ALL Entertainment Should Increase The Current Value Proposition

Chris Dorr's recent post on MoviePass helped me recognize the world as it truly is today.  It wasn't MoviePass that I needed to recognize.  It was that the same thing that allowed Independent Film to flourish is the same thing that is now spurring on innovation everywhere.  Once filmmakers stopped asking for permission to tell their stories, the floodgates opened to a far more diverse approach to culture generation.  To the powers that be the end of permission looks like anarchy, but to the leaders to come, this is the stepping stone to necessary change.  And we are seeing that now. MoviePass, for those yet to explore it, is essentially the Netflix of Theater-going: One price for access to an all you can eat buffet.  MoviePass also has made a history of getting the stakeholders seriously bent out of shape.  From the onset, MoviePass did not see a requirement to ask for permission to innovate.  And they got shut out by the theaters subsequently as a result.  But they found a work around and sustained. Now they have found a better way, and people are getting riled up again.

The first thing that bothered people about MoviePass was that the theater owners were not consulted.  Unfortunately civil behavior falls by the wayside in the charge to innovate.  Remember when you had to call everyone for a group meeting?  And now you just send a group email.  No one wants to move slow any more.  They prefer to just get it done.  Since MoviePass is paying the theaters for the tickets anyway, why is it such a big deal -- particularly if more people are now going to the movies, buying more popcorn, and shelling out for parking.  Doesn't everyone win?

Oftentimes we know not what we do when we step ahead in line.  Where does this path of efficiency lead.  Virtually all social media and online activity serves one god: the mighty one of data mining.  The aggregation of all our likes, wants, connections, and routes is generating new wealth and multiple hands into our wallets.  Is it really theirs to take?

James Shamus, my former partner and head honcho at Focus Features, pointed out in his recent conversation with Christine Vachon at IFP's Independent Film Week (if you didn't tune in, you can watch it here, or read FilmmakerMag's 12 Tips here):

"Every time you click — on a “like” button, or a download link — you are producing. You’re producing “exhaust data,” information about yourself that is then used to market to you and others like you. Filmmakers need to be aware of this new model. Other people are monetizing it now, but they don’t have the same relationship to film culture” as the previous generation of distributors."

Does the information about our wants, interests, and desires belong to us?  Are others free to take it?  Do they need to ask permission?  What if they just use it, and don't display it?  What if by using that information, they make our life better, or at least appear to be better?  Do people care?  Should they?

As evidenced by people's use of Facebook, Twitter, and many many other social media sites, I honestly don't think most people care about this sort of data mining privacy issue (which is not to say they shouldn't).

I also think many people LOVE the efficiency that comes from data mining . Honestly, if no one is now pairing film goers with discount dinner deals in the neighborhood, do we want to stop them from ever doing so?  If data mining improves the value proposition of movie going, thus increasing attendance and generating wealth for the creators, their supporters, and many folks in between should we be shutting it down.  Shouldn't increasing the value proposition of entertainment be something that all movie people want ?

You can count that many new services are being developed that aim to this, and I think theaters should encourage it as it will make moviegoing more enticing.

As a filmgoer, I tried MoviePass while I was still living in NYC.  I shared my thoughts on the future of film business with them, and the company gave me a free trial membership. I am obviously already an avid moviegoer, but the MoviePass model increased even my attendance and reduced the value of things like Netflix. Why have a hamburger at home when you can have a filet minon in a palace.  Because I felt that I had saved money, despite being tight with my cash, I coughed up for popcorn and other delights.  I had about 7 theaters accessible to me that took MoviePass (prior to this new credit card thing they announced) and it got me to the theaters at least twice a week. The theaters all got paid the full price possible from my ticket — I saw that they regularly input $15 because they could.

I totally get the frustration about not being consulted, but I think Chris Dorr's article is right on: permission is not the business policy of today.

We in the film industry need to come up with ways that are not capital intensive that improve the value proposition of cinema. I think the easiest way to do that is to build more social events into movie going — audience needs to transform into community. Audiences need to be curated as much as films do. Ultimately increasing the social value and utility of movies is one of the services that film festivals play — as do community theaters.

