Forward! Pirates Know Best

By Rob Millis
 
 
Last week Kim Dotcom — the notorious king of piracy — unveiled Mega, his new, barely legal file sharing site that is sure to be a haven for illegal video sharing. Film distributors are up in arms and a renewed cry for harsher consequences has reached the ears of Congress.
 
 
Yet there is no legislation, lawsuit or technical restriction that can stop piracy. In an industry riddled with conflicts of interest, many leaders of media companies are reluctant to speak frankly, but every single one of them knows they cannot protect against piracy in any absolute way. We can put up roadblocks, we can scramble data, but there is always a way around digital security.
 
 
So how do we defend against piracy when there is no way to secure content?
Kim Dotcom himself provided the answer in this tweet a couple of weeks before launching Mega:
 
 
@KimDotcomHow to stop piracy: 1 Create great stuff 2 Make it easy to buy 3 Same day worldwide release 4 Fair price 5 Works on any device
 
 
This is the same core message that online media companies have been trying to get across to the film industry for several years. Anyone who has worked on digital distribution knows without a doubt that the root causes of piracy are actually on the supply side. Even media executives who won’t admit to it publicly know that the core problem behind piracy is the user experience of legal purchase and viewing.
 
 
Ironically, last week the MPAA — creators of the FBI warning on DVDs and champions of digital rights management systems that prevent purchases on one device from being played on another —accused Kim Dotcom of damaging the consumer experience. But citing consumer experience as an attack on piracy only points out how flawed and out of touch the MPAA approach is. Most pirated titles available in crisp HD of course (shaky 8mm footage captured in a theater is now a rarity) and the consumer experience is also about the entire process of finding a film, paying for it, and watching whenever you want. In that context the pirates are often providing a user experience that competes very well with most traditional options.
 
 
So deal with piracy head on, distributors, filmmakers and studios at every level need to stop complaining about the ethical and commercial problems of piracy and begin competing with it. Media executives have long argued that they “can’t compete with free” but the marketplace consistently disproves that notion, and the huge success of systems like iTunes utterly destroys it. iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and others have succeeded precisely because they compete directly with piracy by providing better accessibility, ease of use and instant gratification.
 
 
Viewers can now watch almost any widely released film, in HD, on any device, almost immediately. Whether they choose to pay for it or not is largely up to the distributor.
 
 
Rob Millis is the founder of Dynamo Media and one of the creators behind the Dynamo Player, the first online pay-per-view platform freely available to independent filmmakers. Rob was an early pioneer of online video production and distribution, and has been a founder, investor or advisor with several online media and industrial technology companies. You can find Rob on Twitter at @robmillis or learn more about Dynamo at http://www.DynamoPlayer.com.

Forward! The Necessity of Twitter

By Rob Millis Every filmmaker, distributor, press agent and their mother has seen plenty of posts about how important Twitter is, yet filmmakers constantly ask me why and how to use it. So at the risk of beating a dead horse, I’m going to try and convince that silent majority once and for all.

Twitter is one of the most powerful tools for direct communication with your audience. It is easy to use, conversational and can be lots of fun as well. Twitter enables industry leaders and celebrities to easily and safely engage in conversations with thousands of fans, which means you can easily join the dialogue too. Where else can you exchange ideas with editors of national papers, pop celebrities and your favorite filmmakers? In fact the best part of Twitter is that it makes marketing feel like a casual conversation with fans, because that’s exactly what it is.

Contrary to many first impressions, Twitter is not simply a flood of random people sharing what they had for breakfast and whining about their browser crashing, or at least it doesn’t have to be. When you are logged in, you’ll only see the people you follow, so the key is simply to follow people who genuinely interest you and have something useful to share. For instance, if you follow @tedhope you’ll see a steady stream of useful news about independent film (and probably nothing about his breakfast).

Likewise, once you spread the word to your fan base that you are on Twitter, many will begin to follow you, and they’ll expect news and discussion about your work. Many filmmakers I talk to have frozen up before posting their first tweet —What do I say? What if it sounds stupid? Who cares what I think about this? If you set aside your marketing strategies for a moment and think of Twitter as a cocktail party, you’ll find that this is easier than you think.

