Hope For Film's Top Posts of 2012

Considering I took a 5 month hiatus after leaving Indiewire, there were a lot of posts on Hope For Film in 2012, many by me and many by a great group of collaborators and contributors. Today we present the 25 posts from 2012 that got the most traffic this year. What's important about all of them is that they're a dialogue, about film and with the film community. As always, please add to that dialogue, contribute your voice. Without it, the independent film community doesn't exist. 1. Film Production Methods: The “Better” Way Vs. The Easy Way (In 15 Steps) A sequel to my 2010 post Ten Things We Could All Do On Our Productions, I decided to crowdsource a new list. I provided the first 7, and you stepped in with your suggestions.

2. 10+ Things To Think About If You Want To Make A Better Movie  Sometimes we need to think about what matters in life, what are our values.  Holding them near and dear can elevate the art of what we do.

3. Why Make This Movie? 15 Answers To A Question That Should Be Asked More Often 15 questions I ask myself -- and you should ask yourself -- about why you're making your movie.

4. Will the internet free motion pictures from the old ways of telling stories? Randy Finch runs through the history of movies and ponders whether the internet will change storytelling as we know it.

5. Twenty Tips For Packaging Your Project Successfully In September, Jay Van Hoy and I had a public discussion for IFP’s Independent Film Week on how to package your film. I wrote this to help prepare me for the discussion.

6. Everything I Know About Producing, Part 1 and Part 2. I was in Sydney, Australia courtesy of Screen Australia to do a Two Day Workshop on Producing. Screen Hub journalist Andrew Einspruch took careful notes and here they are.

7. 7 Reasons To Release Your Film For Free Todd Sklar explains why you should release your film for free.

8. The Elephant In The Room: Indie Filmmakers Can Not Survive As Things Are IFP’s Independent Film Week in NYC left me thinking about a pivotal issue, what Indie FIlmmakers need to be able to do to survive.

9. The Best Way For An Independent Filmmaker To Make Money? More of my thoughts from my workshop with Screen Australia.

10. A Partial Letter, Catching An Old Friend Up To Where I Now Am A letter to a friend about where I am now became a rumination on the state of film that seemed like something to share with you all.

11. Ten Rules On The Producer’s Role In Development "On one hand there’s the methods we use to develop scripts, and on the other there's the process…."

12. Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 1: Every movie ever made… Roger Jackson started a great series for us -- Diary of A Film Start-Up -- documenting his own creation of a platform for online distribution. The entire series is a great read, and this is where it all starts.

13. 12 Questions Toward The Future Of FIlm Festivals I gave the Keynote Address at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas, and ended the talk with a host of questions — 12 to be exact, and here they are.

14. What Is The Great Hope For The Future Of Cinema? What do you think can really change and move things forward in both the near and distant future?

15. Who Is Making The Best Short Films Out There? There are a lot of great shorts and directors out there, as I got to see when I judged TopFest NYC this year.

16. Why Our (Film) Elites Stink The debate around Christopher Hayes' book "Twilight of the Elites" got me thinking about how the film industry suffers from some of the same problems as our government and the banking industry.

17. There’s Nothing More Important Than The Third Act Scott Meek discusses the most important part of a film -- the third act.

18. Five Reasons I Have NEW Hope For Film Some things that have inspired me.

19. Crowdfunding: Getting Beyond your Family and Friends We had a lot of great posts about Kickstarter and crowdfunding this year on Hope For Film, and all of them are worth reading for anybody considering their own options. This one is by Antonia Opiah.

20. Why I Chose To Lead The San Francisco Film Society In case you missed it, I took the role of Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society. Here's my explanation as to what interests and excites me about the position.

21. Kickstarter for Filmmakers — Is Crowdfunding Right For You? James Cooper wrote an Ebook all about Kickstarter, called Kickstarter for Filmmakers and was gracious enough to give us several great excerpts, including this one.

22. Saving Indie Film With Facebook Reid Rosefelt has started to give us regular articles focusing on Social Media, marketing, and Facebook. Here's the first of many.

23. Independent Distribution In America Is Seriously Threatened A frank discussion about the problems with independent film distribution.

24. 16+ Thoughts On Picking A Producer’s Rep Advice on what to look for in a producer's rep.

25. Don’t Hide. Declare You Are Here & Plan To F*ck Sh*t Up What are you waiting for? Don’t ask for permission. Don’t wait to be discovered. And don’t expect to get any help. Who needs it?

Films Do Change The World

Here's hope for a better world in 2013.  It will arrive in many ways and one of them is from film.  We all love success stories, and this is one of a sideways kind.  Many of you probably remember the heartbreaking film I posted here "In Jennifer's Room".  Although it reported a most heartbreaking tale, the world is now better for it.  Okay, not just because of the film, but because of a concentrated effort of which the film was just part, but still, people are talking... I recently received this note from Robert Rosenthal of Center For Investigative Reporting:

As a result of CIR's reporting, especially the explosive story we
reported last month (http://californiawatch.org/node/18695), we have
just learned that the Sonoma Developmental Center where that horrific
case occurred, has just lost its primary license to operate.
We have also just reported that the OPS, the department's internal
police force that routinely failed to protect patients from abuse, has
been placed under command of the California Highway Patrol.
California Watch reported these developments today:
Both of these stunning outcomes are testament to CIR's power to tell
this story in innovative ways and get it the attention it deserves -
in print publications across the state, a riveting online video that
has spanned the internet, on KQED radio, through tweets, data
graphics, and directly to state officials who made yesterday's
decision.
With the impact and results it had (incouding Jerry Brown signing two
pieces of related legislation) this is a key example of the kind of
"journalism of action" we are practicing and honing. This is a world
where there is a connection between the articulating of a problem
through deep investigative reporting and the resolution of that
problem.
CIR was keeping the pressure on, planning a town hall meeting in
Sonoma next month to ensure that issues at the Sonoma Developmental
Center remained in the public eye. Yesterday's announcement does not
change our concern for the welfare of patients in Sonoma or at
California's other four developmental care facilities who have faced
similar abuses and lack of oversight. We are re-evaluating the best
on-the-ground strategy in Sonoma and in other communities to engage
officials and affected families.
I will continue to keep you updated on the progress of this story. We
hope you are as proud as we are and that, together, we did change the
world for the better for these most vulnerable among us.

Great kudos go to reporter Ryan Gabrielson and all our dedicated staff at CIR.

 If that wasn't enough for you, check out this editorial in the Sacremento Bee.  Step by step, by working together, we build it better.  Nice work CIR!  Thank you!!

In Case You Weren't Paying Attention

I did my first "Ask  Me Anything" on Reddit.com this week.  I really enjoyed it.  There were over 140 comments.  Did you check it out?  If not, he you can use the time machine of the internet to travel back -- granted it won't be live anymore (but it certainly is not dead either!).  And I wasn't alone: I was joined by Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair.

What was it like?  Well...

[–]Film_Knockout 3 points  ago

In a world of overabundance, who do you look to for film recommendations? There's so much to filter through!

 

[–]DarkHorseFilm[S] 4 points  ago

One of the great institutions we have is all the various film culture support organizations. In this era of World Financial Crisis where arts funding is scarce, we need help from the film loving community to support organizations who curate, filter, preserve, and advance -- like the San Francisco Film Society!

