Friday, May 28, 2010

Whatever, whenever, yesterday

I had the distinct pleasure of touring the Whitney's Biennial last night from 10:30pm until 12:30am today. I could have stayed as late as I wanted, or come back at 6am before going to work (no, that would never happen to me). I wasn't the only one - hundreds of people were lined half-way around the block to join me, as the Whitney was open for 24 hrs a day from Wed at 12am until tonight, Friday, May 28th at Midnight. Turns out this was part of an artist's work - a proposal from Michael Asher to keep the museum open 24/7 throughout the Biennial. The idea was to challenge how we perceive the museum and who goes to the museum (this is my very short summation) and I thought it was brilliant. Being open those hours, that is, the Biennial is another discussion all to itself for another time!

It was great to see so many different people at the museum at that time. I was naive enough to think we'd be able to see the museum in a less crowded state - it was more packed than at any time I've visited any museum. Young, old, stoned, amped on coffee or other drugs and stone sober - all enjoying art at a distinctly non-art time. Or at least from the perspective of the "official" art institutions. While many of the artists I know produce their art at all hours of the day, and I partake of art, in my own way from magazines, online, on film, on tv, at parties..., at almost hour, the museum and gallery world think we should only see art Tues - Sat from 11-5. Or every day except Tuesday. Or, sorry, yes our website says we're open today, but we just didn't bother to open. Or, I'm sorry, how dare you think you could look at art on a weekend in August? Yes, we advertised our show as having just opened, there was a review in the G-D NYTimes, but we just assumed you'd never want to come look at it this weekend.

That's the usual modus operandi of the art world. It drives me nuts, as you can probably tell. There's no wonder that it struggles to survive and to be relevant to anyone outside a select few. They assume their audience will attend on their schedule, thinking they know who their audience is...or just thinking they can't be bothered to show up so the masses can see their gallery. I've been in NYC long enough not to show up on a Tuesday at MoMA, but how many tourists make that mistake daily? How many upstart galleries have lost my attendance and possible future business, forever, because they weren't open, contrary to their website after I biked from Manhattan to some industrial stretch of Brooklyn to see their latest show?

There might have been a time when your audience consisted of polite society who can arrange a visit to your gallery or museum at 3pm, but legions of your potential audience today have jobs that keep them there well past 8pm nightly, not at your institution. Sure, you're main donors, or clients, aren't those riff-raff, but you're focusing on one demographic to your peril, and perhaps that of the entire field. Today's art consumer (that's all we are anymore....) has been bred on anytime, anywhere access to their entertainment and culture. They want to consume it when they want, where they want, on what device they want, and they wanted to see it yesterday. While we think of this as mainly true for music and the moving image, this spirit of anytime access is bleeding into other aspects of our lives. This isn't a sense of entitlement, but rather the new way things work - if anything, the entitled view is that of the gallery owner who can't be bothered to wake up and represent his/her clients to potential buyers or new lovers of that work before 11am. Sorry, things don't work that way anymore.

I don't expect every gallery or museum to stay open 24/7. A friend of mine used to work in the upper ranks of a major museum and he pointed out that a fair trade-off would be to just stay open until 10 every night, but that union rules would never allow for it. I do think, however, that arts institutions need to realize that the anywhere/anytime/yesterday phenomenon affects not just music, but the art world as well. We need to re-think our established notions of when we should be open, how our calendars should be organized and who our audiences are (and when they might visit). Programmed smartly, 24 hours for three days could bring new audiences and new revenue to multiple institutions. Perhaps not all of your clients head to the Hamptons for all of August and you're missing a big sale. Perhaps 150 of us would vote to come watch a 2am movie if you gave us a crowd-sourced way to plan this in advance.

Or perhaps I just had too much fun at the Whitney after-hours and am a bit crazy today....

Editors note - for those few of you who actually read this blog often, I'm sorry that my posts have become so infrequent. I've been writing a chapter for an upcoming anthology, more on that soon, and that's taken most of my writing time. I hope to be back more frequently soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

50,000 films is a great thing, post on The Wrap

My first post for The Wrap just went online. In it, I discuss how the ever increasing flood of films is a good thing. Say what? Aren't they just crowding up the house? I don't think so, and explain why. Let me know your thoughts, either here or at The Wrap (and expect some more zany thoughts there soon).

For those too lazy - here's the article, pasted below:

For a few years now, the topic du jour at panels and conferences has been whether or not the sky is falling on the film business. Most panelists seem to settle on a common culprit contributing to the malaise: Too many films being made.

