Own Your Privacy (Again)

It's a good week when people solve problems. I certainly know it is a lot easier to point problems out rather than solve them; it's also pretty darn easy to just pledge some money to helping others solve some problems. And that's why I am feeling good that four specific NYU students exist. You probably heard of Diaspora on the web this week (but if you haven't, now's the time to catch up). Diaspora will be a decentralized social network hub that you the user controls.

the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network

You own the data; you choose who gets it. Remember back when so many people did not understand that they were not even on the web when they went onto AOL. Why have we been satisfied with going to a centralized social network hub just like we were back in the day with being on AOL's portal? Particularly when the stakes on so much higher; we've been being SPIED ON for far too long.

We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.

They have had an amazingly successful Kickstarter raise.  That alone is truly inspiring.

Section 181 Update

Today's update is a guest post from Raz Cunningham. On Dec. 31, 2009, Section 181 of the American Jobs Creation Act expired. It is going to be renewed in 1 of 2 possible forms. Either in the Tax Extenders Act of 2009 (the House Bill) or the American Worker State and Business Relief Act (the Senate Bill). The language is the same as it was for Section 181, the same tax breaks/benefits still apply. In the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, the language can be found in Section 117 of the Bill; in the American Worker State and Business Relief Act it can be found in Section 145. The language of these two sections is EXACTLY the same. The Senate Bill has already passed in the Senate and is on its way to the House.

What's important to note is that one of these two Bills, either or, is overwhelmingly expected to pass. Neither Section of either Bill has been the source of any controversy or contesting and is strongly supported by both Parties. Once either Bill is passed, any qualifying film made from Jan 1st, 2010 to Dec. 31st 2010 will be able to take advantage of the tax breaks.

Raz Cunningham is a filmmaker based out of New York & Rhode Island, about to start Pre-Production on his first full length feature film "Our Last Days As Children" this summer.

Problem #25: Know The Audience

Brian Newman has a good response to #25 of my current 38 Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today. Brian recommends some good specific action to start to solve this issue (how the film industry does not know its audience).  He sums up the situation well:

I understand the whole “I’m an artist, not a marketer” thing, actually, but in this day and age, to not think about your audience in advance is not just poor business, it ignores the fundamental changes that have hit every business and every art form - that audiences are more participatory, so you can’t just try to engage them with a product and no conversation.

But read his post and get the whole thing.  He's a smart guy and worth your time.

Wanted: Film Fest Panels On Privacy Issues

As traditional media merges with new & social media, the issues we need to be concerned about also start to change.  Filmmakers are only now starting to wake up to the fact that they should be the owners of the data that their work generates, particularly if they are being asked to license their work for such low fees as currently are in vogue. Let's say that you do gather 500,000 email addresses during the build and release of your movie.  What are you going to do with those addresses?  What moral and ethical issues are related to this?

Is it just my imagination or have I really not seen a privacy panel at a film convention?  Who is going to take the lead on this?

And whom would you suggest be on this panel?

Have you checked out the Electronic Privacy Information Center?

Big Questions Need Your Answers

The Strategic Management Research Team at UCLA's Anderson School of Management is tackling some of the film industry's tough issues, and they need your help! Please take 10 minutes to share your views with them through this short survey, and to say thank you....THEY'RE GIVING AWAY A BRAND NEW APPLIE iPAD to one lucky winner.

Follow this link to the survey and don't forget to enter your name to win: Take the Survey

Or copy and paste the URL below into your internet browser:

http://ucla.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0AlroiWqiQlSjs0&SVID=

I have taken the survey.  It doesn't really address what type of film that pertains to the survey, and that makes it a bit hard to answer some of the questions, but....

45 Years Of Good Policy & Tradition To Be Discarded?

Today's guest post is from producer Richard Brick.  Listen up, he knows what he is talking about. On Friday the NYC Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting (MOFTB) announced a proposal for some new policies.  Richard's post, below, is in response.

It is highly disturbing that the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting is abandoning a forty-five year tradition - going back to John Lindsay - of attracting and supporting theatrical, television and commercial production with one-stop free services. In December the City agency, DCAS, implemented a $3200 fee for use of City owned buildings.  Now, Commissioner Oliver has proposed a $300 application fee the MOFTB permit.  It is logical that other City agencies will also seek to offset recent budget cuts with their own fees for use of their facilities or staffs.

It is incomprehensible that these changes are being implemented during the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg, arguably the most business savvy mayor in New York's history.  At a time when it is necessary to diversity our City's economy away from dependence on Wall Street, film and TV production represent a clean industry employing 70,000 people whose significant economic benefits have been established by a half a dozen studies. There is a further public policy question when the recent 7.5% budget cut represents a loss of $150,000 to the MOFTB, while the new permit fees would generate approximately $900,000 annually.

