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

Hope For The Future pt. 12: The List #'s 47 - 52

Fifty-two reasons to be cheerful.  Enough to get through all the weeks ahead, and even some that have already passed.  We complete our list just in time to not let Sundance get you down even if you didn't sell your film.  I didn't even list that are so many good films to discover at the festival.  Well, here's to a good year.  And to finding at least another 52 reasons in the months ahead.

47. Actors are truly embracing indie film and seem to be doing it because they love it. We know they don’t do it for the money or just because the schedule is short and shooting quick, but when you know they are getting offered bigger paydays and chances for true stardom and yet they still keep on doing indie movies, you have to accept they do it because it is the kind of cinema they adore. Michelle Williams , Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Peter Skaarsgard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sam Rockwell. Quality actors delivering quality work time and time again.

48. The Jacob Burns Center in Westchester has raised over $20M for a Media Literacy Center and it looks like an incredible addition to our culture and a wonderful model for others to follow. Imagine if every community had something like this! Check out the press release at:http://www.burnsfilmcenter.org/news/newsimages/MediaArtsLab_pr.pdf .

49. Power continues to decentralize. Time and time again it is proven that a good idea can triumph and change will follow it. Frank Leonard’s brain child, The Black List, the annual report that lists executives favorite scripts, has been instrumental in getting unique (dare we say “quirky”) projects appreciated, bought, and even made. Sundance was once the be all and end all of festivals. Virtual festivals like From Here To Awesome give everyone a chance at being seen now.

50.We are getting new film movements faster and faster. 2007 was the year of Mumblecore. 2008 was the year the neo naturalists broke (Wendy & Lucy, Chop Shop, Ballast, etc.). The speed of which common aesthetics form speak of better communication. Multiple filmmakers working in the same vein can only lift the conversation higher and raise the bar for technique. Work will progress faster and the audience will again benefit.

51. Life sustaining tools slowly are proliferating. The Freelancers Union Health Care program offers a good option for indie filmmakers looking to have basic health care coverage. Creative Capital alum Esther Robinson’s brainchild Art Home Online, offers artist financial planning services and consultation on home buying. As we live in a nation without real government support for the arts, creators have to assume they will be partially financing their work themselves -- developing the wherewithal to plan for the future and not put oneself at significant financial risk is part and parcel to being able to choose what stories you will tell.  Of course if we simply had state health care, not only would we be less at risk, but we'd have a significant percentage of our incomes that we could devote elsewhere.

52. The great beacon of hope I find in the film horizon is the often TFF-cited Lance Weiler and his gang of collaborators at The Workbook Project and From Here To Awesome. The open source generosity and advocacy stemming from their platforms provide a plethora of information and point to the real possibility that artists everywhere can not only create the work they want but have the ability to find, access, and join with audiences everywhere. They show that power is not in the hands of the establishment but in the community. Lance and his team having taken a host of good ideas and put them into action -- and it appears to be just the tip of an iceberg that we can expect to come from them. The revolution is being podcast; it’s time you got the URL tattooed onto your soul.

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.

Sundance Trailers

2009 can already be marked as the year that filmmakers and distributors launched trailers prior to Sundance and Slamdance. We won't yet have the majority of filmmakers being truly prepared, but new ones seems to debut daily.

I imagine next year the festival catalogue might link to the trailers. Hopefully at least the online version. Maybe they will link to clips too. For now though, we have to be content to find them ourselves.
A few weeks back we posted about Cinematical's growing list. We can now add six more to it:
Dead Snow; dir by Tommy Wirkola (hat tip: TrailerSpy)
Disturbing The Universe: William Kunstler; directed by Sarah & Emily Kunstler
Manure (teaser); directed by The Polish Brothers (hat tip: /Film)
Roseancrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead (slamdance); directed by Jordan Galland

Taking Chance; directed by Ross Katz (hat tip: /Film)

We Live In Public; directed by Ondi Timor (hat tip: Thompson On Hollywood)
Once again though it should be noted that The Workbook Project is on it for you.  For those of you that are thinking of next Sundance already, Zak Forsman has a post on how to cut an effective indie trailer.  Check it out.

Printing: Posters & Postcards

As mentioned a few days back, our Film Festival Strategy brainstorm continues...

