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Friday, September 28, 2007

New CBS Unit Will Chop Up Shows for the Web

It doesn't sound like CBS's new EyeLab group will be creating original content, aside from perhaps some "behind-the-scenes" footage or celeb interviews, but it's an interesting approach to repurposing TV content for the Web. Here's the Wall Street Journal's story. From the piece:

    At a time when its competitors are focused on how to best distribute full-length TV shows online, CBS EyeLab represents a turn in the other direction. The content it offers will look more like videos on Google Inc.'s YouTube -- bite-size clips, streamed free, many with the feel of user-generated content -- than episodes of network prime-time shows. Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, said preliminary network research shows that less than a third of CBS's Web audience is interested in watching full-length episodes of shows online.

    CBS says the EyeLab-produced clips will both entertain viewers and serve a marketing purpose. "It turns our promotion into content," said George Schweitzer, the president of CBS Marketing. "The clips about 'CSI' or something from how a director shoots a scene in the show 'NUMB3RS,' these are all things that link back to our shows." The network also plans to sell ads that will be embedded in the clips.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

EchoStar Buys Sling Media ... Blu-ray Sells More Discs, HD DVD More Players ... 'The Tribe,' Available Soon on iTunes

- EchoStar, the parent of the Dish Network, is paying $380 million for Sling Media. Sling makes the Slingbox, which can send live TV broadcasts and DVR content from your home to any Internet-connected computer (and even to many cell phones).

- In an update on the high-def disc wars, the Wall Street Journal says HD DVD has about 58 percent of hardware sales, but Blu-ray discs are outselling HD discs by 2-to-1 this year. What does that mean? I guess Blu-ray player owners are just buying more discs than their HD DVD neighbors.

Sarah McBride writes:

    The upshot: Both formats remain viable. And even though consumers can get free movies when they purchase a player, millions of people are sitting on the sidelines, their wallets untouched.

- "The Tribe," a short film on the connection between Barbie dolls and Judaism, will start selling on iTunes next week, according to filmmaker Tiffany Shlain's Web site. (It played at Sundance in 2006.) That makes it one of the first indie films to show up on iTunes without going through an aggregator like Shorts International. It'll sell for $1.99. Shlain worked directly with Apple on the arrangement.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Wes Anderson and Fox Use iTunes to Promote 'Darjeeling Limited'

I'm looking forward to Wes Anderson's latest, 'The Darjeeling Limited,' which opens next Friday. To promote the movie in advance of that, Anderson and Fox Searchlight are releasing a short film, 'The Hotel Chevalier,' for free on iTunes this Wednesday. (Here's the LA Times story.) Cool idea. From the Times piece:

    Wes Anderson didn't set out to create one of the year's most talked about short films when he wrote, directed and produced the 13-minute "Hotel Chevalier." Instead, the quirky, creative force behind such films as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" intended the short as a kind of prequel or "introduction" to his comedic road drama, "The Darjeeling Limited," which lands in theaters Oct. 5.

    As he envisaged it, "Chevalier" would play out like a piece of short fiction while "Darjeeling" would unspool like a novel. "I like short stories," Anderson said by phone from Paris. "I like the form. And I liked the idea of a short film as a companion piece to a movie."

    In fact, he shot "Chevalier" in late 2005 -- around the time he had begun drafting the "Darjeeling" screenplay with Jason Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola and nearly a year before that movie went into production -- making the shorter film a kind of working draft for the feature.

Why is it so talked about? At least in part because it contains Natalie Portman's first nude scene....

Update: You can download the movie here. (Assuming you have iTunes.)

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Collaborative documentary about Wikipedia

Alex Afterman calls our attention to this documentary-in-progress about Wikipedia. From the site:

    We plan to complete 'Truth in Numbers: The Wikipedia Story' by the end of 2007 and to widely distribute the film throughout America and internationally in 2008. Our film will be submitted to festivals around the world, experience a domestic and international theatrical run, see international television broadcasts, and finally become available on DVD and over the Internet.

    - This is a not-for-profit project so please DONATE! to the production. (Yes, it's tax-deductible! Please type "wikidoc" in the 'Payment For' box.)

    - If you donate $50 or more, we'll send you a FREE copy of the Special Edition DVD when the film is complete in 2008. Plus you get your name in the credits!

Here's the trailer:

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Barry Diller Gets Into Gaming ... Lloyd Kaufman Will Head IFTA

- Portfolio has an interesting Q&A with Barry Diller of InterActiveCorp. He just invested $50 million in GarageGames, which is developing graphically-rich games for the Web. A snippet:

    L.G.: What have you got here? The Xbox?

