Free Sundance Hybrid Distribution Consultation w/ Jon Reiss

Today we have a guest post from Jon Reiss announcing his generous offer to do some free consulting for filmmakers with features at Sundance.


As some of you might know, one of the reasons that I wrote Think Outside the Box Office was after those first Filmmaker articles I wrote in Fall ‘08 about my experiences distributing my graffiti doc Bomb It, many filmmakers contacted me to help them with their films. However they were all broke, as most filmmakers are. The book started as a brain dump so that I could share my experiences with others. I figured people could at least afford $20-$25. (After many requests the book is now available as a PDF from my site for $14.95)


But filmmakers still need individual advice; how to apply the new distribution and marketing models and landscape to their specific films. And unfortunately since filmmakers in general are not saving money for distribution and marketing, they are still broke.


So I wanted to do some kind of community consulting “event” at Park City this year. I thought about sitting in a coffee shop for 2 hours a day and having online sign ups for 20 minute sessions (I still might do this if enough people request it).


However, Lance Weiler asked me to do a live consulting session at the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit (Saturday January 23rd) with two filmmaking teams one narrative/one doc. Anyone in Park City can attend and it can also be live streamed (along with the rest of the Summit that I recommend you all check out).


I’ve decided to expand this to 10 more feature filmmakers from either Sundance or Slamdance. I will provide 45 minutes of consultation by phone or Skype before the festival begins and 45 minutes during the festival. This can be used in any way the filmmakers want, from helping to devise a complete DIY scenario, to getting my opinion on any deals being offered.


For selection any interested film should email me by Thursday January 14th by noon at reiss.jon@gmail.com. Send me what you have eg synopsis, trailer, website, plans you have in mind etc.


I will pick the films and announce them by Friday January 15th.


For any other Sundance/Slamdance filmmaker not chosen I will be reducing my consulting rate before and during the festival from $75 an hour to $50 an hour. This rate will apply even for the chosen films if they want to go beyond the first hour and a half.


Jon Reiss: 20, No 25, Points To Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere

Today we have a guest post. Jon Reiss returns!

20 25 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere: Part 2

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

The first part of this article concerned how to approach festivals if you want to still pursue a more conventional sales oriented strategy within the new landscape of distribution for independent film.

This second part will address what you should consider if you are going to use your premiere festival (or one of your festivals) to launch the actual

distribution and marketing of your film. Linas Phillips, Thomas Woodrow and company are doing this for Bass Ackwards at Sundance in conjunction with New Video. Sundance just announced today that three more films will at least be releasing their VODs day and date with this year’s festival. While these three films are being released by the Sundance Select series on Rainbow, it is actually run by IFC who has been pioneering festival/VOD day and date (this and more about revising filmmaker’s approach to festivals is covered extensively in Chapter 14 of Think Outside the Box Office.)

I am writing this piece for 2 reasons: 1. To aid any filmmaker who is considering launching the release of their film at their premiere festival aka Sundance/Slamdance (even though I lay out a lot of challenges to this strategy, I am still a huge fan of this approach) and 2. To assuage the guilt of many filmmakers who have been kicking themselves for not utilizing this strategy in previous years. I spoke to a number of filmmakers who were mad at themselves because they saw the amount of exposure their festival premiere generated, and they never reclaimed that exposure with the theatrical release of their film. Hence they reasoned, “if only I had released my film day and date with my _______ festival premiere”. They realized, smartly, that it is best to have all guns blazing in your release to penetrate the media landscape and that top festivals are very good at creating audience awareness. Hence why not monetize that audience awareness with the release.

However it does take a fair amount of advance work and planning in order to enact this strategy. So this year you should not kick yourself for not doing it. (Later this year or next year when filmmakers should know better – they should kick themselves!) If you are premiering at Park City and aren’t ready for this strategy now, I have a suggestion at the end of this piece about how to engage this strategy at a later date.

So here are some points to consider for a festival launch of your film’s release.

1. You should create a thought out distribution and marketing strategy that will guide you and your team through this release. Have you analyzed your goals for your film, your potential audience, and your resources? (I know this was the first point to consider for the last post – it is that important)

2. Very important in this strategy is what rights are you releasing and when. What is your sequence of rights release? Is everything day and date with the fest or only VOD or DVD? If all rights are not day and date, when are the other rights being released and how will those rights be promoted?

3. Of particular concern is theatrical. Are you launching what I term a live event/theatrical release at the festival (Section 3 of the book)? Conventional theatrical usually requires at least 3 months. But perhaps you will have alternative theatrical after the festival and then ramp up conventional theatrical. How long is your theatrical window? How does this integrate with your other rights?

4. Consider if your film is the kind of film that will generate a lot of interest and press at Park City? Perhaps do some research into the types of films (particularly those that reviewers and film writers will respond to) and see if that makes sense for your film. Even though Park City shines a great spotlight on films, it does not do so for all films, and many films get lost in the shuffle.

Perhaps there is an alternative time of the year that might shine a brighter light on your film – e.g. if there is a national month or date dealing with your film’s subject.

5. Do you have all of your materials ready to go for a release whether DIY or through a distribution partner? Are all your deliverables ready to go? Have you authored your DVD? Do you have key art? Have you printed your key art?

6. Is there a distribution partner who is interested in your film who will help you launch your film at the festival? Note that all of the films mentioned above are partnering with a larger company to help enable the release. You don’t need one company, perhaps it is a group of companies. Perhaps you have one company for DVDs and another for VOD. Many distributors need a long lead time to prepare a film for release, so chances are that this option will be difficult unless you already have it in play. However you can begin discussions with potential partners at Park City or after for such a release later down the line. More on this later.

7. If you don’t have a distribution partner in any particular rights category, do you have a DIY approach to monetizing said rights category? Do you have replication and a fulfillment company lined up? Do you have digital distribution in place for download to own, download to rent?

8. Do you have a marketing and publicity campaign that you have been developing for a couple of months? Do you have a publicist who has been talking to journalists to lay the ground work for your release?

