What Is The Great Hope For The Future Of Cinema?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Entertainment Economy Is Completely Different Than It Was

Make no mistake: The Entertainment Economy can no longer be predicated on scarcity or control -- as it has been for the last 110 years.  We need to rebuild it around concept of super-abundance & access.

"YouTubers Upload 72 Hours of Video Every Minute"  That's up from 48 hours a year ago.  At what age do we reach Saturation Point?  I already have: I have identified every film I would like to see -- if I am able to maintain my maximum rate of consumption -- to carry me 5 years past my life expectancy.  The very nature of technology indicates that in less than ten years, a twenty year old cinephile will have done the same.  I expect that to happen much sooner though.  Audiences will have no "need" for the new.  We have so many cute animals and children doing silly things after all.  Who really needs an ambitious and relevant cinema?  So why do anything to preserve it (let alone advance it)?  Let's just bury our heads and try to hold onto what is left of our jobs.  Right?

I am glad there are those that know otherwise.

There Is SOME Online Rental Business

Okay, okay.  I stand corrected, but it was a good headline, wasn't it?  And I am not sure if $385Million per year in the US of online renting and downloading is cause to rejoice.

Besides, if you noticed, my post was really a jumping off point to try to address how we want to watch, or at least like to watch.  We do have to offer our work for single transactions, but we have to recognize that is not how most people are choosing to watch.  And yes, as many noted, we should not judge the lack of traction on YouTube for online rentals as representative of much.  As Scilla Andreen pointed out, you need to honor your work with appropriate placement.  YouTube has done so well building a community of generators and viewers accustomed to watching for free, it may be antithetical to the experience to pay anything ever there.

There Is No Online Rental Business

As I write this The Weinstein Company's top rental on YouTube is Michael Moore's SICKO, with a whopping 151 views.  In reading PaidContent's article on the TWC/YTube alliance, you can't help wonder if there IS any business to be had in online rentals.  Is the online one-off transactional content-rental business completely non-existent?  And if so why?

I think we are starting to move away from the impulse buy mentality. It just doesn't fit with the world we are living in.  Even with the convenience of online rentals, there is not enough value in it. If we are going to offer films in a single transaction, we need to offer more than the film.

My netflix queue, or rather my family's queue, is almost 2500 strong, including the WatchInstantly.  I know what I want.  I know what it is on the queue.  I also have at To Watch list at home that is close to 500 titles.  I recognize that those that don't try to earn a living in the film biz may not have such a robust list, but who in their right mind would rent a film that might be mediocre, when for twice the rental amount they can have unlimited streaming for the month.

A world of surplus and access require a different business model from one of scarcity and control.  Single transactions -- without a richer context -- are an old world model.

If we build a social world around that film, it may be enough to jump me from my already planned choices of viewing.  If we build a ramp of consistent discovery to that film, it may divert me from what I already scheduled.  If you offer me additional rewards for my viewing, I may opt in.  But if you ask me to fork over my hard-earned cash, all you give me is a film, particularly if it is not guaranteed to be great, and you ask me to watch it all alone, I will go elsewhere.  And evidently everyone else is too.  Well, everyone other than those 151.

Addendum: The failure of TWC titles to gain traction on YouTube has caused much reflection.  What other factors contributed to the dismal performance?  Scilla Andreen blogged the other day that the fit between content and platform was off.  What else?

Addendum 2/10/11:  LA Times reported a few days ago that downloads in US are up 40% to $385M/yr.

What Is The #1 Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Film Aside From...

Today's guest post is from IndieFlix founder and CEO Scilla Andreen.

What is the #1 most important thing you can do for your film aside from telling a good story?

It’s not what you think and it’s often taken for granted. I believe the answer is to honor your film and the people who support it by having meaningful engagement in everything that you do.

Yes, it sounds broad and vague and it falls into the category of listen to your gut, but when applied to each and every action you take it becomes a highly, customized, sharpshooting tool that prioritizes your time and money.  It will act as your compass on your filmmaking journey.

I am a filmmaker turned distributor out of pure necessity. I had to start IndieFlix because I couldn’t fully comprehend standard distribution. No matter how many times it was explained to me it felt wrong. I would nod yes and wait for that aha moment but it never came. I didn’t understand how indie filmmakers would ever make money?  We launched IndieFlix in 2005 with 36 films and now have a growing library of over 2500 films.

I spend much of my time experimenting with different ways to create meaningful, audience engagement that can be converted into meaningful revenue. The key operating word here is “meaningful”.  If we don’t include this element in our work all of our efforts and energy is for naught. Now that I have adopted this policy I learn something new everyday. I have gone from hurriedly getting hundreds of films up and selling on all major platforms to spending more time listening to feedback, analyzing data and noticing what works and what doesn’t.