 

[–]chippobd 2 points  ago

Do you think that the demise of print media is ultimately a good thing for independent film? With so many film critics out of work or retiring, how can people discover new movies that aren't shoved down their throats by huge media companies?

 

[–]DarkHorseFilm[S] 2 points  ago

What was so beautiful about newspapers was that most people bought them for the horoscopes, felt connected to the world at large, and then stumbled upon things like revolution in the middle east and cool movies like Dark Horse, Starlet, & Holy Motors.

The collapse of print has been devistating to art film in particular. Indie worked as a business model when you did not have to spend so much to get attention but could rely on the critics to drive people to the theater.

 

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[–]lil_snail 3 points 13 hours ago
Hi Ted! Thanks for doing this AMA! As a young producer I am really interested in learning about what your biggest challenges were (and are) and how you overcame them. Thank you!
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[–]DarkHorseFilm[S] 1 point 13 hours ago
Survival and lack of community. I got lucky early on as I was not burdened with student loan debt -- in that I organized the tenants in the building I live in when the owners took it coop. We held out until they paid us each $50K. Tuition was not as insane then as it is today so I could pay off my debt and have a life in the arts. We suffer now because young people have to first chase salary to get out from under -- and everything you do changes you and most corrupts if you are not strong and hv a great group of supporters.
THat is the second challenge. Our culture encourages indivualistic and narcisistic behavior, and producing in so isolating that only encourages us to withdraw further. Finding great collaborators is always a challenge. I was incredibly fortunate to find the filmmakers and crew and investors and all the folks at GOod Machine and This is that. Most fortunate was finding some one to share my life with who shared my mission and believes in the values I hold dear (ie. my wife Vanessa). Support is so important. When you find good people keep them near.
per

And Selma too gave good answers:

[–]bahrjusc 1 point 14 hours ago
Selma- The first movie I remember seeing you in was Cruel Intentions...as a male I remember one scene in particular(go figure). How did you prepare/get ready for the kissing scene with Sarah Michelle Gellar and was it a funny moment, just get it over with moment, or true and pure this is for the movie/lets get this right moment?
I'm sure you've been asked about this a lot, but if you actually answer this I'd be amazed!
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[–]DarkHorseFilm[S] 3 points 14 hours ago
bahrjusc, Cruel Intentions was my first big movie. Every moment was such a thrill. The kiss came later in the shooting schedule and Sarah and I were pretty close by then. We were a little nervous and Sarah was already quite famous and had onlookers in Central Park where we were shooting, so she must have been a bit more self aware than I was. We each had an ice cream from a nearby truck beforehand. Toasted almond. Delicious. The kiss was sweet and soft and a little weird. We were girl kiss movie pioneers. It was a different time. The director and producer kept having us kiss and then there was that string of spit and everyone knew that was the one! That embarrassed me though. A good memory for sure. We are still close friends. spit sisters. ha.
permalinkparent
[–]bahrjusc 1 point 14 hours ago
WOW, thank you for answering! I still to this day can't listen to Bittersweet Symphony without thinking of the closing scene.

Check out the whole thing here.

Come Together: The Future of Independent Film and Social Media

By Reid Rosefelt
 
 
I read that 57% of people say they talk more online than they do in real life.   Whether or not this suspiciously  precise statistic is wholly accurate-- it paints a realistic picture of the way people I know live today, and how we will live as we move forward to 2013 and beyond.

Does social media increase our connection to each other or does it tear us apart?   By communicating with more people more of the time do we let our face-to-face social interaction skills deteriorate?  Will we evolve into creatures with very small mouths and extremely dexterous fingers?

Of course, not all the changes wrought by the internet have kept us physically apart.   In almost as many cases it has brought us together, for example:  computer dating;  reunions with long-lost friends; joining with strangers at meetup.com live events; connecting with nearby friends through 4Square, to name but a few.  The truth is that the internet has probably connected more people in the real world than any entity that preceded it, and it has opened up previously unimagined opportunities for lasting connections with the people we already know.

How does the internet impact moviemaking?  While technology has created the opportunity for parts of the process to be done in isolation, mostly we band together in groups of varying sizes during film production.   In addition, most of us interact at film festivals and through organizations like the IFP, the Sundance Institute and Film Independent.   Where the fissures between people are growing is in the way we watch movies, which is less and less in movie theatres.

Technology is chipping away at the idea of cinema as a communal experience, and this concerns me.   The small screens cut into the art of the cinema and into the vitality of the experience, which is at its best when it flows from the credits through the café conversations that flow afterwards.

Technology has proven its ability to help get people into the theatres, notably the transformation of the experience created by online ticketing.  Social media can help people find out what their friends are seeing  and recommending.   I do miss the golden age of the film critic, but I realize that the purpose of sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic is to get people out of their houses and into the theatres.

I’m as big a believer in social media as you can find, but I am more cheered by new ideas in micro-exhibition like ReRun and Rooftop Films, and the alternative distribution models being explored by  people like Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss, Scott Kirsner,  and the creator of this blog.   We need more ideas like these and we need to integrate them at their core with social media.   As a marketer, I do advise people to consider the digital route, but I never advise them to leave some kind of theatrical showing out of their plans.

My plea to the independent film community for 2013 is simple: let’s use technology to bring us together.    See you at the movies!

Reid Rosefelt coaches filmmakers in how to market their films using Facebook, and lectures frequently on the topic.  His credits as a film publicist include “Stranger Than Paradise,”  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Precious.”

Blogreidrosefelt.com

facebook.com/reidrosefeltmarketing

Response To Responses To All The Bad Things In Indie Film

It's nice to get people talking and thinking.  Even better when you get them acting.  My post this morning has been doing a bit of it all.  Thanks for spreading.  And joining in. I like this thread that started by Lindy Boustedt on Facebook.  I like their ideas and energy and want to help.

I like Ann Rutledge's response to it too, and look forward to taking her up on her offer to help solve the capital problem.

I got this email from Sheri Candler and am responding with the color text below.  Sheri's numbering are hers, and don't apply directly to my points.

Ted,

I am writing this to you when I really should be working on other things. Some of those other things I get paid to do, and some I do because I hope in the future it will lead to getting paid or getting paid more money. This is kind of the way I see “opportunity,” it is something you make or something you grab, not something you are waiting to be given. We all have to work for our opportunities, but they don't exist equally for everyone.  I have benefited greatly by being white, male, middle class, english-speaking, and having had a good education.  I was also fortunate to arrive in New York when I did.  True, we can't wait; we must act.  But it will never improve unless we accept that we also have to work towards justice and equal access.

Whatever “success” I have had in the last 3 years since I started really forging into this space, it is only the result of work I have taken upon myself to do. No one gave me opportunity to start. I started with a blank sheet of paper and an internet connection. I suspect that is the case with anyone in this space who has real commitment to stick around. There is no “job” here, the job is what you make it.  I almost agree with this.  I know the story as very true -- but there also COULD be many jobs here, and I am confident there will be once we recognize the value of the add.

