Filmmakers make money! No, really.

Posted in: independent filmmakers | Comments Off

100 Million Dollars

Kickstarter reported today that over $100 million has been pledged to film projects on the crowdfunding service. This is obviously great news for those films, especially for those who received some of the $85.7 million that was actually collected. Kickstarter and some of the news outlets who have covered the story reflect the warm-fuzzy fact that films are being supported directly by their audience (and friends and families of the filmmakers).

This kind of scale means something much more exciting may be happening than just charity. This $100 million (and surely many millions more on IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms) represents money into the economy as a result of film production that would not have been there at all prior to Kickstarter. Sure, some filmmakers got some support from their families back before the internets, but at this scale, we can attribute the combination of increasing access to filmmaking, crowdfunding platforms and social media to actually creating this market. As equity-based financing moves into reality in the next year (in theory), this number may grow.

$100 million is a tiny number next to the total entertainment market (or even one Hollywood blockbuster), but considering the existing margins in independent film, it’s exciting to see that creators are finding new ways to connect to the “knowledge economy.” We need to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs, contributors and creators of value in more than just an abstract sense.

Laure Parsons >> January 4, 2013

Hacking Film

Posted in: lanceweiler, technology, theaters | Comments Off

Hacking Film Poster

I spent the weekend at the Film Experience Hackathon and it was a lot of fun to try and make something in a weekend. My team, with a core of two people, were able to come up with an idea and conceptual prototype for a service that is useful and potentially widely distributable, a crowdsourcing subtitling and translation service for independent filmmakers.  More to come.

Of course, what I think many were hoping for was a magical app to solve engagement and discovery. It stands to (some) reason that there’s a lot of potential in how consumers find and share new and favourite films, as they do with music. There should be a growing market for independent, foreign, experimental work.

In some ways, I think there is evidence to support this.  There are way more film schools, film festivals and submissions to festivals.  There are new services that cater to people who make video and want to share it. These are growing industries in film.  That the distribution of film in its traditional sense is not a growth industry only represents a shift.

I understand the interest in preserving the love of “cinema” as it has been known. I love watching films in a theatre and I have a passion for cinema that led me into the career I’ve had. Can it be preserved and transmitted any more than it would be possible to convey what the cabaret meant to people in the 1930s to me?

If you’re going to focus on “saving” the film experience in an arthouse form, focusing on the theatrical experience is key.  To do that I think theatres need to understand that seeing a film is an activity choice and that making the experience more social is essential. I.e., I want to potentially meet someone if I go to the movies. Independent theatres should also be doing way more to create community- hosting meetups, doing other kinds of events, opening the experience up to the imagination of their audience and members.  They should also be partnering far more with online services.

Online services should be supporting the theatrical experience far more, not just out of love, but because customers for online services come from the core of theatre-goers and people who watch films in theatres understand and appreciate cinema no matter what platform on which its encountered. There are some services now trying to bridge this gap, such as Tugg or Gathr, but overall there’s a ton of unexplored space.

I’ve got some ideas on this front and I hope there will be more hands-on events like this to spark tech people to think about this question. Janet Pierson is bringing tech into film at SXSW (aside from the irony of having more tech in SXSW Film, this should be a constructive collaboration). Where will we go next?

Laure Parsons >> October 15, 2012

Beautiful & Broke

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Vimeo Logo

Beautiful & Broke

One of my favourite sites for video is Vimeo. They offer beautiful HD video presented in a clean, elegant environment. Upload limits are generous and expandable through their Plus and Pro options. Many filmmakers use Vimeo to embed videos onto their own websites. Vimeo is also an awesome community player at festivals and in the filmmaking community.

Vimeo’s site is easy to navigate and features simple, clear icons to navigate to helpful filmmaking tools like a licensed music store and “Video School.” It’s also easy to find videos to watch, with intuitive categories and sortable searches.

Vimeo has run into some trouble as of late due to the question of its value. The site provides exceptional value but so far has not been able to translate their success into significant profits.

The problem with most money-generating plans is that existing users don’t like them. Either a company will start charging for a previously free service or the beautiful, clean experience of using the site will be compromised by cluttery, ugly advertising.

Vimeo needs an approach that would work with its passionate users. Instead of just selling ads all over the site, what if that user could have the choice of which one favourite brand “sponsored” their videos? This gives brands a stronger relationship with the appropriate customers and it also allows there to be just one, small logo on each sponsored page.

All of us as creative people have to find ways to pay the bills and we don’t want to sacrifice our integrity in the process. What does that look like for you?

Laure Parsons >> March 9, 2012

Friendly Financing: How to have a successful crowdfunding campaign

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Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Crowdfunding has become a viable option for raising money for films as well as start-ups, nonprofits and all kinds of creative projects. Here are a few tips on running a crowdfunding campaign:

  1. Plan, and plan some more.  The most successful campaigns have a powerful call to action and often, great rewards.  Spend six months asking for swag, planning the timing of your email blasts and offers, and getting friends and family to come on board to send tweets, facebook messages and emails, and you can take a lot of the agony out of posting your project.
  2. Change your video and update your funding page several times throughout the campaign. Updates every 1-5 days double the contribution rate. Add new rewards in the middle and near the end of the campaign.
  3. Crowdfunding is about engagement as much as it is about fundraising.  Make sure you thank your supporters, update them on your progress and continue to offer them perks throughout the life of the film.
  4. 90% of all projects that reach a third of their funding are successful on Kickstarter. Ask your key supporters to donate at specific milestones, especially near the beginning and at about half of your goal.
  5. Do a 30-day campaign and ask for the right goal amount. Pick the right rewards for each funding level. You can gauge this somewhat by looking at other funded projects with similarities to yours. 70% of successful campaigns have between 3 and 8 reward levels.
  6. Crowdfunding is an opportunity to do your first marketing campaign. Discover your audience, including blogs, partner organizations and others who might support the film when it is finished and continue your relationship through twitter, Facebook and email.

