Can Truly Free Film Appeal To Younger Audiences?

The Art House audience is graying at a rapid rate. Indie Film has lost its marketing muscle in a way that Indie Rock never has. New film audiences aren't developing in the same way that they once was. Why aren't we all doing more to recruit new participants?

Now mind you I am not providing statistics to back this statement up (do you really need to do that on that internet?). I admit I am just speaking from instinct, from standing in the center of the hurricane and trying to observe the weather. If we are going to have a sustainable industry, we have to consistently recruit new blood, both in terms of audience, staff, and creators -- that's just common sense, but the indie side of things has had a hard time of doing it.
What is it that new audiences want? What must the indie community do to engage them?
It is really surprising how few true indie films speak to a youth audience. In this country we've had Kevin Smith and NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, but nothing that was youth and also truly on the art spectrum like RUN LOLA RUN or the French New Wave (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY not withstanding...). Are we incapable of making the spirited yet formal work that defines a lot of alternative rock and roll? And if so, why is that?
You'd think with truly free film's anti-corporate underpinnings that those who seek out authenticity would respond, but perhaps it is film culture's historic precedent of the filmmaker's ongoing pursuit for greater dollars. The examples of artists who forgo the monetary reward in favor of delivering the truth are all to rare, and thus audiences end up thinking that if the film itself isn't about the sell, then the filmmaker's career most likely is. Who really represents integrity in the film world? Who places their art or their audiences first? Is it the cost of production that forces 98% of the industry to focus first on commercial success? Is it the lack of support for the arts in the USA that makes media artists generally money-driven?
Maybe it's not the content or the economic situation though, but the presentation that is more the turn-off for the newcomers? People often speak of the Alamo Draft House in Austin as the ultimate indie movie screen as it serves beer and food and has great clips that play before every film. It makes movie going feel like an event. And you can drink... alcohol. But me, I have never found movies to mix well with liquor -- other substances, yes, but not the booze. It takes a specific type of film to appeal to a partying crowd. And a particular place that can recruit them. We have to give them more of a reason to leave the apartment than just watching a movie like they can at home. We have to return to really putting on a show.
Maybe it is the form in general. The way we have been making movies for the last 100 years appeals to only the singular pleasure of "being directed to". What about the audience's desire to participate? How come we have not found a way to encourage participation on a more widespread basis? Transmedia holds tremendous potential in its efforts to turn the presentation into an actual dialogue, although we still lack the defining work that goes beyond cross-platform to an actual back and forth, with both sides being equal creators.
Wouldn't it be great to have a forum or think tank that really tackled these issues? That helped to lead the way?

Take Back What Is Already Yours: "Best Practices" For A Complete Cinema

I am in London to deliver the key note speech at Power To The Pixel. This is that speech.

POWER TO THE PIXEL:
Take Back What Has Always Been Yours
10/14/09
London

Cinema is a driving force in my life. I don’t want it to leave us, nor do I want to have to leave it behind; it’s provided me with hope and inspiration, and an incredibly fulfilling livelihood. It is also a one hundred year old industry, and, in my opinion, damn close to both a perfect art form and a perfect entertainment, but is also one whose applicability to our lives and livelihoods must now be completely reevaluated.

Cinema, in its current concept and execution, is both derived from and depending on a world that we’ve passed by.
• It is no longer is the most complete & representative art form for the world that we inhabit.
• It no longer mirrors how we currently live in the world.
• Cinema is now a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day to day.

We must also recognize that there is no workable present day business model to support the current mode of cinema, other than one built on the exclusionary practice of isolated control of the funding, marketing, distribution, and exhibition systems. We know the model for financing and distribution -- and by extension, also creation -- is now running on fumes.
• How long can the controlling studio model survive when the wall of control has already come done and the people -- now embracing that they are both audiences and creators -- have recognized the power they truly have and will unlikely ever surrender that power again?
• How long can a business based on library assets survive when everything that has been digitized has also been copied and can now be spread with a touch of a button – and every time it is stopped, it is only to reappear somewhere else.