I read your post today on the Really Bad Things in the Indie Film Biz and it isn’t the first time you have raised these concerns in some way. I was at the exclusive meeting during IFP Week where you complained about the lack of the investor class (I would not characterize it as "complaining" and actually the focus that day was the inability for filmmakers to earn a living and how that SHOULD be everyone's concern who wants both a thriving business and culture) and I was dismayed that those in attendance mainly seemed to represent the old guard of people who are interested in figuring out how they can keep doing what they are doing, even praise it, rather than constructively sit down and think way outside of their comfort zones that have sustained them over the last 15-20 years (for some). They are, as most people are, not concerned about leading a true change for other people. They are concerned mostly for what  is happening only for themselves and their companies. It is understandable of course. This is why more of them do not exist in the non profit space. They don’t really want to change, they certainly don’t want to lead it! You are a different breed and I commend you for that, even when your posts are tinged with wanting to keep doing what you were doing (I love telling stories, getting them made, and impacting the world -- and I think it is my greatest talent, but also that I could improve things for everyone if I shifted my focus to infrastructure).. You can’t anymore, you can only do something different. (I could, I think.  I would need to lower my overhead substantially and not live in NYC or SF -- and still have access to a creative community and capital.  It's what I am still planning for the next chapter.)

I will take on most of your points with my thoughts. You can throw this away if you want. Or not read it because it is rather lengthy. (I am choosing to print them!)

1)Earning a living simply by making movies is not reality now. More revenue streams will be needed. Teaching, blogging and selling advertising space on that blog, creating more products around your visual work, partnering with organizations to distribute that work and partnering as an affiliate for other businesses will be your way forward. It will be a hell of a lot more work. So? That is a path that is available to some.  It is not for all.  I think people can earn a living solely by creating media, whether they distribute it directly or license it to larger corporate powers, but it is still a shift from a single product produced again and again to one where we engage in a much wider conversation and via a wider variety of form.

2)People break ranks on accepting sub par (or not what they envisioned) distribution offers every day. You just don’t hear about these projects because they aren’t being feted at awards ceremonies (which incidentally costs tons more money to politic/curry favor) or pulled up as glamorous examples by the media who only want to show the illusion of massive success. Those who break ranks trade that in for modest success that grows from spending very conservatively and locking in on an audience that isn’t mainstream, in fact so far from mainstream that if you aren’t part of that audience, you wouldn’t know the work. This isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t glamorous. The time involved in building just that audience is so much that most in this space wouldn’t touch it, but once built it can flourish far longer than these “massive success” stories.  I am really excited by this model. It is essentially what I meant by Truly Free Film.  We are not dependent on the mass market anymore.  We can get hyper-specific.  The missing piece however is community.  Building a Facebook page or a Twitter feed is not community.  We need to build community around specific themes and genres.  HOWEVER: the point I was trying to make is that 10% of negative cost is not worth turning over your film to another for an extended term.  You can use that film to build an audience/community that is yours and not surrender it to 3rd parties.  At 10% what should be being offered is a partnership at the very least.

3)I am not sure art films are dead, they just aren’t mainstream and they will take far more effort to actually connect with an audience personally than most artists/sales agents/distributors are willing to do.  Very true.  But we can all work together to build a community, can't we?  My whole post is a plea to abandon the everyone for themselves mode that infects the indie world and culture in general.  We can build it better TOGETHER.

4)Which is it? Reviews don’t mean much or we should have reviewers covering releases other than theatrical? I can’t understand your point. Mass media reviewers make it easier to reach the mass, but individual people reviews actually make people want to see the films. For myself, I must hear good things about a film from many different sources and it still needs to be on a platform that I can access immediately, usually that is online and not films in a theater. It's not one vs. the other.  Both are true and more.  The point here is that we all lack trusted sources for discoveries now.   Going to an individual we are close to for a recommendation is a complicated process that doesn't promise the response one wants. Different platforms have different attributes and deliver different experiences, too.  We have yet to design a recommendation engine that truly works for this connected world of media abundance; we are stuck in an old world model.

5)Women directors need to get up and do it for themselves. Women in general have had to do this for everything we’ve ever received and, while I find it admirable that you raise this issue, it needs to come from within our own ranks. I feel like most women directors do not champion other women. Indeed, look at how many other female producers/directs even both to write a blog as you do to examine this issue. They are too focused on trying to steer their own careers.  We need to stop focusing on pleasing outside entities, do more to make our own opportunities and push ourselves to work with other women. Same for minorities. I respectfully disagree.  It is all our issue.  Rape is not a women's issue.  Same Sex Marriage is not a gay issue.  Racism is not an issue for non-whites.  The price of education in America is not a youth or class issue.  These are all issues for us all.  They destroy society and we all suffer for it.

6)I can’t speak from a position of authority on tax credits, but the articles I did recently read raise legitimate concerns on the usefulness of such programs on a state level. Filmmakers of course look myopically at how those incentives help their own productions, but should that come at the expense of spending state workers’ pension funds? Those are people too you know and maybe they don’t want their retirement money spent to help the film industry make bazillions while leaving their state with few of the promised jobs, and most of those just temporary work. It is not an understatement to say that the film industry is ego centric, arrogant enough to only see the benefit for themselves with little concern over where that money comes from. I found those articles insightful and worth investigating what tax incentives REALLY do for industry, every industry not just the film industry. I agree we all need better understanding of this.  It is a complicated issue.  Yet as a producer I know that particularly these days we need to make our decisions based on cost.  I also know that  the money I spend for my production is a small fraction of the money my productions cause to get spend.  And I know that the film industry will always travel to where the best deal is.  Granted, we don't want a race to the bottom and it is not easy to determine the best method, but I do know that attracting regular and consistent motion picture work to a region will bring in predictable revenue beyond what comes from the production.

7)If we are agreed that people are going to the cinema less and less, then why are filmmakers still being encouraged to keep making cinematic films? The organization you work for seems to insist on this by even holding a festival, every film school or lab program persists teaching filmmaking this way. The VPF will be moot when few cinemas even exist anymore. More work will be needed to break away from this mold. It will ultimately be done when the data more than overwhelmingly supports that the cinematic viewing of film is dead.  I am not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I love the cinema experience.  I don't think it will ever leave us.  But it could lose it's pop status and fall into an elite pastime like other cultural strands.  Further, festivals (most of them) are community events that the community supports.  Not every festival is a market or industry event.  I look forward bringing the SFFS to fully embrace the broadest definition of cinema regardless of form, delivery, subject, style, presentation or any other aspect.

8)I agree that harvesting data will be our best shot at survival and The Film Collaborative has been tracking as much data as we can legally get to look at the real winners (apart from the seemingly winning) films from last year’s Sundance. Sundance is our barometer because it is still widely accepted as the premiere place to find indie talent. It has not been easy to gather this data and we have so much of it that it isn’t even easy to figure out how to present it in a coherent way. Why do we do this? No one paid us to do it? We do it because we do want survival for as many as possible and that can’t happen if we don’t pull together and share. The effort will ultimately be worth it even if the data doesn’t support long held beliefs.  Here, here!  More power to you and the Film Collaborative.  How do we all work together????

9)I don’t view the digital transition period as a disaster. It is only disasterous for those who can’t change. Many will perish in this space (as they always do whenever evolution happens), but many more will rise up to take their place.  It is simply change, not disaster.  I think you are confusing my points here -- or did I make confusing points?  My point #14 was about preservation of digital media.