Jon Reiss offers this up:

A very necessary expense in your publicity campaign are postcards and posters. These can be expensive but fortunately there are a number of on-line printers that are relatively inexpensive (eg 4000-5000 postcards for $100). One hidden cost when it comes to printing is shipping so I do recommend using a printer near you - so before you buy - make sure you include shipping in your cost estimate. I actually send an assistant or intern to pick up my printing from "Next Day Flyers" since the shipping almost costs as much as the printing. Sometimes your local printer will even match an on-line printers prices - or come close enough to make it worth your while. But they won't cut their prices unless you have a comparison price.

Regarding Postcards - they are cheap enough online that you could print them for each festival or theatrical screening even if you only print 500 at a time. The old way of doing this was to order a ton and then use stickers for your specific screening time. Unless you have some slave labor around - buying new postcards for $50 is going to be cheaper than paying someone to print and apply stickers to each post card - you have better things to do with your time.

Three important notes about posters:

1. Most on-line printers will not print one sheet size posters.

2. Printing standard film size posters - 27"x41" - is very expensive (for film festivals you only need one or two which will cost about $50 each - but for a theatrical release you will need more than that). The reason that these posters are so expensive to print is that they are too large for standard offset printing (the cheapest kind of bulk printing). However nearly all theaters (all the ones that I dealt with) will accept posters that are 24.5"x37.5" which is the largest size that you can have printed offset. This will save you thousands. (Although the best price I found was $1200 for 2000 posters - a pretty good price).

3. You can get a lot of mileage from 11x17 posters. Most storefronts won't put up a standard or near standard one sheet when you are promoting in a town. But they will put up a 11x17 poster. And these are much cheaper. You can get a 1000 for around $300. They are also good for wildposting/wheatpasting as they fit on most electrical boxes. (18x24s are also a good size for this) But be careful with wildposting - you can be fined thousands of dollars for illegal posting if there is anything on the poster that will track back to you or the theater!)

Printers:

Next Day Flyers based in Compton California

Got Print based in Burbank California

jon@jonreiss.com

What Got This Blog Started (For Me)

The conditions were there.  People were already talking.  Everyone over at The Workbook Project and FH2A were already leading the charge.  More voices were needed though.  And I was asked to give this talk, see...

Now you can truly see how much I need my hands to be able to speak.  This is just part one of six.  And  yes, it is my way to stay nasally through all six.  The rest are all there on Vimeo -- so I just learned.  Check them all out, or not.

What of course will keep this blog going in the new year will be your participation.  We have so much ground to cover.  What is working well?  What isn't? What are the goals and what are the steps to take us there?  We can't wait for someone to lead us.  We must collaborate.  
Independent film culture -- its content and its infrastructure -- is at stake.  
I tell my son that it is a great time to be young because there is so much exciting stuff that MUST get done to save the planet.  Okay, so I give him a bit bigger agenda.  All I want from  you is to save indie film.  Happy New Year!

Tools Update: Theatrical Mapping Project

Jon Reiss writes:

I suggest TFF add the theatrical mapping project from the Workbook Project
"tools" section of the Truly Free Film site (consider it done, Jon! - Ted). This map was my first step in the theaters that I contacted for our theatrical release of Bomb It and as such was hugely instrumental in our release. We found other theaters that were not on the map and have since added them. The map was set up by the wonderful Lance Weiler - and it only expands if you contribute - so if you have a theater (or college campus) please add it - its very easy. I like Ted's idea of potentially having another list or map of college campuses that screen independent film. We are working on booking Bomb It currently into colleges - so if you have any suggestions - send them along!

jon@jonreiss.com

Slowing It Down: Chesanek's Counterpoint Concludes (Part 6 of 6)

Brent concludes...

Another scary thing about the NYC DIY Dinner discussion is that essentially it's asking filmmakers who've likely just worked for several years for no money to now take further losses and develop things they have no intrinsic passion for, just so that thing they do have passion for gains validity. 

Filmmakers like me already spend 70% of our time looking for permission (ie funds) to make our films from people perhaps not in the best position to be gatekeepers, and now that looks to be expanded to 90% or more. Our pay just went down, as if we were making enough to subsist on to begin with. Already, incomes in this country have been relatively stagnant for 30 years despite rapid growths in technology and productivity in most industries. 
We're all expected to do more for less money. That seems exponential with independent film, and as I said, we're now going to have to figure out how to do that part of it we love even less often for less money.

How do we improve this? Your idea about helping each other is a start. I suppose if it weeds out the ones with fleeting delusions of grandeur and dreams of wealth, that will help. If it means less films are fast-tracked, more time is spent on each film, then each becomes that much more focused and worthwhile in terms of individuality and distinction, then there is something to be hopeful for.

