From the archives.....April 2016
Scotland: Year Zero Filmmaking and a New Constitution for Independent Filmmakers.
You might not think it but you are currently living in a golden age of filmmaking. It's like the Wild West and everything is up for grabs. This is great news for independent film-makers, especially for those in Scotland.
This means YOU!
The reason you might be thinking this sounds like BS is because we are currently coming out of a dark age. The burning Roman Empire of the Studios, Broadcast Networks and Cinema Chains is leaving us with our eyes blinking with uncertainty for the future. But among the dark and smokey rubble through our closed eyes there are giant shards of light showing signs of this new golden age through open eyes. And you can be a part of it. Things are changing.
This has happened before, and will happen again and learning from history allows us to take advantage of what will happen next in filmmaking for ourselves. And it's only part technology.
Technology has always been pioneered by the mavericks, the outsiders, the crazies and the independents. In fact, you can argue that all art, film and music of value has been pushed forward by these types of people. Especially at times of turmoil or status quo. And this is where you come in as we are currently in a time of great upheaval in the film world.
By the very nature of you being an independent film-maker and fighting to get yourself heard you are an outsider, and it's outsiders like you which make things change and you now have a perfect opportunity.
Firstly, some key points have to be made:
1. The film industry is reactive. It always has been and always will be.
2. Changes in the film industry usually follow the other great 20th century art form – the music industry.
As an art-form, the film industry has the unfortunate position to have to rely heavily on technology for it;s existence. Because of this reliance, changes in technology have mostly dictated changes in practice, usually financially motivated. This is not always the case though, sometimes a perfect storm arrives that fundamentally changes the way an industry operates. A camera patent dispute in the early 20th NYC century led an entire industry (with their new cameras) to move and set-up in Hollywood, before Hollywood existed. Much more recently a writers strike, expensive film stock costs and the release of new digital cameras (such as Red) led to a perfect storm of a complete digital revolution almost overnight.
This digital revolution has changed the film industry more than anything else in it's entire history. It's also helped you, and it's continuing repercussions will help you even more. Independent film-making before cheap technology was a true dark age. But for such a fundamental paradigm shift; the move to cheap digital camera equipment, editing and now distribution was a red herring in how the industry operates.
The digital revolution was not a real industry revolution, well not in the way it has been portrayed. Very, very few people in the film industry expected anything to change after the repercussions of the 2007/8 Writers Guild Strike. Cinematographers were incredibly skeptical – some very respected ones even publicly stated that film would be around for at least 10-15 years longer. Most Producers, most directors, most cinematographers and the vast majority of the film industry were not responsible for any digital revolution. They reacted to it, eventually - in many cases they had to because of the nature of the timing of the strike but they did not create it. The real people behind the Digital Revolution however were people like you. And that is very important and is now mostly ignored. The established film industry didn't even see anything coming until they had to. Knowing how they operate in times of change can help us move forward with our filmmaking.
The outsiders really responsible for this revolution were independent film-makers speaking to each other on internet forums. People like you. They wanted high quality equipment which they perceived as a barrier at the time. Red listened. And then they got it.
It should be made clear that not everyone in the established film industry is a Luddite, an accountant, someone who sells their soul at the drop of a hat; or a hack. As an audience we've all been lucky that mavericks like Charlie Chaplin, Sam Goldwyn, Orson Wells, Alfred Hitchcock, Dennis Hopper, Robert Evans, John Cassavettes and hundreds of others have all pushed the industries buttons and boundaries for the benefit of everyone. And we are very lucky there are still people like this – and there are also many in the Scottish Film Industry too.
At the time of the digital revolution a few of the industry mavericks – specifically Steven Soderbergh adopted the Red camera as a result of keeping an eye on what was happening outside of the mainstream. Taking risks and offering a hand to those outside of the industry. These cracks into the industry are important and we should always be looking for them. Soon after the Red revolution the Canon 5Dmk11 was released and adopted by indie film-makers, long before the mainstream industry did and it changed everything. An important point was Canon did not foresee this, the independent film-makers did. People suddenly had a realisation that they could play on a nearly even playing field and that realisation is incredibly powerful for anyone. The big boys took a hammering but mostly survived but the smaller ones were decimated.
In short, a revolution was started by those outside the established industry and adopted afterwards by those within. This is again important to remember.
What else is important to remember in the build up to new changes in the film industry is the recent history of the music industry.
The biggest shadow cast over the music industry over the last 20 years is about to cast his shadow over the film industry. That person is Sean Parker and he is about to change the film industry even further and likely forever.
