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Friday, February 27, 2009

South by Southwest: Panels on DVD, Digital Distribution, and Audience-Building

I'm looking forward to South by Southwest next month, in Austin.

I'll be doing two panels, and also hoping to see two docs made by people whom I've gotten to know: 'RiP: A Remix Manifesto' and 'Winnebago Man.'

I'll also be doing two panels...

On Sunday, March 15th: 'Building Your Audience Online.' The theme here connects directly to my next book, 'Fans, Friends and Followers': how do you build an audience for your work, and ideally get that audience to support you? Panelists include:

    Natasha Wescoat, Artist/Blogger, Natasha Wescoat Inc
    Jonathan Coulton, Musician
    Brett Gaylor, Filmmaker, 'RiP: A Remix Manifesto'
    Burnie Burns, Rooster Teeth Productions ('Red vs. Blue')
    Markos Moulitsas, The Daily Kos

Then on Monday, March 16th: 'The Future of DVD and Digital Distribution. How long will physical DVD sales remain a viable business (and will Blu-ray help prolong their lifespan)? How are filmmakers selling digital downloads and rentals on iTunes and other outlets, and how do digital revenues stack up? Panelists include:

    Matt Dentler, Cinetic Media
    Rick Allen, CEO, Snag Films
    Gary Hustwit, Director, 'Objectified' and 'Helvetica'
    Steve Savage, President, New Video
    Morgan Spurlock, Filmmaker, Warrior-Poets

Of course, I'll try to post notes and/or audio afterward. The full SXSW Film panel schedule is here.

I will also be doing the pre-release for my new book, 'Fans, Friends and Followers,' at SXSW. I'll have a few early copies for sale, and will be doing a signing at the SXSW Bookstore on Monday, March 16th at 1 PM.

Hope to see you in Austin!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What, You Mean the Academy Should Actually *Update* Their YouTube Channel?

The Academy of Motion Pictures really *gets* YouTube.

At least when it comes to promoting the annual Oscars telecast.

Not, however, when it comes to sharing content that might keep people talking about the Oscars in the days after the broadcast... and ensure that the Oscar brand remains pre-eminent among all the other awards shows.

The Academy now has its very own YouTube channel, but the most recent content on it is from the week before the Academy Awards, and the most prominent video clip is a 30-second ad encouraging you to watch the ABC broadcast.

Meanwhile, YouTube users continue to post their favorite moments from the show without permission, like the Hugh Jackman/Beyonce musical number and the Tina Fey/Steve Martin schtick.

Also: there's really no video at all on the official site, or a link to the YouTube channel. (You guys do know how to link to other sites on the Web, right?)

And they didn't event post this opening montage, which wasn't part of the telecast, but was shown to the attendees at the Kodak Theater. Instead, they leave that to Vanity Fair.

Am I crazy, or could the Academy have a better Web video strategy than just putting up archival material and promoting the telecast on YouTube?

One thought would be to pick 10 or 12 highlights from the show, and put them online in a way that encouraged people to blog about them, rate them, and comment on them. You might even conduct a poll, and put out a press release a few days later announcing the top three moments from the show, as judged by the Interweb community.

(I wrote a piece in Variety about the Academy's relationship to YouTube back in 2007.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Audio: Panel on the Future of Hollywood, from USC

Thursday night's panel at USC's Annenberg School was a lot of fun... I'm posting some rough audio of about half the conversation here. The question it begins with is: "What's the biggest opportunity in the entertainment industry today?" It goes on to cover indie distribution, Internet content, and digital 3-D production.

The panelists were:

    - Cliff Plumer, CEO, Digital Domain
    - Steve Schklair, CEO, 3ality Digital Systems
    - Evan Spiridellis, co-founder, JibJab Media.
    - Brian J. Terwilliger, CEO, Terwilliger Productions and Producer/Director of "One Six Right"
    - David Wertheimer, former president of Paramount Digital Entertainment and current CEO of the Entertainment Technology Center @ USC

Here's the MP3 file... or just click play below. It's about 30 minutes long.

Here's some Annenberg coverage of the event.

Thanks to Elisa Wiefel Schrieber, Giovanna Carrera, Z Holly, and Dean Wilson for making this event happen!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Small Money Eventually Gets Big

CinemaTech reader Michael DiBiasio sent me an e-mail yesterday pointing me to this blog post from, a site that hosts video and sells ads and sponsorships for video-makers. It mentions a couple folks who do shows on Blip and have started getting paid decent coin... like $40,000 (for two years' worth of programming) or $25,000 (for a few months worth of shows.)

