The Brave New American Art House

Art House Convergence Welcome Address

by Russ Collins, Director

(Ted's note: I have participated in the AHC three times now.  Over the last 6 years, the American Art House Exhibitors have gotten organized.  Their mission of instituting best practices for community theaters is lifting our culture.  I have found it incredibly inspiring and exciting.  Filmmakers everywhere should take note as to what's afoot.)

January 15, 2013 – for the Art House Convergence conference, Zermatt Resort, Midway, Utah

Welcome to the Art House Convergence. Welcome as we celebrate the Brave New American Art House. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to gather here in Utah with colleagues and friends and, with strangers who will soon be friends, to execute the mission of the Art House Convergence. 

The mission of the Art House Convergence is to increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America.  We hope you will help us pursue this mission by: 1) constantly improving your own Art House; 2) helping colleagues make their Art Houses better places for audiences to experience cinema art and 3) working to make all Art Houses serve as highly effective community cultural centers.

This conference would not be possible without the hard work of a dedicated group of volunteers. Thanks to the Art House Convergence Conference Committee – if you participated in one or more of those Friday calls that happen throughout the year as we plan the Art House Convergence, stand and be recognized. 

It is wonderful to see so many of you here! How many are here for the first-time?  Wonderful, welcome to Utah to the Art House Convergence.  How many of you are staying, for at least a day or two to go to Park City and check out the Sundance Film Festival?

I see a lot of friends; friends that have grown from the 25 brave souls who came to the first Art House Convergence to this year, with nearly 350 registered delegates, the sixth annual gathering of community-based, mission-driven cinema operators.

The strong theme of this year’s conference is The Brave New American Art House. So, what’s the Brave New American Art House? 

The Brave New American Art House is a set of ideals that looks something like this:

  • It is located in Canada, Mexico or the USA.
  • It is focused on frequent and regular screenings of Art House movies – classic, foreign, documentary, independent and experimental cinema (and sometimes other cultural programs the community demands).
  • It actively seeks community support – it believes philanthropy and volunteers are important and viable sources of revenue and support.
  • It is a cultural institution – it teaches its community about the art, craft, grammar and historical importance of cinema.
  • As possible, it is dedicated to quality celluloid AND digital exhibition methods – providing state-of-the-art image and sound across all eras and formats (including live music for silent-era films).
  • It believes excellent customer service is paramount – it trains its employees and manages its marketing, facilities, event presentations and staff to put the customer’s experience first.
  • It makes cinema come alive – with intelligently curated programs and ever expanding relationships with living filmmakers.
  • It is community-based – it is not part of a national chain.
  • It is mission-driven – it has a triple bottom line: Bottom lines calculated in: 1) community benefit; 2) artistic quality; and 3) financial success.
  • Its business management is strategic – it plans effectively and does not expect Deus ex Machina* to magically provide for its financial success.
  • The Brave New American Art House annually sends staff and board members to the Art House Convergence to have fun learning and being inspired by dedicated and resourceful colleagues.

The “Brave New” of the Brave New American Art House is an intentional literary reference to both Aldous Huxley and Shakespeare – because, you know, Art House people are just a little smarter and better-read than your average movie exhibitor (some might say “snooty,” rather than smarter and better read, but I think “smarter and better read” works better with this crowd). In Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” he expressed the notion that the fast-paced world of the future would force dehumanizing changes, causing anxiety, the loss of intimacy and individuality. Plus, Huxley predicted that movies in year 2540 would be called “feelies,” a cinema-style entertainment that creates the illusion of an entertainment reaching out and literally touching the audience. Which given the ironic nature of the novel supports the poetic notion that 3-D is the movie technology of the future – and it always will be!

Of course Huxley and the Convergence both stole the phase “brave new” from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The play’s most famous lines are said by the Prospero’s daughter Miranda, who looked on in wonder as drunken sailors stagger in a disorderly manner from their wrecked ship, and said:

“O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't.”

 And although Shakespeare’s words spoken by the naïve Miranda were ironic, I believe, stated without irony, that this “brave new” notion is correct, because today and for the next several days the Zermatt and Homestead resorts will be full of goodly people; goodly community-based, mission-driven Art House people. How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!

The ethos of the Art House Convergence is a commitment to quality, openness and community. It is the antithesis of the “whatever the market will bear,” cutthroat and mass market dynamics of commercial exhibition. Please know I’m not saying one is better than the other – both of these business dynamics are viable, even needed, but the ethos of each are juxtaposed. The Art House Convergence ethos embraces the notion that philanthropic subsidy from a community will create a stable, culturally significant center for cinema to be experienced, taught, supported and loved for cinema’s intrinsic artistic and cultural worth and for civic enrichment of communities.

The community-based, mission-driven exhibitor is a powerful but subtle aspect of the movie business; too subtle to be deeply appreciated in a blockbuster obsessed media or in a greed driven entertainment industry.  And, let’s be honest the Art House movement will not create millionaires and it will not be the hot new thing that transforms media culture.

At this point cinema is an old art form, like painting and writing, sculpture and dance, theater and music. Although artists always do new things with their forms of art, the art of cinema itself is now an old form. It can no longer be a shiny new thing and that’s OK; because cinema presented on a big screen in a darkened room full of strangers is a great thing; a profound thing that can deeply move the human psyche and transform lives.

