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.

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.

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.

Who Really Wants To See Cinema Nowadays Anyway?

I had the pleasure of participating on a panel at  17th Europa Cinemas Network Conference  in Paris last month with Saskia Wazel, the policy manager for Consumer Focus UK.  What follow is Saskia's presentation "Cinema as the Essential Link Between Film and Audience" .

 Saskia used herself as a case study and did a very good job also articulating why she did not want to see most movies.  When I complemented her on her frankness, she responded:

"Someone had to tell them that they are having subsidised acid flashbacks since 1968.... it’s not real you know!"


Still Don’t Understand How Facebook Sells Movies? Read This.

By Reid Rosefelt The HBO show “The Wire” went off the air in March of 2008 after five seasons. It never received hire ratings or an Emmy nomination, but many critics called it one of the greatest TV dramas of all time when it was on, and admiration for the program has increased exponentially over the years.

HBO put up an official Facebook page in 2010 which currently has 1.7 million likes. This past Tuesday, December 4th they put up a picture Wendell Pierce as beloved Detective William “Bunk” Moreland accompanied by the quote , and asking the fans to share their favorite Bunk quotes.

So far, 1505 people have commented, 13,129 liked the picture, and 1879 people shared it, for a total of 16,513 mentions on Facebook timelines. Not all of the 16,513 timeline mentions are on unique pages but on the other hand if you scroll through the 1879 shares you’ll see hundreds of comments and shares from those.

A good guess is that over 15,000 people put “The Wire” on their timelines in one way or another.

As Facebook users have an average of 130 friends that would mean that a mention of “The Wire” appeared on around 1,950,000 timelines.

Still, just because a Facebook user has a mention of “The Wire” on his or her timeline doesn’t mean they see it. On average, only 16% of posts get seen, so only around 312,000 people probably saw it.

You heard me right—over 300,000 people saw a Facebook mention of a show that went off the air four and a half years ago, based on a single post by HBO. Even if my calculations are inflated--and I don’t think they are--it is still in the hundreds of thousands.

These are big numbers, but what do they actually mean in the real world? Personally I don’t care much if somebody likes some TV show on my timeline, particularly Facebook “friends” I might not even know. Although there will be some friends whose opinions I trust, with all the entertainment choices I have, I don’t know if a simple mention or even strong praise would be sufficient to convince me. But it wouldn’t be about a single day. It’s a never-ending barrage of praise from friends that goes on for years, until this old show becomes linked in your mind with can’t-miss current series like “Homeland,” “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

I admit that you would have to be a hermit not to hear about how great “The Wire” without any help from social media. Still, we all hear about amazing movies and TV shows, but for one reason or another we never get around to checking them out. Eventually our vague plans to see them slip to the back of our minds and disappears.

As long as HBO keeps pumping out content, Facebook never ever lets you forget about “The Wire.” And this goes for kids who are five years old today. They are going to hear about it again and again and again. The only thing that will happen is that number of fans will grow as people watch the show and the numbers of mentions on Facebook will increase by the hundreds of thousands.

Facebook is forever. Facebook is not about selling tickets this weekend or this month; Facebook is a long-term game which has a potential payout unprecedented in the history of marketing.

Or at least until there are TV’s or some kind of visual delivery system and climate change hasn’t killed us all. Even if Facebook is wiped out by some other social media platform, “The Wire” will live on there.

How much effort was put into that December 4th post? It’s nothing more than a wallpaper photo recycled from long ago, accompanied with a line of text. It probably took an HBO staffer a minute to put it up, before moving on to “Sex and the City” with its 13 million likes, “The Sopranos,” with its 2.4 million likes, “Game of Thrones,” with its 4.5 million likes, and “Deadwood” and all the rest.

You can say, well “The Wire” is a very special show, and that is certainly true. But there are thousands of great shows in TV history that aren’t taking advantage of social media like HBO is.

There are a lot of great independent films too, but 80-90% of independent film distributors and filmmakers are totally, completely, utterly not doing what HBO is doing. And I include marketing people who are on Facebook ten hours a day. Once they put on their marketing hat on they use Facebook like the people who are most annoying on Facebook. You know, the kind that never send you any fun links or make interesting comments about current events. The kind that only contacts you when they want something, like for you to like their page or come to their concert or art show or….wait for it…ask you to tell your friends that their movie is opening in Cleveland or Birmingham or Tuscaloosa or Chicago or Tampa or Austin or San Francisco. Did you tune out after the first dozen playdates?  No problem. If you don't like, comment or share, the Facebook computer algorithm will stop showing them to you.

