I’m a filmmaker, and have been for more than a decade. Seriously, I’ve got an IMDb page and everything (it’s less impressive than you think; they’ll give those things to a dog). I spend sickening amounts of money on gear and graduate school. And at this moment, I’m as qualified as anybody else to say we really are about to see doors open to artists who never would have been able to afford filmmaking, and also open the floodgates to a tidal wave of crap unlike any outside of sewer workers playing with dynamite have ever witnessed.
And, unlike every other time you read this, it might actually be true for once.
There are a couple of things that are changing independent filmmaking for good and driving down the cost.
1) Cheap, Amazing Cameras
When I started out making movies, I scrimped and saved and did everything right at my crappy movie theater job (every film nerd works in a movie theater in high school), and spent $900 on the state of the art in terms of what I could actually afford: a Canon ZR, which is so freaking old and useless, you can’t even find a picture of it on Google.
It shot miniDV, interlaced, with a fixed lens. Think the Flipcam, only built by the Soviet Union and nine times as expensive. In my defense, it was the late ’90s, I was sixteen, and I didn’t understand that the film movement I had heard about shooting on miniDV, Dogme 95, was shooting on much more expensive miniDV cameras that had lenses that didn’t suck.
To give you an idea of how much things have changed, I spent $900 a few weeks ago on the Canon t2i:
If that looks like a better camera, that’s because it is. Basically, for less than a grand you can own a camera that shoots highly professional video at an HD resolution and has interchangeable lenses, meaning you can achieve all sorts of fancy “looks like a movie” effects. And for what used to be the cost of a professional video camera that could only do what the manufacturer said so, RED Digital Cinema is going to roll out the Scarlet, which if they ever stop fiddling with the damn thing and actually release it will basically mean anybody who can afford a used car can buy a professional camera that makes pretty motion pictures.
2) Free CGI Software
Yeah, you should always be suspicious of software coded by hippies, and Blender is no exception. On the other hand, Blender can also make movies like this:
Yeah, so you can’t exactly crank that out on an iMac, but any idiot can make his own render farm, and Blender is, believe it or not, free. Yes, you too are a drunken art student and a year of software fiddling away from making your own CGI movie. Just remember to look up what happened to the guys who made “Delgo”.
3) Digital Distribution
OK, so distributing your movie via torrents isn’t exactly new, but increasingly, it’s being shown that torrents don’t matter for large Hollywood movies and are great for indies. Just ask Fox, who saw “Wolverine” get leaked online. Nerds got their hate on, and of course everybody being able to see it for free meant that the movie bomb-oh, wait, no, it made nearly $400 million worldwide.
For indies, though, the big success story of late has been “Ink.” “Ink” was just another indie film struggling for distribution until it blew up huge on torrents and proved that, hey, maybe weird indie movies actually have an audience on the Internet. Granted, an audience that mostly won’t pay, or will only pay a couple of bucks, but, hey, an audience.
And considering that the greatest indie mogul of all time got the loving nickname of Harvey Scissorhands, you can kind of guess what the treatment of indie movies was like before you could self-distribute. Yeah, you may not make much money, but at least you can make it on your own terms.
So What Does This All Mean?
Well, it means that anybody, and we mean anybody, can put together a movie and make it be a success. You know, anybody like Tommy Wiseau:
Or James Nguyen:
Those were trailers to two movies that are probably the only indie films actually made with this technology that you’ll get a chance to see this year, certainly the only ways getting any press or promotion. And, well, while Mr. Wiseau and Mr. Nguyen are undeniably nice guys who are very grateful and humbled with their success, and who worked incredibly hard for that success, the fact remains these movies A) blow on toast and B) are incredibly successful anyway, probably because of that.
Granted, some of this is entirely the fault of the indie film scene itself, which is always rife with idiocy, and these days is basically celebrating incompetence because competence is just too Hollywood, man. The hot movement, mumblecore, seriously got its name from the fact that the filmmakers lacked the technical competence to point a microphone at an actor’s mouth. And “The Room” and “Birdemic” are epic train wrecks well beyond just your standard bad movie, although they’re still better than anything the mumblecore movement craps out.
But that’s the thing. You no longer need technical competence to achieve the two main goals of indie filmmaking: getting into the pants of disaffected hot people, or making boatloads of cash. And this is both a great thing and a problem.
Don’t get me wrong, technical competence is always going to be rewarded. People who can actually light a location, set dress it, and mix a good soundtrack will sell their movies. We’re about to be spoiled for choice on great movies to an incredible degree as more filmmakers and artists get access to these tools and exploit them to their full artistic ends. These movies will be widely available, dirt cheap, and well made. It’s going to be absolutely great, and the only problem will be finding time to watch them all.
But it also means that everybody looking for the next “Birdemic” or the next artistic sensation will be churning out a movie as well, consuming time and resources that could be dedicated to movies that are remotely worth watching, instead of allowing hipsters to whine about how it isn’t fair they have to do things that adults do or some loser finally making his incoherent horror movie opus and gambling people will laugh at him hard enough to take it all the way to the bank.
So, in other words, we’ll be right back at square one: a lot of great movies buried under exponentially more crap and possibly being ignored because of it.
Which reminds me: I’ve got this script…