Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Independent Films on Public Access

Submitted by Peter John Ross

Take Advantage. Independent filmmakers should put their movies on public access television.

Be realistic and question the motive for why you made your movie. Very few theaters can exhibit your movie unless you have a 35mm film print. If your movie was shot on digital video, then chances are you couldn't afford 16mm film, never mind 35mm film, and you surely can't afford to get a 35mm film print made of your digital video movie at $375 to $450 a minute, and even if you did, it wouldn't look very good. If you made your movie to be seen, put it where people can see it. Public access television offers a chance for your film to be seen. A lot.

Cable public access is an untapped gold mine. It's piped into 1.2 million homes here in central Ohio and it's free. It's the channel that no one watches, but everyone sees. Ever notice how no one talks about what they saw on public access like it was Alias, but mention the cheesiest show and you'll find that everyone knows what it is and have at least seen it.

Why? People are channel surfers. Most people flip by every channel on their way too see Seinfeld re-runs or a Charlie's Angels marathon on TNN. Most people don't know what channel the TV is on when they start going up or down. If something good or different is on, people will stop and check it out. Good god, even if it's bad people tend to stop to at least give it a look.

The connotation for public access or cable access (same thing) is that everything on it is bad. A lot of what is on cable access is horrid and amateurish. Well, put your own movies on there. For some reason, people believe that they cannot put their stuff on cable access because everything on the channel is bad, and somehow, like a bad magic trick, if they put their good movie on public access television, it will transform into a bad movie. If you truly believe what you are making is good, then you should have no fear.

There is a flip side for independent filmmakers too, which is this fanciful belief that their movie is such a prized intellectual property that is so in demand, they don't want anyone but the highest studio executives to see it. We're talking about a movie written by amateurs (like you and me) who shoot with a camcorder over a weekend or two with no name stars. Something happens and delusions of grandeur permeate and make the director, writers, and producers of such digital video shorts think that this is a hot property and has some intrinsic value. The thought that putting it on cable access might disqualify them for Sundance scares them. Sundance is a pipe dream from hell. Do some homework. You think you have a chance at Sundance? The Sundance Film Festival features shorts shot on 35mm film written and directed by Danny Glover and Gary Oldman and they have to compete for the same slots. These guys kiss ass in person at Sundance to get selected. Where do you think Slamdance came from? And then No Dance? People couldn't get into Sundance.

For most markets, there is a public access station, and they accept tapes of your movies on VHS, or ¾" tape, and at some of the more sophisticated places, digital video. You can submit your short films as filler, meant to round out the half hour or full hour shows submitted. Or work with others and put together a thirty or sixty minute show of compiled short films. Or wait until you have thirty to sixty minutes of your own material and make a show. Find out the unadulterated opinion of the public about your movies. If they talk about your movies in the same way they do about the guy who's show is thirty minutes or staring at a yacht, then maybe you need to rethink your once burgeoning movie career. Or maybe people might become fans of your work. You won't know until you try.

Get the exposure. Get your movie seen by people. Don't live in a dreamland where you think film festivals with their $30 to $200 entry fees are your only option. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, if you want to be discovered you have to be somewhere they can find you.

No comments: