SXSW Keynote: Mark Duplass Tips for Indie Success

“The cavalry isn’t coming… The calvary is not coming. But YOU are the calvary.”

This. A thousand times this.

Also, at 50:46, there was an amazing part where he pretty much echoed what I said earlier in the Unreal Engine 4 post. “In 1995, a kid from Ohio in the suburbs, who is 14 years old, couldn’t turn a camera on himself and make one of the more explosive movies we’ve seen come out of Sundance, and that could happen now with the technology.”

Well, I was 11 in 1995, from Ohio. At the time, we’d borrow my dad’s boss’s VHS camcorder to make home movies. Today, I’m shooting on greenscreen in 4K, creating virtual CG sets, and compositing in After Effects, in spare time. If I were a teenager today, there’d be nothing stopping me from doing that at that age now either. The real gatekeeper at this point seems to mainly just be skill level and finding the time. So keep working to learn, expand, and refine skills so you can close that gap between vision and result, in realistic time.

For pretty much every type of creative medium today, there is now a commercial distribution channel for you to self-publish it and drive it with do-it-yourself social media marketing. You have a shot at making good money (not crazy money unless you get lucky), or enough to at least pay for the project. At the very, very least, you for-sure can do it to have done it for the satisfaction alone, and that’s a new reality of creativity today.

At this point for me, that’s mainly all I care about. If whatever I make makes some money, that’s great and extremely helpful, but I’m in it for the love of doing it above all else. I’m going to do it, either way. And now the tools and the marketplaces are totally accessible to do what you love and take it seriously, at a level I call the ‘hobby pro’ project, that can become full-scale businesses or career trajectories but don’t actually have to. Today, you can just make a thing, share it worldwide, and that can be cool and make you happy, and that can be enough. I think most people, deep down, are hoping for even just that, just to make enough doing what they love. It’s easy to get distracted by the stories of unlikely mega-success grandeur; it’s wiser to accept the realities and probabilities and to engage them to your advantage. If you can work the business side as much as the art side, your odds are increasing.

I liken the ability to make a film, game, album, etc today to the idea of writing a novel. It’s okay to self-publish today, where this used to be a stigma. It’s so okay today, that it’s really the norm. Duplass is basically saying that’s the only realistic viable option anymore, and I would wholeheartedly agree, for any medium. And just because anyone can write a novel, it doesn’t mean all succeed. Even those that do, their skill level determines whether or not it’s any good.

As both Duplass and I have said as well, success is no longer assured just on the merit that you’re doing it at all, as it used to be. You’re not one out of seven indie films at Sundance. One out of three indie game devs on Indie Game: The Movie. Really, online you’re one out of thousands spilling out in social media feeds that day alone. The same thing that happened to the music industry has happened to every other creative industry, one by one. But I’d rather have no one between me and my creativity than the old models of last century, even if the market is flooded. And if you get good, there are now new business models in place, like Netflix / Vimeo / VHX / Amazon Instant for film or ubiquitous indie support now for games, that have figured out how to make this work in the new DIY reality.

Duplass’s whole keynote is so spot-on, and it’s refreshing to hear someone actually doing it on the filmmaking side say how it is today, especially for indies, straight-up. The future is now. It has good and bad news. The bad news is the old models are dead, and many will still think they’re alive for decades, trying to resuscitate it all with shock paddles, struggling every step of that way. The good news is, you are the calvary now. Adjust accordingly.


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