Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 6: Late Nights and Early Breakthroughs

By Roger Jackson

Previously: A Crash Course in Film Distribution (and why video-on-demand is even more complicated)

Lining up Deals
Lots of late nights for the team, figuring out the “flow” of the KinoNation platform, writing code and reaching out to global video-on-demand outlets. My spreadsheet list of these outlets just keeps growing. There’s more than 100 now, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. That’s a lot of phone calls and pitches! This is a rapidly expanding market -- it seems almost every day there’s a new VoD initiative. Last week Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications announced “Shaw Go” to compete with Netflix in Canada. And you’ve doubtless heard that Redbox are rolling out “Redbox Instant by Verizon” in December. It’s exciting and fast-changing and provides huge opportunity for filmmakers to reach new audiences. And it’s keeping me very busy, in each case tracking down the right person to talk to -- and then convincing them that upstart KinoNation will be a source of great movie content.

Shoot Local, Think Global
Over 50 films in the Kinonation Private Beta now, lots of cool -- and quirky -- indie films submitted this week. One that resonated is Triumph67, an Arab-American drama made in Minnesota. I talked to producer Jeremy Wilker, who told me the film was shot in the summer of 2008, then completed post-production with the help of a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign -- and finally premiered 2 years ago. And then came the distribution waiting game that most indie films must play. This is definitely a niche movie, with a built-in market among Arab-Americans, plus the wider Arab/Middle-East market. So I was delighted to hear from Jeremy that they’ve “...just now finished the DVDs and BluRays this week and we actually have it already subtitled in Arabic and also in French.” Delighted because Klaus and I have a vision for KinoNation to make it super-simple for filmmakers to exploit their movie as a multi-language, multi-territory asset, providing easy access to VoD platforms throughout the world -- including the necessary technical and metadata infrastructure. Or, put simply, you upload sub-titles to Kinonation (including timecode in/out points), we deliver them to VoD platforms in the relevant countries, and they’re inserted on-the-fly when the film is watched. Think of VoD as a global distribution system that enables you to find thousands of micro-audiences across hundreds of countries. And keep submitting films, please, there’s no risk and lots of benefits!

Upload and Breakthrough
We targeted an October beta launch, and this week we start inviting selected filmmakers to upload their movies. And by “upload” we don’t mean a super-compressed version, we mean the big, fat file that is the end result of filmmaking. The ProRes (or equivalent) from DaVinci Resolve or Final Cut Pro or whatever the film is finished on. This hasn’t been possible before. Or at least not in the way we envision -- as simple to upload to KinoNation as posting a cell-phone video clip to YouTube. It’s not a trivial tech challenge, requiring multi-part upload, the capability to seamlessly re-start the upload even from a different computer, and a cast-iron guarantee that the film arriving at KinoNation is exactly the same as the one that left your hard drive. But we think we’ve cracked it and now we’re testing it with a handful of filmmakers around the world. Some will have fast connections -- probably at a post-facility -- where a massive 100GB upload can be started in the evening and done by the morning. Others will have slower connections -- it’s dependent on how fat or thin is the “pipe” at the filmmaker end -- and the upload may take a week. Yes, that’s a 7 day upload. Sounds a bit daunting, but we’ve built the software to handle crashes and interruptions, and otherwise it’ll just do it’s thing in the background -- you’ll still be able to do all your normal internet stuff. Our engineer David, field-testing the upload of Kris and Lindy Boustedt’s hi-definition drama This is Ours (weighting in at 108GB) reported that during 3 days or so of upload, he was still able to stream Netflix movies at the same time -- on his home internet connection. Anyway, we’re excited to test KinoNation with Private Beta filmmakers in the USA, France, UK, New Zealand and South Africa. I’ve always found it annoying to send hard drives around the planet -- not just the expense of Fedex, but also the overall hassle and the feeling I’ll never see that $150 drive again. Upload is simply better.

Cold Brain, Hot Springs
Sometimes the late nights at a start-up result in sub-optimal morning brain. Last week I stumbled into Peet’s coffee to meet Klaus at 8am, after a 2am wrap the night before. I excitedly shared with him that we’d been invited to speak at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. “Where’s that?”, said the German to the Brit. I glanced at the email on my phone, saw “Hot Springs, AR” and replied “Arizona.” Duh. After 15 years living in the USA, I surely know the difference between AZ and AR. But apparently not that morning. Anyway, was delighted to discover (once I’d had some coffee) that I’m heading to delightful Hot Springs, Arkansas in a couple of weeks. I love film festivals, can happily watch documentaries back-to back for days, and I’ve never been to AR. Above all excited to speak, and get some up close and personal feedback from filmmakers!

Next week:  Post # 7: Automatic Transcoding: The BIG Challenge

Roger Jackson is a producer and co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV.