Change The Model: Build New Alliances To Deliver Greater Value For A Better Price

The post I did on "The Really Bad Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012" has generated a lot of health conversations.  The wise recognize that each of these really bad things is just an opportunity to make this all better -- and sometimes to make some money.  The post has been shared and "liked" more that usual for this blog and I think that speaks well of our collective endeavor to rescue indie film. I particularly liked all the comments the blog generated, and have done my best to reply to them.  Thanks for the participation!

I want to single out one comment in particular from Jb Bruno, who kindly has allowed me to repost it here:

Maybe one way to break the hold the people at the top have on the artists is to change the model, as it’s a model that serves them but not even one an audience really wants.

Movie-going in its infancy was about people buying a ticket, which got them into a show, where they could get entertainment they could not get at home. While there, they could buy snacks like popcorn and peanuts and sodas. This was the same model as other forms of entertainment; baseball games, circuses, traveling shows, etc. Buy your ticket, get in, watch it, buy our over-priced snacks, get out.

Today, we have entertainment at our fingertips everywhere wherever we go. What is our theatrical model? Buy your ticket, get in, watch it, buy our over-priced snacks, get out.

Maybe that works for the spate of blockbusters that are basically extensions of video games or franchises, but not only doesn’t it work for the types of stories we are talking about telling, but it doesn’t appeal to the type of person that wants this type of fare.

Could we not find ways to partner with other activities where seeing the movie was only part of the experience?. What if people could purchase memberships that got them not only in to see a movie, but also combine with other things that are part of their interests. Those “other things” could be part of packages that could be tailored to people’s taste: for one person, it could be opera, or museums; for another, stand-up comedy or dinner; for someone else, metal clubs and hookah bars.

What if this expanded also ethnically and culturally, and we started speaking to audiences outside of middle-aged White guys like me?

It would mean forming communities with other groups, and isn’t the idea of the larger community a good thing?

The only people the “buy your ticket” model serves is the current establishment, whose interest certainly isn’t with the filmmaker.

Those packages could range in price-scale, so in the end, it wasn’t $13-15 dollars for a two-hour-and-out experience.

Changing the model would be hard work, but would it be any harder, or more frustrating, than the one-size-fits-all model we now have no control over? At least, we wouldn’t be at the mercy of the gate-keepers.

It's a good idea, yeah?  I know I want a lot more for my money that the expenditure of time and the opportunity to overpay for snacks I never wanted in the first place.  What are the barriers we need to overcome if we are going to make this work?

Exhibitors control the ticket pricing.  Will this have to be done at the exhibitor level?  If so, does that mean it must be locally based?

Who provides the discount?  The exhibitor or the participating additional party?  How can we make both sides sacrifice since both sides will benefit?  Does it require that the film be four-walled so that the discounts happen?

There must be some pre-existing models and experiments with this already.  Does anyone know of them?

What would be some examples of perfect pairings?


Film Festivals Offer The Life Lessons For Longevity

By Kellie Ann Benz

Okay, I’ll admit it. I think ‘Jersey Shore’ offered some of the best life lessons. I’m not too cool to reveal that I gleaned much from the leg-humping silverbacks who F-bombed their way into obscurity on that cautionary tale of a show.

Replace, if you will, their onenightstandpad with a film festival party, and you can see how they offered all of us a first rate how-NOT-to for which should be grateful. 

I cite their example as a sobering reminder for everyone packing for their first film festival.

First, the good news. Film festivals are wicked wild fun.  Truly.

Festival attendees are some of the most electric creatives you’ll ever meet – and when actors or actresses are in attendance, some of the most beautiful humans you’ll ever see with your own eyeballs - film festivals offer a throwback to Dominick Dunne-esque invitation only cocktail parties.  At the best international festivals, the ribald wits congregate as safe harbour from a cruel, cruel world that only understands their stories when told in a linear three act structure.  At the discovery-zone of regional indie festivals, you can feel welcomed into an exclusive club where only the cinematic smarty-pants go.

For the chosen ones with films competing, a film festival is the blue ribbon approval after the drudge of production, the maxed out expense of post, and the ‘pick me’ panic of festival submissions. Depending on where you’re chosen, you could very well Duplass your way into a career.

Ask any one of the indie hopefuls whose films have received the golden handshake at Sundance, Cannes, Rotterdam, Venice, Palm Springs, Toronto and you’ll get an exhausted ‘phew’ – a true sign that they had no way of seeing that life changing moment coming. 

Here’s the rub, anticipating that your life will change or that your film will sell or that you’ll leave a film festival wealthy is guaranteeing that you won’t.  Murphy and his nasty little laws.

However, anticipating that you will meet people who you will work with in the future is Lena Dunham smart and precisely the way to use a festival to benefit your career.

Since the social make-up of a film festival often mirrors the social make-up of any community, I offer these quick glance personalities-types to find and/or avoid at any film festival:


THE MOVIE WATCHERS – Not the ones ‘screening’ films, the ones watching them. Native to the film festival circuit, this tribe’s natural habitat consists of dark theatres and festival line ups. Easily identified by their traditional garb; hoodie/vest/toque* ensemble, un-environmentally friend coffee cup, dog-eared program and OCD attachment to their smartphone. If you make movies because you love movies, these are your future collaborators, industry pals and trusted confidantes. Make friends with these people.

*Toque is Canadian for knitted ski hat. Toque is also way cooler than knitted ski hat.

THE PRODUCED PRODUCERS – Good Producers are a rare breed. Find the ones who made the new movies you loved and introduce yourself. Exchanging a business card isn’t betraying any Producer relationship you already have; it’s ensuring that you diversify. Foolish are the writer/directors who put all their eggs in one basket, so save the I-don’t-mingle hooey for the E raves*, and exchange twitter handles.

*Unless you’re a starlet or undiscovered hunka hunka movie star, don’t take the E at E raves. Note to Starlets and Hunka Hunkas – no one casts messy druggies, but they WILL sleep with you. You decide what you want.

THE COORDINATORS – Film festival staff are often a mysterious bunch. First, there are a lot of them, second it’s questionable what they all do. Here’s a hint, the people who coordinated the parties you’re attending (mostly running around making sure you’re having a great time) are the money people to know. Naturally, Festival Directors, Artistic Directors or any other variation thereof, you must thank and be gracious to.  But the Coordinators are often the ones with extra comps, free passes, late night exclusive invitations, and other unexpected goodies. Here’s the secret though – you don’t know this and you must NEVER expect them to share. They loathe people who expect perks. Best way to get the inside track from the Coordinators is to be kind, polite, talkative and genuinely interested in who they are. Besides, today’s festival coordinator is tomorrow’s Development Executive or award winning filmmaker. These might turn out to be long relationships. Pay attention. Be real.

WRITERS – Screenwriters do actually Charlie Kaufman their way through most parties, that’s their job. No one takes a gregarious screenwriter seriously. So getting screenwriters to release the death-clutch of their single malt scotch long enough to open up, could mean a future collaborator for you.  Like Coordinators, pay attention, be genuine, exchange emails. 


THE UN-PRODUCED PRODUCER – If the Producer you just met doesn’t have a credit on the film they say they produced at the festival, it’s not a titling mistake. Politely back away and keep mingling.

THE OVER-MARKETERS – We all want to market our films, find our audiences and feed our niche. Film Festival parties, however, are not always the best place to do that (your audience is much bigger than fellow filmmakers) If you run into someone who can’t stop giving you all the crap they’ve invested in to promote their film – worse yet, that’s not even in the festival – walk away.

NOTE ASKERS - if any filmmaker asks you for feedback or ‘notes’, don’t walk away, run!

THE DRIVERS – Don’t have an inside track to anything. Be polite, move on.

REPORTERS – This is a dicey one, because getting quoted seems like the goal.  Your publicity, however, needs to be leveraged in unison with the marketing of your film. So tread carefully. This means keep a professional distance until you’ve seen the same reporter enough times for a natural friendship to develop. 

The best thing you can do for yourself before you arrive at a festival is scan the delegates list and know who you want to meet, then stay open to who you might meet along the way.  Take cards, keep notes, assess after your home who you want to follow up with.

A festival invitation should mark the beginning of a long run for your film and herald the spark of a career for you. In the film industry, longevity is the only goal worth pursuing.

Overall, I’ll end with this; the age old manners your mother shamed you into for family dinners, also apply to film festivals – and your life in the film industry – be kind, pay attention, listen more than talk and most importantly, just like ‘Jersey Shore’ taught us all, keep your pants on.

KELLIE ANN BENZ’s four woefully inappropriate short films, have competed at 175-ish international film festivals.  A columnist for Canada’s National Screen Institute, she just wrapped her first feature film.

How To Defeat 10,000,000 Adorable Kittens

by Emily Best & Liam Brady EMILY: Recently I was a guest on an awesome show that brings together musicians, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs to talk, play, and pontificate. Here’s the first question we were asked: we all know how much technology has helped music and film, but what about the challenges it poses?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the greatest challenge technology poses to the arts is fragmentation. In a world where the audience’s attention is so divided, how do you make something stand out? Audiences are more empowered than ever by technology: they can find whatever they want whenever they want it, mostly for free. So why would they ever choose my movie over 10,000,000 adorable cat videos (and then pay for it!)?

We’ve all become extremely adept micro-taskers. “This matters. This doesn’t. This matters. This doesn’t.” These days, if what you're making doesn’t matter, your audience clicks on to the next thing.


LIAM: I absolutely agree with the imperative to stand out by making something "that matters," but perhaps the first thing to realize is that we don’t need to construct the “meaningful thing” for the purposes of competing directly with those 10,000,000 adorable kittens. We shouldn't imagine our audiences with their index fingers hovering over their keyboards ready to change the channel the second they're distracted by a brainwave. We should imagine our audiences as communities of trust with which we as artists and storytellers have built a relationship over time.

As artists we probably do ourselves a disservice if our strategy for gaining an audience hinges on making a splash. I still believe we can expect a model in which the audience sits down to watch a movie that was made for them, and they will do so because they know something about it, have become invested on some level, and therefore are willing to afford the filmmaker a little patience beyond the time it takes to deliver only one or two (captivating/beautiful/authentic/hilarious) images.


