Make art because it matters to you and because it might make the world a more beautiful place
Filmmakers get a lot of advice shoved down their throats about marketability, knowing the audience, targeting, distribution and making money from their films. As an MBA who had a career in business and market research before becoming an actor and filmmaker, I’m here to tell you that none of that matters. You should make a film because you feel like it, because it’s important to you and because your movie may reach someone somewhere, and leave them uplifted or affected somehow.
People spend more on a restaurant meal than you need to spend to make a small film. What would you rather have: a meal that is down the toilet a day later or a film that lives on? It’s an individual choice, and you should feel free to make that choice in favor of making a film. With careful design, planning, and a bunch of good friends, you can even make a feature film for less than people spend on a used car or a cruise vacation. Again, are you willing to forgo the car or the vacation in favor of leaving behind a real achievement like a feature film? If so, go for it!
Notice that nobody says “How will I make my money back from this cruise vacation, or this meal?” Yet people feel free to heap economic expectations on artistic projects like films. Why is that? I suspect it is part of a societal bias that sees art as being a frivolous activity, unlike, say, making and buying plastic junk that the world doesn’t need. The fact is, the world needs more art, more beauty and more thought. So let’s take the economics out of the equation, first by looking at some likely truths:
If you can muster up $5,000 or even $10,000, and want to make a feature film, then go for it! Set a tight budget and control it mercilessly. Write for simplicity and filmability: a small number of cast and locations, no fancy stuff. Constraint breeds ingenuity, and you will find a low-cost way of getting your most important story elements across. Can’t afford to film a car crash that is pivotal to your story? Have an actor react to a heard but unseen car crash and be describing it to someone on their cell phone; insert a free sound effect for the crash later. See where I’m going? You will find a way.
We need to make art because it matters, because it is beautiful, because it can reach people, uplift them and make them think. Your film need only make you and the few people who see it happy. Maybe you will reach more people than you planned, and maybe your message will change society. But the motivation needn’t be and shouldn’t be making money. If you want to make money, do market research, define your target market, figure out what that market wants and is willing to pay for, and make that, then spend tons more money making the market aware of your product. But then you are an order-taker, not an artist, and that isn’t likely what moves you and makes your heart sing. Make your films because they matter, and share them with a world hungry for art and beauty. Forget making money, make art instead!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.