Only YOU Can Stop Our Indie Film & Media Culture From Vanishing

I was invited to contribute to the "Wish For The Future" series on Good.is.  This is mine:

When do we stop just thinking about ourselves and instead start working together? I am not talking about saving the world; I am writing about preserving and advancing ambitious film and media culture. It’s threatened, and no one individual will ever rescue it. My wish for the future is for the creative community, locally, nationally and globally, to work together to build the better indie infrastructure that is now possible.

For the past four years, I have been noting the problems and opportunities in indie film (along with many triumphs). I now have 99 problems—but I fear our collective inertia may be another one. Some people look at such lists and despair, but the truth is that there has never been a better time to be a media creator. We must learn to collaborate with a far larger circle and crew than ever before.
 
The tools of both creation and distribution are affordable and useable. We can tell what we want, how we want, and connect it with the audience that most desires it.
 
We are in the midst of a vast paradigm shift that could usher in a huge transfer of power—and to the makers, not more gatekeepers. The film industry was built on, and still foolishly depends upon, antiquated concepts of scarcity and control of content. We live in a time of grand abundance, total access, and general distraction from that content. The irony is that we have more at our fingertips, but we discover less—and grow alienated because of it. As with virtually all consumer-centered activity, we can discard the sucker-bet of impulse buys and opt instead for informed choice. Yet with the media business, if we do so, not only will we get the usual additional satisfaction, we will elevate the culture, too.
 
If we don’t alter our behavior, our indie film culture will start to vanish. I have produced close to 70 films, and I know in my heart that movies like The Ice Storm21 GramsAmerican Splendor,Happiness, or In The Bedroom would not get made today. Even if they somehow managed to, they would not get seen, and the creators and their supporters would most certainly not benefit.  Think about that. If that is the case, would they even be worth doing? Think about a world without the stories that bring us together and inspire us with possibility. That could be our future.
 
Creators, and supporters of their work, must be rewarded for and by what they create. Instead of that, we live in a time when only the smallest percentage of filmmakers can sustain themselves by what they create. Even our biggest successes return only a small percentage back to investors Although a tremendous number of movies still get corporately acquired, the rates that are paid are lower on a percentage of overall cost basis than ever before.
 
That is the choice we have before us now: a world deprived of great art and artists, or one that thrives with vibrant diversity. We need people to step up, say culture and community matter, and that we are going to build it better together. We need to move past a culture that only celebrates success, and instead grow transparent with our risks, even our failures. We need to focus on the stories, the form, and the communities that promote them—as part of our cultural glue. We need to do this together. We have to stop waiting for a solution, and recognize that it is in fact us.  
 
Show you value your time and select then next 100 movies you want to see now. Share what you are passionate about with your family and friends and insist they watch it. If you can buy direct from an artist, buy direct from an artist.  Support the crowdsource campaign of a favorite or local filmmaker, demand media literacy be taught in public schools, or join a local film society or institute. Don’t undervalue your work by accepting too low an acquisition fee for your work when you could do as well distributing it yourself.
 
This post originally ran on January 1st, 2013 on Good.is.  You can read it (and "like" it) here.  There's some definitely interesting comments worth checking out there -- and besides Good is an awesome site that is well worth your time.  I guarantee you will discover something there you care about -- or I will refund the time it took to get you there ;-). 

Film Finance Overwhelm

Guest post from Film Specific's Stacey Parks.

As I’m unwinding from AFM last week, it occurs to me that while many of you are experiencing Distribution Overwhelm, even more of you are experiencing Finance Overwhelm. Why? Because unless you have 100% cash in bank to make your film, what can you do to get your project off the ground?

The way I see it is we’ve entered a time where ‘cobbling together’ different forms of film financing is necessary to make the whole. Sure, private equity (or cash) still plays a role in this new model, but there’s also other methods that need to be explored and implemented to finance your film

Case in point – many filmmakers today are using private equity or cash for development funds, tax incentives and pre-sales for production funds, and crowd funding for finishing funds. Is that too many financing components? Let me put it to you this way….

Ignore a diversified approach to film financing at your peril!

