The Death of Merely Good Films

The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.

“The loser in a world of almost limitless entertainment choice is not the hit, but the near-miss.”

As a maker of films that fall into ‘niche’ categories, I appreciate new technologies that enable us to reach smaller audiences in new and creative ways. When I began my career, the options were few and if you had a film that wasn’t a mainstream film, it was almost impossible to get it to audiences. You could show it on one of the Big Three television networks, in theaters, or…

…I guess there were VHS tape and home video stores. But the reality was that everything was pretty locked-up, especially for smaller filmmakers who had films that would appeal to a smaller segment of the audience. Even if you could identify them accurately, it was really difficult and/or expensive to reach them.

The development of broadband internet and social media and all of the other constantly changing technologies now make it possible for us to target and actually touch audiences with niche media. This is the promise of the new media world and we are all clinging hopefully to that promise!

Interestingly though, another side-effect of the new media world is what I would describe as a widening gap – kind of like what happens in developing economies. Instead of a great, flat, democratic media landscape where everything has equal footing and ability to impact audiences, we are seeing an interesting trend in the world of the ‘blockbuster.’ While there has been tremendous growth in the production and distribution of small films to small audiences, there seems to be a greater emphasis at the opposite end of the spectrum. What is being lost is in the middle – those films that aren’t quite blockbusters but are bigger than the niche film. Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

This interesting article (originally from The Economist) describes the phenomenon very well. “Independent filmmaker earning a living in world where blockbusters dominate”

How does this impact folks like us? It’s not really my dream to make ultra-low-budget films ($0-50,000) for the rest of my career. But I am called to stories that fit smaller niches. It would be nice to be able to gradually make larger films, fill the gap between the blockbuster $150 million films, or even the average $50 million studio feature. Isn’t there a huge market now for low-budget films that are of high quality, made for $3-5 million? I know people who are aiming there. This article suggests that they are in for a battle for an audience.

What do you think?

Filmmakers Making A Difference In Africa


I’m always on the lookout for great stories about how filmmakers are making a difference in communities, especially in the developing world. I found this article today from East Africa:

As part of the continuing series on African Filmmaking, we look at a film that’s made acclaim in both filmmaking and development in Nairobi’s Kibera Slum., ukwelii, Oct 2009

What kinds of ideas does an article like this stir up in your mind? What if part of our lives is focused on helping others tell their stories and empowering others through our gifts and experiences? Can we make that a priority?

Gotta Be Better Than Last Year? AFM opens today

We’ll see what AFM brings but we refuse to be at its mercy.

We’ll see what AFM brings but we refuse to be at its mercy.

The past year has been mostly depressing with reports of poor attendance and low purchases at the various film markets all over the world. It seems like it wasn’t a good time for us to finish our film, The Enemy God, and to be trying to fight it out amongst all of the content looking for distribution.

You can read some folks’ theories about how this year might be different in this article about the American Film Market which opens today in Santa Monica, CA.

There are whole worlds where we feel we just can’t learn enough, don’t know enough of the players, and we’d basically get eaten alive – like at AFM. So our sales agent, Entertainment 7, is our big hope out there to sell foreign rights, television, VOD, etc. We received good news from the last market in Cannes; we found a distributor for South Asia and Scandinavia. (I blogged about that here.) That gives us confidence that there are still distributors looking for remarkable content that falls outside the mainstream rom-coms, thrillers, and big action pictures.

The rule now is to avoid just sitting back and waiting for those glorious license deals to fall in your lap! We have seen how our film plays for audiences, once we reach them, and we’re in this for the long haul. We are working the hybrid-distribution world as well; call it partial-DIY. Our screenings at the Starz FilmCenter last month proved we could get audiences in theaters via word-of-mouth. We have a new DVD out to press right now and we’ll pump that one via social media; so we aren’t just sitting back at the mercy of the markets.

Yanomamo Spiritual Stories at Starz Tonight

Provocative – to those who believe that indigenous people in the rainforest live in a sort of paradise where peace and harmony reign.

Unsettling – to Christians who discount the existence of the spiritual world (either willfully or by their practices).

Encouraging – to those who know struggles for inner peace and answers to their questions of ‘who is in control’ in the universe.

This is what we want to be to our audiences at the screenings tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Starz FilmCenter in Denver. I know some in the audience will be Christians who bring their own points of view to the screening – generally favorable to the message of Bautista’s story we tell in The Enemy God. I know many in the audience will not be Christian, and may even be antagonistic to the claims of Jesus. But our experience is that even those people find something to think more deeply about in our film.

There will be conversations tonight. That’s a good purpose for art.

Holy Spirit, go ahead of us and be present among us.

Patience and God-Connections in the Indie Film Journey

I’m pretty good at working off intrinsic motivation. It certainly helps when there are not a lot of people patting you on the back for an extended period of

Me (r) filming interviews in the Punjab, about nine years ago!
Me (r) filming interviews in the Punjab, about nine years ago!

time! But, it is hard to be patient, even when you have a good sense that you’re on the right track and that God is going to bring it on in his time.

Today we got a nice pat on the back related to our film, The Enemy God. I got a call from a company that just picked up the rights to the film for India, Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia. Additionally, they will distribute it in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. (Odd combination, I thought.) This is the first news of an official ‘sale’ by our sales agent who has the worldwide rights to the film. Their job is to make these deals for us so the film can get out to places we don’t know how to reach ourselves. We keep busy with our own DVD distribution in our niche markets, but overseas deals are really out of our hands.

The problem for us has been the long wait. Independent film deals usually take a while to develop. There is lots of competition. Our film is not a highly commercial property. But we do know there’s an audience for it, if we can connect with the right distributors who understand and appreciate the film – and who have an audience in mind. This deal came about because the company heard about our film from friends in the UK (don’t know who, exactly) and then the distributor e-mailed me. I passed it on to our sales agent and forgot about it. At least, I didn’t think much would come of it. Now, I get the call and I’m talking with a very encouraging, enthusiastic, visionary man who loves our film, wants to build web sites, do Hindi and other language translations, and all that. [And, he asked about our next projects too – which are kind of sketchy right now…]

I don’t know how big this company’s reach is in India and the other countries or how big the audience will be. I don’t know if we’ll see a dime of revenue from this deal. But we’ll leave all of that in God’s hands too. This is a film that never could have been made – according to some wise people. So we’re content to see God do miracles, see deals like this come up, and we’ll live a while longer off that encouragement from God and a few people.