Goodbye & Please Join Me: I Am Migrating To A New Home

Today marks my last post here on “Truly Free Film” at HopeForFilm.com. Starting tomorrow you can find both my rants and ravings, and all of those of our contributors, over at IndieWire. My hope is that we can all use this opportunity to expand our community and goals in the year ahead. We can truly bring about some change if we work together to build it better.

I started this blog for many reasons, but chief among them was to work so that we don’t miss the opportunity that remains before us – the opportunity to build a sustainable future for diverse and ambitious work, free of mass market dictates and antiquated beliefs, transparent, inclusive, participatory. IndieWire’s network, syndication, and reach hopefully will bring this dream closer to reality. We need to grow community and deepen our involvement.

It is crucial for those with experience to work with those that are forging new paths, to both mentor and be mentored. My growth and knowledge over the last 18 months due to the participation of all of you who have written in and written for this blog is more than I could ever hoped for. Thank you for your generosity and commitment. It has been greatly needed in these tough economic and cultural times – you’ve kept my hope for film always growing .

The posts that we in this “TrulyFreeFilm” section will on IndieWire be titled “HopeForFilm”. A truly free film culture remains my goal though. This URL will remain intact and continue to host the other columns “TheseAreThoseThings”, “LetsMakeBetterFilms”, “Issues&Actions”, and my Kid’s Corner “BowlOfNoses”. Those feeds will continue if you subscribe..

I hope to be able to set the Feedburner Subscriptions here to the new URL so that there is no disruption. In the event I fail, I will publish the new URL for you to subscribe to. Please be patient but we should get it working soon.

For those of you who periodically received my “IndieFilmLives!” email blasts, you should now receive a weekly newsletter of my posts. I hope this is not too intrusive; I find them a useful tool to find what I missed during the week. If you don’t want it, you’ll be able unsubscribe with a simple click.

I greatly appreciate IndieWire and Snag Films offer to come to their site. Others had indicated they wanted to do likewise, but only IW & Snag took the initiative. Their growing commitment to diverse voices seems evident. The power of aggregating them all in one place and using that to facilitate great conversation is tantalizing. Our collective voice, particularly when married to ambitious film, could be a far more powerful force that I believe we even realize. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

My New Home Means...

Today is my first post on IndieWire. I think it is going to be a great home, and like any home most of the value comes from opening it up to guests. As we now reside on a platform dedicated to expanding its reach, our collective voice just got a whole lot louder. It's time to expand our community. I got into the habit of defining HopeForFilm/TrulyFreeFilm as part of my experiment in social media. When I got started blogging, the media mattered a great deal more to me than the social. As I begin my experiment v2.0 the social matters more to me than the media.

There were a lot of reasons why I felt I needed to step forward and begin blogging. Business has been bad in the film world for several years, but opportunity still remains great. The potential to have a sustainable culture and community dedicated to diverse and ambitious voices, free from mass market dictates, grows daily -- what I define as Truly Free Film. Social media is second only to the film community's desire in terms of being the necessary foundation . The community still lacks leaders with experience dedicated to an open and transparent film culture that embraces the audience and the artist alike. In fact, the majority of participants in our film culture remain dedicated first and foremost to their own individual work rather than the health of the community at large. I remain committed to the belief that we all benefit when our focus moves away from ourselves and towards true unity. Independent is the antithesis of what I hope non-corporate filmmaking can become. Artist-driven for sure, but community-centered.

I have always been a generative sort. I have enjoyed having an outlet that encourages community but doesn't require perfection. Blogging has exposed me to new ideas, new processes, and new friends. It has given me a front row seat to an ever expanding community of Brave Thinkers and committed artists. My greatest rewards have come from contact with other bloggers and offering up this platform to the community at large. The conversation we have here and the diverse ideas and methods we have are truly the initial steps towards building it better together.

The strength of a society can be seen in the culture it creates. Corporate filmmaking, driven by profit only, rarely any more gives rise to the sort of movies that inspired me, helped me empathize with people from all walks of life, connected me to individuals and communities of ambition for a better world, or exposed me to the expansive and transformative nature of the human spirit. Independent film -- as we can build it to be -- will never die out, but it desperately still needs our help to gain the foothold that can allow it to really flourish. Those days are before us, but it takes more than just lending a hand. We determine the culture we have. It requires stepping up and giving voice.

It is my sincere wish that HopeForFilmv2.0 continues to expand well beyond my own musings. I am easy to find. Let me know what needs to be said and say it. This will not be my blog. I want it to be ours.

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.

Lipsky's Indiewire List on Why He Loves Theatrical Distro

Cassavettes' former distributor announced last week that he was going back to his old ways and taking other people's films to the people. This week he (Jeff Lipsky) did a must read article to try to explain why. It's in the pop form of a list and after each bullet point he goes into some detail to back up his assertion. Check it out. I post the list (w/o the explanation) below. There is some food for thought in Jeff's positions and I look forward to discussing it further. I have always believed in a collective sub-conscious; is there really a new? In reading, Jeff's list it reminded me of several points from filmmaker Michael Barnard, who's thoughts on the current state I am posting today and tomorrow. Stay tuned...

The whole article is on IndieWire and you should read it. Jeff's bulletpoints are:

1) My number one job as a distributor-for-hire is to run a collection agency.

2) All new distribution platforms (with the possible quirky exception of movie downloads to laptops and PDAs) fall under the heading of “home entertainment.” And, one after another, they all tend to cannibalize each other. 3) According to an article in Reuters, in 2009 combined theatrical and DVD sales/rentals in the US yielded $26 billion.

