In light of the recession and technological changes, I’m researching people’s current perceptions of the art versus commerce debate in art-house cinema as part of my thesis…so I thought I’d give this place a shot and see what are y’all thoughts on the creative tensions:
What do you think of Bourdieu’s thoughts that cultural artifacts that have commercial appeal can’t be critically acclaimed as aesthetically excellent?
Thoughts on independent film makers relying more and more on product placement to fund their films and deal with piracy.
Big marketing campaigns around art films, does that taint the film’s authenticity for you or artistic merit?
If an art film is only screened in major theaters, does that change the film’s identity?
What about art films trying to target a mass audiences?
Thoughts on films likes Cosmopolis or Tree of Life being marketed as box office flicks? Do you guys consider those films as art films considering their budgets?
Any thoughts you guys have on the debate really…
So long as artistic decisions aren’t dictated by commercial concerns, budget and marketing style have no bearing on artistic merit one way or the other.
ROI: return on investment answers most of the questions. e.g. a big marketing campaign aimed at a small market would be a waste.
The target audience for art films is, well, it depends on the film. Basically the centers-of-influence influence those who react to being influenced. The target marketing campaign is not aimed toward the mass but the influencers.
Have you looked at Film Movment’s approach?
They distribute films that have the influence built in by way of festivals.
RWP III is, erm, right on the money with ROI and target audience. Just because you spend money on marketing does not mean that a movie will automatically attract viewers and become ‘successful’. The same thing goes for product placement. I don’t think P*ps* would give me money for product placement in my so-called art film which may only be seen by a few hundred people.
If one wants to make a ‘sustainable’ movie, one needs to figure out how to attract your target audience (unless you have a trust fund or a benefactor.)
FWIW, big marketing campaigns, where a film is screened, etc. won’t taint a film except in the eyes of those who are tainted by certain preconceived notions about what an art film is.
So, what is an ‘art film’? :-)
To market art, I think it is best to think in terms of community or communities.
The gallery I am in is run by a guy who is a Armenian. He promotes Armenian visual artists to the Armenian community and that pays his bills. From there he expands out into other communities such as the film community, where he hosts various functions. His huge network is made up of many smaller outlier communities.
He is a tireless promoter of art and his gallery, and I think that is a key success factor.
On commerce and piracy…
I have found that
at least since Spit Fire Grill
art house films (with occasional exceptions) are just mainstream films with lesser budgets and a bit more quiet.
I’m for it, just as long as independent, arthouse cinema doesn’t become manipulated by the medium and falls prey to extensive consumer opinion and hungry corporations. Recently, a theater was built near me featuring the most mainstream of mainstream titles (think like four big blockbusters and nothing else) and it offers full-course meals, beer, wine, etc. I thought to myself “why not erect an arthouse theater.” This brings me full circle to the title of this thread.
You’re thinking of indie films. ;)
I will admit, art houses do play a few too many of them instead of actual art films.
Major characteristics of indie films:
1) Visually blah
2) Present themselves as socially modern while actually being extremely culturally conservative
3) 50% or more of the main characters have at one point been major cast members on either Saturday Night Live, The Office or Parks & Recreation
4) Characters are depressed but have no real problems
5) Everybody who is eccentric is loveable and misunderstood, so long as they stop being eccentric by the end of the film
So how would you describe an art film?
@ ROBERT W PEABODY III
That’s quite interesting!
So would you say that art cinema should just sustain off communities? In the art world, you would have big players in those communities that could sustain it – how would you translate that in the film world?
Or are you suggesting that the communities themselves can act as influencers, therefore proliferate word of mouth?
Commercial appeal is relative. What qualifies as a commercially appealing art-house film: The Whiter Ribbon, Three Colors Trilogy, Tree of Life, Cosmopolis? Also, the other problem we run into is that films conceived for the mainstream but belatedly acknowledged as great works of art seem to be less questioned than “artistically” conceived films which just so happen to transcend the “art-house” crowd.