The proposed MOFTB permit fee makes no distinction between a $1000 student video exercise required by one of the academic courses at our City's excellent film schools and a $100 million studio-financed feature film.  At the very least, Mayor Bloomberg ought to exempt all legitimate student productions from these new fees, recognizing that they represent an odious burden on the next generation of filmmakers.

Richard Brick was the Commissioner, M.O.F.T.B., 1992-1994.  He is an Adjunct Professor of Film and the former Chairman of the M.F.A. Degree Program at Columbia University.  He is a New York-based Producer, and a member DGA and PGA.

The MOFTB encourages anyone who would like to comment to do so by sending an email to: applicationfee@film.nyc.gov.

AMERICA'S LEADING FILMMAKERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED IRANIAN DIRECTOR JAFAR PANAHI

I am so heartened by this action. These filmmakers are all real leaders. I love that they have spoken up for artists' right of freedom of expression on a worldwide basis. We enjoy tremendous freedom here in the USA, but until that is shared by everyone, none of us can truly be free. We must be united in preserving this right for all. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Bros., Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, Ang Lee, Robert De Niro, and Oliver Stone, among other leading film industry figures, have condemned the detention of Jafar Panahi, the acclaimed director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside," and are urging the Iranian government to release him

New York, NY (April 30, 2010) – Jafar Panahi, an internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st and has been held since in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. A number of filmmaking luminaries have come to Mr. Panahi's defense and "condemn his detention and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately," according to a new petition. (Petition text and full list of signatories is available below.)

Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges now allege that he was making a film against the regime, a very serious accusation in Iran.

Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has been kept from working for the past four years, but he continues to stay in Iran.

"Mr. Panahi deeply loves his country," says Jamsheed Akrami, an Iranian-American film scholar and filmmaker, who helped organize the petition. "Even though he knows he could have opportunities to work freely outside of his homeland, he has repeatedly refused to leave. He would never do anything against the national interests of his country and his people."

Mr. Panahi is one of the most heralded directors in the world. He has won such top prizes as the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Offside (2006), the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Crimson Gold (2003), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Circle (2000), the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror (1997) and the Cannes Camera d'Or for The White Balloon (1995).

PETITION: Free Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

A recent letter from Mr. Panahi’s wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband's heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.

We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately.

Iran’s contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed, and imprisoned.

Signed:

Paul Thomas Anderson Joel & Ethan Coen Francis Ford Coppola Jonathan Demme Robert De Niro Curtis Hanson Jim Jarmusch Ang Lee Richard Linklater Terrence Malick Michael Moore Robert Redford Martin Scorsese James Schamus Paul Schrader Steven Soderbergh Steven Spielberg Oliver Stone Frederick Wiseman

Petition Organizing Committee: Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, Jem Cohen, Kent Jones, Anthony Kaufman

I am delighted that I was able to help in securing some of the directors' participation that the Organizing Committee had selected.  The prompt response and eagerness to help that I encountered from both the individual directors and their companies was truly inspiring.

Facebook Further Reduces Your Control Over Personal Information

As The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported last week:

Facebook removed its users' ability to control who can see their own interests and personal information. Certain parts of users' profiles, "including your current city, hometown, education and work, and likes and interests" will now be transformed into "connections," meaning that they will be shared publicly. If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them.

What Film Festivals Should Do To Better Serve Their Communities

Over at The Workbook Project, Saskia Wilson-Brown continues her thoughtful consideration of the role of film festivals and how to improve it.  She provides a good bullet list precisely about what festivals can do to better serve both filmmakers and their communities.  Read it.  Absorb it.  Adopt it.  Spread it.

Broadband Is A Communication Service

Broadband is not an information service like Google or Amazon.  It is a communication service like telephony.  Thusly, we need a government agency, like the FCC, to regulate it and protect consumers and all the other diverse interests involved.  This is going to require the US Congress to get involved to fix the way it is currently misclassified.  There is a good op/ed in the New York Times about it.  But it warrants calling your representatives and telling them how you feel.

The Possible Benefits Of Film Futures Exchanges, And...

By now you've probably heard that the US Congress has approved two different film future exchanges, (i.e. commodity exchanges).  Variety, among others, have been covering the story in what we have to recognize as an inflammatory way (then again, why should they not be like the rest of the media). The  press has uniformly been very biased in the way the story is told, always positioning the exchages as "a gamble" and a haven for speculation.  Sure, I suspect that these exchanges will prove to be a very disruptive influence, but that does not mean they are shouldn't be allowed.  And yes,  I am all in favor of far greater government supervision of our financial industries, but again that does not mean new mechanisms shouldn't be given a chance.  There is a great deal more to the story of these exchanges that needs be put on the table, as they offer us many benefits beyond what the press would have us understand is a simply another opportunity to gamble.

