It's been a longstanding tradition for independent filmmakers to beg, borrow and max out credit cards in order to finance their artistic endeavors. Then it can be similarly difficult to land a movie distribution deal.

This traumatic experience may be coming to an end. As the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival's sold-out New Media forum demonstrated last week, movies are going digital. And that means they will become cheaper to produce which could bring about a sea change in the economics of the independent film industry.

"Digital production is democratizing and revolutionizing the industry," said Peter Broderick, a moderator for one of the festival's new-media panels and president of Santa Monica-based Next Wave Films, which is owned by the Independent Film Channel. "Not only does it give filmmakers another option in how to make movies, it also gives them creative freedom by lifting what used to be prohibitive expenses."

For filmmakers, the greatest asset of digital technology is at the bottom line. An hour of digital tape costs about $10, while 10 minutes of celluloid film might cost $200 (when adding the expense of getting it developed). Overall filming costs shrink from hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of thousands, or less.

"Quite honestly, this movie would not have happened if I had to use film," said Jon Reiss, director of "Better Living Through Circuitry," which had its world premiere at the film festival. "We shot 190 feet of footage, and we had animation effects. There is no way I could have afforded to do that with film."

Reiss declined to specify how much his movie cost to make, but noted that the process of editing both the audio and visual components on computers shaved months off the production process.

Next Wave Films, which provides funds to filmmakers, has seen digital films that cost as little as $1,000 to make. While that's at the absolute bottom end of the spectrum, Broderick says more and more filmmakers are recognizing the lowered costs of production.

The Los Angeles Film Festival, as well as Next Wave Films, reported a surge in digitally produced films submitted, though specific numbers weren't available. Several panelists at the New Media conference said they each knew several filmmakers that recently began filming a movie on digital tape rather than on film.

With potentially more independent films being cranked out while cost barriers decrease, the already tight bottleneck of theatrical distribution will only get worse. However, that issue is equalized by new media's second major benefit to the indies: new methods of distribution.

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