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March 3 at 8:34am

Thoughts on The New Festival Model

By Ted Hope

I love that the Tribeca Film Festival has facilitated an immediate VOD launch for some of the films premiering there this year.  This is a key step in freeing festivals from their geographic limitations.  With the collapse of print and the firing of local film critics, festivals have become our most vital curatorial voice.  Whether we like this or not, it is the time we are living in, and it requires festivals to aggregate their audiences and expand their base; that is if they really want to help film culture grow and deepen, which I thought was their mandate (maybe that no longer is what it about; maybe it is now, like everything else, primarily financially motivated).

Unfortunately though the VOD experiment as currently structured (or at least as I understand it) is not the distribution or marketing solution for filmmakers that is necessary.  I worry that the lack of prior promotion,non-existant window, and filmmaker-led marketing will lead Tribeca’s bold step forward to mirror the popular (and negative) wisdom that came from the Sundance YouTube experiment (i.e. Fail!).  This is totally avoidable.  We already have better answers.

It’s great that most of the film industry now accepts a festival launch as the media launch and not the market launch for most films (okay, so-called producers’ reps may still have motivations to think otherwise…).  But a media launch does not translate into immediate audience want-to-see.  Without want-to-see failure is a forgone conclusion. We still need to manufacture the desire for our films (and for the culture and world we want too while we are at it!).  It’s not like the films with their festival slots were creating lines around the block, selling out shows with rapidity.  We need to harvest word-of-mouth, seed it, and corral it.  And that takes time, labor, promotion.

Festivals and Film Organizations need to launch Marketing & Distribution Labs akin to the Screenwriting & Directing Labs currently endorsed worldwide. Sending filmmakers into the distribution world without proper tools is irresponsible.  Granted filmmakers are not helpless creatures, and most are not ignorant of this necessity these days.  Yet, it is rare that filmmakers arrive at the festival having built a full campaign, armed with engaged and aggregated audiences.  The established players, and most certainly the platforms offering the opportunity, need to offer more support and guidance to their filmmaker constituency (or is that not really their constituency after all…).

If filmmakers are not prepared to exploit the opportunity of VOD or Online Streaming availability of their film, those that offer this opportunity are aiding in the destruction of a new model before it has been given the opportunity to prove itself.  One step forward, two steps back.

It is not as if we are lacking in good films to view.  It is not even as if we are lacking in good films to view instantly.  New films compete against the entire history of filmmaking.  What new films offer that the classic movies don’t is the opportunity for an audience to engage with one another in a new and unexpected way all at the same time.  The launch of the conversation is a key component in the launch of a film.  You can’t make movies by yourself (okay other than a few folks out there) and you can’t start and lead a worldwide conversation by yourself.  Availability on VOD is not a conversation starter.  The big winner in the current model of festival VOD launch will be the content aggregators again.  Yay, right?  Not.

We need to pave the path to make this new model work.  AMPAS currently will deny films award consideration if the films don’t first premiere theatrically.  Award consideration has historically been one of the most dramatic and cost effective ways to increase want-to-see; cross that out from your strategy plan.  Or maybe we should organize to get some rules changed…  and organize marketing & distribution labs while we are at it.

It seems to me that a more effective strategy would be to have released a series of transmedia content prior to the festival launch, using that content to create a robust database of engaged fans, tracked geographically.  As the festival approaches, utilize a crowdfunding campaign, not so much to raise $ — but of course that always helps — but to further engage the super fans.  In the final weeks leading to the fest, mobilize the audience to demand the film locally via a service like OpenIndie.  All the while feed the hungry with increasingly available updates to a site that offers a wide variety of related products for purchase (audiences do want to support the artists they respect).  With this crowd now identified and engaged, launch a series of regional (and ideally sponsored) screenings following that festival media launch, whereby the audience gets involved to help spread awareness.  And only after all of that, launch the VOD release.

Well, that’s my two cents, but I only recently got up, and need my coffee — and besides, I wasn’t charging you for this (not that I do).  You may not agree.  I am sure you have some thoughts of your own and I hope you will share them.  This was all news yesterday.  We shouldn’t be so damn slow to respond.  Let’s figure out the right way.  I make myself pretty available. I would have liked to discuss this before, but happy to do so after too.  Share your thoughts.  We can make this work if we work together.