Hope For The Future pt. 3: The List #'s 9-13

9. Plenty of DVD manufacture & Fullfillment places (see sidebar).

10. Plenty of places to place your content online for eyeballs to find (anyone want to generate a comprehensive list to share?).

11. Things like Netflix and Blockbuster.com make it possible for anyone with a mailing address to see any movie he or she wants. A lot of viewers who haven't had access to theaters or even video stores that stock smaller films can now get them if they know about them. (thanks Semi!)

12. The Major Media Corporations retreat from the “Indie” film business. This will open up distribution possibilities for entities not required to produce high profit margins or only handle films that have huge “crossover” potential and necessitate large marketing budgets.

13. A new turn-key apparatus is evolving for filmmakers who want to “Do it with others” in that they can hire bookers, publicists, marketers – all schooled in the DIY manner of working. Instead of hoping for a Prince Charming to arrive and distribute their film, TFFilmakers are seeking out the best and the brightest collaborators to bring their film to the audiences.

It's Two Separate Schools: Chesanek's Counterpoint (Part 5 of 6)

Brent continues...

This discussion can't proceed forward until the two schools of thought here are separated. One school says traditional narrative is dead and new storytelling methods MUST be applied to new distribution models, while the other realizes there is still a market for narrative feature films that can be accessed through new technology and distro models.

If you want to expand your so-called brand while creating "content" and label yourself as a "creative" (in reality, it's not a noun) or just want to create infinite ways and media for telling a story, then you're in this field, so these are some options, these are the issues. If so, then it's likely none of these marketing terms seem pejorative to your craft.

But many do find these terms pejorative. If you lean towards uninterrupted, feature length art films that show restraint and dexterity in the information provided to an audience, believe in the quality of a screening environment, are not about pushing as much content and info as possible but rather about expertly pursuing a craft you and many others still love but realize there are new opportunities for these works to be seen, then there is this discussion over here, these are the issues on this side of the situation.

These two worlds remain very closely aligned in discussions, and it seems not fully distinguishable from each other just yet, but also not completely on the same page. We need to clearly delineate and grow from there, learning from both sides but never assuming these schools are the same.

Lance Weiler Responds To Brent Chesanek

Scott Kirsner wrote a book called “Inventing the Movies” which details the history of cinema from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Within the book he describes three types of people - those who innovate, those who persevere and those who sit on the sidelines waiting. When I read your critique of the NYC DIY Dinner it is clear you fall into the preservation camp. Personally, I love films and prefer to see them projected when I can and when it makes sense. But I also grow tired of watching filmmakers struggle to get their work seen and to sustain. And the sad truth is that many talented filmmakers have fall prey to exploitation.

The reality is that the system is overloaded. Everyday 50,000 more videos are uploaded to YouTube. There are more choices (tv channels, countless blogs / sites, dvds, VOD etc.) that compete for peoples time. Theatrical bookings are very difficult. I know, I’ve personally booked my films into art-house and independent cinemas across the country. I’m a fan of independent cinemas and even though my work has cross-media components it will always have live event elements, and those live events will include theatrical screenings.

But this I think is our key difference and correct me if I’m wrong. But I don’t consider myself a filmmaker – I don’t shoot on film, I don’t cut on film and I don’t work on a single medium anymore. I believe in story and the emotional connection that an audience experiences from great writing, strong direction and wonderful acting. But I also believe that the form is changing and that is what excites me. It’s not one way or the highway. It’s a reality. Art forms change and audience’s relationships to the way stories are told change. The birth of 16mm cameras ushered in cinema verit. Desktop systems and advances in imaging technology have empowered a diversity of voices that have never had access. Last month, I was in Copenhagen for a film festival and I connected with friends from all over the world, many who I met online or via social networks. One friend is from the Philippines. In the last 12 months there’s been an explosion of DIY filmmaking there - doc, narratives, experimental works. The films are unique, artful and passionate. But yet they have not been seen here in the states. We live in a global film community, it is not just about the US it is about allowing voices to be heard all over the world. The social networks and online outlets that you consider to be nothing more than popularity contests are so much more. They are a voice, a way for people to connect. Yes some people use them for status but others use them as a way to understand other cultures and share experiences. It’s not a contest its a connection.