So how and where do you begin on this journey then to cobble together financing for your film? Let’s forget the private equity or cash component for a moment b/c that’s usually the hardest piece of the puzzle, and let’s focus on financing components we actually have more control over in order to create some initial momentum with your project:

Tax incentives – you’ve probably heard this before but if you’re not investigating locations to shoot your film that offer tax rebates and credits, you’re simply being irresponsible. Research both U.S and international states, countries, and provinces which offer attractive tax incentives for you to shoot your film there. Use the individual Film Commission offices as your starting point and they’ll walk you though the process and procedure, which in my experience are shockingly simple. Get budgets drawn up for shooting in different locations so you can compare where you’re able to make your film in the most economic way possible.

Partnering With Production Companies – This may not seem like an obvious choice at first but let’s just say this – if you don’t have a track record yourself, if you’re a first or second time producer, writer, or director and you want to fast track your production, you should consider partnering with a more experienced Producer or Production Company and leverage their track record to get your project made. There are so many other benefits to this approach too – not least is the fact that if you manage to attract a bigger producer with a track record to your project to partner with you, you can ride their coat tails for this project, get introduced to their whole network of ‘relationships’, and be in a prime position for your next project to go it alone, using all the contacts you made. I’ve seen this happen many times, and it seems sometimes what holds people back in this scenario is their pride. Wouldn’t you rather swallow your pride and get your film made?

Pre-Sales – Here’s the facts: Pre-Sales are not dead. I don’t care what anyone says, Pre-Sales are alive and kicking for the right projects. And that’s the key here – the right projects. What does that mean? That means for projects with a killer concept, an experienced director attached, and great cast, pre-sales are in fact a reality. Now I know this might seem like a long shot for some of you but hear me out….If you are a first time director, focus on a killer concept and cast. If you are a first time producer, focus on attaching a ‘name’ director. You can in fact build a package that attracts pre-sales, it takes time, and often money (development funds) to pull things together but it’s possible.

Crowd Funding – Crowd Funding has actually been around for a while but only recently popularized by sites like Kickstarter & Indie Go Go. However, as many of you know, Robert Greenwald has been crowd funding his movies for years. His moves, being cause-related in nature, actually quite nicely lend themselves to being crowd funded (by people who are passionate about his causes). But what about if you have a narrative feature (as opposed to a cause-related doc)? The truth is, Crowd Funding can work for you too but the success of your campaign will be predicated on your ability to build an audience for your film while you’re still in the financing stage. No easy task but by leveraging the internet and social media, ti’s entirely possible provided you have a subject in your film, or are covering a topic or theme that people are actually interested in. Have you researched the concept of your film yet to determine if in fact there’s a potential audience for it that will be interested in seeing it? That’s the key to crowd funding right there.

These 4 components are what I see as the basic building blocks of a Film Financing plan in today’s market. And by building blocks I mean you should be using a combination of a few if not all of these to get the job done!

So what are your thoughts about Film Finance Overwhelm? Which of these methods have you used successfully, or not so successfully? And what questions do you have about any of them?

I’ll be kicking off one last Virtual Intensive for 2010 dedicated to Film Finance Overwhelm because I know that many of you are looking ahead at 2011 and you want to get your films made next year come hell or high water!

In my Virtual Intensive – Film Financing 2.0 Essential Training - I’ll be covering these 4 components of financing in-depth over the course of a few weeks. Take a look at the details of this small group program, and grab a seat before it sells out. Join the movement to get your film financed for 2011!

Stacey Parks is an expert in the area of Film Distribution, and the author of "Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution" (Focal Press). After several years as a foreign sales agent, in 2007 Stacey launched www.FilmSpecific.com as a Virtual Training hub for Producers seeking to get their films made, seen, & distributed worldwide.


Transmedia, Brand Sponsorship, & Crowdfunding: New Methods For A Long Gestating Project

Guest post by Zeke Zelker.

Ted: We are trying to find new ways these days.  New ways to tell our stories.  New ways to build community around our work.  New ways to bring audiences out to support our work.  And new ways to fund our work.  As we take these steps down these bumpy paths, it is our communication with one another that will bring forth the best practices.  Zeke had been speaking about some of these such steps that he was employing, and kindly has chosen to share them with all of us. Below Zeke outlines his new film, and then reveals what has made the process unique for him.

I’ve been working on this project for over ten years. Generally I let ideas percolate in my mind, on paper and screen before I set out to embark on bringing the movie to life, my ten year gestation period, is one hell of a pregnancy. I’ll pitch the project to various people within the industry, observe their reaction then go back to rewrite, rebuild, rethink. This project is different, sure we ALL say that, but this one is on two fronts, how we’re funding the project and how we’re telling the story.

