ALL Entertainment Should Increase The Current Value Proposition

Chris Dorr's recent post on MoviePass helped me recognize the world as it truly is today.  It wasn't MoviePass that I needed to recognize.  It was that the same thing that allowed Independent Film to flourish is the same thing that is now spurring on innovation everywhere.  Once filmmakers stopped asking for permission to tell their stories, the floodgates opened to a far more diverse approach to culture generation.  To the powers that be the end of permission looks like anarchy, but to the leaders to come, this is the stepping stone to necessary change.  And we are seeing that now. MoviePass, for those yet to explore it, is essentially the Netflix of Theater-going: One price for access to an all you can eat buffet.  MoviePass also has made a history of getting the stakeholders seriously bent out of shape.  From the onset, MoviePass did not see a requirement to ask for permission to innovate.  And they got shut out by the theaters subsequently as a result.  But they found a work around and sustained. Now they have found a better way, and people are getting riled up again.

The first thing that bothered people about MoviePass was that the theater owners were not consulted.  Unfortunately civil behavior falls by the wayside in the charge to innovate.  Remember when you had to call everyone for a group meeting?  And now you just send a group email.  No one wants to move slow any more.  They prefer to just get it done.  Since MoviePass is paying the theaters for the tickets anyway, why is it such a big deal -- particularly if more people are now going to the movies, buying more popcorn, and shelling out for parking.  Doesn't everyone win?

Oftentimes we know not what we do when we step ahead in line.  Where does this path of efficiency lead.  Virtually all social media and online activity serves one god: the mighty one of data mining.  The aggregation of all our likes, wants, connections, and routes is generating new wealth and multiple hands into our wallets.  Is it really theirs to take?

James Shamus, my former partner and head honcho at Focus Features, pointed out in his recent conversation with Christine Vachon at IFP's Independent Film Week (if you didn't tune in, you can watch it here, or read FilmmakerMag's 12 Tips here):

"Every time you click — on a “like” button, or a download link — you are producing. You’re producing “exhaust data,” information about yourself that is then used to market to you and others like you. Filmmakers need to be aware of this new model. Other people are monetizing it now, but they don’t have the same relationship to film culture” as the previous generation of distributors."

Does the information about our wants, interests, and desires belong to us?  Are others free to take it?  Do they need to ask permission?  What if they just use it, and don't display it?  What if by using that information, they make our life better, or at least appear to be better?  Do people care?  Should they?

As evidenced by people's use of Facebook, Twitter, and many many other social media sites, I honestly don't think most people care about this sort of data mining privacy issue (which is not to say they shouldn't).

I also think many people LOVE the efficiency that comes from data mining . Honestly, if no one is now pairing film goers with discount dinner deals in the neighborhood, do we want to stop them from ever doing so?  If data mining improves the value proposition of movie going, thus increasing attendance and generating wealth for the creators, their supporters, and many folks in between should we be shutting it down.  Shouldn't increasing the value proposition of entertainment be something that all movie people want ?

You can count that many new services are being developed that aim to this, and I think theaters should encourage it as it will make moviegoing more enticing.

As a filmgoer, I tried MoviePass while I was still living in NYC.  I shared my thoughts on the future of film business with them, and the company gave me a free trial membership. I am obviously already an avid moviegoer, but the MoviePass model increased even my attendance and reduced the value of things like Netflix. Why have a hamburger at home when you can have a filet minon in a palace.  Because I felt that I had saved money, despite being tight with my cash, I coughed up for popcorn and other delights.  I had about 7 theaters accessible to me that took MoviePass (prior to this new credit card thing they announced) and it got me to the theaters at least twice a week. The theaters all got paid the full price possible from my ticket — I saw that they regularly input $15 because they could.

I totally get the frustration about not being consulted, but I think Chris Dorr's article is right on: permission is not the business policy of today.

We in the film industry need to come up with ways that are not capital intensive that improve the value proposition of cinema. I think the easiest way to do that is to build more social events into movie going — audience needs to transform into community. Audiences need to be curated as much as films do. Ultimately increasing the social value and utility of movies is one of the services that film festivals play — as do community theaters.