The best first step may be to simply say hello to one of the people you want to engage with. You can say hello to me for instance: “@robmillis it’s great to find you here on Twitter. I’ll be connecting with fans and sharing news about my work here.” Then simply share reviews of your work, your thoughts on the industry, share links to new work from the actors and directors you admire or have worked with — your audience will appreciate the engagement and your followers will multiply.

The most important part of using Twitter to build an audience is that you are truly building relationships. With that in mind, remember that this is a digital cocktail party, not a sales call, so constant pitching and self-promotion will usually backfire. When you announce your screening or a new critical review, your followers will only be excited to hear about it if they genuinely have an interest in what you do and what you tweet the rest of the time.

To get started all you need to do is register and then search for a few of your favorite bloggers, filmmakers or friends. To help demonstrate how others are using Twitter effectively, I’ve included a few recommended accounts for you to follow below. As you begin to follow and exchange messages with people you know, you’ll quickly get a sense of how to use the bare bones system, and why Twitter has become so popular.

Recommended Twitter accounts:

@tedhope

@shericandler

@edward_burns

@grking

 @robmillis (moi)
Rob Millis is the founder of Dynamo Media and one of the creators behind the Dynamo Player, the first online pay-per-view platform freely available to independent filmmakers. Rob was an early pioneer of online video production and distribution, and has been a founder, investor or advisor with several online media and industrial technology companies. You can find Rob on Twitter at @robmillis or learn more about Dynamo at http://www.DynamoPlayer.com.

Forward! The Digital Future: Embracing the Web Producers

By Rob Millis
 
Hollywood and New York came together in Las Vegas this week for the largest event in technology and entertainment, the Consumer Electronics Show. The future of film has always been determined in part by what happens at CES every year. The massive industry conference helped launch VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Xbox and every other major technology used to distribute and watch movies. Canon, Avid, Sony and every other major supplier of production tech demonstrate their latest and greatest in Las Vegas too.
 
This year though, at least for independent producers, the most important thing happening at CES has been the IAWTV Awards show and related Entertainment Matters conference. The International Academy of Web Television joined forces with CES to create a unique track of conference programming and bring the leading web video awards show to Las Vegas. This convergence of independent producers, online distribution and Hollywood is a huge step forward for independent producers, writers and actors in every medium.
 
So why should this matter to independent filmmakers? Because for too long the bubble of the film world has insulated filmmakers from changes happening in their own industry. As the worlds of online and offline media converge, there is no better way to understand where the film industry is headed than to learn from the greatest innovators in film and video — the web producers.
The goal of most early web series seemed to be for the actors and producers to build a career in television or on the big screen. It’s only natural that online media has become a farm club for production talent in television and film, but the opposite is now true as well.
 
The tables have turned in recent years, particularly after the 2007-2008 WGA writers strike, a mass of studio talent began experimenting with new ways to create great programs outside the studio system. One of the most influential productions to come out of the writers strike was the collaboration between Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris and web celeb Felicia Day on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, taking an online concept to full film production and creating a cult classic in the process. Since that time, Kevin Pollak, Will Ferrell and plenty of other household names discovered that cheap production and rapid distribution can liberate you creatively, while immediately building a more engaged fan base.
 
Technical production talent has been thriving online as well, thanks to the freedom of experimentation with new production tools. From cameras and sound gear to editing software and video players, new tools are in the hands of online innovators long before they make it to film sets. In fact you can be certain that some of the best production gear shown at CES this week will be used in online productions within days.
 
A few weeks back I tweeted that every independent filmmaker should find an experienced web producer, buy them lunch, and listen to everything they say. This received more of a response from web producers than it did from filmmakers, which is really a shame, because the filmmakers have the most to learn.
 
The shortcut to this, without having to pay for lunch, is to join the IAWTV and stay in the loop by connecting with the online production communities on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from a bunch of web nerds.
 
 
Rob Millis is the founder of Dynamo Media and one of the creators behind the Dynamo Player, the first online pay-per-view platform freely available to independent filmmakers. Rob was an early pioneer of online video production and distribution, and has been a founder, investor or advisor with several online media and industrial technology companies. You can find Rob on Twitter at @robmillis or learn more about Dynamo at http://www.DynamoPlayer.com.