Diary of a Film Startup Post 19: Searching for Green Card

By Roger Jackson

Previously: New Year Update

Less of a diary post this time, more of a rumination on Hollywood, video-on-demand, and long-tail movies. Klaus and I decided to build KinoNation because we want to make it super-easy for indie filmmakers to distribute their films to the medium that is rapidly replacing DVD. Along the way we’ve come to realise there are also many well known films that remain almost impossible to watch “on demand” -- fuelling consumer frustration that can often only be solved by breaking the law.

Last week was a big day for Klaus‘s wife -- Malona had her final interview with the Feds for her Green Card. It all worked out, green card approved, and she wanted to celebrate that evening with a family viewing of the classic movie Green Card. Klaus and Malona have a pretty cool home theater setup, making it fun and easy to watch video-on-demand movies. Well, maybe not so easy in this case.

Green Card was nominated for an Oscar in 1991. It won a Golden Globe for Best Picture and Best Actor. And it grossed $30m at the box office. Surely there’s widespread consumer demand for this movie to be available to rent via video-on-demand? Certainly there was demand last week from one family in Santa Monica. Klaus started by searching Netflix. They have the DVD, but not Green Card for streaming. Next up, iTunes -- no joy. Amazon Instant Video or Amazon Prime? Nope.. Google Play, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube Movies? Not available.

It was getting late, kids becoming restless. Malona drove to the local Blockbuster store. They don’t have the Green Card DVD. No demand for it, apparently. Although there are about fifteen million people in the USA with one of these (partially green) permanent resident cards. And millions more applications pending.

So after 90 minutes of searching -- and failing -- to find a legal way to pay to watch Green Card that evening, Klaus gave up. Or rather he gave up trying to give Touchstone Pictures his money. Instead, he fired up the BitTorrent file sharing service. Found that Green Card is available for “sharing” from a dozen or so people’s hard drives. Sixteen minutes later he’d downloaded an excellent quality .AVI file, and the family were off to NYC with Gerard Depardieu and Andy MacDowell.

In this case at least, Hollywood has made it more convenient for consumers NOT to acquire movies legally. And this isn’t an isolated example. Most people don’t want the hassle and risk of illegal downloads. What they want is what has always been a big part of the KinoNation vision: Making it easy and convenient for consumers to watch any film, at any time...and to pay the content owners for the privilege.

Meanwhile...back at the ranch. Signed a distribution deal last week with Viewster, who’ve already ordered a half-dozen of the films submitted to our Private Beta. Viewster is becoming a significant player on the global VoD scene. They’re based in Switzerland, very active in the USA, Europe, Asia. And they have a great model which allows consumers to either rent a movie, or watch it for free with ads. We also just started working with SnagFilms, who are currently reviewing a package of the private beta movies. Great films continue to be submitted to us. For example, The Orator is a drama set in Samoa that won awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2011. So keep them coming -- what we’re building is now real, with more outlets every week, and getting very close to our upcoming “soft launch”.

Next Up: Post # 20: (scheduled for Tues February 5th)

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Post 18: New Year Update

By Roger Jackson

Previously: How KinoNation Works

What a difference a year makes. This time in 2012 I was working for an humanitarian assistance NGO, just back from a village solar power project in Tajikistan, and about to fly to West Africa to set up a veterinary aid project in Mauritania. That contract ended in July, and by August I was fully committed to online film distribution and KinoNation. Quite a contrast.

We’ve been on a “coding sprint” throughout the holidays to hit our planned “soft-launch” later this month. Klaus and our software team have been doing what developers in start-ups do -- writing code into the early hours. I usually work past midnight, but there’s always a twinge of guilt when I get up and see the emails that have flown back and forth at 4 in the morning.

Klaus now has the cloud-based encoding system working beautifully. Once a film is successfully uploaded, it’s now automatically transcoded to a great looking Preview version for each of the video-on-demand outlets. It pops-up on their web dashboard, along with trailer, IMDb page, synopsis and sales pitch. And then the outlet Selects or Declines the film according to their programming criteria. If they choose Select, the film is transcoded to their custom specs, packaged with their metadata, and automatically delivered.

I haven’t been entirely idle on platform development. I spent Christmas and New year writing the rather complex spec for the KinoNation Metadata Module. This is the super-set of data that we have to collect for every film. It’s several hundred data points all told, hopefully structured in a way that’s simple and fun for filmmakers to input. It’s all the obvious stuff, of course. Movie title, genre, running time, director, writer(s), producer, talent, synopsis, poster art, etc. But there’s also a ton of not so obvious data. For example, we need the filmmaker to provide timecode to define all the chapter breaks, so when someone buys the film online (known as Download to Own or DTO) there’ll be chapters, just like a DVD. But wait, each chapter needs an image, and what’s on the screen at the chapter break point probably won’t be the screen grab you like. So we also need timecode for each chapter screen pull -- and we have to build an online toolset that makes it super-easy for filmmakers to enter. And of course all these hundreds of data points have to be customized and mapped to each and every VoD outlet, who want the metadata in different sequences, different formats. As I said, it’s complex, but once this is built (it’s being coded now) it should be uber-efficient; ultimately, machines do this type of work -- spitting out bespoke packages of film+metadata to dozens of different VoD outlets -- way better than humans.

This week we’ve sealed a deal to get ALL films submitted to KinoNation on to Amazon Instant Video (AIV). And while it’s already possible for filmmakers to get movies onto AIV via CreateSpace by submitting a DVD, we’ll be able to deliver much higher resolution video files to Amazon, all automated. Plus, every KinoNation film on AIV will be eligible for Amazon Prime. AIV is a “transactional” video-on-demand service, where films can be rented or purchased. Whereas Prime is Amazon’s subscription VoD service, more like Netflix. Both great services, growing rapidly, with expansion both in the US and globally.

Amazon pays 50% of transactional (rent or buy) revenue to the filmmaker, plus a flat fee for every time a film is watched on Prime. So that’s exciting. Really great to have a prestigious outlet where we can more or less guarantee placement for a film uploaded to us, subject to it being full-length, with an IMDb page, and of course no porn, hate speech, etc. At the same time, we expect to be “live” soon with Hulu, iTunes, Google Play, SnagFilms, Viewster, YouTube Movies...and many outlets around the world.