I'm out in LA this week, and I've been having lots of conversations on the topic of content creation for the Web.

Imagine you are successful in TV or film. You're making six figures a year (if not seven figures), and they let you play with the big cameras, on the big soundstages. You have big budgets and big crews.

Why on earth would the prospect of making $25,000 for a Web series sound appealing?

It wouldn't.

That's why the opportunity exists, for the young and hungry, to define how storytelling will work on the Web... to establish the ground rules of how you build a big audience and interact with them... and to figure out the business models that will turn small money into big money.

I was on the campus of USC tonight, talking with a number of students, and it seems to me that if you're entering the entertainment industry right now, you have this choice: do you want to follow the path that successful people have walked, where you start by working as a gofer or production assistant and over a decade or two work yourself up to the point where they let you make shows for TV or feature films?

Or do you want to pioneer something entirely new?

At the panel I moderated tonight, Evan Spiridellis from JibJab Media had a great line. As he was beginning to make animated films in the 1990s, and starting to enter them in film festivals, he and his brother Gregg started to notice that the Internet seemed to be gaining momentum, and seemed to have some creative potential. Gregg asked Evan, "After you've seen the Model T, do you really want to keep making horse shoes?" Meaning, if you can see where things are headed... why keep doing the old stuff?

One answer is, because you're making a good living at it.

But I'm not sure there are a lot of other good answers...

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cover Art for 'Fans, Friends & Followers'

My next book will be out soon... and I was really excited to see the cover art this week. The artist is Matt W. Moore, who is based and Portland, Maine, and has done work for Burton Snowboards, Wired, Entertainment Weekly, and Nike.

More on the book in the coming days... including a list of who's in it.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Talking Tech & the Movies, on KCRW

The folks who produce KCRW's weekly show "The Business" were nice enough to have me on this week (taped a week or two ago...) The show focuses on the movie industry (what other Business could there possibly be in LA?)

This week's edition has me talking about technology's role in the cinema, and the Science and Technology Academy Awards, handed out earlier this month.

And also some guy named Dean Devlin talking about his all-digital production pipeline for the new TNT show 'Leverage.'

You can listen to it or download it here.

I'm in LA for the rest of the week, and it's surprising me how many people listen to KCRW (an NPR affiliate based in Santa Monica.)

Oh, and one more self-promotional mention of Thursday evening's big event at USC. Free. See you there...

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The nuts and bolts of viral video

The Wall Street Journal has a great piece that highlights some of the ways that Internet videomakers build up big audiences.

There's also a nifty video accompanying it, where Judson Laipply, the guy from "Evolution of Dance," talks about how he's trying to generate revenue with his recently-released sequel.

From the story:

    "We have a pop-up at the end of the video that says 'Click here to see all of our other videos and subscribe,'" [Charlie] Todd [of ImprovEverywhere] says. "That's one thing that everyone should do on YouTube." As a result, Improv Everywhere has 105,000 subscribers who receive notifications whenever he posts a new video.

    Mr. Todd also promotes his videos to bloggers, and he spends time reading blogs to see which ones would likely be interested in a particular video. But he prefers to do his promotion anonymously, usually by e-mailing a tip to a general blog address. "I think that's probably better than tracking down the e-mail address of the person who runs the blog and will get irritated," he says. "Just send it in and say check it out."

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Good News: YouTube Testing Paid Downloads

I think this is very good news: YouTube is now testing paid downloads. If you want to pull down a high-res, MP4 copy of a video from the site (which will play on an iPod), you can pay to do so. No word on what percentage of the revenue goes to the creator. But the one way to pay for videos is Google Checkout, Google's own PayPal-like payment system.

YouTube is currently only testing this with select partners. Wired News notes that the files aren't DRM protected, which will mean that big media companies will likely be leery of the system.

Here's an example of a video that can be downloaded as an MP4 for 99 cents.

You may recall that for a while, Google Video allowed content creators to charge for video downloads -- a service they abandoned in 2007. I ran into someone last week who said that that had been a good source of revenue for them, selling docs and educational films... so perhaps they'll give YouTube's new offering a try.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Audio: Outreach & Connection panel, from Making Your Media Matter 2009

Just wanted to post some rough audio from today's panel on "Outreach & Connection" -- how filmmakers can effectively build an audience for their work (captured with my little Olympus digital voice recorder). This was part of the 2009 Making Your Media Matter conference organized by American University's Center for Social Media.