Case in point: During a recent conversation between Ted Hope and Chris Hyams, hosted by TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman, the panelists bemoaned this fact, and when Waxman commented that more than 3,000 films were submitted to Sundance last year, Chris Hyams quickly interjected that the Sundance submission number grossly underestimates the real numbers. Based on his analysis of unique, individual entries from the thousands of film festivals that used B-Side’s Festival Genius software to run their websites, Hyams estimated that as many as 50,000 films were made in 2009.

Audible gasps were heard in the room, and judging by the questions and comments from the audience, on Twitter and from those watching the streaming feed, it was clear that everyone agreed that 50,000 films might be 49,850 too many.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My thoughts on 1 of Ted's 38 reasons indie film's failing

Ted Hope has a new post up at his truly interesting blog listing 38 ways the independent film industry is failing today. I would be depressed with just these 38 reasons, but I’m sad to report this is the second time he’s posted 38 reasons, as he had already posted 38 equally interesting things before. I’m sure I could post 24 more to get him to 100 total, but instead I’d like to add just a few thoughts on number 25 of his 38 failures, because I think it’s one of the biggest failures we face as an industry:

25. We know incredibly little about our audience or their behavior.  We spend so much money making our films without really knowing who are audiences are, why they want our product, how to reach them, or how they behave, or how they are changing.  Does any other industry think so late about their audience?  Does any other industry do so little research into their audience?  Shouldn't we all be sharing what info we have?

This one has always boggled my mind. I’ve written about it before, and will likely do so again, but I’m continually amazed at how little we think about and how little we know about our audience. Whenever I meet with filmmakers about their script or project, I ask them about their intended audience, and as you can guess, most don’t have much of an answer. Sometimes they’ll say something like “everyone who loves indie films” or perhaps they’ve progressed to “white males 25-34” or something. A few have films that have clear niche audiences - Nascar fans - great, or - Nascar fans who only watch at home, don’t tell their friends and drink fancy beer - even better, a true niche. Very few have built any fan base already, either for their films or themselves, which is mind-boggling in an era of Facebook, Twitter and plain-old email lists. I understand the whole “I’m an artist, not a marketer” thing, actually, but in this day and age, to not think about your audience in advance is not just poor business, it ignores the fundamental changes that have hit every business and every art form - that audiences are more participatory, so you can’t just try to engage them with a product and no conversation.

I could go on and on about this, but what drives me even crazier is how little we, as an industry, know about our audience(s). Excuse the artistes, but talk to almost anyone else in the business and you frankly won’t get a much savvier answer. Sure, many distributors have been doing this long enough to have some audience research and staff who know a bit about marketing (BTW, this is some, not all, distributors), but very few have done any real, in-depth research into our audiences and their behavior. Those that have done this tend to keep it private - it’s pretty valuable info to have when your competitors have barely thought about looking into it in the first place. As a field, we have very little to work with. How many festivals survey their audiences for real data? How many can break these results on a per-film basis? B-Side collected a fair amount of data on film-going habits, but their database is now part of another company (Slated), so do any of those fests have their portion of that data (I honestly don’t know)? Why aren’t film schools, business schools or all these nonprofits that supposedly represent us doing some data analysis? I have lots of questions like these, but I think you get the point - we need much better research into the audiences for indie films and for our individual films. I can think of a few quick, partial solutions to this problem -
  1. Filmmakers - collect data on your audiences, from everywhere you can, and share it with others. Anonymize it, of course, but share it whenever possible.
  2. Savvy computer geek film people - build open source platforms for the sharing of this data.
  3. Nonprofit service orgs - partner with researchers to study indie audiences. I suggest using these folks, but I’m sure with a grant you could study this with just about anyone - and share it with your members (a reason for them to join!).
  4. Festivals - survey your audiences and share this data with filmmakers. It will also help you when speaking to sponsors.
I’m sure there’s better ideas out there, so share them in the comments.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Some things I'd like to know

To my mind, the biggest problem facing the indie film field is the lack of transparency around the numbers. Which numbers? All of them. Until we know a few basic things, it's really hard to say what's wrong, what might work, what has worked and whether anything really is wrong at all. Everyone talks about box office, but we all (should) know that those are really the least important numbers. If we had better data available, publicly, on VOD, deal points, DVD sales, etc., then we could build a more robust indie film sector. We don't know these numbers for a lot of reasons - many people make their living off keeping these things confidential, but some of them we just don't know because no one who should be asking them has bothered - ahem, that would be you, lackadaisical film industry trades (all of you). So here's twenty things I'd like to know, in no particular order.