The Rise Of Theatrical-On-Demand: What's Working

By Scott Glosserman

A year ago I was having breakfast with Ted Hope, but I didn't know it.

Attending Sundance's Art House Convergence Conference in Midway, Utah, (a coming together think tank of progressive art houses and independent theatres), I found myself sitting at a communal breakfast table, conversing with Ben Galewsky, a co-op expert who was applying his preferred model to a small theatre in Champaign, Illinois.

The collective mood at the conference was cautious and guarded. Theatre owners commiserated over Fox Searchlight's recent letter vowing to end shipments of 35mm prints, essentially requiring indie houses to retrofit for digital projection or to get used to solely showing repertory titles. Yet, sales reps for VPF's (Virtual Print Fees) weren't revealing their deal structures. Indie exhibs were looking for answers, but little at the time were understood, much less given.

Ben surmised that capital could be raised for retrofitting theatres by converting to a co-op model and thereby turning to the community for assistance where participating banks were not to be found. Since over $100 million in independent film financing has already been crowdfunded through Kickstarter I am hopeful that Ben's endeavor to crowdfund for indie exhibitors has also met with success and I am eager to find out during this year's Art House Convergence that begins today.

Over our breakfast buffets, I explained to Ben the meaning behind a term we’d recently trademarked, Theatrical On Demand style distribution. I was hopeful that my start-up, Gathr, could apply crowdfunding concepts to the crowd-sourcing of critical masses of theatrical audiences, through our online platform. Simply, a movie-goer would request a screening of a film and tell us when/where it should be shown, and if enough people were to reserve tickets to the screening by pre-authorizing their credit cards, we’d 'greenlight' the screening and collect the money for distribution/exhibition up front so that we’d at least be at breakeven the moment we had actually booked the engagement.

Here we were, two folks new to the theatrical distribution/exhibition business, both armed with ideas -- albeit his a very old concept and mine a very new one -- for preserving a segment of the industry seemingly headed towards a cliff. As green as I was at the time, I was confident that assuming we could aggregate and consolidate the theatrical audience demand before a distributor and exhibitor committed to an engagement, we would create no-risk, found-money for everyone in the theatrical distribution food chain.

That was when I noticed a guy in a ragged sweater and glasses raise an eyebrow from the other side of the table.

"You need a mid-step," he said. "You'll want to build interest first -- see where your demand is." A moment later he introduced himself as Ted Hope. And, that's when I realized that the guy I'd heard about and read about for over a decade during my time as a filmmaker -- the guy who in half an hour was going to deliver the closing address at the Conference -- the guy to whom somehow I wanted to introduce myself and with whom I wanted to discuss my concept, was sitting across from me and listening to my 'pitch'.

From our beta launch in March, through our stumbles and successes, Ted has been a  mentor of ours. When he asked me, recently, for an update on screenings and such I was more than obliged. Ted, although we're still perfecting the mid-step, here are a few anecdotes and takeaways from two of our projects, and a look at our most promising title, GIRL RISING, scheduled for release in March:

 

SHUFFLE

Written, directed, produced, edited and scored by Kurt Kuenne

 

This black and white, untraditional narrative jewel box of a festival film darling garnered fans and awards wherever it screened. Yet, the movie didn’t have a prayer at a traditional theatrical release. Although ancillary rights were picked up, Kurt would have had to have risked his own capital on self-distribution if he wanted to share his film with others on the big screen for commercial exploitation.  His film is a microcosm of the countless quality niche films out there that aren’t broad enough for even a limited theatrical release.

 

With no marketing and advertising spend, but rather the passion and persistence of a filmmaker, Kurt was able to ‘tip’ 15 screenings of SHUFFLE around the country. In places such as Cleveland and St. Louis, we enlisted the support of film festivals (CIFF and SLIFF) where SHUFFLE had screened to promote an ‘encore’ presentation to their subscribers, thus addressing the age-old festival post-screening audience question, “How can I share this film with my friends? Where can I see it again?” Answer: Don’t wait for it to come to you. Gathr it!

 

In far-flung Port Angeles, Washington, the film’s costume designer brought together close to 200 people to watch the film and stay for a post-screening discussion. Kurt’s efforts were greeted by grateful cinephiles appreciative of his past work and receptive to supporting his current endeavors. Kurt can tap and manage an ever-growing fan-base of his while we take away the barriers of entry for self-distribution. We were also happy to provide Kurt with a foreign sales agent so he can get his film seen by even more people.

 

BIG EASY EXPRESS

Directed by Emmett Malloy

 

This SXSW audience award-winning, GRAMMY nominated music documentary featuring Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes had slightly higher expectations than SHUFFLE because of the significant online reach of the film’s cast. The movie deserves its place in the canon of all time great music documentaries, so it was a ‘sell’ that the Mumfords and other participants could feel really good about getting behind.

