I'm really taken by Ward Minnis' series of blog posts on the viability of Bahamian art, and I've linked to them on this blog and I'll link to them again. He's developing a number of such posts (more power to him!) and they are very interesting reading. If you're at all interested in entrepreneurship, in the arts, in careers other than the dead old accountant, lawyer or doctor, read them for yourselves.I'm writing to take issue with the premise of his second post, though. I referenced it in my last blog post, and you can see the beginning of the post there. And Ward does this cool thing at the ends of his posts, which is summarize his main points.
(Short aside: Can you come and do that for all of my posts please Ward?)
And so I'm going to give you an idea of what he says in his post by quoting from his summary. Here you go:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT —>The point® is this:
The main flaw in his argument lies in his basic assumption -- that movies can only be made in a Hollywood fashion for Hollywood-sized budgets, and, once made, they must follow the Hollywood model of distribution in order to make money. Now if his assumption were true, then his argument would hold together. But it's not.Let's first of all consider the film industry as it was in the pre-digital age, before digitization changed the playing field. Even then, the Hollywood model was only one among many. Even then, smaller/non-western countries, like Canada, Australia, Jamaica, Argentina, Mexico, Senegal, Brazil, Cuba and others developed film industries that employed people who worked within them. This does not begin to take into account the industries that existed throughout Europe; France, the UK and Italy had big industries that at various times kept pace with Hollywood, and smaller countries (Sweden & Spain come to mind) had their own smaller ones.As I said, that was the world of film before the digital revolution. Now even then, when smaller industries were able to develop in various parts of the world, some of what Ward argues did hold true. One of the most crucial bits was the cost of making a film. Until 2000, it was pretty well impossible to do the job for under six figures. One of the biggest costs was that of film itself; film, the cameras that ran it, the developing and treating of it, and the people who were all involved in the cinematographic and editing processes, were the most expensive parts of the equation. But with the advent of digital video, and of high quality DV, the film industry has been transformed.Today, films do not need Hollywood to be made, distributed, or picked up. There's such a thing as YouTube after all; there are all sorts of internet-based distribution systems. And the cost of making films has gone down.Let's take one Bahamian film as an example, the only one I know a whole lot about. In 2001, before the launch of the Bahamas International Film Festival took place, Manny Knowles and Philip Burrows made what they believe to be the first Bahamian feature film to be completed and released to commercial houses. Powercut is clearly an independent film in virtually every sense of the word; it doesn't follow the rules of filmmaking, it's claustrophobic and grainy and relies heavily on close-ups, it's not commercially viable in Ward's sense of the word (even though we keep getting inquiries about where it can be purchased today). But it cost us under $60,000 to make, and it broke even in a single premiere showing. The film paid for itself. Granted, it was produced on a profit-sharing model, by which all the actors and techies agreed to share in the profits after the fact, and were not counted as part of the overhead; so far, those profits have not yet been forthcoming. On the other hand, any other revenue that it earns today will count as profit.That was in 2001, when there was no film industry in The Bahamas to speak of, when funding came from two granting agencies and the filmmakers' pockets, and when distribution was limited only to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Today, things are somewhat different. BIFF allows Bahamian films and filmmakers the ability to connect with professionals throughout the industry, allows Bahamian filmmakers to source funding for their films, and -- yes -- to raise the kind of money that would allow them to make films that can make the rounds of festivals and find distribution outlets.And so I do not agree for one minute that filmmaking is never going to succeed in The Bahamas. The evidence suggests otherwise. I believe, in fact, that it's entirely possible for Bahamians to build a credible indie film industry here, and to find an audience for it, and to make modest amounts of money from it. I'm always a little bemused with the Bahamian myth of the tiny population of 300,000 people. Films today are not limited by borders. I'm pretty sure that, given the response that's reported from Maria to the showings of Rain around the world, she's already developed a potential viewership that's able to explode that myth.Now perhaps I'm missing the point, and I'm making a faulty assumption of my own. Here's my assumption, for what it's worth: when Ward talks about the "viability" of a film industry his focus is the ability to make a living in The Bahamas off the art of film-making. Maybe I'm wrong, and what he's really talking about is making scads and scads of money off movie-making, building a Hollywood-sized indigenous film industry in The Bahamas. If that is the case, then my argument falls down; Ward is perfectly right to argue that we can't sustain a Bahollywood of our own.Perhaps I'm misreading his idea of "viability" of art by taking it to mean the ability to sustain an industry and to allow some people to do the thing full-time. Perhaps I'm bringing my own understanding of "viability" into the picture -- that making a living off film in The Bahamas is possible today, that people can do it and do nothing else (and indeed people like Kareem Mortimer and Maria Govan and Leslie Vanderpool are doing just that). If I'm wrong -- if Ward's talking about something like Hollywood, something that employs millions of people or affects the livelihood of a whole huge city -- well, then, I don't think he has to argue all that hard. He's absolutely on the money there. But if my assumption is sound, and he's talking about the creation of a film industry that can employ a few people all the time and many people part of the time, then I'd say we've got that going already -- and by all indications, the sector's growing all the time.My five cents. Cheers.