The Fandependent Controversy

February 16, 2010
posted by sheric

I just want to take a moment, probably the only one I will take, to respond personally to my participation on the recent Film Courage show regarding Fandependent Films and its creator Ben Hicks.

If you didn’t catch this then probably you aren’t following indie filmmakers on Twitter or following Fandependent Films, so I will provide a brief back story. Filmmaker Ben Hicks has issued a few statements over the last few months profiling his views on the current state of independent film distribution and community. He is a contributor to the Workbookproject’s blog The New Breed and is considered to be a member of this up and coming group of filmmakers. He is trying to form a new venture called Fandependent Films that is attempting to provide a new online platform for the release of indie films as well as a communal type of filmmaking. An admirable goal.

Last week, he issued his manifesto outlining his intentions.  This document caused quite the stir on their Facebook page with many filmmakers commenting on his proposal. If you haven’ t read it yet, please do before you listen to the broadcast. I was one of the commenters and had many problems with his proposal. As such, Film Courage’s David Branin and Karen Worden asked me to be the voice of counterpoint on their upcoming show with Ben. I agreed. So, up to speed.

Anyone who reads this blog, interacts with me on Twitter or Facebook, has met me in person or has sent me email communication knows that I am a big proponent of independent films and filmmakers. It is not my intention to crush the spirit of indie filmmakers who offer suggestions and ideas on how to create a new model for the way that indie films are discovered and seen. I did have major issues with the  solution Ben proposed as did many other filmmakers I talked to and the comments I read. These need to be addressed and I still think that.

To suggest, as a few have, that I killed Fandependent Films by challenging Ben on his ideas and the holes in his plan is ludicrous and, if it is indeed dead as an idea, it wasn’t going to survive anyway. I have received overwhelming support for the issues I raised and a few criticisms. I stand by what I said. In any business world, ideas will be criticized and solutions will be challenged. It is my belief that you must listen to the criticisms and weigh their validity before you carry on with your plans. I hope Ben will take what I said to heart when finalizing his decision to proceed. Even before he starts his fundraising campaign.

There is an element of his plan that I think might work and it has to do with forming local screenings in communities all over the world. He suggests it by posse and only screenings for those in the posse will be organized, but let’s take this part out of it. Many communities already do this type of thing. I encourage all of you to support these organizations, join in their efforts, and, as filmmakers, I think you will find a new appreciation for what it takes to put on a screening event or film festival. Mostly, it is hours of unpaid work and lots of organizational skills to bring sometimes conflicting groups together to pull it all off.  In the manifesto, Ben seems to shun the efforts of festivals to bring indie films to the forefront of an audience. I wonder if he has ever worked on the inside of a festival? Not volunteered at just the event itself, but been a part of all the decisions to organize it and put it together? I think he would understand better why festivals and filmmakers need each other and appreciate the way some things are decided instead of only seeing it from the filmmaker’s side.

This isn’t to suggest that festivals are blameless in how they are run. Often, smaller fests are run by people inexperienced in business and lacking necessary organization and negotiating skills to make them successful from both a business point of view and a filmmaker’s point of view. Some are just outright fraud preying on the inexperienced artist by taking submission fees and offering little in return. Sometimes, in big festivals, they are run by people who have giant egos, looking for personal recognition and feel they are almost doing charity work for the community to enlighten them and charity work for filmmakers in giving them a platform.  These shouldn’t be the motivations to start a film event.

If you live in a small town and do not have such an organization, I call on you to form one. Start small, do not expect the local cinema to give you a venue (great if they did, but don’t count on it). Churches, multipurpose rooms in schools, libraries, convention halls, whatever place your town has for a community gathering. Gauge interest in your community by approaching the local theater troupe, symphony, dance school, other arts organizations that can provide you with feedback on your idea. The like- minded tend to congregate and support each other.

Then, reach out into the filmmaker community. Many, many filmmakers are more than eager to share their work with an audience. I am not even going to suggest payment for either the films or the screenings because transparency and taxes and LLC’s and nonprofit status all gets into complications. This is about connecting with an audience and encouraging them to support you as an artist; mentally, spiritually and financially. If you want to sell merch/DVDs or collect donations from those willing to give it, great. Support will come to you in some way if you are open to it and if you provide an exceptional example of your talent. Strive for exceptional!

I had other issues with his marketing method ideas which I think are born out of economy not quality work, but you will hear what I have to say in the broadcast. Just know that you get what you are willing to pay for! Competition in the film industry leaves no room for homogeneous work and I think it would be impossible for a poorly funded organization to run a group of marketers for hundreds of films all needing equal attention. Studios already do that, and even they outsource some help.

Ben, I wish you well in your filmmaking career and keep thinking through your ideas. I think you have some great ones, but they need a bit more construction before making them official.

You can join in on the conversation about this by following #fandependent on Twitter or accessing their Facebook page.

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