I created a movie game called Film Festival in a Box that has evolved into a movie club based on honoring the filmmakers and respecting the desires of the audience. I didn’t rush and it went from concept to market in less than 6 months. Slowing down seems to move things along much more efficiently. Each film has it’s own path and we must honor that path and be realistic in our expectations. Go ahead and dream big but do the research and don’t assume. Filmmakers must be smart and have a good team. Ask for help. Share your needs. Collaborate.  People will come out of the woodwork to assist. This is one of the most exciting times to be in our industry.

There now exists an abundance of free information, tools, technology and delivery platforms available to us. We’re bound to find some success right?  Wrong.  It’s all about the choices we make and how we use these tools to connect the dots.

Here’s a great example. The Weinstein’s deal with Google: they took proven, quality content and made it available for practically nothing on one of the world’s busiest platforms, YouTube. The Michael Moore documentary Sicko, has a meager 151 paid views and is currently the most-rented Weinstein movie in the past few months.  Surprising?  Not really, peddling Weinstein films on YouTube is like selling Prada shoes at Wal-Mart.  I don’t think it’s a good fit at all, just as I wouldn’t want to go to Denny’s for sushi. The offering of the content doesn’t fit the platform.  YouTube is free. Why would anyone pay for something there?  So, do the research and make choices that are right for your film.  Honor your project. Honor the platform.  Respect the demographics.

Think about meaningful engagement for yourself. Does having tens of thousands of fans to share every step of your process feel meaningful or are you exhausting yourself trying to keep the beast fed?  Honor the relationships you create. Keep it manageable.

I think that a smaller group of “meaningful” fans, friends or followers who believe in you is a much more effective way to build long-lasting, measurable audience engagement.

We are all so inundated. Let’s slow things down and adopt the less is more approach.  Let’s be better listeners to others and to ourselves. Quality over quantity is powerful and much more viral. So, circling back to honoring your story, the art of filmmaking and the way in which you share it with others is like eating your meal slowly appreciating every bite and savoring all the different flavors.   That is something to experience and talk about. That is meaningful.

What do you think is the #1 most important thing you can do for your movie aside from telling a good story?

Scilla Andreen (CEO/Co-founder IndieFlix.com) award winning producer, director and Emmy nominated costume designer, Scilla has deep roots in the entertainment industry and is a popular speaker, juror and tireless champion of independent film. In 2004 Scilla co-founded IndieFlix.com a next generation film distribution and discovery site founded on the principles of community, promotion, syndication and transparency.

Hunter Weeks On Three Lessons from Three Films

Guest post by filmmaker Hunter Weeks. I’ve now produced, directed and distributed three documentary films. It’s been exhausting, time-consuming, super-challenging, but all the while, the most enriching collection of experiences I could ever imagine. I don’t know how Ted’s done what he’s done, but I’m pleased to have met him a year ago at Power to Pixel and to now be a guest on his blog.

Yesterday, I released my 3rd film on YouTube free for approximately two days (2711 minutes to be exact). 2711 minutes because the focus of this documentary is about the world’s longest mountain bike race - the Tour Divide - which crossed through 2711 miles of the rugged and beautiful Rocky Mountains when I filmed it. I’ll tell you the path that led to this strategy down below.

With each of my three films, I’ve learned a ton about how to market and distribute independent films (and by that term, I mean truly independent or as I like to say baby indies). I’ve had to learn these things because I’m not part of the elite establishment in film (and with the competition that exists to get there, I’ve found it easier to go solo and build my own audience, thereby increasing my chances of survival and growth within this industry). Looking back on the marketing of each film, I’ve gone away with one key learning from each effort.

For each of my films, I’ve given ballpark hard costs (these clearly do not account for all the sweat equity invested). And the gross figures are loose estimates on total revenue we’ve brought in before subtracting marketing and media production costs.

10 MPH – Make stories about your story $65K hard costs (grossed greater than 2x)

It seems that the media is fascinated with anything that is new. So, when Josh Caldwell and I set out to make a film about Josh’s attempt to ride a Segway some 4000 miles across the USA, we certainly got our fair share of major media attention, including multiple interviews with Liane Hansen on NPR Weekend Edition, a feature story in The New York Times, spots on CNN and FOX News, and at least one hundred other decent spots, not to mention thousands of blog articles thanks to the then power house blogger, kottke.org.

As luck wouldn’t have it, all this attention came before we had a product ready to sell. It would be a year and half before that happened. But something about this new fangled, risk-taking spirit carried into the way that we created the film, finished it up and got it out the door.

