Storyblocks recently had the opportunity to support an awards event hosted by indie film publication Film Threat. It was so inspiring to hear from and speak with filmmakers who are dedicated to their passion. They deal with the daily challenges that most creators face (like overcoming creative blocks, sometimes hating your own work), plus the enormous task of acquiring funding to bring their stories to life. Once their films are released, they are up against major studios with seemingly unlimited resources and struggle to get their work seen by anyone. The indie film community is active and supportive. They love what they do and have meaningful, unique stories to tell.
My Start as a Creator
This all got me thinking back to my early career. I aspired to be in documentary television and envisioned myself traveling the world, telling interesting, beautiful stories for a network like Discovery Channel or BBC. And I wanted to earn a stable income doing it. After graduating from school and spending a few months applying to every production or network job I could find, I was a bit discouraged. I took the safer route and accepted a corporate position where I could utilize my video production skills.
I’m ultimately happy with where my career is today and my place at Storyblocks. I still get the chance to tell stories, edit videos and empower other creators, which is pretty great. And I honestly don’t spend time contemplating different choices I could have made that may have landed me closer to my perceived dream. However, things like this awards show, and hearing how hard it is for talented filmmakers to be recognized can be discouraging. It makes me think about how the industry could offer better opportunities to those starting out.
Inclusion in American Film
The barriers to entry are even higher for marginalized groups like people of color, women, and LGBTQ+. The growing contempt towards the Academy Awards and the lack of diversity in their Oscar nominations year after year is no secret. The industry is painfully slow to course-correct. “Parasite,” a foreign language film out of South Korea, took home the most awards at the 2020 Oscars this week, including Best Director and Best Picture. However, Ang Lee is the only Asian-American to have ever won in either of those top categories.
At its worst, this sends a harmful message to studios and filmmakers about the types of people and stories that can be “successful” in Hollywood. There are things the industry leaders (like the Academy) could be doing to address this. For example, Film Threat’s Award This! has dedicated categories celebrating Best Directress and Best Indie LGBTQ+ themed film. Ideally, it would be nice to see more balance in big categories, but acknowledgements like this matter to the conversion.
The Next Generation of Filmmakers
So going back to young filmmakers, we should ask ourselves how the industry can do better for the next generation. How can they make inclusivity a priority? Can they offer more opportunities to those getting started that don’t involve doing coffee runs to “pay their dues”? Can the explosive growth of streaming and self-serve content platforms create more space and opportunity? We should all be challenging the norm.
Some sources suggest that today, 43% of salaries in the film industry pay between $21k – $34k annually. However, top-earning executives make millions per project. The gap is tremendous. There are creative, passionate people who don’t go to elite film schools in Los Angeles or New York, or who can’t afford to work grueling PA jobs for low wages. There are experienced video professionals who have developed skills working for themselves or running successful YouTube channels. These people have value to add to film, and the industry can do better at including them. If you want to see more diversity in stories told through film, diversify the people who are telling them.
There are two things I was taught in school, aspiring to enter the creative arts that really stuck with me — develop a thick skin, and manage your career expectations. The second was a real bummer. It’s an elite industry without many spots, and I don’t think that means the best of the best succeed. Sometimes it’s the most fortunate, even luckiest, who prevail. It’s not a healthy standard for the film industry to uphold, and my hope is that the next generation of filmmakers and creatives won’t need to experience it.