    B.D.: The Xbox and the PlayStation—and of course they’re incompatible with each other. And they’re whiz-bang on graphics—they’re beautiful. But on both sides of it—on the equipment side of it that you have to purchase in on, the production side where you make a game—you’re spending huge amounts of money. The Web, as is proven in so many other areas, is a pretty good distribution mechanism for programming. And very few people have done really high-graphic Web games in a system that will have—in, which is a gathering place both for people who make the games and for viewers to get them—where there’s one easy-to-use, fast place to do pretty sophisticated games. So we think it’s a really original and good idea.

    L.G.: Does this attract you because you know there’s a market for games and people like to do it, or is it because you yourself enjoy them?

    B.D.: No. I mean, I enjoy doing it. I enjoy playing games, but I am not the audience, you know. I’m too old and I have too many other things that I do. But I shouldn’t even say that. Even if I had nothing to do I still wouldn’t be playing games hour upon hour. But, you know, if you get me started, it’s great—it’s great fun.

- I like Karina Longworth's post about Lloyd Kaufman being chosen to chair the Independent Film and Television Alliance for the next two years. (Kaufman is the co-founder of Troma Entertainment ... and has very strong opinions about indies being the ones to embrace new technology first.) Here's Kaufman's full quote from the press release:

    "The independent community today faces rampant media consolidation and challenges to copyrights in the digital universe, and I will work closely with the IFTA Board of Directors, member companies and IFTA’s executives to give our fellow independents more control and opportunities in both the U.S. and abroad. New technology will continue to be our new frontier.”

    “Independent film has the most creative, inspired and resourceful people working in the business. We shape future trends and inspire tomorrow’s creative talent, and IFTA will continue being at the forefront of this movement.”

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Digital Downloads Panel at IFP Filmmaker Conference

This afternoon's panel on Digital Downloads was hugely fun for me to moderate.

Joel Heller of Docs That Inspire recorded the panel, and has posted it here.

Some of my impressions and rough notes:

    - Digital downloading isn't yet a major revenue-generator for indie filmmakers; Hunter Weeks of '10 MPH' said he has sold about 4000 DVDs of the documentary, and about 700 downloads (both on his own site and on Amazon Unbox)

    - Anyone who picks up your movie for distribution in theaters, on home video, or on TV will try to buy the digital rights for it ... even if they don't actually do anything with them; carving out digital rights seems like a good idea

    - We all agreed that iTunes is the "hot shop" where digital movie buying happens, but they're not yet open to indies; Peter Broderick of Paradigm Consulting said that iTunes will start selling indie content (handled by aggregators) really soon, but wouldn't say more

    - Building a database of your fans' names, e-mail addresses, and ZIP codes is really important, as you sell downloads. Many services won't give you that information, to protect their customers' privacy. But Peter said that getting that information could be as valuable as any profit you earn from selling or renting your movie -- since those are fans you can communicate with and market your future films to. Peter has a great term for that group of people: they are a filmmakers "core personal audience." I like that.

    - I predicted, in response to an audience question, that in five years, digital movie consumption will be about equal to consumption on DVD.

    - Jaman said they plan to start integrating advertising in short films soon, and sharing the revenue with creators (right now, Jaman's model is simply to sell or rent full-length movies in digital form)

    - I brought up Jaman's deal structure: they give filmmakers 30 percent of the rental or download revenues, and pocket 70 percent. That compares to selling movies through Amazon's Unbox / CreateSpace, which split revenues down the middle. Kathleen Powell said that Jaman is more of a concentrated community of cinephiles, and that indie features and docs don't get lost. (She also said that "Black" is the site's most popular film.)

    - Then Brian Chris of the 'Four Eyed Monsters' team hammered on Jaman some more, noting that the site requires filmmakers sign a six year non-exclusive agreement ... so if you made another distribution deal, you couldn't remove your movie from Jaman for six years. Kathleen clarified, and said that the length of these deals run anywhere from five to nine years, and said that it's expensive for the site to encode movies (that cost is anywhere from $800 to $2000). So it isn't economical for the site to do that one week, and have a filmmaker pull down the title the next week.

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From the IFP Conference: Everyone's in the Media

Mark Urman of THINKFilm is of course a marketing and distribution genius -- he handled "Spellbound," "Born Into Brothels," and "The Aristocrats," among other recent hits -- but here's one important thing he doesn't get. (And there's a lesson here for filmmakers.)

Urman was a panelist during an IFP session today on "Niche Marketing."

