WHERE DO YOU STAND AS A FILMMAKER?
The film industry, a dynamic and multifaceted field, is currently facing a significant challenge in the form of a widespread issue that is impacting filmmakers of all levels. To grasp the complexity and implications of what's going on, it's essential to understand the structure of the film community, which can be broadly categorized into three tiers. Each of these tiers represents different stages within the industry, marked by varying degrees of access, resources, and influence.
Group A represents the elite, the crème de la crème of the film world. This group includes legendary figures like Christopher Nolan, known for his mind-bending, calculated storytelling prowess, and Zach Snyder, a filmmaker synonymous with stylistic flair and bold narratives. Directors of all and any superhero blockbuster also fall into this category. They command enormous budgets, often running into hundreds of millions, allowing for grand-scale productions.
Their access doesn't stop at financial resources. They have the luxury of working with award-winning actors, renowned screenwriters, and skilled technical teams. Their films benefit from extensive marketing campaigns, spanning global premieres, press tours, and massive advertising efforts. They also have the privilege of working within well-established studio systems, providing a support network that oversees the complexities of production, distribution, and promotion.
III. THE PASSIONATE AMATEUR ENTRY TIER
On the other end of the spectrum are the passionate amateurs, consisting of amateur filmmakers. These individuals create films out of pure passion, not for financial gain or professional acclaim. Their work is often deeply personal, driven by a desire to tell stories that resonate with them. They usually operate on minimal budgets, relying on local talents and resources. Their films might be shot in their hometowns, using friends and family as cast and crew.
These filmmakers often showcase their work in local theatres or on online platforms like YouTube, seeking to share their vision with a broader audience. Their success is not measured by box office numbers but by the fulfilment of bringing their creative visions to life.
II THE STRUGGLING INDEPENDENTS MIDDLE TIER
Now, the focal point of our discussion is the struggle independent. This tier sits precariously between the two extremes. These filmmakers possess the ambition and drive of the powerhouse creators but are constrained by resources more akin to the amateurs. They are often independent filmmakers striving to break into the industry, working with limited budgets that pale compared to the powerhouse makers.
Imagine a filmmaker from tier II endeavouring to produce a feature film in tier I with a budget that barely scratches the surface of what's needed. They navigate the complex and often costly world of film festivals, hoping to gain recognition and distribution deals. For instance, submitting one of our films such as, 'Cherry', or 'Dust' to various festivals can result in expenses upwards of $4,000, with only a small fraction of festivals accepting the film.
THE PREDATORY TRAP: DISTRIBUTION NIGHTMARES
Post-festival, filmmakers from the middle tier, particularly those from the independent sector, often confront the formidable and complex landscape of film distribution. This stage presents a critical juncture in the lifecycle of a film, where the potential for wider audience reach and financial return comes into play. However, it also brings a plethora of challenges and pitfalls.
One of the primary obstacles these filmmakers face is dealing with sales agents and distributors.
These entities often entice filmmakers with promises of wide exposure and lucrative deals. However, these come at a significant cost. Sales agents and distributors typically demand a comprehensive package of deliverables. This package often includes professionally produced trailers, high-quality marketing materials, subtitles in multiple languages, and sometimes even specific technical requirements for the film itself. For independent filmmakers, who often work with limited budgets, these additional demands can severely strain their financial resources, adding substantial costs to a project that may already be stretched thin.
Once the film is distributed and made available on streaming platforms such as Amazon or iTunes, a new set of challenges emerges. The financial arrangements between filmmakers, distributors, and streaming platforms are often opaque and complex. Filmmakers frequently find themselves entangled in dubious financial agreements where their earnings are offset by various expenses claimed by the distributors. These expenses can include marketing costs, distribution fees, and other miscellaneous charges, which are often vaguely defined and inadequately explained.
