RE:CONVERSATIONS :: TRULY FREE FILM :: CREATING VALUE IN FREE FILM
Independent film is currently redefining investment, distribution, and business models in the light of changing world economic structures. New dynamics may make film a frightening place to build a career. However, it is important to acknowledge the creative advantages of taking a film from pre-production to self-distribution. I work with ornana films, and we recently took this journey with our first feature, euphonia. Here is my contribution to that on-going dialogue. The following originally appeared on Ted Hope’s site Truly Free Film.
Over three years ago we started having conversations delving into the story that ended up on screen at South by Southwest in March and is now on Vimeo in full, for free. Between those points, we spent thousands of hours working through this story to turn it in to a film. However, I think the more interesting part is not what we did, but what we didn’t do.
We didn’t wait for someone to give us “the opportunity” to make a film. What freedom we all have as independent filmmakers. We have no contracts that bind us, or the bureaucratic oversight that bogs down even breaking ground on an idea. We dedicate ourselves to each story and then figure out how to tell it. We were able to do that in stages, while continually learning and developing rather than being told it isn’t feasible, or you’re not ready.
We prepared ourselves along each step of the way—all the way up to heading to SxSw as a group of friends that made a feature film together. When we reached new challenges like becoming our own publicist, PR, and distributor we read a lot of articles, we watched a lot of Ted Hope speeches, we talked to each other about what was working (read: what wasn’t working), and we kept a pen and a notepad next to our beds. We didn’t ask permission, we just started sending e-mails, walking up and introducing ourselves, and, most important, we started having conversations with others.
We didn’t talk about money. We didn’t have any; we weren’t trying to make any. When something isn’t working in a film, it is easy to throw money at the problem (hypothetically, like in a film world that had money…) to smooth it over. Not having a budget forced us to solve those problems in the context of the story, rather than attempting fixes it in post-production. Why isn’t it working? The answer often lies in the film’s internal logic. When we hit those inevitable snags we went back to the heart of the project. We worked on the issue from the foundation.
We didn’t have to make anyone’s money back. We got to go to film festivals without trying to sell our film. We walked into SxSw looking to learn and prepare ourselves for the next stage of euphonia, the online release. We sat in panels, films, Q&As, happy hours, restaurants, parties, after parties, hotel lobbies, and even a roundtable discussion and we ended up having thousands of conversations in that week that we are continuing to learn from. We didn’t have to spend a single minute trying to cover costs.
We didn’t worry about the film market. We have a fifty-four minute film. That is because it turns out we were telling a fifty-four minute story. We didn’t turn it into an eighty-minute film with extra stuff thrown in like a high school term paper just to make the deterministic length for a theater. We didn’t turn it into a jumbled thirty-minute short for festival programmability. We had the opportunity, as independent filmmakers, to do the right thing for the story, without worrying about everything else.
And that freedom brings us here, to online distribution. We are working with Vimeo to release the film in full, for free. We are doing this because, after three years, we want to remove all the barriers between euphonia and an audience. We are doing this so that we can have more conversations. Please, teach us, and we will do our best to keep sharing what we learn.
Benjamin Wiessner appreciates a well-placed em dash. He still listens to that song by Petey Pablo and he believes in the untapped culinary power of country ham. He values sensible footwear. He always keeps a tent in his trunk. He was raised to witness the emancipatory power of storytelling. These are all source texts for his aesthetics. He is an editor here at Exit Strata. He also works with the film collective ornana. You can also check out their soundcloud.