Who Really Wants To See Cinema Nowadays Anyway?

I had the pleasure of participating on a panel at  17th Europa Cinemas Network Conference  in Paris last month with Saskia Wazel, the policy manager for Consumer Focus UK.  What follow is Saskia's presentation "Cinema as the Essential Link Between Film and Audience" .

 Saskia used herself as a case study and did a very good job also articulating why she did not want to see most movies.  When I complemented her on her frankness, she responded:

"Someone had to tell them that they are having subsidised acid flashbacks since 1968.... it’s not real you know!"


Still Don’t Understand How Facebook Sells Movies? Read This.

By Reid Rosefelt The HBO show “The Wire” went off the air in March of 2008 after five seasons. It never received hire ratings or an Emmy nomination, but many critics called it one of the greatest TV dramas of all time when it was on, and admiration for the program has increased exponentially over the years.

HBO put up an official Facebook page in 2010 which currently has 1.7 million likes. This past Tuesday, December 4th they put up a picture Wendell Pierce as beloved Detective William “Bunk” Moreland accompanied by the quote , and asking the fans to share their favorite Bunk quotes.

So far, 1505 people have commented, 13,129 liked the picture, and 1879 people shared it, for a total of 16,513 mentions on Facebook timelines. Not all of the 16,513 timeline mentions are on unique pages but on the other hand if you scroll through the 1879 shares you’ll see hundreds of comments and shares from those.

A good guess is that over 15,000 people put “The Wire” on their timelines in one way or another.

As Facebook users have an average of 130 friends that would mean that a mention of “The Wire” appeared on around 1,950,000 timelines.

Still, just because a Facebook user has a mention of “The Wire” on his or her timeline doesn’t mean they see it. On average, only 16% of posts get seen, so only around 312,000 people probably saw it.

You heard me right—over 300,000 people saw a Facebook mention of a show that went off the air four and a half years ago, based on a single post by HBO. Even if my calculations are inflated--and I don’t think they are--it is still in the hundreds of thousands.

These are big numbers, but what do they actually mean in the real world? Personally I don’t care much if somebody likes some TV show on my timeline, particularly Facebook “friends” I might not even know. Although there will be some friends whose opinions I trust, with all the entertainment choices I have, I don’t know if a simple mention or even strong praise would be sufficient to convince me. But it wouldn’t be about a single day. It’s a never-ending barrage of praise from friends that goes on for years, until this old show becomes linked in your mind with can’t-miss current series like “Homeland,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

I admit that you would have to be a hermit not to hear about how great “The Wire” without any help from social media. Still, we all hear about amazing movies and TV shows, but for one reason or another we never get around to checking them out. Eventually our vague plans to see them slip to the back of our minds and disappears.

As long as HBO keeps pumping out content, Facebook never ever lets you forget about “The Wire.” And this goes for kids who are five years old today. They are going to hear about it again and again and again. The only thing that will happen is that number of fans will grow as people watch the show and the numbers of mentions on Facebook will increase by the hundreds of thousands.

Facebook is forever. Facebook is not about selling tickets this weekend or this month; Facebook is a long-term game which has a potential payout unprecedented in the history of marketing.

Or at least until there are TV’s or some kind of visual delivery system and climate change hasn’t killed us all. Even if Facebook is wiped out by some other social media platform, “The Wire” will live on there.

How much effort was put into that December 4th post? It’s nothing more than a wallpaper photo recycled from long ago, accompanied with a line of text. It probably took an HBO staffer a minute to put it up, before moving on to “Sex and the City” with its 13 million likes, “The Sopranos,” with its 2.4 million likes, “Game of Thrones,” with its 4.5 million likes, and “Deadwood” and all the rest.

You can say, well “The Wire” is a very special show, and that is certainly true. But there are thousands of great shows in TV history that aren’t taking advantage of social media like HBO is.

There are a lot of great independent films too, but 80-90% of independent film distributors and filmmakers are totally, completely, utterly not doing what HBO is doing. And I include marketing people who are on Facebook ten hours a day. Once they put on their marketing hat on they use Facebook like the people who are most annoying on Facebook. You know, the kind that never send you any fun links or make interesting comments about current events. The kind that only contacts you when they want something, like for you to like their page or come to their concert or art show or….wait for it…ask you to tell your friends that their movie is opening in Cleveland or Birmingham or Tuscaloosa or Chicago or Tampa or Austin or San Francisco. Did you tune out after the first dozen playdates?  No problem. If you don't like, comment or share, the Facebook computer algorithm will stop showing them to you.

Can we do better than this in our industry?

Hell, HBO doesn’t do Facebook that well either.

Reid Rosefelt coaches filmmakers in how to market their films using Facebook, and lectures frequently on the topic.  His credits as a film publicist include “Stranger Than Paradise,”  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Precious.”

Blogreidrosefelt.com

facebook.com/reidrosefeltmarketing

What Mistakes Did You Make On Your First Film?

A week ago, I asked this question on Twitter, feeling that it would be good advice for everyone to have. I started things out by sharing that I thought everyone would be professional and want to get along.

My first production was called TIGER WARSAW.  I was 23 years old I believe.  I found the script, developed it, did all the initial budgeting & scheduling, cast it, did the cast deals, hired the key crew, did those deals, designed some of the shot lists, over saw the production, and got credited as the "Assistant To The Producer".  There was very little trust or good behavior on the show, but there was a fair amount of drug abuse.  Lots of threats of different sorts.  Many separate agendas.  When it was done I quit the business to become a drug counselor (but didn't get very far with that...).The mistakes I and others made, including false assumptions, definitely informed me going forward.

I suspected I would get more response from the Twittersphere than I did.  But what I got was good.  Here are 8 responses.  Next time I will remember the #hashtag...

 

@TedHope Using whatever music I wanted in rough cut and then falling in love with it before truly grasping that it was never gonna happen.

@TedHope Tweet 1 of 2: Needed a barn built, made downpayment with contractor, then didn't check until due date - behold, we were robbed!

@TedHope 2/ 2: But our barn was built by a better contractor, just to be burnt to the ground, GLORIOUS #worththepainhttps://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=268595943167910&set=pb.167615299932642.-2207520000.1354633057&type=3&theater …

@TedHope I thought I knew what I was doing!

@TedHope By contract I had to pay my SAG actors for rehearsals, so we skipped them and hit the ground running. Not next time.

 

@TedHope Thinking if I made a good movie, with good actors 4 less than studios then should make profit. Need 2 compete in a different space

 

@TedHope Flip answer is "making my first film," but, jokes aside, not having a long-range strategy all the way through post to distribution.

 

@TedHope Showing a rough, rough, cut to buyers.

But Facebook was astounding, I got over 100 replies.  Here are some:

But then I found out that Facebook is much better to source this sort of thing and close to 100 comments:

