Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition

We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen -- which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about.  I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation -- what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.

Last year at this time, I put forth a list of inspiring folks, people who by their acts and ideas were giving me the energy to keep striving for a better film culture and infrastructure, one that was accessible to all, and slave to none. We are closer to a truly free film culture this year than we were last year, and I remain optimistic that we can be a hell of a lot closer next year than we are today, thanks in no small part to the 40 I have singled out these two short years.

This list, like last year's, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep.  Regarding the lesser amount, I don't blame the people -- I blame the technology (of course).  I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it -- one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely -- like I did with this -- when it is still purely a draft).

I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future.  I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is.  And that I only found two directors to include this year.  Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right?  Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: "Those whom you don't know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real."  How true that is!

Last year I asked and stated: "What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended."

This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind.  It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world.   I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks.  It can't be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward.  In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO).  If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better -- you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).

So without any further adieu, here's my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, to take what remains of a crumbling and inapplicable film culture & infrastructure, and to try to bring it into the present. They all share a tremendous generosity and open spirit, embracing participation and collaboration.

This is no longer a world of scarcity and control. These nineteen have begun the hard work of designing a new world of film based on surplus and access -- and the resulting community that grows from that --, and their actions and attitude give me hope for what is to come.

  1. Wendy Bernfeld - The transformation from an entertainment economy designed around scarcity & control, to one built for surplus & access requires new business models and new sales models.  Filmmakers struggle with this more than anyone as most of the sales agents still push for the deals that deliver them the highest return for the least amount of effort.  This is not so for Wendy, whom through her company Rights Stuff has started the task of moving towards the short term non-exclusive license world this new world requires.  Furthermore, Wendy has shared her knowledge both on my blog and at speaking engagements the world over.  Her openness and forward thinking is an example for all of us.
  2. Peter Buckingham - Until the UK shuttered the Film Council, Peter ran their innovation fund.  Perhaps it's just that I sit in America, but to think of  a public official who is so committed to moving both the dialogue and the process forward as Peter, is no easy feat.  Peter helped launch the UK's Digital Cinema Initiative.  His insight on the possibilities of meta-datat are always inspiring.  We could use an ample dose of his high energy leadership on our shores if we are going to get some real things done here.
  3. Edward Burns - Although he has more access to the Hollywood machinery than most, for his latest film, Nice Guy Johnny, Eddie not only went the no-stars micro-budget route, but he set out to distribute it himself from the start.  With no marketing or advertising spend, Eddie has enjoyed a revenue return far in excess of his investment.  As much as I admire his courage and commitment, it his openness about the process that I find most inspiring.  In festivals, colleges, and even The Today Show, Eddie has shared his frustration and hope.  He's also consistently looked for new ways to help people discover his work.  His Homage Trailers, where he remakes trailers of classic movies using footage from his own film, are filled with wit and humor and not to be missed.
  4. Efe Cakarel & The Mubi Team Of the folks listed here, Efe may be the one I am most remiss about not listing last year.  The former Auteurs -- now Mubi -- remains the most robust community of film fans on the web, while being a dynamo curator of quality film on a global basis.  Yet, it seems good that I overlooked Efe and his Mubi team last year, as the transformation to Mubi and their extension onto the Playstation platform gives film fans more access than I could have previously imagined.  The challenge of bringing quality work to the community and generating discussion remains large, but these folks are leading the way.
  5. Henning Camre - President of the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy,  former head of both the Danish Film School and UK's National Film and Television School, and the Danish Film Institute, Henning is pushing through the necessary change in the Scandinavian Film Industry -- but it is a ripple that will resonate throughout the world.  I got to participate in the Think Tank as was deeply impressed at the quality and depth of the presentations and organization.  No one ever likes to volunteer for the heavy lifting, but Henning has several times over.  Change only comes when we recognize the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future, and Henning's clarity of vision towards the new reality has no equal on our shores.  He embraces both the new and the old, the conservative and the radical, subscribing to the reality first, probing beneath the perception to unearth the hard facts about access and practice.
  6. Sheri Candler When you believe in something you want to share it, right?  Sheri embodies this statement like few others.  Her commitment and faith in audience and community building is contagious.  An avid user of social media, it is hard to miss Sheri in the virtual world, as she lends her voice, heart, and hand to filmmakers trying to sort out a way to connect and build the necessary bridges. Added bonus for following Sheri?  Her ideas are good and well thought out!   Last year's Brave Thinker, Jon Reiss attests: "I met Sheri just over a year ago after I had just finished Think Outside the Box Office – where else – but on Twitter. She reached out to me, as she does with countless others, and since our first meeting has been an invaluable partner – passionate, incisive and always on the hunt for new ideas and new people that can help filmmakers (myself included) connect with their tribe and help solve the problems facing us all in this challenging time. Her tireless engagement and generosity sharing her wisdom and discoveries is a constant inspiration to me and should be to all in our community."
  7. Adam Chapnick CEO of, a company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue.  As Adam said in his HopeForFilm post: "Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.  More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular."  Distribber, and Adam's efforts, are key tools in the building of a middle class of artists who own and profit from the work they create.
  8. CineFamily - When it comes down to email blasts that I love to receive, nothing rivals Cinefamily's.  Bold programming, well presented.  As curators, they expand my knowledge.  As a hardened New Yorker myself, these Losangeleans give me a reason to long for the west coast.  They show us all how to use the web, and use it well.  In an era and city of mass conformity, they show that it is still both set & setting, programming broadly to the narrow, with verve and attitude. Sure this kind of stuff goes over in quirk capital's like Austin, but little did I suspect LA to deliver so much fine weirdness. To quote their own site: "The Cinefamily is an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others. Our home is the Silent Movie Theatre, one of Hollywood’s most beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. There, The Cinefamily will provide a destination spot for Los Angelenos and others to rediscover the pleasures of cinema."
  9. Dylan Marchetti & Variance Film - I may not have heard more filmmakers praise a distributor this year, than Dylan.  Furthermore, I don't know of a distributor who maintains such an accessible and vocal presence online, thinking aloud, and engaging the community on the search for a new model that could serve the widest definition of film.  Working on a flat fee basis versus a percentage of the gross, committed to a firm code of ethics, committed to 100% transparency in accounting, and 100% control for the filmmakers at all times, Dylan is a true partner in the emerging artist/entrepreneur economy.
  10. Thomas Mai - I have had the first hand pleasure of sitting in the audience as Thomas pitches filmmakers on the power of social media and the new era of truly free film ahead of us.  I have seen the skeptical grow empowered from his presentations.  Thomas, a former sales agent, has taken his rant on the road, sharing his insights with audiences worldwide.  From a base in Brazil, Thomas has used a shaky internet connect to distribute his lectures across the global.  And he has given quite a few public speaking tips along the way, not to mention writing well-shared posts for HopeForFilm. You can check out one of his lectures on his site
  11. Karol Martesko-Fenster Brian Newman summed it up well, about Karol: "While he is no newcomer to the scene, having either founded or been part of the founding of a great part of the indie scene (Resfest, Filmmaker Magazine, indiewire) he continues to reshape it at Babelgum. Under the direction of Karol, Babelgum has been licensing (i.e. paying real money) work from independents who push boundaries. Whether it's funding the Workbook Project, helping Sally Potter to be the first filmmaker to release a feature on a cellphone (day and date with it's festival premiere) or funding the "prequel" docs leading up to the film "Bombay Detective," Karol is pushing the field forward with the development of new artistic practices and business models."
  12. Thom Powers Founder of Stranger Than Fiction, programmer at TIFF, co-founder ofCinema Eye Honors, this year Thom expanded his base still further as one of the founders of the DOC NYC fest.  Few have done as much to further the community and appreciation of film in NYC.  He has helped to build an energetic and passionate doc community, and never stops thinking about how to extend it further.  A man with a mission if there ever was.
  13. Casey Pugh We need to facilitate collaboration between the tech and filmmaking worlds.  Having been involved in building the Vimeo player and then Boxee, Casey's already done a lot (and I think he is only 26).  An Emmy award joined his list of accomplishments this year, and the cause of this award, is my favorite film of the year, Star Wars Uncut.  I am eager to see his latest project, VHX launch in the months to come, as I am confident it will be another step forward for a truly free film culture.  Casey sees the big picture, the full definition of cinema.  In his work he's building the ramps and bridges connecting the six pillars of cinema: discover, development, production, participation, appreciation, and presentation.
  14. Orly Ravid & The Film Collaborative - A not-for-profit film distributor has long been a dream of mine, but it took Orly and her team to actually do it.  For a truly free film culture to exist, sustainable enterprises must be built that facilitate the connection between unique work and audiences on terms that go beyond profit.  THE FILM COLLABORATIVE is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Not much more to be said, but Orly's demystification of the sales and distribution processes, a refreshingly open approach to the numbers and realities of the distribution effort, via her blogging have gone a long way to helping filmmakers across the globe understand the world we are living in.
  15. Michel Reilhac of Arte France I asked Brian Newman about Michel: "Michel has probably embraced the "new paradigms" of the film/media world better than anyone else, and he speaks and writes about it with an eloquence sorely lacking in the field. For just one example, see his "Gamification of Life" speech at the Power to the Pixel forum.  He has helped transform Arte France into a leader in the support of transmedia, even pushing them to think about how this affects their daily work. He is also a mentor and friend to many filmmakers, helping them find and tell their stories in both new and old ways - but always better. But what most endears me to Michel's work was his recent decision to stop funding conferences and training, instead giving more money to filmmakers to push the field forward by experimenting in their craft. Great idea: less talk, more action." Amongst many round-breaking projects are their award-winning documentaries, Gaza-Sderot and Prison Valley -  beautiful examples of new approaches to story-telling using the web and interaction.
  16. Mike Ryan - Perhaps no post on indie film initially infuriated me as much as Mike's Filmmaker Mag piece on the "current preoccupations of the indie film scene".  I strongly disagree with Mike's blame-it-on-the-audience and build-it-and-if-it-is-good-they-will-come approach, but as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to month, the necessity of his central message of needing to be driven by the art and not the business resonated in deeper and deeper ways with me.  It is a brave thing to say, particularly as a producer, that you do not care if something makes money and that the art comes first. Mike leaves no doubt that he is  a man of bold visions and strong opinions; he is not afraid to speak truth to power.  He is both rigorous and playful in his thinking, and he invests it in new projects and filmmakers, not because of the business or opportunity, but because he believes that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is important.  American Indie would not be the fertile ground it is these days without Mike's efforts, but his efforts don't end there: Mike helped to co-found HammerToNail with both Corbin Day, Michael Tully, and myself; Mike helped start an initiative in Memphis to train underprivileged youth in film, and Mike has trained many another up and coming producer.
  17. Yancey Strickler & Perry Chen Of any one on this list, Yancey and Perry are probably the only ones whose creation has moved from an object to a verb.  In certain circles I have heard Kickstarter to stand in for crowdfunding.  Although they are not the only game in town when it comes to mobilizing the community to put worthy projects into being, they've certainly been among the most prominent.  Mark Rosenthal of Rooftop Films makes their commitment clear: "It’s brave to share your creative dreams with the world, to put your faith in people, to seek support from strangers. Everyone who’s putting their films and albums and paintings and gizmos on Kickstarter is taking a chance that people will like what they’re doing. But it takes other brave people—like Yancey and Perry—to spend years of their lives building the site and enabling the community to build. Great job, guys."
  18. Timo Vuorensola PowerToThePixel's Liz Rosenthal said: "Timo Vuorensola is a film director from Finland and an early advocate of crowd-sourcing and social filmmaking. His first feature, the sci-fi comedy Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was several years in the making. He and his team built an active community of 2,500 around the making of the film . The community co-created around 50% of what made it into the final film, They helped with aspects of casting, writing, music, 3D modelling, CGI effects, translating the film into more than 30 languages. It has since achieved cult success, his evangelical community helping spread the word and has been downloaded over 8 million times through official torrents whilst the team sold DVDs and merchandise of the film. Timo launched, a new web service that enables filmmakers to build and collaborate with online communities around their films.Timo’s second feature, the sci-fi comedy, Iron Sky, which tells the story of Nazis who come from the Far Side of the Moon, is due to be released in 2011 and has a budget of 6.5 million euros. Fans have already been able to help with ideas in Wreckamovie and helping to fund the movie by buying merchandise, donations and also offering a chance to invest in the movie and share its possible profits."
  19. Rainn Wilson As I stated the other day: "Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There's a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it's not just because he's really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He's thoughtful."  If you haven't ever checked out Soul Pancake, a site he helped found, nows the time.  I got to know Rainn this year as he both Executive Produced and starred in SUPER (which I produced with Miranda Bailey).  It was Rainn's tweet that he and "James Gunn were going out with a low budget f'd up Watchmen" that drew me to the project.  His commitment to social media definitely played a big role in the financing and sale of the film.  Through Rainn's commitment to a better world, he is inadvertently building a better model both for film and us as individuals.

