Archive for the ‘independent filmmakers’ Category

Filmmakers make money! No, really.

Friday, January 4th, 2013

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.

Beautiful & Broke

Friday, March 9th, 2012

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?

Filmmaking: The Hobby (again)

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Revisiting an issue I wrote about a while back over at IFP’s website, this year’s Filmmaker Conference will address whether Indie Filmmaking is a Hobby or a Career. First of all, I’m not sure that is the right question. Most of the hard controversy around this subject has to with IRS issues that ask the fairly obvious question, how can you call filmmaking a business if it never ever makes any money? (Though in the case of documentary, it should be said, there is grey area with some filmmakers selling their films to TV).

My original point in “At Least Hobbies Are Fun” was that most filmmakers probably make little or no money from their films, and that certainly films very rarely “make money” in the traditional concept of cost vs. return. There are an elite number of filmmakers who make money by being paid and an even more precious few who could say their independently financed film earned more on net than it cost to make. It’s becoming increasingly easier to reduce production costs, somewhat easier to self-distribute, and much more difficult to see massive ancillary returns through DVD sales. That could mean more filmmakers are breaking even. Ideally more people can make films, not lose their shirts, and even make enough to keep making more films.

Independent filmmaking has an industry around it. But that industry is not as important as it thinks it is, and this often accounts for the hysteria around this issue. Filmmaking does not actually need thousands of film festivals, panels, pitch sessions, heads of acquisitions, or parties at which the percentage of actual filmmakers is under 20. At this point, filmmaking needs access to equipment, to learning, to Creative Cow forums, to Vimeo.

Yes, financing and distribution are important, especially for higher-profile or amore ambitious projects. But reasonably speaking, in North America, how many independent projects can command budgets over $5 million? Those that can have to play by different rules, commercial rules, which is reasonable (otherwise just give the money to UNICEF or something).

Is Independent Filmmaking a hobby or a career? If you don’t see it as a hobby first, in my opinion, you are going to be unhappy. If you don’t love it, don’t feel like doing it whether you get paid or not, why not take up hedge fund management? Yes, you should be smart, make good business decisions, ideally you will prosper. But independent films aren’t made in a boardroom; they aren’t just mini studio films. They succeed because we love them, they are superior, and they come from people who could never do anything else.

Crowdfunding won’t hurt you

Monday, June 20th, 2011


At SpringBoard Media, the ever-thoughtfully provocative Brian Newman posits that Kickstarter and crowdfunding may have some unintended negative consequences.

I agree with the premise that film has been a privileged art throughout its short history and that “independent” film (the kind we crowdfund) has usually been the sport of people who didn’t need to actually work for a living.

However, the crowdfunding campaigns I’ve seen seem to have a more democratic flavour, relying more on a reputational economy than a strictly upper-middle-class paradigm. In general I think it’s good to call this out, but almost everything right now in the indie film world is affluent/white. Crowdfunding has potential to shift that dynamic. Plus, it is just way cheaper to realize a well-executed project now that has the chance to be seen by at least as many people as an old-school “independent film” was at a fraction of the cost. The old rules about film length and format can change when films don’t have to go through funds, festivals and distribution to be made and seen.

I have mixed feelings about subsidized arts. On the one hand, as a filmmaker, I could not realistically hire even a tiny crew without finding outside support. Ideally, that support would come from people who felt I could ultimately turn a profit, not an easy feat for documentaries, shorts or indie films. But what Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other crowdfunding platforms show is that people are willing to pay/donate for the potential of supporting an experience they will enjoy (and feel a sense of ownership of, even if they don’t receive stock or title). Feeling a direct connection to the work being made is the first step to greater power for the artist, as has happened in music.

I’m about to start crowdfunding for my documentary Acceleration and the idea that the project will be judged on the campaign’s merits does feel scary. On the other hand, from a distribution standpoint, I think the more information filmmakers have about the viability of their projects in the marketplace, the better off they are. Kickstarter does not work like a “popularity contest” in which projects are compared against each other. Projects are weighed against the passion of their own specific audience and fanbase, so a more obscure project can still be important to a fanatical if narrow group.

Best Bets for Screening Indie Films in Brooklyn

Monday, March 21st, 2011
Rooftop at Bkln Tech

Rooftop Films at Brooklyn Tech

A number of new venues have popped up around Brooklyn that show film some or all of the time. These can be great places to screen for a local or younger crowd or for a special event screening.

indiescreen – 285 Kent St in Williamsburg. Offers a full menu as well as first run indie movies.

Brooklyn Lyceum – shows occasional films and hosts Flicker NYC Super 8 nights.

The Bell House – Located in the Gowanus, hosts special events including screenings.

Galapagos
- this lovely space in DUMBO (relocated from Williamsburg) hosts screenings as well as performance, music and other events.

reRun Gastropub Theater- in DUMBO, this small theater in the back of a bar offers a small menu and indie screenings.

Brooklyn Bowl – pair your premeire with some pins at Brooklyn Bowl’s screening space.

The Back Room at The Gutter – Bowling + Movies = Love, at least in Brooklyn.

Rooftop Films – The masters of outdoor summer screening fun use a number of Brooklyn venues.

Brooklyn Arts Council Gallery – in DUMBO, for BAC artists

Zora Art Space – Has occasional screening series in the heart of Park Slope.

The Knitting Factory – Mostly a music venue, the Brooklyn outpost of the minichain does show films from time to time.

Brooklyn Historical Society
– 128 Pierrepont St. If your film is of Brooklynish historical relevance, this might be an option.

It’s also probably that many of the music venues around Brooklyn would be able to accomodate a 4-Wall type booking as most do have fairly robust A/V situations. Other options, if appropriate, are the library, churches, or community centres.

There is also the venerable BAM Cinematek, Cobble Hill Cinemas, and a new multiplex to open this fall in Williamsburg. Add more or tell us your experience with any of these venues in the comments.

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?

DIY Days NYC

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

A few FlipCam conversations from DIY Days 2011 NYC. Host Lance Weiler, filmmaker and D-Word Captain Doug Block, and branding and business expert Jennifer Warren sum up.

filmfwd is alive!

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

I’ve put the site so now it’s your turn. Filmfwd Beta is live. Please give me your feedback. What information do independent media makers need about the business side of filmmaking? What would you like to see covered? What links are broken? All is in your hands now.