  • Edward Crawford made the mistake tinking that the little details did not matter..and sound was horrible. i recieved many rejection letters from Film Fests stating they really enjoyed story but....
  • Kevin Sonnichsen I've been exceptionally lucky to not have had this particular problem. However, rain, tidal schedules, shooting permits, a futon factory unexpectedly working on their day off in the warehouse next to where we were scheduled to shoot... All other matters entirely.
  • Alix Whittaker mine was that I was just so excited to produce a film - any film - that I ended up spending a huge amount of time, energy, money, and love on a project that ultimately would have been worth it...if only we'd spent another little while on developing the script so that it wasn't total bollocks!!! Script Development is the most important part of the process for me now!
  • Michelle Dee this post smacks of bitterness and vitriol....my mistake was simply getting a surname wrong in the credits. Oh and leaving something on the edit timeline so you got a secret image minutes after the last frame (if you waited long enough)
  • Enzo Tedeschi I learned that moving forward on anything that I wasn't 110% confident in would ALWAYS come back to bite me. Trust your instincts!!!
  • Mel Thompson Lack of preparation, reshoots, rehearsals and coverage.
  • Lindy Boustedt I've learned from similar mistakes. Having one "bad apple" especially on a small budget/small staff indie set can be the death of a production. I also learned how important it is to have proper contracts protecting both sides - and pay for a lawyer to look them over before signing.
  • Tommy Stovall Way too many to list!! And be very careful who you trust.
  • Ellen Pickering THANK YOU FOR THIS POST TED HOPE! You just saved me thousands of $$ and hours in therapy.
  • Laura Lex Great thread!
  • Ben Gonyo That I knew what I was doing.
  • Ryan Colucci That everything wasn't in a contract before production began.
  • Ryan Colucci Also being afraid to let people go. One miserable person is a cancer and sometimes you need to be the unpopular guy.
  • GB Hajim Rushing into distribution. Take a year or more to build interest. Get the good reviews and awards then get a distributor. I have theatrical distributors interested now, but it is too late- my movie comes to VOD in two months.
  • Nick Rossi Be very, very, very choosy in casting. It's not worth making the movie until the cast is right.
    23 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2
  • Anna Wise Thanks
  • Marcus Kent Hamson The first film I shot was a guerilla style shoot. It was January, cold and miserable. Everything went okay on the shoot. My biggest mistake was in the editing. I did not have a full understanding of wave form and vectorscope. The finished film was so dark that it was almost not visible when we screened it.
  • Cathy Stadtfeld Am sharing all these great tips with my fellow movie makers. Thanks y'all.
  • David Fussell Yes I think finding the right people too work with is the hardest thing at any level of film making, even a tea boy can damage your production if his heart is not fully behind your film and anyone wanting to destroy your film can do so much damage before you know whats happen. Sorry if I have put anyone off film making.
  • Joseph White counting on the wrong people is a BIG ONE! I was talking to someone the other day who was billing 2 jobs for rigging while on a commercial with me, sadly, its just a job to most people and to others its an ego game
  • Mike Nichols So here's a fun story: On a film where the producer allegedly had the money (i.e.: me), Money stopped coming in from my source after week 1. So I spent the better part of a weekend soliciting bank loans at ridiculous percentages, family loans and personal savings to ensure...wait, why am I sharing this? Nope, none of that ever happened. We made the movie on time, under budget and recouped 500%
  • Samia Shoaib What a fun question Ted Hope! Btw Tom Luddy said you were a welcome addition to the SF scene. Of course
  • Mitch Klebanoff Fun story, before mentioned, unnamed but extremely lovable producer, thrust a stack of cash into my 23 year old hands and said pay off the crew 50 cents on the dollar - as he sped away in a car. Sorry Ted, this is getting off track.
  • JB Bruno Assuming that anything was actually "free". My mentor, Stan Bickman, used to call it the "High Cost of Free"
  • Katherine Dieckmann Not fully realizing what guys in trench coats from Queens fully signified when they popped up at lunch in an extremely remote holler in of western North Carolina. That, and crying on set.
  • Samia Shoaib James Schamus - when teaching "No-Budget Producing" at Columbia, taught me many tricks (all stolen from Ted Hope no doubt). Did shots with the owner of a strip club in Wall St. to get him to let me tie-in when my generator conked.
  • Jennifer Lyne Oh, and when I called Magno Sound and they said they "lost the mix." Forever.
  • JB Bruno Samia, that goes with one of the other things I learned - cash speaks. People can walk away from a deal memo or a promise - take cash out of your pocket that they can have now but not if you walk away - priceless
  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt agreeing to a heavily-publicized, public work-in-progress screening before having anything resembling a decent cut. followed shortly by: believing that 3 hour assembly should be shown to anyone outside your immediate team. the screening was packed with people who might have helped finish it i'd made an appropriate 'presentation'...but as it was it took years to get those same people to watch anything of mine again. still haven't fully learned this lesson with my own directing work, but as a producer for others, it's much easier to know when to wait...
  • Christine Haebler believing the director had all the answers....
  • Scott Macaulay You executive produced mine! I would say not relying on or getting enough advice from a professional locations person so that we realized that a condo location contract had to be approved by not only the condo owner but the condo's board. A potentially disastrous mistake that we were fortunately able to correct.
  • Samia Shoaib Crying like a baby in the lobby of SoundOne when I got my bill and having a zero knocked off by Alishan (?) Granted - that was NOT a mistake
  • Jim Fall Believing that when you showed a rough cut to informed creative people that they could see pass the "rough" part to what I saw as the finished film...rarely happens.
  • Samia Shoaib JB Bruno - "Free" never cost me anything. Just a little appreciation and getting people emotionally invested. Lesson from James.
  • Christine Haebler Yes that one too Jim! Oh and...believing that LA agents were telling the truth.
  • Mark Lipson oh fuck, where do i start....
  • Jennifer Roth Learning that 3 sets of script revisions/day was normal and that new pages needed the time as well as the date.
  • Jennifer Roth PS: Sleeping with the boom operator on my first movie was the BEST decision I've ever made.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Phillip - I couldn't disagree more. Most people in the film are actually very bright and very professional. Yes, professionalism may be lacking at the very low level, where some kid with no experience decides that he is a director,granma gives him some money, and the crew is a bunch of kids just out of school who think that film making might be fun and bottom-feeders who rent beat-up equipment to said kids. But in the real business, almost everyone is dedicated to doing the best job that they can. It reflects on them, their reputation and their career. They may not care about the actual project due to a bad script and/or bad acting and/or a hack director, or maybe disrespectful higher-ups, but they still want to do their job as best they can. AC's want everything to be in proper focus, wardrobe wants everyone to dress as they should, make-up wants actors to look beautiful (or horrible), sound wants everything to sound clean and clear. Even the folks in the lower ranks want to do everything quickly, safely and well, in order to get their boss to call them for the next job and recommend them to others.
  • Samia Shoaib Skimping on craft services - BIG mistake, not to mention irretrievably short sighted.
  • Jesse Ozeri If the key grip is a vegan, have vegetables on the crafty table. Nothing is scarier then an irate vegan refusing to work because he hasn't had celery in a week.
  • Lee Friedlander Thinking that people with more experience knew more and placating ignorant investors..
  • Antonio L. Arroyo As to Ted's original question - my biggest mistake was being more interested in how films are made rather than how the real industry functioned. I also should have been more aggressive and careful about finding mentors.
  • Larry D. Eudene I remember that! Geez, I think that was shortly after I did Metropolitan and found out if you didn't have a cut in the film, you need to get paid decently no matter what. Long time ago.
  • Samia Shoaib Touché. Finding mentors was the best bit of film school. (The fab Bette Gordon and Terry Southern in my case.)
  • Samia Shoaib Thinking that the teamster I had hijack HMIs from the "Quiz Show" set wouldn't expect me to sleep with him eventually.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Actually, Metropolitan was one of my best early experiences. I was thinking of all of the time and money I wasted trying to raise money for mediocre scripts with senior partners that knew less about the business than I did. And as a sound mixer, starting out as a mixer and trying to reinvent the wheel rather than taking a stepping back and assisting people who really knew what they were doing.
  • Samia Shoaib As Spielberg said "Good directing is asking qualified people for help". (And getting your tits out in the process if necessary).
  • Larry D. Eudene Thanks, Antonio! I remember you well!
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Mitch. I sent you a response to your blink tank email. I hope you get it.
  • Jack Mulcahy My first film was PORKY'S, and the mistake I made was thinking the 1st AD was my pal.
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Jack! Happy Holidays! You're the funniest! Did you at least have fun on The Reunion?
  • Al Magliochetti Letting the film fall out of the camera was kind of a problem . .
  • Al Magliochetti Biggest mistake on my first feature - not quitting when the idiot producers budgeted 1/10th of what was required to complete the visual effects, against my vehement objections.
  • Jack Mulcahy I did, Larry. Had high hopes for it.
  • Larry D. Eudene Me too! You did an amazing job in the Lead! Too bad Paul ran out of money!
  • Larry D. Eudene It's funny that some of my favorite people are on here! Thanks, Ted for starting this thread! Happy Holidays to you!
  • Jack Mulcahy And I, like you Ted, learned from that mistake.
  • Martha Coleman My passion for the characters made me blind to story weaknesses.
  • Stavros Georgiadis The chain is only as good as its weakest link.
  • Terry Green I learned that by the time you get to your fourth film, nothing replaces the romance of that first one. You only get to make the first one one time, and there's a certain poetry in that.
  • Icarus Arts Assuming that if we made a good film and got it into a major festival, the rest of my career would fall into place. We worked for almost 3 years to get that film out.
  • Cornelia E. Burnham I actually had a blast - entire company stayed most of the shooting at my folks in CT - and Charles gave me an A+ / Boris....on the other hand, noticed one shot had Baby Legs in the middle NONE of us noticed it. Ha!
  • Sasha Santiago I learn to let go of complete control and trust your collaborators as often as possible. Maybe more often than possible. The bond becomes stronger, the results of the day more fulfilling and the willingness to push higher and for longer... oh yeah, we're cooking now. "They" say you should approach every movie as if it's your last, maybe it's better to approach every film as if it's your first?
  • Mamta Trivedi I assumed I had to work with lousy, awful & inept dolts just because the industry was small & exclusive.
  • Martha Coleman I learned that if you hire all the right people you can kinda let the movie make itself.
  • Rich Martini Not fighting like a banshee when the studio decided to cut ten minutes of comedy, despite an 86 rating. I found out years later, if u can believe it, the distribution guy hated the producer and deliberately torpedoed the release (his asst apologized to me years later when I ran into him). Leave no stone unturned until its completely out of your hands.
    18 hours ago via mobile · Edited · Like
  • Isen Robbins 1 Showing films to distributors in large numbers before getting accepted to a major festival. 2 using atm to hand cash to crews and not keeping records. 3 Passing on famous actors because we want audiences to identify with just the character... or what ever that is. 4 Shooting in one's own apartment (neighbors organized and signed a eviction petition when we got turned around and shot night for day, for a week) 5 work with friends. 6 having a weak non film lawyer. 7... and so on...
  • Neda Disney dated one colleague, then another. it was a three month project which felt like years to a young girl in the city. silly.
  • Jake Abraham Thinking I could trust the director to stop cutting and give us enough time to prep for Sundance without almost having a heart attack
  • JB Bruno Isen , but other than those little things everything went ok , right?
  • JB Bruno Neda, I learned that one in theater when I was stage managing and dated my ASM during rehearsals. We were out of town. We broke up right before opening and I had to sit next to her EVERY day through the rest of the run. We both hated it. Didn't make that mistake again in film - until years later. Not much better. Sometimes, we need to RELEARN.

