Friday, April 10, 2009


On location, France

There are lots of interesting discussions going on out there about sustainable models for filmmaking. I admire the amount of thought that is being put into these discussions. Personally, I think that for the conversation to be truly productive, there should be a discussion defining what sustainable filmmaking is. The funny thing is that I actually completed a sustainable agriculture program in Minnesota a few years back (if you need any pointers about sustainable, pasture raised pork and beef, shoot me a line). These folks were dead-serious about advancing this purpose and had devoted their lives to living (and empowering others to live) sustainable lives through local agriculture. Why? Because they had seen so many people before them fail. I think that some of the things I learned there are definitely applicable to this discussion.

Money, Money, Money
No discussion about sustainable models for filmmaking can be taken seriously without a serious discussion of money. Stories about people making films using different creative methods are always interesting, but the point is about doing it sustainably. What am I talking about? A business plan. Any credible discussion about any model for sustainable filmmaking needs to have the nitty gritty included, expenses, income, fundraising, distrubution, marketing, ROI on every single piece of equipment, etc. The sustainable agriculture people were clear about this: if you don't have the discipline to create a plausible business model on paper (using real world experience and not hopeful numbers), you are 99.99% likely to fail.

Your Soul
A discussion about sustainable filmmaking should also include an evaluation about whether it is psychologically or spiritually sustainable. Sound squishy to you? I don't think asking yourself what you really want from life if squishy. Want a family? What are your financial needs (yes this is an internal question)? What kind of social relationships do you want? Will you be able to create the kinds of projects that you want, that are truly satisfying to your vision? And on and on... You need goals before you can figure out how to reach them. And if you don't do this, ultimately, you're potentially just another miserable person on planet earth, whether you're working in an office or making films.

Me Me Me
How does what you want to do impact others and the world in general? Do you have a way to get crew that is fair to their needs in the longterm? Are you committed to creating your films in responsible way that actually feeds the community of other like-minded filmmakers rather than parisitizing them? How about mitigating ecological impacts, which rightfully should be included if you truly want to be sustainable. That discussion seems very applicable to the new world we seem to be entering.

This is the part of the discussion that seems to usually eat up about 99% of all discussions about sustainable filmmaking. It's important, no doubt. I like to think about Cassavetes' use of 2 cameras and improvisation in his early films as much as the next film nerd. Making interesting films is the heart and soul of the endeavor, unfortunately, it's not the whole endeavor.

This is just a bare bones, off the top of my head, list. Does any of this have anything to do with filmmaking? My experience with sustainable agriculture has taught me that you cannot separate any of these parts from the whole if you are truly serious about being sustainable. Getting there is a lot of work, both from the external and inward-looking points of view. Anything less is, well, unsustainable.

1 comment:

Eric Escobar said...

Great post!

I agree, building sustainable filmmaking economies is necessary to build sustainable filmmaking communities.

I think the question becomes, for me at least, do we think of the films we create as the product that is sold, at a profit, to sustain this economy and build these communities?

The model we're experimenting with at Kontent is producing other types of filmed content (ads and brand videos, mostly), and then rolling over the profit from those ventures into low and no budget projects that are not dependent on recouping a financial investment. They "pay back" in other, non-monetary, ways.

The problem I run into with the "art-as-commerce" model is that it shapes the type of scripts I write, and the movies I shoot. I end up trying to compete with an industry that is specifically defined as "art-as-commerce".

Roger Corman pioneered the low-cost, quick return on independent film, so there is a model. But I'm not that interested in doing the genre stuff.