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

DIY Distribution Tips: Use A DVD-Rental Store Approved Vendor

There's a good post today on FilmmakerMagBlog by Jake Abraham on LOVELY BY SURPRISE, a film he produced and is now distributing. The only way DIY is going to really ever become a viable model is for filmmakers to do precisely what Jake is doing, and share the experience. You should definitely read the whole post, but I definitely appreciated this nugget:

we worked with Indigenous to make sure that every possible outlet, both retail and online, would carry the film. They set up Netflix, Blockbuster Online,, iTunes and all those other online rental and purchase sites. Also, as they are set up as a vendor with all the wholesalers that distribute to retail rental stores and purchasers like Target, K-Mart, etc., we have orders coming in from those guys as well. This detail can’t be overlooked. Working with an approved vendor is a key step to getting your DVD in rental stores all over the U.S. (yes, they still exist). Don’t wait until your DVD is pressed to do this. It takes months to get all of this set up properly. The consequence of delaying this process is severe, as your film will not be available everywhere you want it to be when your marketing push is on and potential viewers won’t be able to access it.

Of course this brings up the question:
Who are the approved DVD vendors for the remaining DVD rental stores? It would be great to create a list. Anyone know of any? This is the kind of information every filmmaker needs to have and needs to know where to access.
We screened LOVELY BY SURPRISE at our This is that Goldcrest Screening Series and the film went over quite well with our crowd. The most uniform response I heard was that everyone thought the film was unique and they had not seen anything like it. How great is that?!! I wished I lived in a world where this was the most sought out attribute from all filmmakers. To me such praise is gold. There should be a box where you can check that as your preference. I would join a film club in a heartbeat that promised originality on a regular basis.
Reading Jake's column though, it reminds how early into the wilderness we all are. To forge a path requires a huge communal effort. There is so much I don't know, and I would bet I know a hell of a lot more than you do (not to be smug, but...). But it is not intimidating; it is only reality. When I look at the work everyone did demystifying production, development, festival strategy, and initial sales -- essentially the work of the Indie Film movement of the last 15 years, I know that distribution and marketing are conquerable too. Provided we share that is. So what are the next steps?
We should start a regular column here on DIY Distribution Tips. Let me know if you have any.
Like the DVD-Rental Store Approved Vendor List, also let me know of any further lists you think we need to build.
And check out the LOVELY BY SURPRISE website. It's nice. One thing I think they did really well was the placement of the widgets to add the film to you Netflix or Blockbuster queue. Ditto the Amazon pre-order button. The booking link gets a bit lost due to the consistency of the font and structure, but neatness still counts for a lot in my book. Still since any true indie booker or theater will want this film, it would be nice if it popped a tad more for them.

Cheat Sheet #6: The New DVD Thoughts

Today's post is again brought to you courtesy of Jon Dieringer, and is part of continuing series of cheat sheets from prior TFF posts.


 There is a great deal more that we can do with the technology.
A few thoughts on what should be included and done differently:
-A Different Cut: usually this is the "Director's Cut" but in TFF this would always be the same version. Sometimes this is an "Unrated" cut when changes are made for ratings purposes. Can more be done with though.
-Commentary: This is often just the director and other crew collaborators. There has been an increased openness to having other directors make commentary too. Sometimes they have been using opposing critics which can get kind of fun.
-Additional Scenes: This is usually limited to scenes that were shot to include in the movie and later removed in the edit process.
-"Added Value" Content: Generally this is elements used in the filmmaking process: script, storyboards, preliminary visual effect mock-ups.
-Publicity & Marketing Elements: Trailers, Posters, Stills, Electronic Press Kits (interviews).
-Behind The Scenes/Making Of Documentary: so-called B-roll of filmmaking process.
-Hyper-chaptering (allowing for tagging and greater commentary).

The New Model For Indie Film: The Ongoing Conversation

Tonight I had the opportunity to speak at the New York Foundation For The Arts.  I think the video posting of it is going to go up shortly in case you want to compare how closely I keep to the text.  

The discussion/rant was a bit of a mash up of my positive and negative lists, both the hope for the future and the fear of the present as we live it in Indieville  It is commonly understand that change only comes when the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future.  I would like to have some change -- so be warned, I may have slanted it a bit in hopes of that change.