 

Diary of a Film Startup Part 16: Top Ten Lessons, So Far

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Film Marketing Tools

Train to Stockholm We get amazing indie films submitted to KinoNation almost every day to our Private Beta launch. Here’s one that’s beautifully shot, with a theme of cross-border connectivity that will, I think, appeal to many video-on-demand platforms. Keep submitting movies!

10 Lessons As we close in on year’s end -- and 4 months work on KinoNation -- I thought I’d share some lessons we’ve learned that really apply, I think, both to startup ventures AND to indie filmmaking. They seem obvious to me with hindsight, but they weren’t obvious when we started just a few months ago.

1 ASSUMPTIONS -- the premise for any startup or film is based on a series of assumptions which may or may not be true. It’s critically important to accept that your assumptions -- about market, audience, revenues, etc. -- may be fundamentally flawed. Job # 1 is to identify what your fundamental assumptions are. For KinoNation, the assumptions are that: a) filmmakers and content owners will want to use a service like this, b) that VoD platforms will be prepared to take our films, and c) that the numbers (costs vs future revenue) will actually add up to make the venture worthwhile.

2 TEST & VERIFY -- it’s much faster and cheaper to test your assumptions before you start shooting or writing code or hiring people. The key is to test & verify in a thoroughly objective way. Avoid what many entrepreneurs and filmmakers do, which is to hear only what they want to hear (positive validation) and filter out what they don’t want to hear (negative validation.) We tested our assumptions in #1 by making hundreds of calls and asking people, before we wrote a single line of code. And we continue to test and listen and test again. You really can do similar verification before making a movie.

3 PIVOT -- be prepared to change course, based on testing, feedback and early results. We were pretty sure we’d use the industry leading software for transferring huge movie files (Aspera) until we discovered it would cost us $100 for each film uploaded to us. So we built the software ourselves. That was a pretty major pivot, with significant risk, but we did it fast, and within less than a month we had people using our Upload Manager to transfer their ProRes files to our cloud servers.

4 BE TRANSPARENT - talk to competitors, be open about your plans. So many entrepreneurs and filmmakers want to keep their idea secret. Bad idea. Ideas are ten a penny. It’s execution that’s really hard. The upside from sharing your idea -- and the feedback you get -- far outweighs the risk that someone will take your idea and execute on it themselves. Startups or screenplays or ideas in “stealth mode” tend to die from lack of exposure to the real world. I’ve had meetings with most of our competitors, and I’ve learned enormously from each one. Competitors can be remarkably open, friendly and supportive.

5 LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE -- in the case of KinoNation, audience means filmmakers and VoD platforms and consumers of on-demand films. Talk to everyone, invite criticism and listen carefully, even if the feedback conflicts with your own beliefs. They may be right, you may be wrong. Many of our beliefs about the world of on-demand films have been significantly amended after listening to feedback.

6 RELEASE EARLY AND FAST -- there’s no better way to verify that you’re on to something (or not) than by having real people check it out, use your service, watch your dailies, etc. Get it out there fast, at least to a limited audience, and shorten the feedback-loop. In the startup world it’s known as MVP -- Minimum Viable Product.

7 DON’T WASTE TIME AND MONEY ON STUPID STUFF -- there are so many “busywork” items beckoning to you when starting a business or prepping a movie. Setting up a company, printing stationery, opening a bank account, etc. Don’t let it distract you. It doesn’t achieve much. Do it only when you absolutely must, and not before. e.g. open a bank account after you first get that first check!

8 STRIVE FOR FIRST MONEY -- keep your sights on the point where your first income arrives. That’s actually the crucial target. It’s not launching the website or wrapping the shoot. It’s getting that first check. For KinoNation the first income will be in Q1 of 2013, and once it comes it -- even if relatively small -- it will be the first “real” validation of our business assumptions.

9 BE CHEAP, LEAN & MEAN -- startup companies and startup movies die because they run out of cash. You’ll never have enough. Be incredibly cheap. Run things lean and mean, but always be aware of the 3 factors “fast” “inexpensive” and “high quality”  -- you can only ever have 2 out of 3.

10 IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT -- making movies, or starting a business is a long haul, always longer and harder than you expect. You’ll have times when you accomplish a lot, and times of intense frustration. You have to pace yourself, take fun breaks, and bust the stress with exercise. You will fail to finish this marathon if you don’t balance life, work and passion.

Next Up: Post # 17: From Upload to Cash in Hand: How KinoNation Works

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

My War, Part 1: The Ugly Side

By Mike Keegan
Cinema is dead, no one goes to the movies, film is dead, who actually goes to the movies, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, there’s nothing new under the sun—my gosh, don’t you just WRETCH at the thought of these phrases, either in a hundred and forty characters or time-wasting think pieces or overheard on BART or anywhere else under the sun.  Here’s the secret—and I’m preaching to the choir here—American independent cinema is going through an amazing renaissance at the moment.  Really!  It’s just ACCESS to these movies that’s the problem, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie.  You, dear reader, could conceivably write, direct, shoot, edit and upload a feature film with whatever device you’re currently reading this on.  Look here—iMovie for your iPhone is just $4.99 in the App Store.  So let’s try a little experiment—go make a movie.  I’ll wait here.  Go do it–it’ll be fun!  Good luck!

How far did you get?  It’s not that easy, huh?  I mean, it’s technically easy to assemble those elements, but it’s not practically easy to see through to the very end.  So let’s quit it with the condescending “back in my day” quips about hardship quotas that need to be met by each bumper crop of new filmmakers.