I am grossly disappointed in the lack of action from film industry leaders to do anything to help to establish a sustainable investor class for the entertainment industry. Not once, and nowhere, have any articles or anyone spoken up, as to any alternative vehicle to the film futures exchanges that could offer investors a mechanism for managing risks.  Let's not get into the fact the Hollywood's approach to equity investors is treat them just like another in a long line of suckers.  The Industry's historic attitude to equity investors in the film biz is so dismal, it makes something unknown and unproven like film futures start to look very appealing in contrast, at least to me that is.

There is no discussion within our industry, even in the Truly Free circles, as to what could support, build, and sustain investors.  Without serious discussion of this subject, and reasoned action around it, the days of an independent film INDUSTRY are numbered.  Investors are a key stakeholder in both the business and art of film, and their needs must be addressed.  I plan to consider more fully in future posts some things that would help maintain an investor class, but that is for later blogging -- I want to consider these exchanges.

One thing though that always comes up in discussing investors' needs is managing their risk, which is one of the main selling points of film futures.

I hoped that Indiewire or some other non-MPAA mouthpiece might cover the story from a truly indie angle, but alas, it has not been so.  We are forced to read in between the lines to get some semblance of what these exchanges may offer the indie community and our investors. Variety pointed out:

(Lionsgates') Burns said in his letter that Cantor's exchange "would allow a diverse group of motion picture industry participants, including studios, film distributors, theater owners, investors and other financial intermediaries within the motion picture industry to manage their risk and exposure to new film releases."

Further...

(Cantor's) Jaycobs said the goal of Cantor Exchange is to assist the motion picture industry by expanding the breadth and depth of financing sources. "Enlarging the potential sources of film financing will lower the cost of making a film, help create American jobs, and contribute to stabilizing large and small numbers of the industry alike as they face the challenge of raising financing in the high-risk endeavor of filmmaking," he said.

In the LA Times Sunday, they point out however that film futures is not like other commodities as the interests of buyers and sellers are not aligned.

There's also a fundamental difference between a futures contract on, say, gasoline prices and one on a movie. Paul Glasserman, an expert on derivatives at Columbia Business School, notes that both buyers and sellers of gasoline futures have legitimate risk-management motives. A buyer (such as a trucking fleet) might worry about prices rising, while a seller (such as an oil company) might want to keep them from dropping sharply. But there's no such symmetry in movie futures, in which investors trying to hedge their bets on a film will have to rely on speculators to shoulder the risk.

In Variety, interim MPAA head, Pisano said the MPAA's position is that the proposed exchanges are not in the public interest and are not useful to hedge risk. "Although it may appear in theory that establishing a short position in a futures contract could be a 'hedge' against poor box office performance, in the reality of the marketplace, selling a motion picture 'short' after production would invite catastrophic collateral consequences, both for the particular film's success and future relationships with financiers, directors, actors, exhibitors and others."

What do I know, but I don't agree.  I think these exchanges do offer investors an opportunity to manage their risk -- and they should have that choice.  I think these exchanges enhance the opportunity to demonstrate audience demand and expectation.  I think these exchanges offer a new marketing platform to an industry desperately in need of such opportunities.  I think these exchanges offer another cog in what is a difficult endeavor to help audiences discover new work.  Most of all, from an independent perspective, these exchanges are entirely elective.

But truly, we need other perspectives.  Why has the discussion been so one sided?  If we can't come up with mechanisms to help introduce new tools for investment, we are going to watch our diverse and ambitious culture seriously diminish.

Luckily for all of us someone's tried to explain it for the community: Jeremy Juuso over at the AKA Indie Film Blog.  In looking into who will be eligible for even being listed he points out:

From public statements and press reports, it appears unlikely that films will be listed for futures trading unless they have plans to open at well over 650 domestic theaters. Also, based on the CX movie futures listing standards, it appears unlikely that a film will be listed if the film’s release date is scheduled for more than one year, or less than one month, from the date of consideration.

Under these guidelines only a few of my films will have ever qualified for this listing, and with it so goes the possibility of it supporting much indie film investment.  Further, as I can only imagine that theatrical release patterns of specialized content will be changing greatly in the days to come, the chances of even more films from being excluded from listing.  So where does this leave us?

Juuso's post is quite extensive and informative.  I was very glad to have read it and recommend you do so too. He makes a particularly good point about who will most likely use the film future exchanges, along with the citing the difference between "speculation" and "gambling".   I look forward to more of his posts.  I've read and commented on Juuso's posts in the past, and like where he's now heading.

Update 4/29: It's nice to see that TheWrap.com is starting to cover the other side of the story.

Are you joining me tomorrow?

I am speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival.  I promise to say some lively things, even some things controversial.  I know it should be fun and informative -- there's a lot of good people on the panel.

