Small films for select audiences

Years ago my friends and I made a series of movies called The Withers Trilogy.
It all started the night I got my first DV camera back in 1999. A Sony TRV900. My most expensive purchase at that point in my life ($2000). I was 20 years old.

If I remember correctly we just wanted to mess around and test the camera and were looking for something to do. So my friend Steve and his girlfriend at the time Kim were over, as was my girlfriend at the time Becky. We just recorded this silly little scene of us all being drunk (which we weren’t) and Steve acting like a goof. He runs out of the house and get’s killed my some dude in a scream costume with an Iron Maiden mask, which was a carry over from some slasher films we made as teenagers.

We thought it was funny and fun to do. So we did it again a couple more times over a couple more nights adding more friends as we went and eventually we ended up with this 25 minute movie which we started showing to friends at parties just for fun. People seemed to like it, so we made a sequel about the same length, which was even better than the original. Again we showed it to friends at parties on VHS or VideoCD. This was before video on the internet was really doable. Five years or so before YouTube.

At this pont, the two movies were kind legendary among our friends, including Steve’s friends as MSU. So we had to make a third movie because we had an audience motivating us and it had to be bigger and better than the two before and everyone wanted to be in it. So we did and it was nearly twice as long as the other two, clocking it just over 40 minutes in length.

In the end the second one still remains the best of the three according to most people. But that’s not important. What is more important is what I got out of this and what it took me so long to realize. What’s that you ask? That movies don’t have to to be made to sell or compete in film festivals. Not all movies have to aspire to do those things. Some movies can be made to be seen only by a limited audience. Another example of this might be homemade porn videos only meant to be seen by yourself and your significant other. Typically speaking.

What we had done was created a series of movies that had a limited audience of people we knew and that were most often viewed at parties, later at night when everyone was toasty and the VHS tapes would come out. Then we would all crowd into the living room and watch these ridiculous movies that were fun because you knew the people in them and they were doing stupid things.

Tonight I almost made the mistake of changing that. I uploaded the films to youtube and quickly made them private. I made the realization that maybe it’s not the greatest idea for a couple of reasons:

1. Once on youtube (even unlisted) the links can still be shared and it’s out of my control who can see them.
I had created a secret facebook group and meant to only share the youtube links with people in that group but quickly found a friend sharing the posts to his friends. Normally people would like that kind of exposure for their work, but in this case these movies are silly and we have careers to protect to some degree. I’d almost rather someone found a naked picture of me online. It seems a little less embaressing.
So knowing that I can’t control who sees them once they are online, makes the whole thing a little more scary.

2. More importantly, watching these movies online loses the complete experience. These are not just movies, watching them is something to do with friends, just like making them was. Part of the experience is knowing the people in them, being a little tipsy while watching, being in a group of friends and in a good mood and hearing the commentary from us about the movies as we watch them with you. Most of that is gone if you’re just sitting behind a computer watching them by yourself. Nor can I imagine they would be as fun, especailly if you don’t even know us. You would probably look at the movies and go “WTF is this?”

This lead me to realize what I said above, there can be movies made for only certain audiences to be viewed at certain times. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact may be the better choice for certain movies, like the Withers Trilogy. With that said I’m keeping them on youtube set to private just to have a remote backup shoiuld anythign happen to my local copies. But I plan to make a new DVD set of the movies for parties. Something that can be easily pulled out and played to the right audience when the time is right.

I would love to explore this method of filmmaking even more. I’ve been doing it my whole life, starting with the horror series my friends and I made during middle school/high school. Those just never expanded into more friends seeing them like the Withers Trilogy did. But mostly because we were kids when we made them and they were poorly done (mostly unfinished) and hard to follow. But all the same, they were small films we made for fun and meant to be seen by an audience of us, not the whole world and not some film festival, just us and the people we wanted to show them to.

There is something to be said about that kind of fimmaking. Especaily when you approach it consciously from the beginning, knowing that what you are making is not meant for the public. It’s one thing if you set out to make a movie and fail to get it scene by as many people as possible do to limited marketing, distribution or just lack of interest. But it’s another thing when you know full well that what you are making is meant for a small audience of people you know. There is a certain degree of freedom and creativity that comes about with that. You view it as a hobby rather than a job. Success is based on whether you had fun making it or not. Not how many tickets/copies you sold. It’s like getting together with friends and having a baseball game in an open field versus trying to break into the major league.

Back when I made the Wither Trilogy, I wasn’t completely conscious of this idea. I still had the goal in my head that I wanted to be a Hollywood director one day. I really didn’t think of this as filmmaking. I didn’t realize the concept I laid out above about small scale films meant for smaller select audiences. But today if I did it again, I would embrace it even more. I would see it for what it is and enjoy it even more as a result.

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