Thursday, January 07, 2010

Filmmaking and Releasing - changing the male climax model

One thing I’d like to see in Twenty10 is a move away from the male climax version of film-making and releasing. (Ok, apologies in advance for the word-play, it’s impossible not to use in such an article.)

Filmmakers spend a lot of time leading up to the making of a film - development, pre-production, production and then....release. Play a fest, flirt with a distributor, find one who takes it out for you, because your job is finished. Filmmaker is done and on to the next show. Getting the film in some fests is the filmmaker’s release.

The distributor follows this same male climax pattern. Lots of attention is paid to building a campaign, taking it to market, woo-ing audiences. Once the audience comes to see the show, be it in theaters, DVD or VOD - distributor is done. Wham bam thank you ma’am. (Ok, it’s a longer process than most males can handle...)

Festival’s premiere policies, theatrical and then ancillary windows, media attention - it’s all built around this same model. Even filmmakers that are getting in to the whole viral video, build your audience, transmedia, etc thing are usually focused on what leads up to launch and nothing after. Their game, ARG, viral video campaign all usually end once the film is out and being seen by an audience. In fact, this idea came from a discussion with media expert Christy Dena, who speaks about this in an interview to be podcast on Workbook Project soon. She commented to me about the problem of filmmaker’s only thinking of transmedia leading up to a film’s release and how we need to broaden our thinking. She’s right, but I think it pertains to a lot about the business.

What if we thought a little more about what happens after release? What if the film was just the beginning of the experience, with more to come? What if it led you to something else? Can people re-experience the ARG months later if they didn’t hear about it until after the film? A film’s life is much, much longer than the initial release - just look at the cult faves like Donnie Darko, Primer not to mention Bourne.  What if we built strategies to sustain that momentum beyond the release?

On a simpler level, once you’ve built that great following on Twitter, Facebook, etc for your film are you keeping those audiences engaged on a regular basis so that they are ready for the next film? Are you using them to push new audiences to see it a year later?

When I ran Reframe, a project to bring back out older films, I was shocked at the amount of filmmakers that were doing nothing to push their older films - many of which they now had rights to again from their distributors. Think of how many older books get rediscovered every time an author’s new release comes out - sometimes their sales for older titles jump as much as 40% or more. Are you pushing your older films every time a new one comes out?

Festivals swear by premieres, but not only do most of your audiences not care (as long as it’s new to them), but I’m willing to bet that careful programming of even older titles could sell. A lot of thought will have to be put into this as filmmakers start to do more day/date releasing with their festival premiere. Can you imagine a world where every other fest still plays that film, even though it’s online already? We’re going to have to, I think.

I’m not sure what exactly could replace this model, but I do think we are losing attention too early, and probably losing audiences as a result. What are the possibilities if we move away from the climax model? Thoughts?


Miles Maker said...

The challenge for indie filmmakers is logistical + opportunity cost consideration. Indie filmmakers as brands can perpetuate the conversation for their collective body of work, however each new project requires a focused courting period for audiences as well as the demands and attention paid to conceptualize, develop and produce a new title. Unless there's a concerted affort to continue the conversation with audiences about a filmmaker's previous titles, they are simply neglected. We're wearing so many hats these days they simply all can't fit on our heads at once.

Indie filmmakers as brands may discover a creative, labor-efficient and cost-effective way to perpetuate conversation for their entire body of work. Is there an existing model for this? Have we yet to see this done??

Miles Maker
Story Author | Visual Artist (film/video)
Socially mobile in real-time via Twitter:

Atlanta Film Festival said...

You'd think that this would be a more common line of thinking. The culture of film heavily relies on audiences rediscovering films, burrowing deeper into a genre and watching an entire director or actor's available filmography.

The early days of DVD sales were driven not by new releases, but the reissues of catalogs going back to the 1930s. There are companies that made truckloads of money scooping up public domain films, indies and lesser know films for the cheap and repackaging them for DVD.

To not reorient one's release plan from a 1 to 2 year rotation to a 10, 20, 30 year cycle, is to not rely on a structure that's already built into our social DNA.

Until the last copy disappears, all content is eternal.

Charles Judson

J. Nathan Evans said...

I think that on a very simplistic level we will see a shift towards more ongoing, transmedia narratives, provided filmmakers will have interest in a longer term commitment to a story. Long run, this will come to be the most profitable model for indies as it accommodates the slow build required of artists with limited resources.

Also, as an independent it will be interesting to see what sort of investment can be raised for such a plan. Would it most likely be initial seed money allowing for organic growth or would investor participation continue? Smart financing would create a flexible model between the two.

Thanks Brian, enjoy following your thoughts...

Nathan Evans

popculturepirate said...

the only thing i took from this article is that men do indeed believe that women are products, like films, that need to be consumed.
way to go. i've got some hopes for 2010, too.

Liz Hover said...

It's interesting that you talk about this model. With forward-thinking folks like Scott Kirsner and Jon Reiss this mind-set is already taking shape. To avoid the 'male climax' filmmakers need to have continuous dialogue with their audience and build their following. Rather than focusing on one product (a film, for example) filmmakers should focus on engaging with others so that the conversation never stops. There is much more longevity in this behaviour.

Read: Think Outside The Box Office by Jon Reiss for further great thinking on this.

Sujewa Ekanayake said...

Weirdest (in a good way) how-to filmmaking & distro article intro I've read in a long time :) Good job on keeping things fresh Brian - by mixing in some 60's gender politics.

Anyway, some methods work well for some people when it comes to handling their filmmaking & distro practices. Previously (prior to the '00's let's say) the indie filmmaker worried largely about getting the film made & the distribution was left to distributors & the festival play was largely controlled by the festivals. Now it's all mixed up - for better or for worse - filmmakers are also distributors (actually, some have been since the 80's & beyond, but very few) - so, we will definitely see non-linear promotional & distribution practices (I'd say we already have that, with the web - blogging & releasing clips being an early part of an indie project these days).

Ryan Colucci said...

There have been some 'new world' distribution models put forth for television that I thought would work really well for filmmakers.

Even network TV might have to move to a subscription based service. And I was thinking along those lines, filmmakers could have subscriptions to their own catalog.

Instead of a box set of DVD's, they exist as digital downloads (from any number of sites - iTunes,, etc...). Obviously the price would have to reflect the director (you're not paying for Brad Anderson's catalog what you would for Kubrick's).

Services like Netflix or Amazon could, as you go to purchase or rent a movie by a certain director - ask if you'd like to get his catalog. Or, after you watch the film or it expires on your tv box - they ask you.

And I think this ties into the transmedia experience - because the directors involved would not only have their catalog on there, but maybe go back and do commentary on past films. Or add to the experience in some way. If they're posting video blogs on their latest film - maybe these are part of that filmmakers subscription, etc...

This thinking relies on people using their tv's as a web based entertainment portal, and although I don't think we're there yet - we aren't too far off.

The biggest concern might not even be that - but rights.

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