We didn’t get into any top tier festivals, nor receive recognition from the elite film establishment, so we figured we’d pave our own path. We started creating stories about our product and worked the PR angle hard. What would perk the media’s attention?

In 2007, we launched the film using a combination of DVD release with RepNet, LLC (a sub distributor that sold us into Netflix and dozens of online retailers) and then launched a 26-city theatrical tour. The news stories from these events created momentum for the rest of our strategy. We knew we had to be talked about. So, we kept experimenting and back then very few people were (now, we’re all at it and that includes the bigger establishment). We did a pick your own price model right after Radio Head did it. I wrote the 10 MPH DIY Manual as an effort to be transparent (thanks to influence from Lance Weiler and Workbook Project). All of this got us press and attention.

But we saved the best for last. In early 2008, after what we deemed a successful release, we became the first feature-length documentary on YouTube. It’s still up there and the attention we’ve received from this, the speaking opportunities I’ve had and the pride we have for being first is indelible (It didn’t hurt that we closed a TV deal and also had significant bump orders for DVDs from Netflix and elsewhere, as well).

10 YARDS – Don’t market something you aren’t 100% ingrained with $75K hard costs (grossed less than 1/3x)

Boy, we blew it with this one. While wrapping up 10 MPH, Josh and I felt the need to get another project going quickly. I still feel this is a fundamentally important for any indie filmmaker hoping to create a career, but if you aren’t careful or too hasty, it can come with consequences. After making 10 MPH, Josh and I were pretty spread thin and had just been making enough money to pay back the debt we’d incurred while making 10 MPH. So…not a lot of positive cash flow going on.

We figured a documentary about fantasy football, a subculture in America that purportedly included 20,000,000 raving participants, was a surefire way to make a very widely know and successful film. We had to make it quick and more debt seemed like a good way to get things going.

Making the film was fun, especially considering the fact that we focused on our own fantasy football league. That was likely major mistake number one. While we all are our own greatest subjects, that doesn’t necessarily work for the 19,999,990 other fantasy football players out there. They don’t care about our own league as much as we did. And had we really understood the aggregate of that market, we would have made a trashy film with lots of boobs and some ridiculous highly-sensationalized depiction of the male experience of trash talking and thinking you are actually in control of your own NFL team.

By the time the movie was ready to market, Josh and I were exhausted and had very little motivation and understanding of how to reach the market that we were supposed to make the movie for. We thought we could trick them and get them (and maybe enlighten them) on what we thought fantasy football was all about; your bros and camaraderie.

Unfortunately, this misfire led Josh back to the cubicle land to get that consistent revenue stream (a fate I think most independent filmmakers eventually face). And while he’s thrilled with his new direction in life, I can’t help but imagine if he had an opportunity to make films for a similar work/income ratio, I’m sure he’d be doing that and having an incredible impact on society. As for me, I limped forward and lucked out when a third opportunity came along just in time to avoid going down a similar path.

RIDE THE DIVIDE – The Power of the Niche Market $80K hard costs (grossed more than 2x in 5 months of pre-season)

Mike Dion was working in corporate America as an executive producer for a major television cable network in Denver and was facing an opportunity for voluntary lay off. He was turning 40 and had dreamed of racing in this little known mountain bike race of very large proportions. He started to tell me about it when he was searching for advice and potentially a team to help him make a film about it. I remember thinking that it was a great story, but feeling like it was super niche. If less than a hundred people at that point had ever finished the race, I couldn’t imagine there was much of a market for it.

He offered a little cash and I figured it was worth taking a risk with it. As I learned more and became invested in the project, I really got excited for the story that was developing (but up until the last few months have always worried about what it might be like marketing it). I’ve been blown away. After completing the filming and then working with Mike on the edit, I was definitely confident we had something really special and super strong. I was ready to finally break and get into Sundance or SXSW.

But, like my other efforts, the established film elite didn’t find it worthy of bringing it into a top tier festival. That was truly crushing, especially after I got the rejection from SXSW at the beginning of 2010 (Janet Pierson has since sent a very sincere and unique email explaining the challenge of leaving out so many quality projects; more proof that the market for baby indies like myself is way saturated).

Fortunately, Vail Film Festival (which also launched 10 MPH in 2006) picked up Ride the Divide and we held our World Premiere in the beautiful winter setting of the Rockies and got a surprise by picking up of Best Adventure Film, beating out a multi-million dollar production, among others.

