Archive for the ‘independent filmmakers’ Category

Online Viewing Can Be Social

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

The chance you will watch an independent ‘film’ in a theatre has decreased significantly just in the last 10 years. The sheer volume of titles available on Netflix Watch Instantly, not to mention VOD IFC, HBO, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon and countless other streaming and on-demand services means viewers no longer need advance planning to watch at home (or anywhere they have a laptop or iPhone).

Filmmakers can find this a bit depressing. Watching a film in a theatre is exciting. It’s big! It’s usually calibrated to look as good as it can. And most importantly, there are a bunch of people—strangers!—watching it together.

Creating this sense of spirit is a challenge for independents and perhaps the main opportunity to compete with the mainstream industry. We don’t have studio-size spends, but we can understand our audiences more precisely and have a more personal relationship.

For live settings, event screenings work very well. But can we make digital screenings social? We generally have little to no control over when people watch the films online, their physical circumstances, who, if anyone, they are with, or even if they watch the whole film.

Still, filmmakers have come up with some innovative ways of bringing the audience for digital screenings together. Transmedia, expressing your story in a different context, can play a great role. Lance Weiler’s Head Trauma featured a game that embedded clues in flash frames of the film itself, so viewers had to watch the film repeatedly to play and engaged with each other on the film’s site. You could offer live events to viewers of the movie during a digital rollout, such as a Skype-based Q&A. Using a technology like CrowdControls, viewers could identify their location and you could plan post-screening events in popular places.

Do you have other examples of ways to make online screenings exciting or social? Or are we doomed to living in a room with a virtual helmet?

People with Answers: Human Resources for Filmmakers

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Google is a great resource, but often more useful answers come from asking a real individual. This is even more the case in creative work, since the question one asks is often not exactly what one needs to find out.

Some of the best ways of getting information are networking-oriented, such as having conversations at film-related events, festivals and conferences. But when you are unable to make it to a face-to-face meeting place or you are just starting out, there are some excellent online resources that can help you start building relationships and getting the help you need.

The D-Word: This documentary-oriented site, started by filmmakers Doug Block and Ben Kampas, is a forum for documentarians of all kinds, with a welcoming and active population of participants.

- Funtional if basic forums for low-budget filmmakers

DV Creators- Primarily tech-related discussions about HD-production and post

Creative Cow Final Cut Pro Discussions
- Newbie to uber-geeky FCP info

Filmmaker Magazine Forums- Not heavily used but could be useful

Celtx Forums: The excellent free scriptwriting software maintains forums on a variety of film topics

Vimeo Forums
- The online video site has forums that can assist with online video issues

Do you frequent other online discussions? Let us know in the comments.

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.

Broadband is the most important issue in digital distribution today

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

The NY Times recently published an editorial pressing the great need to regulate broadband, under the auspices of the FCC. It’s true that broadband in the US is an embarrassment. But will regulation seek to fix the symptoms (i.e. regulate “Net Neutrality”) or is there political will to address the underlying problem- primarily, lack of competition? In Europe, the government enforced strong competition, leading to cheap, fast, competitive internet access for consumers. In the US, such enforcement has died along the way and as a result, there are monopolized, expensive, slow, and consumer-unfriendly options.

Artists, particularly media and film artists, are at the mercy of this system since control of bandwidth is one of the few legal, effective approaches corporate media owners have left to enforce monetization of their products. This is how people access our work. We should be doing more than just demanding regulation or change, we should be actively seeking alternatives to the current broadband bottleneck. (And if my experience is anything to go on, 3G/4G wireless is not the solution).

The Cobbler- A new model for entertainment artists

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Have an article up at about a new approach for filmmakers and other entertainment artists in the reproductive economy. Sample:

For the first time, it is possible for a filmmaker to make a film on a very small budget, use promotion and distribution methods that are low-cost or free, and find enough revenue to break even and possibly to support themselves in a basic fashion. It means you probably won’t become a millionaire, but in return your chances of being able to support yourself through your work go up, and they go up more the better your work is.