Finally, great films continue to be submitted to our Private Beta. Now’s a great time to show us what you have.. Keep them coming.

Next Up: Post # 19: Searching for Green Card

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 17: How KinoNation Works

By Roger Jackson

We’re far enough along with development to have a clear work-flow for content owners. I’ve had lots of requests for this. So now’s a good time to explain the step-by-step flow for a film submitted to KinoNation. Right now we’re still in “beta-testing” mode, but expect to launch this more complete service in January 2013.

1. Human Readable: We’ve never liked those sign-up processes where you’re expected to read 10 pages of impenetrable legalese. So we’ve taken our cue from the folks at Creative Commons who believe there are humans -- and then there are lawyers! i.e. that terms of use should be “human readable” with a link to the underlying “lawyer readable” text for those that want it. Here’s the human-readable stuff:

You grant KinoNation the right: to Distribute — to copy, distribute and transmit the film and associated metadata to various video-on-demand (VoD) platforms throughout the world to Collect payments from VoD platforms if/when the film is rented or purchased to Pass those payments to the content owner (you) less a commission of 15-20%

With the understanding that: Video-on-Demand Platforms: have the right to review and select or not select the film for VoD distribution via their platform or service Content Owner (filmmaker) can reserve or withdraw distribution rights for any VoD platform or any country or territory Content Owner (filmmaker) can withdraw the film entirely from consideration by KinoNation’s video-on-demand partners at any time, subject to the specific terms of use for each of these partners.

2. Select Outlets: Next step is to select the VoD outlets you want us to submit to. Obviously we’d like to maximise your chances by submitting to everyone, but we also understand that content owners need to ability to control this. e.g. exclude “all you can eat” services like Netflix until the film has had a few months on iTunes. Or whatever.

3. Select Countries: Next step is to select countries. KinoNation will default to global VoD rights, it will be up to the filmmaker to selectively exclude any particular country.

4. Upload film and trailer: Next step is to start the upload, which can take a few days for massive 100GB Prores files, but the upload software we’ve built is pretty fail-safe, and easily to start, stop, resume, etc. without losing any data. More than 100 features and documentaries have already been successfully uploaded, from all over the world.

5. Tier One QC: We have very strict technical specs for the upload, since the last thing you want is to upload a massive file for a week, only to have it rejected. But we also do some automated Quality Control at the beginning of each upload, checking that the ProRes file has the right bitrate, progressive not interlaced, correct resolution, audio, etc.

6. MetaData: Next step is to collect a “super-set” of information about the film. We need this to satisfy the very strict (and variable) metadata requirements for each VoD outlet. We need cast & crew data, 50-100 word sales pitch, synopsis, high quality poster art, festivals & awards info, clearances and music cue sheets, subtitles if necessary, IMDb page, Facebook page, YouTube trailer link, etcetera. It’s critically important and it’s worth several hours of your time to get this right. It’s broken down into several sections, so you can do it gradually during the film upload process.

7. Preview Transcode Now the magic starts. Once the upload to our cloud system is complete, the film is automatically transcoded to a high quality Preview version that (unlike the master ProRes file) can be streamed and watched.

8. Tier Two QC: Next step is Tier 2 Quality Control, where we “manually” check the film for elements that might cause VoD outlets to reject the movie -- like letterboxing (fail), pillar-boxing (fail), color bars (fail), burned-in subtitles (fail). You get the idea.

9. Outlet Dashboard: Now the full-length Preview of your film pops-up on the web-based Dashboard for each VoD platform you’ve selected. They will typically watch the trailer, look at the IMDb page, and probably watch samples of the complete film.

10. Accept/Decline: Each VoD platform can then Accept or Decline the film. If they accept, it triggers an automated encode of the film to the exact specification for that platform. The new file (known as a “mezzanine”) is then delivered electronically to the platform, along with a custom metadata package.

11. Ingest & QC: Next step is for the VoD platform to ingest the film package and do their own Quality Control. Assuming everything is OK, the film is ready for public showing. If it fails, we’ll work to fix any problems.

12. Program: Now the VoD platform will program the film, meaning they’ll assign it to a genre section, hopefully give it a promotional push, and turn it live.

13. Rent or Buy or Ad-Supported: Depending on the platform, the film will be available to buy (meaning download to own) or rent (usually 48 hrs) or free but ad-supported. Either way you make money.

14. Revenue Reported: The platforms will report revenue to KinoNation, usually a few weeks in arrears, sometimes longer, and will subsequently make payment.

15. Cash in Hand: KinoNation takes a 15-20% commission and then passes the remainder of each month’s revenue to the content owner. In an ideal world, your film is on dozens of platforms worldwide, each generating income for you, indefinitely.

So that’s what we’ve been busy building. if you’ve read this far, you’ll see why this is a big, complex software, work-flow and business challenge. KinoNation is a work in progress, it certainly won’t be comprehensive when we soft launch in January, but we’re getting there. Meanwhile, now’s a great time to submit your film to our Private Beta launch.

Next Up: Post # 18: (scheduled for Tues January 8th, and then bi-weekly after that)

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 16: Top Ten Lessons, So Far

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Film Marketing Tools

Train to Stockholm We get amazing indie films submitted to KinoNation almost every day to our Private Beta launch. Here’s one that’s beautifully shot, with a theme of cross-border connectivity that will, I think, appeal to many video-on-demand platforms. Keep submitting movies!

10 Lessons As we close in on year’s end -- and 4 months work on KinoNation -- I thought I’d share some lessons we’ve learned that really apply, I think, both to startup ventures AND to indie filmmaking. They seem obvious to me with hindsight, but they weren’t obvious when we started just a few months ago.

1 ASSUMPTIONS -- the premise for any startup or film is based on a series of assumptions which may or may not be true. It’s critically important to accept that your assumptions -- about market, audience, revenues, etc. -- may be fundamentally flawed. Job # 1 is to identify what your fundamental assumptions are. For KinoNation, the assumptions are that: a) filmmakers and content owners will want to use a service like this, b) that VoD platforms will be prepared to take our films, and c) that the numbers (costs vs future revenue) will actually add up to make the venture worthwhile.