10) I firmly believe the investor class will be in microfinancing, not investment funds. It will come from crowdfunding basically. I personally have trouble believing that the motivations that come from arts donors we have previously found to support crowdfunding will be compatible with the mindset of an investor intent on a financial return, but we’ll see. Perhaps they will mix nicely just as people donate to the arts AND have personal stock investments. We should have more conferences for those who are interested in learning more about micro investment instead of only focusing on big money investment. The key though is emotional connection to those investors which we haven’t seen before in the investment sector.  I can’t think of any investment company mindset that started from really knowing what their investors deeply care about and steering projects their way. It has always been the money and that’s all. I think people in this space want to show their support and care with their money, not just make some more. I think it will be more diversified than just 

crowd financing.    I think there are always those with large capital that want to do both good and well.  I hope that the threat that art film is under will mobilize some of that capital.  Organizations like SFFS are supported heavily by folks with high net worth, yet they too want film culture to be accessible for all.  We will have more diversified film culture when we all work to make sure that both creators and their supporters benefit directly from the work they create.  We need more money to flow in both directions, instead of just into the buckets that established themselves decades ago.

 

Is this a long enough comment for you? Thank you!

Sheri

Let me know if you know of any other responses I should link to.

 

 

The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

I can't always be optimistic.  My apologies.

I did start this HopeForFilm / TrulyFreeFilm blog in the hopes that community action could improve things for us all.  My original lists of 75 problems of indie film remain relevant, alas; and with this latest addition we are almost at 100 such challenges.

But don't be bummed, every problem is an opportunity, right?  To quote the great Walt Kelly of Pogo:  “We are surrounded by unsurmountable opportunities.”  We just need the will, the strength, the hope, and the power to change them.  12 Steps to progress?

I admit, even blessed by my last name, even I can't be always be optimistic, at least not if I want to also speak the truth. Sometimes throwing a brick is an act of love; you know what I mean?  And granted I've thrown a lot of bricks at this indie film thing. What can I say?  There's a great deal really wrong with our culture these days and a hell of a lot that can hurt our business.  We have to work together if we want to build it better.

Let's get started and call these "opportunities" out (in no particular order); maybe they are not so unsurmountable after all:

