Creating an Indie Buzz

Twenty-something years ago, when I was earning my TV production degree, I lusted after someday owning the equipment needed to create my own programs. Back then, a good Electronic News Gathering (ENG) camera was about $12,000 used, and editing equipment required another $60,000 to $80,000. Short version: if you didn’t have $100,000 lying around, you probably weren’t going to get into the independent video production business.

Time and fate intervened, and I found another path. I still have nostalgic pangs when I see the desktop video editing setups available today. They’re leagues more powerful than what I used to dream about and now cost around $5,000. That includes the computer.

The affordable entry price means serious video production capabilities are well within the grasp of those with a hankering and a script to create their own video content. With higher-end video cameras, the ability to create the film look means creating broadcast-quality video is no longer in the domain of broadcasters alone. The success of recent independent films such as “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Super Size Me” has helped to create a new market. It allows more independent film developers to dream they can make it big.

Independent films are nothing new. Many early indies were “art films.” The were often produced at great personal expense and generally with very limited distribution. Today, anyone can create full-length feature films. Getting distribution for these creations is often the difference between success and failure as a filmmaker.

According to independent film writer and actor Sarah G. Hayes, the best means to get films in front of distributors today is to take advantage of the increased number of independent film festivals that have popped up in recent years.

But what of filmmakers hoping to create buzz with very limited resources? For Ryan Miller of Painted Pictures, the budget for getting his new film, “Bit Parts,” in front of distributors is pretty nonexistent. “This wasn’t a big-budget production to begin with,” Miller said, “and as much as we’d like to get the movie out in front of audiences, we’re going to need to get a lot more exposure.”

To start the buzz, the Painted Pictures team created a Web site offering visitors an interactive movie trailer (based on Team Banzai Media Group’s SuperTrailer technology). The interactive trailer also provides access to interviews with the actors, a look behind the scenes, and email. In essence, they created a self-contained microsite floating in a player window (in a rather gruesome skin) over the main page. Overall, it does a very effective job getting the feel of the film across.

The online-trailer market has increased dramatically over the past few years, driven by the staggering numbers of trailer downloads for films such as “Lord of the Rings.” Apple Computer is a big player in providing movie trailer access and more recently set up an area where indie films can get exposure. It’s like a coming attractions reel that never ends.

For some filmmakers, finding distribution paths for their masterpieces isn’t as important as the opportunity to share the fruits of their labors. For these filmmakers, the Web has emerged as the primary venue for on-demand public screenings. Sites that cater to independent filmmakers such as Cinequest Online, iFilm, and the BBC are great places for filmmakers to showcase shorts. In addition to exposure, these sites allow viewers to provide feedback on films they watch — it’s like a free focus group. Though not all criticism is constructive, knowing where potential problems in a film are is generally a good way to get them fixed.

Thanks to increased broadband access, the personal computer is more of a media center. A user can listen to streaming radio, watch video-on-demand and enjoy broadcast TV simulcasts. Are we really that far from kissing our TV sets goodbye?

We’ll explore what’s new in this arena in a future column.

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