P.S.  Since posting this yesterday, there’s been a lot of great comments and deep thinking going on.  Please make sure to continue reading below.

ADD 3/5: Tribeca’s VOD has grown as an issue over the web.  Filmmaker Magazine and TheHotBlog here.

MIke Fleming addresses the marketing question head on and states:

Gilmore believes the festival’s growing momentum creates a high awareness level among specialty film lovers for a dedicated Tribeca VOD channel. That effort will be helped by promotional clout provided by longtime festival sponsor American Express, which signed on to become Founding Partner of Tribeca’s VOD distribution program, as well as a separate online venture that will show short films and broadcast filmmaker panels during the fest’s run from April 21-May 2. While it’s not exactly clear yet how much promotional might Amex will bring, one thing is for sure: promotional spends won’t be deducted from the film’s revenues the way traditional P&A costs are.

ADD:  The story is being covered really widely;  the NY Times has joined the fray.  Yet no one seems to be doing any real reporting.  Where’s the facts?  How much are they paying for these VOD rights?  What’s the filmmaker’s split of the revenues? Where’s the beef?

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  1. dl willson / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Hey Ted

    Funny I think this post has a direct connection with a question I asked Kieran at OpenIndie yesterday about timing of uploading a project to their site. Whether it should be during post prod. …to read your post here…I would say that would be the time for the upload of a trailer and info… to start prepping the “want” of an audience to have it screened.

  2. Chris Dorr / Mar 3 at 8:34am


    I think your thoughts go right to the heart of the matter. I think that the Tribeca distribution effort is a positive one but it is not enough. It rides on the belief that the internet is a primarily a new “distribution” medium. This is fundamentally incorrect. It also views social media as primarily “marketing” tools that encourage people to use this new “distribution” medium.

    These two beliefs distort the reality of what the internet and social media provide. Filmmakers have to see, as you point out, that their films provide the opportunity for people to converse and engage with each other and they need to use this opportunity to gather larger numbers of people to watch their films.

    The age of distributing movies and marketing them out to an audience is gone for the independent filmmaker. Now audiences have to be involved and brought in to the process and feel part of a larger conversation where viewing the film itself is just one element in the process.

    Put it another way, when an audience shows up to see the movie, they are not there just to see the movie, they are they to share the experience with others—the question is then–how does the filmmaker make sure they can share that experience easily and widely. That is what the internet and social media can provide.

  3. Rob Imbs / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I think the problem is that there are so many indie films today. For a film to be successful it first needs to be worth seeing, and then, I’m sorry to say it, it needs to be heavily festivaled and promoted by the filmmakers themselves. Once you’re done making a movie, you need to pimp it out. It doesn’t matter how good it is, if nobody knows about it nobody is ever going to see it. I think the culture surrounding distribution and exposure needs to be refined as filmmakers enter into the next age of indie film production. But I think it’s an exciting time. Especially with VoD, because if I’m able to promote my films directly and I control the way they are distributed, I can control my films destiny. Power to the filmmakers!

  4. Miles Maker / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Ted said:

    “It seems to me that a more effective strategy would be to have released a series of transmedia content prior to the festival launch…”

    Tribeca has everything to offer an obscure filmmaker in terms of branding and credibility by introducing the Auteur with its audience: potential views, reach and fanbase. If Tribeca lacks the resources or desire to vest themselves in transmedia campaigns, they can simply offer a UGC (user-generated content) platform model to empower the filmmakers themselves in that process; engaging their existing global audience with acquired properties in advance of the festival release.

    [Miles Maker is a story author, motion picture auteur and independent distributor whose dynamic media ventures encompass mobile, social and real-time megatrends @milesmaker on Twitter]

  5. Michael Walker / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    What you are talking about is the same strategy that studios are trying to achieve with their shrinking windows, isn’t it? The idea, basically, is that you spend all your promotional money at once and then get the film out at that moment.

