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Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition
By Ted Hope
We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen — which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about. I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation — what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.
This list, like last year’s, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep. Regarding the lesser amount, I don’t blame the people — I blame the technology (of course). I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it — one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely — like I did with this — when it is still purely a draft).
I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future. I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is. And that I only found two directors to include this year. Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right? Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: “Those whom you don’t know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real.” How true that is!
Last year I asked and stated: “What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended.”
This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind. It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world. I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks. It can’t be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward. In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO). If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better — you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).
So without any further adieu, here’s my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, to take what remains of a crumbling and inapplicable film culture & infrastructure, and to try to bring it into the present. They all share a tremendous generosity and open spirit, embracing participation and collaboration.
This is no longer a world of scarcity and control. These nineteen have begun the hard work of designing a new world of film based on surplus and access — and the resulting community that grows from that –, and their actions and attitude give me hope for what is to come.
- Wendy Bernfeld – The transformation from an entertainment economy designed around scarcity & control, to one built for surplus & access requires new business models and new sales models. Filmmakers struggle with this more than anyone as most of the sales agents still push for the deals that deliver them the highest return for the least amount of effort. This is not so for Wendy, whom through her company Rights Stuff has started the task of moving towards the short term non-exclusive license world this new world requires. Furthermore, Wendy has shared her knowledge both on my blog and at speaking engagements the world over. Her openness and forward thinking is an example for all of us.
- Peter Buckingham – Until the UK shuttered the Film Council, Peter ran their innovation fund. Perhaps it’s just that I sit in America, but to think of a public official who is so committed to moving both the dialogue and the process forward as Peter, is no easy feat. Peter helped launch the UK’s Digital Cinema Initiative. His insight on the possibilities of meta-datat are always inspiring. We could use an ample dose of his high energy leadership on our shores if we are going to get some real things done here.
- Edward Burns – Although he has more access to the Hollywood machinery than most, for his latest film, Nice Guy Johnny, Eddie not only went the no-stars micro-budget route, but he set out to distribute it himself from the start. With no marketing or advertising spend, Eddie has enjoyed a revenue return far in excess of his investment. As much as I admire his courage and commitment, it his openness about the process that I find most inspiring. In festivals, colleges, and even The Today Show, Eddie has shared his frustration and hope. He’s also consistently looked for new ways to help people discover his work. His Homage Trailers, where he remakes trailers of classic movies using footage from his own film, are filled with wit and humor and not to be missed.
- Efe Cakarel & The Mubi Team Of the folks listed here, Efe may be the one I am most remiss about not listing last year. The former Auteurs — now Mubi — remains the most robust community of film fans on the web, while being a dynamo curator of quality film on a global basis. Yet, it seems good that I overlooked Efe and his Mubi team last year, as the transformation to Mubi and their extension onto the Playstation platform gives film fans more access than I could have previously imagined. The challenge of bringing quality work to the community and generating discussion remains large, but these folks are leading the way.
- Henning Camre – President of the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy, former head of both the Danish Film School and UK’s National Film and Television School, and the Danish Film Institute, Henning is pushing through the necessary change in the Scandinavian Film Industry — but it is a ripple that will resonate throughout the world. I got to participate in the Think Tank as was deeply impressed at the quality and depth of the presentations and organization. No one ever likes to volunteer for the heavy lifting, but Henning has several times over. Change only comes when we recognize the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future, and Henning’s clarity of vision towards the new reality has no equal on our shores. He embraces both the new and the old, the conservative and the radical, subscribing to the reality first, probing beneath the perception to unearth the hard facts about access and practice.
- Sheri Candler When you believe in something you want to share it, right? Sheri embodies this statement like few others. Her commitment and faith in audience and community building is contagious. An avid user of social media, it is hard to miss Sheri in the virtual world, as she lends her voice, heart, and hand to filmmakers trying to sort out a way to connect and build the necessary bridges. Added bonus for following Sheri? Her ideas are good and well thought out! Last year’s Brave Thinker, Jon Reiss attests: “I met Sheri just over a year ago after I had just finished Think Outside the Box Office – where else – but on Twitter. She reached out to me, as she does with countless others, and since our first meeting has been an invaluable partner – passionate, incisive and always on the hunt for new ideas and new people that can help filmmakers (myself included) connect with their tribe and help solve the problems facing us all in this challenging time. Her tireless engagement and generosity sharing her wisdom and discoveries is a constant inspiration to me and should be to all in our community.”
