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.

Can VOD & Theatrical Exhibition Both Benefit Each Other?

Is there a model where both can further film culture, audience development, and overall cinema appreciation?  With very few critics left with a mass market soap box, where do we turn for curation?  With a global onslaught of 50,000 feature films generated per year, how do we connect with the films that are best for us?  When audiences enjoy cinema in any form, they are far more apt to engage with more film soon after?  Is there a model that leads to a a win/win for everyone?

MUBI recently announced a partnership with Picturehouse Theaters where members get 90 days free access on MUBI.  One wonders if there are similar deals to be done with online aggregators and exhibitors in the US...

Our community theaters are just one of the curators we have in this country for cinema culture.  Film Societies, like the San Francisco FIlm Society and Lincoln Center, also help develop audiences and advance the dialogue.  Critics, blogs, friends and family, all help with discovery, recognition and appreciation.  Yet in a world with a plethora of leisure time options, it's critical for one's love of an art form to run deep if it is to become habitual -- which our industry and business models currently require.  Discovering and enjoying great cinema goes a long, long way to building a long term relationship.

I have to think that there is something to be said about getting access to great classic cinema alongside a membership into an organization that gives you access to the latest of world and arthouse cinema.  Of course, the level of each would have to line up well.

What else would help this model work well?

Diary of a Film Startup Post 18: New Year Update

By Roger Jackson

Previously: How KinoNation Works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Up: Post # 19: Searching for Green Card

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

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

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Film Marketing Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Europe Learn From The US VOD Market To Date?

I moderated Europa International Distribution 2.0 in Paris over Thanksgiving. Here Ryan Werner talks about how VOD has evolved in the States, particularly for World Cinema.

It's nicely shot as these things go, even if my bald spot takes starring honors.

Here's another clip on whether films need Facebook pages.

And another on Day & Date.

Diary of a Film Startup Part 15: Film Marketing Tools

By Roger Jackson
Previously: Early Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary of a Film Startup Part 14: Early Results

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Indie Film Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Up: Post # 15: Film Marketing Tools

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

Diary of a Film Startup Part 13: Indie Film Inspiration

By Roger Jackson

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Next Up: Post # 14: Early Results

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

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

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Ranking System for Indie Films?

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

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

Next week: Post # 13: Indie Film Inspiration

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

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

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Three Months of Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: Post # 12:  Doubling the Upload Speed

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

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

By Roger Jackson
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News Re: Getting Attention For VOD Titles

This press release just came in... As a fan of both outlets, I am jazzed.  As a fan of specialized film and a dreamer of a land where we have the filters and curators necessary to deal with the challenge of The Grand Abundance (of Films), I am hopeful.  As a producer of films far too cognizant of the challenges we all face, I am happy to share this news!
 
Filmwax Radio, a weekly talk show about independent film, is increasing its focus to include Video On Demand (VOD) subject matter and guests. The radio show, hosted by Filmwax's Adam Schartoff, is partnering with popular online publicationOn Demand Weekly to devote a monthly episode to movies on demand. Adam has interviewed film notables such as Ed Burns, William H. Macy and Joe Swanberg for On Demand Weekly in the past.
 
 
“We recognized Adam’s passion for film and gift of conversation with filmmakers. Working with Adam on the radio will shed a stronger light to our coverage of upcoming movies on demand. We’re looking foward to expanding our reach,” said Britt Bensen, Editor-In-Chief, Co-founder, On Demand Weekly.
 
 
“With the pre-theatrical and day-and-date models, the number of VOD releases is increasing and film fans are taking notice. Working with On Demand Weekly will help us identify the best new movies and talent for our audience,” said Adam Schartoff, Filmwax Radio.
 
 
Filmwax
Adam Schartoff, Fimwax Radio
 
 
The VOD interviews will be available on BBoxRadio.com and will also have a presence on www.ondemandweekly.com.

 

A New Light for Social Cinema

Editor's Note: When I discover new platforms for filmmakers to get their work seen, I tend to invite the innovators to write a post to introduce our readers to the service.  This is not an endorsement, but I do find it thrilling there are so many options!

by Colin George, Editor-in-Chief, Cinecliq.com

The lights are down. The score swells. Unbelievable — that guy three rows down is texting again.

