Once upon a time in the 1980s, I made 16mm short films. My first film, Louise Smells a Rat, was made from recutting snippets of other peoples' films and borrowing a song. The total budget, just over $1,000, went to lab fees.
In those days, I'd finish a film, put it in a "jiffy" bag, and send it off to a film festival. This was how you got noticed, and if you were really lucky, got some press. The brass ring, never assured, was a distribution deal with a major company.
Today, thanks to the Internet, I've short-circuited this process -- and transformed my work and my life.
When I sent my first film off, I held my breath, and I got very lucky. Louise Smells a Rat was invited to the New York Film Festival and was mentioned in the press.
In an effort to begin to make money, I determined to make a feature film, and did that for $77,000 (How to Be Louise). It was invited to the Sundance Festival and the Berlin Film Festival. International distribution seemed very likely.
In the first 10 minutes of one of the Berlin screenings, the bulb blew in the projector, and at least one critical taste-maker got up and walked out. The distributors did not line up. The festival launchpad dream totally fizzled.
It was back to the drawing board. I was going to write a feature film script distributors would find irresistible.
Seventeen years and thousands of drafts later, it occurred to me that the Internet could save me from my life plan. To get a potential audience of millions, all I'd need is broadband, a consumer video camera, and some $3 tapes. And with venues like YouTube demanding short films, and some people even making a living from them, I saw a new light. Hey, maybe I could be a miniaturist, after all.
My 17-years-in-the-making script fell to the knife. What am I doing, I wondered aloud, gutting my script of its juiciest moments and throwing them up on YouTube for free? Am I nuts?
Bob Berney, who distributed My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Passion of the Christ, told me it sounded like a good idea: "You'll get buzz." Another sage announced, "If it's good, you can give it away and still make money." And still another said, "Make something that has an audience, and a business plan will follow."
Well, at least peace of mind has followed. I can snarl at "powerful" people. I can even spend an entire party with my back to the crowd, bent over the hors d'oeuvres.
I hadn't realized that my filmic need for a movie star to "attach" to my script, or my quest for a producer with access to financing, had warped my social life for years. Whenever I met someone, my mind raced to who they knew, if they'd be willing to help me, and, most urgently, how I could start a conversation with them when I felt so desperate and fraudulent.
Recent articles report that people are making six figures doing what I'm doing, if they're succeeding with the "outreach." I haven't mastered viral marketing, but there is an immediate audience for my work, and the rest is up to me.
I kiss our modem with gratitude. Who wants to make work, in any medium, that goes into a drawer?
Today, the Internet offers the potential to get to any and everyone -- if you make good work and can figure out how to promote it online.
— Anne Flournoy makes film and video. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and is currently producing The Louise Log, a comedy series on YouTube about the challenges of marriage, motherhood, and all of life – as narrated by an overactive inner voice.