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Friday, October 31, 2008

No More Digital Cameras for Dalsa

The Canadian company Dalsa is getting out of the business of making digital cameras for cinematographers. "The Origin camera, launched in 2004, won many accolades but may have been ahead of its time, as it was never used to film the entirety of a major studio's feature-length film," writes Matt Walcoff in The Record, adding that the Origin "was used to film advertisements and short films, as well as a skydiving scene in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace."

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

On the way: 3-D audio?

I wish I could've heard this demo at the SMPTE Technical Conference in LA this week: 3-D sound. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "The 3-D sound system at the Mann [Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood] is a ring of 380 speakers, set six inches apart, around the wall of the auditorium." (More on the technology is here.)

Fans of history will recall that Disney's original theatrical release of 'Fantasia' used 54 speakers. The equipment costs were deemed too expensive back in 1940...and so that sort of ultra-surround-sound didn't take off.

Will it be different this time around? I'm sure the speakers are less expensive these days...but Iosono, the company trying to commercialize the new technology, will have to convince theaters to make the investment, and persuade studios to record and mix the sound in their new format.

Challenging... but I totally support any attempt to improve the quality of the theatrical experience.

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How Will the Recession Impact Hollywood?

The LA Times has a great piece exploring the ways that an economic downturn will affect television and movies. Essentially, consumers seem to be shifting consumption online (where they often find the same content for free, on sites like Hulu and YouTube, that they'd have to pay for via cable or Netflix). For media companies, profits are much smaller (at least today) from those online delivery methods. That means that media companies are earning digital dimes instead of analog dollars (as many folks, including NBC's Jeff Zucker, have put it.)

From Dawn Chmielewski's piece:

    The endless stream of free content, through legitimate services as well as pirate sites, appears to be shifting viewing habits more quickly than industry executives had anticipated -- or intended. That creates a dilemma for media companies because the Internet generates substantially lower revenue than established business models -- 30-second TV commercials and home video sales -- which have long supported the costly economics of TV shows and movies. That's not Hollywood's only problem.

    When Midori Connolly's family business in San Diego, which supplies audiovisual equipment for conferences, began to feel the economic slowdown this summer, she and her husband trimmed expenses.

    The monthly subscription to DVDs-via-mail service Netflix was the first to go. Now they rent movies for $1 a day from a kiosk at the supermarket. Next they saved the $10 to download George Strait's new "Troubadour" album on iTunes. Instead, they bought two tracks for 99 cents each. And they didn't rush out to spend $17 for the DVD of "Sex and the City." They checked out a free copy from the library.

    "We started finding alternatives that we didn't have to spend money on," said the 31-year-old mother of two. "I don't feel that we've lost any quality."

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

At the Rome Film Fest: 'Middle of Nowhere'

I got to see one more movie yesterday afternoon at the Rome Film Festival: 'Middle of Nowhere,' directed by John Stockwell, who also did 'Blue Crush' (and some less-memorable movies.)

Now I know why I kept thinking that Eva Amurri, who plays Grace, the main character, looked so much like the actress who plays her mom in the movie, Susan Sarandon. (As a non-reader of celebrity gossip mags, I wasn't aware that they actually are mother and daughter.)

The movie focuses on two teens who're struggling to leave home and break free of their parents. Sarandon plays a distracted mom who doesn't seem to have her daughters' best interests at heart; Anton Yelchin plays Dorian Spitz, a 17-year old who doesn't click with his ultra-wealthy adopted family (all of whom disappear abruptly after the first scene), but quickly falls for Grace when the two end up working at the same water park for the summer.

The movie effectively captures that series of experiences you have -- around love, work, friends, your family, your siblings -- when you are crossing the threshold from childhood into adulthood. I could have done without a few predictable moments (Dorian meeting his birth mother outside a bingo parlor), but on the whole it was one of those rare instances where you get to absorb some solid performances, writing, and directing -- all in the same movie.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Opera in D-Cinema: Does it Whet the Appetite?

I thought this was a really interesting piece in yesterday's Boston Globe, focusing on the success of live opera distributed to digital cinemas.

