NC film industry forum recap
What what. Attended TriFilm Society’s forum on the state of the North Carolina Film Industry last night at the Cary Theatre and it turned out to be a nice event for local creatives to voice and discuss a mixed bag of challenges one faces in today’s evolving landscape of filmmaking. My instinct at these sorts of things is always to listen and consider rather than speak up because– well, for one I get nigh incoherent when mouth-breathing in ye olde English werds, much less in front of a crowd, and better still– there are smarter people than me in the room. But I did have a few thoughts that sprung from the discussion, and figured to present them here for comment or derision.
Eric Johnson from Trailblazer, Beth Yerxa of Triangle ArtWorks, and Trifilm’s Camden Watts lead the talk and to follow along with points they and others made in the discussion, the advances in technology and lessening costs associated with production have really served to make filmmaking more accessible now than at any time before. Content, as Erik identifies it, is likewise more prominent now than ever. But we still struggle to acquire ‘success’. The familiar, established routes of ‘success’- film festivals, studio deals, scoring international distribution, building a reliable network of financial support don’t seem to have experienced the same sort of ‘opening’ and may seem less accessible now with streaming platforms and the growing miasma of online distribution options.
Ultimately, the forum didn’t put forth a grand reveal on the secret formula for success as we were scheduled for an hour, ran 90 mins, and bounced through topics rather fluidly. I’d been expecting a lot of frustration about NC’s lost film incentive program and the subsequent exodus of talent, but while these were mentioned, things actually skewed more toward the experiences of smaller, home-grown independent filmmakers enabling themselves and finding that fire within to persevere. This was actually pretty encouraging because with the incentive gone, it doesn’t serve to perpetually lament what once was. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still be frustrated with that outcome, particularly those that are heavily and emotionally invested in this industry, but I think everyone’s better served by channeling energy into evolving and finding a strategy to move forward.
And the one consensus I get is that NO ONE is really sure how to do that. If a state is hostile to your industry, why would you choose to work, live and pay taxes here? But why the hostility, man? Politics of course. Politics is something that factors heavily into the discussion with what happened to NC’s film-friendly environment. Not to get into naming names and specific parties (because I don’t think I have to to make the point), but I think the trouble springs from misunderstanding. When you say FILM INDUSTRY, I think people tend to just see stars and lights and fancy sidewalks and little gold naked dudes. Not blue collar, below-the-line joes or traditional craftsmen. But just look at ‘Industry’, what does that suggest? Manufacturing, smoke stacks, assembly lines, supply chains, something pretty damn intricate, right? The FILM INDUSTRY is a robust ecosystem with Blue Whales and phytoplankton, from Robert Downey Jr to the blue collar, third-generation set painter. I mean the FILM INDUSTRY is a manufacturing sector whether you think that ‘entertainment’ is a commodity or not.
I wonder if some of the political hangup is also due to how you identify success?
North Carolina is lucky that we’ve had our fair share of Blue Whales- The Hunger Games, Iron Man 3, The Fugitive, The Last of the Mohicans, etc- and they have inspired generations of young North Carolinians and helped justify the film and communications programs throughout nearly every public university in the state, nevermind the prestigious NC School of the Arts. But NC’s success in this arena is not predicated on having the world’s entire population of Blue Whales. I mean they’re nice, awe-inspiring beast to look at to be sure, but what happens without those phytoplankton?
This is what I think needs to be communicated to the lawmakers and those who view FILM INDUSTRY as dirty liberal arts– in every industry, you gotta take care of the small fries to sustain the big boys or they’ll get crushed. I mean that’s essentially why every American farmer is basically on the dole, right? So for now I guess, North Carolina is better poised to support and grow small scale production and maybe with enough success for the small fries, the FILM INDUSTRY will start seeming a bit more blue-collar and attractive to the hypocrites over on Jones St. and we’ll start clawing back what once was.
For me at least, I’m going to try and focus on whatever success I might be able to scratch out, which I guess means keep making mo’ better indie films.