I recognize that many of these folks have written for HopeForFilm, but it is something that I encourage people whom I admire to do (even some that I don't!).  There are also some on this list that are good friends, but I like to socialize with such types, so what can I say?  Some people on the list are folks I have or have had business with, and some I plan to have business with in the future, but the same holds true for the professional sphere as is in the personal -- when people do good things, I want to get to know them.  Is that at all surprising?

I remain thankful a great deal this year including making one film and selling another.  This list is my thanks to some of those who inspire me.  We can build it better, together.

P.S.  I solicited nominations this year from last year's Brave Thinkers.  David Gertz went as far as to write a whole post on the companies that are doing the work that will allow a new infrastructure to take hold.  Check out his post here.

Film Finance Overwhelm (pt.2)

Stacey Parks returns with a guest post -- and a sequel.

Because Film Finance Overwhelm (Part 1) was such a popular post, I decided to do a Part 2. And because many of the comments and emails I got came in the form of questions, I decided to make the format of this post in Q+A form. I think seeing the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions will clear things up for many of you.

As a refresher, the 4 Film Financing components I talked about in Part 1 – the ones that are working in today’s market to independently finance films outside of the studio system are as follows:

1. Tax Incentives
2. Partnering With Production Companies
3. Pre-Sales
4. Crowd Funding

So let’s move on to Q+A…shall we?

Q: What are the benefits from both sides of partnering with a Production Company or more experienced Producer?

A: The obvious benefit to the new or less-experience Producer is pretty obvious – you get to leverage someone else’s track record to get your film made. But what about the benefit to the other Producer (the bigger one)? The benefit to them is that you are bringing them a killer concept and/or killer script that they didn’t have before. In my own pitching experience I find that every single one of the Producers I speak to says they are always looking for the next killer project – and they don’t really care where it comes from! Enter YOU. One of the keys to this approach is that hopefully you can bring more to the table than just a script, for example some kind of unique expertise. What areas of expertise do you have that you can contribute? Do you have existing relationships with foreign distributors for instance? How about marketing expertise? Are you a producer who can qualify for international co-production funds because you have a European or Australian or New Zealand passport? Think along those lines of some unique contribution you can bring to the partnership.

Q: What does it take to make a Pre-Sale when you don’t have the typical ‘package’?

A: It’s a fact that the majority of Pre-Sales these days are done on ‘packages’ – meaning a script with Director and Cast attachments. So what if you have an atypical package meaning not a name director or big international stars? Well I’ll tell you… I’ve seen this past year a few projects be successful at Pre-Sales by attaching the right Producer or Executive Producer. Yes, Producer and EP are also part of your package! Mind you these projects were also very commercial concepts, and not in the art-house/drama genre. Which brings up something else – sometimes, and I mean only sometimes, if your concept is so strong and commercial, you can mange a Pre-Sale or two ONLY based on that, even without having a big director or stars attached. In those cases what happens is who ever is buying from you, may insist on attaching an experienced ‘name’ themselves, so they can increase their level of trust and mitigate their risk.

Q: Aren’t the administrative costs extremely high when closing a tax finance deal?

A: Yes, actually they are. They can be anywhere from 15% to 25% of your budget by the time to take into account the discounting that banks do, legal, financing fees, interest, etc. For this reason, it usually only makes sense to take advantage of tax incentive deals when your budget is $2 million or more (and some say $5 million or more). Because tax deals can be expensive to administer many Producers prefer to finance with equity rather than tax incentives, but equity isn’t always available, and unless you are experienced with a track record, can be difficult to secure. Obviously the higher the budget of your film, the more tax incentives make sense for your production – for example when you start getting into the $5-$10 million budget range the numbers starting adding up even better. Having said that, I personally think it’s always worthwhile to look into the option of shooting in places that offer favorable tax incentives, and run the numbers to see how everything pencils out. I know Producers who have resisted this for a long time, and have finally given in because not taking advantage of 20%-40% in rebates is considered simply irresponsible at this point.

Q: What percentage of budget can you actually raise with Crowd Funding?

