A New Model For Micro Budget Film Distribution.
Short Circuit The Film Industry
As has become fairly apparent to anyone reading our occasional musings we are more than a little enamoured by a niche area of the music industry, the 1970s/80s independent record scenes of the UK. A period where amateur musicians, non musicians, outsiders, weirdos and mavericks – all those outside the established music industry suddenly found a voice and created some of the most inspired records of any era. In some instances these outsiders would later become the new establishment.
We've always pushed our belief that the independent film industry can learn from, and benefit from the pioneers of DIY music.
Many parallels exist between the film and music industries – and more importantly those in music seem to happen in advance which can allow filmmakers a portal to the future. It amazes how often many of these advance warnings are seldom heeded: think Napster's hijacking of the internet to bring down the music industry heralding Blockbusters Video's inability to see the rise of Netflix. The record and film industries, especially the film industry despite their claims are nearly always reactive sadly. It takes people like you to show them how things could and should be done.
The most obvious current parallels between both industries are the technological advancements and dramatically falling costs which have resulted in an explosion of home made records and movies. While the record industry has a now tried and tested path from the bedroom to the charts it's something that has only made occasional dents into film mainstream. For every Paranormal Activity there are thousands of failures. While the gates of production are now open for filmmakers, the means to having a film seen – and paid to be seen is a different proposition. Distribution is still the glass ceiling of the film industry.
Is there anything in the history of DIY music which can be hijacked by filmmakers to open these doors of distribution? Well there is actually...The Cartel, a short lived 1980's independent distribution network emerged, run mostly by small record shops.
A recent article by the journalist Garfly sums The Cartel up pretty well:
Whilst the means of recording and manufacturing your own single became a realisable/affordable aspiration, actually getting that record into shops out with your hometown remained a huge problem.
Even if Peel played it, and the track given positive reviews in the music press, the issue of just how to make a single made in Exeter available in Inverness was pretty insurmountable.
Rough Trade and Small Wonder offered mail order services and would take perhaps 25 or 50 copies of your single, this left a band with some 800 units (after local dealers had been pestered into buying more than they really wanted.)
From the consumer's point of view, you listened to Peel and heard a track you really liked...just how the hell could you buy it bar trekking up/down to London?
For all the 'anarchy' there was a distinctly 'hippy collective' aspect to punk, a desire to act outside the mainstream with idealism rather than profit as its motivation.
Perfect storms sometimes bring about perfect solutions and seemingly without the need for any great negotiation or indeed thought, an independent distribution network emerged.
In London, Rough Trade agreed to cater to the south/south east. Revolver, looked after the south west, Backs records supplied East Anglia, Probe looked after Liverpool, Red Rhino supplying the north of England and Fast in Edinburgh looking after Scotland. Some were record shops who developed their businesses into distribution centres whilst others were primarily record labels agreed to take other product under their auspices. The Cartel was born.
It was pretty simple actually; regional members contacted one another and made them aware of new releases from their area. Each member took a quantity of that single into their warehouse and then got on the phone to record stores in their region. The Cartel members' job was made slightly easier since we had Factory Records, Mute and 4AD on board. Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, along with Rough Trade bands such as The Smiths and The Fall, and the Crass label's output. All these were selling shedloads of units. On the back of this success, we were able to persuade small stores to 'take a chance' on releases they had never heard of. Example? Few had heard of Creation records, and without the Cartel, perhaps Jesus & Marychain or Primal Scream et al would never have made it?? Abrasive Wheels, Vice Squad, Partisans, Blitz, GBH, Discharge or Skroteez are all cited as being important on this site, few of them would ever have been heard were it not for the Cartel's efforts and powers of persuasion.
The stores trusted our judgement, and if a single really sucked, we'd say so but at least we made the shop aware of where they could get hold of it if wanted.
Around the UK there was a chain of dedicated individuals working their asses off doing their best to get YOUR single maximum national coverage/availability. They did it from love, from a belief in independence from 'the system'. They sure as heck didn't do it for money or glory.
It was as 'punk' as any bands' 'defiant pose'.
How can this work for the independent film industry?
That's up to you. For us we are in the process of working with other micro-budget (for want of a better word) 'collectives' like our own Tartan Features/Year Zero Filmmaking. Our aim was always to be looking outward, even despite the parochial name. While we are not distributers we are promoters of our own brand of filmmaking ,and we're very happy to promote similar minds and films from other countries, areas and thoughts.
For us that would directly be a new strand to fall under the Year Zero Filmmaking umbrella. Films from around the world made with similar ideals would be promoted here with our cataloguing. And in return some of our films would be promoted in a similar way by others in their area. The more people who come on board around the world results in everyones films being promoted to a greater audience globally.
While it's not a perfect analogy - an indie film John Peel is needed - there are enough people around the world and the UK with similar ideals. Working together to promote each others films does to an extent short circuit a current failing industry. Rather than recreate - make your own.