If you somehow beat the odds and finish a feature, the next step is getting your movie seen.  Oh boy.  That’s a hurdle.  Let’s skip ahead eighteen months and you took a modest deal that lands your micro budget masterpiece in the menu of a Video On Demand service.   Now your aunt can tell all of her friends about it!  That is, if she can find the folder for it.  Oh, and your competition is THE AVENGERS.  And also every movie ever, all available at once.  Your Indie Wire coverage was pretty great, but your aunt’s friends don’t read Indie Wire (or, at least, not regularly).  Is this movie serious?  They don’t really feel like watching a serious movie tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  Also, now three or four years of your life are gone.  I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN BY MEETING A SURLY DARE YOU FOUND BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON A LINK FROM EITHER THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY OR HopeForFIlm BLOGs!

I’m not saying Video On Demand has to be the death knell of movies.  Realistically, it’s the only option a lot of great movies have to be seen by even the smattering of people who will spend the three to seven dollars to watch it.  But they need to know the movie exists in the first place.

Listen, the history of theatrical exhibition is a boondoggle of greed, codification, short-sighted expansion and hubris on macro and micro-scales.  It truly is. And with forced digital upgrades on the horizon, even more cinemas are crumbling under the financial weight of an industry who could give less of a shit.  Sounds GRIM, huh?

No, not entirely.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future.

Mike Keegan is a film programmer at the famed Roxie theater in San Francisco.
 
This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society blog.

Prepping for the Future with the Vision Machine iPad App

By Greg Pak I came up through independent film. Then I snagged a meeting with Marvel and spent most of the last eight years writing comic books. Now I've just completed an iPad app version of one of my graphic novels that combines elements of both comics and film. Here are a few thoughts about what inspired me as a filmmaker and comic book writer to plunge into the transmedia world of the "Vision Machine" app project and what I've learned.

Why "Vision Machine"?

A few years ago, Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation approached me with the idea of creating a comic book that would help independent media makers imagine the technological, political, and social changes that will affect us over the next fifty years. As an indie filmmaker, sci fi guy, technology freak, and comic book creator, I was immediately hooked. What resulted was a 80 page sci fi thriller that follows three filmmaker friends as they confront the incredible potential and danger of the iEye, Sprout Computers' latest piece of revolutionary personal technology. The iEye allows users to instantly record anything they can see or imagine, then edit, add special effects, and share it with the world just by thinking about it. Our heroes plunge into a mind-blowing utopia of creativity... and then, of course, the other shoe drops.

With its emphasis on copyright, trademark, privacy, and surveillance, "Vision Machine" let me explore questions that I'm always thinking about as a filmmaker and a citizen of the digital world.

And then ITVS came along and let me take the project to a whole new level.

The Future Is Already Here

New digital technology is already good enough to deliver fantastic storytelling experiences to readers and viewers. I want to be telling stories for decades. So I figure it's a smart move to jump on any chance to create stories that work natively with new technology.

Soon after I completed the "Vision Machine" comic book in early 2011, I began talking with Karim Ahmad and Matthew Meschery at ITVS about the possibility of working together. Our plans eventually focussed on diving into brand new technology by making the interactive iPad app version of the comic book that's now downloadable for free from the Apple iTunes Store.

The iPad allowed us to add a soundtrack, animation, "extras" buttons, and a Twitter feed to the "Vision Machine" comic book. I've seen a few adults unfamiliar with the iPad hesitate when they first open the app. But every kid who opens the app dives right in, swiping, reading, watching, listening. A generation is growing up accustomed to interacting directly with stories on touchscreens. That's an audience I want to win.

A Chance to Tell a Huge Story with a Smaller Budget

"Vision Machine" is a big, fun genre story that would cost millions of dollars to produce as a feature film. The iPad app version cost a tiny fraction of that -- and it allowed me to work with a fantastic composer and brilliant animators, sound designers, and voice actors.

New Creative Opportunities

As a filmmaker, I'm typically putting a movie together with the assumption that my audience is sitting down and watching the whole thing from beginning to end without interruption. But the reality of non-theatrical viewing is that people stop and start programs all the time or have their attention divided by "second screen" activities like live-tweeting. That might be anathema for certain kinds of stories. But it could be a huge opportunities for others.

"Vision Machine" is a story that features a piece of personal technology that creates a cloud of popup windows and augmented reality information streams around its users. So it completely fits the theme and vibe of the story for the app to feature real pop ups that provide additional information and commentary. For example, as you're watching our heroes try out their iEyes for the first time, you can tap on an "IRL" button and see a video of Tribeca student filmmakers talk about what they'd do if they had iEyes. Other extras videos feature internet superstar Jonathan Coulton, tech journalist Andy Ihnatko, and Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain director Jennifer Jenkins, all of whom have smart, funny, and sometimes scary things to say about the real world topics raised by the story.

There's No Money in It -- Yet

The "Vision Machine" app was funded by the ITVS as part of its (awesome) sci fi Futurestates program and is being given away for free under a Creative Commons license. So there's not yet a proven business model here for similar independent projects. But a few years ago, I hesitated before "giving away" any of my short films on Youtube. Now a decent number of videomakers have built enough audience to make a living from their Youtube channels. Similarly, someone's going to crack the market for this kind of enhanced entertainment app sooner rather than later.

Using Social to Build an Audience

I've been fooling around on Twitter for a couple of years now partly because it's the comic industry's water cooler and it's just plain fun to trade jokes with fellow creators and fans. But I've also been using Twitter (and Google+) to plug my work and hopefully build readership. Exactly how much of an effect those tweets have on sales is hard to gauge. But in the past year or so, the value of social networking to independent media makers has begun to register in hard dollars. A slew of independent comic book creators have been using Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise thousands for their dream projects. Kickstarter has become a kind of distribution venue, essentially allowing indies to fund books through presales. And the biggest prizes have gone to those who are savvy users of social networks. In short, building a Twitter following now has a real chance to enable a creator to keep on creating.

So for the "Vision Machine" iPad app, I wanted to experiment with creating a strong social element that could directly enhance the story while readers are reading. The finished app allows users to bring up a live Twitter stream that shows tweets that use the #visionmachine hashtag. So now I can hold a virtual public Q&A or deliver live director's commentary that folks can follow in real time while reading the book.

It's just a first step. But I'm excited about the potential to start a conversation within the work itself that can help build those social networks that may ultimately allow us mediamakers to keep our careers ticking along.

What I'd Do Differently

We designed the "Vision Machine" app as an iPad app, partly because that's the technology I was the most familiar with and partly because the Apple iTunes Store remains the easiest way for non-technologically obsessed consumers to quickly download and try new media like this. But when we debuted the app at the New York Comic-Con, at least two thirds of the people I talked with about the project shrugged regretfully and said they only had Android devices.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd strongly consider building a non-platform-specific web app that anyone could access on any device through a browser. That's a bit less sexy than an iPad app -- and it's a bit tougher to figure out how to make any money from it. But it broadens the potential audience and avoids potential gatekeeper issues with Apple's iTunes Store, which must approve every app it distributes.

My other big piece of advice for anyone considering this kind of project is to separate out art elements from the beginning, if at all possible. "Vision Machine" was created first as a traditional graphic novel, with single layer pencils. But animating requires elements to be separated from the background and the backgrounds to be fully filled in. If you know you're going to undertake this kind of project, separating out elements from the beginning will save you money and increase your creative possibilities later down the line.

Creative Commons

And one more thing... "Vision Machine" is a Creative Commons project, which means that you're free to remix or reuse the art, characters, and story, as long as you credit Pak Man Productions and release the material non-commercially under the same license. I'm still figuring out just how to fit Creative Commons into my work and what projects it makes sense for, so I was thrilled when Orlando suggested we use it for "Vision Machine." If you're interested in playing along, feel free to download the free graphic novel and check out the details at www.visionmachine.net.

Here are links: 
And bio: 
Greg Pak is a filmmaker and comic book writer best known for directing the award-winning feature film "Robot Stories", writing the epic "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comic book storylines, and co-writing (with Fred Van Lente) the fan favorite "Incredible Hercules" series for Marvel Comics. 