 

BIG EASY EXPRESS debuted on iTunes and other ancillary platforms before Gathr joined the picture, which presented challenges for us. The most obvious was that the exclusivity angle of its theatrical window was eliminated. Who knows how many folks chose to stay home to watch the film; but more importantly, having the film release online or on VOD before (or concurrently with) a theatrical release alienated several theatrical circuits that stand in solidarity against this type of ‘day-and-date’ distribution strategy and simply refuse to exhibit the picture. This, in turn, prevented us from being able to service the theatrical demand for the film when a screening was requested in an area where only the reluctant theatres had a presence.

 

Nevertheless, we have had over a hundred screenings of BIG EASY EXPRESS. Also, because we book traditional theatrical engagements in addition to our TOD℠ method, we have been able to accommodate the desires of theatres that want to book a run for the film, or that simply want to guarantee the one-off screening. (There have been several instances on films for which we augment the distribution of a traditional distributor where the theatre has refused the distributor a week-long booking, but engaged us for a one night screening in order to mitigate their risk and in order to consolidate the audience).

 

Had the content owner engaged a traditional distribution company, alone, for BIG EASY EXPRESS, the film would have likely seen a 10 market, 2 week release, with a handful of additional theatres requesting the film for screenings. Because of the way our model works, we have been actively screening the film since September, and show no signs of stopping. We recently sold out a January 15th screening at Josh Levin’s wonderful West End Cinema in Washington, DC, in fact. The content owner hasn’t had to spend a dime on marketing and publicity, but they have been able to leverage the impressive reach of their casts’ fan bases.

 

GIRL RISING

Directed by Richard E. Robbins

 

GIRL RISING is as ambitious as a kwasi-documentary gets. The film, shot in 10 locations around the world, has attracted the voices of Meryl Streep, Priyanka Chopra, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington, Alicia Keys and Selena Gomez, to name a few. Its objective is to effect change for the more than 66 million girls around the world who don’t have access to school. We are Gathr’ing screenings for International Women’s Day, March 8th, and beyond.

 

With this film, we are fortunate to not only have a significant amount of social media muster, but a great deal of traditional marketing muscle, as well. Corporate partners, Intel and Google, and several prominent NGO’s are committed to creating consumer awareness. Additionally, we will have an exclusive theatrical window of over 90 days before the film debuts on CNN, worldwide. These circumstances enable us to exhibit in virtually any theatre, anywhere. We could not ask for a better opportunity to prove large scale demand in our business model; for the filmmakers and producers have chosen to democratize theatrical distribution by exclusively employing our bottom-up model. Their goal is a minimum of 1000 screenings and we are pursuing it with great alacrity.

 

Outlook:

 

Ted, recently the Met Cinema rose from the ashes with a community-driven ‘crowd-sourced’ subscription model to save Oakhurst, California’s only cinema. Many theatres continue to struggle and many deserving films continue to be overlooked, and a few of us continue to pursue innovative ways to keep the theatrical experience robust with myriad film choices. Movies are meant to be seen in theatres, with crowds. Crowdsourcing via online platforms gives exhibitors, distributors, content owners and movie-goers a wonderful opportunity to access theatrical audiences in an innovative, cost-effective way.  The Art House Convergence Conference, commencing today, brings together the most proactive of these leaders and I know you share my enthusiasm for seeing what ideas are working and what new ones are yet to come.

Scott Glosserman founded Gathr in August of 2011 after producing and directing his latest feature, THE TRUTH BELOW, for MTV Films. Scott is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, The Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. 

Recipe For Happiness: Focus On The Future & Embrace Experimentation

Yesterday, I ranted a bit about the apparent silence in the film community regarding our collective need for forward thinking experimentation (and support thereof).  The need for such action is reinforced in a recent WSJ article by Clay Shirky promoting his new book:

This issue isn't whether there's lots of dumb stuff online—there is, just as there is lots of dumb stuff in bookstores. The issue is whether there are any ideas so good today that they will survive into the future. Several early uses of our cognitive surplus, like open source software, look like they will pass that test.

The past was not as golden, nor is the present as tawdry, as the pessimists suggest, but the only thing really worth arguing about is the future. It is our misfortune, as a historical generation, to live through the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history, a misfortune because abundance breaks more things than scarcity. We are now witnessing the rapid stress of older institutions accompanied by the slow and fitful development of cultural alternatives. Just as required education was a response to print, using the Internet well will require new cultural institutions as well, not just new technologies.

Yes, we are overwhelmed.  There are too many choices.  But solutions are being found.  And the tools have never been better.  How can you not be moved by stories of discovery like this.

Even more so, the benefits of such future focus is underscored by this great video based on Philip Zimabardo's lecture that my wife, Vanessa, turned me on to:

The whole RSA Animate series on YouTube is pretty great, and well worth your time.

Jon Reiss’ new book Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era


Although Jon's book is not set to be released until November 2009 if you happen to find that charming man around IFP's Independent FIlm Week in NYC -- and you have some money in your hand -- you might just be able to get your paws on an advanced copy!

