Recommended Reading: Mynette Louie's "Innovate Or Die"

It took me a week but I finally caught up with Mynette Louie's IFP Blog Post "Innovate Or Die".  She does an excellent job at capturing the Indie Producer's life at this point in our cultural era.  More importantly, she makes a fantastic and necessary plea to us all:

"let’s put our  heads together and figure out how to sustain not only ourselves, but ultimately, the art that we love so dearly, and the diversity of artistic voices that make it. There is a better way, and we’ve got to find it soon."

Read the whole post here.

What Is The Future Of The Film?

On Tuesday last week Brian Newman and I conducted a conversation on the topic of "The Future Of Film" at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. I had an extra shot of espresso and we spoke for over an hour. You can re-live 8 minutes of it and see just how revved up I can get on this topic. There's a lot more to say about this subject. Brian said some of that here.

A Public Discussion On THE FUTURE OF FILM With You, Me (Ted Hope), & Brian Newman

Brian Newman and I are headed towards the Czech Republic this holiday weekend in order to have a very public discussion on The Future Of Film with the filmmakers and audiences at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Yet, you too can join in even if you can't make your way to this wonderful festival. Neither Brian nor I are great fans of panel discussions these days; they fail to mine the great knowledge or passions of the community. So in contemplating how to get something done in the time we have allotted, Brian and I decided it would be good to get the conversation started a bit early. Below, Brian and I put together a focus on what we think are the key factors shaping the greatest and necessary change to the way films are made and consumed. What's your opinion?

The Future of Film - Joint Article by Brian Newman & Ted Hope
Prognostications about the future of film have been pretty easy to come by lately – it will be digital, it will be everywhere, it will be 3D, it will be expensive – but while everyone talks about the changes to come, very few people are actively addressing these changes head on. We believe “the future” is already upon us, and there are five key trends to address.

As we put our thoughts out there for you to consider, ask yourself: “are these the trends that will most effect content, production, and consumption?”. Did we leave something out? Is one not important? Is something else more important? Join the conversation and let us know below.

Similarly, these five suggestions may be the preeminent factors in shaping the next few years, but the real question is always “how?” As creators, facilitators, and consumers, what must we do to confront these issues? Are there models and best practices already emerging? Have there already been noble failures and/or arrogant efforts attempting to address these factors? What would a vision look like that might address these key elements? We all must share our thoughts, our hopes, our failures, along with what we learned from our successes if we are going to build something new, something that truly works for everyone.

1. Super-abundance: Historically, the film business has been built on the model of scarcity. It was expensive to make, distribute and exhibit (or broadcast) films, and it was equally expensive to learn the craft. Our entire business model and assumptions about what works and what doesn’t were built on this idea of scarcity, but digital has changed all of that.

We now live in a world of super-abundance. Thousands of film school students graduate annually, joining tens of thousands of self-taught others, many of whom are far better than amateurs. According to our talks with festival submission services, somewhere near 40,000 unique films are submitted to film festivals globally each year. As an audience member, we now have access not just to the films playing on television and at the theater, but to the entire history of cinema through services such as Netflix, Mubi and LoveFilm. We can experience the global cinema of 1968 better than an audience member who lived in 1968 could, and these films are now competitors for our viewing attention versus the newest films from today. 1968 was a pretty good year for film, it’s tough to decide to watch something new instead.

In a world of superabundance, you have to do a lot more to stand out from the crowd. Luckily, technology is also giving us tools to do this, engage with audiences more directly and develop new creative business practices to raise the attention level on our projects.

2. New Audience Demands: The audience didn’t use to have a lot of choice in what it saw, but now that choice is plentiful and we’ve entered an attention economy. Audiences now have access to mobile devices that connect them not just to one another, but to the content they choose, immediately and engagingly. Weened on social networks, instant messaging, gaming and touch screens, the audience now not only expects, but demands an interactive, participatory experience.

While many an audience member is content to sit back and relax in front of the television or movie screen, a significant portion of the audience expects and wants more. For some this means engagement through transmedia – using the full range of platform possibilities to interact with a story not just in film, but through games, ARG, graphic novels, webisodes or other experiences. At minimum it means being in touch with your audience, giving them the means to engage socially around a film, even if that’s just more easily sharing a link or a trailer, or engaging in a dialogue on Twitter or Facebook.

Some argue that artists shouldn’t be marketers, but this is a false dichotomy that actually only serves middle-men, distancing the artist from their most valuable asset (aside from their story-telling abilities), their fan base. Engaging one’s audience doesn’t mean just marketing. In fact, marketing doesn’t work, whereas real conversation, or meaningful exchanges does.