Although the financial scale of the Art House, compared to half-a-billion dollar superhero blockbuster, is rather small, it is significant and the long-term impact is critically important; because the Art House plays an essential role in preserving and promoting the best and the brightest of cinema for diverse audiences.  Your Art House is a sacred shrine and home to the most profound form of creative expression created in recent human time.  

And just as important, Art Houses are exciting, sustainable and practical venues that effectively bolster the vitality of local neighborhoods and transform lives through the creative vision of the people who work there and the poignant cinema found in these remarkable little arts institutions.

Over the decades, the Art House community has had a hard time finding its voice, a hard time believing it is in fact a community and a hard time feeling like it is a citizen in the wider cinema world. But now, with the Art House Convergence we have found our collective voice, we are starting to believe in our potential and we are growing the number of communities throughout North America who are demanding community-based, mission-driven Art House cinemas in their towns.

Your Art House as a key community institution – feel it, own it. You provide a vital service and you are an important economic driver in your neighborhood. Being a community-based, mission-driven, not-for-profit Art House you can be much more than a mere movie venue and employer, or a recipient of charity and coordinator of volunteers. You are a flagship asset, an essential cog and an indispensable part of a healthy community.

Over the next few days, what will be most important for those of us gathered here in Utah is to feel the strength and joy of being among kindred souls, of benefiting from shared knowledge and experience and feeling anchored to this non-profit Art House movement.

Welcome to the 2013 Art House Convergence celebrating The Brave New American Art House. We hope all delegates, who this year come from around the world, will share with great enthusiasm all that is wonderful and brave and new about their Art House and their community. Thank you for coming to the Convergence. And as the Bard of Stratford on Avon almost said, “How beauteous it is; O brave new world, to have such people, such Art House people in’t!” Enjoy the 2013 Art House Convergence.

* Deus ex Machina is something that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly into a narrative or system that provides a seemingly miraculous solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty – like expecting a handful of box office hits or some amazing marketing, business management or technology solution to make running an Art House profitable. In the long-term depending on Deus ex Machina type solutions is ineffective and often implies a lack of creativity and strategic management effectiveness.

From Russ Collins

CEO, MichiganTheater-AnnArbor

Director, Art House Convergence

 

The Rise Of Theatrical-On-Demand: What's Working

By Scott Glosserman

A year ago I was having breakfast with Ted Hope, but I didn't know it.

Attending Sundance's Art House Convergence Conference in Midway, Utah, (a coming together think tank of progressive art houses and independent theatres), I found myself sitting at a communal breakfast table, conversing with Ben Galewsky, a co-op expert who was applying his preferred model to a small theatre in Champaign, Illinois.

The collective mood at the conference was cautious and guarded. Theatre owners commiserated over Fox Searchlight's recent letter vowing to end shipments of 35mm prints, essentially requiring indie houses to retrofit for digital projection or to get used to solely showing repertory titles. Yet, sales reps for VPF's (Virtual Print Fees) weren't revealing their deal structures. Indie exhibs were looking for answers, but little at the time were understood, much less given.

Ben surmised that capital could be raised for retrofitting theatres by converting to a co-op model and thereby turning to the community for assistance where participating banks were not to be found. Since over $100 million in independent film financing has already been crowdfunded through Kickstarter I am hopeful that Ben's endeavor to crowdfund for indie exhibitors has also met with success and I am eager to find out during this year's Art House Convergence that begins today.

Over our breakfast buffets, I explained to Ben the meaning behind a term we’d recently trademarked, Theatrical On Demand style distribution. I was hopeful that my start-up, Gathr, could apply crowdfunding concepts to the crowd-sourcing of critical masses of theatrical audiences, through our online platform. Simply, a movie-goer would request a screening of a film and tell us when/where it should be shown, and if enough people were to reserve tickets to the screening by pre-authorizing their credit cards, we’d 'greenlight' the screening and collect the money for distribution/exhibition up front so that we’d at least be at breakeven the moment we had actually booked the engagement.

Here we were, two folks new to the theatrical distribution/exhibition business, both armed with ideas -- albeit his a very old concept and mine a very new one -- for preserving a segment of the industry seemingly headed towards a cliff. As green as I was at the time, I was confident that assuming we could aggregate and consolidate the theatrical audience demand before a distributor and exhibitor committed to an engagement, we would create no-risk, found-money for everyone in the theatrical distribution food chain.

That was when I noticed a guy in a ragged sweater and glasses raise an eyebrow from the other side of the table.

"You need a mid-step," he said. "You'll want to build interest first -- see where your demand is." A moment later he introduced himself as Ted Hope. And, that's when I realized that the guy I'd heard about and read about for over a decade during my time as a filmmaker -- the guy who in half an hour was going to deliver the closing address at the Conference -- the guy to whom somehow I wanted to introduce myself and with whom I wanted to discuss my concept, was sitting across from me and listening to my 'pitch'.

From our beta launch in March, through our stumbles and successes, Ted has been a  mentor of ours. When he asked me, recently, for an update on screenings and such I was more than obliged. Ted, although we're still perfecting the mid-step, here are a few anecdotes and takeaways from two of our projects, and a look at our most promising title, GIRL RISING, scheduled for release in March:

 

SHUFFLE

Written, directed, produced, edited and scored by Kurt Kuenne

 

This black and white, untraditional narrative jewel box of a festival film darling garnered fans and awards wherever it screened. Yet, the movie didn’t have a prayer at a traditional theatrical release. Although ancillary rights were picked up, Kurt would have had to have risked his own capital on self-distribution if he wanted to share his film with others on the big screen for commercial exploitation.  His film is a microcosm of the countless quality niche films out there that aren’t broad enough for even a limited theatrical release.