Sure, these are big problems before us, but being here, joining in the conversation today, is truly exciting because we are here to define and develop that new art form, one that in turn can spawn it’s supportive business model.
This can be done.
This will be done.
And whether we call it cross-platform, transmedia, or just good old “cinema”, we will do it.

In re-building our representative art form to truly demonstrate how we live, we will also develop a business model specifically for it:
• One founded on access and transparency,
• One where the rewards come from the work rendered and not the control maintained.
This is the hope has brought us together and it is this hope that will truly move us forward.

We not only all get to participate in this reinvention of cinema, but we all HAVE to participate in it. Things have changed:
• Previously creators couldn't – or perhaps wouldn’t -- truly participate in the whole of cinema .

If we as creators redefine cinema as its complete whole -- if we take back what has always been ours -- cinema will no longer be the same art form it was 100 years ago, nor will we have the same film industry that we do today. Yet, to think forward, we have to look backwards and recognize cinema for what it truly is and stop naming a part of it as the whole.
• Cinema is not just the narrative component.
• Cinema is the entire process;
• it is the dialogue that goes on between the audience and the content.
• It is the experience that resonates long after the lights have been turned on.

Cinema is supported by six pillars and until now creators truly only participated in two of them: content and production.
Content, being made up of sound, image, time, and narrative has had more than enough for a singular author to content themselves with.
Production, until twenty years or so ago, generally meant creators had to work for someone else because the cost of production was so excessive (that they weren’t able to afford it on their own). The economic barrier to personally produce what you conceive has now virtually disappeared.
For the last two decades Independent filmmakers mistakenly perceived it as some sort of victory that they had the opportunity to participate in the first two pillars, but in settling for dominion of these two, we haven’t seen the forest for the trees.

When we look at the great woods that surround us now, we should recognize that we have not just the possibility, but also the necessity, to participate in the other four pillars of cinema:
discovery,
promotion,
participation,
&
presentation

We must embrace this opportunity to engage in these aspects or we will lose it.
Those in control of the financing & distribution apparatus have historically limited the creative team’s full involvement to only content & production. For if they "grant" direct access to the consumer, the audience, or the fan, they will also reduce their own control of the gate, of the choices, & of the rewards.

Control, be it through:
• limited supply to the audience,
• the access to capital to the creators,
• and the marketing, distribution and exhibition apparatus
has kept access to all six pillars distanced from those that actually generate the stories, and as result no where near the full potential that we have in us.

With our new access and involvement, that power
to create,
to access,
to spread, and
to appreciate
is going to be owned by each and every one of us.

In denying the creative class access to those other four pillars of cinema, our Industry also inhibited the narrative form from expanding beyond a linear structure and its delivery from migrating from a singular platform. Yet, the creative side somehow not just readily accepted, but also propagated ,the myth that this is how it was supposed to be. For 100 years, we embraced a short sighted vision of what cinema -- it’s creation and appreciation – is .

When considering the audience’s actual experience of cinema, the creative class has embraced a false and unnecessary demarcation
• between art & commerce,
• between content & marketing, and
• between creator and audience.

Marketing & Narrative each influence each other. Each can be used together to effectively shape our perception and knowledge of the events we intend to consume.
• Isn't "discovery" the first point in the narrative chain?
• Isn't "promotion" about the point of impact for the audience's "discovery" and its subsequent resonance?

Cinema, and its business, changes with our acceptance of the whole definition of our work.
The “sell” is part of our creation; we enter our stories by the path the piper of marketing paves in front of us. We react not just by our own instincts, but also in accordance with what is happening around us, what our contemporaries are experiencing too. If we stop being cynical about the “marketing” aspects and use them to shape our narratives -- and make sure that the narrative also shapes those points of impact we call marketing -- our stories will have more influence, depth and resonance, by the sheer fact that they are now more complete, carried from our moment of discovery, reinforced through moments of resonance, and represented by the objects we surround ourselves with.