Video: The Future Of Film Festivals

Last week I gave the keynote at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas. You now have a chance to watch the video of it. Check it out here. You also get the Q&A -- which is always my favorite part of any talk. Here it is: why do we have so many festivals? Why are we neglecting the youth? How can we best address student work? How can niche festivals remain competitive when distributors favor the larger ones?

If text is more your bag, Indiewire ran the first part here, and HopeForFilm (that's me btw) ran the second part.

Your Film is Coffee

By Emily Best

I want to start a Fair Trade Filmmaking movement. I have been shouting this from the rooftops, but I understand that talking to filmmakers about getting paid better is like praising virtue and condemning vice: it’s too easy. 

Fair Trade Filmmaking does not start when someone spontaneously decides to pay the filmmaker more than the sales agents, distributors and exhibitors. In the age of direct-to-audience distribution, that’s the really easy part. And while of course the notion of “Fair Trade” is to pay and treat the creators better, more importantly it is a way to engage the consumer in the process of fairer practices. But there is a big catch: the product has to be really good.

I walk down to the end of my block, passing three delis (this is New York, after all), because the local coffee shop serves Fair Trade coffee. I make the extra effort to travel farther and pay on average $2 more per cup because I feel better about my purchase. But more than that, this coffee is friggin’ delicious. 

I know that films are not coffee, but the ‘fair trade’ experience has to be the same: the consumer experience is as important a factor as the worker (creator) experience. In plain terms: consumers will not put their dollars towards a product with a Fair Trade stamp if it tastes like crap. And if the consumer does not spend dollars to consume, nobody gets paid a wage at all. 

That means a Fair Trade agreement comes with a BIG responsibility for the creators. In order to make a Fair Trade film, you have to be prepared to produce really high quality products. 

While technology is making it faster and cheaper to generate films, it’s getting harder and harder to find those films across the hundreds of viewing platforms. There are LOTS of delis, so you have to find that one great coffee shop, the distribution outlet you think best attracts your film’s audience. And that outlet has to be known for having good coffee.

And here’s the filmmaker’s advantage: The film business-as-usual is more exclusive and risk-averse than ever. Only 37 specialty titles were released from studios this year. The rest were...well, vampires and superheroes. There’s clearly a place (and audience) for those films, but you don’t HAVE to be one of them. The internet has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that audiences are willing to seek out and pay for the content that matters to them.

And here’s where your film is NOT like coffee: nobody wakes up in the morning craving something they don’t know exists. The attraction and engagement of your audience has to start before you even offer your film for sale. It’s why so many coffee shops now feature stories and photos from the farms where the coffee is produced: to show the consumer the care and skill with which these real people are creating the product. A personal connection to the creator motivates the consumer to make the extra effort. Ok, your film is still like coffee.

Obviously, film consumption is not as simple as coffee consumption. Tastes differ vastly. You must find YOUR fair trade audience, educate them as to why they should get involved with you. Empower them to support the stories and projects (and people) that matter to them. Then you have to give them a product they love. They will make the extra effort for that. That’s a fair trade.

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

What Can Europe Learn From The US VOD Market To Date?

I moderated Europa International Distribution 2.0 in Paris over Thanksgiving. Here Ryan Werner talks about how VOD has evolved in the States, particularly for World Cinema.

It's nicely shot as these things go, even if my bald spot takes starring honors.

Here's another clip on whether films need Facebook pages.

And another on Day & Date.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 15: Film Marketing Tools

By Roger Jackson
Previously: Early Results

50 Ways to Sell Your Movie KinoNation now has a library of almost 100 feature films and documentaries in our Private Beta. As I spend time showing some of these films to various US and international video-on-demand outlets, I am more and more convinced of the need for a step-by-step template that helps filmmakers with the the business of selling & marketing their films. So last week I spent some time creating a “back of an envelope” plan for a section of KinoNation where filmmakers can be guided through a series of fifty steps to give their film a better chance at finding an audience. The idea is to have one page on KinoNation.com for each of these fifty steps, along with an overall Progress Bar -- so a filmmaker can review what percentage of this marketing checklist has been completed. This is deliberately rough -- I just want to get the discussion started.

Checklist Imagine yourself going through this checklist, with a page on KinoNation for each one, including examples and hand-holding and discussion and comments. The objective is to come out the other side having taken action -- and marketing is all about “taking action” -- to make your film stand out in a crowded market. This is down and dirty, stream of consciousness stuff right now, but will coalesce over the coming weeks into a critically important part of KinoNation. It’s in our interest to help filmmakers sell their films on VoD, since we only make money when they make money!

  1. Mission/Objectives - what’s the point of making this film?
  2. You - tell your audience about the driving force behind this film, warts and all. Especially the warts!
  3. Them - people are, fundamentally, interested in themselves. They want to learn about themselves and their world thru the medium of your film. Make your marketing personal and organic and authentic.
  4. Ask for Help - marketing is a second marathon alongside the making of them film - start by inviting people to help. It’s like KickStarter, but you’re not asking for money, just time.
  5. Timeline - I rarely see this, but I always want it, a timeline of the film from inception thru now.
  6. Budget - be open and transparent about money issues, it’s interesting and compelling and people love it. Share your budget docs!
  7. Synopsis - I see SO many bad synopses. Make yours sing, with lean, spare prose and perfect grammar and syntax. Around 200 words. Max.
  8. Tagline - a short, pithy one-liner that instantly grabs attention.
  9. Long Description - you need this also, should be no more than 1000 words.
  10. Storyboards - great if you have them, share them online.
  11. Genres - choose 1 primary genre and (maybe) one sub-genre, and stick to it.
  12. Sales Pitch - 50-100 words on why this film is a smart commercial bet.
  13. Script - put the script (or at least bits of it) online, it’s great SEO (search-engine optimization)
  14. Memorable Quotes - we love ‘em on IMDb, and people will be similarly drawn to yours
  15. Top Ten Lists - my 10 biggest rookie director screw-ups or 10 lucky breaks in the making of this movie, and so on.
  16. Optimal Title - I’ve written about this before, the alphabetical advantage. Unfortunately it’s true that “20,000 Zombies” gets better placement on many VoD platforms than “Universal Zombie”
  17. SEO - Search Engine Optimization. Learn a little about it and views all online marketing through this lens, it’s critically important.
  18. Keywords - come up with a half-dozen keywords for your film and make sure they are on every web page you have control over (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
  19. Film Detail Page - we’re planning to give every film a “detail page” on KinoNation.com
  20. Trivia - everyone loves this, it’s always compelling, so give your audience some!
  21. Video - you can never have too many video clips out there, the more the merrier.
  22. Trailer - cutting a trailer is hard; don’t wait for this, get other clips released.
  23. First 8 mins - studios often do something like this, easy to cut, great way to get viewers hooked.
  24. Clips - studios do this constantly, releasing literally dozens of 30-60 sec clips as part of the marketing campaign. You should also.
  25. Outtakes - don’t save these for the DVD, get them out there if they’re truly funny or compelling.
  26. Behind the Scenes - mini interviews with cast & crew, location scouting video, whatever you have.
  27. Media Relations - journalists want things to write about, especially if their magazine or blog is on the same subject as your film, or if your film was shot in their town. Don’t be scared, call them!
  28. Hand-Crafted Pitches (emails & calls) to film mags and blogs, tell them why your film is worth featuring.
  29. Social Media - think about what this really means. It’s not just having a Facebook page -- it’s about creating a compelling arc for the story of your struggle to write, finance, cast, shoot, edit, screen and market your film.
  30. Web Site - or at least a single “film detail page,” which KN.com will have for all our films
  31. Facebook - start it early in the process, post something every day.
  32. Twitter - I’m far from expert,  all I know is that it’s worth the investment.
  33. Pinterest - more popular every day, should be the pictorial hub for your movie.
  34. YouTube - all your video clips should be here, plus Vimeo also.
  35. Images - still images can show aspects of your film that video won’t...take lots and lots and show them off!
  36. Posters - on VoD, films live or die by how compelling your poster image is as people scan a page of movies. It’s the same as a video store shelf. Don’t make a great movie with a lame poster. This deserves enormous effort to get right -- make a dozen and test, test, test!
  37. Talent - empower your talent, beg them if you must, but enlist them early in mobilizing their friends and family and fans if they have them.
  38. Behind the Scenes - the stories behind the camera are only worthwhile if you capture them somehow.
  39. Cast - create profiles of your cast members, the who/what/where/why when of them and the characters they play.
  40. Crew - the crew have friends and families too, so find ways to leverage them for marketing.
  41. Director, Writer, Producer, DP, Editor -- get them to write some copy, snap some images, generally engage them in the on-going marketing
  42. Locations - leverage your locations, make sure the good folk of the small desert town you filmed in are kept informed via their local paper, blogs, etc. They’re prime target audience.
  43. Score Music - release bits of your music online, give your (hopefully) growing audience some sounds
  44. Tech - don’t forget to talk tech, there are plenty of gearheads out there, they want to know about the camera, the lights, etc.
  45. Stunts & Action - if you have stunts or car chases this is great footage for early release.
  46. Languages - think globally from the beginning, VoD is a global medium, translate at least your synopsis and sales pitch into the major foreign languages.
  47. Funny Stuff - there’s always funny stuff on film sets, documentary shoots, etc. Don’t just tell your pals, tell everyone.
  48. Accidents - these happen too; as long as they’re not tragic, you should blog about them.
  49. Festivals - tier A, tier B, tier C -- all useful, but you must plan!
  50. Test Screenings - do what the studios do, show and tell and feedback loops.

