Filmmaking: The Hobby (again)

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Revisiting an issue I wrote about a while back over at IFP’s website, this year’s Filmmaker Conference will address whether Indie Filmmaking is a Hobby or a Career. First of all, I’m not sure that is the right question. Most of the hard controversy around this subject has to with IRS issues that ask the fairly obvious question, how can you call filmmaking a business if it never ever makes any money? (Though in the case of documentary, it should be said, there is grey area with some filmmakers selling their films to TV).

My original point in “At Least Hobbies Are Fun” was that most filmmakers probably make little or no money from their films, and that certainly films very rarely “make money” in the traditional concept of cost vs. return. There are an elite number of filmmakers who make money by being paid and an even more precious few who could say their independently financed film earned more on net than it cost to make. It’s becoming increasingly easier to reduce production costs, somewhat easier to self-distribute, and much more difficult to see massive ancillary returns through DVD sales. That could mean more filmmakers are breaking even. Ideally more people can make films, not lose their shirts, and even make enough to keep making more films.

Independent filmmaking has an industry around it. But that industry is not as important as it thinks it is, and this often accounts for the hysteria around this issue. Filmmaking does not actually need thousands of film festivals, panels, pitch sessions, heads of acquisitions, or parties at which the percentage of actual filmmakers is under 20. At this point, filmmaking needs access to equipment, to learning, to Creative Cow forums, to Vimeo.

Yes, financing and distribution are important, especially for higher-profile or amore ambitious projects. But reasonably speaking, in North America, how many independent projects can command budgets over $5 million? Those that can have to play by different rules, commercial rules, which is reasonable (otherwise just give the money to UNICEF or something).

Is Independent Filmmaking a hobby or a career? If you don’t see it as a hobby first, in my opinion, you are going to be unhappy. If you don’t love it, don’t feel like doing it whether you get paid or not, why not take up hedge fund management? Yes, you should be smart, make good business decisions, ideally you will prosper. But independent films aren’t made in a boardroom; they aren’t just mini studio films. They succeed because we love them, they are superior, and they come from people who could never do anything else.

Laure Parsons >> September 6, 2011

Tasty Popcorn for your Videos

Posted in: transmedia | Comments Off


This week I had a chance to stop by BAVC, where a gang from Mozilla is busy creating transmedia tools for student filmmakers with its Popcorn software.

Some of the more interesting things currently available with PopcornMaker are the ability to layer google maps into a video, to layer video on video based on user’s input, and to create simple green screen effects. Essentially, these tools harness the Web’s interactive properties in new ways for video, in ways that are easy for creators and users to manage.

Laure Parsons >> August 18, 2011

Crowdfunding won’t hurt you

Posted in: financing, independent filmmakers | Comments (1)


At SpringBoard Media, the ever-thoughtfully provocative Brian Newman posits that Kickstarter and crowdfunding may have some unintended negative consequences.

I agree with the premise that film has been a privileged art throughout its short history and that “independent” film (the kind we crowdfund) has usually been the sport of people who didn’t need to actually work for a living.

However, the crowdfunding campaigns I’ve seen seem to have a more democratic flavour, relying more on a reputational economy than a strictly upper-middle-class paradigm. In general I think it’s good to call this out, but almost everything right now in the indie film world is affluent/white. Crowdfunding has potential to shift that dynamic. Plus, it is just way cheaper to realize a well-executed project now that has the chance to be seen by at least as many people as an old-school “independent film” was at a fraction of the cost. The old rules about film length and format can change when films don’t have to go through funds, festivals and distribution to be made and seen.

I have mixed feelings about subsidized arts. On the one hand, as a filmmaker, I could not realistically hire even a tiny crew without finding outside support. Ideally, that support would come from people who felt I could ultimately turn a profit, not an easy feat for documentaries, shorts or indie films. But what Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms show is that people are willing to pay/donate for the potential of supporting an experience they will enjoy (and feel a sense of ownership of, even if they don’t receive stock or title). Feeling a direct connection to the work being made is the first step to greater power for the artist, as has happened in music.