"Print media is in terrible crisis," Urman said, adding that there is no longer a guarantee that you'll get reviewed, even if you open in a theater in New York.

But blogs and Web site like MySpace, he said, are "not proven." MySpace "is not an alternative, when I have a film that will appeal to a 47-year old suburbanite. They're not going on MySpace; they're not YouTubing. They're reading the New York Times."

As Urman was talking, I was poking around the THINKFilm site.

Now, let's imagine that I was a blogger who happened to run a blog for 47-year old suburbanites, and I had just seen a THINKFilm movie (let's say it was "Then She Found Me," a great movie from Helen Hunt that THINKFilm just picked up at Toronto). I want to tell my readers about it. I go to the THINKFilm Web site looking for a promo clip from the movie, or some still photos to use on my blog. But to get to THINKFilm's press download area, you need a password -- and there's no information about how to get one. Nowhere on the site could I even find a press contact phone number or e-mail.

I work in traditional media, and I'm also a blogger -- and when I encounter a site that asks me for a password to prove that I'm legitimate media, I almost never fill it out. It's just a hassle, and too often I don't hear back until after my deadline. (Especially when there's no phone number on the page to tell you who to call to prove that you are "real" media.)

So if Urman really wanted to let non-traditional outlets promote his movies, he'd simply put the press download material out in the open, where anyone could get to them. That way, if the NY Times or Daily News don't have the resources to write about one of his movies, a thousand bloggers will be able to fill that void.

The lesson for filmmakers (and other studios): make it INCREDIBLY EASY for anyone who wants to help publicize your movie to do so. Production notes should be on your site, making-of clips, production stills, press releases, cast bios, your prize-winning recipe for beef stew, etc.

Urman did have some very good advice during the panel (I'm sorry I didn't take more notes), but THINKFilm ought to be more of a leader on its Web site.

One more comment from him, which is very good advice for indie filmmakers: from the moment a big studio green-lights a film, they start researching its likely audience and planning the PR and marketing campaign: how do we reach that audience? Indies, even though they may have fewer resources, need to start thinking about PR and marketing right out of the gates, too.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More from the IFP Filmmaker Conference

Lance Weiler moderated a great panel yesterday afternoon that was supposed to be about "Consumer Viewing Habits" but wound up being more about the economics of supporting one's creative work, whether it involves full-length features (Arin and Susan from 'Four Eyed Monsters' were there), short-form funny videos (Andrew Baron from Rocketboom), or documentary (Brett Gaylor of Open Source Cinema).

Some very random notes:

Arin mentioned to Brett how important it is to collect ZIP codes from people interested in your project. That way, when you're doing theatrical screenings or events (or trying to figure out where you should do these events), you have a sense of the geography of your fan base: do people love you in Madison, Wisconsin, while they couldn't care less in Portland, Oregon?

Brett showed the trailer for his doc, which garnered applause -- a good sign. It should be finished next year, he says.

Andrew said that Rocketboom is one of YouTube's advertising partners, and that YouTube will share revenue from the ads it places on Rocketboom. But none of the ads have started showing up yet. Lance suggested that one reason why is that someone created a hack for Firefox that allows you to strip the ads off YouTube's videos. I suspect there may be other reasons, too. Afterward, Baron told me that the ad payments are based on impressions (not click-throughs), and that YouTube would be splitting the revenue roughly down the middle with its creators.

Arin and Susan shared a lot of financial info about 'Four Eyed Monsters.' They've grossed about $135,000 from the movie so far (but are still trying to erase some credit card debt.) About 69 percent of that has come from selling DVDs, movie tickets, and downloads, and 31 percent has come from selling t-shirts, posters, and other merch.

Afterward, Hunter Weeks (director of the doc '10 MPH') came up and we talked about distribution a bit. He said he hasn't really been selling many downloads on Amazon Unbox, even though an Amazon PR rep told me recently that his films was among the best-selling indie downloads on that site. (They had 12 downloads in the month of August through Unbox...and yet a representative for Amazon's CreateSpace division, which handles the indie content on Unbox, told me that month that they were "in the top 20 Unbox titles." What does that say about how well Unbox is doing?) Hunter said he also sells digital versions of the movie on his own site using a service called E-Junkie, which charges $80 a month to host the movie -- and nothing per transaction.

Then there was some hanging around in the lobby...I spoke with a couple knowledgeable folks about when, if ever, indie movies will appear on iTunes. The smart money is on 2008 -- not this year. iTunes is supposedly still more focused on trying to get more studio content. (It is now almost two years since I wrote this opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle arguing that Apple is being hypocritical by not allowing independent creators to sell their film and video on iTunes.)