Most of the following is taken from the press release, but, it is still all true (not like some other stuff):
"If you’re only going to read one book about filmmaking in the new millennium, this should be it." Kathleen McInnis Festival Programmer, Strategist and Publicist
Covering everything from theatrical, non-theatrical, semi-theatrical, alternative theatrical, grassroots/community, publicity, live events, to DVD, fulfillment, affiliates, print ads, educational, t-shirts, boxed sets, web marketing, sponsorships, to VOD, download to own, download to rent, streaming, to Web 2.0, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Hulu, Babelgum, Amazon, blogging, tagging, webisodes, to crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, transmedia, release winows, audience identification and targeting, – the book is your guide on how to use all the new tools available to you, and I know, because I wrote the forward.

If you don't know Jon, check out B-side's interview with him, but whatever kind of content you create – feature film, short, webisodes, transmedia, You Tube – this book will be invaluable.
The independent film community is a buzz with the collapse of the traditional independent film distribution model. No longer can filmmakers expect their films to be acquired and released nationally. But just as the digital revolution created a democratization of the means of production, a new hybrid model of distribution has created a way for independent filmmakers to take control of the means of distribution. This hybrid approach is not just DIY or Web based it combines the best techniques from each distribution arena, old and new.
Pioneering filmmaker and author Jon Reiss spoke with countless filmmakers, distributors, publicists, web programmers, festival programmers and marketing experts to create this ultimate guide to film distribution and marketing for the digital era.
My blurb and I mean it with 100% sincerity:
Open this book! Eat up every morsel Reiss provides. Internalize it and make it your second skin. It is not a question of “just doing it”: we need to educate each other, tend to one another’s children, and inoculate our villages against the viruses of despair and isolation. Reiss translates the formula for world peace to apply to Truly Indie Film Distribution and beyond!


200 copies of the preview edition will be available only at personal book signings/appearances in September and October:
Jon Reiss will be appearing:
Sept 22nd Independent Film Week, IFP Conference New York
Book Signing 7pm to 8pm in the lobby outside Haft Auditorium immediately following the panel – STATE OF DISTRIBUTION – THE CURRENT & FUTURE INDIE MODEL 5:30pm-7:00pm at Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), Haft Auditorium 27th and 7th Avenue
September 24th DV Expo Pasadena Convention Center
Book Signing 12pm - 1pm Jon will be teaching two seminars between my filmmaker career development seminars: Top 10 Tips: Career Development in 2 sessions 10:30am – 12 noon and 1:30pm to 3pm
October 2nd: Vancouver International Film Festival Forum
Book Signing 2:15 - 2:45 pm and 5-6pm in the Lobby of the Vancouver International Film Centre, 1181 Seymour Street That day, Jon will be on the panel: 21st Century Doc Distribution Strategies 1:00 - 2:15pm.
October 11th: FIND Filmmaker Forum Jon will be on the Distribution Case Studies panel 9am - 10:30 am at the Director's Guild of America, Los Angeles
For more information and to receive a $5 off coupon and be able to buy the book on day one of wide release in November go to:www.jonreiss.com/blog

18 Actions Towards A Sustainable Truly Free Film Community

I promised the Twitterverse this list a few weeks back. Life gets in the way of completing things though. I eventually hope to have more than a draft for you, but I also hope it won't be necessary. I initially thought this was just a top ten list, and maybe it should have been. I already know I have left important things off this list though, and here I am at eighteen.

Having already left home before I hit such a mark, it seems fit this list does likewise. The comfort of the nest is part of the problem and its time to get the conversation started. And like so many things, with this list it is not about the size, but about the intensity with which we engage with each element. I wish I could give marching orders instead of discussion points. I wrote this to encourage but you can use it as a litmus test for whether you really want an independent and diverse culture or not. What are these are you doing? What of these are you willing to do?

The time is now. If we don't fully own the absolute necessity to change how we've all been working, we won't be working -- and we won't have the illuminating, inspiring, transforming films that we now enjoy. It's your choice, but action is required.

There is the capacity for many more of us to create and prosper from creative media work. This capacity can also close up and vanish along with our audiences. The canaries are now the size of Big Birds and we somehow are able to ignore them (but that is a subject for a different posts).

SO YOU SAY YOU WANT A SUSTAINABLE & TRULY FREE FILM COMMUNITY AND CULTURE? Time to take some action.

Mentor - if you have been working in the film industry for at least five years, you certainly have the knowledge to help lift somebody else up. Ideally this would be someone from a much different background than yourself (more on that later) so things don't have to stay the same. That said, those that you lift up will also carry on some of your knowledge, so the bonds that need to be strengthened hopefully will be.

Curate- You got into this business because you loved film, maybe you even always loved talking about films, but what do you do now to help spread the love? Friends and family are the best influencers in terms of getting others to see films, and there won't be any business unless we keep people going to the movies. Whether its as simple as getting friends over on the weekend to watch something they wouldn't normally have, using a social network tool to get a large group out and into the theaters, blogging about the things you think are essential, or forming a film club and actually booking films you love, there's something you could be doing to get work you love seen and appreciated. There are over 6000 films made a year; it's overwhelming. You have to become the filter for your friends, family, and followers. Tell them what you love, share it. And there are many alternatives that sending around that link where you found that others labors are now being bootlegged.

