Following My Own Advice

By Reid Rosefelt had  breakfast recently with Jaie LaPlante, the Executive Director of the Miami International Film Festival.  Jaie has  healthy 13,000 fans on his Facebook page, but like most people, he’s hungry for more.

I explained that he shouldn’t worry much too much about the  number of fans--the thing that matters is how active his page is--he should be concerned with the number of likes, comments and shares.    What was he  doing to stir up traffic?  Jaie said he had a guy named Igor Shteyrenberg who was merrily posting all day long.  “He shouldn’t posting so often,” I said, repeating a truisms I’d rattled off so often in blogs and lectures.   “All Facebook research has proven that you should never post more than two or three times a day.”

 

Umm….wrong.  Rules don’t apply when you have great content.

 

Despite--or maybe because of--the constant postings, I later discovered that Miami had one of the liveliest festival pages I’d ever seen.   Igor turned out to be the George Takei of movies, generating a potpourri of funny, interesting cinema and pop culture graphics he’d excavated from the web.  The page gave the festival a lively personality-- hip, and buoyant  and fun.   Adjusting the numbers proportionately for number of fans, the Miami page had much better metrics than the pages for all of the world’s top festivals.   Posting “too often” didn’t matter.

 

I was happy for Jaie, but the wonderful Miami page made me think of something  that I don’t like to think about:  my own page.   There was a lot of room for improvement there. The advice I give centers around creating square images that are funny and interesting and shareable.  Why couldn’t I put it into practice myself?    I worked hard on my Facebook- related graphics, but they weren’t all that exciting; movies are intrinsically more fun than social media advice.    There were people creating the square images and having luck with them, so I ran examples on my page, but I couldn’t rely on them to be a regular source of content.   I had been experimenting with offering different kinds of information on the page, but when I saw the Miami page, it kicked me in the ass--I knew I could do better.

 

For the first time I asked myself the questions I ask every potential client: what’s your goal?  What do you want the page to do for you?    I decided there were three main reasons:  first, I write a blog and I want to announce the new posts;  second, I want to announce my lectures; and third, and most importantly,  I want the page to be a place to post examples of people putting my advice into action.  So I thought, “why don’t I make my own cinema-themed content to show people what I’m advising them to do?”    It would vividly illustrate my approach and at the same time give people a sense  of what I’m like.

 

I did my first graphic on December 1st, a picture of Jean-Luc Godard:

People liked it, and so I made more: Christopher Walken, Marilyn Monroe,  Abbas Kiarostami, Louise Brooks, Quentin Tarantino,  Groucho Marx,  Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Steven Spielberg, Michel Gondry, Woody Allen,  Bette Davis,  Audrey Hepburn, Pedro Almodovar,  Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, and Tim Burton.

 

The activity on my page has gone up ten times.

 

There’s an important lesson here and it’s not limited to social media.  Don’t give up.   Keep trying until you find a solution that’s right for you.

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

Diary of a Film Startup Part 17: How KinoNation Works

By Roger Jackson

We’re far enough along with development to have a clear work-flow for content owners. I’ve had lots of requests for this. So now’s a good time to explain the step-by-step flow for a film submitted to KinoNation. Right now we’re still in “beta-testing” mode, but expect to launch this more complete service in January 2013.

1. Human Readable: We’ve never liked those sign-up processes where you’re expected to read 10 pages of impenetrable legalese. So we’ve taken our cue from the folks at Creative Commons who believe there are humans -- and then there are lawyers! i.e. that terms of use should be “human readable” with a link to the underlying “lawyer readable” text for those that want it. Here’s the human-readable stuff:

You grant KinoNation the right: to Distribute — to copy, distribute and transmit the film and associated metadata to various video-on-demand (VoD) platforms throughout the world to Collect payments from VoD platforms if/when the film is rented or purchased to Pass those payments to the content owner (you) less a commission of 15-20%

With the understanding that: Video-on-Demand Platforms: have the right to review and select or not select the film for VoD distribution via their platform or service Content Owner (filmmaker) can reserve or withdraw distribution rights for any VoD platform or any country or territory Content Owner (filmmaker) can withdraw the film entirely from consideration by KinoNation’s video-on-demand partners at any time, subject to the specific terms of use for each of these partners.

2. Select Outlets: Next step is to select the VoD outlets you want us to submit to. Obviously we’d like to maximise your chances by submitting to everyone, but we also understand that content owners need to ability to control this. e.g. exclude “all you can eat” services like Netflix until the film has had a few months on iTunes. Or whatever.

3. Select Countries: Next step is to select countries. KinoNation will default to global VoD rights, it will be up to the filmmaker to selectively exclude any particular country.

4. Upload film and trailer: Next step is to start the upload, which can take a few days for massive 100GB Prores files, but the upload software we’ve built is pretty fail-safe, and easily to start, stop, resume, etc. without losing any data. More than 100 features and documentaries have already been successfully uploaded, from all over the world.

5. Tier One QC: We have very strict technical specs for the upload, since the last thing you want is to upload a massive file for a week, only to have it rejected. But we also do some automated Quality Control at the beginning of each upload, checking that the ProRes file has the right bitrate, progressive not interlaced, correct resolution, audio, etc.

6. MetaData: Next step is to collect a “super-set” of information about the film. We need this to satisfy the very strict (and variable) metadata requirements for each VoD outlet. We need cast & crew data, 50-100 word sales pitch, synopsis, high quality poster art, festivals & awards info, clearances and music cue sheets, subtitles if necessary, IMDb page, Facebook page, YouTube trailer link, etcetera. It’s critically important and it’s worth several hours of your time to get this right. It’s broken down into several sections, so you can do it gradually during the film upload process.

7. Preview Transcode Now the magic starts. Once the upload to our cloud system is complete, the film is automatically transcoded to a high quality Preview version that (unlike the master ProRes file) can be streamed and watched.

8. Tier Two QC: Next step is Tier 2 Quality Control, where we “manually” check the film for elements that might cause VoD outlets to reject the movie -- like letterboxing (fail), pillar-boxing (fail), color bars (fail), burned-in subtitles (fail). You get the idea.

9. Outlet Dashboard: Now the full-length Preview of your film pops-up on the web-based Dashboard for each VoD platform you’ve selected. They will typically watch the trailer, look at the IMDb page, and probably watch samples of the complete film.