Jeremy Eichler writes:

    Two years ago, opera simulcasts in movie theaters did not exist; today they are wildly popular. What only recently seemed like a novel, vaguely exotic cultural activity has for many become a familiar ritual on the local musical calendar.

    Yet beyond the excitement it has generated, this new wave of high-tech cultural populism is also transforming the ecology of opera in Boston, where the two main companies offering live performances - Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Boston - must now grapple with what it means to have the Met juggernaut landing right next door.

    There is no mistaking its momentum. Back in December 2006, only one local theater - in Framingham - screened the first Met simulcast. Last year, the number of greater Boston theaters carrying the broadcasts was up to seven, with 21,000 tickets sold. (By comparison, the combined attendance for all 18 of the Boston Lyric Opera's mainstage performances last season was about 24,000.)

This season, three new theaters in Boston have decided to begin playing opera. Eichler asks how all this is affecting the city's opera companies... and whether it is creating new fans.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

At the Rome Film Fest: 'Walt & El Grupo'

I was totally confused about how (and whether) my credentials would allow me to see a movie here in Rome... so I wound up sitting in the rush line for 'Walt & El Grupo,' a documentary about Walt Disney's trip to South America in 1941. After about ten minutes there, a nice fellow came up and handed me an extra ticket, so I went in.

The film was made by Ted Thomas, son of the great Disney animator Frank Thomas, and he was in the house to introduce his film. Last night was its European debut.

What I liked best about the movie was its jaunty Latin American soundtrack and its sense of context: 1941 was a difficult time for Walt and his studio... with war raging in Europe, his income from the continent was sagging...his animators were on strike...and he "partnered" with the U.S. Department of State to go on an all-expenses-paid goodwill tour of South America. The trip was part diplomatic mission (to persuade South American countries to align with the U.S. and not Germany), and part a voyage to collect new material for his cartoons (resulting in 'Saludos Amigos' and 'The Three Caballeros,' among other films).

But the movie ends up feeling too much like an itinerary-based family slide show... "First we went to Argentina, and here's what we did..." Since none of the trip's participants are still alive (or at least none who were interviewed for the film), you never get to know them very well. As a result, the film suffers from a major personality void.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Credit Crunch Will Slow D Cinema Roll-Out

You had to know this was coming:

    ...Regal Entertainment Group CEO Mike Campbell said Thursday a $1 billion industry digital upgrade [to digital cinema] could be delayed.

    "We believe, and JP Morgan believes, that it will get financed once the market returns to something that is reasonably normal," Campbell said. "We're going to continue to put together the pieces behind the scenes to be in a position to react."

Regal, of course, is the country's biggest theater chain, and part of the Digital Cinema Implementation Partners joint initiative with several other big chains.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hollywood: The Slowest Industry to Grasp Tech Changes?

When I was at Disney last week, tech SVP Bob Lambert shared a great quote with me. It's from an article several years ago in Broadcasting magazine... an interview with Amos Hostetter Jr., who at the time was chairman of Continental Cablevision.

    "I have been told that the movie industry is probably the slowest industry to grasp technological changes of any industry in American society. They had the ability to do talking pictures before they did it, they had the ability to do Technicolor before they did it; they are just techniphobic."

While I agree with the general sentiment, what's most interesting to me about the way Hollywood responds to new technologies is that it delays and delays and delays -- and then embraces them just in time to save the business. It's like someone about to fall into a chasm who grabs that wonderfully well-placed vine at the last possible moment.

The movie industry loves a cliffhanger.

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I was not a copious note-taker at The Conversation last Friday and Saturday... too busy trying to keep the show running on time, and making sure our speakers were ready to go.

There's lots of video, photos, and blog coverage on the event's official blog. (The photo at right is from our lunchtime "picnic blanket" sessions, when participants could pick a topic and bring together a lunch group around a picnic blanket. Shot by JD Lasica.)

