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Our Obligation To Share

by Ted Hope
August 4, 2011 3:00 AM
8 Comments
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There are so many things that we need to do in order to make independent film a sustainable and vibrant culture and industry. That said, we are in a better place to do that than ever before. For the first time in our culture, we can say that that vision is dependent on no one else other than those who participate in it. The question is whether we are up for the challenge.

This post was originally conceived for and posted -- in a slightly different form -- on Sundance's new filmmaker-to-filmmaker site Artist Services.

There is no denying that the Indie Film World has changed. In many ways, “independence” is a true option now – in every step of the
process. Yet, we certainly have a long way to go in achieving that
dream.

We all strive for quality, funding, access, distribution, marketing in
creating our films and reaching audiences with them. These aspects all keep
getting better. We have been finding answers – incredibly great
solutions – regularly as of late. But let’s be honest here: we want
more and we need it fast. Despite the improvements, the increase in
participants and the fracturing of the marketplace (two great
occurrences, in my opinion) unfortunately also make it harder to earn
a living or sustain a community than ever before. We have to do
something about it.

I have tremendous faith that both our indie film culture and community
will continue to get better – but that faith is conditional. My faith is in people, and by that, my faith is in
the extension from the individual to the general: community. My
delight and frustration come from the same source, these people, for
it is inherent for such a great and diverse group to have
disagreements: We don’t all want and need the same thing (thankfully,
again).

What I want -- and what we need -- from everyone is both action and a change in behavior. I love to do things, to get things done, to generate even more – we can make this world a better
place. We can improve our films. We can build our audiences and
strengthen our community.

The challenge is whether it matters enough to us, that we can invest the time to
create something truly free -- beyond which we call "independent". Sometimes I fear it doesn't matter enough to us because we have not yet embraced the simple concepts that can get us there. Maybe we don't want the responsibility that is required to truly own our work (figuratively and literally). Maybe it feels better to blame others (aka The System) for our inability to do better and really reach people with our work. But if it does matter and we accept the responsibility, we must embrace transparency.

Transparency does not end with data. It doesn’t even start there. Transparency begins with us. Transparency is a process, a behavior. By definition, it is an openness to share – share not only our successes,
but also our process and all it entails. It seems we have had a lot
of trouble committing to this openness.

Sharing our failures is perhaps both the greatest need and greatest
challenge. We learn more from our mistakes
than anything else. Yet throughout the two decades of this rise of
indie film that we have all enjoyed, we have allowed our failures to
vanish uncharted and unanalyzed. We have the tools to record our
failures, to share them, and to learn from them. We cannot continue
to allow this opportunity to grow to escape us. The sustainability of
our community and careers depends on it.

Transparency also requires us to share both our process and our
feelings about that process. We are not alone. As much as creativity
is often a solitary process – at least in the early stages – the
ability to get it done, discovered, appreciated and presented, is
anything but. As we have not yet mastered the art (and never will,
thankfully) of the form that represents all the Pillars Of Cinema, we
will always be frustrated -- but that frustration need not stall us. If we can learn to share that frustration,
to utilize that to build hope that these challenges can be met, we
will not be demoralized. We will not feel alienated. We will
recognize and learn how to depend on our community. We have to do it.

A Truly Free Film Movement requires “direct to fan” and “direct to
artist” engagement. Communication is not a one-way flow. Nor is
communication a flow brought about via a tube from artist to fan or
vice versa. It is a flow that loops in the community, embraces it for
all it is, warts and all. It cannot, nor should it be, an echo
chamber of agreement. It is a river made up of many individuals and
many communities, full of disagreements and opposing needs. Most of
all, though, it must be characterized by this willingness to share.

Think about the world you want. Think about how you can now actually
earn a living doing what you love. Think about how you get there and
how you can sustain it. It is all more possible than ever before. I
cannot imagine that such thoughts could lead you to any other process
than one of sharing. Sharing leads to engagement – which then prompts
action. Wonder why you aren’t getting more done? Perhaps because you
aren’t sharing. Let’s make this blog benefit us all. Let’s allow it
to truly build something. It all begins with your sharing:
Contribute. Comment. Spread. Be part of something great.

I keep To Do Lists. Many of them. I will never complete them all. I
try to develop good habits that become something close to rituals. I
try to introduce the people I know to each other. I try to give new
voices the platform to inform others, and join with them in community
endeavors. I try to take the conversation further. I don’t think my
way is the only way or even the best way for others. I make it a
point to read what others write, and try to join the conversation. I
make it a point to watch new work, and have a screening series to
share it with others. To me, each of these activities is part of what
it means to be an independent filmmaker vested in his community.

Until this week, none of the independent support organizations
functioned as a true community – with a flow of communication between
all participants. These organizations, as helpful as they are,
function mostly as service and access providers, without doing all
that is necessary to foster communication. With the launch of the
Sundance Community blog we have the opportunity to truly share -- or at least those that are alumni of the festival do. I have done my best to make this blog a community hub for all indie filmmakers, offering it up as a soap box for many. I am sure there are many other similar sites (and I wish I could learn of them. Please let me know if you know of them) where creators and their facilitators share common concerns and search for solutions. The question still is what are we going to do with this opportunity to communicate?