Can we do better than this in our industry?

Hell, HBO doesn’t do Facebook that well either.

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

What Mistakes Did You Make On Your First Film?

A week ago, I asked this question on Twitter, feeling that it would be good advice for everyone to have. I started things out by sharing that I thought everyone would be professional and want to get along.

My first production was called TIGER WARSAW.  I was 23 years old I believe.  I found the script, developed it, did all the initial budgeting & scheduling, cast it, did the cast deals, hired the key crew, did those deals, designed some of the shot lists, over saw the production, and got credited as the "Assistant To The Producer".  There was very little trust or good behavior on the show, but there was a fair amount of drug abuse.  Lots of threats of different sorts.  Many separate agendas.  When it was done I quit the business to become a drug counselor (but didn't get very far with that...).The mistakes I and others made, including false assumptions, definitely informed me going forward.

I suspected I would get more response from the Twittersphere than I did.  But what I got was good.  Here are 8 responses.  Next time I will remember the #hashtag...

 

@TedHope Using whatever music I wanted in rough cut and then falling in love with it before truly grasping that it was never gonna happen.

@TedHope Tweet 1 of 2: Needed a barn built, made downpayment with contractor, then didn't check until due date - behold, we were robbed!

@TedHope 2/ 2: But our barn was built by a better contractor, just to be burnt to the ground, GLORIOUS #worththepainhttps://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=268595943167910&set=pb.167615299932642.-2207520000.1354633057&type=3&theater …

@TedHope I thought I knew what I was doing!

@TedHope By contract I had to pay my SAG actors for rehearsals, so we skipped them and hit the ground running. Not next time.

 

@TedHope Thinking if I made a good movie, with good actors 4 less than studios then should make profit. Need 2 compete in a different space

 

@TedHope Flip answer is "making my first film," but, jokes aside, not having a long-range strategy all the way through post to distribution.

 

@TedHope Showing a rough, rough, cut to buyers.

But Facebook was astounding, I got over 100 replies.  Here are some:

But then I found out that Facebook is much better to source this sort of thing and close to 100 comments:

