Kickstarter for Filmmakers -- The Campaign Site

This is our final excerpt from  James Cooper's eBook Today James offers suggestions on how to structure your personal Kickstarter page. by James Cooper

Campaign Body

The body text of your campaign page is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and should receive your full attention to detail when deciding what information to put in, and how to present it. This is where you pitch people on your film and sell them on why they want to be a part of it.

What is it about?

This is where knowing how to pitch comes in handy. You remember pitching, don’t you? The practice of distilling your story down to one or two sentences so you can quickly tell people what your film is about? I know you hate it, but it’s an essential skill, and one you’re going to have to put to good use here. For the purpose of your crowd funding campaign, a good pitch should read like the back of a DVD case, or like the description that comes up when you’re flipping through films On Demand. What’s most important is that the characters and story of the film are clear and easy to understand, as well as the genre. You’re selling your film to people who haven’t seen it yet, so you’d better be able to hook them!

Who is involved?

I don’t know why this aspect gets looked over so often, but it does, and it’s one of the most common problems I’ve found with many campaigns: usually, the only person you know is involved in the film is the person pitching it to you. They passionately tell you about the film they want to make and how great it will be and why you should love it as much as they will, but they almost always fail to quantify that to-be greatness with any proof. Who is on board with this film that will ensure its greatness?

To this point, don’t be afraid to boast a little. If your previous efforts have garnered any award nominations (or wins), or have played any noteworthy festivals, tell us! I know people are always saying that no one likes a bragger, but this is one of those rare instances where it’s perfectly okay to boast about your accomplishments. Likewise, do the same for any of your cast or crew that have done noteworthy things. If you want to go a step further (of course you do), linking to everyone’s IMDB page is a great, easy way for people to get some information.

What is the money for?

This might seem obvious to you: “It’s to make the movie! Duh!” but don’t take for granted that this is always the case. A quick glance at Kickstarter will show you that there are various stages at which filmmakers are pursuing crowd funding: the majority are for production costs to actually make the film, but there are also instances of campaigns raising money for finishing funds for a film that has already been shot and just needs a little extra to finish it off, or you also often see filmmakers crowd funding their festival submission fees. All are equally legitimate reasons to seek crowd funding, but make sure your audience knows where the money is going!Some campaigns go so far as actually breaking down where the money is being allocated, and while the extra layer of transparency is nice, it’s not usually a make-or- break addition.

What if you raise more than your goal?

I know, I know. You’re stressing out enough over actually hitting your goal, and I want you to think about what will happen if you surpass it? It sounds strange, but this is one of the big questions many backers have, so you should make sure you have an answer in place. It doesn’t have to be revelatory, it could be as simple as adding to the film’s production value, or putting money into your eventual festival run.

How Kickstarter (or whatever platform you’re on) works

This might sound redundant, but it’s a good idea to include the ins and outs of your platform of choice in the body of your campaign. Why? Most people are still unfamiliar with how crowd funding works, and you want to make things as easy for your would-be backers as possible. It doesn’t have to be a thorough analysis of the platform, but a paragraph explaining how it works will clear up any confusion people may have about what you’re doing.


Some platforms have a section at the bottom of your page to add a FAQ section, should you realize you’re getting similar questions from people and want to address them in one fell swoop. If your platform of choice doesn’t have this as an option, it doesn’t hurt to just make one yourself and amend it throughout the campaign.

What else?

As with the rewards, don’t be afraid to get creative here. Some campaigns include photos of their actors in their campaign body, or their film’s poster. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different. Anything you can do to make your campaign more personal and unique, the better. Perhaps interviews with people involved in the production? Concept art or storyboards? Maybe that great joke you heard at a bar that one time? Actually, better skip that one.

Dropping out after a short stint at Toronto Film School in 2008, James pursued more pragmatic methods for developing his style and expanding his understanding of film language: making films. 
After successfully funding his short film Elijah the Prophet through popular crowd funding website Kickstarter, James began compiling his experience into Kickstarter for Filmmakers, an inexpensive ebook guide to assist his peers in planning campaigns of their own. Find him on Twitter: @cooper_jim and online at

Saving Indie Film With Facebook

by Reid Rosefelt Did you know that Facebook probably doesn’t show most of the posts you put up on your movie’s fan page?

According to a recent study, 84% of the fans on an average Facebook fan page don’t see any page posts in their news feed. Of course this is just an average; you may have a kick-ass page. Let’s check. You probably know the number of likes you have, but go to your page and look at the number of “People Talking About This.” This is a total of how many unique people interacted with your page during the last week. These are not people who merely “saw” a post but actually did something such as clicking “like,” commenting, or sharing. How did you do?

Nobody really knows how the mysterious Facebook algorithm decides how many of your fans see your posts, but all social media gurus are in agreement that it has to do with how much active engagement you have with your members. So “People Talking About This” is a good starting metric. Facebook provides extensive analytics so you can learn more about who those Talking People (or mouse clicking people) are -- for example if they came from your posts ending up on your fans newsfeed and ticker (organic) or are viral.

The actual metric is called EdgeRank (as comments, shares, and likes are known in FB parlance as “edges”). but you can’t find out what this number is, you can only apply certain techniques to your page to get better results.

A lot of people with FB fan pages wonder if getting the most likes is hitting the social media jackpot. Well… yes and no. You could have 50,000 likes on your page, but if your “People Talking About This” number is 43, you’ve got a sleeping page. A good way to understand what I’m talking about it to check out George Takei’s (if you don’t know his name, he played helmsman Sulu on “Star Trek”) There’s a lot to love about Takei-- his activism for human rights and Japanese-American relations, gay marriage, his wry sense of sense of humor, etc. But still, is he more famous than William Shatner with “TJ Hooker,” “Rescue 911,” “The Practice,” “Boston Legal,” three record albums, bongo playing on “Conan,” and endless Priceline commercials? As I write this, Shatner has 160,000 likes on his page and 881 “talking about”; Takei has 2.4 million followers and over four million people talking about his page. Takei understands Facebook. You can too.

How do you get large numbers of fans and how do you engage with them when you get them? Neither are insurmountable tasks, if you learn a few techniques, if you’re creative, and are willing to put in the time, hard work, and maybe a few bucks.

You can begin today by getting rid of that app that auto-tweets and posts to Facebook in one handy step. All Facebook geniuses agree that you shouldn’t post more than two or three times a day on your fan page.

I could tell you many ways to get fans and get them to like, comment and share , but the easiest way to increase your fan’s engagement is to upload pictures. Add images to your status updates and you’ll see an improvement immediately.

According to most FB experts, EdgeRank operates like this: pictures are better than videos; videos are better than links; and links are better than status operates. Shares are better than comments or likes.

There are a lot of techniques for eliciting comments and likes; one way to learn is by studying pages that get lots of feedback. But what about shares? Ask yourself: why do you share a post? Because it is funny? Interesting? Beautiful? Amazing? Provocative? Or do you share because somebody tells you, “We’re opening in Des Moines on Friday! Contact your friends!” While it only takes an instant to click “like,” it doesn’t take much longer to unsubscribe. Never forget that you are sending your posts out to strangers who may not be as interested in your project as you are.

Many people in the business tell me that social media doesn’t work--they don’t believe it sells tickets. For the most part they are right, because nothing ever works until you learn how to do it correctly. Exploring independent film pages on Facebook has been a very dispiriting experience for me because so many people clearly don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. They work energetically to minimal effect. Worse, the ones who have the skills aren’t aiming high enough.

You’re filmmakers. You are engaged in creating indelible images. Make images that are crafted for sharing across all social media, which is mostly visual. Create images that will make people want to see your movie.

Artists need to step up to the plate, as there’s a real opportunity here. Understand that you can get some creative expression out of this marketing tool and build your audience at the same time. Blaze the trail and let people copy you later.

Veteran film marketer and publicist Reid Rosefelt has worked on hundreds of films, ranging from STRANGER THAN PARADISE  to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON;  his personal clients have included Errol Morris, IFC, and the Sundance Institute.   He is a consultant to Magnet Media,  a production company that offers interactive marketing services to such entertainment clients as Dreamworks Animation, NBC, ABC, and Showtime.

Kickstarter for Filmmakers -- Campaigning and Rewards

Here's another excerpt from  James Cooper's eBook This time James' has some advice about how to manage your crowdfunding campaign and the rewards to offer. by James Cooper


Campaigning as a Team

Up until this point, we’ve been under the assumption that you’re acting as a one person band for your film’s campaign, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Assuming you’re not the Writer/Producer/Director/Director of Photography/Editor/Actor, there should be others involved in the making of the film that have a vested interest in seeing the project come to life, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be combining your efforts to maximize the odds of success.

Successfully running a crowd funding campaign can become the equivalent of a second job, and spreading the responsibility around to multiple members of your team can take some of the weight and pressure off you to be on your game 24/7. You’ll all have to do your own social media posting, but alternate outreach can be divided up to help maximize efficiency and give you a few minutes to breath, which is a welcome opportunity when you’re in the trenches of a campaign.

The other great thing about campaigning as a team is that you have others to bounce ideas off. Films aren’t created in a vacuum, so there’s no reason your crowd funding campaign should be. Everyone will have their own opinion on a strategy to take or a way to execute a plan that you hadn’t considered before. Two heads are better than one, they say, and that applies here as well.

If you have to shoulder the whole campaign on your own, fear not. Others have done it successfully, and you will be able to as well, as long as you plan accordingly and keep your head above water as the pressure sets in.

This brings me to a crucial piece of advice: do not, by any circumstances, launch a crowd funding campaign while you are the only person attached to the project. In the same way you cannot walk into an investor’s office with no cast or crew and expect them to hand money over to you, you should respect your audience enough not to expect them to do so.

Always keep in mind that it is your job in building the campaign to instill a sense of trust in your potential backers; trust that you will be able to deliver the high quality film you’re promising them in your pitch. Who is involved in the project that will help you deliver on that promise? If it’s just you and a script, there really isn’t much for your audience to be sold on.

This is not to say that every crew position must be filled and every character cast, but you should be able to give your audience a reason to believe in your project outside of your sole enthusiasm for it. The added benefit, as we’ve just discussed, is that it means more people to push the campaign out into the world, and more people to share the excitement with.


A crucial part of any crowd funding campaign is the rewards offered. As I mentioned earlier, crowd funding campaigns work by people pledging money to the project in exchange for an incentive or reward of some kind. Being able to identify what, if anything, you can offer is key in planning your campaign. If the answer is ‘nothing’, then you’re probably not well suited to launching a crowd funding campaign. In fact, Kickstarter requires that you offer something in exchange for the pledges received as part of their policy.

They key word to remember when brainstorming this portion of your campaign is ‘incentive’. In other words, what incentive does someone have to pledge $50 instead of $25? Remember, it’s easier for someone to say no than to say yes to $25, so it’s easier for them to say yes to $25 than to $50. Your job in building your campaign is to give them a reason (see: incentive) to put in that extra little bit. How do you do that? You’re a filmmaker, get creative.

The great thing about rewards is that they’re limited only by your imagination (and Kickstarter’s policies, which prevent you from offering any cash back rewards or giving away personal belongings with no connection to the project). The more novel and interesting you make your incentives, the better the odds that someone will take a liking to one of them, and pledge for it.

Obvious reward ideas range from things like DVDs or downloads of the film, access to special behind-the-scenes footage through a private blog (again, keeping them feeling like part of the process), set visits, scripts, etc. These are the types of perks almost all film projects offer, and are unlikely to turn any heads. If you really want to excite people into pledging, you need to dig deep into your pockets (metaphorically speaking) and come up with some ideas for things no one else can offer, but that people would actually be interested in. Just as one would hope you’re thinking of your audience when you’re crafting the film, the audience should also be at the forefront of your mind while creating your rewards list.

Not to be overlooked is the cost of creating these rewards. Something like a download of the film won’t cost you any money, but if you’re offering, say, DVDs: those will cost you, both to make it, and then to ship it to the backer. Make sure you factor this into the budget of your film, and account for it in your campaign goal. If you eat up 25% of your goal fulfilling rewards, you’re going to be that much shorter on your shooting budget.

Lastly, be reasonable with the cost of your rewards. In short, this means don’t ask for $150 for a t-shirt. Some common sense comes into play here. Because people tend to understand that they're making a glorified donation to your project, you can get away with asking for more than what would be considered store value, but try to make sure people are getting their money worth.

Dropping out after a short stint at Toronto Film School in 2008, James pursued more pragmatic methods for developing his style and expanding his understanding of film language: making films. 
After successfully funding his short film Elijah the Prophet through popular crowd funding website Kickstarter, James began compiling his experience into Kickstarter for Filmmakers, an inexpensive ebook guide to assist his peers in planning campaigns of their own. Find him on Twitter: @cooper_jim and online at

Kickstarter for Filmmakers -- Is Crowdfunding Right For You?

James Cooper has written an eBook all about Kickstarter, compiling what he learned over the course of his own project. He's kindly letting us reproduce some of it here for you. Look out for two more excerpts next week, and check out his book at  

Kickstarter For Filmmakers 

by James Cooper


Is crowd funding right for me and this project?

Seems simple, and probably a little obvious, but you’d be surprised by the number of campaigns that are launched without ever taking this into consideration. As I said before, crowd funding is not free money, and success isn’t made possible through the simple act of having a campaign. There are several questions to ask that will lead you to determine if you should be pursuing a crowd funding campaign or not:

Is the film interesting to people who aren’t working on it?

This is possibly the toughest question to ask, because people don’t like to consider the idea that they have a project that doesn’t really have an audience. Many filmmakers, are guilty of making films for themselves. This works when you’re footing the bill yourself, but when you’re looking for money from outside sources, you’re going to need elements that hook your potential audience. This may be a killer story, a unique way of making the film (stop motion, green screen, etc.), or noteworthy cast/crew (or anything else you can think of that makes your project stand out), etc. Preferably, you'll have a combination of things.