Brief Synopsis: Why would four people give up everything to live in a tent, thirty feet in the air, on a catwalk, eight feet wide by forty-eight feet long? To win a mobile home and “ninety-sixty hundred” dollars? Desperation? Greed? Attention? Escape? No matter what their reasons, Clarence Lindeweiler is trying to capitalize on them to save his struggling alternative rock radio station WTYT 960.

At first a laughing stock of the community, Clarence’s hair brained scheme to drum up listeners garners national attention, pulling his radio station from the ratings basement to number two. As the contest wears on, the novelty wears off and ratings start to dip. Clarence takes the do-anything approach to right his sinking ship however his shenanigans backfire. The community and media turn on him, calls ring out to end the contest but success has gone to Clarence’s head. Who will become the lucky contestants? Who wins the grand prize? Tune into WTYT 960 to find out.

The story for Billboard, an Uncommon Contest for Common People! was inspired by true events from my childhood. I recall driving by a billboard, in the early eighties, on our way to the mall, where three men lived, to win a mobile home. Times were tough then; high unemployment, people couldn’t afford housing, high fuel prices, does this sound familiar? Seeing those men waving at us, as we drove by them, has stayed with me.

Within the framework of the project we’ll be exploring many things about the human condition using the platform of transmedia to help engage the audience and interact with them much like the real contest did close to thirty years ago. This is a challenging project and we need a lot of help in its creation.

Those three men became dependent upon the community and business owners to sustain them, much like how we are launching this project. We’re funding the project through crowd funding and offering the opportunity for companies to sponsor billboard space in the movie. The offering of branding space to help fund the film has always been a part of the project from day one, but it has now metamorphosed into being a part of the story. Can you help us? Will you become part of the story?

[http://www.vimeo.com/15513404]

We’ve made a 10% rule for ourselves, we want to raise 10% of the funds required to make the movie from friends and family and from the area where we plan on shooting the movie. This happens to be my hometown where we have already made a number of features, having had a significant impact to our local economy. Will my own community step up and support us or will this become a hurdle that we will have to overcome?

So far we have only raised $700 since our announcement two weeks ago, we have $29,300 to go. We have had some local press, pushed out emails to over 9,000 people, put it out via facebook, etc. which has resulted in over 130,000 impressions for the project thus far, which businesses could have already been capitalizing on, hmmm I guess we’ll have to take the wait and see approach on this.

We feel by having 10% of our budget in place, will also prove to those people who are on the fence of support, that the project has some legs and carry them over to the other side of support. We are offering some great perks: parties, merchandise, a shout out on the radio in the movie, a seven course meal cooked by me, small billboards that appear in the movie, on the website and possibly in the trailer and commercials, and the large billboard that is the backdrop for most of the movie and will appear in ALL key art promoting the film, posters, letterhead, DVD covers, website, anything and everything that you can think of. Oh and we have fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas where donations and sponsorships are tax deductible. I feel this could be a deciding factor for some, that the close of the tax year is upon us.

Those people and companies who donate will have a leg up on others when we release information about the movie, after all we will have their direct contact information. There will be chances to win prizes, be in the film, play games, listen to a new virtual radio station and many, many other things that we’ll be announcing over the course of the two-year project.

I am not discouraged by our dismal performance thus far. I know it takes time for people to warm up to a new idea and I know once things start to unfold, people will become more inclined to help. I believe that. I also believe as we get the project out there, that companies will have that ah-ha! moment and understand what we’re doing, capitalizing on the idea of transmedia and seeing the plethora of branding opportunities to target to our 13 to 35 year old demographic.

I’m kind of glad that it took me ten years to finalize my plans for this project. Waiting so long enabled certain technologies to be developed and opportunities to present themselves. It gave me time to craft a better script and it to develop a very immersive story telling experience where we’re offering the community to get involved and many artists various opportunities to share their work all within the frame work of the Billboard story experience.

This is all very exciting to me, the convergence of story telling, brand involvement and technology to entertain people. After all, if we’re not creating something that is entertaining do we even have the right to be in this space/medium?

I believe that Billboard is not only an entertaining project but also an important one. Billboard examines the root of humanity, that piece in each one of us who struggles to get ahead, to get noticed or to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the type of project where we look at ourselves and those around us, observing that at our core we need human beings to be human, to propel our existence. Sure these are some lofty ideas for a comedy but that’s what the project is truly about. We may even laugh at ourselves in the process.