Provide- info, advice, access - Industries all go through cycles and it may have once benefited some folks who got established early to limit what others could know or get to do, but those days ended. It is changing too fast and yesterday's discovery is old news pretty damn fast. Our future depends on innovation and unity; sharing what you know and have are the most likely ways for each to occur. If you learn something, pass it on. Post it. Tweet it. Discuss it.

Learn/Evolve- Everyone likes to quote William Goldman's line about the movie industry, but it has never been truer that no one knows anything now. The ways films were financed & sold for the last fifteen years are no longer do-able. Audiences don't consume the way they used to. There is no acquisition market and no business model has emerged for earning significant revenue on the internet. People have been convinced that hardware should be expensive whereas content should be free (i.e. creators have become the advertisers for the manufacturers). We have the tools to build a new model but our ability to use them is rather limited. It's time to try new things and if you aren't learning new things on a regular basis you might as well admit defeat now. Build experimentation into your daily regime, into your business plan.

Migrate - Although this is close to "Learn/Evolve", migration is a specific form thereof. As much as we need to strengthen the net, we have to extend our web's reach. We have to both give and take. Cinema requires a global awareness and participation. Specificity is universal. You aren't just making your work for friends and family, unless it is the Family Of Man (to borrow an inaccurate phrase). Travel and source. Bring it back home. Give it away. Extend your reach and modify your inputs, but cross borders. It is a global community and the more we embrace that, the stronger we will be.

Aim Higher With Content Quality -For years the movie business flourished because not enough material was available. Now everything is there for the viewing when you want it, where you want it, and how you want it. As a filmmaker today you are competing against everything that came before you. Yet also as a filmmaker you have the benefit of having access to all of film history that has preceded you. You get to see what others have done, but you have to take it one step further. Since you can no longer win by getting there first, you have no choice but to try to do it better.

Aim Higher With Narrative Structure & Ambitions - It's not enough to have a good story well told anymore. Cinema is over one hundred years old and stories can't just have a beginning, a middle, or an end. Our films won't survive if they are dependent on a single author to deliver them or don't inspire others to deliver them. Take back what has always been yours and embrace the other aspects of filmmaking beyond content and production. There are many points of access to a story and many reasons to return to the world, but we have not been utilizing them.

Introduce- We have to knit this net a whole lot stronger. If your friends are stronger, you are stronger. One persons success does not limit yours, but quite the opposite -- it enhances your position. You have to work to get your team further down the field. It takes more than an army to create, promote, market, distribute, and appreciate good work. If you are not providing introductions to those that you know who will benefit by knowing the other ones you know, you asking to play a game solo when everyone else will be be fielding battalions.

Make Different, Make Strange & Change- Does it ever feel to you that half the films that get made are remakes but they don't know it? Or that everyone is preaching to the converted but they forgot what the sermon was about? Or maybe that they long ago stopped looking for the real sky and were content to keep going as long as the treadmill was moving? Once I had a friend come to me with so much urgency asking "Don't they get it? Our job is to make them want to be over there, farther away from here, aspiring for something better, feeling the hope that they can get there." He was right, but we aren't going to do it by repeating what has been done before.

Ignore - There are many in the film business who are never going to help you. Many of these will never help you even after you have helped them. The sooner you identify these folks and stop wasting your time with them, the better off you are going to be. We have to much to do to bother with them, no matter how powerful they may be, how smart or creative they may be, or how much they appear to have to offer you. Get on with it and move on.

Reduce- Unfortunately the industry has been rewarding quantity more than quality. Even more unfortunately, bad work has a greater impact than good, and its impact is not of the positive sort. Very little can prosper in an environment of poor attention, limited commitment, or fractured focus. I don't know anyone who doesn't have too much to do already (and less money or time to do it in than previously). We could all gain by slowing down and doing less but doing that thing we do better. We have to. The independent sector doesn't have the money to fool people to think that their mediocre work should be seen. More work needs to go into both making our films better and into how to reach and engage with our audiences in more rewarding way. Unless a filmmaker can demonstrate both of those qualities, they shouldn't be shooting their film. Failure in either department brings all of us down with it. We are all connected and only the best work lifts us (don't get me wrong, we can't have gate keepers determining what or who "is ready" to make a film -- we just have to be more demanding on ourselves).

Participate - You have something to say, so say it. Others are saying the things you believe, so let it be known. Your skill set and experience are both unique to you, but others would benefit from the gift of your engagement, so why not get something done now, even if it is not what you ultimately are striving for. We don't have time to be silent. Speak up not just about what you know or feel, but what you want to know or feel. If you care about something, write in, or send a proxy. Encourage others to do the same too. The world will change for the worse unless you engage.

Collaborate - We learn more when we break our normal routine and do something different, be it a different task, or a different situation, or a different sort of creation. There are times to lead and times to follow. We learn from those that see differently than us. We understand and process things better when it involves others we care about. There is also no denying that there is so much change both needed and occurring that we can't possibly gain by working alone. If you haven't realized that you can't possibly get it done alone anymore, you haven't engaged. Filmmaking and it's secondary necessities of marketing and distribution can't be the work of a singular auteur anymore -- cinema requires that you (to borrow IndieGoGo's mantra) Do It With Others.