  • Edward Crawford made the mistake tinking that the little details did not matter..and sound was horrible. i recieved many rejection letters from Film Fests stating they really enjoyed story but....
  • Kevin Sonnichsen I've been exceptionally lucky to not have had this particular problem. However, rain, tidal schedules, shooting permits, a futon factory unexpectedly working on their day off in the warehouse next to where we were scheduled to shoot... All other matters entirely.
  • Alix Whittaker mine was that I was just so excited to produce a film - any film - that I ended up spending a huge amount of time, energy, money, and love on a project that ultimately would have been worth it...if only we'd spent another little while on developing the script so that it wasn't total bollocks!!! Script Development is the most important part of the process for me now!
  • Michelle Dee this post smacks of bitterness and vitriol....my mistake was simply getting a surname wrong in the credits. Oh and leaving something on the edit timeline so you got a secret image minutes after the last frame (if you waited long enough)
  • Enzo Tedeschi I learned that moving forward on anything that I wasn't 110% confident in would ALWAYS come back to bite me. Trust your instincts!!!
  • Mel Thompson Lack of preparation, reshoots, rehearsals and coverage.
  • Lindy Boustedt I've learned from similar mistakes. Having one "bad apple" especially on a small budget/small staff indie set can be the death of a production. I also learned how important it is to have proper contracts protecting both sides - and pay for a lawyer to look them over before signing.
  • Tommy Stovall Way too many to list!! And be very careful who you trust.
  • Ellen Pickering THANK YOU FOR THIS POST TED HOPE! You just saved me thousands of $$ and hours in therapy.
  • Laura Lex Great thread!
  • Ben Gonyo That I knew what I was doing.
  • Ryan Colucci That everything wasn't in a contract before production began.
  • Ryan Colucci Also being afraid to let people go. One miserable person is a cancer and sometimes you need to be the unpopular guy.
  • GB Hajim Rushing into distribution. Take a year or more to build interest. Get the good reviews and awards then get a distributor. I have theatrical distributors interested now, but it is too late- my movie comes to VOD in two months.
  • Nick Rossi Be very, very, very choosy in casting. It's not worth making the movie until the cast is right.
    23 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2
  • Anna Wise Thanks
  • Marcus Kent Hamson The first film I shot was a guerilla style shoot. It was January, cold and miserable. Everything went okay on the shoot. My biggest mistake was in the editing. I did not have a full understanding of wave form and vectorscope. The finished film was so dark that it was almost not visible when we screened it.
  • Cathy Stadtfeld Am sharing all these great tips with my fellow movie makers. Thanks y'all.
  • David Fussell Yes I think finding the right people too work with is the hardest thing at any level of film making, even a tea boy can damage your production if his heart is not fully behind your film and anyone wanting to destroy your film can do so much damage before you know whats happen. Sorry if I have put anyone off film making.
  • Joseph White counting on the wrong people is a BIG ONE! I was talking to someone the other day who was billing 2 jobs for rigging while on a commercial with me, sadly, its just a job to most people and to others its an ego game
  • Mike Nichols So here's a fun story: On a film where the producer allegedly had the money (i.e.: me), Money stopped coming in from my source after week 1. So I spent the better part of a weekend soliciting bank loans at ridiculous percentages, family loans and personal savings to ensure...wait, why am I sharing this? Nope, none of that ever happened. We made the movie on time, under budget and recouped 500%
  • Samia Shoaib What a fun question Ted Hope! Btw Tom Luddy said you were a welcome addition to the SF scene. Of course
  • Mitch Klebanoff Fun story, before mentioned, unnamed but extremely lovable producer, thrust a stack of cash into my 23 year old hands and said pay off the crew 50 cents on the dollar - as he sped away in a car. Sorry Ted, this is getting off track.
  • JB Bruno Assuming that anything was actually "free". My mentor, Stan Bickman, used to call it the "High Cost of Free"
  • Katherine Dieckmann Not fully realizing what guys in trench coats from Queens fully signified when they popped up at lunch in an extremely remote holler in of western North Carolina. That, and crying on set.
  • Samia Shoaib James Schamus - when teaching "No-Budget Producing" at Columbia, taught me many tricks (all stolen from Ted Hope no doubt). Did shots with the owner of a strip club in Wall St. to get him to let me tie-in when my generator conked.
  • Jennifer Lyne Oh, and when I called Magno Sound and they said they "lost the mix." Forever.
  • JB Bruno Samia, that goes with one of the other things I learned - cash speaks. People can walk away from a deal memo or a promise - take cash out of your pocket that they can have now but not if you walk away - priceless
  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt agreeing to a heavily-publicized, public work-in-progress screening before having anything resembling a decent cut. followed shortly by: believing that 3 hour assembly should be shown to anyone outside your immediate team. the screening was packed with people who might have helped finish it i'd made an appropriate 'presentation'...but as it was it took years to get those same people to watch anything of mine again. still haven't fully learned this lesson with my own directing work, but as a producer for others, it's much easier to know when to wait...
  • Christine Haebler believing the director had all the answers....
  • Scott Macaulay You executive produced mine! I would say not relying on or getting enough advice from a professional locations person so that we realized that a condo location contract had to be approved by not only the condo owner but the condo's board. A potentially disastrous mistake that we were fortunately able to correct.
  • Samia Shoaib Crying like a baby in the lobby of SoundOne when I got my bill and having a zero knocked off by Alishan (?) Granted - that was NOT a mistake
  • Jim Fall Believing that when you showed a rough cut to informed creative people that they could see pass the "rough" part to what I saw as the finished film...rarely happens.
  • Samia Shoaib JB Bruno - "Free" never cost me anything. Just a little appreciation and getting people emotionally invested. Lesson from James.
  • Christine Haebler Yes that one too Jim! Oh and...believing that LA agents were telling the truth.
  • Mark Lipson oh fuck, where do i start....
  • Jennifer Roth Learning that 3 sets of script revisions/day was normal and that new pages needed the time as well as the date.
