Friday, January 30, 2009

Microfinancing the arts

Got a great email from Galapagos today announcing a new initiative they are launching to micro-finance theater. I'm glad to see more stabs at this in the arts. There's a few in the film world as well, but what I like about this one is that it comes with the trusted "curation" from an arts organization that I, and many people, trust for quality. One that isn't nonprofit by the way.

There's nothing on the Galapagos website about this anywhere, so I post the email in its entirety below. I guess Galapagos is cutting edge everywhere but the web - like many an arts org!

We're creating ~ think social networking meets venture philanthropy ~ a micro-financing funding model based on the Nobel prize winning Grameen bank.

what is the Grameen bank?


Help produce theater.

For $100 you'll get:

· Part ownership of a new theater production, produced by Galapagos

Art Space

· Part ownership in a racehorse at Belmont racetrack. We'll go visit

the horse and watch her race.

· Two tickets to the production, and you'll be invited to readings of the

work and to rehearsals. You'll get to meet the director and the actors at

a special cocktail party Galapagos Art Space will organize.

· A special ticket - at cost - to go skydiving with us.

What if we discover the next "Rent", or the next "A Chorus Line"? What if the theater piece we select one day goes to Broadway?

· As an owner of the work you'll own a share of the profits.

Why are we doing this?

· More than 25% of the once two hundred Off-Off-Broadway

theaters have closed in the last five years. And that was during an

unprecedented economic boom.

· We estimate that another 25% will disappear in this economic crisis,

within the next sixteen months.

Why is finding innovative ways to fund theater important for New York City?

· New York doesn't compete to bring the best and brightest to it's most

important industries with a network of fine running paths or wonderful

bike trails. We don't compete for tourists with mountain views.

We compete with culture.

Other cities, cities like Berlin or London, want our best and brightest

- the ones our meritocracy would obviously miss the most - and they'll

get them if our artists can't set their foot on a stage or get their work on

a wall. New York can be expensive but it must include opportunity in it's

narrative or it's only expensive.


The next step:

We're looking for the right theater piece to begin this program with.

In the meantime, if you have questions, or thoughts, or you'd like to participate:

If you are an artist, email us at

No experience necessary! If you'd like to produce theater, email

Warm regards,

Robert Elmes

Director, Galapagos Art Space

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Future of Social Media Video

My good friend Joe Summerhayes teaches kids how to make media - animations, videos, web - and runs a cool blog on issues around the future of media and education. He posted a video today that I hadn't seen about the history of and future of media on the web - or really about our future as a result. It's a little corny but spot on for most of the video. The video's producer has some other cool videos on the future of cellphones, etc, and even on making caipirinha's in Dublin!
Worth a look:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

VOD, Fests and Tom's great post

Tom Hall, always one of the smartest bloggers, programmers, thinkers in the room had a great post at IndieWire that I missed until Agnes Varnum posted about it. I made some quick comments there, but thought I'd post what I think about the recently announced IFC/SXSW partnership here.
Read the other posts first or this won't make much sense:

Great, thoughtful post. I am 100% in support of this move by IFC and SXSW and think it can be great for fests as well. Having run a small, regional fest for 5 years, I was always pushing for this exact model and for expanding how we think about what our audiences will come see.
I for one always argued with our programmers that it didn't matter if a film played HBO, or PBS first, we could still get an audience. Tons of people don't watch these. Tons won't even know it's on demand. You, me and many film buffs see things right away and may choose to see a film based on how soon it is available, but I don't think this is true of everyone. it's amazing how many people still haven't seen Citizen Kane - it's been in theatres, on tv, on vhs, disc, youtube and everything else and lots of people haven't seen it. Many would come to your fest for a print screening with a local film expert. Find value in what you offer that other venues (including "venues" like an ipod) don't or can't.

Those that do may be intrigued to see it with others, or to see it again, to bring their mom who can't figure out VOD, or as you mentioned to meet the filmmaker. I'd also argue that you don't necessarily need the filmmaker in attendance. It helps with most, but you could probably fill a screening with related speakers (the local expert doctor on the disease in the doc, or whatever).

