Woodstock Fest Distro Panel: A New Paradigm?

"Pair of dimes, I would be happy with two nickels," so joked moderator Bingham Ray, but perhaps one of the bigger truths for all of us. If you have an hour to spare, give us a listen:

Distribution Panel, Woodstock Film Festival 2010 from BEA Submitter on Vimeo.

Panel Speaking Today: Woodstock Film Festival

Today, Saturday October 2nd at 2P, I will be participating in the NEW DISTRIBUTION PARADIGM panel at the Woodstock Film Festival.

The 21st century brought with it extraordinary advances in the way that films are distributed. The advent of the Internet, cable and satellite television and on-demand services now allows a viewer to choose exactly how and when they watch a film. This change in dynamic between the work and the audience has allowed many films a chance to shine that would have otherwise been denied. In turn this has opened up a whole new world of cinema for the public to enjoy, making such changes incredibly valuable and worthwhile. This panel will discuss the remarkable leaps forward that have been made in the world of film distribution and look ahead to what the future may hold.

My fellow panelists are an esteemed crew: Richard Abramowitz, Bob Berney, Edward Burns, and John Sloss.  I hope you can join us.

Order tickets here: http://www.woodstockfilmfestival.com/festival2010/panels.php?cat=Panel

The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model (Pt. 1 of 2)

Guest post by Sheri Candler. In this second post, I want to focus on how to rehabilitate the film distribution entities so that they may continue to exist. I know what you are thinking “What’s she on about? We’re fine. We survived the latest shake out and are all the stronger for having less competition.” I am here to tell you that is fallacy. The old ways of bringing films to market are fading fast and it is time to reinvent your business. I want to acknowledge my gurus Gerd Leonhard, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky (though he is more my go to guy on all things having to do with immersive storytelling and audience collaboration) for being a constant source of inspiration for me in looking toward the future of media.

When Ted announced on his Facebook page that he would take part in a panel discussion at the upcoming Woodstock Film Festival concerning the new distribution paradigms, I had to look at who would be involved in this discussion. What people and companies would be taking part who are practicing radically changed business models for film distribution? It was as I thought; none. I posted a link on his page (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100326/1452138737.shtml) asking all involved in the discussion to read it and then talk about how they see the new paradigms. I don’t know if anyone did, but I did get a response from Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films explaining to me how his company functions to actively engage audiences for films they’ve booked in the theater. It was a lengthy exchange that resulted in my writing this post. I don’t think he read the article before he spoke because the point of that piece was to inform on how businesses need to form ecosystems around their companies, not continue only to sell copies of the content they distribute. Distribution companies should not be focused on selling copies, either for viewing or for owning. They should be selling access, creating networks of devoted fans around their brand and developing customized experiences instead. In other words, selling things that cannot be copied. This means they must first gather and cultivate a community of engaged followers and then develop, acquire, produce, and source material with only these people in mind.

Of the companies taking part in the Woodstock panel, I would say only Cinetic with their Film Buff organization has started with the potential to do this, but rather than building an engagement platform, they have merely built another online distribution portal (like so many others in existence that consumers have never heard of) to put copies out on the internet. Actually you can’t see any of the films on the site, it just directs you to their existence on VOD channels. Their “community” engagement is only a call for an email address so that they may send marketing messages. What is communal about that? What connection would a consumer have to the company itself besides advertising? None. Cinetic has no idea who these people are, what drives them, motivates them, interests them. It is not fair to pick only on Cinetic, I can’t think of a single distributor currently connecting directly with audience who can answer those questions. Troma comes to mind as a distributor with a very clear brand identity but even they are not directly in dialog with their audience. All current distributors are far too dependent on push marketing, usually hired from outside the company, and sourcing films purely on guesses based on audience reactions at festivals , favorable press or from hottest trends in market research. Every investment prospectus will tell you future earnings are not indicative of past performance, so why is that how decisions are continually being made?

What would I suggest for these companies? First, a total rethink of what business they’re in. Distribution of goods is no longer needed from you. You should not think of yourselves in the film distribution business because distribution has become easy to access by anyone online. (I know Dylan, you’re not online, but art house theater days are numbered too). Attention getting is now your main role. But from whom? If you don’t have a following as a company, a deep relationship with a community, how will you get attention and keep it? By building a tribe around the people in your company and, in turn, the company brand itself. This starts by identifying what kind of group you appeal to or want to appeal to, actively seeking them out and forging those deep connections. At first, this will mean attracting people through outside means, appealing through media and various outside groups to introduce yourself. Eventually the effort to enlarge the circle will be done by the community members, but until you have one, you must do that work.