  • Jennifer Roth PS: Sleeping with the boom operator on my first movie was the BEST decision I've ever made.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Phillip - I couldn't disagree more. Most people in the film are actually very bright and very professional. Yes, professionalism may be lacking at the very low level, where some kid with no experience decides that he is a director,granma gives him some money, and the crew is a bunch of kids just out of school who think that film making might be fun and bottom-feeders who rent beat-up equipment to said kids. But in the real business, almost everyone is dedicated to doing the best job that they can. It reflects on them, their reputation and their career. They may not care about the actual project due to a bad script and/or bad acting and/or a hack director, or maybe disrespectful higher-ups, but they still want to do their job as best they can. AC's want everything to be in proper focus, wardrobe wants everyone to dress as they should, make-up wants actors to look beautiful (or horrible), sound wants everything to sound clean and clear. Even the folks in the lower ranks want to do everything quickly, safely and well, in order to get their boss to call them for the next job and recommend them to others.
  • Samia Shoaib Skimping on craft services - BIG mistake, not to mention irretrievably short sighted.
  • Jesse Ozeri If the key grip is a vegan, have vegetables on the crafty table. Nothing is scarier then an irate vegan refusing to work because he hasn't had celery in a week.
  • Lee Friedlander Thinking that people with more experience knew more and placating ignorant investors..
  • Antonio L. Arroyo As to Ted's original question - my biggest mistake was being more interested in how films are made rather than how the real industry functioned. I also should have been more aggressive and careful about finding mentors.
  • Larry D. Eudene I remember that! Geez, I think that was shortly after I did Metropolitan and found out if you didn't have a cut in the film, you need to get paid decently no matter what. Long time ago.
  • Samia Shoaib Touché. Finding mentors was the best bit of film school. (The fab Bette Gordon and Terry Southern in my case.)
  • Samia Shoaib Thinking that the teamster I had hijack HMIs from the "Quiz Show" set wouldn't expect me to sleep with him eventually.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Actually, Metropolitan was one of my best early experiences. I was thinking of all of the time and money I wasted trying to raise money for mediocre scripts with senior partners that knew less about the business than I did. And as a sound mixer, starting out as a mixer and trying to reinvent the wheel rather than taking a stepping back and assisting people who really knew what they were doing.
  • Samia Shoaib As Spielberg said "Good directing is asking qualified people for help". (And getting your tits out in the process if necessary).
  • Larry D. Eudene Thanks, Antonio! I remember you well!
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Mitch. I sent you a response to your blink tank email. I hope you get it.
  • Jack Mulcahy My first film was PORKY'S, and the mistake I made was thinking the 1st AD was my pal.
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Jack! Happy Holidays! You're the funniest! Did you at least have fun on The Reunion?
  • Al Magliochetti Letting the film fall out of the camera was kind of a problem . .
  • Al Magliochetti Biggest mistake on my first feature - not quitting when the idiot producers budgeted 1/10th of what was required to complete the visual effects, against my vehement objections.
  • Jack Mulcahy I did, Larry. Had high hopes for it.
  • Larry D. Eudene Me too! You did an amazing job in the Lead! Too bad Paul ran out of money!
  • Larry D. Eudene It's funny that some of my favorite people are on here! Thanks, Ted for starting this thread! Happy Holidays to you!
  • Jack Mulcahy And I, like you Ted, learned from that mistake.
  • Martha Coleman My passion for the characters made me blind to story weaknesses.
  • Stavros Georgiadis The chain is only as good as its weakest link.
  • Terry Green I learned that by the time you get to your fourth film, nothing replaces the romance of that first one. You only get to make the first one one time, and there's a certain poetry in that.
  • Icarus Arts Assuming that if we made a good film and got it into a major festival, the rest of my career would fall into place. We worked for almost 3 years to get that film out.
  • Cornelia E. Burnham I actually had a blast - entire company stayed most of the shooting at my folks in CT - and Charles gave me an A+ / Boris....on the other hand, noticed one shot had Baby Legs in the middle NONE of us noticed it. Ha!
  • Sasha Santiago I learn to let go of complete control and trust your collaborators as often as possible. Maybe more often than possible. The bond becomes stronger, the results of the day more fulfilling and the willingness to push higher and for longer... oh yeah, we're cooking now. "They" say you should approach every movie as if it's your last, maybe it's better to approach every film as if it's your first?
  • Mamta Trivedi I assumed I had to work with lousy, awful & inept dolts just because the industry was small & exclusive.
  • Martha Coleman I learned that if you hire all the right people you can kinda let the movie make itself.
  • Rich Martini Not fighting like a banshee when the studio decided to cut ten minutes of comedy, despite an 86 rating. I found out years later, if u can believe it, the distribution guy hated the producer and deliberately torpedoed the release (his asst apologized to me years later when I ran into him). Leave no stone unturned until its completely out of your hands.
    18 hours ago via mobile · Edited · Like
  • Isen Robbins 1 Showing films to distributors in large numbers before getting accepted to a major festival. 2 using atm to hand cash to crews and not keeping records. 3 Passing on famous actors because we want audiences to identify with just the character... or what ever that is. 4 Shooting in one's own apartment (neighbors organized and signed a eviction petition when we got turned around and shot night for day, for a week) 5 work with friends. 6 having a weak non film lawyer. 7... and so on...
  • Neda Disney dated one colleague, then another. it was a three month project which felt like years to a young girl in the city. silly.
  • Jake Abraham Thinking I could trust the director to stop cutting and give us enough time to prep for Sundance without almost having a heart attack
  • JB Bruno Isen , but other than those little things everything went ok , right?
  • JB Bruno Neda, I learned that one in theater when I was stage managing and dated my ASM during rehearsals. We were out of town. We broke up right before opening and I had to sit next to her EVERY day through the rest of the run. We both hated it. Didn't make that mistake again in film - until years later. Not much better. Sometimes, we need to RELEARN.