10. Accept/Decline: Each VoD platform can then Accept or Decline the film. If they accept, it triggers an automated encode of the film to the exact specification for that platform. The new file (known as a “mezzanine”) is then delivered electronically to the platform, along with a custom metadata package.

11. Ingest & QC: Next step is for the VoD platform to ingest the film package and do their own Quality Control. Assuming everything is OK, the film is ready for public showing. If it fails, we’ll work to fix any problems.

12. Program: Now the VoD platform will program the film, meaning they’ll assign it to a genre section, hopefully give it a promotional push, and turn it live.

13. Rent or Buy or Ad-Supported: Depending on the platform, the film will be available to buy (meaning download to own) or rent (usually 48 hrs) or free but ad-supported. Either way you make money.

14. Revenue Reported: The platforms will report revenue to KinoNation, usually a few weeks in arrears, sometimes longer, and will subsequently make payment.

15. Cash in Hand: KinoNation takes a 15-20% commission and then passes the remainder of each month’s revenue to the content owner. In an ideal world, your film is on dozens of platforms worldwide, each generating income for you, indefinitely.

So that’s what we’ve been busy building. if you’ve read this far, you’ll see why this is a big, complex software, work-flow and business challenge. KinoNation is a work in progress, it certainly won’t be comprehensive when we soft launch in January, but we’re getting there. Meanwhile, now’s a great time to submit your film to our Private Beta launch.

Next Up: Post # 18: (scheduled for Tues January 8th, and then bi-weekly after that)

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 13: Indie Film Inspiration

By Roger Jackson

 
First Looks
This is an important week for KinoNation. Well, every week is crucial for a startup, but this feels extra critical. We’re submitting our first tranche of films to several video-on-demand platforms. We haven’t finished the dashboard for our VoD partners yet -- that’s scheduled for December -- so the submission process is old school. That is, we’re sending them a spreadsheet with details of films, trailer, IMDb link, festivals & awards, and the all-important written pitch. The results & feedback from these submission -- whether VoD platforms accept 10% or 30% or 65% of the films we show them -- will give us the early data we need to solidify our business model. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Upload to the Big Screen
I’ve been to talking to an impressive and innovative company in the UK called Kinopto. They’re in the business of providing high-quality digital cinema systems that are very affordable for even small movie theaters. And therefore can be deployed at rapid scale. Without giving away too much, we’re discussing a deal whereby an indie film uploaded to KinoNation can be selected by a movie theater, downloaded into the Kinopto system, and be playing to a live cinema audience. That would be exciting, I think.

 

Films In
I have a Google spreadsheet called “films in”. Remarkable, I think, that after just 3 months we have almost 100 feature films in our library, from 11 countries. More films are submitted every day, and then uploaded to our cloud storage system. Here are a few samples from the past week: Linda Nelson of Indie Rights submitted Char•ac•ter, a fascinating doc about the craft of acting, featuring the last ever interview with the late Sydney Pollack. Grace Rowe submitted I Am That Girl, an award-winning feature about the intersection of credit cards, debt, work and love. And a quirky but interesting doc about arcade game fanatics -- The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, which should find its audience in the VoD ecosystem. Keep submitting films, please, to our Beta Launch. It takes less than 5 minutes.

 

Power of the Pitch
One of the lessons I’ve learned is the critical importance of the “pitch” for each film. This is the short, passionate, pithy text that is intended to “sell” a film to a VoD platform. That is, convince them the movie will find an audience. Crucially, this is NOT the film tagline or synopsis or long description. Instead, it’s why this film will perform. Get rented. Or get watched on an ad platform. In short, it’s the sales pitch. Why is the subject matter compelling, right now? Who’s in the film? Festivals? Awards? Press quotes. Whatever you have that is real and verifiable and attention grabbing. Your pitch, coupled with your trailer, is a big part of each VoD platform’s accept or reject decision. Worth some thought.

 

Next Up: Post # 14: Early Results

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.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 12: Doubling the Upload Speed

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Ranking System for Indie Films?

Twice as Fast
We’ve made big strides at KinoNation over the past week. Klaus has been pulling late nights building the cloud-based Transcoding Engine. This automatically encodes films to the specs for each of dozens of VoD platforms. It's complex work that's normally done manually at encoding houses -- and costs several hundred dollars per film. It's a non-trivial challenge, so I was pretty psyched to see it working -- and to see how fantastic the encoded films look! Not wanting to get too techy, but this means the huge ProRes files being uploaded by filmmakers are auto-checked on completion, queued and then transcoded into the Preview version that VoD platforms can watch and review. And then decide “yes, we want it” or “no thanks, not what we’re looking for.” So that brings us several steps closer to completing version 1.0 of KinoNation. But -- we definitely want the Upload piece of the puzzle to be faster. So far the longest upload is 19 days. That was a documentary -- 95GB file --  from New Zealand. The shortest upload was 12 hours. That's a feature from New York -- 80GB file -- uploaded from a Manhattan post facility with a fiber-optic uplink. Most uploads take 2-5 days. These are huge files. So far we’ve had over 50 full-length films uploaded, and no one has complained about the elapsed time. Bandwidth at the filmmaker end is, well, what it is. And the process is completely painless for the user. But faster would be definitely be better. So we’ve come up with an ingenious solution to double (or even triple) the Upload speed. That new technology went live today and is already being tested by filmmakers. It solves the bandwidth problem by allowing the film to be uploaded from multiple locations, simultaneously. Here’s how it works: Your master ProRes file is on an external hard drive, probably. Start the upload to KinoNation from, say, your home computer. KinoNation kicks out an email with a unique re-upload link. Now simply copy the master ProRes file to a second hard drive. Then take drive # 2 to a different location. Maybe your office. Or your mother’s house. Anywhere with a computer. Click on the link, login to KinoNation, select the movie file on the drive, and click “Resume Upload.” The new Uploader software does the rest, making sure each location uploads different parts of the movie, and then putting it all together at the end. It checks for 100% integrity of the movie file, it seems bullet-proof so far, and your movie gets to KinoNation in half the time. Or even faster, since there’s no limit to how many locations you can add -- the only factor is how many hard drives you have, or maybe how many willing friends. We’re really excited about this technology, not least because we're very filmmaker focused, and the more rapid the upload, the better the experience. Plus it's now more viable for filmmakers in low-bandwidth developing countries to get their movies to us. Feel free to try the new Uploader system as part of our Private Beta trial.