We are cursed. And it’s that old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. We certainly are living in interesting times. Still though, I’ve always considered that curse a blessing. I know that back in my early days -- when I gave up trying to be happy and instead decided to pursue an interesting life -- I found as a result: things got better and I got a lot happier. So I am here to tell you, that although a lot of what I may say today may make it sound like the sky has already fallen, if we filmmakers finally surrender unrealistic expectations and instead embrace our opportunities, and precede along logical, practical, passionate and community-oriented lines, we are going to have it better than we’ve ever had it before. These interesting times are gong to open up film culture in a freer, more engaged way.

I am assuming that all of you recognize yourself as filmmakers, and the type of filmmaker who aspires to make ART, to be truthful, bold, groundbreaking. I want to help you understand what it means to be that type of filmmaker in the context of today and what it is going to mean for you tomorrow. To do that, I want you all to first look at where the business, the culture, and the practical aspects of filmmaking are for the various people who maintain the apparatus that makes filmmaking work: the distributors, the financiers, the marketers, the exhibitors and the audience.

You need to recognize these folks as your collaborators, and for you to be able to see with their eyes, to stand in their shoes, we first must all speak the same language. We need to have a common definition for cinema. For this common definition, I want to move away from the technical or business vernacular and instead define it on the most human scale possible: cinema is a dialogue between the audience and the screen.

I don’t think film-going is any more a passive experience than filmmaking is, and cinema is where creation and consumption unite. If we embrace the active spirit of film-going, if we accept that there is a quiet dialogue running in the heads of all audiences, we are going to start to find some answers on how we – the filmmakers – survive this vast paradigm shift our culture is now engaged in – because I am confident we are not just going to survive, but we are going to prosper and bring better work to more audiences in all sorts of new ways. But hold that thought. We will come back to those answers later.

Having first accepted this definition of the common dialogue that cinema is, we must now look at the situation all those aforementioned collaborators of ours – sometimes called “the suits” -- are in. And this is where it is going to get ugly:
• Right now, according to this week’s Variety, Art House admissions are down 66% whereas Hollywood Product’s ticket sales are up 16%.
• Last week more Americans defined themselves as “game players” than those that called themselves “Movie-goers”. More leisure time activities compete for our attention than ever before, and the movies are losing.
• In a recent poll, 20% more Americans preferred to watch films at home on DVD rather than in the theater.
• By my account, only about 4% of the independent films made in America annually, get traditional distribution. I saw more good work produced for under $1M last year alone than I usually see altogether in five years – yet only two of the 18 or so excellent low budget films I saw had traditional distribution and neither of those made much money.
• The acquisition market in the US has collapsed to the point that you can not expect to get more than $50K for a twenty year all media license for a non-genre feature and even then it is doubtful your film will play beyond NY & LA.
• International sales prices meanwhile are down 40% and very little is now bought on presale.
• Private equity investors are asking for budgets to drop by about 60% from where they were a year ago; what once was $15M is now $6M; what once was $8M is now $3M – and on each of these, the financiers demand twice as many name actors for each film as they did last year.
• Distributors and financiers, aka studios, are generally built for the future library value of the product they make; but in a world where a digital copy is easily disseminated in a blink of an eye, that library value can vanish overnight – and with that, their stock value, and certainly thousands of jobs will vanish too.
• Although the bootleggers have already built a platform that provides whatever you like wherever you like whenever you like, the industry leaders can no more decide on a common format for just such a platform than they could over VHS tape or BluRay disc or internet digital music downloads.
• Our cultural curators, the critics at magazines and newspapers, have almost all lost their jobs, leaving virtually no one to champion the undiscovered gems.
• The newspapers and magazines where they worked, once the easiest way to unify upscale opinion, are shuttering left and right, leave the marketers with no place to advertise efficiently and effectively.
• The economic collapse has wrecked havoc on everyone, and not the least of all: non-profit arts organizations and film festivals. The local launch pads for many films have vanished or shrunken and more will be doing so soon.