Then there was a dinner that Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo organized....which brought together the 'Four Eyed Monsters' team, Lance, Brett, and M dot Strange...basically, an incredible about of DIY filmmaking smarts gathered around one long table.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Didja Know? GreenCine sold to WantedList founders

So this morning I happened to bump into Jonathan Marlow, a long-time exec at GreenCine, the pioneering DVD rental and digital download site. (They started out as a kind of Netflix for indies, art movies, and adult fare.) Marlow is now founder of the start-up Cabinetic (his MySpace profile is here.)

He mentioned rather off-handedly that GreenCine had been sold to the founders of WantedList, a rent-by-mail service for adult movies. (WantedList was featured in Wired back in 2005.) They seem to want to keep the deal quiet, as it hasn't been mentioned on the official GreenCine blog, which David Hudson runs (and which was included with the sale). But a female WantedList employee did blog about moving over from WantedList to GreenCine:

    While they're owned by the same people, they are two seperate companies. So far as one is concerned, the other doesn't exist. Wanted List is the Netflix of porn, and a good sex retail site. It was great doing Wanted List work but it certainly wasn't my passion, and I'm frankly sick of every conversation being dominated by sex or something sex related because that's all the OTHER person (namely males) wants to talk about to see if I've been in something or see if they can get me into something.

    Bottom line is. I'm out of the porn industry, and I'm not sad about it.

Marlow said that the one piece of GreenCine that wasn't sold was the library of digitally-downloadable movies -- which could eventually appear on iTunes or another content marketplace.

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What If You Had an Unproduced Screenplay?

This morning's panel at the IFP Filmmaker Conference, 'Turning Your Viewers On,' was a lot of fun. Laurie Racine sat in for David Dudas of Eyespot, and she was great (in addition to working for Eyespot, Laurie is also involved with Creative Commons and dotSub, which added a lot to the panel.)

Here's a question I posed to the audience, which sent the discussion off on a really interesting trajectory. My goal was to talk about how creative people think about the collaborative potential of the Internet.

What if you had an unproduced screenplay in your desk drawer? Would you put that screenplay up on the Net, where an aspiring filmmaker could take it and turn it into a movie -- with full credit to you as the screenwriter? What if you could be assured that if they made a movie (maybe they'd film the entire script, or condense it into a short), and they made money, you'd be guaranteed a percentage of any revenues? But let's assume the more likely scenario is that your movie would only show at a film school, or online, but wouldn't generate much of a return for the filmmaker...

(Afterward, Scott Macaulay of Filmmaker Magazine mentioned that Jonathan Lethem, a bona fide famous writer, has done this with some of his short stories.)

Here were some of the responses from the audience:

    - If the screenplay is in my desk drawer, it probably isn't very good, and I wouldn't want my name attached to it if a film was made.

    - I'd worry that someone would take it and make a lot of money from my work.

    - What if I become famous, and someday a studio wants to make a "real" movie from that old script that I wrote in college?

    - What if they changed my script while they were making the movie?

Have a look at The Jonathan Coulton Project, where a very good singer/songwriter allows anyone to produce music videos using his songs. Why wouldn't screenwriters want the same kind of thing to happen with their unproduced work?

I'd love to hear your feedback below... but one last quote from the novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow to get you thinking: "The greatest threat to an artist is obscurity, not piracy."

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Updated: Sites that Pay Filmmakers and Video Producers

In advance of the IFP Filmmaker Conference this week, I've updated my list of sites that help filmmakers and video producers get paid for their work. I removed a number of sites that don't seem to be attracting very many users, deleted Google Video (which never really allowed indies to charge for content, and now has announced plans to close its video store entirely), and also added two services that help filmmakers sell DVDs they've already produced (Film Baby and NeoFlix.)

I'm always interested in hearing whether there are other sites that ought to be on this list. My criteria is that they aren't just a place to post content, but can actually help creators earn a return.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Prince is Pissed at YouTube ... More Original Content for MySpace ... Tron 2.0?

- Prince is suing YouTube.

    "YouTube ... are clearly able (to) filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success," a statement released on his behalf said.

Good point, Prince. How well are all those much-promised content filtering tools working at YouTube? Clearly not well enough to automatically keep people from posting videos of Britney on the VMAs (which is content owned by Viacom, YouTube's primary law-suitor.)

