First of all thanks for taking the time to do this
I understand everyone’s situation is different based on many different factors. I am a 100% indie filmmaker because I have pretty specific visions of what I would like to see on screen in a final film. I am unique in that my films are not cookie cutter, homogenized films which do not fit into a typical template otherwise seen on television of documentary films. As an 100% indie filmmaker, it is difficult for me to find funding or work with other production companies because I have integrity and will not compromise my vision which makes it difficult to work with others. Since the early to mid 2000’s, there has been a shift to HD physical delivery methods such as blu-ray which require a $500 payment just to license the blu ray logo. The other major change which has really affected me as an indie filmmaker is streaming, which has made it near impossible to survive and make further films on the low amounts paid by royalties from streaming. Comparing the high point of indie filmmaking in the early 2000’s, to now, it may take me 1 year to make in profit now what I would make in 3 months in 2003. So using the finances incoming from my films to fund my next film(s) is now impossible to do as an indie filmmaker. Rationally, I have thought about leaving film as someone would have to be insane to stay in the game if there is not enough finances coming in, but I am trying to shift my mindset and possibly try making film on a zero budget as I do have equipment and time. The only thing that is detrimental about this model is that other artists suffer since I would hire actors, costume designers, makeup artists, composers, sound designers, and other crew members to make my films. When I have decent budgets for my films, I support others in the art community by hiring them for my films, so the lack of funding for distribution means less funding to help other artists who are working to survive. It truly affects everyone. To sum it up, as an indie filmmaker in 2019, I feel as if I am trekking through the dessert with no water in sight. Now it is especially difficult to make more money from physical mediums as dvd/blu ray players are no longer installed on laptops or computers, forcing us indies further into corners to make a profit.
It is easier than ever to buy a camera and push the record button and edit films on imovie, yes. But what about training and technique? Now everyone thinks they are a filmmaker, author, etc. because of the ease of use of technology. I sometimes feel this demeans my college film-making education. When I was training in film school, I made sure to take courses to make me a well-rounded producer/director: Lighting, cinematography, screenwriting, sound mixing, even acting. Many times I see behind the scenes shots of some other indie films and there are no lights or microphones and I know it will be garbage. The issue now is that so many are making films with no experience or training and professionals such as myself get lumped in with them as an indie filmmaker and I get lost in the shuffle of other garbage. I am all for people trying to make films but do it the right way, professionally, technically and with passion and style. Story is the biggest thing. I always say I would rather see a well told story shot on VHS than a story with no emotion shot on a million dollar camera. There are professional filmmakers and there are amateurs and wannna-be’s.
We are discussing companies which stream indie films. Amazon now let’s anyone upload any type of film/video as long as it is closed captioned. This can be a professional film shot for thousands or millions of dollars or something shot for nothing in someone’s basement. I like the fact that there is an opportunity but the other edge of the razor, again, is that there is quality and garbage that is on Amazon. Amazon is simple, just upload your work and go through their arrival process to have your film live on Amazon. Other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are a bit more complicated as you must have a distributor to contact them. My films were on Netflix and Hulu in the past. “H.H. Holmes” ran on Netflix for 7-8 years and then did not renew. All of my other film other than “Bloodlines” were on Netflix for a period of anywhere form 1-2 years at a time. After 2017, it seems these larger streaming services are not looking to acquire smaller indie films as they are creating their own content. The same thing happened with cable channels who would buy films from indies until they decided to create their own content. So at each step of change, the indie is usually cut out of distribution until another opportunity comes along as there are always shifts in distribution, especially now which we are seeing changes yearly or even monthly to the way films are distributed. I recently contacted Netflix about an idea to present to them as an original TV series or film and asked who their contact for original programming was and their response was to find a good attorney or agent, which requires money and/or contacts to do so. So it is more of a frustration issue when Amazon announces Amazon video direct and at first pays 15 cents per hour across the board then changes it to 6 cents and hour, then a year later has changed it to 4 cents a hour with the opportunity to make more based on nebulous statistics such as reviews, IMDB ranking, etc, which cannot be shown as calculated proof for basing royalties on.
