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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some Big Questions for 2009

I wanted to post a few rough notes from Sunday's Sundance panel on distribution, focusing mainly on some of the challenges that filmmakers and distributors and exhibitors are grappling with in 2009. Your ideas and comments are certainly welcome, below.

- Should festivals be used as a launching pad for new films, making them available immediately afterward? How can filmmakers prepare not just their finished film in time for screening at the festival, but make sure that DVDs and digital downloads/rentals and marketing campaigns are ready to go, too?

- If indie filmmakers experiment with release windows, making films available on DVD and digitally while they are still playing in theaters, will they be frozen out by exhibitors? Will that sort of experimentation -- trying to address by piracy by making films available when audiences want to see them, in whatever format -- kill the art house circuit? Is there a way to ensure that both filmmakers and exhibitors benefit, perhaps by sharing profits?

- If the influence and impact of newspaper reviews is on the wane, in part because of the decline in the number of movie critics on staff at papers around the country, what will supplant that? Will new voices emerge to help viewers sort through the thousands of indie movies that are released every year, to find the gems? Will it be a handful of new influencers, or a thousand bloggers covering a thousand niches? Will "established media" like the New York Times ever start reviewing movies that go directly to DVD or the Internet, without the requisite theatrical run in Manhattan? ("Princess of Nebraska," by Wayne Wang, represented a tentative toe-dip-in-the-water by the paper last year; that film went straight to YouTube.)

- Blogs and Web sites and social networks seem like they work well when a filmmaker is trying to sell DVDs or downloads, or drive online views of a film on a site like SnagFilms or Hulu. But can online work well when it comes to putting butts in seats at a movie theater? That was once the role that newspaper ads and reviews played... but the sense is that we need some new strategies for getting ticket-buyers out of the house and into theaters.

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  • The classic laws of scarcity and abundance are at work here Scott. With DVD being the method of visibility and choice for indies up till now they had a chance of making up their investment, being seen and moving on to another project. When product becomes abundant and money and delivery becomes scarce...this is where you begin to see the shift in the market. Now that DVD is on the way out (5-7 years) filmmakers will be forced into creating assumptions in their LLCs that are not really bankable. This will drive the investment community to back more lackluster, but dependable projects.

    Our company has partnered with a theatrical group and we think that by giving them ownership in our creative process for having an unencumbered theatrical deal will give us the presence we need to come out of the gate with the right exposure. So what if they share in your video and broadcast revenues...when push comes to shove you need to be able to say to the money that you at least HAVE a chance at being seen.

    By Blogger David Geertz, at 7:47 PM  

  • I run to help DHH (30 million Deaf and Hard of Hearing in U.S.) access showtime information for theaters with films that offer either captions or subtitles.

    For Indie film makers and distributors, please don't sweat the moral and legal need for captioning all films - digital tools continue to grow cheaper and better; just invite participation by interested parties to volunteer running the final dialog (word processor file or text file) through any of numerous online captioning/subtitling tools - and others.

    Big picture part 1 is to realize that phones with text tools and web access will make the "morphing" of news delivery business, including film showtime info, especially for impulse buys ("hey, let's go see a movie. What's playing? where? when?") - open laptop or flip open phone and click, click, click.

    Big picture part 2 is to realize that by taking the steps to offer captions (and easy multilingual subtitling) are required by law, AND that you are adding a market for each film the number of people that are:
    a.about the population of California;
    b. the entire population of Canada
    c. about the population size of African Americans
    d. approaching the population size of Latino Americans.

    What serious business person would neglect a market of such size? Plus, you can't ignore this market, by U.S. federal law.

    Great businesses make products easy to obtain or access. You choose.

    By Blogger Greg, at 5:56 AM  

  • We still haven't seen many actual numbers from distribution in various digital formats. Somebody's got to provide that if any of the hype/hope for the future is to be believed.

    What we have seen has been pretty discouraging in terms of revenue.

    Plus, the long-tail theory has been shown not to hold up in the musical realm. Mostly, it's just the same popular stuff getting all the downloads.

    We're already at a point where you see big(ger)-budget films with name actors, or low-to-no-budget digital features. What about true art film, and the great in between? Does that just get lost?

    By Blogger andyb, at 4:06 PM  

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