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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Step in the Right Direction

Now here’s an example of someone in film who has an idea and is taking active steps to implement it.

There’s a piece in the New York Times on Ava DuVernay, filmmaker and publicist, who wants to see black-theme films thrive (the story is behind the wall, but you can register for free if you don’t already have a NYT account).

Her idea? Target those cities which already have existing audiences for black-theme films. Take advantage of the independent film program announced by AMC theaters, which has chains everywhere, to get those films in there for two-week runs. Support those films with grass-roots efforts from the cities’ ethnic-themed film festivals, using social marketing tools. Aim for 50 cities, but start with five to show it’s a workable model.

These are the kind of innovative ideas we need more of from the independent film community in general. We need to be thinking outside the model that says the only way to achieve “success” with your film is to make that elusive high-6 to-7 figure distrib deal at Sundance or Toronto.

I love the idea of targeting a specific niche and finding ways to market to that niche. I don’t necessarily agree with her that the only market for black-theme films is African Americans … that to me is just the reverse of asserting that African Americans can’t or won’t see indie films, which, while it may be true in terms of actual ticket sales at the moment, is not necessarily a truth that’s etched in stone. Get black audiences seeing some smart, indie black-theme films, and maybe you can expand their interest into other niches as well. Encourage white audiences, or Latino audiences, or Asian audiences, to explore black cinema, and you open minds to new ideas. Draw on the commonalities that unite us, not just the differences that divide.

I know, I know. Kum-ba-ya and all that, but I’m a touchy-feely liberal who believes, truly, that there are commonalities across cultures: love, death, happiness, fear, grief, celebration … things that tie us together. And for me, a big part of the role of independent cinema of all stripes is to make the world a smaller place, to bridge those cultural divides.

Still, I applaud this effort as a model. For me, the money quote from the article was this bit:

“Chris McGurk, who was then vice chairman of MGM, even tried to position the studio as a gathering point for black filmmakers.

But the strategy faltered, Mr. McGurk said, as costs rose, and black-theme films, which generally underperform in foreign markets, outgrew their niche. “The economics of that business really only work if you’re able to produce them for $10 million or less,” he explained.”

Well, yes. That’s true across indie film, folks. And really, you can produce a hell of a movie for under $10 million. That’s a LOT of money in the indie film world, and I can think of many, many superior films made on much smaller budgets than that. Really, the economics of the business, whether you’re making black-theme films or any kind of indie film is this: How much can you raise to make your film without going substantially into debt? How much can you get financial or in-kind support to help finance it? And, most importantly, what is your realistic plan for selling your film enough that you can make that money back, plus enough extra to live on and make the next film?

But still, this is an interesting idea, and it’s a start. We need more smart people thinking outside the box like this about how to promote indie film.

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“Why put it in a box? This is the number one problem I have—by the way it’s a fair question, I’m not saying that—with this kind of festival situation is that there’s always this temptation to classify the movie immediately and if you look at it—and I’ve tried to warn my fellow jurors of this—directors and movie critics are the worst people to judge movies! Directors are always thinking, “I could do that.” Critics are always saying, “This part of the movie is like the 1947 version and this part…” And it’s like, “Fuck! Just watch the movie and try and absorb it and not compare it to some other fucking movie and put it in a box!” So I think the answer’s both and maybe neither, I don’t know. That’s for you to see and criticize me for or not.”
~ James Gray

“I have long defined filmmaking and directing in particular as just a sort of long-term act of letting go,” she said. “It’s honestly just gratifying that people are sort of reapproaching or reassessing the film. I like to just remind everyone that the movie is still the same — it’s the same movie, it’s the movie we always made, and it was the movie we always wanted to make. And maybe it just came several years too early.”
~ Karyn Kusama