I feel like I have to tackle this topic from two basic approaches: one I have to talk about the idea at play and two I have to talk about Joe Swanberg specifically as the guy behind this idea.
So part one, in which we discuss the concept of subscribing to movies:
Indie director Joe Swanberg is teaming up with Factory 25 to create a subscription program. For $100 US dollars a year, subscribers will get four Swanberg films on DVD. Each DVD will be packed with supplemental material and will come with extras; his Silver Bullets will have a vinyl LP (of course) and a photo book (so you can relive the muddy, poorly lit film in still form. Sorry, I’m getting into part two here, aren’t I?). This subscription service will be capped at 1000 people.
“If I can find 1,000 people to pay $100 a year for four of my movies, I can keep making movies,” said Swanberg (via Filmmaker Mag, via Movieline). “This can be a sustainable way to make small challenging movies that don’t have to get into festivals and don’t need distributors.”
It’s an interesting idea, but is it sustainable? This feels like an interesting way to access ephemera, like a fan club for a band, but is it the best way to release all your films? I’m not sure that this is anything more than an interesting attempt to do something in the crowd-funding zeitgeist.
It’s worth noting that Oscilloscope already does this with their Circle of Trust subscription, but that gets you the next ten DVDs or Blus they release, not just movies from one director (note: Swanberg can totally do four movies a year. He already pretty much does).
Part two, in which we frame this directly in the light of Joe Swanberg:
I read this news originally at Movies.com, where writer Mike Bracken analyzes:
[W]e only hope that the liberating freedom of being able to make films without worrying about “commercial thoughts” doesn’t lead Swanberg down the path of pretentious and self-indulgent artsy filmmaking.
I’m assuming Mike hasn’t seen a lot of Swanberg’s films. See, the director isn’t going down that path, he owns a condo along it. In fact, Swanberg makes film festival movies, movies that really only appeal to the crowds at fests who are looking for the next most obscure, boring thing. The fact that he wants to make movies that are too ‘non-commercial’ for film festivals fills me with an existential horror. What kind of movie does he want to make that is too arty for a fucking film festival?
I understand Joe Swanberg is a super nice guy, and I hear he’s simply great in the new film You’re Next, where he’s an actor. But I find the movies he directs utterly insufferable and almost completely unwatchable. I guess it’s great that Swanberg can target the 1000 hipsters who love his special brand of pointless, tedious movie and sell his stuff right to them. So good for him.
Some part of me wonders if this isn’t just an amazing scam, a way of fleecing those 1000 sheep who turn up for the limited edition collectible nature of the project. If that’s the case I will have a lot more respect for Swanberg, because I like the idea of bleeding those people dry. They’ll have less money to spend on the wax for their ironic handlebar mustaches.