How many times has this happened to you? Moviegoing, real moviegoing, is an increasingly alienating experience, thanks in part to smartphone dependency and our addiction to social media. We can’t even go cold turkey for two hours. Watching movies can and should be a communal experience, but that white rectangle three rows down illuminates the face of an outlier, not a participant.

So how do we reconcile our shared love for cinematic storytelling with our growing need for 24/7 connectivity? So far, the answer has been segregation — leading theater chains have proposed separate screenings encouraging texters and tweeters to ‘light up’ throughout. Conversely, purists at the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse took a hard stance against cellphone use, turning a profanity-laden voicemail from a disgruntled ex-patron into their corporate credo: “Thanks for not coming back to the Alamo, texter!”

Talkers are even more despised by cinephiles. The loudest are the youngest: hyperactive teens for whom the prospect of sitting quietly for two primetime Friday hours is a fate worse than death. No wonder their generation is disenfranchised with the stalwart traditions of movie night — the anonymous shhh! that silences them is the only acceptable social gesture made the entire evening.

Maybe their frustration, coupled with the frustration of the patrons they rudely interrupt, account for the recent spike in video-on-demand popularity. Or maybe it’s the thirteen dollar popcorn and 40 oz soda combo. More and more, would-be theatergoers are consuming feature films at home and on-the-go, watching with a small circle of family or friends, or alone on their commute.

But by limiting the theater audience to available couch space, the current VOD model eschews community in favor of convenience. Additionally, Netflix has stripped back social features from its service, which once included a community tab with a suite of networking options. Gungho on securing rights to as broad a library of content as possible (even a casual perusal of the Instant Queue evinces their quantity over quality stratagem), the company is further marginalizing the intended inclusiveness of cinema.

At Cinecliq, we hope to offer the best of both worlds. Just like our users, we spend a lot of time on Facebook; that’s why we set up shop there. By integrating our service into the world’s leading social network, we provide them with a place to watch fullscreen HD movies together, and encourage them to engage with friends — watch, comment, like, and share picks, ratings, etc. And because we’re available wherever Facebook is, there’s always more room on the couch.

Plus, unlike at the local multiplex, on Cinecliq you can chat to your heart’s content. The purists can join the conversation after the credits roll. Just imagine it: the lights are down; the score swells. It’s just you and your friends — all 900 million of them.

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

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

Last Week

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

 

Bootstrapping

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

 

Milestones and Traction

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

 

Prove It

These are the 4 milestones:

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Making Docs

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

 

Pitching and Catching

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

 

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

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

How VOD Changes The Whole Film Landscape

It a big question (how VOD is changing the film landscape), but we already see the answers starting to unfold. As the lovers of cinema recognize they can access anything anywhere anytime, and the captains of industry in the culture strands accept their business is one of infinite choice, everyone becomes more desperate for the curators and filters that help connect us with what we will enjoy most.

Film culture diversifies further into various event programing that includes both blockbusters and traditional geo-specific festivals, and all the various forms of electronic transmission, both in a solitary passive viewing mode, and in a more social active form.

This all access world of super-abundance will increase the value of alternative forms, beyond the feature film, whether they are to maintain engagement or deliver a more immersive experience. I think it can't help but lead artists and those who support them to recognize the value in maintaining ownership of their work and opting for short term licenses to specific platforms.

