Can the Internet Save Indie Film?
One night, shortly after the writers strike started, I was sitting in a bar with several actors (including my wife) who were lamenting the death of film in Vancouver. As we got into the conversation they became more despondent over the state of the film industry generally.
Given the dominance of a fewer and fewer films, it is getting tougher to make a living in film. I'm not an actor but what came to mind to me pretty quickly was that in order for film to survive and thrive for more than just a few you had to solve two problems -- financing and distrubution. I think that's part of the problem Matt Dentler of Cinetic Rights Management is trying to solve. But generally, there needs to be more willingness on the part of venture capitalists to invest in independant and documentary style films. I could find only one VC in Canada with a focus on film.
Distribution is "just" a technical issue, so in a way I think it's easier to solve. Certainly there are great HD servers out there that could be leveraged as infrastructure (Kaleidascape comes to mind). The more interesting problem beyond that is where to distribute to? YouTube maybe? Facebook? A site like NowPublic? Certainly for documentaries and short indie films (which Dentler doesn't really address, but which really are perfect for web and mobile consumption) they might be. But I also agree with Dentler that regardless of the length of the project or the subject matter quality will be the key.
There was a time in the indie film business when specialty houses from the major studios stalked the earth, reaching into deep pockets to acquire the rights to distribute the buzziest films at the coolest festivals -- notably Sundance.
Lately, however, the indie situation is so dire that industry savant Mark Gill bemoaned its fate in a keynote address at the current Los Angeles Film Festival. His talk has been linked to across a wide spectrum of blogs, less for its hopeful closing notes than for its array of forlorn statistics about tanking indies.
If part of the problem is the growing primacy of the Web in consumer culture, could that same Web be part of the answer?
Matt Dentler of Cinetic Rights Management insists it's so. He was to be seen recently in a crowded Starbucks a few steps from the indie-minded crowds populating the LAFF, explaining why the new digital film rights venture he's a key part of is being embraced by just about anybody -- internet portals, cable and satellite operators, wireless and telephone providers, etc. -- who's got an interest in purveying the content that has been flunking in the cinemas.