In addition, the audience is now global, diverse, young and niche. It demands its content to reflect these realities. Younger creators are addressing these changes, through the content they make, but the industry must do more to address these new realities and incorporate these new voices.

3. Audience Aggregation: In the past, we had to spend ridiculous amounts of money to find, build and engage an audience. And we did it, from scratch, again and again each time we had a new movie. Thousands of dollars were spent telling Lars Von Trier fans about his new film, but then we let that audience member disappear again, and spent more thousands finding them for the next film. We now have the ability to engage directly with our fan base, be it for an artist, a genre or the output of an entire country. We can aggregate this audience, keep them engaged and more easily communicate with them about what’s new or what’s next. Unfortunately, however, much of the value in this audience connection/data is accruing only to social networks and platforms and not to the industry, or more importantly, the artists. 4. Investor Realities: While public subsidy remains a vital strength of the industry outside of the US, the current economic and political climate is putting strains on such support and more producers are having to look fresh, or more strongly, to private investors. Up until now, however, it has been the rare investor who sees much of a return, and with the global market for art, foreign and indie films declining (in terms of acquisition dollars), this situation is worsening. To maintain a healthy industry we must build and support a sustainable investor class. The old model of financing one-off productions, limited rights ownership and closely guarding (or even hiding) the numbers needs to change to a system of slate financing, more horizontal ownership of the means of production and distribution and more open sharing of financial data. This is technologically easy to do now, but it will require a sea-change in our thinking about openness to ensure implementation.

5. A New model for Paradigmatic Change: All of this points to building a model for real, systemic change in the near future. Bold visions for a new model are needed, before someone from outside the film industry, in the tech community for example, launches this disruption for us. Entrepreneurial business leaders need to put forth new projects. Government agencies need to increase and shift funding to support these endeavors and traditional gatekeepers need to embrace these changes.

Experimentation requires limiting risk. Risk is usually defined in the film business by the size of budget. A devotion thus to micro-budget films should also stimulate experimentation on how they are released. Experimentation also requires an analysis of the results. Presently, the film business only likes to discuss its successes, but we need to get over the stigma of "failure" and recognize the brave and selfless qualities inherent in it so we all can learn and stop the repetition of processes that don't work. Experimentation is also a process; it is not a series of one-offs like the film business is today. We need to demystify the process from top to bottom and encourage sharing of data as well as technique. A commitment to a series of films is an experiment – one film is not. Experimentation requires opening one self up beyond a safe environment. The film business has remained a fairly hermetically sealed world. We need to collaborate with other industries, and form alliances that benefit them as well as us. New technological tools can help audiences discover work, allow artists to create work in new ways, and enable entrepreneurs to better distribute this work.

We’d like to open the discussion to others. Let us know in the comments here whether you agree with any or all of this, whether you have other ideas for addressing the future of the field, and even your strong disagreements.

If you’ll be attending the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, we invite you to also email us at industry@kviff.com to be considered for a slot during the panel. Slots will be delegated by a festival representative at their discretion. Selected responders will have three minutes to put forth their ideas, questions and/or statements during the festival panel. We’ll try to respond our best, and open it up to the audience for more input. We look forward to hearing from you.

Come Spend Some Time With Brian & Me

Three months ago, Vimeo reached out to me & Brian Newman, inviting us to have a conversation offering our perspectives on the state of the film business. Brian is a smart and engaging guy. Me, on the other hand.... Well, if you have an hour come join us here. If you just have ten minutes, you can check out Vimeo's view of the highlights below:

Making it Happen (Highlights) from Vimeo Festival on Vimeo.

Can We Make Discovery A More Integral Part Of Process?

The volume & density of NOISE seem to have been the dominant parts of the discovery process for some time now. We choose what we choose generally based on how often we hear ourselves being told to make that specific choice.

Everything becomes about level of spend and placement when it is all about how much noise you can generate.. And when it is about noise, everything really stops being about choice, but something much closer to just impulse.  But what would happen if we started valuing certain voices over others?  What would happen, if we committed ourselves to choices, and worked to reduce our impulses?

There once was a time when film audiences listened to critics, where what someone said about your film, or any film, actually mattered.   It would be hard to imagine a scene in a modern movie about a filmmaker (if such a film could actually get made) when every character waited for the reviews to hit -- yet don't we all remember that scene quite well from past films about filmmaking or any tale about any creative act.  It used to be that other than the audience's applause, the critic's review mattered most.

