The Future of Indie Film?

The future of indie film culture is not corporate, but artist controlled. It is about owning your work and connecting with your audience—Ted Hope

As well as emails and the phone—though I avoid my mobile—I can now blog and use Twitter and Facebook and the Development-the-movie website. And today I’m thinking about how each has a different function for me, and for Development.

The website’s relatively fixed. It’s hard information, presented as simply as possible. Facebook’s an ongoing visual diary for Development-the-movie, where we can chat & make new friends. (You’re welcome to join us: just press the button in the right hand column.)

This blog’s where—helped by emails and comments from friends and strangers—I sometimes try to make sense of the world that I care most about: Wellywood where I live and work, my garden, women filmmakers and writers, and Development. On Twitter, I keep up with the global issues: film (especially indie film), piracy & crowd funding, feminist activity, books. And it’s there I got Ted Hope’s tweet at the top of this post, yesterday.

Ted Hope’s a producer. People tweet about his blog, and often retweet his tweets. And after last week in Wellywood, his tweet about the future of indie film seems spot on.

The evening with the cinematic panel and then Guillermo Del Toro was amazing, after a long day as a student helper at the SPADA—Screen Production And Development Association—conference. (I got to hold up signs with ‘5’ and ‘1’ on the front, to tell speakers they had 5 minutes or 1 minute left. I enjoyed it most for the Matthew Weiner / Kim Hill session about Mad Men. Fascinating. There they were, going at it head to head: would they see the sign? Maybe: there was Kim, nodding away at Matthew and suddenly, a little slightly off rhythm nod—Yes! She had seen it. Whew. All I knew about Mad Men before then was that my Canadian qi gong mate Danuta had entered a competition for a guest appearance and asked me to vote. But after hearing Matthew Weiner I plan to get a TV!)

At the One For the Road event, Guillermo Del Toro was great (partly because director Jonathan King—Black Sheep, Under the Mountain—was a highly informed and subtle interviewer?) Funny, touching, profane—even about pavlova—and generous. I hadn’t known that Pan’s Labyrinth is a twin work to The Devil’s Backbone, and now plan an evening with friends to watch them both, to experience the poem that he says they generate when seen together. The Paramount was packed. There was a lovely atmosphere, too. And afterwards in the foyer, the band from the (fictional) film played music that reminded me of Once, one of my favorite music films. Imagine the One For the Road DVD, including the two hours with Guillermo del Toro as an extra and that music—AH.

Together, the One For the Road night and Ted Hope’s tweet got me thinking about features New Zealanders make in New Zealand. Not the Film Commission funded ones. But the rest of them, the forty (out of seventy-five) features made here 2003-2008 that their writers and/or directors produced. This is where Development-the-movie fits.

We have the extraordinary Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh model to follow and that helps. There’s also Lippy Pictures, writers/producers Donna Malane and Paula Boock, whose telefeature Until Proven Innocent this year won a slew of awards, including best television drama. There’s Mike Riddell’s adaptation of his own novel, Insatiable Moon, that he’s co-produced. They started principal photography yesterday, with Rosemary Riddell—also a judge—directing (I love his blog, see the blog roll at right). And now One For the Road where writers Kelly Kilgour & Jamie McCaskill and director Sam Kelly appear to be owning their own work too, with their dynamic producer Bonnie Slater.

All these artist-controlled projects are a long way from the old paradigm of “the producer [and distributor] gets the money, the director gets the credit and the writer gets the blame”. And a long way from one collective term for a group of writers: “A whinge”. (Thanks to the Australian Writers Guild’s Storyline for these examples, just arrived in the mail: yes, info can also arrive in a green wooden letterbox.)

The ongoing INK story reinforces Ted Hope’s message and shows how fast things are moving. Here’s what INK’s writer/producer/director Jamin Winans says in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine. (Thanks Linda Nelson, for posting the link on Facebook.)

Here's the irony. We got completely screwed by the people distributing our first feature film, 11:59. We didn't get paid at all from one distributor, and barely from another. In the last five days, we've made more money from donations from "pirates" than we've ever made from a distributor. You tell me who the crooks are. Everyone is concerned piracy is going to destroy the indie film world, but I can say unequivocally that the distribution world is already destroyed because it's primarily made up of scam artists and thieves. If someone's going to rip off our film, I'd rather it be our fans than some sleaze bag feeding on struggling indie artists.

So here we go with Development-the-movie. Artist controlled. Writer and performance artist as producers. Directors, actors, and the other artist collaborators. Part of indie film’s fast-arriving future. Scary. Yes. And exciting.

PS I've never heard of a scam artist or thief in the New Zealand distribution world, and the only time I heard a New Zealand distributor speak, he enchanted me with his mix of commitment, knowledge and humour. And, I thought, integrity. Now there's the distributor I want, I thought.

PPS There's an interesting article in this week's Observer, headlined 'Artists cast as saviours of British cinema' . I've got no idea about the outcome of the Film Commission Review, but one way to go, given the current complexity of film delivery, is with a single state funder for all screen work, combining New Zealand on Air, the New Zealand Film Commission and Creative New Zealand's Independent Film Fund. That could provide a new and more focused funding niche for our artist films, the ones to compare with a British 'essay' film like Steve McQueen's Hunger about Bobby Sands in the Maze prison, or with Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy about John Lennon.

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