Here are some things that made such an impression on me that I had to jot them down:

    - John Batter from DreamWorks Animation showed some 3-D material from the upcoming 'Monsters vs. Aliens,' and also some remastered material from 'Kung Fu Panda.' Starting next March, everything the studio releases will be available in 3-D. "Current 2-D movies are the visual equivalent of the vinyl era," he said (referring to 33 RPM records, that lost technology.) Within five years, he predicted, we'll have 3-D displays in our living rooms.

    - Gregg and Evan Spiridellis from JibJab Media said that they'd tried to figure out a way for advertising to support their creative endeavors -- and given up (at least for now.) The average hit video on YouTube attracts about 3.7 million views. At a $20 CPM (cost per thousand advertising impressions), that produces $74,000 in revenue, they said. Not enough to support their studio. (And their videos have generally attracted more than 5 million views each.) Instead, they're focusing on both advertising and a subscription service, where subscribers pay $13.99 per year to be able to send digital cards and messages that integrate pictures of them and their friends. (Personalized, funny e-cards, basically.) The Spiridellis brothers refer to it as "content that's highly relevant to really small groups of people." They let people interact with their content (13 million, so far, have uploaded images of their heads), and help them be funny to their friends.

    - John Gaeta, the visual effects designer who brought you 'The Matrix' and 'Speed Racer,' suggested that before very long, movies and games will deliver exactly the same level of visual fidelity. Some viewers might prefer the interactive gaming experience, and some might prefer the "sit back and watch" narrative experience. And some, Gaeta suggested, might choose to jump back and forth between the two experiences through portals and trap doors... watching the narrative for a while, then choosing to participate at some crucial juncture.

    - Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, participated in a great on-stage interview with filmmaker (and Conversation co-host) Tiffany Shlain. He mentioned that 'Crash' is the #1 most-rented DVD in the service's history. He said that the TV is turning into a Web browser, capable of displaying any content that can be published online. He suggested that a remote like the one that comes with the Nintendo Wii might be what we use to navigate this new world. Generating audience demand for your content is the new problem -- not producing or distributing it. Most provocatively, Hastings said that "the 90-minute-plus chunk of time is on the decline, as far as social relevance." Are we all still talking about films, and suggesting that our friends go see them -- or are we talking about the latest viral video we've seen? (I totally believe that people who insist on continuing to make only 90-minute features are missing the biggest opportunities of our era.)

    - Jim Sommers of ITVS said that his organization is interested in funding new kinds of digital storytelling, and he pointed us to the Electric Shadows initiative for some early examples.

    - The independent film producer Ted Hope proposed that filmmakers need to be think about creating material for their Web sites to pique viewer's interest before their film's festival debut.... and more material to bridge the gap between the debut and the theatrical release...and still more between the theatrical release and the DVD... and yet more after the DVD, to keep DVD (and digital) sales humming. To me, it sounds like the film is just one component of a story that you start telling before your first festival showing... and continue to build on and embroider even after you've released the DVD and digital download. The "movie release date" becomes just one milestone in this conversation between you and your audience. Some people who participate in the conversation may never actually buy a ticket or a download... while others may become so engaged that they buy everything you offer, and help market your movie to everyone they know.

    - I think it was Dean Valentine, CEO of and a big-shot former TV exec, who said that there is "no law that TV shows are 22 minutes, and come out from September to April." We're living in an age of content democratization, where anyone (not just the networks) has an opportunity to produce great content, in new forms and formats, that connects with an audience. But that content better be cheap (at least at first, before it proves its worth): Valentine said that a typical video produced by has a budget of about $2500.

    - YouTube's George Strompolos proposed that characters from your movie (whether narrative or a doc) ought to be stars of videos on YouTube. Most successful YouTube series, he said, are driven by larger-than-life characters. That extra content, he said, should be part of your marketing campaign.

    - Tiffany Shlain said that with her short film 'The Tribe,' she spent $130,000 on production and $130,000 on marketing and distribution. "Distribution spending should be half of the budget," she said. What good is making a movie if no one sees it, and you can't earn back your expenditures?

    - Ken Eklund, a developer of alternate reality games like "World Without Oil," said, "The culture war between movies and games is over... and movies lost." That provoked some good discussion and debate.