This boost gave us the momentum we needed to get on a fast track to launch the film to our core market – mountain bikers. We felt if we built this up enough, the film’s universal message of living life to the fullest would eventually reach much bigger circles. Working with Jon Reiss at the Slamdance Film Festival earlier this year and scanning blogs like this one also helped us focus on how to approach this niche audience. We launched an aggressive program of event-based screenings – both that we produced and that were put on by cycling clubs, enthusiasts and bike shops for a licensed fee. In a matter of a few months, we had fifty screenings booked and to this day they keep rolling in. On Wed 9/29/10, we played in Boise on a theatrical screen for the 99th time. And once again, it wass a sell out.

The screenings have been wildly successful, as we’ve focused on making them events, sometimes adding musicians from the soundtrack, the filmmakers, the stars, bike exhibits, silent auctions for charities, and more. It’s exciting to see this niche audience embrace the film and show up in large numbers at all our screenings. Out of the shows we produced (approximately ½), we’ve only lost money one time. Our best grossing show was in Boulder, Colorado where we grossed close to $10,000 (helped by a ticket price of $18.00).

All this excitement for the film has generated massive social conversation online and we’ve done very little conventional marketing and PR. The title continues to have demand on every platform we release on. We are now considering ourselves out of the “pre-season”. It’s prime time and we’re launching every way we can. To mark this occasion, The Documentary Channel premiered the movie on 9/22 and we partnered with LIVESTRONG and held a benefit screening in Austin, TX (LIVESTRONG’s HQ).

We decided with the success of the pre-season along with our niche marketing approach that we should partner with a major non-profit organization and find ways to benefit the organization with the release of the film. LIVESTRONG was a perfect fit given their underlying principle of living life to the fullest. And as an aside, I have to say it’s been quite a rewarding experience to raise close to $13,000 for LIVESTRONG in just a few weeks.

And that brings us to our YouTube launch. We’re hoping to do a lot of good for LIVESTRONG, while also increasing awareness for Ride the Divide. To do this, we’re offering everyone a chance to watch the movie free for two days on YouTube. Not only does this get us attention and hopefully raise some money, it helps get us beyond the niche market we’ve been heavily focused on. As a bonus, we experiment in a big way in an area the entire industry (established elites, baby indies, and independent) all have to figure out; and of course we make another story about our story.

YouTube Removing The Tyranny Of Choice

I've always pictured utopia as the time when choice, not impulse or passivity, drives our participation and consumption.  But as the NY Times reports, that does not fit with YouTube's business mandate to keep viewers on their site. YouTube LeanBack will debut this fall: “There’s no browsing, no searching, no clicking. It behaves like you would expect television to.”

Thanks to Phillip Lefesi for bringing this to my attention!

A Cardboard Hope: (Sweded) Star Wars

Michel Gondry has changed culture many times over.  His Lego video may be the greatest video ever.  And his Rubik's Cube series are among the YouTube Hall of Fame.  I look forward to the day when "Sweded" films take over from the corporate.  Homemade always tastes better.  This Star Wars trumps any thing Lucas did after the first three (and that is the TRUE first three, not the alternately titled first three).  And the soundtrack ranks with John Williams' best work.

Psychedelia Redux

EncyclepdiaPictura seem to be part of a growing wave of mind-blowing filmmakers and artists hellbent on accessing the deep recesses of our lizard brain.  When Corbin slipped me the first taste of their work (knife) I time travelled back to my march through Utah's Paria Canyon in my late teens when I was covered in mud and feeling akin to the Yeti as I scared the various more sane hikers who expected to commune with common nature.  Awww, fond memories.  Bjork since found them and they gave her a great 3D vid too.  

Others in this wave include the band MGMT (check out "Time To Pretend" -- if you haven't been already among the 2.5M who did on YouTube or their interactive video game) & Assume Vivid Astro Focus (featured above).  For a taste of the past, there is Hipgnosis.  Turn on the love light baby.  thanks Mr. Reynolds!

A Truly Pleasurable Experience: "Love And War"

I got a link today to check out a short film at the YouTube Screening Room.  I did not yet know about this new feature at YouTube.  It's High Definition.  You can watch full screen without the image getting fuzzy.  The sound was good.  And they have award winning films from around the world.  I felt like I was getting closer to that elusive promise of the internet...

Maybe it was because it was early in the morning and my brain hadn't yet woken up.  Or maybe it's because the film was good.  Check out Love And War, "probably the world's first animated opera".  The puppets are good, the shots great, the music absorbing.  It's a great way to start your day.  

You Are Never Too Young For Indie Rock!

We don't have TV in our house.  No cable.  No broadcast.  But we do have a DVD player and we do have the internet.   Got keep a toe in pop culture somehow...
As a result though I only know Yo Gabba Gabba via YouTube, but I have to say I love this marriage of Indie Rock and Animation.  Both these songs, by Red House Painters and Dean & Britta are great, and the animation is lovely.