Thursday, January 28, 2010

Slamdance and Sabi Pictures on the future

Just back from Slamdance, and Sundance, where I participated in a great event called the Filmmaker Summit. My particular panel was about the future of film festivals, and I hope to put forth some thoughts on that soon. In fact, the whole day made me think a lot about the future, but that's for a later post. What impressed me the most about the event was that the organizers tried hard to include the audience and other filmmakers in the design for the event, in the event discussion and hope to do so going forward. They started a discussion page in advance for input. Each panel met in advance for a great talk about their subject - mine lasted an hour and a half (of prep, mind you, for a 30 minute panel) - to be sure we could jump right into discussion. They're gathering further comments online now, and I hope the discussion continues.

What most impressed me, however, was that they decided to get two filmmakers - Sabi Pictures (Zak Forsman and Kevin Shah) - to post a series of videos related to the festival, exploring the questions and themes a bit more. The videos are executive produced and sponsored by Workbook Project and Filmmaker Magazine, and the entire event was sponsored by IndieFlix, the Open Video Alliance and Slamdance (amongst others). Sabi didn't just tape the talks, edit a piece and throw it up for viewing. Instead they are exploring the questions from their position as filmmakers in the middle of making and then distributing a film. They went beyond the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit and interviewed other people, including (gasp) Sundance filmmakers to try and work towards some new answers. They aren't done yet, but the first few videos are online. They feature yours truly in the first few so far, so yes, I am self-promoting, but I think the best stuff comes from the filmmakers they speak with and their personal voice in the films. Check them out online, and give me your thoughts. I'll have more on the Summit and the entire week soon.

Videos after the fold:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

10 ideas on the future of the arts (20<40)

My recent post about possible leaders in the arts under 40 (20<40) ended up getting some traction. The idea it was based on wasn't mine, but rather comes from an upcoming book on 20 new ideas by emerging leaders in the arts who are all under 40. I've been selected to submit a chapter, and hope to do so soon. The idea of the book isn't to discuss who are the leaders, but to listen to their ideas about the future of the field.  In the spirit of openness, I submit my idea below for your feedback and advice. The chapter I am contemplating writing (and I have to do it soon) is about some key changes in the arts. Not the most cutting edge changes, mind you, but those that I think will have the most impact in the next few years. These ideas will be old-hat to anyone who thinks about these matters a lot, but I think they bring together some of the more important changes we face in the arts in general - and of course to film, particularly as that's where I work. So, tell me what you agree with, disagree with, think is more important, etc. I promise that I'll consider all responses before submitting my final chapter. So here's what I think:

Slamdance Jury & Summit

I'm excited to be heading to Park City this year, and now I can say why - because I'm on the jury for Slamdance. This year I'll be one of the judges for documentaries, and the line-up looks great. The rest of the jury line-up should be public soon. I'm looking forward to meeting the filmmakers there, and also participating in the Filmmaker Summit, which I wrote up earlier. There's a lot of great things going on in Park City in addition to Slamdance:

This little old fest called Sundance.
....Which has a great panel on rethinking distribution
....And a cool New Frontier Section.
The Filmmaker Summit
Peter Broderick's Distribution Clinic.

So, if you are headed to Park City, I hope to see you there. Let me know of other good things going on in Park City, and good luck to all the filmmakers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

My 20<40 leaders in Film

Well, that went over well....No one has suggested anyone for the twenty leaders under 40. Considering I made it clear that you could even nominate people over 40, I’m surprised. Perhaps no one cares, or perhaps as was suggested to me, people don’t want to diss anyone by not nominating them. One person suggested online that they couldn’t think of any real film leaders under 40. Before giving up on this experiment, here’s my list of 20 leaders in film under the age of 40. I’m not sure all of them are actually under 40, but they all look young. And these aren’t my only picks, actually, so if you aren’t on the list, don’t feel slighted. In picking my starter list, I tried to stay away from some of the usual suspects - i.e., if I speak on panels with you on a regular basis,  or everyone refers to you as our savior daily, I left you off the list. The people below are leaders in the film world who I deeply respect and who I think will do at least one thing, if not more, to improve the indie film world in the next five years. Disagree? Don’t say so here. No need to denigrate anyone, but do feel free to add people you think I’ve missed. I’m sure there are lots more.
This list is in alpha order by last name:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Who are the 20 < 40 in film?