EMILY: Based on just such a vision, we launched Seed&Spark (barely two weeks old!) because we imagine a truly independent and sustainable filmmaking community inclusive of cinema’s two essential sets: filmmakers and audiences. It’s an environment in which filmmakers crowd-fund AND build their audience on the Studio side, and where they can deliver the finished film on the Cinema side and keep 80% of the revenue. We like to think of this as a Fair Trade Filmmaking model. It’s a noble cause!

However, while we certainly think that our WishList crowd-funding tool, our oh-so sexy and sleek design, and our Fair Trade distribution model make us stand out against our competitors, nothing helped us better clarify how we might win over an audience for our website than having to answer this question from our Founding Filmmakers: “How do we build a really successful crowd-funding AND audience-building campaign?”

Unquestionably, the most successful pitches we have seen are the personal ones. The filmmakers are very clear about what they are offering to their community, not what they are asking from them. The filmmaker says: I need to make this project because it matters to me, and then supporters and audiences choose to support that offering because it matters to them as well.


LIAM: Yes, and getting personal about the process can be an extremely difficult adjustment for a filmmaker to make. Until now, as filmmakers, our "customers" were really only sales agents, distribution companies, and exhibitors. Audiences weren't our customers at all. But suddenly, we have the opportunity (the obligation?) to interface directly with our audience, and they don’t choose the films they watch based on market quadrants and the results of test-screenings at the mall. If we're going to attempt to leverage them as a source of support, we do need to get more personal with our pitch in order to make it matter to them. It's a completely different animal (read: it is most certainlynot 10,000,000 cats).

The consequence of all this is that we need to think even more deeply about why we're doing what we're doing, and if this sounds like a lot of hard work, that's because it is. Asking "why" and attempting to answer that question with sincerity is a deeply personal and constantly evolving exploration. But what we already know is that the story of this process is deeply compelling to supporters, and these supporters are the first and most passionate tier in the network that will become your own self-made audience.

As filmmakers we must be willing to lay bare our personal drive to create, with faith that the audience for our films will respond. Only then will we have discovered the method by which to defeat those 10,000,000 adorable kittens.


EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build a truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

LIAM BRADY is the Chief Operating Officer at Seed&Spark, and a writer/director by vocation. He is currently preparing to direct the short film FOG CITY, which tells the story of an amateur baseball player with a hidden past who must overcome his need for privacy after making an unnerving discovery on the beach. @LiamEdwardBrady

My War, Part 1: The Ugly Side

By Mike Keegan
Cinema is dead, no one goes to the movies, film is dead, who actually goes to the movies, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, there’s nothing new under the sun—my gosh, don’t you just WRETCH at the thought of these phrases, either in a hundred and forty characters or time-wasting think pieces or overheard on BART or anywhere else under the sun.  Here’s the secret—and I’m preaching to the choir here—American independent cinema is going through an amazing renaissance at the moment.  Really!  It’s just ACCESS to these movies that’s the problem, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s easier than ever to make a movie.  You, dear reader, could conceivably write, direct, shoot, edit and upload a feature film with whatever device you’re currently reading this on.  Look here—iMovie for your iPhone is just $4.99 in the App Store.  So let’s try a little experiment—go make a movie.  I’ll wait here.  Go do it–it’ll be fun!  Good luck!

How far did you get?  It’s not that easy, huh?  I mean, it’s technically easy to assemble those elements, but it’s not practically easy to see through to the very end.  So let’s quit it with the condescending “back in my day” quips about hardship quotas that need to be met by each bumper crop of new filmmakers.

If you somehow beat the odds and finish a feature, the next step is getting your movie seen.  Oh boy.  That’s a hurdle.  Let’s skip ahead eighteen months and you took a modest deal that lands your micro budget masterpiece in the menu of a Video On Demand service.   Now your aunt can tell all of her friends about it!  That is, if she can find the folder for it.  Oh, and your competition is THE AVENGERS.  And also every movie ever, all available at once.  Your Indie Wire coverage was pretty great, but your aunt’s friends don’t read Indie Wire (or, at least, not regularly).  Is this movie serious?  They don’t really feel like watching a serious movie tonight.  Maybe tomorrow.  Also, now three or four years of your life are gone.  I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN BY MEETING A SURLY DARE YOU FOUND BY SIMPLY CLICKING ON A LINK FROM EITHER THE SAN FRANCISCO FILM SOCIETY OR HopeForFIlm BLOGs!

I’m not saying Video On Demand has to be the death knell of movies.  Realistically, it’s the only option a lot of great movies have to be seen by even the smattering of people who will spend the three to seven dollars to watch it.  But they need to know the movie exists in the first place.

Listen, the history of theatrical exhibition is a boondoggle of greed, codification, short-sighted expansion and hubris on macro and micro-scales.  It truly is. And with forced digital upgrades on the horizon, even more cinemas are crumbling under the financial weight of an industry who could give less of a shit.  Sounds GRIM, huh?

No, not entirely.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2:  The Glorious Beautiful Blue Sky Future.

Mike Keegan is a film programmer at the famed Roxie theater in San Francisco.
This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society blog.

Prepping for the Future with the Vision Machine iPad App

By Greg Pak I came up through independent film. Then I snagged a meeting with Marvel and spent most of the last eight years writing comic books. Now I've just completed an iPad app version of one of my graphic novels that combines elements of both comics and film. Here are a few thoughts about what inspired me as a filmmaker and comic book writer to plunge into the transmedia world of the "Vision Machine" app project and what I've learned.

Why "Vision Machine"?

A few years ago, Orlando Bagwell of the Ford Foundation approached me with the idea of creating a comic book that would help independent media makers imagine the technological, political, and social changes that will affect us over the next fifty years. As an indie filmmaker, sci fi guy, technology freak, and comic book creator, I was immediately hooked. What resulted was a 80 page sci fi thriller that follows three filmmaker friends as they confront the incredible potential and danger of the iEye, Sprout Computers' latest piece of revolutionary personal technology. The iEye allows users to instantly record anything they can see or imagine, then edit, add special effects, and share it with the world just by thinking about it. Our heroes plunge into a mind-blowing utopia of creativity... and then, of course, the other shoe drops.

With its emphasis on copyright, trademark, privacy, and surveillance, "Vision Machine" let me explore questions that I'm always thinking about as a filmmaker and a citizen of the digital world.

And then ITVS came along and let me take the project to a whole new level.

The Future Is Already Here

New digital technology is already good enough to deliver fantastic storytelling experiences to readers and viewers. I want to be telling stories for decades. So I figure it's a smart move to jump on any chance to create stories that work natively with new technology.

Soon after I completed the "Vision Machine" comic book in early 2011, I began talking with Karim Ahmad and Matthew Meschery at ITVS about the possibility of working together. Our plans eventually focussed on diving into brand new technology by making the interactive iPad app version of the comic book that's now downloadable for free from the Apple iTunes Store.

The iPad allowed us to add a soundtrack, animation, "extras" buttons, and a Twitter feed to the "Vision Machine" comic book. I've seen a few adults unfamiliar with the iPad hesitate when they first open the app. But every kid who opens the app dives right in, swiping, reading, watching, listening. A generation is growing up accustomed to interacting directly with stories on touchscreens. That's an audience I want to win.

A Chance to Tell a Huge Story with a Smaller Budget

"Vision Machine" is a big, fun genre story that would cost millions of dollars to produce as a feature film. The iPad app version cost a tiny fraction of that -- and it allowed me to work with a fantastic composer and brilliant animators, sound designers, and voice actors.

New Creative Opportunities

As a filmmaker, I'm typically putting a movie together with the assumption that my audience is sitting down and watching the whole thing from beginning to end without interruption. But the reality of non-theatrical viewing is that people stop and start programs all the time or have their attention divided by "second screen" activities like live-tweeting. That might be anathema for certain kinds of stories. But it could be a huge opportunities for others.

"Vision Machine" is a story that features a piece of personal technology that creates a cloud of popup windows and augmented reality information streams around its users. So it completely fits the theme and vibe of the story for the app to feature real pop ups that provide additional information and commentary. For example, as you're watching our heroes try out their iEyes for the first time, you can tap on an "IRL" button and see a video of Tribeca student filmmakers talk about what they'd do if they had iEyes. Other extras videos feature internet superstar Jonathan Coulton, tech journalist Andy Ihnatko, and Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain director Jennifer Jenkins, all of whom have smart, funny, and sometimes scary things to say about the real world topics raised by the story.

There's No Money in It -- Yet

The "Vision Machine" app was funded by the ITVS as part of its (awesome) sci fi Futurestates program and is being given away for free under a Creative Commons license. So there's not yet a proven business model here for similar independent projects. But a few years ago, I hesitated before "giving away" any of my short films on Youtube. Now a decent number of videomakers have built enough audience to make a living from their Youtube channels. Similarly, someone's going to crack the market for this kind of enhanced entertainment app sooner rather than later.

Using Social to Build an Audience

I've been fooling around on Twitter for a couple of years now partly because it's the comic industry's water cooler and it's just plain fun to trade jokes with fellow creators and fans. But I've also been using Twitter (and Google+) to plug my work and hopefully build readership. Exactly how much of an effect those tweets have on sales is hard to gauge. But in the past year or so, the value of social networking to independent media makers has begun to register in hard dollars. A slew of independent comic book creators have been using Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise thousands for their dream projects. Kickstarter has become a kind of distribution venue, essentially allowing indies to fund books through presales. And the biggest prizes have gone to those who are savvy users of social networks. In short, building a Twitter following now has a real chance to enable a creator to keep on creating.

So for the "Vision Machine" iPad app, I wanted to experiment with creating a strong social element that could directly enhance the story while readers are reading. The finished app allows users to bring up a live Twitter stream that shows tweets that use the #visionmachine hashtag. So now I can hold a virtual public Q&A or deliver live director's commentary that folks can follow in real time while reading the book.

It's just a first step. But I'm excited about the potential to start a conversation within the work itself that can help build those social networks that may ultimately allow us mediamakers to keep our careers ticking along.

What I'd Do Differently

We designed the "Vision Machine" app as an iPad app, partly because that's the technology I was the most familiar with and partly because the Apple iTunes Store remains the easiest way for non-technologically obsessed consumers to quickly download and try new media like this. But when we debuted the app at the New York Comic-Con, at least two thirds of the people I talked with about the project shrugged regretfully and said they only had Android devices.

