As digital distribution evolves, it seems likely that smaller operations will benefit from serving niche markets- both to concentrate sales efforts and to become more attractive to advertisers.
dGenerate is a new distribution project set to launch this summer that partners American indie producers, Chinese filmmakers, and Tribeca Film Institute and TFI’s Amazon digital distribution partnership Reframe. dGenerate head Karin Chien was kind enough to share some information about this exciting new venture.
(ICI): How did you come up with the idea for dGenerate?
Karin: Honestly, the idea came rather unexpectedly on a chilly January night in New York City, via 4 degrees of separation.
A panel at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) connected me with Andrew Gluckman and Wei Wei Shannon, of People’s Architecture, who introduced me to Ou Ning, a filmmaker in Beijing, who I introduced to Alexandra Chang at NYU’s APA Studies Institute. Alexandra agreed to host a screening of one of Ou Ning’s projects, and while watching the film, I found myself blown away by its content, visuals, and production methodology. It felt to me like discovering unknown treasure, further confirmed by Ou Ning’s assurances that his film was just one of many examples of visionary filmmaking happening in China today.
So, in the time it took to walk from NYU to Andrew and Wei Wei’s apartment, I hatched the idea for dGenerate Films. It took another 9 months, however, of false starts and going at it alone to figure out that I needed a team of collaborators, and a trip to China, to properly make the thought a reality.
(ICI): How did you connect with Tribeca Film Institute and Reframe?
Karin: Through a friend of mine, Diana Williams, who sits on Renew Media’s board. (Renew recently merged with TFI).
Diana connected me with TFI’s executive director, Brian Newman, to discuss a Chinatown Film exhibition that I’m producing for MOCA. Brian and I met at Sundance about my MOCA project, and after the meeting, we boarded the same Sundance shuttle bus, where we made small talk. I happened to mention my idea for dGenerate, and Brian told me about Reframe. It immediately made sense – without Reframe’s digital delivery capacities, and non-profit mandate, distributing these films would be too difficult to attempt. Since that fateful shuttle ride, Brian and all the folks at Reframe and TFI have been hugely supportive of our efforts.
(ICI): Do you feel that Asian films have any particular advantage in the VOD/digital marketplace?
Karin: I think the VOD/digital marketplace is set up to serve niche markets in particular. At least right now. I wouldn’t say Asian films have an advantage. But I can say that without digital delivery, dGenerate would not be happening.
Besides Reframe, a number of VOD, streaming and download sites have already asked to license our content. What might also be a factor is that no other American distributor is dedicated to sourcing and distributing independent Chinese films.
(ICI): What will be your strategy for marketing films that haven’t had the benefit of a theatrical release here? Do you think people are very invested in the review system of meritizing films?
Karin: Our marketing strategy is based on our target audience. Which for now is the educational market. As a way to get to know our audience, and to introduce these films to them, we are conducting informational meetings with top scholars and academics across disciplines, as well as listening to the needs of programmers and curators of cultural institutions. We will have a full arsenal of traditional marketing tools as well: trailers, postcards, catalogues, newsletters, conference attendance, and a multimedia website.
But given that we are a company invested in digital delivery, the online space is an important one for us. We are planning to create what I call “intellectual networking,” as opposed to review-driven marketing. Our site will be a place where scholars, critics, curators, programmers, etc can contribute critical content about our films, as well as thoughts about independent Chinese cinema. Critical content will include essays and blog entries but also podcasts and video essays, which point to new ways of consuming film criticism. “Intellectual networking” will give our target audience a way to understand the films through the words of their peers.
(ICI): What kind of technical challenges are there for this type of distribution?
Karin: Formats differ across countries, but Reframe is able to digest almost any type of video or print master, which makes our technical challenges quite small. The main challenges of this type of distribution are not technical, I would say.
(ICI): What, for you, is the most exciting aspect of this type of distribution?
Karin: The films. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think some incredibly exciting things were happening in independent Chinese cinema. Also, as a Chinese-American, I’m personally invested in disseminating diverse perspectives from inside China. Nearly all documentaries, for example, that American audiences see about mainland China are not made by mainland Chinese filmmakers.
(ICI): When/how can we expect to see dGenerate films available for VOD or download?
Karin: We plan to launch in August 2008, in preparation for the academic calendar. Films will be available for educational DVD or download-to-rent for the public by September.
We have been approached by VOD outlets, but are still in talks. No launch date for VOD yet.