 

With no marketing and advertising spend, but rather the passion and persistence of a filmmaker, Kurt was able to ‘tip’ 15 screenings of SHUFFLE around the country. In places such as Cleveland and St. Louis, we enlisted the support of film festivals (CIFF and SLIFF) where SHUFFLE had screened to promote an ‘encore’ presentation to their subscribers, thus addressing the age-old festival post-screening audience question, “How can I share this film with my friends? Where can I see it again?” Answer: Don’t wait for it to come to you. Gathr it!

 

In far-flung Port Angeles, Washington, the film’s costume designer brought together close to 200 people to watch the film and stay for a post-screening discussion. Kurt’s efforts were greeted by grateful cinephiles appreciative of his past work and receptive to supporting his current endeavors. Kurt can tap and manage an ever-growing fan-base of his while we take away the barriers of entry for self-distribution. We were also happy to provide Kurt with a foreign sales agent so he can get his film seen by even more people.

 

BIG EASY EXPRESS

Directed by Emmett Malloy

 

This SXSW audience award-winning, GRAMMY nominated music documentary featuring Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes had slightly higher expectations than SHUFFLE because of the significant online reach of the film’s cast. The movie deserves its place in the canon of all time great music documentaries, so it was a ‘sell’ that the Mumfords and other participants could feel really good about getting behind.

 

BIG EASY EXPRESS debuted on iTunes and other ancillary platforms before Gathr joined the picture, which presented challenges for us. The most obvious was that the exclusivity angle of its theatrical window was eliminated. Who knows how many folks chose to stay home to watch the film; but more importantly, having the film release online or on VOD before (or concurrently with) a theatrical release alienated several theatrical circuits that stand in solidarity against this type of ‘day-and-date’ distribution strategy and simply refuse to exhibit the picture. This, in turn, prevented us from being able to service the theatrical demand for the film when a screening was requested in an area where only the reluctant theatres had a presence.

 

Nevertheless, we have had over a hundred screenings of BIG EASY EXPRESS. Also, because we book traditional theatrical engagements in addition to our TOD℠ method, we have been able to accommodate the desires of theatres that want to book a run for the film, or that simply want to guarantee the one-off screening. (There have been several instances on films for which we augment the distribution of a traditional distributor where the theatre has refused the distributor a week-long booking, but engaged us for a one night screening in order to mitigate their risk and in order to consolidate the audience).

 

Had the content owner engaged a traditional distribution company, alone, for BIG EASY EXPRESS, the film would have likely seen a 10 market, 2 week release, with a handful of additional theatres requesting the film for screenings. Because of the way our model works, we have been actively screening the film since September, and show no signs of stopping. We recently sold out a January 15th screening at Josh Levin’s wonderful West End Cinema in Washington, DC, in fact. The content owner hasn’t had to spend a dime on marketing and publicity, but they have been able to leverage the impressive reach of their casts’ fan bases.

 

GIRL RISING

Directed by Richard E. Robbins

 

GIRL RISING is as ambitious as a kwasi-documentary gets. The film, shot in 10 locations around the world, has attracted the voices of Meryl Streep, Priyanka Chopra, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez, to name a few. Its objective is to effect change for the more than 66 million girls around the world who don’t have access to school. We are Gathr’ing screenings for International Women’s Day, March 8th, and beyond.

 

With this film, we are fortunate to not only have a significant amount of social media muster, but a great deal of traditional marketing muscle, as well. Corporate partners, Intel and Google, and several prominent NGO’s are committed to creating consumer awareness. Additionally, we will have an exclusive theatrical window of over 90 days before the film debuts on CNN, worldwide. These circumstances enable us to exhibit in virtually any theatre, anywhere. We could not ask for a better opportunity to prove large scale demand in our business model; for the filmmakers and producers have chosen to democratize theatrical distribution by exclusively employing our bottom-up model. Their goal is a minimum of 1000 screenings and we are pursuing it with great alacrity.

 

Outlook:

 

Ted, recently the Met Cinema rose from the ashes with a community-driven ‘crowd-sourced’ subscription model to save Oakhurst, California’s only cinema. Many theatres continue to struggle and many deserving films continue to be overlooked, and a few of us continue to pursue innovative ways to keep the theatrical experience robust with myriad film choices. Movies are meant to be seen in theatres, with crowds. Crowdsourcing via online platforms gives exhibitors, distributors, content owners and movie-goers a wonderful opportunity to access theatrical audiences in an innovative, cost-effective way.  The Art House Convergence Conference, commencing today, brings together the most proactive of these leaders and I know you share my enthusiasm for seeing what ideas are working and what new ones are yet to come.

Scott Glosserman founded Gathr in August of 2011 after producing and directing his latest feature, THE TRUTH BELOW, for MTV Films. Scott is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, The Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. 

Arin Crumley Responds To Art House Convergence Keynote

Four-Eyed Monsters' Arin Crumley commented on my recent speech over at IndieWire.  I reprint it here for your reading pleasure:

Great Talk Ted!

So here are the big picture to-do items from this talk:

• We need a third party entity to handle payments between exhibitors and filmmakers. (Note this is a very delicate thing as it has the potential to be totally corrupt if it’s not a non-profit organization or some how decentralized.)

