For: Renegade Cinema
It fucking baffles me everytime I encounter a filmmaker who expects any facet of the American film industry to give them any sort of due attention. Whether it’s a film festival, distributor or studio, by this point you’re nuts if you expect any one of them to give two shits about what you have to offer. You could be the greatest filmmaker to come along this century, but with the current state of the industry and considering the nature of those in power, none of what you have to offer matters unless you have the vision, energy and drive to make it matter on your own accord. This goes beyond having the ability to make a movie – but having the intellectual capacity to making a movie work as a sustainable business model is essential to the survival of film as a viable medium. What’s incredibly unsettling is the ease at which filmmakers are quick to change their careers when they stumble across these common obstructions and find that their careers aren’t panning out along the same lines as the storied filmmakers of the nineties. It goes without saying that filmmakers and cinephiles are pissed off at the current state of affairs but that’s no reason to walk off and get some lame backup degree. Committing yourself to a career you hate because it’s easier is for pussies. The future of film is going to rely almost entirely on the filmmaker being an inventive and innovative business person at every level and it’s important that you understand that it doesn’t stop with the completion of the film.
If you didn’t rest well this weekend, then you were probably unaware of the significance of the news that Quentin Tarantino has officially taken control of The New Beverly Cinema, an historic movie house located at 7165 Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles. Tarantino, who purchased the building in 2007, had previously relegated his duties to nothing more than that of an LA landlord and it would seem that, based on his most recent comments, this arrangement with the original owner of the business, the Torgan family, will remain in effect. Tarantino will, of course, make programming suggestions as his ownership of the house is clearly an extension of his power to keep film a relevant medium.
“As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.” -Quentin Tarantino
Filmmakers familiar with the story seem to have a sense of relief with the results and I’m no exception – except that I seem to be among the few who feel that this development is the way it was always supposed to go. Filmmakers with some level of wealth need to start buying up movie houses – it’s become the only way to keep things balanced in our favor. Acquiring an appropriate theatrical run is no longer guaranteed and the only way to ensure audiences have a chance to see a film the way the filmmaker intends for it to be experienced is by taking upon the duties of film exhibition themselves. This is important, especially with those of us who wish to continue seeing our work screened in the appropriate theatrical environment, rather than becoming “content” for online service providers. Filmmakers deserve the absolute best treatment for their work.
Filmmakers taking charge of the exhibition of their own work is the way it’s going to be and in an idealistic world, it’s how things should have always been. Cutting out the middle men from the equation allows the medium to thrive, whereas under the control of penny pinching bean counting corporate douchebags, we’re almost certainly bowing to the whims of exuberant and unrealistic financial expectations. The model of film creation and distribution in Hollywood allows only a very few to thrive, leaving the majority of creators to fend for themselves or abandon the industry altogether.
Tarantino’s interest in dabbling with film exhibition isn’t the only example of a filmmaker taking control of this end of the industry. After Hollywood began turning their backs on Kevin Smith, the director of the critically acclaimed film Chasing Amy and one of my all time favorites: Dogma, Smith took his work on the road, four-walling his feature film Red State and after a successful industry screening at a festival that shall remain nameless, took it upon himself to handle the distribution.
In New York, filmmaker Mark Blackman, the award winning director of the musical comedy Welcome to Harlem, is going balls to the wall with the creation of the Harlem Independent Theater (HIT), soon to open in uptown Manhattan. Blackman, disenchanted by the current state of the movie business and the lack of acceptable distribution opportunities, created the HIT in an effort to secure the future of film in the city that he loves.
Blackman’s idea for the future of film exhibition is that of a screening environment that is more social and filmmaker controlled. “It’s important that with our screen, we’re creating an opportunity for indie filmmakers to present their work to the community where they live and create” Blackman says of the project. The business model is simple in how it benefits the filmmaking community: with the ability to screen in theaters in the neighborhoods where filmmakers live and create, they are more likely to thrive and build their core fanbase. By rewriting the industry model and localising success, making a living out of filmmaking is within reach more now than it ever has been before. It’s just a matter of breaking away from the fairy tale expectations.
“Ten years ago you could make a movie” Blackman says, “get a deal, get a theatrical run, home video release and maybe find success as a filmmaker. Now we’re in a place where gear is so accessible and the internet is ten times pronounced that there is a flood of what the industry is now labeling “content” and it seems no one wants to be the one to deal with how to handle this.” And content in and of itself is a dirty word to many filmmakers. It’s not just being able to handle the enormous output of work, but finding an audience for the work that respects it enough to see it in a theatrical environment. The task begins at home, where the artist is creating and outlets to showcase these works are few and far between.
It’s hard to say where film exhibition will be ten years from now, but I’m in agreement with Blackman that film exhibition will be more localised and theaters willing to showcase this original work will be independently run. I don’t see AMC, Regal or any of the top five studios getting together to fix this cluster fuck of a problem they created with their tentpole business model and I don’t see fanboy audiences closing their wallets in protest of the films that are making it to theaters. Eventually we’re going to need to bring back quality stories from storytellers with original and important ideas.
“I think with the increase of everything being online, we’re going to see an increase of people looking for social gathering” says HIP’s Director of Community Outreach, Eleanor Luken, “it’s hard to view watching movies on the internet as the future.” Blackman and Luken see HIT as serving a big need for the community and are working hard to ensure that access to the venue for both filmmakers and film buffs are affordable and that the business model is innovative and allows for a diverse program.
The reality is that the finance stooges that run Hollywood failed miserably to usher the film industry into the 21st century and if we’re going to continue to exhibit our work where and how we intend, we’re going to have to take the reigns ourselves. I know it sucks, but putting something good into the world and ensuring its presented appropriately isn’t always the most enjoyable thing as any seasoned indie filmmaker can attest to. Welcome to independent cinema, where we have to do everything ourselves. We’re indie filmmakers, we should be used to taking on the whole load: write the script, find the funding, take care of all management and human resources issues – our crews hate us, our cast puts up with us up until they can get those lousy Law & Order callbacks and yes: we even have to take care of distribution and exhibition… all by our lonely selves. Take a queue from some of these cats: fuck the industry and release your work to the public on your terms and get the work seen the way you originally intended to have it seen.
When the New Beverly Cinema re-opens in October and when the HIT eventually opens in uptown Manhattan and when the next four-wall tour comes rolling into your town, rest assured you’ll be witnessing the execution of the securing of the future of the new American Film Industry and yes, old Hollywood will be left behind and just maybe, we’ll see a lot more filmmakers succeeding. You are the film industry.
This OPED was written for Renegade Cinema on September 7, 2014.