Often, in a rush to monetize, companies jump right over the relationship building. The dismal failure of paywalls in newspaper circles only serves to prove my point. They did not build up an engaged community first, and then ask for payment. They falsely thought that their paper subscribers would be willing to continue the previous paid relationship even after it was possible to get most of the news stories from aggregators for free online. There is a great video from Jeff Jarvis explaining the new business models for newpapers here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsb9NfJmqPY&) and lots can be gleaned from it for all corporate endeavors.

The reinvention “The future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors”-Gerd Leonhard The new model will be to build and foster a community around the brand as a company and to be in the entertainment fulfillment business. This community will have interests that the company can fulfill and that is the company’s ONLY function. To try and serve a well balanced diet of wide ranging content is to spread too thin and attract no one. Mass is not your target. You will be a resource to your community not only in entertainment but in anything that interests them. This means you MUST know what “that” is. Is it books, is it music, events, clothes, games, causes, other similar tribes? These will be your other revenue sources as you create a network of interconnection with other companies who have their own niches, their own tribes. Also, consider enabling community members to profit in what you have sourced, to be affiliates and to create networks of their own. The network will feed each other spreading the brand even further.

A key part of your site will be to connect your community to each other. Some companies have sites where they connect to the user, but they don’t allow for intraconnection and some networking platforms are merely housed on a company website but members are never engaged by the company, merely left to use the tools as they see fit. Listening and collaboration will be cornerstones for this model to work. This isn’t work to be left to interns, by the way, but by those in power within the company.

You will also partner with other tribes of like minded individuals. Through these interactions, you tribe influence grows. There is no need for shouting out messages, gaining favorable PR placement, buying media for attention or forcing members to spread the word. If you are fulfilling their needs admirably, they will do it. You will however, generously reward those members in your community who do enlarge your circle. Instead of paying large amounts of money to outside companies to get “buzz” and “traffic,” you will invest that money in building experiences tailor made for your community. Development of experiences can only be done from active participation in the community and collaboration with them.

This model is far simpler to run as you won’t be going for masses, you will only cultivate your community. It will be labor intensive work, but not prohibitively expensive. You will need to develop tools so that the tribe members can speak to each other and so that they can spread the word to their friends easily. You should be facilitating sharability at all times, not closing it off and being insular.

The filmmaker/artist whose content you will source (not acquire as creators will have an equal partnership in your tribe) will be encouraged to participate with the community. In fact, if they will not, then their work is not very attractive to your community. Engagement at all times is key, this is no place for egos.

Tomorrow: How To Make Money With The New Model!

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Film Going Is A Necessary & Political Act: Woodstock Trailblazer Acceptance Speech

Last month's acceptance speech has been up online for a few weeks, but I just discovered it. Check it out, you can play it in the background as you wash the dishes, maybe even do a little dance to it.

But if you are going to just watch/listen to part of it, please check out part three.

Unfortunately, it gets cut off before you get to hear me thank my wife Vanessa, whom I wouldn't do any of this without her love and support.

Woodstock Film Festival Trailblazer Acceptance Speech

I am receiving an award tonight. This is my acceptance speech.

WOODSTOCK TRAILBLAZER AWARD SPEECH

10/2/09

I’m honored to be invited to join all of you at this great celebration of film, music, and community. I want to truly thank Meira, Laurent, and Nikki and all of the volunteers and sponsors who make this festival – and all festivals -- happen. We wouldn’t have events like this without you. Thank you.

Can you imagine this world of ours without evens like this one, without films like the ones being screened here? I can, and of course you all can, because we have all lived when we were without – and we know it could very easily happen again.

I’ve been called many things in my life, but tonight I am being called a “Trailblazer”. I work really hard and have been really fortunate and because of those two things I have had the privilege of making about 60 films with some of the greatest directors of our time and I have dreams of making at least that many more with even better filmmakers with even more engaged audiences in the years ahead.

