Misfire: The Rise and Fall of the Shooting Gallery

I came across this documentary that best describes the indie film movement of the 90’s.  It was during this time I was really inspired about making films, and I guess that’s why I was driven to create my own film.

Throughout the 90’s the shooting Gallery was a production company that produced such films as “Laws of Gravity”, “You can Count on Me“, “Niagara, Niagara“,”Croupier” and “Sling Blade“.  In a way it was a company making movies with low budgets and selling them at a bigger return from distributors.   But it all went bad because it became less about the movies and more about the money.

That was then and this is now.  What’s changed is that film-making has been democratized for better or worse.  The Internet has changed the landscape of film-making.   At the end  of the documentary some of the filmmakers in the video feel that there should be a resurgence of another independent movement. It’s a great note to leave us on, but one I think that won’t come again.  The demise of The Shooting Gallery happened because it got farther away from its core principle, and that was to make films by film-makers.  It defied the Hollywood standard, and spoke to the individual artist that he or she could create their own content like the “French New Wave” did in the 50’s in France.  I believe the spirit of the independent film is still much alive, and happening on digital platforms.

The problem is that there are more and more outlets of corporate entities who now control the distribution pipeline more then ever.  Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and even now Apple have  started their own streaming services.  There are also less and less independent venues such as theaters to show ones film now.   Most theaters have been gobbled up by corporations such as AMC, United Artist, and Regal theaters, but even with all this I still see the glass as half full.  Filmmaking is a business and always has been.  The successful filmmakers who actually made money are the filmmakers who got involved in distribution.  Roger Corman comes to mind, and earlier then that Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W Griffith formed United Artist to distribute their films.  Both are two different examples in two different eras in film distribution and the independent filmmaker.  One company (United Artist) formed in 1919 during the silent era, and the other formed (New World Pictures) in the 70’s when drive-in theaters were outlets for B-movies.

In todays climate the landscape has changed, and though there are more choices to distribute your film digitally it is harder then ever to do so and make a profit at it.  In my opinion the best way is to distribute your movie is doing it yourself.   Through platforms like Amazon, Vimeo, or iTunes.  If there is movement on the film you may draw interest from other media platforms, which may lead to bigger distribution for your film.   It is the most viable option for a truly independent artist.  The festival route is also a viable avenue, but if you know nobody in those circles it becomes a bit difficult to place in a festival.   There is no guarantee of ever getting a distribution deal from a festival showing though it does make a movie more attractive to distributors.

Grassroots seems to be the only option.  It’s from here where the new independent movement looks the most viable.    Maybe I’ll flesh this idea out some more in later blog entries but for now all I can say is that the new frontier awaits.  Keep plugging away and we’re all be waiting.   Keep creating….

Why be a filmmaker…

Why?  The eternal question of why do something that’s really hard, and has no guarantee of success?  Filmmaking is fickle.  Some succeed and many others do not.  My own experience bears that out, so why even try?  It seems like today anyone can make a film if they have a camcorder or iPhone, and a computer.  But way back when it took a bit more to make a film. While watching filmmakers come into our neighborhood to film I was always amazed at the army they brought.   When a production began shooting in the neighborhood I always watched how tedious it was to create one scene for a film.  An army descended upon the neighborhood, and there was so much waiting around.  To the average person it just looked boring and slow.  Meanwhile in my teens I was running around with my Super 8 camera setting up scenes, shooting them, and moving on to the next shot or scene.  As I learned more about filmmaking in school I became fascinated at the indie films of my day.  Those films were done low budget with smaller crews, and at a faster pace.  These indie films were also interesting, and cutting edge.  Such films as “Rhythm Thief” by Matthew Harrison, “In the Soup” by Alexandre Rockwell,
“El Mariachi” by Robert Rodriguez ,”Laws of Gravity” by Nick Gomez, and even “Clerks” by Kevin Smith.  These were young upstarts who went out there and just did their films.  These filmmakers were doing it without the big crew, and the oodels of money that Hollywood pumped into their own productions.  There was of course other filmmakers who were making good films during this time that were considered independent productions.   Henry Jaglom, John Sayles, Abel Ferrara, Mark Rapport, Susan Seidelman and Whit Stillman were some of these artists who did outstanding work throughout the mid to late 90’s.   I am of course not even including Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, Lydia Lunch, Penelope, Spheeris, George Kuchar, and least not we forget Scott B and Beth B.  Some of these filmmakers were considered underground filmmakers, yet they were making their films and getting them seen.   It was during this time I was exposed to many different types of films.  Some I liked while others I truly did not get.    The one theme that ran through all these films was the DIY mantra.  A lot of these films were different then your standard Hollywood fare.  They had the filmmaker’s blood, sweat, and tears in them.   In NYC I could go to different theaters and see these films on screen.  It’s not as it is today with streaming and PPV in you’re home.  It feels more sterile and antiseptic now then it did back then when there was a sense of community among the creators and their audience.

Some of these filmmakers are still making their films, yet we hear less and less of them because the venues are no longer there.   Some directors have found other avenues of revenue, and survive that way, but the true independent scene seems lost forever.  Filmmaking is a craft and the more you do the better you get at it.  Some of my favorite filmmakers are low budget auteurs who really have style, and a bit of the maverick in them.  Great art is made when the artist has his or her’s back against the wall and his or her only way out is to create.  I guess this is what makes great art, or in this case good cinema.  I am even told that some of these older films have been lost to the sands of time.  “In the Soup” by Rockwell was just recently put back together and will be seen at the NYC Queens film festival in March.

Hopefully these films will be saved, and see the light of day someday to be discovered by another generation.   I may have not been a big fan of certain films, but by being exposed to all these films I had a deeper appreciation for cinema.  That feels lost in today’s money fueled and content driven personalities who just want views, so they can monetize their views.  It all feels false, and fleeting.  It is certainly not at all cinema, and not classic storytelling.

I like the digital age don’t get me wrong about that.  Francis Ford Coppola once said that someday we’ll be amazed by some farm girl in Iowa that will make a film with her camcorder and computer.  I do hope that happens, yet I feel strangely pessimistic about that happening in today’s environment.  As long as we are driven with creating more “likes” or more “views” we will never push cinema into the 21st century.  What we really do is become slaves to corporations like Facebook, or Google where they are the ones making money on you’re content.  The music industry has suffered from this for awhile now.  Musicians make pennies on the dollar for their music while the streaming service takes the majority of the money.  Fair?  I say no, but we are dancing to their tune, and until the dynamic changes we’ll never really be able to make money off the fruits of our labors.  This includes cinema.

We can only be true to ourselves and build an audience “by any means necessary” to quote Malcolm X.  That includes grassroots distribution of content.  Good music as well as good cinema floats to the top, and it is up to the artist to keep pushing themselves.  Our corporate overloads are not demons, but entities who want to make money.  We as artists can use them to our advantage, but we need to create superior content and the way to do that is to keep creating.  To keep practicing your craft and enlist others in creating that content.

I’ll leave with Martin Scorsese talking about John Cassavetes a true original.  If we learn nothing originality is what makes good art great.  The other clip is of Alex Rockwell & cast talking about the revitalization of his film “In the Soup” at the Tribeca film festival.  It was great to hear that this will becoming to Blue-Ray someday and that this treasure won’t be lost to the sands of time.