[ Digital cinema, democratization, and other trends remaking the movies ]

AD: Fans, Friends & Followers

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Some Notes from the 2009 Producers Institute Opening Panel

Really fun conversation this morning at the opening session of the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies, covering all things related to the evolution of documentary storytelling.

Lots of people have been Tweeting from the event using the tag "#pint09." While there wasn't a live video feed of the panel as promised, I'm told that recorded video will show up soon (and I'll link to it once it does.)

I blogged earlier about some of the topics we planned to cover. We got to about half of them.

A few random notes, mostly sparked by things the audience said:

1. If you focus too much on new technologies and communications platforms, like Twitter and iPhone apps and Facebook, you can risk missing a big chunk of your audience (unless your film is intended explicitly at people under 35.) What about people over 35? Filmmakers ought to think about making their film available and generating buzz in traditional places (like theaters, film fests, Netflix, and Amazon) as well as on the Interwebs, iTunes, mobile devices, house parties, etc.

2. A lot of filmmakers can get intimidated by how much there is to do in this new world of audience cultivation and digital distribution: so many new platforms, formats, and modes of interactivity. But I also think there are so many new ways that you can seek out help from people you've never met. Your creative crew can grow from five to fifty if you know how to ask for assistance and get people involved (with tools like wikis, Ning, and even simple blogs like this one). Of course, you also have to be open to the kind of ideas and contributions you get -- and be willing to give up a bit of control in exchange for getting pro bono assistance from folks around the world. (In Fans, Friends & Followers, Jonathan Coulton, Robert Greenwald, and Timo Vuorensola talk about their approaches to crowdsourcing.)

3. We need a good way to connect filmmakers with social media experts, for advice/guidance/collaboration. Even tech-savvy filmmakers can benefit from smart ideas about engaging the audience and getting them talking about your work... and many social media folks would love to sink their teeth into some substantial film projects. Perhaps this is a job for the 2009 edition of The Conversation, now sort of in the planning stages for NYC later this year.
(We're still trying to nail down the right venue.) But if there are other initiatives doing this sort of thing, let me know...

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Great Video w/ Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture & How Media is Changing

Really worth watching... five-minute video by Niko Pereira featuring Henry Jenkins, MIT prof and author of "Convergence Culture."

Henry Jenkins on Transmedia - November 2009 from niko on Vimeo.

Labels: , ,

Gary Hustwit, Lance Weiler, Christopher Roberts, and Me ... Next Sunday at the Apple Store SoHo

I'm psyched to be moderating a panel next weekend as part of Internet Week NY that will focus on changes in film funding, distribution and marketing.

Here's the event info on Facebook. It runs from 2:30 to 4 PM on June 7th at the Apple Store in SoHo, and it's free (though space is limited, and I'm told it was standing room only last year.)

Gary Hustwit (director of docs 'Helvetica' and the new 'Objectified') was a huge hit on my panel at SXSW this past March... Lance "Mr. Transmedia Experience" Weiler is always great... and I'm eager to meet Christopher Roberts, director of 'Up With Me'. (The panel is organized by the nice folks at IndieGoGo.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, May 25, 2009

Calling All Documentarians: Your Ideas About the Future of Doc Storytelling

The great Wendy Levy of BAVC has asked me to moderate a panel this Saturday in San Francisco, for the Producers Institute for New Media Technologies. Here's the description and the list of panelists. I'd love to get your questions, comments, and predictions here -- and we'll weave them into the conversation Saturday morning as much as possible (with credit). I'm told the panel will be live streamed here.

Descrip and panelists:

    The Future of Visual Storytelling:
    Content-Driven Technologies and the New Documentary Movement

    There is no question that the way people consume content has fundamentally changed over the last several years. Whether online, on mobile devices, DVD/BluRay, or in physical spaces, the way we tell stories is also changing. What is the future of documentary filmmaking, with the reality of shorter attention spans, laptop culture and evolving technology that enables new ways to interact with narrative content? This panel will explore the emerging developments, new opportunities and technical challenges in the field – is interactivity the end of traditional narrativity?


    Lance Weiler, The Workbook Project

    Mark Gibson, Media Consultant

    Tina Singleton, Witness

    Joaquin Alvarado, CPB

Here are some of the topics I plan to bring up... feel free to respond or to add others in the comments below.

    Round 1: In five years, what will people mean when they say “documentary”? What will have changed, what will remain the same about the form? What new possibilities will documentary storytellers be seizing?

    Round 2: What today feels to you like the platform or new technology that offers the most potential for documentary storytellers to connect with audiences and change the world? (IE, the iPhone, games, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.)

    Round 3: What’s the most significant change you see taking place among viewers, and the way they consume/create/interact with content?