Now that you get the picture, let’s try on those shoes I spoke about. Put yourself in your well-suited collaborators’ place:

• If you are a marketer, how do you position something if there are no critics to champion it and no place to advertise it?
• If you are an exhibitor, are you going to take a chance on something with no marketing budget from someone that isn’t promising bigger films down the pike? When the big guns insist you run their film for a long term booking, how do you take a chance on something new even for a short while hawked by some upstart filmmaker?
• If you are a distributor, why should you pay money for a film when most festival prize winning films by the biggest names are being given away for the promise of a NY & LA theatrical opening – if even for that.
• If you are a financier, why would you invest in something that can sell for, at best, only 40 –60% of its value? And even then, it can be easily stolen out from under you by a savy pimply-faced pirate knowing basic computer code?
• If you are an audience member, who loves new work, and wants to engage in a dialogue with your social network, how do you resist the temptation to press “download now” when it is free and simple and you know that it won’t be available to you anytime soon near by in its traditional form?
• If you are a filmmaker how do you hear all this and not feel the shoes you walk in are actually cement boots headed off a short pier?

Now that I’ve told you all this, I want you to know that by the time I finish tonight you are not going to want to kill yourself because even if others have not yet found the answers, they have started to pave the paths towards them. You are not going to hang from the rope you’ve been desperately clutching on to, because audiences have been telling you what they want for a long time now if you wanted to listen. No plastic bags or pill bottles are needed in any filmmakers’ arsenal when they have the incredible tools being handed to them as they are… right now… for free.

Filmmakers are lucky because we’ve got to watch the Roman Empire that once was the music business burn before our ears, and we have seen musicians rise like phoenixes from the ashes finding and exploring new methods of bringing songs to their fans and even finding ways to earn the money that is needed to do so. If we embrace their example, extract some lessons from those who have recognized their audiences as collaborators, and utilize the liberty that comes with our independence to explore and even be willing to fail as we innovate, aggregate, and motivate, we can have a truly free culture before us. (If you haven’t read Scott Kirsner’s “Fans, Friends & Followers” do so tonight and you can get specific examples of people doing it right.)

Music is different from film because musical artists seldom ever bet it all on each new album. Musicians expect the fans that they developed with one effort to come back for more, but here in the film world, we are reinventing the wheel each time. Today musicians work to engage their audience for the long term, for the long tail, but the film business remains a series of one-offs. If a diverse film culture is going to flourish in this country, we have to move to a new model where filmmaking is a process, an ongoing conversation between the filmmakers and their various audiences. That is the new model I hope you can embrace when you walk out of here tonigh.

For film to make sense as a business in today’s world, filmmakers must accept the responsibility of bringing their audience to their movie and to engage them in a meaningful way. Filmmakers must reprogram themselves to accept that it is their obligation to seed, corral, and drive their audience. The marketing, publicity, and distribution apparatus out there will build upon that audience foundation the filmmaker first developed, but in choosing what films they will take a risk on, these new collaborators will be motivated to work with the filmmakers who come with several wheels already rolling – those that have already built an audience foundation, a dependable fan base.

You don’t need anyone’s help to build an audience. You start to grow it yourself and soon others will join in. You just need to be willing to work, to reach out to others, to curate, to recommend, to listen, to make sure you have something to say that will excite others, to join them in a dialogue. There is no excuse not to engage with others through the multitude of social media that is available now for free to anyone. It is your obligation. You can not afford to be precious and think you only make art. The culture supports for the “seventh art” are virtually non-existent in this country. You have to complete the equation and bring the audience to the dialogue.

I recognize that it is my obligation too. It is part of the price for the privilege of making and enjoying culture. I kept seeing good work that quickly was being forgotten. Every festival delivered me new gems but I recognized that these films were not being helped by the mainstream media. So what did I do? I got some friends together and started to champion true indie work, to curate for the fans. I watched great films not being distributed or screened on a big screen, so what did I do? I reached out to some friends and now co-curate a screening series at Goldcrest where we invite over 500 people to a 60 seat space to appreciate new work. I speak about a “Truly Free Film” culture so much, but know I am not being heard widely enough, so what do I do? I started and got over my fear of Facebook and Twitter and try to speak to folks like you as much as I can. I ask you: what are you doing to save this thing that you say want to devote your labor to? Do you want a world where the only American cinema is blockbuster tentpoles told by privileged white men? I may be one of those, but I know I don’t.

