AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started writing this in early June, sitting by a hotel swimming pool in Sacramento, one week into a four-week screening tour. Now it’s two months later and I’m back home in Pittsburgh, planning another round of screenings for the fall and winter months. If you’re a filmmaker trying to get your work out to a larger audience, I’d love to hear from you!

The digital age has empowered filmmakers, or so we hear. Anybody with a story to tell can get inexpensive camera gear and user-friendly editing software and make a movie. Seems like you can’t turn around without running into another website or e-magazine dispensing technical advice to filmmakers — what’s the best camera, what’s the best lens, how to get the big-budget look on your low-budget movie.

After that, you’re on your own. You can put up a website and Facebook page, build a mailing list, try to sell your own DVDs or downloads. You can put a trailer up on YouTube, put the whole film in the iTunes store. But getting anybody to pay attention is truly daunting. It’s really true what music guru Bob Lefsetz says: NOBODY CARES!

Your movie could be the best movie in the world, but there is simply so much content out there. People are overwhelmed, and they’re back to relying on the traditional gatekeepers — Hollywood and mainstream media — to tell them what to pay attention to. As a grassroots filmmaker, you’re going to have to put a hell of a lot of work into making people want to watch your movie.

It may be different for indie filmmakers with actual budgets, but for the vast majority of us who make self-financed films because we are passionate about our subjects, there is simply no mechanism in place for getting our work seen by a larger audience.

Unless you’ve got an inside connection, or a big name affiliated with your project, you won’t get near any of the major festivals. Even the small festivals are so overwhelmed with submissions that it’s almost impossible to get through. Withoutabox, the online submission engine, does a whole lot more good for festivals than for filmmakers — festivals can get thousands of aspiring filmmakers to send them money, with no obligation to accept or screen their works. The festival circuit has become little more than a cheap promotional tool for Hollywood-backed “studio indies” and foreign art-house films.

Theaters, forget about it! The level of Hollywood control over theatrical distribution is as bad as it was when Mack Sennett fled New York in 1910 to get out of the clutches of the movie trust. I just finished reading an excellent book by David Spaner, Shoot It: Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film. It talks about the endless battle for control between filmmakers who want to make art and do it their own way, and an industry increasingly preoccupied with the bottom line.

You can go it alone, as I’m doing with my music documentary, Troubadour Blues. As I’m writing this, I’m one week into a month-long, 8,000-mile screening tour of California and the Southwest. I booked the dates myself, working with local musical partners. I have a projector, screen and sound system packed into the trunk of my aging Honda Accord. A publicist, the estimable Kim Grant, has been working with me on getting press. I spend a couple of hours each day I’m on the road sending e-mails and posting to Facebook and Twitter, trying to get people to come out. I set up my gear at the appointed time, put out my merchandise, and if I’m lucky, people show up to see my film.

This is how musicians and bands do it — slogging it out, city by city, venue by venue, making friends and putting up flyers and finding cheap places to stay. There’s a well-established circuit of music venues, from bars and clubs to coffeehouses to concerts in people’s living rooms. Booking agents have long-standing relationships with music buyers; publicists have relationships with music reviewers; there is an infrastructure for music. Nobody is making a killing, but lots of people are eking out a living.

So many worthwhile films come out, play a couple of times at festivals, and disappear. Nobody picks them up for distribution, nobody takes the ball and runs with it, eventually the filmmaker gives up and the film vanishes into never-never land along with all the missing socks and lost luggage.

We need to build an infrastructure for independent films too small to get the attention of festival programmers and art-film theaters: supportive fans willing to spend a few bucks on films and filmmakers they’ve never heard of; enthusiasts who can host small screenings for their friends; small venues equipped to show grassroots indie films in such a way to permit filmmakers to cover travel costs; booking agents who develop relationships with venues; publicists who develop relationships with movie writers. We filmmakers need to lay the groundwork ourselves; nobody is going to do it for us.

While I’m traveling around promoting Troubadour Blues, I’m hard at work on another music-related film, Don’t Give Up Your Day Job, about the myriad things musicians do to make ends meet so they can practice their craft. Unless I find an angel investor or a distribution deal, I’ll be facing the same dilemma all over again in a couple of years. I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m looking for partners in making this film infrastructure a reality. If you’re in the same position — and I’m sure that many of you are — I hope you’ll get in contact.

Photos by Kevin Falcon (schedule at Anderson Fair, Houston, top, and Texas songwriting legend Vince Bell, bottom)