2 TEST & VERIFY -- it’s much faster and cheaper to test your assumptions before you start shooting or writing code or hiring people. The key is to test & verify in a thoroughly objective way. Avoid what many entrepreneurs and filmmakers do, which is to hear only what they want to hear (positive validation) and filter out what they don’t want to hear (negative validation.) We tested our assumptions in #1 by making hundreds of calls and asking people, before we wrote a single line of code. And we continue to test and listen and test again. You really can do similar verification before making a movie.

3 PIVOT -- be prepared to change course, based on testing, feedback and early results. We were pretty sure we’d use the industry leading software for transferring huge movie files (Aspera) until we discovered it would cost us $100 for each film uploaded to us. So we built the software ourselves. That was a pretty major pivot, with significant risk, but we did it fast, and within less than a month we had people using our Upload Manager to transfer their ProRes files to our cloud servers.

4 BE TRANSPARENT - talk to competitors, be open about your plans. So many entrepreneurs and filmmakers want to keep their idea secret. Bad idea. Ideas are ten a penny. It’s execution that’s really hard. The upside from sharing your idea -- and the feedback you get -- far outweighs the risk that someone will take your idea and execute on it themselves. Startups or screenplays or ideas in “stealth mode” tend to die from lack of exposure to the real world. I’ve had meetings with most of our competitors, and I’ve learned enormously from each one. Competitors can be remarkably open, friendly and supportive.

5 LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE -- in the case of KinoNation, audience means filmmakers and VoD platforms and consumers of on-demand films. Talk to everyone, invite criticism and listen carefully, even if the feedback conflicts with your own beliefs. They may be right, you may be wrong. Many of our beliefs about the world of on-demand films have been significantly amended after listening to feedback.

6 RELEASE EARLY AND FAST -- there’s no better way to verify that you’re on to something (or not) than by having real people check it out, use your service, watch your dailies, etc. Get it out there fast, at least to a limited audience, and shorten the feedback-loop. In the startup world it’s known as MVP -- Minimum Viable Product.

7 DON’T WASTE TIME AND MONEY ON STUPID STUFF -- there are so many “busywork” items beckoning to you when starting a business or prepping a movie. Setting up a company, printing stationery, opening a bank account, etc. Don’t let it distract you. It doesn’t achieve much. Do it only when you absolutely must, and not before. e.g. open a bank account after you first get that first check!

8 STRIVE FOR FIRST MONEY -- keep your sights on the point where your first income arrives. That’s actually the crucial target. It’s not launching the website or wrapping the shoot. It’s getting that first check. For KinoNation the first income will be in Q1 of 2013, and once it comes it -- even if relatively small -- it will be the first “real” validation of our business assumptions.

9 BE CHEAP, LEAN & MEAN -- startup companies and startup movies die because they run out of cash. You’ll never have enough. Be incredibly cheap. Run things lean and mean, but always be aware of the 3 factors “fast” “inexpensive” and “high quality”  -- you can only ever have 2 out of 3.

10 IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT -- making movies, or starting a business is a long haul, always longer and harder than you expect. You’ll have times when you accomplish a lot, and times of intense frustration. You have to pace yourself, take fun breaks, and bust the stress with exercise. You will fail to finish this marathon if you don’t balance life, work and passion.

Next Up: Post # 17: From Upload to Cash in Hand: How KinoNation Works

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 15: Film Marketing Tools

By Roger Jackson
Previously: Early Results

50 Ways to Sell Your Movie KinoNation now has a library of almost 100 feature films and documentaries in our Private Beta. As I spend time showing some of these films to various US and international video-on-demand outlets, I am more and more convinced of the need for a step-by-step template that helps filmmakers with the the business of selling & marketing their films. So last week I spent some time creating a “back of an envelope” plan for a section of KinoNation where filmmakers can be guided through a series of fifty steps to give their film a better chance at finding an audience. The idea is to have one page on KinoNation.com for each of these fifty steps, along with an overall Progress Bar -- so a filmmaker can review what percentage of this marketing checklist has been completed. This is deliberately rough -- I just want to get the discussion started.

Checklist Imagine yourself going through this checklist, with a page on KinoNation for each one, including examples and hand-holding and discussion and comments. The objective is to come out the other side having taken action -- and marketing is all about “taking action” -- to make your film stand out in a crowded market. This is down and dirty, stream of consciousness stuff right now, but will coalesce over the coming weeks into a critically important part of KinoNation. It’s in our interest to help filmmakers sell their films on VoD, since we only make money when they make money!