This is the panel description: Is The Sky Falling? A Closer Look at the Future of Film Distribution Depending on whom you ask, the landscape of film distribution is changing either for the better or worse. So which is it? Is the sky really falling on the film industry? Join filmmakers, sales agents, and distributors in a discussion about enabling independent film and filmmakers to reach audiences and make money in this digital landscape. Panelists include Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, Ted Hope, producer/partner of This Is That Productions, Efe Cakarel, founder and CEO of The Auteurs, Arvind Ethan David, CEO of Slingshot Studios and producer of The Infidel, Paul Cohen, president of Red Hills Releasing, and Marc Simon, partner at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP. Moderated by Geoff Gilmore, Chief Creative Officer of Tribeca Enterprises. Friday, April 23, 2:00 PM, SVA Theater 2

If you haven't already: buy tickets here.

If you missed it here is Tribeca's wrap up of it.

Talk Back To "The Take-Back"

Although there is certainly a lot of "truth in the jest", HammerToNail's Tully's plea to end all the blah-blah-blah of film panels on how-to-social-media-ize-your-film-to-glory and Stop-the-sky-from-falling-by-old-white-guys (I am on one this week!) is still written as humor: no one really needs another manifesto (and I live to write a manifesto each week). Yet... The Take-Back has gotten a good deal of Talk Back. I think many of us fall on both side of the fence: tired of the same old, same old, and desiring to figure out some way to get the conversation started. Let's face it: we need to figure out how to get people to talk about culture in a more meaningful way. Still though, Tully's started a lot of good dialogue on film panels and their relevance. Now Brian Geldin of The Film Panel Notetaker has chimed in. Check out his post and lend your voice to the discussion.

PGA Approves Transmedia Producer Credit

This is PGA's wording for providing the credit: A transmedia narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: film, television, short film, broadband, publishing, comics, animation, mobile, special venues, dvd/blu-ray/cd-rom, narrative commercial and marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are not the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.

A transmedia producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.

Transmedia producers may originate with a project or be brought in at any time during the long-term rollout of a project in order to analyze, create or facilitate the life of that project and may be responsible for all or only part of the content of the project. Transmedia producers may also be hired by or partner with companies or entities, which develop software and other technologies and who wish to showcase these inventions with compelling, immersive, multi-platform content.

To qualify for this credit, a transmedia producer may or may not be publicly credited as part of a larger institution or company, but a titled employee of said institution must be able to confirm that the individual was an integral part of the production team for the project.

U.S. Court Curbs F.C.C. Authority on Web Traffic

Yesterday's Federal Court decision is a serious setback for net neutrality and the efforts to maintain equal access to content on the internet. It is a setback for both consumers and creators, and a threat to innovation in general. It also underscores the importance of court appointments. In short, it seriously curbs the FCC's power and its ability to set the agenda for an open and free internet and the hope of media democracy. The NY Times reports:

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that regulators had limited power over Web traffic under current law. The decision will allow Internet service companies to block or slow specific sites and charge video sites to deliver their content faster to users.

Wondering what you can do? FreePress notes: The FCC needs to “reclassify” broadband under the Communications Act. In 2002, the FCC decided to place broadband providers outside the legal framework that traditionally applied to companies that offer two-way communications services, like phone companies.

That decision is what first put Net Neutrality in jeopardy, setting in motion the legal wrangling that now endangers the FCC's ability to protect our Internet rights.

But the good news is that the FCC still has the power to set things right, and to make sure the free and open Internet stays that way. And once we’ve done that, the FCC can ensure that Comcast can’t interfere with our communications, no matter the platform.

SaveTheInternet has a good overview here that links to a letter you can send to the FCC.

After that, if you haven't already,  please join and follow Public Knowledge, Free Press, Electronic Freedom Foundation, and Save The Internet.

Fed 181 Extended For One Year, almost...

Entertainment Partners sent out a post that our Senate approved legislation that would retroactively extend for one year the special expensing rules for certain film and television productions under section 181. The bill now must be reconciled with House-passed legislation before a final bill can be sent to the White House. The House legislation also includes a one-year extension of this provision. Good news.  Anything that can be done to help investors in independent film should be encouraged.  They create jobs in a time we really need them.

The New Skills Needed For Participatory Culture

Okay this is old news, but it is still DAMN F'N relevant! In 2005, via the MacArthur Foundation, Henry Jenkins released this white paper, pointing out that:

Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opporitunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of tradi- tional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

What Jenkins goes on to point out is needed among students, is also very much needed by anyone working in the film business, or desiring a full appreciation  of today's film culture.

The new skills include:

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes

Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.

Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities

Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources

Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

I want to make sure my son has all these skills in his arsenal as he starts middle school.  That said, if I ran an undergrad film school, this training would be part of the core curriculum.  At the grad level, it would be an entry requirement.