The key here is to make sure you have a project that will catch not only the eyes of family and friends, but also their friends, people who follow you on Twitter, and complete strangers that may happen by your campaign by any of a hundred different ways. The longer crowd funding is around, the more widespread its usage becomes, and the easier it is to become lost in the shuffle. It hearkens back to the early 90’s independent film boom: when there were less people out there doing it, it was easier to get attention, but with the advent of digital technology and the numerous DIY solutions, there are so many filmmakers making low budget indies that it requires more and more to stand out. This is quickly becoming the case with crowd funding as well.

The significance of this question grows with your financial goals. As we saw in the statistics, the number of successful campaigns drops significantly every couple thousand dollars you climb, so you really have to take stock of your film as honestly as possible. If you must, ask friends who aren’t afraid to tell you what they really think: “If you didn’t know this was my project, would you be interested enough to put in a few bucks?”

Do I have a network/fan base capable of raising a majority of the funds required to hit my goal?

Assuming you answered the previous question with ‘yes’, now comes the next tricky question. You might have 1000 friends on Facebook and twice that in Twitter followers, but that isn’t necessarily what it takes to win the crowd funding war. As the old adage goes: it’s quality, not quantity. What that means in regards to your campaign is: yes, you might have 2000 Twitter followers, but how many are people you regularly interact with/ interact with you? How many are following what you do with an active interest? Additionally, the half of the question that’s even harder to accurately determine: how many of those are interested enough that they would toss a few bucks into a project you had? This goes back to “Is the film interesting to people who aren’t working on it?”

According to Kickstarter, they have a platform-wide success rate of 46%, which means you really need to be able to gauge the practicality of your campaign. This brings us to:

Is my goal realistic?

This is another tough one. Now you’ve determined you have a film people are interested in, and there are enough people interested in it that you think you can make an honest go of a crowd funding venture, but now you have to determine how much you think you can realistically raise.The higher your goal, the higher the risk you take that you may not hit it. In 2011, there were 1084 successful short film productions funded on Kickstarter, collectively representing $4,802,336 in pledges. Here's a look at how they break down financially:

(these numbers strictly represent campaigns funding the film's production costs)

The way these numbers break down is pretty interesting. We see that the $1,000 - $2,999 budget range easily dominates with 371 (34%) of the take, which is good news for anyone with a small(ish) budget short.

There's a 46% drop between the number of successful projects in the $1,000 - $2,999 range and the $3,000 - $4,999 range, marking a distinct rise in difficulty of reaching success after only a couple thousand dollars more in the goal. This is definitely something you want to pay attention to if you're unsure of if you want to go for that extra thousand or two. It might be a safer bet to aim lower and hope to over fund or search for the remaining funds elsewhere.Additionally, the drop when going from the $3,000 - $4,999 range to the $5,000 - $6,999 one is smaller: 27%. We take a steep 43% drop heading into the $7,000 - $9,999 range.

Now we enter the big money and the big risk. The percentage drops here are smaller than between earlier goal ranges, but only because the numbers we're working with now are drastically smaller. If you're gutsy enough to go after the five figures, here's how they break down:

When you jump from $10k - $14.9k to the $15k - $19.9k bracket, there's a drop of 68%. Then, when we jump from there to $20k-$24.9k there's a 73% drop, with only 11 campaigns succeeding in this range.

Only three campaigns succeeded in the $25k-$29.9k bracket, with five managing to raise over $30,000. The most successful short film campaign in 2011 by a mile raised $82,000 of a $45,000 goal.

Dropping out after a short stint at Toronto Film School in 2008, James pursued more pragmatic methods for developing his style and expanding his understanding of film language: making films. 
After successfully funding his short film Elijah the Prophet through popular crowd funding website Kickstarter, James began compiling his experience into Kickstarter for Filmmakers, an inexpensive ebook guide to assist his peers in planning campaigns of their own. Find him on Twitter: @cooper_jim and online at

New York City Debuts First Neighborhood Filmmaking Initiative

By John Zhao New York City can be a pretty anonymous place to live. A new neighborhood film challenge called On My Block Films is looking to change that.

After living in 4 different neighborhoods within 6 years, filmmaker Ryan O'Hara Theisen realized he didn't truly know any of his neighbors. That bummed him out and got him to thinking about ways he could change things. He'd noticed over the years how incredibly strong personal bonds where created between complete strangers on film sets in a short amount of time. 

He tapped his friend Mary Crosse, an Executive Producer who'd experimented with other social projects, and asked her if she'd be willing to Direct such an effort. She agreed and with a team of dedicated volunteers they've brought to life - On My Block, a film challenge that invites filmmakers of all levels to create a short one to five minute film (narrative or documentary) using only their block's residents as the cast and crew.

Films can be shot on any format (iPhones to 35mm) and must be created and completed between August 1st and October 31st of 2012. The public will be able to vote for the films by "liking" them on OMB's Vimeo channel and the top 30 scoring films will be judged by a panel of local NYC community leaders and filmmakers. The top scoring 15 films will be screened at a film festival in November.

Novice filmmakers are also encouraged to participate and the website ( has helpful tips to get 1st timers going. Get to know your neighbors better while helping OMB reach their goal of 50 films (10 from each Borough) by visiting and officially signing up.

Still on the fence about it? Ryan’s first film was made by 10 diverse neighbors on his block, several of whom were hesitant that they could dive head first into filmmaking. Little did they know their dormant filmmaking talents came to life, and they continue to remain true friends just few doors down from each other. More films are populating the site, with many stories behind each neighborhood experience.

To further illustrate the possibilities of just one block of New York City turf, one neighbor who became a co-producer on Ryan’s film used to work for Obama, and he’s now finding himself on the list to shake hands with the President on visit to the city through her. Curious what magic, surprises, friends and how the Kevin Bacon rule can apply to your block? Sign on up and spread the word!

John Zhao is a China-born Korean-American filmmaker. He spent his childhood with his grandfather, an acclaimed calligrapher who sparked an everlasting love for poetry in him. At 5, he moved to Germany where he had his first cinematic experience, and began making films shortly after. At 22, made his debut feature using rogue tactics upon couch-surfing to New York City, where he now lives and works on films, commercials, writings and trying hard to stay out of trouble. 

Will the internet free motion pictures from the old ways of telling stories?

By Randy Finch

In 1958 the most influential film critic of his day, André Bazin, wrote that the 19th century invention of photography had brought with it “a great spiritual and technical crisis” that profoundly affected other arts – in particular painting.

After the invention of the camera, the burden of what Bazin called “duplicating the world outside” was snatched away from painters and handed to photographers.

Here’s how Bazin describes what happened next: Photography “freed Western painting, once and for all, from its obsession with realism.”

In other words, André Bazin argued that modern painting – with its emphasis on abstraction - would not have existed without photography.

While some painters saw opportunity and pursued non- representational art in the late 1800s, many Old World painters were not happy. Similarly, these days many established professionals are not happy that their accustomed role in motion picture storytelling is being usurped by cellphone-wielding “amateurs.”

But (then as now) the Old Guard’s contempt has never stopped tech- savvy entrepreneurs from coming up with better ways to serve fundamental human needs (like storytelling)...

We’ll never know what André Bazin would have made of the spiritual and technical crisis that the internet has caused in the early years of the 21st century. André Bazin died in late 1958, when he was just 40 years old. But undeniably the 20th century’s dominant art forms - including filmmaking - are undergoing a significant disruption: A disruption that mirrors the changes that photography forced on traditional realistic painting 150 years ago.

In the early 1800s, before the invention of photography, painters were the acknowledged masters of accurate representation. For centuries, painters had served a special role in the culture. That role ended abruptly when the photograph and photographers arrived. As Bazin observed (writing 100 years after the fact), the change in the role that

painters served came with fundamental changes to the aesthetic goals of painting. For example, because photography in the 19th century lacked color, pioneering Impressionist painters emphasized the role of color in their art.

Cameras, utilizing “automatic means,” were the disruptive technology of 150 years ago. Today the internet and affordable digital tools are replacing the old systems for producing and distributing motion pictures. As everyone knows, the internet has already disrupted the business models and forced changes to the aesthetics of newspapers and music. And, just as photography created new revenue streams in the 19th century (e.g., photography shops sprang up to serve common people, who could never own a painted portrait), the new digital tools are in the process of creating new revenue streams for motion pictures. (With all the lamentation about motion picture revenue lost to “piracy” – has anyone tallied up how many billions will be spent worldwide in the next few years on devices and mobile plans for viewing online video?) Most importantly, when the human impulse toward a “likeness of the real” became readily available to a mass audience 150 years ago through photographs, the aesthetics of Old World painting changed. Does the advent of the internet hold a similar promise for a new aesthetics of motion pictures?

How will motion pictures change when motion picture narrative is freed from delivering content that the web does better? Are there elements of storytelling (e.g., exposition? back story?) that might be better delivered on a second screen or via hypertext? If traditional movies are not as immersive as some interactive web-experiences, or there are elements of popular storytelling that the web does better, how will traditional movies evolve? Will the hero’s pearl–handled pistols remain unexplained in a New World Hollywood film – with some fans seeking and finding the story of the pistols online? Will Hollywood motion pictures continue to emphasize big-budget spectacle (something that democratized online filmmaking doesn’t currently offer) or will other aesthetic goals emerge that reinvigorate Old World film production?

Traditional portrait painters didn’t give up without a fight and the transition to a new way of motion pictures won’t be easy either. Old World movies will survive; after all, it’s still possible to get a realistic

portrait painted today. But, as Bazin notes, photography narrowed the psychological and cultural reasons for having a portrait painted. The reasons for commissioning and sitting for a painter today (ostentatious show? self-indulgence? vanity?) are not entirely the same as they were before photography. Which begs the question: What kind of filmmakers will continue to make films in the Old World Hollywood model, once democratized filmmaking is the dominant form?

Just as some painters advanced their art after photography, the redefinition of filmmaking in a digitally networked world comes with opportunity. Some pioneering painters seized the moment in the 19th century: Who are the young filmmakers today who will be remembered tomorrow for their innovative contributions to the aesthetics of modern filmmaking?

150 years after photography changed painting forever, we are living through another democratization of representational art. To paraphrase André Bazin, the aesthetics of Hollywood films and TV shows must change as the internet replaces some of their function. The question all filmmakers should be asking: How will the internet free motion pictures from their obsession with the old ways of telling stories?

Randy Finch has produced movies (e.g., OUTSIDE PROVIDENCE and THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE) and plays (e.g., work at Lincoln Center in NY and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC). Mr. Finch has also contributed to online storytelling experiences (e.g., and Mr. Finch’s first film, MILES FROM HOME, premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Mr. Finch currently teaches New World filmmaking at the University of Central Florida.

Indie Film in South Africa Part 2

By Jon Plowman How do you turn your passion for film into a profit? How does one take all that experience built up on non-paying indie projects, and turn it into a career? I'm glad you asked. Welcome to the second part of a two-part article on indie filmmaking.

It seems to me that a lot of filmmakers are chronically losing sight of a very simple fact: there has been a total revolution in the film industry in the last few years. The last AFM - American Film Market showed some unsettling trends in the industry. The recession is biting hard, and it's as much to blame as anything else, but unfortunately piracy is also taking a huge toll. Investors are much more wary of putting money into any given production, because it's unlikely to turn a profit the way it used to five or ten years ago. The days when a filmmaker could command a budget in the tens of millions of dollars range are basically now a thing of the past, especially if that filmmaker is an unknown. The industry has slimmed down, it's leaner and meaner and there is no space for egotistical filmmaking, for running way over budget and making huge, extravagant productions. The Avatars of this industry are going to be once in a blue moon in the future. And don't think that you can make a film on a shoestring budget and have the slightest chance of selling it at AFM or Cannes, without having done your homework and made sure that it meets the minimum requirements for the industry. More of those in a moment.

[caption id="attachment_6937" align="aligncenter" width="410"] Discussions between scenes. One of the military advisors in the greatcoat.[/caption]

99% of films nowadays are the micro- to low-budget productions, films made intelligently utilising a minimal budget and still managing to get the best possible results out of them. Which, if you think about it, means that the so-called "indie" filmmakers are perfectly placed to make films for the mass market. We're already good at making films on a shoestring, the thing is that we need to be able to sell them and turn enough of a profit to do the whole thing all over again, and give investors a return - which will encourage them to invest again. So what's the answer? It's simple, with the right ingredients.

Firstly, we need a network. Networking is critical. This industry coined the term "it's not what you know, it's who you know", and that applies now more than ever. But indie filmmakers don't have the cash to spend on cultivating the right people, so how can we make those crucial connections? Simple. Social networking. After a couple of years of networking via free social sites such as Facebook, I get about 90% of the work I do through the internet. I have a huge network of industry people, from actors, to directors, to producers, to production houses, to crew. Local and international people. None of that would have been possible without social networking. And even with nothing but handfuls of small change in my pocket, I can still afford to get online at a local internet cafe.

Secondly, we need a kick-ass script. Film is a visual storytelling medium, a way of presenting a story in a medium that is universal to people of all cultures, languages, ages and backgrounds. But without a story, there is no film. I run a group on Facebook which has nearly 200 members, almost all of them scriptwriters, many of them with great talent. Almost none of them have ever sold a script. It's easy to find South African production houses who are keen to make the films, but there isn't much local money here. We have a critical shortage of writing agents, so we are usually forced to try and sell our scripts overseas, where they tend to get lost in the crowd. So for us, it's Catch 22. Again, social networking has helped to bridge that gap.

[caption id="attachment_6938" align="aligncenter" width="410"] The cast and extras readying to shoot the charge.[/caption]

Thirdly, we need a good core production team, people who are prepared to do what it takes to nurse the project through to the finish line. No chancers, no laziness, no incompetence, but people who know their business, know the industry inside-out and are well connected. They don't need to be experienced if they are good at what they do. And they need to know their own strengths and weaknesses and to be team players, able to delegate and share the workload with others whose own strengths can compensate. They need to be able to focus on the bigger picture, and work together to bring the production in, on time and on budget. It's asking a lot, but those kinds of people are out there. Get to know them. Make it your business to know them, because without a good producer at the head of a good production team, a production - your film - is dead in the water.

