“I want anti-establishment.” That line by Diana Christensen (wonderfully played by Faye Dunaway) in one of my favorite films Network could easily sum up the state of the film industry. But before I go into my thoughts on the past week, particularly around all the news surrounding Sundance, there was a moment that gave me some pause.
I received an email earlier this week from someone who desperately wants to be a screenwriter and who mentioned they were envious of me. Envy is a very dangerous emotion in this business, because I promise you someone is always doing something more than you. We are all guilty of having it, but, honestly, you just have to focus on your own mission and believe in it. Anyone who has followed my career knows that I am anti-establishment. My advice was pretty straight forward. Read lots of great screenplays that have been made into movies. Register your work. Enter some contests and then either seek to produce your own work (like I do) or look to get it optioned (like most do). What’s the secret? There is none. You just have to work hard, believe in yourself and develop a network of people you like and trust.
On the path of anti-establishment, by now most have figured out that I’m more interested in having Justice Is Mind screened in theatres than worrying about film festivals. While I think festivals are great, they have not been our release strategy. For the amount of money you spend on submission fees (with no guarantee of acceptance), I’d rather put that into marketing to bring people into a theatre and to secure press. Our result in 2013? The 8th highest rated independent film released and the top 50 in independent box office for that year. I’d say that’s a pretty good result for a film that is being self-distributed at this point.
With the Sundance Film Festival front and center this week we all wonder what will happen to the under 200 selected films out of the 12,218 that were submitted (Justice was submitted but as we already had our world premiere last August that disqualified the film). Could the news have been anymore gloomy this week from the establishment? “For Movie Producers, a Golden Age Fades” – Wall Street Journal. “As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity” – The New York Times. “Sundance: Festival Suffers From Too Much Brooklyn” – Variety. “5 Cold Truths From an Uninspiring Sundance” – The Wrap. When only a handful of films at Sundance get picked up for distribution and the acquisition prices don’t seem to cover the production costs, I would say it’s time to rethink putting all your eggs into that establishment basket.
As a former journalist I understand The New York Times position. Films “picked up for distribution” have to fulfill contractual requirements of a theatrical run which means more and more are actually renting theatres in New York (four walling in my view doesn’t count as a theatrical run). But I don’t agree with The Wrap at all. There are not too many indie films being made, the marketing key is to make sure that audiences and the media know about them. That’s what I have done with Justice Is Mind. I present to theatres. I present to the media. And the “Justice Network” is pretty rabid about social media. The proof was in the effort. Of course we are far from done and will be announcing a variety of new initiatives shortly.
There’s no question that the entertainment industry is going through change. This change is rightly so pushing the boundaries of the distribution and media system. Filmmakers, to quote Howard Beale in Network, “I want you to get mad!”. Not mad angry but mad determined to circumvent an establishment that is sometimes less than welcoming to new voices. My job as a filmmaker is to get my work “scene” and if that means I bypass “tradition” and go direct to the market – the audiences – that’s what it means.
“The World is a Business.” – Ned Beatty, Network