A New Light for Social Cinema

Editor's Note: When I discover new platforms for filmmakers to get their work seen, I tend to invite the innovators to write a post to introduce our readers to the service.  This is not an endorsement, but I do find it thrilling there are so many options!

by Colin George, Editor-in-Chief, Cinecliq.com

The lights are down. The score swells. Unbelievable — that guy three rows down is texting again.

How many times has this happened to you? Moviegoing, real moviegoing, is an increasingly alienating experience, thanks in part to smartphone dependency and our addiction to social media. We can’t even go cold turkey for two hours. Watching movies can and should be a communal experience, but that white rectangle three rows down illuminates the face of an outlier, not a participant.

So how do we reconcile our shared love for cinematic storytelling with our growing need for 24/7 connectivity? So far, the answer has been segregation — leading theater chains have proposed separate screenings encouraging texters and tweeters to ‘light up’ throughout. Conversely, purists at the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse took a hard stance against cellphone use, turning a profanity-laden voicemail from a disgruntled ex-patron into their corporate credo: “Thanks for not coming back to the Alamo, texter!”

Talkers are even more despised by cinephiles. The loudest are the youngest: hyperactive teens for whom the prospect of sitting quietly for two primetime Friday hours is a fate worse than death. No wonder their generation is disenfranchised with the stalwart traditions of movie night — the anonymous shhh! that silences them is the only acceptable social gesture made the entire evening.

Maybe their frustration, coupled with the frustration of the patrons they rudely interrupt, account for the recent spike in video-on-demand popularity. Or maybe it’s the thirteen dollar popcorn and 40 oz soda combo. More and more, would-be theatergoers are consuming feature films at home and on-the-go, watching with a small circle of family or friends, or alone on their commute.

But by limiting the theater audience to available couch space, the current VOD model eschews community in favor of convenience. Additionally, Netflix has stripped back social features from its service, which once included a community tab with a suite of networking options. Gungho on securing rights to as broad a library of content as possible (even a casual perusal of the Instant Queue evinces their quantity over quality stratagem), the company is further marginalizing the intended inclusiveness of cinema.

At Cinecliq, we hope to offer the best of both worlds. Just like our users, we spend a lot of time on Facebook; that’s why we set up shop there. By integrating our service into the world’s leading social network, we provide them with a place to watch fullscreen HD movies together, and encourage them to engage with friends — watch, comment, like, and share picks, ratings, etc. And because we’re available wherever Facebook is, there’s always more room on the couch.

Plus, unlike at the local multiplex, on Cinecliq you can chat to your heart’s content. The purists can join the conversation after the credits roll. Just imagine it: the lights are down; the score swells. It’s just you and your friends — all 900 million of them.

Crowdfunding: Getting Beyond your Family and Friends

Crowdfunding: Getting Beyond your Family and Friends By Antonia Opiah

Recently, we at the Beneath the Earth Film Festival hosted a panel discussion on financing film through crowdfunding.  It was the first talk in our Film 2.0: the Digital (R)evolution” series, which takes a look at the Internet’s impact on the film industry.

With all of the filmmakers on the panel confirming that much of their pledges came from their family and friends, I wondered:  Does a successful Kickstarter campaign mean that a film has a built-in audience or just a really supportive network?

For our panelists it was a mixture of both but each was able to go beyond their family and friends.  Here are some of the ways they did so:

Start with Family and Friends

The phrase “everyone loves a winner” came up in the discussion, stemming from the observation that people are more likely to support a campaign if they see others supporting it.  Out of the gate, panelist Laura Naylor, creator of the film Duck Beach, asked everyone in her personal network to immediately pledge to her campaign so newcomers wouldn’t land on a seemingly unsupported page.  What’s more, across the board, the filmmakers on our panel saw a fair share of their pledges come in at the tail end of their campaigns when they were close to hitting their goals.

Spend a Little Money to Make Money

For his campaign, panelist and filmmaker David Murphy took out a small Facebook ad, $200 to be exact, to build up fans for his movie Street Soccer: New York .  The film initially started off with 500 fans and in about two weeks hit close to 3,000. The ads allowed him to precisely target people with interests related to the film.  He then promoted the Kickstarter campaign to his fans on Facebook.

Think Outside the States

Matching your film to the right audience is a universal crowdfunding truth.  Consequently, when defining and looking for your audience, don’t forget to look outside of your home town or country.  With his Facebook Ad, David Murphy found that the majority of his new likes came from South America.  A tool like Facebook Ads not only allows you to precisely target by interest but also by geographical region.

Get Written Up

Easier said than done but definitely worth a try.  During the discussion, panelist Bryce Renninger of IndieWire shared what he looks for when selecting projects to highlight on the site.  Besides having a strong idea that has loads of appeal, little things like using beautiful imagery on your campaign page helps to get noticed.  And if you don’t have a trailer, don’t sweat it.  Create a video that conveys the general themes of the movie and use that video as a proof of concept.