By shedding the false construct of a line between the form and its delivery, we transform our art form.
• By extending the narrative in the direction of what once was called marketing or business, cinema itself is no longer a line, but a sphere -- a full world and no longer just a slice of life.
• By removing the constrictions of the where and when we encounter cinema, it becomes a greater influence on our lives.
• By spreading the opportunities we have to engage, both back and forth, across multiple platforms, cinema is no longer an impulsive location-centric activity, but an ever-present and consistent choice.
• By changing from a monologue to a dialogue with our audiences, we return ownership to the commons and gain back loyalty in exchange.

As storytellers we have been trained to think predominately in the form of the feature length narrative; it is the byproduct of our tunnel vision, of our acceptance of a limited definition of cinema restricted to singular aspects of a far more rich communal experience. For our art form and our business to both reflect the realities of the world we are now living in we have to embrace a new set of “best practices” for the narrative form, solutions that attract new audiences, experiments that can lead to new business models.

We have to erase the division between content and marketing, between art and commerce, between creation, presentation, and appreciation. As creators, entrepreneurs, and audiences we have to leap into the whole of cinema, abandon the trees, and enter the forests. I don’t have an answer yet, but I suspect that the list of what we all need to embrace will include aspects of all six pillars of cinema and not just the two we have aligned ourselves with. In the days ahead the “best practices” for engagement in the six pillars of cinema will become clearer, but some things are already evident, and by no means is what I have to offer is a comprehensive list, but I do think that if my future collaborators entered my offices, already armed with the following considerations, the solutions to some of the struggles we have in our industry currently would feel far more evident.

So with regard to:

CONTENT & ITS CREATION:
• Expand the narrative -- along a thematic premise -- from just a feature format to also include multiple short form works, that can be used to seed, coralle, and bridge audiences from one work to the next.
• Create storyworld instructions that will allow others to also enter and participate in the narrative. This guide will describe what rules must be followed in the creation of characters and their actions.
• Open the narrative and erase the end, or rather give multiple opportunities for endings, as audiences want to re-engage in new and different ways at different times.
• Open the narrative and offer alternative points of view, so that the experience no longer is single character-centric.
• Consider opportunities for off-line discussions and individual customization to re-enter and even influence the narrative.
o Should characters, in addition to audiences, comment on the choice creators make?
o Where can user-generated modifications enter the narrative later on?
ß Beyond story & character, can audience-generated image-overlays play a role in the experience?
• Shed the notion that is distancing for an audience to have characters played by different actors.
o as the great works of both Shakespeare and Dr. Who demonstrate, we can derive pleasure from witnessing the interpretation of a role by many performers.
ß Even within a singular narrative
• Embrace collaboration; there is so much work to be done, a singular author can not build the entire world.
o Where can the crowd provide material in an organic way that will enhance their relationship to central work?
o Be willing to just think wildly at times.
ß Have a collaborative brainstorming session with like minded storytellers on how to expand the narrative.
• Is there a way that multiple people could collaborate around this idea?
• Are supporting characters worthy of their own stories, own experiences, own environments?
• Could alternate futures and alternate paths be sketched out now?

PRODUCTION:
• Record data and provide access to it every step of the way. Show how fans how it is done. Pull back the curtain and let others see the mystery.
o Record the recording.
o Let the crew broadcast and comment.
• Recognize cast, crew, & vendors as our work’s initial community. Bring them into the discussion.

DISCOVERY:
• Provide many points across many platforms for discovery by audiences.
o This can come from websites and blogs, video content, or games.
o Trailers, clips, and posters are the most traditional way, but even in these arenas there is still much room for expansion and innovation.
ß These introduction mechanisms can be used not just for the whole, but also for each step in the process and narrative.
• Provide the audience with the proper context for appreciation.
o This usually comes from providing some ongoing curatorial services for audiences to understand how it fits in the entertainment and cultural chains.
ß If you like x, then you will also like y.
ß Provide other cultural artifacts for comparison.
ß Curate and show what else you love.
• Brainstorm participatory opportunities:
o What are the gaming structures inherent to the narrative?
ß Are there a missions and obstacles that your characters face that could be mirrored in a basic game environment?
ß Can players interact in a gaming world via the appropriation of character traits that the story origninates?

