Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition

We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen -- which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about.  I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation -- what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.

Last year at this time, I put forth a list of inspiring folks, people who by their acts and ideas were giving me the energy to keep striving for a better film culture and infrastructure, one that was accessible to all, and slave to none. We are closer to a truly free film culture this year than we were last year, and I remain optimistic that we can be a hell of a lot closer next year than we are today, thanks in no small part to the 40 I have singled out these two short years.

This list, like last year's, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep.  Regarding the lesser amount, I don't blame the people -- I blame the technology (of course).  I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it -- one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely -- like I did with this -- when it is still purely a draft).

I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future.  I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is.  And that I only found two directors to include this year.  Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right?  Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: "Those whom you don't know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real."  How true that is!

Last year I asked and stated: "What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended."

This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind.  It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world.   I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks.  It can't be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward.  In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO).  If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better -- you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).

So without any further adieu, here's my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, to take what remains of a crumbling and inapplicable film culture & infrastructure, and to try to bring it into the present. They all share a tremendous generosity and open spirit, embracing participation and collaboration.

This is no longer a world of scarcity and control. These nineteen have begun the hard work of designing a new world of film based on surplus and access -- and the resulting community that grows from that --, and their actions and attitude give me hope for what is to come.

  1. Wendy Bernfeld - The transformation from an entertainment economy designed around scarcity & control, to one built for surplus & access requires new business models and new sales models.  Filmmakers struggle with this more than anyone as most of the sales agents still push for the deals that deliver them the highest return for the least amount of effort.  This is not so for Wendy, whom through her company Rights Stuff has started the task of moving towards the short term non-exclusive license world this new world requires.  Furthermore, Wendy has shared her knowledge both on my blog and at speaking engagements the world over.  Her openness and forward thinking is an example for all of us.
  2. Peter Buckingham - Until the UK shuttered the Film Council, Peter ran their innovation fund.  Perhaps it's just that I sit in America, but to think of  a public official who is so committed to moving both the dialogue and the process forward as Peter, is no easy feat.  Peter helped launch the UK's Digital Cinema Initiative.  His insight on the possibilities of meta-datat are always inspiring.  We could use an ample dose of his high energy leadership on our shores if we are going to get some real things done here.
  3. Edward Burns - Although he has more access to the Hollywood machinery than most, for his latest film, Nice Guy Johnny, Eddie not only went the no-stars micro-budget route, but he set out to distribute it himself from the start.  With no marketing or advertising spend, Eddie has enjoyed a revenue return far in excess of his investment.  As much as I admire his courage and commitment, it his openness about the process that I find most inspiring.  In festivals, colleges, and even The Today Show, Eddie has shared his frustration and hope.  He's also consistently looked for new ways to help people discover his work.  His Homage Trailers, where he remakes trailers of classic movies using footage from his own film, are filled with wit and humor and not to be missed.
  4. Efe Cakarel & The Mubi Team Of the folks listed here, Efe may be the one I am most remiss about not listing last year.  The former Auteurs -- now Mubi -- remains the most robust community of film fans on the web, while being a dynamo curator of quality film on a global basis.  Yet, it seems good that I overlooked Efe and his Mubi team last year, as the transformation to Mubi and their extension onto the Playstation platform gives film fans more access than I could have previously imagined.  The challenge of bringing quality work to the community and generating discussion remains large, but these folks are leading the way.
  5. Henning Camre - President of the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy,  former head of both the Danish Film School and UK's National Film and Television School, and the Danish Film Institute, Henning is pushing through the necessary change in the Scandinavian Film Industry -- but it is a ripple that will resonate throughout the world.  I got to participate in the Think Tank as was deeply impressed at the quality and depth of the presentations and organization.  No one ever likes to volunteer for the heavy lifting, but Henning has several times over.  Change only comes when we recognize the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future, and Henning's clarity of vision towards the new reality has no equal on our shores.  He embraces both the new and the old, the conservative and the radical, subscribing to the reality first, probing beneath the perception to unearth the hard facts about access and practice.
  6. Sheri Candler When you believe in something you want to share it, right?  Sheri embodies this statement like few others.  Her commitment and faith in audience and community building is contagious.  An avid user of social media, it is hard to miss Sheri in the virtual world, as she lends her voice, heart, and hand to filmmakers trying to sort out a way to connect and build the necessary bridges. Added bonus for following Sheri?  Her ideas are good and well thought out!   Last year's Brave Thinker, Jon Reiss attests: "I met Sheri just over a year ago after I had just finished Think Outside the Box Office – where else – but on Twitter. She reached out to me, as she does with countless others, and since our first meeting has been an invaluable partner – passionate, incisive and always on the hunt for new ideas and new people that can help filmmakers (myself included) connect with their tribe and help solve the problems facing us all in this challenging time. Her tireless engagement and generosity sharing her wisdom and discoveries is a constant inspiration to me and should be to all in our community."
  7. Adam Chapnick CEO of Distribber.com, a company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue.  As Adam said in his HopeForFilm post: "Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.  More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular."  Distribber, and Adam's efforts, are key tools in the building of a middle class of artists who own and profit from the work they create.
  8. CineFamily - When it comes down to email blasts that I love to receive, nothing rivals Cinefamily's.  Bold programming, well presented.  As curators, they expand my knowledge.  As a hardened New Yorker myself, these Losangeleans give me a reason to long for the west coast.  They show us all how to use the web, and use it well.  In an era and city of mass conformity, they show that it is still both set & setting, programming broadly to the narrow, with verve and attitude. Sure this kind of stuff goes over in quirk capital's like Austin, but little did I suspect LA to deliver so much fine weirdness. To quote their own site: "The Cinefamily is an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others. Our home is the Silent Movie Theatre, one of Hollywood’s most beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. There, The Cinefamily will provide a destination spot for Los Angelenos and others to rediscover the pleasures of cinema."