• We need a repository of information that filmmakers share with each other. (workbookproject.com is the start of this.)

• Exhibitors need to get digital projection and digital delivery systems installed. There are some missing standards still since DCI seems like overkill. But it is possible to have dual systems, DCI for big films and plug another cable in to bypass that system to play back WEB delivered HD content.

• We need to protect the open freedom we currently have on the internet so that it can be used build social connections around film and so it can be used to get HD files to the theaters. We made a video about this you can see here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JP_3WnJ42kw

• We need the mechanism in which exhibitors and filmmakers can mine audiences and know who sees your film or comes to your movie theater.
In my mind this is simple, we just allow people to bookmark films they want to see and review films they’ve seen and have all that data be structured along with geo stamps. That way anyone online knows the films in each city people want to see. Then those people could ask to be notified based on variables they define. So they could set a service up that looks at the films they want to see and the local calendars and they could set an alarm that goes off when the two synchronize.

All of these ideas have been part of the think tanks we’ve been doing with From Here to Awesome and DIY DAYS and are simply awaiting sponsorship or funding to actually build the above missing components. Anyone who wants to jump on board with this effort should email fromheretoawesome (at) gmail (dot) com with your thoughts and what you can contribute and lets make this happen.

Ted can give us hope, but only if we all work together can we make these ideas a reality.

Arin Crumley
co-founder
From Here to Awesome
co-director
Four Eyed MOnsters
Director
As THe Dust Settles

Art House Convergence Closing Keynote Address

I had the honor of being asked to give a closing key note at the Art House Convergence today in Salt Lake City.  I have to admit, it was really inspiring and informative to hear it from the exhibitors' perspective.  And they really wanted to hear from us too, and where we thought that it was all headed.  Well, I had a few thoughts, so it was nice to be able to offer them.  This is my address to the exhibitors.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Next Year's Filmmaker/Exhibitor Collaboration.

ARTHOUSE CONVERGENCE CLOSING KEYNOTE ADDRESS
SALT LAKE CITY
1/15/09

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: Filmmaker and Exhibitor Collaboration

In case you haven’t heard, our business is in the midst of a transformation from a limited supply gatekeeper entertainment economy based on impulse buys to a new paradigm
based on creator-controlled content and an ongoing dialogue with the audience. This affects all of us: filmmakers, exhibitors, distributors, and film lovers.

It once was that distributors generally only made available films that fit their pre-existing marketing model. Their marketing spend was not based on the film’s content – but their acquisition or production of a film was based on justifying that pre-set marketing spend. We (both the filmmaking and film exhibiting community) are now just learning how to determine, and to access, what an appropriate marketing spend -- based on the film that was actually made – is, and in the process, we are learning how to prepare for, access, and exploit what have far too long been under-utilized tools and practices: community, collaboration, and appreciation.

Community, collaboration, and appreciation. These tools are the new tools. These are the good old tools. These tools are where our marketing money also now needs to be spent.

But let’s ALL step out of The Hell Of Now, and instead let’s imagine the future. Let’s imagine next year. Let’s imagine what the production/distribution/marketing/exhibition alliance could be like in a very short time. Let’s imagine what it would be like if we established a “Best Practices” for filmmakers and exhibitors alike and thus clarify what audiences can expect. These three entities --filmmakers, exhibitors, audiences -- that want to create, exhibit and appreciate diverse high quality specialized work to the fullest.

Let’s imagine that next year is actually right now. So what does this present (formerly the future) look like?

  • Each side recognizes each other as a partner – a critical partner – a partner that wants to inspire the other to the highest level of work and experience.
  • Filmmakers recognize that completing their film is only half the work. 
  • They recognize that the other half of the job is both marketing their film and maintaining a dialogue with their audience.
  • The filmmaker is taking responsibility for their work through the end (aka forever). 
  • They no longer entertain dreams of riches exchanged for rights. 
  • They no longer anticipate surrendering control of their film to distributors.
  • The filmmaker now thinks of their ultimate creation as what will be their body of work. They no longer look at each movie as a stand-alone entity. They recognize it is all a continuum.
  • They no longer see themselves contained with a single form of medium. They make long and short form work for different platforms and different audiences.
  • They look at all their work as an ongoing dialogue with an evolving audience.
  • The filmmaker has already established at least one platform from which to maintain an ongoing dialogue with their audience(s). This platform will be: Blogs and/or Social Networks. They maintain regular – daily or weekly – contact with their audience. They reward them, and visa versa.
  • The filmmaker is no longer an isolated individual who only looks out for his or her own singular work. The filmmaker is a curator, championing others’ work. And others champion their work in return
  • The filmmaker is an “expanded” collaborator who encourages audiences/fans participation, both or a richer dialogue and to mine their desires. She considers exhibitors’ needs in terms of reaching an audience. 
  • The filmmaker thinks for the long tail and they ask how their film will be discovered in ten years. They ask how will their film be relevant in ten years.
  • The filmmaker recognizes that their action affects others, and they will either build on success or be burdened by others’ failure. They recognize that financial outcome is one measure of success but that audience and infrastructure building is another. Mostly they want to encourage good behavior in others.
  • The filmmaker knows that power is a collective experience not a private one. They believe in an “open source” culture. They share information with others who share information.