I’m about to start crowdfunding for my documentary Acceleration and the idea that the project will be judged on the campaign’s merits does feel scary. On the other hand, from a distribution standpoint, I think the more information filmmakers have about the viability of their projects in the marketplace, the better off they are. Kickstarter does not work like a “popularity contest” in which projects are compared against each other. Projects are weighed against the passion of their own specific audience and fanbase, so a more obscure project can still be important to a fanatical if narrow group.

Laure Parsons >> June 20, 2011

I never liked you, and I always will.*

Posted in: marketing | Comments (1)

Over on Voce Communications, Movie Marketing Madness mogul Chris Thilk considers the ramifications of a world with only positive feedback. Big brands are in his eyeline, but as independent artists, it is worth considering the opportunities we offer our audiences to interact and engage when we tell them things about what we are doing. Too often there is a one-way flow of information, partly because that was the old standard model (i.e. things like press releases, putting up posters, even sending out email) and partly because of our suspicion that we don’t have the resources to manage a lot on incoming traffic.

With more options in social media to become anti-social, it’s useful to make a conscious effort to look for options in blogging, Twitter or Facebook that allow more engagement- not just with us, but with other people interested in our work. In other words, the more we can allow people to find each other through their interest in what we do, the more what we do will be easy and remunerative for us. That was the initial strength of social media. We can continue to build and expand collaboratively rather than get dulled by “Like” buttons.

*Quote by Samuel Goldwyn

Laure Parsons >> June 15, 2011

The Future of Networking

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I’m doing a series of blogs over at NAMAC this week. The first one, called The Future of Networking, looks at how the hackathon could replace (or at least supplement) the typical panels and conferences we currently endure in the pursuit of connection.

Laure Parsons >> May 24, 2011

The Main Event: finding your audience, after all these months

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Here’s a video from SXSW 2010, featured in Humpday Highlights, of the panel I moderated called “The Main Event: Finding Your Audience.” It features Brian Chirls, Liz Ogilvie, Jon Reiss and Mila Aung-Thwin, with some great tidbits about audience engagement.

Laure Parsons >> May 13, 2011

Story + Money: The Tribeca Film Institute New Media Fund

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The Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund was launched this year to support social issue nonfiction storytellers expand the scope of their engagement with audiences. Designed to fund ambitious projects that expand the ideas of what is possible and available to documentary filmmakers and storytellers via the web and other digital media as well as other kinds of unique or cross-platform projects.

Ingrid Kopp, Editor-in-Chief of Shooting People has been working with TFI as a consultant to launch the fund and here she talks about some of the ideas related to the new opportunities.

Laure Parsons >> May 10, 2011

Transmedia pt. 2 – More tools and toys

Posted in: transmedia | Comments Off

Pine Point

A page from the NFB's Pine Point


Cross Platform/Interactive/New Media/Transmedia… No matter what you call it, there are interesting opportunities for filmmakers to bring their stories to audiences in new and compelling ways. Born to some extent from the social media revolution, in which the audience has become a participant in a formidable way, these new approaches look at telling the story in the best way possible, regardless of what size the screen. Many of the tools available now allow storytellers to engage with the audience in new ways, incorporating the audience’s location, preferences or even content to further the narrative.

The last post gave an example at Storify, a social tool. From the excellent blog Supercalafragalisticexpealadocious, I found these great tools:
HistoryPin – recreates a moment in history through photos and stories
Voxora – lets you leave a voicemail at a certain spot, via FourSquare
Geoloqi - lets you leave a note or clue at a certain spot, via FourSquare
Magma – a content publishing tool
WireWax – a video tagging tool that lets you put links into video in an attractive manner
ThingLink – make photos and images more dynamic with audio, social and more

Here are a few more that might be fun to play with:
Popcorn.js Mozilla’s HTML5 video and web integration tool
Condition ONE‘s very cool interactive 360 video via iPad app
Crowd Controls – this audience tracking tool can help you figure out where to put your geolocational efforts

Fundamentally, the most important thing about the new possibilities is that there are really cool ways to tell stories and storytellers should feel encouraged to think creatively about how the story could emerge. The tools should not be the starting point. Some of the coolest new media projects are simple and elegant uses of technology that is not cutting edge; instead they innovate for expanding the story in an unexpected way.

Laure Parsons >> May 4, 2011