- 'quarterlife,' a new online video series from Marshall Herkovitz and Ed Zwick ('My So-Called Life' and 'thirtysomething'), will debut November 11th on MySpace. There will be 36 eight-minute episodes, and Herkovitz is promising that they'll spend more producing it than any Web series so far. (Is that really the right objective?) The preview clip does look sorta promising, though.

Clearly, a goal of all these Web efforts is to produce something that can later be monetized in another way ... on DVDs, foreign TV, cell phones, etc.

- Looks like the 'Tron' sequel is closer to starting production...and Steven Lisberger, director of the original, is serving as a producer. From Borys Kit's story:

    When making the original, in order to convince the studio to take a chance on a first-time director, Lisberger shot a test reel, financed by the studio, involving the deadly Frisbee battle. In a case of historical synchronicity, sources said one of the things Kosinski will be doing is working on a sequence involving the movie's Light Cycles to work out his vision for the movie. Sources also said visual effects personnel, for many of whom "Tron" was an inspiration to enter the business, already are jockeying for pole position to work on the sequence.

The Wired blog has some cheeky commentary.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chicago has the first multiplex fully outfitted with Sony 4K projectors

A Sony Electronics PR person e-mailed today to let me (and you) know that the new Muvico 18-screen multiplex in the Chicago area (it's called the Muvico Rosemont 18) officially opens tomorrow, and will be the first in the world to have 4K projectors in every booth.

Of course, how much 4K content they'll be able to show is another question entirely, since most digital cinema releases are in 2K.

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3-D Conference in San Francisco

If you're interested learning more about 3-D cinema, gaming, phones, TVs, and signage, you should know about this event coming up next week (Sept 18 and 19) in San Francisco. An exhibit pass is free; conference pass is $695.

But the sessions look good, among them:

    3D Digital Cinema
    Prospects for 3D Digital Cinema
    Matthew Brennesholtz, Sr. Analyst, Insight Media
    ABSTRACT: The transition from film to 2D digital cinema is well underway and 3D cinema is also becoming a component of this transition. The presentation will provide updated information on our 3D Cinema forecast with the latest information on trends, issues, roll outs and prospects for 3D in cinema applications.

    Next Steps in the 3D Cinema Revolution
    Lenny Lipton, CTO, RealD
    ABSTRACT: This talk will discuss the needs and hurdles for taking the 3D cinema industry to the next level. Currently, there are over 700 3D digital cinema theaters, but to get most major movies made in 3D, we need several thousand theaters. Clearly, 3D cinema is riding the wave of digital cinema projector installations. This is currently the gating issue, but there are other needs in terms of production workflow, post production, visualization and distributiuon that need to be dealt with. In addition, some view the 3D as a distraction and not an opportunity. This talk will discuss all of these issues and the prospects for 3D Digital Cinema in the near term.

    Trade-Offs in 2D to 3D Conversion
    Dave Seigle, President/CEO, InThree, Inc.
    ABSTRACT: There are three ways to produce 3D content: using dual cameras, producing second eye renderings in CG, and Dimensionalizing 2D content. The presentation will focus on three areas related to the third method: the technology, techniques and applications of Dimensionalization; a framework for understanding issues of quality and cost; and the current state of industry commitment to this approach.

    Stereoscopic Technology Options for 3D Digital Cinema
    John Carey, Vice President of Marketing, Dolby Laboratories
    ABSTRACT: Digital cinema has revitalized the 3D movie viewing experience and new stereoscopic technologies have come to market. Dolby continues to revolutionize the cinema experience by developing a new 3D solution using a unique color filter wheel technology that meets the needs of exhibitors, filmmakers and moviegoers. In this session Dolby will talk about the early stages of stereoscopic technology and where 3D is headed with the emergence of digital cinema.

    Challenges to 3-D Filmmaking
    Aaron Parry, Executive Producer, Paramount Pictures
    ABSTRACT: The presentation will cover the creative, production, scheduling, technical and distribution challenges to 3-D filmmaking from a major motion picture studio perspective. The presentation will also focus on specific production and financial issues related to producing 3-D features utilizing stereo cinematography, stereographic rendering, and stereoscopic conversion.

    Authoring in Stereo: Rewriting the rules of visual story telling
    Jim Mainard, Head of Production Development, Dreamworks Animation
    ABSTRACT: Stereo filmmaking is a bright new landscape ready to be explored - due in large part to stable, high quality projection available today. Composition, light and camera are rediscovered as tools to tell stories not in the flat, but in the round. We don’t have all the answers. Instead we have many questions. The answer will be revealed in the years ahead as filmmaking is redefined, not unlike it was with the advent of sound, and later color.