This is part of an interview I gave OnDemand Weekly upon accepting the Executive Director position at The San Francisco Film Society.  Read all of it right here.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 3: The Producer's Dilemma
By Roger Jackson
The Producer’s Dilemma You probably know the classic movie making conundrum that indie producers struggle with: talent (or rather their agents) won’t commit to a film project until you prove you have funding, and investors won’t write a check until you prove you have talent attached. The producer’s dilemma. And, of course, all successful producers find creative solutions to that thorny issue. KinoNation has a similar challenge: It’s tough to get filmmakers fully committed without video-on-demand distribution outlets in place, and it’s hard to sign VoD outlets without a slate of films.
Meeting with Hulu
So in an industry (Hollywood) that’s notoriously suspicious -- even hostile -- towards outsiders and upstarts, our first meeting with a VoD distributor was a breath of fresh air. Hulu “got it” immediately. They were informed, candid and provided the type of objective but positive feedback that Klaus and I needed. Yes, you can be a content partner with Hulu, they said. Just show us you can aggregate great independent features and documentaries, and then prove you can deliver them to Hulu in the high quality format we require. Deal! We got to work immediately on the ideas and to-do list that sprang from the meeting -- in a new venture like KinoNation, the positive momentum from this type of informal encouragement is huge.
Acronyms on Demand
Since then we’ve been talking to video-on-demand platforms all over the world.  So now is probably a good time to deal with the soup of video-on-demand acronyms we find ourselves swimming in. SVoD, TVoD, FVoD are among the most common, but the list goes on, it’s confusing, and from now on I’m just going to use the umbrella term VoD -- “Video on Demand.” But, for the record,  SVoD is “subscription“ video-on-demand, where the customer pays a flat monthly fee. Like Netflix, or Hulu Plus. TVoD is “transactional” video-on-demand, where customers pay each time they rent or buy a movie. Like iTunes, or Amazon Instant. And FVoD is “free” video-on-demand.  Like Vimeo, or YouTube. OK, with that out of the way, suffice it to say we’re busy knocking on the doors of dozens of VoD companies, worldwide.
Now We Need Movies
Now the flip side of our producer’s dilemma: we need an initial slate of films -- fifty or so would be ideal. So last week we fired up an Invitation Only page on KinoNation, seeking full-length films (and filmmakers) for what techies call Beta Testing. As we wrote on that page “These films will form the initial slate of films to be run through our automated Upload-Transcode-Distribute process...filmmakers involved will help shape the creation of KinoNation.” The response already has been great -- indie features from the USA, UK and Australia, documentaries from France and South Africa, and amazing enthusiasm from filmmakers who know they can drive an audience to their films, but want help getting them out there!

First Mover Advantage So who are these bold filmmakers, and what are they submitting to KinoNation? And why are they motivated to be “first movers?” Here’s a sampling. Husband and wife filmmakers Lindy and Kris Boustedt are sending us their beautiful existential drama This is Ours. Lindy notes that “We’re confident we can market/find an audience for our film, we just want a simple route to getting our film into paid video on demand.” South African filmmaker James Walsh has submitted his stunning mountain bike documentary An Epic Tale, and writes “Love the simplicity of Kinonation! More than happy to be a guinea pig for this process.”  From Australia we heard from director Sky Crompton, who has submitted his Austral-Asian drama Citizen Jia Li. Veteran LA filmmaker Rich Martini (what a great name!) already has his incredible after-life doc Flipside out on DVD, and writes that “VOD is definitely the smartest way to go with my own particular niche of story telling...once it’s available on demand I can sell the heck out of it...thank you KinoNation for showing up at exactly the right time to enable a new vision of distribution!”

So I invite you to submit your film to our Private Beta. The form takes 2 minutes to complete, the rules are super-simple, there’s no obligation to participate, no cost, no strings attached. And there’s absolutely no danger that your baby will be stolen, or end up on DVD at the night market in Shanghai. Although as filmmaker Lindy Boustedt wrote, “"We'd be oddly thrilled if This is Ours was pirated. Cause that would mean it was popular enough to steal."

 

Next week:  Post #4: Story Arc for Investors or Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Raising Money.