  1. Filmmakers are unable to earn a living even when they consistently make successful films.  Budgets have been dropping over the years -- and fees go down with them.  Movies are few and far between in terms of years for their makers and without overhead deals or teaching gigs, it's hard for a creator to stay focused on film unless one is wealthy.  And of course, net profits grow more of a joke daily (although they don't have to).
  2. The acquisition price for US rights hovers around 10% of the negative costs -- and no one complains.  Sometimes doesn't it seem like a cartel where all buyers got together and said "let's just offer less"?  If no one breaks rank, other than occasionally, all the buyers benefit -- and the only thing that can drive things is passion -- and the markets are supposed to be devoid of that.  We are better than just letting a market race to the bottom.  We should be able to recognize that the health of a culture is dependent on those that create and innovate being able to live a financially secure life.
  3. "Oops, I Farted" is the dominate "specialized" title of desire in these United States Of America.  Art film be damned.  The gaseous (fictional) title is courtesy of producer Mike Ryan who used it as shorthand for what he saw as most companies' acquisition strategy: the audience-friendly falsely-transgressive youth-focused star title.  Art film is dead.  Distribution companies don't just aim to give people what they want.  They also lead as everyone knows that people generally like what they want (The White Hare syndrome).  Where are we being led?
  4. This is the last year of celluloid.  Here's HwdRptr on it. What could be a better signifier of this than the fact that Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.  People are writing sad eulogies & fond remembrances. Nostalgia arrives in the same year as a passing these days.
  5. Although women directors proportionally make up the as many directors as men do in documentaries, they are not even close in narrative features.  This is true even if the Sundance competition is proportionally represented in terms of gender for the first time ever.  It sure took a long time to reach this point.  And how much does anyone want to bet that it slips back fast?  And what of all the festivals that are not so progressive?  Sure, folks say it really needs to always just be the best films, and I am not arguing for quotas anyway, it's just that we need to acknowledge that the system does not grant the same opportunities to everyone.  And further, equal opportunity has never come close to providing equal outcome .  We need to further the discussion of why there are not more women, youth, and people of color in positions of power in the entertainment industry.  After all they are the top consumers; it would make sense they know better what the people really want.
  6. Great reviews -- even in the most important newspaper in the world -- have no effect.  It used to be that indie & art film was good business because it was completely review driven.  You did not need to do much advertising if the critics gave you love.  Those days are dead and gone.  Two films I produced this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got excellent NY Times reviews, but fat lot it did them.  DARK HORSE even hit the trifecta with awesome reviews in the New Yorker and New York Magazine (Time and LA Times too), but fat lot of good that did.  Granted there are many factors to a film's lack of real cultural impact, but still: it once was that reviews like those films were worth a huge weight in gold.  And not they are not.  Critics were once our guide through the cultural landscape -- and that is how we selected our films.  Maybe it is time for a change, but for now we not only haven't found it, but losing what we once had makes it even harder to distribute what once was recognized as quality.
  7. The NY Times and others are going after the film and television tax credits.  These tax credits create jobs and spread wealth.  These tax credits keep our #2 national industry afloat.  Film is a migratory industry and these jobs will flea if they suspect tax policy is not stable. When the press goes after something in such a one-sided fashion, we have to wonder what really is afoot.  Further, we have to start to get serious about combatting such wrong-headiness.  We need to truly quantify the spend nationally in indie film.  If anyone wants to help fund this effort, I would love to undertake it at the San Francicso Film Society (hint, hint).  For more on this, see #13 below...
  8. People don't go to the movies anymore -- particularly young ones.  My tale of my 12 year old son ("I don't like movies, although I love many that I have seen") got quoted globally.  Sure, I need the statistics to back this up, and I hope you send them to me, but we all recognize that youth attendance is dropping.  Isn't it time we woke up from our dream, and started making films that had real youth appeal?
  9. Virtual print fees suck (VPFs are how digital projectors were both financed and indie films are shut out of national chains).  We had to turn down dates for DARK HORSE due to them.  Sure we have a DCP but between the traditional film rentals you a pay an exhibitor and the VPF most indie films can't expect to make money.  Let's say you pay 60% to the exhibitor and anticipate only a $2K gross.  That leaves you with $800.  And guess how much the VPF generally is?  So you  get nothing.  And it is not just in the US that the structure does not work.  Ditto for the UK.
  10. Even worse than not having any transparency in VOD numbers, there is not enough outcry about the lack of transparency in VOD numbers.  How can we make all of this public?
  11. VOD is still treated as a second-class citizen as VOD premieres can't get reviewed in major media outlets.  I am thankful we have On Demand Weekly, but when will the major media publications get wise to it?  And why is this not happening now?  Is it that they fear they would then lose the advertising for the movies?  Would they not be opening up a new advertising revenue source?  What's wrong with this picture?
  12. The US reports box-office revenue figures but not attendance.  How do we know how our business is and culture is doing if we can't get access to the numbers?  When will we truly have transparency in all things?  I thought information wanted to be free.  We were promised jet packs.
  13. We have yet to begin a real effort to quantify the spend on indie film, both directly and indirectly.  If we don't harvest the data our work generates, we don't control the power that is rightfully ours.  Since the only thing that talks in this town is money, we need to be able to speak accurately about how we create jobs, benefit communities, and generate wealth.
  14. The Digital Disaster is digging in deep. There are many aspects of this, but we particularly bury our head in the sand when it comes to preservation of digital works.  Recommended best practices for digital data is to migrate it from your drives every 3 months.  If you don't do that, you can not be assured you will have an archival quality copy.  As of five years ago, very few cinema makers finished their work on celluloid -- which could preserve work for over 100 years.  So in the race for technology to save us, we traded 100+ years for 3 months.  Hooray, right?  Read this.
  15. To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance.”   Grand abundance is not a bad thing; choices are wonderful when you know they are there.  I even argue from a cultural point of view, this abundance is splendid.  The problem is we still haven't evolved our culture or business infrastructure to adapt for this change.  We still rely on the methods of promotion, discovery, consumption, & participation that were built in the era of scarcity and control.  Without pivoting our methods towards this new reality, more movies don't get seen, more movies don't recoup, and more frustration abounds.  Items #1 & 2 on this list are a direct result of this one.
  16. The industry undermines the possibility of creating a sustainable investor class.  We all know about the Harry Potter "net profits".  I have to admit though Napoleon Dynamite was a surprise; how can the creators only get 12.88%?  Even it being legal, it's not right.  The best thing any of us can do for our industry, culture, and community is to make sure that those that create, as well as those that support them, are able to be rewarded for the work they create.  We are so far away from this being a reality, yet I see and hear so little discussion about it.  This should be an urgent matter on all of our leaders' lips.
  17. There is not enough money to teach media literacy in the schools.  We are bombarding  kids with content and yet we don't give them tools to decipher it. let alone defend themselves against it.  It's great all the conversation that Zero Dark Thirty has stirred up, but it only underlines the support we must give our children.
  18. Blog commenting burn-out is the law of the land.  Comments were my favorite things on blogs.  I used to get a lot here.  Now we get "likes" and tweets.  I started blogging because it seemed to me to be a community building tool.  When it is one sided it is not community.  Maybe it is me.  Maybe I am writing in a style that no longer encourages commenting.  Or maybe it is the community itself.  Or maybe all the comments just end up on the facebook page.  Whatever it is, it was more vibrant when people participated.
  19. There is so little that reads as truthful in the press.  It was so refreshing to read this interview with Terry Zwigoff on The Playlist because he told it as he sees it.  And that is so rare.  It is a shame.  Imagine a world where people recognized it was okay to share how you felt -- oh what a wonderful world that would be.
  20. We limit culture by the limits of what we support.  I got to make movies because a few folks recognized that although they didn't personally like my films, there not only were those that did, but also that my films were furthering the cultural discussions.  The success -- and now necessity -- of the various film support labs for screenwriters, fiction directors, and doc directors are invaluable, but they are also limiting.  American documentaries are generally all social issue, personal triumph, and pop culture surveys as that is what our support structures encourage.  Ditto on the fiction tale of triumph over adversity.  And I love all those forms, but there is so much out there that is still being overlooked.  And we even neglect the commercial forms.  Where are the labs for horror films or thrillers, the genres that actually work in the marketplace?  Where are those that really are trying to advance the cultural dialogue?  Is there a way we can start to pivot to widen our reach?  This may sound like something minor to most, but I do think we are doing our culture and community by not supporting more of what the audience wants.  Can this be a symptom of the gatekeepers thinking they know best?  How can we give the community a bigger say in what gets advanced?
  21. The bifurcation of the have and have-nots, I mean the tentpoles and passionate amateurs, has created a possibility gap.  Indie film was once a farm team for the studios.  David O. Russel, Ang Lee, Quentin T., Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, and many many more of our current greats all came through true indie work.  The next wave is being deprived of access to all the colors on the palate.  The drop out of the mid-range picture means that some of our greatest hopes for the future will never get to mix for the Atmos Sound System, will never get to play with something beyond the Cannon 5D camera, will never get the opportunity to build out a full story world architecture.  We are going to limit our dreams of the future by not giving new waves of artists access to experiment with all the tools that are available.
  22. Narrative film, despite firmly embracing micro-budget limits, has no staged-financing structure yet implemented.  Although I definitely want to do something about this, there are very little options available for filmmakers other than raising all their money upfront.  Now, many may argue that is irresponsible to shoot a film without full financing in place, one only needs to look at the doc world to see  the positive results from staged financing.  Doc films have proportional representation in terms of gender in the directorial ranks; could this be related to staged financing?  Since indie will always be an execution dependent art form, wouldn't it make sense to have a structure that allows for proof of principal?
  23. Investors have nowhere to turn to get better information regarding non-traditional film investment.  When they can only turn to the agencies for "expert" advice, they only get one side of the story.  Yes, they can hire high-priced consultants, armed with all sorts of numbers, but where do they usually find these consultants?  Why  from the agencies of course!  The agencies have tremendous insight for sure, just as these consultants do, but it is hard for change to take hold, when all our advice comes from the same source.  Imagine if we had a real investors' summit, led by folks outside of the business or power centers?  Imagine if we had services in place to train new investors in specific areas of  what might become their expertise.  Imagine if we had the structures in place which allowed these same investors to collaborate across projects.
  24. Where are the leaders in indie film?  I was very inspired by both Joana Vicente's & Keri Putnam's move into not-for-profit commitment.  Without them taking a first step, I probably would not have been willing to put down my project-producing magic wand for a time, and focus on rebuilding infrastructure for a time.  But frankly I expected many more at this point to be committed to giving more back. Those that have made a life time of non-profit counter-balance that a bit, but I expected more.  I started the blog because I thought if I spoke up, others would too.  There have been many positive contributions to the blog, and yes new leaders have emerged to some degree, but frankly I would have expected more producers, directors, executives, and screenwriters to step up and say that we have a tremendous opportunity before us and we best act on it or else that window will close.  I still believe it to be true: if you are not on the bus, you are part of the problem.  There may be 99 Problems but make it clear that you are not one.

Just remember: Lists like this only make the foolish despair.  We can build it better together.

And if that is not enough to get you through the night, I did write a couple of antidotes.  You can always read "The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012"

Why Go DRM-Free? 6 Reasons To Start

We want to make sure you have the best gift in the best form to give all your friends, family, and loved ones this holiday season.  That's why we put DARK HORSE up in a DRM-free form.  You can order it now right here.  We respect you -- and we want you to still love us in the morning after the magic of the first time has gone.  Get up and ride again.  Giddyapp! It makes me wonder: when will DRM-free be the usual way?  Sure you can get Dark Horse on iTunes or on Amazon but why not order it in a form that you can put on all your devices.  You know you will want to watch it again and again.

