I Am NOT Making A New Film—And Why
(Advance To Reader: This Is A Diary Entry–What I’ve been up to, what I haven’t been doing & why. This is more written. And more will follow in subsequent entries. I’m still here. I’m still writing. I’m still posting videos when I do them. I’m not taking off any time soon!!!)
Every time I run into my filmmaking friends or receive an e-mail or Facebook note I’m always asked is, “So, Mike, what are you working on now?” or, “Hey, Mike, when will we get to see your next movie??”
And each time my answer is this:
“I’m not making a new movie.”
For thirty years now I’ve been a professional TV news photographer, and sometimes photographer-reporter. For fifteen years I’ve been in the independent filmmaking movement, enthusiastically waving the banner of the Digital Revolution.
And I still am trumpeting the virtues, advantages and freedoms that the Digital Revolution has given us.
I’ve made a number of films and shorts over the years, a 45-minute documentary Dog Soldiers (2000) and two feature-length films, Year (2006), and Nightbeats (2008). I’ve taught a couple of adult education courses for the University of California, Davis, on my method of independent no-crew one-person filmmaking, resulting in my first book Naked Filmmaking: How To Make A Feature-Length Film – Without A Crew – For $10,000-$6,000 Or Less Revised & Expanded For DSLR Filmmakers. Two years later I followed that with Breaking Into TV News: How To Get A Job & Excel As A TV Reporter-Photographer, about how to get a job, how to do the job, and how to keep the job.
For a year I was actively working on a second filmmaking book about the rapidly changing digital filmmaking scene, but it was becoming obsolete as fast as I was writing it. I’ve also worked on a number of scripts for new films, but none that were compelling enough to dedicate myself and the people around me to the two-year ordeal of making another movie.
I still love films, but I find that I have a less patience for new ones. Perhaps it is a sign of getting older. Believe it or not, I just turned sixty.
I’m still interested in new technology, new cameras, new ways of telling a story. For those who have been following this site, I’ve been posting quite a bit over the past year about GoPro cameras and how exciting, fun and liberating I find them to be. I’m looking forward to getting a gimbal in the coming year and taking that to a higher level.
“So, what are you working on now?”
When you see professional filmmakers and celebrities in interviews, they’re always asked is, “So, what’s next?”
Those filmmakers are in a different world than I am. In that world, it’s always crucial to have another deal in the works before the next film comes out—because if the next film turns out to be the biggest bomb of the year, they need to to keep the checks coming.
However, for a micro-independent filmmaker like me–it’s a totally different scene.
When big-time filmmakers make a movie,
they make big-time money.
When I make a movie,
I spend money.
The books have helped to offset this. However, and this should be note to independent filmmakers getting your movies out into film festivals –
The indie film scene is no way to make money!
The whole film financial scene is in a whirlpool of uncertainty. Technology, the Internet, Youtube, Vimeo and downloads have thrown all of the old distribution and revenue streams out the window.
It’s 1927 all over again
In 1927 the studios were in full production making silent movies, then the Jazz Singer premiered and the very next day the only thing the public only wanted to see movies that talked.
Today it’s exactly the same thing with the Internet and movie distribution and Netflix and Amazon streaming new content—and better films and programs than the studios and the networks.
Movie theaters, or rather multiplexes, are only making their money with the blockbuster, special effects laden, star-driven name Hollywood studio movies.
For low-budget movies people will wait for them to show up on Netflix—or will forget about them entirely.
Regional Film Festivals have Changed
It used to be that you could count on getting your film screened in your local or regional film festival, as well as attend your local film festival to see other new films from across the country and around the world.
Increasingly, local festivals are focusing on running local films—which bring in the local audience to see their own movies, and their friends and all the people who worked on them.
Film festivals may not be around to make money, but they do cost money, and they need to make money in order to survive.
The Hollywood studios and Las Vegas casinos are one and the same—their sole existence is based on getting people in the door, taking their money, lining their own pockets as deeply as they can and burying the accounting books.
