Quality, Freedom, Money: Choose Two


People seem to want to believe that just freeing works is some magic recipe for success. It isn’t. But since people crave simple business models, I came up with one this morning:

Any Two = success

A very good (Quality) film can succeed if it is Free (Freedom) OR has a big promotional budget (Money). A Free film can succeed if it is very good (Quality) or, if it’s not so good, it has lots of paid promotion (Money, because if it’s not good people won’t promote it on their own initiative). A film with lots of Money will succeed if it’s good (Quality) or if it’s Free. Imagine how much further a crap film could go if it’s not only heavily advertised, but Free to share too.

With only one of these properties, a film is unlikely to succeed. If a film is very good but neither Free nor Moneyed, no one will hear about it and it won’t have a chance to become popular. A Free film that sucks won’t go far. A Moneyed film will garner attention only as long as it’s being promoted; once ad spending stops, audience attention goes away.

With all three of these elements, you’ll have a success the likes of which the world has never seen. Moneyed productions have yet to be Free, but maybe someday, for some reason, someone will pour tons of cash into promoting a Free, Quality production. Of course if it fails, that will be due to insufficient Quality, which can’t really be measured and for which no one wants to take responsibility. If someone wants to try this experiment with Sita Sings the Blues, which is already considered “good” and is forever “free,” be my guest!

Given the financial dire straits of the independent film industry, filmmakers should really be looking at Free, because they’re unlikely to have Money. And everyone, always, should be focused on Quality, no matter what business model they prefer. Except Quality is a mystery, and worrying about it does not lead to better Art. But if you happen to luck into some Quality, you know what to do now.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

5 thoughts on “Quality, Freedom, Money: Choose Two”

  1. religions typically have all three. 1) they have money behind them, 2) they are typically free to join, and 3) and lead to greater quality of life (they typically give meaning to the lives of those who join). Indeed, religions are typically great successes: islam has been around for 1400 years, christianity 2000 years, and judaism 5000 years. I am sure you would consider ‘sita’ a success if it were around half as long.

  2. Nina, I see you have given a great amount of thought to issues on the modern realities of production & marketing. I have struggled for four decades to figure out how to find a path to modest success as a solo artist in filmmaking and media-art. It was easier to get noticed in the early 70s when so few were creating out-side of the dull system of that time. I stood out as a freak, but was noticed for a short while. Now there is too much media, too many exhibitionists posing as artists, too much distraction and babble. The Inter-tube is filled with narcissistic noise. The pop-corporate multi-channel never decided to cultivate the creative underground, rather they continue with established media-manufacturing marketing specifications, using armies of sold-out automatons. Animation sweatshops. “Show biz kids making movies of themselves, you know they don’t give a f*** about anyone else…”

    I’ve bankrupted myself multiple times in four decades
    and don’t feel hopeful about my future. However, I suspect young people are going to agitate the media culture. The corporate culture will fight back as free or low price alternatives compete for audience attention.

    I’ve been watching for some sort of micro-cash reward system to independents, even a nickle via a paypal-like to view 30 minutes of the artists work. It would be too small for Hollywood, but help the artist maintain and upgrade tools and produce more work.

    Hollywood/establishment media won’t let us do that , I’m sure.
    It will distract people from monopolized over-priced business model

    Nina, you are my new hero. I hope to meet you someday and talk at length. Thank you for publishing your Sita on InternetArchive, which allowed me to discover your treasure and charming talent. I gave Sita 100% today on Rotten Tomatoes.com .

    Duff Hendrickson

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