Fourthly, we need a good business plan. Filmmaking is a business. It's all very well to be creative, but at the end of the day, movies that don't make money bankrupt the investors and lose potential investments for the future. Investors are people with money, and they made the money by being good at business. They need to know that the money they might invest is going to people with good business sense, who won't waste the investment, but will make it turn a profit. So do your homework, and work out a proper business plan, complete with realistic projections of both sales and return on investment. Investigate the markets into which you plan to sell your finished film, find out whether or not it is a product that will have saleability, and get realistic estimates of the kind of income selling your film in that particular territory will generate. Critically, have a fully-fleshed out, workable marketing plan for the film, complete with marketing agreements with the right agents for taking the finished product off your hands to sell. Without those agreements in place before you ever greenlight the production, it's virtually impossible to sell a film. They don't need to be signed - frequently they can't be until you know you have the other components of the production in place - but the fact that you have done your homework and have initial interest in your production can make all the difference when it comes to actually selling it.

Fifthly, we need Names attached. In the industry, a Name = money. Simple as that. Investors in the film industry only feel comfortable with their investment if they know we have someone with a reputation involved, someone who has already proven themselves. If the Name is not already internationally well-known, they need to be listed on IMDB and have a good portfolio and a good track record. Those are the only two viable options. Nothing else will do. And you're going to hate me for saying this, but forget about making a cheap film with unknown cast, director, producer and writer. You simply won't sell it. 99% of agents at the festivals won't even take the time to discuss it further without someone that they can have confidence in attached.

[caption id="attachment_6940" align="aligncenter" width="410"] The director, cast and extras after wrap. The lead military advisor, a member of a historical reenactment society, is wearing the Afrika Korps cap.[/caption]

Sixthly, we need the money. With a good script, a good business plan and a good Name, the money is out there and can be found. There are production companies with money - many of them international ones, and don't feel that because your production is a local one, that you need to focus on trying to raise local money. There are private investors with the money to spend. And many countries have quasi-governmental or private organisations with the capital set aside specifically for local film production. Do your homework. With the right business plan and good connections, it's perfectly possible to find the money you need in another country or even on another continent. I've been asked, "OK, fair enough, but what's the right budget?" My answer to that is always, "How long is a piece of string?" The right budget is going to be different for every production, but it boils down to the usual mix of salaries, locations, crew, post production, etc, etc. On some productions, you might be spending as much as 50%, or more, on salaries. On others, the lion's share might go into special effects. It's going to be different for every film. Remember that anyone in the industry who has pull - your Name - will expect to be paid commensurate with that pull. But that doesn't mean you can't work out a deal whereby they get a percentage of the profits, and it doesn't mean you're going to have to pay $30 million just to have Brad Pitt in your film. You can find plenty of actors with similar box-office draw who will do the same or a better job at a fraction of the rate, especially if they believe in the project. Part of knowing what you need to spend is having a good producer who can give an accurate budget estimate, and who already knows where to shop to get the most cost effective savings with the money he'll be given. And with the right budget, we can afford all the talented actors, crew, experience, locations, gear, etc that we need.

Get all those ingredients right, and from there on out, you can hang up your apron. No more flipping burgers for the rent and food, because you might just be able to make a career out of indie films.

Ted tells me he's focusing on setting up the infrastructure to help support the indie film industry. With that infrastructure in place, it's going to make the whole process of making and marketing films much easier. As indie filmmakers, we've done our time and proven ourselves. We've got the experience, the connections, the know-how. We're perfectly set to take over where the bloated, hugely cost-ineffective mainstream studios can't compete, and put ourselves on the map as the filmmakers of the 21st century.

About Jon:

Jon's fairly typical of indie filmmakers in South Africa. He's worked on more than 75 productions, everything from PSAs, student films and shorts, to commercials, television series and movies, and full-length internationally famous features such as Goodbye Bafana, Avenger and Blood Diamond. Last year he worked on the World War II film The Fallen, a short about South African soldiers' contribution to the fighting in North Africa and which was a top 25 finalist in the International One Minute Film Festival. Since he lost his fulltime job, he's been working on music videos and short films. He's even been paid for some of them.

You can connect with Jon on Facebook:

Indie Film in South Africa Part 1

By Jon Plowman Ted asked me for this article last year. I agreed, because there are a couple of important points I'd like to put out there to encourage filmmakers in the same kind of position as I find myself. But before I could actually get around to writing the damn thing, I found myself retrenched. That's "laid off" to most of you. I lost my job. Yeah, you know the one I mean, the one that actually pays the bills while I work on movies. My boss gave me a sob story about how he couldn't afford to keep me on because the business was struggling. He has a wife and two small kids, and his business was their sole income. I couldn't blame him. We feel the global recession here just as keenly as the US or Europe. So there I was, out on the street with R150 in my pocket. To put that in perspective, R1 = US$0.15, give or take.

Welcome to life as an indie film maker on the southern tip of Africa.

[caption id="attachment_6933" align="aligncenter" width="410"] Dressing extras for shooting the battle scenes from The Fallen.[/caption]

As an independent filmmaker in what - to most people who will have read this blog, is a foreign country - I can tell you that things in South Africa are much the same as anywhere else in the world. We do have some advantages over other filmmakers. We generally have a better (read: cheaper) pricing structure, making it reasonably cost effective to shoot a foreign-financed film here. In season, we have great weather. We also have interesting and varied landscapes, architecture and population, so we find the lion's share of our income in the industry is from foreign investors who bring their movies to us to service, despite the fact that the movies are almost universally set back in their home countries. We also have a burgeoning South African film industry, and we are beginning to make a name for ourselves with our own home-grown directors - Gavin Hood (heard of him?) and our movies - Tsotsi, District 9, etc. Despite the fact that our industry is small and relatively young, we have huge amounts of talent and experience. And the smallness of the industry works to our advantage, because it's easy to get to know all the right people.

Having said all that, where does independent filmmaking come into the equation? This brings me to my first point, and the main thrust of this first part of a two-part article on indie filmmaking.

Two years back, I was one of a small group of like-minded people who identified a niche in the local film industry that was crying out to be filled. So, as we say here in South Africa, we made a plan. I became one of the founding members of the South African Indie Films filmmaker's collective, and we have an almost continuous stream of small-scale, zero-to-low budget independent films on the slate. Very few of us make money off the films, because we do it for the love of film and because we all have stories we want to tell. 99% of the people who work on our films are students, gifted amateurs, or people who work professionally in the industry, but - like me - are either "between employments", are working in their spare time, or are looking for portfolio material and experience during the off-season. We realised that we'd found a gaping hole in the local film industry into which we seem to have slotted nicely. We're based in Cape Town, but we have affiliations with like-minded filmmakers in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, and even in Namibia. When we started a SAIF Facebook group, we had acquired 150 members within 24 hours. Two years later we have almost 1,000 members. We've been approached by people from afar afield as the UK and Europe to read scripts, help find finance for their films, help them get their films made. We have a network of related groups focusing on different aspects of the film industry, and all of them are very active with news, casting calls, crew notices, trailers, forthcoming releases, film festivals, and so forth.

[caption id="attachment_6934" align="aligncenter" width="410"] Setting up for a take on the charge. The director Bauke Brouwer is in the NY[/caption]

Social networking is an incredibly powerful, usually free tool for the modern filmmaker. Sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook - two of my personal favourites - are fast becoming an essential way to connect with industry people and extend your network. Used to your advantage, it can only be of benefit to you.

So that seems to be a workable solution. Whether you use social networking or not, find people who are like-minded, who have the same passion for film, the same drive to create and tell stories, and collaborate with them. Organise collectives and informal groups, meet over the weekends, club together for equipment and transport, utilise student filmmakers and actors who are keen to get involved - there never seems to be a shortage of available actors - and get out there and make films. If nothing else, for the people who have a real passion and want to make this a career, the experience and the networking will help in the future. And working with a group of other people on an informal basis helps to share costs and the logistical problems become much easier to deal with as experience increases. The down side is that if you're not paying someone a salary, it's hard to hold them to their commitments, but you find in the long haul that the people who are not really committed drop out and you're left with a central core of people who are prepared to work hard with you to achieve the dream. There's nothing more inspiring than working on a project with other passionate, creative people. It's a drug that you'll find you just can't get enough of.

Jon's Plowman's a fairly typical of indie filmmakers in South Africa. He's worked on more than 75 productions, everything from PSAs, student films and shorts, to commercials, television series and movies, and full-length internationally famous features such as Goodbye Bafana, Avenger and Blood Diamond. Last year he worked on the World War II film The Fallen, a short about South African soldiers' contribution to the fighting in North Africa and which was a top 25 finalist in the International One Minute Film Festival. Since he lost his fulltime job, he's been working on music videos and short films. He's even been paid for some of them.

You can connect with Jon on Facebook:

Kickstarting for Theatrical Distribution: Pro’s & Con’s

by Sara Kiener

One day we’ll say “I remember the film industry before crowdfudning existed,” and newcomers will drop their jaws in disbelief. Kickstarter has made a quick and lasting impression on the industry, opening doors for filmmakers who have reached the end of their fundraising and grant writing ropes. Countless movies have been made that wouldn’t have been made without Kickstarter - many of which have left a significant mark in the festival circuit, in theaters and in our homes. One of the more recent trends that I’m intrigued by is the bevy of films Kickstarting to raise funds for theatrical distribution. Urbanized, My Reincarnation, Tchoupitoulas, Detropia and, more recently, Taiwan Oyster, Starlet and The Waiting Room (the latter 3 are currently active) have been green-lighting their own theatrical releases. With their success, I'm sure many more filmmakers will follow suit in the coming months.
Whether you’re raising funds for a portion of your budget or you're trying to get your movie seen on the big screen following a robust festival reception, here are some factors to consider before you launch:Kickstarting to MAKE a movie:

  • Pro's
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to make your film.
    • You also get to connect with your audience before your film even exists.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies.
    • Through the process of your campaigning, you get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, and you can use this data to inform your outreach and marketing efforts later on in your films’ release. Crowdsourcing is your chance to try anything and everything, and learn how to connect and engage with your audience so come screening time, you’ll have a slew of email addresses and Facebook fans to tell about your exciting news, in a tried and true engaging way.

  • Con’s
    • You HAVE to connect with your audience BEFORE your film exists. You have nothing (or very little) to show to your fans. If you do get backers, it’ll be months and months before you can show them a completed project and, by then, they may have lost interest in your project.
    • If you run a mediocre or not very successful campaign, you won’t be noticed by festival programmers, producers, talent and distribution companies. If they do stumble upon your less-than-awesome campaign, you may look disorganized or as if there is no built-in audience for your project down the line.
    • If and when the time comes that you need more money to finish your film/distribute your film/travel with your film/create key art for your film and so on, you may have already tapped out all your favors and asks via Kickstarter.

Kickstarting to DISTRIBUTE a movie:

  • Pro’s
    • The obvious pro here is that you get money to distribute your film and hold on to your theatrical rights.
    • You also get to connect with your fans RIGHT before you unleash your film onto the universe. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll Kickstart with a theatrical plan in mind so that you can announce theatrical details throughout your campaign.
    • You get to SELL a finished product to your fans. Digital downloads, DVDs, tickets and community screenings (what people want!) are just a click.
    • If you run a tremendously successful campaign, you’ll be noticed by exhibitors across the country. Once upon a time, regional theaters looked to New York opening weekend grosses to decide if they would book a film. What if they looked at your Kickstarter grosses instead?
    • You get to weed out you “good” outreach ideas from your “bad” outreach ideas, as you gear up for your theatrical outreach. So by the time you’re 2 months out from your opening date, you already have a slew of partners waiting and ready to pounce on your promotions.

  • Con’s
    • Somehow you have to finance your film to completion without Kickstarter. Good luck!
    • If you’re Kickstarting to raise funds in order to hire a team to distribute a film (bookers, designers, publicists, grassroots outreach, etc.), you have to WAIT until you have the money in place before you can hire them. It can be a tremendously stressful situation to be in.
    • If you blow your film industry coverage and buzz on your festival circuit and your Kickstarter campaign, who will you turn to in order to create buzz for theatrical? Be mindful of the delicate balance - on the one hand, you need some industry press talking about your kickstarter campaign so that you can hit your goal and release the film. On the other hand, you need some industry press talking about your film right before theatrical, to help get butts in seats when the day comes.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong time to crowdfund. It just depends on what you want to get out of the experience, besides money. As you prepare for your crowdfunding campaign, be mindful of how the above factors may impact your films’ long term trajectory. And then hold your breath and hit the "launch" button!

Sara Kiener is the co-founder and marketing director of Film Presence which has implemented grassroots outreach and social media campaigns for over 30 films as they've prepare for their theatrical, DVD, broadcast, festival premieres and Kickstarter launches. Film Presence places an emphasis on organizational partnerships and community building. Highlights include the 2011 Oscar Nominated WASTE LAND and 2011 Oscar Nominated HELL AND BACK AGAIN. Twitter: @SaraKiener @FilmPresence

How Skateboarding, Cooking, and Boxing Taught Me To Make Films

Guest post by John Zhao

Riding skateboards, boxing with the locals and cooking up a storm were the fun and affordable things I grew up enjoying. Film school I avoided because it wasn’t as affordable and I was paranoid it would take out the fun. After I eventually experienced making a first feature, I couldn’t help realizing a list of pastimes that seemed to inform me of how to go about being a first-time filmmaker. I’m sharing this list from my journal and hope to hear what other filmmakers do in between the cuts.



Former Skaters Spike and Harmony

That public location essential to your performance will try to kick you out. Have a getaway plan or a good lie.

There’s a lot of fun to be had even if your wallet’s near empty. The world is your playground.

Skate videos are absent of narrative and plot. They’re a cornucopia of rhythms, textures, music, and poetry that can keep me intrigued for hours. How can a feature film do the same?

A general disrespect for money and authority is healthy.

Enjoy feeling pain over and over again. It can take a dozen drafts to find your film’s soul and a twenty takes to nail your best move. See failure as slapstick, not sad.

Skateboarders bail and crash the second they become self-conscious of where to land, or intellectualize their movements mid-air. Take a leap of faith when you’re “almost ready” and WILL IT into existence. Staying delusional like this while making films seems to work out.

Every skateboarder dances their own style. Finding your own style and voice, and being completely yourself can be a challenge. But you can make someone lonely in their world feel less lonely for being who they are. You can teach something new and push things forward.

It’s an athletic art form. Develop a great sense of space, timing and balance. Being physically fit is essential for the ride.

Ang Lee, who loves to cook when not making films, directing The Wedding Banquet followed by Eat Drink Man Woman."

Between the producers, the director and the ADs, getting the best ingredients, timing everything accordingly, and serving it while it’s hot will make or break a good recipe.

The reward is in seeing everyone enjoying a great meal; especially if it’s a healthy one and with lots and lots of people. A film can be healthy or unhealthy, social or antisocial. It's up to the chefs to steer it towards good taste.

Too many cooks in the kitchen can mean trouble.

Your waiter interacts with your audience. Make sure your “restaurant” has “waiters” who care and about people.

Making dinner for someone you love, and even for yourself, always winds up tasting better than making dinner for the masses.

And chances are if you had no budget like me, you’ll be doing more cooking than ordering.

Always seems like the hole-in-the-wall venues play the best stuff on their menu.

Following the recipe word for words takes the soul out of it.

Don’t cut your own finger on the cutting room board.

Too much money spent on fancy pots, pans and tools won't necessarily make a better meal.

Respect the taster. Authenticity is key. Anyone can taste the difference between greasy Chinese takeout to real dim sum in Chinatown. Make something that rings true.


Stay in the center of the ring. Stay in the unified field. Never hang around the ropes.

You can tell if a boxer hasn't been doing his jump ropes and mile runs.
Do your homework before going on set.

Find the poetry and rhythm amongst the chaos and fear.

If you’re shy like me, learn to not be afraid of confrontation (at least for the duration of the fight).

As each round goes by (or each take), your time is limited.
Make decisions wisely under pressure.

Bend the rules once you know how to follow them.

And chances are you’ll want to make a film about boxing one day...

Being completely exhausted is evidence that you’ve done great work and given it all you’ve got.

Your "career" can end any day. You're only as good as your last fight.

Scorsese coaching Deniro."


John Zhao is a Korean-American filmmaker who moved to NYC to shoot his first feature with strangers and rent money to redefine his role as a broke college graduate. He’s starting to skate again, reluctant for any more boxing brain damage, still enjoys cooking for his girlfriend and hopes that will carry him through making his second feature this year.


The Indian Independent Film Industry: Where Do We Go Now?

Guest post by Ritesh Batra

Where do we go now? A somewhat reasoned rant on the Indian Independent Film Movement and the business of Indian Indie film.

There is something in the air in Bombay, everyone’s talking about it. Sometimes it feels very real, and at other times it feels more like Yeti- the mystical creature somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas, many of have seen his footprints in the snow, no one seems to have met the guy or lived to tell the tale. It was pre-maturely named the Hindi new wave by festival directors in the West. It was expected to arrive sometime in 2009, just after Slumdog Millionaire, the Slumdog effect, but it did not quite materialize then. The following years, 2010 and 2011 were good years for Indian Indies with some travelling to major film festivals and even pulling in good numbers in the local box office. Yes, something’s definitely in the air, the water has pulled back and exposed all the artifacts on the sea floor- shells, fish carcasses, water bottles, rocks, even Ganesh idols that refused to melt, etc., people have walked in and are eyeing all these things with curiosity and this big Hindi New Wave is expected to come and sweep them off of their feet anytime now. But guess what, its not coming anytime soon, because unlike tsunamis, film movements take time to mature and bear fruit, a set of visionaries and the convergence of fortuitous events turn it into an industry, an ecosystem that can only develop organically.

It brought a smile to my lips recently when I saw a screenwriting class advertised, to be held in New York City, ‘the craft with an eye to the Indian Independent Film World’, its like selling Yeti t-shirts in all sizes, including triple XL  - Yeti’s own size! But it’s a good thing; it means that the Yeti that is the Indian Independent Film has left his footprints in the snow again recently. People will come out and sell Yeti mugs, t-shirts, mouse pads shaped like footprints in the snow. But more importantly, the explorers, the visionaries may just find Yeti now, now that they have one more clue. When that happens, the real Indian Independent Film Movement will become an Industry.

The conflict of the modern and the traditional that defines our lives more and more everyday and the angst that comes from it will spur stories and storytellers. There will be the quintessential Indian Independent Films one day they will be a true reflection of the idea of India and the Indian life at this moment in time, and there will be people lining up to watch them as well, either in dedicated indie film venues or on their i-pads. But it’s not going to be easy to get there, not as easy as selling Yeti Foot Print Shaped Mouse Pads.

To build and sustain a viable Independent Film Industry in India we need an ecosystem. This ecosystem of studios/financers, production houses, filmmakers with truly independent voices, talent development programs, festivals with real curatorial authority, dedicated venues for indie film/exhibitors, independent film press to solely review indie films and only report on specialty film box office, and most importantly - organizations and institutions dedicated to audience building - The audience that will buy the tickets/ DVDs/ downloads/ merchandise/ what have you, and pump the monies into this ecosystem.

But before we come to that, what exactly is an Indie film?

Indie in the West is a non-studio funded film, or a film with bold themes or one that goes into unchartered territory, is truly experimental, etc. There will be 3 or 4 definitions of an ‘Indie Film’ in the West. In India, it is more complex. “How complex is your complexity?” put that on a t-shirt. “India - our complexity will boggle your complexity’s mind” put that on the back.  In India, there are as many definitions of Indie film as our Gods have hands and our demons have heads. The definition of ‘Indie Film’ depends on the person you ask – some will say it is a film without songs, other like to say an Indie film is an ‘issue based film’ which could mean anything from ‘it is a bad script where all the subtext  - the aforementioned issue, is summarized in scrolling text or voiceover at the end’ to ‘a film without songs’, other definitions doing the rounds are an Indie Film is a festival film/at times black and white for good measure/ made by so and so/ starring this, that or the other/etc. etc.. Among audiences an unspoken consensus seems to have emerged – “an Indie film is a low budget film with no stars that may or may not have songs peppered in its narrative, it is likely that it will be slow-paced, it may deal with a current affair, and it will surely have a beginning, middle and end. “

A highly scientific poll of my family, friends and neighbors generated this last definition. I am skeptical about everything usually, including and not limited to Elvis’s passing, but for the sake of argument lets assume that this definition is accurate. Why is this dangerous to our very existence as filmmakers or players in the Indie World? It is simple really; our audience has a very broad and loopy definition of our product. By audience I don’t mean foreign film festival audiences, I mean the local audience that is our Bimbo bread and Amul butter. The audience that decides whether we get to buy real diapers for our kids or just pretend to be eco-friendly and use hand washed cloth diapers over and over.

This broad and loopy definition results in too many films being clubbed into the ‘Indie film’ category. If the audience thinks every low budget, non-song, slow paced, issue based feature is an ‘Indie film’. We are developing our audiences with a good ‘Indie Film’ and killing it with the 10 bad ones that will follow until the next good one comes along. We will go 1 step ahead, 2 steps back, and no prizes for guessing where we will end up. We will end up hand washing cloth diapers.

Why does the Indian audience have such a broad and loopy definition of the Indian Indie film? Because there are not enough tastemakers, curators, festivals with real curatorial authority, reviewers, gurus, filmmakers, etc. telling the audience what an ‘Indie Film’ really is. It may be low budget or medium budget, may or may not have stars, stripes or songs in it. But it is essentially a good story well told, that asks questions rather than gives answers, and for that reason it will live in your conscience long after you have left the theater. Hence you must purchase the ticket and provide us with our bimbo bread, amul butter and real diapers. Indie in India has very little to do with its funding model, it is content with an independent spirit. The difference between the Bollywood film and the Indian Indie is just that – the quintessential Bollywood musical gives the audience what they expect, and the Indian Indie ideally gives them what they least expect but hopefully want. The other difference is that the Bollywood apparatus like a true industry is very good at defining its product, hence making it ‘commercial’, and the Indian Indie World is not. If I don’t tell you what it is that I am selling to you, why would you buy it from me? Therefore, when you tell someone in Bombay that you are a filmmaker, the first question they ask it – “Commercial or Indie?” The obvious implications being that the Indian Indie film is not a commercial enterprise, and yes you can marry my daughter but only over my grave.

So what does this indie ecosystem need to look like? No matter who we are in this ecosystem - studios/financers, production houses, filmmakers with truly independent voices, talent development programs, festivals, venues for indie film, independent film press, organizations and institutions dedicated to audience building…we have work to do. Currently, our Indie ecosystem works much like our cities - Everyone cleans and jazzes up their own home while ignoring the common spaces that bind our lives together.

What we don’t have & need…

1. Festivals with real curatorial authority, or just festivals with distinct and unique personalities – Film festivals that matter have a vision, and a visionary helmer, a person who sets the tone, and makes sure that the bouquet of films that the festival is going to offer up to the festival audience that year is going to collectively say something about their World and reality at that moment in time. Coherence. That is what draws audiences in and over time makes the festival relevant to the local audience and a real curatorial authority. The mark of quality or aura that these festivals with real curatorial authority provide films and filmmakers, what if we had a festival like that in India?

Indian filmmakers have a common gripe – a film that went to Oberhausen, Tribeca, Rotterdam, Fribourgh and other premier film festivals, but they have no clue what would be a fitting festival for the film in India. I know that the film is a strange and funny take on life so festivals like Rotterdam and Oberhausen that encourage unique perspectives and weird views of the World we live in are good platforms for it, but what are the unique personalities of our local film festivals?

Many of our local festivals are trying to bring the hottest films on the festival circuit to India, have great panels and master classes, and a great international guest list. But few are trying to develop their own unique personality and curatorial style, to make sure all these films collectively say something to our local audience. Our homegrown SXSW/ Sundance/ Tribeca with an independent spirit and a platform that would help Indian Indie filmmakers unlock and access our own local audiences.

2. Savvy indie film marketers - I saw a film on a flight a few months ago called “Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year”. It was deftly written, well directed, the performances were great, and overall in my humble opinion no less than ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ - another slice of life film that took the American Indie World by storm a few years ago. It is a big Indian studio film with a big star, but it had a true independent spirit in that it was a reflection of our times and moral conflicts, a good story well told where there were no stock characters, no villains but real people with real conflicts. If that film had fared well at the Indian box office, it would have done more for Indian Indie film than many ‘Indie Films’.  Perhaps it should have been positioned as an Indian Indie that can cross over. Had it crossed over to western audiences and then come back to India with accolades, it would have done better business? I don’t know, but it’s worth speculating. The example I am using is subjective of course, I like this film, others may not, but surely we all agree we need good marketers who can take a good story well told and sell it to a relevant subset of our own audience.

3. Dedicated venues – It is very heartening to see many screening series and organizations trying to build up our film culture. Sundance’s Film Forward program recently came to India, and PVR theater chain’s Rare initiative gets talked about as well. But the key missing piece in this whole ecosystem is the dedicated venues for Indie Film. Where do I go to buy my ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ mug, my DEV D hip flask, and DVD set of the Apu Trilogy that is on sale during the Ray retrospective? In a city like Bombay with real estate going through the roof, a dedicated venue may not be viable, but in smaller towns? In Indore, Pune, Banglore, Hydrabad, others? The IFC Center in New York is perhaps not raking in the moolah for IFC but it provides their films with a much-valued theatrical release, and it’s a space through which they nurture their audience. It’s not possible to monetize a community of film lovers without giving them their go to places to commune – become a community and grow.

4. Development – As a writer your only currency is time, you have nothing else really. You have clear choices to make, should you work on an that unauthorized or authorized remake some has offered you, should you write dialogues for someone else’s picture (in India the dialogue writer is often different from the screenwriter, because screenplays are written in English, dialogues in Hindi/other local language), or should you toil away at a story that has been nagging at you to come on the page? Should you distil this story through your life experiences and risk the effort to come up with a good story well told? But wait a minute, you have bills to pay, bread to buy, maybe even butter. Stories are like buses. When the story bus hits you, you have to put it down on paper and give it the love, the attention, the toil, and the compulsion it deserves. If you don’t, the bus takes off, looking for another storyteller. Do this enough times, and this is every Bombay writer’s biggest fear – the God given receptors you have to observe the human behavior around you and bring it to your stories will dim, that story bus will stop coming if you let it go enough times. Talent is not democratic. Very few have it. So why don’t we have mechanisms in place to protect those who do?

The concept of ‘development’ does not exist in the jargon of most producers and studios in India.  But what if it did?

Who we don’t have enough of…
1. Uncompromising storytellers, uncompromising reviewers, and an uncompromising audience – How many times have we heard or read this – “that was good for an Indian film” or “I went with low expectations so I liked it” or someone gave me this gem recently “even though it was clearly a rip off it had a very Indian spin to it”. If we don’t hold each other and others accountable for lazy writing and unbridled stealing then we deserve the sub par content that is served up to us.

Slowly, a set of mainstream reviewers, portals and independent blogs are gaining traction,, are among the sites that are dedicated to the Indian Indie and not only provide a place to commune but also try to keep everyone honest.

2. A personal connection to our stories – Enough said. This was a big year for India at Cannes, we had 4 Indian Films in various sections and festival side-bars. The World wants more, and we should want more from ourselves.

