Woodstock Fest Distro Panel: A New Paradigm?

"Pair of dimes, I would be happy with two nickels," so joked moderator Bingham Ray, but perhaps one of the bigger truths for all of us. If you have an hour to spare, give us a listen:

Distribution Panel, Woodstock Film Festival 2010 from BEA Submitter on Vimeo.

Panel Speaking Today: Woodstock Film Festival

Today, Saturday October 2nd at 2P, I will be participating in the NEW DISTRIBUTION PARADIGM panel at the Woodstock Film Festival.

The 21st century brought with it extraordinary advances in the way that films are distributed. The advent of the Internet, cable and satellite television and on-demand services now allows a viewer to choose exactly how and when they watch a film. This change in dynamic between the work and the audience has allowed many films a chance to shine that would have otherwise been denied. In turn this has opened up a whole new world of cinema for the public to enjoy, making such changes incredibly valuable and worthwhile. This panel will discuss the remarkable leaps forward that have been made in the world of film distribution and look ahead to what the future may hold.

My fellow panelists are an esteemed crew: Richard Abramowitz, Bob Berney, Edward Burns, and John Sloss.  I hope you can join us.

Order tickets here: http://www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/festival2010/panels.php?cat=Panel

Maybe New Eating Old Isn't Such A Good Diet...

On his Indiewire blog, Anthony Kaufman made the kind of observation I love: simple, right before us all, but ignored time and time again by the mainstream.  His point is that all the corporate acquisitions of art film companies have only led to disaster, and maybe this extends to old school media companies too.  The problem seems accentuated when it is an entity with new media dreams that acquires the traditional media company; what once worked with steady cash flow limps its way into non-existence.

There was a faint echo of this in the NY Times recent article on the difference between Hollywood and Silicon Valley cultures.  The necessary change from a salary mentality to an ownership one is not the easiest transition.  I have repeatedly been surprised by how few producers even are willing to take true entrepreneurial approach to production.  Sure we slave without fees for years on development, but when the time comes to go forward most remain strictly fee based.  Sure, I can't consider a back-end weighted deal when I need to pay my bills, but when that's not the case, I can get more creative.
History has shown repeatedly that Hollywood, and even the movie industry in general, just don't get new media.  Remember Pop.com? Before there was YouTube, there was Pop.com. It had it all: Dreamworks, John Sloss, Eddie Murphy, & Steve Martin. Here's Business Week's 9/25/2000 article on why they failed. Take a trip down memory lane here.
Frankly it's also looking like new media doesn't get the movie industry.  To me it comes down to the fact that film viewing is not a passive experience.  It is a collective community experience.  It is the aspects of community & collectivity that new media has to enhance when entering the film world.  And it is these very same aspects that we have to bring back to traditional cinema for it to grow vital again.  Ten years of impulse viewing and mass-market sell has destroyed the indie film culture.  We have to focus on developing audiences' informed decision making behavior and the aspects that extend film culture beyond the simple viewing process.

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.

Government Subsidies For The Arts

I was on a panel awhile back bemoaning the loss of the NEA back in the 80's, and how short sighted I thought it was not to have government funding for the arts, particularly film.

John Sloss responded that the government subsided film productions via the local state tax incentives -- and that's true, but not the whole picture.  Don't get me wrong, I love the state tax incentives.  They are good for the film businsess and great for the states' economies.  They create jobs and drive a lot of money into the states.  They have helped stem the flow of entertainment jobs out of the country.  But they don't create a more diverse culture.
When we had a tiny tiny portion of our tax dollars going to artists to develop new work, we had the possibility of new forms of representation.  The local state tax subsidies are for production, not development; they lead to more of the same work.  We all benefit when creative voices help us look at the world differently.  Without financial support how is anyone supposed to develop for anything other than the existing market?
I always use Julie Taymor as the poster child for government subsidies for the arts.  Back in the day she received such funding and was able to develop a truly unique craft.  She was later tapped by Disney to bring The Lion King to Broadway and thereby generated tremendous wealth for many.  Without the support of her development, we all would have been deprived of such a voice.
All that said, if you have finished that script and are looking to move towards production, those state incentives are pretty sweet.  The Incentives Office has a swell state-to-state guide that is free to download.  And through friday you can download here with just one push of a button and no need to fill out any forms.  Check it out. 