Word of mouth has always been something to cultivate, but the science behind it has always been lacking.  What is the strategy that one can employ to heighten desire among sympathetic ears?  When does interest spread for the core group and then spread like a virus in ever-expanding circles?  If we value the opinions of the people closest to us, what can we build, what do we need, to help share their opinions so that word of mouth can truly bloom?

Do the new group of social network recommendation tools that have been rolling out over the past year+ help build word of mouth or do they just contribute to the volume of all the static?  Back in the days when everyone read the same newspaper -- and thus heard the same voice -- were we better off, or were we really in a hell, albeit in an ignorant  one, because we were stuck with stuff that had to appeal to the widest audience?

GetGlue is a social reccomendation assistant app. TechCrunch sums it up well (of course):

GetGlue, a social browsing assistant that shows ratings and recommendations of movies, books, restaurants, stocks, and more on the web, is furthering its mobile strategy today with the launch of an Android app and mobile website.

Similar to the recently launched iPhone app, the free Android app and new mobile site allows users can to check-in to their favorite shows, music, movies and books, and see what their friends are enjoying in real-time. With each check-in, users earn points and stickers from GetGlue and other major brands. The app also allows users to rate their favorite shows, movies, music and books and receive personalized suggestions.

You can also share check-ins with your Twitter and Facebook friends, rate lists of popular shows, movies, music and books, receive weekly new releases and customized recommendations, and access existing reviews, clips and ratings for 20 million movies, books and albums.

Hmmm.... is this what we need to make discovery a more integral part of the process?  Are we utilizing these tools?  Should we?  And if not, why aren't we?

Jinni.com is another such tool that describes itself with the promise to "find movies, TV shows matching your taste" and to "allow you to watch what you wish for", but as Brian Newman remarked:

I don't find it remotely useful. I don't think many people sit down, think what will I watch tonight? Hmmm I want a "fish out of water" story, I'll click on that on Jinni and then click on Wall-E....which is what it just recommended to me when I looked at it again.

So where are we left?  It's great that the programmers are working on this, but what is the solution?  What do we need so that people can find better matches for what they are looking for?

"Transmedia Now" Week On In Media Res

Today's guest post is from Elizabeth Strickler, informing us of what is going over at InMediaRes this week (and a wee bit of cross promotional activity). In Media Res is dedicated to experimenting with collaborative, multi-modal forms of online scholarship. Each weekday, a different participant curates a short (less than 3-minute) video clip accompanied by a 300-350-word impressionistic response. We use the title "curator" because, like a curator in a museum, the participant repurposes a media object that already exists and provides context through their commentary. Theme weeks are designed to generate a networked conversation between curators and the public around a particular topic.

For the week of July 26-30th, the theme is “Transmedia Now”. The curators are: Christy Dena, Marc Ruppel, Robert Pratten, Brian Newman, and Ted Hope.

They will be discussing what is happening right now in the much-debated term, Transmedia. The subjects covered range from Canadian superheroes to the links between storytelling and mapping. Stay tuned and jump in when it starts. If you don’t like what is happening in the independent entertainment industry, this will be your chance to speak up. (You do have to login to comment.)

Thanks again for your participation.

Elizabeth Strickler is the Associate Director of the Digital Arts Entertainment Lab at Georgia State University.

Problem #25: Know The Audience

Brian Newman has a good response to #25 of my current 38 Ways The Film Industry Is Failing Today. Brian recommends some good specific action to start to solve this issue (how the film industry does not know its audience).  He sums up the situation well:

I understand the whole “I’m an artist, not a marketer” thing, actually, but in this day and age, to not think about your audience in advance is not just poor business, it ignores the fundamental changes that have hit every business and every art form - that audiences are more participatory, so you can’t just try to engage them with a product and no conversation.

But read his post and get the whole thing.  He's a smart guy and worth your time.

More Thoughts On The New Film Festival Model

"Blood Simple" was the first film I bought a ticket for at a film festival.  It was screening at the NYFF and I soon came to recognize that the films accepted to that fest were of a exceedingly high quality.  The curatorial taste behind that festival choices was something I had confidence in.  They gained my trust precisely because they have never tried to be all things for all people, and for that I have always been willing to pay a premium for. The NYFF was, and is, a trusted filter. Too many festivals these days program too many films without revealing, or reveling in, their curatorial hands, diminishing the power of their brand in the process.  If festivals are going to become the new curators, that will have to change.  Festivals must emphasize their unique taste, if not overall, then within sidebars at the festival.