Stay tuned… I’ll share what is working and what is not over the course of the project. I look forward to hearing people’s comments, helping me learn and understand the new story telling frontier. And yes, I would love your kind financial support, pledges can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/billboardmovie

Life may just imitate art!

Zeke Zelker is a Lehigh Valley, PA native whose first exposure to the film industry was in John Waters’ film Hairspray, as a dancer in Corny Collins Council. A critically acclaimed, award winning filmmaker with a number of films to his credit: The 2005 Sundance Film Festival favorite Loggerheads, Affairs, Fading, A.K.A.-It’s A Wiley World!, Getting Off, Southern Belles, Just Like the Son, a documentary on the Dalai Lama, A University Prepares, and his most recent film InSearchOf, the sixth most viewed drama on Hulu all time. Zeke has been an early adaptor in using technology to make, promote and market his films.

Embedded In Real Life: The Kickstarter Film Festival

Today's guest post is from Yancey Strickler, one of the founders of Kickstarter, the crowd funding site. Kickstarter, along with other crowdfunding sites, has brought some real change to the indie film landscape, bringing more power to the creator class to fund their work. But getting your work made, is just part of what it means to be an artist these days; you need to get your work seen (and that's not all). Luckily for us, Kickstarter is just getting started.

This Friday night on a Brooklyn rooftop, Kickstarter will host the first-ever Kickstarter Film Festival in conjunction with Rooftop Films. The night will feature 90-plus minutes of footage from a dozen filmmakers who successfully raised money on Kickstarter, among them documentaries, features, and shorts, as well as dance and experimental film. There will be music, plus delicious treats provided by Kickstarter food projects. If you'd like to join us, tickets are just $10.

Since Kickstarter launched 14 months ago, filmmakers have used the site to raise funds for post-production, shoots, crews, equipment, music licensing, locations, film festival prep, DVD production, color correction, and just about every other cost associated with making and distributing a film. They've found success: almost half of the film projects meet their funding goal. Overall $10 million has been pledged on the site -- $2 million of it to film projects.

Kickstarter allows filmmakers and other artists to operate in a space between commerce and patronage, where they can create their own economies from scratch. They declare what success is, they decide what's a commodity and what's not, they control the intellectual property and creative vision of their work, they determine what prices their audiences will pay. One of our core beliefs is that artists know their own audience and its needs far better than anyone -- us included.

The films selected for the festival used Kickstarter in a variety of ways. The Woods and Battle of Brooklyn raised funds for editing and post-production. Putty Hill -- which Roger Ebert gave four stars -- used Kickstarter to get to the Berlin Film Festival. Gregory Bayne funded his production costs in an impressive $25,000-in-twenty-days sprint that allowed him to follow the subject of his documentary. For each of these filmmakers, Kickstarter was simply a flexible tool that filled in the gaps.

In June I caught Ted Hope's talk at the LA Film Festival about the rise of the artist-entrepreneur. Ted's thesis was that an artist's job description must extend beyond concept and craft -- it includes things like audience-building, storytelling, participation, and some thirty other qualities that touch on every stage of a project's development. The gist of the talk was that artists should be excited about this chance -- when have they ever had the opportunity for so much control?

We agree. Our job is to build a product and community that can best connect artists and audiences, and help them to engage in a much deeper way. The twelve films we'll showcase on Friday have done amazing jobs at this. We couldn't be more excited to share their work and stories, and I hope to see you there.

--
yancey strickler | http://kickstarter.com

KickStarter: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

I forget again who sent me this link, but I found CoffeeAndCelluloid's post on their KickStarter experience illuminating.

Although I have yet to engage in a crowdfunding attempt yet, I have been contemplating. And I have been providing some advice, thoughts, and general consulting to those that have. I think the points Joey Daoud raises about needing to raise a fan base first, having some investment pre-committed, and needing to have supporters, promoters, and blogs lined up in advance are all right on.  He's helping all of us learn how to make this better together.

Joey also posted many good links to bring more perspective on the whole crowdfunding experience:

  1. Kickstarter and Flattr
  2. How to Figure the True Cost of a Kickstarter Project
  3. Behavior Patterns of Kickstarter Funders
  4. Feature Film Editing and Kickstarter [Podcast]