And when it comes to brands let us be honest. Many of the films that you love from well know writers and or directors were brought to you by some brand some where along the way. It might have been a critic, a well know film festival, or the publicity machines that rollout films both big and small or maybe even the art-house theaters that screened them. The fact of the matter is that “filmmakers” need to take some time to understand how various aspects of the process work. If you want to be a good director you need to understand the roles of your collaborators. And similar to how you crew up for a film ( producer, production designer, dp, ad, gaffer etc.) when we discuss the role of technology or branding or marketing we are calling attention to a part of the process that needs new “crew” positions. We’re not saying that an individual “must master” them or they are destine to fail. What we are saying is that if you ignore or consider it to be someone else’s duty or job then often you will be disappointed with the results. What is often ironic is that I’ve know many filmmakers who entered into deals with distributors only to find themselves doing a loin of the share of the work anyway. In some cases out of despration when they realized for whatever reason that their film wasn’t getting the push that it really needed. It is about understanding what is needed and having an open discussion about it. That way new processes can be discovered. Learning from each other is what will make the stories better, our work stronger. We need to build an infrastructure that will in turn help to establish a foundation for a truly free film community.

We are standing at an unprecedented time in history. We can for the first time reach and communicate directly with our audiences. There doesn’t have to be gatekeepers or middle men or filters. It can finally be about connections. People connecting to the stories that move them. So in some ways maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities - many within the industry are. But in uncertain times some amazing things have been innovated. In the economic downturn of the 70’s, apple computer which started in a garage and was born out passion, creativity and a desire to empower people. The beautiful thing is there are no rules, no right or wrong way. There is just progress. In the end the audience will decide what they want to see, how they want to see and where they want to see it. So I say its time to innovate and seize the opportunity instead of waiting for someone else to shape the future for us.

And Brent I’m more than happy to answer any technical questions you may have. And over at the Workbook Project we have a number of folks who know how to use social media, build audiences, create brands and release films in alternative ways - all of them would be willing to do the same. DIY DAYS, the Workbook Project and From Here to Awesome are based on open source philosophies, ones that encourage community and sharing. That being said, now seems like the perfect time for this new emerging truly free film community to help each other make great films - we just need a little bit of innovation to make it possible.
- Lance Weiler

We Need A Community That Respects Artists' Intent: Chesanek's Counterpoint (Part 4 of 6)

Brent's critique of the NYC DIY Dinner continues...
Still by the third video, the discussion is about filling a marketing niche or void, not telling a personal story in innovative ways. It feels like it's just making a film about a new subject in the same way, something I react very strongly against. 

Eleven minutes in to Part 3 you take on this point very nicely. Mr. Crumley especially seems to be missing the drive that many art-house filmmakers have. We're not particularly smitten with "creating content" or being web gurus or using all these marketing and advertising processes and terms (to some they're thrilling and exciting; to others, they're a necessary step but not what drives us in our work). 
And now there is an entirely new skill set to be learned, again another gatekeeping process. We no longer have to know how to expose film using an Aaton and splice film on a Moviola; the tools are simpler to use and attain, but now we have to learn additional tools. The tools are changing but they are now tools that we must master that we don't necessary enjoy using and that don't even affect the integrity of our product itself. Instead they affect the integrity of our "brand," as if we were Maxwell House or Lysol. 
The successful filmmaker is not the skilled filmmaker but the skilled marketer? Why bother reading theory or watching old films when one can take marketing classes and develop a web platform to screen something?

Unfortunately right now, when Arin Crumley and Slava Rubin make certain points, I don't feel they're talking to me or to the other people who are in independent film because they -- the filmmakers -- are  neither good at nor interested in marketing or commodities-focused careers, nor are they interested in being cool or popular--which is the image of a new-media-social-networking-guru-web-celebrity.

Further, I am not hearing a director with a distinct artistic vision when Arin talks at this dinner, and I'm unfortunately not interested in his films because of their popularity -- popularity based on Arin's new pioneering new distribution and crowd participation methods. So if I'm not his audience, then perhaps his audience isn't mine, and so my thinking then becomes one of retraction and distancing myself from the new mechanisms. Also, when Arin talks about reaching an audience, I feel like he is capitalizing on his marketing expertise to profit off them, not putting his soul on film--which is where my taste lies. I appreciate his work for filmmakers, but when he starts leaning towards telling a filmmaker how to be a filmmaker, he'll have trouble getting his message across.

Lance Hammer is clearly an artist with a distinct vision, an artist whose film I saw multiple times at Film Forum and recommended over and over to friends, posting on my website and Facebook to GO SEE THIS FILM. Same with Pleasure of Being Robbed and Wendy and Lucy. I've still not seen or heard anything from the makers of Four Eyed Monsters that makes me take interest in their work or view them as an artist. I've only heard that their distribution is what makes them impeccable. Cart before the horse?