The lack of transparency in these financial arrangements poses a significant issue. Filmmakers struggle to understand the breakdown of their film's earnings and the justification for the costs deducted. This situation can lead to a scenario where, despite their film being available on major platforms and potentially reaching a wide audience, the financial return to the filmmaker is minimal or even non-existent.
This predicament underscores the need for more transparent and filmmaker-friendly distribution practices. There is a growing call for streaming platforms and distributors to adopt more transparent and equitable financial arrangements. Such changes would enable filmmakers to have a clearer understanding of their earnings and the expenses charged by distributors.
The post-festival phase for middle-tier filmmakers is fraught with challenges, particularly in the realm of distribution. The high costs of meeting deliverable requirements and the opaque financial arrangements with distributors and streaming platforms make it difficult for these filmmakers to reap the full benefits of their hard work. The need for more transparent and equitable practices in the film distribution industry is evident, and addressing these challenges is crucial for the sustainability and growth of independent filmmaking.
A SYSTEM RIPE FOR CHANGE
We independent filmmakers often find ourselves ensnared in an exploitative ecosystem. This system is characterized by a pattern where filmmakers are burdened with high costs and are frequently met with unkept promises regarding the distribution and exposure of their work. A significant factor in this scenario is the heavy reliance of streaming services on traditional distributors, which serves to reinforce and perpetuate this exploitative model.
However, there are emerging opportunities and potential solutions to these challenges. A crucial step towards a more equitable environment involves reforming the way film festivals operate. Currently, many festivals do not provide adequate support to the filmmakers they showcase. A change in this approach could involve film festivals beginning to compensate filmmakers for their work and covering their travel expenses, ensuring that their participation is not financially burdensome. Furthermore, film festivals should shift their focus towards fostering audience engagement and appreciation of the films, rather than concentrating on hosting extravagant, unrelated events.
In addition to these changes at the festival level, there is a need to reconsider the traditional film distribution model. Filmmakers should explore and utilize direct submission platforms, such as Amazon, FilmHub, and Vimeo. These platforms allow filmmakers to bypass the middlemen typically involved in film distribution, potentially leading to better financial outcomes and greater control over their work.
Innovators in the industry, such as us here at Young One Studio, try to inspire by providing examples of how alternative distribution models can be successful. Smaller festivals that focus on the maker rather than the money, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Vimeo, demonstrate the potential of these new avenues (even Tiktok now that the video upload length has all been extended). These platforms not only provide wider accessibility and visibility for filmmakers but also offer a more direct connection with their audience. By embracing such alternative models, filmmakers can find new ways to share their work, reach audiences, and potentially create a more sustainable and fulfilling career in the film industry.
LETS EMBRACE A NEW PATH
We require a departure from conventional methods. The key to our middle-tier success lies in embracing boldness and innovation in our approach to distributing and showcasing the work.
One of the primary strategies for filmmakers is to explore alternative methods of distribution that provide greater control and potentially better financial returns. Self-hosted screenings are a compelling option in this regard. These screenings allow us, the filmmakers, to directly engage with the audience, create unique viewing experiences, and retain a larger portion of the revenue. This approach can be particularly effective in building a loyal fan base and creating buzz around the work.
Direct online releases are another avenue that middle-tier filmmakers should highly consider. Platforms such as Vimeo On Demand, Amazon Direct Video, or even YouTube offer filmmakers the ability to bypass traditional distribution channels entirely. This method not only allows for a broader and more global reach but also enables filmmakers to maintain more control over their work, from pricing to marketing strategies.
In pursuing these alternative paths we need to remain cautious of traditional paths that often come with lofty promises but yield little in terms of creative control, financial gain, or audience reach. Many traditional distribution deals can be restrictive and may not serve the best interests of the filmmaker, particularly in the indie or low-budget sector.
Moreover, the current digital age offers unprecedented opportunities for marketing and audience engagement. Social media, content marketing, and community-building are tools that we can leverage to promote our work. By creating compelling online content and engaging directly with audiences filmmakers can build a strong, supportive community around the work.