  1. Mission/Objectives - what’s the point of making this film?
  2. You - tell your audience about the driving force behind this film, warts and all. Especially the warts!
  3. Them - people are, fundamentally, interested in themselves. They want to learn about themselves and their world thru the medium of your film. Make your marketing personal and organic and authentic.
  4. Ask for Help - marketing is a second marathon alongside the making of them film - start by inviting people to help. It’s like KickStarter, but you’re not asking for money, just time.
  5. Timeline - I rarely see this, but I always want it, a timeline of the film from inception thru now.
  6. Budget - be open and transparent about money issues, it’s interesting and compelling and people love it. Share your budget docs!
  7. Synopsis - I see SO many bad synopses. Make yours sing, with lean, spare prose and perfect grammar and syntax. Around 200 words. Max.
  8. Tagline - a short, pithy one-liner that instantly grabs attention.
  9. Long Description - you need this also, should be no more than 1000 words.
  10. Storyboards - great if you have them, share them online.
  11. Genres - choose 1 primary genre and (maybe) one sub-genre, and stick to it.
  12. Sales Pitch - 50-100 words on why this film is a smart commercial bet.
  13. Script - put the script (or at least bits of it) online, it’s great SEO (search-engine optimization)
  14. Memorable Quotes - we love ‘em on IMDb, and people will be similarly drawn to yours
  15. Top Ten Lists - my 10 biggest rookie director screw-ups or 10 lucky breaks in the making of this movie, and so on.
  16. Optimal Title - I’ve written about this before, the alphabetical advantage. Unfortunately it’s true that “20,000 Zombies” gets better placement on many VoD platforms than “Universal Zombie”
  17. SEO - Search Engine Optimization. Learn a little about it and views all online marketing through this lens, it’s critically important.
  18. Keywords - come up with a half-dozen keywords for your film and make sure they are on every web page you have control over (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
  19. Film Detail Page - we’re planning to give every film a “detail page” on KinoNation.com
  20. Trivia - everyone loves this, it’s always compelling, so give your audience some!
  21. Video - you can never have too many video clips out there, the more the merrier.
  22. Trailer - cutting a trailer is hard; don’t wait for this, get other clips released.
  23. First 8 mins - studios often do something like this, easy to cut, great way to get viewers hooked.
  24. Clips - studios do this constantly, releasing literally dozens of 30-60 sec clips as part of the marketing campaign. You should also.
  25. Outtakes - don’t save these for the DVD, get them out there if they’re truly funny or compelling.
  26. Behind the Scenes - mini interviews with cast & crew, location scouting video, whatever you have.
  27. Media Relations - journalists want things to write about, especially if their magazine or blog is on the same subject as your film, or if your film was shot in their town. Don’t be scared, call them!
  28. Hand-Crafted Pitches (emails & calls) to film mags and blogs, tell them why your film is worth featuring.
  29. Social Media - think about what this really means. It’s not just having a Facebook page -- it’s about creating a compelling arc for the story of your struggle to write, finance, cast, shoot, edit, screen and market your film.
  30. Web Site - or at least a single “film detail page,” which KN.com will have for all our films
  31. Facebook - start it early in the process, post something every day.
  32. Twitter - I’m far from expert,  all I know is that it’s worth the investment.
  33. Pinterest - more popular every day, should be the pictorial hub for your movie.
  34. YouTube - all your video clips should be here, plus Vimeo also.
  35. Images - still images can show aspects of your film that video won’t...take lots and lots and show them off!
  36. Posters - on VoD, films live or die by how compelling your poster image is as people scan a page of movies. It’s the same as a video store shelf. Don’t make a great movie with a lame poster. This deserves enormous effort to get right -- make a dozen and test, test, test!
  37. Talent - empower your talent, beg them if you must, but enlist them early in mobilizing their friends and family and fans if they have them.
  38. Behind the Scenes - the stories behind the camera are only worthwhile if you capture them somehow.
  39. Cast - create profiles of your cast members, the who/what/where/why when of them and the characters they play.
  40. Crew - the crew have friends and families too, so find ways to leverage them for marketing.
  41. Director, Writer, Producer, DP, Editor -- get them to write some copy, snap some images, generally engage them in the on-going marketing
  42. Locations - leverage your locations, make sure the good folk of the small desert town you filmed in are kept informed via their local paper, blogs, etc. They’re prime target audience.
  43. Score Music - release bits of your music online, give your (hopefully) growing audience some sounds
  44. Tech - don’t forget to talk tech, there are plenty of gearheads out there, they want to know about the camera, the lights, etc.
  45. Stunts & Action - if you have stunts or car chases this is great footage for early release.
  46. Languages - think globally from the beginning, VoD is a global medium, translate at least your synopsis and sales pitch into the major foreign languages.
  47. Funny Stuff - there’s always funny stuff on film sets, documentary shoots, etc. Don’t just tell your pals, tell everyone.
  48. Accidents - these happen too; as long as they’re not tragic, you should blog about them.
  49. Festivals - tier A, tier B, tier C -- all useful, but you must plan!
  50. Test Screenings - do what the studios do, show and tell and feedback loops.

Feedback very much desired. I’m sure there are many things I’ve missed. And keep submitting movies!

Next Up: Post # 16: Top Ten Mistakes, So Far

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 14: Early Results

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Indie Film Inspiration

Quarter Million Views I thought I’d share some results -- as in numbers -- for a feature that is having a nice run on YouTube Movies. The film is called Time Expired, and won a silver award for Comedy Feature at WorldFest Houston. It was submitted to KinoNation last week. And in fact the master ProRes file (71GB) is currently being uploaded by the filmmakers to our cloud storage servers. What immediately caught my attention is that Time Expired has almost a quarter million views on YouTube Movies since it was placed there by director Nick Lawrence 12 months ago. That’s the full length (93 mins) movie, not the trailer -- an average of 20,000 per month, and accelerating. Nick has kindly agreed to share the extensive stats that YouTube provide. It’s interesting and quite instructive, I think, as YouTube Movies becomes an increasingly significant -- and profitable -- option for indie filmmakers.

Ad-Supported vs. Transactional VoD First a little background. YouTube launched their Movies Channel in the spring of 2011. Films on the channel are either transactional VoD -- that is, consumers rent them for between $2 and $15 - or they are ad-supported (like Time Expired.) The content owner sets the rental price. Ad supported films typically have 4 or 5 ad breaks within the movie, where a 30 second TV spot is shown. They also have pre-roll and post-roll ads. YouTube kicks back 60-70% of revenue to the content owner. Anyone can put their film up as ad-supported. The bar is much higher for rental movies, since they have to be uploaded by a YouTube Rental Partner (such as KinoNation.) It’s easy (and understandable) for filmmakers to shun ad-supported platforms, and think the audience should pay a rental fee for their movie. That’s a mistake, in my opinion. You can make money from both, and Free can drive a large audience.

Cash Incoming Time Expired is generating about three hundred dollars a month (and climbing) from the commercials playing before & within the film. Would Nick and producer Rachel Tucker make more money if Time Expired was, say, a $2 rental on YouTube? Hard to say. Almost impossible to do genuine A/B testing of the two scenarios, but Nick and Rachel are happy with the film’s performance, and understandably reluctant to mess with a winning formula. Remember, even if a viewer only watches the first few minutes of the movie, it still generates ad revenue. And of course on a channel like YouTube there will always be a ton of people who browse free movies by just clicking Play. The psychology of free vs. not free is, obviously, massive. Chris Anderson wrote a book on the subject, called Free. He essentially argues that for long-tail content, there are only two prices: Free...and everything else.

How Many? YouTube Movies does a nice job providing stats. Here are some crucial numbers for Time Expired (they’re a few hours behind so the live player will show a bigger views # by the time you read this. And I’m rounding these #’s to the nearest thousand for readability.) The film has 241,000 “views” which is triggered when the viewer clicks Play. Of those views, 114,000 were “monetizable.” Meaning YouTube inserted ads. The reason is simply that the filmmakers didn’t get “ad-supported” status until June this year. Since then every view generates income. On average in the USA people watched 30% of the film, which falls to 19% globally. That may seem disappointing from a filmmaker’s POV, but remember that’s just an average. Tens of thousands of folk around the world have watched it to the end credits, and of course some have hung around just a few seconds. That’s the reality of free online movies. But tens of thousands of people watching the movie to the end is orders of magnitude bigger than even the best festival run. That’s pretty satisfying, I think, and the cash is a nice bonus. As Nick said to me, “Would be great if everybody watched it to the end, but on the plus side at least we earn advertising revenue even when people are just checking it out.”