    - On that same panel, Peggy Weil, a filmmaker and game developer, asked, "How do you author when there is no authority? How do you direct when the viewer is the camera?" Both those things are challenges for people who come to the world of gaming with an auteur's mind-set.

    - Wendy Levy, moderator of that panel, said, "We are the people formerly known as the audience." That struck me in a big way. She also quoted Clay Shirky... observing that we are living in a world of "publish first, filter later."

    - Christopher Allen talked about the idea of turning movies into comic books and graphic novels, using simple software like Comic Life (which can put still photos from your movie into a comic book format, and allow you to write the captions.) Another option is hiring an artist on Craigslist and doing a print-on-demand book through something like Cafe Press, Lulu, or CreateSpace.

    - Ken Eklund said he is obsessed with Uniqlock. Now I see why. It got me thinking about the possibilities for telling a story through widgets that might be installed on viewers' Web sites, and serve up a new story segment, or introduce a new character, every day/week/randomly.

    - Philip Hodgetts showed off a demo of The Assistant Editor, new software he has created to do an intelligent, automated "first pass" edit.

There were so many sessions that I missed on Saturday... Peter Broderick's distribution workshop had people pouring out the doorway, and I heard great things about the Demo Session, which presented four new technologies, from 3-D home displays to green screen to motion capture. (The full event schedule is here.)

I wish I had taken more notes...

Thanks to everyone who supported the event the first time out! Feel free to post any ideas for future editions of The Conversation here...

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Internet: Bigger Than TV?

I've never been called a "historian" before... and I'm sure plenty of real historians would object... but here's an interview I did with Liz Gannes of NewTeeVee last Sunday night.

In it, I make the claim that the Internet as a delivery mechanism for video is more important than television. Television was great, but it only enabled media companies to distribute their content in a new way. The Internet allows anyone to distribute content, reach global audiences, and, ideally, make money.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

In the Bay Area? Play @ Berkeley on Nov. 15th

The students at Berkeley's Haas School of Business put together a great conference every fall about digital media, games, and entertainment, called Play. It costs just $50 to go. It usually sells out. This year, it's on Saturday, November 15th.

There are keynote speakers from Microsoft and Twitter. The organizers describe some of the topics the panels will address here.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

This Week's Travels

I left on Tuesday for LA and SF, from Boston. Since then, I've visited folks at the Walt Disney Company, JibJab Media, Google, and Pixar. I head to Netflix on Monday.

I've been giving talks to promote the book, and interviewing people as well.

Also, The Conversation began yesterday at the Pacific Film Archive theater, so that has been keeping me busy. (I helped organize it, along with folks like Tiffany Shlain, Ken Goldberg, Lance Weiler, Shayne Gilbert, Alyssa Stern, etc. etc.)

All of which is to say: I have a *lot* of stuff to blog. But not until tomorrow...

But if you want to hear about the book for the low, low price of $15 (includes pizza and beverages), come to the Hillside Club in Berkeley on Sunday at 6 PM (or tell your friends.) The talk presents the complete technological history of Hollywood in 40 minutes. Then we do Q&A and you tell me what I left out.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Panel Video: Tech @ The Movies

Here's some video taken at an event in Cambridge, MA last month called "Tech @ The Movies." It focused on the role that Massachusetts companies are playing (and have played in the past) in the technological evolution of the movie industry. Description and cast of characters below.

Massachusetts companies have played a pivotal role in the evolution of Hollywood. Movies might still be in black-and-white -- and we might never have had "The Wizard of Oz" -- if not for Technicolor, founded by Massachusetts entrepreneurs. And Avid Technology won an Oscar in the 1990s for introducing computers to the movie editing process. You'll hear from a panel of technology innovators who're changing the way movies get made in the 21st century -- helping directors create special effects or helping movie fans buy their favorite pics in digital form. Journalist Scott Kirsner will introduce the panel with a short, illustrated overview of his new book Inventing the Movies, which tells the heretofore untold technological history of Hollywood -- including the stories of Avid and Technicolor.