Know Your Digital Rights

I was on another fun panel yesterday at the Woodstock Film Festival.  All of these discussions are part of the ongoing conversation on the future prospects for both Indie and Truly Free film.  There's a lot more that I can write about that panel, but one thing I felt was the filmmakers' position getting stronger.

John Sloss, the man and the legend, and Ryan Werner of IFC Films were among the panel's participants.  IFC Films is certainly the leader in terms of number of films that they are putting up on VOD, and John, among many other things,  probably sells more films to them than anyone else.  Sloss's Cinetic Digital Rights Management initiative is also probably the leading aggregator of digital rights for feature films.
This whole arena is new for everyone and it all can easily be looked at as one big experiment for the time being.  The market is being created as I type and as you read.  The model is not yet set by any means.  Yet Cinetic and IFC are arguably the market leaders of the moment.  That's why I was so heartened by what I heard them claim they were open to -- something that could truly be a great step towards creator empowerment and ultimately also towards audience access.
Neither company, to my knowledge and according to what was said on the panel, currently does anything to provide the content generator/creator/filmmaker with access to any of the data that their work generates.  I hope that's now going to change, and what was said on that panel makes me believe it could.
Matt Dentler, Cinetic's Digi-maven, has expressed that Cinetic's DRM initiative is all about transparency for the filmmaker.  John Sloss backed that on the panel by saying that he thought it made sense that future contracts include a provision mandating that buyers provide the digital data to the filmmakers.  Not that Cinetic does that yet for its clients, but it can, and as John said, it will.  Ryan Werner also replied to an earlier question that he felt that such information could be provided to the filmmakers if they asked for it (even if they did not contract for it).
Now its up to the filmmakers to demand that their lawyers craft such language.  What will that be?  What is the information we need?  And how can we make sure that we are able to share it with each other?  It would be great if an industry leader on the legal side really stepped up and showed their commitment to filmmakers' rights and drafted something that could become industry standard.  It would be great if we could link to it now!  Who's going to help?
If you are licensing your film for next to nothing, if you have decided to split your revenue with your sales agent, shouldn't you at the very least get the information on who your audience is, where they are located, when they are watching or purchasing, whatever.  If you, the filmmaker, feel forced to make this kind of deal, shouldn't you at the very least be getting the data your work generates?  As filmmakers, not only should you be asking for language from your lawyer, but demanding that your licensor, your distributor provide this.  Do it and according to the leaders on the panel yesterday, they will listen and provide.  I hope it is so.

Come To Woodstock!

I am on the jury and will be be doing another panel up at the Woodstock Film Festival this weekend. I am completely impressed with the films in competition. They've done a great job curating. And they've done a great job programming too.

I am on a panel on the current state of what is still mistakingly referred to as the "Indie" film world. Woodstock's assembled a stellar and diverse group for it: John Sloss, Mark Duplass, & Ryan Werner -- all of us moderated by Variety's Dade Hayes. It is on at 2P Saturday. Here's the description:
IS IT SAFE? With the closure of many of the studio specialty divisions and the reported financial troubles of many of the independents, has “indie film distribution” come to an end, or is this just the end of the world, as we know it? What does the “falling sky” really signify for the independent film sector? Were these companies right to turn their backs or were they just spending too much? Should you make films these days without some form of distribution? And most importantly, who, what or where is the great future hope for indies (and is it all online?)?
Join this esteemed panel of experts straight from the front lines of indie distribution and learn where the light is at the end of the tunnel.

I wonder what I am going to say? Hmmmm.... We need to move the dialogue beyond my "1000 Phoenix Rising" and certainly beyond "The Sky Is Falling".