Now, I am a busy guy. I have produced 60 films. I hope to produce 40 more – and those are just the ones I have identified right now. But I have time to do all this because IT MUST BE DONE. And it is freakin’ easy too. And even kinda fun. It has reached a point that even my eight year old can run and maintain his own blog. Share what you like; you will find others who like what you have to say (in fact with his obsession with lego, bakagan and Dr Who, he probably has more of an audience than I do with American Art Film). Champion them and they will champion you. Help your new friends find an audience for their work and they will do the same for you. Why do you think I am here speaking before you now? I am not some sort of self-less giver. I come here now because I will want your help later – and I expect you will want mine. Let’s make it a give-give, win-win scenario.

But that work must begin early, and it must be maintained. You have to be a good friend. You have to provide. You have to enhance the lives of your fans. It is not just about self-promotion. I don’t care that you are having coffee or walking your dog or even have ideas about the three most frequently said words after sex are (that was a popular tweet this week). I want substance. I want beauty. I want to be wowed – at least every once and awhile.

Kevin Kelly pointed out that to be a self supporting artist we all need 1000 True Fans who are willing to pay $100 a year for whatever it is we have to say (okay, maybe a bit more if you live in NYC, but…). Backed by such an army, there’s a whole new way for you to create. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a year on most social networks to develop those relationships, longer to refine them, and even more to enhance them – if you are going to have those fans, friends, and followers join in your ongoing conversation.

It must be part of every working artist’s job description now to develop your fan base and audience. We also have to recognize that those fans are ours, that they are our most precious resource and we’ve been giving them away up to now. You may have sold your work, but you should still own your fans. We must recognize that our fans are our path to freedom, but by abandoning our rights to them, we’ve turned our selves into slaves. By not recognizing our obligations to our fans, we have allowed our culture to continue to slide to lower and lower common denominators.

When you license your work for low fees because you want to move on and create again, and you haven’t even made sure that your contracts grant you access to the very data you’ve mined – who those fans who pay for your work are – you have sealed your fate for the next time around. You will never be free. It may benefit you to go the DIY route and it may not (that’s a whole other discussion we can have some other time). But what ever your path, you need to be gathering the data along the way on who cares about your work, who loves your work. You need to know how to reach them. And remember: if your fans follow you through some social network app, you don’t really know them – and you certainly don’t own them or their data. You don’t have a way to contact them outside of that app. It means nothing unless you have their email, and that too will be virtually useless unless you invest to make your relationship with them work. You must harvest your data if you are going to be able to survive.

Music – let’s go back to that -- is also different than film because most musicians have multiple art forms to offer their fans, in that they have both the recorded and the live performance, whereas filmmakers still only have a single product. Most music acts have also realized that the business is in the merchandise and not even in either of those art forms – and that certainly doesn’t mean that the merchandise can’t also be an art form. It can. Yet with these strong examples before us filmmakers can’t seem to get beyond the simple t-shirt or action figure to provide their fans.

If I am a true cineaste, how do I display my passion? Is it through the purchase of the complete Criterion Catalogue? You call a dvd a fetish object? I think not! Film lovers want something that shows how much they care, but now, at best, they can buy another book from Taschen. When are we going to have each film come with that artwork, that sculpture, that special thing, that says I am more than just a fanboy? That I am a true cultural conneisuer? Now, I have a 3’x2’ art work on my office wall that looks like a series of large pixels. But once you take a magnifying glass to it you see that they are film frames, one frame from each second of Kubrick’s 2001. It lets you know something about me and my tastes. We need to come up with more products like this to extend our conversations beyond the screen and theater walls.

Music will always trump film because music gets better and better the more you play it, but there are few films that hold up through multiple viewings. But film can go much further than it has so far. Why are we so locked into film as a form that can only be enjoyed when it is completed in a single seating? DVD technology allows for extensive micro-chaptering which in turn will allow for Search Engine Optimization, which in turn will lead to crowds embedding these tiny segments and thus promoting your film across a thousand outlets – but no one is doing this sort of chaptering.

Who said filmmaking is only 90 minutes long with a beginning, middle, and an end, even if not necessarily in that order? And why did we believe them? Why do our narratives have to be limited to that duration and form? With so many platforms and devices to launch and engage from, why are we still waiting for that first popular transmedia culture maker to emerge?

We aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we don’t even know what to name that thing that is that thing that we all want. The evidence is everywhere: audiences want a more immersive experience that they can join in and shape and modify, one that they can remix and rejoin, drop and pick up, forget and then recognize again as it transforms, but what is that? What do we call this thing? What do we name this thing can make movies an event again, that can make them effectively compete with all the other leisure time activities?

When a child says “Pokemon” they don’t think of just the tv-show or the movies or the card game or the video games or the cute figurines. The word Pokemon covers All Of It. Yet we have no audience-friendly term for the complete engagement with media content across all platforms in various ways. Studios call it the “franchise” but they still drive all the by-products off the narrative feature film leader. Madison Avenue calls it “brand management” but they keep all the products separate and never participatory. And both sides lobby for laws that keep our culture private, never motivating fans to make it their own, to disseminate it, or deliver it in new ways to their friends.

Our salvation won’t come from anyone other than ourselves. Truly independent film, truly free film must be the innovator on all fronts. We are the ones willing to take the risk, to embrace audience collaboration, to give them more than the simple one-off video product, and it is truly independent filmmakers that will reap the rewards.

In the most simple terms, when filmmakers recognize that each story can be told in different forms with different tones, different approaches, even different characters, they will also have new ways to engage audiences, to seed them, corral them, and drive them. It maybe with thematically related short films that are released before and after the feature becomes available. It may be with written texts that enhance their understanding or appreciation. It may be through games, through products, through live events.

However & whoever it is, the filmmakers who participate in these multiple platform ways will have solved more than just one problem. They will have engaged their audience in an ongoing dialogue that extends beyond the film product itself, but also they will have reinvented the film so it is once again an event, something distinct, something fresh, something they make a priority. The film will be the unifying action that the community comes together around. It will be how they find one another. It will be the deciding factor amidst the myriad of leisure time activities competing for there ever shortening attention. I think it is clear: providing a better dialogue with the audience is how we going to keep our diverse film culture alive.

And keep in mind that amidst all of this chaos, release patterns and methods are changing even faster. Film festivals are no longer markets. Festivals need to be recognized and exploited as media launches. Festivals are the moment when filmmakers get the most attention. Festivals are also the cheapest way anyone has of getting attention so whether you are surrendering your baby to another parent/distributor, or going the DIY route, you are going to want to use the festivals to publicize your film is available to be booked, that you are selling the DVD. That said, exhibitors are having a harder time playing indie films – be it finding slots or feeling it will be promoted sufficiently -- so where do you get your bookings?

If Robert Greenwald can take his (thankfully) fiercely partisan films into people’s living rooms, why can’t you? Countless filmmakers have found ways to incentavize individuals, communities, and organization to push their films, so what’s to stop you from building your own promotional army? People are selling DVDs directly from their websites, directly at their screenings. These are plans that you need to consider before you shoot and there is good reliable information available for free all over the internet to help you weigh these decisions. You need to put it into action before you apply to the festivals. You need to embrace it as your plan before you apply for grants. You need to accept that it is a filmmakers responsibility to find their audience and bring their work directly to them.

Now all of this is not easy, but it’s really not hard either. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is happening right now. It requires labor but that which is derived from love is hardly really work. It requires delayed gratification but promises infinite satisfaction. It requires strategy and planning, but needs to be playful and sweetly chaotic. There is no one to discover you, but we all want to find you. No pot of gold waiting; but there is a life, a life time, a career, and a body of work begging to be created before you. Sure, it requires adding more to your job description. And it requires refresher courses along the way. It requires a different way of seeing altogether. The nice thing is we have good examples. We are ahead of the studios in our plans and we are willing to take bigger risks.

Your work is your life. You aren’t striving for any one thing other than to improve and to change. Don’t think about that ONE movie you want to make;focus on the long term and what you need to feel as excited, as engaged in fifteen years as you are today. Use your resources. Use your audience. Grow it. Sustain it.

What is stopping us? Let our barriers please not be ourselves. We have now been given the tools to bring us together, to share and to promote. Our products gain in value not by their scarcity but by how much they multiply and are enjoyed. Our desire is not to acquire, but to give away. Filmmakers, those who aspire to ART, to the bold, to the innovative, and to the transcendent have always thought differently: we’ve been most concerned about the outcome and not the income – and rightly so. Begin the conversation. Make it last a good long time. We will all profit from it.