 

Diary of a Film Startup Part 16: Top Ten Lessons, So Far

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Film Marketing Tools

Train to Stockholm We get amazing indie films submitted to KinoNation almost every day to our Private Beta launch. Here’s one that’s beautifully shot, with a theme of cross-border connectivity that will, I think, appeal to many video-on-demand platforms. Keep submitting movies!

10 Lessons As we close in on year’s end -- and 4 months work on KinoNation -- I thought I’d share some lessons we’ve learned that really apply, I think, both to startup ventures AND to indie filmmaking. They seem obvious to me with hindsight, but they weren’t obvious when we started just a few months ago.

1 ASSUMPTIONS -- the premise for any startup or film is based on a series of assumptions which may or may not be true. It’s critically important to accept that your assumptions -- about market, audience, revenues, etc. -- may be fundamentally flawed. Job # 1 is to identify what your fundamental assumptions are. For KinoNation, the assumptions are that: a) filmmakers and content owners will want to use a service like this, b) that VoD platforms will be prepared to take our films, and c) that the numbers (costs vs future revenue) will actually add up to make the venture worthwhile.

2 TEST & VERIFY -- it’s much faster and cheaper to test your assumptions before you start shooting or writing code or hiring people. The key is to test & verify in a thoroughly objective way. Avoid what many entrepreneurs and filmmakers do, which is to hear only what they want to hear (positive validation) and filter out what they don’t want to hear (negative validation.) We tested our assumptions in #1 by making hundreds of calls and asking people, before we wrote a single line of code. And we continue to test and listen and test again. You really can do similar verification before making a movie.

3 PIVOT -- be prepared to change course, based on testing, feedback and early results. We were pretty sure we’d use the industry leading software for transferring huge movie files (Aspera) until we discovered it would cost us $100 for each film uploaded to us. So we built the software ourselves. That was a pretty major pivot, with significant risk, but we did it fast, and within less than a month we had people using our Upload Manager to transfer their ProRes files to our cloud servers.

4 BE TRANSPARENT - talk to competitors, be open about your plans. So many entrepreneurs and filmmakers want to keep their idea secret. Bad idea. Ideas are ten a penny. It’s execution that’s really hard. The upside from sharing your idea -- and the feedback you get -- far outweighs the risk that someone will take your idea and execute on it themselves. Startups or screenplays or ideas in “stealth mode” tend to die from lack of exposure to the real world. I’ve had meetings with most of our competitors, and I’ve learned enormously from each one. Competitors can be remarkably open, friendly and supportive.

5 LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE -- in the case of KinoNation, audience means filmmakers and VoD platforms and consumers of on-demand films. Talk to everyone, invite criticism and listen carefully, even if the feedback conflicts with your own beliefs. They may be right, you may be wrong. Many of our beliefs about the world of on-demand films have been significantly amended after listening to feedback.

6 RELEASE EARLY AND FAST -- there’s no better way to verify that you’re on to something (or not) than by having real people check it out, use your service, watch your dailies, etc. Get it out there fast, at least to a limited audience, and shorten the feedback-loop. In the startup world it’s known as MVP -- Minimum Viable Product.

7 DON’T WASTE TIME AND MONEY ON STUPID STUFF -- there are so many “busywork” items beckoning to you when starting a business or prepping a movie. Setting up a company, printing stationery, opening a bank account, etc. Don’t let it distract you. It doesn’t achieve much. Do it only when you absolutely must, and not before. e.g. open a bank account after you first get that first check!