A: Certainly I’m seeing people raise 100% of their budgets doing crowd funding campaigns, especially with budgets of $200K and less. However in most cases, I think if you can raise 20%-25% of your budget with Crowd Funding then you can wrap a traditional financing structure around that. The thing to keep in mind with crowd funding is that you want to keep your campaign donation-based instead of investment-based, as anything investment-based can put you into legal grey area. Obviously sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are terrific platforms for running your Crowd Funding campaigns and the thing that I like best about raising money through crowd funding is that it can be a great way to raise development funds in the beginning, when you need things like a website and other presentation materials to get the ball rolling. By contrast, I’ve also seen Producers use crowd funding very successfully to raise finishing funds, because by then you actually have sample footage to show people, and there can be an increased level of trust that your film will actually be completed.

Q: What are the downsides to raising International Co-Production financing as opposed to International Pre-Sale financing?

A: International Co-Production financing is second nature to most European producers because that’s their ‘traditional’ financing model. Nowadays however, even American producers are getting in on the action and the two biggest downsides I see with seeking International Co-Production financing are 1) The amount of red tape it takes to apply for government film funds, and 2) the amount of time it takes to get a project off the ground when you’re relying on international co-production funds. With so many new ways of financing your film these days, even European producers are looking outside their traditional model of ‘free government money’ because it’s simply just so much more efficient to cobble together the financing in other ways (using the 4 components I talked about above + private investors). And yes, most U.S tax rebate programs are much more efficient than the European government funds – quicker to get approval on and quicker to get cash-flowed.

So there you have it — I’d love to keep answering questions so please if you have any more, place them in the comments section below!

And if you want to delve deeper into Film Financing 101, check out the Virtual Intensive I’m putting on after Thanksgiving!

In the – Film Financing 2.0 Essential Training - I’ll be covering these 4 components of financing in-depth over the course of a few weeks. Take a look at the details of this small group program, and grab a seat before it sells out. Join the movement to get your film financed for 2011!

Film Finance Overwhelm

Guest post from Film Specific's Stacey Parks.

As I’m unwinding from AFM last week, it occurs to me that while many of you are experiencing Distribution Overwhelm, even more of you are experiencing Finance Overwhelm. Why? Because unless you have 100% cash in bank to make your film, what can you do to get your project off the ground?

The way I see it is we’ve entered a time where ‘cobbling together’ different forms of film financing is necessary to make the whole. Sure, private equity (or cash) still plays a role in this new model, but there’s also other methods that need to be explored and implemented to finance your film

Case in point – many filmmakers today are using private equity or cash for development funds, tax incentives and pre-sales for production funds, and crowd funding for finishing funds. Is that too many financing components? Let me put it to you this way….

Ignore a diversified approach to film financing at your peril!

So how and where do you begin on this journey then to cobble together financing for your film? Let’s forget the private equity or cash component for a moment b/c that’s usually the hardest piece of the puzzle, and let’s focus on financing components we actually have more control over in order to create some initial momentum with your project:

Tax incentives – you’ve probably heard this before but if you’re not investigating locations to shoot your film that offer tax rebates and credits, you’re simply being irresponsible. Research both U.S and international states, countries, and provinces which offer attractive tax incentives for you to shoot your film there. Use the individual Film Commission offices as your starting point and they’ll walk you though the process and procedure, which in my experience are shockingly simple. Get budgets drawn up for shooting in different locations so you can compare where you’re able to make your film in the most economic way possible.

Partnering With Production Companies – This may not seem like an obvious choice at first but let’s just say this – if you don’t have a track record yourself, if you’re a first or second time producer, writer, or director and you want to fast track your production, you should consider partnering with a more experienced Producer or Production Company and leverage their track record to get your project made. There are so many other benefits to this approach too – not least is the fact that if you manage to attract a bigger producer with a track record to your project to partner with you, you can ride their coat tails for this project, get introduced to their whole network of ‘relationships’, and be in a prime position for your next project to go it alone, using all the contacts you made. I’ve seen this happen many times, and it seems sometimes what holds people back in this scenario is their pride. Wouldn’t you rather swallow your pride and get your film made?

Pre-Sales – Here’s the facts: Pre-Sales are not dead. I don’t care what anyone says, Pre-Sales are alive and kicking for the right projects. And that’s the key here – the right projects. What does that mean? That means for projects with a killer concept, an experienced director attached, and great cast, pre-sales are in fact a reality. Now I know this might seem like a long shot for some of you but hear me out….If you are a first time director, focus on a killer concept and cast. If you are a first time producer, focus on attaching a ‘name’ director. You can in fact build a package that attracts pre-sales, it takes time, and often money (development funds) to pull things together but it’s possible.

Crowd Funding – Crowd Funding has actually been around for a while but only recently popularized by sites like Kickstarter & Indie Go Go. However, as many of you know, Robert Greenwald has been crowd funding his movies for years. His moves, being cause-related in nature, actually quite nicely lend themselves to being crowd funded (by people who are passionate about his causes). But what about if you have a narrative feature (as opposed to a cause-related doc)? The truth is, Crowd Funding can work for you too but the success of your campaign will be predicated on your ability to build an audience for your film while you’re still in the financing stage. No easy task but by leveraging the internet and social media, ti’s entirely possible provided you have a subject in your film, or are covering a topic or theme that people are actually interested in. Have you researched the concept of your film yet to determine if in fact there’s a potential audience for it that will be interested in seeing it? That’s the key to crowd funding right there.

These 4 components are what I see as the basic building blocks of a Film Financing plan in today’s market. And by building blocks I mean you should be using a combination of a few if not all of these to get the job done!

So what are your thoughts about Film Finance Overwhelm? Which of these methods have you used successfully, or not so successfully? And what questions do you have about any of them?

I’ll be kicking off one last Virtual Intensive for 2010 dedicated to Film Finance Overwhelm because I know that many of you are looking ahead at 2011 and you want to get your films made next year come hell or high water!

In my Virtual Intensive – Film Financing 2.0 Essential Training - I’ll be covering these 4 components of financing in-depth over the course of a few weeks. Take a look at the details of this small group program, and grab a seat before it sells out. Join the movement to get your film financed for 2011!

Stacey Parks is an expert in the area of Film Distribution, and the author of "Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution" (Focal Press). After several years as a foreign sales agent, in 2007 Stacey launched as a Virtual Training hub for Producers seeking to get their films made, seen, & distributed worldwide.

Independent Film's Path To A Viable New Business Model

Guest post by Jeffrey Ballagh, lead strategist for Novacut (Note from Ted: I have not used Novacut, but heard what they were aiming for and asked Jeffrey to explain it to all of you.)

The future of distribution and funding for independent film relies on the Internet. The technology to forge a new business model for independent film success is out there, but it needs nerd champions to build a venue where artist-to-audience commerce can thrive. To thrive, that venue must be the condensation point for the independent filmmaking community. For that to be possible, that venue needs a strategy for reaching critical mass and a damn good draw for filmmakers' attention. This is what we know, and this is Novacut.

The spark? A pro-grade video editor that's free and designed from the ground up to exploit recent advances in technology and community - to name a few: digital production, HDSLR cameras, online collaboration, and cloud computing. We think that should get the attention of a few filmmakers.

The Landscape

Fundamental change has shifted every aspect of the filmmaking business: production, distribution, and most importantly how filmmakers can expect to make money from their craft. The new landscape is one of phenomenal opportunity fraught with incredible peril. Production costs continue to drop with advances in digital production, but more importantly, the old business model has evaporated with online distribution. Filmmakers now have an unprecedented opportunity to express their artistic visions and reach audiences directly. But online distribution also means there is no way to effectively stop a film from being available to everyone for free.

Where We Stand

With no way to prevent a product from being used for free, how can it be paid for? Economics has a few standard answers and there are compelling alternatives, but the dust has yet to settle and the market has yet to reach its final shape (author's background: 1/2 nerd + 1/2 economist). The traditional answers to the free rider problem are patronage or government subsidies. These are not the only answers. No one yet knows the best approach for fans and artists to meet in the marketplace and both get what they want, but it is only the mechanics of the market that must be sorted out.

To an inspiring degree, fans are showing they are ready and willing to directly support artists. Current examples are in their absolute infancy. Film/video projects on Kickstarter have raised nearly $4 million since the site first appeared. That's not a huge budget, but it has been accomplished with a new funding model on a site that has only existed for 1.5 years.

