Will YouTube Make Festivals Obsolete For Indies?

By  · Published on May 30th, 2012

The absolute, must-read article of the week is “Disrupted: Indie Filmmakers” from Brian Newman at Sub-Genre . The week isn’t over yet, but the article that shows how popularity on YouTube has sidestepped the traditional indie film festival track will be tough to beat.

It may sound a bit counter-intuitive because videos that get millions of views on YouTube are How To Videos and shots of cats wearing monocles and stuff, but there are a handful of popular users that are translating a massive subscriber list (and an even bigger amount of views) into funding through KickStarter (the above image comes from Video Game High School) and IndieGoGo to raise funds for more projects. Meanwhile, filmmakers trying to find funding are still going through festivals like Sundance and, often, falling short.

It’s a fascinating theory because it seems plausible. It might not make immediate sense that making mash-ups and quirky spoofs could lead to big screen bliss, but all the elements are there.

Last year, Kevin Smith was able to four wall Red State because of one thing – his reputation. Without millions of Twitter followers and die hard fans, four walling would have been a crap shoot dependent completely on quality. It’s not to say that that can’t be done, because it can, but there’s no denying that being popular is a nice safety net. Ed Burns, who came up through the 90s festival machine, can attest to that with his latest offerings – films that he’s shared openly with fans through social media during the production process.

The explicit goal of the festival circuit is to build a following and name recognition through your work.

So is the goal of YouTube.

With festivals shifting their content to the online world, it seems clear that there’s an element of the middle man disappearing here. It doesn’t mean that festivals will evaporate or that the collective experience of discovering new talent will either, but there’s an emerging second track that has incredible potential. It’s cheaper than submitting and traveling to festivals, it has the ability to reach a larger audience more quickly, and now that funding is tied to the online world – there’s a directness to it that doesn’t involve bland chicken lunches with people with money in suits. The risk is less and the reward is similar.

There’s the prestige of festivals, but that’s a matter of time and the proliferation of online success stories. It’s doubtful that online audience funding will take away the glamor of winning Sundance or (definitely) Cannes, but if building an audience and finding money for your next project is the name of the game, how many will sacrifice the glitz for the guarantee?

What do you think? Have you funded any projects?

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.