In early 2004, I made my first independent horror film, TrashHouse.
I edited it on a home PC with a 20GB hard drive, (which at the time was considered a ridiculously huge amount of storage space and cost me a whole load of money). Doing that was stupidly difficult and inefficient as the technology really wasn't in place yet. Every day my set-up would crash and lose huge amounts of work. I couldn't back up as much as I wanted to, because the machine I was cutting on was literally full.
As a result of these difficulties, hardly any independent films were being made at my tiny budget level. Due to a lack of competition, my daft little first feature ended up getting some pretty damn good distribution in the UK. It was on the shelves in every high street and reviewed in proper magazines alongside films that cost over 1000 times its budget.
The average film student watching the movie now would be dumbstruck at how amateurish certain elements of it look. From a technical point of view it's all over the place. The picture grade is inconsistent, the compositing is shocking and there are CGI elements that look laughably poor in 2015 (and didn't exactly look brilliant by 2004). It doesn't look like the commercially released indies of 2015, which are within spitting distance of Hollywood in terms of visual qualities and technical expertise. But, in 2004, it didn't really have to. The fact that it existed at all was enough to at least get a few potential distributors to watch it, and thankfully one of them really liked it.
I still reckon there are some good things about TrashHouse, which ultimately meant that I got the chance to keep making films. It's got a pretty decent script and some interesting ideas along the way. If people go to it looking for a mainstream horror flick with high production values they'll be bitterly disappointed, but if they go to it looking for a lo-fi oddity they'll hopefully still find stuff to enjoy.
It's a product of the obstacles I had to climb to get it made, and it only found its way onto the shelves of major stores because I had to climb those obstacles.
At the risk of sounding all "Eeh, in my day it were all fields around here", which is never a good look, (especially when the day you're talking about was only about a decade ago), I think what the new generation of filmmakers need more than anything else is some obstacles. Otherwise every brave new voice is competing with EVERYONE who can pick up a camera and produce something that looks perfectly great without really putting in any particular effort. The democratisation of film production comes at a price; if you give everyone a voice, you fast discover that an awful lot of people have got fuck all to say but they keep shouting anyway. The voices that would otherwise have immediately stood out get swept away on the tide of mediocrity. Bark bark bark.
At the time that Clerks hit, Kevin Smith was an original voice. The reason that people heard him was because (can you guess?) his movie had to climb huge obstacles to get made. Shooting a movie wasn't something that guys who worked in convenience stores could easily do, and Smith's determination just to get the bastard made meant that at least a couple of people watched his flick out of curiosity. The fact that it existed meant that at least a few sets of eyes would be interested in watching it. As it happened, that was enough to set the ball in motion and make sure that the original voice got heard.
Nowadays, there are a hell of a lot of guys who work in convenience stores who are making movies. Some of those movies look close to professional. Very few of them are an original voice waiting to be heard, and my worry is that the ones that are have no way whatsoever of standing out. The average member of the public isn't just going to keep watching no-budget movies looking for a diamond in the rough; they'll decide they don't like 'them' as if 'they' were a homogenous mass and go straight back to watching Hollywood product. There is nothing inherently interesting about making a 90 minute movie in HD for no money, because it's literally something that an eight year-old with a camera phone can do.
In the past, there were potential gems that never got made because the process was too difficult.
Now, they're getting made and nobody's actually watching them, because the process is too easy.
In a way, I think that's worse.
I got a bit obsessed about the idea of problems, and the repercussions they have on the filmmaking process. As a result, I did a talk about it called How Not to Make a Horror Movie at the Horror-on-Sea festival last month. It includes loads of cult filmmakers sharing their worst experiences. You can check it out below if you're interested.