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iPhone App Helps You Manage Film Consumption

Noah Harlan writes to let us know about his new Film Calculator application for the iPhone. It costs $2.99. What does it do?

    Length & Time Converter: This function allows the user quickly convert length to time and vice versa for a variety of film stocks and speeds. Choose from Super-8mm, 16mm, 35mm or 70mm stocks and preset frames per second rates (12, 24, 25, 48) or enter your own. Then enter the time and you'll get the length or enter the length and you'll get the time.

    Hard Drive Storage Calculator: Select a format and enter a time and this function will tell you how much hard drive storage space you need. Dozens of formats are included. Contact us to request more!

    Script Supervisor's Assistant: This function provides a stopwatch that counts both time and length. Select the stock and frame rate and then operate this like a regular stopwatch. Saves scripty's from having to use a calculator at the end of each take. Always know exactly how much you've shot on a reel!

Is it funny (or just realistic) that there's an iPhone app to help you manage your analog film consumption?

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

NBC Looking for Sponsors: Here are the Shows They're Developing

I hardly ever (never?) post press releases in their entirety, but this one is worth it.

NBC Universal's Digital Studio is cultivating a new crop of online shows, and they're putting out a call for sponsors. If you're NBC, people will likely pay attention... and the ideas for shows are interesting. What do you think -- will they work as online series?


    Innovative Business Model Brings Unprecedented Connection Between Advertisers and Content Producers

    BURBANK, Calif. – October 7, 2008 – The NBC Universal Digital Studio today announced its first slate of original productions, which is currently being presented to sponsors. The innovative new business model being employed by the Studio brings advertisers and content producers together from the start and allows a much higher-quality production value than what is normally associated with digital production. The show creators are among the most talented writers and producers in entertainment, with the slate featuring projects from Scott Z. Burns ("The Bourne Ultimatum"), Tom Fontana ("OZ," "Homicide") and John August ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Big Fish"). The Studio has partnered with 60Frames Entertainment on the slate. The announcement was made by Cameron Death, Vice President, NBC Universal Digital Studio.

    "NBC Universal is uniquely positioned to be able to bring top-tier talent together with world-class distribution for brands in new and unique ways," said Death. "This first slate of programming provides a unique outlet for our top-tier creative partners to marry their ability to tell great stories with brands' desires to align with world-class content in new and innovative ways."

    The Studio slate is currently being presented to brands for integration and sponsorship opportunities. With partners on board, series will be put into production and distributed across a wide number of NBC Universal properties as well as third party online, mobile sites, VOD and electronic sell-thru platforms.

    The NBC Universal Digital Studio has partnered with 60Frames Entertainment, a leading online entertainment financing and syndication company. 60Frames works with top Hollywood talent to create professionally produced short-form digital entertainment and creates unique, highly effective online advertising opportunities for national brands. With Over 50 series in active distribution, development or production, 60Frames produces across every genre including comedy, sci-fi, drama, thriller, reality and instructional.

    More detailed descriptions of a selection of the series follow:

    "Loving Larry" – A determined group of twenty-something misfits seek to change their luck with the ladies by creating a fake Bachelor-style reality show. When their phony casting call results in scores of gorgeous women lined up down the block, the lovable losers ignore their lack of resources, money and know-how, and actually try to pull it off. But when Larry, the fake "Bachelor," legitimately falls for a contestant, he must untangle himself from his web of lies and try to win her heart, this time with the truth. This series is a 60Frames Entertainment Production.

    "Love At First Sight & Other Dangers" – Writer/Director Scott Burns ("The Bourne Ultimatum") brings to life a double-sided look at love in these modern-day vignettes that demonstrate how love can be comedic, dramatic and sometimes even surreal. Whether it's catching up with an old flame or sparking up a new one, desire, pain and pleasure are all bound together in the mystery we call love. 60Frames financed and released two original episodes, and is working with the NBC Universal Digital Studio to extend the series.

    Creator/Director/Writer/Producer: Scott Z. Burns

    "Mr. Miss Teen U.S.A." – An inexperienced, yet sexually obsessed 18 year-old wins a sexual discrimination lawsuit, allowing him to enter the Miss Teen USA Pageant, with one thing on his mind. But with angry stage parents, jealous contestants and an evil host who's conspiring against him, getting lucky with the ladies won't be as easy as he thought. This series is a 60Frames Entertainment Production.