One of the reasons festivals once mattered so much to indie filmmakers was that acceptance in them was a virtual badge of quality for the filmmakers to display.  As festivals proliferated and premieres became a matter of policy, the filter aspect of festivals vanished.  Festivals seemed to open up the gates to anyone and anything.  Where's Waldo?  How do you spot the curatorial hand in swarm of over 100.  The question then becomes how do festivals regain that curatorial stamp?

A return to less could be more.  If less films were selected, it would mean more for the filmmaker, in terms of prestige and discovery.  More for the audience, in terms of a filter and confidence.  A common complaint heard in industry circles is that films "get lost" at such and such festival.  I have always liked the idea of a festival within the festival, curators within the larger curation.

Another benefit of smaller selections could be that more festivals could develop distinctive flavors making them more of a required stop by the cineaste (particularly if they also transcended their geographic boundaries).  Festivals need, just like movies, to sell their individuality.  I was excited to stumble upon Saskia Wilson-Brown's post (at the indispensable Workbook Project) on the relevance of small festivals today (it is a good post and well worth your time).  She articulates what festivals provide quite well:

Empowering a community and its artists through coherent promotion; leveraging the festival name to garner publicity and opportunity for its participants; facilitating radness in general– Art for art’s sake, as it were. The efforts of the core team, then, were mostly spent on promoting and advocating for micro-communities through programming decisions, and fostering creativity and creative collaboration in our neighborhood and beyond.

Acceptance to a festival used to always mean a review by a major critic at a major publication because their was a major critic at every major newspaper. That itself was worth whatever other risk the festival brought with it (because they do bring risks). With the dismissal of the film critics from the US newspapers, there are a few such critics left -- and there is no way that they can cover all the films at all the major festivals.  Movies get lost at festivals with a wide swath.  Sure, the blogsphere's picked up a lot of the slack, but those reviews are hard to garner the same interest or generate the same want-to-see from audiences.  How can web reviews be used to generate more interest?  Can the different review sites team up and time review releases simultaneously or even post to a common site so that more traction can be generated with audiences?  Where are the new ideas that can make festivals once again a value-added proposition?  Festivals should be transparent with filmmakers upon acceptance as to how they will help market the movie to the festival's community (and beyond).

If the VOD model is going to work in these days of never-ending supply and availability, reviews are more than necessary.  They need and are needed to get traction and facilitate action.  Review aggregators should drive traffic to the VOD platform.  We need widgets that link these two services seamlessly.  Shouldn't we have all this stuff integrated by now?  But alas, we don't.  So what can we do in the interim, in this in-between-days sort of time?

In considering the joining of film festivals with a VOD extension, it is hard not to see the logic of the relationship.  Festivals offer the overwhelmed consumer a filter -- the curatorial service.   Festivals serve to generate the reviews that films need so much.  If festivals can leverage their brand and marketing muscle to heighten awareness for the individual films, maybe a film has a chance of popping out of the crowded herd at the end of the dial.  If a festival can help a filmmaker understand how to make the most of this opportunity, more power to them both.

But if the films that are offered by a festival on VOD don't arrive with that flavor and spice, the rhyme and reason of why they are in a festival in the first place, will anyone really pay attention, particularly after the novelty has worn off?  Doesn't it precisely require more than just the brand of a festival but also the highly selective curation that festivals once promised?  The potential of festivals to provide the allure of a red velvet rope and shining spot lights is there.  Will we get to see what it looks like?  It is going to need to be a lot more than public twitter boards.  If the festival can not really add a lot of value in the marketing and positioning of their specific selections, aren't they taking advantage of the films they invite?

Festivals have always been a great place for the cineaste -- and not just because we get to see good movies.  The important part of festivals has always been the conversation.  What we expect from quality content is an even better social experience around it. Online users only spend 30% of their time looking at content; the rest is search and social -- discovery & discussion.  For film festivals to successfully evolve into a cross-platform non-geographicly specific discovery tool, they have to offer not just the added value of promotion, but heightened level of conversation & appreciation.

I know festivals can provide a lot more than currently do.  Particularly with a little help from their friends.  There's a lot of good thought going on about this, but when you see that filmmakers are questioning the very value of a film festival attendance, we can all discern that festivals are not offering enough value for the films that participate in them.  The answer is to offer more.