    The studios have very solid reasons for doing this, but I’m not sure that this is the right thing for an independent film. I think that there is still life for independent film in the theaters – more so now because the studios are pissing them off with their shrinking windows strategy.

    Of course, your film needs that want-to-see feeling, but that’s word of mouth. Word of mouth takes time, even in the internet age. It’s a film’s release that is the event, and that can takes months. It’s not just the premiere that’s the event. There’s still a lot to be said for letting an audience build by fueling desire, and part of that desire has to be scarcity. Seeing a film reviewed at Tribeca, someone might make a mental note and want to see that film when it comes to their town. It can’t take forever, but it doesn’t have to happen the same day.

  6. Sheri Candler / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    All great comments here, I like Chris Dorr’s take the most. I think what bothered me about this news is the “acquisition” part. Is this rights being taken? Sorry, too many platforms already exist that are non exclusive and I don’t see the reasoning behind having to give up rights to Tribeca to get a film out digitally.

    There are already companies in existence that can get films up on VOD, iTunes, Netflix and host of other places in addition to efforts filmmakers can do themselves (Indieflix, Distribber, IndiePix, Hulu, Maxcast, Youreeeka). With so many competing platforms, I see the problem really lies in marketing the films themselves, not finding places to distribute them. Besides, what is Tribeca going to do to even market the platform/channel and go up against these more established and trusted places?

    The recent article on PaidContent.org cites the main reason for streaming sites not increasing sales is the lack of proper marketing of the sites and the content. And the FT and HomeMediaMagazine say VOD and downloads outlook is bleak. I don’t completely agree with that, I think it is still too early in the consumer adoption process to come to conclusions. I think we need to try and get the film out on as many different platforms and places as possible. Not all films are going to be successful, in fact most will not because there is simply too much available and the space is crowded with many distractions for our time. It is the filmmaker with the strongest audience connection for all of their films that will win out and no platform or distributor is going to help with that. It is all you.

    Until Tribeca has a better planned solution with a full marketing proposition and non exclusivity, I don’t see it making much difference to indie filmmakers.

  7. Dylan Marchetti / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Full disclosure up front- I run a theatrical distribution company.


    You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    First off, I am not opposed to alternate windows, or even VOD launches. We’re doing day-and-date on a film this summer, and it’s right for the film. VOD can be a great way to get the film out to a national audience when the scope or budget of a theatrical self-release can only a film get to a few markets. But right now, we’re forgetting a very important lesson that we should have learned from the music industry.

    I call it iPod syndrome. As content becomes (rapidly) more available, that list of VOD films, whether it be via cable, internet, iTunes, Amazon, or speciality sites, is getting longer and longer- very quickly. So when a consumer goes to order a film, they’re immediately confronted with a GIANT list of titles- many they’ve never heard of.

    It’s like when someone hands you their 160 GB iPod and tells you “pick a song for us to listen to”. You start scrolling through an endless list of artists. Some of them you’ve never heard- and some of those are genius and you’d love them if you played them. But the list is so long that you get overwhelmed, and end up picking a band you’ve heard of before.

    These VOD lists are turning into that, quickly. And the parallels of the old “direct to DVD” model don’t work- you’re not wandering Blockbuster, where you have the ability to pick up a DVD case with art that appeals to you. You’re confronted with, for the most part, a text list of titles on a screen. You can click to watch the trailer- but who does that?

    We still fully 100% believe that what sets films apart on these platforms is the reviews and press that right now is only triggered by a theatrical release. Do I, as an industry insider, know what films were at Sundance or Tribeca? Sure. Does the average audience member? Probably not. So I wonder how effective that kind of curation/gatekeeping really is.

    We think any solution to this problem has to have a component where a theatrical release, whether filmmakers DIY or DIWO, is within the reach of any worthy film. We think we’ve solved it- right now, our film UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US just passed the $100,000 box office mark in theaters, hitting over 35 markets in the US and Canada on a total P&A spend of less than $20k. The filmmakers will make money solely off the theatrical- and it’s going on to VOD, DVD, and international where it will make more. People who wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise will remember the NY Times review, or that it was an LA Weekly Critic’s Pick, or even the article that ran in the paper in Providence. I have yet to see a film that didn’t have a theatrical get that kind of attention.