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Update on Panorama's 4K projector in development

Frank Stirling sends along news that there has been a management buy-out at Panorama Labs, a company working on a much ballyhooed new 4K projector, which will supposedly be capable of showing 3D, and perhaps even doing "digital IMAX"-sized projections. Stirling writes:

    We are making good progress and now have a small-scale demonstrator operating. We had first light on 4 May and have since shown the 128x62 magneto-optic driven pixel array to several studios and industry representatives. We are moving ahead with the 4K-prototype development and hope to have it completed by early next year.

    Corporately, the Founder and Inventor, Sutherland Ellwood, the Co-Founder, Ian Spenceley, and I, including our entire team, have formed a new company in the U.S. called Photonica, Inc. to buy-out the Australian-based Panorama Labs from ST Synergy. This will allow strong focus and facilitate funding to complete our 4K(3D capable) DCI-compliant digital cinema projector by next year. We plan to complete the purchase of Panorama by the end of October.

We'll be waiting....

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

'Kodak's Reign in Hollywood Threatened by Digital Cinema'

Among the most entertaining people to talk to in the entertainment industry are Kodak executives.

At ShoWest in 1999, Kodak exec Bob Mayson proclaimed that digital cinema would never happen until directors and producers decided to back it. Later that day, George Lucas announced that 'Star Wars: Episode I' would be shown digitally in four theaters later that summer. My favorite quote from that year's ShoWest coverage:

    “That sound you heard during the Star Wars trailer was 20 guys from Kodak jumping off the roof of the hotel,” quipped one exhibitor.

This week, Dow Jones has an update on Kodak's digital cinema efforts, and it seems like not much as changed. AccessIT, the leader in converting theaters to digital cinema, has converted 3,000 screens. Kodak has 80. From the piece:

    Mary Jane Hellyar, president of Kodak's film products group, said the company's goal is to position itself to be competitive, not necessarily move to grab the dominant market share right out of the gate. "The numbers are reflective of the strategy," she said.

    "We're learning from our installations and also learning from what others are doing in the marketplace. It is our goal to be a key player in this space, making sure we're positioned to have the kind of offering that the industry would expect," Hellyar said.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday News: Internet Video, High-Def Formats, Hulu Lawsuit, and More

The NY Times has a bunch of Internet video stories today...

- Warner Bros. is creating original Web video series, and hopes to sell advertising around them.

- A profile of the attorney who cut the lucrative new 'South Park' deal

- The self-publishing site is suing Hulu, the new Web video site created by News Corp. and NBC, because its name is too similar.

The LA Times says there's no end in sight to the HD DVD/Blu-ray format war, which some had predicted would be over by Christmas. From the piece:

    The brinkmanship is intensifying. Another major studio, Warner Bros., is being courted by both camps and believed to be mulling over a lucrative offer that could bring such popular titles as "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" into the HD DVD camp, according to Hollywood insiders who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential.

    "Any movement by one of the studios tilts the playing field in one direction or the other," said David Sanderson, head of the global media practice at consulting firm Bain & Co. "It's a bit of jump ball right now."

    What's more, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the dominant seller of DVDs, has been contemplating whether to boot stand-alone HD DVD players from its shelves in favor of Blu-ray. Wal-Mart executives would not talk about the company's conversations with suppliers, but said it would continue to carry hardware and software in both formats until consumers indicate a clear preference.

- IFC and a tech start-up called B Side are working together to get home video and online distribution for movies that garner good buzz at film festivals, but don't get distribution deals, according to Variety.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

30 Hours in Toronto

Today's panel on social networking at the Toronto International Film Festival was a lot of fun, thanks to five really brilliant panelists and the organizing efforts of Shannon Abel of TIFF. We had a really engaged audience, too -- especially distribution guru Peter Broderick, who heckled from the second row.

The main message, to me, was that we're still in an era when filmmakers are figuring out how all these new online tools can connect them with their audience in a way that makes sense. Some of the points I heard:

- Jason Klein of Special Ops Media said that what works for one film may not work for another. Clients still come into his agency and ask him to duplicate the positive word-of-mouth that spread online when "The Blair Witch Project" was released in 1999.

- Filmmakers Sandi DuBowski and Corey Marr said that they're trying a lot of things on MySpace and Facebook, like reaching out to particular groups (in Sandi's case, gay and lesbian Jews around the world) to introduce them to their movies. It's still hard to tell how much of this effort pays off, in terms of people actually purchasing a DVD or buying a ticket to see a movie in a theater. But both said they'd run into people at festivals who'd heard about their movies via social networks like MySpace.