9. Many filmmakers at Park City will just have been finishing their films to get them ready to screen. Many or most will have been so absorbed with the completion of their films that they will not be ready to release their films at Park City. In that case it is probably wise to hold off on your release for when you are more prepared. Use Park City to lay the groundwork for that later release. Don’t just think about the overall deal, actively court distribution partners who will work with you on a split rights or hybrid scenario. Find out what press is a fan of your film so that you can book live events/theatrical releases in those cities. (Have them hold the review!)

10. If you are at Park City – chances are you will be invited to other fests. Use one of those festivals (or a combination of festivals) to launch your release when you are ready. Weather Girl premiered at Slamdance last year, didn’t sell, regrouped and then launched their theatrical at LA Film Fest 6 months later. Two of the IFC releases premiered last year at Berlin and Cannes.

If you are following both posts of this two-parter, you will see that there are actually 25 total points to consider instead of the promised 20. My apologies. BTW – I am preparing a distribution and marketing tools website which is approaching its beta launch – keep posted.

Also – I will be doing a live consultation session at the Filmmaker Summit at Slamdance this year Saturday January 23rd. Projects are being submitted on line if you want to be considered. Go to: http://slamdance.com/summit/

Update: Indie Film Publicists List

It's that time again. Filmmakers are scrambling trying to find someone to help spread the word at the Sun & Slam Dance Fests. Last year I ran a list of publicists, and here it is again with a few updates.

Let me know whom I forgot, okay?
15minutes
(www.15minutes.com, 8436 W. Third Street, Suite 650, Los Angeles, CA 90048,
115 West 29th Street, Suite 810, New York, NY 10001)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

42West
(www.42west.net, 11400 W. Olympic Blvd, Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90064,
220 West 42nd Street, 12th Floor, New York, NY 10036)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

Acme Public Relations
(1016 Pier Ave., Suite 2, Santa Monica, CA 90405)
Offices: Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
B|W|R.
(www.ogilvypr.com/en/bwr, 5700 Wilshire Blvd., #550, Los Angeles, CA 90036,
825 8th Avenue, #15, New York, NY 10019)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
DAVID MADGAEL & ASSOCIATES, INC.
(www.tcdm-associates.com, 600 W. 9th St., Suite 704, Los Angeles, CA 90015)
Offices: Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
DISH COMMUNICATIONS, INC.
(www.dishcommunications.com, 10000 Riverside Drive, Suite 5, Toluca Lake, CA 91602)
Offices: Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
dominion3 PR
(www.dominion3.com, 6464 Sunset Blvd., Suite 740, Hollywood, CA 90028)
Offices: Los Angeles
Partners: Kim Dixon
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Donna Daniels Public Relations
(20 W. 22nd St., Suite 1410, New York, NY 10010)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Falco Ink.
(www.falcoink.com, 850 7th Avenue, #1005, New York, NY 10019)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Fat Dot
(www.fatdot.net, 89 Bedford St., Suite 1, New York, NY 10014)
Offices: New York
Partners: Weiman Seid
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Frank PR
Office Phone:646-861-0843
Partners: Lina Plath and Clare Anne Darragh
Recent films/projects/campaigns : overall publicity for the Hamptons film festival, the Stoning of Soraya M
Offices

ID-PR
(www.id-pr.com, 8409 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069,
150 West 30th Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10001)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

inclusive pr
(http://inclusivepr.com, 6646 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 205, Hollywood, CA 90028)
Offices: Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

Indie PR
(www.indie-pr.com, 4370 Tujunga Ave., #105, Studio City, CA 91604)
Offices: Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

International House of Publicity
(853 7th Ave., Suite. 3c, New York, NY 10019)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Jeremy Walker + Associates, Inc.
(www.jeremywalker.com, 171 W. 80th St., #1, New York, NY 10024)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
mPRm Public Relations
(www.mprm.com, 5670 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 2500, Los Angeles, CA 90036)
Offices: Los Angeles
Partners: Mark Pogachefscky
Recent films/projects/campaigns : Life During Wartime
Murphy PR
(www.murphypr.com, 333 Seventh Avenue, Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10001)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

PMG
(www.platformgrp.com, 8265 Sunset Blvd., Suite 106, W. Hollywood, CA 90046,
1359 Broadway, Suite 732, New York, NY 10018)
Office: Los Angeles, New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
PMK/HBH
(www.pmkhbh.com, 700 San Vicente Blvd., Suite G 910, West Hollywood, CA 90069,
622 Third Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10017)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Rogers & Cowan
(www.rogersandcowan.com, Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, 7th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069, 919 Third Avenue, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10022)
Offices: New York, Los Angeles, London, Beijing
Recent films/projects/campaigns :
Sophie Gluck & Associates
(124 West 79th St., New York, NY 10024)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

Shotwell Media
(2721 2nd St. # 205, Santa Monica, CA 90405)
tel. 310-450-5571
Offices: Los Angeles
Partners: Sasha Berman
Recent Films/Projects/ Campaigns:
Susan Norget Film Promotion
(www.norget.com, 198 Sixth Avenue, Suite 1, New York, NY 10013)
Offices: New York
Recent films/projects/campaigns :

Answers Needed: Screenwriting Labs & Colonies

A documentary filmmaker making the transition into narrative asked me to recommend labs to develop their first screenplay in. We all certainly know of Sundance, and there are the prestigious MacDowell and Yaddoo colonies, but where else can one go? And what are the rules for MacDowell & Yaddoo? Who and what is eligible? And aren't they more like a place to work and consult with other artists as opposed to the Sundance model which is in depth meetings with mentors?

The Nantucket Screenwriters Colony has helped to advance both COLD SOULS and TEETH. The Hamptons Film Festival Screenwriters Lab helped Caitlin McCarthy and others develop their work.
Where else can one go? Does anyone else have some suggestions? And what do you think of these programs anyway?

What's It Like To Step BEHIND The Camera

Back at the beginning of the year, Christine Vachon and I sat down with Alan Cumming, Jeff Lipsky, and Lee Daniels to talk with them about what it was like to sit in the director's chair after being established in other roles within the industry.