8 STRIVE FOR FIRST MONEY -- keep your sights on the point where your first income arrives. That’s actually the crucial target. It’s not launching the website or wrapping the shoot. It’s getting that first check. For KinoNation the first income will be in Q1 of 2013, and once it comes it -- even if relatively small -- it will be the first “real” validation of our business assumptions.

9 BE CHEAP, LEAN & MEAN -- startup companies and startup movies die because they run out of cash. You’ll never have enough. Be incredibly cheap. Run things lean and mean, but always be aware of the 3 factors “fast” “inexpensive” and “high quality”  -- you can only ever have 2 out of 3.

10 IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT -- making movies, or starting a business is a long haul, always longer and harder than you expect. You’ll have times when you accomplish a lot, and times of intense frustration. You have to pace yourself, take fun breaks, and bust the stress with exercise. You will fail to finish this marathon if you don’t balance life, work and passion.

Next Up: Post # 17: From Upload to Cash in Hand: How KinoNation Works

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.

My War, Part 1: The Ugly Side

By Mike Keegan
Cinema is dead, no one goes to the movies, film is dead, who actually goes to the movies, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, there’s nothing new under the sun—my gosh, don’t you just WRETCH at the thought of these phrases, either in a hundred and forty characters or time-wasting think pieces or overheard on BART or anywhere else under the sun.  Here’s the secret—and I’m preaching to the choir here—American independent cinema is going through an amazing renaissance at the moment.  Really!  It’s just ACCESS to these movies that’s the problem, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie.  You, dear reader, could conceivably write, direct, shoot, edit and upload a feature film with whatever device you’re currently reading this on.  Look here—iMovie for your iPhone is just $4.99 in the App Store.  So let’s try a little experiment—go make a movie.  I’ll wait here.  Go do it–it’ll be fun!  Good luck!

How far did you get?  It’s not that easy, huh?  I mean, it’s technically easy to assemble those elements, but it’s not practically easy to see through to the very end.  So let’s quit it with the condescending “back in my day” quips about hardship quotas that need to be met by each bumper crop of new filmmakers.

If you somehow beat the odds and finish a feature, the next step is getting your movie seen.  Oh boy.  That’s a hurdle.  Let’s skip ahead eighteen months and you took a modest deal that lands your micro budget masterpiece in the menu of a Video On Demand service.   Now your aunt can tell all of her friends about it!  That is, if she can find the folder for it.  Oh, and your competition is THE AVENGERS.  And also every movie ever, all available at once.  Your Indie Wire coverage was pretty great, but your aunt’s friends don’t read Indie Wire (or, at least, not regularly).  Is this movie serious?  They don’t really feel like watching a serious movie tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  Also, now three or four years of your life are gone.  I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN BY MEETING A SURLY DARE YOU FOUND BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON A LINK FROM EITHER THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY OR HopeForFIlm BLOGs!

I’m not saying Video On Demand has to be the death knell of movies.  Realistically, it’s the only option a lot of great movies have to be seen by even the smattering of people who will spend the three to seven dollars to watch it.  But they need to know the movie exists in the first place.

Listen, the history of theatrical exhibition is a boondoggle of greed, codification, short-sighted expansion and hubris on macro and micro-scales.  It truly is. And with forced digital upgrades on the horizon, even more cinemas are crumbling under the financial weight of an industry who could give less of a shit.  Sounds GRIM, huh?

No, not entirely.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future.

Mike Keegan is a film programmer at the famed Roxie theater in San Francisco.
 
This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society blog.

Prepping for the Future with the Vision Machine iPad App

By Greg Pak I came up through independent film. Then I snagged a meeting with Marvel and spent most of the last eight years writing comic books. Now I've just completed an iPad app version of one of my graphic novels that combines elements of both comics and film. Here are a few thoughts about what inspired me as a filmmaker and comic book writer to plunge into the transmedia world of the "Vision Machine" app project and what I've learned.

Why "Vision Machine"?

A few years ago, Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation approached me with the idea of creating a comic book that would help independent media makers imagine the technological, political, and social changes that will affect us over the next fifty years. As an indie filmmaker, sci fi guy, technology freak, and comic book creator, I was immediately hooked. What resulted was a 80 page sci fi thriller that follows three filmmaker friends as they confront the incredible potential and danger of the iEye, Sprout Computers' latest piece of revolutionary personal technology. The iEye allows users to instantly record anything they can see or imagine, then edit, add special effects, and share it with the world just by thinking about it. Our heroes plunge into a mind-blowing utopia of creativity... and then, of course, the other shoe drops.