Where Are They From and How’d They Find It? The lion’s share of the views are from the USA, followed by UK, Canada, India, Philippines. Makes sense, right? They’re all English speaking. Less obvious, perhaps, is the 11k views from Saudi Arabia. Time Expired has also garnered north of 5k views in each of Germany, France, Australia, UAE and Singapore. Again not surprising that just over half of views come from referrals within YouTube. e.g. someone is watching other content, and they see (and click on) Time Expired in the “Suggested Video” section. The other half? Typically they’re via Google or YouTube searches for “comedy movies” or “2011 movies” or “Hollywood movies” -- even though this is very much an indie from Oklahoma.

What’s Next? Time Expired was submitted last week to the KinoNation private beta. Which means, hopefully, that the cash being generated on YouTube will be multiplied many times as we pitch it to other VoD platforms, both in the US and globally. We hope it’ll be accepted by Hulu, the other ad-supported VoD giant, and subsequently by Vudu and international platforms like Lovefilm and Viewster. That’s the whole point of KinoNation. It’s a one-stop distribution system. Upload once, and get your film pitched to dozens -- ultimately hundreds -- of VoD platforms. So keep submitting features and docs -- there’s money to be made, and people to entertain.

Next Up: Post # 15: Film Marketing Tools

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 13: Indie Film Inspiration

By Roger Jackson

 
First Looks
This is an important week for KinoNation. Well, every week is crucial for a startup, but this feels extra critical. We’re submitting our first tranche of films to several video-on-demand platforms. We haven’t finished the dashboard for our VoD partners yet -- that’s scheduled for December -- so the submission process is old school. That is, we’re sending them a spreadsheet with details of films, trailer, IMDb link, festivals & awards, and the all-important written pitch. The results & feedback from these submission -- whether VoD platforms accept 10% or 30% or 65% of the films we show them -- will give us the early data we need to solidify our business model. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Upload to the Big Screen
I’ve been to talking to an impressive and innovative company in the UK called Kinopto. They’re in the business of providing high-quality digital cinema systems that are very affordable for even small movie theaters. And therefore can be deployed at rapid scale. Without giving away too much, we’re discussing a deal whereby an indie film uploaded to KinoNation can be selected by a movie theater, downloaded into the Kinopto system, and be playing to a live cinema audience. That would be exciting, I think.

 

Films In
I have a Google spreadsheet called “films in”. Remarkable, I think, that after just 3 months we have almost 100 feature films in our library, from 11 countries. More films are submitted every day, and then uploaded to our cloud storage system. Here are a few samples from the past week: Linda Nelson of Indie Rights submitted Char•ac•ter, a fascinating doc about the craft of acting, featuring the last ever interview with the late Sydney Pollack. Grace Rowe submitted I Am That Girl, an award-winning feature about the intersection of credit cards, debt, work and love. And a quirky but interesting doc about arcade game fanatics -- The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, which should find its audience in the VoD ecosystem. Keep submitting films, please, to our Beta Launch. It takes less than 5 minutes.

 

Power of the Pitch
One of the lessons I’ve learned is the critical importance of the “pitch” for each film. This is the short, passionate, pithy text that is intended to “sell” a film to a VoD platform. That is, convince them the movie will find an audience. Crucially, this is NOT the film tagline or synopsis or long description. Instead, it’s why this film will perform. Get rented. Or get watched on an ad platform. In short, it’s the sales pitch. Why is the subject matter compelling, right now? Who’s in the film? Festivals? Awards? Press quotes. Whatever you have that is real and verifiable and attention grabbing. Your pitch, coupled with your trailer, is a big part of each VoD platform’s accept or reject decision. Worth some thought.

 

Next Up: Post # 14: Early Results

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 12: Doubling the Upload Speed

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Ranking System for Indie Films?

Twice as Fast
We’ve made big strides at KinoNation over the past week. Klaus has been pulling late nights building the cloud-based Transcoding Engine. This automatically encodes films to the specs for each of dozens of VoD platforms. It's complex work that's normally done manually at encoding houses -- and costs several hundred dollars per film. It's a non-trivial challenge, so I was pretty psyched to see it working -- and to see how fantastic the encoded films look! Not wanting to get too techy, but this means the huge ProRes files being uploaded by filmmakers are auto-checked on completion, queued and then transcoded into the Preview version that VoD platforms can watch and review. And then decide “yes, we want it” or “no thanks, not what we’re looking for.” So that brings us several steps closer to completing version 1.0 of KinoNation. But -- we definitely want the Upload piece of the puzzle to be faster. So far the longest upload is 19 days. That was a documentary -- 95GB file --  from New Zealand. The shortest upload was 12 hours. That's a feature from New York -- 80GB file -- uploaded from a Manhattan post facility with a fiber-optic uplink. Most uploads take 2-5 days. These are huge files. So far we’ve had over 50 full-length films uploaded, and no one has complained about the elapsed time. Bandwidth at the filmmaker end is, well, what it is. And the process is completely painless for the user. But faster would be definitely be better. So we’ve come up with an ingenious solution to double (or even triple) the Upload speed. That new technology went live today and is already being tested by filmmakers. It solves the bandwidth problem by allowing the film to be uploaded from multiple locations, simultaneously. Here’s how it works: Your master ProRes file is on an external hard drive, probably. Start the upload to KinoNation from, say, your home computer. KinoNation kicks out an email with a unique re-upload link. Now simply copy the master ProRes file to a second hard drive. Then take drive # 2 to a different location. Maybe your office. Or your mother’s house. Anywhere with a computer. Click on the link, login to KinoNation, select the movie file on the drive, and click “Resume Upload.” The new Uploader software does the rest, making sure each location uploads different parts of the movie, and then putting it all together at the end. It checks for 100% integrity of the movie file, it seems bullet-proof so far, and your movie gets to KinoNation in half the time. Or even faster, since there’s no limit to how many locations you can add -- the only factor is how many hard drives you have, or maybe how many willing friends. We’re really excited about this technology, not least because we're very filmmaker focused, and the more rapid the upload, the better the experience. Plus it's now more viable for filmmakers in low-bandwidth developing countries to get their movies to us. Feel free to try the new Uploader system as part of our Private Beta trial.