    What does this take? Time, desire, and work. Money? A little, but not so much. The days of the service deal where films would get NYC and LA for a $150k budget are done, and rightfully so. I tell very filmmaker I talk to- if you are accepted to a festival, you need to show up with a poster and trailer in hand, you need to have started the process of gathering a devoted audience ACROSS THE COUNTRY months before, and you need to have a backup plan in the “rare” case that Fox Searchlight doesn’t give you a $3 million check.

    I don’t think a quick VOD debut without doing the work covers this. VOD is a tool in the filmmaker’s belt- and can help leverage the national press a film release can generate into profit. But it’s not the sole answer. It’s like giving someone the blueprints and a hammer and saying “here, build this house while I walk off”- it won’t work unless you’ve pour the foundation and got 50 other people showing up with THEIR tools and expertise.

    Dylan Marchetti
    Variance Films

  8. dl willson / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    we need a “cross platform story congress”…at a festival designed just for such… working on it. (in the Hyv hallway discussions)

  9. doghouse / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    All this assumes a fundamental hunger for product which simply doesn’t exist. And why should it? When has genuine independent film ever had a large audience? Who clamors to see it, other than fellow filmmakers doing market research? Who intends to spend hours a day looking at these works? How will these marketing models succeed in selling works that nobody seeks out or craves in the first place?

    “Independent film” in the U.S. has always been about dreams, not movies. But that marketing model — selling the dream of being an independent filmmaker — is now exhausted, and we’re left with films which, even at their best, are rarely exceptional and which at their best will be of interest to small numbers, thanks both to formal difficulty and international competition, much of which is state-subsidized.

    This presumption that a market exists for thousands of unexceptional under-budgeted works, and that we need only learn how to marshal new sales and distribution techniques — where did it come from? Where are its precursors? When did it ever succeed?

  10. david geertz / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Creating your audience along the way is the best way to solve all these problems. If you do this you solve the biggest issue which is paying down the debt on your film and creating a revolving cycle of currency that will allow you build on that fan base with each project without having to go back to the well each time. If you have no debt are you really still worried about who sees your film? People who say its not about the money and that say its about having my voice heard need not continue reading as this type of thinking is what is plugging up the system with content glut. If people are serious about making films as a career then using the audience building tools that are available out there now should solve your problem.

    Why is everyone so concerned that a big media company is taking up all the bandwidth? They’ve been around a lot longer and for that reason alone they have an advantage. Its called relationship sales and you have to earn your way into that club.

    We’re a small start up that is based in Canada and we’ve built leverage through discussion and smart planning with people who are much more experienced than us. Remember the 49 laws of power?

    Rule Number 1: “Never outshine the master”

    We’re doing this and so far the people who are inside our project are people that we would have never dreamed of being involved of helping us spread the message of our online film project.

    I’m a huge fan of this blog and of Ted’s and I think that having an advocate for the voice of Indie is amazing from someone with such a huge track record, but at the same time I just want to say that its time to start selling people. Enough banter…put your work boots back on and start using the tools that are already there. If you still have no response from the marketplace…well, the market never lies and the market is always right. Unless your Howard Roark.

  11. Christopher / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Wow, building a fan base sure is tough! I recently launched a site encouraging folks to join me as I make my feature film, from script to screen: FollowMyFilm.com.

    Like the iPod example above, I feel overwhelmed by all the voices in the independent world clamoring for attention.

    But it always comes down to hard work, so I’ve put on my “work boots” and am doing my best to use the tools available to me….

  12. vagabond / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    i think that what Tribeca is doing is a good. They can afford to experiment. If they fail it won’t put them under and if they succeed it can be replicated elsewhere and maybe even be improved upon…

    The thing that concerns me with all of these new film distribution models is that not one of them makes seeing a film feel like an event. The reason filmmakers wants a theatrical release is because the audience is immersed in the world of the film and to a certain degree held captive by the experience of watching the film collectively. In these other distribution models like DVD or VOD that immersion can be interrupted by the those watching it. They can pause it and go to the bathroom or get a soda or take that phone call or return that text. They come back a few hours later or a few days later and pick up where they left off.

