Why It’s a Great Time to Be an Independent Filmmaker

In a guest post, writer/producer/actress Naomi McDougall Jones explains why the crisis in film distribution has provided a great opportunity for indie filmmakers.

The film industry is in trouble right now. Ask anybody: our audiences have moved away from the traditional modes of consuming (i.e. movie theaters and DVDs) and onto the internet, where they expect to be able to get content for free/cheap (and, much of the time, stream it illegally anyway) and nobody can figure out how to make money off movies the way we used to.

Hollywood’s response to this has been to turn their attention to foreign sales; meaning that it has become of tantamount importance to them to be able to sell each film in as many countries or “markets” as possible.

Think about what that means content-wise, though: in order for a film to be a blockbuster in every country on Earth, it needs to rely on basically no cultural nuance whatsoever. The broader the strokes (and more explosions) the better, since they need the film to play and make sense to people in every and any cultural context. So if you’ve wondered why Hollywood has been pumping out schlock more mindlessly and aggressively than ever recently, there’s your answer.

“Whoever figures out how to recoup the costs of their films will always get to tell their next story.” – Naomi McDougall Jones

As an independent filmmaker, though, I am driven by my ever-growing belief that more and more audiences are tired of re-makes and prequels and sequels and formulized stories that have been statistically proven to do well. I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member; to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from whom I was when I went in.

I have ceased to be satisfied with the content coming out of the mainstream right now and I can’t be the only one. What tickets are still being sold, I think, are often cases of people wanting to go to the movies and picking the most exciting movie of what’s available to them, which is not to say they are necessarily excited about the content.

Enter the indie filmmaker.

Because it’s a brave new world and for the first time in a long time, it’s truly anybody’s game.

"Imagine I'm Beautiful"
“Imagine I’m Beautiful”

My production company just made our first feature, “Imagine I’m Beautiful.” This is a twisty, dark, complex psychological drama about two complicated women, one of whom suffers from a mental illness (and we all know audiences don’t like films about women, right? Right?). There are no stars in the film and our director, Meredith Edwards, who we recognized as a formidable talent, was nevertheless, a first-time feature director.

For all these reasons, “Imagine” was a film Hollywood never would have said “yes” to. It’s an ambitious, bold, risky story. But because we were indie filmmakers, it didn’t matter.

Over the course of two years, we scraped together $80,000, with roughly half coming from crowdfunding and half from a few private investors who were excited about the story we were telling. We retained full creative control and, with an incredible cast and crew, got to tell exactly the story we set out to tell, the way we wanted to tell it.

“It’s a brave new world and for the first time in a long time, it’s truly anybody’s game.” – Naomi McDougall Jones

And then? We had a great run on the festival circuit, took home 12 awards, and got picked up for theatrical and digital release by Candy Factory Distribution, a new, forward-thinking distribution company that has hopped in the game to try to figure out, just as everyone else is, what exactly this new game will be.

“Imagine I’m Beautiful” will have been released in at least 10 cities (not including festivals) by the time we’re through and, with our November 14th digital release on iTunes, Vimeo and other platforms we stand a pretty darn good chance of recouping our investors’ money in full.

Even more, we have made a film we feel extraordinarily proud of from an artistic standpoint and one that audiences can be genuinely surprised by. I hear over and over from audiences on every corner of the continent how excited they are to get to see a film that tries something different, that tells a different kind of story.

Perhaps the future of film will be, as I imagine, smaller filmmakers like us making financially viable content that appeals to a more specific, but more fervent fan base that will follow the filmmaker from film to film. Or, maybe I’m completely off track and ad-based revenue through streaming and subscription sites is it. Even more likely, some as-yet-undreamed-of platform will rise up and change the landscape forever once again.

The beauty of this moment, though, is that democracy has returned to filmmaking. The best ideas will win, but everyone gets to try.

Maybe you will figure it out and maybe we will. But whoever figures out how to recoup the costs of their films will always get to tell their next story.

And that makes it one hell of an exciting moment to be an independent filmmaker.

Naomi McDougall Jones is the writer/producer/lead actress of the feature film, “Imagine I’m Beautiful,” made by Nine Lives Pictures and released by Candy Factory Distribution. It is now available on iTunes, Vimeo, and in cities near you. Find out more at www.imagineimbeautiful.com

Special thanks to Indiewire for this one.


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