Friday, June 24, 2011

New website, new blog

I'm moving the blog to Please follow me there.

Yessirree, I’ve finally gotten around to updating my online life a little bit. Just under two years ago, I left my day-job for more independent pastures and launched my new company sub-genre media. But, I had many years worth of blog posts over here at Springboard Media, which was never a company, just a blog, and I kept blogging there. Every single time I give a lecture or do a consultancy, this leads to confusion. On top of that, I never really liked the Springboard Media name. I had actually just grabbed that name for a project I was working on at the time and it stuck around. But lately, I’m getting tired of the Blogger platform, and figured that when you couple it with the fact that it was confusing…there needed to be a change.

Well, I’ve decided to finally launch the new sub-genre website using tumblr as a backbone. I’m still making improvements, and I’ll be adding a lot more soon, so please hold back on the critiques until I figure out how to make this look prettier. In the meantime, if you’ve ever liked reading my blog, please update your RSS feeds, etc to here. I’ll keep Springboard up as an archive of my past writing, and will refer to it via links here and there, but from now on, all of my writing will be from sub-genre, where you’ll also be able to follow more about my consulting (as I get around to adding it).

Thanks to all, hope to see you at sub-genre.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The problem I'm having with Kickstarter

I'm a fan of Kickstarter and their team. I've used it for films I've helped as a consultant, and I've contributed to several projects (not all of them film related) through it. There's nothing wrong with supporting projects you love, and yes, there's a little bit of a funding revolution going on as a result. That's all well and good, but...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the unintended negative consequences of it, and particularly how these relate to our current political situation and the future of both funding for the arts and of what types of projects get support. We build our society and our future with little decisions. We tend to make them quickly and just focus on the novelty of new mechanisms, instead of thinking about their bigger implications. This critique isn't a thesis, but rather my initial thoughts on the subject.

On the face of it, Kickstarter is pretty harmless, and I think the founder's intentions are good. It's great that people can raise money for cool things from the crowd. It's hard to raise money, especially for the arts, and there have always been a lot of gatekeepers in the way. Now, the people can decide what gets funded.

I fear, however, that this particular phenomenon fits a little too squarely with the right-wing agenda in the US (and elsewhere, actually). Government support for the arts has always been miniscule, but it's now disappearing rapidly, with many states moving to cut their state arts commissions and one that already has. This year, we saw more attacks on the NEA, CPB and other public funding for media and the arts. Yes, crowdfunding helps bridge the increasing gap, but I'd be much more excited if I received calls to action to support public funding for the arts every five minutes, instead of another email announcing a Kickstarter campaign I can help fund.

Why should I need to help fund some filmmaker I love, when I pay taxes that I believe should support the arts, but don't. This smacks of the "big society" ideas going around in the UK to me. The government doesn't need to help the people anymore, the people can help the people. While contributing to a Kickstarter campaign doesn't make you a right-wing, arts-cutting person, by any means, the adoption of such trends can be detrimental to the argument for public funding of the arts.

Now, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing, to play devil's advocate. Heck, the State Arts Agencies are probably a lost cause, and the NEA hasn't been very effective (although their new leadership is trying hard). A crowdfunding system is better than no system at all, and I've seen multiple projects raise more money in less time through Kickstarter than the average government grant. But I'm also weary of some other things this trend reinforces.

First, I've already witnessed the following:
  • Funders who have already determined that they don't need to fund production and distribution, because anyone can shoot a film for cheap and give it away on YouTube, who now also add that it's easy to fund a movie, so why should they? Trust me, I've heard these arguments already.
  • Funders who understand that good films can be expensive to make and distribute, but who think that you should show them a successful crowdfunding campaign, to show community support. I'm all for the power of the audience, but some art isn't necessarily popular, and making it a popularity contest won't make better, or more effective, art.
  • Funders who don't know anything about any of this, but they smell a trendy subject easily, and are easily swayed. Many of these are now asking how your campaign went, even though they've never even looked at Kickstarter.
My biggest concern, however is this - guess who usually gets help when the people help the people? The rich and connected people. That's who. They've traditionally been the ones able to make indie films, by the way, even though people don't like to talk about it. This isn't exclusively true, of course, but it tends to be true - filmmaking has been a rich person's game for most of its history. In addition, the doc community is nothing if not an insider's clique, and Kickstarter isn't changing that much. There's a big danger, and it's a very likely scenario, that we'll just get more of the same in terms of what and who gets funded.

