A reader writes:
I’ve been thinking about
your recent posts on the future of adult films and wanteed to ask you a
follow-up question. Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse, but as an
aspiring screenwriter (yes, I’m a masochist) I have an above-average
interest in these topics.
My question is this–when you say (and I agree with you, by the way)
that the indie films of today will become the novels of tomorrow, are
you really saying that indie films will become even less important to
the culture than they are today? Let’s face it, the overwhelming
majority of novels make zero impact on the culture, and even a mediocre
Hollywood film has greater reach than a Nobel-prize-winning novel. And
it’s not that indies have such an impact today. The intenstity with
which indie filmmakers fought against the proposed Oscar screener ban
only highlights the sad fact that even critics won’t watch the majority
of these films unless they get a freebie in the mail.
If you don’t mind a followup question, assuming this scenario plays out,
what does that mean for mainstream films? It’s hard to believe that
they’ll get any worse (and this is from someone who absolutely loves
mainstream films when they work, which they rarely do).
Just curious for your opinion. I may be a masochist, but I don’t have to
be a fool, and if I’m going into this business I want to know what I’ll
This letter, which I received last month but am only just getting around to answering (sorry!), has acquired a new resonance in light of the recent whirlwind of lit-blog traffic triggered by OGIC’s recent posting about the state of the New York Times Book Review. I don’t really have good answers to any of my correspondent’s questions, either, just a couple of observations.
To begin with, it’s true that novels have become increasingly peripheral to the cultural conversation (such as it is). But it also seems to me–as I’ve said before in this space–that arts blogs might possibly be changing that state of affairs for the better. I don’t mean the whole world is suddenly going to start reading literary novels next week, all because of Our Girl and Maud and Bookslut. What I do mean is that the blogosphere makes it easier for people who care about serious fiction to communicate with one another, and that these people appear to be coalescing into a cybercommunity which over time could start to have a significant affect on book sales. Could, I say: the blogosphere is still very young. But it’s already stirring up conversation and controversy all out of proportion to its actual size, and that’s a good sign, an indication that we’re not fad-snuffling eccentrics but “early adopters” who comprise the leading edge of a full-fledged cultural shift.
As for independent film, well, I think my correspondent actually has it backwards. Outside of major cities, most Americans don’t have anything remotely approaching easy access to independent films until they finally make their way to DVD (if then). Hence it would be an improvement were such films to be released via Web-based new-media channels. As we city folk have a tendency to forget, America is a big country, and the smart people don’t all live in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles. In fact, most of them don’t. From my art-oriented point of view, the most valuable thing about the new media is their ability to distribute high culture (a phrase I don’t define narrowly, by the way) to smart people who don’t live in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles.
Nevertheless, I hasten to remind my correspondent that those who want to make serious art must take it for granted that they won’t make serious money doing so. If that’s what you’re in it for, don’t even think about writing indie screenplays or literary novels or symphonies–go work for Donald Trump. Making art is its own reward, or ought to be. George Balanchine (about whom you’ll be reading a lot more on this blog in the course of the next few weeks) was once asked why the members of New York City Ballet’s pit orchestra were paid less than New York City’s garbagemen. His answer? “Because garbage stinks.”