Feedback very much desired. I’m sure there are many things I’ve missed. And keep submitting movies!

Next Up: Post # 16: Top Ten Mistakes, So Far

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

12 Questions Toward The Future Of FIlm Festivals

Yesterday I gave the Keynote Address at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas.  You can read the speech on Indiewire here.  Or watch the video here. I ended the talk with a host of questions -- 12 to be exact, and they follow below. The abundance of questions I’ve raised, point that we have a tremendous opportunity to unlock all ta new power of film festivals -- and I certainly can brainstorm with you they myriad of ways that can be done --but if we seek to begin to recognize the boundaries we can push at the festival level, I want to first shower you with even more questions -- not answers -- as I suspect they will allow far more solutions to flower.

I have twelve questions I am going to be pondering this year when I look at our festival, the San Francisco International Film Festival, when I come to your festivals, and when I hear the tales of the intrepid filmmaker / traveller ushering their film from one festival to another:

1. What is the full power of community and how do we transform our audiences into sustainable communities? Can we curate communities in a similar way? What if we connected like minded people in a more sustainable way and then allow audience to truly influence what is seen and discovered?

2. How doe we utilize cinema’s power to activate? What is our call to action? What is the call to action to our constituencies? How do we transition them from passive to action?

3. What do our audiences really want Film Festivals to be? What does it mean to be a communal gathering?

4. What do filmmakers really want from Festivals these days? Very few can be markets or premieres, even publicity machines. How can we deepen the utility of festivals for the creative community? Festivals deliver intelligent and engaged audiences to the films. Can we deepen the relationship between the fans and the creators?

5. If authenticity, participation, and customization are indeed what people want today, how do our programs provide that?

6. Can we work together so that films gain better momentum festival to festival and unleash the power of the combined festival community in some way?

7. Are we utilizing the strength of the festivals as an information gathering and dissemination tool as fully as we might? What information is not being gathered when we collect films and crowds and can we change that? This is the data age. Are we embracing transparency as fully as we might?

8. As trusted curators of this colossal heap of cinema culture, how do we really make a difference on a long term basis? Is a short burst of guidance enough? Growth requires consistency and do we provide that? We are the filter, the trusted source. Film festivals are discovery platform for films that might otherwise be ignored. How to carry that over to the online environment?

9. How do we transform young people into loyal cinema lovers? We are losing the youth. Can we stem the tide?

10. What is the broadest definition of film? Can we reflect that and help people embrace that? Have we forgotten what show business is and neglected the spectacle and event in favor of the practical and executable?

11. If we are moving away from the one film at a time business model towards one of artists forming long term relationships with their audiences, how do film festivals facilitate it?

12. The best thing the film industry can do to help ambitious and diverse work is to make sure that artists and their supporters are the direct beneficiaries of the rewards of the film. How do festivals do that?

We have an incredible opportunity before us. The only consistent is change. We can’t stand still. Never before have we had access to the tools that can change our world. But yet we don't know where to go. We need to ask real questions and on a consistent basis. We will find the answers and the maps. There are no boundaries but ourselves.

Please Mr. Zuckerberg, Zap My Facebook Spam!

By Reid Rosefelt

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I love Facebook but there is one thing that really irks me fierce, and that’s when a guy with a name like Axylsmpgo Phpnygusx “Big Pimpin” Pxtzchqo and a profile picture of Vera Farmiga likes my page. Who makes mysterious comments like like “axkcfierj;kfdjrpeirka;dfuernxitrh.” I suppose that there are those who get satisfaction out of correspondence of this nature, but alas, I am not one of them.

Please help me get these counterfeit likers off my fan page. All you need to do is give me a button so I can zap away the profiles of people who aren’t real. For example, if I have 1083 and one of those phantoms tries to make it 1084 I click and then I’m back to good old 1083 again. That would give me more satisfaction than you can imagine.

I’m sure you agree that these imaginary Facebook profiles pose real dangers to Facebook as a business. When advertisers shell out heavy coin to reach people who don’t exist… they can get annoyed. I bet Wall Street takes notice of stuff like this; I know I do every time I promote a post. : ) You must agree with me that this smells bad because otherwise you wouldn’t have started removing the buggers in January. But you persist in making me wait for the day when you’ll exterminate my personal infestation.

I’m as big a fan of Facebook as you could ever find, and I’d be the last one to complain, but seriously there is something kabluey in your system. I target ads to the United States, Canada and the UK and I get dozens of people from Morocco. Maybe it’s just me, but I seriously doubt that non-English speaking people in Marrakech are interested in my page. And don’t get me started about Iran and Algeria.

I block them. I report them to Facebook. I hide my page from countries. I target all my posts to people who speak English. But still these android profiles grow like kudzu on my page. Mark, when somebody wants to friend me on my personal page, you give me the right to confirm or not confirm. There is so little power I have in real life… people with b.o. and bad breath can sidle up to me at parties, so you have no idea how grateful I am for the confirm option that Facebook so kindly provides on my personal page. But when it comes to my business page I am as helpless as a kitten up a tree. This ability to control my own destiny is a basic human right, one that I humbly request that you grant me.

It wouldn’t have any impact on people who get joy out of having computer viruses as pals, but Mark, I’m the kind of guy who needs to have real relationships with people. After all, I am one of your 16 million subscribers.

Sincerely,

[caption id="attachment_8427" align="alignleft" width="244"] Reid Rosefelt (signature)[/caption]

 

 

 

 

 

You can connect with 

Reid Rosefelt  &Facebook Marketing for Filmmakers at:

reidrosefelt.com

facebook.com/reidrosefeltmarketing

You Want To Start A Film Production Co.? Why Not Make It A Non-Profit?

By Chris Mason Johnson

I don’t have any statistics on this, but from what I can gather anecdotally, forming a non-profit to make a fictional feature film is a pretty rare thing, but it’s what I’ve done for my new (second) feature, Test, and it’s been a great experience. Mostly great. At first I did have to endure snarky questions from my non-filmmaking friends, along the lines of: “Aren’t you just admitting your film won’t make any money?” Well, no... (more on that later). From my filmmaking friends the response was more of a blank stare, followed by: “I don’t know anyone else who’s done that.”

