While Hollywood films have gotten bigger and bigger over the last few decades, the true rags-to-riches story seems to be the independent film market. Inconceivable only a short time ago, independent film became so successful, it became a new kind of studio film. The behemoths started in the nineties, from the cameras of Soderbergh and Tarantino, and raised small time wheelers and dealers like the Weinstein brothers to immortal mogul status. That said, when Reservoir Dogs was released, only 249 other films made it to the theatres that year. This year? There were 1,500. Meanwhile, the money these movies make has actually decreased. Many in the indie business are beginning to sweat. Is this the sign of a possible market bubble?
Filmmaking, with the advent of cheap digital camera technology and the age of Kickstarter, has become a by-the-people, for-some-people medium. With a new level of accessibility, an influx of hopeful artists began producing work and sending it forth into the world. Film festival culture has spawned from this new supply of infinite content. According the Salon, “in the last 15 years, the U.S. alone has seen nearly 7,000 film festivals.” Reaping the rewards of entrance fees and, especially with high-profile events like Sundance and Telluride, market visibility, the festivals themselves have done very well for themselves. Herein lies the problem: “[The industry] is built on supply…film festivals, film schools, crowdfunding sites, film festival submission aggregators, video-on-demand distributors – all apparatuses that have a vested interest in encouraging filmmakers to keep making films, demand for those films be damned.”
A modern film production may look something like this: a group of young creatives raise money through crowdfunding in order to qualify for tax incentives, that they then subsidize to cover the likelihood that the film grosses under budget. Such productions produce little economic activity, as crews and cast are underpaid, and the finished product generates very little revenue. A lot of those 1,500 films made last year did not qualify for theatre runs. Instead, their producers rent out the screens for more money, just to grab a few reviews before dying a quick death on the VOD (video-on-demand) market.
The art of filmmaking takes time and skill to perfect. With so much amateur work taking up so much market space, there’s a chance the next Tarantino will simply get lost in the masses of mediocrity. Salon presents a few possible solutions, be it refocusing film festivals to screen work only created through their selection-based filmmaking labs (basically, a class for qualified filmmakers to create a thesis of sorts) or fitting independent productions into the vertical-integration model of the golden Hollywood studio system.
Film is an important part of American culture and art, but is in danger of falling into the same trap to which many American industries have become victims. Independent film is a beautiful thing, and with our digital age, the American Dream of making it in Hollywood seems closer than every before. However, the bloat of supply threatens the holy market competition that fuels both increased creativity and economic success. Young dreamers aren’t going to stop flooding the market with movies, so it may be time to start building a dam – for all our benefit.
The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/movies/flooding-theaters-isnt-good-for-filmmakers-or-filmgoers.html?_r=0