Across a crowded floor…

Posted on May 3, 2011 by Mike Riddell

One of the consequences of the digital revolution in filmmaking is that there’s a flood of films coming onto the market. A sign of this is the UK blog entitled ‘Every Film in 2011‘ – which in early May has already reviewed 178 films (scoring them out of 10 - Insatiable Moon gets 8.5 and is number 10 on the list of top releases worldwide). It’s boom time for indie films, with a huge amount of creative material being produced.

But it has its downside as well. In the flood of movies emerging, it becomes harder and harder for any film to be noticed without the sort of huge marketing budget that is normally the preserve of the studios. The big Hollywood names exert pressure on cinema chains to take their products exclusively. And the cinemas are happy to do so, knowing that the films they show will be well supported through all kinds of P&A – television, newspaper, magazine, radio and billboard. Despite protestations, it remains true that it’s possible to sell crap through a good campaign.

Increasingly, international film festivals are suffering overload in terms of entries. It’s good for their budgets in terms of paying submissions, but hugely demanding because of the work involved in sorting through them all and evaluating them comparatively. More and more we’re seeing the ‘major’ festivals opt for material that has a ‘buzz’ supported by some heavy financial hitters, including studios. It’s a reminder that film is a business as well as an art.

So is the proliferation of films something to be celebrated or lamented? I suspect the history of music-making provides clues. The digital revolution there has made it possible for everyone to produce CDs and downloads without the need of the studios. The upside is that musicians now have direct access to their audience, and that the variety and niche nature of music has expanded correspondingly. On the other hand, the major labels still control most of the commerce side of music. There’s thousands of musicians still dreaming, but few who can make a good living out of it.

Increasingly it’s going to be similar with film. The studios will always find a way of creaming it through their sausage-making industry. Quality low-budget material will swamp the world – everyone wants to make a movie, right? But the struggle to find an audience to pay for the indie ventures will continue to be tough; crushing in its realism.

Perhaps it’s time for the various film-funding bodies (national ‘soft-funding’ bureaucracies) to shift their attention from funding features to making available universal P&A grants. That way it would take them out of the evaluation game, and mean that anyone who can pull off the task of making a film will get automatic support for promoting it to audiences. Just a thought…

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