Just sort of going through some of my own notes, based on research and my own and others’ experiences . . .
1) Making movies in Vancouver
I remember being a bit disappointed in the Vancouver movie-making scene at my (low) level, upon arriving in Vancouver three years ago (read about Why Vancouver is not indie-friendly). And I had it confirmed by more than one individual: it’s hard to get projects going in Vancouver. One guy I knew made a movie in Calgary, Alberta; he got a bar full of extras for one sequence just through word of mouth, but can’t get anyone here to commit to a project.
The problem with that is that there isn’t really a “Vancouver movie-making industry”; rather, there’s the American television-production industry. There are also American big-screen movies shot here (at least, a few scenes in them). You can see why: within a day’s drive, you’ve got the city, the mountains, the ocean, the forest . . . it’s a very versatile location. And it’s in the same time-zone as California, so Hollywood executives don’t have to hurt their brains trying to do math to figure out what time it is on the location. Plus, we offer tax breaks to productions (though Ontario now offers more, and has supplanted BC as the third-largest production centre in North America, after California and New York), and our lower dollar traditionally meant that it was attractive economically for American productions to shoot here.
We suffer a bit from our proximity to Hollywood. The biggest-budget Canadian movie ever was Passchendaele at $20 million. But Hollywood spends more than that on the marketing budget of a major movie! The result is that Canadian talent (cast and crew) aren’t affordable to Canadian producers. Someone who demonstrates real talent gets scooped up into that machine, so the pool of talent available to local Producers is always being depleted. (Congratulations on being a working professional, by the way!) So there’s a real gulf between the big leagues (working on American productions) and the small-time (funding micro-budget projects out of pocket).
Add that to the fact that theatrical distribution in Canada is controlled by American corporations, so Canadian movies can’t get onto theatre screens. These are the constant sad laments of Canadian movie-makers!
Myself, I don’t have any ambition, intention, or interest in breaking into “The Biz” or “going Hollywood” or anything like that. I’d rather stay small and independent — hopefully tell my stories, and help others to tell theirs — and be a Minor Mogul.
2) Making movies
On a positive note, we live in a promising time. I’m a fan of the French New Wave of the 1950s and ’60s; just as the lighter 16-mm cameras and faster film stock enabled a new style of production then, so today we have the bounty of digital cameras and computer-based editing. The barrier to entry has never been lower; anyone with a middle-class income can make a movie. (Of course, you still need a good idea and the skills to pull it off!)
And the Web is opening new avenues to get a movie seen; the rulebooks here are still being written. I am a big supporter of independent movie-making, as I believe it represents the salvation of both the art and business of Canadian movie-making. The potential for independent production has never been greater!
So if it’s never been easier and cheaper to make a movie (digital video, computer NLE), and if it’s never been easier and cheaper to exhibit a movie (Web), that’s exciting. It means we can make a movie, and we can get it seen. The one problem that hasn’t yet been solved is how the Minor Mogul can monetize it. We’re still doing it out of pocket, and not getting paid. There are four routes out:
Going viral: Everyone wants to do this: get enough YouTube viewers or whatever that the pittance you make per click adds up to a real amount. It can be done. The problem is that this is the first approach everybody tries, so the competition is enourmous; you’re likely to get lost in the crowd.
Getting sponsored: If you can appeal to a narrow demographic, you might talk a company into sponsoring your show. I don’t think Coca-Cola would give you money just because your characters drank Diet Coke, but didn’t The Guild get sponsored by Microsoft XBox or something? The objections here are the whiff of selling out (what are the off-screen requirements for sponsorship?) and the necessity of being so narrowly focussed on one audience.
Going live: Build your following online, but make your money in the flesh, with personal appearances and events and tours. You’d never play to an empty church basement again, because you wouldn’t mount a gig somewhere that you didn’t already have a significant audience in your mailing list and social media. This approach works for musicians such as Jonathan Coulton. Nobody has successfully translated this approach to movies yet, except perhaps Kevin Smith with his An Evening With tours . . . which gave him more DVDs to sell.
Going indie: Of course the last one’s going to be the one I personally favour. You can go completely independent, doing all the business parts as well as all the creative parts yourself. You make the movies, design the websites, enter a few festivals, book a few theatres, be a guest on a couple of late-night radio shows, sell the DVDs, release the Torrents (with a request for donations), put the trailers online along with a “Making Of” documentary that’s also a bonus feature on the DVD . . . You get to play in all those worlds. The disadvantage is that you will probably never leave the micro- to low-budget domain; you might make even a comfortable living, but you probably won’t be a millionaire.