    "Four Corners" – Scattered to the extreme corners of the country, four teams of four compete in challenges, decipher clues and engage in a battle of wits as they race to the center of the United States. Teams travel through small towns and big cities, engaging with colorful locals and enlisting the help of 'virtual' teammates who have signed up online. The first team to arrive at the final destination, having completed all of their tasks and challenges, wins a coveted prize package and bragging rights. This series is an NBC Universal Digital Studio production.

    "True Story" – A documentary series featuring eccentric individuals and their unconventional lifestyles. From an 80 year-old punk rocker to a tango-dancing witch, these unique characters let us explore worlds we have never known and inspire us to embrace our own individuality. This series is an NBC Universal Digital Studio production.

    "Men With Guns: The Assassins" – A virtuous assassin plays by his own rules while setting his sights on the villains of society. Writer/Producer Tom Fontana (creator, "OZ," "Homicide") brings to life the gritty story of a high-end, principled assassin amidst a backdrop of glamour, money and power. In this corrupt world of fraudulent politicians, dirty cops and compromised businessmen ...nobody is what they seem. This series is a 60Frames Entertainment Production.

    Creator/Writer/Producer: Tom Fontana

    "The Remnants" – From Writer/Director/Producer John August ("Big Fish," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Charlie's Angels") comes the quirky and comedic story of a group of friends who search for answers and survival, upon realizing they are some of society's last living inhabitants in post-something Los Angeles. This series is a 60Frames Entertainment Production.

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New Business Models for Digital Distribution

Any idea what the weekend box office numbers were for April 14-15, 1894?

Or how much home video raked in, the first few days that you could purchase movies on VHS or Betamax tapes?

Cinema was a tiny business at the outset. The Holland Bros. Kinetoscope Parlor in Manhattan took in $120 on its first day of business, a Saturday. When the entrepreneur Andre Blay started selling Hollywood titles on cassette in the 1970s, he made $140,000 during his first weekend.

Those are pretty unimpressive figures.

But by the mid-1920s, movies were generating $1 billion a year (adjusted for inflation). By 1990, home video had grown into a $6 billion business.

Those two examples may be instructive when studios and filmmakers look at digital distribution today. It’s small. It’s tempting to ignore it, and focus instead on selling DVDs. That’s where the money is. But digital, I believe, will gain a lot of steam over the next five years.

This shift from the business of selling physical DVDs to the business of selling digital bits was the focus of two panel discussions earlier this week; they were sponsored by ITVS and the Paley Center for Media. One took place Monday in Beverly Hills, and the other was held Tuesday in San Francisco.

The panel included Rick Allen, CEO of Snag Films; Tami Yeager, a filmmaker who is also working with the Tribeca Film Institute’s Reframe Project; and Jesse Patel of the Participatory Culture Foundation. Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain participated in the SF panel, and Brian Terwilliger was the filmmaker on the Beverly Hills panel.

Even the filmmakers who have been pioneers of digital distribution haven’t yet come close to earning online what they earn from selling DVDs. Terwilliger said that while his movie One Six Right is for sale on iTunes, it isn’t easy to find unless you specifically search for the title. (For some reason, Apple doesn’t list it under “Documentaries” or any other category, and he hasn’t been able to rectify that.) Shlain told me that while her short “The Tribe” was the top-selling short film on iTunes for a while last year, and while she has offered it through other sites, the digital revenues have been only about 1/10th what DVD sales have achieved. (Shlain has also had trouble getting paid by the aggregator that helped funnel the movie to iTunes.)

But everyone on the panel agreed that DVDs will not last forever.

What was most useful at both panels was exploring some of the different business models that are emerging for earning digital dollars from movie releases:

    - Paid downloads, a la iTunes.