    The thing that makes going to see a play in a theater or going to see a live concert is the ability for those things to happen in real time within a venue in which the audience surrenders it’s control to the event and to the world that the creators have created. It’s the same thing with a film… or at least it should be the same thing… If a new distribution model could be built that allowed the audience to feel like seeing a film is an event like seeing a play or concert in a theater then that would be something that everyone could hang their hat on.

    The problem with the rush to find new alternative distribution models for filmmaking is that it’s lessening the experience of watching films. i agree with what other people are saying and have said here about having your film be the beginning of a conversation but if the means by which people view the film aren’t made to feel important then the films won’t be important either and there won’t be that discussion. i’m not saying that people won’t sit through a screening of a DVD or VOD without pausing or stopping but with that possibility the respect that other artistic mediums have like staged plays or live concerts will begin to erode with filmmaking.

    No one is trying to find new models of distribution for theater or live concerts, why is that film is being forced to rely solely on these new distribution models? i’m all for having them as supplements to the theatrical experience but they need to supplements and not the end goal.

    (My name is vagabond i’m an artist, writer, producer, director, anarchist and idealist (among other things). My 1st feature MACHETERO has screened at festivals around the world and won six awards. http://www.twitter.com/vgbnd

  13. Fans Of Film / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Working together as you said Ted is the only way indie film labels are going to make money in this fast growing market, and getting filmmakers to work together is like pulling teeth, but I still manage to build a community of filmmakers on a ning site called Fans Of Film/fansoffilm.com. With a couple dozen local filmmakers from here in Albuq New Mexico and a few hundred filmmakers from all around the world we keep growing. Call me crazy but ning is part of a large community network of over 40 million community’s with the opportunity to be featured among those community’s could give us a wonderful fan base for FOF filmmakers.

    I’ve spent 3 years working with Dan from thefilmmakerschannel.com in providing tools, mostly web design and VOD services and telling producers something that David A. Stewart from Eurythmics was telling producer back in 1995 that they could have their own internet channels! In fact David created an early version of YouTube called the Slyfi channel, to say the least the world was not ready for the Slyfi channel.

    3 years ago filmmakers were not ready for a DIY PPV VOD distribution site called The Filmmakers Channel that put 100% of the profits in the filmmakers pocket, the site was shut down after only being up for a year. At this point I got involved with Twitter and spent the next year twittering and discovered a resource that still most people have yet to understand, but I believe I do understand the power of Twitter in connecting with filmmakers and fans in a way that I could not pay for. As I get close to 10,000 followers it gives me great pride to launch a new distribution site fansoffilmchannel.com It’s a HULU inspired wordpress theme for a clean presentation easy navigation and a built in adopt a film function for viral marketing.

    I’m not interested in becoming another film site with thousands of titles, I am interested in attaching myself to a limited amount of independent film labels of my chosen that I believe in, to distribute to my local and social media fan base on my own boutique theater film site for which I’ve worked very hard for so filmmakers don’t have to work as hard.

    We have a working film site with real options for distribution, including a DIY model that puts 100% of the profits in the filmmakers pocket, and I invite anybody to pop holes in what we have to offer so that we can approve.

    I’m also not trying to be the theatrical release for filmmakers even though I see a day it could happen as we do have our own film festival and the growing popularity could warrant an exclusive theatrical releases in the future. But we do wanna be part of the forward motion of promoting and distributing indie labels online, and here in our own backyard Albuquerque, New Mexico as a non exclusive distribution company and I don’t think that we need to compete with each other, I believe we can grow upon each other by lifting each other up in what we uniquely have to offer and by doing so we will left the filmmakers we support as they start to distribute over multiple platforms(:

    PS In my opinion the independent PPV VOD market is week, this is why all eyes and support should be on @FilmEster and her film “Butterflies” as she makes movie history with her exclusive PPV VOD distribution on YouTube and the first filmmaker to be on fansoffilmchannel.com as a premium member for the 100% DIY model using her own PPV services. Please support independent film labels and distribution
    follow me on Twitter @FansOfFilm

  14. Fans Of Film / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    spelling and grammar as been my short coming please forgive(:

  15. Rose / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I have a lot to say on this from the festival end but it’s 3:30am and it will have to wait until tomorrow… or after Awards Week. Stay tuned.