3. Producers who can navigate international markets and the festival landscape – Why is this important to create our own local ecosystem of Indie film? If our stories travel to international markets, and our films travel to international film festivals and have major sales agents on board that can sell them in international territories. That flushes dollars back into our indie ecosystem, the monies that will sustain this ecosystem. It also helps to set up co-productions wherein foreign producers who have produced content for the World markets come on board as creative stakeholders. It helps to raise the bar on content, and enhance the universal core of our stories. How many people can this story talk to? 1 billion? 6 billion? In the future, the future Mr. Gittes, the film will have a longer long tail, it will be consumed on multiple platforms long after what we now know as windows (Theatrical, Satellite, TV, Hotels & Planes, DVD, everything broadband) are exhausted. Films that will make full use of this longer long tail will be stories with a strong universal core, stories that can speak to 6 billion because the creative team – writer, director, producers, and actors were able to go deep and find something that everyone can hang their hat on.

4. Talent Development Programs – While this is the most obvious need in any industry, it is the hardest one to nail.  We need more Talent Development Programs for writers and directors devoid of the usual suspects. We need many more safe places for writers to develop their craft.  A talent development program for nurturing savvy producers in navigating co-productions and alternative funding and distribution models is perhaps an even more critical need of the hour.

The arrival of Sundance in India via Mahindra is great step ahead to shine the light on and to nurture writers. The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) has been visionary with the NFDC- Binger Screenwriters lab, now in its fifth year and the Film Bazaar. Both the lab and the Film Bazaar have become launch pads into the international markets for projects with a universal take on the Indian experience. The Film Bazaar attracts programmers from the major film festivals and all the major sales agents and showcases Indian Indie projects like they have not been showcased yet.

5. Visionaries & disruptors – People in the creative process and in every step of the journey of the film that question why we do what we do in the way we do it.

What does an alternative distribution model look like in a country with a billion people and the most rapidly growing middle class in the World? And the fastest growing cell phone market in the World? Can a piece of the specialty film business in India be a volumes business? And more questions even more interesting than these. The thing about visionaries and disruptors is that they don’t always know the answers but they have the exposure and receptors to ask the right questions. You cannot track Yeti down without asking questions.

6. Audience building initiatives – In this entire ecosystem of the future Indian Indie film business, the people/person/entity/organization that may own the biggest piece of pie, is the one that invests in audience building today. The one that helps to gather, collect, nurture the audience under a virtual or physical roof will likely also be the one to monetize them effectively.

Where do we go now…

There are overlaps of course throughout this value chain that goes from writers to exhibitors. For example, most Financers in India are also Producers. And the curators and tastemakers are not just festivals but also the press and Indie stalwarts who tweet, but no single part of this ecosystem can exist for too long without the others being alive and well. There is the potential for huge rewards throughout the Indian Indie value chain but it is clear that all the links need to function if we want to expand our local audiences and tell our stories to the World.

India is in flux. And its not an organized and controlled flux akin to China, it is leaps and hops, spurts and bursts, backwards and forwards. It is a screenplay with the most erratic pacing, and us – the characters that live the screenplay that is India, have seen the biggest scams, the biggest income gaps, the biggest dreams and the biggest nightmares come alive all at once. Attitudes and tastes are evolving fast. What is a taboo today, won’t be one 6 months or a year from now. You can’t write this stuff and yet we must. The Indian Indie film World has the unique privilege to document our society at a time like no other, to not only commune with each other but also commune with our audience. To tell them that we don’t know how to deal with this stuff either, but here’s a story about it, we are all in this together.

Ritesh Batra is a writer/director based in Mumbai.  His feature script 'The Story of Ram' was part of the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors labs in 2009. His new feature feature 'The Lunchbox' was selected for the Cinemart 2012. 'The Lunchbox' will be shot on location in Mumbai in 2012.

If You (Let Rising Artists) Build It, They Will Come

Guest post by Jill Savarese

If you read "Sell Your Film WIthout Selling Your Soul" you are surely familiar with THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST. Or perhaps you saw it in one of the over 200 bookings they had on their way to being one of the greatest Direct Distribution stories of 2011. Either way, how can you not be excited to hear not only of a filmmaker's success in bringing a film out themselves -- particularly when the process not only yields a new business, but that business has the possibility of helping out over 30 new films? Well, if you like such stories, keep on reading…

There was a joke floating around amongst the production team at The Best and the Brightest that this 4 million-dollar film’s distribution was in the hands of a stay-at-home mom and a student with cerebral palsy.  It was tempting to be a little offended since I was this “mom” but considering that our team got the film 200 screenings and such momentum that Emerging Pictures picked it up for more, I would have to say it’s a coup for moms and people with disabilities everywhere.

The reason I think this DIY experience is an important one is because it opens up the idea of redefining what distributors look like.  And though it’s true that I have two fat-cheeked cuties at home, my first industry job was as an assistant to Haim Saban.  When you look past Bill Crossland’s disability, you see a technical genius and a charismatic writer and personality.

B&B succeeded on many levels and had numerous sold-out screenings, but there was room for improvement.  After this crash course in DIY marketing and distribution, I’ve come to the conclusion that indie distribution can succeed if you have collective bargaining power, focus on community-building for exhibitors, help filmmakers and actors succeed and curate good material.   Not always easy to execute, but these 4 principles (that I’ve forced into convenient C’s) guide me: Collective, Community, Climbers, and Content.

When we booked screens, the first order of business was to get people into theaters.  Since my producing background is in live theatre, my instinct was micro-publicity.  If you need to fill a house, reach out to the local community.  Fine.  But what do you do when the screening is in a remote location?  It seemed simple: get someone local to volunteer to run it.

B&B was a star-studded film and there seemed to be no shortage of “fans” willing to do this.  Once I was in dialogues with the most productive and successful of the coordinators, however, I became uncomfortable with the word “fan.”  These people stepping up were ambitious, capable filmmakers and actors who either were too far away from the epicenters of filmmaking to really break in or they didn’t have the financial resources to make their own movies.  The one mistake of B&B was not reciprocating the intensity of the volunteer filmmakers.  One actress, named Chrissy Hogue, from Dubuque, Iowa ended up coordinating a multi-week run of the film.  Enough to tip it over into full-blown theatrical.  This is of enormous value.  She was motivated by advancing her career.  I will pontificate on this point emphatically: respecting the “climbers” and giving back is the road to success.

In my effort to create an indie distribution company that worked and incorporated my values, I met up with Benjamin Oberman.  He had recently established Mousetrap Films.  He asked me to partner up with him and create a theatrical division.

Our ambitious plan is to acquire 36 films a year and that will give us collective bargaining power as well as cross-promotional abilities.  We intend to reach out to the communities of all of our partner theaters (we have interest from about 40 now plus a potential reach of 150 others through agreements with platform distributors).  By doing local press, bringing Q&A and local sponsors, we support the exhibitors’ small businesses and communities.  We also will have a local short film competition and will screen the winning 5-minute short before our features.  The national winner will get distribution among all our theaters.  We will also give our local coordinators a financial stipend and a guaranteed 5 minute screening of a film they’ve acted in or directed before our features and a chance to interact with the filmmakers/actors of our acquired features.  What if their films are bad, you ask?  I believe when these climbers realize that there is an opportunity where you just work hard and get a boost, we will attract enough talented people that we will be able to select among them.  And end up screening shorts that come from not only talented filmmakers, but ones with good work ethics.  We’ve had some great response from those who’ve heard about us and have an offer from a trusted booker to help curate.

The idea might be a little mad, but that works for me.  We have a well-known hotel chain interested, a film festival brand and some highly respected exhibitors listening.  People seem to respond well to the idea that you support local businesses, support new artists, and support communities.  It’s a little idealistic, but it might just work.



Jill Gray Savarese was the Director of Publicity and Promotions for The Best and the Brightest and is currently the Vice President for Theatrical Distribution at Mousetrap Films.  Since graduating from Yale and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts she has become an actress, political interpreter and the owner of Sign Language Media which recently represented a deaf actress on the upcoming Brit Marling/Fox Searchlight film, The East.

"Music, Film, and Branding"

guest post by Brian Godshall

I know how important music can be to your projects.I wanted to point out some new developments in the music business that may prove advantageous for any upcoming media you are producing. You may already be aware of some of these and some may be new to you. I hope this information is helpful. After you've taken a look at this, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

1. Putting brands together with music and indie films I have been working on some ideas and connections to put together a brand or brands with music and indie films. Specifically I am proposing that an advertiser can pay for some or all of the music rights in an indie film in exchange for co-promotional opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in this concept, please contact me directly. I expressly would like to hear about upcoming film projects and/or review scripts where source music is a key element to see which brand(s) may be appropriate for such opportunities.

2. 3/27/12 - DMNews - Madonna & Smirnoff - Hip Digital
Per Digital Music News Smirnoff announced in March a massive discount on a modified version of Madonna's latest album, MDNA. The 'Nightlife Edition,' which includes 7 album tracks, 4 Smirnoff exclusive remixes, and 3 additional remixes (apparently non-exclusive), is selling for just $3.50. The special collection was put together by Hip Digital, which specializes in just this sort of music branding alliance.

3. Less expensive music on YouTube clips I have a contact at Manhattan PR firm and they had posted a promo clip on Facebook for the Broadway play VENUS IN FUR. I've attached a link below. They used a popular song (from 2009 - Florence & the Machine/"Kiss with a fist") so I contacted them as how they got this (thinking maybe no one cleared it). However he told me, and my cursory research confirmed, that as of recently youtube has available a certain amount of current music for cheap (meaning $100-$200.00) for use on Youtube only. Anyway I thought it made the clip really "pop" and evidently it was all legal and it looks and sounds great.

If you think you have a client or need to see about this and want my help, let me know and I can look into it for you. I may be able do some initial work gratis - it may not even take that long.

4. With Romplr, fans can now connect to artists' music in a whole new personal way by creating their own versions of a song and being part of the creative process. In addition to the core song elements, fans can then record and share their mixes through Facebook Connect, through email or on the online interactive music companion site. Heh, the song example on the home 'how to' page is Tone Loc's 'WILD THING' - from 1988. Check it out.

5. These Numbers May Change Your Attitude About Three-Strikes...Tuesday, February 21, 2012 by paul from

SOPA could be the first battle in an anti-piracy World War III, but there may be softer solutions to this problem. Just last week, prominent VC Fred Wilson outlined a plan that involved self-policing of bad actors by the tech community itself - without the bitter aftertaste of FBI raids and DNS takeovers. And across the Atlantic, France just presented some interesting stats related to its controversial three-strikes enforcement campaign. You know, the one that features warning letters and threats of access cutting, all under the banner of Hadopi. This effort has a bad reputation, but it's actually far softer than high-profile RIAA lawsuits that bankrupt file-sharers, some of which are still being prosecuted today. Hadopi claims that file-sharing is ebbing, though certainly apps like Spotify and the native Deezer have something to do with that. But a separate study out of Wellesley and Carnegie Mellon asserts that iTunes sales are now stronger in France relative to the rest of Europe.

But this may be the most interesting set of stats:

French population (2011): 65.8 million
Number of first-round letters: 822,000
Number of second-round letters: 68,000
Number of third-round letters: 165

So, the group that ultimately received a third letter is 0.02 percent of the group, and 0.00025 percent of the broader population. And, these aren't devastating, RIAA-style consequences: rather, the 'bad actors' will receive fines of 1,500 euros, a month of no internet access, or both (we've heard higher terms, but this is according to the latest information from the group). That's it.

It's softer, and just maybe an effective strategy.

"We suggest that with regard to mitigation of sales displacement by piracy, a national anti-piracy policy combined with educational efforts is much more effective in the longer term than a small number of high-profile lawsuits."

Wellesley/Carnegie Mellon researchers.

6. from Variety 4/27/12 -- DJs look to for mix royalties - With the mainstreaming of electronic dance music, the industry has had to confront a number of challenges adapting DJ culture to more established digital music platforms. Not the least of these issues is that longform DJ mixes -- which are to dance music fans what extended jams of "Dark Star" are to Deadheads -- are virtually impossible to find on mainstream Internet radio or streaming services.

Since DJ mixes can contain nearly unrecognizable snippets from countless songs, attempts to stream or sell them on aboveboard platforms can run into hurdles from the amassed rights holders involved. But a newly launched startup dubbed -- formerly Dubset -- is trying to clean up the space, offering what it claims is the first platform to offer fully legal streams of mixed audio.

The company utilizes an audio fingerprinting technology it calls MixScan to track every song incorporated into the mixes it provides and to allocate payments to both DJs and the rightsholders of all sampled material accordingly. Partnering with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, SoundExchange and NARM, the service calculates royalty payments by analyzing the plays a particular mix receives, coupled with the presence of particular songs in the mix, then distributes payments to the appropriate bodies.

7. FINALLY some music branding trivia -- The Rolling Stones did this commercial jingle for RICE KRISPIES Cereal in 1963; the song appeared in a commercial that aired only in the UK in 1964. Here’s the spot in question:

Brian Godshall has handled music clearances and/or licensing for over 15 years for many dozens of independent films including more recent movies such as CAUCUS, PLEASE GIVE and JACK GOES BOATING as well as past films such as TOWELHEAD, BORN INTO BROTHELS, GARDEN STATE, GUNNIN' FOR THAT #1 SPOT, KINSEY, THE NAMESAKE, SONGCATCHER and many others. He looks forward to new ideas and changes in the independent film industry.

Things All Filmmakers Should Know About the "JOBS Act"

Karen Robson and Steve Goodman of Pryor Cashman LLP have kindly provided us with a copy of an analysis they've written about the recent changes in securities laws because of the JOBS Act. It contains vital information about crowdfunding and how it relates to film -- and is an important read for all filmmakers. JOBS ACT TO HELP FILMMAKERS RAISE CAPITAL By: Stephen M. Goodman, Karen M. Robson and David E. Parsly May 2012

NOTE: This is a general analysis of the statute and should not be considered legal advice.