- Adam Chapnick CEO of Distribber.com, a company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue. As Adam said in his HopeForFilm post: “Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment. More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular.” Distribber, and Adam’s efforts, are key tools in the building of a middle class of artists who own and profit from the work they create.
- CineFamily - When it comes down to email blasts that I love to receive, nothing rivals Cinefamily’s. Bold programming, well presented. As curators, they expand my knowledge. As a hardened New Yorker myself, these Losangeleans give me a reason to long for the west coast. They show us all how to use the web, and use it well. In an era and city of mass conformity, they show that it is still both set & setting, programming broadly to the narrow, with verve and attitude. Sure this kind of stuff goes over in quirk capital’s like Austin, but little did I suspect LA to deliver so much fine weirdness. To quote their own site: “The Cinefamily is an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others. Our home is the Silent Movie Theatre, one of Hollywood’s most beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. There, The Cinefamily will provide a destination spot for Los Angelenos and others to rediscover the pleasures of cinema.”
- Dylan Marchetti & Variance Film – I may not have heard more filmmakers praise a distributor this year, than Dylan. Furthermore, I don’t know of a distributor who maintains such an accessible and vocal presence online, thinking aloud, and engaging the community on the search for a new model that could serve the widest definition of film. Working on a flat fee basis versus a percentage of the gross, committed to a firm code of ethics, committed to 100% transparency in accounting, and 100% control for the filmmakers at all times, Dylan is a true partner in the emerging artist/entrepreneur economy.
- Thomas Mai – I have had the first hand pleasure of sitting in the audience as Thomas pitches filmmakers on the power of social media and the new era of truly free film ahead of us. I have seen the skeptical grow empowered from his presentations. Thomas, a former sales agent, has taken his rant on the road, sharing his insights with audiences worldwide. From a base in Brazil, Thomas has used a shaky internet connect to distribute his lectures across the global. And he has given quite a few public speaking tips along the way, not to mention writing well-shared posts for HopeForFilm. You can check out one of his lectures on his site www.thomasmai.net.
- Karol Martesko-Fenster Brian Newman summed it up well, about Karol: “While he is no newcomer to the scene, having either founded or been part of the founding of a great part of the indie scene (Resfest, Filmmaker Magazine, indiewire) he continues to reshape it at Babelgum. Under the direction of Karol, Babelgum has been licensing (i.e. paying real money) work from independents who push boundaries. Whether it’s funding the Workbook Project, helping Sally Potter to be the first filmmaker to release a feature on a cellphone (day and date with it’s festival premiere) or funding the “prequel” docs leading up to the film “Bombay Detective,” Karol is pushing the field forward with the development of new artistic practices and business models.”
- Thom Powers Founder of Stranger Than Fiction, programmer at TIFF, co-founder ofCinema Eye Honors, this year Thom expanded his base still further as one of the founders of the DOC NYC fest. Few have done as much to further the community and appreciation of film in NYC. He has helped to build an energetic and passionate doc community, and never stops thinking about how to extend it further. A man with a mission if there ever was.
- Casey Pugh We need to facilitate collaboration between the tech and filmmaking worlds. Having been involved in building the Vimeo player and then Boxee, Casey’s already done a lot (and I think he is only 26). An Emmy award joined his list of accomplishments this year, and the cause of this award, is my favorite film of the year, Star Wars Uncut. I am eager to see his latest project, VHX launch in the months to come, as I am confident it will be another step forward for a truly free film culture. Casey sees the big picture, the full definition of cinema. In his work he’s building the ramps and bridges connecting the six pillars of cinema: discover, development, production, participation, appreciation, and presentation.
- Orly Ravid & The Film Collaborative – A not-for-profit film distributor has long been a dream of mine, but it took Orly and her team to actually do it. For a truly free film culture to exist, sustainable enterprises must be built that facilitate the connection between unique work and audiences on terms that go beyond profit. THE FILM COLLABORATIVE is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film. Not much more to be said, but Orly’s demystification of the sales and distribution processes, a refreshingly open approach to the numbers and realities of the distribution effort, via her blogging have gone a long way to helping filmmakers across the globe understand the world we are living in.
