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Jon Reiss

Jon Reiss

Posted: December 17, 2009 12:04 PM

A Christmas (and Hanukah) List to Help Save Independent Film

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Much has been written about the current crises in independent film. Studios run by corporations increasingly view their specialty divisions as a hobby, and have been eliminating them one by one. DVD sales are down. The internet is struggling to monetize.

However, it is an exciting time because it is more possible than ever for audiences to connect directly with independent filmmakers and help support them with the films that they have made, and are making. This list is to introduce 10 gifts that you can give for Christmas (and the last two days of Hanukah) to help support independent film.

1. Buy a DVD (or t-shirt or poster) directly from a filmmaker's website. I know it is easier, and cheaper, to buy a film from Amazon. But a filmmaker will get more than twice the amount of money from a direct sale, at least 80% of the sale as opposed to approximately as low as 30% of the sale on Amazon. In addition, the filmmaker will get your email address so they can tell you about future projects -- the first step in creating a closer bond between filmmaker and audience (you can always opt out). Finally, you can buy additional gifts from savvy filmmakers as well as exclusive packages. Check out the film Ink, which is a great example of this. For a catalogue of filmmaker websites go to Neoflix.

2. Buy a DVD that is not widely available yet. Many filmmakers have begun to sell their DVDs while on the festival circuit. They are not waiting for a distributor who may not come. These DVDs are usually only available from a filmmaker's website or at screenings. Children of Invention will even explain why they are selling their film on the festival circuit.

3. Support a film that is still in production. Many films are now "crowdfunding" e.g. using the Internet to raise money via donations. The filmmakers will give you gifts (from advance copies of the DVD to a producer credit to an actual role in the film!) Check out Indiegogo's site and Xmas list to see what is available. I feel that crowdfunding is one of the most incredible ways to connect directly with filmmakers and create a lasting relationship with them. Check out Can Bush Be Prosecuted I love the personal appeal for the comedy Love and Taxes.

4. Go See Movies Part 1: Alternative Venues. Of course seeing films supports independent film. But how do you gift it? An AMC card doesn't help independent film. There is a new wave of alternative screening venues sweeping the country. They need your support. Buy some tickets for a friend at one of these venues and in your card tell them why you did it (heck, print out this post and include it to save you time). Brave New Theaters is a guide to films (usually social action oriented) and alternative venues (some are people's living rooms, many are not). Range Life is a group of four films touring the country. You can donate to the Rooftop Films project which needs support for their 2010 summer season.

5. Go See Movies Part 2: Traditional Art Houses. Most cities will have some kind of art house; nearly all will have a film club or support link. Go to the Art House Project for a list. You need to scroll down to the "Community Based, Mission Driven Art House Theaters." Click on a theater in your city, click on the film club or support link, or ticket package link, purchase, print the receipt, put in envelope.

6. Go See Movies Part 3: Give a Hosting Package. This is for the true film lover or activist. Many films such as Robert Bahar's Made in LA will sell you screening packages for as low as $100. In this way you (or your friend who you are gifting) invites friends over to their house/home theater to view the film (preserving the social nature of film) and you can sell the extra DVDs to your guests or give them away. (The gift that keeps on giving.) If you or your friend really like this experience - you can list yourselves on Brave New Theaters and become your own screening venue for independent film.

7. Go See Movies Part 4: Support Indie Films on Video On Demand. An emerging distribution outlet for many indies is day and date VOD, in which the film is available in a few theaters across the US and simultaneously available on VOD. Unfortunately, many VOD menus favor studio films and make it difficult to find independents. However, if you look, you can find them. Check out IFC, Film Buff and other new independently oriented VOD channels. When you find a new film, invite your friends over and watch it together one night this holiday season. By initiating yourself and your friends into the VOD experience, hopefully you will continue to use it as a way to watch independent movies which will in turn support them.

8. Buy A Digital Download or DVD from a Site that Supports Independent Film. At Indieflix you can not only buy DVDs from a huge catalogue, but you can stream them as well. iTunes has been great for independent film, providing access to broad markets, etc. But whereas your iTunes card might be used to download Transformers, if you gift Indieflix not only are you solely supporting independent films, but the filmmakers get a much larger share of the pie, 70%. B-Side is another new innovative company that focuses on community screenings and DVDs. For LGBT content go to Wolfevideo.

9. Buy a Roku Box. While not directly supporting independent film (you are buying a product from a corporation to view products distributed by corporations), a Roku box will enable you to watch your Amazon VOD and Netflix choices on your television. Amazon is still the largest catalogue of media and lists many independent films. By giving a Roku box you make it easier for them, hence helping independent filmmakers.

10. Give Your Filmmaker Friends A Book. If you know an independent filmmaker, (or if you know someone who is interested in the changing film distribution landscape) and they don't know how to engage their audience or sell their films, give them one of two books (or both) that will tell them how. Scott Kirsner's Fans, Friends and Followers or my book Think Outside the Box Office which comes with bonus gifts from free tickets to screening venues to free chapter updates when you buy it from my website (currently the only place it is available).

The Value: While one of these gifts will not buy a goat for a poor farmer in Chile (those kinds of gifts are great too), they will help preserve the independence of vision and independent voices that shine a light not only on important issues of the day, but entertain us in new and innovative ways. If independent film dies, so will these independent voices in our media landscape (God forbid we are left with FOX). In addition, by giving the gift of independent film you show others how they can support filmmakers as well.

Let me know what you think by commenting here or on Twitter.