  9. Dylan Marchetti & Variance Film - I may not have heard more filmmakers praise a distributor this year, than Dylan.  Furthermore, I don't know of a distributor who maintains such an accessible and vocal presence online, thinking aloud, and engaging the community on the search for a new model that could serve the widest definition of film.  Working on a flat fee basis versus a percentage of the gross, committed to a firm code of ethics, committed to 100% transparency in accounting, and 100% control for the filmmakers at all times, Dylan is a true partner in the emerging artist/entrepreneur economy.
  10. Thomas Mai - I have had the first hand pleasure of sitting in the audience as Thomas pitches filmmakers on the power of social media and the new era of truly free film ahead of us.  I have seen the skeptical grow empowered from his presentations.  Thomas, a former sales agent, has taken his rant on the road, sharing his insights with audiences worldwide.  From a base in Brazil, Thomas has used a shaky internet connect to distribute his lectures across the global.  And he has given quite a few public speaking tips along the way, not to mention writing well-shared posts for HopeForFilm. You can check out one of his lectures on his site www.thomasmai.net.
  11. Karol Martesko-Fenster Brian Newman summed it up well, about Karol: "While he is no newcomer to the scene, having either founded or been part of the founding of a great part of the indie scene (Resfest, Filmmaker Magazine, indiewire) he continues to reshape it at Babelgum. Under the direction of Karol, Babelgum has been licensing (i.e. paying real money) work from independents who push boundaries. Whether it's funding the Workbook Project, helping Sally Potter to be the first filmmaker to release a feature on a cellphone (day and date with it's festival premiere) or funding the "prequel" docs leading up to the film "Bombay Detective," Karol is pushing the field forward with the development of new artistic practices and business models."
  12. Thom Powers Founder of Stranger Than Fiction, programmer at TIFF, co-founder ofCinema Eye Honors, this year Thom expanded his base still further as one of the founders of the DOC NYC fest.  Few have done as much to further the community and appreciation of film in NYC.  He has helped to build an energetic and passionate doc community, and never stops thinking about how to extend it further.  A man with a mission if there ever was.
  13. Casey Pugh We need to facilitate collaboration between the tech and filmmaking worlds.  Having been involved in building the Vimeo player and then Boxee, Casey's already done a lot (and I think he is only 26).  An Emmy award joined his list of accomplishments this year, and the cause of this award, is my favorite film of the year, Star Wars Uncut.  I am eager to see his latest project, VHX launch in the months to come, as I am confident it will be another step forward for a truly free film culture.  Casey sees the big picture, the full definition of cinema.  In his work he's building the ramps and bridges connecting the six pillars of cinema: discover, development, production, participation, appreciation, and presentation.
  14. Orly Ravid & The Film Collaborative - A not-for-profit film distributor has long been a dream of mine, but it took Orly and her team to actually do it.  For a truly free film culture to exist, sustainable enterprises must be built that facilitate the connection between unique work and audiences on terms that go beyond profit.  THE FILM COLLABORATIVE is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Not much more to be said, but Orly's demystification of the sales and distribution processes, a refreshingly open approach to the numbers and realities of the distribution effort, via her blogging have gone a long way to helping filmmakers across the globe understand the world we are living in.
  15. Michel Reilhac of Arte France I asked Brian Newman about Michel: "Michel has probably embraced the "new paradigms" of the film/media world better than anyone else, and he speaks and writes about it with an eloquence sorely lacking in the field. For just one example, see his "Gamification of Life" speech at the Power to the Pixel forum.  He has helped transform Arte France into a leader in the support of transmedia, even pushing them to think about how this affects their daily work. He is also a mentor and friend to many filmmakers, helping them find and tell their stories in both new and old ways - but always better. But what most endears me to Michel's work was his recent decision to stop funding conferences and training, instead giving more money to filmmakers to push the field forward by experimenting in their craft. Great idea: less talk, more action." Amongst many round-breaking projects are their award-winning documentaries, Gaza-Sderot and Prison Valley -  beautiful examples of new approaches to story-telling using the web and interaction.
  16. Mike Ryan - Perhaps no post on indie film initially infuriated me as much as Mike's Filmmaker Mag piece on the "current preoccupations of the indie film scene".  I strongly disagree with Mike's blame-it-on-the-audience and build-it-and-if-it-is-good-they-will-come approach, but as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to month, the necessity of his central message of needing to be driven by the art and not the business resonated in deeper and deeper ways with me.  It is a brave thing to say, particularly as a producer, that you do not care if something makes money and that the art comes first. Mike leaves no doubt that he is  a man of bold visions and strong opinions; he is not afraid to speak truth to power.  He is both rigorous and playful in his thinking, and he invests it in new projects and filmmakers, not because of the business or opportunity, but because he believes that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is important.  American Indie would not be the fertile ground it is these days without Mike's efforts, but his efforts don't end there: Mike helped to co-found HammerToNail with both Corbin Day, Michael Tully, and myself; Mike helped start an initiative in Memphis to train underprivileged youth in film, and Mike has trained many another up and coming producer.
  17. Yancey Strickler & Perry Chen Of any one on this list, Yancey and Perry are probably the only ones whose creation has moved from an object to a verb.  In certain circles I have heard Kickstarter to stand in for crowdfunding.  Although they are not the only game in town when it comes to mobilizing the community to put worthy projects into being, they've certainly been among the most prominent.  Mark Rosenthal of Rooftop Films makes their commitment clear: "It’s brave to share your creative dreams with the world, to put your faith in people, to seek support from strangers. Everyone who’s putting their films and albums and paintings and gizmos on Kickstarter is taking a chance that people will like what they’re doing. But it takes other brave people—like Yancey and Perry—to spend years of their lives building the site and enabling the community to build. Great job, guys."
  18. Timo Vuorensola PowerToThePixel's Liz Rosenthal said: "Timo Vuorensola is a film director from Finland and an early advocate of crowd-sourcing and social filmmaking. His first feature, the sci-fi comedy Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was several years in the making. He and his team built an active community of 2,500 around the making of the film . The community co-created around 50% of what made it into the final film, They helped with aspects of casting, writing, music, 3D modelling, CGI effects, translating the film into more than 30 languages. It has since achieved cult success, his evangelical community helping spread the word and has been downloaded over 8 million times through official torrents whilst the team sold DVDs and merchandise of the film. Timo launched wreckamovie.com, a new web service that enables filmmakers to build and collaborate with online communities around their films.Timo’s second feature, the sci-fi comedy, Iron Sky, which tells the story of Nazis who come from the Far Side of the Moon, is due to be released in 2011 and has a budget of 6.5 million euros. Fans have already been able to help with ideas in Wreckamovie and helping to fund the movie by buying merchandise, donations and also offering a chance to invest in the movie and share its possible profits."
  19. Rainn Wilson As I stated the other day: "Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There's a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it's not just because he's really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He's thoughtful."  If you haven't ever checked out Soul Pancake, a site he helped found, nows the time.  I got to know Rainn this year as he both Executive Produced and starred in SUPER (which I produced with Miranda Bailey).  It was Rainn's tweet that he and "James Gunn were going out with a low budget f'd up Watchmen" that drew me to the project.  His commitment to social media definitely played a big role in the financing and sale of the film.  Through Rainn's commitment to a better world, he is inadvertently building a better model both for film and us as individuals.