Although I disregard putting things, especially such as cinema, in categories and labels, I would say there is a bit of art in any film, whether it was made for commercial purpose or aesthetics. Majority of films, even independent ones, are still being made, sold, bought, distributed, released and, thus, watched. Consequently, a film essentially figures as investment and source of income. On the other hand, majority of films also seek to attain recognition, praise, approval, and be remembered for years and even decades.
In my opinion, all this plays a smaller role in comparison to how much of art is there in the film. I do not view all ‘commercial films’ to be done for commercial purpose only while lacking any bit of art in them (take The Dark Knight or 2001 as examples). Neither do I view all independent films to seek no means to make money. What matters is how much of art is there in a film itself. Forget about the purpose, focus on the content.
Doesn’t commercialization and “art house” make an unhappy marriage?
To me an ‘art film’ would be something whose main themes are abstracted, and that aims to defy expectations rather than just satisfy them.
Something that invites the viewer in to actively analyze the film rather than projecting itself out to be passively absorbed.
But, you cannot exclude commercial movies from that description either. Commercial films do not have to be particularly anything like Transformers or Set Up. They can also be thought-provoking and highly indulging in analysis and exploration of abstract themes. Hence, we have films like Blade Runner, Inception, Prometheus and many other. If budget figures as the key to defining what is art and what is commercial, then I see no strong point in categorizing films in such manner at all.
To add in this interesting discussion, I recently read IndieWire’s interview with Werner Herzog. As he states, “I’m not an advocate [of independent film]. I don’t believe there is such a thing as independent cinema. It exists only for your last Christmas video or your beach party in Cancun. That’s independent cinema. All the rest is dependent on money, on distribution systems.”
The man does have the point. Everything depends on money. One cannot survive for long, if he or she keeps investing thousands or even millions in films without any financial pay off. Film is both art and business.
However, I particularly view film as art first and foremost! Money is there to be used as means only.
well the ‘indie’ film already represents a commercialisation of certain aspects of art house cinema, and they have been around for a while now.
Personally i’m against it for two major reasons One, because i believe the artist should put his vision first before commercial considerations(ideally), and two, the end result is generally a watered down product that is neither here nor there.
“What do you think of Bourdieu’s thoughts that cultural artifacts that have commercial appeal can’t be critically acclaimed as aesthetically excellent?”
It’s because they generally aren’t? I think one of Bourdieu’s main points was about cultural capital, and how serious artists risk their credibility when playing to the market. This seems to be more of a factor in Europe than the U.S , where there are far more defenders of artists that try to walk the fine line. Things are probably changing in Europe though.
Cultural capital seems like more of a flimsy notion in the U.S to me, where almost everything is driven by the market, as well as a correspondingly narrow view of success. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist over there—it most certainly does—but it appears more tenuous. It does not surprise me when indie artists in America throw in the towel. The recognition just doesn’t seem to be there to the same extent.
and i think this notion of recognition is important for why so called ‘elitists’ get mad when attempts are made to pretend that Spielberg is on the same level as Tarkovsky. Underlying this backlash is the notion that ‘fairness’ is parcelled out via cultural capital. Tarkovsky is assigned a much greater degree of cultural capital because he is the superior artist, without ever becoming truly ‘rich’, whereas Spielberg—and his supporters—should be just content that he became rich through learning how to manipulate great sums of people: the only real ‘art’ he ever mastered. It’s understandable why people get mad when rationalisations are made for these artists as great ARTISTS, in the meaningful sense, rather than commercial artists with a degree of skill.
And while i do like Spielberg—-at least his older films—i understand, acknowledge, and even agree with this division of the artistic sphere and see absolutely no problem with it whatsoever and honestly think it’s amusing that people spend so much time defending commercial artists. as if they aren’t getting enough recognition already. You know, making billions and being critically acclaimed isn’t enough now, is it? Their childish fantasies have to be seen as great art otherwise it’s pure elitism, like that’s a real moral dilemma comparable to poverty or starvation.
In other words, accepting commercial artists for what they are, and not assigning any greater significance to them, is a way of achieving justice in the artistic world. Of course it would be a great injustice if these artists were seen as hacks and not great artists if they legitimately were, but far often they are not and just argued for anyway.
