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LETTER: IndieWood, White Boys, The Net, and "Blair Witch"

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire August 16, 1999 at 2:0AM

[EDITORS NOTE: The following letter to the editor is solely the opinion of the author, and does not represent the views of indieWIRE LLC, or its editors. Letters to the Editor are published as submitted by their writers, without editing. (Headlines are added by the Editors of indieWIRE.)]
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[EDITORS NOTE: The following letter to the editor is solely the opinion of the author, and does not represent the views of indieWIRE LLC, or its editors. Letters to the Editor are published as submitted by their writers, without editing. (Headlines are added by the Editors of indieWIRE.)]

LETTER: IndieWood, White Boys, The Net, and "Blair Witch"

by Marguerite Arnold



IN RESPONSE TO:

+ EDITORIAL: There Goes the Indiehood, Blair Witch's Bottom Line

I have to say that I both agree and disagree with Jon Jost. Let me tell
you why.

I think that it is highly pretentious to say that the film business --
of whatever stripe -- has been highly compensated. Of course it is for
those who work on "commercial" fare (ie Hollywood), but most real indies
I know (ie the ones without Hollywood connections) don't make much
money. Some of them really are overlooked talent. Many of them are
still practicing. But lets get real people. Indie filmmaking (and
those who become known for doing so) has tended to attract mostly people
who can afford to work for a pittance or for free (certainly to get in
the door) not to mention fronting even 30 grand to MAKE A MOVIE because
they know they've got connections to soften the landing, sell this
project to, and move the contracts for the next project or MTV
commercial. $30,000 is more than a downpayment on a house for god's
sakes -- in fact I know someone who bought their house for a third of
that about 15 years ago. Granted its not the most fashionable
real-estate (although it does have alot of cows and breathtakin' views
of the Smokies), but some people like living without stress for brekky
and a cell phone surgically attached.

Reality check. Indiewood is white rich boy's land. Nice work if you
can get it, but the fact is its always been an exclusive club. Bottom
line. And there's always been one (clubs and lines, mostly to keep
undesirables out, often do go hand in hand).

As far as the hype...well, filmmaking has always been about that too --
whether created by the studios, festival helium or cineastes who can
afford to get to Berlin, Sundance or any other film festival of note --
or, for that matter, live in Rome. I'd say let's give a round of
applause to any outsiders who make it who don't have the contacts
because they couldn't afford to go to NYU or UCLA. Okay...Haxan had a
little help (mentors and previews on the IFC and the Sci Fi channel
count). But I don't care if Haxan manufactured (some) of their hype
themselves. Hollywood creates their own hype too, except they have to
pay (more) for it...which is "worse?" At least the former is an example
of (semi) utopian teamwork.

The internet is great because it gives more filmmakers the chance to
get the word out there about their film. Lefty, Truffault- (and
therefore foreign film) loving yuppies (not always the same, but they
usually float together in their own demographic pool) helped "Life is
Beautiful" win an Oscar. It was a great film, but the more important
fact here is that those yuppies outside of Hollywood created their own
buzz, and there was major buzz on that flick way into the hinterlands.
The internet, in essence, helps otherwise isolated people (ie those who
don't live in LA or New York or even the Pope's backyard) with similar
interests spread cyber chinese whispers. COOL! I bet alot of American
yuppies (ex pat or not) with email told each other about how great Life
is Beautiful was, even if most of them didn't know who Bobby Benini was
before now. And even if it was never monitored. I actually did get
more than a few emails about the film myself. I have alot of Lefty
Yuppy Friends, I admit (lol).

The internet is a great organizing tool -- both for politics and for
film -- at least in certain circles. Indie film, I believe, at its best
is both political and "arty". You can't make a good film without having
a point of view -- nor can you tell a story or make good art without one
for that matter.....which means politics of some sort (although
Truffault tried, which is why I think (most) of his films except
Fahrenheit 451 SUCK!) A little closer to yore neck of the woods, if not
your age, Michelangelo was extremely aware of the politics of his art.
That's why he got paid to do it. The Catholic Church may not have been
any less political in those days, but it had a tad more influence on the
"civilized" world. In case you were wondering, I do like Michelangelo
much more than I like Truffault.

