Sabi Pictures' third episode of "The New Breed" is "Planning For Discoveries".
I was fortunate to take part in episode 6 of Sabi Pictures' "The New Breed", a co-production of Filmmaker Magazine and The Workbook Project. They shot seven episodes around the LA Film Festival this year and really put together something nice.
"Blood Simple" was the first film I bought a ticket for at a film festival. It was screening at the NYFF and I soon came to recognize that the films accepted to that fest were of a exceedingly high quality. The curatorial taste behind that festival choices was something I had confidence in. They gained my trust precisely because they have never tried to be all things for all people, and for that I have always been willing to pay a premium for. The NYFF was, and is, a trusted filter. Too many festivals these days program too many films without revealing, or reveling in, their curatorial hands, diminishing the power of their brand in the process. If festivals are going to become the new curators, that will have to change. Festivals must emphasize their unique taste, if not overall, then within sidebars at the festival.
One of the reasons festivals once mattered so much to indie filmmakers was that acceptance in them was a virtual badge of quality for the filmmakers to display. As festivals proliferated and premieres became a matter of policy, the filter aspect of festivals vanished. Festivals seemed to open up the gates to anyone and anything. Where's Waldo? How do you spot the curatorial hand in swarm of over 100. The question then becomes how do festivals regain that curatorial stamp?
A return to less could be more. If less films were selected, it would mean more for the filmmaker, in terms of prestige and discovery. More for the audience, in terms of a filter and confidence. A common complaint heard in industry circles is that films "get lost" at such and such festival. I have always liked the idea of a festival within the festival, curators within the larger curation.
Another benefit of smaller selections could be that more festivals could develop distinctive flavors making them more of a required stop by the cineaste (particularly if they also transcended their geographic boundaries). Festivals need, just like movies, to sell their individuality. I was excited to stumble upon Saskia Wilson-Brown's post (at the indispensable Workbook Project) on the relevance of small festivals today (it is a good post and well worth your time). She articulates what festivals provide quite well:
Empowering a community and its artists through coherent promotion; leveraging the festival name to garner publicity and opportunity for its participants; facilitating radness in general– Art for art’s sake, as it were. The efforts of the core team, then, were mostly spent on promoting and advocating for micro-communities through programming decisions, and fostering creativity and creative collaboration in our neighborhood and beyond.
Acceptance to a festival used to always mean a review by a major critic at a major publication because their was a major critic at every major newspaper. That itself was worth whatever other risk the festival brought with it (because they do bring risks). With the dismissal of the film critics from the US newspapers, there are a few such critics left -- and there is no way that they can cover all the films at all the major festivals. Movies get lost at festivals with a wide swath. Sure, the blogsphere's picked up a lot of the slack, but those reviews are hard to garner the same interest or generate the same want-to-see from audiences. How can web reviews be used to generate more interest? Can the different review sites team up and time review releases simultaneously or even post to a common site so that more traction can be generated with audiences? Where are the new ideas that can make festivals once again a value-added proposition? Festivals should be transparent with filmmakers upon acceptance as to how they will help market the movie to the festival's community (and beyond).
If the VOD model is going to work in these days of never-ending supply and availability, reviews are more than necessary. They need and are needed to get traction and facilitate action. Review aggregators should drive traffic to the VOD platform. We need widgets that link these two services seamlessly. Shouldn't we have all this stuff integrated by now? But alas, we don't. So what can we do in the interim, in this in-between-days sort of time?
In considering the joining of film festivals with a VOD extension, it is hard not to see the logic of the relationship. Festivals offer the overwhelmed consumer a filter -- the curatorial service. Festivals serve to generate the reviews that films need so much. If festivals can leverage their brand and marketing muscle to heighten awareness for the individual films, maybe a film has a chance of popping out of the crowded herd at the end of the dial. If a festival can help a filmmaker understand how to make the most of this opportunity, more power to them both.
But if the films that are offered by a festival on VOD don't arrive with that flavor and spice, the rhyme and reason of why they are in a festival in the first place, will anyone really pay attention, particularly after the novelty has worn off? Doesn't it precisely require more than just the brand of a festival but also the highly selective curation that festivals once promised? The potential of festivals to provide the allure of a red velvet rope and shining spot lights is there. Will we get to see what it looks like? It is going to need to be a lot more than public twitter boards. If the festival can not really add a lot of value in the marketing and positioning of their specific selections, aren't they taking advantage of the films they invite?