If I were to do it all over again, I'd strongly consider building a non-platform-specific web app that anyone could access on any device through a browser. That's a bit less sexy than an iPad app -- and it's a bit tougher to figure out how to make any money from it. But it broadens the potential audience and avoids potential gatekeeper issues with Apple's iTunes Store, which must approve every app it distributes.

My other big piece of advice for anyone considering this kind of project is to separate out art elements from the beginning, if at all possible. "Vision Machine" was created first as a traditional graphic novel, with single layer pencils. But animating requires elements to be separated from the background and the backgrounds to be fully filled in. If you know you're going to undertake this kind of project, separating out elements from the beginning will save you money and increase your creative possibilities later down the line.

Creative Commons

And one more thing... "Vision Machine" is a Creative Commons project, which means that you're free to remix or reuse the art, characters, and story, as long as you credit Pak Man Productions and release the material non-commercially under the same license. I'm still figuring out just how to fit Creative Commons into my work and what projects it makes sense for, so I was thrilled when Orlando suggested we use it for "Vision Machine." If you're interested in playing along, feel free to download the free graphic novel and check out the details at

Here are links: 
And bio: 
Greg Pak is a filmmaker and comic book writer best known for directing the award-winning feature film "Robot Stories", writing the epic "Planet Hulk" and "World War Hulk" comic book storylines, and co-writing (with Fred Van Lente) the fan favorite "Incredible Hercules" series for Marvel Comics. 

Please Mr. Zuckerberg, Zap My Facebook Spam!

By Reid Rosefelt

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

I love Facebook but there is one thing that really irks me fierce, and that’s when a guy with a name like Axylsmpgo Phpnygusx “Big Pimpin” Pxtzchqo and a profile picture of Vera Farmiga likes my page. Who makes mysterious comments like like “axkcfierj;kfdjrpeirka;dfuernxitrh.” I suppose that there are those who get satisfaction out of correspondence of this nature, but alas, I am not one of them.

Please help me get these counterfeit likers off my fan page. All you need to do is give me a button so I can zap away the profiles of people who aren’t real. For example, if I have 1083 and one of those phantoms tries to make it 1084 I click and then I’m back to good old 1083 again. That would give me more satisfaction than you can imagine.

I’m sure you agree that these imaginary Facebook profiles pose real dangers to Facebook as a business. When advertisers shell out heavy coin to reach people who don’t exist… they can get annoyed. I bet Wall Street takes notice of stuff like this; I know I do every time I promote a post. : ) You must agree with me that this smells bad because otherwise you wouldn’t have started removing the buggers in January. But you persist in making me wait for the day when you’ll exterminate my personal infestation.

I’m as big a fan of Facebook as you could ever find, and I’d be the last one to complain, but seriously there is something kabluey in your system. I target ads to the United States, Canada and the UK and I get dozens of people from Morocco. Maybe it’s just me, but I seriously doubt that non-English speaking people in Marrakech are interested in my page. And don’t get me started about Iran and Algeria.

I block them. I report them to Facebook. I hide my page from countries. I target all my posts to people who speak English. But still these android profiles grow like kudzu on my page. Mark, when somebody wants to friend me on my personal page, you give me the right to confirm or not confirm. There is so little power I have in real life… people with b.o. and bad breath can sidle up to me at parties, so you have no idea how grateful I am for the confirm option that Facebook so kindly provides on my personal page. But when it comes to my business page I am as helpless as a kitten up a tree. This ability to control my own destiny is a basic human right, one that I humbly request that you grant me.

It wouldn’t have any impact on people who get joy out of having computer viruses as pals, but Mark, I’m the kind of guy who needs to have real relationships with people. After all, I am one of your 16 million subscribers.


[caption id="attachment_8427" align="alignleft" width="244"] Reid Rosefelt (signature)[/caption]






You can connect with 

Reid Rosefelt  &Facebook Marketing for Filmmakers at:

You Want To Start A Film Production Co.? Why Not Make It A Non-Profit?

By Chris Mason Johnson

I don’t have any statistics on this, but from what I can gather anecdotally, forming a non-profit to make a fictional feature film is a pretty rare thing, but it’s what I’ve done for my new (second) feature, Test, and it’s been a great experience. Mostly great. At first I did have to endure snarky questions from my non-filmmaking friends, along the lines of: “Aren’t you just admitting your film won’t make any money?” Well, no... (more on that later). From my filmmaking friends the response was more of a blank stare, followed by: “I don’t know anyone else who’s done that.”

There are a lot of filmmakers out there who make one feature and then stop. They didn’t break through to that magical “next level,” and there’s no way they’re doing the same thing all over again. But for those of us who are determined to keep making films on a small scale, truly independently -- and who actually enjoy it -- it makes sense to explore new models in a distribution landscape that’s in the midst of its own creative destruction and reconfiguring.

[caption id="attachment_8402" align="alignleft" width="300"] Scott Marlowe and Matthew Risch in Chris Mason Johnson's Test[/caption]

Maybe there are filmmakers out there like me who had some very modest success with a first feature -- you sold it to a small distributor and/or cable, you got it on Netflix, you made a few foreign sales -- and you want to do it again. But you also want to retain creative power and control. Doing that means thinking small, as in small budgets and a realistic business (or non-profit) model.

What I’m talking about here is an ultra-low-budget feature without stars, made for, say, 200 to 300K. The kind of movie that may do a two-week theatrical in select cities but then lives mostly on the internet and cable. It’s seems to me that the ontology of a film like that is a lot closer to other projects that use non-profits -- e.g., documentary films, dance companies, off-Broadway productions -- than it is to a large-scale independent film with stars and a budget in the millions, let alone to a Hollywood production.

A non-profit isn’t right for all projects, obviously. Comedies without any socially relevant/meaningful content, for example, wouldn’t make sense. And yes, you do need to prove “educational value” to the IRS. The non-profit I’ve created, Serious Productions, Inc., will have a life beyond Test and has a broader mission statement that Test fits into: to capture aspects of LGBT lives and experience that might otherwise be lost in the bigger historical narratives that dominate. Test is set in 1985 San Francisco, and takes a very personal look at young dancers caught up in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a story that hasn’t been told and might be lost if it isn’t.

[caption id="attachment_8404" align="alignright" width="300"] Chris Mason Johnson's Test"[/caption]

After Test has finished its festival, theatrical and initial VOD runs (fingers crossed!), my non-profit will still exist and can become an incubator for future material and a means to cultivate future collaborators. I can imagine projects under the non-profit rubric (oral histories, video portraits) that keep me working and generating material in between the long span that inevitably separates feature films these days, and these projects can, in turn, generate material for those future features.

So I’ve probably raised more questions than I’ve answered, but here’s a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve liked about forming a non-profit. Maybe there are some answers embedded in here:

-  You can still pay yourself a fee as a writer/director/producer/editor, etc., and you can of course still pay everyone who works for you.

-  You can still form an LLC for those investors who really want to invest rather than donate (bless them!). I have an LLC for TEST, and about 25% of my budget comes from private equity investment.

-  Actual investors will recoup much faster, because the grants and donations don’t need to recoup.

-  Fewer K-1s to send out at tax time!

-  Your non-profit can buy units in your LLC, so that some money recoups to the non-profit for overhead. This gets tricky; talk to a lawyer.

-  You don’t need to set up Fiscal Sponsorship in order to apply for grants or accept donations -- you are your own 501-c-3 -- and you don’t lose the 5-7% cut that a fiscal sponsor takes.

-  The world of grants for fictional features is small, but it’s a great world and great to explore, full of people who care about movies and content. The San Francisco Film Society is one organization that’s granted me on Test (via the Kenneth Rainin Foundation) and they’ve been an amazing partner on the project.

-  Beyond actual grants, there is also a whole world of foundations out there that are basically set up by wealthy individuals who need to write off money for tax purposes. Some of these people love independent film!

-  Anyone can give you a tax-deductible donation; you are not limited to grants and foundations.

-  If you do a Kickstarter campaign, you can offer your donors a tax deduction via your 501-c-3, something that Kickstarter itself cannot do.

-  Fundraising is more emotionally rewarding! When people are donating rather than investing, because they care about the material in a different way, the whole vibe is different. To me, the relationship feels less cynical and more genuine.

A final word: you can’t do any of this without a good lawyer who already understands the non-profit landscape, preferably from working with documentary filmmakers. Also, you can’t fake it. Your content really does have to be serious.

TEST the film

Editor's Note: As with any legal matter, if you are interested in considering this model, you should consult with your lawyer.  The views here opinion only, and should not be a substitute for legal opinion. 

This post originally ran on the San Francisco Film Society's blog here.

Chris Mason Johnson’s first feature as writer/director is The New Twenty (2009); his second, Test, is currently in post-production. Prior to filmmaking, Chris worked in independent film development and prior to that was a dancer in major ballet and modern companies in the U.S. and Europe.  He is currently a resident at the San Francisco Film Society's Film House.

Without An Audience, It Can't be Art!

By Emily Best I hold this apparently really unpopular view that without an audience, it can’t be art. “Art” is a social label, a negotiation between the artist, the object (or performance) and the viewer.

This is history’s fault. Art was reserved for the rich or those with access to the rich. We didn’t see how it was made, conceived, choreographed, or staged until it appeared in front of us. And mostly, everyone liked it that way. Artists got to create with very little interference. Audiences had very little interaction with the artists or processes that created what they saw in museums, theaters, and on stage, so they were happy to pay their hard earned money to witness that “magic.”

But now we live in the age of the digital download. What a viewer used to have to spend $10 on a museum ticket to see can be called forth with a few clicks of a button. What a viewer used to line up to buy in a store for $10 (a CD or DVD) can now be downloaded in a few seconds for a few dollars (or free). The value proposition has been turned on its head. And now there’s just so much stuff available everywhere all the time, film studios and filmmakers are trying desperately to compete for a slice of a rapidly dividing pie. The movie business had a system: It used to be “theatrical release, then video, then TV.” Now it’s “VOD, then theatrical and DVD,” or “all three together!”, or whatever combination of existing options the studios can come up with using their data models. Not a lot of out-of-the-box thinking being applied.