How does this filmmaker work? Before the filmmaker shoots a frame, before she raises any money, this filmmaker identifies the audiences for the film and where those audiences can be reached. This filmmaker finds where the discussion of the issues within the film are taking place, identifies possible promotional partners for the film, be they brands or advocacy organizations.

Again before the camera is turned on, this filmmaker builds:

  • A team of passionate soon to be experts
  • A website specifically for the film;
  • Blog(s) addressing the issues within the film;
  • Blog(s) addressing the audiences for the film

And this filmmaker prepares to build the film beyond the 90 minute border by creating shorts, ARGS (Alternative Reality Games), a Graphic Novel, various books, IPhone Applications and Casual Games, truly anything and everything to drive audience’s attention to and their appreciation of the film at every step.

During production, the filmmaker is looking for new ways to expand the audience ad the audience’s participation. This filmmaker provides the audience with access to production particulars, be they production information or location specifics. They grant true fans access to the script and encourages them to go shoot their own version. The filmmaker tries to increase the audience’s rewards for their appreciation, and provides for them exclusive behind the scenes footage or maybe the filmmakers’ journal. Really what ever they can do, the filmmaker provides their true fans with access to the process in an unprecedented manner.

After the film is shot -- and before it is ever publicly screened anywhere --the filmmaker has:

  • Listed the film everywhere online (IMDB, Wiki, Databases)
  • Tested the film themselves before audiences
  • Cut a trailer and put the trailer on their website and elsewhere. This filmmaker is even prepared to refresh that trailer upon release.
  • Designed a poster (or several) and put the poster on their website and elsewhere/
  • Designed a collectors’ edition DVD complete with lots of additional material
  • Manufactured unique merchandising items
  • Written a film clubs’ study guide
  • Selected a stills collection and put some stills on their website and elsewhere.
  • Selected clips and put the clips on their website and elsewhere.
  • Manufactured DVDs and offered them for sale personally at early screenings.
  • Locked a DVD manufacturer and fulfillment center.
  • Locked a Digital Download partner.
  • Locked an Online Streaming Partner.
  • Built a highly selective festival strategy and is prepared to both execute it and support it.

After the first festival screening, in order to facilitate and grow positive word-of-mouth the filmmaker has:

  • Set a pre-release publicity building speaking tour.
  • Built a chain of Living Room Theaters through non-retail DVD sales.

During the release of the film, the filmmaker is prepared:

  •  To travel to anywhere that covers their expenses, even in part.
  • To collaborate with other filmmakers in a traveling festival road show.
  • To provide an I-Chat dialogue with audiences.
  • Maintain dialogue with the audience throughout the release.
  • Release new short-form work to heighten interest in the long-form.

What does this filmmaker want? The same thing as the exhibitor, the same thing as the audience. This filmmaker wants to make movies an event again. And you know what? This isn’t the future. This isn’t even next year. This is right now. This is how filmmakers are currently thinking. And the question we all need to ask is how do we collaborate with them?

******************

So let’s look at how can the filmmaker and exhibitor collaborate? The exhibitor should redefine the theater in the audience, filmmaker, and industry’s mind that it is not just for exhibition any more. So what is it?

  • An Indie Merchandise Store selling T-shirts, collectors DVDs, and indie film specific publications.
  • The Theater is a gallery displaying traveling exhibits on indie history, and film-based artwork.
  • It is a Preservation Center, leading the charge for preservation of indie and digital film. From this platform, the theaters will facilitate the vote for indie works in the National Film Registry.
  • The theater is the community’s Media Literacy Center forever asking how can filmmakers further contribute?

What new practices will earn exhibitors the filmmakers’ love?

  • Data-mining & transport. Filmmakers want to learn the details: Who comes to the theater and why? What gets an audience at a particular theater. Exhibitors who share this data back and forth with the filmmakers will be rewarded with the filmmakers’ loyalty.
  • Throw out the old way and bring more filmmakers in earlier for shorter terms. Book your own “festival”. Utilize Filmmakers pre-release publicity tours. Set a subscription model with your audience freeing you to pursue the distributor-less film on your own.
  • Recognize that your audience, your community, is your greatest asset, but respect their indivuality and recognize their loyalty to you. Facilitate access to and dialogue with your audience by the filmmakers. After all, you can’t keep them secret or hidden. Sooner or later, everyone will eventually find each other.
  • Create your own social network. Supply it with new information regularly. Share it with Filmmakers. Share it with other theaters. Build this network that the Art House Convergence has brought together.
  • Establish A Third Party Collections & Remuneration Agency so you don’t have to deal with filmmakers on payment and other back room issues.
  • Establish best practices on what Exhibitors want from filmmakers and then get that word out to them (I would be more than happy to help).
  • Establish an info on your community’s film tastes so filmmakers know what won’t work at your theater.
  • Filmmakers are like any other entity. Dialogue with them does not have to be painful or intimidating. Good fences make for good neighbors, right?

What additional exhibition practices will filmmakers reward?