  16. MattLester / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    What is missing from this discussion and this model is the idea of INFORMATION. While VOD and digital technologies have broken down barriers of entry in the world of distribution, filmmakers still do not have the information needed to market directly to the consumer.

    What do I mean??? The most valuable asset Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix have is the ability to track the viewing habits and interests of the consumer. But as middlemen, they actively with hold this information. Without this information, independent marketing strategies are essentially still operating in a scattershot, beta format.

    While the idea of a media launch is great, it is not particularly new… we are just using new technologies to execute old ideas. This is still a game that can be dominated big companies with more money or man power. What we need to do is create a new GAME.

    In a marketplace that is crowded with noise, studios and major media companies have simply adopted the policy of trying to scream louder than the next guy (read: more money, more placement, etc.). To truly cut through the noise, filmmakers need to find consumers that who are already interested in what they have to say and speak to them directly. This can ONLY be done through gaining access to information.

    The Tribeca VOD deal will fail unless they can create a community around the service where users can connect and share information. (VOD is obviously not the best suited for this, but hey anything is possible…)

  17. Dylan Marchetti / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    To continue Chris Dorr’s excellent comment-

    The days of talking “at” an audience are over- you to have a conversation with them. You can’t tell people they’ll like something and expect they’ll want to see it. You have to engage and bring them into your circle- or, bring yourself into theirs. This is more work than placing $45,000 worth of print advertising and crossing your fingers that your film opens well enough to get out of the NY/LA first stage platform release. But it’s worthwhile and cost effective- and it works.

    This is a good thing, if you’re playing on the right scale. If you’ve made a $4 million film and you need that $5 million check from Fox Searchlight to break even- then you’ve got your work cut out for you, and we wish you luck. Like Matt Lester said above, you’re going to get stuck with “screaming” at your audience and hoping to heard above the din. And odds are, it won’t work. But if you’ve played it smart, kept costs in line, the days of it costing $100k+ to have a wide theatrical platform release are done.

    If you have a built-in audience, you’re off to a good start. If you don’t, stop reading this and go start building one. There are lots of resources on the web that will help you (Ted’s blogs most certainly included, so maybe you shouldn’t stop reading this!).

    In the end, if it gets deserving films seen, we’re cheering on Tribeca’s VOD arrangement. These are smart people, and I am sure they have a plan to make noise on the consumer end beyond attaching their name to it. But we’ve been down this road, and that noise needs to be augmented by something more real and grounded- we believe best by a theatrical experience component, regardless of when in the window it happens. But at minimum, by taking each film ONE BY ONE (not as a “group”- nobody cares about the branding of a film besides industry folks and some die hard fans) and finding what is special and unique about it, and taking that and figuring out a way to engage with the audience that is waiting for it but just doesn’t know it yet. That’s more than a formula for success that works across any platform- that’s a formula that if not executed, is a nearly sure-fire failure.

  18. Jentri Chancey / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I agree, Ted!! Thank you for the post.. as always, a good one!

  19. Nathan Wrann / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    There are two components to success:

    1) Availability.

    2) Awareness.

    You have to be easily available to your potential customers.

    Your potential customers need to know you exist.

    That’s it. Period.

  20. Nathan Wrann / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I do have some questions:

    1) What is the most successful on-line VOD film of all time? How about the most successful indie VOD film? Anyone know how much money it made? What’s the average?

    2) What are the demographics/cultural leanings of people that purchase on-line VOD? I don’t know a single person that buys and watches on-line VOD movies, other than a few people that have purchased a few movies from iTunes. Are the people purchasing on-line VOD even interested in independent films or do they only want star-driven, youth oriented, blockbusters?

    3) Who are the market leaders in on-line VOD distribution? What site/company is everyone going to to get their on-line VOD from, and why?