Here's 6 reasons why everyone should release there work DRM-free:

  1. -DRM is a false sense of security.  People that are determined to not pay for your film will find a way, no matter what restrictions you put in place.  
  2. -DRM-free enables you to take advantage of social activity on-line and in the real world.  There is always an element of sharing that happens with art and entertainment, and social networks have made it that much easier and created more opportunities for filmmakers to find an audience.  You need to be part of the ongoing dialogue happening around your film, and instituting restrictive DRM limits that.
  3. -The only people who lose with DRM are your customers.  Why hurt people who have already given you money?
  4. -Giving customers the option of DRM-free shows you trust and respect them, and want them to enjoy your work with the least restriction possible.  This is a critical part of positively building your audience.
  5. -DRM-free files are the most compatible, and can be played flawlessly on any device, any platform, and anywhere in the world.  It's also much easier to implement features like subtitles and commentary tracks using available open standards.
  6. -By using open, DRM-free standards, you ensure your files are future proof and will never be incompatible with future technology.

I hope you will help build this list.  Many thanks to Adam Klaff of VHX.tv for getting it started.

"Whatcha Say?"

Dorothy Dandridge is one of the greatest stars that ever lived. I defy anyone to try to watch her and not be fully drawn in and seduced by her charm, wit, and beauty. If it wasn't for racist tendencies she'd be as well known as Marilyn. Maybe history will catch up to reality and tackle that injustice eventually; but... Last month I posted a Dandridge clip, and with great pleasure offer up another tidbit today.

We Are All Sheep In An Empty Field. In 2013 Let's Be Shepherds Instead

We sent this as our staff card at The San Francisco Film Society. I sent it out to some groups with the same heading that I titled this post. I want you all to have it to.

I got back some funny comments though: "Does that mean we need to pick up the droppings? I like the idea of being a sheep — grazing in the pasture seems restful and serene — a Zen way of life." "Did you drop some acid in Haight Ashberry?" "I disagree. We are the wolves, and it's up to us to be benevolent and guard the sheep from the lions, as well as not to eat the sheep ourselves. The shepherds have abandoned us, and we can make that ok."

Any way, best wishes for a better world in 2013. Let's get some good stuff done. Thanks for all you contributed this year.

On some of the cards I sent out, I remembered to include this note too:

I don't know if you heard, but I have relocated to become the Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.  Here's why   TThe SFFS has given filmmakers close to $2M over the last few years, provides media education to over 10,000 youths each year, and also runs the San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest running film festival in America.  I sincerely believe we are in danger of losing the culture I love: good films don't get seen, filmmakers are not rewarded fairly for their work, & it is increasingly difficult to sustain a career around ambitious creativity.  I plan to do all I can to fix that, but it requires I not focus on project-based producing for the time being unfortunately.  If you want to help build a new future now, consider this.

The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

Last year I wrote out 15 really good things about the indie film biz (2011). My first instincts at looking at the list, are that the 15 from last year are still in process this year. Maybe I was a bit ahead of the curve.  Maybe I should hold this post until 2013.  But I don't think so -- we have much to celebrate this year too.

So what are the new developments that are now taking hold?  Unfortunately, my mind hasn't found the answers as quickly as others have (and here too) even if I do consider myself quite the optimist.  Okay, make that a pessmistic optimist, but an optimist nonetheless.  I have struggled to hit the same number as last year, but I did it, and even exceeded it -- and hopefully you'll continue to fill in the list with what I forgot.

  1. Direct distribution is really working.  We did it on DARK HORSE.  They are also doing it on I AM NOT A HIPSTER (opening January 15 nationwide). The list on the doc side is pretty huge: Stacy Perata and team did it on BONES BRIGADE.  Jeff Orlowski is doing it on CHASING ICE. As INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE: THE CASE STUDY ( http://bit.ly/105pigj) shows, they did it there too.  Add Eugene Jarecki and THE HOUSE I LIVE IN team to the list too.
  2. Hollywood is taking more creative risks.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/movies/films-dispense-with-storytelling-conventions.html  As Ben Affleck noted about this year in film, ", “movies that involve taking risks by the filmmakers and the financiers have been successful."
  3. The film industry is moving towards proportional gender representation in front of and behind the camera.  The NY Times did a good job of pointing the work women are doing done in front of the camera, and that Hollywood is doing producing tales of female heroines.  Additionally, Indieland -- the traditional leader of the cultural space -- has for the first time, shown some balance behind the camera too.  Sundance has an equal number of female directors as men in the narrative competition.  That shouldn't be a surprise, but it has taken us a long time to get here, and we do need to address why there are not more women in power in the entertainment business.
  4. There is an appetite for acquisition from the distributors.  73 titles were acquired at Sundance in 2012. The question of whether they were acquired for a fair price may not unfortunately be part of the general discussion, but at least there was the option of licensing your work again this year.  And I will bring up the lack of a fair price in my upcoming "The Things That Really Sucked In The Indie Film Biz 2012".  Stay tuned...
  5. Worldwide, the industry is asking questions if there is a better way.  Just recently I was invited to Paris and Austin to discuss different perspectives on how we can serve audiences better and improve the business.  This is not the same as launching initiatives, but it is a start.  Last year, I mentioned that the conversation on the Future Of Film took off, but this year it seems to be on a global basis.
  6. Technology is confronting the problem of our transition from an entertainment economy based on scarcity and control of content, to one recognizing the abundance of, total access to, and full distraction from that content.  We have launched an app that does this well.  And we have a good number of competitors in the space.  Readers of this blog have been following the weekly peek into the start-up KinoNation that Roger Jackson has been chronicling -- another example of technology coming to the rescue (hopefully).  And we have media innovation incubator/accelerators starting to blossom.
  7. There has never been a better time to both preserve and advance the film culture I dearly love.  That's why I chose to change my life and focus not on project producing but on producing infrastructure and change.  I am not going to be able to do it alone, but working with the support of the organization that launched the oldest running film festival, should hopefully prove far more fruitful than from proclaiming on high from my private soap box.
  8. New financing options are both here and on the horizon for independent & documentary film.  We've witnessed the launch of Slated and seen films get funded as a result.  Britdoc's impressive GoodPitch funding forum has funneled and support to doc projects and inspired many in the process.  How awesome is that?  Further, we now are seeing other evidence of a second generation of funding mechanisms, as entities like Seed & Spark are combining crowdfunding elements with distribution, marketing, and audience aggregation aspects.  If that was not enough for you, additionally the JOBS Act was passed in the USA, allowing for equity-based crowdfunding for films of under $1M.  We now can give people backend on the films they fund.  There remains a lot to work out on the legal side, but here's hoping that it is used both well and for good.
  9. Transactional VOD Players hit the flashpoint.  VHX.tv, Vimeo PPV, Dynamo player, and many more.  Whether you want an aggregator or prefer to sell on your own, it is easy and painless to do now.  Just ask Louis C.K.
  10. We have our first VOD Superstar. You want big numbers on VOD?  Just cast Kirsten Dunst.  Bachelorette.  Melancholia.  All Good Things.  She's beautiful.  She's a good actor.  She's fascinating to watch.  She's funny.  She's scary.  And she doesn't have too many letters in her name, but just enough to stand out.  Hell, if Elizabethtown premiered on Ultra VOD today, it would set records.  Okay, this isn't really the GOOD thing but just an aspect of a Good Thing.  The Good Thing is that VOD is becoming more marketable and people are not treating as a lesser product.  Once all media outlets start covering VOD premieres that will be an Awesome thing.
  11. Tech and film are talking to each other.  Soon they may even speak the same language.  Film Independent held a hackathon.  Marc Schiller did on the same day on the opposite coast. BAVC Producer University put filmmakers together with tech folks, and in less than a week new apps were born. And not only are they talking, they are getting in bed together -- okay maybe not film yet but media & tech are sleeping together.
  12. The dominance of the feature film form is starting to wain.  Whether it is great webisodes, a tremendous number of wonderful shorts, transmedia experiments, or just cross-platform experiments,  cinema is evolving beyond it's historic constraints.Okay, I did say this one last year, but I still feel it starting to happen.  I can put things on this list two years in a row can't I?  And then I will put it on the negative on the 3rd year, if it hasn't happened yet.
  13. The two films that I helped produce this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got great reviews in the New York Times.  They also got great reviews many other places too. I can only state this here as a personal positive though.  Stay tuned, as this exact same fact will also be on my "What sucked in 2012" list too.
  14. While I am on that double list tip, here's another that will repeat on tomorrows list of the big and the bad.  To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance."  From the point of view of the audience, right now this is a beautiful thing.  Conceptually speaking, we should be able to match audiences with the film that is most right for them.  Audiences don't have to compromise.  There are more better movies than ever before.  Unfortunately, we have to build an infrastructure to support this, but that is a rant for another day (like tomorrow).
  15. There is a lot of real & meaningful support for indie writers, directors, and producers working in the genres & realms traditionally supported by indie film support organizations.  When I look at the various labs that are run by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, & Tribeca, or the the financial & other support provided by the San Francisco Film Society (ahem...), Cinereach, Austin Film Society and other entities I am very impressed.  Granted there is a specific type of movie that seems to most appeal to this sort of thing, but I am impressed at how many programs they are and the good work that they do.  It ain't easy and our culture -- at least a very specific part of it -- really depends on it.  I hope all of you support the organizations that support the culture you love.  Vote with your dollars for the culture you want.
  16. The online community that supports the effort to advance a sustainable culture where the artist & their supportors benefit by the work they create, works to both preserve and advance the vibrant & diverse work that ambitiously reaches further, is committed to transparency, openness, opportunity, & our communal well-being, and knows that it is a team that builds the future and thus gives back in so many ways including posting, commenting, pointing, liking, and financial contributions.  I know this as I am experiencing it daily.  Thank you.

