Indie Films Must Survive: Ponderings of Fundraising, the Ethics of Product Placement & So Much More!
Several years ago, while at the library, I came across an article by Paul Kingsnorth, a highly regarded environmentalist who, at the time of the article, had recently thrown in the towel, proclaiming that it is already too late to save the planet. After decades of activism and reaching out to corporations and to society, after clearly laying out how we need to change our ways, no substantial change had taken place. We continued as usual. We did not hear his and the warnings of the many others, nor did we respond to those warnings with enough reverence in time. Humanity was now on its way to causing its own extinction. For us adults this realization is shocking enough, but for anyone who has children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews…for anyone with a conscience, what we are leaving the next generation to experience is horrifying.
After reading his article, I immediately went into a state of panic. I saw myself running from one corner of the earth to the other, thinking, where can I help first, realizing there is too much ground to cover, too many minds and hearts still needing to be opened and made aware. So, I asked myself, what has the capacity, what has the global reach to get through to the most people in the shortest amount of time? The answer was the media. Films, television shows, the things currently primarily keeping society ignorant and acting from our lower vibrations, has the capacity to do the opposite, uplift and raise our consciousness and with that also change our lens of perception and behavior.
From this insight, the Conscious Media Movement (CMM) was born. It’s already made a difference. Yet, if I continue to work on this on my own, the impact will be minimal. To reach the masses, I am planning to organize a team. I have already designed and outlined a platform with programs, resources materials and such. However, this will require funding.
The same goes for my family film, Upon a Starry Night, through DreamWeaver Films, which is infused with all of the elements of conscious media…to get it made, it requires funding. I have unwavering confidence in my creative abilities and already have a stellar, professional team committed to the film. Going after funding on the other hand is a different animal and doesn’t come as natural to me. Additionally, us indie filmmakers have colossal changes brought on by the mega-corporations to contend with. The studios have always controlled the big screens and now Netflix, Apple and Amazon have started controlling the small screens through the production of their own films. This is squeezing out the independent voices in film. It is dangerous when only a single voice or two are behind the stories. Even if multiple filmmakers are hired, the control over the stories are still ultimately in the hands of a small group of people. There's a saying, he who controls the media controls society. No one small group should 'control' the stories, the media. Why do you think no one responded to the warnings about global warming in time? What priorities, what stories were we being fed, to us, to keep society ignorant and busy? Just as one example, success in films is shown as owning more stuff rather than that a good life has to do with genuinely connecting to the earth and each other.
It’s overwhelming, the sheer amount of blatant and subliminal destructive messaging found in today’s mainstream films and TV shows. Much of it we can't easily identify because it is subliminal. This can be true for both studio and indie films. Though, when wading through the pile of films… when I do find a gem that rises above the rest, it is most often an indie film. You are more likely to find conscious media among the independent films.
Conscious indie films expose what is wrong in the world and propose solutions. It is the conscious indie filmmaker most likely to speak up for the vulnerable, the disparaged, those speaking the truth and making a difference, the creatives and the visionaries, and they are the ones most likely to make us aware that there is more to the world and our existence than meets the eyes. The studios and other conglomerates aren’t likely to do it. They are invested in the system that keeps them rich and in control. It’s the independent conscious films that will raise people’s perception, their consciousness, and with that, change and heal the world.
Creativity leads to cultural progress and the more diverse the sources are from which we get that creativity, the more understanding, compassion, perspective and wisdom it brings to the table. That is why independent films are so vital. Yet, they are saying that Indie films…the independent voice…is becoming an endangered species because of the conglomerate set-up.
What has become an enormous challenge for the indie filmmaker is finding funding. It was never easy, but it was never this hard either. Lucky me, with funding not being my strong suit to begin with. Streamer backed productions, rules and regulation changes that don’t favor the small productions, have added substantially to a low-budget indie film’s cost. In the article, Where Have the Low-Budget Films Gone?, Anthony Kaufman writes that, “What was 18 months ago a $2.5 to 3.6 million budget is now a $3.5 to $4.6 million film.” What was once a $210,000 film is now a $310,000, etc. If the threat by the conglomerates and the newly structured system wasn’t bad enough, now indie filmmakers need to find more money than before. All this, with the covid climate drying those money sources up…and if you are a female director where your odds were lower to begin with, the challenge is that much more substantial.
It would be easy to throw the arms in the air and say, well, this just isn’t going to happen. But, for me, this is my life calling and there is much more at stake than just realizing my dreams. I am here to help with the healing of planet. With all of my children out of the house this year, this is the year I hit the ground running and put everything, absolutely everything, into this effort. The next 30 years of my life will be spent helping us to get on track for healing the planet for our next generations.
