There's a State Farm ad on TV at the moment that runs something like this:
Guy: Where did you hear that?
Girl: On the internet.
Guy: And you believed it.
Girl: Yeah, They can't put anything on the internet if it isn't true.
Guy: Where did you hear that?
Both: On the internet.
Girl: Oh! Here's my date- I met him on the internet. He's a French model.
[Not a French Model]: Uhh, Bonjour?
Whether you like the commercial or not (I don't) it does show how easy it is to make fun of the accountability of information found on the internet. There is a lot of information out there on the world wide web and not all of it is good, real, or useful. But does that mean that all the information on the internet is equally useless? No. What the internet lacks in accountability, reliability, and specificity it makes up for in sheer volume, variety, and quick access.
And as anyone who has ever had an unflattering picture go viral has discovered: the internet is forever.
Consider this: as an independent filmmaker there are plenty of opportunities to get scammed- both in real life and on the internet. In any industry where the supply of hopeful contributors far outstrips the demands of production there will be people looking to take advantage of your hopes and dreams to make theirs a reality. How does one avoid this? The first stop is often the internet.
If you are considering producing an independent film here are the three places you should look before working with someone:
If you have a small independent film and it has screened in a festival then it can be listed on Imdb.com and anyone who worked on it should have a credit. It doesn't matter if the film was produced on your Mom's camcorder that records to VHS and it screened at the Anytown America Main Street Film Festival by being projected onto a bed sheet: by Imdb standards this constitutes a legitimate film that has been selected by a third party and seen by a public audience. It may not seem like a high bar to clear, but this adds a certain threshold of legitimacy to any film credit listed on Imdb.com because individual users can't just pad their resume with unsubstantiated credits.
Their Website and/or Blog (or The Production Company Website)
Do they have a website? If not, why not? In this day and age it is ridiculous for any filmmaker to not have a personal web presence. Thanks to blog sites like typepad and wordpress you don't need to be a coding genius to have a website. (Seriously, if I can do it anyone can). If they do have a website how up-to-date is it? Does it give you the information you need about their skills? If they have a blog, what ideas do they support? Do they seem like someone you would be able to work with? A website of information selected by the person about themselves can be useful for knowing whether they are serious enough to have their work and information readily available.
It is easy to make fun of people for googling themselves, but do YOU know what your Google presence is? Does information about you appear on the first few pages of search results or are all the listings for someone else with the same name? Does your name crop up in comments on Amazon? Yelp? Facebook? Is your name in the news? If I am researching someone that I have just met I will google their name, the names of the films they claim to have worked on, the name of their production company- even the name of the school they say they went to. There is absolutely no bigger red flag then coming up empty on Google.
The bottom line is that it is important to do your research when finding people to work with and the internet is a useful litmus test to discover whether a potential teammate is "for real". This isn't to say that the internet holds all the answers: Caveat Emptor, as they say, but it is a good place to get a toehold on their work, work ethic, and presence.