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.

Goodbye & Please Join Me: I Am Migrating To A New Home

Today marks my last post here on “Truly Free Film” at HopeForFilm.com. Starting tomorrow you can find both my rants and ravings, and all of those of our contributors, over at IndieWire. My hope is that we can all use this opportunity to expand our community and goals in the year ahead. We can truly bring about some change if we work together to build it better.

I started this blog for many reasons, but chief among them was to work so that we don’t miss the opportunity that remains before us – the opportunity to build a sustainable future for diverse and ambitious work, free of mass market dictates and antiquated beliefs, transparent, inclusive, participatory. IndieWire’s network, syndication, and reach hopefully will bring this dream closer to reality. We need to grow community and deepen our involvement.

It is crucial for those with experience to work with those that are forging new paths, to both mentor and be mentored. My growth and knowledge over the last 18 months due to the participation of all of you who have written in and written for this blog is more than I could ever hoped for. Thank you for your generosity and commitment. It has been greatly needed in these tough economic and cultural times – you’ve kept my hope for film always growing .

The posts that we in this “TrulyFreeFilm” section will on IndieWire be titled “HopeForFilm”. A truly free film culture remains my goal though. This URL will remain intact and continue to host the other columns “TheseAreThoseThings”, “LetsMakeBetterFilms”, “Issues&Actions”, and my Kid’s Corner “BowlOfNoses”. Those feeds will continue if you subscribe..

I hope to be able to set the Feedburner Subscriptions here to the new URL so that there is no disruption. In the event I fail, I will publish the new URL for you to subscribe to. Please be patient but we should get it working soon.

For those of you who periodically received my “IndieFilmLives!” email blasts, you should now receive a weekly newsletter of my posts. I hope this is not too intrusive; I find them a useful tool to find what I missed during the week. If you don’t want it, you’ll be able unsubscribe with a simple click.

I greatly appreciate IndieWire and Snag Films offer to come to their site. Others had indicated they wanted to do likewise, but only IW & Snag took the initiative. Their growing commitment to diverse voices seems evident. The power of aggregating them all in one place and using that to facilitate great conversation is tantalizing. Our collective voice, particularly when married to ambitious film, could be a far more powerful force that I believe we even realize. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

Hope For The Future pt. 11: The List #'s 43 -46

43. Both the creative and business sides of the film industry are embracing the streaming of features. Both Hulu and Snag are looked at as success stories, although the short form and clips remain most popular with audiences. The key to specialized films’ success has always been creating word of mouth. Regional screenings and publicity has always been an expensive undertaking, prohibiting niche film from truly undertaking such a campaign. Streaming makes it all possible. A limited streaming campaign could do wonders for building an audience’s desire to see a particular film. When directors like Michael Moore and Wayne Wang climb aboard the streaming bandwagon (as both did this year), one can only hope legions will follow.

44. Green awareness: slowly the entire industry is waking up to the fact that there is no away to throw to. Last year less than half of the distributors distributed their award screeners in cardboard packaging. This year all the major ones did. Granted you still have to police sets to make sure bottles are being recycled, and offices to make sure that paper is – but it is much improved from before. I still haven’t been asked to put a carbon offset into a budget, but I am confident that day will come. Green carpets became the vogue over red this year. At the very least, the industry seems to be embarrassed by their waste. Maybe the days of excessive consumption are numbered…

45. The career/financial sustainability of producers is at least now recognized as an issue somewhere in the world. In the U.S. we have watched virtually every studio cut virtually every producer-based overhead deal. On one hand it seems that the US film industry has forgotten what a producer does, but across the ocean, there is a ray of hope. It has been enacted as law that the UK tax credit must be counted as the producer’s equity, thus increasing the back end a producer would have on any given project. Once local municipalities in the US start providing prolific producers with office space then we will know we are on the right foot! The longevity of producers is the cornerstone of fostering a film community’s growth.

46. Filmmakers are recognizing the benefits of limiting the time spent between films. When the American Indie scene kicked into gear in the late 80’s, the directors were quite prolific. Up until recently, the new generations of filmmakers seemed to take five more years in between projects. The directors’ pursuit of larger budgets necessitated this to some degree, but also limited their ability to build a loyal following worldwide. Whether it is the Mumblecore crowd of Swanberg or The Duplass Brothers, or the world vision practitioners like Sean Baker and Ramin Bahrini , this new generation is aiming more for growth in their work than growth in their budgets. The audience will benefit as these directors mature.

Hope For The Future pt. 7: The List #'s 26- 29

26. Collaboration among filmmakers is recognized as being a necessity among filmmakers. Todd Sklar’s tour of films with their filmmakers brought vital work and their creators to places that generally went lacking. The teamwork approach benefited everyone. One can easily imagine that this model, like the collaborative finance model, will extend to production too, and not just in the aforementioned crowdsourced way, but in ways that will make individual personal films stronger too.

27. The Independent community has demonstrated that it is quick to action and embraces both tolerance and strength. Over five years ago, the indie film community joined forces to defeat the Hollywood Studios’ and the MPAA’s Screen Ban, but despite a lot of activist attitude they have not joined forces in a significant way since then. But it doesn't mean it can't, or won't.

The indie film community was very vocal about their opposition to California’s Proposition 8 referendum, but never in a unified way. Similarly, many major figures within the community defended the LA Indep. Film Festival’s head’s, Rich Radon, right of political expression when it was revealed he had donated funds in support of Prop 8, refusing to engage in blacklist tactics. In the end, the obvious conflict of an organization that defines itself by tolerance, being then led by someone supportive of a discriminatory act, albeit on what is called religious grounds, seemingly led that individual to resign. There was no true organized effort by the film community itself either to defeat Prop 8 or to remove Radon, but one suspects the outcome of each will bring more unified action in the months to come.
The community’s embrace of a new issue will be a test of their abilities to act in a unified way.

28. The embrace of the “1000 True Fans” model: filmmakers are recognizing that they need to engage in regular communication -- via a regular output of varied material – with their core audience. Not only is necessary because it speaks of a model of how filmmakers can earn a living , but it also offers a manner of working that will allow filmmakers, and artists in general, greater variation in the type and form of work they do. The dialogue with the audience will also keep filmmakers more attuned to what their audience responds to and why, all the while, strengthening the bonds between artists and their community.

29. Rational consolidation and expansion is taking place in the blogosphere. Indiewire, the premiere indie film news site, was acquired Snag Films, the leading documentary film streaming aggregator. GreenCine, one of the leading sites for art film appreciation, had its lead blogger go over to IFC's IndieEye – greatly strengthening that site. Movie City News got another great editor. As these core film appreciation sites improve, we all benefit. Audiences need to know where to go to find the type of films they love and this bit of consolidation could help.