But I do readily admit, I'm a filmmaker who is a film philistine. I
don't cotton much to subtitles, black and white films, or for that
matter, much that was made before 1976 (Star Wars, just to really get
you in a tizzy). Politically incorrect -- YES! That's me. I'm not a
neo-Stalinist neither. Nor naievil (deliberately naive). But it is why
I'm a filmmaker. In fact, I have been a working indie filmmaker for the
past eight years and never accepted a dime of a relatives (or the
government's) money to do so.

The fact is that "commercial" is as commercial does. I for one
celebrate Blair Witch's success because it will inspire other creative
people without alot of resources to finally figure out a way to break
into the game for less than a price of a "used car" (OH PULEEZ...a used
car from the dealer's showcase...lol). Not that I'm courtin' a Billy
Bob Thornton image or nothin', but in the part of the country that I
went to high school in, a "USED" car meant some peice of shit pickup or
Dodge that cost at most $450 (and there's no dang zeroes after that
sucker no how). And I can absolutely garawntee that no bank's gonna
loan Jim Bob 30 grand for a car, much less for a piece of celluloid
hope. Ahh...nothing better than class rage from one who's qualified
now, is there?

But as a result of Blair Witch, there will be plenty of indie films and
filmmakers that will do extremely well -- or at least have a fighting
shot, thanks to internet promotion. I hope to be one of them. I went
into production of my current project two years ago because I knew I
could use the internet to reach my market independently of any film
festival or distributor. Of course if I do get a distributor, I come
not only with a movie but an extensive marketing plan that's been
developed over the last two years (and proven, at this point).

And by the way, if my film does make pots of money, that's fine by me
too. I will sleep very well at night (and laugh all the way to the
bank). I've worked for a living since I left home at 18, and it wasn't
glamor jobs either. Financial success with my current movie means I can
make my next one and give up a few of my less than favorite day jobs.

Of course, making money doesn't mean a film is good. It doesn't mean
its bad either (could this be the pc version of indie filmmakers
"selling out"?). It has nothing to do with Blair Witch (although of
course the film doesn't live up to the "hype." Whatever can. And I've
just written my monthly column for a mostly dissed production
"backwater" (centered in Washington DC) about how many things the movie
knocks off. Try Hitchcock and even Jaws (from creating tension without
showing monsters or gore), The Cohen Brothers (this is based on real
events), and more than a few others, including the OBVIOUS fact that
reality is what we make of it (or so we like to believe these days) and
its constantly monitored (the Truman Show, To Die For for example). The
point is that good films capture the needs and aesthetic tastes of their
audience and techniques are always recycled if they work. If a large
enough chunk of the population agrees, that's what makes it
commercial. And every decade has its look. That's one of the reasons
that Boogie Nights was so good....it captured the look of the seventies
(zooms, angles, etc). Perhaps Blair Witch is no more than a widespread
adoption of such technique (not to mention story line). My own personal
pitch line on Blair Witch is its Scream meets the X-files shot in Living
in Oblivion (although the camera work was a whole lot better in
Oblivion). And I can't wait for Blair knockoffs.

The reality is not that we should be debating whether or not Haxan
really should have invested in a steadicam for the day or any other
silly issue. Seems to me that there's ALOT of really sour grapes out
there. Congrats to the Last Broadcast guys that they're not publically
proclaiming any ugly little jealousy. The reality is that the Haxan
boys are going to be making their next film in style. What's more
important is that they get to make it. I'm interested in seeing what
they're going to come up with next.

However, I'd have to say that I'm alot more curious about how the market
would react and support a project (at every stage of the game from
preproduction on) if the directors of Blair Witch were as female as
their lead character. The fact that they don't (and I know from
experience) is one of the reasons why there aren't more indie female
directors. I have been told more than once that if me and my little
idears weren't so "anti-male" I'd maybe make it as a filmmaker one of
these days. Maybe I should have done like Monica...but I've heard that
thar ain't a whole heapin' difference 'tween the political biz and the
film biz. Monica didn't get her ass a job neither (at a MAKEUP company
no less.) And she has to gargle. I prefer my sarcasm to be not only
pointed, but understandable.

