The Audience Award Of Audience Awards

VOTE BEFORE SUNDAY AT 11:59PM FOR THE NOMINEES OF THE 1st EVER FESTIVAL GENIUS AUDIENCE AWARD AS A PART OF THE GOTHAM AWARDS

This weekend, voting is well underway for IFP and Slated’s Festival Genius Audience Award for the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards. This first-ever award gives audiences from all across the country the chance to pick five of their favorite films that took home an audience award at one of the Top 50 US and Canadian film festivals in the past year. After you, the people, have spoken, your voices will be heard on November 10th when the five finalists, the first-ever Festival Genius Audience Award nominees, will be announced on both IFP’s and Slated’s websites. This award is a fantastic, unique opportunity for you to give your favorites of this past year one last round of applause, whether you’re just a casual festival-goer or die-hard movie buff. And also, when you vote, you’re also automatically entered to win a one night’s stay at the Andaz Wall Street in New York City and two tickets to the 20th Anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards on November 29th at Wall Street Cipriani. So go vote THIS WEEKEND at http://gothamawards.slated.com … and then run to tell your friends to vote, too. Awards season starts here…and it starts with you.

Rejoice! NOBODY Knows What To Do.

The LATimes Company Town Blog has a post on a recent conference on Blu-Ray that the Five Studios Home Entertainment Heads all participated.

The executives said the biggest issue they face is sorting through a proliferating array of distribution platforms and figuring out when and where to release their movies and at what price in order to maximize profits. Such staggered release strategies are known in Hollywood parlance as "windows."

Read the full post, but my takeaway is that the indie sector needs to figure out new ways to experiment and gain both understandings and footholds.

Net Neutrality Supports Independent Art

Troma's mastermind Lloyd Kaufman is quite a serious man. Seriously. He puts in a great deal of time and passion trying to preserve and enhance the life of Indies everywhere. He most recently penned a good rallying cry for Net Neutrality that you should not miss.

The Internet, the last free, open and diverse democratic medium, is under attack. Net Neutrality, which provides that no content is favored over any other, and that content creators have an equal opportunity to freely disseminate their information, is being imminently threatened by media mega-conglomerates and their vassals. It is urgent that we fight those who would sacrifice our freedom for a profit. Net Neutrality will be the savior of independent art and commerce if we preserve it.

Read all of it on Save The Internet here.

Social Media Strategy Overload Of Nothingness

There is a great deal of empty discussion in terms of what a social media strategy is in the indie film world. There's even a great deal more when it comes to brands. WhatTheFuckIsMySocialMediaStrategy.com does a pretty good job of capturing, albeit with a welcome dose of humor. Just keep restoring the site, and you will get another "pearl" of wisdom with each click.Hat tip to John Paul Rice and Jon Reiss for driving me towards this epic epicness.

Saving The Internet Through Storytelling

Today's guest post is by John S. Johnson.  The Harmony Institute, a research group that John runs, is offering a free new guide to help combat the Telecom's tales in their efforts to end net neutrality.  Here he explains a bit of the why and wherefore you need to download it (for free!) and read it NOW. In 2010 it’s easy to forget how profoundly the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, interact and access information. When you logged on this morning to check your email, bank statement, or local news you may not have noticed that there are very few limits placed on the sites and services you have access to. While some people must crash the couch of their best friend to catch the latest HBO release, since he’s subscribed to all premium cable channels while they’re still stuck with rabbit ears on their TV, no one has an edge over anyone else when it comes to what we can access on the Internet.

Yet this principle of net neutrality that allows all sites, services and applications on the Internet to have equal access to consumers, and vice versa, is being fundamentally threatened. Today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to revise rules that have kept Internet Service Providers (ISPs) at bay for decades. These companies, like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon, would love to become the gatekeepers of the Internet, reserving preferential bandwidth for those sites and services that make them the most money.

And I can guarantee you HopeForFilm is not one of those sites. While offering thoughtful critique of the film industry, HopeForFilm, like most online communities that have sprung forth from inspiring ideas that can only be fostered online, will perish if service fees force all but the super-rich from accessing and producing online content.

While there’s a broad coalition of supporters that lobby for responsible telecommunications reform ensuring net neutrality, the issue has been bogged down for years in technical and policy jargon. The conversation has stayed behind closed doors, not because it won't have a drastic and potentially life-altering effect on Americans, but because those leading the fight for net neutrality have predominately favored petitioning Washington over telling the compelling story of how the loss of an open Internet will affect our daily lives.

