A couple years ago at the Producer’s Guild of America’s annual LA conference I was watching The Godfather legend Francis Ford Coppola talking on stage about the future of movies. This 70+ year old who was one of the defining directors of 70s cinema, which modern filmmakers like me pine for, had a more positive outlook on the future of film than any millennial at the event. He envisaged a future where directors were similar to DJs in that they would “mix” their films live, responding to audience reactions on the fly. This is a fairly radical stance and I think it would take a supremely skilled director and/or editor to mix a film on the fly and it still make sense. But directors as rock stars? That I can believe, just look at Kevin Smith.
There are a lot of people that don’t like Kevin Smith. He is not a visual director or a technical director, he specialises in dialog full of dick jokes. There are a lot of people that think he is amateurish even offensive, but that doesn’t matter, because he has a hard core of fans who love him and that’s all he needs because when you make films for a couple million bucks you don’t need everyone to like you, just the ones that count. And not only do they pay to see his films, they subscribe to his podcast network, buy his books, merchandise from his store (below) and tickets to his live shows that include stand-up, screenings and Q&A. So what does that make Kevin Smith – a director? An entrepreneur? A celebrity? Or D, all of the above?
Kevin Smith to me represents the model of the future filmmaker. He produces his films independently, releases them independently and tours them independently creating a live experience for film much as Live Nation did for music and he can do all this precisely because he works outside of the studio system.
Studios and, for that matter, TV channels are expensive. They maintain huge overheads based on old technologies and a unionised workforce that is capable of multitasking…but doesn’t. Studio films cost a lot because they need to pay for all this redundant hardware and manpower not to mention the suits, and because the films cost so much they need to appeal to the broadest possible audience, which makes them bland and unoriginal. (There are currently 113 sequels, remakes and reboots in the works.) Studios then release these films to the multiplexes that also have vast overheads to cover, so the ticket prices go up and audiences start to wonder why they’re paying more than a month’s Netflix subscription to watch a bland movie surrounded by strangers chewing loudly and checking their phones in uncomfortable seats. This cannot last.
We keep hearing how there is no money in content anymore but that’s bollocks! There’s plenty of money in content, just not enough to cover the outrageous expenses of these antiquated organisations and the inflated salaries of their management. The indie movement of the 90s made production cheaper. Digital technologies in the noughties drove the costs down further. Now we need to do the same for distribution. We don’t need studio distributors and cineplexes. We need independent promoters and venues just like bands. And we need filmmakers who can put on a show just like Kevin Smith…