You've heard it and read it many times...there are just too many damn movies being made. Your indie film will just be lost amongst thousands in a sea of VOD platforms, never even showing up on Vimeo's search engine.
I've certainly heard it. And lord knows I read it all over the place being an independent filmmaker. And also, when I'm having a weak moment, I've even thought it myself.
But not for long, I promise you. And you shouldn't either.
Now the raw numbers are certainly daunting when you look at them:
It's like a hockey stick, with the huge spike happening right around 2003 with about 9,400 films listed as being released (somewhere at sometime) in 2015. That isn't even the number of films made - that number is basically impossible to figure out but one guy had at it 50,000 and that was in 2010.
Yeah, the market is a touch saturated. There is no way the demand can even come close to chipping away at the sheer supply of movies that already exist. But there is one adjective missing from that previous sentence which changes everything. It comes right before the word supply and that adjective is mediocre.
Granted, this is just our subjective opinion but we look at many many indie films each year and the one constant we keep coming across is that most of the films we look at are just...ok. Not unwatchable. Not even "bad". Just mostly...eh. They are in-focus, they sound clear enough but they don't stimulate at all. Is there a pattern to these well-meaning but cinematic versions of a dial tone? I can try and give it a shot.
Most of the time, the filmmaker plays it too safe in their approach. They make their films like a football team plays prevent defense - they are working hard not to fail instead of playing to win. This translates into movies and stories that we have seen too many times before done in a very conventional way.
This does not mean shooting eight straight hours of a midget eating a ham sandwich while someone reads Rilke poems on the soundtrack and calling it art. No, it can be done just fine within the bounds of established genres.
In the 80's, teen sex comedies were being stamped out like prison license plates. Almost all of them were pretty shaggy affairs with even decent titles like Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Boaz Davidson's The Last American Virgin not exactly bringing much more than bungled sex, boobs galore and teenagers generally displaying the I.Q. of rock salt.
Writer/Director John Hughes countered with Sixteen Candles. Hughes saw a dearth of intelligence in the teen market and went the opposite way - no sex shown, pretty much zero nudity and teenagers who were actual human beings with Molly Ringwald selling her brains instead of her bra. Throughout that decade, John Hughes surprised audiences with well-written and performed movies that succeeded even though the plots weren't always that different (Some Kind of Wonderful was pretty much a gender-switched Pretty in Pink).
Recently, we have the wonderful case of Moonlight which quietly and perfectly took on race, poverty, drug abuse, homosexuality and masculinity - none of it shown in graphic detail and all subjects done many times before - and infused it with a poetic and quiet intensity. It was truly a fresh approach to this material, mainly because the dialogue was cut down to a minimum with director Barry Jenkins using the visual imagery to tell his story and create emotional space. That this small-budgeted, no-name-cast movie walked off with the Best Picture Oscar still hasn't been processed by the industry yet.
So when you are planning your next indie masterpiece, just ask yourself a very important question - what am I bringing to the table here that is new? It is an intentionally broad question because it has a number of possible answers. John Hughes brought a new perspective to the teenage comedy. Barry Jenkins brought a new form to the coming of age drama.
If you can't answer that question clearly and quickly, you run the danger of being cinematic vapor. But if you can and can execute it reasonably...your movie will get seen. It will rise above the digital miasma.
Don't be afraid of the sheer numbers. Good movies still matter. Good movies still get noticed. Trust us on this.
We believe in you. You got this.