On April 5, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the “JOBS Act”). The JOBS Act encompasses a series of proposals that emerged in Congress over the past year, and that were ultimately brought together in a single piece of legislation receiving substantial bipartisan support. The stated purpose of the JOBS Act is to stimulate job growth and capital formation by removing and/or reducing certain costs and regulatory burdens applicable to smaller companies.

Specifically of interest to independent filmmakers, the JOBS Act introduces reforms to a certain widely, used private offering rule to remove the prohibition on “general solicitation” and creates a new exemption for “crowdfunding”, which, when rules mandated by the JOBS Act are finally adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) in approximately nine months, will offer the potential to raise money through small investments from a larger number of investors.1 Since rulemaking related to the elimination of the general solicitation rules in private offerings must be completed within 90 days, this exemption will have a more immediate impact than crowdfunding on capital formation for filmmakers.


Private securities offerings under Regulation D promulgated under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”), are frequently used by filmmakers to raise capital through the issuance of equity or debt securities. Regulation D offerings are exempt from registration under the Securities Act, which eliminates the substantial burdens and expenses associated with public registration and reporting. The most popular exemption used for domestic private placements is Rule 506 under Regulation D, because the amount that can be raised under Rule 506 is virtually unlimited and, so long as the offering is made only to “accredited investors” (i.e. generally investors that meet certain minimum annual income or net worth requirements), the number of investors is likewise (at least theoretically) unlimited.

However, issuers relying on Rule 506 have been prohibited from engaging in any form of “general solicitation or advertising” to attract investors. The SEC has never precisely specified what constitutes a “general solicitation,” but the SEC has cautioned in no, action letters that to avoid a general solicitation an issuer must approach only investors with whom the issuer has a “pre,existing substantive relationship.”2 Over the last several years, many commentators have noted the deleterious effects on issuer’s capital raising created both by this “general solicitation” limitation and by the vagueness and apparent internal contradiction in its interpretation.

Title II of the JOBS Act amends the Securities Act to specifically permit general solicitation or general advertising in connection with a Rule 506 private placement, so long as everyone who eventually makes an investment is an “accredited investor”. The intended result is to permit issuers, such as companies formed to finance and produce films, to reach a broader pool of potential investors, regardless of whether they have a pre,existing relationship with the issuer.

It is important to remember, however, that the ultimate investors must be “accredited investors”, and here the rules have changed slightly. The JOBS Act mandates that issuers relying on Rule 506 must now take “reasonable steps” to verify that each investor constitutes an “accredited investor” as defined in the Securities Act. At the least, this means that an issuer will no longer be able to rely on an unsupported representation by the purchaser that the purchaser is an accredited investor. Therefore, while the JOBS Act provides filmmakers the ability to cast a wider net and attract any accredited investor by means of a general solicitation, it will likely also place additional burden and expense on filmmakers to conduct some level of diligence on their investors to prove that they are accredited. The changes to the law also leave unanswered what methods or content the SEC will permit (or require) to be used in connection with a “general solicitation” and how activities conducted in connection with general solicitations may affect other fundraising efforts by issuers.

Despite these uncertainties, the removal of the general solicitation prohibition may provide filmmakers the ability to seek direct access to potential investors. Depending on SEC rulemaking regarding general solicitation, it may in some cases mitigate the need for filmmakers to rely on intermediaries such as brokers, placement agents and finders to introduce investors and to bear the financing fees associated therewith.


In recent years, films and other art and charitable projects have used Internet “crowdsourcing” donations to raise revenue. Instead of donations, “crowdfunding” would permit companies to take in small amounts of money as investments from numerous individuals. Websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have previously acted as crowdsourcing portals based on a donation model. The JOBS Act responds to a growing belief among many politicians and business people that entrepreneurs should be able to use this model in an investment context.

Title III of the JOBS Act adds a new “crowdfunding” offering exemption to the Securities Act. The exemption is available to film producers and other issuers if the aggregate amount of all securities sold to investors by the production entity and its affiliates during the 12,month period prior to the latest transaction (including but not limited to any crowdfunding securities) does not exceed $1,000,000. The crowdfunding exemption restricts the aggregate amount that may be sold to any investor by the issuer during this 12,month period to either $2,000 or five percent of the investor’s annual income or net worth (if his or her annual income or net worth is less than $100,000) or ten percent of the investor’s annual income or net worth (if his or her annual income or net worth is $100,000 or more). In the latter case, the maximum aggregate amount that can be sold to the investor during the 12,month period is $100,000.

Both the overall limitation on the aggregate amount of securities that can be offered in the 12 months prior to the offering date and the caps expressed in the limitations on individual investors include not only securities sold pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption during those 12 months but also any other securities of the issuer purchased by that investor without regard to the 12,month period. This means, for example, that if a producer has raised $500,000 in a Rule 506 private placement, then for the next 12 months it cannot raise more than $500,000 in a crowdfunding offering.

However a filmmaker seeking to rely on the new crowdfunding exemption will not be able to simply post its offering on a website and accept offered cash. Rather, there will be a significant number of requirements on the manner of offering the securities and the types of information that must be made available to investors, the SEC and state regulators, as well as requirements for updating the information during the offering and after the offering is completed.

Perhaps most significantly, the JOBS Act requires that any crowdfunding offer be conducted through a registered broker or “funding portal”3, not directly by the production entity itself. To satisfy the JOBS Act’s requirements that the broker take responsibility for the crowdfunding offering, the broker is required to:

• provide various disclosures, including disclosures relating to risks, and other investor education materials (to be prescribed by SEC rule);

• ensure that each investor (a) reviews these disclosures and materials (in accordance with standards to be established by the SEC), (b) affirms that the investor understands the risk of potential loss of the entire investment and that the investor can bear the loss and (c) answers questions demonstrating that the investor understands the risks of start,up investing, illiquidity of the investment and “such other matters as the SEC determines by rule”;

• take measures (to be established by the SEC) to reduce the risk of fraud, including obtaining a background check and securities enforcement history on each officer and director of the production entity and each person holding more than 20 percent of that entity’s securities;

• make certain information required to be provided by the production entity (see below) available to the SEC and to potential investors at least 21 days prior to the first sale of securities;

• ensure that proceeds are only released to the production entity after a target offering amount is reached and allow for investors to cancel their commitments (as determined by SEC rule);

• verify (to the extent deemed necessary by the SEC) that no investor has exceeded the limits on aggregate investment in the production entity required by the exemption (see below);

• protect the privacy of information collected from investors (to the extent determined by SEC rule);

• not compensate any finder, promoter or others for providing “personal identifying information” of any potential investor;

• prohibit its own directors, officers orpartners from having any financial interest in the production entity; and

• meet such other requirements as the SEC may deem appropriate for the protection of investors.

To rely on the new crowdfunding exemption, the production entity must also comply with a number of disclosure and offering requirements. In particular, the production entity must:

• file extensive disclosure with the SEC and provide to the investors and the relevant broker or funding portal information regarding (1) its name, address and website address; (2) the names of its directors and officers and each person holding more than 20 percent of its shares; (3) its business and its anticipated business plan; (4) its financial condition4; (5) the stated purpose and intended use of the proceeds of the offering; (6) the target offering amount, the deadline to reach the target amount and “regular updates” on the progress of the offering; (7) the price (or the method for determining the price) of the securities offered and a reasonable opportunity to rescind the purchase commitment if the final price is not determined at the time the commitment is made; (8) a description of the ownership and capital structure of the production entity and the terms of the offered securities (including how the offered securities have been valued and the risks of being a minority owner); and (9) such other information as the SEC may require;

• not advertise the terms of the offering, other than to direct investors to the funding portal or broker;

• not compensate anyone to promote the offering unless the person clearly discloses the receipt of compensation in connection with any such promotional communication (pursuant to rules to be adopted by the SEC);

• file at least annually with the SEC (and provide to investors) reports of the results of operations and financial statements (as specified by SEC rule); and

• comply with such other requirements as the SEC may prescribe.

The SEC has been given 270 days to promulgate rules and regulations clarifying the crowdfunding exemption.

The information required to be made available by the issuer as described above is also to be made available to any state securities agency. Securities issued in a crowdfunding offer are exempt from certain state “blue sky” requirements except that notice filings may be required in the state where the principal place of business is located or where purchasers of 50% or more of the offering are residents. The production entity accepting the investment remains liable for material misstatements and omissions in information provided in a crowdfunding offer. Securities purchased in a crowdfunding transaction may not be transferred by the purchaser for one year following the date of purchase except to the production entity itself, to an accredited investor, as part of a resale registration statement filed with the SEC, to a “member of the family of the purchaser or the equivalent” or, in the discretion of the SEC, in connection with the death or divorce or other similar circumstance affecting the purchaser. Finally, the JOBS Act provides that purchasers who acquire securities in a crowdfunding transaction will not be included in calculating the number of record holders that an issuer may have before it is required to make public disclosures under the federal securities laws.

Due to the 270 day period for the SEC to implement crowdfunding rules, filmmakers will be forced to take a wait and see approach on what the impact of crowdfunding will be on the film financing industry. The costs associated with engaging a funding portal remain unknown, as well as the full extent of legal and other professional assistance that will be required. In light of the $1 million cap on the amount of crowdfunding offerings permitted per year and the recordkeeping and other potential burdens associated with having a large number of micro investors, it is possible that crowdfunding may be less popular than some anticipate. Still, as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have proven in the context of donations, there are masses of previously untapped investors out there that the JOBS Act may now allow filmmakers to access.

If you have any questions or would like any further information about the JOBS Act or how Pryor Cashman can serve your legal needs, please contact the authors of this Legal Update or the Pryor Cashman attorney with whom you work.

1 On April 23, 2012, the SEC issued a notice reminding issuers that until the SEC adopts implementing rules any offers or sales of securities purporting to rely on the crowdfunding exemption would be unlawful under the federal securities laws.

2 See, e.g., Bateman, Eichler, Hill Richards, Inc. (pub. avail. Dec. 3, 1985); Lamp Technologies (pub. avail. May 29, 1997).

3 A funding portal is defined by a new Section 3(a)(80) of the Exchange Act as an intermediary involved specifically in the offer or sale of securities pursuant to Section 4(6) that does not (1) offer investment advice, (2) engage in solicitation of transactions in the offered securities, (3) compensate anyone for such solicitations or on the basis of sales of such securities, (4) handle investor funds or securities or (5) engage in any other activities that the SEC deems inappropriate. A funding portal is to be exempt from registration as a broker or dealer, but will nevertheless have to register with the SEC as well as with “any applicable self,regulatory organization”. It remains, however, subject to the examination, enforcement and other rulemaking activity of the SEC and such other requirements of the Exchange Act as the SEC deems appropriate and it must be a member of a national securities association registered under Section 15A of the Exchange Act (although the national securities association can only enforce rules adopted specifically for such portals).

4 Specifically, issuers using the exemption must provide the following financial information, depending upon the size of the offering: (a) income tax returns and financial statements certified as true and complete by the principal executive officer (if the aggregate offering amounts within the previous 12 months is $100,000 or less), (b) financial statements reviewed by an independent public accountant (if the aggregate offering amounts are between $100,000 and $500,000) or (c) audited financial statements (if the aggregate offering amounts are more than $500,000 (or such other amount as the SEC may establish)).


Copyright © 2012 by Pryor Cashman LLP. This Legal Update is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. While all efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the contents, Pryor Cashman LLP does not guarantee such accuracy and cannot be held responsible for any errors in or reliance upon this information. This material may constitute attorney advertising.


Stephen M. Goodman is co-head of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice at Pryor Cashman LLP. He has extensive experience representing companies in public offerings, private placements, and other complex financing and acquisition arrangements.

Mr. Goodman has also written on topics ranging from raising seed capital for entrepreneurial companies to the SEC’s whistleblower rules to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding material nondisclosure in Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano, and has lectured on various aspects of capital formation at Columbia University, the City University of New York and the New York Academy of Sciences. His most recent article is “Still Room for Finders? Courts Question SEC View of Broker Activity” (BNA Securities Regulation & Law Report, November 14, 2011).

Mr. Goodman is a 1977 graduate of New York University School of Law, where he was Order of the Coif and Articles Editor of the Annual Survey of American Law.


Karen Robson has worked primarily in the Film Finance and Production practice of the Entertainment Group since 1986 and heads the Los Angeles office of Pryor Cashman LLP. Karen represents a variety of financiers, banks, equity investors, high,profile independent producers and production companies for which she structures film finance transactions and also provides production legal representation. She also represents individual writers, directors and producers in the motion picture and television areas. For over twenty years, Karen has handled financing on multiple picture deals and single pictures, television mini,series and major documentaries. In recent years, Karen has represented both producers and lenders with respect to film financings which include senior and mezzanine debt and/or equity; international co,productions and U.S. tax incentivized financings.

Karen is also experienced in representing properties in the film, video, television and merchandising areas including properties in the family entertainment arena, including The Berenstain Bears, I Spy, a children’s television series featuring music artist Dan Zanes, and theatrical feature films based on a series of major children's television and merchandising properties.

Prior to her career as an attorney, Karen had a brief career as a film actress in Australia, including a major role in Peter Weir’s cult favorite, Picnic at Hanging Rock.


David Parsly is an associate in the Corporate Group and represents public and private companies in a variety of general corporate matters, including corporate formation and governance, mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, and securities issuance and compliance.

David is a 2007 graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 2004. While in law school, David served as a judicial intern for the Honorable Richard B. Lowe III in the Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County.

Peter Broderick: "The Power of Free"

As always Peter Broderick's latest newsletter is a must read -- this time it's about the documentary "Hungry For Change" and how the directors' incredibly success with the film is precisely because they gave it away for free, online. Once again, Peter's been nice enough to let me share the newsletter here with you. I can't recommend enough that you sign up for Peter's Distribution Bulletin. The extraordinary million-dollar success of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE marks a new era of opportunities for independents. It illustrates how "free" can be used to achieve broad awareness, generate revenue quickly, and build a worldwide audience.