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

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation
By Roger Jackson
KinoNation We were determined the site would be a dot com domain -- not dot biz or dot US or dot-whatever. But available dot coms are rare and we weren’t going to pay thousands of dollars to some shady cyber-squatter. Klaus found KinoNation.com -- it was available, it makes sense, we like it and seems easy to remember. “Kino” is German for cinema. And “Nation” can be defined as a community of persons bound by a shared interest or passion. That seems to work. We’re also excited about the potential for this venture in China, making thousands of Chinese indie films available to the rest of the world. So the name had to sound OK to the Chinese ear (we’re assured it does) and it more or less translates into Mandarin as “Film Kingdom.” But. There’s always a “but.” In this case there’s a site in Russia, kinonation.ru where you can watch Hollywood movies -- in Russian -- for free. Hard to say whether they’re legit or pirated. Either way, we have the dot-com, they have the dot-ru -- there’s no reason we can’t co-exist, right?
The Lean Startup
Klaus and I are fans of The Lean Startup -- the idea that all new ventures are based on big, untested assumptions, and the best way to test them is to get a minimum viable product out there quickly. In weeks rather than months. That way, if you’re going to fail, at least you fail fast! Our big assumptions are that filmmakers and content owners will see value in KinoNation and want to upload their movies. And that digital video-on-demand outlets will want those films enough to work with us.  Are those assumptions true?
First 6 Weeks So now we're 6 weeks into it. What have we accomplished so far? We're filmmakers so we started with a video. We convinced a few successful friends to talk about the problem we’re trying to solve, and Remy Boudet, our talented French director/DP/editor, pulled it all together. We built a website, nothing fancy, we used a WordPress template but I think it looks pretty good. Remy designed an ice cream logo, because apparently in France they still quaff ice cream in movie theaters. We decided to experiment with fund-raising on Indiegogo. We haven’t started a company yet, an actual legal entity. Haven’t printed business cards. Haven’t bought any equipment. It’s too easy to get bogged down in stuff like that and pretend you’re making progress, when it’s really just spending money you don’t have, before you need to. We’re focused on writing code, doing deals, spreading the word to filmmakers.
Response So Far The response from filmmakers and indie producers has been remarkably consistent: “KinoNation is a great idea, but since your success is dependent on the online success of the films uploaded, you’d better help filmmakers reach their audience, because there’s the real challenge.” We can provide online tutorials and tools, of course. Plus lessons on guerilla marketing, case studies of indie films that have grossed a ton of money via VoD – and examples of decent films where the online marketing was a fail. But we need more. I have a strong feeling there’s a more imaginative and even game-changing solution lurking just over the horizon? We’ll see.
Coming Soon The first few weeks were the easy part. Who doesn’t love brainstorming, shooting video, building websites. Now we have to build the technology that will do the uploading and transcoding magic. That will move massive digital movie files around the planet without any loss of quality. We have to do deals with digital distributors like Hulu and Netflix and iTunes and dozens of others. We have to convince filmmakers to trust us with their films. We have to figure out a business model that is fair and reasonable and transparent. Oh, and of course we have to find investors who believe in the vision and the potential to create a global distribution business.
That’ll keep us busy for a few months.
Next week:  Post #3: The Producer’s Dilemma - you know how movie talent won’t commit until you get funding, and film funders won’t commit until you’ve signed talent? KinoNation struggles with the same dilemma with content owners and video-on-demand partners.

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

 

 

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 1: Every movie ever made...

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 1: Every movie ever made, in any language, anytime, day or night...
By Roger Jackson
 

I joined the short films website iFilm.com in 1999 and stayed until 2006, after we sold to MTV. By then we’d also sold out our original vision, captured perfectly in this 1999 commercial. Since iFilm I’ve produced war-zone documentaries for the Annenberg Foundation, started a production company, and for the past year run humanitarian projects in Afghanistan and West Africa. But I often thought of that iFilm vision...and now, more than a decade later, I find myself the co-founder (with film composer Klaus Badelt) of a digital film startup with a similar mission. This is the first of a series of weekly guest posts as we bootstrap this new venture -- ideally with a ton of critique and input from you.

The Other 96%
I first met Klaus at Peet’s Coffee in Santa Monica. It’s where most of our work gets done. As we became acquaintances and then friends, we started talking about a shared passion for foreign and independent films -- and our frustration with the distribution eco-system where 50,000 features and documentaries are made (globally) every year -- and only a couple thousand (4%) get released. What happens to the other 48,000?
 
 

The Music Precedent
Klaus is a musician -- and a keen student of the music business and its transformation over the past decade. He convinced me that the film industry will follow a similar trajectory -- radical and disruptive change in the way movies are created, shared and consumed. Meaning, among other things, those 48,000 films could be available to rent or buy, in multiple languages, via the dozens of digital video-on-demand platforms around the world. Just like that Qwest commercial.

