What Can Europe Learn From The US VOD Market To Date?

I moderated Europa International Distribution 2.0 in Paris over Thanksgiving. Here Ryan Werner talks about how VOD has evolved in the States, particularly for World Cinema.

It's nicely shot as these things go, even if my bald spot takes starring honors.

Here's another clip on whether films need Facebook pages.

And another on Day & Date.

How I Spent My Sundance Non-Vacation

To think I once got to see movies when I went to film festivals...

I had one film to share with folks this time around, Sean Durkin's MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, which I had the pleasure and good fortune to Executive Produce -- even still I did not plan to see any others.  I knew I was going to be too busy with the work that festivals have become for me.

The reception for the film was great -- which has generated a lot of meetings (and which has yielded some nice announcements ).  I forgot to read the latest Exec Prod job description though and did not realize it now means moderating press conferences.  Check out the video here, and let me know how you feel I did.

When I wasn't dealing and celebrating Sean's movie, I was doing my part to aid in the promotion of indie film.

Christine Vachon and I have been doing this talk show on and off now for several years, now dubbed KILLER / HOPE.  Hulu's got it up on their Sundance page. Please check it out while you still can (at least in all its glory). New episodes will be added daily throughout the festival.  Additionally, we were invited to talk to Eugene Hernandez for the local NPR station.  Gotta get the word out, but man does all that yapping, make for some seriously dry mouth.

But man, what a test of will power it is.  I admit I am an addict for great film, and even noble failures.  To be in Park City and to have booked myself into back to back meetings to extent that I am unable to watch movies, leaves me quaking and shaking.  I want to see some movies!

<object width="512" height="288"><param name="movie" value="http://www.hulu.com/embed/8-F6Gr7kHNsVYoLYEtj-0w"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://www.hulu.com/embed/8-F6Gr7kHNsVYoLYEtj-0w" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"  width="512" height="288" allowFullScreen="true"></embed></object>

How Can Indie Film Appeal To Alternative Youth Culture?

Sunday September 19th, as part of Independent Film Week, the IFP invited me to a "Cage Match" with Jeff Lipsky on Indie Film's relationship with youth culture.  The discussion was spurred on by a post of mine "Can Truly Free Film Appeal To Youth Culture ", and the robust discussion everyone had in our comments section to that post, and then still further by discussions on Filmmaker Mag Blog and Anthony Kaufman's column.  It was a good discussion before IFP even proposed the CageMatch, but I appreciated the opportunity to give it more thought. You might have missed it but it's been summed up pretty well by Robert McLellan on GlobalShift.org (thanks to Shari Candler for tipping me to that), Ingrid Koop on the FilmmakerMag Blog, and Eugene Hernandez at Indiewire (although I don't agree, or believe I said, that Indie Film is aimed at white women over the age of 45 -- although they are the dominant audience -- but that we have to prevent Indie Film from being the province of the privileged, old, and white (i.e. me!)). Jeff and I could have blabbed for hours. I have plenty more to say on the issue.

As both a community and an industry, it is critical we look at both the creative, infrastructure, and societal factors for answers of why we have so failed to develop the alternative and youth sectors.  Every other cultural form has a robust young adult sector that is defined both by it's innovation and opposition -- yet in film that is the exception and not the rule.

To me the issue comes down to the fact that unless Indie Film appeals to the under 30's, Indie Film will continue to marginalize itself into the realm of elitist culture like Chamber Orchestras and Ballet. Indie Film as a form is already problematic in the way it self-censors and regurgitates last year's success stories; it needs to be reinvented from within.  We need to encourage and reward rebellion -- plus it's fun, and makes great cinema.

There is often the tendency to essentially blame the audience, but I am believer that American audiences are like the March Hare and "like what they get" (in a future post, I will attempt to demonstrate why blaming the audience is lazy finger pointing).  The issue is not the consumption and appreciation patterns, but the lack of leadership to push for something unique from our creative communities.

What is it that Alternative Youth Culture wants from Indie Film Culture but can't find on the menu?  Granted, as someone pushing 50 I may not be qualified to answer (and I hope some people more of the age of which I speak raise their voices), but I think the answers are numerous (I have sixteen off the top of my head -- and I am sure you can add more).  They feel to me to be relatively timeless, as true to me back at age 20 as they are now to the folks that intern with me.  They deal with both content, context,