I have written about the need to utilize something like Festival Genius.  I think expanding the festival beyond it's geographic confines is similarly key.  A clear and understandable hand in the curating should be a given.  Guided and memorable conversation that transfers leisure time into intellectual capital and social capital is of the essence.  What more do you want?

Update Tuesday 4/20:  There's a lot of good conversation on what ideal festivals would look like.  Thom Powers recently held a breakfast discussing what a new Doc Fest in NYC would look like.  Brian Newman contribute a thoughtful post encouraging community, embrace of new tools, a focus on conversations over panels, a de-emphasis on formats, an abandonment of the demand for premieres, and a true collaboration with filmmakers by sharing data, audiences, and the opportunity to sell.  And yes, to pay filmmakers.

Festivals are going to change for both audiences and filmmakers. It is going to be exciting to see who really takes the lead.

The 21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film 2009

Earlier this year, while looking at Atlantic Magazine's list of Brave Thinkers across various industries, I started to wonder who are of this ilk in our sector of so-called Independent Film.

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.
Frankly though, I think anyone that commits to creating film, particularly independent film, and specifically artist driven truly free film, is truly brave... or at least, insane. It is a hard road out there and growing more difficult by the day. All filmmakers getting their work made, screened and distributed deserve recognition, support, and something more significant than a good pat on the back from the rest of us. As great their work is both creatively and in terms of the infrastructure, it's easy to lose sight of how fragile all this is. Our ability to create and screen innovative and diverse work is consistently under threat.
It is a truly great thing that this list of BRAVE THINKERS is growing rapidly; I first thought it would be ten, then twenty. I expect we will see some new folks joining this list in the months ahead. I know there are those whom I've forgotten that deserve to be included here. This list, although it includes many artists, is about those who are working and striving to carve a new paradigm, to make the future safe for innovative and diverse work, to build an artist-centric content economy. The TFF Brave Thinkers lead equally with their ideas, actions, and generosity. They set examples for all of us and raise the bar. These are indie films true new leaders, and for those that think they are in power, those that are just starting out, or those that want to find a new angle on industry you work in, you should make sure you meet these folks in the coming year, because they are redefining the way we fund, develop, create, define, discover, promote, participate, curate, and appreciate that thing we still call cinema.
  • Franny Armstong - After making THE AGE OF STUPID via crowdsourcing funds, Franny also looked to the audience to help distribute her film, creating IndieScreenings.net and offering it up to other filmmakers (see The Yes Men below). By relying fulling on her audience from finance to distribution, Franny was able to get the film she wanted not just made, but seen, and show the rest of us to stop thinking the old way, and instead of putting faith in the gatekeepers, put your trust in the fans.
  • Steven Beers - "A Decade Of Filmmaker Empowerment Is Coming" Steven has always been on the tip of digital rights question, aiding many, including myself, on what really should be the artist's perspective. Yet it remains exceedingly rare that individuals, let alone attorneys, take a public stand towards artist rights -- as the money is often on the other side.
  • Biracy & David Geertz - Biracy, helmed by Geertz, has the potential to transform film financing and promotion. Utilizing a referral system to reward a film's champions, they might have found a model that could generate new audiences and new revenue.
  • Peter Broderick- Peter was the first person to articulate the hybrid distribution plan. He coined the term I believe. He has been tireless in his pursuit of the new model and generous with his time and vision. His distribution newsletter is a must have for all truly free filmmakers and his oldway/newway chart a true thing of beauty.
  • Tze Chun & Mynette Louie - Last year, the director and producer of Children Of Inventiondecided that they weren't going to wait around for some distributor to sweep them off their feet. They left Sundance with plans to adopt a hybrid plan and started selling their DVD off their website. They have earned more money embracing this new practice than what they could have hoped from an old way deal. As much as I had hoped that others would recognize the days of golden riches were long gone, Tze & Mynette were the only Sundance filmmakers brave enough to adopt this strategy from the start.
  • Arin Crumley - Having raised the bar together with Susan Buice in terms of extending the reach of creative work into symbiotic marketing with Four Eyed Monsters, along with helping in the design of new tech tools for filmmakers (FEM was encouraging fans to "Demand It" long before Paranormal Activity), co-founding From Here To Awesome, Arin launched OpenIndie together with Kieran Masterton this year to help empower filmmakers in the coming months.
  • IndieGoGo & Slava Rubin - There are many web 2.0 sites that build communities, many that promote indie films, many that crowd source funds, but Slava & IndieGoGo are doing it all, with an infectious and boundless enthusiasm, championing work and individuals, giving their all to find a new paradigm, and they might just do it.
  • Jamie King - The experience of giving away his film "Steal This Film" lead Jamie to help build VODO an online mechanism initially built to help artists retrieve VOluntary DOnations for their work, but has since evolved to a service that helps filmakers distrubute free-to-share films through P2P sites & services, building on this with various experimental business models. Such practices aren't for everyone, but they are definitely for some -- VODO has had over 250,000 viewers for each of its first three releases in 2009 -- and the road is being paved by Jamie's efforts.
  • Scott Kirsner - Scott's book Friends, Fans, & Followers covered the work of 15 artists of different disciplines and how each have utilized their audience to gain greater independence and freedom. Through his website CinemaTech, Scott has been covering and questioning the industry as it evolves from a limited supply impulse buy leisure buy economy to an ubiquitous supply artistcentric choice-based infrastructure like nobody else. His "Conversation" forum brought together the tech, entertainment, & social media fields in an unprecedented way.