Setting Expectations
I spent some time updating the KinoNation FAQ last week, in an effort to re-set expectations about how easily (or not) films will be accepted for VoD.  We’re very sensitive to this -- in this town (Los Angeles) everyone seems to over-promise and under-deliver! We want to be the opposite of that. So here's the deal. KinoNation -- uniquely as far as we know -- will accept any feature film or full-length documentary. Once the film is uploaded to us, it's immediately transcoded into a high-quality "Preview" and then appears on the web dashboard of the video-on-demand platforms. They can watch it, or more likely scroll thru it, just sampling a few minutes. They'll have access to all the metadata, the trailer and the film's KinoNation ranking. And they'll make their decision to accept -- or reject -- the film. Every VoD platform has a curatorial process.  Some more rigorous than others, but they all pick and choose films that best fit their programming criteria and their audience taste. So there will be filmmakers who submit to KinoNation -- are reviewed by multiple outlets -- but get a disappointing "No" from everyone. That's the tough reality which has certainly prompted several discussions here about launching a spin-off video-on-demand platform that (like virtually every online music service) would take the position that "curation" is a job best suited to the audience. And maybe we'll follow through -- with the cloud technology infrastructure we're building, it wouldn't be that hard. But right now we're uber-focused on the distribution game. Keep submitting those films!

Next week: Post # 13: Indie Film Inspiration

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.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 11: Ranking System for Indie Films?

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Three Months of Work

Ranking System
Consistent feedback from VoD platforms: it’s tough for them to decide whether to accept -- or reject -- an independent film. And how useful it would be to have some sort of independent films ranking system, to give them some indication of how well a movie might perform on VoD. We agree. So we’re building it. We found the perfect person to create what is quite a complex real-time algorithm -- an indie filmmaker with a math PhD from Harvard.

Here’s the concept: For every film uploaded to KinoNation we gather dozens of data points. Film in a festival? It gets points, based on the prestige and importance of the festival. More points for an award nomination. Even more for a win. Trailer has 10,000 views on Vimeo or YouTube? That’s also part of the ranking. Ditto with Facebook fans, Tweets, IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes score, etcetera. You get the idea. There are 50+ metrics in all.

The secret sauce is the algorithm, of course -- how much each metric is worth, damping factors, and the statistical integrity of the ranking. Is it perfect? Far from it, and obviously a high KinoNation rank doesn’t guarantee that a film will perform in the VoD space. There are plenty of movies whose trailer goes viral on YouTube but the film fails to take off when the audience has to pay to rent or buy. But we believe a novel and transparent ranking system could be helpful, not just to VoD platforms who have to pick and choose films based on limited data, but also to filmmakers who will see their ranking improve as a function of their marketing efforts. No question it’ll be controversial. Obviously it’s tough to measure the “quality” of a film -- which is highly subjective -- based on the film’s engagement with social media. A film might have no trailer, no Facebook page, and no festival wins, but still be fantastic. Right?

VoD at the American Film Market
I’m spending some time at AFM this week, which -- like KinoNation -- is in Santa Monica. Today was the video-on-demand conference. I showed up for “VoD Release Strategies.” Panelists from SnagFilms, Magnolia Pictures, IndieFlix and Tribeca. Everyone very bullish about the rapidly maturing VoD market and the potential to reach millions of households. My 5 point takeaway:

1. Major studios are dumping hundreds or even thousands of their library films into the VoD system, crowding out indies to a certain extent, and certainly clogging up the encoding houses.
2. Comcast is the 800lb gorilla of cable VoD, way ahead of the other cable systems (Time Warner, Charter, AT&T, etc.) in terms of the revenue they generate for indie films
3. The cable companies VoD interfaces are generally awful, but unlikely to improve fast because it’s so expensive to swap out millions of cable set-top boxes.
4. Try as they might, it’s hard for VoD platforms to duplicate the “visual feel” of a Blockbuster-type video store. But indie filmmakers can stand out from the VoD crowd by creating big, gorgeous poster art for their film. This shouldn’t be an afterthought. Invest in great art and photos for your film, it’s often the defining factor for consumers.
5. VoD platforms that showcase films “in theaters now” -- which can really super-charge online rentals -- have wised up to distributors who are essentially cheating the system by four-walling the movie in 1 or 2 theaters.

Foreign Intervention
A dozen more films submitted to our Private Beta this week. Keep them coming! I’ve been talking to a couple of filmmakers whose movies have a foreign language element. Director Rafael Blanco made two versions of “The Last Intervention” -- one version in English, and one in Spanish. Makes sense since it’s a comedy about a dysfunctional Dominican family. Rafael is uploading both versions to KinoNation. But worth noting that most VoD platforms won’t accept burned-in subtitles, and we encourage filmmakers to upload their subtitles as metadata with timecode, so the consumer (as with DVD) can turn on/off the non-English version. Meanwhile, Luxembourg based filmmaker Ady El Assal submitted “Les Fameux Gars” (The Famous Guys.) This raw, high energy movie should find its audience among French speaking teens -- and reminds me that we need to woo Paris based platforms CanalPlay, Arte, My TF1 and Iliad. VoD is huge in France and a big opportunity for KinoNation.

Next week: Post # 12:  Doubling the Upload Speed

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.

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

By Roger Jackson

 

Previously: Time to Go Live!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Next week: Post # 10: Three Months of Work

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

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 8: Time to Go Live!

By Roger Jackson

Previously: New Mantra: Do More, Faster

 

Digital Hollywood
I spent today (10/15) at the Digital Hollywood conference, an event that happens in LA a couple times a year. Attended several panel discussions. One panelist argued that the film industry today will not only follow the same trajectory as the music business -- but that film now is only where the music business was at the time of the phonograph! Hmm, maybe. I certainly agree that in terms of massive disruption we have a ways to go. Had a bunch of meetings. The head of a group of angel investors suggested we pitch KinoNation “as soon as we have our MVP done.” MVP meaning “minimum viable product.” He said it doesn’t need to be pretty, it can be full of bugs and missing features, but, in his words, we need to “remove the technology risk” for people who might write a check. That is, prove we can actually build what we claim we’re building. Good timing, since we’ve just today launched the Movie Uploader and will roll it out to most of our Private Beta group over the coming days. The Beta is still open for movie submissions, by the way. Keep them coming! Meanwhile, another potential investor emphasized the importance of providing tools to filmmakers to help them market their films -- he suggested a “freemium” model -- meaning the basic service is free, with a monthly fee of 10 or 20 bucks for premium services. Comments...?