This is part one and part two of nine.
Part Two of Nine:

You can look at all nine installments, right here:
http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=8D2836CEE668FAD7

52 Reasons Why American Indie Film Will Flourish

Is there something in our wiring that makes us respond more to problems than to the positive aspects about our situation?  I started the year out with a list over 52 Reasons To Be Hopeful.  Last week I posted a shorter list, a virtual brain dump, on the problems I felt we all faced on the American Indie side of the film industry.  

On one hand I was very inspired by all the comments that flowed to this blog as a result of the list.  But I couldn't help but wonder why the earlier post far less traffic.  Was it because I broke it up as a series?  If I splatter it in full across this screen will it get more traction?  Or was the recent post's increased traffic just because we get more excited by the bad news?
So sorry about the recycling of posts, but hey Monday was a holiday and 52 things was a pretty long list.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: WHY INDIE FILM CULTURE WILL SURVIVE

1.It is so easy to blog that everyone could have their own page in a matter of minutes. I thought about having a blog for several months before I made the leap and then I was up and on it a matter of minutes.

2. The more people are exposed to quality films (and culture in general) the more their tastes gravitate towards quality films. I would love to see an actual study on this, but I was told it by one of the Netflix honchos in that their members gravitate to the "auteurs" the longer they've been a member.

3. Committed Leaders To A Open Source Film Culture have emerged. I have been incredibly inspired by all the work that those I have labeled as Truly Free Film Heroes have done. Even more so I am moved by their incredible generosity in their sharing of all they have learned.

4. The Tools To Take Personal Control are available, numerous, and fun. There are more than I can list (but the TFF Tools List is a pretty good start).

5. Giving it away for free is good business. Anderson's essay is required reading. Look at Google who gives away 90% (est.) of what they create (the search engine) and drives a good advertising business in the process. For years The Greatful Dead were one of the top grossing concert acts, driven in a good part by their willingness to allow their fans to "bootleg" their concerts and "distribute" them themselves. The question is what do you give away and what do you use to produce revenue.

6. Film Festivals are evolving. Local film fests have already identified the core film lovers in every region. For decades these festivals have been content to live in a single period each year, overloading their audiences with too many choices come festival time. Now festivals are giving theatrical bookings as awards (help us build a list of these). Some are moving to a seasonal subscription model. Some are even paying significant screening fees. And then there are the cash awards (those are still around somewhere, aren't they?).

7. Internet Streaming is being used by filmmakers to build A WORLD of Word Of Mouth. Slamdance has announced that they will stream films right after the festival. For years we have know that word of mouth is the primary way that a specialized film succeeds. But it is costly, but now that has changed.

8. 2008 is the strongest year for under $1M EVER. I have seen almost 20 films this year by filmmakers who clearly will develop a great body of work. Only a few were at Sundance. They keep on coming. They may still be hard to find, but the films are out there and at a quality and quantity as never before. Check out Hammer To Nail's list of top 13 films of the year and get watching.

9. Plenty of DVD manufacture & Fullfillment places (see sidebar).

10. Plenty of places to place your content online for eyeballs to find (anyone want to generate a comprehensive list to share?).

11. Things like Netflix and Blockbuster.com make it possible for anyone with a mailing address to see any movie he or she wants. A lot of viewers who haven't had access to theaters or even video stores that stock smaller films can now get them if they know about them. (thanks Semi!)

12. The Major Media Corporations retreat from the “Indie” film business. This will open up distribution possibilities for entities not required to produce high profit margins or only handle films that have huge “crossover” potential and necessitate large marketing budgets.

13. A new turn-key apparatus is evolving for filmmakers who want to “Do it with others” in that they can hire bookers, publicists, marketers – all schooled in the DIY manner of working. Instead of hoping for a Prince Charming to arrive and distribute their film, TFFilmakers are seeking out the best and the brightest collaborators to bring their film to the audiences.

14. We have seen a perfect distribution model and its success: the Obama social network was nothing short of a thing of beauty. Its methods should be an inspiration for all truly free filmmakers. People had a reason to visit the site, to supply information, to reach out and connect to others. They were supplied the tools and a mission. Now go out and find someone to vote for the culture you want.

15. The DIY/Do It With Others model is now recognized as a real alternative to traditional make-it-and-pray-that-others-will-pay-to-distribute-it-for-you. Filmmakers are planning for it as a possibility from the start of production. This preparation becomes the key to success.

16.Filmmakers are recognizing the need to define a platform far earlier. Be they producers like Bill Horberg or Jane Kosek , directors like Raymond DeFelitta and Jon Reiss ,or writers like John August and Dennis Cooper, creative filmmakers are taking upon themselves to find and unite their audiences at an earlier stage in the process. Okay, maybe it isn’t so Machavellian; maybe they just want to talk to people. Either way, it is going to lead to more people seeing better films.

17. A curatorial culture is starting to emerge. Creative communities need filters. Every year I have as many “want to see” films on my list as I do “best of”. It’s not that there is too much as some like to claim, but it’s that there is still too little discussion on what is best and why. We started Hammer To Nail for this reason, but we are not alone. Although they tread in much different waters, popular email blasts/broadcasts like Daily Candy and Very Short List, these sites work as much as filters as they do identifiers. Social Networks most popular features are members “favorites” in their profiles. We are all being trained as curators, but are only now starting to share it publicly.

18.A feature film is no longer defined as a singular linear narrative told in under two hours. Filmmakers are recognizing the need to extend the filmic world beyond the traditional confines. Whether this is in Judd Apatow’s YouTube shorts for KNOCKED UP or in Wes Anderson’s prologue short for THE DARJEELING EXPRESS, the beginning of new models have emerged helping filmmakers continue the conversation forward with their audiences.

19.New models for production are being utilized. The most widely noted in this regard is “crowdsourced” work. Massify has recently brought together the horror film Perkins 14. This year brought us Matt Hanson’s and A Swarm Of Angels open sourced / free culture start-up THE UNFOLD; the trailer is mysterious and I am looking forward to the feature. These massive collaborative works are the ultimate union between audience and creator.