With its emphasis on copyright, trademark, privacy, and surveillance, "Vision Machine" let me explore questions that I'm always thinking about as a filmmaker and a citizen of the digital world.

And then ITVS came along and let me take the project to a whole new level.

The Future Is Already Here

New digital technology is already good enough to deliver fantastic storytelling experiences to readers and viewers. I want to be telling stories for decades. So I figure it's a smart move to jump on any chance to create stories that work natively with new technology.

Soon after I completed the "Vision Machine" comic book in early 2011, I began talking with Karim Ahmad and Matthew Meschery at ITVS about the possibility of working together. Our plans eventually focussed on diving into brand new technology by making the interactive iPad app version of the comic book that's now downloadable for free from the Apple iTunes Store.

The iPad allowed us to add a soundtrack, animation, "extras" buttons, and a Twitter feed to the "Vision Machine" comic book. I've seen a few adults unfamiliar with the iPad hesitate when they first open the app. But every kid who opens the app dives right in, swiping, reading, watching, listening. A generation is growing up accustomed to interacting directly with stories on touchscreens. That's an audience I want to win.

A Chance to Tell a Huge Story with a Smaller Budget

"Vision Machine" is a big, fun genre story that would cost millions of dollars to produce as a feature film. The iPad app version cost a tiny fraction of that -- and it allowed me to work with a fantastic composer and brilliant animators, sound designers, and voice actors.

New Creative Opportunities

As a filmmaker, I'm typically putting a movie together with the assumption that my audience is sitting down and watching the whole thing from beginning to end without interruption. But the reality of non-theatrical viewing is that people stop and start programs all the time or have their attention divided by "second screen" activities like live-tweeting. That might be anathema for certain kinds of stories. But it could be a huge opportunities for others.

"Vision Machine" is a story that features a piece of personal technology that creates a cloud of popup windows and augmented reality information streams around its users. So it completely fits the theme and vibe of the story for the app to feature real pop ups that provide additional information and commentary. For example, as you're watching our heroes try out their iEyes for the first time, you can tap on an "IRL" button and see a video of Tribeca student filmmakers talk about what they'd do if they had iEyes. Other extras videos feature internet superstar Jonathan Coulton, tech journalist Andy Ihnatko, and Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain director Jennifer Jenkins, all of whom have smart, funny, and sometimes scary things to say about the real world topics raised by the story.

There's No Money in It -- Yet

The "Vision Machine" app was funded by the ITVS as part of its (awesome) sci fi Futurestates program and is being given away for free under a Creative Commons license. So there's not yet a proven business model here for similar independent projects. But a few years ago, I hesitated before "giving away" any of my short films on Youtube. Now a decent number of videomakers have built enough audience to make a living from their Youtube channels. Similarly, someone's going to crack the market for this kind of enhanced entertainment app sooner rather than later.

Using Social to Build an Audience

I've been fooling around on Twitter for a couple of years now partly because it's the comic industry's water cooler and it's just plain fun to trade jokes with fellow creators and fans. But I've also been using Twitter (and Google+) to plug my work and hopefully build readership. Exactly how much of an effect those tweets have on sales is hard to gauge. But in the past year or so, the value of social networking to independent media makers has begun to register in hard dollars. A slew of independent comic book creators have been using Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise thousands for their dream projects. Kickstarter has become a kind of distribution venue, essentially allowing indies to fund books through presales. And the biggest prizes have gone to those who are savvy users of social networks. In short, building a Twitter following now has a real chance to enable a creator to keep on creating.

So for the "Vision Machine" iPad app, I wanted to experiment with creating a strong social element that could directly enhance the story while readers are reading. The finished app allows users to bring up a live Twitter stream that shows tweets that use the #visionmachine hashtag. So now I can hold a virtual public Q&A or deliver live director's commentary that folks can follow in real time while reading the book.

It's just a first step. But I'm excited about the potential to start a conversation within the work itself that can help build those social networks that may ultimately allow us mediamakers to keep our careers ticking along.

What I'd Do Differently

We designed the "Vision Machine" app as an iPad app, partly because that's the technology I was the most familiar with and partly because the Apple iTunes Store remains the easiest way for non-technologically obsessed consumers to quickly download and try new media like this. But when we debuted the app at the New York Comic-Con, at least two thirds of the people I talked with about the project shrugged regretfully and said they only had Android devices.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd strongly consider building a non-platform-specific web app that anyone could access on any device through a browser. That's a bit less sexy than an iPad app -- and it's a bit tougher to figure out how to make any money from it. But it broadens the potential audience and avoids potential gatekeeper issues with Apple's iTunes Store, which must approve every app it distributes.