    There have been some comments posted above by people in (or getting into) the on-line distribution field, what are the answers to these questions?

  21. Nathan Wrann / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Sounds like Tribeca might be doing a VOD channel similar to the IFC & Sundance VODs. Anyone know how succesful those two ventures are, or if they make any money for their filmmakers?

  22. Michael Walker / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    It depends on the film, but I don’t think throwing your film out on VOD is such a great idea. A festival like Tribeca gives you a lot of awareness, but wouldn’t it be better to go out to a network of festivals, across the country, and essentially try to build word of mouth by people actually seeing your film in the best possible environment? All that other stuff helps, but word of mouth is what gets people to want to see stuff.

    The other thing is that excitement to see something has to build, doesn’t it? If I read about something at Tribeca, and then I turn on my TV and see it, it lacks any build up at all. I don’t think there is anything wrong with your film not being available everywhere right away. Sure, eventually that’s what you want, but doesn’t word of mouth go something like this (with VOD scenario added below):

    me: I heard about that new Ted Hope film.

    you: yeah, that sounds good. I want to see that.

    me: let’s go, next week when it opens. I’m psyched.

    (you: oh, it’s out on TV already.

    me: oh, then it must have sucked.)

  23. Anat Baron / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I agree with Nathan that only 2 things matter: availability and awareness. And while distribution is key, without awareness, you’re just another movie on the list. And as to looking at successful VOD titles, every film is different so I’m not sure how much that matters in the end.
    My film Beer Wars, an indie doc, now has the same digital distribution as Hollywood films (100+ cable and satellite providers, iTunes, Amazon VOD and Netflix) but it’s missing a key ingredient — awareness.
    The problem is that the number of influencers continues to shrink. Fewer critics mean less reviews. Celebrity culture means that it’s that much tougher to promote your film on TV talk shows. ( I was “lucky” and was on CNN, Fox News and local news through 2 satellite media tours but these days, that’s not enough.)
    And while social media has been great (Beer Wars was a trending topic on Twitter the day of its national theatrical premiere), it’s not enough. Let’s face it, it’s a numbers game and all the fragmentation and clutter aren’t helping us reach millions but thousands.
    I agree with Ted that filmmakers need to understand marketing before they go off and distribute their films but even that’s not enough. I have a strong marketing background but self distribution requires more. I just don’t think that filmmakers want to address these issues. I don’t see panels about this at industry events. I seem to always hear the same success stories. But maybe, if we started having honest and realistic conversations about this new world, we can find solutions. Together.

  24. Paul Collins / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    It’s hard for me to view VOD, whether delivered via cable or through an over-the-top aggregator, as anything more than a way to deliver movies to the home with less friction than physical media. It’s a technological enhancement that may result in some shifting among the gatekeepers, but at the end of the day the contest is a battle for supremacy over a commodity business. The main combatants are technology companies. To compete, each must have access to a vast library of content. First and foremost you need Hollywood “A” titles. From there you need Hollywood back catalog. Somewhere down the line you get to independent releases. These simply make up the numbers. Their presence in the library touted as depth, but only consequential to the bottom line in the collective (the “long tail” unit).

    Simply put, I don’t see VOD as anything other than distribution technology. However, it’s a tool that unlike previous distribution systems, can be used cost-effectively by filmmakers who want to reach out directly to their prospective audiences. As a filmmaker, you can tackle it on your own. And a few filmmakers do seem to have a flair for self-promotion. But I suspect that the vast majority of independent filmmakers would rather seek professional assistance. It seems apparent that an entire new class of business will emerge to offer value at this new link in the chain. I think this is where the Tribeca initiative comes in. Will it succeed? Who knows? But it is an experiment. And given the unsettled state of independent film, I think we should applaud organizations like Tribeca who are willing to fund these kinds of experiments. On this note, I’m not inclined to jump on the “Failed!” bandwagon that surrounds the YouTube-Sundance experiment. The five films included in that program dominated the YouTube landing page for several days. What was the cost to YouTube to do that? $40K, $50K each day in lost revenue? Granted, this experiment might well be entirely self-serving on YouTube’s part. But those five films certainly benefited at the expense of an experiment conducted on someone else’s dime.