  • Think Big. Don’t internalize the last two decades of neglect and despair. Share your dreams of growth 
  • Think Differently. You don’t really need to screen the same movie all week long, no matter what the distributors say. Build audiences for the classics. Ask local notables to program. Give them what they can’t get at home.
  • Focus on community building. Can Monday be dedicated to Community programming at all the art houses. Share your mailing lists with filmmakers if they share theirs. Encourage others’ choices, reach out, and mobilize.
  • Design for the audiences needs with flexible screening schedules. Shouldn’t the moto be: “What they want, when they want”?
  • Communicate with the filmmakers and let them know want you & when.
  • Accept the mutual responsibility to build the new infrastructure. Be willing to test the new infrastructure.
  • Find new and build new alliances, be they Advocacy Groups or Corporate Sponsors. Use them for or Screening series and for Specific Films. These groups come with their own audience and a desire to build further upon it. Every theater should have ongoing media alliances so when a filmmaker visits they expect that they will go on radio show and record a podcast for a local website.
  • Whatever you can do, invest in technology. Whether it is digital production or Digital Delivery everything points to that the physical will soon be gone. Costs will come down and new opportunities like more flexible programming and booking policies will become expected.
  • Whatever can be done to wean oneself from Specialized Distribs Hit menu represents freedom. It is not healthy for anyone to be so dependent on a singular supplier.
  • Fight to preserve Net Neutrality. It will soon come to a vote and an open internet is necessary to source, inform, and aggregate audiences. 
  • Educate and encourage people to make a choice, not an impulsive decision in all they do. Isn’t that one of the definitions of art film? A film that people must decide to view ahead of time.

With all that has occurred, all that has gone wrong, with the devastation that has been wrought on this country and our culture, WHY DO I REMAIN HOPEFUL?

Last month as the year ended, I asked myself that question, and in one hour came up with 52 reasons, one for each of the weeks to come (and all are available on TrulyFreeFilm.blogspot.com).  And truly, the main reason, is right here in the room, at the first meeting of the Art House Convergence. It is all of us. It is we who have come here and it is the reason why we came here. We recognize the potential we hold. And now that potential is becoming a reality.

I believe in – and I know you do too, or else you wouldn’t be here now:

  • The power of organization.
  • The influence of collective action.
  • The incredible results of collaboration. 
  • And all that entire great cinema inspires.

I know there is a great new era of art film on the eve of occurrence. I know this
because I have met the new generation of filmmakers and I know who they are.
And I can tell you that these filmmakers are:

  • Individuals with far more diverse stories to tell than we imagined.
  • Artists with a commitment to quality and innovation.
  • Not just feature orientated.
  • Recognizing that making the movie is only 50% of the job and that the other half is marketing.
  • Early adopters of new technology.
  • Committed to Social Networks.

And I know these filmmakers want to work for YOU, the exhibitors.

And I know we aren’t going to run out of great movies. Last year was the best year ever for American film made for budgets of under $1M. Internationally, new directors produced exciting new work and established auteurs expanded their range. Not only are these great works not currently reaching audiences, but now with the major corporations stepping out of the specialized space hopefully will give a chance for this harvest to really bloom!

Theaters are often said to be our place of worship – but they are really our community centers. Theaters are where we all come together to share our dreams, to experience what it means not to be defined as a demographic but to be recognized as the expansive, passionate, engaged, and connected individuals we are. As far as I can tell, exhibitors have been left to their own devices for all these years – and so maybe there’s hope for indie film because you have managed to survive, even prosper. And now you are working together. You are working with filmmakers. Wow. What’s to come?

I love movies. Obviously.
And: I love making them, but even more: I love watching them, but even more than that:
I love talking about them, sharing them.

Let’s stop thinking of theaters in terms of exhibition and instead recognize them, you, the theaters, for what they truly are – the heart of our community and our life line to the audiences.

Thank you. I can’t wait until next year.

Live From Park City!

I am particularly excited about Sundance this year. Beyond the films, there is a whole series of events that I will be participating in, and I look forward to all the people I will meet and good ideas that I will get to hear.  Please come ready to share some thoughts; my ears are open.

I am now the Closing Key Note speaker at the Art House Convergence (which is actually in Salt Lake City) on Thursday January 15th prior to the festival itself.  I do feel we are on the verge of a new collaboration between filmmakers and exhibitors and am eager to share this vision.

I will also be participating in a panel at the AHC on "New World Distribution" organized by Connie White & Jan Klingenhofer on Wednesday at 5P at The Peery Hotel in SLC.  This panel also features Bob Berney and Peter Broderick who are always sure to be brilliant. All of this really makes me feel like a change can truly come with all of our efforts.
The Convergence is geared to the exhibition and booking community but speaks well of the growing relationship between filmmakers and theaters -- devoid of any force keeping them apart. I don't think it's too late to register for the convergence although the focus is on the theaters. You will be sure to learn something nonetheless.  And if you aren't going to make it, just let me know if there is anything you'd like me to address here.
But it's not all lectures and learning.  The IFP, Filmmaker, The Salt Lake City Film Center, the new media communications concern SMA, and This is that have all come together to sponsor the first annual filmmaker/exhibitor/booker mixer on Friday night, January 16th 6 - 8P -- so you get a chance to party. I had hoped that something like this would come together. The bridge between these groups is one thing preventing us all from connecting all the dots. Here's hoping that a sponsor emerges and this can become an annual event. I hope to see everyone with a film or a place to book one there.

I will also be participating in what looks to be a great panel at Sundance "The Panic Button: Push or Ponder?" at 1130A at Prospector Square on Monday, January 19th.  The assorted old guys like myself include Mark Gill (The Film Department), James Schamus (Focus Features), Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics), Jonathan Sehring (IFC Entertainment), Marcus Hu (Strand Releasing) and Peter Broderick (Paradigm Consulting).  It's moderated by no less than Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore.

