Why This Has Been The Greatest Week In The History Of Independent Film (For Me)

Sundance Institute's Director of Digital Initiatives declares this week as the greatest week in the history of independent film.

This guest post is by Joseph Beyer who is Director of Digital Initiatives and self-described idea agitator at the Sundance Institute. He, along with Chris Horton, heads up the Institute's #ArtistServices Initiative which helps Institute alumni navigate the marketplace of independent film distribution.

* The Personal Views Expressed Here Are Solely My Own

I'm putting it out there. I watch this stuff every-day, all-day. It’s practically my oxygen. And I’m calling it now, this past week has been the greatest week in the history of independent film. Trust me. Mark it down.

Four of the most creative, smart and original films of the past year are about to open out there in The Marketplace – and all of them are going direct-to-fans.

No distributors (you guys rock! But sometimes you don’t like the same films I do!).

No big newspaper ad-buys (you guys rock! But I’m older and sometimes I miss the bottom 1/8th of the page B&W ad in the corner telling me about some cool new film!).

No big television teasers (you guys rock! but sometimes I use my magic DVR device and skip you and holy moly you’re expensive and ineffective for my needs!).

No 9-month windowing. No eeking every last cent from a broken antiquated tradition (Hey watch this film – just not where, why or when I finally want to!).

Pay attention to these filmmakers below. They are not bravely showing you a new way. Our indie film pioneers did that, way back in 1981 when there was such a small audience for this work that’d you be lucky to get a press hit for your "Arthouse Film" in the local penny-saver weekly. When "killing it" on the indie circuit meant covering the gas on the roadtrip with your print, filling college lecture halls, church basements or museum screenings.

They carved no roads. They blazed no trails. But they are doing Direct-to-Fan in some of the smartest ways we’ve ever seen. They are "killing it" on Social Media, Fan Acquisition, Indie Theatrical and Guerilla Marketing.

You wanna make indie films? You wanna do it "your way" with total creative control? You wanna do it BETTER than anyone can tell you to (cause you know your audience best) … huh? Is that what you really want?

Do. It.

Cause it’s not a Plan B dummy - it’s the fucking job. Here and now.

Your job is to get it out there. Your job is to connect with an audience, to build interest in your own work. That goes for the Writer/Director/Cast/Producers/Crew and Fans. That’s the fucking job, people. If you’re the Artist – you make it and you sell it. If you’re the Audience, you support and promote it. Deal? Deal.

And I’m not debating anymore (Digital Cinema? / Is Kickstarter Real? / Will Theatrical On-Demand Work?) - I’m done with these questions. I don’t want to go to another panel or workshop or gathering or salon where anyone in the room is still thinking about the concepts of Direct-to-Fan philosophically. I’m done with you. You are dinosaurs to me now.

I will see again if you catch up.

I didn’t want this either but I’m going with it. I wish Fox Searchlight would release every movie I love, but it ain't happenin’.

In the meantime, I’m watching these creativos below. I’m learning from them and stealing ideas from them and standing in awe at the way they are connecting with their audiences. They have graduated Direct-to-Fan to the new levels; where we’ve all wanted to see it go. And thank you again Louis C.K.

They’ve brought true excitement, true smarts and true class to what it’s all about. And I’m saluting them. Each of these films is a story in-and-of-itself. Each of these films is NOT trying to connect with the widest audiences … they are simply trying to connect with the right audiences. The ones that will be in the theatres, will talk about the film with their friends, will spin it again digitally, and will be buying it straight from the source: the filmmakers.

These artists are smart. Wicked-Smart. Because each film and each strategy has brought true creativity to the process and shown us that change is not over. It’s just begun (again).

Sleepwalk With Me by Mike Birbiglia
How He’s Killing It: People Are Talking And It’s Getting Louder. Birbiglia and his Ed McMahon Ira Glass have mastered the online meme (“Hey Joss, it’s on …”) and are proving that squeaky wheels can get the oil in the theatrical demand marketplace. And they didn’t use Tugg or Gathr either. It certainly helps to have IFC and “This American Life” behind you, but the KEY CREATIVES OF THE FILM ITSELF ARE DRIVING THIS CAMPAIGN. That’s as Direct-to-Fan as it gets in my book.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography by Stacy Peralta
How He’s Killing It: He’s Fearless. He’s releasing a full digital download package with a free bonus feature of skater-classic “The Search for Animal Chin” – he’s on Twitter now, he’s got the huge skater fanbase rallying around the film and booking local screenings and parties, he’s got Van’s Shoes amping up the volume and partnering with him, he chucked “windowing” out the window, he’s doing a full-press explosion of a release and he’s using Topspin Media to power it. He’s popping an early Ollie on this and seeing how high he can get. I love this campaign and this film. Love.

Somewhere Between by Linda Goldstein Knowlton
How She’s Killing It: She Knows Her Audience. Award Winning Director captures an incredible story of identity and culture and knows who will connect with it. She has mastered affinity groups and individual evangelists. Her insanely inspiring and funny and human story is about adoptees. And there are a lot of people directly affected by the subject matter. She’s found them, she’s connected them, she’s rallied them, and they will be watching this movie opening weekend. She’s created an army of fans.

Detropia by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing
How They’re Killing It: They Aren’t Shy. They’ve embraced Direct-to-Fan. By being transparent and excited about what they are doing (and what they are doing is nothing short of being distributors themselves), they’ve transferred that excitement to FANS. Fans of this film, and there are many, understand their ROLE with this project is to HELP PROMOTE IT. These veteran filmmakers have been nominated for Academy-Awards, worked with distributors on previous work, but they simply wouldn’t let this film stand idly by without an audience – they asked the audience to reveal themselves and it has. They have involved their audience every step of the way and their audience is promoting their release. Fans like being asked to help, it’s yet another way to connect. It’s powerful stuff.