Letter to a Young Filmmaker….


As you grow older, please don’t lose your enthusiasm and energy in the slow trawl through the current miasma of the Australian (and dare I say greater world) film industry….

Here and there on your journey you will find pockets of fresh and exciting ideas, full of people who energise you and give hope for the future.

But there are much larger swathes of territory and time to be crossed, inhabited by the soul-destroying shades of those who live on memories of past glory, clinging with their skeletal death-grip to the tattered remnants of strategies and ideas they once thought would conquer the world….. (usually accountants and economists…. LOL)

Dont let them beat you down.

You, like all people your age, with youth and innocence on your side, look at the generations who have gone before and think, “Why don’t they fix it? Its so obvious that we can do better!” and you are partly right… Sadly, you too will grow up and get tired of fighting against the system, as did the generation before you, and the one before that…. ad infinitum.

Yet in every era, there are a few who hold on to that precious flame and nurture it. Slowly, slowly, we build on those ideas, and slowly, slowly, we will infect the rest, building the numbers, until we reach critical mass, and only then will we effect mass change. But take heart, there is no reason you can’t be successful in the meantime on a smaller scale. Whatever your area, as an actor, a writer, or another kind of crew member, we are all involved in the change.

Just remember in your moments of frustration that the film industry is still in the middle of the business cycle- In the early stages of any idea, a few renegades step out and do stuff no-one has done before. Then if they succeed, everyone wants a piece of the pie, so others get involved, the business swells, and it becomes a well-oiled machine. People are making money, and everyone is happy. But eventually there are too many people competing for the same market, and profits fall, so the money men take over from the creative types and start squeezing for dollars. No-one is happy….

It is however self-regulating. The days of the big studios monopolising the business are over. The least successful companies are falling by the wayside, the ones who are only doing it for a dollar are struggling because unless you are giving the market what it wants no-one will buy your product… The number of large companies and studios is shrinking, making room for smaller companies, and faster, more adaptable and innovative people to have a go.

This is in fact a great time to get into the industry- because far from being a time of turmoil and disaster, the end of everything you thought you knew, it is merely a restructuring, a streamlining process that will shed the old skin and from the ashes will emerge an newer, sleeker business model, equipped to deal with the challenges and demands of the 21st century and beyond.

So who will be left in the end? The visionaries who dare to step outside of the box of habit and history, and give the market what it wants:

Those who remember the golden rule:

WE ARE A SERVICE INDUSTRY!!!!

We, as filmmakers, are not in the business of making ‘Art’ for arts sake. Not unless you want to starve in a garrett….. (There is a very good reason that cliche exists). Leave that to the painters who dont care if they never sell a piece, the writers who don’t care if they are never published…

The entire point of making a film is that it isn’t a film until people have seen it….. which means finding a story that has an audience, and finding an audience for your story…..

Self-indulgent ‘gritty realism’ or effects-heavy films light on story ideas may be personally satisfying to the person who makes it, but no audience will pay for the privilege to watch it. What the majority of your potential audience want is to be entertained and/or informed. End, as they say, of story.

Don’t try to second-guess the audience and manipulate them into buying your product (eg this year- Vampire films) because you know that last year they bought three like it….

Thats what kills many otherwise great ideas- the market has reached saturation point in that particular theme and no matter how brilliantly made your film they are bored and want something else.

Beware of jumping on the bandwagon…. You will be one of many and by the time all of them get established and have a product to sell, the leaders, (and the wants and needs of the market), have moved on to other, newer things…

So offer them something no-one else does- a good service experience. Don’t get hung up on what you have been taught and told about what film is:

You do not have to be restricted to a film that screens only on a forty foot screen in a darkened theatre!!!

Ok so its the ideal everyone imagines, and no doubt for certain things is the best way to watch it- but its hard, expensive and hugely competitive. Don’t be a snob. Make your work entertaining, make it accessible, be creative in your marketing, explore all the modern world has to offer in electronic distribution channels and formats.

What could your product be? How to do you get it to the market, if not through that single congested channel of Cinema distribution? Is it an iPod or mobile-friendly download? Is it a serialised Webisode? Is it a straight-to-DVD niche market Genre film that you can sell directly to a DVD Warehouse or Distributor? Is it something we haven’t even heard of yet because you are about to create it?   Think laterally, that’s what innovators and market leaders do, they don’t copy what they were taught about at film school, because they are off busily trying new ways that havent been done yet.

Have a POINT OF DIFFERENCE in your work, but don’t think that you have to be SO different that people won’t want to watch it…..

There is a very good reason that the same few stories get told over and over again.  They resonate with the human experience, and will continue to be told to every new generation for time immemorial.

Or simply, be good. That’s different enough….

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