Not too long ago I wrote an entry in this column explaining the importance of following one's own interests as a filmmaker, making the kind of films that you're interested in making rather than trying to execute someone else's formula to perfection. The reason for this is that it's very tricky to master someone else's game and retain an independent, artistic vision - better to do what you do as well as you can do it, and let greater opportunities come to you as you go from film to film. (In the previous entry, Steve McQueen was the exemplar of this strategy I focused on.)
The definition of "commercial cinema" is narrowing. What exactly does that mean?
Indiewire's recent abstracts from master classes at the ongoing Marrakech Film Festival have been wonderfully illuminating, and I was particularly pleased to read the rundown on James Gray's master class, which explored a similar point to my own in greater detail.
Gray points out that one of the crucial reasons for staying true to one's own artistic leanings - as opposed to pursuing some idea of genre filmmaking - is that the definition of "commercial cinema" is narrowing. What exactly does that mean? (And yes, devoted readers will note that this is the second week in a row that I've extolled James Gray).
Is trying to build an independent to mainstream film career making genre films really that viable? Not as much as it used to be.
Gray points out that Hollywood studios are increasingly, exclusively interested in making blockbuster films that can rake in $1 billion worldwide; there may be some token thrillers, comedies, and dramas made throughout the rest of the year, but their numbers are greatly diminishing and competition to get directing jobs on those pictures is more intense than ever before, due to the simple laws of supply and demand. So if those directing opportunities are thinning out, is trying to build an independent to mainstream film career making genre films really that viable? Not as much as it used to be. Commercial cinema is now having its borders narrowed to essentially comprise nothing but tentpole productions - and doing a low-budget version of such a film is not a possibility.
It may be better to simply keep making low-budget, personal works and allow the audience to come to you.
Once upon a time, independent filmmakers felt that a viable path to a filmmaking career could be found through making a solid genre movie on the cheap, as a means of displaying to studios and larger production companies what that filmmaker was capable of. It's how Christopher Nolan got his start, among many, many others. But as the definition of "commercially viable" narrows, it may be better to simply keep making low-budget, personal works and allow the audience to come to you. With such a wide proliferation of media outlets putting out cinema, the definition of a successful release is changing - a tiny film with an idiosyncratic style can become a hit on Netflix or iTunes. What was once commercial no longer is, and what was once marginal is now more mainstream. A funny inversion of the older paradigm of cinematic distribution, and one independent filmmakers would take care to notice.