 

Down and Dangerous
Talking of the Private Beta, a couple new submissions last week that blew me away. Down and Dangerous is a crowd-funded thriller that raised $38k on Kickstarter in September 2011, went immediately into production, wrapped by December -- and looks like a multi-million dollar studio picture. Inspiring. And if it looks authentic, well, that’s because writer/director Zak Forsman grew up with a Dad who was also a coke smuggler! Write about what you know! In complete and delightful contrast, Patang (The Kite) is a New York Times critics pick that Roger Ebert called “Masterful.” Both these films should have a long and profitable life in the video-on-demand realm.

 

Time to Go Live
So we’ve just (today) rolled out the KinoNation Movie Uploader to our first 8 filmmakers, scattered among 5 countries. What I’ve realised over the past couple weeks of internal testing is that this is as much about psychology as technology. Let me explain. The digital files we need -- exclusively Apple ProRes for our beta -- are big. Actually, they’re huge, often 100 Gigs or bigger. And everything is constrained by the size of the “pipe” at the filmmaker end (at the KinoNation end it’s in the cloud, hyper-fast.) So with a really fast connection (e.g. post-house) at the filmmaker end that 100GB film might take 24-48 hours to upload. With merely a decent connection (big company office, university, etc.) it might take 50+ hours. And with a slower connection (e.g. home cable) it might take 100 hours or more. Not that 100 hours of uploading is that big of a deal. It’s happening in the background, you can still use email and stream from Netflix. And the upload can easily be stopped and then resumed from wherever it left off. You can even decide it’s taking too long from home, stop the upload, take your film on external hard drive to the office and re-start from there. All that said, I still think the “strangeness” of a multi-day upload may yield interesting results. Anyway, we’re excited. It really cuts out the friction, cost and aggravation of getting your film digitally distributed. No hard drives, no Fedex in the new KinoNation!  What do YOU think?

 

Next week: Post # 9: Filmmakers Festival Feedback

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.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 7: New Mantra: Do More, Faster

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Late Nights and Early Breakthroughs

 

Latest & Greatest

Lots more great films submitted to our Private Beta launch this week. The quality and diversity of the filmmaking is impressive. Every time we watch one of the trailers we’re reminded of why we’re building KinoNation -- to make it simple for movies like these to actually get released, exhibited and watched “on-demand” by the global audience that undoubtedly exists for them. I talked to Marianne Hettinger, director of the delightful Mango Tango. Marianne submitted her award-winning film to KinoNation at least partly because -- unlike traditional distributors -- we’re not seeking a “lock-up” commitment of 10+ years. In fact, there’s no lock-up at all, beyond what is required by any VoD platform that selects a KinoNation movie. Meanwhile,Peter Anthony Farren sent us his debut black comedy Kenneth, whose life definitely isn’t going according to plan. Both films are out of the mainstream, and both have been created from that incredible mix of drive and passion that allows filmmakers like these to complete first-time features. Keep submitting your features and docs, please -- there’s absolutely no cost, risk or obligation, and great upside.

 

Fifty Thousand Films?

As we talk to potential investors, I’ve been trying to verify the oft-repeated claim that 50,000 feature length films are produced each year, globally. We want to paint a picture of a vast international treasure of unreleased -- and unexploited -- movies, just waiting for an online audience. But it’s important that our numbers are accurate and verified. The 50k a year number comes from Chris Hyams, but a little more digging into IMDb Stats shows (after subtracting documentary shorts) that a more accurate and verifiable figure is around 15,000 feature films and docs produced annually. More detail here in a spirited online debate between Chris and I over the weekend. But it’s entirely possible that my analysis is flawed -- there may be thousands of films -- particularly from outside the USA -- that are completed but never listed on IMDb. What do you think?

 

Transcode Engine

Klaus is busy and intensely focused on the technology at the core of KinoNation. This is the “transcode engine” that processes the film master file uploaded by the filmmaker, and encodes it to customized video-on-demand specs each time a VoD platform selects that film. There’s not much standardization around VoD -- actually there’s huge variation in film formats across the platforms. And since there’s over 100 platforms, well, you can imagine the complexity. The film storage challenge alone is huge -- with an expectation that KinoNation will ingest thousands of films, and average file size around 100GB, we need hundreds of terabytes of virtual shelf space. Even a couple of years ago this would have been prohibitively expensive, but now with cloud computing, we can store each massive film master file (e.g. ProRes) for about a buck a month, and automatically trigger the encoding and delivery process whenever any VoD platform says “we want that film.”

 

Hobbits & Dwarves

Now and again I take my head out of the indie film world. Last weekend I had the pleasure of hanging out with the super-talented Graham McTavish, who plays the dwarf Dwalin in the upcoming Hobbit movies. The scope, scale and sheer logistical challenge of shooting three giant feature films, back to back, blows my mind. Worth remembering that director Peter Jackson started with ultra low-budget indie films -- like his 1989 cult hit Meet the Feebles. Genius!

 

Next week: Post # 8: Time to Go Live!

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

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

By Roger Jackson
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 5: A Crash Course in Film Distribution

By Roger Jackson

We now have more than 40 films in the Kinonation Private Beta, with more submissions arriving every day. Among them, a couple of documentary trailers immediately had me wanting more. And that’s exactly what KinoNation seeks to do -- make it super easy for independent films and docs to get video-on-demand distribution, so anyone “wanting more” can instantly rent or buy the movie from among dozens of global VoD outlets. Black Sun, a 2005 documentary by Brit filmmaker Gary Tarn, tells the tragic and inspiring story of Hugues de Montalembert, a New York City artist who was blinded for life during a vicious street mugging. On a lighter note, French filmmaker Pascal Cuenot submitted In The Tracks Of, her intimate look at the life and work of the late, great film composer Maurice Jarre. I watched this preview clip, frustrated that just as Jarre starts telling the story of his involvement with Lawrence of Arabia and his first meeting with the legendary producer Sam Spiegel...the clip ends! I desperately wanted to watch the full documentary, right away. That’s why we’re so passionate about KinoNation -- the promise of instant access for consumers to rent or buy movie gems like these. Keep submitting your films, please.

