From Newsletter Dated: May 11, 2018
WHAT IS A CROWDSOURCING TEAM
Little did I know when I started this project, it’s not as easy as the typical artist would like it to be. Crowdfunding is not exactly a silver bullet to kill the monster of big competition for highly coveted distribution contracts. Nor does it help build a film career, but Crowd Sourcing does.
Crowd Sourcing Is a relatively new way for entrepreneurs and artists to find their unique audience in a media environment that is increasingly more cluttered with every passing decade. In communications school they call this “audience fragmentation” and it happens as a result of the ongoing development of communications technologies, which gives consumers more choice to satisfy their varied tastes in media content. The independent film artist has been hit by this reality as much as, if not more than, big business because we’ve lost access to traditional distribution channels and have little resources with which we can access these avenues ourselves. To elaborate, I want to use a little history that I learned in University communications classes. In Hollywood, there are both studio and independent productions. In contrast, there are independent art films, which I believe, adhere more closely to a tradition of storytelling that spans millennia.
In Hollywood this is a little controversial, but the viewpoint is informed by academic study, as well as continuing education and real world experience. Plus some of the best, most useful information is controversial since a single dominant voice often controls the conversation. I’ve heard the dominant perspective voiced at the film conference podium. These are the opinions of Hollywood players that come from the school of the Hollywood machine and are influenced by the dictates of studio heads that generate a set of marketable specifications determined by their customer, the media content buyer.
In contrast, the alternative voice is that of the Hollywood outsider, storytellers who decide what the story should be by focusing on what speaks to us from our inner voice.
In the 1990’s there was a healthy market for independent films where 25% of the screens in America were dedicated to the independent artist. These art films were cheap to make (thanks to the American New Wave tradition) and because of the independent film festivals of that era, they also became popular, and therefore profitable. We watched people like Robert Rodriguez, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater and others go from obscurity to household name. These filmmakers got noticed by making films (and struggling to do so) then screening in indie festivals like Sundance and SXSW. The distribution was handled by major studios because they’ve controlled much of the business since building distribution infrastructures back in the 1920’s.
Once the numbers came in, the major studios found that it would be a good move to build their own art film brands so they could reduce overhead. They started marketing their art films through the same indie festivals used by individual filmmakers and this made it more difficult for indie artists to get noticed. Actually, the Majors are known for making some really good art films using these new subdivisions and this combined with their deep pockets is the reason they’re so successful beating out true indies at our own game.
The alternative in Hollywood is the Independent production/distribution company. I just finished a book authored by a Hollywood development executive who lays out the numbers. I was surprised to find that 80% of the movies made in Hollywood come from the independent production/distribution companies. It sounds like good news on the surface because, hey, their indie! They’re indie…I’m indie, AND they have deeper pockets….all I have to do is get in good with them and bang, bypass the Majors. But, no dice. These companies decide what to make by attending film markets like IFM where they meet with international buyers. Once they know what their buyers are looking for (genre and stars), the studio executives know what to hand off to their development executives, who then hire a tried and true writer, chosen because the executive is under pressure to make money and the preferred writer has exhibited the ability to deliver a script that meets all the business specs handed him by the executive. What does this mean for the film school grad? Screening rights have been presold to a buyer before the script is even written, the company does not want to read an unsolicited spec script written by an auteur director, and they are not going to hire you, the auteur to write their next script.
TRADITIONAL STORY & INDEPENDENT ART FILMS
Story is a community based tradition that has existed in every culture throughout history around the world. Joseph Campbell wrote many books on the subject over the course of his decades long career as a professor of mythology. The takeaway is that, the tendency to interpret truth through narrative is ingrained in all of us. It’s in our genes to communicate and understand our world through story. Before modern industry, stories were instrumental in conveyance of principles to younger generations, passing along ideas that were important for growth into functional adult community members, addressing social or environmental problems or challenges, and even for survival. These stories had cultural purpose and meaning. The purpose of the myth was to hold up a mirror, to reflect the past and influence the future. In a word, it was art. Then an industry popped up, a new opportunity was presented…Sales. Hollywood California is the epicenter of the world media industry (New York city is doing pretty well in that department as well. Hollywood started in New York).
The endeavor to build prosperity is not inherently a bad thing (though it can be), but as we see from looking at the inner workings of “the biz”, we notice that the purpose of prosperity creates a different context for the practice of storytelling. Context drives content, so the motivation of money changes the content of today’s stories. This raises the question, how functional are most contemporary stories relative to the original ones delivered in the original tradition?.