Net-net, truly successful crowdfunders are those who not only are able to rally their personal network around their idea, but can push past that network and galvanize a true audience for their film. As filmmakers craft their campaigns it’s important that they think about who they’re going to reach outside of the friends and family box.

Having looked at how to finance film online, we’ll next be looking at how to build an audience for a film once it’s been made.  Part 2 of our series, Building an Audience, will be held in NYC on August 8th, 2012 at 7pm.  For those in the area at the time, please join us for this free discussion.  Details can be viewed here.


Bio: Antonia Opiah is co-founder of the Beneath the Earth Film Festival, an online film festival that’s using the Internet and its grand jury of film reviewers to get filmmakers noticed.  The festival observed that many films come and go on the circuit without reaching their fullest potential of an audience.  To remedy this, BTEFF accepts films from as far back as 1990 onward with the hope of unsurfacing and resurfacing cinematic gems.

Kevin K Shah on "Making A Contemporary American Art Film"

We make films to have a dialogue with our audience & communities. Our viewers, and how we connect with them, is such a bit part of the equation, that we spend a TREMENDOUS amount of time discussing the business: how do we discover films? how do we aggregate audiences? how do we achieve a sustainable career? And so on and so on and so on.

The answer always remains the question of "How do we make better films?". I am a big believer that all filmmakers need to know what they love (and how to strive to achieve it). I am also a believer that audiences benefit from the same knowledge. I know we don't discuss this enough. It's personal. It is difficult to articulate. But we must make the effort. It's worth it. We can build it better together. Thankfully Kevin Shah has stepped forward; someone always needs to get on the dance floor first!
Making a Contemporary American Art Film

Although what constitutes the ‘success’ of any artistic endeavor is entirely subjective, there are some fundamentals that I believe great art films can share. Ted and I briefly lamented that there are few videos on the internet about ‘making an art film’, or aesthetics of cinema and it's process, or personal attempts to explore Transcendence on screen from a director’s perspective. This is my attempt at scratching the surface through our own experiment called White Knuckles - a feature film by sabi.

Art films often have characters with complex or even unclear motivations, and especially in scenes that don’t depict the characters moving toward a specific goal. Often these scenes are artistic, moody and beautiful -- but despite this, we've learned often these scenes end up edited out of the final film. An art film’s effect doesn’t stem from specific moments -- it stems from how the viewer feels about the journey the character's take throughout the entire experience (and its resolution). If the scene must say something unique and honest between the lines on the page to foster deep empathy within our audience, then we must get to the heart of what the scene is about (what our character's central driving motivation is) and communicate it to the cast and crew precisely in order to execute. Only then, can the collaborative team organically shape what springs forth: by being in-the-moment and present to what is happening around them on set, and remaining open to explore surprises or subtlety as it happens.

Directing this experiment was about bringing a well-defined shell of a character to an actor to make their own, and then re-defining the entire story for that specific actor. And together, taking the emerging character on a more authentic journey than scripted to discover greater questions about life, love, and forgiveness. Directing the improvisation throughout this story was more of a spiritual practice than a craft with steadfast rules. Dramatic improv is about collaborating with your actor to find the character's voice in a safe, family-like atmosphere. It’s not about collecting 'off-script' options for the editor.

In order to survive, genuine collaboration is a need in all artistic feature film endeavors today. I truly prefer not to see my vision exactly as it appears in my head (I already have that vision of the story and it’s fine the way it is). When embarking on a new film, I want to work with our team to make something more powerful than anyone could achieve alone. Something that can only be called an “Interdependent Film” because of the family that worked together to make both the process and the result of the experience unique and meaningful.

As White Knuckles enters the world and finds its audience (recently picked up by Vanguard Cinema) we hope it will continue to spark discussion and debate about this parable of forgiveness that ends in a moment of transcendence, captured as honestly as it happened. This 'making-of' video contains creative lessons we definitely intend to bring to more 'genre' endeavors, and shares our experience to inspire you to take your own artistic journey.

Learn more about The Sabi Company’s artistic & commercial endeavors at www.thesabicompany.com

Kevin K. Shah is a creative artist-entrepreneur / 'interdependent storyteller' with several feature films, shorts & documentaries he's written, directed, produced or been an integral part of. He's also worked with several studios on high-profile transmedia campaigns including special concepts, webisodes, behind the scenes, mobile content & interactive games. With the feature 'White Knuckles', Kevin wanted to experiment with an immersive collaborative experience in order achieve honesty and authenticity in character and emotion. He is presently CEO of The Sabi Company and is currently packaging 'A Falling Rock' a thriller & and is in post on 'Lucid' a horror-drama he directed. Kevin begins production on 'Down and Dangerous' with director Zak Forsman this fall. Found on Twitter @kevinkshah, or www.kevinshah.com or www.thesabicomapny.com

Nayan Padrai on "Why We Call It DIRECT DISTRIBUTION Instead Of DIY"

Semantics and symbols carry a lot of weight. I think it matters to get the terms & images right, but it is not easy. The importance is precision is easy to see though. People don't recognize their desire until they can name it. That desire then won't spread, unless it is widely appealing. I think several of our phrases still aren't right: transmedia, PMD, & DIY -- to name a few. They either aren't user-friendly, inaccurate, or diminish the value of what they are trying to name.

