My Take on the “Take-Back Manifesto”
By Brian Geldin
On April 9, Mike Tully posted on his blog, Boredom at Its Boredest, his “Take-Back Manifesto,” in which he asked his readers to sign a petition that says: “we film lovers of all types—critics, reviewers, screenwriters, directors, producers, production assistants, grandparents, art history snobs, couch potatoes, Multiplex squatters, etc.—believe the following to be true:” In the end, Tully along with Vadim Rizov and Tom Russell signed the initial petition, and many more people signed it by posting in the comments.
While I highly respect Mike’s point-of-view as a filmmaker/film critic/blogger and agree with him on some of his points about panel discussions, I don’t agree with everything. As I am not a filmmaker myself, I address my point-of-view on the panel discussion debate as a purveyor of film panel discussions ala my own blog, The Film Panel Notetaker, as well as someone who is swiftly emerging in the area of independent film publicity.
To help me put the “Take-Back Manifesto” into perspective, TFPN Associate Notetaker Erin Scherer wisely pointed out to me yesterday that when she first read the manifesto, it reminded her of a piece J.J. Murphy wrote on “Four Eyed Monsters”, particularly this passage below:
“As my blog review indicates, I really like ‘Four Eyed Monsters’. I must confess, however, that the more time I spend on the Web site and the more podcasts I watch, the more I start to wonder whether it’s really worth all this effort. After awhile, the filmmakers begin to sound a bit like two carnies working a very large room. I can’t help but think maybe they would have been better off going the art-world route instead, which would have allowed them to make more money selling their art work through a gallery, but, more importantly, it would have enabled them to continue to make new work rather than spend so much of their creative energy on promotion. At some point you have to let it go, move on, and stay focused on doing your art work. That’s what some of their other mumblecore friends have done, which, in the end, means they’re being more creatively productive.”
I agree. While I feel it is important to have a solid online social media outreach plan in place, if you’re a filmmaker, don’t let it monopolize all of your time, and try to move forward.
In his manifesto, Mike says, “We realize that bringing any film into fruition, however great or small the budget, is an outrageously difficult task. We realize this, and yet we don’t care. The final product is all that matters.”
I agree that the final product is extremely important. Though some filmmakers who are just starting out could gain some valuable insights into the process, and even seasoned professionals could uses a refresher from time to time on new techniques and technology via such discussions had in panel discussions, though of course, these aren’t the only places to have these discussions.
Mike says, “A production’s back-story only becomes relevant after—not before—one has watched the film on a screen. Once we see your film and like (or dislike) it, that is when we will decide if we want to learn more about how it came to be. Not everyone can be Werner Herzog.”
It is my personal preference to try my best to only attend panels or discussions about films that I have already seen, as if I hadn’t seen the film and listened to people talk about it, then it wouldn’t have any context to me. For those discussions where I have seen the film, I do really appreciate learning about what went into the making of the film, and I cipher out any extraneous or redundant information that I don’t find particularly interesting, and try to include only the most interesting parts of the discussion.
Mike says, “We know that making thought provoking, ambitious, challenging, adventurous films is complicated by the fact that cinema is such an expensive art form. We know this, and yet we say so what. Everyone is a martyr for their art.”
I feel that sometimes hearing how the filmmaker got there is inspiring. Sometimes when a film looks like it cost several millions of dollars, but only cost a few thousand gives may give a burgeoning filmmaker some glimmer of hope, yet at the same time, not everyone should go out and make a movie just because digital equipment is becoming more affordable, but who am I to tell someone not to make a movie? Let them learn from their mistakes. It’s a very crowded, tough, challenging industry to be in. Not everyone will make it, only a lucky few, but maybe hearing from others who have had success, even just a little, will help point a filmmaker in the right direction.
Mike says, “We don’t want to help pay for your movies. Either: 1) We have our own movies to finance; or 2) We feel like an active enough participant in the process by watching your finished film and being affected by it. That is the extent of the participation we seek.”
I think it all depends on what your personal preferences are. Some people want to make their own movies, others want to contribute and collaborate. No one is equally or lesser better than the other, though I’m sure it must give a filmmaker a sense of satisfaction to complete his or her own film. And then it must also give a filmmaker satisfaction knowing that others cared enough to donate their time, money, and resources to complete his or her film. And then there’s people who don’t want to make a movie at all or don’t want to contribute to make another’s person movie. That’s just as well. Be a movie watcher, a moviemaker, or a movie helper. Each has its own rewards, benefits, and pitfalls.
Mike says, “We understand that we are living in a constantly evolving technological world and that there are kinks to be worked out. We trust that the sharpest, most appropriate brains will solve these problems. Convening weekly panels about how to use Twitter is not the answer.”