My drive to get so much done comes from being able to remember when I didn’t have the opportunities that I do now, opportunities not just to make such work, but even just to see such movies – and particularly to discuss such films, to participate in that incredible thing when a shared experience brings people closer together. My drive comes from not wanting that opportunity to be missed by others or myself.

I like to think that tonight’s honor partially comes from my commitment to truth, both in terms of content and in terms of process, my commitment to emotional and experiential truth, to the presentation of our complex reality and desires, to the portrayal of our world in such a way that we aren’t diminished or denigrated or spoken down to but instead are portrayed in ways that recognize s the expansive nature and deep community that truly defines all of us.

But lately, when people talk to me about “trailblazing” -- and well, don't they always...! – It’s not because of the work I’ve done in the past, the films I’ve made, or any innovations I have been part of – it’s because of what I am doing right now when I haven’t been able to make movies. It’s about what I have been doing because I am afraid we might lose this glorious and diverse and ambitious film culture – a community that has blossomed over the last two decades both here in Woodstock and all over the globe. We might lose both that community and the opportunity to evolve it into a true force for social change if we don’t all start to act in new ways.

People think of film as an art form, movies as an entertainment. An independent producer from an earlier era, Walter Wanger, spoke of movies as ambassadors, cultural ambassadors. In my experience I’ve felt movies are more like community organizers. (And I should note that I was one, and in fact, I once almost very happily worked for ACORN, but that's another story...) A movie’s ability to:

Bring us together

Expand our horizons

Encourage our dreams

Recognize our commonalities

Motivate our actions

Ignite our passions, and

Unite us as a community

is unrivaled. But it is also a power that is all too rarely unleashed. I am so inspired by the potential now before us. I don’t want us to squander it.

I want to ask you all to do something. Imagine the world you’d like, or at least imagine this world being closer to something you like. Look at these simple tools we have before us: films, the Internet, and you. Please recognize what you can now do with them, the power that they contain.

Isn’t it time that we all act? The economy is the toilet, corporations are in control, the gates and access are closing down, but we still have these three things – film, Internet, and community – and I still believe they can change the world.

For the past year I have been striving to set the example of what I am speaking about. One year ago, I used the Internet only for emails and to read newspapers for free. I had never blogged, twittered, been on a social network.

Now I have several blogs, am completely wired, and have thousands of friends and followers who feed me with hope, information, and knowledge. I have hundreds of NEW friends who now work with me building at truly free film culture that is diverse, vibrant, and open to all, a culture driven by participation on all sides, and united in its mission to get good work seen, appreciated and utilized by audiences who choose and act, ones that don’t surrender on impulse to the diet of mediocre drivel that is forced fed to us by what is euphemistically called our entertainment industry.

There is constant chatter by these lucky ones who have “jobs” in the film industry about crisis, but I don’t see a crisis in the same way they do. I see a golden age blooming with more great artists than ever before pushing and pulling the work they love to a deeply engaged and participatory audience.

And that is what I am really here to do tonight: to ask you – this incredible and legendary community – to go one step further, to take the love and appreciation you have for ambitious and humanist cinema, to use the skills you have for community building, to use these tools we all have available to us, and to simply spread the love further out into the world.

Our culture is under siege by the very apparatus that currently delivers this culture to us. But is an easy thing to change. Our fear of the future may still out weigh the pain of the present when it comes to culture, but the price is too high for us to continue to wait.

Write, blog, post, and twitter about the things you enjoy and the reasons why. Become the filter and curator for your family and friends. Don’t allow superficial responses to deeply considered work to permeate further. Don’t wait for the things you want and appreciate to come to you; there is a vibrant community of filmmakers out there eager to bring their work directly to you and discuss it via Skype or iChat or that good old face to face with whatever group you organize. Just reach out! The pleasure that the Woodstock Film Festival brings you each fall can extend through out the year.

Our "indie film" trail has now come to a crossroads. The road to the summit will not be cut by filmmakers alone, but equally drawn by the audience that recognizes how vital a diverse culture truly is.

· We won’t unlock the full potential for narrative unless we break the wall between art and commerce, the project and its marketing, and as artists engage not just in content and production, but also in discovery, promotion, and appreciation.

· We won’t have artists who can afford to create and engage unless we compensate them fully and shed this notion that content should be free but we should pay huge fortunes for the hardware that stores them.

