It was, I believe, Erasmus, who first wrote down in his collection of English Aphorisms: "Every man loves the smell of his own farts."
An alternative title to this post could be "worldwide slushpile"
Yes, this ties into Lucy’s post. Stick with me.
In short, as Lucy points out, film making has hit the point where HD video means anyone can make a film that at least superficially looks like an actual film.
The problem being that, of course, anyone can make a film. Because you don’t have to demonstrate competence, sanity or anything else that used to prevent you getting the sizable chunk of money you used to need to make a film.
Funny thing is, we’ve been here before. Not with film, not since the golden age of silents, where the large outlay necessary for the equipment was offset by the appetite for anything on film. "Three minutes of a middle aged beardy man eating a banana? HERE’S MY FIFTY CENTS!(1)"
No, but, for example, the Dirty Secret of the Music Industry has always been: you don’t need a huge amount of money to make music. Periodically, various insane people have proved that you don’t need a vast corporation to sell recordings of that music to people and make a living.
The underground press and samizdat led the way in showing that printed matter doesn’t have to come from a corporate giant.
And the internet has only accelerated this: mySpace is a shopfront for thousands, if not millions, of bands and artists. Not only have blogs put millions of writers into the domain of "published and available", but POD houses like LuLu have meant that you can get your novel into people’s sweaty palms with no personal outlay.
For creative people, the cost of getting your product to market has never been lower… which just means that your problems as an artist now become what the problems of a publisher, or record company, or film studio used to be.
1) How do I get people to look at my stuff?
2) How do I get paid?
And it’s around here that I have to disagree a little with Lucy: anyone who has made a film can get it in front of people. Right. Now. You don’t need a sales agent, because you don’t need cinemas. You can put it on the internet, as a streaming file, or available as burn-on-demand DVD. Thousands of people are doing this, especially in the realm of the documentary, dodging the old gatekeepers to deliver… well, often a pile of crap (Loose Change, anyone?). And I’ll come back to this later, but for now, bear in mind that unless you can answer question one, question two is irrelevant.
The various publishing(2) industries have had answers to those two fundamental question, mostly based around some form of control of eyeballs, ears and headspace (through shelfspace at bookshops/ record shops, huge aggregate deals on screens for movies, limited TV bandwidth), but time has marched onwards, and these are going away. Tower records has gone, Borders (UK) has gone. Every time I go to the cinema, regardless of the quality of the film, I get the feeling the manager, somehow, resents me not just handing my money over and leaving before the film starts.(3) I reckon within the next ten years, more indie cinemas not beholden to the big distributors will start to pop up with digital distribution, and that monolithic model will crack.
Looking at books, Amazon, which along with supermarkets is just killing the bricks and mortar book shop, shows itself to be very resilient to the controlling tactics of the publishing industry(4), the recommends being based on, basically, "people who bought this also bought…"(5) LoveFilm does the same for DVD’s, but their range of available DVD’s is tiny compared to the range of books in the Amazon database.(6)
This points the way to something of an answer. As Steve Lawson often points out, there are musicians making a very good living, with a real fan base, without being signed to any label, let alone a major. As he and Cory Doctorow point out, in a market with near zero entry cost, the main problem is for someone to become aware of your product, and the best way for them to become aware is for someone they know and trust to tell them "this is worth your time".
In traditional publishing, the publisher often takes on this role. Where there is a high entry cost to the market, presence on the market implies "someone with something to lose believes this product is worthy of your attention." That’s powerful, but it’s also open to abuse, and it’s by no means a guarantee that the publisher is right, otherwise there would be no flops.
So, with near-zero entry cost, you’re competing for brainspace with everyone, and the best way to get brainspace is through recommendation by well networked and trusted people. And it’s here where the loonies and the repugnant and the downright incompetent will fall, because, outside of their own little worlds, no-one listens to them.(7)
Remember Erasmus at the start? I think he was talking metaphorically.(8) "Every man loves the smell of his own farts", meaning everyone thinks that what they produce is wonderful, the problem comes when you try to persuade other people that yours, uniquely, don’t stink. In creative industries, if you can’t, it doesn’t matter how much you’re charging, or how well to protect it from other people copying it.
The traditional publishing entities, especially the record and film industries, are so focussed on the second question, "how do I get paid", that they are losing sight of the first part, "how do I get people to pay attention", and actively stamping out "piracy" so heavily that they seem hell bent on eliminating their rapidly vanishing advantages in commandeering headspace.(9)
Which lets me finish with another of Erasmus aphorisms: "No man can keep himself warm for long by pissing in his shoes."
(1)Yes, I am writing the remake. For just $300 million, I can make it in 3d! Though the studio want me to put more sex in.
(2) Meaning books publishers, magazine publishers, comics publishers, record companies, film studios / distributors… call them all publishers, if only for the sake of my RSI.
(3) Also, since I haven’t seen a cinema manager over 30 in any chain cinemas for years, I can only presume the chains pay them sod all, and as soon as mortgages and families appear over the horizon, they’re onto more lucrative ventures that don’t involve screwing up what should be a license to print money.
(4) Again, in the near future, I think the chain bookstores will completely die out, leaving Tesco for blockbuster books, Amazon for almost everything else, and indie bookshops because, hell, if they can survive the last 20 years of the booktrade, they can probably survive nuclear winter.
(5) A powerful engine, though it can be swamped when, for example, EVERYONE buys the Da Vinci Code, so it appears on the "also bought" list for everything. I understand they finesse it for that, though.
(6) Maybe, when the film industry gets over panicking about piracy and digital downloads explode, this problem will go away, apart from, you know, there are a lot fewer films than books coming out every year… AT THE MOMENT.
(7) Wait, what about my previous example of succesful film making outside "the system", Loose Change? Turns out the "little world" of people ready to buy half baked theories about 9-11 is pretty big. Who knew?
(8) I mean, literally? No way, I’ve forced myself out of a room before.
(9) Book publishing, less so, perhaps thanks to the historically lower barrier to entry.