I know Arin is very intelligent and successful in his own way, but some of what he says comes off as disrespectful of that thing so many of us fell in love with and have chosen to devote our lives to as viewers and filmmakers, and unaware of that much of the things we're told we must do to our films are things we find less than appealing and against the films' nature. 

As you've said many times, people gravitate to art-house films the more they're exposed to films. But some of the discussion seems to be saying that these art-house films are not wanted in their current form, what is wanted is a new You-Tube video game user-created content industry. But that's not the case. 
And by then using terms pilfered by the advertising world, much of this talk seems to present the idea that the idea of a 90-140 minute art film playing uninterrupted is dying along with the old distribution models. I'm sure the intent is honorable, but the first impression and unfortunately probably a lasting one is that this talk makes art-house film makers and lovers, the very ones who need these new distro models, feel outdated, unwanted, and unimportant. As if: "Be a video game and webisodes and extensions of your film or you have no place in film." This message feels very, well, George Bush. You're with us or you're against us. Join or die. Etc.... not about building a community that respects an artist's intent–especially if that intent is to run against the new media/ ADD generation trends. I know that's not the case, but only after carefully thinking through all the voices and claims being made.

Wanted: Web Strategists & Consultants

We have gotten several requests from filmmakers regarding whom they could hire to help them design plans for their films.  First, I think those filmmakers need to move beyond the focus on the film itself, and ask how they can design a web strategy for their work in general.  But moving beyond that issue, I unfortunately don't have many people to point them to (I would love to hear any recommendations you have).   Fortunately, once again, a lot of great resources and individuals have been gathered over at The Workbook Project.

If you are looking for a consultant or strategist for your web plan, check out Motive on the WBJ site.  Alex Johnson, Ana Domb, Micki Krimmel, Jon Reiss, Hunter Weeks, Liz Rosenthal, and of course Lance Weiler and Arin Crumley are available for hire.  If you are going to Sundance, you best get them on your team sooner rather than later.

Hope For The Future pt. 2: Building The List

We started the list here (click to link).  Now we continue onwards.  We will only get to 52 with your help.  What else gives you reasons to be hopeful for film culture?

5. Giving it away for free is good business.  Anderson's essay is required reading.  Look at Google who gives away 90% (est.) of what they create (the search engine) and drives a good advertising business in the process.  For years The Greatful Dead were one of the top grossing concert acts, driven in a good part by their willingness to allow their fans to "bootleg" their concerts and "distribute" them themselves.  The question is what do you give away and what do you use to produce revenue.

6. Film Festivals are evolving.  Local film fests have already identified the core film lovers in every region.  For decades these festivals have been content to live in a single period each year, overloading their audiences with too many choices come festival time.  Now festivals are giving theatrical bookings as awards (help us build a list of these).  Some are moving to a seasonal subscription model.  Some are even paying significant screening fees.  And then there are the cash awards (those are still around somewhere, aren't they?).

7. Internet Streaming is being used by filmmakers to build A WORLD of Word Of Mouth.  Slamdance has announced that they will stream films right after the festival.  For years we have know that word of mouth is the primary way that a specialized film succeeds.  But it is costly, but now that has changed.

8. 2008 is the strongest year for under $1M EVER.  I have seen almost 20 films this year by filmmakers who clearly will develop a great body of work.  Only a few were at Sundance. They keep on coming.  They may still be hard to find, but the films are out there and at a quality and quantity  as never before.  Check out Hammer To Nail's list of top 13 films of the year and get watching.

Chesanek's Counterpoint (Part 3 of 6)

Personally, I was initially resistant to social networking for a couple reasons. One was that it feels like a celebrity culture or popularity contest. I can see that my friends have hundreds and hundreds more Facebook friends than I do. So I see their friends count and think, wow, they should make a movie instead, since they have more people who'd go see it. Only it's usually superficial friendship, just as popularity and celebrity appeal is. So then I think, is this person I'm asking to be friends with really my friend, do I really want to catch up with them after ten years out of high school, or am I only requesting their friend status because I know that once my film comes out I can put a message on their Facebook wall? If I want to be honest with myself, then how do I come to terms with having to strive for superficial popularity, something I jettisoned in high school as I was, well, coming to terms with not wanting it and forming my artistic temperament? Is this still a world where the most popular people are offered the widest financial rewards and/or avenues of self-expression, just like Hollywood, television, and high school? Is art film no longer a venue for the introverted artist seeking personal expression in a way that maybe socially he or she could never achieve? Isn't that the core of art and artistic language? Aren't a large amount of artists poor with social skills--choosing to express themselves other ways--probably for a reason that manifests itself in their work? Do we not care to hear their voices? Of course we do, but if this audience building is truly as it is shaping up to be, how do these artists with less than impeccable social skills compete?