The panelists were:

- Andrew Mer of SnagFilms
- Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar, filmmakers of 'Made in LA'
- Scott Kirsner, editor of CinemaTech (that would be me)
- Maia L. Ermita, Director of Festival and Outreach at Arts Engine

And moderating was Wendy Levy, Director of Creative Programming at the Bay Area Video Coalition.

Here's the MP3 file... or just click play below. It's about 90 minutes long.

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What's the Right Word for Those People Formerly Known as the Audience?

I'm down in DC today for the excellent 'Making Your Media Matter' conference... and I will try to post some audio later today from a panel that just took place about outreach, marketing, and audience-building.

Afterward, I wound up talking with some of the conference participants about terminology.

Media-makers today live in a world where the people formerly known as the audience can do so much more, and contribute in so many new ways...

They may help finance your film.

They may help contribute research to a documentary...or suggest people for you to interview.

They may help scout locations for a narrative feature.

They may submit footage or edit sequences that wind up in the finished film.

They may post comments on your blog, or video responses to your YouTube channel.

They may submit a song that winds up being part of the soundtrack.

They may help you organize house parties where the film is shown, or help you find bigger venues in which to show your film (theatres, churches, libraries, etc.)

They may help you spread the word once the film is available on DVD or as a digital download.

They may review it on Netflix, Amazon, or their own blog after they've seen the DVD.


Is the term "audience" outmoded?

The audience used to be a cinema full of passive, hopefully appreciative, consumers of your work.

Obviously, a big chunk of people who see your film will still be passive -- they watch it in a theater, on a TV, on an iPod, and do nothing else.

But some percentage will be much more active and engaged.

Are they patrons? Collaborators? Your community? Your supporters?

Co-conspirators? Team members? Partners? Associates?

I'm asking: what term feels right for you?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sneak Preview of Tiffany Shlain's New Doc in SF, Feb. 18th

If you're in the Bay Area, Tiffany Shlain is doing an event next week. She'll show a rough cut of Act I from her current project, 'Connected: A Declaration of Interdependence,' and talk about her distribution and audience-building strategies for her earlier work. Wish I could go!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Disney Acknowledges the Obvious: Audience Behavior is Changing, and Competition is Increasing

Pursuant to yesterday's blog post about Big vs. Small, here's an interesting couple comments from Disney's CEO. Bob Iger was talking to the Wall Street Journal:

    Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger told analysts Tuesday that some of the entertainment empire's businesses, like its broadcast television network, are feeling "signs of secular change as competition for people's time is increasing and the abundance of choice is allowing consumers to be more selective."

    Mr. Iger's comments raised eyebrows because he was suggesting that something more than just the worldwide economic downturn was behind Disney's 32% drop in fiscal first-quarter earnings and 8.2% revenue slide. Media stocks, like other industries, are at multiyear lows, but Mr. Iger's comments -- echoed by others -- indicate the challenges facing media companies.

    "We don't believe the changes we are seeing in consumer behavior can all be attributed to a weak economy, and we feel it is important for us to address them as more than just cyclical issues," Mr. Iger said.

Disney employs a lot of smart people. They know what's going on. And my sense, from visiting with them pretty frequently over the last few years, is that they know what they need to do and are simply trying to get the organization aligned to do it.

They know that inexpensively-produced mobile content is going to be important. They know that user-gen is going to be important (and are just wrangling with the in-house attorneys to see how they can take advantage of this trend.) They know that audiences are fragmenting into millions of niches. They know that there is a new media format out there -- the three minute Internet video, which is different from the 30-minute TV show and the 90-minute feature film.

I suspect that the big debate inside Disney is, can we remain a Big Media company while also pursuing these smaller, cheaper, quicksilver opportunities? Can we get out of our own way enough to be nimble?

Creating some small skunkworks projects that could have some distance from the Disney brand might be wise...

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Big vs. Small: Who's Better Positioned Right Now?

A lot of times when I've written about some interesting little Internet experiment that has generated $50,000 or $100,000 for the creative person behind it, someone will e-mail me to ask, "Yeah, OK, but how does that support the media industry? A movie studio can't pay its security guards for a week on that kind of money."

Good point.

I'm very confident about digital media's ability to support individual creators, doing the kind of work they want to do, often on tightly-constrained budgets. (Constraints = inventiveness, right?)

I'm less confident that it will support the same gargantuan, diversified companies that raked in the big bucks in the days when there were only four TV networks, six movies released every weekend, a dozen important records issued on Tuesday.