With the goal of using film and story to raise our consciousness and motivate us to bring about this healing, I thought to start with the production of a beautiful children’s-family film, which can then also draw attention to the movement. I tried to think of ways around the dried up funding. Time and time again people suggested product placement to me. I had done it once before and never felt comfortable with it. After all, my films are conscious media. There is no room for commercialism. Yet, it is a fact that most of the top corporations, who are the most oblivious to the needs of the world and the most destructive, advertise and product place daily. Wouldn’t it make sense then to research and divert attention to those corporations or companies that have ethical standards, fair wages and are making conscious sustainability efforts to help save the planet? Wouldn’t it be good to highlight the companies not just giving sustainability or humanitarian efforts lip-service, by making a few minor changes for show …but rather are truly walking their talk? After all, I find it imperative that we support companies like Seventh Generation where they choose what they put in their products and how they go about getting it, while being respectful of the next seven generations, or sustainability conscious Ritter Sport, and companies such as Clover Stornetta and Patagonia, who are at least trying to do better. This way we can back them and put our money where our values are…sustain the companies that sustain the planet. It’s win, win.
Yet, product placement is frowned upon for good reason…. especially in family/children’s films. I found this out when I approached a company I admire, asking for product placement. They let me know it was not something they felt was the right thing to do. In many European countries it isn’t even allowed. In the U.S. it’s everywhere, books, films, TV shows, magazines. That renunciation reactivated an inner battle in me. Deep inside, I don't like how product placement works. It is said to be more effective than traditional advertising because it uses subliminal messaging. Our brain is picking up on information all the time without us being fully conscious of it. You are watching a show and all of a sudden you have a craving for a particular brand of chips, because a character in passing, was eating some. It works, but is it right? Consumerism is a big part of what is destroying the planet and this is partially because movies, commercials, TV shows, permeate our psyches with messages that we need more and more STUFF to make us happy, while detracting us away from what actually would, and they normalize and sometimes glamorize things we should be speaking up about ...the wage gap, inequality, overly relaxed gun laws, corporate polluting and on and on.
Indie films do often rely on simple product donations for props, without paid placement or sponsorship credits. I used to be polite and thank the companies in the special thanks section in the credits, but found some audience members assumed they too were paid placements. So I will no longer be able say thank you in that manner. These creative props are urgently needed in the film. You can’t make a movie without actors, sets, props, wardrobe, etc. So much goes into designing the settings in a story, especially if creating a fantasy film like I will, it becomes unimaginably costly. Laboring to get at least some of what you need donated, to keep those costs down, is part of indie film filmmaking. This is different and not about product placement for us at all. But that is why taking it just one step further for product placement, doesn’t seem bad. Yes, you will likely be showing a logo, but you needed the product anyway, right? But does taking this extra step stay benign or become insidious? Does taking money for it change something? Because, yes...I may have already wanted to put that product in my film, but does it open Pandora's box where others are being swayed by the money? We have already seen the nearly insurmountable problems it causes, when the people who are taking money from the gas and oil companies are the ones drafting the climate legislation! How is that ever right? Could taking money from a corporation for product placement cause a filmmaker to change a message in their film?
What is more important to remember, is that those subliminal messages in films are not limited to product placement, as we discussed earlier. The whole reason that CMM is necessary is that most of the films and shows on the market here are inundated with destructive, both blatant and subliminal messages. This is what gave birth to the Conscious Media Movement, the need to turn this completely around and create the kind of films that heal and uplift society, heal our way of thinking about ourselves as separate, instead of intrinsically connected to each other and all there is. That everything we do matters and effects everyone, everything else.
If our film did all those important things mentioned above and more, would adding a subtle product placement from a conscious business be OK? After all, Indie films must survive for a fair and just society. They must survive to create the shift where we use film and story to heal and transform the planet. You can’t do this without funding. On reflection, however, I too believe product placement shouldn’t be allowed and is feeding into the negative messaging. Perhaps a new regulation to look at. But for now, it is allowed. The media we are trying to counter is using it, so could it be helpful to counter by placing an ethically produced product in the story? Using this funding resource can often make the difference between getting a film made or not. But would using product placement, even for an ethical company, contradict everything else we are doing? Indie films already face so many challenges and if we can’t find a way to ethically use what is available to us… then our powerful insights, projects, and intentions will be ineffective and only remain ideas...while those in control take our planet over the tipping point. But does the end justify the means? After much back and forth, I'd say no. It's better to lead by example.