Go To The Crowd - We need our work to have greater reach. At some point in the process, we need to engage and encourage everyone out there to determine something about the work. This makes them stakeholders in the process and cements a deeper relationship with you. Both CrowdSourcing and CrowdFunding are marvelous endeavors, not just for what the immediate product they bring, but for the engagement they deliver. Don't get me wrong, there are inefficiencies in many approaches and in reaching out we need to offer meaningful ways for people to engage, and reasons for them to remain. Today's collaboration is not just about working with those you know, but also those that you don't and won't ever know.

Question- I find the obvious is often ignored by the status quo. Whether it was making movies for six figures, creating a producer-driven company, starting an international sales company & licensing our own films, cutting digitally, shooting video and transferring to film, or the actions I currently contemplate, I have found resistance from the mainstream to adopt new behavior that might be game-changing. Culturally, we've all been seduced by security and knowledge, but it is risk and exploration of the unknown that usually moves us forward.

Keep It Human & Personable- It is sooo hard to get a movie made. It is soooo hard to write a decent script. It is soooo hard to find a way to make a living and to be engaged in the creative arts. Anyone that does any of these things is a hero to me. Good fortune is rare, but it is needed for most to obtain the life they want. It may take something that resembles an army to make a movie, promote it, and get it seen, but those engaged in the process are usually operating out of some aspect of love, and need acknowledgement. What's with all the ego that swims through this business?

Reward- If you are trying to make movies, or already working in the film business, you have too much on your plate; if you are able to do good work, help those around you, or just make stuff happen, you are probably super human. If someone around you is doing this kind of stuff, show your appreciation. When I get a note from someone that they liked my film, it makes my day. When someone has tried to help me without any personal gain on their part, I think the world may actually be an alright place. When someone indicates that they know what I do and they treat it with all due respect, I think we might just get out of this situation somewhat intact. Vote for the world you want with your actions and appreciation.

Make It All One Ongoing Conversation - We squander our efforts when we think only about the single project at hand. It is not about just getting that one movie done. We have to keep moving the conversation forward. We have to engage with our community in such a meaningful way that they will be motivated to move with us to the next project too. Don't reinvent the wheel each time, but if you have invested the time to seed an audience, feed them and breed them; bring them with you to all that you are doing. Help them understand why X eventually follows A. Keep them engaged. Keep them loyal.

And you thought you didn't have enough to do today!

52 Reasons Why American Indie Film Will Flourish

Is there something in our wiring that makes us respond more to problems than to the positive aspects about our situation?  I started the year out with a list over 52 Reasons To Be Hopeful.  Last week I posted a shorter list, a virtual brain dump, on the problems I felt we all faced on the American Indie side of the film industry.  

On one hand I was very inspired by all the comments that flowed to this blog as a result of the list.  But I couldn't help but wonder why the earlier post far less traffic.  Was it because I broke it up as a series?  If I splatter it in full across this screen will it get more traction?  Or was the recent post's increased traffic just because we get more excited by the bad news?
So sorry about the recycling of posts, but hey Monday was a holiday and 52 things was a pretty long list.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: WHY INDIE FILM CULTURE WILL SURVIVE

1.It is so easy to blog that everyone could have their own page in a matter of minutes. I thought about having a blog for several months before I made the leap and then I was up and on it a matter of minutes.

2. The more people are exposed to quality films (and culture in general) the more their tastes gravitate towards quality films. I would love to see an actual study on this, but I was told it by one of the Netflix honchos in that their members gravitate to the "auteurs" the longer they've been a member.

3. Committed Leaders To A Open Source Film Culture have emerged. I have been incredibly inspired by all the work that those I have labeled as Truly Free Film Heroes have done. Even more so I am moved by their incredible generosity in their sharing of all they have learned.

4. The Tools To Take Personal Control are available, numerous, and fun. There are more than I can list (but the TFF Tools List is a pretty good start).

5. Giving it away for free is good business. Anderson's essay is required reading. Look at Google who gives away 90% (est.) of what they create (the search engine) and drives a good advertising business in the process. For years The Greatful Dead were one of the top grossing concert acts, driven in a good part by their willingness to allow their fans to "bootleg" their concerts and "distribute" them themselves. The question is what do you give away and what do you use to produce revenue.

6. Film Festivals are evolving. Local film fests have already identified the core film lovers in every region. For decades these festivals have been content to live in a single period each year, overloading their audiences with too many choices come festival time. Now festivals are giving theatrical bookings as awards (help us build a list of these). Some are moving to a seasonal subscription model. Some are even paying significant screening fees. And then there are the cash awards (those are still around somewhere, aren't they?).

7. Internet Streaming is being used by filmmakers to build A WORLD of Word Of Mouth. Slamdance has announced that they will stream films right after the festival. For years we have know that word of mouth is the primary way that a specialized film succeeds. But it is costly, but now that has changed.

8. 2008 is the strongest year for under $1M EVER. I have seen almost 20 films this year by filmmakers who clearly will develop a great body of work. Only a few were at Sundance. They keep on coming. They may still be hard to find, but the films are out there and at a quality and quantity as never before. Check out Hammer To Nail's list of top 13 films of the year and get watching.