Indie No-Budget Filmmaking Is Like Buying A Lottery Ticket
For independent filmmakers like myself, making their own movies to break into film festivals—it can still happen, but it’s incredibly hard.
My hat is off to the Lena Dunhams, Greta Gerwigs and Britt Marlings having success with their micro-indie movies and breaking out.
For the micro-indie filmmakers who put their films up on Amazon for Vimeo or YouTube to get a few dollars coming back, that’s about all you’re going to see: a few dollars.
You will not—NOT—get all—
—Or maybe even ANY—
of your investment money back.
Indie movies do not make money!
Independent films made the way I make them—
DEFINITELY don’t make money!
Don’t Delude Yourself—
No one who you don’t know will pay to see your film
Just because You made it!
I know that I’ve said this before on this site, in my blogs, and my books, and directly to the face of every aspiring filmmaker I meet. But let me say it one more time because it needs to be heard because, for some reason, everybody seems to think that they are the exception:
INDEPENDENT movies dO not make money!!
So why make them?
I’ve made my films for the very same reason as someone who climbs a mountain: To prove that I could do it—and do it my way.
And as a statement two other filmmakers to show that there is an alternative way to make a movie.
That you don’t have to go broke making it.
Indie movies are resume reels to show that you can make a movie and are worthy of getting actors and investors involved to help to make a next movie. But only AFTER you’ve proven that you’re worthy.
Indie movies can also be a bucket list item, to prove to yourself that you either could or couldn’t do it after all.
Indie movies are many things made for many reasons by many filmmakers. The one unifying truth they all discover eventually is: Independent Movies are not a means of earning a living. They are a form of art.
Art is only appreciated by the eye of the beholder.
Not by the masses.
This is why I’m taking a break from making a film at the present time.
I never made any of my films with the anticipation or expectation that they’d be picked up by distributor. I’ve always intended to independently distribute my films over the Internet.
Thank you Youtube and Amazon!
And if I could just break even on the few thousand dollars it cost to make the films then it would be successful. So far the sales of the books have allowed me, over the years that the books have been selling on Amazon, to say that I have made money back on the first film, Year. And within another couple of years the second film, Nightbeats, should be paid back. But this is only through sales of the books, not the few sales of the movies.
It’s a huge personal investment of time and money—all of my spare time, and a considerable amount of contribution from the actors who are involved—all of whom have been fabulous and happy to be a part of the films, with expectations only of artistic satisfaction and not financial compensation.
The Changing Face of Cinema, Entertainment, Storytelling
The whole entertainment landscape has changed in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Netflix, with their all-at-once release of entire series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black has sent shockwaves through the motion picture, television and cable industries.
And I say, FANTASTIC!
It is also satisfying to see David throw a stone and knock out a Goliath.
Netflix has changed the way people view entertainment. As has AMC with Madmen and Breaking Bad, and HBO and Showtime and other cable channels producing original long-form series, that have changed the way we look at a movie from being two-hours long to something that could be 10- or 20-hours long. More like watching a complete novel than 2-hours of what a novel once had been.
Also, as an adult who is tired of entertainment pandering to children, teenagers and the lowest common denominators—I love seeing the like the uncensored freedom that Netflix is granting to filmmakers. Orange is the New Black is completely off the board as far censorship goes.
Bravo! Bravo to Netflix!
INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER PLEA TO NETFLIX:
Please open your doors to independent filmmakers like myself to be permitted onto the field to play. Understand, I don’t care so much about making money back my films as I would like to have my films be discovered by new audiences.
I don’t make movies just for myself, to be kept stored on my hard drive. I REALLY want people to SEE them. That’s the whole point!
I’m Taking A Break
Spending a lot of time thinking. Reading. Writing.
I’ve learned that indie no-budget movies don’t make money.
But books do!
So I’m writing another book. Not a filmmaking or how-to-get-a-job book. Something completely different.
And it is years from completion.
In the interim, I’m wishing everyone luck. Satisfying my filmmaking jones with my TV news work at KCRA, which grants me enormous freedom and latitude, and also pays and broadcasts my work over the most-watched television station in Northern California.
I’ll keep you posted.