- There's lots of confusion over how much marketing and commerce you're technically allowed to do on MySpace. I asked Christine Moore from MySpace whether, when a movie is released on DVD, a filmmaker would be allowed to message all his MySpace friends to let them know where they could buy it. She gave that her blessing.

- Sandi said that holding onto as many rights as you can is a great idea; he has a deal with his distributor where he can sell DVDs of "Trembling Before G-D" on his own. (He buys these DVDs at wholesale price from the home video distributor, New Yorker Films.)

- Bill Holsinger-Robinson from Spout talked a bit about the release of "Four Eyed Monsters" on YouTube; the money that Spout supplied to Arin Crumley and Susan Buice helped them eliminate some of the credit card debt they'd accumulated in making the movie. (Crumley and Buice got $1 for every new Spout member who registered at the site after they watched "FEM" on YouTube.)

- Someone from the audience asked about collaborative online efforts to make documentaries, and all of us on stage whiffed. Moira Keicher from the National Film Board of Canada, who was in the audience, pointed us to

TIFF recorded the panel, and I'm hoping they'll make it available online soon.

During my 30 hour stay in Toronto, I got to go to a couple parties, but mostly camped out at the Varsity Cinemas. I saw four really wonderful movies: "The Secrets," an Israeli/French production about an unlikely friendship between two girls in a seminary, and an ex-prisoner they try to guide toward redemption; "The Last Time I Saw My Father," about a tempestuous father/son relationship, starring Colin Firth and Jim Broadbent; "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," an exceptional Western photographed by Roger Deakins and starring Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt; and Helen Hunt's impressive directorial debut, "Then She Found Me," a deep and thoughtful romantic comedy co-starring Firth and Bette Midler. I caught about an hour of "Into the Wild," the Sean Penn adaptation of Jon Krakauer's book, which didn't really appeal to me. (I haven't read the book, though I'm a fan of Krakauer's magazine work and "Into Thin Air," his best-seller about climbing Everest.)

I wish I could've stayed for the rest of the festival, especially to see some documentaries (tops on my list were "A Jihad for Love," which Sandi DuBowski produced, and the documentary about The Who, the title of which escapes me.)

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Reviewing the new Vudu movie box ... Comparing the iPhone with the new iPods

- David Pogue of the NY Times has a favorable review of Vudu, a new set-top box for delivering movies over an Internet connection. I've seen Vudu in action, and the image quality is pretty sweet - but even sweeter is the fact that a movie starts playing as soon as you select it. Right now, Vudu offers 5,000 movies, and they hope to quickly expand to 10,000. And every major studios has supplied at least a few titles.

Pogue's caveats:

    Vudu’s dependence on the notoriously conservative, profit-driven movie studios also explains many of its frustrating inconsistencies. Some Vudu movies are available for purchase or rent; others, only for purchase. Some movies have previews (movie trailers); others do not. The list includes hundreds of movies from some studios (Paramount, Sony, Warner) and only a handful from others (Disney).

    While we’re nit-picking, it’s worth noting that Vudu offers no DVD extras — deleted scenes, subtitles and so on. Be prepared, too, for a less obvious loss: serendipity. With other movie sources, the limited selection or the wait for the mail carrier can provide a moment of happy surprise when you find something good or open the mailing envelope. Vudu is more like shooting fish in a barrel.

Here's the Vudu Web site, and a Variety piece I wrote last month that talks about Vudu and a competitor, Building B.

- Video guru Anthony Burokas has been wondering whether Apple's new iPods, unveiled yesterday, will be better than the company's iPhone for filmmakers who want to tote around their demo reels. Here's his analysis.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Film Arts Foundation Class on Digital Distribution & Marketing

The Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco has just released their fall course catalog (it's here in PDF form).

On October 11th, I'm going to be teaching a session on Digital Distribution and Marketing, featuring lots of case studies. I'd be grateful if you'd help spread the word to creative folks you know who are interested in this topic.

Here's the course description:

    Thursday, October 11, 7-10pm

    Once you’ve finished a film or video project, how do you get your work seen by millions, and ideally make some coin in the process? In this workshop, we’ll examine some of the new opportunities (and challenges) the Internet presents to next-gen creatives, whether you’re making short videos, features, or docs What are the on-line options for selling DVDs-on-demand or digital downloads? This workshop will provide constructive answers and case studies and address your specific issues.

    Attendees will receive a free copy of the e-book The Future of Web Video: New Opportunities for Producers,
    Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers.