The release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was unprecedented. The film: - premiered online (having never screened publicly before) - was available worldwide - was absolutely free (for 10 days only)

The results were remarkable: - 453,841 views around the world during the 10 day premiere - over $1.02 million in sales of DVDs and recipe books in the first 14 days

HUNGRY FOR CHANGE is a documentary that challenges the myths perpetuated by the weight loss industry and shows how to develop a healthy, lifelong diet. It is the second film by dynamic husband-and-wife team James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, who I started consulting with in 2008 when they were beginning to distribute FOOD MATTERS, which went on to sell over 230,000 DVDs (see Distribution Bulletin #14). James and Laurentine are based in Australia but came to Los Angeles last week, where they told me the inside story of their historic "Free Worldwide Online Premiere."

James and Laurentine have learned how to tap the power of free. They've been experimenting with the possibilities of free for four years, first with FOOD MATTERS and now with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.


Free Public Screenings - Instead of following the industry norm of charging organizations fees to hold screenings, the filmmakers took a risk and allowed anyone who registered to host a screening for free. The FOOD MATTERS website encourages the hosting of screenings:

"As part of our vision to provide life-transforming information that is accessible to all people, we are excited to allow free screenings of Food Matters around the globe."

The website provides a free screening resource pack, which includes handouts, posters, and other publicity materials. James and Laurentine believed that the cost of lost screening revenues would be much smaller than the benefit of positive word-of-mouth from a greater number of screenings, resulting in increases in visitors to the website, mailing lists sign-ups, and DVD sales.

Free, Dynamic Website Content - The filmmakers regularly added content to the FOOD MATTERS website, making it a valuable resource for their audience. This included videos that were freely available to all visitors to the website who registered, which simply consisted of inputting a name and an email address.

Free Online Screening - In December 2010, FOOD MATTERS DVDs were put on sale from the website for one week at half price. This resulted in 4600 sales, the best week in 2 1Ž2 years of sales. In October 2011, the filmmakers took a more radical approach with even better results. They allowed all comers to watch FOOD MATTERS for free for 8 days. This stimulated direct and indirect sales of 9800 DVDs, twice as many as were sold when it was offered at half price. Even more impressive, over 37,000 people joined the mailing list during this event.

As James explained, when you offer a film for free you get sign-ups from a good percentage of everyone who views the film. When you are having a sale, you only get the customer information from those who actually make a purchase. "For us, we're about creating a long-term relationship with our followers and not just selling to them," noted James.


After their successful experiments with free, particularly the online screening of FOOD MATTERS, James and Laurentine decided to go all the way with HUNGRY FOR CHANGE. They were aware of some films that had been released free online, such as Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING, but knew of no major ones that had premiered online.

Pre-Release Marketing - They chose the term FREE WORLDWIDE ONLINE PREMIERE and released the trailer for HUNGRY FOR CHANGE on March 1, 2012. This was followed by two more eblasts with additional video content, including the first 4 minutes of the film, during the 21 days leading up to the premiere. They also partnered with the experts featured in the film. These experts had their own followers and shared in both the promotion of the free online premiere and the revenues from sales they referred.

Global Reach - The Free Worldwide Online Premiere was an instant hit. On its first day (March 21st) there were 45,211 plays. Tens of thousands of people watched the film each day. The premiere ended with a bang with 58,292 plays on the final day (March 31st). Altogether there were almost half a million views from more than 150 countries across the globe in just 10 days. These are astonishing numbers for an independent film that had never been seen before, had no paid advertising, and was not available through any retail channels.

Subscribers - There were 229,000 sign-ups in 14 days, a significantly greater number than FOOD MATTERS had gained in the previous 4 years. James estimates that less than 30% of the HUNGRY FOR CHANGE sign-ups were FOOD MATTERS subscribers, which means that at least 160,000 were new subscribers, almost doubling James and Laurentine's already substantial online following.

Revenue - Everyone who viewed HUNGRY FOR CHANGE was given access to three special offers: the DVD for $34.95, the new recipe book for $49.95, or the DVD and the recipe book for $74.95. Each order came with free bonuses and free shipping. In the first 14 days, over 20,800 orders were placed totaling over $1 million in sales. Although most purchasers had already seen the film for free, many wanted to buy a copy for themselves or purchase it as a gift for family or friends.

Access - Beyond broad awareness, revenues, and sign-ups, there are other important benefits of free. It removes a major barrier between filmmakers and audiences. If the film is available at no charge, at least temporarily, it is accessible to everyone. From the beginning, James and Laurentine have been motivated by a strong desire to get their message out to more people. Free allows their films to be seen even more widely and enables them to build relationships with viewers.

Good Will - Another major benefit of free is good will, which has allowed the filmmakers to develop a truly interactive relationship with their audience. They talk directly to their followers who tell them what they want. This knowledge has enabled them to make and market films that meet their followers' needs and continue to be seen by more and more people. -----

Taking free to a new level has also expanded awareness of James and Laurentine and created new opportunities for them. They are now writing a book for HarperCollins, which will be published this fall to coincide with the retail release of HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.

© 2012 Peter Broderick

Peter Broderick is a Distribution Strategist who helps design and implement customized plans to maximize revenues for independent films. He is also a leading advocate of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, championing them in keynotes and presentations around the world. You can read his articles at

“A Tree Falls In The Forest” and other ruminations on social/community-based marketing…

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid.

The old philosophical thought experiment "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at the Film Collaborative can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it. This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit. Films rarely sell themselves. You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

• Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz.
• If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.
• Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.
• Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.
• Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)
• Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large. • Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and its companion blog on already highlights a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film -- mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc..., or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like ( Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well! Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche. For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures). He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Cannes, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby and Moving Pictures were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

1) Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film. Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there. For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

2) Offer your potential partners something back in return. With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

3) Community-building is an organic, long-term process… Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

4) Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience. In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

5) You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc. Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

6) You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this. There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements; an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need. It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

7) A final take home: You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema. Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

"Like Crazy" Co-writing On A Project Without A Script

By Ben York Jones

It’s hard to describe to someone what your role was as co-writer, on a movie they read in the New York Times, “Was Filmed Without a Script.” There’s no succinct answer. I couldn’t Tweet a properly inclusive explanation. Well, I tried. This was after I received a Tweet that seemed to accuse me and by association, my co-writer (the film’s very talented director, Drake Doremus) of self-aggrandizing – for awarding ourselves writing credit on a reportedly script-less film. I remember feeling dismissed. Frustrated. Worse yet, I began seriously doubting my abilities when I read the offending Tweet:

“Is it true the dialogue was all improvised on Like Crazy? That's the word on the street...”

Alright, so it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Actually, they’d heard correct. But when it’s late, and you just lost that one seminal gig, and the Times chose the sub-heading, “What Writer?” to describe a film you poured so much into… you start to question your value. I had to publish my own headline. I had to describe to this stranger, in 140 characters or less, exactly what it meant to write an improvised film. And I would make those 140 characters (or less) shine! If it took all night! I replied 5 minutes later:

“The actors worked from a very detailed "scriptment" written in prose. On set, they were asked to put things in their own words.”

Well… Not exactly dazzling as far as headlines go, and no points for a lack of alliteration, but at least it was a little more accurate.

I vividly remember seeing Christopher Guest’s film Waiting For Guffman for the first time in junior high. Noted for being improvised, there was something so organic and honest about that film. It was unlike any comedy I had seen. The characters were so complete, and at the same time completely unaware of themselves, as was the camera. Intimate, but objective – Guest trusted an expression, an inflection, or silence to do the talking. Around this time, because the guys on the VHS jacket looked so weird, I rented and watched American Movie. To this day, it is my favorite film. I didn’t think I was interested in documentaries at that time, but what struck me like no narrative film had before, was the pencil-line it danced between it’s highs and lows. It was at once the funniest film I’d ever seen, and one of the more tragic. This is real, I thought. This is visceral. This is the human condition. I knew then, documentary or not, this was the affect a film should have. Finding a parallel in Guffman was kind of a personal mini-revelation. Things clicked. This is how it translates to a narrative.

After establishing the specifics were going to be improvised, writing Like Crazy was like giving driving directions to someone by landmark (it’s by this one tree… you’ll know it when you see it) rather than street names. As it was to be a movie largely built on moments between moments, we decided what would be important to communicate was not what the characters should say, but what they should withhold. This lead to the good stuff – back-story and inner monologue found it’s way onto the page to accompany the action. We also included music cues; most didn’t end up in the film, but I think helped set the tone. And every once in a while we suggested some dialogue, but it was only ever suggested. It was always Drake’s intention to provide the cast with plenty of space to discover on set. To capture them truly listening and responding. It was for this reason he wisely made certain they fell just short of finding the scenes in rehearsal. At a very dense 50-pages, the script read more like a short story with scene headings. And like any screenplay it had required many drafts and jam sessions with our producers, right up to production in order to get it there. Actually the revisions never stop. They just sort of peter-out for one person, then change hands – now it’s up to the cast… now it’s up to the editor. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s editor, Jonathan Alberts.

As it turns out, when you ask your cast to improvise, you’re also asking the crew to adjust accordingly. A focus-puller’s task, for example, becomes a lot more demanding when the actors have no marks to hit. Several of us in key roles had had some experience with this improvised process on our previous film, a lo-fi comedy called Douchebag. But it’s fair to say we approached that far more casually. Almost as an experiment, the result of which was a great deal of trial and error, and re-shoots, and pick-ups that included adding scenes to fill gaps. The stakes were higher on Like Crazy. It had to pack some serious punch and deliver across the boards, first time out. Fortunately, the synergy was right, the phenomenal cast was brave and trusting of their director, and it came together.

It’s widely acknowledged, a film is written three times: On the page, on set, and in the cutting room. This adage is never more appropriate than in reference to an improvised film. And as I’ve branched out to develop more traditional screenplays with new collaborators, I find them pleasantly surprised by my eagerness to work with fitting ideas thrown my way. Provided everyone’s going the same direction, the improvisers mantra: “Yes, and…” applies here too.

Ultimately, writing film’s that are to be improvised has taught me to see the pages of a screenplay for what they are: a work-in-progress. I don’t aim to negate the artistry and impact of well-written dialogue. I just mean to say, embracing this idea reminds me that as a screenwriter, my method of delivery is not a bound tome, but a living, breathing cast and crew.

An improvised film has many writers. And if there is trust, it’s amazing to see how they may bring your concepts to life – often in surprising and wonderful ways.

Ben York Jones was born in Englewood, New Jersey, but grew up primarily in Southern California. Both of his parents were New York stage actors, exposing him to a variety of art forms from an early age. After studying screenwriting and directing at Chapman University, Jones worked as a video artist, notably directing music videos and creating branded content. Having maintaining a passion for performance based arts, Jones has appeared in a numerous theatrical productions and is an avid fan of improvisation and sketch comedy. Douchebag marked his first leading role in a feature film, and reunited Jones with childhood friend and collaborator, Drake Doremus. In January 2010, Douchebag premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the US Dramatic Competition. The Hollywood Reporter and New York Magazine praised Jones’ performance, and the film was released theatrically in October 2010. Having shifted his primary focus to writing, Jones has recently co-written the 2011 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Like Crazy. The film hits theaters in the fall of 2011. Jones is currently underway on several projects including the screen adaptation of a soon to be released novel, and his third collaboration with Doremus and producer Jonathan Schwartz in as many years.

Just The Start -- Microbudget filmmaking in the UK

by Tristan Goligher

In the UK micro budget films are often sneered at, often derided, and often rightly so. It is a fair criticism that many of these films can be high in over indulgence, and low in technical execution. But increasingly, over recent years, micro budget film makers are proving to be amongst the most exciting and innovative of emerging talent. In the states this grass roots creative movement has been evident for some time, giving birth to film makers like Kelly Reichardt, Andrew Bujalski, and Joe Swanberg, to mention just a few. Now it seems that we, the British, are catching on too. Change is in the air, and momentum is gathering. 


One big difference, and potential advantage, we have in the UK over the US is public funding for film. For a number of years now we've had several 'microbudget schemes' running in the UK. These involve open calls for applications, with large numbers of film makers applying, before being whittled down into shortlists which go through development, with a final fortunate few being commissioned. The highest profile of these programmes is Film London's Microwave, and iFeatures on which I am now an Executive Producer. Born from these schemes we have been some very notable, stand out films, such as Time and the City, and Shifty  but often the resulting films usually find themselves looking in from the perihpery of the British cinema landscape. Unlike in the states we don’t have the abundance of festivals celebrating such films, and giving them a genuine platform for exhibition.

This status on the periphery, however, is beginning to change. But slowly so. It's become increasingly difficult for first time, indie (usually drama), directors to get their work funded. Without named cast in front of the camera, or already famous film makers behind it, it's all but impossible. At last years BIFAs (British Independent Film Awards) the Debut director category consisted of Joe Cornish (Attack The Block), who in the UK is a famous comedian, radio DJ, and co-writer of Tin Tin. Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus), no biography required. Richard Ayoade (Submarine), a famous TV actor whose film Submarine included Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, and as an Exec Producer Ben Stiller. Paddy Considine (Tyranassaur), again no biography required. Lastly John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), who is a real new comer. This is not a criticism, but it does paint a good picture of the current state of affairs for emerging directors. In this context emerging film makers face one of three three choices. Firstly get a different job, secondly attach names, which is not always possible or appropriate, or lastly make your debut, or even sophomore, feature for less money. For this simple reason micro budget film making is now crucial for emerging talent here in the UK. 