Recently my research group, the Harmony Institute, published a communications guide that hopes to bring much needed attention to this pressing issue.  FTW! Net Neutrality For The Win: How Entertainment and the Science of Influence Can Save Your Internet was written to inform people working in a diverse range of fields, including media and entertainment, on the looming threat posed to the open Internet. The guide is part of our mission to harness the power of entertainment and mass media to tell stories about key social issues, such as the fight for net neutrality, that will resonate with a broad audience and promote action.

The guide explains how we can use the untapped potential of narrative to increase support for net neutrality.  Telling stories about how vital the open Internet is to our livelihoods is the key to getting people to take notice and take action. Using recent polling results and behavioral science theory, the guide offers seven communication recommendations that can be applied to new media projects, as well as existing media campaigns.

I truly believe that today is the day for you to invest in igniting a broader, more passionate conversation about net neutrality. It may be easy to allow this concern to take a back seat when an unstable economy, violent conflict abroad, and an environmental catastrophe dominate our headlines. But you realize that the open Internet, safeguarded by net neutrality, influences how we understand and interact with almost everything else we care about, it's clear that maintaining our rights in this respect is not only a personal, but also a national priority.

So, how do you get started? I encourage you to download Net Neutrality For The Win today, and become part of the rapidly growing community of Americans who care deeply about preserving the open Internet for all.  Its free and it will help you be more persuasive with your friends and readers, online and offline around this issue that is going to affect each of us. Get your free manual here: www.savemyinternet.com [link: http://savemyinternet.com]

The New York Times profiled John and The Harmony Institute earlier this week.

John S. Johnson is the Director of the Harmony Institute, a research group that studies the application of behavioral science to communication in media. He consults with media creatives, socially conscious film funds, and production companies to help their work achieve concrete, positive change in specific target constituencies. Johnson is also the co-founder of Buzzfeed.com, a trend detector and platform for transmitting contagious media. In 1997, he founded EYEBEAM, a MacArthur and NEA funded non-profit art and technology laboratory in New York City. John is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and editor of a book in production titled "The Atlas of Art and Capital: Business Models of Art Production for Artists from 340BC to the Present".

Is NYC "Permitted" To Support Indie Film?

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer.  Steven not only has posted for us before, but also delivered a great call to arms in Indiewire with proclamation of the Era Of Filmmaker Empowerment. Today's touches upon some of the issues that I raised recently regarding how film incentives need to help low budget production. Independent filmmakers and producers from New York are accustomed to change and challenges, and as of this week, they will have yet another hurdle to jump.  As of July 11, 2010, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, the MOFTB, has begun charging filmmakers a $300 fee for film permits.  Historically, New York City has not charged anything for film permits.  New York City has joined the ranks of other cities, such as Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Seattle, all of which charge fees for film permits.  When the proposed rule was announced in April, it generated mostly negative reactions; concerned filmmakers signed petitions against the rule, believing that the fee would diminish New York City’s claim to being the capital of the independent film world.  Some scoffed at the fee, unable to see how an extra $300 charge could affect a film budget.  While opinions may vary, the fee is certainly changing the climate for independent filmmakers, no matter how large their budgets might be.

Veteran producers assert that the $300 fee is the second step in New York City’s evolution towards becoming a less filmmaker-friendly city.  The first major change occurred in August of 2008 when the MOFTB required filmmakers to obtain permits for shoots that involved anything more than a handheld camera and then in turn required filmmakers to carry liability insurance of at least $1 million in order to obtain those permits.  Basically, ever since August 2008, filmmakers have had to pay the implied charge associated with the cost of obtaining liability insurance if they wanted to film in New York City.  The new $300 fee, however, is the first explicit charge on filming in New York City.

The $300 fee is officially called the “New Project Account Application Fee.”  The MOFTB deems the charge as an “application processing fee,” not a location fee.  The $300 charge will apply to the application process for each project.  The New Project Account application will be valid for the period of continuous photography for a film and for the duration of one season for a television series.  The fee was developed to help offset the City’s unprecedented budget cuts; the MOFTB analyzed the administrative and personnel costs that it incurred each time it processed a new project application and came up with a fee of $300[1].