I recognize that many of these folks have written for HopeForFilm, but it is something that I encourage people whom I admire to do (even some that I don't!).  There are also some on this list that are good friends, but I like to socialize with such types, so what can I say?  Some people on the list are folks I have or have had business with, and some I plan to have business with in the future, but the same holds true for the professional sphere as is in the personal -- when people do good things, I want to get to know them.  Is that at all surprising?

I remain thankful a great deal this year including making one film and selling another.  This list is my thanks to some of those who inspire me.  We can build it better, together.

P.S.  I solicited nominations this year from last year's Brave Thinkers.  David Gertz went as far as to write a whole post on the companies that are doing the work that will allow a new infrastructure to take hold.  Check out his post here.

Towards A True Cross-Platform Future

Last fall at PowerToThePixel I had the good fortune to be invited to partake in a ThinkTank on transmedia.  They have recently published their report on the day and I encourage you to read it.  Special thanks for Michael Gubbins for pulling the report together and facilitating the session. Among the observations and recommendations:

• The business models of film and other creative industries are struggling because they are trying to dictate how customers use the media

• Creative industry needs to break free of restrictive single media practices with territorial rights and release windows

• Different media platforms are not always in competition and can cross-fertilise a brand and attract new audiences

• Value is moving away from product sales towards customer engagement with a brand

• Collaborating with audiences is not a restriction on the creative process but a means of informing and supporting it

• The ‘active’ or ‘empowered’ audience works at many levels, from crowd-sourced finance to recommending a work through social media

• Cross-media work, and audience and community relationships, can build true cultural diversity

• By working with audiences, film-makers and other content creators can gain greater control over, and draw greater value from, their work

• Cross-media work involves much greater participation in content creation which will attract new talent, promote the visual arts and potentially open up new creative forms

- Cross-media film-making is about renewing film-making not replacing existing media, such as cinema theatres

• Open standards and net neutrality are central to the development of these new forms

• Content creators are competing for audience time - not with each other in a tiny distribution channel – hence sharing ideas and tools is part of the culture

This paper should be mandatory reading for all storytellers.  It provides a great catch up as to where we are now (or were 6 months ago).