There are a lot of filmmakers out there who make one feature and then stop. They didn’t break through to that magical “next level,” and there’s no way they’re doing the same thing all over again. But for those of us who are determined to keep making films on a small scale, truly independently -- and who actually enjoy it -- it makes sense to explore new models in a distribution landscape that’s in the midst of its own creative destruction and reconfiguring.

[caption id="attachment_8402" align="alignleft" width="300"] Scott Marlowe and Matthew Risch in Chris Mason Johnson's Test[/caption]

Maybe there are filmmakers out there like me who had some very modest success with a first feature -- you sold it to a small distributor and/or cable, you got it on Netflix, you made a few foreign sales -- and you want to do it again. But you also want to retain creative power and control. Doing that means thinking small, as in small budgets and a realistic business (or non-profit) model.

What I’m talking about here is an ultra-low-budget feature without stars, made for, say, 200 to 300K. The kind of movie that may do a two-week theatrical in select cities but then lives mostly on the internet and cable. It’s seems to me that the ontology of a film like that is a lot closer to other projects that use non-profits -- e.g., documentary films, dance companies, off-Broadway productions -- than it is to a large-scale independent film with stars and a budget in the millions, let alone to a Hollywood production.

A non-profit isn’t right for all projects, obviously. Comedies without any socially relevant/meaningful content, for example, wouldn’t make sense. And yes, you do need to prove “educational value” to the IRS. The non-profit I’ve created, Serious Productions, Inc., will have a life beyond Test and has a broader mission statement that Test fits into: to capture aspects of LGBT lives and experience that might otherwise be lost in the bigger historical narratives that dominate. Test is set in 1985 San Francisco, and takes a very personal look at young dancers caught up in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a story that hasn’t been told and might be lost if it isn’t.

[caption id="attachment_8404" align="alignright" width="300"] Chris Mason Johnson's Test"[/caption]

After Test has finished its festival, theatrical and initial VOD runs (fingers crossed!), my non-profit will still exist and can become an incubator for future material and a means to cultivate future collaborators. I can imagine projects under the non-profit rubric (oral histories, video portraits) that keep me working and generating material in between the long span that inevitably separates feature films these days, and these projects can, in turn, generate material for those future features.

So I’ve probably raised more questions than I’ve answered, but here’s a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve liked about forming a non-profit. Maybe there are some answers embedded in here:

-  You can still pay yourself a fee as a writer/director/producer/editor, etc., and you can of course still pay everyone who works for you.

-  You can still form an LLC for those investors who really want to invest rather than donate (bless them!). I have an LLC for TEST, and about 25% of my budget comes from private equity investment.

-  Actual investors will recoup much faster, because the grants and donations don’t need to recoup.

-  Fewer K-1s to send out at tax time!

-  Your non-profit can buy units in your LLC, so that some money recoups to the non-profit for overhead. This gets tricky; talk to a lawyer.

-  You don’t need to set up Fiscal Sponsorship in order to apply for grants or accept donations -- you are your own 501-c-3 -- and you don’t lose the 5-7% cut that a fiscal sponsor takes.

-  The world of grants for fictional features is small, but it’s a great world and great to explore, full of people who care about movies and content. The San Francisco Film Society is one organization that’s granted me on Test (via the Kenneth Rainin Foundation) and they’ve been an amazing partner on the project.

-  Beyond actual grants, there is also a whole world of foundations out there that are basically set up by wealthy individuals who need to write off money for tax purposes. Some of these people love independent film!

-  Anyone can give you a tax-deductible donation; you are not limited to grants and foundations.

-  If you do a Kickstarter campaign, you can offer your donors a tax deduction via your 501-c-3, something that Kickstarter itself cannot do.

-  Fundraising is more emotionally rewarding! When people are donating rather than investing, because they care about the material in a different way, the whole vibe is different. To me, the relationship feels less cynical and more genuine.

A final word: you can’t do any of this without a good lawyer who already understands the non-profit landscape, preferably from working with documentary filmmakers. Also, you can’t fake it. Your content really does have to be serious.

TEST the film
 

Editor's Note: As with any legal matter, if you are interested in considering this model, you should consult with your lawyer.  The views here opinion only, and should not be a substitute for legal opinion. 

This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society's blog here.

Chris Mason Johnson’s first feature as writer/director is The New Twenty (2009); his second, Test, is currently in post-production. Prior to filmmaking, Chris worked in independent film development and prior to that was a dancer in major ballet and modern companies in the U.S. and Europe.  He is currently a resident at the San Francisco Film Society's Film House.

Without An Audience, It Can't be Art!

By Emily Best I hold this apparently really unpopular view that without an audience, it can’t be art. “Art” is a social label, a negotiation between the artist, the object (or performance) and the viewer.

This is history’s fault. Art was reserved for the rich or those with access to the rich. We didn’t see how it was made, conceived, choreographed, or staged until it appeared in front of us. And mostly, everyone liked it that way. Artists got to create with very little interference. Audiences had very little interaction with the artists or processes that created what they saw in museums, theaters, and on stage, so they were happy to pay their hard earned money to witness that “magic.”

But now we live in the age of the digital download. What a viewer used to have to spend $10 on a museum ticket to see can be called forth with a few clicks of a button. What a viewer used to line up to buy in a store for $10 (a CD or DVD) can now be downloaded in a few seconds for a few dollars (or free). The value proposition has been turned on its head. And now there’s just so much stuff available everywhere all the time, film studios and filmmakers are trying desperately to compete for a slice of a rapidly dividing pie. The movie business had a system: It used to be “theatrical release, then video, then TV.” Now it’s “VOD, then theatrical and DVD,” or “all three together!”, or whatever combination of existing options the studios can come up with using their data models. Not a lot of out-of-the-box thinking being applied.

Did you know football used to be a running game only? There were a LOT of combinations of running plays. Then one day in 1905, St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson passed the ball forward to his teammate, leaving the other team scrambling through the rulebook to see if that was ok. It was. Everyone started renegotiating their offenses around the forward pass. BOOM. Whole new ball game.

In the digital age, transparency is the forward pass. It’s the business play that’s changing the game. Everything changes when you let everyone in. Kickstarter has done it to business and Facebook has done it to society. It makes consumers - audiences - demand to know more, to see more, to feel like a part of the process. It’s toppling regimes, swaying elections, and making it more possible than ever for people to get creative endeavors off the ground.

It’s faster and cheaper to make movies and your audience is out there and it’s easier to connect directly to them than ever before. Yet fewer specialty titles are getting the green light from studios than ever before. Transparency is creating so much connectivity, but the data hasn’t caught up, and data is what they use to green-light pictures.

At the moment, studios are throwing money at the problem, trying to find the Thing to replace those juicy DVD revenues that padded their pockets for a decade. They make and remake existing properties rather than risk the potentially lower return of specialty (indie) movies because they have to feed the Beast. The Beast is not agile and flexible, and the technology platforms profiting hugely from transparency certainly are.

And yet, filmmakers read “How to get film distribution,” or “How to get your film financed” and all these books tell you how to think like a studio, how to find data like a studio, how to write a script based on the “market.” There’s no talk of passion, or connection to your audience, or ART. These expert authors write not about finding audience but about about finding “markets.” Who is a market? What does it like? It’s as impenetrable as the studio walls or cable’s VOD numbers. No one really knows (despite their most fervent claims).

So why are so many independent filmmakers trying to use the Beast’s model? Filmmakers are startup entrepreneurs with creative products, and can design their business models really any way they like. The difference is, startup entrepreneurs are learning from books like Eric Reis’s “The Lean Startup.” Reis’s core argument is that rather than investing tons of time and money producing what you think the market wants, you need to get the product in front of real consumers as soon as humanly possible – even before the masterpiece is ‘ready.’ You ask questions by showing them a fledgling product and seeing how they react. Then you iterate, and build a core of supporters from the very beginning who will help you make it better.

So, who is your audience? Can you really know without testing?

Transparency - letting people in - is a brave, creative act. It asks more questions of the material than it answers because it acknowledges that the art of filmmaking is meant to have an affect on an audience. And only an audience can tell you if that’s successful. They might also help you make it successful.