 

The Pain Point
So where’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What’s the pain point for those 48,000 films? The reality is that it’s incredibly difficult, expensive and frustrating for filmmakers to get their movies onto these platforms, which lack any real standardization of video format, metadata, payment, etc. Filmmakers typically have to pay to get their film encoded for any digital platform. They’re Fedex’ing hard drives around the world. Then they pay again for another platform. And again. Always with no guarantee they’ll see a dime in revenue. Being available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu and the rest certainly doesn’t mean people will find and pay for the film. So it’s a lot of upfront cost, hassle and high risk -- with no guarantee of any return -- at a time in the life of a film when filmmakers can least afford it.

 

A Solution?
Klaus’s vision was for a simple web based platform where any filmmaker, anywhere on the planet, could upload his feature film -- with zero upfront cost -- and have it immediately in distribution on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, Lovefilm, Snag, Mubi, Fandor...and the hundreds of other paid digital outlets around the world. And available in as many languages as the filmmaker wants to make sub-titles for. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Commitment
Intrigued and fired up, I agreed to write a business plan, and in early 2011 we shared it with some friends. They had suggestions, but they liked it. But like all ideas, it was worthless without the commitment to make it happen. Klaus was running a busy music studio and writing scores for multiple movies, including the upcoming Astérix and Obélix. I was working for a Los Angeles based non-profit called Spirit of America, launching a new program --  School Partners/Afghanistan -- that connected American and Afghan high school students via video conference. But Klaus and I kept talking and noodling and becoming more and more convinced that we could -- and should -- create something truly disruptive in the film world. And by the summer of 2012 we were convinced that if we didn’t do it soon -- someone else would -- maybe they already were? So I left my non-profit gig and we got down to work.

 

Next week:  Part # 2: Birth of a (Kino) Nation:  figuring out a name, shooting a trailer, endless video edits until it (sort of) makes sense, and questioning the massive  assumptions behind this whole crazy venture.

 

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

"Theaters should NOT be used as mere marking platforms for home release."

So said National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian in regards to Day & Date Theatrical VOD releases. "(It) devalues the content and tells the consumer that the involved movies will never be a big deal," he added. Granted Fithian is looking out for the Exhibitors, and he rarely is focused on Indie or Art film. But then again, when the trades start singing the praises of D&D VOD they are generally looking out only for top titles, and not your little heart-felt work of passion. In this Saturation Point Era when all face a super-abundance of content, how do you expect people to not develop a "want-to-see" desire for your film, but to actually prioritize it and move themselves to actually make a transaction?

I agree that you need to be available when the desire strikes. I also agree that you want to be eventually readily available everywhere. But that doesn't mean that you want to reach that goal prior to manufacturing the desire.

We are doing the exact opposite of VOD/D&D with DARK HORSE.

See it in Theaters! Support your local arthouse!! Vote With Your Dollars For The Culture You Want!!! We can build it better together!!!!

Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/darkhorsemovie

How Would You Use All 27 New Platforms Available For Direct (aka DIY/DIWO) Distribution?

UPDATED 8/31 730A (Now 30 Platforms & Services!)Thanks for the recommendations in the comments and elsewhere! UPDATED 9/1 630A (Now 31 Platforms & Services!) UPDATED 9/1 830A, UPDATED 9/8 8A (32!), UPDATED 9/15 6A, 9/23 UPDATED 5/15/2012 (Now 33 Platforms & Services!)

We are awash in wonderful opportunities. Distribution has long been said to be one of the top concerns of Truly Free / Indie filmmakers. Ditto on the marketing side. We've been neglectful to address the equally important social side, but that's changing. Financing is always a challenge, but even there we have new help and hope. The great news is that never before have we had so many opportunities in all these areas.

Now comes the time to develop some best practices. How do we use all of these wonderful opportunities? How do we prepare for them? How do we access them? Here's a list of the 27 platforms & tools I know of; I am sure you know some more to add to the list. Let's get this new model started!

How about everyone pick a platform (ideally one they used) and write up some recommendations on how to use it well, and we run them as posts on this blog?

So...

How do you think we should utilize all of these great tools and platforms? We are not going to figure it out one by one on our own. The truth will only be revealed through collective endeavor (and a little good fortune). I would love to hear some advice from all the budding and experienced PMDs out there... not to mention filmmakers who have utilized or plan on utilizing any of these.