Topics are:

1. THE PANEL  2. THE CONTEXT  3. THE AGENDA (Cross media: evolution or revolution?  Where are audiences driving content?  What are the missing links?  Can we create a cross-media movement?)  4. THE LANGUAGE   5. FROM CONSUMERS TO COLLABORATOR  6. THE ENGAGED AUDIENCE  7. TURNING ENGAGEMENT INTO VALUE   8. EMPOWERING THE STORYTELLER  9. POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY  10. STORYTELLING AND CROSS-MEDIA VALUE  11.CROWDSOURCING AND CREATIVE COMMONS  12.VALUE THROUGH INTERACTION  13.CROSS-MEDIA VALUE  14.LOOKING FORWARD

The 21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film 2009

Earlier this year, while looking at Atlantic Magazine's list of Brave Thinkers across various industries, I started to wonder who are of this ilk in our sector of so-called Independent Film.

What is it to be "brave"? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended.
Frankly though, I think anyone that commits to creating film, particularly independent film, and specifically artist driven truly free film, is truly brave... or at least, insane. It is a hard road out there and growing more difficult by the day. All filmmakers getting their work made, screened and distributed deserve recognition, support, and something more significant than a good pat on the back from the rest of us. As great their work is both creatively and in terms of the infrastructure, it's easy to lose sight of how fragile all this is. Our ability to create and screen innovative and diverse work is consistently under threat.
It is a truly great thing that this list of BRAVE THINKERS is growing rapidly; I first thought it would be ten, then twenty. I expect we will see some new folks joining this list in the months ahead. I know there are those whom I've forgotten that deserve to be included here. This list, although it includes many artists, is about those who are working and striving to carve a new paradigm, to make the future safe for innovative and diverse work, to build an artist-centric content economy. The TFF Brave Thinkers lead equally with their ideas, actions, and generosity. They set examples for all of us and raise the bar. These are indie films true new leaders, and for those that think they are in power, those that are just starting out, or those that want to find a new angle on industry you work in, you should make sure you meet these folks in the coming year, because they are redefining the way we fund, develop, create, define, discover, promote, participate, curate, and appreciate that thing we still call cinema.
  • Franny Armstong - After making THE AGE OF STUPID via crowdsourcing funds, Franny also looked to the audience to help distribute her film, creating IndieScreenings.net and offering it up to other filmmakers (see The Yes Men below). By relying fulling on her audience from finance to distribution, Franny was able to get the film she wanted not just made, but seen, and show the rest of us to stop thinking the old way, and instead of putting faith in the gatekeepers, put your trust in the fans.
  • Steven Beers - "A Decade Of Filmmaker Empowerment Is Coming" Steven has always been on the tip of digital rights question, aiding many, including myself, on what really should be the artist's perspective. Yet it remains exceedingly rare that individuals, let alone attorneys, take a public stand towards artist rights -- as the money is often on the other side.
  • Biracy & David Geertz - Biracy, helmed by Geertz, has the potential to transform film financing and promotion. Utilizing a referral system to reward a film's champions, they might have found a model that could generate new audiences and new revenue.
  • Peter Broderick- Peter was the first person to articulate the hybrid distribution plan. He coined the term I believe. He has been tireless in his pursuit of the new model and generous with his time and vision. His distribution newsletter is a must have for all truly free filmmakers and his oldway/newway chart a true thing of beauty.
  • Tze Chun & Mynette Louie - Last year, the director and producer of Children Of Inventiondecided that they weren't going to wait around for some distributor to sweep them off their feet. They left Sundance with plans to adopt a hybrid plan and started selling their DVD off their website. They have earned more money embracing this new practice than what they could have hoped from an old way deal. As much as I had hoped that others would recognize the days of golden riches were long gone, Tze & Mynette were the only Sundance filmmakers brave enough to adopt this strategy from the start.
  • Arin Crumley - Having raised the bar together with Susan Buice in terms of extending the reach of creative work into symbiotic marketing with Four Eyed Monsters, along with helping in the design of new tech tools for filmmakers (FEM was encouraging fans to "Demand It" long before Paranormal Activity), co-founding From Here To Awesome, Arin launched OpenIndie together with Kieran Masterton this year to help empower filmmakers in the coming months.
  • IndieGoGo & Slava Rubin - There are many web 2.0 sites that build communities, many that promote indie films, many that crowd source funds, but Slava & IndieGoGo are doing it all, with an infectious and boundless enthusiasm, championing work and individuals, giving their all to find a new paradigm, and they might just do it.
  • Jamie King - The experience of giving away his film "Steal This Film" lead Jamie to help build VODO an online mechanism initially built to help artists retrieve VOluntary DOnations for their work, but has since evolved to a service that helps filmakers distrubute free-to-share films through P2P sites & services, building on this with various experimental business models. Such practices aren't for everyone, but they are definitely for some -- VODO has had over 250,000 viewers for each of its first three releases in 2009 -- and the road is being paved by Jamie's efforts.
  • Scott Kirsner - Scott's book Friends, Fans, & Followers covered the work of 15 artists of different disciplines and how each have utilized their audience to gain greater independence and freedom. Through his website CinemaTech, Scott has been covering and questioning the industry as it evolves from a limited supply impulse buy leisure buy economy to an ubiquitous supply artistcentric choice-based infrastructure like nobody else. His "Conversation" forum brought together the tech, entertainment, & social media fields in an unprecedented way.