    Round 4: What’s one project that to you feels like it represents a new, experimental (perhaps interactive) direction in documentary storytelling?

    Round 5: What is the role of the director, producer, and the creative team? Are they ringmasters, conversation catalysts, community organizers? How does the work of creating new elements around the film balance with all the work of creating the film itself? What about giving up control – how does that square with the traditional control-oriented nature of filmmaking?

    Round 6: What question would you like to ask the audience, or your fellow panelists?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

How to Lose $1.87 Million on YouTube

Great article in today's NY Times about the Susan Boyle phenomenon -- and how it has generated zero online advertising revenue for the creators of "Britain's Got Talent."

From Brian Stelter's story:

    The case reflects the inability of big media companies to maximize profit from supersize Internet audiences that seem to come from nowhere. In essence, the complexities of TV production are curbing the Web possibilities. “Britain’s Got Talent” is produced jointly by three companies and distributed in Britain by a fourth, ITV, making it difficult to ascertain which of the companies can claim a video as its own.

    Before the current season of the talent show started on April 11, the parties tried to cut a distribution deal with YouTube, but they could not agree on terms, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. The people asked for anonymity before they would discuss confidential negotiations.

The article cites an estimate that about $1.87 million in ad revenue would have been generated by the Susan Boyle videos so far. (Here's some background data about Boyle's audience reach online.)

What can you as a content creator do to avoid a similar fate? Set up an account with YouTube's Partner Program as soon as you can (once you've met their criteria), so that when and if you have a big hit of your own, you're earning some coin from it.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, May 24, 2009

How Your Film is Like the Palm Pre, But Not Like the iPhone

This story in today's NY Times about movie marketing got me thinking... in particular, there's one great quote at the end that I'll share in a second.

Most people making a movie imagine that they're like Steve Jobs and the iPhone. When they're done, they're going to exit the editing suite, unveil their wonderful film, and have the world suddenly care about it: film festivals will want to be the first to premiere it, theaters will be falling all over themselves to show it, and eventually, cable networks will want the rights to play it and consumers will be lining up to buy the DVD.

Isn't that how things always work for Steve Jobs and Apple? The merest hint that they're going to release a new product brings the entire media world scurrying to the company's doorstep.

But it just doesn't work that way for most filmmakers.

Instead, you ought to look at what Palm is doing with its new smartphone, the Pre (it'll go on sale next month.)

Palm started building up anticipation for the phone in January, with some very limited demos at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that led to glowing reviews. It has been building up anticipation: software developers say it's easy to create apps for the Pre, and tech publications have been evaluating its features and wondering how it will compare to the iPhone. Essentially, this is a product that has had six months of steady build up in advance of its release -- and a lot of marketing work on Palm's part.

That's the kind of work many indie filmmakers (and some studios, too) fail to do for a new movie. People ought to know it's coming, have a sense for what it's about, be excited about it, and have had opportunities to get involved with it ... all well before the release date.

Here's the quote from today's NY Times story:

    “One of the biggest differences between movie marketers and consumer brand marketers involves timing,” said Richard Ingber, president of marketing at Alcon Entertainment. “Films have a very narrow window in which to succeed,” he said. “Products are designed to gain momentum while they live on the shelf.”

That's a great insight. Products like the Pre, even with all their advance hype, don't have a week or two to succeed. They'll sit in phone stores for months or years waiting for consumers to discover them. That's not true of films -- and it's why a pre-release marketing strategy is incredibly important.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

From Ted Hope: 38 Concerns for American Independent Film

Producer Ted Hope has collected a list of 38 things he's worrying about - issues we need to deal with in order for quality indie film to have a future. It's well worth a read ... and the comments are great, too.

It begins:

    1. Too many leisure options for film to compete without further enhancing the theatrical and cinematic experience
    2. Too many "specialized" films opening to allow such films to gain word of mouth and audience's attention.
    3. Too many films available and being distributed to allow films to stay in one theater for very long, making it more difficult to develop a word of mouth audience.
    4. Lack of access -- outside of NYC & LA --to films when they are at their highest media awareness (encourages bootlegging, limits appeal by reducing timeliness).
    5. Distrib's abandonment (and lack of development) of community-building marketing approaches for specialized releases (which reduces appeal for a group activity i.e. the theatrical experience).
    6. Distrib's failure to embrace limited streaming of features for audience building.
    7. Reliance on large marketing spend release model restricts content to broad subjects (which decreases films' distinction in marketplace) and reduces ability to focus on pre-aggregated niche audiences.

(One of Hope's latest projects is 'Adventureland,' a really enjoyable trip back to the 1980s.)

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Cannes...

A few quick links related to Cannes coverage: David Poland and Jeffrey Wells have some details on a panel that discussed how the Internet is changing film journalism. And Anthony Kaufman has some great stuff about how indie film financing is changing, also written from Cannes. That is all for now...