A true independent filmmaker is not motivated by money. We don’t attend the film markets. We live reality and tell stories that reflect the reality that we’re living. The motivation for the artist is our own firm belief (solidified by support from others in our community) that we are storytellers. We don’t take this privilege lightly and work hard to entertain as well as contribute to a meaningful social dialogue. And, unlike the studios, we are held accountable by the viewing public.
THE TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
Traditional stories are a dialogue of sorts. They communicate a message that changes over time as they get told, re-told and criticized by the community. The social conversation develops and grows over time and it is all under-girded by a common tradition of sharing something relatable and meaningful.
So, if stories are that important, if they’re so tightly weaved into the fabric of the human experience, shouldn’t society want less focus on money and more on socially valuable messages? Of course, we live in a society based on the market system, which is a good thing because it pulled us all out of the middle ages, a time when people were either master or slave, no middle ground. But, the system is flawed because it has fallen out of balance and big companies easily squash little ones (in academic speak this happens due to loss of atomism). while we can’t stop companies from pursuing self interest, we definitely have something to gain from balance in the market and balance prevents the pursuit of wanton self interest, a shady practice that the market system was designed to prevent. Somehow, the 20th century industry was able to reserve us the 25% of screen space that we had before Hollywood gobbled it up and I can’t figure out why we can’t have it today.
The topic of market regulation is pre-mature because justification would require a lack of opportunity or competition, but the internet has given independents a path forward in finding support for our art based careers. We can now compete in a market normally dominated by industrial era, balance-tipping economies of scale. Yes! If this open-internet thing works out, it’ll be an effective way to preserve our culture based storytelling tradition and, should stabilize the careers of our artists who collaborate to bring a meaningful and entertaining movie experience to neighborhood theatres on a weekly basis!
WHY DOES IT MATTER
I bring it up because this is something I know about and wanted to share with you all. The provision of interesting and useful content that is relevant for you is my contribution from the coffee shop of the day. (today it’s Brady’s coffee in downtown Tyler, TX. In case you want a bad-ass pumpkin spiced breve, 1/2&1/2…not milk, with a touch of real vanilla and cinnamon…it’s just adjacent to the Trinity pediatrics clinic where Mom took us for checkups and lollipops as kids). I don’t expect to get anything for free, and with this in mind I and ask for your support as I plan this upcoming crowdfunding campaign that starts next month.
There are different types of supporters that are essential in planning a successful campaign. Your assistance helps the campaign to perform better because through careful planning, our campaign team can utilize the psychology of effective communication and cut through the clutter in the game of the internet. I take my play from a page in the crowdsourcing playbook which has been carefully curated by the pioneers of the discipline. It addresses search engine optimization while also improving the campaign’s appearance for those who don’t know me, the artist. The statistics show that this plan increases the possibility of success. A successful campaign, aside from funding the completion of my film, will also result in adding new members to my crowd, a group that I’ll carry with me through my career.
1. Early Supporter
These are friends that want to help the campaign’s success by donating funds in the first week of the campaign. The contribution amount is completely up to you.
2. The Host Committee Supporter
These are friends who will tap into their personal networks and help build the list of early supporters. They forward emails and social media posts to their networks on a set schedule (content for the emails and posts are supplied for you by the artist).
3. Campaign Team Supporters
These are members of the Team that actually execute the campaign. They help to update and manage the Indiegogo site, communicate with contributors, and other creative tasks, as needed.
Three summers ago I spent the off season volunteering with the Austin Film Festival as a reader for the heart of film screenplay/teleplay writer’s competition. Two summers ago, AFF again. Last Summer, I focused on writing and acting classes which sharpen writing and directing skills. This summer I’m doing the crowdsourcing campaign, finishing The Land, and also writing on several new projects.
I’ve been confirmed by the NBA to continue working with the Spurs next season, but until then, I’m done make money. Instead, I’m spending money developing the film career. Fifteen years ago, as I worked through the best (and most intense) four years of my life, I had no idea it would take this much additional work to build a career in film. So, as I sit here at the local coffee shop, I can’t help but feel a little guilty asking for support, yet I tell myself that it’s just a form of patronage that I hopefully have earned the right to receive. In the next month, I should have some sample footage for you to watch and I think giving you that will alleviate my guilt! (I might even have a trailer that you may critique to your heart’s content)
So please, do email me back and let me know if you can help fill any of these rolls in the campaign. I’m getting close to having my first film completed and would love nothing more than to share the experience with as many of you as possible.
Thanks for the support you’ve already shown through this newsletter!
Blake (your friendly neighborhood filmmaker)