Festivals have always been a great place for the cineaste -- and not just because we get to see good movies. The important part of festivals has always been the conversation. What we expect from quality content is an even better social experience around it. Online users only spend 30% of their time looking at content; the rest is search and social -- discovery & discussion. For film festivals to successfully evolve into a cross-platform non-geographicly specific discovery tool, they have to offer not just the added value of promotion, but heightened level of conversation & appreciation.
I know festivals can provide a lot more than currently do. Particularly with a little help from their friends. There's a lot of good thought going on about this, but when you see that filmmakers are questioning the very value of a film festival attendance, we can all discern that festivals are not offering enough value for the films that participate in them. The answer is to offer more.
I have written about the need to utilize something like Festival Genius. I think expanding the festival beyond it's geographic confines is similarly key. A clear and understandable hand in the curating should be a given. Guided and memorable conversation that transfers leisure time into intellectual capital and social capital is of the essence. What more do you want?
Update Tuesday 4/20: There's a lot of good conversation on what ideal festivals would look like. Thom Powers recently held a breakfast discussing what a new Doc Fest in NYC would look like. Brian Newman contribute a thoughtful post encouraging community, embrace of new tools, a focus on conversations over panels, a de-emphasis on formats, an abandonment of the demand for premieres, and a true collaboration with filmmakers by sharing data, audiences, and the opportunity to sell. And yes, to pay filmmakers.
Festivals are going to change for both audiences and filmmakers. It is going to be exciting to see who really takes the lead.
I am giving the keynote today for DIY DAYS. This is it, devoid of any adlibs. It is inspiring to be in this room with all of you for this: The first edition of DIY DAYS NYC. All of us. Together. Here.
It took me almost 30 years to get here. Thanksgiving Weekend. 1980. The Clash’s Sandinista! Godard’s “Everyman For Himself” and Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” They all came out on the same weekend and I was home freshman year for break. Seeing, hearing, absorbing all that I thought: ”This is what I want to do: intense, hard-hitting, challenging, personal, political self-expression. “ I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what the first step could be, I just felt that want. That DEEP DEEP need to create something of my own.
Have you ever recognized that you are in the right place at the right time? The exact right place? In the exact right time? With the exact right people? I have felt it, a few times, and that feeling has pushed me, pushed me forward, in a big way that has brought others along with it.
I felt it when I first moved to NYC. 1984. Second wave of Punk Rock. I saw whom I later realized were the Coen Brothers always in the same late night grocery as me trying to decide which cold cereal to buy just like me and my roommates. Cut to: Subway doors. They open and there’s that big mane of stand up grey hair that I late realize is Jim Jarmusch. Music booms: The Replacement’s “Let It Be “– 1st time I realize I am blown away by a band younger than me. Jump to: the front of the movie theater. Spike Lee is passing out flyers for the film that the trailer inside the theater is also pushing me to see.
It is that feeling -- that incredible feeling --that all is within reach. I may not be able to play the guitar but if I can pick it up and scream with feeling and personality, someone may come. It may not have SFX or movie stars, but if I can shoot it and it is real and reaching and new, someone may come.
Eight years later, 1992. Sundance. The movies are great. I’ve a couple now. The filmmakers are all now my friends. We make ‘em cheap. No Budget Revolution #1. We are challenging each other, sharing information. And the People: they are coming. Companies are buying. This thing, this dream of mine, to take French New Wave and Punk Rock attitude and love of art and character and politics might, just might have a chance to be something more than a hobby. It may be a job. It can pay the bills. A vocation – a life sustaining vocation.
I’ve made sixty movies now. It some ways it feels like: “sure, I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people” I am fortunate. But you know what? You know what I sincerely believe? I wasn’t. I wasn’t where I thought I was yet: it wasn’t the right time or place or people yet.
But I am now: right here with all of you. We can make something happen. Something entirely different. Something the world has never seen or heard or felt ever before. We can have that thing that I always have wanted but never achieved. We’ve never had an opportunity like the one we do right now. But time is short and if we don’t act soon, we are going to blow it.