As a viewer I'm not a populist. I seek out artists and works with dexterous intent, control over form, style, and content that shows the artist knows his or her stuff as well as has a distinct individual voice. How do we preserve and embrace our individuality if all we're doing is becoming advertisers who seek popularity? If auteur-driven films is one's passion, audience participation in their creation is a tough sell at any meaningful level. I'll see Lance Hammer film or a Bresson or a JP Melville film, but not a crowd-sourced film because of what it will lack: a singular honest soul.

I guess the point here is, how do we clearly, firmly, and concisely establish that the net should not be determining the content nor the artist's temperament, that films like Ballast will always have a market, that artists are always needed and appreciated for their individuality? The fear and resistance comes when feature length art-house filmmakers start hearing their content must be dictated by a market and then their film is only valid if they're famous in some way.

-Brent Chesanek

More On How It Feels From The Front

Brent Chesanek continues his reflections on the NYC DIY Days Dinner:

I see Stephen Rafael's point when he said "Make a good film." I think you do too while you acknowledged the trouble with that statement. I also agree with what you said about the The Pool. But I think everyone at that table has the resources and could contact Chris Smith directly, or invite him and the handful of other directors of the movies you loved this year to a private roundtable. But why did you shoot this and put the video on the web for everyone to see it? (I know why, but hypothetically.) The people who are accessing this video are just as likely to be making bad films. I feel like, if someone makes a worthwhile film and has the necessary industry awareness, they can get it to you or Raphael or Jay van Hoy and Lars or someone else who can help them formulate their distribution models and make connections.

I know the distro process must be democratized, and I know that in the scenario above, you and the other guys listed are also gatekeepers who would essentially dictate a filmmaker's ability to reach an audience, but does this make sense? If all 4950 films that didn't get into Sundance or any other festival or aren't distributed were as good as The Pool, then everyone would just be watching this DIY Dinner video to find out what to do next and there'd still be a glut in the market. But most of them should be focusing on where they've taken missteps earlier on.

This discussion was feeling a bit like: find an audience, then make a film to profit off them by giving them what they say they want, regardless of whether or not you're making a film that has any merit or personal distinction. So many of the bad films that actually do get distributed are rehashes and remakes, unoriginal but based on successful formulas (essentially, they're crowd-tested). Here, I know the discussion is about distribution, but so much of it just leads right into: Here's how to harness an audience to make money off of regardless of the quality of your film. And I think what Rafael may have been thinking was that this discussion was often putting the cart before the horse--more geared as a way to get exposure to the glut of films that aren't distributed regardless of quality, because that is still the problem--most films are indeed not worthy. But the ones that are worthy are having trouble. This needs to be stressed more and more until it becomes a given. I think there is common ground between your point and Rafael's point: First make the good films. You picked up on that later in the video talking about the lesbian film. (I originally thought you were talking about Working Girls, but that was about prostitutes).

All Facebook pages look the same. After 3 years, so many films will be Twittering it will be total overload and audiences on Twitter and Facebook will not see a difference in these methods, they won't pay attention to what's being said in any of them, and the mechanisms themselves won't be any newer or more special than television commercials or trailers, and certainly no more effective (Twitter is less invasive–a short text message–so it requires an active audience to respond to it. But how can one in fifty of them from different films be effective when the content drives the audience to the film? At least a trailer offers a glimpse of the actual film that can hook a passive audience member). So we will have an over-crowded marketplace of bad films that are Twittering and crowd-sourcing and all this stuff, and again, like Lance Hammer asks Arin, "How do you cut through the noise?"

So much of the talk about social networking and going viral and doing all this stuff ignores the notion that you have to really really really kill yourself making a distinct film first. The glut of films out there is a problem first of quality in development and production, not distribution. Quality, not execution of the methods. That's what's scary. You mentioned on some blog somewhere that despite digital video and computer-based editing, there is still the same number of new voices emerging as there was 20 years ago. Will a glut of new distribution models really bring about new voices? [I think you know the answer is more about salvaging the new voices, preserving and exposing them to audiences via new methods, but this point mustn't be under-stressed.] We need to focus on nurturing the voices.