Promising alternatives include financing through complimentary business and a unique threshold pledge system. For complimentary business, think of monks making wine to support the monastery. Fortunately for film, there are options for supporting business related to the art, merchandising for example. The threshold pledge approach is a unique option for goods that can be freely copied. Also known as ransom publishing, distribution is withheld until a specified amount of money is raised. Nobody has access until the bills are paid, once they are, it's free for all.

What's Ahead

The aim is not to supplant traditional distribution. The aim is to be the single best destination for alternative distribution. A venue that artists can make their primary target or a next best alternative for projects not finding their place in mainstream channels. The distribution venue that rises to the top in this space must attract both the artists and audience needed to reach critical mass. Most importantly, it needs a path to reach that critical mass and way to draw filmmakers. Simply having a technically capable solution will not make a site the destination that everyone naturally turns to.

To be the primary venue for distribution outside the traditional market, we must be a venue full of great content and a venue where artists make money. To ensure great content means engaging artists with a unique draw, initially that is the editor. From there, we fan the fire with learning and collaboration resources to make a home for the leading community of independent filmmakers. Finally, that community takes its work to market on a platform for successful commerce. A platform that can accommodate any new funding approach, so the market can quickly help decide what works and what does not.

The New Ground Rules

On licensing, if anyone can get your film for free, the only sensible licensing scheme is to distribute with no restrictions on copying and reuse. I realize this rubs some people the wrong way (it used to rub me the wrong way), but in the new era, attempting to enforce all-rights-reserved copyright is a business disadvantage for anyone without a team of lawyers. With no feasible technical approach to stop reproduction and sharing, the only option is to attack legally. That takes lawyers and they are not cheap. Which approach is cost efficient - a market with profits that depend on copyright enforcement via legal channels or the venue that makes money despite unrestricted distribution? If you want to understand the future for copyright licensing, Lawrence Lessig is required reading. He lays it out far better than I ever could, plus his work is of the rare sort that is equally genius, entertaining, and inspiring. Specifically, hit up Remix and Free Culture - pretty sure a couple chapters will convince most anyone. You can buy the books or (Lessig puts his money where is mouth is) download them legally for free here and here.

There are other sites that aim to build the market that makes online distribution financially successful for independent film, but technology and intentions are not enough in vying for Internet prominence. Novacut stands alone with a singular path for achieving a viable marketplace and a powerful draw for getting the process started.

Jeffrey Ballagh is a developer, economist, and lead strategist for Novacut. Seeing powerful forces reshape the world of film and video, he and the Novacut team gathered to put their entire energies toward the goal of building a new infrastructure for independent film and video commerce. Novacut Kickstarter / Novacut Blog

Embedded In Real Life: The Kickstarter Film Festival

Today's guest post is from Yancey Strickler, one of the founders of Kickstarter, the crowd funding site. Kickstarter, along with other crowdfunding sites, has brought some real change to the indie film landscape, bringing more power to the creator class to fund their work. But getting your work made, is just part of what it means to be an artist these days; you need to get your work seen (and that's not all). Luckily for us, Kickstarter is just getting started.

This Friday night on a Brooklyn rooftop, Kickstarter will host the first-ever Kickstarter Film Festival in conjunction with Rooftop Films. The night will feature 90-plus minutes of footage from a dozen filmmakers who successfully raised money on Kickstarter, among them documentaries, features, and shorts, as well as dance and experimental film. There will be music, plus delicious treats provided by Kickstarter food projects. If you'd like to join us, tickets are just $10.

Since Kickstarter launched 14 months ago, filmmakers have used the site to raise funds for post-production, shoots, crews, equipment, music licensing, locations, film festival prep, DVD production, color correction, and just about every other cost associated with making and distributing a film. They've found success: almost half of the film projects meet their funding goal. Overall $10 million has been pledged on the site -- $2 million of it to film projects.

Kickstarter allows filmmakers and other artists to operate in a space between commerce and patronage, where they can create their own economies from scratch. They declare what success is, they decide what's a commodity and what's not, they control the intellectual property and creative vision of their work, they determine what prices their audiences will pay. One of our core beliefs is that artists know their own audience and its needs far better than anyone -- us included.

The films selected for the festival used Kickstarter in a variety of ways. The Woods and Battle of Brooklyn raised funds for editing and post-production. Putty Hill -- which Roger Ebert gave four stars -- used Kickstarter to get to the Berlin Film Festival. Gregory Bayne funded his production costs in an impressive $25,000-in-twenty-days sprint that allowed him to follow the subject of his documentary. For each of these filmmakers, Kickstarter was simply a flexible tool that filled in the gaps.

In June I caught Ted Hope's talk at the LA Film Festival about the rise of the artist-entrepreneur. Ted's thesis was that an artist's job description must extend beyond concept and craft -- it includes things like audience-building, storytelling, participation, and some thirty other qualities that touch on every stage of a project's development. The gist of the talk was that artists should be excited about this chance -- when have they ever had the opportunity for so much control?

We agree. Our job is to build a product and community that can best connect artists and audiences, and help them to engage in a much deeper way. The twelve films we'll showcase on Friday have done amazing jobs at this. We couldn't be more excited to share their work and stories, and I hope to see you there.

yancey strickler |

Old Problems, New Solutions: Film Fest Rock & Blues

Today's guest post is by director Allison Anders (Mi Vida Loca, Grace Of My Heart), co-founder of the "Don't Knock The Rock" Film Festival" Seven years ago I was given one of the greatest opportunities of my opportunity-rich life -- a tenured post at UCSB as a distinguished professor in the Film And Media Department at UC Santa Barbara, where I remain on faculty, teaching one quarter each year. My first quarter I created a class on rock 'n' roll films since this had long been my private passion, and called the course "Don't Knock The Rock", named for the 1956 Alan Freed, Sam Arkoff, Columbia film of the same name. I loved the experience of sharing these music rich movies so much I didn't want it to end.

With the help of producer Elizabeth Stanley who was at that time at the DGA, and who connected me to festival producer Gianna Chacere (now with The Hamptons Film Festival) , I began to lay out plans for a festival in Los Angeles showcasing rock 'n' roll movies. My musician daughter Tiffany Anders was returning to Los Angeles, after living in Brooklyn for a good chunk of her 20s, so I immediately welcomed her home and enlisted her to curate live music for my hair-brained idea. The first year she delivered Sonic Youth, J Mascis, The Tyde, Dead Meadow, Wayne Kramer, and Ariel Pink before I even knew he had been born!

We are now launching our 6th annual (we took one year off) DKTR Fest July 8th and will run every Thursday of July and August at The Silent Movie Theater, Los Angeles. From our first Don't Knock The Rock Film And Music Festival, our agenda was, and remains, the same: to showcase music films and live music performances for die-hard fans and music nerds and to get the word out to them. We are dedicated to that agenda, even though the struggles of the niche film festival like ours are many, well actually, money; the struggle is always money.

We are blessed to have returning sponsors who have been supporting us every year since our beginning, BMI Music, Criterion Collection, Globe Shoes and more. But we are finding it harder to survive, and have watched well-heeled festivals disappear while we remain the little festival that could. This year, just when we wondered if we could go on, we discovered community funding as an option. In particular, Kickstarter! We weren't sure if we qualified since we have already been established but our project was accepted and we launched our pledge drive on Kickstarter to raise additional funds to bring filmmakers to us so they can see their film with a live audience (which for many filmmakers these days is becoming a rare experience) and to be able to compensate our musicians, who perform live for far below their quote, with a token of our appreciation for giving our audience a one-of-a kind experience.

The model for Kickstarter is brilliantly simple and effective: if everyone kicks in a donation to projects they'd like to support, these films, events, books, music, art will all see the light of day. And the even more beautiful part of it is that by donating to each other, we can help bring to life a culture we want to share. For every pledge to donate money to a Kickstarter project, you will get something tangible in return. We are loving our Kickstarter project and urge everyone to check it out cause we think we have some of the very coolest rewards ever from our awesome sponsors!

And we are very excited about our line-up this summer! Whenever possible we try to open our festival with a film which exemplifies an artist band or genre of music born right here in So Cal. "The Wrecking Crew", "Chicano Rock", "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel" and "Ghost On The Highway: A Portrait Of Jeffrey Lee Pierce" have been a few of our LA-centric openers. This year we are so happy to launch DKTR 2010 with a beautiful film by Italian filmmaker/musician Cosimo Messeri, "The One Man Beatles: Something About Emitt Rhodes" Hawthorne's own son. In 1967 upon hearing and falling in love with the first 2 singles ("Live" and "You're A Very Lovely Woman") of Emitt's band The Merry-Go-Round, I ached for more till his long lost solo records were rediscovered in the late 80s and distributed on a collection by Rhino. These are melancholic yet accessible pop melodies that will stay with you, and a story that will move you as much as the music. Emitt Rhodes himself will be in attendance and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate his work in person with him. A tribute concert will follow the screening! Merry-Go Round/Emitt Rhodes expert Rhino's own Andrew Sandoval will DJ a brilliant set including never before heard Emitt Rhodes material.