 

Distribution Deep-Dive

While Klaus and the technology team is busy building the KinoNation platform, I’ve taken a deep dive into the world of film distribution. Trying to make sense of the tangled system of windowing -- the sequential release of films for cinema, pay-per-view TV, DVD, airlines, broadcast TV -- all elaborately staged to maximize the revenue for a film, but increasingly anachronistic for an audience that wants 24/7 access. Above all, analyzing how the exploding market for video-on-demand is impacting this complex ecosystem, and making some educated guesses about how it’ll evolve in the next few years.

 

Five Lessons

So what have I learned so far, or at least what seems useful to understand for KinoNation? Five key lessons, some obvious perhaps, others less so. First, that video-on-demand now generates serious revenue, in the hundreds of millions annually in the US alone -- and growing exponentially. Unfortunately there’s an equally serious lack of hard numbers  -- unlike theatrical box office, there’s no mandate and little incentive for producers or VoD platforms to publish sales data. But when breakout indie hits like Margin Call and Melancholia can gross more online than in movie theaters, video-on-demand is rapidly overtaking DVD in the minds of Hollywood and indie producers alike. True, the per unit margin on DVD sales is still way higher, but VoD has the potential to make up for lower margins with much higher volume, driven by the lure of instant, convenient, multi-device and multi-language access.

Second, that indie studios like The Weinstein Company’s RADiUS have already embraced “Day & Date” simultaneous theatrical and VoD release. Some producers are even experimenting with the so-called “ultra” release, where the VoD live date comes before the theatrical release -- not so popular with movie theaters right now!

Third, that VoD really democratizes access to independent film for that massive but highly dispersed “heartland” audience who never before had such depth and breadth of access. Fourth, and perhaps less obviously, VoD provides -- or will provide -- hyper convenient access to features and docs in a way that now just fits into the lives of busy people. That alone is game-changing in the way it accelerates film consumption.

Finally, and most exciting, VoD means that the “other 48,000” of the approximately 50,000 features and docs made (globally) every year now have a real shot at distribution -- and not just in their home language, but in as many languages as the filmmaker can find translators for. So that one of the KinoNation team favorites -- the rousing A Barrel of Laughs -- can be distributed and enjoyed in Arabic, Japanese, Zulu...and every language in between. Just like my favorite commercial!

 

Next week:  Post # 6: Late Nights and Early Breakthroughs

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

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 4: Story Arc for Investors or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Raising Money.

By Roger Jackson Previously: Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma

Last Week

Before I write about seeking money and investors, here’s what’s been happening in the past week. We’ve had -- as of writing -- 18 films submitted for our private beta launch. Films come in every day and we will never tire of clicking on the trailer link and getting a glimpse into a new world. I mean that. We know what it takes to make a feature film or documentary, and the reason we’re building KinoNation is to serve the creators of films like these. Keep them coming, the Private Beta is still open, we’re looking for lots more great films. It’s really fun to watch a group of compelling and disparate trailers, then delve into the IMDb pages for each movie, and in some case have discussions with the filmmakers. A couple of examples this week. Greek director Stathis Athanasiou submitted his stunning fantasy-romance DOS. Our reaction was pretty much “wow!”  Then Roseanne Liang submitted her delightful 2005 documentary Banana in a Nutshell. (which spawned her theatrical release My Wedding and Other Secrets.) Films like this that performed (or are performing) well on the festival circuit, but struggling to find video-on-demand distribution, are exactly what Klaus and I had in mind when we conceived KinoNation.

 

Bootstrapping

OK, so the subject of this post is finding investors. I always assumed it would be the most painful part of building KinoNation. The fun part is meeting filmmakers, doing deals with partners, and speaking at festivals, right? Well, yes, but in fact the nitty-gritty of diving into business models, creating powerpoint slides, and grappling with financial projections has been an interesting surprise. I actually like it. And believe me, I’m no Stanford MBA type. Anyway, the bottom line is that we have to raise capital to really accelerate the trajectory of KinoNation.  Bootstrapping it -- what we’re doing right now -- is fine while we’re proving the concept. But pretty soon we’ll need the financial jet-fuel that only investors can provide.

 

Milestones and Traction

Klaus and I set ourselves 4 clear milestones for these first bootstrapped months. Reality check-points that prove KinoNation is not just a good idea but a viable, sustainable business with potential for rapid growth. We know investors will demand this, and we demand it also -- there’s little point in pouring time, energy and passion into a venture that has no future.

 

Prove It

These are the 4 milestones:

 

1. prove that filmmakers will embrace and use a platform like Kinonation.

2. prove that video-on-demand platforms will accept and program films from KinoNation.

3. prove that we can execute on the technology promise -- a platform for filmmakers to upload massive movie files and then automatically transcode those files and deliver them at superb quality to dozens of VoD platforms, worldwide.

4. prove that these films will actually find a paying audience to rent or buy them, and therefore create a revenue stream to filmmakers and to KinoNation

 

So far we’ve proved #1 and #2, I think. We have films coming in. And plenty of affirmation that there’s a huge demand on the supply side. And we already have VoD platforms who want to work with us. We have software engineers working night and day -- literally -- on milestone #3, and only yesterday Klaus and I were awed by a demo of a breakthrough application written by David, our fantastic nocturnal coder. So we’re pretty confident about hitting the technology goals. Proving milestone #4 is tougher of course -- we have to put hundreds of films through the system and on to VoD platforms -- and then mix in our (still secret) marketing magic. The Private Beta is the first step to proving this. And we’re assembling a ton of data on how indie and foreign films perform across the myriad US and international VoD platforms.

 

Making Docs

Meaning documents, not documentaries. There are a handful of mission critical docs needed to get investors to even consider parting with their cash. They vary a bit, but for us it starts with a 10 page business plan laying out the problem we’re solving for filmmakers, how we’re solving it, and how we’ll make money solving it. Plus financial projections for how much the first 3 years will cost (relatively easy to predict.) And how much money we’ll bring in (tougher, but must be based on a bunch of reasonable -- not wild-assed -- assumptions.) Finally a 15 slide PowerPoint that wraps it all in a package that will convince investors we have a great idea, a huge market, a viable plan, a profitable future and a team that can execute on all that promise.