Did you know football used to be a running game only? There were a LOT of combinations of running plays. Then one day in 1905, St. Louis University’s Bradbury Robinson passed the ball forward to his teammate, leaving the other team scrambling through the rulebook to see if that was ok. It was. Everyone started renegotiating their offenses around the forward pass. BOOM. Whole new ball game.

In the digital age, transparency is the forward pass. It’s the business play that’s changing the game. Everything changes when you let everyone in. Kickstarter has done it to business and Facebook has done it to society. It makes consumers - audiences - demand to know more, to see more, to feel like a part of the process. It’s toppling regimes, swaying elections, and making it more possible than ever for people to get creative endeavors off the ground.

It’s faster and cheaper to make movies and your audience is out there and it’s easier to connect directly to them than ever before. Yet fewer specialty titles are getting the green light from studios than ever before. Transparency is creating so much connectivity, but the data hasn’t caught up, and data is what they use to green-light pictures.

At the moment, studios are throwing money at the problem, trying to find the Thing to replace those juicy DVD revenues that padded their pockets for a decade. They make and remake existing properties rather than risk the potentially lower return of specialty (indie) movies because they have to feed the Beast. The Beast is not agile and flexible, and the technology platforms profiting hugely from transparency certainly are.

And yet, filmmakers read “How to get film distribution,” or “How to get your film financed” and all these books tell you how to think like a studio, how to find data like a studio, how to write a script based on the “market.” There’s no talk of passion, or connection to your audience, or ART. These expert authors write not about finding audience but about about finding “markets.” Who is a market? What does it like? It’s as impenetrable as the studio walls or cable’s VOD numbers. No one really knows (despite their most fervent claims).

So why are so many independent filmmakers trying to use the Beast’s model? Filmmakers are startup entrepreneurs with creative products, and can design their business models really any way they like. The difference is, startup entrepreneurs are learning from books like Eric Reis’s “The Lean Startup.” Reis’s core argument is that rather than investing tons of time and money producing what you think the market wants, you need to get the product in front of real consumers as soon as humanly possible – even before the masterpiece is ‘ready.’ You ask questions by showing them a fledgling product and seeing how they react. Then you iterate, and build a core of supporters from the very beginning who will help you make it better.

So, who is your audience? Can you really know without testing?

Transparency - letting people in - is a brave, creative act. It asks more questions of the material than it answers because it acknowledges that the art of filmmaking is meant to have an affect on an audience. And only an audience can tell you if that’s successful. They might also help you make it successful.

And so here’s the fight I have: many talented artists I talk to feel that letting the audience in to the process, even as a thought, somehow corrupts the purity of expression. And I say, corrupts? You must not think much of the people on whose eyeballs and pocketbooks your livelihood relies. Why should they not demand their equal place in the artistic equation? I argue that rather than hinder the artistic process, an engaged audience emboldens the creator to take bigger risks.

It means trusting the audience with their taste. In turn the audience trusts you to produce high quality work without all the traditionally legitimizing (studio) eyes on it. It's a big responsibility for everyone, but it means we might all get back to the art of filmmaking. And, you know, change the business while we’re at it.

EMILY BEST is the founder and CEO of Seed&Spark, a startup to build truly independent community in which she would like to make moving pictures. Before producing Like the Water, the project that inspired it all, Emily produced theater, worked as a vision and values strategy consultant for Best Partners, ran restaurants, studied jazz singing at the Taller de Musics, tour guided and cooked in Barcelona, and before that, was a student of Anthropology at Haverford College. 

Film Builds Neighborhoods -- Or Is It The Other Way Around?

New York City’s First Neighborhood Filmmaking Challenge Premieres Inaugural Screening This Month

by Rachel Farnham

In the wake of Sandy, a lot of us have had to rely on neighbors and reach out to the strangers across the hall for the first time. We've experienced or read about such amazing stories of positive community collaboration in our city. On My Block Films understands the importance of community and focuses on building stronger micro-neighborhoods through collaborative filmmaking and storytelling. 

OMB films is a filmmaking challenge founded by filmmaker Ryan O’Hara Theisen and executive producer Mary Crosse, kicked off earlier this year, calling participants to cast and crew only people and locations off their personal block to create a 5 minute short film. Time has come for the first screening of 16 films selected and handcrafted by citizens registered through all 5 boroughs.

For the many New Yorkers who are hard at work rebuilding their communities, here’s a chance to get out as our subway trains come back to life, and listen to both the behind-the-scenes and amazing bonding stories each film has brought to each block, as we head towards a newer year.

From 7:00 pm onwards, guests will enjoy beer and wine, a theater-themed concessions menu and the main event, the screening and awards. Located in DUMBO, Brooklyn, WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theater will have a large screen set up for an optimal viewing experience of the films.

Date:                      Wednesday, November 14
Time:                     7:00 pm Open Reception
                            7:45 pm Screening and Awards presentation

WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theater
25 Jay Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Seating is limited, discount tickets and info can be found at or at the door for $9. The top films will be screened November 14. Awards will be presented for Best Narrative Film, Best Documentary Film and Best In Show.

On My Block aims to create an opportunity for neighbors to meet each other, work together and develop trusting relationships through the collaborative filmmaking process. At its heart, the challenge serves as an opportunity for neighbors to get to know one another better through the collaborative process of filmmaking. The finished films will live on past the festival end date as a source of community pride, and as a living map of the world’s most creative city.

Rachel Farnham is the Press Director at On My Block Films. With non-profit, agency, international and luxury public relations roles, Rachel's dynamic background lends itself to projects like On My Block Films where she brings energized awareness to audiences while maintaining a personalized focus. Rachel lives in New York.

How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love the Game

by Katherine Bruens

I work professionally as a Producer and Production Manager in the advertising industry and independent film world here in San Francisco. I am also one half of a partnership that has produced three micro budget features here. Rather than become frustrated that the market in San Francisco has demanded that I spread my attention between these three worlds, I’ve embraced this hybrid.  This market gives me a way not only to maintain my freedom to usher forward new personally driven works, but it also allows me to produce media through a broad spectrum of strategies, sometimes with vastly different amounts of money. What’s more, in the end these projects are all trying to achieve a similar result.

CXL, my partner Sean Gillane and my current feature, is just starting its public life with a local premiere at the San Francisco Film Society’s Cinema by the Bay, while our first film Corner Store is delivering to its final distribution outlet with Hulu. Thus I feel I am in an interesting place to look both back and forward at our experiences producing and developing audiences for these local films in relation to the spectrum of possible strategies and budget categories I have been a part of professionally here in San Francisco.

The following is a collection of some of my thoughts and experiences dealing with how to produce a film by recognizing that yes, all projects need resources, but that while of course they can be purchased for money, they can also be developed through relationships and time. What's more, when money is lacking, and it always is, look to the potential value of the resources around you and the potential value you have to offer in the project itself.

From top to bottom and beginning to end, making a film takes a lot of resources, this we know. This is what makes the production process both so challenging and so potentially beautiful.  It’s important to remember that each project has a unique set of needs and resources, perhaps its best to begin thusly:

1      Assess your resources and strategize the best way to satisfy those needs

2      Choose a production style and timeline that accommodates the valuable resources around you (your own time and energy included)

3      Offer what you have in exchange, which in many cases is a real stake in the project you are working on;

4      Deal with the remaining hard costs applying all the same

Perhaps these are obvious when read, but I want to push the particular point of doing this as early as possible, especially when money is the resource most lacking.

A lot of the initial feedback for CXL has been anchored in praise over the uniqueness of the ideas and the success achieving these ideas in the final product. This praise is gratifying in part because the project was designed to do just that.

When we started CXL, the director Sean Gillane and I spent time examining the resources (money, time, relationships) that we had available to us and created a script and production strategy that utilized those resources, rather than chasing resources that we had no access to. By beginning this way we were able to ensure that this film would 1) be completed and 2) be completed to our standards and expectations.

Perhaps a micro-budget example will help to illustrate the point:

I want to make a narrative feature and know I don’t have the money to pay for a casting director and subsequently to pay my talent. Do I a) give up and cast myself knowing I have no training, or b) go to a local theater performance and scout for talent that would be interested in working with me for the experience? By choosing the latter, I have used my time and relationships to get my film the talent it deserves and have substituted time and relationships for money. Moreover, in order to cast this highly capable actor as the lead in my film, I need to ensure that he can fit our production schedule into his life without being financially affected. My calendar will need to shift to make sure that the value of this relationship afforded me can make it to the screen.

The process repeats itself with locations, crew and post-production personnel.

At this point another distinction must be made that applies to micro-budget, but perhaps just as much to Low-Budget as well. There is a world of difference between calling up, say, a director of photography and asking if they can come work for 30 plus days for you on your feature for free, versus grabbing a coffee with someone who is a shooter whose work you love and saying “I have this project and I’d love to show you the script and see what you think.”

You have a project that is empty of personnel and hungry for the checks and balances a creative team should give it. Why not approach someone with a blank canvass of possibility? How would they like to be involved? What do they think your project could value from?

If you have an LB or ULB project keep in mind any added value you can give your team by inviting them to be part of a collaboration. This will supplement the drop in pay they will ultimately need to agree to and will help you assemble your human resources while improving your film in the end. I can tell you from experience that nothing will piss off your crew more than treating them like hired help when they came on despite the rate for the love of the game.

Even in advertising I can approach crew for a job and ask if they can help make my budget work in this or that way if, say for example its a new client for them and they feel as though helping out will help them get more work in the future.

When indie filmmakers get wind of what commercial budgets are like, it can be a shocking and sometimes infuriating experience. But when I have the opportunity to look back on this spectrum of production, it is no surprise that commercial budgets could have me spending 500K on a couple of days of shooting. This content has to be delivered in breakneck speeds. With weeks or even days to assemble what without money could/should take months, the cash keeps things moving. Oh yeah, and the client gets the final word.

So what of the hard costs in indie? When I began Corner Store, all I had was my time and access to a subject I was sure would make a wonderfully interesting documentary. After my own ducks were in a row I reached out to two parties, a camera owner to help me shoot some test footage, and a friend interested in film who had a history of event coordination. Both became interested in their own right and organically became part of the team. With that I could begin to create the infrastructure to help us raise the money for the hard costs of equipment and our travel costs to Palestine.