Mixing it up at the IFP Lab

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I’ll be presenting a workshop at IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Documentary Lab this week and I’ll be interested to see up close how filmmakers are thinking about audience engagement. Twitter is abuzz today about Jeff Steele’s take on the crowdfunding model (he’s against it) and he calls audience building a “Loser.”

Building an audience as a way to appeal to investors/financiers might sound like a great idea, but having a bunch of YouTube hits does not translate into dollars and means almost nothing to the buyers or financiers.

Of course, his comments are in the context of films which require “financiers,” which we are seeing to be less necessary in a super-low-budget-higher-quality-own-it-yourself model that is emerging due to various technological advances. Still, the other model will linger as long as schools can sell creative MBAs and the AFM can get anyone to attend.

The Conversation is ongoing

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Had fun moderating and ‘advising’ at The Conversation on Saturday. Lots of thoughts always arise when you get many interesting and innovative thinkers together, but I think one thing has been on my mind and only became more intensely so after a day of discussing various kinds of viability for media creation.

There are some basic realities in an economic context that are altering the fundamental possibilities for filmmakers now. When I was focused on the distribution end, I saw this as largely troubling. I do think there will be things I currently love that may not survive the kind of changes we are seeing now. But there are also potential upsides that can be embraced.

Hollywood-style cinema seems to be moving more and more into over-the-top, event-based cinema that can’t be replicated in a home environment. The movies that tend to do well at the box office are the ones with astronomical budgets. The box office prices are going up to reflect that. If a big 3-D movie is $19.50 now, then exhibitors may be reluctant to play small movies that have smaller audiences at a reduced admission.

On the other hand, independent filmmakers can increasingly make high-quality films for very low amounts of money. They may not be able to access the old distribution channels, and they also may choose whether a traditional distribution model makes sense, compared to the various alternatives that are emerging. Since very few films ever make back their budget through domestic distribution and the majority of films made don’t even have the option of accessing traditional distribution, it’s no surprise that new ways of reaching an audience and potentially getting revenue are emerging.

What I’m waiting to see, and to figure out myself as a filmmaker, is what elements of financing or reaching an audience from the “old ways” can work with a model in which the work I make is not only a product I then license to other people in hopes of some return for the work I’ve done. Instead I’d like it to be viable in a financial way (and also good, by the standards I have) and also a part of some larger body of communication that remix and reproductive culture demands. I think we may not be there yet but the tools are developing.

See you at DIY Days!

Disadvantaged? Or alternatively abled? Panel to decide.

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

On Tuesday (January 19), I’ll be joining a panel for New York Women in Film and Television to talk about gender, race and disability issues in the film industry. In particular, I’m tasked with commenting on women’s roles in distribution. Most people are familiar with the rather brutal situation for female directors in Hollywood as reported recently in the New York Times- last year just 3% of studio films were helmed by women. Cinematography is similarly imbalanced. In independent film the opportunities increase if not exactly balance. There are positions like editing and producing where women have long been numerous.

However, distribution is more complicated. Being more purely a business, it seems to reflect business culture, with more women working in lower-paid positions and fewer in top jobs. Being the film industry, this disparity may be exacerbated. But as far as I know, any evidence one way or another is anecdotal.

Does being a woman affect one’s experience in being a distributor? Any more so than being a woman affects daily life in general in any profession? Is there in fact more discrimination in the film industry than in other industries? How does that play out in the various spheres in which a distributor engages, i.e. film festivals, exhibitors, broadcasters, DVD wholesalers, etc.? And how many women really do “succeed”?

To engage further in this discussion, join me at Imagining Gender, Race & Disability In Film and TV: Part II–Above The Line & Below The Line, Marymount Manhattan College 221 East 71st Street Peruggi Room, 2nd Floor. Registration Required, free for students.