4) We should be talking about how to capture the attention of a film’s potential theatrical audience (which is hungrier than ever) while being able to reduce the marketing spend.

5) Approach domestic film festivals with great caution.

6) From the Everything Old is New Again Department: Addict teens, get them into the habit of going to see independent films, to debate them, to spread word-of-mouth, to love them.

7) What do I make of the state of film criticism today and how do I assess its role in the distribution of movies right now?

8) What about the state and role of trade media? Do we need a trade media at all?

9) I’m not in denial about technology.

10) I do believe in social networking…

11) I want to continue to distribute films theatrically because I still love movies.

As with all online publishing these days, the comments make for necessary reading.  In this instance, Chris Dorr, who says:

A very good post. A couple of ideas to amplify.

Numbers 9 and 10. The innovation that is occurring in technology today often takes place in what some call the “golden triangle”, the three sides being mobile, social and real time. The three poster children for this innovation are Apple, Facebook and Twitter, however, the innovation extends far beyond each of them. Each side of the triangle drives the other.

As a result the internet for many, (though not all) exists in the physical world. It is now something to which you are constantly connected while you move about in the real world. As a result you are connected to your social graph and to the choices you and your friends make and recommend as they move through the world. These choices include things like restaurants, music venues and yes—movie theaters.

Every aspect of the innovation within the “golden triangle” enhances the possibility of independent movies reaching their audiences in a theatrical release at a radically lower cost. It is only a matter of independent filmmakers and their distributors truly understanding this innovation and harnessing it .

So don’t deny this technology or ignore it—dive in, understand it and embrace it. There are real people and yes, even real money here.

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.

Why I Started Blogging

Yesterday, Matt Dentler fired five questions at me on his blog.  A couple were on ADVENTURELAND (opening Friday!).  Another was one what to consider on your first feature.  And yet another was on what gave me the initiative to embrace the worlds of social networking and the blogosphere.  Check out the whole interview, but here's what I had to say yesterday about the latter.

I have always been a bit of an internet junkie, but have an aversion to personal information and for that reasons had steered clear of social networking; I don’t have enough time for my friends as it is. Meanwhile, I had been growing restless watching the indie infrastructure wither away, but had frankly felt comfortable in my seat of privilege—i.e. we were getting our movies made.

When Mark Gill made his “Sky Falling” speech, it was clear to me that no one was speaking for the filmmakers, for the real indie community. I had read and met with a slew of good thinkers and innovators and felt the picture Gill painted was only for the business side of the establishment. Someone needed to get the word out about the new model that was emerging for filmmakers. When Dawn Hudson asked me to speak at Film Independent last fall, I felt I need to put up or shut up.

The state of things needs not be looked at only with despair. We are at a major time of transition and the possibilities are huge. Collaboration has always been what has improved our movies and enhanced our potential and the tools for collaboration have never been better. Social networking and an open source attitude offers filmmakers the freedom from an entertainment economy structured around scarcity and gatekeepers. We are all owners but we have been acting as slaves. We allow ourselves to corrupted by wealth and ego instead of strengthened by the wisdom of the community. The pursuit of instant gratification and success leads most to foolish choices that sacrifice opportunity for all along the way. Greater participation & focus on building a better system will greatly increase everyone’s power and improve their art and process. That is, in my humble opinion, and the social networking blogging open source stuff is the means.

Hope For The Future pt. 7: The List #'s 26- 29

26. Collaboration among filmmakers is recognized as being a necessity among filmmakers. Todd Sklar’s tour of films with their filmmakers brought vital work and their creators to places that generally went lacking. The teamwork approach benefited everyone. One can easily imagine that this model, like the collaborative finance model, will extend to production too, and not just in the aforementioned crowdsourced way, but in ways that will make individual personal films stronger too.

27. The Independent community has demonstrated that it is quick to action and embraces both tolerance and strength. Over five years ago, the indie film community joined forces to defeat the Hollywood Studios’ and the MPAA’s Screen Ban, but despite a lot of activist attitude they have not joined forces in a significant way since then. But it doesn't mean it can't, or won't.

The indie film community was very vocal about their opposition to California’s Proposition 8 referendum, but never in a unified way. Similarly, many major figures within the community defended the LA Indep. Film Festival’s head’s, Rich Radon, right of political expression when it was revealed he had donated funds in support of Prop 8, refusing to engage in blacklist tactics. In the end, the obvious conflict of an organization that defines itself by tolerance, being then led by someone supportive of a discriminatory act, albeit on what is called religious grounds, seemingly led that individual to resign. There was no true organized effort by the film community itself either to defeat Prop 8 or to remove Radon, but one suspects the outcome of each will bring more unified action in the months to come.
The community’s embrace of a new issue will be a test of their abilities to act in a unified way.

28. The embrace of the “1000 True Fans” model: filmmakers are recognizing that they need to engage in regular communication -- via a regular output of varied material – with their core audience. Not only is necessary because it speaks of a model of how filmmakers can earn a living , but it also offers a manner of working that will allow filmmakers, and artists in general, greater variation in the type and form of work they do. The dialogue with the audience will also keep filmmakers more attuned to what their audience responds to and why, all the while, strengthening the bonds between artists and their community.

29. Rational consolidation and expansion is taking place in the blogosphere. Indiewire, the premiere indie film news site, was acquired Snag Films, the leading documentary film streaming aggregator. GreenCine, one of the leading sites for art film appreciation, had its lead blogger go over to IFC's IndieEye – greatly strengthening that site. Movie City News got another great editor. As these core film appreciation sites improve, we all benefit. Audiences need to know where to go to find the type of films they love and this bit of consolidation could help.