More importantly, we need to figure this out because no one should care whether our old (festival, distribution, platforms, whatever) model lasts or is harmed. All we should care about is the filmmaker and the audience. Whatever tools come around that better connect them, all the better. So, for fests (and others) to be relevant they need to continually ask your question (rephrased) - given that this is the new reality, how can we add value to the films, filmmakers and audiences.

I've been so eager for someone to have this conversation, and think of even bolder models, so in that sense I am very glad for IFC/SXSW and your post!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Free the facts

Not really about film, but if you are interested in open content movements, this presentation is great. It's also a masterful powerpoint, which is rare.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Best Outreach Ever

My good friend Luciano Larobina, who I met when he won a Fellowship from my day job and took a workshop with us, is finalizing his new movie HavanaYork. I haven't seen the final cut, but he just linked me to his website where he is doing some excellent work on outreach before his film is even done. Something every filmmaker should do.

There he has great wallpaper downloads like the one shown here, posters, music, etc. You can sign up to pre-order the DVD, enter contests to remix music and clips from the film and my absolute favorite - download graffiti stencils that are incredible. Hands-down the best outreach tactic I've seen lately. The stencils are all in PDF with no direct links, but you can find them easily here.

Python Proves Free Works

This just in from Mashable -
The Monty Python gang has decided to fight piracy by giving away everything for free and letting you link to it to buy it. From the report:

“We’re letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there! But we want something in return. None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.”

And you know what? Despite the entertainment industry’s constant cries about how bad they’re doing, it works. As we wrote yesterday, Monty Python’s DVDs climbed to No. 2 on Amazon’s Movies & TV bestsellers list, with increased sales of 23,000 percent.

That's the way the net works folks! Buy some now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Luddites, Boomers and Media

By way of O'Reilly Radar I found this Columbia Journalism Review interview with Clay Shirky. Shirky is a professor at NYU who I usually don't find interesting (a long story, but essentially feel he's sayig the same things others said 10-20 years ago), but this one is good. It is ostensibly about journalism in the time of new media, but I think it applies to the film world just as well.

So for all of you out in Sundance thinking about the future of the business between screenings, here's a few of the gems. I had to skip the 'Dance for the first time in 10 years, but hope all are having fun.

In debating new technology and it's effects on film, someone often compares the old guard of the film world to Luddites, while the old guard says, "wait, we're not against technology, we just want you to respect our model. So here's Shirky on whether there is a new Luddism:

Luddism is specifically a demand that the people who benefited from the old system be consulted before any technology is allowed to disrupt it. That’s what the Luddites wanted.... But, to say, essentially, that the change should be stopped because it’s disrupting previous value is exactly Luddite. I mean, no one is anti-technology in general times, right? The use of Luddism as a description for anti-technology is ridiculous. What Luddites are is anti-change, and, in particular, they are anti-change in a way that discomforts the beneficiaries of the previous system.

Which I would argue applies to most of the old world film people out there. Another complaint we often here in the film world is that there are too many films. I love what he says about this notion, and how to solve it:

If you took the contents of an average Barnes and Noble, and you dumped it into the streets and said to someone, “You know what’s in there? There’s some works of Auden in there, there’s some Plato in there. Wade on in and you’ll find what you like.” And if you wade on in, you know what you’d get? You’d get Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or, you’d get Love’s Tender Fear. You’d get all this junk. The reason we think that there’s not an information overload problem in a Barnes and Noble or a library is that we’re actually used to the cataloging system. On the Web, we’re just not used to the filters yet, and so it seems like “Oh, there’s so much more information.” But, in fact, from the 1500s on, that’s been the normal case.

So, the real question is, how do we design filters that let us find our way through this particular abundance of information? And, you know, my answer to that question has been: the only group that can catalog everything is everybody. One of the reasons you see this enormous move towards social filters, as with Digg, as with, as with Google Reader, in a way, is simply that the scale of the problem has exceeded what professional catalogers can do. But, you know, you never hear twenty-year-olds talking about information overload because they understand the filters they’re given. You only hear, you know, forty- and fifty-year-olds taking about it, sixty-year-olds talking about because we grew up in the world of card catalogs and TV Guide. And now, all the filters we’re used to are broken and we’d like to blame it on the environment instead of admitting that we’re just, you know, we just don’t understand what’s going on.

