The over-saturation of the indie film industry

It’s a saying we’ve all heard many times before… too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. The broth, in this blog post, is the independent film community; and the cooks are the filmmakers, writers, DPs, producers, actors, designers, grips, and yes, film festivals. They all have a common goal: to make and promote good films, to propel the independent film community into a liable position, and to prove that you don’t have to get a million dollar deal with a major distributor to have your film seen by the public or to be considered a “success”. But with so many people striving for the same objective, the resources available to filmmakers to get their film made are now shared with hundreds of other people in the same position. How can we possibly continue a sustainable indie filmmaking community with countless projects drawing from a far-from-infinite pool of resources? Not to mention, there just aren’t enough movie-watchers, or enough hours in the day, to give each film the time and attention they deserve. Plus, not everyone is interested in independent films (or films in general for that matter), so the potential audience for indie movies is being stretched thin. The point is, there are a whole hell of a lot of films made each year. And it’s inevitable that many of those will fall through the cracks, even though in a smaller pool, they would stand out among the best.

Indie film has long been characterized as low-budget, and that has become even more prevalent in the past several years. It seems that I hear about a new Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign almost every day. Filmmakers from all over the world have a dream, and have the passion to back it up. But they’re just missing one thing: money. Filmmakers often start out with very little, are sometimes forced to ask for more from others just to get their project done (if they’re lucky), and afterwards find themselves in the same position they started in: a passionate and talented artist that is unable to make a living off of what they love to do. My question is, will our friends and family (and friends of friends of friends) soon tire of constantly being asked to contribute to film projects? Where do we go after that? Sure, we’d all love to see our neighbor, sister, high school friend, or colleague struggle less to work on their passion project. But does this really make the indie film scene better off?

Some would argue that it is, in fact, making things harder for filmmakers. The rate at which films are made has increased incredibly exponentially over the past couple of decades, which makes for an overwhelmed movie-going audience. How can we possibly FIND films we want to see, and then CHOOSE between them to finally decide what to watch? It’s exhausting, really. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the number of films being produced every year. It makes for a varied and exciting experience at film festivals – so that there isn’t a whole lot of overlap between festivals from the same genre, location, time of year, etc. But this high production rate almost gives our filmmakers false hope. They make a film, they submit to festivals, they maybe get accepted and play once or twice in front of an audience, they get to talk about it… and then, what? Indie films do get picked up for distribution once in a while (see my previous post, The VOD Dilemma), but what do the other thousands of filmmakers do with the project they just poured their hearts and souls into, that now appears to be at a dead end?

I don’t know the solution to this over-saturation problem. But what I do know is that I’d rather see fewer indie films produced and propelled to higher success, rather than hundreds being seen on a smaller scale, or not at all. We are used to watching from afar as our filmmaker friends courageously and constantly swim upstream; we feel sympathy for them, yet absolutely maintain belief in their talent and bravery to take on a daunting project like making a film. But, for a change, why don’t we promote a less competitive environment, create a climate where filmmakers who make the best damn indie film out there can actually create a career out of filmmaking. They deserve it.

Coming in the next post of the series: How does a festival programmer navigate the over-saturated indie film industry?

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