therein lies the problem: if everyone suddenly becomes a filmmaker, then really, nobody is. The very term itself becomes meaningless (much like the word “storyteller” before it).

Now, admittedly, this may all sound like sour-grapes—a curmudgeonly rant from a world-weary 29 year-old: “These damn kids with their iPhones and DSLRs and shallow depth of field…bunch of snot-nosed, punks! Now, get off my lawn!” All of this, though, is endemic of a larger problem. Frankly, there’s just too much damn content being created and the majority of it isn’t being watched. Yes, everyone is now a filmmaker. But, conversely, nobody has an audience.

I went to a local film festival earlier this week with my short film, Pancake Batter. And, let me tell you, nothing is more depressing than going to a small festival that nobody has ever heard of (okay…well…maybe open mic nights, but I digress). I entered this fest strictly because it was close by—an easy and affordable way to see my short on the “big screen.” Granted, I’m assuming several others followed my logic too. But, you walk into this nearly empty theater with an audience consisting of only the filmmakers and the filmmakers’s friends, and you realize the sad, inevitable truth. No one, other than the creators themselves, gives a hoot about any of this stuff. Your average Joe doesn’t go to “small scale” film festivals. And, judging by the quality of some of the films I saw, I can’t really blame them.

Now, all of this in and of itself isn’t necessarily surprising  I was in a crappy, no-name festival. What’s the big deal? They’re a dime a dozen. No, the sad thing is that a lot of people involved were trying to make this seem like a big deal. They’d take pictures in the empty lobby in front of the “press wall backdrop” and post them on Facebook in a feeble call for meaningless likes from folks who will probably never watch the film. This manufacturing of self-importance made me feel sad inside.

This brings me to my larger point—us “filmmakers,” well, we’re all screaming into the abyss. We’re all yelling and begging people to watch our stuff, to share our joy of the creative process, but nothing is bouncing back. Frankly, as much as it disheartens me to say, but on a purely practical level we need to start creating less stuff. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about video production work or corporate gigs. To earn a living, I’d suggest making as much stuff as possible—get that paycheck! But, when I scroll through my Facebook feed and 25% of the incoming posts are for Kickstarter film projects, there’s a real problem. It’s a sad truth, but as much as we all love Steven Spielberg, we can’t all be him.

Indie film is on the verge of dying. Not because there isn’t enough of it, but rather ironically, because there is far too much of it. We’re suffocating underneath the amount of content being created. There’s too much being made, not enough being watched. And, so independent cinema (i.e. true independent cinema, not the stuff premiering at Sundance) is becoming a constant stream of white noise—a bunch of young people yammering about codecs and bit-rates, but not enough memorable stories being told.

This is a refrain that has been talked about before (read this Salon Piece). But, as I see the monster continue to feed itself, I’m very scared of what’s next. Quite selfishly (and hypocritically), I have to keep making stuff—I too will continue to feed the beast. I just hope that one day I’m able to find someone willing to consume what I’m cooking up.


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