By Paula Bernstein and Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire September 20, 2013 at 12:22PM
Is the social issue doc -- specifically, the publicly funded social issue doc -- dead?
In the week's most raucous panel, which was ostensibly put together to address the "Citizen Koch" controversy, Eugene Jarecki implied that documentary filmmakers interested in bringing attention to an issue needed to look beyond public funding and look beyond a public television broadcast to make a difference.
Jarecki, who took his War on Drugs doc "The House I Live In" on a tour of US prisons this year, chided the "Citizen Koch" filmmakers for not being better at promoting their revoked funding more, and noted that some filmmakers (like Laura Poitras) are putting their lives on the line to expose our time's most pressing issues. While the panel was appreciative of public funding for documentaries like "House," Alex Gibney's "Park Avenue," and Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's "Detropia," they were clearly pushing themselves and the doc community to figure out ways to make their films more than just a broadcast.
Can we get investors to care about more than box office (and Facebook likes)?
Echoing the concerns of Impact Partners head Dan Cogan, who also spoke at this year's TIFF doc conference, Debika Shome of big data aggregator Harmony Institute took the stage to explain how we might measure how documentaries and other films can make a difference beyond box office.
It's important that Cogan and Shome have two different starting points here. Cogan's idea that filmmakers must give their investors "the gift" of a film that is something special, that is something that both the filmmaker and the investor want to see in the world. It is hard to quantify and it is based on the human relationship between filmmaker and investor. Shome's inclination is to encourage the quantification of how many kilojoules of electricity "An Inconvenient Truth" has conserved on its own. And so as we say "Good luck!" to the statisticians and computers tasked with quantifying that, investors may be persuaded by the idea of an objective measure of success. The indie film community must undoubtedly decide how much it wants to participate in the big data worldview.
What is social capital and is it necessary to make a film?
Gone are the days when filmmakers can focus on their work alone and assume the audience will be there once they're ready to screen their project. Now, everyone seems focused on developing a brand and creating a relationship with the audience even before the production begins.
As Indiewire's Dana Harris said on the "Social Capital: You're Richer Than You Think," panel, "Social capital is an essential element now of being a filmmaker. There is no real way to be an independent filmmaker without it. Making any film, much less an indie film is an effort of a group of people. But the amount of trust required not to just get the film made, but the film seen, requires social capital."
But, it's not just about creating a Facebook page and tweeting about what you ate for lunch. You've got to invest time in your social profile and develop relationships through social platforms like Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. Which leaves many filmmakers wondering -- who has time to Tweet when you're busy scrambling for funding and preparing to make a film?
What's the deal with crowdfunding? Can it help me make my film?
Crowdfunding is the hot topic these days among filmmakers -- especially because of the changes that will come next Monday, September 23rd when the JOBs Act could usher in a new era of equity crowdfunding. The good news is that it will likely mean more money on crowdfunding platforms. The bad news is that there will also likely be more competition.
"When this becomes extremely popular, you're going to be competing with the Disney organization," said Robert S. Fingerman, CPA and president, Independent Films Production Consultants. "I think that's going to happen and it would be disastrous."
There's also the question of celebrity crowdfunding and how it affects independent films. While some filmmakers are concerned that folks like Spike Lee and Zach Braff are taking away money from smaller projects, Jon Reiss, director of "Bomb It 2," disagrees, saying, "they're bringing more people into the community and they're making the pot bigger and getting people used to crowdfunding."
Keep in mind though that the "donations" you receive via crowdfunding are not gifts and you will have to pay taxes. There are a lot of other challenges that filmmakers face when crowdfunding, so keep in mind that it's not as simple as it looks.