From Australia we have a restored print of 1984's "Dogs In Space" with Inxs singer Michael Hutchence, a film not screened in LA in ages, along with the LA premiere of "We're Living On Dog Food" by director Richard Lowenstein on the vibrant Aussie punk and post punk scene of the early 80s, co-sponsored by "Part Time Punks" with DJ Michael Stock spinning tunes. We also have an amazing film of one man's quest to reunite the not-on-speaking-terms band The Kinks, in the film "Do It Again", and will follow up with a unique live Charles Beardlsey Kinks clips-mix from his private collection. And speaking of private collections of clips, Target Video pulls together a unique mix of Joe Rees video live performances late 70s early 80s "So Cal Uber Alles".

And following in a tradition of honoring our electronic music pioneers, to kick off the month of August we have the LA premiere of "Deconstructing Dad", a film by Stan Warnow about his father Raymond Scott with a special tribute to Scott's varied career followed by an incredible feast of WB Looney Tunes bearing the music of Raymond Scott curated by Jerry Beck, animation historian! Scott pal Skip Heller DJs! On Saturday afternoon Aug. 7, we will host as we do each year our ever popular BMI Music Roundtable Chat with pros in the music and film businesses discussing how to get your music into films, and for filmmakers how to find affordable music for projects. Aug 12, we have a full night Lee Hazlewood blow-out with 2 ultra rare titles "Cowboy In Sweden", "Nancy And Lee In Las Vegas" coming from the estate of Swedish filmmaker Tor Axelman.

And Also in August, an evening with legendary LA filmmaker and LA cultural historian Thom Andersen (LA Plays Itself) premiering his new film "Get Out Of The Car" and 2 rare music-filled LA pieces "--- -------" and "Olivia's Place" as well as other music-related films curated by Andersen who will be present for Q&A's and hangs! And closing night we will premiere a film by songwriter Mark Sebastian and filmmaker Todd Kwait "Vagabondo" a film about legendary Greenwich Village folk singer Vince Martin. Martin will also be present for a lively Q&A, and a tribute concert to his beautiful songs will follow the film.

In a world in flux in terms of film financing and distribution, festivals have changed too. Sales agents have become far more powerful and their budgets smaller. Unless you're a major festival where they can sell their movie, and recoup for the investors, they cannot be bothered to even answer an inquiry from a smaller niche festival (this happened to us repeatedly this year). It's a shame cause this means that the very audience who would care don't get to see the film, it means the filmmakers don't get to experience their film with as many audiences, and it means that when the film comes out, if ever, no one goes to see it, cause no one knows about it, and it perpetuates this idea that music films don't make money, so less of them get made. When in fact, people would come, if they knew about it and if they were targeted as the viable audience that they are.

This is clearly a dead model. I'm looking forward to new models. And community-based funding and supporting local venues for niche festivals are a step in the right direction ahead!

For the DKTR Kickstarter page go here:

For the complete DKTR 2010 line-up and to buy tickets go here:

The Future Is Ours If We Seize Today

Today's guest post is from filmmaker Amos Poe.

“If you’re an American filmmaker, you’re a Hollywood filmmaker.” – Martin Scorsese

There’s been much talk lately about the current state of “independent” filmmaking which includes all aspects of fundraising, production, post-production and distribution. This is my perspective based on 40 years of experience and a modicum of hope.

In 1969 when I got my first Super 8 camera and started making films - needless to say, I had no idea there was such a thing as a “film school” -  I picked up a book called “The Moguls”. As I recall (I’ve long since misplaced the book) it had a number of chapters, each dealing with a different man responsible for inventing and building Hollywood. All were immigrants - Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Adolph Zukor, Schenck etc. One chapter, I think it was Adolph Zukor, a German immigrant, went something like this.

Zukor was in the haberdashery business on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. He sold shirts, ties, suits… to men. One day a guy walks in and looks around, sees that there’s empty space in the entryway. Zukor walks up to him, “Good morgen. Can I help you?” The guy says, “I wanna help you. Since this space is empty, how would you like to make some money from it?” “What do you have in mind?”, Zukor asks. “How would you like to put a few Nickelodeon machines here?’ “Vat’s that?” Zukor had no idea what these machines were, he’d never seen a nickelodeon machine, or a film for that matter. So the man walks outside, there’s a truck full of machines parked at the curb. He whistles to his assistant, “Bring one down here!”. They unload a machine and bring it in. “Here’s how it works. We put a sign outside your store advertising this week’s film. People come in, throw a nickel (hence the name) and watch. Here. Look!” So the man throws in a nickel, Zukor cranks it and sees his first motion picture. He’s awed naturally, but skeptical. “Yes, very nice, but vy vould anyone spend a nickel on that? Who vould be so foolish” The salesman realizes that Adolf is a man who needs proof, “OK. Look, I’ll leave 5 machines here for the week, put the sign out front. For the first week, you keep all the money. If you like it, we’ll keep the machines here, and from then on we’ll split the money %50-50. If you don’t  like I’ll take the machines out. How’s that?” Zukor thinks this over for 30 seconds, looks at the nickelodeon, realizes he has nothing to lose, and agrees. So there’s five machines and all week long people are streaming inside, dropping nickels in the machine. Some of them watch four times. By the end of the week, the salesman comes back, they empty the machines and Zukor’s got $97 in nickels. Over the next few months, Zukor adds more and more machines, until the whole place is full of nickelodeons. He rents the space next door, fills that up with nickelodeons. Every week the salesman comes in with another film, takes the old one back, puts a new sign out front. Business booms!

“So, in a few months I got out of the haberdashery business and vas full time in the film business. You see, in the haberdashery business it’s difficult. In those days, a man comes in, vants a shoit. It’s 25 cents for the shoit. But I have to stock different sizes, different colors, and in those days the collars and cuffs vere separate, so you have to stock them as vell, oy, it’s a pain in the tuches. You see in the haberdashery, a man valks in spends twenty-five cents and valks out vit a shoit… in the film business he valks in spends a nickel and valks out vit nothin’. That’s vhy I love the film business!”

Zukor eventually wanted the whole %100, not just to exhibit but also to produce and distribute… and that’s how Hollywood was born. As an immigrant myself, I love that story, it was funny, and made so much sense.

My first Super 8 film, was a series of shorts made to the Beatles “White” album. I loved that record and came up with short stories or ideas for each song. My friends helped and “acted” in these films. With ”Rocky Racoon” I did single-frame animation, for “Dear Prudence”, I managed to convince the most beautiful girl in Buffalo – who wouldn’t otherwise have given me the time of day, let alone come out to play - to jump naked out of an abandoned hay-loft on a deserted farm and run through an oat field in slow-motion. I then spliced all these bits together onto a 400 foot reel – there were two, because it’s a double-album - and had a premiere at a bar across the street from my house on Main and Ferry. For sound, my Nizo Super 8 was silent, I had to time the drop of the needle on the record at exactly the right moment as I hit the switch on the projector – otherwise I’d lose “synch”! Ha !  We passed the hat around, and as I recall, I came away with $47.50, not bad. Paid for a third of the film’s cost in one night.

Later, when I came to New York (1972) I got a job in film distribution. My first job was working as a print inspector and shipper at a small company on University Place and 13th Street called, New Line Cinema. My boss was a guy named Bob Shaye, we had ten films and 30 prints. I screened my Super 8 and later 16mm experimental films at a little joint on 4th Street, called The Millenium. I paid for these early films myself by taking on a superintendent’s job on 15th street; I got a free apartment and $250 a month, plus a %10 commission on every apartment I rented. Eventually, as NewLine grew with the success of “Reefer Madness” and “Pink Flamingoes” I had to hire an assistant, so I hired a musician named Ivan Kral. Ivan was also into film and we soon started shooting bands around town. It never seemed to bother us that we were shooting bands silently. We knew sound and image didn’t need to be in synch.

