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You Don’t Have To Get Into Sundance To Put Your Feature Film On YouTube

During the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, there was much news and blog posting about the festival putting up several feature films that were screening this year on YouTube for rent. After the festival ended and after the rentable films were taken offline, there was similarly much analysis on whether or not this online festival experiment was a failure or not.

However, excluded from all this writing about the Sundance/YouTube partnership, one secret, key fact was left out:

Lots of filmmakers already upload their feature films to YouTube and other video sharing sites for audiences to watch. For free.

Excluding that fact and, worse, not writing about or embedding feature films on major indie film websites sends out a clear message that the only worthwhile independently produced films worth watching — online or anywhere — are the ones that make it into major film festivals like Sundance.

This isn’t a rail against Sundance or the YouTube rental program. Sadly, it appears that the partnership was indeed a “failure,” at least in the amount of money the participating filmmakers made through the deal. But, it appears to have been a failure of marketing as the films were extremely hard to find. I personally found easy links on the YouTube homepage for the films while the program was running, but that other people had such a hard time finding them points to some failure of promotion.

Beyond Sundance, there’s lots of sturm and drang about the alleged “death” of indie film these days. In fact, one popular article making the commentary rounds is called “Can Indie Movies Survive?” But, in articles like this, what’s actually defined as “indie”? Jay Epstein doesn’t quite say, but apparently it’s a movie produced outside the Hollywood studio system and costs less to make than Avatar.

What about underground films, e.g. those films that are produced off-off-off-off-Hollywood and cost anywhere between two to five figures? Apparently, those movies don’t count as “indie.” Judy Berman wrote an opinion article based on Epstein’s called “Why Is Indie Film Dying While Indie Music Thrives?” What does Berman think of underground filmmaking:

Yes, there are small groups of experimental and underground filmmakers working together around the country, watching and critiquing each other’s work, volunteering to hold a light on the set of their friends’ project. But this community is much smaller and attracts few fans who aren’t filmmakers themselves.

Yep, totally dismissive. Unfortunately, Berman’s attitude of the underground film world isn’t much different than most other film writers. What’s unusual is that she’s exceptionally blunt about it. Typically, the underground film world is dismissed through exclusion.

Those two articles in particular are fairly negative about the fate of “indie” film, but the real truth they sidestep by ignoring or glossing over is that real independent film is absolutely thriving and indie filmmakers are loading tons of films to YouTube, Vimeo, BlipTV and other websites. Mostly, it’s short films, but more and more filmmakers are putting their features on these sites, too.

But, the harsh truth is that the reason feature filmmakers are doing this is because they’re shut out of most film festivals or their films can’t find traditional distribution for various reasons. Then, even though they’re online and available to see by anyone with an internet connection, these films then unfortunately get ignored by most major film websites.

So, asking about whether or not “indie” film is either dead or in its death throes is really more about the status of the current economic model of the indie film world. That economic model is looking for new solutions such as the Sundance/YouTube partnership, which really is just the same old economic model with a new spin: Get into Sundance and your film will get written about. Don’t get into Sundance and get ignored.

Reading a lot of indie film blogs and websites, I feel like I’m always reading about the future of films going online and get shown videos about people talking about films going online, but I don’t see very many actual films being embedded and then written about on these same sites. I don’t know if there are tons of feature films by indie filmmakers online, but I know there are at least some, and probably many more. It feels to me that there’s a disconnect between the online film world that gets written and theorized about and the actual films that exist online right now.

Uploading feature films to YouTube and Vimeo may or may not be the future for indie filmmakers, but it’s the current for quite a few of them. Go check one out and if you hate it, turn it off. Try another one if you like. If you find one you like, leave the filmmaker a comment. They’ll appreciate it.

And if you have your own feature film that can’t get into any film festivals or get a distributor — or even if it has — think about uploading it in full online. If you’re crafty, you might be able to figure out a way to make some money back from doing so. Just be prepared to not get much of a reaction out of the world, but some audience will find it and appreciate it. That’s not great consolation, but remember, you made the film to be seen. It just may not be seen in the way you initially intended.


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