Warnings from the Edges of the Small Screen

VOD platforms, subscription streams, and quality television production are finally (after a long predicted move) realizing their potential and with this fact comes many more avenues for films to be broadcast. The recent move of CNN to acquire documentaries (Our Nixon and Blackfish and more!) & broadcast them on their cable news network simultaneously with a small theater release and the increase of simultaneous VOD & limited theater run films (like The Canyons- which I watched online immediately after it's premier) are bold steps in the way independent cinema is now distributed. Theaters are no longer the first place to see a film. After watching a lot of submissions for two indie film fests this season I think I maybe have some words of caution for young, independent filmmakers broadcasting in this new era of distribution platforms.

1. Independent filmmaking is becoming visually less cinematic. When watching screeners recently there were so many tight shots and near constant, nauseating, quickly moving cameras- things that don't take into account the fact that, even though these films are shot through the viewing screen of your digital camera & edited on your computer they will, especially at film fests, be blown up onto gigantic screens! I know the fate of a lot of films is beyond the control of the director for the most part but the expectations for distribution are important to keep in mind when creating the visual schematic of your film. In fact, I totally wrote the following for a screener I just watched "This film will not translate to a large screen."

2. I wouldn't have really thought about this if I hadn't been involved in an indie film production myself but, these new ways of distribution require new ways of marketing that I don't really think anyone has gotten quite right yet? I think small, personal outreach is one way to harness the intimacy of small screen viewing. Personal blogs, interviews on small cult sites, live chats (reddit has been a great resource for this lately!) make people aware of a project and aware of where it is going to be, making the process and people become part of the film along with the audience. I guess the rise in trailers (a category on hulu & itunes which always seems so weird to me...like, "look at these cool ads!") and online viral/snippet/shorts are one way emerging platforms are able to advertise but do they actually lead people to sites or downloads? Also, I don't check itunes like I check my e-mail so I am not often aware of what is hanging out there- but is it crazy that based on my purchases they shouldn't send me an e-mail saying "Yo, Room 237 is rentable here! Now!" or even update the old school videostore model that used to hover as signage above the cashier: "Released this week, To be released next week, Soon to be released." It might seem arcane but it seems like a smart way of informing potential at home couch popcorn audiences. Lastly on this topic, there is a probably a weird allegiance thing of pushing content on other forms of content-  I'm sure streaming and VOD platforms aren't exactly welcome to advertise on tv- but, there needs to be a better outreach in terms of letting me know where to see things that aren't going to the big screen. (Props to Indiewire for their ongoing Monday list of top ten itunes purchases & downloads! In fact, this has been the best source for knowing what films are out

3. Man, production quality sucks lately indie filmmakers...like, really bad....what is going on? I mean, I understand that cameras are in the hands of practically anyone but...really? That font? Those intertitles? Really poor quality filming that is actually distracting to the viewer? Was that an un-ironic crossfade followed by a dissolve? It's these details that separate the amateur from the auteur. A camera doesn't make you a filmmaker, it is the way you use the camera that does...right down to the opening and closing credits. I do think that small screen shooting & editing are helping in the erosion of detail oriented filmmaking (i.e. comic sans is just fucking wrong but, even moreso when blown up to a couple feet on a screen). As an audience we have become more accustomed to the "anything goes" style of youtube & vine and the increase in the cinema varite style (brought on by the digital revolution and also the reality tv booom) makes filming seem "real" or caught when, in most cases, they are more staged than your high school production of The Wiz put on by your overly emotional drama teacher! Mise-en-scene just isn't important to a lot of the casual digi-indie filmmakers because it isn't even noticeable, or even thought of as an important element of film, thanks to the small screens & odd styles we're now accustomed to.

I guess what all of these things are getting at is the idea of maximizing your audience for whatever platform your film is destined to be viewed on- a forethought that might be very difficult to determine but an important one to consider nowadays. Are you shooting for the small screen or are you shooting for the big screen and, if it's the latter, how can you reach these new audiences of home viewers?

Update: After reading this I watched some "real" tv and saw a little pop up ad during a show (it was either a reality tv show about fish monsters or one about people doing something stupid..either way) and it said "Like what you see, buy the series on itunes!" 1. Why not advertise similar shows that one hasn't seen and can download? Right? I dunno...I'm not a tv watcher really so who knows how they think but it seems like a missed opportunity to expand audiences for other shows, try out something new at your convenience, right? 2. Why the hell don't tv stations have their own platforms to sell their own shows? It just seems like such a missed opportunity, especially when thinking that if they tack an ad on the site, or on the download itself, it would probably cover the infrastructure costs pretty quickly, no? It's like why sell on itunes when you can sell on bandcamp?

About a week after I wrote this Netflix started sending me e-mailed updates on new releases based on things I have watched....hm.



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.