We made two 16mm films on my Bolex, NIGHT LUNCH (with David Bowie, Queen, Roxy Music etc.) and THE BLANK GENERATION (with THE RAMONES, BLONDIE, TALKING HEADS, TELEVISION, RICHARD HELL, WAYNE COUNTY… etc.), Ivan was now in this little poetry band called PATTI SMITH GROUP. We premiered THE BLANK GENERATION at a seedy club on the Bowery called, CBGB. You may have heard of it. The film cost us $1546 to make and in the first 6 shows we pulled in $1635 from the door. I felt we’d finally crossed over and could now be considered “professional” as we’d recouped the cost of the film in one weekend.

Meanwhile, I became fascinated with the many repertoire film houses in NYC, and went every day to see something; especially the French New Wave films. The key here was that these filmmakers basically re-invented for themselves, cinema. I got fascinated by Andy Warhol and his artistic and economic methods, then John Cassavettes! It all seemed possible if I could re-invent cinema. How were these home-made films ever going to compete with the Hollywood machine and big-time American culture? It then occurred to me that maybe what I should do is re-invent the New Wave, I mean after all, wasn’t that the nature of waves? They went from one shore to the next, back and forth? Godard, Chabrol, Truffaut had watched American films at the Cinematheque in Paris and went out to “re-make” those and had come up with something completely new. What if I were to re-make “Breathless” let’s say, and was able to start a new film movement? It never occurred to me that I was dreaming. I had $3000 in the bank and that seemed to be enough to make a 16mm reversal B&W film called UNMADE BEDS. I got lucky, I made it. The first screening however, only 17 people showed up. It was a flop. I was devastated. I sent it to Cannes in ’77, but they rejected it. More devastation. However, the good folks from the Deauville film festival accepted it. Meanwhile while I was waiting Eric Mitchell and I decided to make another film, THE FOREIGNER. I got lucky again when a bank on Canal Street loaned me $5000 to buy a car. So we made that film… and No Wave cinema was born.

That was then, this is now. What I’m getting at is that every generation has an opportunity to re-invent cinema. In fact, that’s what its all about, ain’t it? In the ‘90’s when indie films became all the rage, it was interesting, but I think now is even better. We’re done with all the mannerist filmmaking aesthetics. We must re-invent ourselves as our empire collapses all around us, with the tools of a new world. We must think of ourselves as artist-warriors, capturing the fall of the Roman Empire, in some beautiful new way, like Picasso and Braque did with painting at the turn of the last century. Like Adolf Zukor and his cohorts did. Like the French New Wave, Warhol, Cassavetes, the Italian neo-realists did.

This is what I’m thinking as I make my new film “La Commedia”, I’m going back to try and understand what we mean by “motion” in a motion picture, mush as Edward Muybridge discovered in 1876 with his “Horse in Motion” series, and much as Dante Alighieri re-invented poetry in a new language, a lingua vulgare, a sweet new style!

For fundraising we’re trying For production I used a consumer Olympus camera that could shoot underwater. For post-prodution, Final Cut Pro, Protools, Photoshop etc. All I know is that it will premiere in Venice this September, the rest is as yet unknown. The future is ours if we seize today.

If you’d like to help, please go to

-- Amos Poe  (May 2010)

A Nice Example of Well Planned KickStarter "Rewards"

Check out Amos "the avatar of no-wave cinema" Poe's KickStarter page's pledge incentives for his new translation of Dante's "La Commedia" for an example of well thought out rewards.  There are low ones that most will skip over so that they don't think themselves cheap.  There are high ones that feel out of reach but encourage you to also reach higher.  They give a DVD (which frankly could have been a digital download) at the the second lowest level.  Even if I didn't know, like, and respect Amos and his work, I might be inspired to give (I did). Update 6/9: It has been pointed out that offering profits via KickStarter may not be legal, so get your lawyer to weigh in on that before trying it at home. When Amos & Co. they took the share of profits off the "offering" (ain't it great how easy it is to change things in this digital age?).

And check back here tomorrow for some thoughts from Amos on the current creative environment.

Just Like PB&J, It's Rock&Roll & Film

Founded by filmmaker Allison Anders and musician/daughter Tiffany Anders, Don't Knock The Rock Film And Music Festival, Los Angeles has been bringing amazing off the radar films and live performances to the sophisticated music nerd and diehard music fan for the past 6 years.

For those of you who don't know the fest, and don't want to take my word for it, Variety just gave them a nice shout out.

Now the festival needs your help and has started a KickStarter campaign to show you how.  If you are in Los Angeles, you particularly don't want to miss this, as the awards are, not surprisingly, a bit festival-centric.

KickStarter: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

I forget again who sent me this link, but I found CoffeeAndCelluloid's post on their KickStarter experience illuminating.

Although I have yet to engage in a crowdfunding attempt yet, I have been contemplating. And I have been providing some advice, thoughts, and general consulting to those that have. I think the points Joey Daoud raises about needing to raise a fan base first, having some investment pre-committed, and needing to have supporters, promoters, and blogs lined up in advance are all right on.  He's helping all of us learn how to make this better together.

Joey also posted many good links to bring more perspective on the whole crowdfunding experience:

  1. Kickstarter and Flattr
  2. How to Figure the True Cost of a Kickstarter Project
  3. Behavior Patterns of Kickstarter Funders
  4. Feature Film Editing and Kickstarter [Podcast]

Own Your Privacy (Again)

It's a good week when people solve problems. I certainly know it is a lot easier to point problems out rather than solve them; it's also pretty darn easy to just pledge some money to helping others solve some problems. And that's why I am feeling good that four specific NYU students exist. You probably heard of Diaspora on the web this week (but if you haven't, now's the time to catch up). Diaspora will be a decentralized social network hub that you the user controls.

the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network

You own the data; you choose who gets it. Remember back when so many people did not understand that they were not even on the web when they went onto AOL. Why have we been satisfied with going to a centralized social network hub just like we were back in the day with being on AOL's portal? Particularly when the stakes on so much higher; we've been being SPIED ON for far too long.

We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.

They have had an amazingly successful Kickstarter raise.  That alone is truly inspiring.

Financing in a Post-Capital Plane: Reflections on Putty Hill's Kickstarter Campaign

Today's guest post is from Stephen Holmgren, Putty Hill's producer. Last winter, Putty Hill director Matt Porterfield and I met with a small group of friends at Matt's house for a home-cooked Baltimore dinner. We were there to discuss fundraising ideas for Matt’s pending feature, Metal Gods, which we were determined to shoot over the summer. Matt had been polishing the script for years, and we were having success meeting great teen actors from local auditions. All we needed was some money to shoot and edit the movie.

We were open to working with production companies and investors on a variety of levels-- wanting more than anything just to have something completed by our self-imposed September deadline. We had various budget levels, including a best case, worst case, and disaster scenario. We knew that, despite positive industry responses, the reality was that if this movie was going to happen it would most likely have to come from local financial support. We brainstormed a long list of ideas, knowing we needed to reach outside of friends and family, to people who supported the arts. At this point, Kickstarter was in its infancy and not on our radar.

Flash forward to August. Time was running out, and our financial prospects were slim. Having failed to secure any concrete money from traditional industry channels, Matt and our team improvised, forging ahead with an alternate scenario called Putty Hill: a few pages culled together taking a screen test for Metal Gods as its inspiration. Working with what you would be hard-pressed to call a "budget",  we shot the new scenario with a week of pre-production and a mere 12 days of shooting. The city of Baltimore opened its arms, providing free meals, locations, equipment, and services. We ended up spending around $20,000 in total shooting which we received from a few small donations via friends and local business, and some meager savings Matt and fellow producer Jordan Mintzer had put aside.

The footage was great. Editor Marc Vives and Matt worked quickly to put together a rough cut. We knew we had something special. We also knew we were facing at least another $20,000 in order to get the movie in shape for any festival exhibition, with costs like color correction, sound mixing, and HD mastering.

That's when we started considering Kickstarter. A friend, Matthew Lessner, had recently run a successful campaign for finishing funds with his project, The Woods.  I reached out just in time for us to receive his last invite, and we decided to give it a go.  We spent a few weeks planning our campaign, devising various levels for contributions and strategies to get the word out.  We came up with a strong list, with incentives like special thanks on the DVD and Putty Hill "wifebeater" ($25), a signed copy of Matt Porterfield’s unreleased first feature, Hamilton ($50), limited edition archival pigment print photograph ($500), and even Executive Producer credit with admission and roundtrip airfare to our North American Premiere ($5,000).

After we had our levels set, we brainstormed ways to get the word out and decided to aim low: $10,000 in a three week campaign, ending the night before our World Premiere at the Forum in the Berlin Film Festival.

