Can Indie Filmmakers Unite to Create a Brand?

Nathan Cole – Filmmaker – WATERHOLE Movie

In October I was fortunate enough to attend the Matador Records 21st Anniversary concert in Las Vegas.  Amidst all the aging fans of indie rock in a three-day marathon of music, something struck me.  All these people had spent good money – tickets started at $250 not to mention the cost of travel, accommodations, food, alcohol, and all the merchandise that was being sold – out of love for a record label.  Of course, this label was home to some of the most influential music of the last twenty years and those bands, such as Pavement, Sonic Youth, and Guided by Voices were all in attendance, but there was one unifying factor that brought them all to this event.  A record label.  A brand.  A name music fans recognize for quality and originality. Why doesn’t something similar exist for films?

Quick.  Name one production company you would pay to see any of their films just based on the fact that they were produced by that company.  I can only think of only one: Pixar.  Anyone in this business must have a tremendous amount of respect for what they have done which is, to date, something no other studio has ever done.  They have created a highly reliable business model, making quality films that are always profitable.   Perhaps unfortunately for film fans, they only make essentially one type of film.   All their creative force is focused in one area.  You can’t begrudge them for that, but what if someone adopted some of their basic principles to make a wider variety of films?

Almost tens years ago I read with great excitement how a group of filmmakers including Steve Soderbergh, David Fincher and Spike Jonze were going to band together to form a unique company to produce their own films.  They had financing from USA Films, which was coming off the tremendous success of Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC, and at least in this film geek’s mind were poised to become a powerhouse of independent film.  Unfortunately, the deal never made it past the press release stage.   I can only speculate as to what happened, but how cool would it have been?

I can’t think of anything more exciting as a filmmaker than joining forces with those I respect, developing and pitching projects to one another, and using pooled resources to get the films made, distributed and marketed.  Sure, there would be hurdles.  The films would consistently have to be of a certain quality in order to find and keep audiences.  There would be the creative differences of those involved, and battles between spurned egos.  If it worked though, you could develop a brand that audiences would seek out without having to be sold on a concept or any other perceptions.   As we all know, the most valuable thing a filmmaker can have is an audience, and everyday there is more and more discussion as how to better position ourselves to engage current and potential fans.  Could unity through a production company be a more robust method to reach these goals?

Unfortunately, the idea of a filmmaker-driven production company is a dream that may be too impossible to realize.   As filmmakers we need to use whatever resources available to get our projects made.  To consolidate all these efforts within one creative bureaucracy could possibly make it harder to get a project made.  For it to work those involved would almost have to put all their eggs in one basket.  If one filmmaker presents a project they loved and the rest don’t have faith in it, what is that filmmaker to do?  Abandon it?  Maybe they could take it elsewhere, which is reasonable, and not necessarily a detriment, but it is one less possible project and one less film in the library.  It might also cause animosity.  It’s a hypothetical situation, but one that illustrates that the fault line where business and art meet is always unstable and to try and build a rigid structure on it will be precarious.   It is unlikely that the group in this situation would be able to survive the needs of any given individual and at the same time, to ensure the company thrives you would have to rely on the opinion of the majority.

In the early twenties some of the most popular silent movie stars of the time, fed up with the tyrannical rule of the studios, formed United Artists.  Despite their talent and popularity of those involved, various factors kept the studio from ever achieving a success like that of today’s Pixar.   A century later, and despite how much the way films are made and consumed has changed, the same types of practical challenges to a company for filmmakers and by filmmakers remain.   That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see it happen.   Maybe with the right filmmakers, with similar business and creative outlooks, such a company could be born and grow into a respected name that any film fan could know provides any easy choice in a market flooded options.

Written by Nathan Cole