Two ideas from Digimart: the Audience Database and Jukebox Programming
- The Audience Database
It seems that one of the most important assets for a filmmaker in the 21st century isn't going to be a camera, a great casting director, a well-connected producing partner, or a relationship with a distributor. (Though all those things are nice to have.) It's going to be the audience database: a collection of the e-mail addresses and ZIP codes of the people who've seen your previous movies, purchased them on DVD or as a download, or expressed interest in your work.
Arin Crumley and Susan Buice, the filmmakers behind `Four Eyed Monsters,' are already converts. By accumulating enough e-mail addresses and ZIP codes of people who wanted to see their movie this year, they were able to arrange 24 theatrical screenings of `Monsters' in September, which netted $13,000 in combined box office. "We have this audience base," Crumley said, "and we know how to communicate with them." (Check out their interactive heart map here.)
Documentarian Robert Greenwald does the same thing -- and he even used his e-mail list to raise money for his latest project, `Iraq for Sale.' (Greenwald brought in $220,000 in small donations of $25 or $50. Everyone who donated got a producer credit on the finished film.)
I expect that filmmakers will use their audience database to generate interest in upcoming projects, to raise money, to get help ("Anyone know of a barn where we can shoot for two days in December?"), to persuade theaters to show their finished work, and to sell DVDs and digital downloads. And yes, size will matter: bigger databases of committed fans will likely support bigger-budget, more ambitious projects.
- Jukebox Programming
Kees Ryninks, who runs a network of digital cinemas in Europe, used the term "jukebox programming" to describe what happens when a theater hands over a few screenings a week to the community, allowing them to choose what plays at the neighborhood cinema. (He said they're doing it already in Holland, but I didn't get a chance to ask him for more details.)
I'd love to see more cinemas experimenting with that approach, especially as digital cinema gives them more flexibility in what they show. What if your neighborhood theater devoted three or four screenings a week to a movie that was chosen by the community, based on Web voting? Put up five trailers on the theater Web site, along with descriptions of the movie, any critical reviews, and a cast list. Then let the populace pick. (And let them vote on what days/times would be most convenient for them to see it.)
Would filmmakers game the system, posting hundreds of votes for their movie? They'd try. But one way to deal with that would be to charge a voter $5 or $7 the first time he or she registered to vote. After that first vote was cast, the voter would get a printable coupon which would be good for one admission to the movie they'd voted for. That way, you'd get voters committed to actually seeing the movie they voted for -- and you'd dissuade people from trying to game the system.
I suspect this kind of empowered audience would turn out to be a theater's most devoted patrons... the movie world's version of a book club.
- At Digimart, an executive from Withoutabox, David Straus, mentioned that the company is working on a feature that will blend these two ideas, the Audience Database and Jukebox Programming. He says his company has patented, and will soon roll out, a concept called "Critical Mass Ticketing." If a filmmaker (like Crumley and Buice) can get 100 of his fans, for example, to request a showing at a particular theater, that theater would agree to show the movie. Withoutabox plans to get a number of theaters around the country signed up to participate.
How would it work? Everyone who voted to have the movie shown would enter his or her credit card number online. If enough people voted for a showing, everybody's card would get charged for the price of a ticket, and presumably you'd have a nice-sized audience. And if the magic number wasn't reached, nobody's card would get charged.
- And as an update...after I posted this entry, Jim Gilliam from Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films got in touch, and pointed me to this new site: Brave New Theaters. It's essentially a Web-based system for filmmakers to allow their movie to be shown (on DVD) at house parties and community screenings. Well worth checking out ... and totally free to use.