There is huge value in community, well beyond ticket sales. As data mining demonstrates, it can generate wealth.  MoviePass seems to realize that. I bet MoviePass can be moved to become a real ally of community theaters, as well as movie goers. Ultimately everyone wants to increase theater attendance — and that is the only way that I can think of that the MoviePass business model can work (and if it does, doesn't everyone win?).  Filmgoers will get a better experience, theaters will sell more tickets & concessions, and MoviePass has direct access to the customers.  Winwinwin.  Yes?

James Schamus & Christine Vachon Live On YouTube!

My former business partner and a regular collaborator of mine -- both good friends -- will be speaking live at Independent Film Week in 30 minutes at 4P EST. They know as much as anyone on the past & present of indie film;  maybe they can see the future too.  You can watch it live for free on YouTube here.

The Triumphant Return of Good Machine

Yes, it is true.  Good Machine is back.  But in a new and improved form.  Perhaps we should have done a press release, but I thought I should do it here instead.  Press releases are so yesterday.

If you went to Sundance, perhaps you noticed the secret stealth return of our so-called 90's powerhouse.  Or if you were at the Golden Globes, it must have caught your eye.  Hell, even if you just watched the Golden Globes.  If you missed all that, certainly by perusing the Oscar noms, something should have caused a bit of stir.  I've been waiting for some sharp newshound to break with the story, but nope.  So here's the real buzz...

The Good Machinists seem to have now taken over indie film.  The only difference between back then and now is that like any good thing, Good Machine the company achieved its own obsolescence.  The Good Machinists each have their own shop.  Call it, the decentralized approach. But look at what Good Machine achieved just this month.

My former assistant and partner, former head of production, Anthony Bregman, nabbed the biggest sale (I think) at Sundance for his production MY IDIOT BROTHER.  I haven't checked, but also think he's giving Mr. Rudin chase for the title of Most Prolific Producer (when I asked Ant his secret, he replied "Have four children, and you don't have a choice: you have to produce!").  His credit list also includes recent collaborations with many former Good Machine directors, including Nicole Holofcener and Bob Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Good Machine's 2nd initial hire, and the first employee to enter the producer ranks, Mary Jane Skalski, had one of the best received films of the Sundance fest in her 3rd collaboration with Tom McCarthy, WIN WIN.  But why stop there?  She was also in the elite club of Sundance twofers, with the fest opener and competition stand out PARIAH, which Mary Jane Executive Produced -- and Focus just announced that they picked up.  No rest for the weary, eh?

The whole time Anthony was a partner at This is that, and even some of the time he was at Good Machine, he had one assistant, and a remarkable one at that.  With Bregman's new company, Likely Story, Stefanie Azpiazu has taken on Executive Producer duties (what are those exactly, btw?).  She holds that credit on Jesse Peretz's MY IDIOT BROTHER, as well as several others, including last year's Sundance opener, PLEASE GIVE (and this year's WGA nominee).

Another former assistant of mine, now the head of hottest international sales company in the entire universe (aka FilmNation), Glen Basner, recently decided to expand his company's portfolio into the specialized arena.  Awhile back he told me he had found something that should spark.  But I think 12 Oscar nominations for THE KING'S SPEECH is an outright bonfire.

Of course, my fellow Good Machine founder, the legendary erudite Mr. James Schamus, is always expected to do well, and last year -- back before Sundance returned as a sales market -- , he picked up a nice little title in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and now has four Oscar noms for his label.

The founder of Good Machine International, David Linde, could well have decided to take some time off after running a studio, but as long as there's great movies to make, I don't think David will be taking a break.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most gifted filmmaker out there, but his films are challenges, thankfully.  But that means they will never be easy to get made, but luckily he has a Lava Bear on his side.  David EP'd this year's entry to my top ten list, BIUTIFUL and yes, as a result has some more Oscar noms to his credit.

Anne Carey, my partner at This is that, did not go to Sundance this year.  But that did not stop The Hollywood Reporter from naming her on their Indie Hit List the hottest producer there:

THE PRODUCER

Then: Lawrence Bender
On team Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs, he has also handled Oscar-winning pics like Good Will Hunting and An Inconvenient Truth.

Now: Anne Carey
The former WMA agent toiled at Good Machine before partnering with Ted Hope on pics including Adventureland and The American.

And why not, her tenacity and genius, did yield the "coolest" film of the year in THE AMERICAN, which happened to enjoy the distinction of being the only This is that production to grace the top of the box office charts.  (PS.  Hey Anne: that wiki needs some updating!  And: Hey HRptr: she wasn't an agent, she just worked there!)