  • Pericles Lewnes - As a filmmaker with a prize winning but underscreened film (LOOP), Peri recoginized the struggle of indie filmmaking in this day and age. But instead of just complaining about it like most of us, Peri did something about it. He built bridges and alliances and made a makeshift screening circuit in his hometown of Annapolis, MD, founding The Pretentious Film Society. Taking indie film to the bars with a traveling projector and sound system, Peri has started pulling in the crowds and getting money back to the filmmakers. A new exhibition circuit is getting built brick by brick, the web is expanding into a net, from a hub spokes emmenate until we have wheels within wheels within wheels. Peri's certainly not the only one doing it, but he brings an energy and passion we all need.
  • Cory McAbee - It's not enough to be a talented or innovative filmmaker these days. You must use the tools for entrepreneuarial activity that are available and you have to do it with flair. We can all learn from Corey. His films, his music, his live shows, his web stuff -- it all rocks and deserves our following and adoption.
  • Scott Macauley - some producers (like yours truly) write to spread the gospel, happy just to get the word out, not being the most graceful of pen. Scott however has been doing it with verve, invention, wit, and style for so long now, most people take his way wit words as a given. Not only is it a pleasure to read, the FilmmakerMagazineBlog is the center of true indie thought and appreciation. It's up to the minute, devoid of gossip, deep into ideas, and is generally a total blast. And the magazine is no slouch either. And nor are his films. Can we clone the man?
  • Brian Newman - After leaving Tribeca this year, Brian has showed no signs of slowing down, popping up at various conferences like PttP and the Flyaway Film Fest to issue missives & lectures helping to articulate both the problems facing indies these days along with starting to define how we will find our way out. Look to Brian to be doing something smart & exciting in the media world in 2010; somewhere someone smart should find a way to put this man to work shortly, but here's hoping he does it on his own so we can all benefit from his innovative ideas.
  • Nina Paley - In addition to successively adopting an "audience distribution" model for her film Sita Sings The Blues, Nina has been incredibly vocal about her experiences in the world of "free", helping to forge a path & greater understanding for other filmmakers. And now her film is getting traditional distribution at the IFC Center in NYC (and our whole family, including the 9 year old spawn, dug it!)
  • Jon Reiss - After adopting the DIY approach for his film Bomb It, Jon chose to share the lessons he's learned in ever increasing ways, from his blog (and this one), to articles for Filmmaker Mag, to finally to the must-have artist-centric distribution book THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE. Anyone considering creating a truly free film, this book is mandatory reading first. Full disclosure: I penned an intro to Jon's book.
  • Mark Rosenberg - What does it take to create a new institution these days? Evidently quite a bit, because I can only think of one in the film space and that's Rooftop Films. Mark curates and organizes with a great team of folks, who together have brought new audiences new films in new venues. NY is incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Rooftop's work, but here's hoping that Mark's vision spreads to other cities this coming year.
  • Liz Rosenthal - There is no better place to get the skinny on what the future for film, indie film, truly free film, artist-centric film, and any other form of media creation than London's Power To The Pixel. Liz founded it and has catapulted what might once have been fringe truly into the mainstream. Expanding beyond a simple conference into a year round forum for future forward media thought, PttP brainstorms, curates, and leads the way in transmedia creation, curation, & distribution. Full disclosure: I was PttP keynote speaker this year.
  • Lance Weiler - In addition to being a major force in both Transmedia thought, DIY distribution, and informative curatorial,with his role in Power To The Pixel, From Here To Awesome, DIY Days, & Radar web show but his generous "Open Source" attitude is captured by The Workbook Project, perhaps the most indispensable website for the TFFilmmaker. He (along with Scott Kirsner) provides a great overview of the year in tech & entertainment on TWP podcast here. It's going to be in exciting 2010 when we get to see him apply his knowledge to his next project (winner of Rotterdam Cinemart 2009 prize and now a participant in the 2010 Sundance screenwriters' lab). Full disclosure: This is that has signed on to produce Lance's transmedia feature H.I.M.
  • Thomas Woodrow - As a producer, Thomas has embraced the reality of the marketplace and is not letting it stand in his way. There is perhaps no other producer out there who has so fully accepted the call that indie film producing nowadays also means indie film distribution. He's laying out his plan to distribute BASS ACKWARDS immediately after its Sundance premiere through a series of videos online. Full disclosure: I am mentoring Thomas vis the Sundance Creative Producing Lab.
  • TopSpin Media - As their website explains: "Topspin is a technology platform for direct-to-fan maketing, management and distribution." They are also the tech behind Corey McAbee's activities and hopefully a whole lot of other filmmakers in the years behind. Founded by ProTools' creator, Peter Gotcher, and Shamal Raasinghe, TopSpin is a "white label" set up thathas the potential to usher in the Age Of Empowerment for the artist/creator class. Today it is primarily a tool for musicians, but expect it to migrate into filmdom fully pretty damn soon.
  • The Yes Men - The Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution") TFF 2009 Award winners for keeping both politics and film marketing fun, these pranksters hit all the fests, winning awards, and using it to launch their own distribution of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD. Bravery's always been their middle name, but they are among the first of rising tide of filmmakers willing to take for full responsibility for their film.
Who did I forget? I know this list is very US-centric, but I look forward to learning more of what is going on elsewhere in the days to come. Who will be our Brave Thinkers for next year (if I can muster the energy to do this for another year, that is)? What can you learn from these folks? May I humbly suggest that at the very least, you do whatever you can to find, follow, and converse with these folks in 2010. The more we learn from them, the better off this film industry will be, and, hey: it may turn out to be a good new year after all.