9. Plenty of DVD manufacture & Fullfillment places (see sidebar).

10. Plenty of places to place your content online for eyeballs to find (anyone want to generate a comprehensive list to share?).

11. Things like Netflix and Blockbuster.com make it possible for anyone with a mailing address to see any movie he or she wants. A lot of viewers who haven't had access to theaters or even video stores that stock smaller films can now get them if they know about them. (thanks Semi!)

12. The Major Media Corporations retreat from the “Indie” film business. This will open up distribution possibilities for entities not required to produce high profit margins or only handle films that have huge “crossover” potential and necessitate large marketing budgets.

13. A new turn-key apparatus is evolving for filmmakers who want to “Do it with others” in that they can hire bookers, publicists, marketers – all schooled in the DIY manner of working. Instead of hoping for a Prince Charming to arrive and distribute their film, TFFilmakers are seeking out the best and the brightest collaborators to bring their film to the audiences.

14. We have seen a perfect distribution model and its success: the Obama social network was nothing short of a thing of beauty. Its methods should be an inspiration for all truly free filmmakers. People had a reason to visit the site, to supply information, to reach out and connect to others. They were supplied the tools and a mission. Now go out and find someone to vote for the culture you want.

15. The DIY/Do It With Others model is now recognized as a real alternative to traditional make-it-and-pray-that-others-will-pay-to-distribute-it-for-you. Filmmakers are planning for it as a possibility from the start of production. This preparation becomes the key to success.

16.Filmmakers are recognizing the need to define a platform far earlier. Be they producers like Bill Horberg or Jane Kosek , directors like Raymond DeFelitta and Jon Reiss ,or writers like John August and Dennis Cooper, creative filmmakers are taking upon themselves to find and unite their audiences at an earlier stage in the process. Okay, maybe it isn’t so Machavellian; maybe they just want to talk to people. Either way, it is going to lead to more people seeing better films.

17. A curatorial culture is starting to emerge. Creative communities need filters. Every year I have as many “want to see” films on my list as I do “best of”. It’s not that there is too much as some like to claim, but it’s that there is still too little discussion on what is best and why. We started Hammer To Nail for this reason, but we are not alone. Although they tread in much different waters, popular email blasts/broadcasts like Daily Candy and Very Short List, these sites work as much as filters as they do identifiers. Social Networks most popular features are members “favorites” in their profiles. We are all being trained as curators, but are only now starting to share it publicly.

18.A feature film is no longer defined as a singular linear narrative told in under two hours. Filmmakers are recognizing the need to extend the filmic world beyond the traditional confines. Whether this is in Judd Apatow’s YouTube shorts for KNOCKED UP or in Wes Anderson’s prologue short for THE DARJEELING EXPRESS, the beginning of new models have emerged helping filmmakers continue the conversation forward with their audiences.

19.New models for production are being utilized. The most widely noted in this regard is “crowdsourced” work. Massify has recently brought together the horror film Perkins 14. This year brought us Matt Hanson’s and A Swarm Of Angels open sourced / free culture start-up THE UNFOLD; the trailer is mysterious and I am looking forward to the feature. These massive collaborative works are the ultimate union between audience and creator.

20. Grassroots has come to distribution. The Living Room Theater model advanced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Theaters empowers audience members and filmmakers alike bringing them together and invested in each others success. Filmmakers give the audience more power and control, and audiences recognize that they have to fight to preserve the culture they want. 

21. The independent art house theaters are organizing. Sundance is hosting the first Art House Convergence this year prior to the festival, helping to build the knowledge base of these theaters and enhance their collaboration. This platform will be key to preserving the theaterical experience for films outside the domain of the major media corporations.

22. Financiers are collaborating with each other. Groups like Impact Partners that provide regular deal flow, vetting, and producerial oversight for investors with common interests lowers the threshold number for investors interested in entering the film business. IndieVest is another model based on subscription, deal flow, and perqs. The high amount of capital needed to enter the film business has limited its participants. The film business has its own vernacular, and mysterious business practices. It is an industry of relationships. Collaborative ventures like this help to solve many of these threshold issues.

23. The US Government, at the city, state, and federal levels, recognize the positive economic impact of film production and has created a highly competitive market for tax subsidies and credits. The vast amount of experimentation in this field has allowed for it to grow forever more efficient. Although these benefits are designed to attract the highest amount of spend, and are thus most beneficial to Hollywood style models, the steady employment these credits have helped to deliver, develop a crew and talent base more able to also take risks on projects of more limited means. The “soft” money they provide a project is often key to getting the green light.

24. A greater acceptance of a variety of windows in terms of release platforms is emerging. Filmmakers were once the greatest roadblock to a pre-theatrical release DVD. Filmmakers are experimenting with everything from free streaming to the filmic equivalent to a roadshow tour. It is only through such endeavors that we will find a new model that works.