· We won’t have a way to access and offer truly independent work if we don’t have a free and open Internet – true net neutrality.

· We won’t be able to find the unique and personal work, if we don’t all take on the responsibility of curating for our family and friends.

· We won’t have an exhibition industry if we don’t make a point of getting out of homes and sitting together in the dark to enjoy movies on the big screen.

· We won’t have that exhibition industry if we don’t just simply stop showing movies but instead return to putting on a real show.

· We won’t have anyone but the rich making movies in this country if we don’t have affordable education and health care.

Wherever we sit we have to accept the responsibility to promote, enhance, and participate in the culture -- and the apparatus that delivers it – that we want, and to expand the community that already understands this. It means all of us regularly discussing all of these things I raised. Sure, it is a great pleasure to see and talk about films, but it is also now very much a political act and a necessary act.

We all must engage in this way on a regular basis. Lend a hand. Take those five minutes in the morning and those ten at night and spread the good word: there is great work out there and you have seen it. Don’t settle for cats playing the piano, kids speaking at high speeds, or robots battling each other. Demand more.

I stand here tonight because no one likes to hike alone. I know you are all trailblazers and it will take many roads to find our way out of the woods and to that mountaintop. But this mountain is scalable and it is climbable in a very… big… way –- a way that is going to continue to change our world in wonderful and wondrous ways.

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This piece has now been picked up by a few other spots. I truly appreciate the support:

Tribeca Film Festival

Film News Briefs

And referenced here:

Indiewire: Is there a doctor in the house?

Another Day, Another Radio Show

Musicians put out a new song every day, don't they? Well, I am sure some do.

Well, I have another recording now available if you did not get enough of them last week. It may be a tad stale, as the interview was given before my Woodstock speech, but I still think it will taste good.

Know Your Digital Rights

I was on another fun panel yesterday at the Woodstock Film Festival.  All of these discussions are part of the ongoing conversation on the future prospects for both Indie and Truly Free film.  There's a lot more that I can write about that panel, but one thing I felt was the filmmakers' position getting stronger.

John Sloss, the man and the legend, and Ryan Werner of IFC Films were among the panel's participants.  IFC Films is certainly the leader in terms of number of films that they are putting up on VOD, and John, among many other things,  probably sells more films to them than anyone else.  Sloss's Cinetic Digital Rights Management initiative is also probably the leading aggregator of digital rights for feature films.
This whole arena is new for everyone and it all can easily be looked at as one big experiment for the time being.  The market is being created as I type and as you read.  The model is not yet set by any means.  Yet Cinetic and IFC are arguably the market leaders of the moment.  That's why I was so heartened by what I heard them claim they were open to -- something that could truly be a great step towards creator empowerment and ultimately also towards audience access.
Neither company, to my knowledge and according to what was said on the panel, currently does anything to provide the content generator/creator/filmmaker with access to any of the data that their work generates.  I hope that's now going to change, and what was said on that panel makes me believe it could.
Matt Dentler, Cinetic's Digi-maven, has expressed that Cinetic's DRM initiative is all about transparency for the filmmaker.  John Sloss backed that on the panel by saying that he thought it made sense that future contracts include a provision mandating that buyers provide the digital data to the filmmakers.  Not that Cinetic does that yet for its clients, but it can, and as John said, it will.  Ryan Werner also replied to an earlier question that he felt that such information could be provided to the filmmakers if they asked for it (even if they did not contract for it).
Now its up to the filmmakers to demand that their lawyers craft such language.  What will that be?  What is the information we need?  And how can we make sure that we are able to share it with each other?  It would be great if an industry leader on the legal side really stepped up and showed their commitment to filmmakers' rights and drafted something that could become industry standard.  It would be great if we could link to it now!  Who's going to help?
If you are licensing your film for next to nothing, if you have decided to split your revenue with your sales agent, shouldn't you at the very least get the information on who your audience is, where they are located, when they are watching or purchasing, whatever.  If you, the filmmaker, feel forced to make this kind of deal, shouldn't you at the very least be getting the data your work generates?  As filmmakers, not only should you be asking for language from your lawyer, but demanding that your licensor, your distributor provide this.  Do it and according to the leaders on the panel yesterday, they will listen and provide.  I hope it is so.