Archive for the ‘digital distribution’ Category

Short Circuit: Short Film & Digital Distribution

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

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.

Can Fandor Make Indie Film Profitable Online?

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Reaching the niche market of independent film fans has been a goal for a number of online film platforms. Fandor is the newest entry in the contest. Launched late last year by Jonathan Marlow from GreenCine and ‘serial entrepreneur’ Dan Aronson, Fandor is getting buzz for offering a large selection of curated titles at a $10/month subscription fee. Unlike Netflix, which pays a fee based on a contracted license period, Fandor offers a per-use model in which 20% of revenues are divided among the filmmakers regardless of plays and 30% are split based on an “attention algorithm” which presumably measures the amount of time people spend watching each film, perhaps accounting somehow for how long each film is. In any case, what that means, if we were considering gross revenues (which perhaps is not the case), if Fandor has 50,000 subscribers, you would be looking at a base of $33/month for your film to be on the service.

Netflix has 20 million members, so perhaps Fandor has room to grow. On the other hand, MUBI, formerly The Auteurs, seems to have stalled a bit and sites like IndieFlix have never really caught on in the mainstream. Fandor is betting on a specialty audience and a editorial viewpoint to draw people to the site.

There is no reason not to place a film on Fandor if you are selling to Netflix, and even if you don’t make a Netflix sale, Fandor touts that they will carry a wide selection of films Netflix doesn’t have. Will independent film fans pony up? And will there be enough cinephiles to make it worth it?

The infinite future of film

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Today I began reading two entertaining books, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity by David Foster Wallace and The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Quite coincidentally, the books share the thematic point that there is a great deal of value in what is unpredictable, or as DFW puts it, “our only real justification for the Principle of Induction is the Principle of Induction, which seems shaky and question-begging in the extreme.”

In film, a technology that in its “old fashioned” celluloid form is only a little over a century old, the future is unpredictable— but it is fairly certain that the future is significantly different than it is now. There is no reason to believe the medium (celluloid) will survive, no reason to believe there will be a tangible product associated with motion picture, no reason to believe running times will continue to hover in the 74-130 minutes range. That a business once existed for something is not a reason it will continue. If there is a demand, there will be ways to meet it. If the barriers are low and there are benefits for the producers, films will be made and disseminated regardless of business models.

Most importantly, we can’t predict how people will find ways to make things that are very good and not end up on welfare- unless welfare turns out to be very comfortable. But I would put my money (if I had any) on quality continuing to be something that will be supported somehow in whatever improbable future we may encounter.

Digital Doc Distribution- San Francisco Ed.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I’ll be presenting a workshop on Digital Doc Distribution at SFFS on June 7- discussing how doc filmmakers can reach their audiences in the current environment. There are great new opportunities as well as some challenges but overall, the changes can be a little confusing and it’s good to know about tools and resources to make it easier to manage.

Filmmaker Jen Gilomen will be on hand to talk about her film DEEP DOWN and we will talk specifically about projects in the room as well as about digital marketing and distribution tools doc filmmakers can use today.

Think Outside the Box Office Workshop NYC

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Jon Reiss, furthering his bid to unseat Peter Broderick in whatever category they’re competing in, will be doing a 2-day workshop in NYC June 5-6 for filmmakers which will cover distribution & marketing, transmedia, and Jon’s many unique and insightful approaches to indie film dissemination. It’s $150 for members.

5>50 – Who gets it in new distribution?

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Recently I was honoured to be part of a list made by Brian Newman of 20 media people under the age of 40 whom he felt were leaders. What’s interesting to me is the frequency that I hear people who are young (on the list and otherwise) saying how older people “just don’t get it” and by virtue of their age, they will naturally be left behind in any digital revolution.

Even having crossed the big-3-oh-mark, I can feel a little anecdotal truth to the notion that the youth have a more natural, ingrained facility with technology and social media. However, I’ve also learned that the people who went before me usually know a lot more than me about the big picture and how people behave in general.