Amen for not having to sit through another panel or workshop about how to use Twitter! But these forms of social media exist and evolve everyday. And we’re using them more and more to help us spread the word about films. Whether a filmmaker decides to promote his or her own film via social media or hire someone to do it for him or her, ultimately people need to know about his or her film, or they won’t know it exists and won’t see it. The filmmaker could possibly shell out thousands of dollars on advertising and publicity, but most independent, DIY, low-budget (whatever definition you want to use) filmmakers cannot afford to spend money on these types of marketing campaigns and rely on social media, grassroots, and word-of-mouth to tell people, “hey, see my movie!” It doesn’t necessarily mean the movie is any good, but the worst movies can sometimes have the best social media campaigns or world-of-mouth (ie. The Room). There’s little harm in discovering new ways to promote anything, let alone a film, through a panel discussion, as long as it stays on target and is focused, and doesn’t meander with redundant gobbledygook.
Mike says, “We admire and respect many of those who have given birth to this new panel industry, but we also understand that we now have access to most, if not all, of those participants every day, on a minute-to-minute basis, through their Internet voices. Because of this technological advancement, these panels have begun to feel increasingly unnecessary, a summing up of the latest ideas rather than a newly informative experience.”
But why not congregate every once in a while to expand upon our knowledge and learn and introduce us to new things? Let’s not reiterate topics over and over again with the same people all the time, but let’s try to find new topics with new people with new information that hasn’t been said before.
Mike says, “We believe in the mystery, the power, and magic of cinema, and we feel strongly that the more one reveals about one’s production—at least when it comes to this recent phenomenon of obsessive reporting and documenting of every step of the filmmaking process—the less powerful the impact will be. Exposing the process is only for Christo.”
I think having a very focused case study of a film or group of films can be beneficial if it goes beyond generalizations. Not everyone in the audience of a film panel discussion are filmmakers, some are actually business people (from producers to marketers) too and want to stay on top of the latest trends, resources, and economic indicators. To them, it might just be about those things and not the movie, though I think it should be about both. If you’re in the business of making or marketing films, you should not only be a good businessperson, but also care about the films you’re making and promoting . You should know who the players are, and know about past examples of successes and failures. But if you’re in this just to make a movie, and hopefully a good movie, and you don’t want to burden yourself with all of these non-creative factors, don’t. Have someone else do it for you if you can afford to pay someone to do it for you. Everyone has a special function and purpose in this industry, and wants to learn and improve upon their skills.
Mike says, “From this point forth, we are only interested in the film itself. By marketing your marketing, you are only alienating us. If you are doing anything, you are making us not want to watch your film.”
I admit I can sometimes be tired of hearing the same people over and over talking about what they did or what they’re doing to get people engaged in their film, but I somehow always learn something new despite that. I would like to hear from other people who are marketing their films in new and progressive ways, but it’s not the only thing I want to hear. In many instances, I just want to go see a movie, hopefully enjoy it, and have something to think about and discuss after. I am even more enthralled if I’ve just seen a completely amazing film and the director happens to be there after for a Q&A. It’s sort of an extension of the experience, almost like watching DVD commentary, except for the fact the director is physically there. In fact, I don’t really much enjoy watching films with DVD commentary. If there’s some “making of” featurette or an interview with the filmmaker, then I’ll watch that instead.
Mike says, “We call for a ban of the conversations/panels/symposiums/etc. about ‘How To Market Your Indie Movie In The New Media World!’ until at least 2012, when these troubles will naturally work themselves out.”
I would only like to call for the ban of the most boring, redundant, most talked about, same old people panel discussions (ie. Distribution/Is The Sky Falling?, Is Film Journalism/Criticism Dying, etc.) but not at all for new and interesting topics, with new people that have new and interesting things to say and aren’t completely shamelessly plugging their wares over and over again.
Mike says, “All of this talking about ‘finances; and ‘connecting’ and ‘publicity’ is the insidious language of a corporate, numbers-before-content mindset. Truly personal, independent cinema has never been preoccupied with these details, and making us feel guilty for not caring about them is not the answer. You’re only driving the most talented souls away.”
I don’t think anyone should feel guilty for not knowing how or understanding how to raise money, connecting with audiences, or publicize their films, however, I also see no harm in gaining this knowledge and insight in case a filmmaker decides to self-release his or her film. There are many ways to accomplish all of these things, some work, some don’t. It’s a matter of trial and error, determination, hard work, and sometimes just luck.
Mike asks, “Can we get back to talking about movies, please?”
I think there is room for wide variety of ways to talk about movies from a) talking with a group of friends or perhaps even strangers you just saw a film with, b) going to a post-screening Q&A and listening to the filmmaker talk about his or her film and you participating by asking questions, c) going to a panel that is specifically programmed to talk about a certain film or type or genre of film that the people in the room have a common interest to listen to and talk about, or d) use the power of your blog as you’ve been doing to talk about films in the form of criticism that people will read and comment on.
That said, I will continue to support panels, conversations, Q&As, etc., that I am most interested in attending and convey the information I felt I learned the most from that might be useful and helpful to others who didn’t get a chance to attend themselves.
If only there was a “film panel czar” to ensure a system of checks and balances wherein proper rules of etiquette are followed, not only during the discussions themselves, but even well beforehand in the programming and planning of these discussions so that we get a wider variety of new and interesting topics moderated by new and interesting people with new and interesting panelists who have something new and interesting to say on whatever the topic may be.
OK, maybe my “film panel czar” suggestion is a bit too progressive. I’m sure the Tea Partyers would have a field day with it