I have always considered myself a man of action -- i.e. not one to sit and ponder -- but also never believing there should even be a button to push. I promise to make this a fun and lively event. If there is anything you would like me to be sure to discuss, please let me know as soon as possible.

There are a few other things in the works too -- just in case you miss me at these venues -- for later on at the festival.  Stay tuned.

How Festivals Can Really Help -- By A Festival Itself

Joanne Feinberg of the Ashland Independent Film Festival writes in...

Referring back to your post "Who Do you Really Need to Meet at Film Festivals?" I wanted to talk about how we (film festivals) can be helpful to filmmakers beyond the hope of a big distribution deal... I think I can speak for most of us when I say that festival programmers are in this because we are truly passionate about film, and really want to help films find their audience. I think there are many ways that festivals can help independent filmmakers reach out into our communities and build their audience. Our audience here in Ashland is hungry for truly independent film (and for the interaction with filmmakers that is such an essential part of the festival experience). I hope that we can continue to work with filmmakers to develop new business models that will benefit both their distribution efforts, and a healthy future for film festivals and independent theaters, as well.

You asked for some suggestions... I mentioned recently in a response to your blog (http://www.ashlandfilm.org/News.asp?NewsID=30), that our festival helps to bring back festival films for theatrical runs at our home base, the Varsity Theater (part of the Coming Attractions theater chain). We work with their Programmer by giving suggestions of films we think are appropriate, and then we help them by publicizing the films to our mailing list (building on the word-of-mouth that was created during the Festival), and by use of in-kind advertising that we have with local media.

I've heard many positive stories from our filmmakers about meeting up with other programmers and exhibitors during the festival who have then gone on to book their films at their festivals and theaters. These are people who are often on our juries (another benefit to having your film at a festival - a great way to build relationships and get exposure to people in the industry). For example, Richard Beer, the Artistic Director of Film Action Oregon/The Hollywood Theatre Project in Portland (and part of The Art House Convergence
happening at Sundance this month) is on our Advisory Board, has been a juror at our festival, and he and I often share ideas about films we are excited about. This has been mutually beneficial for our programming here at the festival and at the Hollywood Theater, and especially for the filmmakers whose films we both screen. Recently Richard told me that after meeting director Todd Darling at our '08 festival, he programmed SNOWMOBILE FOR GEORGE as part of his weekend documentary series, and after seeing THE CAKER EATERS here, he invited it to POW Fest (where it won Best Feature) and will be giving it a theatrical run this spring.

Filmmakers have told me about selling large numbers of dvds after screenings (in our lobby), collecting emails from the audience to continue their outreach, and of making contacts with attending press (also often on our jury). I think the Art House Convergence at Sundance is a very exciting opportunity for programmers of festivals to network with exhibitors, and for filmmakers to meet us all.

Personally, I'd love to hear more from filmmakers about their successes and especially about what festivals can do to help self-driven distribution efforts, so we can offer more than the hope that "your film [will] be discovered and you [will] be given a pot of gold and the keys to Hollywood." :-)

.......................................
Joanne Feinberg
Director of Programming
ashland independent film festival
8th Annual, April 2-6, 2009

joanne@ashlandfilm.org
www.ashlandfilm.org
P.O. Box 218
Ashland OR 97520

non-profit (501) ( c ) (3)

Ted adds:  Joanne's wish to hear more from filmmakers about how the festivals can help is ours too hear at TFF.  What ideas do you have?

Hope For The Future pt. 5: The List #'s 18 -21

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

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

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

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

Worlds Will Shatter - The Unfold (A Swarm Of Angels) trailer

A Community Of Theaters: Film Circuit

How come it is the film festivals that pull together the theater operators?  I am very excited about the upcoming Sundance-organized Art House Convergence in SLC prior to Sundance and the potential it offers to weave together a group of sympathetic exhibitors.  We have so much great work in this country that currently goes under-screened.  There is fabulous international work too that we never get see or even learn about.  Don't even get me started about shorts.  

We lack meaningful ways to foster discussion about all this work without having it exhibited in a group context.  They have started to change this across our northern border with FILM CIRCUIT, and hopefully we can learn from their example.

A division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), Film Circuit provides filmgoers in under-served communities, transformative experiences through access to Canadian and international independent films they would otherwise not have the opportunity to see. With over 190 groups in 169 communities across Canada, Film Circuit is essential in helping TIFFG lead the world in building markets and audiences for Canadian Cinema. 

Film Circuit promotes Canadian and international cinema through grassroots distribution, marketing, and exhibition. While providing filmgoers an opportunity to see films that may not otherwise be available, Film Circuit also provides distributors with an opportunity to extend the theatrical run of their films.

Recognizing that it is important that each individual community curates its own screening events to maximize community commitment and capitalize on knowledge of local demand, Film Circuit encourages collaborative programming between Film Circuit staff and individual Film Circuit Groups. Release schedules are issued throughout the year, and each group selects films according to local demand with the goal of enhancing awareness of and increasing exposure for independent cinema. The Film Circuit office then books films based on availability as determined by the distributor. Film Circuit staff arrange print traffic, provide development support, research and prepares film titles and availability lists, offer programming consulting, book guests and ensure cross-Circuit communication.
Films screened on Film Circuit are event based and generally classified as 'limited releases'; they require local marketing support to reach audiences. Some methods groups use to generate local interest in the programme include:

Flyers
Word of mouth
Membership and subscriptions
Local press (ie. Newspaper articles, radio/television interviews)
Sponsored advertising
E-newsletters

Check out the Film Circuit website.  They also feature American Independents.  Get in touch with them about your work.
Thanks to Lance Hammer for this tip!