20. Grassroots has come to distribution. The Living Room Theater model advanced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Theaters empowers audience members and filmmakers alike bringing them together and invested in each others success. Filmmakers give the audience more power and control, and audiences recognize that they have to fight to preserve the culture they want. 

21. The independent art house theaters are organizing. Sundance is hosting the first Art House Convergence this year prior to the festival, helping to build the knowledge base of these theaters and enhance their collaboration. This platform will be key to preserving the theaterical experience for films outside the domain of the major media corporations.

22. Financiers are collaborating with each other. Groups like Impact Partners that provide regular deal flow, vetting, and producerial oversight for investors with common interests lowers the threshold number for investors interested in entering the film business. IndieVest is another model based on subscription, deal flow, and perqs. The high amount of capital needed to enter the film business has limited its participants. The film business has its own vernacular, and mysterious business practices. It is an industry of relationships. Collaborative ventures like this help to solve many of these threshold issues.

23. The US Government, at the city, state, and federal levels, recognize the positive economic impact of film production and has created a highly competitive market for tax subsidies and credits. The vast amount of experimentation in this field has allowed for it to grow forever more efficient. Although these benefits are designed to attract the highest amount of spend, and are thus most beneficial to Hollywood style models, the steady employment these credits have helped to deliver, develop a crew and talent base more able to also take risks on projects of more limited means. The “soft” money they provide a project is often key to getting the green light.

24. A greater acceptance of a variety of windows in terms of release platforms is emerging. Filmmakers were once the greatest roadblock to a pre-theatrical release DVD. Filmmakers are experimenting with everything from free streaming to the filmic equivalent to a roadshow tour. It is only through such endeavors that we will find a new model that works.

25. Industry leaders have said publicly that they will share the meta-data that a VOD release generates with the filmmakers. Although license fees have dropped considerably, filmmakers have new options on what to ask for in return. I spoke on a panel with two notable industry leaders who said they would put it in their contracts that filmmakers can receive and share the data the VOD screenings of their films generate. This information will become important the more filmmakers seek to maintain direct communication with their audiences.

26, Collaboration among filmmakers is recognized as being a necessity among filmmakers. Todd Sklar’s tour of films with their filmmakers brought vital work and their creators to places that generally went lacking. The teamwork approach benefited everyone. One can easily imagine that this model, like the collaborative finance model, will extend to production too, and not just in the aforementioned crowdsourced way, but in ways that will make individual personal films stronger too.

27. The Independent community has demonstrated that it is quick to action and embraces both tolerance and strength. Over five years ago, the indie film community joined forces to defeat the Hollywood Studios’ and the MPAA’s Screener Ban, but despite a lot of activist attitude they have not joined forces in a significant way.

The indie film community was very vocal about their opposition to California’s Proposition 8 referendum, but never in a unified way. Similarly, many major figures within the community defended the LA Indep. Film Festival’s head’s, Rich Radon, right of political expression when it was revealed he had donated funds in support of Prop 8, refusing to engage in blacklist tactics. In the end, the obvious conflict of an organization that defines itself by tolerance, being then led by someone supportive of a discriminatory act, albeit on what is called religious grounds, seemingly led that individual to resign. There was no true organized effort by the film community itself either to defeat Prop 8 or to remove Radon, but one suspects the outcome of each will bring more unified action in the months to come.

The community’s embrace of a new issue will be a test of their abilities to act in a unified way.

28. The embrace of the “1000 True Fans” model: filmmakers are recognizing that they need to engage in regular communication -- via a regular output of varied material – with their core audience. Not only is necessary because it speaks of a model of how filmmakers can earn a living , but it also offers a manner of working that will allow filmmakers, and artists in general, greater variation in the type and form of work they do. The dialogue with the audience will also keep filmmakers more attuned to what their audience responds to and why, all the while, strengthening the bonds between artists and their community.

29. Rational consolidation and expansion is taking place in the blogosphere. Entities need to have funding if they are going to truly cover this space (man, what I could do with a few bucks...).  Indiewire, the premiere indie film news site, was acquired Snag Films, the leading documentary film streaming aggregator. GreenCine, one of the leading sites for art film appreciation, had its lead blogger go over to IFC – greatly strengthening that site. Movie City News got another great editor. As these core film appreciation sites improve, we all benefit. Audiences need to know where to go to find the type of films they love and this bit of consolidation could help.

30. Some of the major specialized distributors recognize the need to build film education and appreciation into their job description. Focus Features “Film In Focus” website, in partnership with Faber & Faber, demonstrates this impulse beautifully. Independent, Specialized, Art, Foreign, and Truly Free Film all need an audience who acts out of choice not impulse. They need to remain review driven despite the loss of so many critics nationwide. They need to be able to recognize what qualities make a film better or unique. They need to recognize what makes a film art. They need reading that helps their love of cinema grow.

31. The need for digital preservation of indie films and their history is slowly being recognized. Granted this is a little hard to document, but I have had a handful of conversations this year with organizations contemplating both the preservation of specific films and of filmmakers’ archives. In this digital age, preservation is all the more difficult due to the lack of physical copies. Additionally the technology changes, and what was stored on form of drive is not compatible with another. Blogs are born daily and evolve so quickly, we are left wondering how to chart their progress.

32. Communities are renovating their historic town center theaters and turning them into community centers, with capabilities of film and/or digital projection. The great old movie theaters are the shrines to the first century of cinema, and a truly wonderful way to see a film.. Organizations like the League Of Historic American Theaters and the Theatre Historical Society Of America which are dedicated to the restoration and operation of these palaces. Often situated on the old main streets of many American cities, the restoration can often be the cornerstone for the revitalization of the old downtowns. But apart from being great for the local municipalities, for filmmakers these palaces are the antithesis of small screen viewing experience that most seem to think has become the defining indie experience – they are places of worship.

33. Theater owners and managers recognize the need to make the community vested in their success. I have heard of theaters giving back Monday nights to different community groups to program and in doing so building loyal audiences. Michael Moore’s Traverse City theater has 25 cent admissions for childrens’ matinees and Wednesday classics – investing in the youth and education of their community. New and best practices are developing and the theater community is sharing it’s knowledge.

