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The Dream Of The Nineties Is Alive-In Seattle

Seattle-ites are stuck in the past: a golden, hazy, flannel wrapped, mythological age of inexplicable relevance and cultural vanguard-ism. It’s a lot like that show Portlandia. “The dream of the nineties is alive in Portland.”

The same is true of Seattle, but in the same way that Portland supplanted us by copying and absconding with our culture fifteen years ago they are making off with the parodying and tribute to the culture as well. What a show like Portlandia does is acknowledge the fact that we are stuck in the past, but by pointing it out, shoves itself right into the vanguard of the current culture.

If only Seattle-ites had that sort of sense of humor about themselves.

Where I see this cultural recidivism very acutely is within the Seattle indie film culture. Seattle is not only behind the current wave of indie film distribution models, it is two waves behind. If you want to know how to distribute your film, go buy a book. It’s that simple. Try Stacy Parks, The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution to start. She has a second edition coming out soon. Want me to sum it up for you? Here you go:

  1. No one is going to give you any money unless you have names in your film.
  2. Make your film as cheaply as possible.
  3. Use one of the million online services that distribute indie films.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

If you think I’m poking fun at Stacy, I most certainly am not. She knows what she’s talking about, and you should buy her book. What I am poking fun at is the notion that, if we just knew the secret to getting our film out there, knew the secret handshake, the magic words, whatever, we would be ushered into the inner chamber of success. There are no secrets. You just have to go do it. Two problems: It’s a massive amount of time and work, and independent film is an almost entirely unprofitable line of work to be in. If you are making independent films for the money, you are an asshole.

What is the next wave of indie film making and distribution? If I knew I would be out there promoting it and doing it, not flapping my virtual gums on my shitty blog. What is horrifying to me is that Seattle indie film makers are apparently stuck in a time warp when it comes to their view of the film industry, a good two waves behind the times. We still seem to think that what will cause us to advance in our career is to get a “break”, get the notice of an established producer, casting agent, distributor, what have you. We seem to think that somewhere, someone is out there, waiting to scoop us up and pay us handsomely for our talents. We think that if more film productions come to Seattle we will have a chance to meet these people, be discovered, and enter the pearly gates of success. That, my friend, is about as likely to happen as hitting the daily double on the lottery.

These are not the good old days of Sleepless In Seattle, Say Anything, Ten Things I Hate About You, Disclosure, etc, etc. In fact, how great were those days, really? I mean, yes, it gave a lot of work to local crew and extras, but if you were a serious actor at the time did it really benefit you? Expecting a production out of LA to cast Seattle talent for important roles while filming in Seattle is a lot like expecting an LA production to cast local talent in the leads if they were filming in Indonesia. That only works for the band Journey. (That little guy sounds just like Steve Perry!)

However, if we got our film incentives restored in our state (and this is something you should be involved in if you are a film maker. Go to Washington Film Works to help the cause) I could see productions start to be based entirely out of Seattle. This would create more work for local actors in the same way that Leverage and Grimm create work for Portland actors. If the casting director is a Seattle-ite and stationed in Seattle, they will be more inclined to use Seattle talent. This would be a lovely situation for all of us.

So if the existing models for creating, funding, marketing, and distributing indie films are not only well known, and it is common knowlege that these model are changing rapidly, almost daily, how is it that we can be so steadfastly stuck in the outdated models of the past? I believe it is a phenomenon called “exceptionalism”. Exceptionalism is the perception that our own group is fundamentally special, extraordinary, and separate from other similar groups, and we don’t need to conform to normal rules or general principles. Exceptionalism can cause us to focus on our own uniqueness and mythos (ignoring similarities between ourselves and other similar groups) and credit such uniqueness with the reason why we are so awesome, deserve success, and shall ultimately succeed.  It’s not that I think we long for the days when Seattle was a driving force in American culture and captured the Zeitgeist of an entire nation, I think we are not aware that those days ever ceased. I believe this undercurrent of exceptionalism has bled over into the indie film culture, and we are suffering for it.

It’s my feeling that we as Seattle film makers need to accept the mantle of the entrepreneur, keep abreast of current and emerging models for distribution, try to invent our own models, and not count on anyone to treat us as special or do a single thing to bring us up in this industry. In short, I think we need to get over ourselves.

To quote one of my favorite Portlandia sketches:

Keep Artsy. And Put A Bird On It.

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