Finding an Audience and the Actor

Well, that’s the damn trick isn’t it?

The difference between a scrapper like me and a movie star is pretty damn simple: a movie star has a built-in audience. How do you make that happen? Well…if you have lots of money you can pour it into a promoter and lots of expensive promotions. (Billboards, commercials, magazine ads, etc.) But if you don’t have a lot of money, then you have to wait for somebody with money to pay for that shit instead. Most movie stars get there because of other people’s money. In many cases, it’s because someone plucked them out of obscurity to play a supporting role in something or the lead in some low-end television show, and that project hits. It isn’t the star’s project. It’s the corporation’s, but a star is born. And then all of a sudden, money backs the star and his or her projects. In a few cases, like Louis C.K., an artist manages to garner so much respect in his community that he breaks through with his own art. I think that every artist would like to be on the Louis side of things, but that can take decades and those are decades of risk that could also garner nothing. If your star rises suddenly, and if the very nature of celebrity doesn’t eat you alive, then you get to spend a decade or two making the entertainment you want to…although so many stars these days take the money and run, making as many movies as they can that the studio wants them to make. (This means huge paychecks…but be careful, because once you get overexposed and audiences grow tired of your schtick, you wind up out in the cold. There is no other fair-weather friend like M-O-N-E-Y.)

So how the hell do you make an audience? Well…you just keep doing what you do and hope that someone somewhere with money and power finds it and likes it enough to dedicate time and money to making the entire world know about it. It’s like playing the lottery, but not with a mere dollar and a dream. You pay with blood, sweat and tears. And when you don’t win the Powerball jackpot you think, “Oh, well, to be expected.” When you don’t win the I’m looking for a decent sized audience jackpot you think, “Fuck! What’s wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? Should I get better at schmoozing? Is my voice completely unrelatable? Holy shit! HAVE I BEEN WASTING MY ENTIRE LIFE? I need a drink. No, I’m not going to start drinking. That’s counter-productive. But nobody is asking me to produce anything…fuck. Where did I put the whiskey?” And truth is you aren’t thinking, “That’s to be expected.” But you should be. But you have an ego. And you have a dream. And you have dedicated your entire life to it. Quitting on dreams is as brutally difficult as quitting any other addiction. So you probably won’t.

I, personally, feel like I was born at a rather difficult time to be a performing artist. The markets have changed, the technology has changed, the audiences have changed. Hell, it’s the wild, wild West all over again, we’re just fighting with the tools of the internet instead of six-shooters. And those rich folks on the hill aren’t going to come down and start spreading the wealth around any more than they did in the Old West. The new Gold Rush is a desperate pitch for fame, which maybe will be followed by riches, and the money people have got us killing each other to get at it. It’s a more savage version, perhaps, but it is still the lottery. We’re all so busy trying to be one of the people with most of the money, that we’re starving absolutely everyone else out for our own benefit. But I believe…and I truly believe this…that there is a place for every artist, and it is up to artists to make sure that we include everyone. And a lot of us promise ourselves that if we ever have money and power, we will remember all the other struggling artists and get out there to help them. But once you are a “have,” then things change. It gets “complicated.” Having money and power is always so “complicated.” It’s too complicated to hang on to wealth and help the “little people” at the same time.

I just read this piece about the horror community by a guy named David Anthony (http://couchcutter.com/fck-you-an-open-letter-to-the-horror-community/) and I rather enjoyed the read. I figure his main point is that horror audiences choose to go to mainstream studio horror movies more often than they do independent productions while we (yes, I am a horror fanboy for sure) remain nostalgic about all the low-budget horror movies from the seventies and eighties that shaped modern horror (Anthony sites Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.) It’s a salient point. Condemning even. But I think he puts too much emphasis on blaming the audience alone. As a horror junkie, I watch lots and lots of indie horror movies. I often get out to see them in the theaters, although these limited release horror movies happen rather seldom given how many horror movies make it on to video every year. For every fifteen that I see, I’ll be lucky if I find even one gem. Cheapie distribution companies will slap box art and bad taglines onto anything that fits into their limited marketing scope, which is basically the same as the major studios’ limited marketing scope. At least with the bad studio horror movies, there is production value. I certainly want to support the indie artists, but so many of these alleged “filmmakers” are people who think they can make a movie simply because they have seen a lot of movies and movie-making equipment has become much more accessible to people living outside the mainstream entertainment industry. But can you blame someone for hedging their bets? I can spend my money on this movie that will most likely look like something that even the SyFy Channel would be hard-pressed to air, or I could got see the latest reboot of a familiar franchise where I know at least the special effects will have some kind of amusement factor. And yes, a good indie horror movie is generally a helluva lot scarier than anything the studios put out, but the time and money you have to spend to find a good one? Pound for pound, sadly, you get more entertainment value out of a shitty movie with a twenty-million dollar budget than you do a shitty movie that costs a hundred grand.

I do, however, believe that modern audiences are so accustomed to seeing movies that cost a hundred million that they simply assume that anything in the shoestring budget range will suck. That is short-sighted and unfortunate. However, ninety percent of the time–especially in the genre racket–their assumptions are correct. I don’t think this is a truth reserved only for the horror genre. I have been going to a lot of small indie festivals lately, and I am often shocked at the trite, poorly produced nonsense that new filmmakers decide to spend their time and money doing. So many shoestring budget movies are trying to imitate what the studios put out; it reeks of a bid for acceptance. Hey, if I can make a formulaic comedy or drama or whatever for next to nothing…imagine what I can do for you, money people! We’ve all been so indoctrinated into corporate society that we don’t even bother to look for our own voices, never mind actually finding them.

This is especially heartbreaking because there are filmmakers who do struggle and often succeed to make movies pure in voice…pure in spirit. It’s not a bid for fame. It’s a goddamn movie. While I did see a lot of junk at these fringe festivals, I also saw some genuinely entertaining stuff. And it often feels like…a surprise. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but nobody else is at the moment, so I will go ahead and take credit for being a big part of one of these very movies. A shoestringer that’s main focus is creating a genuine, individual piece of entertainment. (I’ve mentioned it a lot…because it’s what I’ve been going to all these indie fests to promote.) It’s called Fuzz Track City. My old friend and creative colleague Steve Hicks put it together, so most of the credit goes to him. But I played the lead and worked my ass off on it, so I’m going to go ahead and share the gratification for the purposes of this blog that so few people read. We’ve had audiences large and incredibly small, but either way the majority of people who have seen it have had a great time. Often the people who gush about it to me seem surprised to have had so much fun at a movie. And the comment that I hear most often is this: “You know what I liked about it most? It’s a movie.” That seems like a strange compliment, but in today’s cinematic landscape, that’s a huge compliment indeed. It’s a movie designed by people who love movies for people who love movies. It’s a grand celebration of a medium that has become deeply cynical in the past couple decades. Studios make movies based on marketing points, what will sell to the highest number of people, and are more concerned with nailing the beancounters wishes than any individual filmmaker. And so many independent movies aim for the same standards. And if they don’t, they aim for the standards set at Sundance, which involves studio stars and hot button issues. Sure, great movies always break through the bullshit one way or the other. Artists find a way. But given how many laborious indie movies get produced and distributed, it’s that much harder for a good one to find an audience.

So. Sure, the audience is to blame for choosing to stare at hundreds of millions of dollars puked up onto a megaplex screen instead of the work of an artist. But at the same time, indie filmmakers have to step up and first become craftsmen (it’s called an education, not just sitting at home and consuming your favorite movies over and over again) and then genuinely struggle to find a true voice. Otherwise, it’s just cheap imitation. If you want a sea change, if you want to see more people seeking out and finding small movies instead of the big ones, then the majority of us have to simply be much better than we seem to be at present. Currently, we work with a handful a genuninely great movies in any given year (and no modern genre is more guilty of that than horror.)

Anyway, there’s one more chance for the people of Los Angeles to go see my movie. Here’s a poster for the December 5th screening at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival: http://www.facebook.com/#!/todd.r.anderson1/posts/183496105124764?notif_t=like

Stop by. I’m looking for an audience.


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