I tend to spend my days between a mix of the film world and the art world. Not that film isn’t an art, but meaning that lots of thinking in the capital A, Arts World doesn’t filter to the Film World and vice versa. In the arts world, there’s a cool project going on now that I think would be worth repeating in the film world - it’s called 20Under40. The aim of this project is to gather 20 emerging (or even established) leaders in the arts who are under the age of 40 and compile their thoughts about the future of the arts in one anthology. Or, in their own words:

In light of the impending generational shift in leadership the field of the arts and arts education is about to experience, there has been much talk about the future: who will be our new leading arts thinkers, administrators, policymakers, and practitioners—and in what social, cultural, and political landscapes will these individuals operate? While there is great concern surrounding this matter, little is being done to provide a platform for tomorrow’s leaders to share their ideas with the larger field.

20UNDER40 endeavors to collect twenty essays about the future of the arts and arts education, each written by an emerging leader under the age of forty. In doing so, this anthology will provide a unique arena for new ideas by formally gathering the thoughts of young artists, teaching artists, administrators, researchers, and other arts and arts education professionals—legitimizing the talent of young leaders by bringing their ideas out of the margins and into the forefront of our dialogue.

I submitted a proposal which made it to the next round of selection. Now I have to turn in my chapter and make it to round two, which I have to admit - I hate. I mean, come on, I’m writing for free and don’t know if it will even be published, what is this....Hollywood? Regardless, I’m going to submit my ideas, and I’ll be posting more about my thoughts soon for your feedback, but this isn’t why I’m writing now. Instead, I want to know...You guessed it...

Who are the 20 leaders in film under 40? Who do you think will lead change? Should we  have a similar project in the film world? Perhaps where film leaders under 40 submit proposals for some website publication (Workbook project??) or a book? Perhaps we should start the <40AKC - the under 40 ass-kickers club, a monthly mixer for these folks? I think all of these could be interesting, but would love your thoughts. In the meantime, who are the 20under40 people we should be following in the film world? Feel free to nominate yourself, and bonus points if you name people that aren’t on the usual suspects list. Who is that? Oh, you know who we/they are.....

Now before you post a comment deriding the whole ageism thing here...I’m not saying everyone over 40 should be discounted. I’m not saying under 40 is a perfect cut-off either (what about under 50?). These were the same critiques that the Art world 20<40 folks received, and they answer them well online. I think this is stupid. Start your own damn club if you disagree. Yes, it’s arbitrary, but hey, none of you boomers seem to complain that you got to run everything else for the last 40 years or so, and still do, so give the under40’s a chance. And to be equanimous, go ahead, suggest your 20over40 below, or your 20><=40 or whatever rubric you want. As long as it’s good thinking about the future, I guess I really don’t care about the age of the prophet. I just want 20 great thinkers for all of us to follow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's the future for Film Festivals?

I recently attended the IFFS Summit in Las Vegas, where I spoke about new online strategies for film festivals. The IFFS is kinda like a trade org (but less official) for film fests around the world, and the Summit I attended was exclusively US fests (they have another summit in Europe). I’ve also recently joined the advisory board, as the founder asked me to join and help contribute thoughts on the changes needed in the festival world. I met some great people at the conference, and I was impressed with much of what I heard - festival directors were thinking a lot about the future of the business and how they fit. This wasn’t surprising - most festival people want their fests to be vibrant participants in the future of the field, much as they’ve been key parts of the past.

I was surprised, however, that a (to-remain-unnamed) sizable contingent seemed put-off with the idea that they should be thinking about dramatic change for the future. While I can’t stress enough that this doesn’t apply to all or even a majority of the fests in attendance, in my conversations I got a sense that many people felt that film festivals will remain largely unchanged in the foreseeable future. Sure, they could see that they’d have new tools to help people discover films and buy tickets, and they knew all the requisite knowledge about how to use Facebook and whatever comes next in their marketing strategies. They also know about projection changes to come and technical possibilities. There was even an awareness that filmmakers are starting to look at things like coinciding release strategies with their festival premiere.  But this was also where the thinking seemed to stop (again, not for all). When one of my friend’s pointed out on a panel about the future (with some smart thinkers) that this trend could have serious repercussions for the festival model, and asked how they think fests might strategize, he pretty much received blank stares from the panelists as if they hadn’t heard his question.