Streaming is usually based on minutes or hours viewed, so take Amazon for example, they begin streaming royalties at 4 cents an hour and bigger films with more of a following have an opportunity to make more. Compare this to a DVD or blu-ray sale of a film that can net a profit or anywhere from $5 to $10 per unit purchased. That is a massive difference. Sometimes I wonder if the industry and technology conspired to put indies out of business when they created streaming and removed dvd/blu-ray drives from computers and laptops as we cannot sell a stream at a convention or appearance. Once the internet came along, it was a boon for indies to research and communicate with others to make films, but when streaming came along, it eventually meant the downfall of indie film distribution and any profit to be made due to the low pay for streaming royalties.
I think online funding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great as it allows the public to work directly with the artist and fund their works. The drawback to these is the marketing and promotion, which requires money to promote the fundraiser as Facebook limits who can see posts and require payment to reach a larger audience and does not always guarantee a return. Unfortunately, there have also been many scams in these crowdfunding sites, I have even heard stories of big names in the horror industry making big money and never finishing crowdfunded projects but keeping the money, which makes it harder on those of us who are truly trying to raise money to make films through crowdfunding.
Grit our teeth and deal with it. My films are uploaded illegally to YouTube on a daily basis and then I have to spend my time sending YouTube a copyright infringement request to take them down. Piracy is another reason why indies are not profiting much from their works as it is ubiquitous. America does not care about piracy and does nothing to control it and us indies suffer the most.
Unfortunately, I am not sure there is much that can be done to change so called “progress”. Every time a new avenue comes along for indies to make higher quality films, there is a more expensive way that is introduced to top it. From 3D to blu-ray and HD to 4K. How does an indie with little or no budget keep up? I feel we need a company that has the reach of Amazon, but specifically for indie filmmakers. There are many sites streaming indie film but they do not have the fan base or reach that Amazon does. So indies are most likely not going to make much profit from the smaller streaming sites. I am wracking my brain now on how I can make films on a zero budget when I truly need a minimum of $20-$50K to make my films. I have equipment, so it is my time to invest but if I had budgets, the quality would be higher than it is going to be when being made on a zero budget. I am teetering on the edge of completely quitting my film career and look to a new career at 46 years old or try to continue to make film but with a zero budget when film is the most expensive artistic medium to fund between equipment, cast/crew, etc.
The only changes I see happening are changes that make it more difficult for indies to make and distribute films as well as make a profit from their works. I would love to see someone with the power and funds create a distribution company for established indies who create quality work and pay us what we deserve for streaming and also work with us on financing future works as well as having the reach and fan base numbers of Amazon. That would be ideal.
Stream and buy our films. Spread the word about our works on social media. Tell others about us and our works. Hire us for their projects. Many filmmakers, like myself, also freelance on projects such as music videos, commercials, training videos, corporate videos, demos and work positions such as cinematographer/videographer, editor and other positions. Hire us to teach classes, to lecture at your library or university, and to appear at conventions and expos. When some people see me at a convention, they comment that if I had something new they would buy it. I cannot make a new film or book every year, so if you see us, throw is a 20 dollar bill, donate, or contribute just to help us make art and survive as we always need the help.
My site is johnborowski.com and my films and books can be streamed and purchased from my site, eBay or Amazon Prime. Check them out and support indie film and indie art. I am available as a director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, videographer and author. I also publish books for anyone who has a manuscript, creating a final finished book that is listed on Amazon and can be sold independently by the author. I prefer and am trying to stay in indie film as long as I reasonably can and this does require the support of others whether it is creatively or financially. I am beginning several new projects and am looking for artists such as painters/drawers, composers, sound mixers, editors, costume designers, actors, and others, to donate their time to making zero budget films as it is the only way I can reasonably make films moving forward. I have always paid people in the past but because of the low royalties from streaming, this is not possible moving forward unless I receive financing form some other entity who believes in my work having been a filmmaker, serial killer expert, and author for over the last twenty years.