Pricing DIY DVDs & Other Fetish Items

Adam Chapnick twittered about NeoFlix's  DIYFlix blog posting about most popular pricing techniques for their clients.  It ran counter to my instincts as I would have thought more gravitated to the high and low end, but by far the most popular price point is $15-$20.  The DIYFlix blog itself has a pile of good advice & food for thought, so check it out.

Some of the best advice in this category comes from the example of HELVETICA.  As Scott Kirsner points out in his indispensable right-of-the-moment guide to building an audience (Fans, Friends, & Followers) "Selling just one thing is old hat".  
Multiple versions and merchandising is the way to go.  So much more can be done with this.  By all means there should be multiple versions of all films, with different additional content, commentary, even cuts.  Why is that we only get the dvd with the film, and maybe a t-shirt or action figure?  If fans want to show their appreciation for a work there should be something more substantial.  One of my favorite pieces of film fetish paraphernalia is this: Brendan Dawes' Cinema Redux print of Kubrick's 2001 The film is reduced to one image from every second of the film in high resolution.  Each row has sixty frames in it.  
Why can't we have more beautiful works derived from the films we love?


Jeff Lipsky, director of the Sundance hit ONCE MORE WITH FEELING (among others), distributor of Cassavettes (among others), co-founder of October Films (among others) -- this man knows the lay of the land.  He recently participated in a show Christine Vachon and I did up at Sundance for Filmcatcher (soon to be streamed on their site), and I was once again reminded of his incredible enthusiasm and knowledge of all aspects of the film business.  I only asked him for ten reasons he was bullish on the state of indie.  I get the sense that if I hadn't capped it, he'd still be adding to the list. 

Here's Part One:
1. Apparently movies love depression (as in recession). Especially independent movies. Since the U.S. economy tanked theatrical grosses have been going through the roof. In comparing the steady weekly increases over the corresponding 2007/8 frames this is a fact, irrefutable, and it isn’t just the rise in ticket prices, admissions are up, too (finally). Even excluding boffo studio phenomena like “Paul Blart Mall Cop” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” the numbers in independent theatres since fiscal Armageddon set in have been stunning. Last week New York’s Angelika Film Center’s total gross was 40% higher than the same week last year, while at the Sunshine Cinemas, also in NYC, the increase was a ridiculous 375%. In southern California the gross last week at The Landmark cinemas exceeded the gross over the same week last year by 48%. In Cleveland the Cedar Lee’s gross last week was ahead of last year’s gross by 70%, a week, incidentally when three of the five Oscar nominated films for Best Picture were on screen at that complex. And let’s not exclude the town that gave you the American automobile. Motown’s in great shape, right? In Detroit last week the independent Maple Art Cinemas’ grosses were 246% higher than the corresponding week last year. Quick, let’s pick another post-apocalyptic week at random: 11/7/08-11/13/08. Same theatres, same comparison to its total week’s gross the corresponding week the previous year. Sunshine: 27% higher the week of 11/7/08 than the previous year. The Landmark, 34% higher. The Cedar Lee, 12% more, and in Motor City, a whopping 50% increase. And if you think it’s all because of President Obama, don’t. It was true in October, pre-Election, as well.

2. Speaking of New York’s Angelika Film Center, let us consider the New York success of the sublime “Let the Right One In.” That film has been playing exclusively at the Angelika Film Center has 14 weeks, at the time of this writing, and has grossed a quarter of a million dollars. For most of those weeks the seating capacity hovered around 200. And I don’t recall seeing a single ad in the New York Times since about the third run of its run. Nor do I recall seeing any online media buy. All things are still possible if you make a great film. And it doesn’t require $10 million of marketing to accomplish the impossible. (Note: its total North American gross is only $2 million but I know many producers of American independent films that cost under $500,000 to produce who would salivate over a theatrical total of $2 million.) Magnolia should present a (free to the public) case study of their marketing of this title at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, where, I believe “Let the Right One In,” enjoyed its U.S. premiere in 2008.

