Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Long live Artisan Films!
You and I have killed indie film. We’ve killed it by making too many films that no one has the desire or the time to watch because they are too busy desiring other things, and watching the things that marketers put in front of them, while indie films languish in the wasteland of digital entertainment.
Unfortunately for culture, it’s a vast sea of mostly mediocre films. Weak, unoriginal stories and poor production values doom these films in the "marketplace" such that it is, and doom them as art.
At the moment, the movement toward a new era of film artistry (i.e. the Artisan Filmmaker Movement) is just beginning to develop. Yes, there are artists at work, but the marketing world ignores them because these artists aren’t driven by the dollar. They are driven by their art, and by their stories.
In the eyes of commerce, art has become an ignoble pursuit, because art that has meaning and value is seldom recognized unless it has the stamp of commercial approval. While Hollywood, Amazon and Netflix are turning out some amazing films, I'm not talking about what is possible on a Hollywood-size budget, I'm talking here about films that can be made for $20,000 to 2 million.
Many filmmakers, in their search for guideposts, often choose the status quo, instead of looking inside themselves for new directions and visions for what they can create. This “internalized commerce-driven paradigm” is a powerful force for many young filmmakers who have not yet found their personal imprint on the medium of film.
Most filmmakers working today have been influenced by music videos and action films and other commercial films both contemporary and classic, but finding their own vision is a process.
The artisan filmmaker is one who embraces and dives into that process knowing that to find their path as an artist means finding their future and purpose on earth. Artists must be driven, visionary people with something important to share with the world. If their internalized paradigm convinces them that the path they are on is the right path, all other paths are blocked and invisible to them, unless they do the inner work of finding their own voice and their own vision for using film as an art form.
Thankfully, art is forgiving. Art begins by allowing you to be yourself, to express yourself, to discover vulnerability, and to face suffering, the one thing that should bring the artist around to who they are and what they have to offer — that unique experience of life that’s worthy of having expression outside their own mind and is worth sharing, not because it reflects well on them, or because it’s cute, or attention-getting, intelligent or even lovely, and certainly not because it makes money, but because some facet of truth, as well as beauty and craftsmanship, are apparent in their work.
And that’s where the real problem lies. In the artist’s lack of understanding of truth, beauty and craftsmanship. But not just the artist's lack of understanding: the audience, too, has lost the ability to discern the value of nuanced, original films, and/or find them, and/or find the time or energy or focus to watch them, when there are so many forms of entertainment to dominate their attention.
It seems that most indie filmmakers operate off the desire to be a filmmaker, or to “break into Hollywood,” rather than search for a story that arises from their soul, a story worth telling, a story they must tell. Ideally, the artisan should be motivated by an overwhelming desire to make art.
Many people will advise you that filmmaking is a combination of art and commerce. That’s true on the surface, but the commerce part comes easy, because most every filmmaker believes that audiences will like their work and pay to see it. They operate off a self-deception, since no one knows how much money a film can make: sales depends on salesmanship and the marketing budget. It depends on the system.
The art part is where the real opportunities lie hidden. The artistic potential of film is seldom explored, because most indie filmmakers aren’t artists to begin with, nor do they want to do the hard work of art-making, which is not the demanding process of making a film, rather, it’s the demanding process of mining the deepest meaning of life, which means studying art, philosophy, literature, and yourself.
Filmmaking is not an ambition in and of itself, it’s a way of seeing and thinking, feeling and creating, much closer to poetry or painting in its essence.
Of course, there are many types of films, and some of them are only commercial endeavors. This article is not about those types of films.
“Indie film” has long been the domain of real artists who have chosen to work outside the studio system of filmmaking in order to have their own voice and make the films they want to make, doing it their way.
That kind of indie film is dead, in part, because the term has lost its exclusivity. So now we have a new term for “the artistic film with commercial appeal” — the “artisan film.” The hand-made, heart-made film that, instead of combining art and commerce, combines truth and beauty in a compelling package. The artisan film attracts a small but devoted audience, the audience that’s hungry for films of substance. Not message films, not art films, per se — film is a malleable language for all kinds of stories — but the artisan film is, most of all, an original cultural artifact invented by the mind of the artist, the auteur, and the auteur’s collaborators who share the vision for it.
Yes, it’s the French New Wave and the American New Wave, the auteur movement, revisited.
The Artisan Film is also the very best first step toward a career as a filmmaker!
The Artisan Way — A Path Forward
GIVEN: Film as art has been given a back seat in the mega corporation, global entertainment paradigm.
THEREFORE: As artisan filmmakers who embrace the craft and challenges presented by the film medium, we also reject the corporate mindset so dominate in the world today, because we realize that commercialism and consumerism have warped culture into a shape and a value system we find untenable.
GIVEN: The corporate global marketing paradigm for major studio films has been built to serve the marketing needs of those who own the marketing channels: many of the world’s largest corporations.
THEREFORE: We are artists who deserve recognition, not for the money our films can make (if given a chance), but for their value as cultural artifacts. Meaningful artifacts with value as art.
GIVEN: The entertainment news in virtually all forms, both online and legacy, is dedicated to buzz about popular films and virtually ignores the “artisan film” which exists primarily as art not as a commercial product designed for the masses, and most if not all mass media is concerned about the faceless mass audience, not the film aficionado who seeks something original and rare. The legacy media is deaf, dumb and blind to art that is truthful and nuanced, because the corporate media knows culture by what sells.
THEREFORE: The Artisan Filmmaker must speak and work from a deficit, as a starving artist, and embrace the challenge to make art as the refining process for their soul as an artist and what a refined soul can produce. The artisan must learn to appreciate their limitations, not protest them.
GIVEN: Original films without “global blockbuster appeal” simply do not fit into the global theatrical marketplace.
THEREFORE: A new film culture is on the cusp of emerging, supported by an audience that appreciates the work of new artists with something to say. An audience that embraces their own uniqueness as consumers of culture. Likewise, technology has emerged, namely OTT (streaming), inexpensive big screen TVs and low-cost digital projectors, that provide a big screen experience anywhere there is a dark, quiet room and an electrical outlet.
GIVEN: The internet provides channels through which new films, both narrative films and documentaries, and episodic dramas, can reach their audiences.
THEREFORE: Artisan Filmmakers must leverage the social reach and cultural landscape of the internet.
GIVEN: Most indie filmmakers are confused about the “new landscape” of film distribution. The advisors working in the indie film distribution field are trying to make a buck themselves, and new paradigms have yet to take hold in a way that original filmmakers can easily tap into. The more complicated the process becomes, the more marketing help a filmmaker needs. This is the old way, not the new way. The new way must focus on the process of making art and sharing it in the most frictionless way.
THEREFORE: a new film culture must be created through an open, flexible, scalable and artisan-friendly paradigm, a complete script-to-screen paradigm that makes creation and distribution as frictionless as possible for Artisan Filmmakers.
This is “The Artisan Way.”
John Leslie Butchart has written a book on quantum physics and metaphysics that explores ultimate questions, if you’re interested in such things.
HOME MOVIE ON AMAZON (Poetry and Flash Fiction)
About the Author:
John Leslie Butchart attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he studied psychology, philosophy, anthropology, Southern literature, creative writing and filmmaking.
He and his family operate a motion picture production company, Highway 29 Motion Pictures.
Author of more than twenty screenplays, his film credits include Lake of Fire, a Southern Gothic motion picture which he wrote and directed, and The Hive.
In addition to The Music We’re Born Remembering, he has authored a book of short stories and poetry entitled Home Movie; an apocalyptic thriller, Sons of Noah; and an Appalachian novel entitled Elyana.