And so here’s the fight I have: many talented artists I talk to feel that letting the audience in to the process, even as a thought, somehow corrupts the purity of expression. And I say, corrupts? You must not think much of the people on whose eyeballs and pocketbooks your livelihood relies. Why should they not demand their equal place in the artistic equation? I argue that rather than hinder the artistic process, an engaged audience emboldens the creator to take bigger risks.

It means trusting the audience with their taste. In turn the audience trusts you to produce high quality work without all the traditionally legitimizing (studio) eyes on it. It's a big responsibility for everyone, but it means we might all get back to the art of filmmaking. And, you know, change the business while we’re at it.

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

Diary of a Film Startup Part 14: Early Results

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Indie Film Inspiration

Quarter Million Views I thought I’d share some results -- as in numbers -- for a feature that is having a nice run on YouTube Movies. The film is called Time Expired, and won a silver award for Comedy Feature at WorldFest Houston. It was submitted to KinoNation last week. And in fact the master ProRes file (71GB) is currently being uploaded by the filmmakers to our cloud storage servers. What immediately caught my attention is that Time Expired has almost a quarter million views on YouTube Movies since it was placed there by director Nick Lawrence 12 months ago. That’s the full length (93 mins) movie, not the trailer -- an average of 20,000 per month, and accelerating. Nick has kindly agreed to share the extensive stats that YouTube provide. It’s interesting and quite instructive, I think, as YouTube Movies becomes an increasingly significant -- and profitable -- option for indie filmmakers.

Ad-Supported vs. Transactional VoD First a little background. YouTube launched their Movies Channel in the spring of 2011. Films on the channel are either transactional VoD -- that is, consumers rent them for between $2 and $15 - or they are ad-supported (like Time Expired.) The content owner sets the rental price. Ad supported films typically have 4 or 5 ad breaks within the movie, where a 30 second TV spot is shown. They also have pre-roll and post-roll ads. YouTube kicks back 60-70% of revenue to the content owner. Anyone can put their film up as ad-supported. The bar is much higher for rental movies, since they have to be uploaded by a YouTube Rental Partner (such as KinoNation.) It’s easy (and understandable) for filmmakers to shun ad-supported platforms, and think the audience should pay a rental fee for their movie. That’s a mistake, in my opinion. You can make money from both, and Free can drive a large audience.

Cash Incoming Time Expired is generating about three hundred dollars a month (and climbing) from the commercials playing before & within the film. Would Nick and producer Rachel Tucker make more money if Time Expired was, say, a $2 rental on YouTube? Hard to say. Almost impossible to do genuine A/B testing of the two scenarios, but Nick and Rachel are happy with the film’s performance, and understandably reluctant to mess with a winning formula. Remember, even if a viewer only watches the first few minutes of the movie, it still generates ad revenue. And of course on a channel like YouTube there will always be a ton of people who browse free movies by just clicking Play. The psychology of free vs. not free is, obviously, massive. Chris Anderson wrote a book on the subject, called Free. He essentially argues that for long-tail content, there are only two prices: Free...and everything else.

How Many? YouTube Movies does a nice job providing stats. Here are some crucial numbers for Time Expired (they’re a few hours behind so the live player will show a bigger views # by the time you read this. And I’m rounding these #’s to the nearest thousand for readability.) The film has 241,000 “views” which is triggered when the viewer clicks Play. Of those views, 114,000 were “monetizable.” Meaning YouTube inserted ads. The reason is simply that the filmmakers didn’t get “ad-supported” status until June this year. Since then every view generates income. On average in the USA people watched 30% of the film, which falls to 19% globally. That may seem disappointing from a filmmaker’s POV, but remember that’s just an average. Tens of thousands of folk around the world have watched it to the end credits, and of course some have hung around just a few seconds. That’s the reality of free online movies. But tens of thousands of people watching the movie to the end is orders of magnitude bigger than even the best festival run. That’s pretty satisfying, I think, and the cash is a nice bonus. As Nick said to me, “Would be great if everybody watched it to the end, but on the plus side at least we earn advertising revenue even when people are just checking it out.”

Where Are They From and How’d They Find It? The lion’s share of the views are from the USA, followed by UK, Canada, India, Philippines. Makes sense, right? They’re all English speaking. Less obvious, perhaps, is the 11k views from Saudi Arabia. Time Expired has also garnered north of 5k views in each of Germany, France, Australia, UAE and Singapore. Again not surprising that just over half of views come from referrals within YouTube. e.g. someone is watching other content, and they see (and click on) Time Expired in the “Suggested Video” section. The other half? Typically they’re via Google or YouTube searches for “comedy movies” or “2011 movies” or “Hollywood movies” -- even though this is very much an indie from Oklahoma.

What’s Next? Time Expired was submitted last week to the KinoNation private beta. Which means, hopefully, that the cash being generated on YouTube will be multiplied many times as we pitch it to other VoD platforms, both in the US and globally. We hope it’ll be accepted by Hulu, the other ad-supported VoD giant, and subsequently by Vudu and international platforms like Lovefilm and Viewster. That’s the whole point of KinoNation. It’s a one-stop distribution system. Upload once, and get your film pitched to dozens -- ultimately hundreds -- of VoD platforms. So keep submitting features and docs -- there’s money to be made, and people to entertain.

Next Up: Post # 15: Film Marketing Tools

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

If You Want To Make Movies, You Might Well Be Insane

The link between madness and creativity is undeniably there.  If you are, or know anyone in the indie film world, you know this is true without needing to see any further proof: it just goes with the territory, right?  And every day I try to get more movies made, seen, and appreciated, I see it clearer and clearer still.

My best advice to get a movie made remains to keep doing the same thing again and again, and expect to get a different result -- which I believe is one of the standard definitions of insanity. I take it a bit further with my metaphor though, because you aren't doing it right unless it really hurts a great deal.  I suggest that if you want to get a movie made you have to do something akin to running full speed towards a brick wall, sans helmet or pads, and expect that wall to open miraculously.  That's how you get a movie made: commit to do something that has no logic and expect your passion and commitment to change the outcome.  It's nuts. But....

And then let's look at what drives a large number of people in the field.  You want your image projected on a huge screen in front of a crowd and to spend millions of money to create and promote that image (verses using that money to somehow otherwise improve the world)?  What is that?  Ego magnified and unleashed?  And what is it that is going to get you there in the first place?  Hundreds of people's labor and money and sacrifice contributed in some way that falls far short of fair trade.  Isn't it crazy to say that is how it should be?

Or how about the creative impulse to make a movie in the first place?  How does that logic work?  You are going to sit down and write a script.  That's like saying you can build a world with worlds.  Okay, so maybe you've seen that done well so it's not totally insane, but think of the labor and time that needs to be invested to get you there.  Most scripts are written on spec, i.e. faith.  Worldbuilding requires you to believe each time you put those fingers to the keyboard that somehow all that money, all that labor, all those relationships and favors and deals, all that incredible generosity, will somehow make the choice to get behind that singular grand vision.  How can anyone expect that to happen?  You have to be nuts.

It's not just the practical on the ground proof or understanding of the process that proves the link between the creative act and the state of being bonkers: science backs it up further.

Psychology Today reported: "People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (with the effect stronger in schizophrenia) were more likely to have parents and siblings who were in creative professions."  "The reverse sort of "non-creative" correlation was also true - folks with schizophrenia were significantly less likely to have relatives who were accountants and auditors."

Okay, does that mean that all of us in the passion business should stop procreating?  Or are we creating a new race that can chase windmills like no other?

In their article on raising a prodigy, the NY TImes put more icing on the creativity cake by pointing out

"Creativity & psychosis map similarly in the brain, each contingent on a reduced number of dopamine D2 receptors in the thalamus."

They are bedfellows.  And thankfully they get it on pretty regularly.  Shine on you crazy diamonds.  I don't know what I would do if it was not for you.  You make this world such a wonderful place.  Each effort leads to more and we get closer and closer to that glorious sun that warms our face and helps us to go on -- and certainly gets out of bed each morning.