With that in mind, I thought I’d begin a list that I hope will be appended of leaders over 50 in film- who get that ineffable “it”. (I know that 50 is pretty young still, but gotta start somewhere). Sorry if these are the “usual suspects”- that’s why I need everyone else to bring this list up to 20 or more. And these are all lions in the industry- but with the kind of changes that we’re experiencing now, it’s interesting to try and predict who can roll with the digital world order.

Ira Deutchman- he does it all, producing, distribution, sales agent-ing, marketing, running a business- and still finds time to blog and twitter (@nyindieguy). He’s also raising the next generation of the film biz, quite literally. But Ira is accessible in the way that the new media promises everyone should be.

Richard Abromovitz- he does tend to be ubiquitous on various panels and festivals, for the simple reason that he and his company Abramorama have been involved successfully in a large percentage of the successful self-released films of the last few years. Last year’s Anvil was a good case in point- it hit on so many points, with sponsorship, promotion and social media working together (can I say “in concert”?)

Robert Greenwald- On the marketing side, filmmaker Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films have been a master at capturing the power of emerging social media to make a huge impact with issues like the Iraq war, health care, the economy, and other causes. He’s also adapted to new filmmaking technologies to get quick, inexpensive work out to social media sites.

Jonathan Sehring- The president of IFC Entertainment, Sehring is both blamed by some for the demise of the old school theatrical model and lauded for his irreverent and iconoclastic approach to distribution. IFC’s ‘buy more pay less’ model is not beloved by all filmmakers, but their approach to the marketplace is aggressive, flexible and innovative. He had a great quote in the NY Times last year:

I never hear anyone in the music industry say there are too many songs, no one in publishing says there are too many books, no gallery or museum says there are too many paintings, no one in fashion says there are too many designers — why too many movies? When my colleagues say this it sounds like the anti-immigration, protectionist rhetoric from the far right.

OK, so I didn’t really mean this to be five white dudes over 50.

How about Sheila Nevins- though many documentary filmmakers struggle with HBO’s unyielding lockdown on digital rights, Nevins and HBO are developing a digital strategy that will benefit the network and prolong the brand’s dominance. I’m not sure they “get it” in a filmmaker-friendly way, but without HBO, many great docs would not have been made- and Ms. Nevins’ great instincts are the essence of HBO’s success.

Still not extremely diverse- but 5 is a mere starting point. Who are your picks?

Copyright, docs, Lessig, licenses

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Recently in The National Republic, Lawrence Lessig addressed the issue of copyright in documentaries and how it is keeping classic films like Eyes on the Prize out of commercial circulation. The problem is that filmmakers must clear copyright for archival elements in their work such as television clips and music, and generally the licenses for these clips is for a limited time period like 10 or 20 years. After that time, the filmmaker would need to clear (i.e. re-license) all of the archivals again in order to sell the work.

For most docs, this can be extremely onerous since the opportunity for revenue is small whereas the cost of the licenses is often significant.

I’m on the committee for the Women’s Film Preservation Committee through NY Women in Film and we worry about preserving the negatives of films that are decaying, fading, or otherwise in danger of being lost. But Lessig’s point is well-taken that without adjusting the issues around copyright, many of these films are effectively vanishing regardless of the quality of available prints.

Digital distribution has changed the meaning of copyright, and in some ways it’s made the original copyright holders more avaricious. They feel like they need to get all they can from television clips and music placed in films, as it’s one of the few reliable revenue sources left for content.

But Lessig’s essay prompts an interesting solution. What if, for example, there were some kind of limitation placed on the initial license period, after which all usage reverted to a straight royalty system based on percentage of the work? For example, if you used a clip of the Kennedy assassination in your film, you would have to pay whatever the market rate was for a 20-year license.

But after that time, you would have to pay a royalty to the rightsholder based on how long the clip was versus how long your film was against whatever revenue you received from the film, unless you got a deferral or consideration from the rightsholder. This could be used for music rights for fiction films as well, in theory.

Sundance New Frontier's Ian Calderon on Indie Digital

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Interviewed by CinemaTech‘s Scott Kirsner:

New Directions for Independent Cinema: Ian Calderon from Scott Kirsner on Vimeo.