Hopefully we will have leaders, voices of authority, that can help
launch and direct conversations. Hopefully, we will have participants
that make it part of their practice to join conversations and take
them further. Someone always needs to step forward. And someone else
needs to suggest a new path. Everyone needs to find the courage to shoulder the responsibility that is
community building, for it is from that vantage point that we can see
the mountaintop that is sustainability.

I get discouraged sometimes by the time it takes to manage this blog. I get discouraged by how slow people are to participate in change, to take risks, to participate in community endeavors -- even sometimes at the temporary delay of their personal goals, but I WILL MAKE THE COMMITMENT TO BE A REGULAR PARTICPANT IN THE COMMUNITY, BUT I NEED YOU TO DO THE SAME. WILL YOU PLEASE JOIN ME? Or at least continue to participate?

8 Comments

  • Fantasybuster | August 11, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    This is merely fantasy unless the independent filmmaking communities also gets a boost in our collective self-esteems. We are also in great need of group course on respect and humility. When once the filmmaking communities were interested in helping each other succeed, one can't really say that this generation shares the same spirit. I've been all of this country making films and it's becoming more and more difficult to find crew who aren't trying to take over each others productions (here is where creative respect kicks in) or simply being manipulative to make a production serve only their needs instead of it being about the project's success as a whole which means success for everyone.

    Everyone wants to get all warm and fuzzy about indie filmmaking but fail to really interact as a community. How many of you commenters are willing to work on someone elses film for free? If you are launching into some explanation about why you deserve to be paid (of course you do at some point in time...) then you are part of the problem.

    I love reading articles about this because they sound so hopeful but then I just get angry because it could be reality but isn't because of selfish "indies". I've had more bigger name people willing to work on my projects for free than any sorry indie who actually has little or no experience when they are being so demanding.

  • redmond fitzpatrick | August 7, 2011 11:17 AMReply

    excellent post. i would have to agree with the sentiments Karl posted. as someone who is now making his first feature, people like ted hope and others who share info on this blog, on twitter etc really do help. a lot of this info is not obvious for someone starting out, especially in a place like Ireland. and though it is more difficult maybe to get noticed as starting out film maker with so many films now being made, the point is that there is no one to prevent that film being made, and distributed, no one to prevent a real talent making a film who would other wise be at someone else mercy. there will be much more rubbish in the future but also, i believe, that if this concept of sharing grows many more quality and original ideas

  • doghouse | August 4, 2011 11:07 AMReply

    Exasperation with those "voices of authority" could be one reason the readership is loathe and unresponsive these days. There should be no offense in pointing out that Ted and most of his contributors don't rely on the "free film" producing and marketing approaches typically promoted in these pages. And who can blame them? Those strategies won't provide income to producers, to investors or to the filmmaker. They won't get films of ambition realized, and they won't sell finished films. They're great in theory, but only for other people. Or they work once every 10 years and then the power is cut.

    From the filmmaker's perspective, the medium of narrative film today looks the same as it always has: a few over-praised films with the usual earnest indie characteristics emerge on the festival scene, are promoted in the traditional way on the theatrical circuit and the filmmakers seek to exploit that exposure. That so many insist on an alternate reality, where the internet sends the filmmaker on a South Seas vacation and finances her next film, is the real wonder.

    If it's true that everyone, but everyone, still wants to work with those "voices of authority" -- this unhappy troll included -- why not? The Hope/Killer people are great at what they do, that's hardly a secret. But the fact that the key indie producers of the 90s remain dominant -- so little prospect of making decently funded movies that don't satisfy the tastes of the same people, year after year?-- is proof enough that the medium can't and doesn't develop, that it's as dead as dead can get.

    That, in any case, is doghouse's last word here. Delete, next message.

  • Joseph Beyer | August 4, 2011 8:28 AMReply

    Ted, thank you so much for your contributions. I echo everyone here when I say how important it is to keep reminding ourselves that the collective knowledge we all need and seek can be found right in the backyard of our own independent film community, we only need the right format and mindset to share in order to benefit.

  • David | August 4, 2011 8:05 AMReply

    Yes, Independent has become a tainted word, as it normally
    infers dependence on the success of a Movie that was similar, and made money. That's what ruined the Studios.
    Translating independent and original thought into a completed Movie
    is a ridiculously arduous process, but if we do not pursue that goal
    we are destined to turn out remakes, and that doesn't benefit anyone.
    (Including the Investors)

  • Karl | August 4, 2011 4:42 AMReply

    ...of course, I realize there are only 50 something weekends in a year :)

  • Karl | August 4, 2011 4:34 AMReply

    After months, no maybe years, of sending a feature script around, getting "notes" and "feedback" ad nauseum, I finally bit the bullet and just started shooting. I shot two sequences last weekend. It was an indescribable high that I haven't had in years. I have a story I want to tell, I believe in it, and I will not wait for anyone's permission to tell it, even if I have to shoot over 100 weekends for a year. I will make this film.

    Thanks for your encouraging posts Ted.

    best,

    Karl Shefelman

  • Chris Dorr | August 4, 2011 3:39 AMReply

    Ted, A great post. It captures to me what is the essence of the one thing that is changing all our "media" lives--the quick evolution of the Internet. The most important thing for filmmakers to understand is what that change means and to actively participate in every aspect of that change.

    Its audience already understands it, filmmakers simply have to catch up with its own audience. Sharing and transparency are the keys to unlocking the true power of the tools of social media that can build a robust ecosystem that can sustain independent creation. Thanks for continuing to point that out.

Hope on social

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