What's The Future Of Film Look Like?

I don't have that answer and I will leave it to the others (at least for today) as so many are offering options:

Each day I have been experiencing and encountering new ideas and new practices; All of it is pretty damn thrilling. So what if we are racing forward even if we don't know where we are going. I am loving it.
Like I said, I don't know, but I do believe that some of these tools will change some things significantly.

You-Centric: The Future of Browsing from Carsonified on Vimeo.

That's Aza Raskin from Mozilla. And this is an attempt to explain Google Wave:

What are the other five tools that will make sure tomorrow does not look like today that I should be posting about?

Take Back What Is Already Yours: "Best Practices" For A Complete Cinema

I am in London to deliver the key note speech at Power To The Pixel. This is that speech.

POWER TO THE PIXEL:
Take Back What Has Always Been Yours
10/14/09
London

Cinema is a driving force in my life. I don’t want it to leave us, nor do I want to have to leave it behind; it’s provided me with hope and inspiration, and an incredibly fulfilling livelihood. It is also a one hundred year old industry, and, in my opinion, damn close to both a perfect art form and a perfect entertainment, but is also one whose applicability to our lives and livelihoods must now be completely reevaluated.

Cinema, in its current concept and execution, is both derived from and depending on a world that we’ve passed by.
• It is no longer is the most complete & representative art form for the world that we inhabit.
• It no longer mirrors how we currently live in the world.
• Cinema is now a rarefied pleasure requiring us to conform to a location-centric, abbreviated, passive experience that is nothing like the world we engage with day to day.

We must also recognize that there is no workable present day business model to support the current mode of cinema, other than one built on the exclusionary practice of isolated control of the funding, marketing, distribution, and exhibition systems. We know the model for financing and distribution -- and by extension, also creation -- is now running on fumes.
• How long can the controlling studio model survive when the wall of control has already come done and the people -- now embracing that they are both audiences and creators -- have recognized the power they truly have and will unlikely ever surrender that power again?
• How long can a business based on library assets survive when everything that has been digitized has also been copied and can now be spread with a touch of a button – and every time it is stopped, it is only to reappear somewhere else.

Sure, these are big problems before us, but being here, joining in the conversation today, is truly exciting because we are here to define and develop that new art form, one that in turn can spawn it’s supportive business model.
This can be done.
This will be done.
And whether we call it cross-platform, transmedia, or just good old “cinema”, we will do it.

In re-building our representative art form to truly demonstrate how we live, we will also develop a business model specifically for it:
• One founded on access and transparency,
• One where the rewards come from the work rendered and not the control maintained.
This is the hope has brought us together and it is this hope that will truly move us forward.

We not only all get to participate in this reinvention of cinema, but we all HAVE to participate in it. Things have changed:
• Previously creators couldn't – or perhaps wouldn’t -- truly participate in the whole of cinema .

If we as creators redefine cinema as its complete whole -- if we take back what has always been ours -- cinema will no longer be the same art form it was 100 years ago, nor will we have the same film industry that we do today. Yet, to think forward, we have to look backwards and recognize cinema for what it truly is and stop naming a part of it as the whole.
• Cinema is not just the narrative component.
• Cinema is the entire process;
• it is the dialogue that goes on between the audience and the content.
• It is the experience that resonates long after the lights have been turned on.

Cinema is supported by six pillars and until now creators truly only participated in two of them: content and production.
Content, being made up of sound, image, time, and narrative has had more than enough for a singular author to content themselves with.
Production, until twenty years or so ago, generally meant creators had to work for someone else because the cost of production was so excessive (that they weren’t able to afford it on their own). The economic barrier to personally produce what you conceive has now virtually disappeared.
For the last two decades Independent filmmakers mistakenly perceived it as some sort of victory that they had the opportunity to participate in the first two pillars, but in settling for dominion of these two, we haven’t seen the forest for the trees.

When we look at the great woods that surround us now, we should recognize that we have not just the possibility, but also the necessity, to participate in the other four pillars of cinema:
discovery,
promotion,
participation,
&
presentation

We must embrace this opportunity to engage in these aspects or we will lose it.
Those in control of the financing & distribution apparatus have historically limited the creative team’s full involvement to only content & production. For if they "grant" direct access to the consumer, the audience, or the fan, they will also reduce their own control of the gate, of the choices, & of the rewards.

Control, be it through:
• limited supply to the audience,
• the access to capital to the creators,
• and the marketing, distribution and exhibition apparatus
has kept access to all six pillars distanced from those that actually generate the stories, and as result no where near the full potential that we have in us.

With our new access and involvement, that power
to create,
to access,
to spread, and
to appreciate
is going to be owned by each and every one of us.

In denying the creative class access to those other four pillars of cinema, our Industry also inhibited the narrative form from expanding beyond a linear structure and its delivery from migrating from a singular platform. Yet, the creative side somehow not just readily accepted, but also propagated ,the myth that this is how it was supposed to be. For 100 years, we embraced a short sighted vision of what cinema -- it’s creation and appreciation – is .

When considering the audience’s actual experience of cinema, the creative class has embraced a false and unnecessary demarcation
• between art & commerce,
• between content & marketing, and
• between creator and audience.