When the first kick ass breakthrough female equivalent does go
"commercial", and there will be one soon, I would say we should give
them a huge round of applause AND stand in line for their film. You
give me a woman or a person of color who makes a film for ANY
demographic that goes ballistic (and with the internet it could happen),
and I'll really be doing a jig.

And for those who are moaning about the loss of "Art" in indie film.
Get over it. I like Jim Jarmush sometimes too. Then again, I thought
that Roan Innish was a tad slow, good even if it did miss the mark. Not
all films by the same director are good or worthy of coronation.
However, the man knows how to make a film.

There's certainly is alot of crap out there right now (a great deal of
it self indulgent white teenaged boy angst). There will be lots more
crap soon with digital everything. In selecting films for my monthly
screening series (first digital venue for indies by the way), I've seen
so many knockoffs of knockoffs that I'm beginning to wonder if people
have anything else to fixate their creative energies on (another reason
there should be more "girl" filmmakers...just for a change of
teenage-driven angsts). I bet it would be commercial (tease tease.)
Did anyone happen to catch women's soccer lately? Not to mention watch
the age demographics for Titantic? Not to mention the new website
designed for Gen Y girls.....Big hint boys.....


I mean didn't it ever occur to anyone that the only teenage girl angst
movie to make it on the indie circuit was directed by a guy? (Go Fish
comes a far distant second, I'd warrant). Todd Solandz is a good
filmmaker, don't get me wrong, but trust me, the boy left out ALOT! I
mean I don't think its just creative roadblocks that Jenny Livingston
faced to get to this year's IFFM.

The internet just allows those who really want to get their film out
there a chance to do so (as does digital everything). And movies have
always been about the art of the con. Some just do it better than
others. Shadows on the wall and all that rot, what? With the internet,
alot of female someones and other outsiders for starters can create an
end run around the system which is more like a southern frat house (with
more black in their chiffarobes but that's about the biggest difference)
than a business.

And maybe this will change the minds of all distributors, large and
small about what "marketable" or "commercial" means. I'd say massive
hit counts on a website is a great "nielson's" of indie film, no matter
how much the older generation turns up its nose at it. It's grassroots
organizing at its best (and to the same kind of audience that showed up
at Woodstock -- (the original one and the others).

Speaking of generating massive hit count. Been there, done that, have
the t-shirt. Conventional wisdom in the film biz (even indieland, no
matter what generation) is actually greater than in politics.

Sometimes I do scratch my head for other reasons than catchin' cooters,
and when I do, sometimes I can even manage a coherent moment of industry
analysis, not to mention common sense. I'd say that any demographic
that can create buzz online is a good bet for any distributor who's
lookin' to diversify (or even make a lot of money). Time was (and I've
been told this a million times by industry "insiders", usually with a
bored yawn) that even an indie made for under $5 mill doesn't stand a
chance in hell, all evidence to the contrary, even before Blair
Witch...and I don't need to name them.

Artisan saw a marketable product and snapped it up. They just don't
have the interest so far (much like other "indie" distributors) to look
out for films that will easily appeal to the many and large demographics
who have been known to go to the movies ever' once in a blue moon, but
that don't fit the male 18-35 white upper class indie film wanna bes
that they're courtin' at the box office and on cable.

I'll eat you and your little dog too....neh neh neh neh. And by the
way, MY CURRENT FILM really is called "There's No Place Like Home."
Watch for it soon.

THERE'S NOTHING like the internet for promotion....lol.

Marguerite Arnold

(Wicked Witch of the East)

AKA Indie Filmmaker

Washington, DC

PS. And Mr. Jost....One more thing. You landed on the internet weblist
for Blair Witch promotion 'cause honeychile....you fit a certain
demographic too. I can name it in a heartbeat.