 

Pitching and Catching

So we’re almost ready to pitch KinoNation to potential investors. But aside from pitching, what’s equally important right now is catching. By which I mean listening. Actually, it’s more than listening. It’s the process of seeking advice from lots of smart people -- and making it clear that we want objective, critical feedback. Not so different from the filmmaking process, right? So, to wrap up this post, we invite your films, and we value your feedback, in public comments on this post or privately via email. Because KinoNation only succeeds by helping filmmakers succeed.

 

Next week:  Post # 5: A Crash Course in Film Distribution (and why video-on-demand is even more complicated)

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

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma
By Roger Jackson
The Producer’s Dilemma You probably know the classic movie making conundrum that indie producers struggle with: talent (or rather their agents) won’t commit to a film project until you prove you have funding, and investors won’t write a check until you prove you have talent attached. The producer’s dilemma. And, of course, all successful producers find creative solutions to that thorny issue. KinoNation has a similar challenge: It’s tough to get filmmakers fully committed without video-on-demand distribution outlets in place, and it’s hard to sign VoD outlets without a slate of films.
Meeting with Hulu
So in an industry (Hollywood) that’s notoriously suspicious -- even hostile -- towards outsiders and upstarts, our first meeting with a VoD distributor was a breath of fresh air. Hulu “got it” immediately. They were informed, candid and provided the type of objective but positive feedback that Klaus and I needed. Yes, you can be a content partner with Hulu, they said. Just show us you can aggregate great independent features and documentaries, and then prove you can deliver them to Hulu in the high quality format we require. Deal! We got to work immediately on the ideas and to-do list that sprang from the meeting -- in a new venture like KinoNation, the positive momentum from this type of informal encouragement is huge.
Acronyms on Demand
Since then we’ve been talking to video-on-demand platforms all over the world.  So now is probably a good time to deal with the soup of video-on-demand acronyms we find ourselves swimming in. SVoD, TVoD, FVoD are among the most common, but the list goes on, it’s confusing, and from now on I’m just going to use the umbrella term VoD -- “Video on Demand.” But, for the record,  SVoD is “subscription“ video-on-demand, where the customer pays a flat monthly fee. Like Netflix, or Hulu Plus. TVoD is “transactional” video-on-demand, where customers pay each time they rent or buy a movie. Like iTunes, or Amazon Instant. And FVoD is “free” video-on-demand.  Like Vimeo, or YouTube. OK, with that out of the way, suffice it to say we’re busy knocking on the doors of dozens of VoD companies, worldwide.
Now We Need Movies
Now the flip side of our producer’s dilemma: we need an initial slate of films -- fifty or so would be ideal. So last week we fired up an Invitation Only page on KinoNation, seeking full-length films (and filmmakers) for what techies call Beta Testing. As we wrote on that page “These films will form the initial slate of films to be run through our automated Upload-Transcode-Distribute process...filmmakers involved will help shape the creation of KinoNation.” The response already has been great -- indie features from the USA, UK and Australia, documentaries from France and South Africa, and amazing enthusiasm from filmmakers who know they can drive an audience to their films, but want help getting them out there!

First Mover Advantage So who are these bold filmmakers, and what are they submitting to KinoNation? And why are they motivated to be “first movers?” Here’s a sampling. Husband and wife filmmakers Lindy and Kris Boustedt are sending us their beautiful existential drama This is Ours. Lindy notes that “We’re confident we can market/find an audience for our film, we just want a simple route to getting our film into paid video on demand.” South African filmmaker James Walsh has submitted his stunning mountain bike documentary An Epic Tale, and writes “Love the simplicity of Kinonation! More than happy to be a guinea pig for this process.”  From Australia we heard from director Sky Crompton, who has submitted his Austral-Asian drama Citizen Jia Li. Veteran LA filmmaker Rich Martini (what a great name!) already has his incredible after-life doc Flipside out on DVD, and writes that “VOD is definitely the smartest way to go with my own particular niche of story telling...once it’s available on demand I can sell the heck out of it...thank you KinoNation for showing up at exactly the right time to enable a new vision of distribution!”

So I invite you to submit your film to our Private Beta. The form takes 2 minutes to complete, the rules are super-simple, there’s no obligation to participate, no cost, no strings attached. And there’s absolutely no danger that your baby will be stolen, or end up on DVD at the night market in Shanghai. Although as filmmaker Lindy Boustedt wrote, “"We'd be oddly thrilled if This is Ours was pirated. Cause that would mean it was popular enough to steal."

 

Next week:  Post #4: Story Arc for Investors or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Raising Money.

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

How Do You Know You Are Ready To Tell The Story You Are Now Living?

I think many times, in telling our stories our desire exceeds our abilities, even when our talent is up to the task.  How do you know when you are truly ready?  What do you need to know? Ira Sachs has a new film in the theaters this week, KEEP THE LIGHTS ON, and addressed this issue for the WGA Blog.  He kindly offered to let us repost it here.

by Ira Sachs

It took me nearly 25 years to finally feel ready to write a film about New York. My first job in the city was the summer of 1984, when I was the assistant to Eric Bogosian at his office down on Mott Street, and I moved to the city full-time in 1988. When I started writing feature films, my mind and imagination were still rooted in Memphis, where I had grown up, and where I’d made my first two features, The Delta and Forty Shades of Blue. I lived in NYC, but it was my hometown that I knew from the inside. For me to feel ready to make a film about a place, I need both intimacy and distance. The intimacy with this city came over time, with the creation of memories; the distance came much more slowly.

In many ways, New York grabbed me too hard for me to be able to step outside and look at my life with any clarity. Yes, I was in therapy – many days a week, in fact; it was still the age of psychoanalysis – but my life was narrow and obsessive. The things I cared about, and searched out, were love and sex and making movies. The New York I discovered was a nocturnal one, of late nights in cabs, or on subway platforms; in restaurants with a lover starting a fight, before ordering the next drink; of mornings when I hoped the first coffee at the café on Smith Street would help me through the day. I recognized my own New York in the images I saw in films like Goodfellas or Chantal Akerman’s News from Home. A city driven and in motion. Lonely at times, always on the verge of sadness and ecstasy.