The same principles apply to your supporters as when assembling your production team. I have the great pleasure of being able to say that in our two largest live fundraising events for Corner Store we were able to raise first $6,000 in one day and subsequently $12,000 in one day to supplement the thousands we continued to raise along the way on and offline. I could write a lot on how this was accomplished, but one thing I can say here is it was not done by expecting that people would care about my project and sitting back to let the funding come to me. The burden was on me to create relationships with leaders in communities I felt would see the most value in what I was doing and, just as with my crew, showing them how their help would be crucial to what would become our shared goal.

By allowing them access to the creation of the film I was inviting them to share in the subsequent feelings of success. Whatsmore, by treating each and every person like a member of our team by the time the film was released we had supporters there to fill every theater and feel as though they were part of the collective effort to push the film out into the world.

All of this, as previously stated, is the beauty and the burden of film. Even as I’m sure my future experiences will more clearly mold these ideas and I can only hope will usher in many more, at this particular vantage point I wish to highlight two main take aways;

1) When you want to build something, anything, a strategy should take precedence above all else. This seems inordinately obvious when applied to most industries, but should be considered just as important in the creation of the most collaborative art form available. 

2) Money is just one kind of resource, and I’ve never seen any production be successful through money alone.


BIO: Katherine Bruens is a local Producer and Production Manager in both Advertising and Independent Film in San Francisco. Her directorial debut Corner Store, a documentary feature, gained a strong local following and enjoyed glowing reviews from local news outlets as well as the New York Times. With Corner Store in distribution internationally and a digital deal with HULU in the works, she is focusing her energy on partner Sean Gillane and her current feature, CXL while beginning to develop their next project with their ever growing San Francisco team. 

FEAR & MOVIES: Morocco, Hollywood and Me

By John Slattery 

Having been overseas for three and a half years, I returned to the United States.

When I came back, I came straight to San Francisco.

In the first few weeks people would ask, “So, where’d you move here from?” When I told them I’d just come from a year of teaching in Paris, 99% of their responses had a similar theme, which all fit into one category: I LOVE PARIS!

Typical responses were:

“Paris! Wow, lucky you!”; or

“You know my wife and I had our honeymoon in Paris”; or just,

“Man, I love Paris!”


Often in the same conversations, their follow up question had to do with where I was before Paris. When I told them that I’d been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco for two and a half years – they had a very different kind of response. They usually all fit into two different categories:

One sounded like this:

- “Morocco?… Were you scared?”

- “Morocco, hmmmm…. and you lived to tell the tale?

- “You know, my wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon and, we - got a ticket to go to Marrakesh for the weekend… but then, well, you know, we decided not to go.”


I call this category: FEAR.


The second category sounded like this:

- “Morocco?  Did you ever see that mummy movie with the guy…. In some desert and there is this windstorm coming…? That was all shot in Morocco”; or

- “My wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon… and we went into this great little theatre in the 5th… and we saw Laurence of Arabia there….Wasn’t that made in Morocco?; or

- “ Morocco yea!...Black Hawk freakin’ Down!”


This category I call: MOVIES


My first feature length film (CASABLANCA MON AMOUR) is a non-traditional road movie, shot in Morocco, which explores the entwined relationship between FEAR & MOVIES.

The film will have a special preview screening at the on Saturday Nov 10 at 2:30pm at the New People Cinema in San Francisco (1746 Post St in Japantown) .

This screening is organized as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By The Bay Festival.

Tickets for the screening can be purchased now via the link below.

LINK to SFFS page about the film and about the screening 


Looking back at my return to the United States in 1998, I am surprised so many Americans associated Morocco with FEAR, inasmuch as the events of 9/11 had not yet transpired.

Before spending those two and a half years in Morocco, I’d spent a year of high-school living with relatives in Ireland. When I returned from that first sojourn, nobody said, “Oooooh, Ireland, scary …”

My experience in Morocco reminded me of time spent in Ireland. Both the Moroccan and Irish cultures take hospitality very seriously. Neither culture has any regard for time. The Irish saying, “If you are only a day late, you’re still too early,” has a near exact translation in Moroccan Arabic.

Strangers and relatives took great care of me in Ireland; strangers and friends took great care of me during my time in Morocco.

When going to another land to experience its culture or to make a movie, factor these two things into your equation: a serious regard for hospitality and serious regard for good food.  You will find both of these in Morocco!



We are now two wars and more than ten years past the events of 9/11. And the landscape of the entire Middle East—of the world—radically changes every day.


Casablanca Mon Amour addresses what is perhaps the most pressing social issue of our time: The history, strength and quality of a particular relationship between an Arab/Islamic and a Western society. The relationship (between the U.S. and Morocco) is examined through the cultural lens of cinema.

Get this: From 1896 to 2000 over a thousand U.S. films showed Arab / Muslim characters. Of these, only 12 films showed positive characters, 52 were neutral, and more than 900 were portrayed negatively.

Casablanca Mon Amour offers a critical perspective—one often missing from the dialogue about Islamic World/West relations—on the unchallenged lineage of degrading images of Arabs in Hollywood movies.  With a look toward how these images naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arab/Islamic culture in the U.S. as well as how audiences in Arab/Islamic countries interpret these images.  Adding to the ongoing debate within the United States about America's national character and global role, the film connects to similar debates unfolding within the Muslim world.

Casablanca Mon Amour is a modern road movie—using movies as a road map plotting the course between yesterday’s Hollywood and today’s Morocco—that encapsulates the more complex and fractured nature of living in a world where TV and wars compete for headlines and occupy imaginations.

John Slattery (Producer/Director) began work in television as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, where he wrote and hosted a pilot for a social-issue TV series at the Moroccan National Institute of Television.  John has collaborated with a broad range of talented producers, DP’s and organizations on a number of short and full-length films, and TV shows, including: two-time Academy Award ® winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler ASC, PBS/WNET American Masters, and MTV.  In 2004 John founded Zween Works ( - a multidisciplinary film and video production house that produces short and long format social-issue films. Zween Works focus is creating narratives which inform and connect people to issues and organizations that work for justice.





"Monty Python ReUnites -- And I Am Along For The Ride!"

by Meyer Schwartzstein

I had a thrilling experience that I’d like to share with anyone who’s ever hoped to work with their idol.  It can happen – and it can be fun!

When I was 17 years old, I would look forward to Sunday evenings when Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on WTTW, the Chicago PBS station.  It was the funniest thing on TV!  Ever since then, I’ve been a big Monty Python fan.  (My wife and I even communicate in Python-ese.)

So in 2010, when a friend of mine asked me if I’d like to be involved in a Graham Chapman biopic – I jumped at the opportunity.  (He told me that I may even be able to make some money on the film, but I would’ve done it for dinner with a Python…)

The story of the film is incredible.  Jeff Simpson, a UK filmmaker (who also was one of the producers of Top of the Pops for the BBC) was fascinated by the fact that Graham was overtly gay but secretly alcoholic.  Thinking that Graham would be a great subject for a documentary, Jeff approached Bill Jones and Ben Timlett to see if they’d work with him on it.  They had just produced a multi-part Python documentary and knew all things Python.  But Bill and Ben didn’t want to do another talking heads doc.  But there was this recording…


Graham co-wrote his autobiography with four other writers (yes, you read that right).  Published in 1980, it was called A Liar’s Autobiography, Volume VI.  Graham and David Sherlock (Graham’s partner and one of the co-writers the book) then tried to have the book made into a film, but they weren’t happy with the options presented to them.  Then, in 1989, Graham selfishly died.  Fortunately, before he did, Graham recorded the book on tape at Harry Nilsson’s studio.


So, the three filmmakers approached David Sherlock up in some rainy part of the UK with this crazy idea about animating the book and, for some reason, David said “yes.”


The first task was to boil down the 3 hours of recordings to about 80 minutes of material.  For this task, they turned to Andre Jacquemin.  Andre did the sound for every Monty Python episode, every Monty Python movie, and every Terry Gilliam movie, so he was the perfect guy to build the sound for this movie.  Once that was done, the trio worked with animation chief Justin Weyers to job out sections to 14 animation studios.  They then delivered sections in 17 different animated styles - and in 3D!  (Bill, Ben and Jeff’s first pitch said, “The final animated feature will not only bring Chapman back from the grave, but will do so in amazing stereoscopic 3D” – I think they liked saying that 3D bit…)




When the film was in production, I had the good fortune of having dinner with 3 Pythons – Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin AND I was able to witness and join in the recording sessions the next day.  It was amazing.


The making of the film was a family affair – quite literally. Bill Jones is Terry Jones’s son.  Margarita Doyle, the line producer, is the daughter of the production manager of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  (She was the one who operated the killer rabbit!).  And Andre Jacquemin’s daughter Jamie chipped in with her dad in the studio.  And anyone who wasn’t family was greeted like family.


For me, it was a dream.  It couldn’t have happened if EPIX hadn’t become a partner in the project.  Or if Trinity hadn’t been on board.


Completed early this year, the film was very kindly invited by the Toronto International Film Festival as a Special Presentation.  On Friday, November 2nd, the film opens theatrically and will premiere on EPIX.


Please check out A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.  I can assure you that you’ve never seen anything like it.  In fact, go see it twice – after all, it’s a lot to take in.  Yeah, it’s a bit rude, it’s funny, it gets serious in parts, and it’ll get a little unclear as to what’s true and what’s a lie.  There’s a gratuitous guest appearance by Cameron Diaz, as well as some other cameos (credited and uncredited), so that will be worth it alone!


When David Sherlock screened it, he gave the film and its directors a big compliment.  He thinks it captured Graham’s spirit.  That’s pretty cool…  Bill, Ben and Jeff are all very creative – and there will be many more wonderful projects that will come from their fingers – just you watch!


So, I met my idols, and they turned out to be really nice and just as funny as ever.  The written lines came to life when they recorded them.  Before me they appeared as those young men who thrilled me when I watched them in my family’s den back in Chicago.