Setting Expectations
I spent some time updating the KinoNation FAQ last week, in an effort to re-set expectations about how easily (or not) films will be accepted for VoD.  We’re very sensitive to this -- in this town (Los Angeles) everyone seems to over-promise and under-deliver! We want to be the opposite of that. So here's the deal. KinoNation -- uniquely as far as we know -- will accept any feature film or full-length documentary. Once the film is uploaded to us, it's immediately transcoded into a high-quality "Preview" and then appears on the web dashboard of the video-on-demand platforms. They can watch it, or more likely scroll thru it, just sampling a few minutes. They'll have access to all the metadata, the trailer and the film's KinoNation ranking. And they'll make their decision to accept -- or reject -- the film. Every VoD platform has a curatorial process.  Some more rigorous than others, but they all pick and choose films that best fit their programming criteria and their audience taste. So there will be filmmakers who submit to KinoNation -- are reviewed by multiple outlets -- but get a disappointing "No" from everyone. That's the tough reality which has certainly prompted several discussions here about launching a spin-off video-on-demand platform that (like virtually every online music service) would take the position that "curation" is a job best suited to the audience. And maybe we'll follow through -- with the cloud technology infrastructure we're building, it wouldn't be that hard. But right now we're uber-focused on the distribution game. Keep submitting those films!

Next week: Post # 13: Indie Film Inspiration

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 11: Ranking System for Indie Films?

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Three Months of Work

Ranking System
Consistent feedback from VoD platforms: it’s tough for them to decide whether to accept -- or reject -- an independent film. And how useful it would be to have some sort of independent films ranking system, to give them some indication of how well a movie might perform on VoD. We agree. So we’re building it. We found the perfect person to create what is quite a complex real-time algorithm -- an indie filmmaker with a math PhD from Harvard.

Here’s the concept: For every film uploaded to KinoNation we gather dozens of data points. Film in a festival? It gets points, based on the prestige and importance of the festival. More points for an award nomination. Even more for a win. Trailer has 10,000 views on Vimeo or YouTube? That’s also part of the ranking. Ditto with Facebook fans, Tweets, IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes score, etcetera. You get the idea. There are 50+ metrics in all.

The secret sauce is the algorithm, of course -- how much each metric is worth, damping factors, and the statistical integrity of the ranking. Is it perfect? Far from it, and obviously a high KinoNation rank doesn’t guarantee that a film will perform in the VoD space. There are plenty of movies whose trailer goes viral on YouTube but the film fails to take off when the audience has to pay to rent or buy. But we believe a novel and transparent ranking system could be helpful, not just to VoD platforms who have to pick and choose films based on limited data, but also to filmmakers who will see their ranking improve as a function of their marketing efforts. No question it’ll be controversial. Obviously it’s tough to measure the “quality” of a film -- which is highly subjective -- based on the film’s engagement with social media. A film might have no trailer, no Facebook page, and no festival wins, but still be fantastic. Right?

VoD at the American Film Market
I’m spending some time at AFM this week, which -- like KinoNation -- is in Santa Monica. Today was the video-on-demand conference. I showed up for “VoD Release Strategies.” Panelists from SnagFilms, Magnolia Pictures, IndieFlix and Tribeca. Everyone very bullish about the rapidly maturing VoD market and the potential to reach millions of households. My 5 point takeaway:

1. Major studios are dumping hundreds or even thousands of their library films into the VoD system, crowding out indies to a certain extent, and certainly clogging up the encoding houses.
2. Comcast is the 800lb gorilla of cable VoD, way ahead of the other cable systems (Time Warner, Charter, AT&T, etc.) in terms of the revenue they generate for indie films
3. The cable companies VoD interfaces are generally awful, but unlikely to improve fast because it’s so expensive to swap out millions of cable set-top boxes.
4. Try as they might, it’s hard for VoD platforms to duplicate the “visual feel” of a Blockbuster-type video store. But indie filmmakers can stand out from the VoD crowd by creating big, gorgeous poster art for their film. This shouldn’t be an afterthought. Invest in great art and photos for your film, it’s often the defining factor for consumers.
5. VoD platforms that showcase films “in theaters now” -- which can really super-charge online rentals -- have wised up to distributors who are essentially cheating the system by four-walling the movie in 1 or 2 theaters.

Foreign Intervention
A dozen more films submitted to our Private Beta this week. Keep them coming! I’ve been talking to a couple of filmmakers whose movies have a foreign language element. Director Rafael Blanco made two versions of “The Last Intervention” -- one version in English, and one in Spanish. Makes sense since it’s a comedy about a dysfunctional Dominican family. Rafael is uploading both versions to KinoNation. But worth noting that most VoD platforms won’t accept burned-in subtitles, and we encourage filmmakers to upload their subtitles as metadata with timecode, so the consumer (as with DVD) can turn on/off the non-English version. Meanwhile, Luxembourg based filmmaker Ady El Assal submitted “Les Fameux Gars” (The Famous Guys.) This raw, high energy movie should find its audience among French speaking teens -- and reminds me that we need to woo Paris based platforms CanalPlay, Arte, My TF1 and Iliad. VoD is huge in France and a big opportunity for KinoNation.

Next week: Post # 12:  Doubling the Upload Speed

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 10: Three Months of Work

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Filmmakers Festival Feedback

3 Months In

We’ve been at it for three months now. Building a platform like KinoNation from scratch is an enormous amount of work, and like most start-ups we have limited resources. But we’re having fun, meeting a ton of really great people in the indie film world, and making rapid progress. Most important, we’re increasingly certain that KinoNation is a viable business, and we’ve been able to validate (prove) most of  our early assumptions.

The Uploader software is working great -- dozens of films from around the world have been successfully uploaded to our cloud storage, and dozens more are currently in progress. We’re already working on version 2 which should speed things up significantly. We’re now busy building the all important “dashboard” -- the web interface that allows filmmakers to see what VoD platforms have selected their film, and allows the VoD platforms to review films and select the ones they want. In many ways it’s the core of the movie marketplace we’re constructing.