Unfortunately, Good Machine can't take credit for WINTER'S BONE, but that won't stop me from trying.  After all, Ang Lee's fantastic RIDE WITH THE DEVIL might have been Good Machine's biggest financial flop (despite being a great movie), but it was the first film to be adapted by WINTER BONE's novelist Daniel Woddrell.  Okay, it's a stretch but certainly it speaks a tad of our mutual fine taste for the man's prose and stories (even if Ms. Granik has turned down our efforts to work with her!).

Okay, so this does leaves some Good Machinists still unaccounted for, but after winning some Globes last year, Ross Katz is entitled to some time off.   Interestingly enough, Ross should take the reigns on a film Bregman is producing and Basner is arranging the financing on; the film, by title only is a mash up of several of our former projects, THE AMATEUR AMERICAN.  One of Mr. Schamus' former assistants, Jawal Nga, has been active on the producing front, with last year's Sundance hit HOWL and prior Grand Jury Winner FORTY SHADES OF BLUE to his credit.  And of course there's a squad of GMers doing great things behind the scenes too, some that will no doubt start some bonfires of benevolence in short order.

Me?  Well I already told you how I spent my Sundance non-vaction a few days ago (I've put a few updates into it if you want to check back) and how inspiring it was for me this year.

All in all, though, I must admit it is pretty swell to see the trees those seeds have sprouted.

What Makes A Good Partnership?

The NYTimes Sunday Magazine has a must-read article on my former Good Machine partner James Schamus. The author, Carlo Rotello, does a thorough job on the difficult task of capturing most of the complexity that makes James someone that is fun to collaborate with: he is not easily defined, has many interests (sometimes conflicting), and enjoys deeply both the process and the product.  People so often look for people they get along with to collaborate with; I think that is is mistake.  Harmony may work in other types of relationships, but in a creative one, it is a formula for mediocrity.   If you truly care about the end result of your work, you should look for someone you enjoy arguing with to partner with.

Rotello sums up our Good Machine partnership by defining David Linde as the business mind, Schamus the intellectual, and me "Hope, an advocate of radically decentralized media democracy, was the revolutionary;".  I like how that sounds, but what really worked at Good Machine, and in other creative relationships, is when people can argue clearly and without ego for what they feel will make a story work best.  Trust is the next most required ingredient in a successful partnership, quickly followed by a willingness to accept that you may not be right (that non-ego thing again).

Good Machine had a great number of really smart and passionate people working together who realized that if they spoke up and advocated clearly for what they believed in, they could get things done if they were able to work REALLY hard.  Everyone spoke up, but also learned how to listen.

Arguing about creative choices should be a fun process, because you are chasing a truth and an ideal.  The challenge is making sure the participants are all chasing the same thing.  When partners start chasing different outcomes is one of the ways things go wrong.

Collaborating among producers though is different from the collaboration between a producer and a director, or a producer and a writer.  I have had the good fortune of collaborating with A LOT of producers.  When producers collaborate and recognize that they lifted the project up and made it better, you know you'd always like to do it again together.  That result does not always bring the same result with other categories of collaborators.

The Good Machine No-Budget Commandments

Back in the day, before I had This is that, I had a production company called Good Machine. James Schamus and I founded it together, and we later partnered with David Linde. Mary Jane Skalski and Anthony Bregman were also partners, and we had the good fortune to work with a host of other talents including my later partners Anne Carey and Diana Victor, and Ross Katz, Glen Basner, Heta Paarte, Lamia Guelatti, Melinka Thompson-Gody, Jean Castelli, Kelly Miller, Dan Beers, Eric Papa, Jawal Nga, and many other later-legends to be. As good as the films we made, as great as the individuals we got to collaborate with, we also had a genuine fondness for memos and how-to's. If you come to my office these days, it looks like a FEMA site; we are going paperless, and I am sorting through the files, finding many choice nuggets. My madeleines.

One day, way back when, I went into to speak to a NYU grad class and I felt I would feel more substantive if I had something to hand out (btw I believe The Savages director, Tamara Jenkins was in that class). That was the start of the Good Machine No-Budget Commandments. James and I revised them here and there, and I am pretty sure, that Mary Jane and Anthony tossed more than a suggestion or two.