34. Theater chains recognize the need to give the audience something more than they can get at home and have started to develop upscale theaters that cater to a more sophisticated taste. Village Roadshow’s Gold Class theaters offer top projection, sound, and seating, along with valet parking, wait staff and a good wine list. It’s important to make theater going a unique experience that can not be topped and it’s exciting to see what state of the art will be come.

35. Film schools are waking up to the need to educate students on how to survive – it is not enough to know how to direct or produce, graduates must have real world skills too. Jon Reiss is developing a specific curriculum on this, and I have heard from others who are looking to do the same.

36. Filmmakers are recognizing that film festivals are more of a launch platform than a marketplace. More films have trailers available prior to Sundance than ever before. Some wise filmmakers even come to their festival premieres armed with DVDs to sell. Will this be happening at Sundance? Are there any filmmakers reading this who plan to? Let us know.

37. Cultural institutions are stepping into to fill the void left by mainstream media’s abandonment of the art film space. MOMA in NYC now schedules films for regular runs. If we want to see art, why not go to a museum? We need shrines to see beautiful projection and I hope there are many other institutions picking us MOMA’s lead. It could become an actual circuit.

38. The fight to restore integrity of the producer credit continues. The PGA continues to lead the charge here and looks poised to step it up. The recognition of the need to a specific financier credit is becoming part of the conversation – namely that the Executive Producer credit should not be used for line producers but preserved for those who help finance. There is so little dignity left in the role of producer, one hopes that the rest of the industry recognizes how they are all vested in restoring integrity to the credit. Granted there are times when more than three individuals truly are producers on a project, but twelve? Wouldn’t it be a great world if even the distributors committed to stopping over-inflated credits? If an organization like the PGA actually went after the individuals and companies who push for such false credits? Real producers are always in a vulnerable position when looking for cast and financing and a soft position will not get this done. Why does a distributor or sales agent seek such credits anyway?

39. Producers are being recognized for doing more than just sourcing or providing the financing and administrative structure to a production. A good producer makes a better film and not just by making it run smoothly. Sundance – who has been recognizing producers’ contributions for years -- just held its first Creative Producing Initiative. There still remains a lack of clarity in the public’s mind as to what a producer does, but when leading organizations like Sundance take the effort not only to clarify that producing is a creative act, but also help producers to build their creative skills, change will come. This clarity and the restoration of the integrity of the producer credit won’t just restore producers own recognition of self-worth, but will lead to stronger films.

40. Senior film organizations, like the IFP, Film Independent, and IFTVA/AFM are working together, along with advocacy organizations like Public Knowledge to try to maintain key policies crucial to indie’s survival like Net Neutrality and Media Consolidation. If everyone with common interests learned to work together…. Wow.

41. There appears to be real growth beyond navel gazing in terms of subject matter among the new filmmakers. Filmmakers aren’t just interested in whether the boy gets the girl or the boy gets the boy. We seem to be moving beyond strict interpersonal relations in terms of content and looking at a much bigger picture. Chris Smith’s THE POOL, Sean Baker’s PRINCE OF BROADWAY and TAKEOUT, Lance Hammer’s BALAST, and Lee Isaac Chung’s MUNYURANGABO to name a few, point to a much more exciting universe of content to come.

42. New technology makes it all a whole lot better. Whether it is new digital cameras or formats, digital projection, or editing systems, it just keeps getting better, faster, lighter, cheaper. Reduced footprints, sharper images, and quicker turnaround: who amongs us does not believe all these things lead to better films?

43. Both the creative and business sides of the film industry are embracing the streaming of features. Both Hulu and Snag are looked at as success stories, although the short form and clips remain most popular with audiences. The key to specialized films’ success has always been creating word of mouth. Regional screenings and publicity has always been an expensive undertaking, prohibiting niche film from truly undertaking such a campaign. Streaming makes it all possible. A limited streaming campaign could do wonders for building an audience’s desire to see a particular film. When directors like Michael Moore and Wayne Wang climb aboard the streaming bandwagon (as both did this year), one can only hope legions will follow.

44. Green awareness: slowly the entire industry is waking up to the fact that there is no away to throw to. Last year less than half of the distributors distributed their award screeners in cardboard packaging. This year all the major ones did. Granted you still have to police sets to make sure bottles are being recycled, and offices to make sure that paper is – but it is much improved from before. I still haven’t been asked to put a carbon offset into a budget, but I am confident that day will come. Green carpets became the vogue over red this year. At the very least, the industry seems to be embarrassed by their waste. Maybe the days of excessive consumption are numbered…

45. The career/financial sustainability of producers is at least now recognized as an issue somewhere in the world. In the U.S. we have watched virtually every studio cut virtually every producer-based overhead deal. On one hand it seems that the US film industry has forgotten what a producer does, but across the ocean, there is a ray of hope. It has been enacted as law that the UK tax credit must be counted as the producer’s equity, thus increasing the back end a producer would have on any given project. Once local municipalities in the US start providing prolific producers with office space then we will know we are on the right foot! The longevity of producers is the cornerstone of fostering a film community’s growth.

46. Filmmakers are recognizing the benefits of limiting the time spent between films. When the American Indie scene kicked into gear in the late 80’s, the directors were quite prolific. Up until recently, the new generations of filmmakers seemed to take five more years in between projects. The directors’ pursuit of larger budgets necessitated this to some degree, but also limited their ability to build a loyal following worldwide. Whether it is the Mumblecore crowd of Swanberg or The Duplass Brothers, or the world vision practitioners like Sean Baker and Ramin Bahrini , this new generation is aiming more for growth in their work than growth in their budgets. The audience will benefit as these directors mature.

47. Actors are truly embracing indie film and seem to be doing it because they love it. We know they don’t do it for the money or just because the schedule is short and shooting quick, but when you know they are getting offered bigger paydays and chances for true stardom and yet they still keep on doing indie movies, you have to accept they do it because it is the kind of cinema they adore. Michelle Williams , Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Peter Skaarsgard, Maggie Gylnehal. Quality actors delivering quality work time and time again.