That's great, and falls in line with my notion that the future of the internet is find. But the kicker is the end of Part One, when he says he's sick of people wanting us to slow down for those not ready to make the change. This is my quote thus far of the year:

I’m just so impatient with the argument that the world should be slowed down to help people who aren’t smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s in part because I grew up in a generation that benefited enormously from not doing that. Right? The baby boomers, when we were young, we had zero, zero patience for the idea that people who are in their fifties in the ’70s and ’80s should somehow be shielded from cultural changes because somehow the stuff that we were doing was upsetting them. So, now it’s our turn and we ought to just suck it up.

Amen to that.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

bye bye DRM

Wow! It's about time - PaidContent reports that Apple is dropping DRM across the board on itunes. From the report, Apple will:
drop DRM copy protection across 10 million iTunes Store songs from all majors, as per CNET’s earlier report. The move will apply to eight million tracks as of today and will extend to a further two million by the end of the quarter. Bringing to a close what have sometimes been fractious label negotiations, Apple is also introducing three new pricing tiers for iTunes tracks—$0.69 for older tracks, $0.99 for recent tracks and $1.29 for new hits. Marketing VP Phil Schiller, taking Steve Jobs’ traditional keynote spot, also said Apple is extending the ability to buy iTunes songs wirelessly via iPhone from merely WiFi to 3G mobile networks; also from today, tracks will be priced the same and have the same bitrate as desktop iTunes downloads.

This is huge. Not just for music fans, but for us indie filmmaker folks as well. It will take awhile for many filmmakers and distributors to accept it, but DRM is dead for film as well.We're still offering it at Reframe, because that's what distributors and filmmakers still ask us for, but we keep telling everyone - worry about obscurity, not piracy!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Free and Fee

Kevin Kelly, one of the editors of Wired, recently wrote a great article called Better Than Free which should be read by every arts organization, broadcaster, distributor, filmmaker and anyone else interested in figuring out how to build a business model in a world that’s increasingly trending towards free.

With so much free content coming online, whether purposely or through piracy, how do we get people to pay for content? Why would someone pay for your film, or your podcast, or your book, or whatever, when they can likely find something similar or identical for free? This is a question vexing many a business executive, the MPAA and others. I’ve always argued that you can have both, a middle ground of free and fee based content. This is nothing new, many others feel the same way, including Tiffany Shlain and Rick Prelinger in the film world, but not enough people get this yet.

The famous maxim that information wants to be free was only half the quote. There’s another half of the quote that is never mentioned:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Stewart Brand at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984

So, we’ve got these competing tensions, and Kevin Kelly’s come up with a neat way of thinking about the problem. He says:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

So what things make someone pay for the content? What he calls generatives:

There are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values - "generatives."

A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured.

A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time.

In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold.

And what are they?

  1. Immediacy – The ability to get it now, or early;
  2. Personalized – getting it personalized to your liking, for example to “your” rating or length needs;
  3. Interpretation – For example, the idea behind many open source projects – the code is free, the manual costs 10K, or you’ll pay for that service;
  4. Authenticity – you pay for a official Dead album because it comes from and is endorsed by the Dead, even though you can get millions of bootlegs;
  5. Accessibility – someone else stores it for use anywhere – think of gmail and the move to cloud computing;
  6. Embodiment – The book is free, but attending a lecture with the author costs money, or think of the concert;
  7. Patronage – support the artist because you want them to keep creating – think of Radiohead’s recent experiment;
  8. Findability – helping you find it in the sea of content coming online.

These are my short-hand notes, but the full article isn’t very long and is worth a read. I think arts organizations are very well situated to capitalize on all of these, especially the last. I’ve been saying for years that the internet has been about search (Google) but the future of the internet is about Find – finding what you actually want, and arts organizations are curators at heart – they help you cut through the mass of junk to the one video, or painting, or play, or dance performance that you really want. They just need to transition to doing this online.

These all make sense for filmmakers as well – they point to easy ideas for thinking about how to make money on your film. For just one example, Embodiment is probably the future for most indie, especially doc, films making money . Give away the film, but charge for the lecture with you and the expert on the subject covered, or for getting you to speak to a university about the film. Personalized applies to versioning your film, etc.

Good stuff here, check it out.