Stay tuned for next week: The Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2012

Addition: I added to this list with a subsequent post.  If you want more reasons to celebrate, check this out.

Following My Own Advice

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The activity on my page has gone up ten times.

 

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

Reid Rosefelt coaches filmmakers in how to market their films using Facebook, and lectures frequently on the topic.  His credits as a film publicist include “Stranger Than Paradise,”  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Precious.”

Blogreidrosefelt.com

facebook.com/reidrosefeltmarketing

How To Defeat 10,000,000 Adorable Kittens

by Emily Best & Liam Brady EMILY: Recently I was a guest on an awesome show that brings together musicians, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs to talk, play, and pontificate. Here’s the first question we were asked: we all know how much technology has helped music and film, but what about the challenges it poses?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the greatest challenge technology poses to the arts is fragmentation. In a world where the audience’s attention is so divided, how do you make something stand out? Audiences are more empowered than ever by technology: they can find whatever they want whenever they want it, mostly for free. So why would they ever choose my movie over 10,000,000 adorable cat videos (and then pay for it!)?

We’ve all become extremely adept micro-taskers. “This matters. This doesn’t. This matters. This doesn’t.” These days, if what you're making doesn’t matter, your audience clicks on to the next thing.

 

LIAM: I absolutely agree with the imperative to stand out by making something "that matters," but perhaps the first thing to realize is that we don’t need to construct the “meaningful thing” for the purposes of competing directly with those 10,000,000 adorable kittens. We shouldn't imagine our audiences with their index fingers hovering over their keyboards ready to change the channel the second they're distracted by a brainwave. We should imagine our audiences as communities of trust with which we as artists and storytellers have built a relationship over time.

As artists we probably do ourselves a disservice if our strategy for gaining an audience hinges on making a splash. I still believe we can expect a model in which the audience sits down to watch a movie that was made for them, and they will do so because they know something about it, have become invested on some level, and therefore are willing to afford the filmmaker a little patience beyond the time it takes to deliver only one or two (captivating/beautiful/authentic/hilarious) images.

 

EMILY: Based on just such a vision, we launched Seed&Spark (barely two weeks old!) because we imagine a truly independent and sustainable filmmaking community inclusive of cinema’s two essential sets: filmmakers and audiences. It’s an environment in which filmmakers crowd-fund AND build their audience on the Studio side, and where they can deliver the finished film on the Cinema side and keep 80% of the revenue. We like to think of this as a Fair Trade Filmmaking model. It’s a noble cause!

However, while we certainly think that our WishList crowd-funding tool, our oh-so sexy and sleek design, and our Fair Trade distribution model make us stand out against our competitors, nothing helped us better clarify how we might win over an audience for our website than having to answer this question from our Founding Filmmakers: “How do we build a really successful crowd-funding AND audience-building campaign?”

Unquestionably, the most successful pitches we have seen are the personal ones. The filmmakers are very clear about what they are offering to their community, not what they are asking from them. The filmmaker says: I need to make this project because it matters to me, and then supporters and audiences choose to support that offering because it matters to them as well.

 

LIAM: Yes, and getting personal about the process can be an extremely difficult adjustment for a filmmaker to make. Until now, as filmmakers, our "customers" were really only sales agents, distribution companies, and exhibitors. Audiences weren't our customers at all. But suddenly, we have the opportunity (the obligation?) to interface directly with our audience, and they don’t choose the films they watch based on market quadrants and the results of test-screenings at the mall. If we're going to attempt to leverage them as a source of support, we do need to get more personal with our pitch in order to make it matter to them. It's a completely different animal (read: it is most certainlynot 10,000,000 cats).

The consequence of all this is that we need to think even more deeply about why we're doing what we're doing, and if this sounds like a lot of hard work, that's because it is. Asking "why" and attempting to answer that question with sincerity is a deeply personal and constantly evolving exploration. But what we already know is that the story of this process is deeply compelling to supporters, and these supporters are the first and most passionate tier in the network that will become your own self-made audience.

As filmmakers we must be willing to lay bare our personal drive to create, with faith that the audience for our films will respond. Only then will we have discovered the method by which to defeat those 10,000,000 adorable kittens.

 

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build a truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

LIAM BRADY is the Chief Operating Officer at Seed&Spark, and a writer/director by vocation. He is currently preparing to direct the short film FOG CITY, which tells the story of an amateur baseball player with a hidden past who must overcome his need for privacy after making an unnerving discovery on the beach. @LiamEdwardBrady

We Need To Make Indie Film Work For Investors!

It's pretty simple.  When people make money doing something, more money enters that system.  And it is pretty simple in the reverse: when some people make a bucketload and those that invested in it make virtually nothing, less money flows into the system.

If distributors don't pay creators their fair share of the profits, their won't be movies made. Or maybe the investors will get wise and stop selling the distributors the film.  After all we are at a time that you can really do it yourself (by doing it with others).  And to be clear, "fair share" doesn't mean paying them what contract swindles them out of -- it means paying them an ethical cut.  And that sure in hell ain't 12.8% of the profits -- which is what happened on one of the most successful indie films of recent times.

