Here, roughly, is the question I asked David Cronenberg during the inaugural “film school Friday” at the TIFF Lightbox (from the point form notes on my phone I was speaking off):
I’m Jack Mizurak from the Advanced Filmmaking program at Fanshawe. This is a question for David:
Given the rigidity of the film industry — that it’s a battle to get financing and another battle for distribution — and given your experience with releasing films on YouTube — do you think it’s possible to circumvent those gatekeepers and make money by connecting directly with the audience through digital distribution?
And as a part “B”, for both David and Ronald Sanders:
Do you have any upcoming projects that I can intern on?
After the laughter we exchanged some quick dialog (from my memory):
Ronald: Wow, I can’t believe it took us this long to get to the internship question…
David: You are all invited to intern on my next film… And I don’t remember your actual question?
Jack: Basically I was wondering if you thought it was possible to use digital distribution over the Internet to get around existing industry power structures, given that they’re so conservative?
David: No. Not if you’d like to make real money.
The situation now is similar to what it was like at the start of my career. We were doing a lot of underground film, shooting our own pictures and displaying them on a sheet outside in Toronto, for free — just to get an audience. We were inspired by the underground movements in New York and LA — Andy Warhol, et al. [he went into a bunch of names I didn't know] — and we formed a film collective to jointly own equipment and show our work.
But at a certain point, some time in the 70s, I had to consciously make the decision to become a professional filmmaker — to make my living from making films — and to do that you need to work with established companies.
Today the situation is similar. You can film anything you like and put it on YouTube to get it in front of an audience, but if you want to make a living you have to work within the existing power structures.
I don’t like jargon words but they always talk about “monetizing” the Internet. No one has really done that — unless you’re Apple with iTunes, and they don’t commission new work.
I don’t fully agree. Yes, it’s rough monetizing the Intertrong. But the answer isn’t, “don’t try”. Historically when industries get rigid and controlled new technology revolutionizes and destroys. Netflix is on the march. Microsoft is trying their “be-second-to-market” strategy in digital distro. Both will want content (the CRTC or similar should step in to force that want with CanCon regs). And, yes: there is always Apple (though with the close Disney-Pixar-Apple partnership they’ll never want for amazing content — but they might have a legislated want for Canadian content in the future).
YouTube can be used as what Fiddy called a “tester” — a sample of drugs given to fiends free to test quality and build hype.
The winds are shifting, if slowly. The scent of revolution is in the air. The 50th Law has a lot to say about digital distro in the music biz, and how Fiddy has been harnessing it. I also dig The Null Company’s approach to digital distro — lots of free stuff paired with hi-fi, physical, paid copies. And there’s always begging, like Pioneer One: “If you liked this vid, donate so I can make more.” Torrents allow for greatly-reduced bandwidth costs, somewhat mitigating Canadian cable providers stabbing net neutrality in the throat.
My plan is to do something roughly similar to those pro models, see what works, and constantly innovate. It seems feasible, if not easy, to exist at least partially outside of the establishment — avoid being one of the first against the wall when the revolution comes. Maybe set a few fires of my own…