This David Carr column from today's NY Times is worth a read, because it highlights this issue: the wind is right now at the little guy's back. The piece focuses on the music industry, but it could very well be about movies or book publishing, or any other media endeavor.

One example it cites of an individual artist figuring out a way to get by in this new environment is Jill Sobule. I've been a fan of hers since the mid-1990s, and I had a chance to interview her for my forthcoming book.

Here's an excerpt from the Times story:

    After listening to her fans, she came up with an updated version of the Medici model. To raise the $75,000 she needed for an album, she set up a Web site — — in which her fans would serve as patrons for her next record in return for various rewards.

    Ten bucks earned them a digital download of the record, $50 an advance copy and a thank you in the liner notes, while $1,000 got them a personalized theme song written by the artist. Three people who paid $5,000 had Ms. Sobule play at their house. The person who gave $10,000 sang on the record.

    If it sounds cheesy, like a virtual Tupperware party, consider that the record was produced by Don Was, who has produced Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The sessions, recorded in Hollywood at Henson Recording Studios, were available for streaming and comment on Ms. Sobule’s Web site before she chose the final songs. (One listener’s verdict? More cowbell, please.)

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Whedon Gets Specific on 'Dr. Horrible' Economics

Kendall Whitehouse at the Wharton School has just posted a great interview with Joss Whedon, creator/writer/director of 'Firefly,' 'Serenity,' 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' and 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.' (His new TV series on Fox is called 'Dollhouse.')

Kendall finally gets Joss to talk, in some broad strokes, about how his original, three-part Web series, 'Dr. Horrible,' performed financially. Here's a key passage:

    Knowledge@Wharton: Several numbers have been quoted regarding the overall cost of "Dr. Horrible" -- "low six-figures"; "around $200,000" -- can you set the record straight?

    Whedon: We got so much of this done through people doing us favors -- department heads and people who have access to things. But you've got to pay your day-to-day crew. The actors all did it for nothing. And we all did it for nothing. So, the production costs alone -- the basic costs of filming the thing, and getting the locations, props and everything -- ran a little over $200,000.

    We had a secondary budget drawn up in case of a profit, wherein we were trying to find rates for Internet materials. In some cases they didn't exist. We used models that had been created by the guild for repurposed, or reused, material that we used for original [content], because this had never come up before.

    We didn't want to leave a sour taste and say, "Well, we made some money off of you guys being kind." It was like: No, everybody has to benefit from what they've done, obviously not enormously -- it's Internet money we're talking about -- but as soon as we got in the black, we paid everybody off.

    So that budget was probably about twice what the original budget was.

    Knowledge@Wharton: You've now earned more than twice the original cost?

    Whedon: Yes.

The whole interview is well worth a read, but I also wanted to highlight this very inspiring quote from the end:

    Whedon: ...A lot of people sit around and go, "How can I get this made?" The only answer is: By making it. By borrowing someone's camera. By buying a camera. They come cheap and they work well. And if you know where to point them -- and the person that you point them at is saying something interesting -- that's it! That's how it works.

    I can't stress enough that I believe the best thing in the world is for everybody who feels like they have a story to tell, to tell it.

    If they want to sell it, if they want to make a lot of money, they can do that -- and they can kiss their story goodbye. Because, in general, that's the last they're ever going to see of it, because somebody else will own it and they will either not make it, or make it very differently than that person hoped.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Online Videos Get More Interactive

Worth a read today is this Wall Street Journal piece on how Internet video sites are allowing users to annotate videos and embed links in them.

From Christopher Lawton's piece:

    The new editing features have spurred the appearance of more online videos in which users control the action. For example, a series called "The Time Machine" on YouTube is made up of nine videos that follow three 20-something characters -- Chad, Matt and Rob -- as they battle dinosaurs, zombies and bad guys en route to a business meeting. At the end of each roughly two-minute segment, viewers can click on links embedded in the video and choose what the characters do next. That takes them to another video, where the characters continue their journey or die, ending the game. Since its October launch, "The Time Machine" has garnered nearly three million views.

    ...The appearance of the new video features represents the next step in how the Internet is used. While people before could only turn up the volume or click on a larger screen for online videos, they can now use the format to engage with friends and fans. That makes online videos part of a larger entertainment movement -- where users control the medium, interact with others or have the sense of "being there," as in the cases of Internet-connected TVs and videogames, as well as live events shown in 3-D at movie theaters.

Here's Episode #1 of "The Time Machine"

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