3. DVD revenues in North America last year were down about 5% from 2007 totals (estimates range between 3%-6%). That means only $21.8 billion was generated by DVDs (including Blue Ray) in 2008. If the real percentage of the total that is applicable to truly independent films is only 1.5% (the lowest estimate I could find) that means indie films generated almost $328 million in DVD revenues last year. I don’t know about you but I’m impressed. And that doesn’t include legal download, PPV, and VOD numbers, paltry though those numbers I’m quite certain are.

4. The total amount of money (thus far) that independent distributors doled out for Sundance acquisitions in 2009 has exceeded last year’s total by 5%. And this was the year, distributors weren’t going, money was tight, the mood was cautious, the town was deserted, and the weather was warm (well, it was gloriously warm).

5. A brief history of the DVD. Home Entertainment got under way with VHS tapes (and, to a much lesser and negligible extent, Laser Discs). They were intended for rental only, proof of which was its $100 price tag if you had to own one. Then the DVD came along: superior product, superior extras, fewer trailers for God-awful films attached. Virtually right from the get-go they were available to consumers simultaneously as rental items and as sell through items. Inexplicably the price point for this often superbly produced collectible was as low as $25-35. Within a couple of years the studios reduced the per unit retail price to $15-20. Why? Is the family that purchases “Monsters, Inc” for their kids to watch 150 times, with all of their friends no less, not going to pay an extra $5-10 dollars to own this digital pacifier? Was I not going to pay an extra $10 to own my own copy of “Chinatown?” Why is the cost of a DVD way less than the cost of two movie tickets? And returning to that subject, why are more people, sometimes in droves, returning to the cinema when the ticket price is so high and DVD windows are shrinking? Is it the low price of gas? Or is it the fact that the tech world is confusing John and Jane Doe with its semi-annual new iterations of hardware, software, PDAs, phones, home theatres, digital boxes, Dolby 5.1…fuck it, ma, let’s just go to the picture show and see a movie. In short, the DVD industry, I opine, has left billions of dollars on the table over the last five years. And I always thought they were good at sweeping up billions of dollars. Again, 1.5% of billions of dollars… Anyway, DVDs are not going the way of the dodo. Not for at least a pentad, if ever.

Hope For The Future pt. 6: The List #'s 22- 25

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 have 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.

Hope For The Future pt. 3: The List #'s 9-13

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 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.

Make The DVD A Different Experience

I understand why some directors want the DVD to be a "pure" copy of what the feature film is.  It is what it is and that is where the effort went.

Yet from another perspective, why not make the DVD a true extension of the film altogether? Or several extensions that is. By extension, it could be anything that heightens our appreciation of the film and its narrative.
If one of the roles of a DVD is to maintain awareness of the film throughout time, shouldn't we construct the DVDs precisely to do this?  We should think deeper as to how this can be done.  Maintaining awareness, extending the narrative, and increasing the appreciation of the film are all linked.  The power of the DVD is still locked, even as others are anticipating its death.  Perhaps more life can be found in the DVD if we think in a truly free manner.
What are all the ways we can make a DVD more than the experience of the theatrical film? Some of these solutions are being used by the mainstream distributors today:
  1. A Different Cut: usually this is the "Director's Cut" but in TFF this would always be the same version.  Sometimes this is an "Unrated" cut when changes are made for ratings purposes.  Can more be done with though.
  2. Commentary: This is often just the director and other crew collaborators.  There has been an increased openness to having other directors make commentary too.  Sometimes they have been using opposing critics which can get kind of fun.
  3. Additional Scenes: This is usually limited to scenes that were shot to include in the movie and later removed in the edit process.
  4. "Added Value" Content: Generally this is elements used in the filmmaking process: script, storyboards, preliminary visual effect mock-ups.
  5. Publicity & Marketing Elements: Trailers, Posters, Stills, Electronic Press Kits (interviews).
  6. Behind The Scenes/Making Of Documentary: so-called B-roll of filmmaking process.
One of the benefits of being free of corporate restraints is the freedom to experiment.  Truly Free Filmmakers can go far beyond the current limits of what a DVD can do.  I got a hefty dose of inspiration from reading  Adrian Martin's Moving Image Source article of DVD chaptering  and all that might be able to do if we truly embraced all it can do.  
Give it a read and share your thoughts.  I will share my additional ideas for what can be done more with DVDs on a future post, but it would be great to include yours with it.  Maybe I should wait until you get me some of your thoughts...