But in my late 30s, I had the good/bad fortune of having life as I knew it explode. I was in a relationship that had been ticking dynamite from the start, but that I tried to control and keep going for nearly a decade. The New York of those years was all contrast: daytime shiny surface, nighttime full of secrets and despair (the kind of double life that has become nearly epidemic in dramatic television these days, so, clearly, my story is not unique). But when the cards came tumbling down – symbolized perhaps most dramatically in a 34-day crack binge that left my partner in the Lenox Hill Hospital mental ward and me a trembling wreck alone in our apartment – I knew on some profound level that it was time for a change.

And so I did. It took a few years (and a few 12-step programs), but by 40, I was doing things differently. As a gay man who had come of age in the minutes after Stonewall, to live a transparent life did not come naturally to me. But like a baby who touches the burning stove one last time before knowing not to, when the New York of my 20s and 30s blew up around me – when the burden of hiding my behavior in this city became impossible to maintain – I finally was ready for real change. To put it most simply, I chose to live an honest life.

And it was only then that I felt truly ready, or able, to write a film about this city. With co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias, I wrote my fourth feature, and my first set in New York, Keep the Lights On. What I found, happily, is that the stories were there. The experience and the feelings were all there. I now have them all in my hand, and in my mind, and my New York feels for the first time full of movies I must share.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON opens this weekend with some of the best reviews of the year, including 5 out of 5 stars in Time Out New York;Salon says "it may be the best American film of the year"; Entertainment Weekly gives it an "A," and says "as raw and real as the most live-wire memoir," and A.O Scott names it CRITICS PICKS in today's New York Times, calling it "exquisitely, even thrillingly authentic." So, if you can, take a date, or a friend, or a lover, and see it this crucial OPENING WEEKEND!
 
DATES AND LOCATIONS:
 
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON opens this weekend in NYC on at the Chelsea Clearview, the Angelika Film Center, and the Elinor Bunim Theatre at Lincoln Center.  In LA, at the new Sundance Sunset 5 and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
Here's a link to Andrew O"Hehir's excellent (and well written) Salon review as well:
 
 
Trailer is here:
 

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation
By Roger Jackson
KinoNation We were determined the site would be a dot com domain -- not dot biz or dot US or dot-whatever. But available dot coms are rare and we weren’t going to pay thousands of dollars to some shady cyber-squatter. Klaus found KinoNation.com -- it was available, it makes sense, we like it and seems easy to remember. “Kino” is German for cinema. And “Nation” can be defined as a community of persons bound by a shared interest or passion. That seems to work. We’re also excited about the potential for this venture in China, making thousands of Chinese indie films available to the rest of the world. So the name had to sound OK to the Chinese ear (we’re assured it does) and it more or less translates into Mandarin as “Film Kingdom.” But. There’s always a “but.” In this case there’s a site in Russia, kinonation.ru where you can watch Hollywood movies -- in Russian -- for free. Hard to say whether they’re legit or pirated. Either way, we have the dot-com, they have the dot-ru -- there’s no reason we can’t co-exist, right?
The Lean Startup
Klaus and I are fans of The Lean Startup -- the idea that all new ventures are based on big, untested assumptions, and the best way to test them is to get a minimum viable product out there quickly. In weeks rather than months. That way, if you’re going to fail, at least you fail fast! Our big assumptions are that filmmakers and content owners will see value in KinoNation and want to upload their movies. And that digital video-on-demand outlets will want those films enough to work with us.  Are those assumptions true?
First 6 Weeks So now we're 6 weeks into it. What have we accomplished so far? We're filmmakers so we started with a video. We convinced a few successful friends to talk about the problem we’re trying to solve, and Remy Boudet, our talented French director/DP/editor, pulled it all together. We built a website, nothing fancy, we used a WordPress template but I think it looks pretty good. Remy designed an ice cream logo, because apparently in France they still quaff ice cream in movie theaters. We decided to experiment with fund-raising on Indiegogo. We haven’t started a company yet, an actual legal entity. Haven’t printed business cards. Haven’t bought any equipment. It’s too easy to get bogged down in stuff like that and pretend you’re making progress, when it’s really just spending money you don’t have, before you need to. We’re focused on writing code, doing deals, spreading the word to filmmakers.
Response So Far The response from filmmakers and indie producers has been remarkably consistent: “KinoNation is a great idea, but since your success is dependent on the online success of the films uploaded, you’d better help filmmakers reach their audience, because there’s the real challenge.” We can provide online tutorials and tools, of course. Plus lessons on guerilla marketing, case studies of indie films that have grossed a ton of money via VoD – and examples of decent films where the online marketing was a fail. But we need more. I have a strong feeling there’s a more imaginative and even game-changing solution lurking just over the horizon? We’ll see.
Coming Soon The first few weeks were the easy part. Who doesn’t love brainstorming, shooting video, building websites. Now we have to build the technology that will do the uploading and transcoding magic. That will move massive digital movie files around the planet without any loss of quality. We have to do deals with digital distributors like Hulu and Netflix and iTunes and dozens of others. We have to convince filmmakers to trust us with their films. We have to figure out a business model that is fair and reasonable and transparent. Oh, and of course we have to find investors who believe in the vision and the potential to create a global distribution business.
That’ll keep us busy for a few months.
Next week:  Post #3: The Producer’s Dilemma - you know how movie talent won’t commit until you get funding, and film funders won’t commit until you’ve signed talent? KinoNation struggles with the same dilemma with content owners and video-on-demand partners.

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

 

 

Can Indie Film Achieve a Network Effect?

By Chris Dorr

In a recent post entitled Networks And The Enterprise, Fred Wilson explains how his firm Union Square Ventures invests in networks. He included this line.

My uber goal of writing this post is to explain that the wired and mobile internet is a global network and it powers all sorts of smaller networks to get built on top of it.

These networks connect people with each other.  Each network gains value as more users join and as each user contributes value to the network which in turn becomes available to every other user. As he points out with respect to one of their investments,

Every time a new participant in the ecosystem joins the Return Path data network, their systems and tools get smarter, making the service more valuable for everyone. That’s a classic network effect and it is very powerful.