Who Do You Really Need To Meet At Film Festivals?

Film Festivals are a bit like conventions or auto shows.   The bigger ones get the entire industry and they transform from a cultural celebration to one big networking showdown.   The energy is driven by the potential more than the reality: will your film be discovered and you be given a pot of gold and the keys to Hollywood?  Many try to adjust to reality and just hope to meet some agents and distributors that they can follow up with later?   The ambitious dream of meeting financiers or movie stars.

For years, I have recommended that filmmakers concentrate on just meeting other filmmakers that feel simpatico with, folks that they can share information with, that can become their de facto support group.  Forget about the distributors.  Forget about the agents.  I mean they each can be very helpful -- but mostly for a select few filmmakers.  And I still think that's good advice, but now there is another class of individual to add to the list of whom you should really want to meet.
Sundance 2009 will be remembered (among other things) for the year that the programmer and booker became rock stars.  Now more than ever, we need curators.  We need people who can filter the stream of films that come begging for our attention.  With more and more filmmakers not just recognizing the need for, but embracing, filmmaker-driven distribution, filmmakers need direct interaction with these bookers and programmers.
How great would it be to have a party or something at Sundance where filmmakers and curators could actually get to meet each other face to face?  Great for the curators.  Great for the creators.
Now's the time for filmmakers to build their checklist and try to meet the bookers who truly love art film, indie film, truly free film.  Seventy independent theaters are getting together in Salt Lake in the days prior to the Sundance festival to figure out how to make all this work better.  The Art House Convergence is a promising program; you can't tell the players without a program.  Imagine if your sales agent and rep could introduce you to these bookers, instead of just buyers who might offer you tens of thousands for a twenty year license.  Then they'd really be working for their percentage.

Art House Theaters Unite!

In order for a Truly Free Film Culture to take hold, independent theaters have to organize and work together.  Well, guess what?  Good news!  It's already happening.  

Imagine if a whole bunch of great theaters got together and decided they would accept bookings from independent and TFFilmakers.  Sounds logical, right?  But ask a DIY filmmaker turned distributor if they were able to get bookings beyond NYC's Film Forum, The Laemmle Sunset, and The Walker & Wexner centers, and I will know that the filmmaker hustled and hustled some more for each and every one of those bookings -- virtually to the point of collapse.  The sad truth is that currently to get bookings for legitimate theaters, most filmmakers have to hire an established booker to ink the deal -- and man, that ain't cheap.
But now it looks like that stranglehold may finally be broken.  And guess who's shattering these chains?  Sundance!  Freedom is looming.  Three cheers for Sundance!  Truly:  hip, hip and hooray!  A convergence of art house theatres from across the nation is to be held January 13-15, 2009 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  And from the sounds of it, Indie/TFF/Arthouse exhibition is going to take a great leap forward.
The Sundance Institute Art House Project is a partnership with art house cinemas nationwide to build audiences and develop a supportive community of theatre owners committed to independent film. Wow. Not that we can relax just yet, but this project is a great thing for both filmmakers and filmlovers alike.
The Art House Convergence is presented in cooperation with the Sundance Institute. At the Convergence, Art House theatres from all over the U.S. will gather just before the Sundance Film Festival (January 15-25) providing a rare opportunity for art house theatres to network and discuss successful marketing, programming and business models as well as current issues facing independent theatres.

John Cooper, Director of Programming, Sundance Film Festival, explains "Our organizing principle is to increase the market for film exhibition by expanding the number and effectiveness of community-based, mission-driven theatres in local communities, large and small, nationwide.”

So who are these theaters?  Mark them down, and then add to the list!

BAM, New York, NY, www.bam.org
Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, TN, www.belcourt.org
Broadway Centre Cinemas, Salt Lake City, UT, www.saltlakefilmsociety.org
Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA, www.coolidge.org
Enzian Theater, Orlando, FL, www.enzian.org
Hollywood Theatre, Portland, OR, www.hollywoodtheatre.org
International Film Series, Boulder, CO, www.internationalfilmseries.com
Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville, NY, www.burnsfilmscenter.org
The Loft, Tucson, AZ, www.loftcinema.com
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI, www.michtheater.org
The Music Box, Chicago, IL, www.musicboxtheatre.com
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK, www.okcmoa.org
The Palm, San Luis Obispo, CA, www.thepalmtheatre.com
Pickford Cinema, Bellingham, WA, www.pickfordcinema.org
Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, CA, www.cafilm.org
Ragtag Cinema, Columbia, MO, www.ragtagfilm.com
Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville, ME, www.railroadsquarecinema.com
The Screen, Santa Fe, NM, www.thescreen.csf.edu

The conference will include a keynote address by John Cooper, Director of Programming for the Sundance Film Festival, as well as panel sessions on:
- How to use the not-for-profit business model to grow audiences for Art House films
- An exploration of new film distribution paradigms (participating in these panels will be Bob Berney, formerly of Picturehouse and Peter Broderick, Paradigm Consulting, Ted Hope, This Is That Productions -- that's me!)
- Innovative marketing and showmanship techniques
- Tutorials on emerging film exhibition and Art House theatre operations technology