Meyer Shwarzstein started in the entertainment business in 1977 as general manager of a Chicago-based rock'n'roll magazine.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1980, landed a job at MGM and, in 1983, he joined indie distributor Atlantic Releasing.  He has been an indie ever since.  In 1995, he formed Brainstorm Media, which handled sales for various companies including Lionsgate, Magnolia, Image and many more.  Meyer’s company has evolved into a full-fledged US distributor and has been involved in producing dozens of films.


Creating Newsletters For Your Film Project

By Laura Hammer

As PMD on Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe In Unicorns, part of my job was to send newsletter updates to our base of supporters.  Newsletters are not just for announcing screenings! They are an integral part of audience engagement and get people involved in your project as early as development stages.  Your subscribers email boxes are flooded with newsletter campaigns from companies and projects and they will barely have time for yours.  Do not bother them with something hideous (lacking design effort) and difficult to read (text too small or the length of an encyclopedia).

Newsletter layouts have four essential components: Header, Body, *Sidebar, and Footer.   *Depending on the layout you pick you may have no sidebar, one, or multiple sidebars! If choosing multiple sidebars, I would advise picking a layout where these columns are below the main body text and above the footer.   Choose wisely and investigate your own email box for designs that stand out.

Be creative and consistent. Design choices should match the aesthetics of the film.  Keep the same color scheme, layout, and visual elements throughout your campaign.  Use a minimum amount of graphics as several email clients block images by default.

Declare yourself.  Ensure your readers know who you are and why they are receiving this newsletter.  Try adding the words “movie” or “film” to your sender name.  The “email subject line” should be short and attention grabbing as it serves the same purpose as a logline. This “subject line” should highlight the main topic of your newsletter.

Make sure your (A) HEADER links back to your main website and includes the film’s title as well as the director or key cast members names. Recipients will click mostly on links in the top of your newsletter and most will only view your email in the preview pane.  For the (B) BODY of your newsletter stick with one main topic or idea you are trying to convey.

Choose an eye catching main photo and make sure it links back to your main website or site you most want your readers to visit.

Get Social (1, 5, 9) Prominently display social media profile logo links and your official site url.  Tweet your campaign after sending.

Keep it short! Use short subtitles to break up topics or long sections of text, these can also become navigation links in the (2) table of contents. The main body text can include links back to blog posts that have more detail.  
Highlight recent news. We use the subtitle “More Great News” to highlight the recent accomplishments of our cast and crew.   Next to each blurb is a thumbnail photo that links back to the related press article or the related film’s Facebook page.   We usually include a text link back to a blog post on our blog congratulating them and providing more detail and additional related outgoing links.  This builds community and drives traffic and new fans to your film.

Express gratitude by linking back to any organizations helping your film and include their logos.  Thank cast, crew, and supporters when production goals are reached and let them know how their contribution is bringing the project closer to the finish line.

While optional, the (C) SIDEBAR of a newsletter can be most helpful during development and production stages of a project.   Once a film is completed, sidebars can be utilized to list screening and release dates.

Crowdfund. If you are asking for donations, (3) make the link large and feature a logo if you have a fiscal sponsor or crowdfunding platform.

Get help!  (4) Our “Join” button allows people to sign up for a separate segmented list letting us know they are willing to go the extra mile for Unicorns.  Subscribers have donated their time, equipment and lent other items for our production. This is our go-to list for last minute needs.

Hire people!  (6) You can use your newsletter to find cast and crew. Add a job notice for positions available on your project. We found many of our team this way and saved lots of resumes for future reference.

Change the world. (7) Our project has a social justice issue, so we use a “Stop Domestic Violence” purple ribbon logo to link back to our advocacy blog on Tumblr.

Your (D) FOOTER must include (8) a closing, (10) your company contact information, a (11) “You are receiving this message because...” one line explanation, and an (12)  “Unsubscribe” opt-out.

“Let my people go!” There should be a link for subscribers to update their preferences – in addition to “Unsubscribe” – as subscribers may change their email address but still want to receive your updates.

Codecheck Repeated edits and saves can cause the code behind your newsletter to become broken.  If you don’t know HTML and CSS, find someone who does to double check your code before sending.  Otherwise it may not arrive in recipients mailboxes looking like it did in preview mode.

Spellcheck Proper spelling is fundamental. Cross-reference IMDB for names.   Always check with partners, sponsors, publications and institutions as to how they would like to be credited.

Create a schedule for blasts and set goals.  Once a film is complete, your focus should move from growing support to get the film made to motivating that cultivated audience into the seats at the theater, renting, and/or purchasing your film as it becomes available.

Grow your Subscriber Lists.  You should be always cultivating your contacts and growing subscriber lists. Add a signup form to your website and your Facebook page.  Organize and segment these lists for easy reference.  Make sure you have the individuals’ permission to email them - its the law!

There are many services available for sending newsletters and you should comparison shop for one that best suits your needs. We chose Mail Chimp because it has a great analytics feature, social sharing, and a free plan!  You can view our newsletter in your browser.  Please share our campaign with your friends - - and sign up to join the magic of I Believe In Unicorns.

Laura is a Producer and SAG-AFTRA Actor with a BFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Enamored with the art and business of 21st Century storytelling, Laura is taking on a new role in independent film as a Producer of Marketing and Distribution.

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 10: Three Months of Work

By Roger Jackson

Previously: Filmmakers Festival Feedback

3 Months In

We’ve been at it for three months now. Building a platform like KinoNation from scratch is an enormous amount of work, and like most start-ups we have limited resources. But we’re having fun, meeting a ton of really great people in the indie film world, and making rapid progress. Most important, we’re increasingly certain that KinoNation is a viable business, and we’ve been able to validate (prove) most of  our early assumptions.

The Uploader software is working great -- dozens of films from around the world have been successfully uploaded to our cloud storage, and dozens more are currently in progress. We’re already working on version 2 which should speed things up significantly. We’re now busy building the all important “dashboard” -- the web interface that allows filmmakers to see what VoD platforms have selected their film, and allows the VoD platforms to review films and select the ones they want. In many ways it’s the core of the movie marketplace we’re constructing.

10 VoD Lessons

Meanwhile, we’ve climbed (partially) the steep learning curve of video-on-demand, thanks to daily meetings and calls with smart and generous people in the industry. Here’s are some of the top 10 things we’ve learned, that I think are useful to all indie filmmakers. They’re anecdotal -- meaning I haven’t independently verified the numbers, and I’m certainly not the first on this blog to discuss VoD, but I think they’re instructive.


1. 70% of US video-on-demand revenue is generated by Cable VoD. Not surprising since they’ve been in the on-demand game the longest, and they have a captive audience to whom they can promote their VoD titles.


2. 30% of US video-on-demand revenue is generated by Internet VoD. By which I mean iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon and many others.


3. Approx. 70% of film festival acquisition deals are now “driven” by video-on-demand. I know this sounds like a throwaway number, and it probably is, but I’ve heard it from three different sources. Whatever the percentage, it’s a clear indication that the market for indie films will increasingly be dominated by video-on-demand.


4. VoD is generating real, meaningful revenue for hundreds, if not thousands, of indie films. As in thousands of dollars a month. It’s not trivial any more, if it ever was. Hopefully more specificity on that in future posts.


5. VoD is in many ways more of an annuity driven revenue stream rather than an event driven revenue stream. Theatrical and DVD releases in the traditional distribution model were events. They had street dates and windows. VoD also has a release date, of course, but it doesn’t fit the old “windowing” system, because VoD is forever. Meaning your film should still be available in 20 years. Of course, that means you have to keep marketing it so you continue to see that long-tail income.


6. It’s a really bad idea to just get your film onto 1 or 2 random platforms just to get it out there. So while it’s super-simple to get a movie onto Amazon VoD, it’s probably not the best idea. i.e. You need a planned and rational VoD distribution roll-out.


7. It’s critical to think about VoD marketing before you start shooting. Because while there will be some organic discovery of your film -- consumers stumbling upon it -- much of your revenue will come from an audience that you’ve worked hard to aggregate and then drive to rent or buy.


8. Hollywood has really woken up to VoD. If they were even asleep. Smaller movies are being released day & date theatrical and VoD. David Giancola’s riveting Addicted to Fame, about Anna Nicole-Smith and the making of the B-Movie “Illegal Aliens,” has it’s theatrical release on November 30th. VoD release is three weeks earlier, on November 6th.


9. There are over 100 video-on-demand platforms. It’s definitely not all about Cable + iTunes + Netflix.  Roku is having a huge impact.  Snag Films is a great revenue source for indie films, as is Fandor. And, of course, YouTube Movies and GooglePlay are fast becoming major platforms for indie films. KinoNation will distribute to all of them. It’s a vast, growing and complex VoD ecosystem.


10. This one is pure anecdote: dozens of traditional distribs struggling, or going out of business. They’re unable to adapt to the rapid demise of DVD, as the rise of VoD requires a whole new set of skills. At least that’s what I’ve heard.



Finally, we continue to get great films submitted every day to our Private Beta. One that caught my attention is Thirst, sent by Aussie producer Megan George. Keep them coming!


Next week: Post # 11:  Ranking System for Indie Films

Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at

Traditional Marketing vs. Social Media Marketing… and the Results

By Reid Rosefelt

Everything in traditional movie marketing is generated by the marketers: publicity, reviews, posters, trailers and TV spots, websites, ads, and so on. It is a one way / top-down process. The marketers make all this stuff and hope that all or part of it will somehow register in the consciousness of potential moviegoers.

Social media marketing works the complete opposite way. A Facebook fan page is a group of people who come together online to talk about a topic of common interest, which in this case is a movie. People can decide to form a group like this on their own, or the marketers can invite them when they set up a page.

Instead of one-way, social media is two-way, or more precisely, multi-way. Social media is about dialogue and making connections and no marketer can force a group to convene or control what that discussion will be. Eric Cantor has an official Facebook page; there is also a popular “Eric Cantor is a Douchebag” page.

Our task as Facebook marketers is to set up the online community, try to get people to go there, and then keep the conversation going. Effective social media marketing happens when the audience is the show--not us. But most movie marketers transfer the one-way technique to Facebook by using it as a newsletter or an email blast… and fail utterly. Sending out status updates about what cities the film is opening in or links to reviews and articles is unlikely to provoke people to comment, share or like. And if they don’t do that, the Facebook algorithm sends out fewer posts and the page gradually becomes a pointless exercise.

