I'm happy that 2015 will be the year I release another film, this time a deeply personal horror meditation. Broken On All Sides was released in 2012, and A Dark Souvenir will almost certainly be digitally self-released in 2015 after a festival run. I was hoping to have it done in 2014, and go at a pace of 1 feature film every 2 years in my life from here on out, but 1 movie every 3 years would still be quite an amazing thing, and a goal to look forward to.
We were rejected in our first film festival response. I remember taking it so hard the first time I submitted to fests with Broken On All Sides and was rejected so much-- like most first-time filmmakers I was sure mine would get into most fests. But it's so good! Yes but there's no accounting for taste, and you just have no idea what programmers may be looking for (or inside connections of others).
I have been listening to some great podcasts on indie filmmaking, especially Discount Film School and Business of Film. I've been trying to wrap my head around exactly what to do with A Dark Souvenir. We've made an incredibly well-crafted no-budget movie. There are no costs that need to be re-couped other than paying the musicians (my friends) very low licensing fees (their work is mostly donated), paying an artist to do the cover art (also a friend and low price), and paying for film festival submissions, promo, travel for film fest or convention appearances, and eventually DVD printing. I'd say the whole thing was made, if you generously over-include "rental" of equipment I already own and of course donated labor, for under $10,000.00 (not considering future promo and travel costs). If you just calculate the money I have taken out of my bank account, it is much closer to $2,000.00. That is pretty fucking micro budget. So why even shoot for distribution when it's a pie in the sky and you don't need much return on investment? I will just be self-distributing and using the film as a way (I hope) to get someone to invest in me for another bigger production (still micro-budget) film.
Everything I'm hearing from these podcasts on the film business say to keep costs down no matter what. That's not a problem when you're working on "starving artist" wages. But as people invest in your vision, one must be ever mindful of this. I'm totally confident I could pull off a higher budget production still cutting corners and keeping takes/hours way down compared to the average indie. I don't want to work 10 hr days shooting-- are you kidding me?! I don't want to force anyone else to work 10 hr days, let alone 8 hr days, especially at measly pay. And I'm also realizing more and more, that the dream of a company picking up your film and getting it out into the world is hogwash. Especially something that's low budget. They're not going to dedicate an advertising budget (or what the film biz calls P&A, "prints and ads") to get trailers on T.V. or in theaters, or posters in newspapers or billboards. As an indie filmmaker picked up by a small distributor, you're still going to have to drive your own audience to your content. Then the distributor takes a cut. So, why does anyone need a distributor? Because the film industry is living in the past, that's it. At least, this is what I'm learning. And there are so many films made these days, with so few getting picked up by distributors. There is an over-saturation in the traditional market loop.
I drive to my day job as a divorce mediator about 40 minutes each way, and that gives me plenty of time to burn through podcasts about filmmaking. It's been a mini-film school refresher that's been awesome. I enjoy the morning commute because of it. And there have been so many gems in the interviews with distributors, filmmakers, and promoters that I've heard. One of the best gems I've heard from them, echoed by friends at Seed&Spark, is that we as filmmakers are responsible for collecting our own audience. If you do it right, this is an audience that will travel from film to film with you, no matter how different the movies, if they're film fans and if they like you as a person. It means being real and sharing your experiences via email, facebook, twitter, and having your audience come along for the ride. It means going out into the world and meeting real people who might be interested in your work (which is why setting up your own community screenings and hopefully film fests can be so important, also attending conventions that celebrate a genre in which you work, like horror). So, I'm really excited about that because that's a much more fun. And there's actually a reason to use facebook and twitter and not feel like you're writing stupid self-promotional ads all the time that nobody wants to see anyway. It's also a much less lonely journey to let the audience in during the process.
As a no-budget, no-cast, no-crew filmmaker on A Dark Souvenir, it has been a very solitary experience. Some of this is great, because as with all my art I can work through my inner demons and meditate on the things that interest me (and I don't have to explain it to anyone else). But some of the experience is really difficult and maddening. At every step of the way when i've reached out for help, or feedback, or support, it's been awesome to be in collaboration with someone. And of course that's what filmmaking is supposed to be all about when you have a fuller production. But wanting to make film in the constraints I had, I had to push on in a more auteur way (more like a painter who gets occasional help mixing paints, cleaning brushes, or steadying the hand, rather than a group-organized mural). I look forward to the days when I can balance my inner conversation with an outter one, as I'm making my movies. And in building an audience, and being open and honest with them (as the world of social media now demands anyway), it means less of a lonely experience and bringing you all on the journey with me-- perhaps even helping me make decisions as I go. I've started to do that through people I've met on twitter.
I've kept some journals during my time over the last 2.5 years making A Dark Souvenir, and may be posting some of that. This blog post is a first attempt and letting people in, really letting them in to my experience of filmmaking.
It's snowing now, so I've got to go salt the pavement, then off to work. Happy 2015!