PARTICIPATION
• Provide multiple areas of participation on a casual level.
o What aspect of the story would be a fun application or widget that is spreadable?
o Does story development, trivia, or gaming warrant prizes, cookies, or contest provisions?
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a creative story level.
o Design characters that can travel into other creators’ hands.
o Iconic costumes or behavior alleviate the need for spector actor identification and thus increases spreadability.
o Totemic props, dressing, & design allow story environments to permeate the boundaries of our real world as fans appropriate such objects and display them.
• Provide fans the opportunity to create on the same lines as the story’s originators.
o Allow for remixing and reposting. Alternate POVs and approaches to the material make for a richer experience for the hard-core.
o examine how some narratives encourage fan fiction -- for isn't this something every storyteller wants: the fan-fiction user/creator to become also the advertiser/promoter.
• Accept that audiences like to both be directed and to participate;
o both the truly active and the somewhat passive experiences are pleasurable.
o It is up to us to show how this duality can be enabled.
• Demonstrate to audiences how they can participate more with (and in) our stories.
o Instead of defining ourselves as the creator, we should accept ourselves as enablers.

PROMOTION
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a fan/appreciation level.
o Let them in on the details of how and why. Where and when and on what was it shot? The details should be built into all data you deliver.
o What themes within the narrative allow for aggregation on single subject websites?
ß I.e. “If only there was a man who could…”,
ß “The worst day at the worst job is when…”
• Provide insight into the process. Allow audiences to get to know the creators. Build a friends & family fan-base.
• Offer (and reward) fans opportunities to create and thus aggregate different promotional tools
o Posters & trailers
o Fan fiction
• Build referral activities into the narrative and engagement processes.
• Provide individual curators with unique opportunities throughout the process.

PRESENTATION
• Make presentation (exhibition)an event.
o Add a live social component.
ß Know your fans in advance.
o Make it something that is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
• Provide opportunity for deeper appreciation.
o Furnish study notes and
o moderate discussions that allow the content to more fully resonate with audiences.
• Keep the experience alive long after the work has ended.
o Provided totemic items (aka merchandising)
o How can fans demonstrate their passion?

I can’t say if I got the order or organization of this right. I certainly know that the list is nowhere near complete. And I know there is no template for creation, no template for production, nor for any of the six pillars. Yet although there may be no template, there are “best practices”. I hope I have given some fuel to the thought of what those may be.

For in taking control of what has always been ours, for embracing what is the whole and not just the part of cinema, we, both the original creators and the engaged audiences, together expand the potential for narrative, for cinema, and for appreciation. This is the mission before us. This is our mandate and this is why I am excited to get to discuss this with all of you in the days ahead. Our industry has a great opportunity before us. I hope we can truly take advantage of it.

Thank you.

The talk has subsequently gotten some coverage in the press.

Jon Reiss’ new book Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era


Although Jon's book is not set to be released until November 2009 if you happen to find that charming man around IFP's Independent FIlm Week in NYC -- and you have some money in your hand -- you might just be able to get your paws on an advanced copy!

Most of the following is taken from the press release, but, it is still all true (not like some other stuff):
"If you’re only going to read one book about filmmaking in the new millennium, this should be it." Kathleen McInnis Festival Programmer, Strategist and Publicist
Covering everything from theatrical, non-theatrical, semi-theatrical, alternative theatrical, grassroots/community, publicity, live events, to DVD, fulfillment, affiliates, print ads, educational, t-shirts, boxed sets, web marketing, sponsorships, to VOD, download to own, download to rent, streaming, to Web 2.0, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Hulu, Babelgum, Amazon, blogging, tagging, webisodes, to crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, transmedia, release winows, audience identification and targeting, – the book is your guide on how to use all the new tools available to you, and I know, because I wrote the forward.