- Michel Reilhac of Arte France I asked Brian Newman about Michel: “Michel has probably embraced the “new paradigms” of the film/media world better than anyone else, and he speaks and writes about it with an eloquence sorely lacking in the field. For just one example, see his “Gamification of Life” speech at the Power to the Pixel forum. He has helped transform Arte France into a leader in the support of transmedia, even pushing them to think about how this affects their daily work. He is also a mentor and friend to many filmmakers, helping them find and tell their stories in both new and old ways – but always better. But what most endears me to Michel’s work was his recent decision to stop funding conferences and training, instead giving more money to filmmakers to push the field forward by experimenting in their craft. Great idea: less talk, more action.” Amongst many round-breaking projects are their award-winning documentaries, Gaza-Sderot and Prison Valley – beautiful examples of new approaches to story-telling using the web and interaction.
- Mike Ryan - Perhaps no post on indie film initially infuriated me as much as Mike’s Filmmaker Mag piece on the “current preoccupations of the indie film scene“. I strongly disagree with Mike’s blame-it-on-the-audience and build-it-and-if-it-is-good-they-will-come approach, but as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to month, the necessity of his central message of needing to be driven by the art and not the business resonated in deeper and deeper ways with me. It is a brave thing to say, particularly as a producer, that you do not care if something makes money and that the art comes first. Mike leaves no doubt that he is a man of bold visions and strong opinions; he is not afraid to speak truth to power. He is both rigorous and playful in his thinking, and he invests it in new projects and filmmakers, not because of the business or opportunity, but because he believes that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is important. American Indie would not be the fertile ground it is these days without Mike’s efforts, but his efforts don’t end there: Mike helped to co-found HammerToNail with both Corbin Day, Michael Tully, and myself; Mike helped start an initiative in Memphis to train underprivileged youth in film, and Mike has trained many another up and coming producer.
- Yancey Strickler & Perry Chen Of any one on this list, Yancey and Perry are probably the only ones whose creation has moved from an object to a verb. In certain circles I have heard Kickstarter to stand in for crowdfunding. Although they are not the only game in town when it comes to mobilizing the community to put worthy projects into being, they’ve certainly been among the most prominent. Mark Rosenthal of Rooftop Films makes their commitment clear: “It’s brave to share your creative dreams with the world, to put your faith in people, to seek support from strangers. Everyone who’s putting their films and albums and paintings and gizmos on Kickstarter is taking a chance that people will like what they’re doing. But it takes other brave people—like Yancey and Perry—to spend years of their lives building the site and enabling the community to build. Great job, guys.”
- Timo Vuorensola PowerToThePixel’s Liz Rosenthal said: “Timo Vuorensola is a film director from Finland and an early advocate of crowd-sourcing and social filmmaking. His first feature, the sci-fi comedy Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was several years in the making. He and his team built an active community of 2,500 around the making of the film . The community co-created around 50% of what made it into the final film, They helped with aspects of casting, writing, music, 3D modelling, CGI effects, translating the film into more than 30 languages. It has since achieved cult success, his evangelical community helping spread the word and has been downloaded over 8 million times through official torrents whilst the team sold DVDs and merchandise of the film. Timo launched wreckamovie.com, a new web service that enables filmmakers to build and collaborate with online communities around their films.Timo’s second feature, the sci-fi comedy, Iron Sky, which tells the story of Nazis who come from the Far Side of the Moon, is due to be released in 2011 and has a budget of 6.5 million euros. Fans have already been able to help with ideas in Wreckamovie and helping to fund the movie by buying merchandise, donations and also offering a chance to invest in the movie and share its possible profits.”
- Rainn Wilson As I stated the other day: “Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There’s a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it’s not just because he’s really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He’s thoughtful.” If you haven’t ever checked out Soul Pancake, a site he helped found, nows the time. I got to know Rainn this year as he both Executive Produced and starred in SUPER (which I produced with Miranda Bailey). It was Rainn’s tweet that he and “James Gunn were going out with a low budget f’d up Watchmen” that drew me to the project. His commitment to social media definitely played a big role in the financing and sale of the film. Through Rainn’s commitment to a better world, he is inadvertently building a better model both for film and us as individuals.
I recognize that many of these folks have written for HopeForFilm, but it is something that I encourage people whom I admire to do (even some that I don’t!). There are also some on this list that are good friends, but I like to socialize with such types, so what can I say? Some people on the list are folks I have or have had business with, and some I plan to have business with in the future, but the same holds true for the professional sphere as is in the personal — when people do good things, I want to get to know them. Is that at all surprising?
I remain thankful a great deal this year including making one film and selling another. This list is my thanks to some of those who inspire me. We can build it better, together.
P.S. I solicited nominations this year from last year’s Brave Thinkers. David Gertz went as far as to write a whole post on the companies that are doing the work that will allow a new infrastructure to take hold. Check out his post here.