25. Industry leaders have said publicly that they will share the meta-data that a VOD release generates with the filmmakers. Although license fees have dropped considerably, filmmakers have new options on what to ask for in return. I spoke on a panel with two notable industry leaders who said they would put it in their contracts that filmmakers can receive and share the data the VOD screenings of their films generate. This information will become important the more filmmakers seek to maintain direct communication with their audiences.

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

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

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

The community’s embrace of a new issue will be a test of their abilities to act in a unified way.

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

29. Rational consolidation and expansion is taking place in the blogosphere. Entities need to have funding if they are going to truly cover this space (man, what I could do with a few bucks...).  Indiewire, the premiere indie film news site, was acquired Snag Films, the leading documentary film streaming aggregator. GreenCine, one of the leading sites for art film appreciation, had its lead blogger go over to IFC – greatly strengthening that site. Movie City News got another great editor. As these core film appreciation sites improve, we all benefit. Audiences need to know where to go to find the type of films they love and this bit of consolidation could help.

30. Some of the major specialized distributors recognize the need to build film education and appreciation into their job description. Focus Features “Film In Focus” website, in partnership with Faber & Faber, demonstrates this impulse beautifully. Independent, Specialized, Art, Foreign, and Truly Free Film all need an audience who acts out of choice not impulse. They need to remain review driven despite the loss of so many critics nationwide. They need to be able to recognize what qualities make a film better or unique. They need to recognize what makes a film art. They need reading that helps their love of cinema grow.

31. The need for digital preservation of indie films and their history is slowly being recognized. Granted this is a little hard to document, but I have had a handful of conversations this year with organizations contemplating both the preservation of specific films and of filmmakers’ archives. In this digital age, preservation is all the more difficult due to the lack of physical copies. Additionally the technology changes, and what was stored on form of drive is not compatible with another. Blogs are born daily and evolve so quickly, we are left wondering how to chart their progress.

32. Communities are renovating their historic town center theaters and turning them into community centers, with capabilities of film and/or digital projection. The great old movie theaters are the shrines to the first century of cinema, and a truly wonderful way to see a film.. Organizations like the League Of Historic American Theaters and the Theatre Historical Society Of America which are dedicated to the restoration and operation of these palaces. Often situated on the old main streets of many American cities, the restoration can often be the cornerstone for the revitalization of the old downtowns. But apart from being great for the local municipalities, for filmmakers these palaces are the antithesis of small screen viewing experience that most seem to think has become the defining indie experience – they are places of worship.

33. Theater owners and managers recognize the need to make the community vested in their success. I have heard of theaters giving back Monday nights to different community groups to program and in doing so building loyal audiences. Michael Moore’s Traverse City theater has 25 cent admissions for childrens’ matinees and Wednesday classics – investing in the youth and education of their community. New and best practices are developing and the theater community is sharing it’s knowledge.

34. Theater chains recognize the need to give the audience something more than they can get at home and have started to develop upscale theaters that cater to a more sophisticated taste. Village Roadshow’s Gold Class theaters offer top projection, sound, and seating, along with valet parking, wait staff and a good wine list. It’s important to make theater going a unique experience that can not be topped and it’s exciting to see what state of the art will be come.

35. Film schools are waking up to the need to educate students on how to survive – it is not enough to know how to direct or produce, graduates must have real world skills too. Jon Reiss is developing a specific curriculum on this, and I have heard from others who are looking to do the same.

36. Filmmakers are recognizing that film festivals are more of a launch platform than a marketplace. More films have trailers available prior to Sundance than ever before. Some wise filmmakers even come to their festival premieres armed with DVDs to sell. Will this be happening at Sundance? Are there any filmmakers reading this who plan to? Let us know.

37. Cultural institutions are stepping into to fill the void left by mainstream media’s abandonment of the art film space. MOMA in NYC now schedules films for regular runs. If we want to see art, why not go to a museum? We need shrines to see beautiful projection and I hope there are many other institutions picking us MOMA’s lead. It could become an actual circuit.

38. The fight to restore integrity of the producer credit continues. The PGA continues to lead the charge here and looks poised to step it up. The recognition of the need to a specific financier credit is becoming part of the conversation – namely that the Executive Producer credit should not be used for line producers but preserved for those who help finance. There is so little dignity left in the role of producer, one hopes that the rest of the industry recognizes how they are all vested in restoring integrity to the credit. Granted there are times when more than three individuals truly are producers on a project, but twelve? Wouldn’t it be a great world if even the distributors committed to stopping over-inflated credits? If an organization like the PGA actually went after the individuals and companies who push for such false credits? Real producers are always in a vulnerable position when looking for cast and financing and a soft position will not get this done. Why does a distributor or sales agent seek such credits anyway?

39. Producers are being recognized for doing more than just sourcing or providing the financing and administrative structure to a production. A good producer makes a better film and not just by making it run smoothly. Sundance – who has been recognizing producers’ contributions for years -- just held its first Creative Producing Initiative. There still remains a lack of clarity in the public’s mind as to what a producer does, but when leading organizations like Sundance take the effort not only to clarify that producing is a creative act, but also help producers to build their creative skills, change will come. This clarity and the restoration of the integrity of the producer credit won’t just restore producers own recognition of self-worth, but will lead to stronger films.