10 VoD Lessons

Meanwhile, we’ve climbed (partially) the steep learning curve of video-on-demand, thanks to daily meetings and calls with smart and generous people in the industry. Here’s are some of the top 10 things we’ve learned, that I think are useful to all indie filmmakers. They’re anecdotal -- meaning I haven’t independently verified the numbers, and I’m certainly not the first on this blog to discuss VoD, but I think they’re instructive.

 

1. 70% of US video-on-demand revenue is generated by Cable VoD. Not surprising since they’ve been in the on-demand game the longest, and they have a captive audience to whom they can promote their VoD titles.

 

2. 30% of US video-on-demand revenue is generated by Internet VoD. By which I mean iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon and many others.

 

3. Approx. 70% of film festival acquisition deals are now “driven” by video-on-demand. I know this sounds like a throwaway number, and it probably is, but I’ve heard it from three different sources. Whatever the percentage, it’s a clear indication that the market for indie films will increasingly be dominated by video-on-demand.

 

4. VoD is generating real, meaningful revenue for hundreds, if not thousands, of indie films. As in thousands of dollars a month. It’s not trivial any more, if it ever was. Hopefully more specificity on that in future posts.

 

5. VoD is in many ways more of an annuity driven revenue stream rather than an event driven revenue stream. Theatrical and DVD releases in the traditional distribution model were events. They had street dates and windows. VoD also has a release date, of course, but it doesn’t fit the old “windowing” system, because VoD is forever. Meaning your film should still be available in 20 years. Of course, that means you have to keep marketing it so you continue to see that long-tail income.

 

6. It’s a really bad idea to just get your film onto 1 or 2 random platforms just to get it out there. So while it’s super-simple to get a movie onto Amazon VoD, it’s probably not the best idea. i.e. You need a planned and rational VoD distribution roll-out.

 

7. It’s critical to think about VoD marketing before you start shooting. Because while there will be some organic discovery of your film -- consumers stumbling upon it -- much of your revenue will come from an audience that you’ve worked hard to aggregate and then drive to rent or buy.

 

8. Hollywood has really woken up to VoD. If they were even asleep. Smaller movies are being released day & date theatrical and VoD. David Giancola’s riveting Addicted to Fame, about Anna Nicole-Smith and the making of the B-Movie “Illegal Aliens,” has it’s theatrical release on November 30th. VoD release is three weeks earlier, on November 6th.

 

9. There are over 100 video-on-demand platforms. It’s definitely not all about Cable + iTunes + Netflix.  Roku is having a huge impact.  Snag Films is a great revenue source for indie films, as is Fandor. And, of course, YouTube Movies and GooglePlay are fast becoming major platforms for indie films. KinoNation will distribute to all of them. It’s a vast, growing and complex VoD ecosystem.

 

10. This one is pure anecdote: dozens of traditional distribs struggling, or going out of business. They’re unable to adapt to the rapid demise of DVD, as the rise of VoD requires a whole new set of skills. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

 

Thirst

Finally, we continue to get great films submitted every day to our Private Beta. One that caught my attention is Thirst, sent by Aussie producer Megan George. Keep them coming!

 

Next week: Post # 11:  Ranking System for Indie Films

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at roger@kinonation.com.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 6: Late Nights and Early Breakthroughs

By Roger Jackson
 

Previously: A Crash Course in Film Distribution (and why video-on-demand is even more complicated)

Lining up Deals
Lots of late nights for the team, figuring out the “flow” of the KinoNation platform, writing code and reaching out to global video-on-demand outlets. My spreadsheet list of these outlets just keeps growing. There’s more than 100 now, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. That’s a lot of phone calls and pitches! This is a rapidly expanding market -- it seems almost every day there’s a new VoD initiative. Last week Canadian cable giant Shaw Communications announced “Shaw Go” to compete with Netflix in Canada. And you’ve doubtless heard that Redbox are rolling out “Redbox Instant by Verizon” in December. It’s exciting and fast-changing and provides huge opportunity for filmmakers to reach new audiences. And it’s keeping me very busy, in each case tracking down the right person to talk to -- and then convincing them that upstart KinoNation will be a source of great movie content.

Shoot Local, Think Global
Over 50 films in the Kinonation Private Beta now, lots of cool -- and quirky -- indie films submitted this week. One that resonated is Triumph67, an Arab-American drama made in Minnesota. I talked to producer Jeremy Wilker, who told me the film was shot in the summer of 2008, then completed post-production with the help of a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign -- and finally premiered 2 years ago. And then came the distribution waiting game that most indie films must play. This is definitely a niche movie, with a built-in market among Arab-Americans, plus the wider Arab/Middle-East market. So I was delighted to hear from Jeremy that they’ve “...just now finished the DVDs and BluRays this week and we actually have it already subtitled in Arabic and also in French.” Delighted because Klaus and I have a vision for KinoNation to make it super-simple for filmmakers to exploit their movie as a multi-language, multi-territory asset, providing easy access to VoD platforms throughout the world -- including the necessary technical and metadata infrastructure. Or, put simply, you upload sub-titles to Kinonation (including timecode in/out points), we deliver them to VoD platforms in the relevant countries, and they’re inserted on-the-fly when the film is watched. Think of VoD as a global distribution system that enables you to find thousands of micro-audiences across hundreds of countries. And keep submitting films, please, there’s no risk and lots of benefits!

Upload and Breakthrough
We targeted an October beta launch, and this week we start inviting selected filmmakers to upload their movies. And by “upload” we don’t mean a super-compressed version, we mean the big, fat file that is the end result of filmmaking. The ProRes (or equivalent) from DaVinci Resolve or Final Cut Pro or whatever the film is finished on. This hasn’t been possible before. Or at least not in the way we envision -- as simple to upload to KinoNation as posting a cell-phone video clip to YouTube. It’s not a trivial tech challenge, requiring multi-part upload, the capability to seamlessly re-start the upload even from a different computer, and a cast-iron guarantee that the film arriving at KinoNation is exactly the same as the one that left your hard drive. But we think we’ve cracked it and now we’re testing it with a handful of filmmakers around the world. Some will have fast connections -- probably at a post-facility -- where a massive 100GB upload can be started in the evening and done by the morning. Others will have slower connections -- it’s dependent on how fat or thin is the “pipe” at the filmmaker end -- and the upload may take a week. Yes, that’s a 7 day upload. Sounds a bit daunting, but we’ve built the software to handle crashes and interruptions, and otherwise it’ll just do it’s thing in the background -- you’ll still be able to do all your normal internet stuff. Our engineer David, field-testing the upload of Kris and Lindy Boustedt’s hi-definition drama This is Ours (weighting in at 108GB) reported that during 3 days or so of upload, he was still able to stream Netflix movies at the same time -- on his home internet connection. Anyway, we’re excited to test KinoNation with Private Beta filmmakers in the USA, France, UK, New Zealand and South Africa. I’ve always found it annoying to send hard drives around the planet -- not just the expense of Fedex, but also the overall hassle and the feeling I’ll never see that $150 drive again. Upload is simply better.

