Notes on our “State of State Cinema” responses

State of the State Cinema

We dig into your survey feedback before our “State of State Cinema” panel this Wed, Mar 22

This Wed, we’re holding our “State of State Cinema” panel at the Central Madison Library where, among other topics, we’ll unpack the challenges Wisconsin filmmakers face with their projects and look at bridging the divide between artists and their audiences. We’ll also show a handful short films to give you an idea of where we’re coming from.

Before all that, we wanted to share some of the responses from our Google Forms survey, which originally was sent out at the end of Jan. We contacted over 70 filmmakers with connections to the state of Wisconsin. Additionally, we reached out to other local publications and pushed out the survey through various Madison Public Library channels.

We received 21 responses, 18 of which were from people who consider themselves, at least in part, a filmmaker. Feedback took all forms, not all of which was positive. And that’s okay. Below is a summary of the more constructive answers, all of which are published anonymously:

How can local artists make their films more accessible/relevant to audience interests?

The biggest challenge to connecting artists with an audience might be access, and by and large, respondents said they wanted films that were “easily found.” Some proposed streaming services or a “legitimate arthouse theatre, not like Sundance 608 (which is a glorified AMC at this point).” One respondent argued “there is little to nothing happening for film screenings, appreciation, or film community” on the east side of Madison, specifically. “Some kind of regular screenings and support from a venue for film related events would be appreciated.”

Another respondent suggested creating a new dedicated space altogether. “Right now, there’s the LakeFrontRow screenings, and Brew-n-Views from time to time, but I think getting a venue (even if it’s just a DIY space) where you can serve alcohol and screen Madison films might help cultivate an audience. It could honestly just be a bedsheet and a projector in a warehouse space. Maybe a way to get it off the ground would be to pair a short film program with a performing arts headliner or even a band.”

“If people come to me with an idea, financial backing and offers to assist my production, that is another story,” one respondent wrote, “one that might more readily fall under the category of a job, rather than art. Nothing wrong with that, but those kinds of people don’t come knocking on my door. I’m always the supplicant. Therefore, I will continue to make films that please me first.”

How might the public sector help filmmakers in Wisconsin?

Unsurprisingly, money was the most common answer we received on this question. Respondents mentioned scholarships, grants, and tax incentives in their suggestions but included few details on the funding sources and execution of those programs. One response looked at an international model. “Fund short films the way London does, or other European arts councils…give filmmakers a small shot (maybe $2,000 a film even) at creating something that they don’t have to spend their money on.”

One filmmaker cited challenges with financial backing, especially through cross-promotion across industries. “As a filmmaker, over the past half dozen years, though I have reached out to everyone from CUNA and Rayovac, to St. Mary’s Hospital, the Evjue Foundation and Rotary Club, among other. Only Dane Arts has supported me, and they have done so three times. That’s an odd imbalance.”

Others focused on state policy and representation of the film industry in Wisconsin. Several respondents cited Film Wisconsin, a non-profit organization that tries to supplement the lack of incentive legislation in the state budget. One respondent said to “support organizations such as Film Wisconsin.” A respondent who identified as both “a filmmaker and instructor” argued that the organization ought to have a place on our panel. “The Film Wisconsin board should be included in this discussion and it’s not.” A separate respondent wanted “a film commission with actual efficacy, incentives geared toward local production.”

We stand behind the diverse, qualified panelists we’ve selected for this event, but not wanting to silence voices or monopolize the conversation, we reached out to Film Wisconsin’s Managing Director Lisa Ledford-Kerr for official comment. In part, she maintained that “Film Wisconsin is now actively working to find new and innovative ways to grow and expand this incredibly dynamic industry and encourage the positive economic and social impact that it can create.”

Do you feel local media sufficiently covers local arts programs relative to your interests?

A few responses included pushback on the insular scope of local media coverage. One respondent wrote that outlets “focus on UW Madison and that’s about it.” Another artist criticized the festival-centric approach to coverage. “Speaking from my own experience, local media typically seem interested in local films if they make it into the Wisconsin Film Festival, and they are inconsistent in covering that news item.”

Quality over quantity from journalists and in festival previews was a chief concern for at least one artist. “I think the stuff local media writes that is more an exploration of the artist rather than just the work itself tends to be more successful. I can’t tell you how many tiny blurbs I’ve had written about my films by people who probably didn’t even go to the screening. That said, I’ve also had a few interviews where they ask much more in-depth questions, and I feel a lot more thankful for those and it’s much better promotion.”

What can artists do to better engage with an audience?

With busy schedules, day jobs, and limited resources, marketing the film can often be an afterthought for artists. One filmmaker wrote that “I think there’s always a disconnect between an artist (my self included) who is more focused on the creation process and less on finding an audience.” Another respondent viewed a lot of marketing as surface-level. “Don’t just make a film and premiere it, find a way to make it a more diverse and interesting event instead.”

A filmmaker pushed for audience engagement through strength in numbers, encouraging stronger networking between artists. “I have held screenings of my works-in-progress, with critique sessions, numerous times in a variety of locations. Some have been very successful, but I have spearheaded those events entirely on my own. Filmmakers working together to institutionalize this kind of event might make some difference.” Another respondent added that “There are a lot of filmmakers in Madison but there is no sense of unity. Every [sic] seems to do their own thing- there could be more centralized organization (i.e. filmmaker meetings, more formal announcements of production dates so we don’t overlap each other) Filmmakers need to reach out and work with other filmmakers. Try a different role. Watch how others direct.”

One filmmaker echoed this sentiment across state lines. “Madison needs to collaborate with other cities in WI or IL to push our talents and abilities. To make larger ideas and bigger stories together. We need more visiting filmmakers to come share their experiences and have a source for all local upcoming film screenings so more people know about the events. I don’t think LakeFrontRow or Film Wisconsin cover every film event that has happened in the last few years. There is more film happening than just during the Wisconsin Film Festival and those events needed to shared and supported year round for our community to grow.”

Several responses questioned the quality of the filmmaking itself, although one respondent expanded on that lack of audience connection. “I think most Wisconsin filmmakers I’ve seen (that are young) just aren’t making films about Wisconsin…people, places, whatever. They’re told from a privileged white middle class vantage point (which is where most of us probably come from) or are simply unsophisticated and cheesy (religious movies, Army movies). Or, last, they’re more of a YouTube sketch with a cheap joke than a short film. Maybe those are too big of generalizations, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything emerge that’s uniquely Wisconsin and should connect with a Wisconsin audience.”

Responsibility lies on both sides of the equation, and organic connections are essential with so many options for arts and entertainment at the moment. One respondent wrote that “I think they need to find each other. Film is a really hard medium to build a scene on because it’s so diverse. There’s a lot of micro-budget local cinema that I’ve seen that I thought wasn’t very good, but I’ve also seen some that have really surprised me. Basically, I think right now it’s a little too schizophrenic to really attract a core audience. People need to be able to make better sense of how the films fit together and where they come from and what they’re going for. Maybe some of this could fall on the filmmakers and maybe some of it falls on the media.”

  • “The State of State Cinema” is presented by LakeFrontRow and Madison Public Library. Short films begin at 6:30p in Rm 302 of the Central Library with a panel discussion to follow. Admission is FREE and open to the public.