Like many other observers, I’ve been fascinated by the rise of techniques such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in the world of independent film. Both of these techniques seemed to emerge in response to the widely discussed independent film “crisis” of 2008, which saw several major studios shut down their specialty or indie divisions, as Mark Gill famously documented in his 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival keynote address, which warned that “the sky [was] falling” when it came to the financing and distribution of independent film. Gill’s speech was part of what appears to be a moment of transition, one that was shaped not only by the collapse of more traditional financing models–such as the pre-sales described by Edward Jay Epstein–but also by the ongoing shift from DVD sales and rentals to streaming video and on-demand distribution, among other issues. In this context, a number of filmmakers began experimenting with do-it-yourself approaches to filmmaking that sought to get the audience involved in the making of a movie from the very beginning, whether through involvement in the production, financing, or promotion. These filmmakers, however fairly, were often defined directly against the so-called studio indies or “dependies” distributed by Miramax and others, raising questions once again about what it means to be an independent filmmaker.
For this reason, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the crowdfunding project being proposed by the longtime production company, Troma Entertainment, the company responsible for a wide range of low-budget genre films, including The Toxic Adventure and The Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Their proposed project is a documentary they are calling Occupy Cannes, which would depict their efforts to rent a theater in Cannes where they would attempt to sell their latest title, Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Their campaign has received an impressive level of attention from Time Magazine, where Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman reports that he hopes to show how film festivals have been “perverted,” a shift that Kaufman attributes in part to the return to business models based on vertical integration. It’s a fascinating idea and the Troma proposal asks for a relatively meager sum of $50,000 to finance the project, while also incorporating some basic crowdsourcing aspects, in which they invite supporters to choose which movie poster design they prefer for Occupy Cannes.
But what fascinates me about this project is how Troma works to define themselves as a more truly independent production company, while also highlighting their long history of making movies. During their crowdfunding video pitch, a woman takes us into Troma’s “vaults,” where we are introduced to several prominent actors–including Marisa Tomei and Samuel L. Jackson–who appeared in Troma films early in their careers. More crucially, however, we are reminded of the fact that Troma not only funds all of its films independently but also pays for and produces all of its own publicity materials (one example of this for Return to Nuke ‘Em High is a Tumblr blog ostensibly by one of the characters in the film). as you might expect, Troma is attentive to the fact that crowdfunding techniques are not viable for most independent filmmakers, especially for those who don’t have long industry careers or large fan bases to build upon. No matter what, I’ll be curious to see how Troma–a company that is very attentive to creative marketing techniques and to playing with (and parodying) Hollywood imagery–engages with this new indie economy and culture.