The whole idea of social media marketing rests on authenticity--you can’t have a Facebook Community for your film unless there really are a group of people who want to talk about it. That’s why the number of likes you have on your page doesn’t necessarily matter. It does you no good to get your friends--who like you personally but may not have any particular interest in your movie--to like your page as a favor.  What matters more than the number of likes is the amount and the quality of the conversation appearing on the page from the people who do care about the topic of discussion.

Having more likes doesn’t necessarily mean you have more activity. The official “Audi USA” page has almost six million members, but it has less fan engagement than the fan page “I Love Audi,” which has only one million members.


If you want to check out whether any film page is working or not, all you need to do is click the Likes button.


You’ll see something like this:


The number on the left, “People Talking About This,” represents the number of unique people who have liked, commented, shared, or otherwise interacted with this particular movie fan page over the past week.  That’s always more important than the number of Likes.

The frame grab above is from a recent independent film.  Here are a few others:




Here is “Moonrise Kingdom”


How does your page measure up?  Facebook fan pages aren’t like posters or trailers, where I might love one and you might hate it.  The “People Are Talking About This” is a cold number that can’t be argued with.  It doesn’t matter how nice your page looks or how hard you are working on it, either people are talking about it or they ain’t.  I would say, however, that though a low number means failure, a high one doesn’t necessarily mean success: it’s not useful if everybody is just telling each other to go to hell.  To evaluate a page you have to look at more than its analytics.

If you’re not happy with what you see, you can:  try using Shareable Square images instead of status updates and links; use calls to action; post daily but not more than three times a day. I’m sure you’ll see a lot of improvement very soon.

This post originally appeared on Reid's website and is reprinted here with his permission.

Empty out the barn and put on a show! The Beginning of FIRST TIME FEST

by Mandy Ward

I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs. Looking for fresh content after producing in NYC for nearly 10 years and working for a production company in Tribeca was not as easy as it seemed. There was a gaping hole that I discovered in my search: a reluctance to finance, produce, and distribute anything by first time directors. I would read dozens of scripts a week and see nothing but old stories reworked and retold (or genre-based just for genre’s sake). But occasionally, I would stumble onto an amazing, ORIGINAL, imaginative and well written story by a first time writer or director and pitch it around. And this would be the response: “This is amazing. Great writing, seems like a big talent… BUT NO THANKS.” This would happen not once – but literally hundreds of times! It was not only frustrating, but it left me thinking: “What is to become of the film industry if we do not support new thinkers and artists?” And the answer: We are left with the same people, the same styles and the same stories. And they will attract ever-diminishing audiences.

Johanna Bennett – an actor and friend for many years – was noticing the same thing at the same time. She observed that “Industry” elites seemed to only want to work with buddies from prior shoots and companies they’d been involved with. The system, by its very nature, was closed to newcomers, to new ideas, to fresh ways of seeing our art form and the world. There was little chance to discover the unrecognized gem.

[caption id="attachment_8089" align="alignleft" width="300"] Johanna Bennet (Tony's Daughter), Tony Bennett, Mandy Ward and Mitch Winehouse (Amy's father).[/caption]

And so, Johanna and I started chatting one Sunday night while escaping our reality by watching the first season of TRUE BLOOD. I had just gotten back from the crazy film festival circuit. Johanna asked, "What would make a festival stand out and be different from all the others that you have seen?" I said, “Ummmm, I don't know – maybe if they offered theatrical distribution to a first-time filmmaker?”

And the idea of First Time Fest was born! I reached out to my friends at Cinema Libre Studios. Over the years, not only had they done a great job releasing a documentary I produced, but had an amazing passion for the independent film world. Their mission states:

Our message to filmmakers with views – and to those who seek to nurture the art of independent filmmaking – is to join our community and help us achieve greater freedom in the process of filmmaking and to gain increased exposure to larger audiences worldwide.

We knew it was a perfect fit.

Over the years, Johanna had been involved in many events at The Players Club – the oldest arts organization of its kind in the country (it was co-founded by Edwin Booth, Mark Twain and John Singer Sargent). The Players Club had been exploring ways to attract new members and revive its place in the New York cultural scene. Johanna had an interesting suggestion: "Why don't you start a film festival? And why not make it a celebration of first time filmmakers?" And with that, First Time Fest found its home.

First Time Fest hopes to support, mentor, and truly create careers for these first time filmmakers. Each of the FTF’s twelve finalists will be offered a full-year mentorship with some of the most respected cinema artists in our community. Who knows – my dream for the future of First Time Fest is to develop a fund that not only supports the winner through the festival and the release of their film – but also to assist in the development of their next film. First Time Fest is about one thing: to turn what are normally obstacles in our industry into opportunities. And to promote the creation of new art, new artists, and a new way of thinking about our world.

The first First Time Fest is coming soon: March 1-4, 2012 in New York City. We encourage all first time filmmakers: producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors and composers to apply with their documentary or fiction feature film. And the Grand Prize winner will receive THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION in the United States and sales representation throughout the world. The finalists will be judged by a distinguished jury and a voting public. It’s going to be an amazing event for filmmakers, for audiences and for New York. We invite you to join us:

Filming Aboard a Transatlantic Military Medivac

By Matthew Heineman

One of the biggest surprises in our newly released documentary “ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” is the storyline about how US military medicine is trying alternative treatments like yoga, meditation, and acupuncture for managing pain and reducing injured soldiers’ reliance on addictive pharmaceutical drugs.

We follow a young combat veteran Sgt. Robert Yates, a self-professed “hillbilly” who is addicted to painkillers after being injured in Afghanistan. He undergoes an amazing transformation over the course of the film by turning to these alternative treatments. As with the rest of America, treatment of pain and PTSD in injured soldiers is based almost entirely on throwing pills at the problems, which unfortunately often leads to addiction and even deadly overdoses or suicide.

The greatest challenge for my co-director Susan Froemke and me was getting access from the US military to film this compelling story. Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense is wary of cameras and filmmakers.

During our research stage, we found out about a novel clinical study to test whether administering acupuncture for pain relief could reduce drug use by injured soldiers on a military Medivac plane from the Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany back to the US. We spent nearly a year trying to get permission to film aboard the plane. We were getting down to the wire. It was less than two weeks before the transatlantic flight, and we were nervous that we were going to miss the opportunity. Finally, just before Christmas in 2010, we got the final signoff from the US Army and the US Air Force, and I headed to Germany with our DP Wolfgang Held and soundman Peter Miller.

Shooting aboard the C-17 Air Force Medivac plane was definitely an exhilarating, moving experience. We got some of our most gripping footage on the flight and met Sgt. Yates just before we boarded the plane. During the flight, he was so heavily overmedicated with painkillers that he fell out of his cot—a dramatic moment we managed to capture on film (despite a public relations officer who tried to stop us by jumping in front of our camera).

Over the next few months, we gained Sgt. Yates’ trust and followed him as he attempted to wean himself off a deadly cocktail of drugs through the help of an innovative program at Walter Reed Medical Center. We had to fight, negotiate, and plead to get permission to film there as well. But luckily we managed to do so and were able to shoot highly personal moments of Sgt. Yates during his transformation through low-cost, high-touch alternative approaches (meditation, acupuncture, therapy, etc.).

In the edit room, the story of Sgt. Yates’ battle to recovery became the narrative backbone of the film. He’s one of those great verite characters documentary filmmakers pray for. His story began as a sad one, but through his courage and perseverance, he has inspired audiences all across the country. After countless screenings, we are still moved viscerally by him. And, ultimately, his story shows what happens when we open up our minds to something different—a lesson that we hope the US healthcare system can learn from.


Matthew Heineman is the director/producer (with Emmy Award-winner and Oscar Nominee Susan Froemke) of ESCAPE FIRE: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. The documentary, which is being released by Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate, is currently showing in select theatres, on iTunes, and via Video on Demand.

When Did I Sign Up For This “Audience Development” Thing?

By Chris Dorr

Peter Kafka of the WSJ recently interviewed Robert Kyncl, the man who heads up the channel initiative at YouTube.  Robert was asked what he had learned from his experience at YouTube thus far.  He states:

“Lesson one: Audience development is equally as important as great content. By creating fantastic content and spending zero time on audience development, you are certain that you will not succeed on YouTube. You have to focus on audience development as much as you focus on creating content.”

Kyncl goes on to discuss how the task of TV programming and marketing have to be combined in the new world of on demand content viewing. Kafka then asks who is supposed to do audience development, the content creator or YouTube. Kyncl responds:

“The content creator… As things go more and more on-demand and less linear, the prime-time flow expertise is less needed. You have to learn how you program in an on-demand world, which is a much different skill set.”

What is remarkable here is that Kyncl states that this new category of “audience development”, which was the responsibility of the TV channel, now resides with the content creator (and not with YouTube).  Imagine you have just created a prime time TV series and the network  informs you that you are responsible for getting your audience to show up. You would think they had lost their mind.

Yet here it makes total sense.

You see, YouTube, as well as other Internet services, are built on a distributed network.  They are not mass media networks built on a centralized model.  On a centralized (mass media) network, a passive consumer is constantly being reminded what shows are coming up and when to watch. On a distributed network (the Internet), an active viewer grabs what she wants, when she wants it, from a large constantly changing selection. On a platform like YouTube, the service may not be even aware of everything that is available at that instant, let alone what will be available tomorrow.  The platform brings you access to the whole globe in an instant.  But you have to get the people of the globe to take notice and take action on your behalf.

Thus, it falls to the content creator to take up the task of gathering and holding onto her audience. The good news is that content creators can have a direct relationship with their users on YouTube.  The bad news is that it is their responsibility to create and maintain those relationships.

The necessity of audience development falls upon larger companies like Machinima as well as any small team that creates an original web series or individual film. Now everyone can become a creator, a publisher.  But they also have to become programmers, marketers, and experts in “audience development”.

This is a whole new world for people who have previously concentrated on creating great stories. Now they need to entice people into their stories, get them to stay around and get them to come back.

This will be a very difficult transition for those who have worked within the legacy mass media business of networks and studios.  It will require the unlearning of accepted practices as well as learning new ones. It used to be that great content from creators and great promotion and scheduling from the network brought success. No more. Now the creators have to do it all.