How Does All Of This Make YOU Feel?

Before The Economic Collapse, Before The Obama Change, And Before The Sky Is Falling, I was just thinking, looking, and wondering, how come it wasn't different?  

How come when all the tools were available, when the means had become so inexpensive, when the information had been demystified, and the hordes had been well trained, how come their was no true alternative to the mainstream film culture?  Granted, a lot has changed since then and we have real reasons to hope, and reasons for concerned.  But what else is new?
This blog is only a few months old now.  I started it to focus on the tools, methods, and apparatus needed to bring about a Truly Free Film culture.  I have been neglecting the blog Let's Make Better Films that I started at the same time to focus specifically on the content of those films -- yet I hope to pay more attention to that in the months to come.  I also have promised Michael Tully, the editor over at Hammer To Nail to deliver my list of qualities of ambitious film for that site, which will delve into a similar area.  All of it will reflect on what I encouraged in the slowing down when I gave the "Thousand Phoenix Rising" speech at Film Independent.  Quality rises when we focus deeper and slow it down, although it is certainly not the only way to increase quality.  As the Hammer To Nail Awards list indicates this has been the strongest year in history for under $1M budgeted film in this country.  Quality is rising  and provided audiences can access this, the culture and it's apparatus should improve too.
I get very inspired by all the new methods filmmakers are utilizing to access audiences and strengthen their relationships with the audiences.  But I know it can be daunting.  I know it feels  like a whole new slew of things we have to learn.  I also know it can be liberating.  But I also have been wondering how it makes filmmakers who are just starting out on the journey feel.  Luckily some people let me know.
Several years back I was surfing the web and came across the John Vanderslice video for "Exodus Damage" .   I was impressed and sourced out the director Brent Chesanek.  I found more of his work on the web and contacted him.  I suspected he lived elsewhere; little did I know he lived just across the river.  We met and I was equally impressed with him as I was with his work.  I look forward to his first feature " Tall Slender Trees" -- of course he needs to raise money for it first.  Maybe you can help?

Anyway, after watching the DIY NYC Dinner, Brent wrote me with his thoughts.  I will be posting them over the next several days as I think it adds another layer to the dialogue.
Brent writes:

I consider myself an art-house filmmaker and filmgoer. I am not so much interested in the farm league of independent film, as you astutely put it, nor am I interested in the new media methods of storytelling. I don't even consider myself a storyteller. I see it more specifically and will try to be clear: art-house narrative feature filmmaker--there is a story involved, but with images and sounds overriding plot or character even, seeking the advancement of the film language through means exclusive to the the cinema. I will try not to separate myself as a viewer from as a filmmaker when I write this--I will try to keep my interests aligned and speak of my opinions as such, as they cannot be mutually exclusive in the pursuit of personal expression. Thus I assume there are other viewers and filmmakers with ideas on the same wavelength about what a film can be. (I know Lance Hammer is one filmmaker).

From my self-described perspective, I can think of two or three themes of the discussions as a whole these days, which arose in this dinner as well, that I think are off-putting to some art-house/auteur oriented filmmakers and thus maybe inhibiting growth and development in this area:

- 1 -

When it becomes implied that new media dictates the content, I feel art-house filmmakers feel repressed or excluded–just as they would in a studio or other non-independent world. If we're not careful, these discussions can lead to a message that something rather than the artist's vision should be dictating the form, story and style of a film. Some of these discussions then become advocates of an anti-auteur film culture--suddenly we're supposed to contradict the intentions of our career, or single film, or carefully nourished ideas on how a story can be told, or what stories are told. Contradictions which are essentially the nemesis of the independent filmmaker.

Stephen Raphael is right--there is a still a market for feature films as they are if they are as good as Ballast, and as long as discussions veer off into talks of how a film has to become an everlasting exposè into is myriad characters' lives, providing alternate and unlimited content and so on, filmmakers and people like myself and Raphael will feel outcast and resistant. The beauty of Ballast and the films I cherish is their restraint. It goes back to something Bresson said: it's what we don't learn of characters that often makes them intriguing. To cast aside these ideas of restraint may be seen as nullifying film culture, language, and style of the past 100 years. The film many of us love and cherish IS in fact that passive thing that seems to be getting a bad rap the way the term elite has. Passive is not a negative term by default, and just as many people do not play fantasy football yet watch the game.