Do you know what you are feeling right now? It is the feeling of the being in the right place at the right time with the right people.
The question is what are we going to do with it? Where are we taking it? Ask yourself: what sort of world do you want? What sort of culture do you want? One where others tell you what stories can be told? One that requires you to beg others for support to get your work made? One that demands you utilize their resources & techniques to reach and engage audience? One that can turn its back on your offspring and your babies without the bat of an eye? One that can buy those children of yours, for a fraction of their value, for years upon years?
I don’t think so.
We are on the verge of establishing something quite contrary to that horrible vision. The tools and platforms of the digital age can supplant the gatekeeper-controlled, impulse-buy motivated and capital-intensive infrastructure that we’ve played all too long in.. We now have the promise of a newly emerging artist-centric, audience-focused, low-cost collaborative model that can be both achieved and sustained and will deliver us better and more diverse work in a manner both more accessible and participatory than ever before.
You know this – or at least recognize this. That is why you are here today. That is why we all are.
But we are also in danger of losing this incredibly glorious and generous opportunity before the roots take hold and the seeds truly spread. Why? Because we all look to ourselves, and not just primarily, but often, far too often, exclusively. If we want to protect ourselves, promote ourselves, the time is now to focus on community first.
Now there are great examples before us, and they offer the better alternative. This is what this day – DIY DAYS --is all about. Look at what Lance Weiler and everyone over at the Workbook Project have done for all of us, with all of us. This event. That website. They are free. They are open. They are participatory. And they are incredibly useful. They are the start and they are the model. We are all the future, and we all are – or should be – incredibly thankful.
Which one do you want? The old, closed, gatekeeper model? Or the new one that is artist and audience centric that can usher in a true middle class of artist entrepreneurs?
How do we do that? By working together. By sharing. By recognizing that today’s definition of being an artist requires that you be there all the time, from beginning to end – but not alone, not by yourself. You can’t abandon your babies. You can have the child support. Just ask the person sitting next to you today.
Our job description requires that we curate, educate, and aggregate – and not just create and produce. We have to embrace all six pillars of cinema -- of all art forms --and not just the pillars of creation and execution, but also discovery, promotion, appreciation, and presentation. It’s a lot of work, but that problem is also the answer.
Don’t be hesitant. Look at the old way: The only people that benefited from those lines drawn between art and commerce, between marketing and content, are the very same people who are now enjoying the good business opportunity before them now when creators license their work for low fees for low terms on an exclusive basis without access to any of the data their work generates. We have to stop this process. • We have to stop this practice where content is free, but the hardware to play it is extremely expensive. • We have to prevent a world where the aggregators get rich but the creators get a pittance. • We must insist that the data and fans that our work generates is ours, in the fullest sense of the word “ownership”. We have to help each other. We can not settle for the world that has been offered, but must reach for the one that we have dreamed of and can now obtain.
I came here today because I want to ask you all to do one thing, really to beg of you all to do one thing. And that one thing I truly believe can change our world. That one thing can bring the new world, the artist-centric, creator-empowered & participatory culture into being. That one thing is simple: Do not leave here today without committing to do at least one thing for another person that is in this room right here right now, to do something for them and their work.
Commit to curate. Commit to promote. Commit to educate, to program, to organize and to facilitate. To Collaborate. Pledge your help. Give it as a badge of honor for you both to wear. Link up. Do it now. Do it later. Just do it today. Offer your help to someone here today.
We have to build the infrastructure to support a challenging and diverse culture. It may not be as fun as creating yet another movie or game or music or book, but we must accept it as part of our job description. It requires giving and it requires accepting. We can all leave here stronger, wiser, with more potential. But it depends on you.
If you don’t want to help and work together: we can stop referring to it as the film industry, the music business, the comics trade – and instead the next time we get together, we can discuss our hobbies.
The good news is that these are not Do It Yourself Days. You are not alone. We are going to build it better together. Make it better together. It just requires us to reach out. Please make your pledge to help someone else while you are here today. Let’s not squander this opportunity. Tell us what we can do for you. Tell others what you can do for them. Let DIY DAYS be about truly working together. Accept this gift from Lance and The Workbook Project and pass it along. It’s going to be how it works, this new gift economy of ours: the more you share, the more power and value you are going to generate.
Pledge your help to someone here today.