Not everyone will have to pay the $300 fee; the MOFTB will waive the fee for applicants who can demonstrate “unreasonable hardship.”  The MOFTB does not define what “unreasonable hardship” means in relation to the $300 fee, but its website explains that those who can show that the cost of obtaining general liability insurance imposes an unreasonable hardship will also qualify for a waiver of the $300 fee.  The MOFTB considers the cost of obtaining insurance to be an unreasonable hardship when it exceeds 25% of the filmmaker’s budget.  When looking at the applicant’s circumstances, the MOFTB also considers the filmmaker’s projected budget as well as the projected budget for similar productions.  Still, it is unclear exactly who can qualify for the waiver of the $300 fee.

Over the years, the Bloomberg administration has successfully made New York City a more desirable location for film and television shoots by providing tax credits to complement New York State’s production incentive program.  Now, many question whether the $300 fee will undo the City’s progress and discourage independent filmmakers from choosing New York City as their production location.  However, New York City is not alone in its policy of charging for film permits.  Surprisingly to some, the $300 fee falls square in the middle of the range of fees that other city’s film commissions charge; filmmakers with productions in Los Angeles pay permit fees of $625 for two weeks of shooting, and Chicago’s film commission charges $25 per day per location.  Still, many cities that have emerged as desirable locations for independent filmmakers, such as Toronto, New Orleans and Austin, charge no application or permit fees.  Unlike New York City, however, those cities require productions that call for vehicle or pedestrian traffic control to hire police officers.  Toronto, one of the most filmmaker-friendly cities, charges between $65 and $84 per hour per officer, and Austin and New Orleans charge only slightly less.  In its favor, New York City proudly offers free police assistance, which is one of the MOFTB’s most valuable services for filmmakers.

Will the $300 application fee push independent filmmakers away from New York City?  Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying that the fee comprises only a small percentage of production budgets.  Although this rings true for studio productions, projects that operate on low budgets might no longer choose to film in New York City due in part to the new fee.  Student filmmakers might also feel the blow of the $300 charge.  Now, currently enrolled New York City film students can avoid the requirement of carrying liability insurance by showing proof of insurance through their schools, but it is unclear whether schools will assist their students with the $300 fee.

While the change to the MOFTB’s rules for issuing permits raises many practical considerations for filmmakers, it also sparks debate about whether the fee will impact New York City’s standing within the independent film community.  Is the fee counter-productive to sustaining New York City as the capital of the independent film world?  Does the policy of charging an application fee for film permits reflect New York City’s appreciation for the role that independent film and filmmakers play for the City?  Is the MOFTB looking too much to Los Angeles as a model for how to capture capital from the City’s film industry?  New York City will never be able to match Los Angeles in terms of big-budget productions, and Hollywood will likely always remain the capital of studio film productions.  However, New York City has emerged as, and will hopefully continue to be considered, the capital of American independent film.  Along with tax credits and free police assistance, the City provides free parking privileges, free access to most exterior locations, discount cards, and also millions of dollars in free advertising on City bus shelters and New York City-owned media assets to promote productions that shoot at least 75% of their projects in New York City.  Producers love these amenities.

Further, New York City has several independent film theatres, it is the base for many independent film festivals, and is home to numerous independent film producers and enthusiasts.  Low-budget films reflect the values that are important to New Yorkers; those films that revolve around well-written scripts and intellectual topics rather than special effects and star power provide a counterpoint to Hollywood flashiness.  Just as New Yorkers sing their City’s praises when in the company of Los Angelinos, the New York independent film industry prides itself on the fact that the movies they create and support do more than just entertain.  Independent film is important to New Yorkers and to New York City.  We sincerely hope that the MOFTB will administer the $300 fee in such a way that reflects continued support for the art of independent filmmaking.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.


[1] http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/news/060110_moftb_application_fee.shtml

Lack Of Transparency Limits Film Investments

NY Magazine has run a clear analysis on why the attempt to establish Film Future markets failed.  Our business is so far from transparent, it is laughable to outsiders.  The article articulates how we have no clear & unbiased info on how well films perform and all reporting is done by the studios themselves.  To run a commodities market, the public would need something more transparent (like other countries have) and without it court cases would abound.

