Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 9: Filmmakers Festival Feedback

By Roger Jackson


Previously: Time to Go Live!


Card-Counting Christians
Just back in Los Angeles after 4 days in Arkansas at the excellent Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. So great to have a deep immersion in indie film, watch back to back movies and hang out with passionate filmmakers. I loved Holy Rollers, the true story of a tight-knit group of  Christians running a very successful operation dedicated to beating casinos at Blackjack. Motivated not just by their multi-million dollar winnings, but by a deep hatred of the rapacious casino industry, this is a superbly executed movie by filmmaker Bryan Storkel.


Paper Lion
I was invited to the festival to speak at a workshop on “New Waves of Distribution.” Talked to lots of filmmakers about KinoNation. Universally positive feedback. Everyone just wants their films watched, and make a little cash back. Hopefully we can revolutionize the process. So that was fun, but it was the festival films that really blew me away. I’d heard of the late writer George Plimpton, but knew little about this incredible man who invented “participatory journalism.” After watching Plimpton! I’m an instant fan and already reading his iconic Paper Lion.


I watched seven feature length docs, and could argue every single one deserves a theatrical or TV release. Which won’t happen of course. And there, in a nutshell, is why Klaus and I are building KinoNation. Because there’s a profound mismatch between the high number of worthwhile films that get made, and the low number that achieve meaningful distribution. We believe video-on-demand holds the solution to this mismatch. Every one of the films I saw in the beautiful town of Hot Springs has an audience in the tens of thousands, or even more. But outside of festivals, they’re unlikely to ever again assemble 100+ people in a theater to watch. Why? Because the audience is, almost by definition, scattered. Dispersed throughout the world, in thousands of tiny pockets of citizens, households, or perhaps classrooms or clubs or interest groups. VoD changes everything because now these filmmakers have a way to reach even their most isolated audience. There are now over one hundred VoD platforms globally, and there’s ultimately no reason why every doc at this festival can’t be running on most of those platforms, in multiple languages.


Glen Campbell
Actually, one film I watched in Arkansas is likely to get a decent theatrical release -- and will doubtless have a highly profitable on-demand life. It was the closing night film, as yet untitled and unfinished, about singer Glen Campbell, his memory-sapping Alzheimer's Disease, and its impact on his farewell tour, family and fans. Superbly executed by veteran filmmakers James Keach and Trevor Albert, it’s a moving and in places hilarious doc with two huge built-in audiences: Millions of Glen Campbell fans, and millions of families who’ve been impacted by Alzheimer's. Still, as Keach and Albert acknowledged when I talked to them, success via VoD is a complex marketing challenge, requiring enormous planning, effort and creativity -- and needs to begin long before a film is wrapped.


So our Movie Uploader software is now being thoroughly field tested. The first group of filmmakers -- from all over the world and with varying connection speeds at their end -- have been uploading films to KinoNation. The largest is well over 100GB. The smallest is 20GB. Most are around 60-80 gigs, and have averaged around 4 days to upload, chugging away in the background without impacting email & web usage. Exactly what we expected -- a fiber-optic line from a post facility is obviously going to be faster than home internet, where it can take 10 days or more. What’s great is that it has worked super-reliably, and on the few occasions where the upload has been disconnected, all the re-starts have been easy and the software just picks up where it left off. And this is just version one. We’re already working on v2 which should be 30% faster. Bottom line: filmmakers can now by-pass the antiquated (and costly) system of sending hard drives around the world. Today we released the Uploader software to the next group of beta test filmmakers.


Distribution Starts Here
Still getting lots of great features and docs submitted. Keep them coming. There’s no hard deadline, but this week is when we start presenting some of them to our video-on-demand partners. So if you submit to our Private Beta (the form takes 2 minutes, no upload required) then your film can easily be among the first tranche we show to these big global platforms. There’s no risk and no commitment at this stage -- and huge potential upside.


Next week: Post # 10: Three Months of Work

Roger Jackson is a producer and the 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. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.