Joks, I agree with your post, especially the latter part. Commercial artists are already praised for the sums of money they make, as their primary goal is to justify the input they or their producers made.
This, of course, should not be stated about those artists that are willing to risk their money in order to make films for narrow audiences, which usually doesn’t pay off financially. Yet, what they achieve is the recgnition and acclaim enough to be remembered for their contribution to cinema as art.
Yet, there is also a sort of integrity of both, which occurs due to many factors, especially in consideration with so many parties and people involved in the collaborative process of filmmaking. Thus, sometimes a commercial film will achieve also critical acclaim for its attainment of artistic goals as well. The same can apply to an art film suddenly turning out to be a dark horse and becoming a box office hit.
I don’t agree with this at all. We’ve talked about this topic over and over again on Mubi. Is it only art if it makes money? Is it only art if it reaches a wider audience (“wider” tbd)?
NO. You can make films, avante-garde and art oriented, and have a small but loyal audience who pays no money to see them (i.e. you post them on your website, for example). It is still ART. It is still FILM. It does NOT depend on income which is generated by THE FILM. The artist buys what is necessary to make their film, say with money from a job that has nothing to do with any film whatsoever, and MAKES A FILM. People see it as a film, they appreciate it as a film, the artist has an audience, the artist didn’t need money up front to make the film from another film project of their own, and therefore, “everything” is not dependent on money and the person still makes art even though they do not earn a living from making it.
Can someone please define what is meant by “art film” here? Because I have a feeling it has to do with traditional filmmaking — i.e. with a bunch of actors, crew, etc. etc. That does require funding because you are forming a sort of company where other people need to be paid to make your film. However, to me “art film” means avante-garde, experimental, guerilla style and done by a single artist and shown… anywhere. And yes, that is still art, and that is still film.
I’m with Billy The Poet on this one. I sort of stated things like that on previous threads along the lines of if you want to make your next movie, you have to get money and that basically has to come from the previous film that you have made. If you want your film to be seen, it’s not a bad idea to aim it in a certain direction by various methods such as niche marketing, i.e. if it’s a film about cars, advertise it on a car show or, through a website or through other websites that lead to your website or blog or whatever such as MUBI itself for example. Or, you could get funding for your film through film festivals or now crowdfunding. Of course, as Odilonvert says, you can put your own money into your film itself and then just show the film to people. I guess then you wouldn’t have to worry about turning over a profit in that sense, but I guess if you want to make a higher budgeted film and that could be an art film with a high budget, take Tree of Life for example, you have to show in some manner, whether that is a previous film that grossed a lot of money or shows your technical skill making films, you need to prove somehow that you can make a very artistic film on a high budget by proving that you can in the first place. And I guess I would also say that you don’t necessarily have to make a feature to prove this, but a screenplay or a very good short movie might be a good way of proving that you are up to the challenge.
I think if an art film becomes ‘mainstream’, or at least semi-mainstream, it’s pretty stupid to bash it on the grounds that it’s popular, obviously. or call the artist a sell out for doing publicity or whatever. Kind of like how McCarthy went on Oprah to promote ‘The Road’, no doubt after being pushed by his agent and publicist haha. It took nothing away from the quaity of his work, although it was kind of annoying to see him interviewed by Oprah, or all people!
“. However, to me “art film” means avante-garde, experimental, guerilla style and done by a single artist and shown… anywhere. And yes, that is still art, and that is still film.”
Sure Odi, but i think it’s generally safe to assume that film makers want to show their films to an audience, or at least construct films with an audience in mind. There are obviously exceptions, and i think the best artists put their own vision first, before the audiences’ needs, which i stated earlier, but that doesn’t change the fact that the film industry is a business and people are looking for a return on investment, even if it’s small. It’s just the nature of the beast.
I totally agree. It is a normal, even obvious progression of any filmmaker, who aspires to be recognized and given more money to realize his dreams in motion pictures. Yes, most art film directors claim they don’t need millions to make their films. Yet, they still need money, and usually there is no money without payoff from the previous films, even if it the gross is not that significant.
I am not saying if the film doesn’t make money, it is not art. It is completely out of the context of what I am saying. I usually try to avoid such radical statements, as these are not my type of expressing my opinion.
As I said earlier, art can be found in every film. What matters is how much of art is there in the film. However, it is essential and even existential for a film to generate some revenue in order for the filmmaker to survive and proceed with his next, maybe bigger in scale, film. This is a sort of natural progression.
Again, I can understand if the film is released without any intention to make money and is spread out everywhere on the Internet. This can be done to draw attention to either the filmmaker or his message to the audience. However, soon or later he will need some cash to spend on his further films. Thus, either he finds investors or keeps spending all his wealth for no pay off. And, in case of investors, I doubt any of them will ever agree to spend their money for no revenue, especially in such unfavorable conditions of the financial crisis as nowadays.
A short film is a great representation of a filmmaker’s potential and how much of success he/she can later achieve. I really like watching short films for their demonstration of the grasp in very limited time. Nevertheless, a filmmaker has to progress and take up more challenge. Thus, one day he will shoot his feature film, which will be a new chapter in his filmography.
“. Thus, either he finds investors or keeps spending all his wealth for no pay off. And, in case of investors, I doubt any of them will ever agree to spend their money for no revenue.”
The impression i used to get back in the day was that a lot of investors in Europe would dump money in art films for two major reasons: 1)tax write offs, and 2)patronage. So the prestige of being a ‘patron of the arts’ outweighed the loss of substancial return on investment. I’m guessing this practice is far less common now, but investing in ‘art films’ is like investing in art galleries or whatever. Often the investors do not see much of a profit at all and they aren’t interested in that.
That’s right. I even remember reading about government programs in both Europe and the States aimed at funding young artists for cross-national contests and festivals. However, nowadays not so many still exist. instead, most investors, especially companies and producers, prefer to keep more creative control in their hands and have final say over the final product. This puts most directors under great stress to the point, at which they may leave the project. It is also a common thing in Hollywood, whereas in Asia it if often evident among authorities and censorship.
“patronage. So the prestige of being a ‘patron of the arts’ outweighed the loss of substantial_(sic)_return on investment.”
There’s a community to be a part of – wealthy art patrons.
How do you do that?
Film or no film, cruise the festival circuit. I would bet there are a large group of people who know each other that attend film festivals.
Ingratiate yourself by being an interesting person.
But how can an art film make the transition from niche to mass appeal? Controversy? Star power?
Is the transition possible without hurting artistic merit?
Do distributors really determine the success of an art film, or are there ways around that?
Distributors are driven by market needs and wants.
The masses don’t want art films.
How to change that?
But how can an art film make the transition from niche to mass appeal?
Well, one can certainly notice a pretty interesting phenomenon in demographics of general audience and some of its switch to narrower groups or particular types of films. In other words, the older the viewer becomes, the more aware of other films, outside the general preference range, he or she is.
Nowadays, this has become more frequent and even rapid for some 20+ aged adults gaining more interest in art and foreign films that are way beyond the commonly constructed formula that is often practiced by commercial films. As a teenager, one may dig flicks about transformers and vampyres along with all other pop-culture none-sense. Yet, once adolescence comes and university life kicks in or the first job is landed, these young adults begin to alter and expand their circles of people and interests. Consequently, they become engaged in studying other types of art and cultures, as well as watching art films more often than before. Funny to say, but the initial reaction to most art films, especially those considered masterpieces, is either skeptical or rejecting until some time passes and they go back to re-watch these films again and again, loving them more and more with every other viewing.
This is one of the assumptions of how some smaller groups in general audience develop their tastes and move on to form narrower audiences. Today, this usually occurs at the ages of 20-30.
Thus, one day he will shoot his feature film, which will be a new chapter in his filmography.
Some people will never do a feature film because that is not the kind of film they like to make. You are limiting the potential of film to ONE kind of format. That is, forgive my frankness, bullshit. You are basically poo-pooing a huge group of experimental filmmakers who never made feature length films. That is like saying if you are a poet, you are not a writer.
Again, what are we talking about here? Narrative, feature-length films. That is what you are defining as cinema.