Marketing & Narrative each influence each other. Each can be used together to effectively shape our perception and knowledge of the events we intend to consume.
• Isn't "discovery" the first point in the narrative chain?
• Isn't "promotion" about the point of impact for the audience's "discovery" and its subsequent resonance?

Cinema, and its business, changes with our acceptance of the whole definition of our work.
The “sell” is part of our creation; we enter our stories by the path the piper of marketing paves in front of us. We react not just by our own instincts, but also in accordance with what is happening around us, what our contemporaries are experiencing too. If we stop being cynical about the “marketing” aspects and use them to shape our narratives -- and make sure that the narrative also shapes those points of impact we call marketing -- our stories will have more influence, depth and resonance, by the sheer fact that they are now more complete, carried from our moment of discovery, reinforced through moments of resonance, and represented by the objects we surround ourselves with.

By shedding the false construct of a line between the form and its delivery, we transform our art form.
• By extending the narrative in the direction of what once was called marketing or business, cinema itself is no longer a line, but a sphere -- a full world and no longer just a slice of life.
• By removing the constrictions of the where and when we encounter cinema, it becomes a greater influence on our lives.
• By spreading the opportunities we have to engage, both back and forth, across multiple platforms, cinema is no longer an impulsive location-centric activity, but an ever-present and consistent choice.
• By changing from a monologue to a dialogue with our audiences, we return ownership to the commons and gain back loyalty in exchange.

As storytellers we have been trained to think predominately in the form of the feature length narrative; it is the byproduct of our tunnel vision, of our acceptance of a limited definition of cinema restricted to singular aspects of a far more rich communal experience. For our art form and our business to both reflect the realities of the world we are now living in we have to embrace a new set of “best practices” for the narrative form, solutions that attract new audiences, experiments that can lead to new business models.

We have to erase the division between content and marketing, between art and commerce, between creation, presentation, and appreciation. As creators, entrepreneurs, and audiences we have to leap into the whole of cinema, abandon the trees, and enter the forests. I don’t have an answer yet, but I suspect that the list of what we all need to embrace will include aspects of all six pillars of cinema and not just the two we have aligned ourselves with. In the days ahead the “best practices” for engagement in the six pillars of cinema will become clearer, but some things are already evident, and by no means is what I have to offer is a comprehensive list, but I do think that if my future collaborators entered my offices, already armed with the following considerations, the solutions to some of the struggles we have in our industry currently would feel far more evident.

So with regard to:

CONTENT & ITS CREATION:
• Expand the narrative -- along a thematic premise -- from just a feature format to also include multiple short form works, that can be used to seed, coralle, and bridge audiences from one work to the next.
• Create storyworld instructions that will allow others to also enter and participate in the narrative. This guide will describe what rules must be followed in the creation of characters and their actions.
• Open the narrative and erase the end, or rather give multiple opportunities for endings, as audiences want to re-engage in new and different ways at different times.
• Open the narrative and offer alternative points of view, so that the experience no longer is single character-centric.
• Consider opportunities for off-line discussions and individual customization to re-enter and even influence the narrative.
o Should characters, in addition to audiences, comment on the choice creators make?
o Where can user-generated modifications enter the narrative later on?
ß Beyond story & character, can audience-generated image-overlays play a role in the experience?
• Shed the notion that is distancing for an audience to have characters played by different actors.
o as the great works of both Shakespeare and Dr. Who demonstrate, we can derive pleasure from witnessing the interpretation of a role by many performers.
ß Even within a singular narrative
• Embrace collaboration; there is so much work to be done, a singular author can not build the entire world.
o Where can the crowd provide material in an organic way that will enhance their relationship to central work?
o Be willing to just think wildly at times.
ß Have a collaborative brainstorming session with like minded storytellers on how to expand the narrative.
• Is there a way that multiple people could collaborate around this idea?
• Are supporting characters worthy of their own stories, own experiences, own environments?
• Could alternate futures and alternate paths be sketched out now?

PRODUCTION:
• Record data and provide access to it every step of the way. Show how fans how it is done. Pull back the curtain and let others see the mystery.
o Record the recording.
o Let the crew broadcast and comment.
• Recognize cast, crew, & vendors as our work’s initial community. Bring them into the discussion.

DISCOVERY:
• Provide many points across many platforms for discovery by audiences.
o This can come from websites and blogs, video content, or games.
o Trailers, clips, and posters are the most traditional way, but even in these arenas there is still much room for expansion and innovation.
ß These introduction mechanisms can be used not just for the whole, but also for each step in the process and narrative.
• Provide the audience with the proper context for appreciation.
o This usually comes from providing some ongoing curatorial services for audiences to understand how it fits in the entertainment and cultural chains.
ß If you like x, then you will also like y.
ß Provide other cultural artifacts for comparison.
ß Curate and show what else you love.
• Brainstorm participatory opportunities:
o What are the gaming structures inherent to the narrative?
ß Are there a missions and obstacles that your characters face that could be mirrored in a basic game environment?
ß Can players interact in a gaming world via the appropriation of character traits that the story origninates?