I've spent my adult life working to be a feature length narrative filmmaker with these ideals, and to hear that artistic path is no longer viable doesn't automatically transform my ambition into being a webisode maker or a professional crowdsourcer who creates something in whatever media is new solely to feed an audience. Those things aren't interesting to me personally, and if it's a question of adapt or die, well, if what I love doing has to go away then what's the point in adapting? If I transform into the storyteller using whatever media and marketing is the next big thing, then I'm doing something I don't enjoy, and no audience will enjoy it either. We have to nurture and respect an artist's choices and passions.

Musical content didn't change because of the internet. Before and after there was a market for albums-pop, classical, jazz, hip hop, world, ambient, etc. Singles were always most popular, but all the internet did was ease access to one's taste. The internet makes it easier to find the single and preview it, but I think the majority of people who recognize the artistic merit of an album will then gravitate towards experiencing that work as a whole. Those who did not care for albums and just wanted Top 40 have it better. Radiohead fans don't care about owning just the single, they want the album, and the internet didn't change that, nor did the internet nullify the album as an artistic expression. That market is still there. That part of the music/film analogy fits with films nicely. Too much talk focuses on altering one's content when it should focus on distro.

There is still a market for feature films in their entirety between theatrical and ancillary outlets. I am only 28 and know plenty others and know there are teenagers who, like me, enjoy uncut feature length art films, so the market is not disappearing anytime soon. Too much of this talk assumes that. Too much talk is of the vanishing market and the falling sky in content. The market is vanishing because most films are over-budgeted, thus the market to recoup these funds is vanishing. I don't think it's because no one wants to watch films in their entirety. The emergence of television must have created similar discussions--the assumption that all must now make and aspire to television instead of how can film embrace its differences from television. The art film audience often enjoys these films because they can run counter to the lifestyle of absorbing six IMs and 50 emails (as mentioned at the dinner) and real-time stocks and daily breaking news events on CNN, (as Christopher Buckley recently mentioned)--endless filler and distractions disguised as content. An acute audience, often those arthouse films are seeking, are likely people who are aware of the rapid lifestyle and seeking a world of alternate leisure to counteract it. Art-house films have always been counter-programming to something, and the more they stay focused on that characteristic the better the films will be, and then the stronger the audiences will be.

The point should be made right away and strictly adhered to that the content and the art-house film will always have a market and all this discussion is done so in a way to validate these films rather than dictating their form or content. It's taking too long to get there and there is too much dwelling on the alternate storytelling methods.

Hope For The Future: Starting The List

What can I say?  I love lists.  I maintain many: My favorite things; Directors I want to work with; 100 Ways To Make A Million.  I am sure you've got own.

One of things on my List Of Why I Love Lists is that it is so easy to forget, and with forgetting can come despair, that is until we re-cognize what we already knew.  Lists lift us out of this swamp.  I don't despair. I HOPE.
If this was the year that everyone believed the sky fell (and it did in terms of the unregulated greed based economic system our world has embraced for far too long), it will hopefully be recognized as the moment when we really entered the Free Culture Era.  But the hard things, the bad things, still attract our attention.  We will remember that 2008 is the year no one could sell their film.  We will remember that 2008 is the year that labor strife and cooperate greed conspired for a work shutdown.  I will certainly remember that it is the year that I did not have a film in production for the first time in 20 years.
But that is not the memory I want to have.  I want to remember 2008 as the year that everything started to change for the better.  We need to look and recognize all the positive signs for change that are out there.  
Let's build the list of the reasons TFFilmmakers have HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.  Let's make the list at least 52 entries long so we can get through this next year.  
Share with me some of your ideas.  Here's my start (by no means in the order of importance):
  1. It is so easy to blog that everyone could have their own page in a matter of minutes.  I thought about having a blog for several months before I made the leap and then I was up and on it a matter of minutes.
  2. The more people are exposed to quality films (and culture in general) the more their tastes gravitate towards quality films.  I would love to see an actual study on this, but I was told it by one of the Netflix honchos in that their members gravitate to the "auteurs" the longer they've been a member.
  3. Committed Leaders To A Open Source Film Culture have emerged.  I have been incredibly inspired by all the work that those I have labeled as Truly Free Film Heroes have done.  Even more so I am moved by their incredible generosity in their sharing of all they have learned.
  4. The Tools To Take Personal Control are available, numerous, and fun.  There are more than I can list (but the TFF Tools List is a pretty good start).