Who will successfully navigate these uncharted waters?

Chris Dorr  consults with media and consumer electronic companies on digital media strategy and business development. His clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media, Accedo Broadband, Beyond Oblivion and A3 Media Networks.Chris created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca, and worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact Chris at or follow him at @chrisdorr

This post originally appeared on DigitalDorr on October 11th, and is reposted by permission of the author.

Ted's note: Tribeca just did a post on 10 Filmmakers Who Use Social Media Well (to engage and develop their audience.  You might want to check it out here.


'Personalized TV': Why I Made a Gay Web Series

by Jon Marcus

I am a single gay man. I date, and I have sex. I'm not bipolar, or a murderer, or a drug addict, and I don't toss snappy punchlines into every conversation. For all the groundbreaking gains that gay characters have recently made on TV, I don't see myself anywhere onscreen when I go to the movies or flip through channels. Equality is about a lot of things for me, and in a time when I see proliferating ads for "quirky" or "unconventional" lead characters on TV, I would like to jump past the part where we fight for "gay" to be another quirk, right to the place where it's so normal that seeing us kiss isn't still controversial.

I didn't get beaten up as a kid, and I haven't faced a lot of overt discrimination in my life, but when I went into the entertainment industry, at some point I looked around and realized that my life had to be translated and "coded" in order to work onscreen. I have many straight comedy-writer friends who are lucky enough to have their lives serve as notepads for TV ideas: "Oh, look what my boyfriend just did!" "Listen to what my adorable baby said!" "Can you believe what my wife and I just fought about?" For a good comedy writer, life just presents itself to you, and your take on it, along with your voice, can spin it into comedy gold. But for a young gay writer, that translation is not one to one.

We are living in a golden age of Web series. There has been a convergence of inexpensive equipment to shoot high-quality video with technology allowing fast downloads, fantastic home TV screens, and an entertainment industry that is mired in sequels and remakes, unable to take risks or think outside the box. It's the perfect storm for the rise of a new form of cultural entertainment. I think of it as "personalized television."

Although the TV networks will always be best at big-budget effects and gorgeous scenery like in Lost andRevenge, there is a very narrow range of stories and characters on TV, and it has given rise to a wave of people who yearn to see characters like them onscreen and now have the tools to make it happen. I watch less and less TV and more and more content on the Web: on Hulu, Netflix, Blip, Crackle, and Funny or Die, and when I hang out with my friends now, someone is always queuing up a YouTube video. The whole landscape has changed.

Scott Zakarin created the first Web series in 1995, called The Spot, the story of a group of friends in an apartment complex in Santa Monica, sort of a blog version of Melrose Place crossed with Friends. The stories were compelling and award-winning, but it was a very different experience than TV. Flash-forward to 2012, and technology and viewing habits have caught up to the creative drive, and watching shows online is no longer unusual. So many people watch Arrested Development on Netflix that the cult hit show's creators are reviving it and making more episodes to premiere only online.

I fell in love with my first Web series a couple of years ago, watching The Guild. Felicia Day created a hilarious show around some multiplayer-online-gaming geeks who all got together in real life. Then I loved watching Lisa Kudrow give advice on Web Therapy. And I was hooked on a new form of storytelling.

I was working in TV myself when I got the bug to make an online series. There was something about the process of making network television that I was having an allergic reaction to. It's not just cars and electronics that the U.S. imports faster than we make them; it's TV ideas, too. Show after show in development at American networks is a remake of something that was on the air first in another country. What's going on? Has the industry completely lost confidence in its own ability to come up with new ideas?

The world of the Web was exciting to me. It reminded me of the '90s, when I started my career in indie film; when you could see filmmakers like Todd Haynes, Eddie Burns, Spike Lee, and Ang Lee telling unique stories with characters who hadn't been given screen time before; and when there was a reliable audience who would show up to financially support them. I think the time is right now for audiences to be able to do that through the Web, and to support an entertainment economy that takes risks and tells original stories. That's why I made Hunting Season.

I fell in love with a personal blog that my series is based on that recounted the hilarious adventures of a single gay man in his 20s, dating in New York City. I loved his voice, I loved his honesty, and most of all I loved the complete lack of shame with which he wrote about his sex life. I had gone through a similar period in my life when I was young and had many exciting options all around me, but I had never thought to be proud of my experiences, and I realized I was more than a little ashamed of them. Did having sex on the first date make me a slut? Was I a failure at dating?

I realized that these questions were not unique to me, nor to gay men, but there was a closet door around them for us. The gay movement is working very very hard to remove sex from gay identity to move us into broader social acceptance. The first thing anyone thinks about when they hear the word "gay" should not be sex. But in sanitizing our identities for the world, we have lost something of ourselves along the way. We are whole, complete people, with varied and complicated sex lives. For reasons both artistic and political, I needed to tell that story, to remind the world that just like everyone else, gay men have parts of our identity that are formed by sex and other parts that are formed without it, and seeing us as whole people is not pornographic, and we shouldn't be ashamed of that part of our experience.

Since I started this process, I've become a fan of so many other gay online series, as well, like the delightful storytelling in Anyone But Me, about young girls coming to terms with same-sex relationships in high school; the broad comedy of Husbands; and the indie cred of The Outs. And the new Jenifer Lewis & Shangela really makes me laugh. There are clearly a lot of us who wanted to see characters like us onscreen and are taking matters into our own hands to do something about it.

I think everyone benefits from this new movement. The world of "personalized TV" is growing into a new, symbiotic relationship with the audience. The new model of participatory viewership requires that you find the shows that speak to you and embrace them, proselytize for them, and support them any way you can, because that's the only way these shows will survive. You'll help the world of "personalized TV" grow, and it will serve you better and better. Even if it can never directly challenge traditional TV, perhaps it will expand the playing field and increase who and what is allowed onto it.


* * * * *


My favorite scene in the series is in Episode 5, when the four best friends are sitting around trying to decide where to go out that night, and they end up staying in. TJ and Nick get hold of a personal ad that Tommy has placed, and the night takes a quick turn for the worse.

Jon Marcus is the creator/director of the new comedy web series Hunting Season on, and has produced such diverse projects as ABC's Scoundrels starring Virginia Madsen, and Party Monster starring Macaulay Culkin. Marcus started his career in indie film working on movies for Ted Hope & James Schamus' Good Machine and was on staff at Killer Films for many years before he started selling network and cable TV pilots. Twitter: @OnJonsMind.  

This post originally ran on Huffington Post and is reblogged here by kind permission of  the author.

Survival Guide for a Small Film Festival

by Niall McKay
Starting film festivals seems to be a disease that I have. I founded the San Francisco Irish Film Festival,  co-founded the LA Irish Film Festival.  But, when I moved to New York last year, the idea of starting another Irish film fest in a town where these things come and go seemed daunting.   But this time last year we did it. We held the first Irish Film New York Film Festival in 2011. We hosted over 1000 people during the three-day event which included screenings, parties and industry panels. Now we're trying to get to the next stage - to build an organization rather than just an event. 
Some things I've learned along the way to have our small film festival survive: 
1.  Build partnerships with local organizations.
Yes, we have a niche, and that niche is Irish and we've embrace it, partnering with a number of organizations: from Irish Studies Program at NYU who provide us with a movie theater, reception venue and support to the various Irish cultural and business organizations in town. By attending their events, and getting to know the members and organizers, We've built meaningful connections between our respective organizations.  It takes time to nurture these connections, but its not work we've enjoyed creating some great friendships with people that support my work and the festival.  And even when there are Irish films at Tribeca or another big festival, we've partnered with them to host parties for the Irish contingent that come into the city, making everyone aware that we embrace Irish films wherever they are shown and champion Irish filmmakers as much as possible. 
2.  Cross promote your festival.
A friend once said to me that he doesn't take an event seriously until he sees it three times in his email box. That's where cross-promotion comes into play.  I'm not just emailing our own contact list three times, I'm also working with those organizations that I've made connections with to promote the film festival. I offer their members discount codes for film tickets and invite them first to the receptions, panels, etc. And I reciprocate the favor by promoting their events as well.  Social networking is all very well and good but Facebook events seem to fade from people's minds and tweets come and go in a second. Email on the other hand, the old workhorse of electronic communication, seems to be where it's at for our ticket sales.
3.  Provide funders and sponsors value. 
We always approach potential funders and sponsors with what we can offer rather than what we want. This means creating an event that actually rips people away from their 42-inch flat screens and puts them into theatre seats.  When Irish President Michael D. Higgins scheduled a visit to New York we worked with the Irish consulate and the Film Society of Lincoln Center to host a screening of Oscar-winning Irish shorts for the president, a known cinephile.  President Higgins enjoyed himself immensely and audience members got to hear him speak in a very small intimate setting. It was satisfying to all the organizations involved. Most importantly, it gave IFNY a cache that encouraged funders and sponsors to work with us. 
4. Build a solid team. 
The right people for our festival staff are those who can take responsibility for a task and follow it through. Seems simple enough, right?  Yet, out of the dozens of people who say they want to help out with our film festival, only a rare few can actually follow through on things. I've been fortunate enough to put together a dynamite staff, but we're all volunteers, so there's always drop-off.  And I'm also dealing with my own foibles, learning how to communicate with people, allowing others to help me instead of trying to do it all myself.  I guess it's like being the captain of a sports team.  You need the whole team to be on the same page going for the same goal at the same time.  You need good teammates to make the goal. 
Speaking of cross-promotion:
Please come and join us for our films and events:
Meet the Filmmakers
Thursday October 4th, 5:00 PM
Apple Store Soho
103 Prince Street  New York, NY 10012
Come and meet some of the filmmakers who are showing their films at IFNY film festival. 
Opening Night Reception 
Friday, October 5th, 6:00 pm
Glucksman Ireland House
1 Washington Mews, New York, NY
Join our email list and have a drink on us at our opening reception!
Irish Film New York October 5-7
Six great contemporary Irish films at the Cantor Film Center, 36 E 8th Street. 
For more information tickets and showtimes go to
Niall McKay is an Emmy award-winning independent producer and director. He's the founder and curator of the Irish Film New York. He can be reached at