The technological age puts many musical artists in tough positions. Rather than buying albums, millions of people choose to illegally download their favorite tracks. My father, a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), will not hesitate to tell you how bad Pandora is about paying artists. Countless websites and apps can connect you to free music, our world is run by Spotify, and most mainstream, popular artists know that they have to tour (or endorse all kinds of products) to make a substantial living.
Technology comes with pros and cons. These are some serious cons.
To live in a world that marginalizes those who create and makes it even harder for them to have the time, funds, and means to keep creating, that’s more than a little upsetting for me. Thankfully, there are the pros. Musicians can reach a larger network of fans, which can in turn help populate their shows. And for independent filmmakers, this may be the best time to get into the craft.
More people than ever want to make their own films, and with editing software and equipment at all time low prices (or close to them), more films than ever are being made. Unfortunately, indie film has not been a great money maker, historically. Getting distribution to art-house theatres that would show these kinds of films was always hard, but now it is much much harder. There are limited screens and even though the switch from film projectors to digital ones has made screenings more reasonable in price, they’re still expensive. This is where streaming platforms come in, and boy, they come in in a big way.
I first realized the huge impact that Netflix can have on indie filmmaking when reading a Duplass brothers interview. I adore Mark and Jay Duplass, I think Togetherness is one of the best things on TV, and I’m endlessly impressed by how quickly they turn out interesting films. If you’d like to see some Duplass brother product, you need look no further than Netflix. Almost all of the films that they’ve written, directed, or produced are available on the site (though searching their last name there will only bring up a fraction of their works, use IMDB to discover their whole brand). In this interview, Mark Duplass explained how friends of theirs who had previously gone into debt making a film could now buy a house after selling the streaming rights of one to Netflix.
Obviously that’s a huge deal. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and more are all looking to create rich, diverse content libraries. Viewers who stream want to experiment, to see something that they can’t experience elsewhere. In many ways, these sites are the new arthouse. Not to mention one that pays way better. Just look through the “Trending Now” tab on your Netflix account. Yeah, there will be the obviously popular stuff. Some prime-time and some sci-fi TV shows. Some Netflix Originals (deserving of a whole separate analysis). Breaking Bad, always. But then you’ll start to see options that you’ve never even heard of. Sure, many of them have actors of Kristen-Wiig-level-indie-intrigue, but they don’t always. And that’s only what’s trending!
Blockbuster movie studios want to make money. They want to make the next Transformers movie to dominate that huge market over in China. Sure, once in awhile you’ll get a Bridesmaids, a feminist reboot (hey, Ghostbusters), or an artistically brilliant super hero movie, but more often it’s commercial crap.
Here’s my theory: I think that more and more people are watching indie films because they want storylines that are different, characters they can relate to, and the element of surprise. There is no real surprise in a blockbuster, unless you’re talking about jump scares. Wes Anderson has become a popular, household name. The Duplass brothers are getting there. Challenging, interesting films are holding their own on streaming services, right next to Nurse Jackie and Groundhog Day.
Making a film will never be easy, but in the current climate you’re more likely than ever to get distribution when you do. Not to mention that your web series can result in a TV show (Broad City), your YouTube sketches can get you a job writing for SNL, and your comedy music videos can go viral and help you land the biggest, best TV musical series the world has ever seen. Just ask Rachel Bloom! Side note, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a powerhouse program like none that have come before it, you should put your assumptions aside and give it a try. But overall, for the weird screenwriters and the indie-filmers, this is a good time to make art.
And now I’ll go work on writing my musical. Have a creative weekend, readers!