40. Senior film organizations, like the IFP, Film Independent, and IFTVA/AFM are working together, along with advocacy organizations like Public Knowledge to try to maintain key policies crucial to indie’s survival like Net Neutrality and Media Consolidation. If everyone with common interests learned to work together…. Wow.

41. There appears to be real growth beyond navel gazing in terms of subject matter among the new filmmakers. Filmmakers aren’t just interested in whether the boy gets the girl or the boy gets the boy. We seem to be moving beyond strict interpersonal relations in terms of content and looking at a much bigger picture. Chris Smith’s THE POOL, Sean Baker’s PRINCE OF BROADWAY and TAKEOUT, Lance Hammer’s BALAST, and Lee Isaac Chung’s MUNYURANGABO to name a few, point to a much more exciting universe of content to come.

42. New technology makes it all a whole lot better. Whether it is new digital cameras or formats, digital projection, or editing systems, it just keeps getting better, faster, lighter, cheaper. Reduced footprints, sharper images, and quicker turnaround: who amongs us does not believe all these things lead to better films?

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

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

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

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

47. Actors are truly embracing indie film and seem to be doing it because they love it. We know they don’t do it for the money or just because the schedule is short and shooting quick, but when you know they are getting offered bigger paydays and chances for true stardom and yet they still keep on doing indie movies, you have to accept they do it because it is the kind of cinema they adore. Michelle Williams , Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Peter Skaarsgard, Maggie Gylnehal. Quality actors delivering quality work time and time again.

48. The Jacob Burns Center in Westchester has raised over $20M for a Media Literacy Center and it looks like an incredible addition to our culture and a wonderful model for others to follow. Imagine if every community had something like this! Check out the press release at: .

49. Power continues to decentralize. Time and time again it is proven that a good idea can triumph and change will follow it. Frank Leonard’s brain child, The Black List, the annual report that lists executives favorite scripts, has been instrumental in getting unique (dare we say “quirky”) projects appreciated, bought, and even made. Sundance was once the be all and end all of festivals. Virtual festivals like From Here To Awesome give everyone a chance at being seen now.

50.We are getting new film movements faster and faster. 2007 was the year of Mumblecore. 2008 was the year the neo naturalists broke (Wendy & Lucy, Chop Shop, Ballast, etc.). The speed of which common aesthetics form speak of better communication. Multiple filmmakers working in the same vein can only lift the conversation higher and raise the bar for technique. Work will progress faster and the audience will again benefit.

51. Life Sustaining tools slowly are proliferating. The Freelancers Union Health Care program offers a good option for indie filmmakers looking to have basic health care coverage, Creative Capital alum Esther Robinson’s brainchild Home Loans ___ , offers artist financial planning services and consultation on home buying. As we live in a nation without real government support for the arts, creators have to assume they will be partially financing their work themselves -- developing the wherewithal to plan for the future and not put oneself at significant financial risk is part and parcel to being able to choose what stories you will tell.

52. The great beacon of hope I find in the film horizon is the often TFF-cited Lance Weiler and his gang of collaborators at The Workbook Project and From Here To Awesome. The open source generosity and advocacy stemming from their platforms provide a plethora of information and point to the real possibility that artists everywhere can not only create the work they want but have the ability to find, access, and join with audiences everywhere. They show that power is not in the hands of the establishment but in the community. Lance and his team having taken a host of good ideas and put them into action -- and it appears to be just the tip of an iceberg that we can expect to come from them. The revolution is being podcasted; it’s time you got the URL tattooed onto your soul.

So that was my list.  I would love to see yours.

Hope For The Future pt. 5: The List #'s 18 -21

18.A feature film is no longer defined as a singular linear narrative told in under two hours. Filmmakers are recognizing the need to extend the filmic world beyond the traditional confines. Whether this is in Judd Apatow’s YouTube shorts for KNOCKED UP or in Wes Anderson’s prologue short for THE DARJEELING EXPRESS, the beginning of new models have emerged helping filmmakers continue the conversation forward with their audiences.

19.New models for production are being utilized. The most widely noted in this regard is “crowdsourced” work. Massify has recently brought together the horror film Perkins 14. This year brought us Matt Hanson’s and A Swarm Of Angels open sourced / free culture start-up THE UNFOLD; the trailer is mysterious (see below) and I am looking forward to the feature. These massive collaborative works are the ultimate union between audience and creator.

20. Grassroots has come to distribution. The Living Room Theater model advanced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Theaters empowers audience members and filmmakers alike bringing them together and invested in each others success. Filmmakers give the audience more power and control, and audiences recognize that they have to fight to preserve the culture they want. The Micro Cinema Movement's been at it longer and is still going strong.

21. The independent art house theaters are organizing. Sundance is hosting the first Art House Convergence this year prior to the festival, helping to build the knowledge base of these theaters and enhance their collaboration. This platform will be key to preserving the theaterical experience for films outside the domain of the major media corporations.

Worlds Will Shatter - The Unfold (A Swarm Of Angels) trailer