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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 OpenSourceCinema.org.

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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