If you don't know Jon, check out B-side's interview with him, but whatever kind of content you create – feature film, short, webisodes, transmedia, You Tube – this book will be invaluable.
The independent film community is a buzz with the collapse of the traditional independent film distribution model. No longer can filmmakers expect their films to be acquired and released nationally. But just as the digital revolution created a democratization of the means of production, a new hybrid model of distribution has created a way for independent filmmakers to take control of the means of distribution. This hybrid approach is not just DIY or Web based it combines the best techniques from each distribution arena, old and new.
Pioneering filmmaker and author Jon Reiss spoke with countless filmmakers, distributors, publicists, web programmers, festival programmers and marketing experts to create this ultimate guide to film distribution and marketing for the digital era.
My blurb and I mean it with 100% sincerity:
Open this book! Eat up every morsel Reiss provides. Internalize it and make it your second skin. It is not a question of “just doing it”: we need to educate each other, tend to one another’s children, and inoculate our villages against the viruses of despair and isolation. Reiss translates the formula for world peace to apply to Truly Indie Film Distribution and beyond!


200 copies of the preview edition will be available only at personal book signings/appearances in September and October:
Jon Reiss will be appearing:
Sept 22nd Independent Film Week, IFP Conference New York
Book Signing 7pm to 8pm in the lobby outside Haft Auditorium immediately following the panel – STATE OF DISTRIBUTION – THE CURRENT & FUTURE INDIE MODEL 5:30pm-7:00pm at Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), Haft Auditorium 27th and 7th Avenue
September 24th DV Expo Pasadena Convention Center
Book Signing 12pm - 1pm Jon will be teaching two seminars between my filmmaker career development seminars: Top 10 Tips: Career Development in 2 sessions 10:30am – 12 noon and 1:30pm to 3pm
October 2nd: Vancouver International Film Festival Forum
Book Signing 2:15 - 2:45 pm and 5-6pm in the Lobby of the Vancouver International Film Centre, 1181 Seymour Street That day, Jon will be on the panel: 21st Century Doc Distribution Strategies 1:00 - 2:15pm.
October 11th: FIND Filmmaker Forum Jon will be on the Distribution Case Studies panel 9am - 10:30 am at the Director's Guild of America, Los Angeles
For more information and to receive a $5 off coupon and be able to buy the book on day one of wide release in November go to:www.jonreiss.com/blog

Audiences Are Key To Cross-Media Creation

Lance Weiler has a nice, albeit short, piece in Screen Daily on the audiences role in crafting cross-platform narratives (aka transmedia). Here's a taste, but check out the whole thing:

Pre-production, production and post are melding ― so why do most producers wait until the film is finished to engage their audience? The art and craft of how stories are designed, delivered and shared must catch up with the realities of how audiences are consuming them. This points to a number of new and exciting storytelling possibilities. The audience is telling us what they want, we just need to start listening.

Lance will be at Power To The Pixel, along with yours truly, Brian Newman, and a host of other fantastic folk that I can't wait to meet.

Plea To The New Generation: Embrace Transmedia Storytelling!

We have a guest post today from Anita Tovich.

I am Chair of the producing dept. at the New York Film Academy. In reading TFF’s recent transmedia storytelling post I realized this is it! This is it! This is a far reaching piece of the puzzle for my producing students and I sent the article to all current students and some former.

The onus is always on me to make some prophetic statements and decisions based on the research available to me for the students. But I’m no prophet. So I scour the internet day in & day out for some morsel of food to feed the sparrows. Some twig of hope to feather the nest. And every day, we, as a group fly hard against the prevailing winds.