48. The Jacob Burns Center in Westchester has raised over $20M for a Media Literacy Center and it looks like an incredible addition to our culture and a wonderful model for others to follow. Imagine if every community had something like this! Check out the press release at: .

49. Power continues to decentralize. Time and time again it is proven that a good idea can triumph and change will follow it. Frank Leonard’s brain child, The Black List, the annual report that lists executives favorite scripts, has been instrumental in getting unique (dare we say “quirky”) projects appreciated, bought, and even made. Sundance was once the be all and end all of festivals. Virtual festivals like From Here To Awesome give everyone a chance at being seen now.

50.We are getting new film movements faster and faster. 2007 was the year of Mumblecore. 2008 was the year the neo naturalists broke (Wendy & Lucy, Chop Shop, Ballast, etc.). The speed of which common aesthetics form speak of better communication. Multiple filmmakers working in the same vein can only lift the conversation higher and raise the bar for technique. Work will progress faster and the audience will again benefit.

51. Life Sustaining tools slowly are proliferating. The Freelancers Union Health Care program offers a good option for indie filmmakers looking to have basic health care coverage, Creative Capital alum Esther Robinson’s brainchild Home Loans ___ , offers artist financial planning services and consultation on home buying. As we live in a nation without real government support for the arts, creators have to assume they will be partially financing their work themselves -- developing the wherewithal to plan for the future and not put oneself at significant financial risk is part and parcel to being able to choose what stories you will tell.

52. The great beacon of hope I find in the film horizon is the often TFF-cited Lance Weiler and his gang of collaborators at The Workbook Project and From Here To Awesome. The open source generosity and advocacy stemming from their platforms provide a plethora of information and point to the real possibility that artists everywhere can not only create the work they want but have the ability to find, access, and join with audiences everywhere. They show that power is not in the hands of the establishment but in the community. Lance and his team having taken a host of good ideas and put them into action -- and it appears to be just the tip of an iceberg that we can expect to come from them. The revolution is being podcasted; it’s time you got the URL tattooed onto your soul.

So that was my list.  I would love to see yours.

Another Curmudgeon Says Let Indiewood Hurry Up & Die

Jim McKay, who once was called by Variety "America's own Ken Loach", responded to my recent email blast and has kindly agreed to go public with it:

"even the A-list auteurs' star-filled agency-backed packages are failing to find US buyers at Cannes"???

I don't see this as cause for alarm, I see this as cause for celebration.

I mean, look at that sentence. What could be more diametrically opposed to small, independent filmmaking than stars, agencies, and packaging?!?

The root of this whole problem goes back to the indie-fication of Hollywood and the fact that small films have found themselves competing with bigger ones for casting, financing, and, worst of all, Oscar recognition. Small films should never have had to compare themselves with these products or compete against them at festivals or in the box office. And yet this is where the "Indie Film" phenomena ultimately landed.

We must stop seeing ourselves through the lens of 1) Hollywood and 2) Indiewood. The first is a system completely outside the realm of what small filmmakers create. The second is actually a non-existent planet that for a small time differentiated itself from Hollywood but is now just a sub-folder. Many of the great American filmmaking veterans, the ones who have spent their careers making small films, exist completely outside these worlds. Rob Nilsson, Jon Jost, Nina Menkes, Victor Nunez, Yvonne Rainer.... Let's start looking at how they do it, comparing the state of things for young filmmakers with the state of things for these makers. We'll probably learn a little about how to create and survive and I bet things will also look a lot more rosy in comparison.....

Let the Cannes/Sundance/Tribeca house burn down.
Or let it just do whatever it's gonna do. But I think we need to stop looking at the bigger system as something that exists in the same universe as films like the ones you listed.

The sky is not falling, the sky is opening up.
We've spent the last ten years eating filet mignon when rice and beans taste just as good. We've been flying first class instead of driving in the van with the band. No shit - steak and warm mixed nuts are lovely. It was nice while it lasted. But things have changed and we can change with them (for most of us, back to the way we always did it in the first place - much more challenging when you start becoming an old fuck like me) or we can just quit or sell out or buy in.
The fact is, now that the economy has crashed people will finally start making films for less money and with less bullshit attached and stop trying to play the Hollywood or, just as bad, Indiewood game. And in the future, just like in the past, really good films will still have a tough time getting made. And getting seen. And making their money back.
But there is one maxim that will never cease to apply: great work will ALWAYS, always find its way. It may not make a lot of money, it may call for extreme or inventive means of distribution, it will almost never be seen by the masses. But great work will continue to be seen and appreciated and maybe now more than ever, the means to spread the word about and gain access to this work is on the brink of discovery.

I know we're saying pretty much the same thing. And I love how you're actually doing something about it. Providing a space for people to share information, taking part in a community.... all this is great and also pretty much all we can do right now as the system makes its seismic shift. While the glass might be half empty of money, I believe it's half full with creativity. Which strikes me as a pretty ridiculously optimistic thing for a cynical guy who hasn't made a feature in 5 years and is coasting into middle-aged curmudgeonhood. And yet, there it is.

keep on keepin' on.

x
Jim

Jamie Stuart On The Evolving World Of DIY

Ted:  I reached out to Jamie, and as he explains...

Since my earlier e-mail generated a bit of traffic and comments, Ted asked me if I'd be willing to write a follow-up that addresses some of the subsequent points raised. I won't be commenting directly to any commenters, but in a more generalized manner.

Just to note, though I tend to write in a straightforward manner, I'm not angry with anybody or viewing things in black & white. And while I used my own work and experiences as a viewpoint for much of the preceding entry, I don't want there to be any confusion: Insofar as DIY filmmaking goes, over the past half-dozen years or so, I've been incredibly privileged and lucky. As well, my e-mail to Ted was not "unsolicited" -- I've known Ted for nearly 5 years at this point, as he was one of the first producers to offer to look at one of my screenplays.