We had around $7,000 within the first 48 hours. We were excited, but also realized we set the bar much too low for what we actually need to finish the film and the amount of support we were going to be able to drum up.  We pushed on with individual emails to key friends, family, and industry, paying particular attention to people who could be helpful in not only contributing but spreading the word.  I sent around 2,000 emails in a period of a couple of weeks.  We passed our goal, and in the final days were able miraculously climb to $20,624.  It helped that we found a generous soul in New York City who signed on as 1 of 2 available Executive Producers at the $5,000 level (note, there is still one more slot open, inquire within).

Though we exceeded our initial goals, we learned a lot along the way and think we could have done even better. My sense is that we reached about 65% or so of our realistic potential with the campaign. Personally a lot of my emails went out late stages due to all the pressure and chaos with finishing the film.  Getting these emails out in the first days to encourage blog posts, Facebook mentions, tweets, mass emails, etc is crucial to get people aware and donating early. Regular updates to these folks also helps keep the momentum going.  We did some of this, but we certainly could have done more.

We also quickly reached our friends and families, but could have used more planning in branching out to a wider audience.  It is crucial to hit people who are key in spreading the word, and also those outside of your social and film circles.  It seems nowadays I get emails daily from friends with Kickstarter projects, and I want to help them all, especially those that helped us.  But Kickstarter is about a lot more than friends giving money to each others projects.  When you are able to get posted on list servs, blogs, and have people forward to institutions outside of who you know,  the power of the campaign really comes together.

I found the experience with Kickstarter very pleasant overall. While Kickstarter isn't a necessity to set up donation levels and raise money for your projects, the program legitimizes your requests, allows for you to build a community around your campaign, and gives you an excuse to ask people to donate without feeling uncomfortable about it.  It feels very official, the site looks nice and is inviting for people to browse, donate, and view other projects. It was a big confidence booster to realize over $20,000 in grassroots support.  We did shop the film around again in the post-production stage, and although people seemed to like what they saw, we again were unable to get any firm money commitments and found ourselves back at square one.  Kickstarter provided a much-needed alternative for financing in a way where we could directly connect with friends and fans, without pre-selling any rights or losing control of the project.  It provided us a way to tap into the Baltimore community and beyond in ways which seemed unreachable just a few months back in our brainstorming session.

We had a few complications with withdrawing our funds following the campaign, but the Kickstarter team was helpful overall with customer service, although it is a small crew with an ever-increasing group of projects being launched.  I’ve turned into one of those old school phone people, and it was a challenge not having a direct number to call to get concrete answers when we needed help.

Another reality we are facing is that the campaign is over, but the costs are still spiraling.  We are facing difficult decisions with music rights, and are working on figuring out how to finance striking a 35mm print for proposed German distribution in the fall and hopefully eventually US distribution as well.  We have decided for a limited time to continue our campaign through our own website,, which Kickstarter has thankfully given us full approval to do. Thanks to a recent Washington Post article on our campaign and recent positive reviews as our SxSW screenings get underway, we are continuing to receive traffic on our site and donations.

There are definitely other ways of crowd funding and alternative sites, but I think Kickstarter definitely has the right formula and feel to continue to help not only independent films but projects of all natures for years to come.  It feels similar to what iTunes did for mp3’s in some respects or Netflix for DVD’s; the system makes sense and is currently leading the way, although due to the nature of the game, there are always opportunities for viable alternatives.  As it stands, I am looking to set-up another Kickstarter Campaign in the future with UnionDocs, the nonprofit documentary arts center in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where I program (often documentary films) for some of our many financial needs.  I imagine we’ll be back for fundraising for Matt’s next Baltimore film as well…

Good Luck, Steve Holmgren

Steve Holmgren is a New York-based Programmer and Producer.  He is the Programmer at UnionDocs and also works with the Robert Flaherty Film.  He was integral in developing Metal Gods, as well as Putty Hill. He continues efforts to distribute Porterfield’s first feature,Hamilton which will have a rare NYC screening at BAM on Monday, April 12 with Director Matt Porterfield joined by Richard Brody of the New Yorker for discussion

Miao Wang On The Secrets of Her Kickstarter Success

We have a guest post today from Miao Wang, director of Beijing Taxi, set to premiere shortly in SXSW.

A number of people have asked me for my secrets in regards to Beijing Taxi’s successful recent Kickstarter campaign. Frankly, the campaign’s success far exceeded my expectations. As is often the case, I simply had no alternative. I had gotten the last of my rejection letters from the post production grants I applied for. I had just received my invitation to have BEIJING TAXI’s world premiere at SXSW. It gave me a much-needed boost of energy and a deadline to push for! I knew having SXSW’s world premiere would be a crucial element in the fundraising effort, yet it was a couple of weeks before I could publicly announce it. The pressure is on! It was either get into mounting debt for the post production expenses, or do my best to raise as much as I can! It seemed like a win-win situation. I had heard about Kickstarter a few month ago, but didn’t manage to find an invitation to post a project until the last minute. Luckily my friends at Argot Pictures came to the rescue and helped me secured an invitation. I was due to start color correction and sound mix in two weeks!

There were several limitations to the Kickstarter campaign from the very beginning. I knew I had to raise at least $10,000 in a very short period of time. I had to decide whether to go for a lower goal, like $5000, which is much more achievable, or just go for the full $10,000 bare minimum I truly needed to raise. $10,000 seemed like an impossible goal in 30 days, but I immediately decided on a back up plan. I will raise as much as I can through Kickstarter, and if in the last day we’re far from the goal, I have asked my family to essentially be on-call to pledge a “temporary loan” to make sure I don’t lose what has been raised up to that point. I also felt that, knowing the reality of the full amount I have to raise, people will feel more inclined to make a pledge amount that will make a difference.

Chinese new year always felt like an auspicious date to pick for a fundraiser, especially given it’s appropriateness for the film’s China theme. This year, Chinese new year was on February 14, 31 days away from the date I received the Kickstarter invitation. However, I had already started brainstorming creative ideas for pledge rewards a few days before that, so that I would be set to post and launch the project right away!

In terms of pledge rewards, I feel like it’s important to create some value in the rewards. I always believe that if you put your heart into creating something, people will sense that, and more willing to stand behind that. You’ve put all your heart into this film you’ve worked on for so long, your rewards should in some ways reflect the same heart and attention you’ve put into the film and not just something you slapped together. In two previous local NY based fundraiser parties, my team and I have obsessively handmade art objects like flipbooks (made from sequential frame grabs from the film) and an art book made with images from the film. We still had a bunch of the flipbooks and one art book left, so I naturally included them as part of the rewards. I diligently looked through some of the most successful projects on Kickstarter to get inspired for ideas as well as see how I can cater them to my project. I also wanted to think about cultural related reward incentives specific to Beijing. The dumpling class, a personal tour of Beijing with the director seemed like enticing rewards for those with deeper pockets.

To get the word out for the Kickstarter campaign, I set out on a major push in two phases. I signed up with a mailing list manager service (Mailchimp). I exported all my contacts from my many different stages of life into the mailing list manager. This allowed me to send out a beautifully designed graphics rich email campaign, and not just a text-based email. I sent out my first email blast as soon as I launched my Kickstarter campaign. In this first blast I was not yet allowed to publicize SXSW, so I just posted the headline as “accepted for premiere at a major film festival, details coming soon...” I also included some BEIJING TAXI updates from the last year, including grants received and labs attended. I knew SXSW was to make its press release on February 4, 10 days before my Kickstarter deadline, so I had to be ready to go on a massive e-blast campaign right away. As expected, the first phase brought in some pledges from closer friends, but it was far from enough and pledges started to trail off a week or so after the email blast. I couldn’t send out too many blasts because I wanted to send out the important announcement of SXSW on the 4th. In the meanwhile, I posted the Kickstarter widget on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website, tried to plaster my Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as reach out to my funders and supporters to help with the outreach. Many friends have kindly cross posted on their Facebook and other social networking sites. My diligent intern Aiyana Parker also helped me research film blogs and Asian related blogs. We made a list of those to reach out to once SXSW is announced. Phase two – SXSW announcement. As soon as SXSW news is released, I added the SXSW laurel on the home page of BEIJING TAXI’s website. I also sent out my second email blast with the headline “BEIJING TAXI : World Premiere at SXSW!!” in the subject line of the email. Sure enough, pledges starting flooding in. Aiyana emailed all the film blogs and Asian culture related blogs to help give a shout out to the Kickstarter campaign that was to end in 10 days. The sense of urgency prompted many to help.