My surprise in reading them today is that no where do they say "The budget is the aesthetic."  That had seemed like the mantra at times.  We get pretty close with #4, but not as dogmatic.

They hold up today. I still subscribe to the full set of notions.  Here they are, for your critique and comment, in their dusty glory.

1. Write to direct. A screenplay, especially a no-budget screenplay is a very loose blueprint for a film – ultimately every choice you make will compromise something else.

2. Write for what you know and for what you can obtain. This goes for actors, locations, animals, and major propping or set dressing. If your friend owns something, anything, write it into the film.

3. Remain flexible. Recognize the essential element in a scene and allow it to take place in a variety of locations or circumstances.

4. Choose an aesthetic that will capitalize on the lack of money (i.e. period anachronisms, monochromatic color schemes, etc.). Invest meaning in everyday commonplace things – make an orange a totemic object John Ford would be proud of.

5. Don’t over strive. Don’t try to show how much production value you have (you don’t have it, so you’ll either fail or unbalance your film). A film that people say is “well produced” usually means that the story didn’t have much going for it. Keep the story aligned with the budget.

6. Don’t limit yourself to too few locations – it’s a dead give away of lack of dollars. I like the number eight.

7. Use everything more than once. You’ve already paid for it, so use it, use it, use it.

8. Write for a very limited audience – your closest friends. Do not try to please anyone – crowd pleasing costs.

9. Write to cut it back later. You can trim to subtlety.

10. Contradict the above commandment and only write what you know you absolutely must shoot.

11. Keep it simple. You can learn how to do the impossible on your next film. No dogs. No babies. “Business” is expensive. Keep it controllable.

12. Keep it intimate. Dialogue and close ups are cheap.

13. Make the most of a day’s work. It’s easier to get a commitment for one day than it is for a week. Exploit people’s willingness to give a day.

14. Ignore everything listed above if it doesn’t further the story.

AMERICA'S LEADING FILMMAKERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED IRANIAN DIRECTOR JAFAR PANAHI

I am so heartened by this action. These filmmakers are all real leaders. I love that they have spoken up for artists' right of freedom of expression on a worldwide basis. We enjoy tremendous freedom here in the USA, but until that is shared by everyone, none of us can truly be free. We must be united in preserving this right for all. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Terrence Malick, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Bros., Jim Jarmusch, Michael Moore, Ang Lee, Robert De Niro, and Oliver Stone, among other leading film industry figures, have condemned the detention of Jafar Panahi, the acclaimed director of "The White Balloon" and "Offside," and are urging the Iranian government to release him

New York, NY (April 30, 2010) – Jafar Panahi, an internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st and has been held since in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. A number of filmmaking luminaries have come to Mr. Panahi's defense and "condemn his detention and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately," according to a new petition. (Petition text and full list of signatories is available below.)

Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges now allege that he was making a film against the regime, a very serious accusation in Iran.

Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has been kept from working for the past four years, but he continues to stay in Iran.

"Mr. Panahi deeply loves his country," says Jamsheed Akrami, an Iranian-American film scholar and filmmaker, who helped organize the petition. "Even though he knows he could have opportunities to work freely outside of his homeland, he has repeatedly refused to leave. He would never do anything against the national interests of his country and his people."

Mr. Panahi is one of the most heralded directors in the world. He has won such top prizes as the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Offside (2006), the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Crimson Gold (2003), the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for The Circle (2000), the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival for The Mirror (1997) and the Cannes Camera d'Or for The White Balloon (1995).

PETITION: Free Jafar Panahi

Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian director of such award-winning films as The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold and Offside, was arrested at his home on March 1st in a raid by plain-clothed security forces. He has been held since then in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

A recent letter from Mr. Panahi’s wife expressed her deep concerns about her husband's heart condition, and about his having been moved to a smaller cell. Mr. Panahi’s films have been banned from screening in Iran for the past ten years and he has effectively been kept from working for the past four years. Last October, his passport was confiscated and he was banned from leaving the country. Upon his arrest, Islamic Republic officials initially charged Mr. Panahi with “unspecified crimes.” They have since reversed themselves, and the charges are now specifically related to his work as a filmmaker.

We (the undersigned) stand in solidarity with a fellow filmmaker, condemn this detention, and strongly urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Panahi immediately.