My other big piece of advice for anyone considering this kind of project is to separate out art elements from the beginning, if at all possible. "Vision Machine" was created first as a traditional graphic novel, with single layer pencils. But animating requires elements to be separated from the background and the backgrounds to be fully filled in. If you know you're going to undertake this kind of project, separating out elements from the beginning will save you money and increase your creative possibilities later down the line.

Creative Commons

And one more thing... "Vision Machine" is a Creative Commons project, which means that you're free to remix or reuse the art, characters, and story, as long as you credit Pak Man Productions and release the material non-commercially under the same license. I'm still figuring out just how to fit Creative Commons into my work and what projects it makes sense for, so I was thrilled when Orlando suggested we use it for "Vision Machine." If you're interested in playing along, feel free to download the free graphic novel and check out the details at www.visionmachine.net.

Here are links: 
And bio: 
Greg Pak is a filmmaker and comic book writer best known for directing the award-winning feature film "Robot Stories", writing the epic "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comic book storylines, and co-writing (with Fred Van Lente) the fan favorite "Incredible Hercules" series for Marvel Comics. 

Video: The Future Of Film Festivals

Last week I gave the keynote at the International Film Festival Summit in Austin, Texas. You now have a chance to watch the video of it. Check it out here. You also get the Q&A -- which is always my favorite part of any talk. Here it is: why do we have so many festivals? Why are we neglecting the youth? How can we best address student work? How can niche festivals remain competitive when distributors favor the larger ones?

If text is more your bag, Indiewire ran the first part here, and HopeForFilm (that's me btw) ran the second part.

Your Film is Coffee

By Emily Best

I want to start a Fair Trade Filmmaking movement. I have been shouting this from the rooftops, but I understand that talking to filmmakers about getting paid better is like praising virtue and condemning vice: it’s too easy. 

Fair Trade Filmmaking does not start when someone spontaneously decides to pay the filmmaker more than the sales agents, distributors and exhibitors. In the age of direct-to-audience distribution, that’s the really easy part. And while of course the notion of “Fair Trade” is to pay and treat the creators better, more importantly it is a way to engage the consumer in the process of fairer practices. But there is a big catch: the product has to be really good.

I walk down to the end of my block, passing three delis (this is New York, after all), because the local coffee shop serves Fair Trade coffee. I make the extra effort to travel farther and pay on average $2 more per cup because I feel better about my purchase. But more than that, this coffee is friggin’ delicious. 

I know that films are not coffee, but the ‘fair trade’ experience has to be the same: the consumer experience is as important a factor as the worker (creator) experience. In plain terms: consumers will not put their dollars towards a product with a Fair Trade stamp if it tastes like crap. And if the consumer does not spend dollars to consume, nobody gets paid a wage at all. 

That means a Fair Trade agreement comes with a BIG responsibility for the creators. In order to make a Fair Trade film, you have to be prepared to produce really high quality products. 

While technology is making it faster and cheaper to generate films, it’s getting harder and harder to find those films across the hundreds of viewing platforms. There are LOTS of delis, so you have to find that one great coffee shop, the distribution outlet you think best attracts your film’s audience. And that outlet has to be known for having good coffee.

And here’s the filmmaker’s advantage: The film business-as-usual is more exclusive and risk-averse than ever. Only 37 specialty titles were released from studios this year. The rest were...well, vampires and superheroes. There’s clearly a place (and audience) for those films, but you don’t HAVE to be one of them. The internet has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that audiences are willing to seek out and pay for the content that matters to them.

And here’s where your film is NOT like coffee: nobody wakes up in the morning craving something they don’t know exists. The attraction and engagement of your audience has to start before you even offer your film for sale. It’s why so many coffee shops now feature stories and photos from the farms where the coffee is produced: to show the consumer the care and skill with which these real people are creating the product. A personal connection to the creator motivates the consumer to make the extra effort. Ok, your film is still like coffee.

Obviously, film consumption is not as simple as coffee consumption. Tastes differ vastly. You must find YOUR fair trade audience, educate them as to why they should get involved with you. Empower them to support the stories and projects (and people) that matter to them. Then you have to give them a product they love. They will make the extra effort for that. That’s a fair trade.

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build 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.