By Chris Kamen, Producer
As we prepare for the release for Small Is Beautiful, I have been thinking back on the past couple of years, and it’s become pretty clear to me that it’s never been a better time to be making indie documentaries.
Thanks to the maturation of DSLR video cameras, crowd funding, and the emergence of monetised VOD platforms like Vimeo and VHX, the barriers to entry for doco filmmakers to create great stories and reach large audiences have truly vanished. Of course this means a cacophony of voices but it also means the best stories can now float to the top on their own merits regardless of who tells them—without being stopped by traditional gate-keepers who decide what gets made and seen.
The best part for creatives is that not only do we have the new tools to make and share, but we also get to do it solely on our terms. No longer needing huge sums of upfront funding for documentaries means we can tell our stories in whichever format, length, tone we want, without having to worry about editing to a TV schedule, or dumbing things down for a sensationalist mandate.
Of course I readily agree these creative freedoms will not necessarily result in everyone creating better work. I’m sure this freedom means there is a huge glut of poorly crafted and boring stories being made too. But at least stories can now truly succeed or fail on their own merits as filmmakers pursue their own creative motivations for creating what we are inspired to create.
Here’s a list of the indie docos from the past couple of years that support my point that we are living in a golden age for indie documentary filmmaking. They have totally inspired my creative and business ambitions:
- North of the Sun: Two Norwegian guys go and live in a shack on a beach north of the Arctic Circle for nine months. Why not?
- Valhalla and Sugar Mountain: Ski movies are the original niche content, along with other sports genres, and now the rest of the film world is catching up. These two ski movies represent a new genre within the niche: the soul ski movement.
- Mistaken for Strangers, a story that started off with a brother and his video camera annoying the heck out of The National. Turns into an amazingly delicate, touching and honest story about how we all deal with our own failings and successes. Then distributed direct to audiences online.
- Particle Fever was another amazing story that finally made me understand what the hell the Higgs Boson is. It also was distributed primary online to a niche audience.
- Australian film In Bob We Trust was something that was always going to be made about a local Melbourne hero priest, but thanks to being crowd funded the filmmakers maintained independence and were able to tell the story in a way that was perfectly apt but that TV commissioning editors would never have been brave enough to allow (the opening sequence itself was an amazingly successful experiment in editing).
- The Internet’s Own Boy is the incredibly moving story of Aaron Swartz, a film made about the Internet, for the Internet, convincing us all how important it is that we fight to keep the web free.
- Searching for Sugarman, partially filmed on an iPhone, proving that when there’s a will there’s a way.
- Finally, don’t forget 12 O’Clock Boys and All This Mayhem, two other amazing stories that simply began with people holding video cameras with foresight.
As inspiration for Jeremy and I when making Small is Beautiful, however, perhaps the single shining heroic example of how the Internet has created a golden age of indie documentary making and direct-to-audience distribution is Indie Game: The Movie. Released in 2012, it showed us that it’s certainly possible to reach a huge audience without the need to go through a big traditional distributor. All you have to do is tell a great story you are passionate about, think about your audience, embrace the platforms they use and don’t be scared about piracy. (Plus working bloody hard and pushing your own barrow also help.)
Shut up and shoot
So here we are. Shut up and shoot. Here’s to a big 2015 for indie stories!