  • Pericles Lewnes - As a filmmaker with a prize winning but underscreened film (LOOP), Peri recoginized the struggle of indie filmmaking in this day and age. But instead of just complaining about it like most of us, Peri did something about it. He built bridges and alliances and made a makeshift screening circuit in his hometown of Annapolis, MD, founding The Pretentious Film Society. Taking indie film to the bars with a traveling projector and sound system, Peri has started pulling in the crowds and getting money back to the filmmakers. A new exhibition circuit is getting built brick by brick, the web is expanding into a net, from a hub spokes emmenate until we have wheels within wheels within wheels. Peri's certainly not the only one doing it, but he brings an energy and passion we all need.
  • Cory McAbee - It's not enough to be a talented or innovative filmmaker these days. You must use the tools for entrepreneuarial activity that are available and you have to do it with flair. We can all learn from Corey. His films, his music, his live shows, his web stuff -- it all rocks and deserves our following and adoption.
  • Scott Macauley - some producers (like yours truly) write to spread the gospel, happy just to get the word out, not being the most graceful of pen. Scott however has been doing it with verve, invention, wit, and style for so long now, most people take his way wit words as a given. Not only is it a pleasure to read, the FilmmakerMagazineBlog is the center of true indie thought and appreciation. It's up to the minute, devoid of gossip, deep into ideas, and is generally a total blast. And the magazine is no slouch either. And nor are his films. Can we clone the man?
  • Brian Newman - After leaving Tribeca this year, Brian has showed no signs of slowing down, popping up at various conferences like PttP and the Flyaway Film Fest to issue missives & lectures helping to articulate both the problems facing indies these days along with starting to define how we will find our way out. Look to Brian to be doing something smart & exciting in the media world in 2010; somewhere someone smart should find a way to put this man to work shortly, but here's hoping he does it on his own so we can all benefit from his innovative ideas.
  • Nina Paley - In addition to successively adopting an "audience distribution" model for her film Sita Sings The Blues, Nina has been incredibly vocal about her experiences in the world of "free", helping to forge a path & greater understanding for other filmmakers. And now her film is getting traditional distribution at the IFC Center in NYC (and our whole family, including the 9 year old spawn, dug it!)
  • Jon Reiss - After adopting the DIY approach for his film Bomb It, Jon chose to share the lessons he's learned in ever increasing ways, from his blog (and this one), to articles for Filmmaker Mag, to finally to the must-have artist-centric distribution book THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE. Anyone considering creating a truly free film, this book is mandatory reading first. Full disclosure: I penned an intro to Jon's book.
  • Mark Rosenberg - What does it take to create a new institution these days? Evidently quite a bit, because I can only think of one in the film space and that's Rooftop Films. Mark curates and organizes with a great team of folks, who together have brought new audiences new films in new venues. NY is incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Rooftop's work, but here's hoping that Mark's vision spreads to other cities this coming year.
  • Liz Rosenthal - There is no better place to get the skinny on what the future for film, indie film, truly free film, artist-centric film, and any other form of media creation than London's Power To The Pixel. Liz founded it and has catapulted what might once have been fringe truly into the mainstream. Expanding beyond a simple conference into a year round forum for future forward media thought, PttP brainstorms, curates, and leads the way in transmedia creation, curation, & distribution. Full disclosure: I was PttP keynote speaker this year.
  • Lance Weiler - In addition to being a major force in both Transmedia thought, DIY distribution, and informative curatorial,with his role in Power To The Pixel, From Here To Awesome, DIY Days, & Radar web show but his generous "Open Source" attitude is captured by The Workbook Project, perhaps the most indispensable website for the TFFilmmaker. He (along with Scott Kirsner) provides a great overview of the year in tech & entertainment on TWP podcast here. It's going to be in exciting 2010 when we get to see him apply his knowledge to his next project (winner of Rotterdam Cinemart 2009 prize and now a participant in the 2010 Sundance screenwriters' lab). Full disclosure: This is that has signed on to produce Lance's transmedia feature H.I.M.
  • Thomas Woodrow - As a producer, Thomas has embraced the reality of the marketplace and is not letting it stand in his way. There is perhaps no other producer out there who has so fully accepted the call that indie film producing nowadays also means indie film distribution. He's laying out his plan to distribute BASS ACKWARDS immediately after its Sundance premiere through a series of videos online. Full disclosure: I am mentoring Thomas vis the Sundance Creative Producing Lab.
  • TopSpin Media - As their website explains: "Topspin is a technology platform for direct-to-fan maketing, management and distribution." They are also the tech behind Corey McAbee's activities and hopefully a whole lot of other filmmakers in the years behind. Founded by ProTools' creator, Peter Gotcher, and Shamal Raasinghe, TopSpin is a "white label" set up thathas the potential to usher in the Age Of Empowerment for the artist/creator class. Today it is primarily a tool for musicians, but expect it to migrate into filmdom fully pretty damn soon.
  • The Yes Men - The Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution") TFF 2009 Award winners for keeping both politics and film marketing fun, these pranksters hit all the fests, winning awards, and using it to launch their own distribution of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD. Bravery's always been their middle name, but they are among the first of rising tide of filmmakers willing to take for full responsibility for their film.
Who did I forget? I know this list is very US-centric, but I look forward to learning more of what is going on elsewhere in the days to come. Who will be our Brave Thinkers for next year (if I can muster the energy to do this for another year, that is)? What can you learn from these folks? May I humbly suggest that at the very least, you do whatever you can to find, follow, and converse with these folks in 2010. The more we learn from them, the better off this film industry will be, and, hey: it may turn out to be a good new year after all.

