Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Indie films crave great reviews

Check out this piece in Variety, based on a couple of panels at the Seattle Film Festival -- discussions of the future of indie distribution and whether film critics matter in the age of blogs and such. One camp argues that independent films have a bright future online, promoted and distributed digitally without the need for "real world" intervention. The other camp argues that with the proliferation of independent films made each year, the really good movies need the push of an established and well-read film critic even more than ever.

The jobs for "established, well-read" film critics are vanishing fast, at least at print publications. Nearly every newspaper in the U.S. is owned by one of two networks who use a handful of critics in all of their papers across the country. The days of the local paper film critic are coming to a close. Of course, the demographics of those people who actually still read the newspaper are presumably getting older and older as the younger folk eschew newspapers for online media.

On the web you can find all manner of amateur and semi-professional writers opining about movies, but few of them have a large enough audience to drive huge numbers of people towards any particular picture. As it becomes easier and easier to make movies, it is also becoming harder and harder to garner meaningful attention for your film. Grassroots outreach is easier than ever through e-mail campaigns, podcasting, and web sites, but there are always competitors for those eyeballs too. Other indie filmmakers are out there hawking their wares, YouTube gives surfers a sea of mediocre (yet strangely compelling) content for free, and of course there's always the distraction of Hollywood -- and that's just the film-related competition you face.

What does all this mean? It means you need two things: a goal and a plan. What's your ultimate goal for your film? To be picked up for distribution? (What kind of distribution?) Maybe your film is better positioned as a calling card for a paying job in the film industry, in which case you might take liberties with your movie that you'd never risk with a film intended for traditional distribution.

Your plan will of course depend largely on your goal, but it mostly boils down to identifying those people who can most help you achieve that goal and then getting your film in front of them. If you've made a very good/great film, word of mouth will take you a long way. The rest is all about smart marketing and persistence.

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