    - Paid rentals (limited period for viewing)

    - Free rental or download (to reach broad audience); what’s free may be only a portion of the film, and “extras” or bonus material or a "comprehensive" version of the film may be for sale, digitally or on DVD

    - Subscription (a project is released in installments, and interested viewers pay a small monthly subscription to receive them – or receive them first, a week or a month before they’re released for free)

    - Slicing and dicing. Educators or institutions may pay a fee for the right to edit or excerpt a full-length film in a way that suits their needs. Instead of the old, “Buy this DVD for $300,” you might say, “Pay $300 for the right to customize this material to fit your course, or to work in the context of a group meeting.”

    - Bounty fee/referral fee. A film becomes a tool for generating new members for a Web site or other organization. With the YouTube release of Four Eyed Monsters, for instance, the filmmakers received $1 for every new user they directed to the Web site

    - Advertising/sponsorship/underwriting. A film will be peppered with short ads (they’re 15 seconds long on SnagFilms), or sponsorship/underwriter messages.

    - Live speaking gigs via videochat. One interesting new idea that emerged from the panels is that filmmakers might earn “speaking fees” without having to travel. Instead of asking a non-profit or educational institution to pay $2500 or $5000 to fly you out to address their group, ask them to pay $250 or $500 to have you do a short live talk/Q&A (using software like Skype or iChat) after they’ve watched your film. More groups would be able to afford that kind of filmmaker interaction than the pricier one, and fewer filmmakers would be spending time stuck in airports or jammed into center seats.

No doubt there are other models that will work, or are at least worth trying. Post your thoughts below…

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Talking Hollywood History with Filmmaker Cass Warner Sperling

At the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills earlier this week, I had a chance to sit down with author and filmmaker Cass Warner Sperling.

Her documentary The Brothers Warner premiered on PBS last month as part of the "American Masters" series. Two questions I wanted to ask: how did she get the film onto PBS, and what are her other distribution plans?

But we also talked about Cass' famous ancestors. Her grandfather Harry was one of the four original Warner brothers who founded the great studio. Since my new book deals with the way the Warner brothers helped usher in the sound era (they were also early proponents of Technicolor), I wanted to talk about some of that history. Cass tries to set me straight about whether her grandfather ever really said, "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

The audio is also here in MP3 form.

There's some video from her film here (in non-embeddable form).

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Some more notes from DIY Day Boston

David Tamés posts some of his photos and notes from last weekend's DIY Day event in Boston. It includes coverage of the opening chat with digital media investor (and indie film producer) Todd Dagres...a presentation on virality called 'If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead'...and a talk by Slava Rubin on crowd-funding of indie film.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Sony Will Offer 3-D Adapter for its 4K Digital Projectors

One of the drawbacks of Sony's high-res 4K SXRD digital cinema projectors has been that there has been no way to use them to show 3-D content.

That'll change in 2009, when the company will offer an adaptor for its 4K projectors that allows them to show 3-D content (albeit at 2K resolution.) Here's the press release, some coverage from the Hollywood Reporter, a piece on Sony Insider, and a blog post on Engadget HD. No word yet on price.

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Tiffany Shlain on Self-Distribution & The Conversation

FreshDV just posted a podcast with filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, who is part of the team putting on The Conversation later this month in the Bay Area. She talks about the event, and also her own approach to self-distribution with 'The Tribe' and her current project, 'Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence.' (Video preview below...)

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From DIY Days Boston: Todd Dagres on Indie Film and Internet Video

To kick off DIY Days in Boston on Saturday, Lance Weiler and I interviewed Todd Dagres on stage.

Todd has produced several independent films (including the Sundance entry 'TransSiberian' this year), but he is best known as a venture capitalist who funds start-up companies like Veoh, EQAL, Twitter, and Next New Networks. Our conversation focused on how TV is changing... the as-yet-unproven business models of Internet video... financing and making independent films... how distribution is evolving... and why the word "community" ought to replace the word "audience" in your vocabulary.

Here it is in MP3 form (41 minutes long.)