Audiences Are Key To Cross-Media Creation

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

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

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

Map Making: Thoughts On Thinking "Free"

I should have known Free would be the mantra of the weekend. We were going to take Hope The Younger to freeload at Vanessa's Dad's pad by the beach for the 4th, but before we left, we had the op to share a cab back from celebrating Strand's 20th with Indiewire's Eugene Hernadez; under his arm, still in it's protective wrapper, was Chris Anderson's "Free". Eugene had shelled out the $27 bucks for the wisdom of the nothing economy. Meanwhile, I was still hoping that Anderson would still take me up on my offer to send copies to the 4 most influential people I know, and thus provide with a copy for the price of the title. I guess heads of Hollywood and Indiewood studios don't rank in his book. Back from the sea, sand still between my toes, I still haven't read the meme of the moment, and now must live vicariously.

I once had a friend who said he preferred reading criticism than seeing or reading the real deal. I just may have to settle for that experience myself on this one, but luckily we all have the pleasure of both Malcolm Gladwell and Janet Maslin chiming in on Anderson's book so we can still participate in the daily chatter.
Just so it's clear -- if it isn't already -- Anderson's "free" is not the same "FREE" of this blog's inspiration (and title). Here on TFF, free is used in terms of thought, execution, and means of distribution. Here I mean FREE in terms of content, not economy. Granted there is a lot of overlap, but basically I am hoping that by changing our economic model to adapt to the reality of our times, what once was mistakingly called Indie Film can be a far more diverse and participatory culture. But more on that later. Back to that other Free...
Generally the question everyone seems to want to know is how do you make money, let alone recoup your time and money, when you are giving the product away for free?
“The way to compete with Free is to move past the abundance to find the adjacent scarcity,” states Chris Anderson in his book. What does that mean for you the filmmaker?

Scott Macauley on FilmmakerMagBlog tipped me to Brian Newman's powerpoint on moving beyond Free, and actually how to make a living with Free. Brian answers that question quite clearly & concisely.

Brian, borrowing from Kevin Kelly's "Better Than Free", points out where the added value comes in:
  • Immediacy: Give them something now
  • Personalization: To their needs
  • Interpretation: with study guide, or commentary
  • Authenticity: From you directly, signed by you
  • Embodiment: Speaking Fees
  • Patronage: Support the artist; Radiohead model
  • Accessibility: Make it easy to get
  • Findability: Work with partners who make you findable
The powerpoint is without audio, but pretty easy to follow if you have been following this blog.

