Wednesday, February 13, 2013

from primer to upstream color: the divergent modern film industry.

upstream color, shane carruth's second feature, is finally hitting festivals and will soon be independently distributed by the director himself. and, presumably, some independent distribution companies.

in the nine years it's been since carruth's debut feature, primer, won the grand jury prize at sundance in 2004, the film industry seems to have split and become two divergent entities: the thoughtless, by-the-numbers, business-driven approach of hollywood, and the microbudget, independent, kickstarter-using scene of, well, everywhere else. the entire industry is changing more and faster than ever before.

while the democratization of the tools to create, produce, and distribute have (seemingly) leveled the playing field, the abundance of new material has created a new and even more hazardous minefield than ever before. it takes so much to stand out that filmmakers choose to forgo story and character in favor of visual "wow" factors like camera trickery, CGI, and plot twists, none of which serve to make a film better - only to catch the eye of our increasingly ADD-addled society.

but we're all guilty of seeking out style over substance, consciously or not. when film as a medium first started becoming widespread, it was that "wow" factor that brought audiences into theaters in droves. whether or not anyone actually jumped out of the way of that infamous train shot is irrelevant; people were captivated by those moving images. it's in our natures to seek out things that continue to wow us, that touch us in ways other things can't.

in many ways, the modern american film industry can be viewed as a microcosm of america as a whole.  the increasing gap between big-budget studio films and small, independent films likens itself to the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower classes. the collapse of the housing market is remarkably similar to the collapse of the star-studded romantic comedy - a genre/industry once relied upon by many at the top to generate untold wealth and ticket sales now finds itself hemorrhaging money (read this vulture article for more info and a case study). the desire, nay, yearning, to self-distribute bears a great similarity to the occupy wall street movement, with young filmmakers choosing to take their destinies into the own (usually far more capable and creative) hands.

as for answers, I don't have many. believe me, I wish I did, so that I could solve the problems my friends and I are having with not only getting our work funded, but seen by people who can actually make a difference and help the art spread. filmmakers are increasingly switching to the distribution model that so many small record labels (several featured on this blog) have resorted to: selling their own work directly to the consumer, crowd-sourcing the money to record, and, first and foremost, connecting with the fans and maintaining complete and utter transparency.

we've been heading toward a completely new film industry (and culture, for that matter) for more than a decade now and I'd like to believe that within the next decade the transition will be complete. from the digital revolution to the internet revolution, each piece builds upon the one below it and together they inch closer to a genuinely new and different entity than the one that's been in place since the rise of hollywood and the studio system.

all we can do as artists and filmmakers is adjust our approaches to better take advantage of the new tools at our disposal and adapt to the quickly- and constantly-changing landscape ahead of us.