It was with great pleasure that I came across someone trying to do something about it. WHY WE CALL IT “DIRECT DISTRIBUTION” INSTEAD OF “DO IT YOURSELF” (DIY) By Nayan Padrai, filmmaker of “When Harry Tries to Marry”

Recently, I posted a comment on Ted Hope’s blog Can We Create The Future Of Indie Marketing & Distribution—Or Is It Already Dead? where I suggested that independent producers start calling the process of independently releasing films Direct Distribution instead of DIY (which isn’t too far from DUI). Ted was kind to offer me space to expand my views on the subject.

I recently co-wrote, produced and directed the feature film “When Harry Tries to Marry”, which was produced by our company 108 Production and released by our newly formed distribution company 108 Pics. We like to call the process of releasing our first feature film “Direct Distribution” and I’ll share with you some pertinent details to encourage this liberating correction in terminology.

Rahul Rai as Harry

While walking the calorie/money-burning treadmill of submissions to festival and indie distributors, my producing partners and I started work on a game plan to distribute our film directly. We reasoned that the only entity that stood between the film and viewers was this mystic movie God known as the film distributor. Well we had a production company, so why couldn’t we start a distribution company too?

So we asked folks what do these movie distribution companies really do, aside from throwing expensive yacht parties at Cannes? A) They acquire films (we have the film), B) they have an infrastructure that includes a marketing team, bookers C) create deals to output to home video and VOD and D) Most of them anyway use outside international sales agent for foreign markets. We’re from originally from India so naturally we thought, what if we just outsource those processes and infrastructure needs to specialists (to reduce our overhead), while being the client (distributor). The concept is similar to a rent-a-system, or service deals (which need millions in spends) but we didn’t want to handover control of the process and all the money to another company. We wanted to be involved in every stage of the process, while building experience and knowledge for the future. So it was decided that we would be the distributor and launched 108 Pics. But a distributor also (hopefully) has money to do all that is necessary, so we raised a second round of financing, rolled up our sleeves, donned PMD caps, and put a bulls-eye on a release date.

Naturally, we made some missteps along the way but by knocking on enough doors, and speaking with other producers, we came across folks who had years of expertise in marketing and distributing indie films. It was a team that spoke every day, and had weekly calls to decide a variety of issues.

Some of the most experienced folks in the business are involved in collective facets marketing and distribution of “When Harry Tries to Marry”:

Marketing • Marketing and distribution strategy: Matthew Cohen Creative • Trailer: Zealot • Key art: XL • TVCs: Kinetic Trailers • EPKs and Music Videos: Dreamline Pictures • Online marketing team: Brigade Marketing • Publicist: PMK*BNC • Music publicist: Flipswitch PR • Media agency: Callon • Social media marketing: Advantage and Naqeeb Memon - who worked on Mooz-lum • Online Sweeps: CFA Promos • Website: Design Mechanics

Distribution • Theatrical booking service: Alerion Services • Foreign territories: Cinemavault • VOD and Digital Downloads: Gravitas Ventures and Warner Bros Digital Distribution • Home video: Viva Pictures • Soundtrack: TuneCore and CDBaby

The above establishes that the term DIY is a fallacy, an ego booster, and makes for nice sound-bytes at seminars, or tag lines to sell books to aspiring filmmakers, but no essential process of filmmaking is so isolated that you can do it (all) yourself. (Unless Ikea starts a-ready-to-assemble kit for marketing and distributing films.)

Stefanie Estes and Rahul Rai in When Harry Tries to Marry

If you are making a film and able to sell / license it to an (in-direct) distributor, great for you. Start writing your next script. But if you are like the 95% majority of Indie filmmakers, please accept that marketing and distribution is now a part of the job, but luckily you don’t have to DIY it. Start your own distribution label (of course raise this money during your production finance stage itself), subcontract pieces of the workflow to enthusiastic and knowledgeable people, make your own output deals for now and the future, and embrace the free-market model of Direct Distribution.

Some may argue, that it’s all the same with different names but DIY is really just mind-set predisposed to failure IMHO. Direct Distribution not only sounds better and more respectable but its the accurate definition of the process of marketing and releasing independent film, which we Hope ☺ everyone will start using with a lot of confidence.

By the way, When Harry Tries to Marry is currently on Video-on-Demand everywhere across North America including iTunes

Nayan studied screenwriting at the School of VIsual Arts in NY. He became a co-founder of one of the largest South Asian media, entertainment and marketing conglomerates in the U.S. He left the company after running it for ten years to return to his true-passion, filmmaking. His debut film is the award-winning, and crowd pleasing "When Harry Tries to Marry". Nayan is currently writing his next film.