Here's the ugly truth about the current state of independent film: filmmaking may have been democratized by the portable video camera and iMovie, but distribution, the means of getting films by the people, to the people, is still totally FUBAR.
No studio dollars, no big marketing push.
No marketing bucks, no big release.
No big opening, no run.
How do I know this? Because I spent two hours that were, in equal measure, exhilarating and spirit-crushing, with filmmaking duo John Sayles and Maggie Renzi (and, because I'm not above dropping a few names when they're this impressive, Haskell Wexler, Lawrence Turman and Anne Beatts.) It was part of a small, roundtable/salon-y type thing I somehow fell into (to pervert a line from Animal House, "Thank you, blog!"), which Sayles and Renzi doubtless (in part, anyway) decided to attend to pimp their latest film, Honeydripper, which was wholly self-financed AND is being wholly self-distributed.
For those of you who are completely outside of the Hollywood scene, who might know box office tallies and other useless insider info (something that came up, as well), that is like me saying I'm going to build my own direct competition to McDonald's out of Legos and gum, and have it profitable inside of four weeks. Seriously. Because...
- the pipeline is really tightly controlled by mega-chains and distributors
- the pipeline dictates that (most) movies must open big or die instantly
- the pipeline is configures so that all but the most outrageously popular films must move along, son, after a week or two
And mainly, because the pipeline is THE pipeline. There are next-to-no "little theaters" for cinema, like there are for stage performances; there's no off-off-Broadway for movies. And coordinating what is there takes Herculean effort.
Which means it's difficult for even great, proven filmmakers like John Sayles and Maggie Renzi to get their stuff out there to the audiences who want to see it. Let me state that again: to audiences who want to see it. Sure, there's Netflix (and it's great!) and yes, someday, that Internet pipe will be big enough and ubiquitous (provided we don't blow up the damned planet first) but movies-in-theaters are rapidly becoming, as they put it, the blow-'em-up stuff that will play globally or the few token, anointed indies that make it. Bad news for those of us who like to see our movies big and communally, in the theater.
The good news is, these are some smart, determined people who don't understand the meaning of the word "impossible." They've been doing the impossible already for years: creating smart, interesting cinematic treats that live decidedly outside of the mainstream. And making a living at it. So they've put together their own distribution for their latest film, Honeydripper, which opens in theaters this Friday, December 28. Maggie & John broke down the plan for us over lunch, and I have to say, if anyone can succeed at this very brand new game, it's them.
We all know how important it is for new films to do big box office on opening weekend, so I don't need to tell you to get out there and support this Friday/Saturday/Sunday (especially Friday, that's when I'm going!) But they've also put together kind of a grassroots worksheet on other things you can do to get the word (and people) out, and support the film. I've uploaded it to my server, and you can download it here. It includes a glowing review from Variety; I haven't seen the film yet, but the story, about a black roadhouse owner in the 1950s American South who stands to lose everything unless he can pull off a Saturday night miracle, sounds good and fun and full of excellent music.
I'm all for the edgy youngsters making edgy movies about their edgy selves. Hey, I was edgy once! Okay, I wasn't, but I pro-edge.
I'm also pro- grownup movies made by grownups for grownups (although Honeydrippers sounds like something you could take the kids to, and it is PG-13.) And as through-the-looking-glass as it is, films like the ones John Sayles makes, especially films made now, by the no-longer-young John Sayles, are the fringe films in need of support to get a foothold in this crazy marketplace. These well-crafted, beautifully told, thought and emotion provoking stories are what is really edgy and out there.
If you're in New York or L.A., get out there, too, this weekend. If you're elsewhere, check to see when it's rolling out near you in January & February. Read the PDF. Blog it. Do that voodoo that you do so well.
See you at the movies, fellow hipsters...
UPDATE (12/29/07): Feel-good charmer/fable of the season. It's gentle and sweet, with lovely music and a life-affirming message. Plus, that kickass Sayles storytelling ability.
UPDATE (01/14/08): Another cool DIY film project here, albeit on a much smaller scale: Fat Head, debunking current dietary wisdom, or what passes for it. Start with Michael Blowhard's great interview of the writer/director, Tom Naughton.
Image of Danny Glover & John Sayles on the set via Flickr and ©2007 John Sayles.