To register: online registration is here, or you can e-mail, or call Film Arts Foundation at (415) 552-8760 x311. It costs $50 for Film Arts members, $115 for everyone else. (A filmmaker-level membership is $65, so for $115 you can take this class and have a one-year membership.)

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Sony to Do Video Downloads? ... Mike Shoots with the Red ... Studio Chief Job Security ... One Less Drive-In

If you, like me, are trying to fend off the start of fall with some good old-fashioned procrastination, here's some Tuesday reading for you...

- Sony may soon challenge Apple in selling video downloads, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Oddly, the Journal story goes on for a while before mentioning that just last week Sony exited the business of selling digital music through its Connect online store.) From the story:

    People familiar with the situation say [Sony chairman Howard] Stringer is planning to use Sony's technology-packed PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable videogame machines, along with its Bravia high-definition televisions, to develop products and services to let users download television shows and movies, similar to the way they download music and videos using Apple's iTunes store and iPods. A Sony spokesman declined to comment on the company's strategy.

    As Internet connections have become faster, analysts have expected the next big potential market to be in downloading movies and television shows. Some analysts believe it could be significantly larger than the digital music market.

The writer says that Sony's main advantage in getting into digital video could be that "Content companies like movie studios may be wary of the way Apple dominated the digital music market, and may be more encouraged to work with another company, especially one that owns a movie studio of its own and understands their concerns."

The story also contains a projection from Parks Associates that total video download revenues for 2007 will hit $2 billion. That's real money.

- Mike Curtis is in New York playing with some of Red Digital Cinema's first production cameras.

- From Sunday's NY Times: 'For Studio Chiefs, the End of the Revolving Door?' Michael Cieply observes that the job security of studio chairmen may actually be increasing. Here's the gist:

    Over the last decade or so, managers of big companies like Sony, the owner of Columbia Pictures, and the News Corporation, owner of 20th Century Fox, came to realize that the film business is less about scoring the odd hit than keeping the pipeline full of something other than losers. That happened as the DVD explosion and growing sales abroad showed that even a modest success at the box office could bring home a substantial profit.

    Stability trumped brilliance. The cool of a John Calley, the longtime producer who took charge of Sony Pictures Entertainment in the period, replaced the heat of a Peter Guber, whose stormy reign preceded him. High-tension types like Michael D. Eisner and Michael S. Ovitz left the stage.

    For studio chairmen, an increasingly colorless lot, the shift in values brought with it a level of job security that was only occasionally achieved a generation ago.

- Also from the Sunday Times... this may make you sad: an obituary for a Buffalo drive-in.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

In-theater Movie Commentary ... Apple & NBC ... Miller and Levinsohn unite ... Dolby digital cinema demo

- Screenwriter, director, and blogger John August has created a director's commentary for his new movie 'The Nines,' which is in limited release now. The idea is that you'd download it to your iPod and listen to it in the theater...the second time you go to see the movie. Kevin Smith apparently did the same thing for 'Clerks II.' (But Smith's commentary was never released, though, because theater owners worried it would be disruptive to other audience members.)

Peter Debruge has some thoughts on this strategy at Anne Thompson's blog. (IE, how loud will your iPod have to be to compete with the volume in the theater?)

- Apple's response to NBC's decision to pull its shows from iTunes is well worth a read. (Thanks, Andy.) Apple says it doesn't want to stop selling NBC shows in mid-season (one feature of iTunes is the ability to buy an entire season of shows as a package), so it is dropping new NBC content before the September season begins. The Wall Street Journal has a report that suggests that Apple is hoping NBC will change its mind; NBC is accusing Apple of caring more about iPod sales than the money it generates for content creators.

- Jonathan Miller, formerly CEO of AOL, and Ross Levinsohn, formerly president of Fox Interactive Media, have started a new firm to buy Internet companies, the Journal reports. (OK, now that the roll-ups are starting, this really feels like Bubble 2.0) From the piece:

    The new entity, called Velocity Investment Group, is already actively scouting for acquisitions and has signed letters of intent with a few consumer-oriented Internet companies. Velocity aims to purchase start-ups in related content areas and boost their online ad revenue by selling across multiple properties. Velocity is also considering buying out companies that broker ads for other Web sites. It is being advised by the investment bank Allen & Co.

- has some video from a digital cinema demo night that Dolby Labs held in San Francisco late last month. Two reactions: it's pretty funny to see film shown side-by-side with digital projection in a low-rez Internet video (obviously, you can't see the difference), and the reporter makes some broad comments about theatrical woes which don't feel all that relevant right now. (Regal Entertainment, the biggest chain of theaters, had net income of $52 million in the second quarter.)

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