I am having a bit of a hard time coming up with the proper discriptions for the tools and services. This is very much a Work In Progress. If you have a better definition, please let me know. Several services show up in different categories. There are definitely suppliers that I have forgotten or neglected to mention (my apologies, but this is a public service and not my job job).

1. Artist Direct Distribution / Platforms: FilmDIY (promo video), MubiGarage, Ooyala, Viddler,

2. Artist Direct Distribution / Platforms - non-specialized: These are places filmmakers can "sell" their work, but are not filmcentric. Craigslist, Etsy,

3. Artist Direct Distribution / TVOD Players: Distrify, Dynamo Player (Review), EggUp (review), FansOfFIlm.tv (still in Beta) , FlickLaunch, Groupee, OpenFilm,

4. Artist Direct Distribution / Service Facilitators: Sundance's Artist Services,

5. Audience Aggregation, Analytics, & Commerce: FanBridge, TopspinMedia

6. Audience Participation: LiveFanChat, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Social Guide, SoKap, Watchitoo

7. CrowdFunding/Audience Participation:      IndieGoGo • 4% fee if you make your goal, 9% otherwise, +3% credit card processing fee      Kickstarter • 5% fee, +3-5% credit card fee (only funded if you make your goal)      RocketHub • 4% fee if you make your goal, 8% otherwise, +3-5% credit card fee      SoKap • 5% fee, 10% fee on product sold via their marketplace, +3% credit card fee      United States Artists • 15% fee + 4% credit card fee      Eppela • 5% fee + PayPal processing fee (~2-4%), (must use PayPal, only funded if you make your goal, Italian)      Kapipal • Currently no fee + PayPal processing fee (~2-4%), (must use PayPal, Italian)      And 10 others listed here

8. Digital Delivery Facilitators: Veedios (article)

9.Digital Distribution Access Providers: Brainstorm, Distribber (analysis), GoDigital, Gravitas, Inception Digital Services, IndieBlitz ,Might Entertainment, New Video, Premiere Digital,

10. Digital Download & Streaming Aggregators: Amazon, AsiaPacificFilms.com, CinemaNow (aka BestBuy), FilmDIY, iTunes, Vudu, XFinityTV (aka Comcast),YouTube

11. Digital Limited Run US Theatrical Exhibition: Cinedigm, FathomEvents, Screenvision

12. Digital Streaming Aggregators FREE (AVOD): Crackle, Snag (Owners of IndieWIre, host of my blog), Vimeo, YouTube

13. E-commerce: E-Junkie (shopping cart)

14. Educational Market: An Overview, Educational Market Streaming

15. Exhibition/Four Wall Services (i.e. self booking): QuadCinemaFourWall

16. Exhibition/New Model: Emerging's Digital Repertory Program, Specticast

17. Free Peer to Peer: VoDo, BitTorrent

18. Fulfillment: Amazon Services, Amplifier, theConneXtion, CreateSpace, FilmBaby, IndieBlitz,Kufala Recordings, Paid, Transit Media, I got a lot more when I did a search but I don't know one from the other.

19. Influencer / Social Media Analytics: Klout, PeerIndex, Topsy, Traackr, Twitalyzer,

20. Markets / Online On Demand For Territorial Licensing (B2B): Cinando, Festival Scope,

21. Mobile Phone & Tablet Film App Builders: Mopix (see demo here) Stonehenge

22. Mobile Video Sharing: Thwapr,

23. Platforms: Facebook, Playstation, Roku, RoxioNow, XBox

24. Search (for SEO): Ask, Bing, Google, Yahoo

25. Social Discovery Platforms ( Online TVOD): PreScreen

26. Social Networks: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Weibo

27. Stream To View Transactional VOD (Pay): Constellation, Prescreen (review)

28. Streaming Subscription (SVOD): Amazon, AsiaPacificFilms.com, Fandor, Hulu, LoveFilm, Mubi, Netflix

29. Trailer Distribution / Online Internet Video Archive

30. Video Conferencing / Multi-party (for Fan Engagement & Remote Appearances): Watchitoo

31. VOD Aggregation: itzon.tv,

32. VOD Channels: Multichannel Video Programmers (note: not all offer VOD), FilmBuff

33. Facebook Video Players/Channels:Cinecliq, Milyoni