Achieving a network effect is the holy grail within the world of technology.  The network grows in size, power and value.  Kickstarter, one of the companies funded by Union Square Ventures, is approaching this holy grail.

James Cooper has just published an ebook entitled Kickstarter for Filmmakers: Prepare and Execute Your Next Crowd Funding Campaign. (Excerpted on HopeForFilm here, and here).

Every filmmaker who has thought even briefly about using Kickstarter or other crowd funding platforms to raise money for a film should spend the $1.99 and read it immediately.

Cooper provides an overview of the state of crowd funding for film and then uses the crowd funding campaign from his own short film Elijah the Prophet to provide examples of what worked.  He also takes the reader through the various stages of a crowd funding campaign and highlights keys to success.

What I find most remarkable is the level of detail he provides on his own campaign.  He tells us which team member brought in how many dollars through their efforts and the number of people who contributed that no one on the team knew and how much these strangers contributed. In other words, he provides complete transparency into what his team did and how they did it.

It is worth noting that Cooper has done something that is really quite unusual within the film industry.

He actually provides real numbers.  There are no approximations and no spin. He simply says here is the data and here are my conclusions from that data. And by doing so, he provides real value to all independent filmmakers.

Now I ask you to imagine, what if there was really a network of independent filmmakers who did exactly what Cooper did and then did it repeatedly over all their projects? 

I mean the kind of network that Fred Wilson suggests in his blog post.  One where every participant provides knowledge to the network that every other participant can access.

This is a model from the  technology world that needs to borrowed by the indie film world and used to transform the way indie film is created, financed, distributed and marketed.  I would also argue further that it even needs to transform the way indie film is discussed.

Primarily indie film is viewed as if it is a disparate group of individuals who battle all odds and surmount great obstacles to finally get a shot at the brass ring.  Each filmmaker is seen as the lone auteur who has climbed the mountain.  At festivals each spin their tale of triumph as they court audiences.  It makes for great copy (and is often true) but does it help move independent film forward?  I am not sure. To me, it is not sufficient. Something more needs to be done.

Independent film needs a new metaphor.

Instead of a group of disparate individual,  indie film has to be seen as a network. One which is powered by the wired and mobile Internet.  A network with participants who add value for each other participant.  To paraphrase Fred Wilson, each participant in the ecosystem needs to help the services get smarter and therefore make it more valuable for everyone who is part of the ecosystem.

This requires transparency and the sharing of real details–by everyone.

James Cooper has created a model of how to begin.  Others need to follow his example.

Then indie film might begin to achieve a very powerful network effect.

And every independent filmmaker will benefit.

This post was originally published Aug 30th on Chris' blog DigitalDorr here.

About Chris Dorr

Chris Dorr consults with media and consumer electronic companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media, Accedo Broadband, Beyond Oblivion and A3 Media Networks. Chris created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. Mr. Dorr has worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact Chris at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow him at @chrisdorr

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 1: Every movie ever made...

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 1: Every movie ever made, in any language, anytime, day or night...
By Roger Jackson
 

I joined the short films website iFilm.com in 1999 and stayed until 2006, after we sold to MTV. By then we’d also sold out our original vision, captured perfectly in this 1999 commercial. Since iFilm I’ve produced war-zone documentaries for the Annenberg Foundation, started a production company, and for the past year run humanitarian projects in Afghanistan and West Africa. But I often thought of that iFilm vision...and now, more than a decade later, I find myself the co-founder (with film composer Klaus Badelt) of a digital film startup with a similar mission. This is the first of a series of weekly guest posts as we bootstrap this new venture -- ideally with a ton of critique and input from you.

The Other 96%
I first met Klaus at Peet’s Coffee in Santa Monica. It’s where most of our work gets done. As we became acquaintances and then friends, we started talking about a shared passion for foreign and independent films -- and our frustration with the distribution eco-system where 50,000 features and documentaries are made (globally) every year -- and only a couple thousand (4%) get released. What happens to the other 48,000?
 
 

The Music Precedent
Klaus is a musician -- and a keen student of the music business and its transformation over the past decade. He convinced me that the film industry will follow a similar trajectory -- radical and disruptive change in the way movies are created, shared and consumed. Meaning, among other things, those 48,000 films could be available to rent or buy, in multiple languages, via the dozens of digital video-on-demand platforms around the world. Just like that Qwest commercial.

 

The Pain Point
So where’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What’s the pain point for those 48,000 films? The reality is that it’s incredibly difficult, expensive and frustrating for filmmakers to get their movies onto these platforms, which lack any real standardization of video format, metadata, payment, etc. Filmmakers typically have to pay to get their film encoded for any digital platform. They’re Fedex’ing hard drives around the world. Then they pay again for another platform. And again. Always with no guarantee they’ll see a dime in revenue. Being available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and the rest certainly doesn’t mean people will find and pay for the film. So it’s a lot of upfront cost, hassle and high risk -- with no guarantee of any return -- at a time in the life of a film when filmmakers can least afford it.

 

A Solution?
Klaus’s vision was for a simple web based platform where any filmmaker, anywhere on the planet, could upload his feature film -- with zero upfront cost -- and have it immediately in distribution on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, Lovefilm, Snag, Mubi, Fandor...and the hundreds of other paid digital outlets around the world. And available in as many languages as the filmmaker wants to make sub-titles for. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Commitment
Intrigued and fired up, I agreed to write a business plan, and in early 2011 we shared it with some friends. They had suggestions, but they liked it. But like all ideas, it was worthless without the commitment to make it happen. Klaus was running a busy music studio and writing scores for multiple movies, including the upcoming Astérix and Obélix. I was working for a Los Angeles based non-profit called Spirit of America, launching a new program --  School Partners/Afghanistan -- that connected American and Afghan high school students via video conference. But Klaus and I kept talking and noodling and becoming more and more convinced that we could -- and should -- create something truly disruptive in the film world. And by the summer of 2012 we were convinced that if we didn’t do it soon -- someone else would -- maybe they already were? So I left my non-profit gig and we got down to work.

 

Next week:  Part # 2: Birth of a (Kino) Nation:  figuring out a name, shooting a trailer, endless video edits until it (sort of) makes sense, and questioning the massive  assumptions behind this whole crazy venture.

 

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