Friday, January 08, 2010

My 20 tips for SunSlamDance

I’ve been making the trek to Park City for too many years to remember, but not too many to get too jaded about it. Most of my industry friends like to bemoan that they have to go to Park City again, but I think that’s just a “too cool for school” cover. It’s fun, and if you have a film there (congrats) it’s crazy and gut-wrenching, but hopefully still fun. I’ve been seeing lots of great lists on what to do at Sundance - Jon Reiss’ recent post on how to think about timing your film’s release with Sundance being the best. But I think most filmmakers need something much simpler, a little bit of advice on how to survive Park City. Here’s my take on 20 things you need to know to survive Park City. I’m sure there are more, but this is what I could come up with in 30 minutes, so add them to the comments.

  1. You will get sick. If you’ve never been, you might not know it, but Sundance is really a super-virus testing center for the CDC. They unleash every nasty germ there and see how it affects a closed population - self-absorbed film people who only talk to other film people - so luckily it doesn’t impact the entire country. So, to counter this, take every home remedy/precaution you’ve ever heard of. Even if there’s no scientific proof they work. Me, my wife is an expert on flu, so I just drink lots of water, bring kleenex and try not to take any filmmaker’s DVDs, as they are covered with germs. But, I get sick every year, so what do I know. 
  2. Carry a backpack/bag with essentials. These would include - your business cards, postcards for your movie, DVDs and press kits of your film, your film schedule, extra cellphone batteries (unless you fell for that iPhone PR blitz and can’t....), and two other essential items. A bottle of water. Drink lots of it all day. You can usually score free bottles at the HQ. Slimfast bars. This isn’t diet advice, which I am the last person you should take it from. You will skip meals, you will get hungry and tired in a screening at 8am. Any food bars do the trick, but the Slimfast ones are pretty tasty and have less junk than the other ones, it seems. I would say chapstick as well, but you usually are given 50 of those by sponsors who have decided it’s just the right give-away for a cold climate. Original folks, those marketers.

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?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Can film leapfrog music to success?

Everyone says that the movie industry should not repeat the mistakes of the music industry when it comes to digital. Many argue that we have already repeated these mistakes and continue to do so. I think we need to start thinking about this equation differently. We need to think more actively. The real failure of the music industry wasn’t just to make mistakes, but to not envision the totality of change and respond not according to how it looked on that day, but how things would look 10 years down the road. We need to not just repeat their mistakes, but also come up with solutions that are responding not to where we (and they) are today, but where we’ll be way down the line.

So I propose that we can’t start comparing anything we do until we’ve leapfrogged their current solutions. Until then, we are repeating all of the same mistakes.

For the MPAA, this seems to mean we haven’t succeeded unless we do more than the RIAA did. The RIAA stopped with relatively minor stuff - they try to sue their fans into submission. The MPAA decides it’s going for the jugular and will bypass American and all other laws and work on secret international treaties to rewrite copyright law in their favor.

This is not learning from the mistakes of the past.  It’s just going nuclear.

They may make some major changes, but they will fail at reinventing their model. This is also my main complaint with 3D. It’s not a new response - in fact, the last time the industry felt threatened they turned to 3D to solve their problems. More of the same, updated for today is not a paradigm shift.

In the DIY world, we’re still looking to the music world for answers. We look at what indie musicians have been doing with crowdsourcing, making cool apps to request a band, experimenting with free leading to fee, etc. and try to duplicate them for the film world. These are great experiments, but again, not paradigmatic changes.

Until it’s the other way around - the music world looks to the film world for novel solutions -  we’re still behind. Not repeating the mistakes means leapfrogging them, and until we do, we’re just repeating.

I’m not saying we (film) can’t learn from music folks, or that we shouldn’t be looking for many overlaps and lessons from multiple industries. This is good. But I do think we need to think bigger. All of the things I’ve seen so far look more like band-aids than laser surgery approaches to staunching the bleeding. I don’t know what the “leapfrog solution” is, but I’m thinking about this a lot, and would love your thoughts.