Lance, Arin Crumley, David Tamés, and all the volunteers did a great job putting on the event -- and the audience was amazing.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Lots more multimedia about 'Inventing the Movies'

This was a big week for stuff related to Inventing the Movies showing up online...including:

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Podcast Conversation with Me & Peter Broderick

To help SXSW launch a new podcast series, Studio SX Online, distribution consultant Peter Broderick and I recorded a conversation last month... focusing mainly on my book Inventing the Movies, but also discussing the broader topic of technological change in the movies -- and the opportunities it creates for filmmakers.

The SXSW site has a 17-minute version of the chat. I've also posted the full, 28-minute conversation (in MP3 form).

Here's the description:

    In our first podcast Indie film guru Peter Broderick interviews Scott Kirsner about Scott's new book, "Inventing the Movies," which tells the story of Hollywood's love-hate relationship with new ideas and new technologies, from the days of Thomas Edison to the era of YouTube and the iPod. Peter and Scott also discuss digital projection and cinematography, emerging opportunities for indie filmmakers today, the initial reaction to Dogma 95, experiments by filmmakers like Jonathan Caouette and Robert Greenwald, and how festivals are changing.

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Sundance Splits with Mediastile, Pioneering iTunes Aggregator

Mediastile was one of the first companies to be approved by Apple as an aggregator for movie content ... and they did a high-profile deal in 2007 to make short films from Sundance available on iTunes.

Unfortunately, they haven't been so great about actually paying filmmakers the royalties they're due, according to this searing IndieWire piece by Eric Kohn. In an e-mail to the filmmakers that participated in the Sundance deal, John Cooper of the Sundance Institute wrote:

    "Our hope and intention were that Mediastile would be convinced that it was in its own best interests to comply with its contractual commitments, both to the [Sundance] Institute and to filmmakers. To our enormous disappointment, however, Mediastile has failed to do so, and we have lost confidence in its willingness and ability to perform to the level that all of us originally hoped and expected."

I suggested back in August that things didn't seem on the up-and-up with the company. Mediastile prez Jason Turner e-mailed me to insist that the company was still in business, but didn't return my phone calls.

Interestingly, Mitch Davis (son of music mogul Clive Davis) has erased his connection with Mediastile from his LinkedIn profile. Davis was the company's CEO. He's still listed as such on Mediastile's Web site, which says he is "responsible for managing company operations and strategic development." Does that include paying filmmakers?

Unfortunately, the problem of not being paid your share of a film's royalties isn't going to vanish in the Wonderful Era of Digital Distribution.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wednesday News: D Cinema Deal ... RealNetworks Lawsuit ... New Video Annotation Site ... Netflix Adds Starz Movies

- More digital projection systems will show up in multi-plexes, now that several major studios have signed up to help finance them, according to Variety. (Good thing that Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, the group representing the three biggest theater chains, lined up $1 billion in financing for the gear earlier this year, before the credit markets locked up.) The deal will convert about 15,000 screens over the next three to four years, according to the Wall Street Journal.

- You shouldn't be able to buy a $30 software program from RealNetworks to help you rip DVDs, because that's bad. If you want a movie in digital form, you should instead wait until the studio decides to sell that movie in digital form. That's the upshot of a lawsuit filed yesterday against RealNetworks.

- is a cool new site with a terrible name that allows you to annotate your videos with text, links, and photos. Check out some of the annotations they've done of the first Presidential debate -- really neat stuff.

- Netflix will soon add about 2500 movies from Starz Entertainment to its Internet streaming service, reports the Journal. This is a big deal, giving Netflix lots of recent titles. Nick Wingfield writes:

    Under the deal, which is expected to be announced Wednesday, Starz will grant Netflix rights to show movies on its Internet service from the Hollywood studios owned by two big entertainment companies, Disney and Sony Corp. That includes everything from "Ratatouille" to "Superbad" to "No Country for Old Men." The first 1,000 of those videos are already available on the Netflix Web site with more titles appearing in the coming weeks.

    Starz holds online viewing rights to movies from those studios that are shown as part of a subscription service, in which a consumer pays a monthly fee to watch as many videos as they wish. The movies will be available online free to people who are members of one of Netflix's unlimited subscription plans, which start at $8.99 a month.

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