For those unaware of who Sean Parker is, well he was someone just like you too. He developed Napster in his bedroom and nobody in the music industry wanted to know until it was too late for them. He opened the floodgates of internet streaming and before anyone could really understand the implications the horse had bolted. Again, an industry being re-active than active, this time with severe consequences.
As well as being a large part of Facebook and Spotify Sean Parker has just launched a new company, a sort of Netflix for Cinema. This new company has pretty big implications for all of us too. And speaking of Netflix, when they started they initially offered their services to Blockbuster. What did Blockbuster say? Well, when did you last rent a VHS in the high street? Or a DVD/Blu Ray for that matter. They lost out by not keeping an ear to the ground or listening to the new guys.
But, before we talk about Sean Parker's new company there is a further change - and a very important one that is also altering the industry, or that should be HAS already changed the industry.
High-End TV Drama really started to become a rival to cinema with the release of The Wire and The Sopranos, and probably for good reason. A feature film for cinema release had fallen into the little changing 90-120 template that was by then 100 years old. With few exceptions traditional TV drama was seen as a poor relation to cinema but just like with TV in the 50s it was once again offering the viewer a new experience - Cinematic production values, high quality story lines and a far longer running time to sell a story. And unlike cinema release films you could watch them before pirated copies were made available online (mostly). Game of Thrones took this new ere in TV to a whole further level and now every single broadcaster, production company, writer and director is getting in on the game. Some of the best 'cinema' ever is now being shown not in a multiplex but in your home. And there is a lot of it, and a lot of competition.
Cinema and the traditional Feature Film's response seems to be to make even more expensive productions, just like in the 1950s when it responded to mass market TV. Only now there is nothing inbetween. You either have Television Drama, and with the exception of the odd mid-budget film very large studio blockbusters, mostly superhero based. The big difference now really is that people are not going back to cinemas. The viewer is responding with their eyes and feet. They like long form, high end TV Drama. They are happy. How long will it be before the vast budgets of Thor are thrown into making a TV series rather than a $300 feature film? Well until the money stops coming in from tickets....Or something else.
Sean Parker's new company may change everything. The Screening Room is offering the ability to stream a film into your home on the same day of release as at the local cinema for $50. That might seem steep but for a family night out it's mostly cheaper. And it's convenient, and comfortable and most people have very nice TV's. He has a lot of industry backing, he has a track record of proving his ideas work long before anyone else so it will likely be taken seriously. And it seems to be taken seriously by some very high profile directors and producers.
The established industry is slow to react but they always do – after all it's a money making business. They seem to be hedging their bets by backing two ideas at the same time – even more when you take streaming into account. But it seems a loosing battle and they are likely scraping the barrell for all it's worth. Netflix pretty much now say 'jump' and the industry respond with 'how high?'. Every broadcaster is changing their delivery service to be in line with Netflix, even giants like HBO. Every studio is changing their acquisition requirements to fall in line with Netflix. Soon Terrestrial Broadcast will no longer have the bandwidth required for the high quality demanded from viewers and equipment.
It really is the Wild West and that is great for us and you. Everything is up for grabs and everything is changing.
Now is the time for you to become a pioneer. You don't have to wait for someone to tell you to do something, just go and do it yourself. If you have an idea you believe in - go out and do it. The only thing stopping you is seeing it through to it's completion – that's the only hard part.
This can be Film Making Year Zero. Now IS Scotland's Film Making Year Zero. The industry as we know it will soon no longer be and that's a perfect and exciting opportunity for you to create something. Now is the time to do something and now is the time a worried industry is looking for people like you to react to/with.
Like vinyl LP's, feature films will always be there and there will always be a demand for them. Budgets will be a lot less but if you are smart you can make money in this new era. Be inventive. Or be traditional!
Television Drama is massive, there is a whole new film-making world opening up -one without rules, or as yet unwritten rules for YOU to make. This is the closest the industry has ever been to when Sam Goldwyn decided to leave NYC and convert a cattle shed in Hollywood into a film studio. But this time it's you who will be leading the way.
Don't fall into the trap and wait for the establishment to do something. Be The Rolling Stones in 1965, not X-Factor in 2016. Be The Impressionists in the 19th Century, ignore everyone who says what you are thinking or doing is wrong. Nearly everyone who has done something different is a person like you, and you now have the perfect time. Don't ask for permission.
The Digital Revolution started it, the resurgence of Television Drama has taken everything a giant step forward and the demise of Cinema Chains must surely be the next. It will then be up to you to create a Constitution For Film-Making in the exciting Year Zero of what comes next.
Things are happening in Scotland. Independent Film-makers are no longer content to wait to be part of something. This is your opportunity to lead.