Some commenters have been unfamiliar with my work and wondered how it can be seen. My website is The Mutiny Company (www.mutinycompany.com). Most of my web filmmaking has revolved around press opportunities (filmmaker interviews, film festivals), and in using that as a centerpiece, I've then created narrative short films and web series based around these documentary situations, functionally blending reality and staged fiction. This form of filmmaking arose out of plain pragmatism. In 2001, I worked as Jami Bernard's assistant, and from 2002-2004 I co-ran the website MovieNavigator.org, for which I was in charge of interviews and essays. By the time MN ran out of gas, the web was ready for large amounts of streaming video, so I tried to convince the film publicists I knew to let me shoot video interviews. However, at the time, independent cameras were not allowed at junkets and web video was not considered legitimate. This started to change in 2004 when The Film Society of Lincoln Center gave me carte blanche to shoot a 14-part web series from The New York Film Festival. Aside from their house videographer, I was the only other camera regularly shooting at the Walter Reade Theater. That led to a 6-month series in 2005 on Movie City News that expanded the established narrative/press format. In 2006, I started doing videos for Filmmaker Magazine, and in 2007, I began contributing to FilmInFocus. This niche of filmmaking has allowed my work to be posted regularly on many major industry news sites and blogs, guaranteeing a certain level of exposure.

There have been two basic strategies in the initial wave of digital DIY filmmaking -- one group immediately made no-budget features that didn't receive distribution and subsequently went to the web to gain exposure, and the other chose to start on the web to build exposure before making a feature. I belong to the latter category. I think a lot of the feature filmmakers weren't ready yet, either technically or in terms of contacts, and the lack of initial distribution success is a testament to that. While I would love to have made my first feature already, I'd rather be patient about it and do it right than to just do it. In the meantime, I can continue to polish my craft, gain greater exposure and make contacts.

DIY filmmaking has been uniformly revolutionary to the filmmaking process. Nowadays filmmakers can own their entire means of production and distribution: Prosumer cameras, affordable post software and, finally, the internet or DVD as a means of self-distribution. The industry as a whole has offered a surface embrace of this while actively seeking an offensive strategy against it (they talked up user-generated content, but their real agenda was to shift established/signed talent to the web rather than to promote upstarts). One thing that first-gen DIY-ers have invariably influenced is marketing. Personally, I haven't been too impressed by most of the filmmaking itself, but nobody can deny the success of Four Eyed Monsters' use of every social networking tool under the sun or Joe Swanberg's (always denied) mumblecore movement. In both cases, people remember the marketing a lot more than what was being marketed, and the legit industry has imitated and absorbed their techniques.

While the first generation's filmmaking output hasn't been terribly ambitious on the whole, I'd be willing to bet that's going to start changing. The recession is going to force a lot of aspiring filmmakers to fend for themselves rather than working their way up through an industry in a downturn economy. I also think that as more ambitious films start being made and noticed, this approach will no longer be so derided but embraced. You'll start to see more and more that filmmakers and production companies will own their own digital equipment, thus dropping the budgets. Furthermore, the movies produced will start to shed excess weight (crew) and become more stealth in their operations.

In general, I like the idea that filmmaking has become more regional, in that films can now be made anywhere at any time, exposing audiences to places they're unfamiliar with. The reason I refer to what's been going on as "regional folk art" is because most of the examples of regional filmmaking haven't had the ambition to be anything more than slice-of-life films made for niches. In theory, this is a phenomenal development -- filmmaking is down to the pencil and paper. The problem is that in the past aspiring filmmakers sought to impress their idols by displaying a great command of craft, but currently, many filmmakers simply don't have that ambition. I think there's room for both -- and both approaches are important. My point is that one needs to feed off the other; we need breakouts that generate enough attention so audiences are then made aware of the smaller pictures. Right now, we just have the smaller pictures. It's really just a marketing strategy.

While I don't think it's incumbent upon the older generation of indie producers and execs to nurture the younger, I brought that issue up because I think a lot of them really wish they could. I believe that new filmmakers are the lifeblood of indie film. I just think that when the dependent phase opened up, with it went a lot of the so-called community pillars, and there was a chasm left in the nurturing pipeline. Unfortunately, this occurred just as digital DIY filmmaking took off, which further exacerbated the situation by creating a de facto economic gap. Now that the dependent bubble has burst, a lot of veterans have been writing essays about how the indie model is broken. They sound a lot to me like print film critics complaining about younger bloggers -- and we know who's winning that battle.

The generational changeover is happening slowly, but it is happening. People have learned the new landscape on their own, and they'll be fine. The most important thing is for the veterans to learn from the new guys rather than feeling threatened. To me, one of the biggest red flags of disconnect was when Sundance hired established filmmakers to create a series of shorts designed for mobile phones. The whole thing seemed like an attempt to seem up to date. Had they really been on top of things and wanted to promote new formats, they should've picked upcoming indie filmmakers that were already using the web to hold up as examples. As these things go, a shift is already underway at Sundance now.

I actually have a lot of ideas about how to integrate DIY filmmaking into the traditional process and how to promote it and profit from it, but for the time being, as I'm developing some models on my own, I'd prefer not to get into that. Hopefully, sometime soon as I put my ideas to work, I'll be better able to discuss them.

One final note. I don't think that most of us are really that far apart in how we view things. A lot of what's being debated is really semantics. And I appreciate that most of the comments to my initial ramble were civil and respectful. Hopefully, that will continue.

-- Jamie Stuart

Sundance Creative Producing Initiative

This past summer I was a mentor at Sundance's first Creative Producing Lab.  I was completely impressed.  In regards to Jane's earlier post today, this is that program.  Granted it can only be accessed by a very limited number of participants (there were 4 fellows last year), but it was a comprehensive and intensive program that I would advise for everyone.

And you know what?  The deadline to apply is quickly approaching.
You can also find the application and additional information on the program at the link below:
http://www.sundance.org/applications/CPI/

The Sundance Creative Producing Initiative much more than just the summer lab though  (from Sundance's own literature): 

it is a year-long creative and strategic fellowship program for emerging American producers with their next project.

The program was conceived to develop and support the next generation of American independent producers. For over 27 years, the Sundance Institute has offered in-depth year-round programs for feature screenwriters and directors. In an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace, the health and excellence of the independent film movement hinge on sophisticated creative and strategic producers with whom these directors and writers can collaborate.