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Doing It Right: Web Site for 'Herb and Dorothy'

We occasionally look at movie Web sites here on CinemaTech and talk about what they're doing wrong. And sometimes we look at Web sites that are doing lots of things right.

Here's one that's worth a gander: the site for the documentary 'Herb and Dorothy', about two eccentric Manhattan art collectors who assembled a world-class collection on middle-class salaries.

Some of the things I like:

    - Prominent info about where/when I can see the movie (I missed it at Silverdocs and the Indep. Film Festival of Boston)
    - A way to sign up for an e-mail list on the site's homepage, to stay apprised about screenings, DVD release, etc.
    - Film has a presence on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr (where they've posted photos of some of the famous artists who are in the film)
    - Production notes, crew bios, and lots of background is online

A few things they could do better:

    - The trailer isn't embeddable, so visitors can't put it on their own sites or blogs. (You can, though, go to YouTube and find an embeddable version -- see below.)
    - There are a few clips from the movie on YouTube, along with the trailer. But in each clip at the end, they should include the film's title and URL. The URL and film title should also be included in the "info box" about each clip (in upper-right-hand corner of the screen)
    - It's a great idea to post stills on Flickr, but in the comments for each photo it should mention that the pic is from the movie "Herb and Dorothy," and provide the site's URL
    - They should have some hi-res images (poster, stills) available for download from the site.

Your thoughts? Trailer is below.

Labels: , ,

Film Funding Site IndieGoGo Hits $100K in Member Contributions

Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo e-mailed last week to let me know that the film funding site has collected $100,000 so far from its members to support the production of independent films.

I asked the obvious question: how many films have been made -- and released -- so far with IndieGoGo support?

Here's what he said via e-mail (I added links, and the $ raised):

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Boston? Making Media Now Takes Place on June 5th

The agenda looks great for this year's Making Media Now conference at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. The theme is "Surviving as a Filmmaker in Tough Times," and the speakers include Sandi DuBowski ('Trembling Before G-d'), Robert Greenwald ('Rethink Afghanistan') and Doug Blog ('51 Birch Street'). I'll be there for the tail end of the day, to moderate a filmmaker pitch/feedback session.

I've been to this event once before, and it seems to be the biggest and best annual gathering of filmmakers in the Boston area. The early registration rate expires May 21st. The conference is organized by Filmmakers Collaborative.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

With No Promotion, New Soderbergh Film Debuts on

Steven Soderbergh's 'The Girlfriend Experience' appeared as a $9.99 online rental on Amazon this week, three weeks before its theatrical debut. Variety blogger Ben Fritz asks why Magnolia, the pic's distributor, isn't making more of a fuss. Ben writes:

    If you're going to break the rules, piss of a bunch of big theater chains, and try to reshape the way entertainment is distributed, why not make a stink about it? There's nothing worse than rebelling in a way that people don't notice, or even care.

The first news of the digital release showed up on Gizmodo.

Labels: , , , , ,

Live on, This Friday at 4 PM EST/1 PM PST


Here's the video from the show:

I'll be a guest this Friday afternoon on, talking about how filmmakers and other artists are using social media -- and some of the insights from my book Fans, Friends & Followers. You can watch it live on Friday at 4 PM Eastern/1 PM Pacific, or you can find it on iTunes later as a podcast. HubSpot is a company here in Boston that creates tools for Internet marketing -- among them are a set of graders that will evaluate your Web site, Facebook profile, or Twitter stream. Definitely worth checking out...

You can send in questions during the show on Twitter, or post anything you think I ought to mention as a great tool or good artist case study in the comments below.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 04, 2009

JibJab Video & Interview Excerpt

Over on Andy Plesser's site (which covers the world of online video), they're running an excerpt from Fans, Friends & Followers that features JibJab founders Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, along with some video of Gregg that Andy shot last year.

Here's the video:

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Disney Joins Hulu: What Does It Mean?

I don't think the news this week that Disney will contribute content to Hulu is any sort of death knell for iTunes.

Today, Hulu is there for viewing content when you've got a reliable Net connection (at home or in the dorm, for instance). But iTunes is there when you want to download content and watch it later on your laptop or iPod or iPhone -- usually when you're in motion.

One thing that Apple has succeeded at -- wildly -- is getting you to create an account, and hand over your credit card info. That enables you to make impulse buys of movies, apps, music, and TV shows. Even if Hulu had a long term plan to start selling downloads one day, in addition to streaming content with ads, getting viewers to cough up payment info is no small feat.

But Disney's link-up with Hulu signifies that clearly, media companies don't want to hand over control of their customers entirely to Apple.

Here's more analysis of the news, from the Wall Street Journal.

Labels: , , , , ,