Such chaos would almost inevitably lead to a call for mandated government-agency oversight of Hollywood accounting, and that, to studio thinking, would be Armageddon—albeit an Armageddon that would be celebrated by everyone who has ever been promised a net-profits check that didn’t arrive. In the space of just a couple of days this month, a jury demanded Disney pay $270 million in damages for wrongfully withholding profits on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, another found that actor Don Johnson was owed $23 million by the producers of Nash Bridges, and Nikki Finke’s Deadline website posted a leaked balance sheet in which Warner Bros. appeared to demonstrate that the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which grossed $938 million worldwide, is somehow $167 million in the red. Given that statistic, perhaps stockholders should inquire whether any studio movies ever realize a net profit, and if not, why the people who run those studios are still employed.

If we are ever going to have a sustainable investor base for our industry, we need to bring the reporting and accounting practices up to the standards of other industries.  It's time that we develop a list of best practices of what needs to be done to reach this goal.  I will add it to my To Do List in the meantime.

Sell Your Film As Art

The NY Times has an intriguing article on the owners of the copyright of "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" who have packaged the film, it's rights, and various other support materials, and have hopes netting a windfall. I have always wondered why more filmmakers don't go the Matthew Barney route and focus first on selling to "collections" as opposed to audiences. The Spider Woman's team's approach of going at long after the initial run and sales cycle is another route altogether. As library values decline faster and faster, perhaps all that will be left in the way of hope for some pension-esque fund will be those wealthy patrons and their butterfly collections.

G'head, PROVE I Don't Have The Right To Copy Your Work!

As Variety has reported:

U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton's decision against Viacom and in favor of Google and YouTube placed the onus on copyright holders to identify specific instances of infringement and then inform websites to remove the pirated content. If the sites do so promptly, they are shielded from liability.

2nd Film Future Commodity Market Approved

But as Variety has reported, it looks like Congress is going to stop it, and the film business will remain like onions -- unable to leverage the future to mitigate risk. We need to find ways to create a secondary market for film investment, so it is far more liquid than it is today.

Cantor Exchange president Richard Jaycobs said in light of the bill reported out by the conferees on Friday, "Cantor is continuing to assess its options for providing risk management and financing tools to the motion picture industry."

Help Keep NJ's Film Tax Credit

I received the following letter from Joseph Guerriero of Tax Credits LLC. Film tax credits are job stimuli. As tough times as these are, it is foolish for any state to dis-incentivize films, and all the money they bring, from shooting in their state. Follow Joseph's advice, and write to the representatives and urge it's passage.

Senator Paul A. Sarlo, Chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, has called a special public Committee hearing to discuss the future of New Jersey’s Film and Digital Media Tax Credit Program. The Hearing will take place on Wednesday, June 9th, from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm at NBC/Universal’s “Mercy” Studio,10 Enterprise Avenue North in Secaucus (just off Meadowlands Parkway).

Introduced last November, the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act,(Senate, No.3002), which was co-sponsored by Senators Paul Sarlo and Thomas Kean Jr, seeks to enhance the current tax credit program for filmmakers...to attract even more films to the state, stimulate local business and create more jobs. Unfortunately, the new administration has proposed suspending the current program altogether for Fiscal Year 2011 (which begins on July 1, 2010).

At the June 9 public hearing, the Budget and Appropriations Committee will invite testimony from those who would be affected by even a temporary suspension of the program. We will hear from production-related businesses, individuals whose livelihood depend on a continuous stream of production in New Jersey, filmmakers, producers and of course the production companies that will not consider filming in NJ without an economic incentive!

Please make every effort to attend this hearing. At this critical juncture, your presence and support is essential to the survival of the program!

If you are unable to attend this important event, please consider sending letters in support of the program to the individuals, below:

Senator – Chairman of Budget and Appropriations Committee The Hon. Paul A. Sarlo 207 Hackensack Street, 2nd Floor Wood Ridge, NJ 07075 201-804-8118

Senator – Senate Minority Leader The Hon. Thomas H. Kean Jr. 425 North Street East Westfield, NJ 07090 908-232-3673

Senator – Senate Majority Leader The Hon. Barbara Buono 2 Lincoln Highway, Suite 401 Edison, NJ 08820 732-205-1372

Senator – Senate President The Hon. Stephen M. Sweeney Kingsway Commons 935 Kings Highway, Suite 400 Thorofare, NJ 08086-2238 856-251-9801