Iran’s contributions to international cinema have been rightfully heralded, and encouraged those of us outside the country to respect and cherish its people and their stories. Like artists everywhere, Iran’s filmmakers should be celebrated, not censored, repressed, and imprisoned.

Signed:

Paul Thomas Anderson Joel & Ethan Coen Francis Ford Coppola Jonathan Demme Robert De Niro Curtis Hanson Jim Jarmusch Ang Lee Richard Linklater Terrence Malick Michael Moore Robert Redford Martin Scorsese James Schamus Paul Schrader Steven Soderbergh Steven Spielberg Oliver Stone Frederick Wiseman

Petition Organizing Committee: Jamsheed Akrami, Godfrey Cheshire, Jem Cohen, Kent Jones, Anthony Kaufman

I am delighted that I was able to help in securing some of the directors' participation that the Organizing Committee had selected.  The prompt response and eagerness to help that I encountered from both the individual directors and their companies was truly inspiring.

The Rise No-Budget NYC. Good Machine '97

I don't even know what this was for, This was for something on WNYC called "Egg" produced by Jeff Folmsbee.  but I do know that my friend Dan McGuire was also heavily involved in the shooting and editing of it.

I co-founded Good Machine back in 1990. We made a lot of good films and had some good times too. Iget a big kick out of seeing glimpses of folks from so long ago: Mary Jane Skalski, Heta Paarte, Glen Basner, and James Schamus and Ang Lee.  Nothing like seeing those gigantic computers and roladexes too. Too think we could make a film without an iPhone...

It also feels so fresh to me.  The same drive and ideas that made Good Machine a good idea back then, holds true to this day.  Everything is new again. We founded that company on the idea of a no-budget film fund (okay micro-budget in today's vernacular) could make money and build a better mousetrap in the process. That, and the fact that I had a good long list of directors who needed some help. Both those things still hold true.

Although I must admit I no longer have a Che poster behind my desk, although the Obama "Hope" won works as the same sort of litmus test.

The Sundance Panic Button Panel

Todd Sklar tipped me to the video of the panel I participated on at Sundance, and now you can decide: push or ponder?  

Part One:
IndieWire has covered it and condensed it, if you prefer your news in print and not to take an hour to digest -- but me I like the whole story, warts and all.
The panel was supposed to be on the future of film, but it was a bunch of old white guys -- and that's not going to be the future.  Christine Vachon and I, with some help from IndieWire, had lunch with a much different group, that was 100% filmmakers, which IndieWire filmed and will be posted soon (so stay tuned).  
As the sole filmmaker on the Panic Button panel, I found it particularly frustrating that there was so little concern expressed about how quality film will be generated, let alone exhibited.  It is all so connected: the big films to the little films, the financing to the distribution, the exhibition to the criticism.  The dots are connected but people want only to look at their domain.  That's not self-interest, that's short-sightedness.  And that's got to change, and I'm sure it will.
I get a kick out of watching/listening to these videos.  Among other things, it shows I have to work on my public speaking compared to these pros (and the control of my hair).  And it's impressive how skilled they all are about promoting themselves and their films -- and their way of doing business.  The distribs get the word out on their accomplishments, but I neglected to mention ADVENTURELAND (and did I tell you how it just killed at the festival?).  Granted, I hope to keep making films in the top indie budget range, but watching this panel, and despite some clear articulation of the contrary, it is still easy to walk away thinking there is only one way of doing business.
The important part of part one, which has gotten NO PRESS, is that Peter Broderick speaks of a number of filmmakers who have made over $1 Million on a single film on a single website.  How exciting is that?  Get your investors to talk to Peter now!  There's hope out there for a new way.
Part Two:
It's funny to notice as I post this that part one has about 20,000 views but Part Two is still under 1,000!  That said, I don't think I got my points across until that second half.  I guess the next time, I have to write some notes down like Mark Gill did and deliver a whopper right out of the gate...
There are some simple things that could really change things.  Around 11:45 or so, on Part 2, I raise the possibility of the distribs giving the exhibs back Monday night for community screenings.  This simple idea would move mountains in terms of specialized production and is doable now.  Jonathon Sehring follows this by stating that IFC will provide filmmakers with the data their film generates.  If this becomes the dominant position, filmmakers can really start to be in control.
And if you are just looking for the John Sloss bashing part of the program, that begins around 15:35 in Part 2.