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Old 05-18-2006, 06:38 AM   #13
Joshua Newman
Affiliate Joshua Newman is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: New York  New York
Posts: 164
There's a great David Foster Wallace essay about television, "E Pluribus Unum", in which Wallace states:

"TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests."

Which, essentially, is the classic argument for the importance of the Long Tail in media: if only we could democratize distribution sufficiently, we could let all this wonderful, refined niche content find its own set of consumers!

That's a lovely idea. But, speaking as someone who runs a film production and distribution company, and who therefore gets sent reams of unreleased indie films each day, I can definitively say most of the film along the far end of the Long Tail isn't there because it's niche-ey, it's there because it's remarkably badly made.

So, at some level, the Long Tail is the result of a sort of Darwinian winnowing process, in which the 15,000 films submitted each year to Sundance, Cannes and TriBeCa are pared to the hundred or so fit for broader consumption. And, looking back over the past ten years, as the number of films submitted to festivals has exploded yet the overall quality of films released hasn't much changed, I'm not sure that a larger quantity of films along the tail necessarily dictates better films at the head.

However, I do believe that, between the crap in the Long Tail, and the major releases in the head, there exists a sort of 'medium tail' - content too small to justify release given the economics of traditional film distribution, yet quite good and potentially highly appealing to at least a specific, focused audience group. That's where changes in how film distribution works should really intersect with Long Tail thinking in a positive way.
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