Death of an Indie

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When people ask me about my movie, what they usually ask is something like: “So how do you get it out there?”  Or in other words, how does a nobody get their movie in theaters or at least on DVD?  In fundraising, the most typical question seems to have been: “Do you have distribution?”  And in fact, when I first embarked on this journey, that was the biggest obstacle in my own mind—getting it seen.  Little did I know that was the least of my worries.

For most of the people I’ve met, filmmaker or no, the great and mystical gate in filmmaking where success is on one side and failure is on the other is the gate of “getting it seen.”  Also known as “distribution” or “getting picked up.”  This is the point at which a giant creative blob that seems to be only an eccentric hobby, suddenly becomes something useful and worthwhile.  It is creativity legitimized.

I was fully steeped in this fallacy.

The truth is, as any artist whose creative aspirations have been in the emergency room for most of their existential existences will tell you, the distributor’s gateway is absolutely not the plague an artist needs to worry about.  Most indie movies die horrible deaths long before the question “So how do we get it out there?” is ever seriously addressed.  In fact, I would hazard to say that a careful autopsy of 99.99% of indie ventures would reveal that distribution problems had nothing to do with their demise.  Perhaps the fear of non-distribution plays a role, but rarely non-distribution itself.

And here’s why: Indie movies hardly ever get finished.

Here are some of the true terminal illnesses which plague indie movies:

  1. Too many great ideas—the filmmaker has so many great stories in his head, he or she just can’t settle on one long enough to write a script.  These movies die young.
  2. The script never gets finished—the filmmaker realizes the entire script needs to be re-written, and the task is so daunting he throws down his scalpel and leaves the patient dying on the table.
  3. The money runs out—the rich uncle’s blood type is actually not O-negative (universal), meaning he just doesn’t invest in ‘anything,’ and the filmmaker himself only gets $60 a pint when he donates.
  4. “Dammit Jim, I’m a pizza delivery guy, not a physician!!!”  The filmmaker looks down at his instruments and his patient and is struck by a sudden fear—what am I doing here??  He is convinced (by himself or others) that his lack of training or talent will only lead the project to disaster!
  5. Seeing ghosts—phantoms, relatives of #4, emerge all over the hospital where the filmmaker is trying to save his movie.  He thinks he’s been given some kind of second sight that allows him to see them.  But really it’s the shadow of his own fear that “opens his eyes” to the ghastly remains of all the creative projects that didn’t make it off the operating table.  Like banshees they croon their singsong tales of woe: “No money!  No time!  Your idea is lame!  Turn back now!”
  6. The man behind the doctor’s mask—the filmmaker is actually a charlatan who has no idea what he’s doing (which in and of itself is not a true reason for failure), and is too dumb or lacks the integrity to fess up.  The fair promises and blustering used to get people on board or string them along eventually reveal themselves and soon everyone is driven crazy, and eventually everyone is driven away, leaving the filmmaker to his own faulty devices and pitiful excuses.
  7. The creative team dissolves—it’s right during the catastrophic organ failure at some stage of the production process that one of the doctors on the elite team realizes he or she hemorrhaging themselves.
  8. Will to live—the filmmaker has called the ambulance so many times, and has been in the ICU overlooking the comatose movie venture for so long, he’s forgotten what makes the thing worth saving in the first place.  He begins to search for enough reasons and tries to find enough consolation, to pull the plug.

Indie movies don’t fail because they don’t get picked up for distribution.  For the most part, they fail because they don’t get finished.  The making of the first movie in the 95ers universe—the movie I’m still working on after 10 years—has been a series of disasters.

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