    The point is that we need these kinds of experiments. Having been in the Silicon Valley for the past 15 years, it’s apparent that some of the most storied companies became successes despite early rejection (Google’s two founders were famously rejected by one of the area’s angel funds). The willingness to experiment is what enables the Silicon Valley to thrive. Most companies that start here fail. But more than a few of these failures contribute directly to the success of other firms operating along similar lines. The following one correcting a former’s mistake. Or simply a beneficiary of better timing. What Tribeca is doing, and what YouTube did recently with Sundance, they strike me as wonderful things.

    We know that the business has changed. We can see the negative effects. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a clear picture of a new, improved industry where independents might thrive. However, we should be encouraged when we see YouTube experimenting with independent film. Smart people and economic cost being applied to professionally produced content. That’s great news. The Tribeca initiative, good news too. How do film festivals remain relevant in the Internet age? I won’t be in New York in April. Must I therefore be excluded from the experience, the excitement? If Tribeca provides me with a way to enjoy one or more of the festival’s films remotely and during the actual festival, I’d like that. If I like the film, I might even buy/order the DVD too, since I have not yet disconnected from that habit.

    Technological innovation can be disrespectful, even harmful, to the business and livelihoods of content creators. But it’s the application of technology that makes the difference in the long run. These experiments should be welcome. The bottom line is that these experiments can only succeed if they actually help the filmmakers who participate in them. With luck, they’ll tell us about their experiences. A little more light, a few more clues, helps move the process along.

  25. Nathan Wrann / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Michael Walker I think it is important to change that way of thinking. One way to do that is by distro like Tribeca, IFC, and sundance putting up quality product. The reality is that most of those films will never see more publicity (I.e. Awareness) than they will based on the Tribeca connection.

  26. alex / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    While all of your advise would have certainly “helped” The OWLS with our premier at Berlin 1) with super low-budget productions, who does the actual labor of crowd-sourcing, fan-development, and the making and marketing of products (when the already stretched team is still editing, or making the poster)? and 2) when will crowds get that being intentionally sourced does not a community make,and then what?

  27. Michael Walker / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    Nathan Wrann -

    I agree. That mindset that straight to video is bad should change, but you can’t overlook something that’s very important about that which is that it provides a type of curation and a perception of value/actual value for a film. The curation of distributors and exhibitors, however cruel and unfair and without merit, helps create the value that people are willing to pay for – in the theaters. You can rally against this all you want, but there needs to be some sorting out from the masses of films produced.

    Video has always had a few gems, and the situation is changing, but it hasn’t changed. Something has to replace it. I’ve always hoped that the NYT would put out a section like their Book Review that reviewed DVDs, or films that missed out on theaters, but that doesn’t look likely now that they’re going bankrupt. It’s pretty clear that audiences are being ignored.

    The fact is that getting into theaters is tough because if it was easy, it would be a less valuable commodity. And that’s part of the problem with VOD: anyone can get it.

  28. Joe g / Mar 3 at 8:34am

    I don’t like the idea of whoring out to collect “customers.” A buffer between artists and retailers is a good thing, to me. You have this new generation of marketing whore filmmakers in this country, which I really dislike in general, but specific persons are excluded. It’s like movies. You take them one at a time.

    The attitudes, however, I find nauseating more and more often. Like the comment about people making films to get their voice out being the problem.

    Depends entirely on what they’re saying, or not.

    The inverse position, that filmmaker’s voices are irrelevant, and only selling counts, that’s like end-times logic. Why even bother?

    I don’t want to see films that pander to demographics.

    I don’t want to see films by “generation y’ers” for gen y’ers. Or is it z now?

    Most of this dreck is banal and undeserving of my time. Filmmakers with nothing to say is the problem. There’s thousands of them. They have no perspective, no historical knowledge, no sociological knowledge, no library to draw on whatsoever. They’re kids tapping about nothing and pretending it’s important.

    There needs to be better weeding out, I’m sure. But perhaps not by the criteria that others here use to gauge it.

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