Laure Parsons >> January 4, 2012

No Protection: A Filmmaker Against SOPA

Posted in: copyright, intellectual property, piracy | Comments Off

As a filmmaker, I’m a content creator. I’m an “artist.” I want to be able to make a living doing creative work and I do want to be paid for work I do. But I do not support copyright law as it is today. I do not support the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and I do not support the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The reason is simple. I am a practical person. If something is essentially unenforceable then there is a problem with it as a solution. If to be enforceable, the law needs to shut down free speech, security and the general mechanics of unrelated businesses, I don’t think it spells pragmatic.

I would like innovators to come up with a way for creative people to make more money from their work. I do not care all that much if giant conglomerates suffer in the meantime. They should not be permitted to force even more corporate welfare down our throats in the form of legislation that benefits a very narrow group of powerful companies. They have fed someone the line that their protection benefits artists, when that is almost never the case. The vast majority of artists benefit far more from innovative sites like Etsy or Vimeo whose very existence is threatened by this type of legislation.

I have been worried about various threats to innovation on the internet, for example in the broadband monopoly in the US. But that nearly every internet company has come out against this type of legislation has not been able to stop the force of the MPAA and their lobbyists. Even a bipartisan effort in the Judiciary Committee seems to be yielding little return.

I saw a tweet yesterday that said “If SOPA passes, I’m moving to Canada.” It does sound tempting, but if SOPA passes, the internet will be affected everywhere. The U.S. is still leading the way in web innovation. But if you make obvious activity illegal, we’ll all be criminals.

Call your Congressperson today.

Laure Parsons >> December 16, 2011

Short Circuit: Short Film & Digital Distribution

Posted in: digital distribution | Comments Off

When the online revolution began in distribution, it seemed as though short films would finally get their due. Shorts have generally had a tough go, distribution-wise, with their primary public life excluded to festivals or as TV filler. But in the reduced-attention-span context of the web or mobile, shorts should be perfect.

The transition has not been seamless for on main reason: shorts still do not command marketing dollars, for the most part, and what people seem to want to watch online has more to do with what they are familiar with in traditional contexts. YouTube has developed a huge audience for shorter content, but few projects make money exclusively from their YouTube success.

Understanding your audience and what kind of projects will play to the digital marketplace is useful, but these aren’t always the same projects that are popular with festival programmers. Shorts are fundamentally an opportunity to explore your own vision with less risk than a feature (but without the possible returns).

There are some excellent short film distribution resources. Scottish Screen has “You’ve Got It Made” a guide to short film distribution, which is U.K.-centric but quite helpful. Apply to festivals specific to your subject, major festivals that play shorts, and short film festivals like Future Shorts. Tribeca FF’s Sharon Badel has written a book called “Swimming Upstream” on traditional distribution for shorts. If you have stars and want to risk losing money, you can take it to markets like Berlin or Cannes with a sales agent. Short Film Central (Australia) and Ouat Media (Canada) are online aggregators. Various companies like Atom Films, Snag Films, Babelgum can be good non-exclusive partners for content. Be careful with contracts- there are a host of companies with bad reputations out there, so do some research before making a deal.

On the digital side, perhaps the most important thing you can do with your short is to make it work for you as a marketing tool. Make sure there is prominent mention of your website and of the title of upcoming projects at the beginning of your credits. For digital you might even want to create a front card with your production company’s name and URL. You can also create extra content available at your website and put a card before the credits to tell people about it. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless you can make a specific and lucrative exclusive deal, it’s best to get your short onto every platform possible: Vimeo, YouTube, sites with audiences interested in your subject, and draw them to your own site. Bottom line- the money you will see is small, so your audience is your biggest return.

Laure Parsons >> December 15, 2011

Dead media, resurrected: extraMUROS

Posted in: intellectual property, transmedia | Comments Off

Among the many cool things I’ve encountered lately, one I want to share in particular is extraMUROS, a project based at Harvard that was pitched at the Digital Public Library of America meeting a couple of weeks ago in DC. Much like Mozilla’s cool project Popcorn, extraMUROS is an open-source web-based media manipulation tool.

Built in HTML5 using a framework that builds on another Harvard product, Zeega, extraMUROS seems to have the potential to be transformative. With this online software, you could pull files from places like the Smithsonian collection or the National Archives via DPLA or through Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo or other media sites. You then could use the tool to edit those files into a new work. It will allow you to apply real time tools like maps, Twitter, or any other number of applications, creating a dynamic, living project.

This has amazing implications for access to creative storytelling and creating interesting connections. There are also exciting intellectual property issues. It’s also worth checking out the DPLA and what’s happening in general in the quest to digitize national assets for free dissemination.

Laure Parsons >> November 9, 2011

Spurlock Skips Rights Issue in Girl Talk Show

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Girl Talk
The fourth episode in Morgan Spurlock‘s web series for Hulu, A Day In the Life, which premiered today, features remix artist Girl Talk, aka Greg Gillis, also the star of Brett Gaylor‘s film RIP: A Remix Manifesto. Oddly, at least to viewers of Gaylor’s film, the episode doesn’t mention the issue of copyright at all, and indeed there are no attributions at the end of the credits to suggest Spurlock himself felt compelled to clear the rights of the songs used by Gillis in the performance. (This may simply be a choice due to constraints on the program; typically it’s a requirement of music clearances to list them in end credits).

If that’s the case, it may indicate a much more liberal interpretation of copyright on the part of Hulu (who presumably have plentiful legal counsel).

Laure Parsons >> September 8, 2011