My students are scared. One of them called me for an emergency meeting when his mother wouldn’t stop crying and telling him he was going to live under a bridge some day if he didn’t give up his dream to be a producer. He’s a working producer in Germany right now btw. Another told me yesterday she had a dream she was hit by a truck and screamed at the EMT to get her to her final pitching sessions here and not take her to the hospital. We had a good laugh, but it was ominous indeed.

Transmedia storytelling is a way out of the doldrums. I have these Failure Is Not An Option panels for and with my students. I bring in very disparate members of the community. Jeff Gomez who was mentioned in the blog was kind enough to attend. This man is a gem. He feels that young directors and producers do not necessarily understand what he does. Maybe they regard it as too lofty and/or cognitive. But his filmic universes can be the bread and butter for the newbiest of our community. As the blog stated, it’s not for every film but we should examine it before we abandon it.

I tell my students that if you want to get rich you have probably chosen the wrong profession. Wall Street is a hop, skip, and jump away-go there. Or maybe dental hygiene is in your future. But if you want to align yourself with the Jeff Gomezes of the world who enjoy giving a soul to inanimate objects-those things that wouldn’t have a soul if left to those corporations whose name(s) we dare not say. We don’t need to abandon art or character or humanity or heart or spirit.

I told a former student of mine this morning that a documentary she’s currently pitching has a lot of monetary upside, especially if she configures a new world for her characters. I know her characters from a short doc she did about them and I wouldn’t mind a bit abandoning myself to their world. She maintains this is not necessarily appropriate for a documentary. We are now at the stage where we agree to disagree. But I’m right. J

Help us fly against the wind. If there are enough of us, the wind doesn’t stand a chance.

Anita Tovich
Chair/Director
Producing Dept.
Director
Industry Speaker Series
Director
Intern and Mentorship
New York Film Academy

The transmedia / cross-platform storytelling discussion continues, both here on TFF and over at The Chutry Experiment.

Bordwell On The Challenge Of Transmedia Storytelling

David Bordwell had a great post on his blog pointing out both the historical precedents for transmedia storytelling and the problems inherent in it. You should definitely read the whole thing, but this gives you a nice taste:

At this point someone usually says that interactive storytelling allows the filmmaker to surrender some control to the viewer, who is empowered to choose her own adventure. This notion is worth a long blog entry in itself, so I’ll simply assert without proof: Storytelling is crucially all about control. It sometimes obliges the viewer to take adventures she could not imagine. Storytelling is artistic tyranny, and not always benevolent.

Another drawback to shifting a story among platforms: art works gain strength by having firm boundaries. A movie’s opening deserves to be treated as a distinct portal, a privileged point of access, a punctual moment at which we can take a breath and plunge into the story world. Likewise, the closing ought to be palpable, even if it’s a diminuendo or an unresolved chord. The special thrill of beginning and ending can be vitiated if we come to see the first shots as just continuations of the webisode, and closing images as something to be stitched to more stuff unfolding online. There’s a reason that pictures have frames.

Who Is Making Additional Material For Their Features?

I am not even talking about true transmedia work with developed story lines and expanded narratives; I am just wondering what examples are out there of additional material that has been used by filmmakers, mainstream and the indie DIY side both, to help bring audiences to the films.

Rainn Wilson tweeted about the shorts he did with Slash for The Rocker a few days ago, and I checked them out, but at that time, six months after the release less than 300 people had watched them on YouTube.
We have the videos s that Arin & Susan did for Four Eyed Monsters and set the bar for indie film promotion.  We have Judd Apatow's Knocked Up skits, and Wes Anderson's short for Darjeeling Express.  But what else is there?  Why isn't everyone doing it?  I would think that it is by now standard practice, but no.  It's not truly a money issue because there are lots of ways to do work on the cheap.
On Adventureland, we came up with a couple of short pieces that will soon debut on iTunes and elsewhere, but that was the first time that a studio "let" us do it.  I want to do it on every film now, and hopefully scripted well in advance.
Let us know what other examples you've found.