I can’t say enough that I have been so moved by all the wonderful family, friends, clients, co-workers, colleagues from my entire life who have pledged their support to make this campaign a success. It would not have been possible without them. Aside from the loving support of those who know me, Kickstarter’s website has been in itself an incredible outlet to reach out to new supporters. The biggest pledge for our campaign actually came from someone who just stumbled upon the project while browsing Kickstarter. This backer sent me a message and expressed interest in making a significant pledge. We exchanged a few Skype video chats. I mailed him a preview screener of the DVD. He decided he liked the project and went ahead with a pledge at the $5000 level! Some other associate producer ($500) level pledges have also come from a group of volunteers for a non-profit organization called A couple of people were interested in supporting the film. They approached me about possibly having a private screening event for a very small group of people interested in making an associate producer level pledge. It was less than 8 days before the end of the campaign. They helped throw together this small private home screening party where we met. Three people from the group made a pledge as a result.

To me, the success of this Kickstarter campaign is not only in having over-reached our pledge goal, which is on its own an incredible feat, but also in the new supporters and interests in the film that has been gathered along the way. More than just a fundraiser, the campaign has served as a fantastic promotional and outreach tool for the film.

Beijing native Miao Wang has a B.A. in economics from the University of Chicago and a M.F.A. in design/film from Parsons. Her award-winning documentary YELLOW OX MOUNTAIN has screened at over 20 venues and broadcast on WNET Thirteen. She apprenticed at Maysles Films. Miao has been awarded grants from Sundance, NYSCA and the Jerome Foundation. She is a fellow of Tribeca All Access, IFP Filmmakers Lab and the IFP Market.


PS.  Word of Miao's success has started to spread.  Lonely Planet just covered it.  Spread the word.

Matthew Porterfield On Truly Collaborative, Egalitarian, & Economical Filmmaking

Matthew Porterfield directed 2006' HAMILTON.  His new film PUTTY HILL debuts in Berlin on February 18th.  I was really impressed with Hamilton and leapt to the call when I heard he was using Kickstarter to finish the film.  I also asked him what he was up to.  The following is his response, and represents TFF's first joint post with HammerToNail (additional photos available there).

2009 was the summer of my liberation. After three years developing a script I never made and marketing it to a sleeping industry, I declared independence and made a film without permission.

This film, my second feature, Putty Hill, will premiere this month in Berlin as part of the 2010 International Forum for New Cinema. It marks a fresh approach to American regional cinema that stands apart from the romantic, anthropological, and formally conservative examples that have emerged on the art‐house circuit in the last few years. This has little to do with my talent and everything to do with our means of production. Truly collaborative, egalitarian, and economical, the traits of our model appear in stark contrast to the division of labor and totalitarian authorship characteristic of most film productions, even those made on the smallest scale, still beholden to a model developed off the Pacific coast and commodified in the dead shadows of Manhattan.

As a commodity, independent film has failed. Yet, regional cinema, of all the arts, has the greatest potential to achieve something close to objective reality, if such a thing exists. Its ontological value cannot be denied. Yet, in order to reach its potential, regional cinema must be freed from the confines of the old marketplace and made in a manner that honors its subjects, its audience, and their environment as authors and players in a collaborative process of production and distribution.

Perhaps this is nothing new. We’re learning as we go. But, I’ll proceed as if our process is novel in these times, and for the sake of argument, if nothing else, detail the progression of Putty Hill from conception through development and into the early stages of distribution.

Putty Hill was born from the ashes of a full feature script called Metal Gods, which chronicled a week in the lives of a group of marginalized kids in Baltimore City who live and love heavy metal. I wrote it with my collaborator Jordan Mintzer. Determined to make our sophomore effort a memorable one (after our critically‐ acclaimed but relatively hidden first feature, Hamilton), we worked hard on developing a regional story with universal themes. In 2007, we began casting and assembling the ingredients to shoot in the summer of 2009. Money was a big concern – our low budget estimate was $350K ‐‐ and we peddled the project to everyone we knew and many we didn’t, inside and outside the industry.

In September of 2008, the screenplay was accepted to participate in IFP’s Emerging Narrative Program at Independent Film Week. This opportunity provided us with a chance to sit down with independent producers and financiers, and we had many meetings, friendly and informative, which resulted in broad smiles, handshakes and even some business cards. We followed up as best we could, but unquestionably, the most valuable thing that came from the week was a grant in the form of a camera rental from IFP and Panasonic. Going into Putty Hill, when we finally put Metal Gods aside, this was all we had: a camera, $20,000, and 12 days to shoot.Because we couldn’t find financing, our hand was forced, and there wasn’t the time to develop a new feature‐length screenplay. We decided instead, since we had cast, crew, and locations in place from our time spent in pre‐production on Metal Gods, to move forward with a five‐page treatment crafted from the experiences and environments familiar to the team we had in place. I hoped it was a feature, but was hesitant to call it one, having not directed such a brief and open scenario before.

In essence, Putty Hill wasn’t much on paper. It was an outline, a skeleton that my dedicated cast and crew, and the community at large through their unending support, brought to life. Each of us on production, from my students at the university where I teach, to my cinematographer, Jeremy Saulnier, were equally invested and involved in the success of the project. Every actor was non‐ professional; our AC was also the Head Gaffer; one of my producers had never worked in film before, neither had our script‐supervisor; my wife was the costume designer; our editor had never cut a narrative feature; local businesses donated food, services, and equipment; people took off work and didn’t get paid. Writing this, I realize I’m describing the familiar clichés of the low‐budget indie film experience ‐‐ it’s nothing new. Where this project differs from the norm can be seen onscreen, in the product, which honors the contribution of every component member of production. If nothing else, I’m confident of that. Plus, it’s sexy as fuck.

Though we’ve been invited to premiere at the Berlinale and SXSW, Putty Hill is unfinished. We’ve amassed over $10K in credit card debt, none of which has gone to compensate our post‐production team for their services. In addition to debts owed, we have large festival and marketing expenses mounting, upwards of $20K.

If our production followed the Pedro Costa model, let’s say, our post and distribution strategy follows the Four Eyed Monsters model, thanks in large part to Kickstarter, a site developed under the influence of the fundraising and marketing strategies originated and implemented by Arin Crumley. In keeping with our objective to focus on the local while reaching the widest audience possible, we’ve mounted two successful fundraising campaigns in Baltimore, Maryland, which have raised over $5K. These, in conjunction with the Kickstarter campaign, have helped us reach our projected goal of $10K in just one week. But that’s less than half of the money we estimate we need to complete Putty Hill and ready it for exhibition.

Ultimately, our methods of working and our limited resources have allowed my team the freedom to stay open to the potential for magic, which only appears when things are left to chance. There are no rules to follow to guarantee the emergence of magic (which, in turn, leads to an audience’s experience of surprise), but there are a list of things to avoid. I won’t go into them here, but you might guess what they are. Or maybe they’re different for each of us. As in life, when we wish to be free, we must be willing to break the rules and work outside the system, even in the face of poverty and obscurity. I make $20K a year, yet I’ll continue to pay my collaborators first. How about you, filmmaker? What do you make?

-- Matthew Porterfield

Ten* Filmmakers I Would Crowd Fund*

In celebration of Arin Crumley & Keiran Masterton's success using Kickstarter to fund development of, I thought I would launch my annual grants. Or rather my annual promise of grants. Money! $ For Films! Free!*

If any of the following filmmakers had a crowd funding page for their next film (provided the film was $300K neg.cost or less), I would donate some money to get it made. And I would encourage others to do so.
Who would you fund?
I know there are more than ten* I could have listed, but I thought this was a good start, and you have to draw the line somewhere. Plus, being an indie film producer in a land that does not demonstrate that it values what I do, I don't have enough cash to go beyond this list! And even still, my contribution would not be significant financially; it would be more of a vote of support in hopes that others would be encourage to support the culture they want. I would give in order to become part of their team, to hear what they are up to, to get updates.
I listed artists who have are all early in their careers -- but have already directed a feature. I listed filmmakers whom I was confident could deliver a whole lot for a little. I listed filmmakers whom I am not already involved with.
Yet before I gave to any of these filmmakers, I would want to see a commitment to building audiences PRIOR to filming -- say a pledge to not commence until they had collected 5000 unique fans. I would want to know that they had a plan to market and release their film that went beyond bringing it to festivals and hoping for the best. I would want to know that they would set up an e-commerce site on their websites -- and that they had a website (which they refreshed with regular content). And of course I wouldn't transfer the money until they had reached their goal in pledges. Then I would gladly give money to them to get that next film made (and not ask for anything in return other than the satisfaction of having helped).