PARTICIPATION
• Provide multiple areas of participation on a casual level.
o What aspect of the story would be a fun application or widget that is spreadable?
o Does story development, trivia, or gaming warrant prizes, cookies, or contest provisions?
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a creative story level.
o Design characters that can travel into other creators’ hands.
o Iconic costumes or behavior alleviate the need for spector actor identification and thus increases spreadability.
o Totemic props, dressing, & design allow story environments to permeate the boundaries of our real world as fans appropriate such objects and display them.
• Provide fans the opportunity to create on the same lines as the story’s originators.
o Allow for remixing and reposting. Alternate POVs and approaches to the material make for a richer experience for the hard-core.
o examine how some narratives encourage fan fiction -- for isn't this something every storyteller wants: the fan-fiction user/creator to become also the advertiser/promoter.
• Accept that audiences like to both be directed and to participate;
o both the truly active and the somewhat passive experiences are pleasurable.
o It is up to us to show how this duality can be enabled.
• Demonstrate to audiences how they can participate more with (and in) our stories.
o Instead of defining ourselves as the creator, we should accept ourselves as enablers.

PROMOTION
• Offer different points of access for audience participation on a fan/appreciation level.
o Let them in on the details of how and why. Where and when and on what was it shot? The details should be built into all data you deliver.
o What themes within the narrative allow for aggregation on single subject websites?
ß I.e. “If only there was a man who could…”,
ß “The worst day at the worst job is when…”
• Provide insight into the process. Allow audiences to get to know the creators. Build a friends & family fan-base.
• Offer (and reward) fans opportunities to create and thus aggregate different promotional tools
o Posters & trailers
o Fan fiction
• Build referral activities into the narrative and engagement processes.
• Provide individual curators with unique opportunities throughout the process.

PRESENTATION
• Make presentation (exhibition)an event.
o Add a live social component.
ß Know your fans in advance.
o Make it something that is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
• Provide opportunity for deeper appreciation.
o Furnish study notes and
o moderate discussions that allow the content to more fully resonate with audiences.
• Keep the experience alive long after the work has ended.
o Provided totemic items (aka merchandising)
o How can fans demonstrate their passion?

I can’t say if I got the order or organization of this right. I certainly know that the list is nowhere near complete. And I know there is no template for creation, no template for production, nor for any of the six pillars. Yet although there may be no template, there are “best practices”. I hope I have given some fuel to the thought of what those may be.

For in taking control of what has always been ours, for embracing what is the whole and not just the part of cinema, we, both the original creators and the engaged audiences, together expand the potential for narrative, for cinema, and for appreciation. This is the mission before us. This is our mandate and this is why I am excited to get to discuss this with all of you in the days ahead. Our industry has a great opportunity before us. I hope we can truly take advantage of it.

Thank you.

The talk has subsequently gotten some coverage in the press.

1+1=2 How To Get Distribution For Your Film

Okay, this isn't the only answer, and I don't have the energy to do a comprehensive list, yet... but as I sorted through my various AM emails, a saw a common theme in two of them.

One: A B-Side email blast reminded me that Todd Sklar's Range Life Fall NW Tour kicked off last weekend. I have found Todd's taking-it-to-the-people traveling film fest in a van truly exciting. If I could do that list of exciting developments in the truly free ring this would be one of those things. I for one was particularly intrigued to see that MYSTERY TEAM was one of the films in the tour.
Two: In an overview of Brit DIY for The Guardian today, the UK DIY hit MORRIS is compared with other unseen DIY films and it is pointed out:
What saved Morris was a trip to the countryside: they organised a tour around the village halls of south-west England, where their film became a word-of-mouth hit. That allowed its makers to bypass the distributors and go straight to the exhibitors. Morris was finally picked up by the Picturehouse cinema chain, which agreed to roll it out on wider release, beginning last week.

It makes me wonder what would happen if a filmmaker, either on their own or working with a grassroots community film organizer, acted immediately after hearing they were invited to a major festival to book their film in small community non-theatrical venues without waiting for that never-to-arrive distribution offer -- you know: instead, take it directly to the people and prove the film's playability. In fact, as Todd has shown such playability with his own film BOX ELDER, even without that major festival acceptance.
The math here adds up: Know your audience. Bring the film to that right audience. Don't subscribe to a passive discovery process. You are the fuel. Light a match.
Additional Note: via Facebook, director Tom Quinn informed us:
"We just booked a week-long theatrical run in Philadelphia through Landmark for The New Year Parade and are going to see how that community-based release works for us. Will keep you posted!"

Audiences Are Key To Cross-Media Creation

Lance Weiler has a nice, albeit short, piece in Screen Daily on the audiences role in crafting cross-platform narratives (aka transmedia). Here's a taste, but check out the whole thing:

Pre-production, production and post are melding ― so why do most producers wait until the film is finished to engage their audience? The art and craft of how stories are designed, delivered and shared must catch up with the realities of how audiences are consuming them. This points to a number of new and exciting storytelling possibilities. The audience is telling us what they want, we just need to start listening.

Lance will be at Power To The Pixel, along with yours truly, Brian Newman, and a host of other fantastic folk that I can't wait to meet.

Competition Is THE Problem

Lance Weiler gave an excellent presentation at Power To The Pixel in London a few weeks back.  As he points out: competition is the problem.

He boils it down and provides the antidote (collaboration!) in a short powerpoint presentation here:
From Here to Awesome
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: models new)

And if you want to hear and see it all with Lance actually presenting it, catch it here -- he provides a great context for it all: