Thursday, April 8, 2010

Film Distribution and Parenting Styles: A working theory

Two weeks ago I attended "The Conversation: A Social Media Event" about getting your films out there, new models of distribution using digital technology. Now you can distribute your films on iTunes (if you go through an aggregator, because they won't deal with independent filmmakers), stream them on Netflix, hulu, Video on Demand. Only the very lucky, very connected or those with big-name stars get the holy grail of film, theatrical distribution. This wasn't about that. There were a lot of interesting stories from filmmakers who'd put their films out there, either for free or for pay; Arin Crumley with "Four-Eyed Monsters", the first narrative feature film to be shown on YouTube and Nina Paley with "Sita Sings the Blues," which won the Gotham Award for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" in 2008 who streams her film for free online and makes her money back on ancillary items, including DVDs. Representatives from traditional outlets, IFC and Cinetic both said that they are still trying to figure out how to make money using digital outlets. ( To see a nice summary of the event, see David Tames' blog.) The most interesting thing that came out of the conference for me was, to paraphrase a quote by William Goldman, "[In digital distribution], no one knows anything." Which is not exactly true, but it felt like there isn't one single answer to the best path to distribution. It was more that it is important for filmmakers to understand distribution, how it works, what's available and then forge their own path.

To me, this seems much like the plethora of advice out there about parenting. You can find proponents out there for almost any type of parenting, most in the extreme. There's the attachment parenting promoted by Sears, saying that unless the child is literally attached to your body at all times, you are doing him or her a disservice. I had twins. They spent a lot of their baby years in bouncy seats. They are now respectful, fun, ebullient eight-year-olds that don't seem the worse for wear. There is Overparenting, or being a "helicopter" parent, a label which no parent wants. Unfortunately, I have seen it used by administrators to tell parents (yours truly included) to back off and let them handle it when their child is being bullied. We see how well that worked for Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after suffering from relentless bullying. And there is a new style that I have witnessed emerging, Hands-off Parenting. Where parents think the best way to teach a child is to leave them alone and let them figure it out for themselves. To me this seems like neglect, but I suspect it's a response to overparenting. I've also seen parents get less lenient as their children get older and start attending schools, where they have to interact with other children appropriately, or risk getting ostracized. All this is to say, that it is ultimately up to parents to figure it out for themselves. Not in a vacuum, but to read the literature, talk to other parents (maybe even their own) and go with their gut.

As I write this, I realize that I have accepted this tenet in my own parenting, but I have yet to accept it for my film. So I will gather information on distribution, use what seems useful, discard what doesn't, and go with my gut.