Cold Brain, Hot Springs
Sometimes the late nights at a start-up result in sub-optimal morning brain. Last week I stumbled into Peet’s coffee to meet Klaus at 8am, after a 2am wrap the night before. I excitedly shared with him that we’d been invited to speak at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. “Where’s that?”, said the German to the Brit. I glanced at the email on my phone, saw “Hot Springs, AR” and replied “Arizona.” Duh. After 15 years living in the USA, I surely know the difference between AZ and AR. But apparently not that morning. Anyway, was delighted to discover (once I’d had some coffee) that I’m heading to delightful Hot Springs, Arkansas in a couple of weeks. I love film festivals, can happily watch documentaries back-to back for days, and I’ve never been to AR. Above all excited to speak, and get some up close and personal feedback from filmmakers!

Next week:  Post # 7: Automatic Transcoding: The BIG Challenge

Roger Jackson is a producer and co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 4: Story Arc for Investors or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Raising Money.

By Roger Jackson Previously: Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma

Last Week

Before I write about seeking money and investors, here’s what’s been happening in the past week. We’ve had -- as of writing -- 18 films submitted for our private beta launch. Films come in every day and we will never tire of clicking on the trailer link and getting a glimpse into a new world. I mean that. We know what it takes to make a feature film or documentary, and the reason we’re building KinoNation is to serve the creators of films like these. Keep them coming, the Private Beta is still open, we’re looking for lots more great films. It’s really fun to watch a group of compelling and disparate trailers, then delve into the IMDb pages for each movie, and in some case have discussions with the filmmakers. A couple of examples this week. Greek director Stathis Athanasiou submitted his stunning fantasy-romance DOS. Our reaction was pretty much “wow!”  Then Roseanne Liang submitted her delightful 2005 documentary Banana in a Nutshell. (which spawned her theatrical release My Wedding and Other Secrets.) Films like this that performed (or are performing) well on the festival circuit, but struggling to find video-on-demand distribution, are exactly what Klaus and I had in mind when we conceived KinoNation.

 

Bootstrapping

OK, so the subject of this post is finding investors. I always assumed it would be the most painful part of building KinoNation. The fun part is meeting filmmakers, doing deals with partners, and speaking at festivals, right? Well, yes, but in fact the nitty-gritty of diving into business models, creating powerpoint slides, and grappling with financial projections has been an interesting surprise. I actually like it. And believe me, I’m no Stanford MBA type. Anyway, the bottom line is that we have to raise capital to really accelerate the trajectory of KinoNation.  Bootstrapping it -- what we’re doing right now -- is fine while we’re proving the concept. But pretty soon we’ll need the financial jet-fuel that only investors can provide.

 

Milestones and Traction

Klaus and I set ourselves 4 clear milestones for these first bootstrapped months. Reality check-points that prove KinoNation is not just a good idea but a viable, sustainable business with potential for rapid growth. We know investors will demand this, and we demand it also -- there’s little point in pouring time, energy and passion into a venture that has no future.

 

Prove It

These are the 4 milestones:

 

1. prove that filmmakers will embrace and use a platform like Kinonation.

2. prove that video-on-demand platforms will accept and program films from KinoNation.

3. prove that we can execute on the technology promise -- a platform for filmmakers to upload massive movie files and then automatically transcode those files and deliver them at superb quality to dozens of VoD platforms, worldwide.

4. prove that these films will actually find a paying audience to rent or buy them, and therefore create a revenue stream to filmmakers and to KinoNation

 

So far we’ve proved #1 and #2, I think. We have films coming in. And plenty of affirmation that there’s a huge demand on the supply side. And we already have VoD platforms who want to work with us. We have software engineers working night and day -- literally -- on milestone #3, and only yesterday Klaus and I were awed by a demo of a breakthrough application written by David, our fantastic nocturnal coder. So we’re pretty confident about hitting the technology goals. Proving milestone #4 is tougher of course -- we have to put hundreds of films through the system and on to VoD platforms -- and then mix in our (still secret) marketing magic. The Private Beta is the first step to proving this. And we’re assembling a ton of data on how indie and foreign films perform across the myriad US and international VoD platforms.

 

Making Docs

Meaning documents, not documentaries. There are a handful of mission critical docs needed to get investors to even consider parting with their cash. They vary a bit, but for us it starts with a 10 page business plan laying out the problem we’re solving for filmmakers, how we’re solving it, and how we’ll make money solving it. Plus financial projections for how much the first 3 years will cost (relatively easy to predict.) And how much money we’ll bring in (tougher, but must be based on a bunch of reasonable -- not wild-assed -- assumptions.) Finally a 15 slide PowerPoint that wraps it all in a package that will convince investors we have a great idea, a huge market, a viable plan, a profitable future and a team that can execute on all that promise.

 

Pitching and Catching

So we’re almost ready to pitch KinoNation to potential investors. But aside from pitching, what’s equally important right now is catching. By which I mean listening. Actually, it’s more than listening. It’s the process of seeking advice from lots of smart people -- and making it clear that we want objective, critical feedback. Not so different from the filmmaking process, right? So, to wrap up this post, we invite your films, and we value your feedback, in public comments on this post or privately via email. Because KinoNation only succeeds by helping filmmakers succeed.

 

Next week:  Post # 5: A Crash Course in Film Distribution (and why video-on-demand is even more complicated)

Roger Jackson is a producer and co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in LA, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. He is executive producer at Midnight Swim Productions.