There is huge value in community, well beyond ticket sales. As data mining demonstrates, it can generate wealth.  MoviePass seems to realize that. I bet MoviePass can be moved to become a real ally of community theaters, as well as movie goers. Ultimately everyone wants to increase theater attendance — and that is the only way that I can think of that the MoviePass business model can work (and if it does, doesn't everyone win?).  Filmgoers will get a better experience, theaters will sell more tickets & concessions, and MoviePass has direct access to the customers.  Winwinwin.  Yes?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

What Is The Great Hope For The Future Of Cinema?

Or for that matter, what do you think can really change and move things forward in both the near and distant future? If we could ask five key people what they saw on our various horizons, what would they show us? Who should we ask?  One of the great things about being pointed in a direction, is that it is almost a path. Could we have walked down that road when Francis Ford Coppola predicted YouTube in 1991:

It is not easy to just boil down to one specific all the various change that is swarming over us at this point.  I see major shifts coming in so many different aspects of cinema: discovery, consideration, value/return, participation, collaboration, transitioning, immersion, and many others. The fact that this far down the road of a connected culture we have not wed social and content together may speak of the resistance to change, but also of the tidal wave that will one day hit us. That all said, I think that all of us -- creators, appreciators, entrepreneurs, & passive audiences members, are going to truly be best served by another aspect all together.

If you ask me, one of the big next changes and TGHFTFOC (see title) is the end of the dominance of the feature film form. Now don't get me wrong: I love feature films more than any other manufactured entity. I have devoted my labor to the creation, enhancement, and appreciation of the form. I just see many trends leading to feature-length linear-narrative passive-engagement work's decreasing relevance, along with many indications that it won't be a bad thing when all participants in both the film industry and culture look at a far widening realm of creation, participation, and consumption.

Perhaps though it is that the end of dominance of the feature film form is a symptom of something even greater. Or maybe it is just another chicken vs. egg paradox. Regardless, the industry and culture are both waking to and adopting a move from a one-off paradigm where each new creative work requires reinventing the wheel and instead embracing both a business model and community focus on an ongoing conversation between the story world initiators and those that engage with it. This abandonment of requiring each new tale to be able to not just stand but forever sprint on its own two feet is not only logical and practical but offers many new opportunities.

I eventually will go in to far greater detail on this (particularly when I can find the time to do so), but want to get this conversation moving forward. I wonder why it is still only the outliers who are in this discussion.

Still for now, we can surely see the benefit of expanding our scripts to include a series of narrative & character extensions. We recognize that each work represents an opportunity for collaborations that we have yet to dream of. We can empower those without traditional access to work with us on building previously neglected connections and launch pads. Our stories and fantasies do not need to begin or end with our renderings but can foster new works and continual creation. We can combat the challenges of living in an era of super-abundance and non-filters by championing greater value in community focus.

The easy way is a path to irrelevance. Temporally manipulative, crowd-based consumptive,  audio-visually focused content stopped long ago as being both the art form and entertainment outlet most indicative of our time. The new form is all of that and more. It won't only reflect our era, but lead us into a better world. And it starts with saying good bye to the cultural & economic dominance of antiquated concept.  

Recommended Reading: Mynette Louie's "Innovate Or Die"

It took me a week but I finally caught up with Mynette Louie's IFP Blog Post "Innovate Or Die".  She does an excellent job at capturing the Indie Producer's life at this point in our cultural era.  More importantly, she makes a fantastic and necessary plea to us all:

"let’s put our  heads together and figure out how to sustain not only ourselves, but ultimately, the art that we love so dearly, and the diversity of artistic voices that make it. There is a better way, and we’ve got to find it soon."

Read the whole post here.

Independent Film's Path To A Viable New Business Model

Guest post by Jeffrey Ballagh, lead strategist for Novacut (Note from Ted: I have not used Novacut, but heard what they were aiming for and asked Jeffrey to explain it to all of you.)

The future of distribution and funding for independent film relies on the Internet. The technology to forge a new business model for independent film success is out there, but it needs nerd champions to build a venue where artist-to-audience commerce can thrive. To thrive, that venue must be the condensation point for the independent filmmaking community. For that to be possible, that venue needs a strategy for reaching critical mass and a damn good draw for filmmakers' attention. This is what we know, and this is Novacut.

The spark? A pro-grade video editor that's free and designed from the ground up to exploit recent advances in technology and community - to name a few: digital production, HDSLR cameras, online collaboration, and cloud computing. We think that should get the attention of a few filmmakers.