  1. immediacy; relevancy to the world we are living in right here right now
  2. controvercy; extremism; intensity; -- content that is not watered down or safe;
  3. honesty; truthful emotions -- not engineered ones;
  4. Respect for the audience that doesn't talk down to them;
  5. Transparency in the process, an attitude and an aesthetic that allows all to see how they too can get it done;
  6. Diversity of voices in accessible content, a commitment to be different from the rest, but a willingness to be part of a specific community -- and not a general audience;
  7. A social component; a live event before or after the screening -- something that offers that random interaction with that person you don't know quite yet but you know loves the same thing that you do (i.e. community building events);
  8. constant reminders of what they appreciate, what they want to belong to -- akin to hearing your favorite song on the radio, again and again, or being in the space that you know your parents would never want you to be or being surrounded by people that hate and love much what you feel similar about;
  9. access for discovery; it's not just a new algorithm we need; software alone can not solve the problem -- how do we find and then immediately experience or possess MORE of what we want when we finally find it; we want to know what our friends know; you hang out in a bar with good music, not just because you like the music and the people, but so you can discover more of what you like.
  10. access to the creators.  Musicians feel like they came from the community to which they perform to; their audience gets to know them in a way that can't be said for filmmakers.  Filmmakers need to embrace "film gigging" as a necessary component of some aesthetic choices.
  11. reactionary attitude and focus towards the world at large, not just the industry/culture they partake in.  If Mumblecore is the dominant strand of current alternative youth culture in film what is it reacting against beyond the Hollywood style of filmmaking? There is a whole world out there that is ready to take a whole lot of abuse.  Give the people something different; show us what we could become (for better and for worse).
  12. accessibility to the creative process; it is often said that anyone can make music AND record a song these days, yet there remain perceived economic barriers to creating film work.
  13. relatable voices and relevant voices; to want to participate, you need to feel you belong.  Who are the filmmakers who are part of the under 30 generation?  How can Indie Film be more than something for old, white, and privileged?  This comes from both the top and bottom, lifting and pushing.
  14. How can the community demonstrate they belong?  Our industry does not produce objects that demonstrate one's love for cinema and its culture?  Where are the fetish objects that can be more than a t-shirt?
  15. Communities need help to coalesce. Help those who want to help you. Young people give themselves to scenes and causes that matter to them; it is a badge of honor to help expand the things you care about it, but how does someone help Alternative Youth Culture Indie Film if they want to bring it to their neighborhood?  We currently aren't making it easy. #JustSaying.
  16. Certain aesthetic approaches encourage participation; others curtail it.  There is a preciousness that dominates in Indie Film, that presumably is predominately derived  from how difficult it is to be prolific.  Right now, most films unfold like they are a proof and not an exploration -- and to compound matters, they are a proof of something we already have realized long ago.  Each film feels like it may be the artists' last.  Each one relishes that it is " A Film By...".  If artists want participation from the community they believe they are part of, they need to get over the arrogant posturing, and admit -- through their work -- that we are all learning as we go along.

I look forward to your suggestions as to how to expand this list.  In the days ahead I hope to find the time to: a) consider the problems with the current infrastructure in supporting an Indie Film Youth Culture; b) why it is a fault of leadership and NOT the audience that we don't have an Indie Film Youth Culture; and c) what has worked, why things that didn't work before could work today, and what has never been in terms of Indie Film Youth Culture.  But then again, I have a movie or two to make and get out there.

Required Reading: Recent Posts (Myself & Others)

1. Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbath – by Anne Thompson
http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/2009/09/19/toronto_film_festival_winners_and_losers/
2. 18 Actions Towards A Sustainable Truly Free Film Community – by Ted Hope
http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2009/09/18-actions-towards-sustainable-truly.html
3. Exploring New Routes to the Indies – by A.O. Scott & Manohla Dargis
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/movies/13darg.html?_r=1&ref=movies
4. Declaration of Independence: The Ten Principles of Hybrid Distribution – by Peter Broderick
http://www.indiewire.com/article/declaration_of_independence_the_ten_principles_of_hybrid_distribution/
5. Movies, Now More Than Ever – by Eugene Hernandez
http://www.indiewire.com/article/eugene_hernandez_movies_now_more_than_ever/
6. Toronto Festival Challenges Indie Film to Evolve – by Anne Thompson

8. How To Survive Indie Producer Hell - By Ted Hope
http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2009/09/ten-steps-plus-one-for-how-to-survive.html

9. Indie Alert Level: Severe - By Roger Ebert

TIFF IFF Discussion: DIY, DIWO, But Just Do It

Eugene at Indiewire caught the essence of the public conversation I had with Thomas Mai of Festival Darlings to kick off the IFF at TIFF the other day. I particularly like the photo, so check it out here.

In a nutshell it came down to the fact that we seem to be fighting for the role of Nero as our culture burns down around us. The audience were producers with great projects, maybe 50 or 75 were there (invite only). Only one of them had a blog. Only one of them curated a film series. Only one of them had a project priced at under $1.5M. Maybe 10 were on Twitter. About 25 were on a social network.
It's kind of shocking how the film biz is such a luddite culture. Innovation has been the key to my survival and it's never been because of things I invented, just utilized.
THE WEDDING BANQUET is often said to have been the first narrative feature cut on an Avid. Granted it meant working on AVR Level 3 and having as a result 8 out of focus shots in it, but that didn't stop it from winning the Golden Bear in Berlin.
LOVE GOD was one of the first films originated on video and output to film, and although it never secured distribution, it never would have made it to Sundance and beyond without Sony & Apple both granting us free tools and processes to make the film.
Good Machine may have been the first American-based producer-driven international sales company, but regardless of whether it was or not, it capitalized on the obvious (that our full film's cost could come from overseas) at a time when the status quo was something else, and ultimately gave us something to sell beyond the films themselves.
I got some of my initial breaks because I had built a budget program when they weren't yet commercially available, explored product placement prior to agency involvement, and other early adoptions that were available to anyone with their eyes open.
I have been a beneficiary of others' slack behavior. I got full advantage of an inefficient, lazy, inbred, elitist system. I have gotten to make over 60 films in 20 years. It gets much harder from here. I am doing what I can to help and there are some others that are out there doing the same, even a few doing more, but it is not enough. We have work harder to increase the reach of our web, to shrink the holes in our net. We have to get our comrades to adopt and utilize the tools before them.

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.