The initiative focuses on the holistic producer, who identifies, options, develops and pitches material, champions and challenges the writer/director creatively, raises financing, leads the casting/packaging process, hires and inspires crew, and navigates the sales, distribution, and marketing arenas. The program is designed to hone emerging producers' creative instincts in the scripting and editing stages and to evolve their communicating and problem-solving skills at all stages of realizing a project.

Five producers will be selected for a one-year fellowship and participate in the following:

Creative Producing Lab (described below)
Producers Conference attendance
Sundance Film Festival attendance (screenings, networking opportunities)
$5,000 living stipend; $5,000 pre-production grant
Year-round mentorship from 2 industry advisors
Community building among producing fellows
Year-round support from Sundance staff
SUNDANCE CREATIVE PRODUCING LAB

Fellows will attend a 5-day lab focused on creatively strengthening their projects from script to screen. The idea is to give producers the chance to explore their own creative take on material and to give them skills and experience in evaluating and developing this material at script stage and beyond. Scripts will be discussed in one-on-one sessions with advisors, as well as in a collective notes process with the group. Case studies will be used to explore creative issues in the production and editing processes, while techniques in communicating with writer/directors and potential production partners will also be addressed.

ELIGIBILITY

Candidates must have produced at least one short or feature-length narrative or documentary film (no more than 2 narrative features total).
Producers must have a completed, legally-optioned, scripted narrative project in hand with a director attached to the project.
Candidates may not be writer or director of submitted project.
Candidates must be based in the U.S., although submitted project does not need to be English language nor filmed in the U.S.
Sundance Institute strongly believes in strength in diversity and actively encourages applications from women, people of color, differently abled people, and all persons who support the Institute's mission.

I should also add on another front, it is also deadline time for IFP's Independent Filmmaker Labs.  I just blogged about it on Let'sMakeBetterFilms over on HammerToNail.  Check it out too.  Get those applications in the mail!  These are great programs that we are fortunate to have.

The Sundance Panic Button Panel

Todd Sklar tipped me to the video of the panel I participated on at Sundance, and now you can decide: push or ponder?  

Part One:
IndieWire has covered it and condensed it, if you prefer your news in print and not to take an hour to digest -- but me I like the whole story, warts and all.
The panel was supposed to be on the future of film, but it was a bunch of old white guys -- and that's not going to be the future.  Christine Vachon and I, with some help from IndieWire, had lunch with a much different group, that was 100% filmmakers, which IndieWire filmed and will be posted soon (so stay tuned).  
As the sole filmmaker on the Panic Button panel, I found it particularly frustrating that there was so little concern expressed about how quality film will be generated, let alone exhibited.  It is all so connected: the big films to the little films, the financing to the distribution, the exhibition to the criticism.  The dots are connected but people want only to look at their domain.  That's not self-interest, that's short-sightedness.  And that's got to change, and I'm sure it will.
I get a kick out of watching/listening to these videos.  Among other things, it shows I have to work on my public speaking compared to these pros (and the control of my hair).  And it's impressive how skilled they all are about promoting themselves and their films -- and their way of doing business.  The distribs get the word out on their accomplishments, but I neglected to mention ADVENTURELAND (and did I tell you how it just killed at the festival?).  Granted, I hope to keep making films in the top indie budget range, but watching this panel, and despite some clear articulation of the contrary, it is still easy to walk away thinking there is only one way of doing business.
The important part of part one, which has gotten NO PRESS, is that Peter Broderick speaks of a number of filmmakers who have made over $1 Million on a single film on a single website.  How exciting is that?  Get your investors to talk to Peter now!  There's hope out there for a new way.
Part Two:
It's funny to notice as I post this that part one has about 20,000 views but Part Two is still under 1,000!  That said, I don't think I got my points across until that second half.  I guess the next time, I have to write some notes down like Mark Gill did and deliver a whopper right out of the gate...
There are some simple things that could really change things.  Around 11:45 or so, on Part 2, I raise the possibility of the distribs giving the exhibs back Monday night for community screenings.  This simple idea would move mountains in terms of specialized production and is doable now.  Jonathon Sehring follows this by stating that IFC will provide filmmakers with the data their film generates.  If this becomes the dominant position, filmmakers can really start to be in control.
And if you are just looking for the John Sloss bashing part of the program, that begins around 15:35 in Part 2.

Who Really Gives Back?

I can't help but walk away from the Sundance Film Festival amazed each year at what an incredible and wonderful thing it is.  And not just the festival but the entire Sundance organization.  This year it even expanded to go beyond the movies and the labs, to include the exhibitors too (I have written enough about the Art House Convergence for you to already know what I am talking about).  

Although the infinite web of Sundance wouldn't exist without many many people, I just can't help but get all impressed by what Robert Redford has done.  Although the media seems to still love to debate about what the festival is or isn't, the simple fact that Sundance is the greatest cultural institution for Indie Film (and maybe it doesn't need that qualifier) that there is in this country (and probably the world) can not be expressed enough.  It truly is mind-boggling in the best way what Redford has given us.
I started making films just as Sundance was revving up.  I probably would have gone into one of my alternative career paths (armed revolutionary, bank robber, toy inventor, or community organizer) if they, American Playhouse, and the IFP weren't around to rescue me and give me a glimmer of hope that truly free filmmaking was possible.  As much as I have benefited from a whole industry and community of support, it is Sundance that holds it all up and continually expands it, demanding us to reach higher.  Wow.  Thank you, Mr. Redford.
Yet each year I  wonder the same thing: why is Robert Redford such a singular example?  Why is everything else in this business driven solely by short term self interest?  I was invited on to the Sundance Panel "The Panic Button: Push or Ponder?" and after participating, I am more ready than ever to push that button.  Unless others follow Redford's example and start giving back, we are sure to have a film culture of extremes: the super low-budget self-financed personal expressions and farm-league calling cards and other industry-backed economically-safe re-imaginings of yesterday's hits.  
And it has to start with those with the most power.  We all need to ask and then act on what we can do to build this culture, allow it to become sustainable, and make it obtainable for all who are willing to work.  We have a long way to go.