When Andrew Haigh and I came to finance Weekend, we already had an established relationship with some of the funding bodies in the UK having already made a successful short film called Five Miles Out. Andrew had also one very good (admittedly niche) feature film, Greek Pete, under his belt, but still the project was seen as too great a risk, even for the micro budget we were looking to raise. Without delving, too deeply, into the travails of financing this film we ultimately raised about 70% of what we set out for, and were faced with a decision. Do we give this film up? Or do we take the plunge and make it for what we have? We went ahead, made the film for less than $200,000 and premiered it at SXSW in March of last year. Since then it's gone on to win a number of awards, achieve critical acclaim, sell internationally, and so far generate over a $1,000,000 worth of transactions. There is no question, what so ever, that it has exceeded anything we could ever have, realistically, expected from it. Most importantly, it's hopefully given us a platform that will help us get the next film made. For that reason I now acutely appreciate the value, and necessity, of micro budget film making. 

We did have public funding support from EM Media, and Creative Scotland, but despite that Weekend was still largely made outside of the 'system', and we were lucky enough to have three excellent Executive Producers, who trusted us, and worked with us. But over the next few years I suspect that the majority of profiled microbudget work in the UK will come through more, centrally managed, structured schemes.

This is great news, and should mean more opportunities for film makers trying to make their breakthrough films, and establish their careers. Now working on one of these initiatives I do often ask myself what the potential problems and pitfalls of this approach may be. My politics fall firmly left of centre, so I don't suggest we should not have public support for the arts. But by simply looking at the micro budget work being commissioned (and not being commissioned) in the UK it's apparent that in the past something has been missed. The public funding structure, and the culture that has grown around it, seems to lack the vibrancy and originality of the more entrepreneurial American scene. To be clear I don't doubt the benefit of public funding to support emerging film makers through short films and microbudget features. However, I do question, the culture that has grown alongside it. A culture that seems to be to our creative detriment. The decision of the 'powers that be' to fund our work or not, is often the stamp of approval we need, or the kiss of death we dread. Many aspiring film makers don't make it past their early rejections, and others find themselves, after a few shorts supported, no longer in favour. Rejection is as true in America as it is in the UK, but I think it's compounded by two things here. Firstly there's a relatively small number of key financiers we can go to, and without their stamp of approval it’s hard to pursue further finance, such distributors, sales agent, and co-productions. Secondly those key financiers are not private investors, but rather they come as plenipotentiaries of the state. To varying degrees their opinion is endorsed. At it's worst this leads to a culture of 'cap in hand' film makers seeking not only money, but by proxy, approval for the work they make. For those of us that survive the rejection to fight another day, the next step can often be to dilute, and homogenize our work. We hope this will help us better fit the mould of what we perceive as ‘fundable’. UK Film Council shorts are a case in point. There are many proficiently crafted, well developed, well acted short films that have come through the various short film schemes, You can sense a mile off, however, that they’ve been through the system. The uniqueness, and the joie de vivre is too often ground out. I know because I have, at times, been part of that system. This predicament is particularly damaging to young or inexperienced filmmakers, eager to please.

After the early rejections in financing Weekend Andrew and I suffered from just that. We put the script on the shelf, and began looking for new material. Fortunately, and quickly, we realised that Weekend was the film we wanted to make, and inspired by the endeavour, and persistence, of the American mumblecore ‘movement’ we put our heads down, were fortunate enough to find some champions, and got it made.  

Other, notable, new filmmakers in the UK have done the same, Eran Creevy on Shifty, Nick Whitfield on Skeletons, Ben Wheatley on Down Terrace, and Joanna Hogg, on Unrelated and Archipelago. All but one of those being made outside of the 'schemes' I mentioned. Which raises a second challenge for more traditional financiers. With so many exciting talent being born from the microbudget scene how can they engage, and help foster these creative spirits. A challenge I often consider in my new role is the importance for us to support ideas through development, without simultaneously homogonising. Can the freedom of spirit, and individuality of the film makers I mentioned above surface through a more structured creative process, with more voices, and more at stake? I believe that it can. At Edinburgh international Film Festival this year there was an abundance of micro budget films on display, with both iFeatures and Microwave premiering strong films to excellent reviews, Flying Bling and Borrowed Time respectively. The talent is out there. Hopefully through initiatives like iFeatures the traditonal financiers are finding a way to engage with this new landscape. Hopefully in my role there I can embrace microbudget filmmaking for what it is; collaborative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. A diverse industry, telling diverse stories is something to strive for, and if risks can’t be taken at this level, when can they?

We can all look at the world through the prism of the past, and lament the lack of opportunities for first and second time directors, to make 'real films' on 'real budgets' or we can embrace the world we're now in and appreciate the creative license that lower budgets give us as filmmakers, and the lesser risks it entails for financiers. 

We can be realistic. We can make films. We can learn our crafts. We can see these as the first steps, of the long careers, that we hope they are. 

A Case for Truly Free Short Films

By Matt Morris

We all love a success story.  We'd hear more of them if we realigned our definition of success.  For most emerging filmmakers, success will come from discovery.  Movies need to be seen and certain practices limit that.

I don't recall how I met Matt Morris.  I believe it was through social media online.  He thought I would like his short film, and he was right.  He had a good sense on how to engage me without wasting my time or taking advantage of my availability.  I have really enjoyed seeing how he has gotten his work done and seen.  Today he shares some of what he's learned with everyone; sharing seems to be in his DNA.  If only that happened more...

In April 2008, my short documentary Pickin' & Trimmin' premiered at Aspen Shortsfest. It was my first festival. Before my first screening, I was lucky enough to meet someone representing a short film distribution company who expressed interest in my film. Over the next few years, I had multiple offers from various new distribution companies, but I opted instead to put my film online for free. 

Many of the short filmmakers I met over the festival run of the film thought of a contract with a short film distributor as the end game. If you've made a film that will, most likely, never make its money back, the idea of making some money and the "cool factor" of being on iTunes was really appealing. But who was going to be doing the marketing for my film? Did I really have to sign away the rights to my film for years?

I kept waiting for a perfect offer that never came. Not only that, but after talking to dozens of filmmakers, I realized that no one was happy with their short film distributor. One friend of mine took this as a positive (if they're all bad, then it doesn't matter which one I pick!). At the end of the day, I just wanted my work to be seen by as many people as possible. 

I met Casimir Nowzkowski when Pickin' & Trimmin' screened at the Woodstock Film Festival. His film Bodega was the only film in the doc shorts screening that was available to view online. I think we all thought that he was crazy for limiting his festival potential (the vast majority of film festivals won't screen a film that is available online), and he thought we were crazy for limiting our audience to the festival circuit. Casimir viewed his strategy in simple terms- when he finished a film, he wanted it seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible. This has worked out very well for him, given his films have been watched millions of times on You-Tube.  (Note: I've since caught up with Casimir and it appears we've both adjusted our strategies- he held off putting his new short doc "Andrew Sarris - Critic in Focus" online and as a result it premiered at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival. He still plans on making it available for free online viewing in a few months.)

Years had passed since I made Pickin' & Trimmin'. It screened at dozens of festivals, aired on PBS affiliates around the country, OutsideTV, and earned a Midsouth Emmy nomination. The film achieved more success than I ever hoped it would, but at the end of the day it was just sitting there on my shelf. Maybe there was a bigger audience for the film. What about the bluegrass fans who might not attend a film festival? Not only that, but the subject of my film, The Barbershop in Drexel, NC, was in disrepair and I was trying to help raise money to fix it up. I needed to raise more awareness of The Barbershop for people to want to help save it. So, a few months ago, I decided to put the film online.

For me, Vimeo was the easy choice. Everything about it is filmmaker friendly. You have so much control over how your film is seen, and the community on the site is made up of other creative people who are more likely to have an interest in and share your film. I uploaded the film and blasted it out to all of my Facebook friends, as well shared the link with all the festivals I'd screened at, encouraging them to share on their Facebook pages. I'd made my big push.

In the first month, the film had 722 views.

Obviously, I was doing something wrong. At first, I tried to justify the underperformance- at 20 minutes, it's the anti-viral video. But it kept nagging at me- I can do better. It was around then that I read this infinitely helpful blog post.

It reinforced what I'd read on Hope for Film before but not truly taken to heart- you have to treat the marketing and release of your film like it's a full time job. In early December, I set aside a week to promote the film online. I sent out more than 150 emails. I embraced the Vimeo community, sought out Bluegrass blogs, video blogs, and anyone else who might enjoy the film. 

So how is it working out?

As of this writing, the film has 77,564 views. It was chosen as a Vimeo Staff Pick, featured on Boing Boing,, Devour, The Art of Manliness, various Bluegrass blogs, and dozens of personal blogs. To put those numbers into perspective, more than ten times the amount of people watched the film online in a month than watched it over 3 years on the festival circuit. Considering I didn't have to pay any submission fees and it's revitalized DVD sales (where the profits are much higher than an iTunes sale) instead of cannibalized them, I'd say there's a strong argument for all short filmmakers to put their film online for free and easy viewing and sharing. 

If you've made a good film, the audience is there, but it's your job to lead them to it. It's important to have a plan. If you don't have the time to implement it, find a friend who does. The only thing I'd add to the Short of The Week article on how to launch your film is to be willing to adapt your strategy based on who is embracing the film. At first I was focusing most of my energy on Bluegrass blogs. When looking at embeds, I noticed a handful of smaller men's style blogs had featured the film. I adjusted my strategy, researching men's style blogs with larger audiences and contacting them about the film. As a result, many of them featured Pickin' & Trimmin' and thousands of people saw the film who wouldn't have otherwise.

Once your festival circuit is over, make your films available online. There are lots of people out there, like me, who love short films and want to watch and share your work.

The Vimeo Awards are currently accepting submissions and will be held in New York City in June.

Matt Morris is an award-winning director living in Winter Park, FL. His documentary short films Pickin' & Trimmin', Watermelon Man, and Mr. Happy Man have been staples of the film festival circuit over the last three years. He is currently filming Mark & Lorna, a documentary short film about a lounge singing couple, as well as planning a leap into narrative filmmaking.
Twitter: @MattMorrisFilms

Why Filmmakers Must Stop SOPA

By Rob Mills

Update: For more about SOPA please visit these links:

Uk Guardian: Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only internet

William Gibson Calls SOPA 'Draconian'

Techdirt: Why All Filmmakers Should Speak Out Against SOPA

Clay Shirky: Why SOPA is a bad idea

For the past three months a couple of dangerous bills have been making their way through meetings on Capital Hill. The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) have become famous for their dangerously reckless approach to combating online piracy. Worse yet, this legislation will do almost nothing to actually stop piracy but could cripple or crush online distribution.

According to the MPAA and other supporters of this legislation, SOPA and PIPA target “rogue” web sites and foreign entities, but the liability created in these bills is huge for U.S. companies. YouTube, Dynamo, MUBI — almost any online film distributor could be strangled by this legislation. If SOPA/PIPA were to pass, any online service even suspected of hosting any amount of copyrighted content can be effectively shut down within a week.

Make no mistake. I hate piracy. I hate that deserving artists don’t get paid for their work. I hate that studios and distributors are forced to hopelessly accept and account for theft. I hate that sales of pirated goods — from DVDs to handbags — fund some of the largest criminal networks in the world, and support cottage industries of money laundering and human exploitation.

But the proposed SOPA legislation does far more than attempt to curtail piracy. SOPA and PIPA are completely reckless, sponsored by people with no clear understanding of online commerce, online media or the current generation of media businesses. As a result, these bills are like shotgun blasts aimed at a distant fly. While the scattershot hits everything around the target, that fly will continue to be a nuisance.

Worse yet, the most dangerous impact of this legislation is the ability for major studios to crush competitors. Rather than just creating a mechanism to control copyrighted content or penalize the hosts of illegal content, SOPA gives studios the ability to shut down entire sites and systems hosting any amount of copyrighted content on suspicion alone.

Ironically, for all of the big business and quasi-conservative support behind this legislation, it is a prime example of over-regulation aimed at limiting the free market. Executives at the major studios understand that SOPA/PIPA stifles their competition in the name of defending copyright.

As usual, studio support for legislation like this is largely a consequence of corporate fear and laziness. The television and film studios have spent much of the last decade cautiously sitting on the sidelines while the investors and innovators behind YouTube, Blip, MUBI, Livestream, Dynamo and hundreds of others took on disproportionate risk to build a sustainable online media market. Now that the markets are proven and the risk is manageable, the studios are backing legislation that would change the rules of commerce and cripple their competition.

An open, competitive market has always been the lifeblood of independent film and has always been terrifying to the studios. For 100 years studio executives have consistently been too scared about losing some of their dominance to explore new markets in innovative ways. With every new distribution option that independent filmmakers have launched, studio heads have pushed for legislation to either strangle or control it. And as much as I hate piracy, I also hate to see studio executives consistently hiring lobbyists to try and fix their problems after failing to innovate.

To support these efforts the MPAA, RIAA and major studios have all behaved like scared children for so many decades that it is no longer possible to take their Chicken Little cries seriously. We were told that the VHS was going to destroy the industry, but after they were forced by the market to embrace private rentals that market grew to become the largest and most reliable source of revenue. We heard the same story about audio tapes, DVDs, radio, cable television, pay-per-view — every technology that created a new way to reach the audience.

Piracy is a serious problem that requires serious solutions, but combatting technical innovation with aggressive legal attacks has never done anything but cripple the market. The best way to combat piracy is to make it easy and safe for people to pay for what they want. Piracy will always be a risk, but studies consistently show that a majority of people who pirate film and TV programs illegally will happily pay for them when those titles are available online and easy to pay for.

Independent filmmakers understand better than anyone that successful distribution means giving the audience what they want, whenever, wherever and however they want it. As an example of the real value of online distribution, at Dynamo we see video rentals succeed at price points 2-5x higher than Redbox DVD rentals. Yet this legislation could kill the online market before the studios even begin to take advantage of it.

Perhaps the worst of all this is that many supporters of this legislation likely have no idea just how dangerous this attack on online distribution is to their own future. Fearful studio executives are holding onto SOPA/PIPA like a hand grenade glued to their own fingers, but it’s the independent filmmakers who will suffer most when it blows up.

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