Take a look at who you hear from and support on Kickstarter. Unless you are an exceptional scout, I'm willing to bet the list is disproportionately Western, White and middle-class or above. Take a look at the most funded projects on Kickstarter, again it appears (from an unscientific survey) to hold up these assumptions.

Perhaps this will change. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we'll live in a crowd-funded world in the future and it won't look like this. I'm not so sure. Are you? I, for one, would like to see things mature to something different - government funding for the arts, that is accountable to, open to and influenced by the people. Perhaps augmented by the crowd, but not solely supported by it. Diverse in both projects funded and who funds them.

In the meantime, I'll keep supporting the projects I love on Kickstarter. Perhaps someone will start a Kickstarter campaign to build an arts agency that takes the place of the NEA someday. I'll contribute to that too!

Movie Recommendation - General Orders No 9

I spammed/emailed this to my friends earlier today, and thought I'd share it with you here. 

Friends -

I'm writing to tell you that the film "General Orders No 9" by Bob Persons opens this Friday, June 24 at the Rerun Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

I first encountered this film as a jury member at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival and it absolutely blew me away - I couldn’t think of another film I had seen like it, and I’m still haunted by its beautiful imagery, poetic narration and clear artistic importance. I was not the only one. Mike Ryan said the film was “one of the best I’ve seen at either Sundance or Slamdance” and Michael Tully described that the film “makes Malick look like a straight shot of Hollywood" (and this was well before Tree of Life came out). In a review with nary a word of critique, Robert Kohler wrote in Variety that it comes “seemingly out of nowhere...a true original.”

Kohler was correct - filmmaker Bob Persons is not a film-school educated filmmaker. Instead, he attended the Double Take Documentary Film Festival (precursor to Full Frame) as a spectator with no knowledge of the history of the form and became enamored with documentary film. He decided he needed to become a documentary filmmaker and taught himself how to shoot a digital camera, and learned the history of film by renting nearly every film at Atlanta’s Movies Worth Seeing video store (an amazingly well-curated video store, still thriving in this age of Netflix). As I said to Bob after his first screening, he then went out and made a masterpiece.

Since that time, he's won many awards for the film, and he's now working with Variance Films to release the film nationally. The film opens June 24th, this Friday, at the Rerun Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn. It's a great venue, with craft beers, full bar and excellent food available in the theater (that's right, in the actual movie theater, while you watch). There will be live music accompaniment by the film's composer, Chris Hoke, with the Sunday matinee show (June 26, 2pm) which is not to be missed. The film is currently scheduled through June 30th, but it might be extended if it does well. As many of you know, the film's stay at the theaters, and how many it eventually plays, is based upon how it does during this first week. We hope to open in Manhattan, and then in many other cities (some are already booked, like Savannah, Denver and Dallas), but the odds will improve greatly if you buy tickets and see the film, and if you tell your friends who live in NYC to do the same. I'm helping arrange Bob's DVD, VOD and other digital sales soon after the theatrical tour of the film, and we'll announce their availability on the film's website, but trust me, you want to see this on the big screen.

For those of you so inclined, please tell your friends to follow the film on
Twitter and Facebook, and please help spread the word. You can watch the trailer here, check out the awesome movie poster here (hint: not only is it for sale, but some cool art from the film will be available for sale soon) and again, buy tickets here. Bob will be here for the Q&A after the Friday and opening weekend shows.

Hope to see you at one of the shows.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

General Orders No 9 - the Malick-y doc

As many of you know, I've been helping out a filmmaker I know (Bob Persons) with the hybrid distribution plans for his film, General Orders No 9.  Well, I'm happy to report that Variance is taking the film out starting June 24th at the Rerun Theater in Brooklyn. It will then tour to many cities and come out on DVD, VOD and all those other mechanisms not long after that. The trailer just went live on iTunes and it is a beaut. I didn't help in the editing, so I can honestly say it is one of the better trailers I've seen for an indie doc in quite some time. I recommend you check it out. For some reason, Apple doesn't let you embed the trailer so you have to click the link. Dumb, but so is the fact that their Twitter button doesn't work right now. Seriously. Makes you feel better about your grasp of tech doesn't it!

And what's with this Malick-y thing? One of the reviews of the film mentioned that it made Malick look like a regular ol Hollywood guy. We didn't ask him to say that, but it's true.
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