If there is one simple goal for the new year, every filmmaker should make sure their investors get paid what they deserve.  It is for all of our benefit.  If there is more money available for indie film investment, more movies will get made and hopefully they will be more diverse and ambitious.

It makes me furious when I hear of a film that generated tons of cash and very little flows back to those that support the work.  It makes everyone feel that the system is corrupt.   It makes investors think that they can't win.

Film distributors are supporters of our cultural institutions -- especially the specialized ones.  Wouldn't you be embarrassed if you released a film on DVD and it generated $139 Million Freaking Dollars and you only shared 12.88% of that tremendous wealth with the people who created the movie?  Wouldn't you expect that filmmakers would all be wearing t-shirts this year at Sundance that point out that 12.88% is not a fair profit share?

That is what happened with Napoleon Dynamite.  Read the shocking story here.

 

Diary of a Film Startup Part 17: How KinoNation Works

By Roger Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanted Experts & Experienced Filmmakers To Help The Community

I was thinking about all the things that must be freaking out the filmmakers headed to their first film festival.  I feel them  It's wonderful to get into a film festival, but what happens next can be panic inducing.  I was thinking about how I could help the fortunate & the cursed.  

I have collected a bunch of posts from the past that may help some, and will run them shortly; I am currently thinking Dec. 27th.  

But so many more posts on prepping for festivals and one's career are needed.  Perhaps you know someone who'd write one for us.  Below are a few topics for suggestions.  Let me know what else we should ask for.  Would you write one?  Do you know someone that could?  Why not send them this list?  I will post what is available (and provided it is community-focused).

Audience Aggregation:

  • "How To Leave A Festival With As Many Fans As Possible"
  • "Best Practices For A Long Term Strategy Towards Building An Audience"
  • "How You Can Benefit From Free Non-monetized Content"

Career & Sustainibilty:

  • "How To Use A Festival As A Foundation For The Rest Of Your Life"
  • "An Agent Wants To Sign Me.  What Do I Do?"
  • "Do I Need A Manager Too?"
  • "How Do I Connect The Dots For Financiers Between This Movie & That One Still To Come?"

Community:

  • "Build Your Filmmaker Support Group; You Don't Have To Be Alone."
  • "Transparency 101: What Should You Share?"
  • What Should You Give Back?"
     

Delivery:

  • "If You Sell Your Film, What Are You Going To Have To Deliver?"

Distribution: 

  • "Am I Ready For The Festival To Be My Distribution Launch?"
  • "What Can The Distributor Do That I Can Not Do Myself?"
  • "Can Long-term All Media,Territorial Liscensing Survive?"

Festival Strategy:

  • "What's Next?  Where Do You Play After Your Premiere?"
  • "Who Do You Want To Meet At A Festival & Why?"
  • "Why Shouldn't I Use The Festival To Launch My Distro?
     

Marketing:

  • "Additional Content: What Do You Need & How Can You Use It?"
  • "How Do You Speak About Your Film? Different Themes For Different Audiences"
  • "Poster Design 101"
  • "Trailer Cutting 101"
  • "What Stills Are The Best Stills?"

Publicity:

  • "What Makes For Good Press Notes"
  • "How To Write A Director's Statement"
  • "How To Find The HOOK Of Your Film"
  • "How To Give Good Interview"

Sales:

  • "What Questions Do You Ask A Potential Buyer For Your Film"
  • "What If No One Wants To License Your Film?"

Ask Me Anything: Wed 12/19 at 1PM EST

In celebration of DARK HORSE's Online VOD (via VHX) release, some of the actors & I are doing a AMA (AskMeAnything) via Reddit on Wed 12/19 at 1PM EST. Please get your questions ready and join in. We are on the schedule here: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/

The film will be available online at $9.99 starting Wednesday. DRM free. Perfect Holiday gift!

My War, Pt 2: The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future

by Mike Keegan

Last week we ran My War, Pt 1: The Ugly Side. Today is the sequel. Over the last couple of years, there has been a groundswell of theaters across the country that have used this as an opportunity to reinvent the way they operate.  Super-focused programming is an important element, as is truly engaging with your audience, programming for that audience and that audience, in turn trusting the left turns you throw in there every once in a while.  Along the way, something really neat accidentally happened—in this hyper-connected, everything-on-demand age, regionalism snuck back in to movie going.  Cinefamily in LA, the Hollywood in Portland, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, the 92YTribeca in Manhattan—there are a lot of titles we have in common, both old and new, but we also show a lot of stuff, both old and new, that are of interest only to our particular regions.  And I think that is AWESOME.

At the Roxie, we have a couple of unofficial (and official!) guiding principals, but the one I keep going back to is “the best/weirdest/coolest films of the past, present and future”, and it shows the continuum of our programming well.  Our repertory titles are largely deep cuts, b-sides and maligned-at-the-time shoulda-beens.  The new movies we show are from the same cloth–festival favorites, under-distributed or self-distributed, and currently maligned shoulda-beens.  The thing is, we love these movies and want you see them.

We are a theater completely driven by that love—passion of the new filmmakers who’s work we proudly show, the passion of persistent festival directors and staff, passion of programmers rediscovering old movies from film collectors who have kept rare prints safe despite specious legal standings.  Passion from the people who buy tickets day after day, week after week, to be exposed to modes of thought and expression that aren’t easy to define, list, or review.  When you walk through our doors, you’re going to be exposed to a movie that is special to us.

To go back to my Video On Demand point… The movie is the thing, and that thing is magical.  It’s a magic best experienced with a crowd of people in a dark room built for the express purpose of projecting light onto a screen.  I know that the Roxie, along with the other theaters I mentioned, are the exception to the rule.  But it’s a mistake to count theatrical exhibition out of game for movies under a certain budget.  Look at the big self-distribution stories of 2013, INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE and DETROPIA–the Roxie played both of those movies for three weeks, lending them increased visibility and a nice paycheck at the end of it.  Movies aren’t supposed to die alone and un-mourned once the final festival is over.  People want to see them, and talk about them, and love them.

Going forward, in 2013, the Roxie is going to do MORE—MORE exclusive engagements, MORE party screenings, MORE mind-blowing deep rep, MORE Film Festivals, MORE gigantic retrospectives, MORE stuff that you just can’t see anywhere outside of our 103-year old theater on 16th & Valencia.  Problem is, doing MORE means MORE costs.  In the last couple of years, the Roxie has honestly grown exponentially, which is of course amazing and completely due to the kind people reading this right now, but our budget is struggling to keep up with our ambition.  We’re an old theater but a young non-profit.  We’ve got a Kickstarter to help up bridge our last big gap.  If you notice, a lot of the benefit levels come with Memberships.  Our Membership program is GREAT—free movies and popcorn and special Members-Only screenings.  So, I’ll see you on 16th St?

Mike Keegan is a programmer at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco.  He was born in upstate New York the year STAR 80 came out and the first movie he saw theatrically was THE ARISTOCATS.

This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society blog.  Part One ran both on HopeForFilm & the SFFS Blog.  You can find it here.