Senator – Assistant Majority Leader The Hon. M. Teresa Ruiz 166 Bloomfield Ave. Newark, NJ 07104 973-484-1000

Assemblyman – Assembly Speaker The Hon. Sheila Oliver 15-33 Halsted St., Suite 202 East Orange, NJ 07018 973-395-1166

Assemblyman – Assembly Majority Leader The Hon. Joseph Cryan 985 Stuyvesant Ave. Union, NJ 07083-6909 908-624-0880

Assemblyman – Budget Chair The Hon. Louis Greenwald 1103 Laurel Oak Rd., Suite 142 Vorhees, NJ 08043 856-435-1247

Governor The Hon. Chris Christie State House P.O. Box 001 Trenton, NJ 08625 609-292-6000

Lt. Governor The Hon. Kim Guadagno State House P.O. Box 001 Trenton, NJ 08625 609-292-6000

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff State Treasurer 125 West State St., Box 002 Trenton, NJ 08625-0002 609-292-3078

PGA's Producer Code Of Credits

The PGA announced that they are close to getting the Studios to adopt their Producers Code Of Credits as the determining factor in who gets credited as producer on a project. If you haven't read these requirements, you must -- whether you are a producer, filmmaker, financier, or crew person. Hell, you should if you are an audience member too.

Festivals Should Reveal Original & Projecting Formats

Manohla Dargis' recent thoughts from the Cannes Film Festival pointed out this hole in film festival information. Particularly in this day and age of a plethora of choices and easy access & distribution of information, why aren't festivals telling the audience these details? Fests, please take note. Filmmakers, please make this request when you apply. Without A Box and Festival Genius, please allow and supply this information.

Further Closing Of Distribution Windows?

"While the plan could be a boon for consumers, it stands to be highly disruptive for the movie business..." Distribber's Adam Chappnick tipped me to this WSJ article on Time Warner Cable's pitch to Hollywood to open up a new distribution window that "would allow consumers to watch a movie at home just 30 days after its theatrical release—far earlier than the usual four months—for roughly $20 to $30 a pop."

Variety has now chimed in on the window issue, and not surprisingly, they seem to want to keep it open longer. They also getting into the price point of it all, both stating that Hwood feels the $20 price too low, but also pointing out that VOD sporting events that once the price gets close to $50, people tend to watch in groups.

What works for Hollywood product does not necessarily apply to Indie, or TrulyFree, films though.  Hollywood's been manufacturing the desire for their type of work for a century.  They have trained their audience well.  Indie film's audience remains relatively clueless about what work is out there, much less understanding why they might want it.  Desire for Hwood stuff is highest when it hits the screen.  Indie work needs time to build that interest.  How we do that is still a major question.

Is Google TV What Indies Have Been Waiting For?

Scott Macauley tipped me to NoFimSchool's post on Google TV. It, along with all the excellent links in the comments there, have picked up my spirits. Now with a little SEO strategy, maybe everyone can get a bit closer to having their work seen. Maybe soon they can even make some money from that and pay off this expensive hobby we have!

If you prefer to get your news from a major source, here's how the LATimes are covering it. It's true that with all the myriad of options, we need better search tools. I just wish that people would offer more filters. It's one thing to be able to find what we are looking for, but we still need to know what it is that we want -- particularly if we want to make other work that that which is justified by a huge marketing spend.

I know I want a few trusted curators. Let me know if you know where I may find them.

New Tax Headache For Indies

Michael Cohen thankfully tipped me off to this. It's a headache for not just Indies but for all small businesses. It effects all filmmakers as it adds on a new layer of tax reporting for any production. According to this article, you will now need to report, via 1099, any PURCHASE you make -- and intend to write off -- on an individual basis. If you buy a new computer, you will have to send Apple a 1099. Time to consultant your accountant.

Don't Let Bloomberg Reduce NYC Arts Spending

The NYTimes has reported that

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s $63 billion budget for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1, calls for a 31 percent reduction in financing for arts groups and a 25 percent cut for libraries — steeper than any such measures he has proposed at this stage of the budget cycle in the last eight years.

You can send a letter to fight the closing of the libraries at:

http://dontclosethebook.nypl.org

I haven't come across the same thing on the arts budget side.  If you find something, please let us know.