Magazine article Filmmaker

Industry Beat

Magazine article Filmmaker

Industry Beat

Article excerpt

As filmmakers find new distribution platforms for their films, getting press is still a struggle. By Anthony Kaufman

"IT WAS INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING FOR me," says Jim McKay about the release of his latest film, Angel Rodriguez, which premiered on HBO last fall. "In a strange way, it doesn't exist."

Of course, Angel Rodriguez - an intimate character study about a troubled inner-city teenager - survives on DVD and HBO, as does McKay's previous feature Everyday People. But because they never played theatrically, McKay says the independent film industry he has come to know since his 1996 feature debut Girls Town has largely ignored them.

"I don't consider myself a TV director, and yet all of a sudden I find myself in a position where my last two films don't exist to a certain group of people," he says.

McKay is not alone. As more independent feature filmmakers premiere their work across television new-media platforms, from cable to video-on-demand to digital downloads, the press that covers - and drives awareness of the movies - has not caught up. If such TV-produced masterpieces as Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz or Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog premiered on HBO or DVD today, the country's preeminent film critics and journalists wouldn't write about them.

Time Out New York film editor Melissa Anderson reaffirms the long-held stigma: "If it's going straight to DVD," she says, "it's an indication of the film's quality."

But even if Anderson stumbled upon a great film that didn't have a theatrical release, she wouldn't have the space or time to give it the same push in her magazine as the latest studio release. "It goes back to manageability," she says. "In an average week in New York, even in the doldrums of January and February, there are 14 new films opening. There's only so many pages and there's only so much energy that can be expended."

That leaves legions of filmmakers debuting on the small TV (or computer) screen looking for alternative ways to generate critical buzz for their work.

While many producers and directors say the festival circuit can be a valuable and much cheaper way to garner needed press clippings than an expensive DIY theatrical release, the Internet, with its limitless space and bounteous blogs, has increasingly developed a welcoming critical community for work that often ends up on the Web itself. And when it comes to getting the word out about an interesting film, the pendulum is definitely swinging toward dotcom criticdom. (During the one month I spent working on this article, I received several direct-e-mail pitches to cover films and events on my blog, which had never happened before.)

Joe Angio, director of the Melvin Van Peebles documentary How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), was fortunate to get a Film Forum theater booking in New York, but he wasn't about to pound the pavement for theatrical runs across the country. "My ego isn't big enough to go further into debt to see the movie go into 10 or 15 theaters in the hope that we can get a blurb on the DVD," he says.

Instead, Angio targeted the TV premiere as the film's "national coming out." He hired an unpaid marketing intern to identify indie-film and black-film Web sites and bloggers, resulting in shout-outs from a number of sites (Flickhead, Self-Reliant Filmmaking, Vibe. …

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