Lies About Freedom: The “Democratization” of Filmmaking

During the past decade, a plethora of technological advances have made filmmaking a more accessible craft. Digital video cameras have increased in quality and decreased in price. Affordable, easy-to-learn editing software is available for any home computer. YouTube and other video-sharing sites allow for a free broadcasting service. Crowdfunding sites allow for artists to obtain the financial resources necessary for their projects. These advances, among others, have led to a movement sometimes labeled the democratization of filmmaking, implying a freedom of entry into the world of the movies.

This is somewhat misleading.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of the many tools that are now at the filmmaker’s disposal. I myself have greatly benefited from the affordability of practicing the craft. I’ve created short films on affordable DSLR cameras, financed projects online, and have enjoyed watching viewcounts rise on YouTube. It is a great way to practice. However, to say that this same practice is indicative of a greater freedom in film is somewhat overstated.

Financing

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Need money? Kickstarter can help you get there. As long as you can sell people on your project and budget.

Financing projects has been transformed by the introduction of crowdfunding sites, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. The ability to solicit funds from online donors has led to award-winning films being made that would have otherwise been unable to find sufficient capital to back the project. But, this same crowdfunding process has led to certain laziness on behalf of filmmakers.

Many filmmakers, especially on first projects, utilize crowdfunding as a way to earn funds from family and friends. However, most project goals set by inexperienced filmmakers are rough guesses more than they are educated budgeting goals. This can lead to insufficient funds during production, unsuccessful funding on crowdfunding sites, or cheapened production quality. Improperly managed crowdfunding can hurt a project, not help it.

Production

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DSLR cameras, such as the Canon 5D, are common tools of the beginning filmmaker. But it still only one of many expenses.

One of the major issues that many beginning filmmakers overlook is the expenses unrelated to the camera. Sure, it is now possible to buy an HD camera for under $1000 today. But, what about lenses? Or lighting gear? Or audio equipment? Or payment for crew members? How will those crew members be fed? And how will they get to the filming locations? All of these things require money. Even if crew members say they’ll work for free, they’ll work a lot harder if you feed them and arrange for their transportation. Costs can creep higher than anticipated very quickly, but many of them are necessary to increase the quality of the film. And even if costs are kept under control, it doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t substantial film talent behind the camera.

Distribution

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Vimeo is a common broadcasting site for independent filmmakers. Good luck making money there, though.

This is where the democracy of film truly falls apart. Independent filmmakers do have options for distributing their film online, but most of them are free sites such as Vimeo and YouTube. Although this is a wonderful way to find an audience, it is a terrible way to make money for the hundreds of hours of hard work crafting the film.

So, how does one distribute their work if they don’t want to give it away? That’s a tough question. Even award-winning films on festival circuits don’t always get picked up for distribution. This can put finished films in a sort of limbo, complete but unseen.

The Verdict?

For all the criticisms I suggest, there are definitely advantages to the digital revolution and the so-called democratization of the process. The most beneficial, in my opinion, is the ability for amateur videographers and filmmakers to practice the craft. Great work can be done by amateurs with the right amount of dedication, and even though this work might not be seen by many, it can help aspiring filmmakers learn the craft in a relatively low-risk environment.

So, is this idea of film democracy a misleading one? What benefits do you see in the current film landscape for beginning artists? Sound off in the comments section below.

Jacob Meade

2 thoughts on “Lies About Freedom: The “Democratization” of Filmmaking

  1. I believe that new technologies have allowed amateur film makers “Fake it until they make it.” With the cheeper equipment, you can’t always create the most professional shots and effects. This is where creativity comes it. I think that having semiprofessional equipment forces you to think outside the box, and create the best possible product with what you have which in the end makes a better film maker. As for the money problem, I think everyone is in the same boat. There is money in freelance work and a few internships for college students but other than that, it’s all about the experience for now.

  2. I disagree with your stance on the topic. I think my difference in opinion comes from a difference in how we look at the terminology. You argue that democratization of film is a false ideal because it is still expensive to make a Hollywood film and it takes the right connections for it to hit the silver screen. I believe that argument is true but I also would like to think that film making and film as a medium are more then Hollywood. Just because a film doesn’t get seen by millions doesn’t mean it will have any less of an effect on culture. Most films that hit the silver screen are quickly forgotten and some youtube videos with small view counts may greatly influence the few that see them. Aside form there effect on culture films are form of communication and expression. If it becomes easier for people to use this form of expression then then I think there will also be a rise in peoples ability to understand and interrupt the language of film because they have gotten their hands in the medium. In the end though as I said before it is merely how you look at what is film.

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