Success in today's film industry requires a mix of creativity not just in the art but also in the approach to distribution and marketing. By exploring new methods of distribution, such as self-hosted screenings and direct online releases, and being cautious of traditional, often less beneficial paths, filmmakers can carve out a niche and achieve greater independence and success.
In the complex and often opaque world of filmmaking, especially for those in the independent or emerging sectors, community and shared knowledge are invaluable assets. I strongly advocate for filmmakers to actively participate in a communal exchange of stories, experiences, and insights. This practice is not just about sharing the highlights of one's journey, but also the struggles, setbacks, and learning experiences that come with navigating the challenging landscape of filmmaking.
Creating a platform for open dialogue and support can be immensely beneficial for filmmakers at all levels. By sharing our stories, filmmakers can offer practical advice, cautionary tales, and inspirational success stories. This exchange of information helps others to navigate the myriad challenges of the industry, from funding and production to distribution and marketing.
Sharing films is just the beginning. Discussing the behind-the-scenes processes, the difficulties encountered in distribution, the successes and failures of different marketing strategies, and the financial realities of filmmaking can all contribute to a richer, more supportive community. For instance, a filmmaker who has navigated the complexities of a distribution deal can offer valuable insights to peers who are just beginning to explore these avenues.
Moreover, staying engaged with the community through forums, social media groups, or filmmaker collectives provides continuous learning and networking opportunities. It creates a space for innovation, where filmmakers can collaborate, share resources, and support each other’s projects.
This conversation should also extend beyond filmmakers to include other stakeholders in the industry such as distributors, festival organizers, streaming platform executives, and audiences. Understanding their perspectives can offer a more holistic view of the industry and help identify areas where changes are needed.
By fostering a culture of openness, support, and shared learning, filmmakers can collectively work towards revolutionizing the industry. This revolution is not just about individual success, but about creating a more equitable, transparent, and sustainable industry for all. So, I encourage filmmakers to share their journeys, engage actively with the community, and contribute to a movement that seeks to transform the filmmaking landscape for the better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maty's journey began in Perth, Western Australia, where he grew up and cultivated his passions. From a tender age, he embraced the realms of acting and music, a journey that eventually led him to the renowned West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. This prestigious institution, whose alumni encompass luminaries like Hugh Jackman, Frances O'Connor, and Tim Minchin, deepened his ardour for the stage and performance.
Over the past two decades, Maty's artistic odyssey has seen him grace the stages of Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, and national and international theatres. He has not only collaborated with, directed, and written for students and graduates of Australia's leading acting conservatories – NIDA, WAAPA, and VCA – but has also embarked on a remarkable journey as a filmmaker and director.
In 2015, Maty founded YoungOneStudio in Melbourne, a venture that later found its way to Los Angeles in 2018. Maty's directorial prowess has flourished, resulting in award-winning films, music videos, and commercials, often featuring some of Hollywood's brightest rising stars. Additionally, he has lent his cinematographic expertise to two SAG-AFTRA feature films. 'Single Mother By Choice' is presently being broadcast on (HBO) MAX and was showcased at the prestigious 2022 Festival de Cannes. The second film is scheduled for release in the year 2024.
Maty's accolades in directing and cinematography have spanned continents, with his films being showcased at illustrious events like the Festival de Cannes, the Paris Cinema Awards, the Micheaux Film Festival, the San Francisco Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, New York Movie Awards, New York Film Festival, and Outfest LA – a mere glimpse of his impressive portfolio. Furthermore, Maty's laurels extend to his acting prowess, solidifying his status as an awarded Australian actor.
Presently, Maty continues to own and operate Young One Studio, nestled in the creative enclave of North Hollywood. Notably, he continues to win awards for his short films, music videos and online commercials and eagerly anticipates sharing his forthcoming cinematic endeavours in the upcoming 2024 feature release.