I don’t think I rant too much on this blog. I do rant on my Facebook page and on my Twitter account and if you follow me there, you’ve probably witnessed that. I want to take my rant today on this notion of needing a “theatrical experience” for films. In my view, VERY FEW independent films need a theatrical release because they simply aren’t an experience. Watching slow, carefully crafted (or not), character driven stories in a cinema doesn’t do anything to make me experience the film better. Hardly any indie films play a cinema in the area where I am staying now, NW Florida, but I can still watch them on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes et al through my Roku or computer. That is, if the filmmaker will let me.
Indie filmmakers and, obviously, the theatrical bookers, distributors and service companies are all lamenting the closure of arthouse theaters, the drop off in attendance and the expense of getting indies in the remaining ones. “We’re being pushed out by the bigger, more expensive films.” Yes, yes you are so why are you still trying to compete that way? Why is it more important to you to have your film play a few cinemas in like 4 cities, than it is to allow people to watch it wherever they want? I realize many filmmakers and these service companies are located in New York City or LA and they think the whole of the US is like the theatrical landscape of those 2 cities. Um, it’s not. Indie film fans don’t just live in major cities, but we do hear about your films, we do hear the buzz coming out of a major festival, we do read those interviews and see trailers, and you know what you do to us? Say screw you, go see it in a theater in New York! After you’ve wasted all of that P&A money by opening the film in a few theaters at a loss, THEN you start thinking about digital. By that time, we’ve usually forgotten about your film because there is a new crop of buzz films coming out which also will not be playing at a cinema near us. So I plop down on the sofa after the kids are in bed, what’s available on Netflix? I’ll tell you what isn’t, YOUR FILM!
There was also a recent article on the Huffington Post site also lamenting the fact that when great films come out, they are only available in a few cities. It went on to praise Film Forum in New York, making me think the writer has some financial relationship to them because of the depth of praise he went into. Still it doesn’t get to the crux of the matter to me. It isn’t why are indie films only seen on the big screen in New York; it is why are you insisting indie films need to be seen on the big screen at all? Believe it or not, films didn’t start off screening in theaters. Why do you think they must continue that way?
My friend Ted Hope often asks what can be done to get the kids back into the cinema. I ask what can filmmakers do to reach those kids and let them see films wherever they want? I am thinking will be on a mobile device, not in a theater. Yesterday, the Alamo Drafthouse published a video poking fun at a patron’s angry voicemail; the result of her being tossed out of the theater for texting. The filmmakers loved it and I admit it was comical. That was a kid, Ted. Did you hear what she was doing in the theater? THAT’s why they don’t go. THAT’s the film watching experience for them. For the older patrons and “cinephiles,” she was an abomination, but that is how the “kids” are watching films. those kids will soon be older with more kids coming up behind them. I am betting their knowledge of going to a movie theater will be comparable to the live theater experience for kids today. Are you going to adapt to that? It’s fine if you won’t, just stop complaining about the lack of theaters your film can play in and the lack of attendance. You’re making a conscious decision to stay behind the times into extinction, that’s all. And stop trying to fight “piracy” (also known as a free distribution method!) of your films because you aren’t offering potentially paying people the chance to pay. You are trying to force them into your mindset and you’ll lose.
Say all you like about cinema history and how YOU think films ought to be experienced. That’s only your opinion and it is increasingly NOT how the younger generations are experiencing indie film. And that is ok, no matter how romantic and nostalgic you feel for the good old days of cinema, there’s one thing for certain in this life. Change.
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