To further answer this Question-Of-The-Moment, Janet Maslin points out in her review:

Mr. Anderson sees that consumers think not only about money but also about intangibles like convenience, access, quality and time.

Maslin, in contrasting Anderson's "Free" with Shell's book "Cheap", also hits upon one of the plagues that runs amok in Indie Filmland:

Ms. Shell’s intangibles are different; she argues that moral accountability and responsibility are often sacrificed for the sake of cheap pricing.
They didn't write a book on that because it would require two words: Bad Behavior. I find that even the filmmakers who adopt the "film-is-war" approach to production (more Bad Behavior), still struggle over these principles. People don't like to exploit others, although sometimes they allow themselves to get distracted to the point such exploitation becomes a tad too convenient. Those that do have started to lose some of those human qualities. Generally I find the creative brigade would love to find ways to get their work made and seen without having to ransom moral accountability and responsibility. People will adopt good behavior if they are reminded or given the opportunity or have a gun held to their head (daily).
I think the gun is there along with the opportunity and the daily reminders.
Yet, the fear of there be no real business model there too, leads a lot to indulge in a less rigid sense of effects. It's funny how survival leads many to cannibalize themselves. And as clearly as Gladwell deconstructs Anderson's model, he too finds it difficult to unearth the money-generating Free model:
There are four strands of argument here: a technological claim (digital infrastructure is effectively Free), a psychological claim (consumers love Free), a procedural claim (Free means never having to make a judgment), and a commercial claim (the market created by the technological Free and the psychological Free can make you a lot of money). The only problem is that in the middle of laying out what he sees as the new business model of the digital age Anderson is forced to admit that one of his main case studies, YouTube, “has so far failed to make any money for Google.”

To makes matter worse, providing for Free, isn't free to YouTube. As Gladwell points out "A recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be three hundred and sixty million dollars." And then it gets even worse from there:

...in order to make money, YouTube has been obliged to pay for programs that aren’t crap. To recap: YouTube is a great example of Free, except that Free technology ends up not being Free because of the way consumers respond to Free, fatally compromising YouTube’s ability to make money around Free, and forcing it to retreat from the “abundance thinking” that lies at the heart of Free. Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube will lose close to half a billion dollars this year.

So where does all this leave us? Indie films been losing approximately two billion a year (guesstimate: 4000 features @ $500K avg. budget; all not distributed or recouping).Gladwell's summation essentially comes down to that there are no easy answers -- but that easy answers do sell books (or at least get you a publishing deal, and the 4th of July meme of the moment).

But talented artists still want to make movies. And to make good movies, we all need to focus on the movies first and foremost. But good movies aren't enough in this world to get seen.
  1. A good first step is to work harder to make your film better and more distinct.
  2. The second step is team up and start to truly collaborate.
  3. Try following Kevin Kelly's 8 Generatives for step #3.
  4. I think the fourth step is follow those rules via some of the methods we've relayed here.
  5. Let's call the fifth step sharing your knowledge with each other in hopes that we will find a way.
Step by step we will get there. Let's make this map together.
As Joe Tripitican commented below, the musicians are dealing with this all straight on. There's a lively debate he tipped us to over on Jonathan Taplin's blog too. Check it out.
And Mark Cuban wants to encourage all business-minded to avoid the freemium model as he believes any successful free-ium play will grow until it becomes to large, expensive, and retro. There will always be a Facebook to replace MySpace, and a MySpace to replace Friendster, a Google to kick Yahoo's ass. Personally speaking I think all companies should plan to make themselves obsolete within five years, or they are not doing the public good.

It Could Be Getting So Much Better All The Time #3: Transparency

Brian Newman hit the nail on the head with his comment and I've bumped it to a post to give it the weight it deserves.  With acquisition prices so low, this seems to be something that filmmakers should demand that their agents, reps, and lawyers get for them, that their distributors' provide to them, that they have a right to share and distribute to others.  Right on, Brian, right on.

I think one thing would improve the business side more than anything else - transparency of the numbers. We see box office, but we need good comparable stats on DVD, download, VOD, fest attendance, clicks, was it watched on a roku or a iphone or at 11pm, etc.

People need to know how much is being spent to make a film, and how much it really makes back. Filmmakers should be able to get data on how people found their films online, through what search terms, from where, etc.

Too many people are getting ripped off because of a lack of transparency. Transparent access to data would be good for everyone (except those profiting by keeping it closed) and help build new and better business models.
-- Brian Newman