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The 7 Questions that The Indie Film Community Is Grappling With Now: An IFP Film Week Overview

By Paula Bernstein and Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire September 20, 2013 at 12:22PM

Spending a week at the IFP Filmmaker conference, it's clear that the indie film community has a number of questions it's trying to sort out. There's a growing frustration at how money circulates in the community, how people can develop careers as filmmakers when there's so little funding to go around. There's also a growing concern that, in many ways, the indie filmmaking industry is getting too concerned with building itself around institutional funders and the work from corporations that indie filmmakers use to help pay rent and sustain themselves.
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"Want the Film Look? Shoot Film" panel
IFP "Want the Film Look? Shoot Film" panel

Spending a week at the IFP Filmmaker conference, it's clear that the indie film community has a number of questions it's trying to sort out.  There's a growing frustration at how money circulates in the community, how people can develop careers as filmmakers when there's so little funding to go around.  There's also a growing concern that, in many ways, the indie filmmaking industry is getting too concerned with building itself around institutional funders and the work from corporations that indie filmmakers use to help pay rent and sustain themselves.

Here are 7 questions we heard being asked at this year's IFP Filmmaker Conference.  Take your stab at answering them in the comments below.

Should independent filmmakers have a second job?

If we're not a handful of filmmakers -- those that somehow manage to stay autonomous and receive reasonable lumps of money to fund their films -- it's hard as hell to raise the money to run a production and pay everyone well.  In the Future of the Film Economy Panel, filmmaker Esther Robinson (who also runs the nonprofit ArtHome, a low income artist homeownership program) cited her Filmmaker Magazine article about filmmakers working second jobs and elaborated:

We all deserve a good life, including the right to make a movie.  It's not even about you personally, because you're broke and it sucks. There's a lot more people in the world who are much more broke than you.  If we're going to love the work that we do, we might want to look at what allows us to have a living we like.  It's like having a lover that doesn't quite deliver...Imagine the movies that you want to make are literally going to make you no money, what is the life you want that is still gonna make you money? You can stay in an industry and monetize pieces in that industry.  If your goal is to make films, then you need to look at it not as a place to make your income.  To me, I hate to see a director or producer who gets out at the peak of their talent.  [You get better at things as time goes on.] What took me weeks to do in my thirties, it takes me 10 minutes now in my forties.   I'm producing a film with Yancey Ford, our understanding was you don't pay me and I don't do anything I don't want to.  I don't look for something it's not going to give me because I want this film to be made.  But I do think that there's a question to be asked.  Can you improve the value of your life if you are doing it for free?  And then be happy if you can cash in?

Are traditional distributors bad?

Throughout the conference, and in speeches like Liesl Copeland's at TIFF's Doc Conference, there is a growing frustration that distributors, traditional and new, are obscuring video-on-demand numbers and other numbers that would be helpful to develop good deals for producers.

As "Return" producer Noah Harlan (now a tech exec) says about the data on content consumption online,

We [filmmakers] need more access to data.  They don't want you to have access to data.  All the people who walk around saying "Information should be free."  tell them to go fuck themselves.  You now have put all of that content onto Facebook or YouTube.

Raise your hand if you made more than $1000 off of YouTube.  [one person raises their hand] Go talk to him, all the rest of you got fucked.  The problem with all of that data having no access to it... It is stabilizing the market for distributors.

Producer Jon Kilik in his keynote counters,

Studio executives are not our enemy.  Especially today with more women and growing diversity.  I have found execs -- to a person -- as hardworking and courageous as their filmmaker counterparts.  They are passionate and educated in film history and often put their job on the line to help a filmmaker get what he or she needs.  

Who are IFP -- and other indie filmmaking organizations -- working for?

When IFP Executive Director Joana Vicente was joined on the conference stage by several of the men who would help her bring the new Made in NY Media Center in Brooklyn to life, many in the audience were wondering if there were opportunities for them at this center.  Are there?

It remains to be seen.  The panel wasn't able to say much about the partners that they'd be working with to help the interactive media center come to life (those details will be announced in two weeks, Vicente said).  It was hinted that corporate partnerships were top priority.  And when the panel was asked how one could become involved, the answer was:  buy a membership!

The questions from the audience, understandably, were focused on how this affected them.  They wanted to know:

1.) What would happen if one didn't have the money for a membership?  How would the Media Center integrate into the community?  (It is a collaboration with the city, after all.)  

2.) What a membership would give access to.

Both questions were answered with a "We'll see."

This article is related to: IFP, Filmmaker Toolkit: Budgets, Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, Filmmaker Toolkit: Documentaries, Filmmaker Toolkit: Crowdfunding, Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, Tech





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