The Landscape

Fundamental change has shifted every aspect of the filmmaking business: production, distribution, and most importantly how filmmakers can expect to make money from their craft. The new landscape is one of phenomenal opportunity fraught with incredible peril. Production costs continue to drop with advances in digital production, but more importantly, the old business model has evaporated with online distribution. Filmmakers now have an unprecedented opportunity to express their artistic visions and reach audiences directly. But online distribution also means there is no way to effectively stop a film from being available to everyone for free.

Where We Stand

With no way to prevent a product from being used for free, how can it be paid for? Economics has a few standard answers and there are compelling alternatives, but the dust has yet to settle and the market has yet to reach its final shape (author's background: 1/2 nerd + 1/2 economist). The traditional answers to the free rider problem are patronage or government subsidies. These are not the only answers. No one yet knows the best approach for fans and artists to meet in the marketplace and both get what they want, but it is only the mechanics of the market that must be sorted out.

To an inspiring degree, fans are showing they are ready and willing to directly support artists. Current examples are in their absolute infancy. Film/video projects on Kickstarter have raised nearly $4 million since the site first appeared. That's not a huge budget, but it has been accomplished with a new funding model on a site that has only existed for 1.5 years.

Promising alternatives include financing through complimentary business and a unique threshold pledge system. For complimentary business, think of monks making wine to support the monastery. Fortunately for film, there are options for supporting business related to the art, merchandising for example. The threshold pledge approach is a unique option for goods that can be freely copied. Also known as ransom publishing, distribution is withheld until a specified amount of money is raised. Nobody has access until the bills are paid, once they are, it's free for all.

What's Ahead

The aim is not to supplant traditional distribution. The aim is to be the single best destination for alternative distribution. A venue that artists can make their primary target or a next best alternative for projects not finding their place in mainstream channels. The distribution venue that rises to the top in this space must attract both the artists and audience needed to reach critical mass. Most importantly, it needs a path to reach that critical mass and way to draw filmmakers. Simply having a technically capable solution will not make a site the destination that everyone naturally turns to.

To be the primary venue for distribution outside the traditional market, we must be a venue full of great content and a venue where artists make money. To ensure great content means engaging artists with a unique draw, initially that is the editor. From there, we fan the fire with learning and collaboration resources to make a home for the leading community of independent filmmakers. Finally, that community takes its work to market on a platform for successful commerce. A platform that can accommodate any new funding approach, so the market can quickly help decide what works and what does not.

The New Ground Rules

On licensing, if anyone can get your film for free, the only sensible licensing scheme is to distribute with no restrictions on copying and reuse. I realize this rubs some people the wrong way (it used to rub me the wrong way), but in the new era, attempting to enforce all-rights-reserved copyright is a business disadvantage for anyone without a team of lawyers. With no feasible technical approach to stop reproduction and sharing, the only option is to attack legally. That takes lawyers and they are not cheap. Which approach is cost efficient - a market with profits that depend on copyright enforcement via legal channels or the venue that makes money despite unrestricted distribution? If you want to understand the future for copyright licensing, Lawrence Lessig is required reading. He lays it out far better than I ever could, plus his work is of the rare sort that is equally genius, entertaining, and inspiring. Specifically, hit up Remix and Free Culture - pretty sure a couple chapters will convince most anyone. You can buy the books or (Lessig puts his money where is mouth is) download them legally for free here and here.

There are other sites that aim to build the market that makes online distribution financially successful for independent film, but technology and intentions are not enough in vying for Internet prominence. Novacut stands alone with a singular path for achieving a viable marketplace and a powerful draw for getting the process started.

Jeffrey Ballagh is a developer, economist, and lead strategist for Novacut. Seeing powerful forces reshape the world of film and video, he and the Novacut team gathered to put their entire energies toward the goal of building a new infrastructure for independent film and video commerce. Novacut Kickstarter / Novacut Blog

Chance Favors The Connected Mind

Animated lectures have become one of my fave web content forms.  Most of my pleasures of this sort have come from tips from my wife as to what is posted to YouTube via RSA Animate (I've posted some of these before).

The "trailer" for Steven Johnson's new book "Where Good Ideas Come From" was via a Fred Wilson post, and makes a good case for why we should not lament this Culture Of Distraction (and if you are wondering what to get me for my birthday, it's on my list).