If you’re a film lover like me, you probably think of the late 1960s and 1970s as a special time, whether or not you were alive back then. Hollywood studios completely lost touch with what audiences wanted. Thus they gave unprecedented power and control to young filmmakers who grasped the changing cultural tastes. The result was an explosive period for filmmaking – call it visual storytelling, which yielded innovative, envelope-pushing films like The Godfather, Chinatown and The Last Picture Show, and hurled to the fore of Hollywood names like Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, and many others.
In this new year, something similar is happening. A confluence of forces and trends is empowering filmmakers in new ways, and that empowerment is only growing.
Here are 3 reasons this ought to be your year to break into visual storytelling.
1. The Appetite For *Good* Films Persists
Looking back, 2013 was a fascinating year for film. The studios were more committed than ever too huge, blockbuster hits. But most failed to connect with audiences (or make much money). Most of the year’s most celebrated and commercially successful movies were made with small budgets, and many tackled subject matter traditionally considered commercially unviable (consider 12 Years A Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, Fruitvale Station, The Conjuring, Frances Ha).
What does this mean? Studios have been taught a lesson: Slick special effects and sizable advertising budgets don’t work if the story is mediocre or derivative. Like the 1960s/70s, the independent filmmaker has a much better grasp on the kinds of gritty, provocative stories that will break through and resonate. In this New Year, this will cause more resources to flow into the hands of visionary independent filmmakers. Convergence too is the new buzz-word. How will visual storytelling incorporate the new technological advances offered by Virtual Reality?
2. The Costs of Filmmaking Continue To Fall
One of the unsung causes of the 1970s auteur movement was the sudden availability of less expensive, light-weight equipment. Today, the digital revolution has lowered the costs of filmmaking even further (much further). The resourceful, entrepreneurial filmmaker can create a visual experience that competes with studios but using DSLRs, low-cost equipment and small crews.
I recently saw an independent film that had stunning aerial photography shot by attaching a low-cost digital camera to a $250 quadcopter drone. Even as recently as 5 years ago, those shots would have cost a comparative fortune.
3. The Rules of Financing and Distribution Are Being Rewritten
Independent filmmakers have harnessed the power of crowdfunding for several years, but crowdfunding has gone mainstream. Platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have become viable fundraising (and marketing) outlets for filmmakers, many of whom are acquiring multimillion-dollar budgets. Furthermore, the ‘crowdfunding-for-equity’ measures in the new JOBS Act stand to make crowdfunding even more appealing, both for those raising the money and those shelling out the cash.
But it’s not just film financing that is being reshaped by digital trends. Distribution is more in the hands of filmmakers than ever before thanks to Netflix, MUBI and a host of other digital platforms and tools. The gatekeepers of traditional distribution models are still kickin’ around but they are less relevant than ever before.
If you ask me, there has never been a better time to be a filmmaker. Let this be the year that you write or acquire a gem script, cobble together a budget, assemble a cast and crew, take to the streets and make a film that makes history.