Democratising The Filmmaking Process 4 : DIY Distribution : Creating a workable DIY Distribution Network.
This is Cinema Freedom.
How to Start your own Revolution.
This is Richard Scott and Richard's own revolution is going to help us - and you - create an entirely independent DIY distribution network which will allow your films – both short and features – to successfully screen in cinema spaces throughout the world. A complete, DIY alternative to traditional cinema distribution.
For this to work it will need the support of you and as many like minded film enthusiasts as can be brought together.
This is Richard's story. In 1977 Richard was working in a London independent record shop called Rough Trade. Rough Trade were then regarded as 'hippies' but soon started to stock the enigmatically produced independent punk singles which were being brought to them by spiky haired youths of the day. Many of these records were 'one off' experiments, the youths had recently discovered the secret of making the records themselves but had not yet found a way to properly sell them. A typical 1000 pressing run of 7” singles would result in a few being given away to parents, a few being sent to journalists, perhaps 150 sold at their local gigs, and 30 sold in Rough Trade. But 800 copies would be stored in their attic, never to be sold.
Rough Trade themselves soon began to recognise the cultural importance of this new youth movement and began their own record label, also called Rough Trade to release records by these local bands.
Throughout the UK many similar independent record shops would start stocking records by their own local punk bands and similarly starting their own record shop labels.
Still the same problem remained for the bands - the vast majority of their stock would remain unsold. Each shop would sell adequate amounts of local bands music but because there was a limit to the amount of public interest each for each band geographically this created a limit to how many records could be sold in that area.
Of course there were public advocates of these new records – Radio's John Peel and music newspapers such as the NME. But if you were listening to the radio and heard a great single by a band from Bristol it would be difficult to buy it in Liverpool as it was only stocked in Bristol.
The problem was recognised by Richard Scott at Rough Trade and he came up with a brilliant solution. The best ideas are always the most simple and this idea could not be simpler. If every independent Record shop, or larger label swapped each others records with one another then every record would be available nationally. Each shop would become a network hub. Because the interest to buy records was similar in each geographical area, with the same proportion of buyers then those 30 singles sold in Rough Trade London could also be sold in Probe Records Liverpool, then in Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and everywhere. The 800 records which would previously have remained unsold, sitting in a band's attic would now be able to sold through this simple DIY distribution network.
This network was named The Cartel and its immediate success revolutionised and frightened the traditional UK music industry. Almost overnight it had taken away the power from the existing record industry (listen to The Clash's Hitsville UK as an example) and itself became a completely independent and alternative industry. It became so powerful that by the mid 1980s small bands would be able to have Number One records without having to even sign a record deal. Everything changed because some like-minded people got together and decided to make a change for themselves. And for independent music.
Our/Your Independent Film Revolution
The Cartel story can be read like an analogy for the independent film industry and what we are proposing is an Independent Film version of The Cartel, Cinema Freedom.
The record shops can be seen as independent filmmakers or production companies, with the records themselves being their films. Currently there is still a bottleneck for DIY films being seen outside of their own areas. The internet has alleviated this somewhat, especially YouTube and Vimeo but to see a true DIY short or micro budget feature in another town, outside of a festival is rare. This can change.
Many shorts or Micro-budget features can thrive at DIY screenings in their home towns, there are many of these in towns and cities currently throughout the world. We've put many on ourselves and they can often have a great turn-out. As mentioned, unless you are screening at festivals or have a traditional distribution deal it is very difficult to get your film screened much further away, much like selling an indie single was before The Cartel. While it is great to have people from your home town see your film (and great for a local scene) it is even nicer to have it seen by others, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
We believe this can be done and a completely independent DIY distribution network can be formed.
It takes a level of commitment, altruism and working for the greater good of independent film but it is such a simple and effective idea, appropriated from another art-form which will theoretically work perfectly when used for filmmaking. And with everyone working together it could become powerful enough to allow a small film have an international screening run. Imagine your film screening throughout the world because of people power.
It can work in many ways. If you currently run a film night, by devoting a single night to Cinema Freedom you can become part of this network and co-create an indie revolution. Screen a Micro-budget feature and two shorts from your area one week and swap with another network hub and screen their films the week after. And they will do likewise. And so will others - again, and again and again in different areas all across the world.
You would not need have to have access to a traditional cinema screen. Anywhere will work – a pub, a youth club,community centre or indeed a large cinema. If everybody took part in this – and importantly supported it – your own film could be screened to often larger audiences than traditional cinemas. With each hub promoting your film online. By everyone promoting everyone elses film it would create an entire independent PR network too. Everyone can help - current film blogs could screen in alternative ways which would be a very welcome addition.
As we are based in Scotland we have been already planning hub networks in some of the cities and towns there . We'd love to work with anyone else interested, especially in other countries – the further away the better and the more the better.
It's simple and it can work. All you need to do is raise your hand, be counted and start screening a DIY film in a DIY manner.