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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Can Yoostar Spark a Movie Karaoke Craze?

Next month, Yoostar will start selling a $169 system that includes a camera, green screen, and software that will put you into well-known movie scenes. Once the automagic compositing is done, you can share the resulting video with friends on Facebook or other sites. (It's like blending the offline ego trip of karaoke with the online ego trip of social networking!)

From Variety's coverage:

    Five studios -- Paramount, Universal, MGM, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate -- have partnered with the company, as have the National Basketball Assn. and Sesame Workshop's "Sesame Street" franchise. The package will ship with 14 clips (11 from films, one from "Sesame Street" and two "moving backgrounds," which allow users to improvise a scene).

    Included are single scenes from pics as old as "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) and as recent as 2006's "Rocky Balboa" and "Employee of the Month." The original "Terminator" and "Beverly Hills Cop 2" are also in the starter pack.

    While it resists being called a game, YooStar is relying on the same good will that consumers have shown the vidgame industry for success. The service carries a pricetag many may consider steep in the current economy. Additional scenes via download are priced between 99¢ and $3.99. (The company hopes to have 200 downloadable scenes available at launch.)

(The game Rock Band, incidentally, has sold more than 40 million song downloads since its release -- so this actually could be an interesting new revenue stream for rights-holders... if it takes off.)

Forbes has more coverage. Here are two videos, the first a demo of the system, and the second a look at what the results can look like, starring Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Weekend Reading: Making $19,000 on Twitter, Broderick's Distribution Bulletin, Finding Your Built-In Audience, Gigantic Goof

Some stuff worth reading this weekend...

- Mike King's blog on the music business has this incredible post about how Amanda Palmer, a member of the band Dresden Dolls, earned $19,000 on Twitter in ten hours.

- Peter Broderick's latest distribution bulletin focuses on Timo Vuorensola, the Finnish filmmaker and crowd-sourcing pioneer, now working on 'Iron Sky.' It also includes a link to the complete Vuorensola interview from 'Fans, Friends & Followers.' You can subscribe to Peter's distribution bulletin via e-mail right here.

- Chris Thilk at Movie Marketing Madness riffs on and adds to a post I wrote earlier this month about how filmmakers should approach the challenge of building an online audience. It's great stuff...

- There is apparently some new online marketplace for indie films called Gigantic, according to Variety. The geniuses behind this service, unfortunately, don't own the domain and also don't show up when you search for Gigantic. I'm sure it will be an astounding success. Go check it out (if you can find it, put a link in the comments.)

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Netflix vs. Redbox

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about the growing competition between Netflix and Redbox, the DVD-rental kiosk business that is owned by Coinstar.

Amazing facts: a Redbox kiosk stocks 200 titles (mostly new releases). They have more than 15,400 kiosks operating today, and are adding one new kiosk every hour. The president of Redbox is an ex-Netflix executive, Mitch Lowe.

I see Redbox's kiosks threatening local video stores more than Netflix...given that you still have to pay a $1 fee for every day the movie is late... and given that renting from Redbox, like the video store, requires a trip in the car (rather than just a trip to the mailbox.) Netflix is auto-magic; Redbox requires effort. (Not to mention Netflix's movie streaming service, which is pretty solid -- a good way to either sample movies you might want to watch on DVD, or watch entire movies if you don't care that much about resolution.)

But I'm surprised by some of the titles Redbox carries, like 'Waltz with Bashir,' 'W,' 'Religulous,' and 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.' You can also reserve a DVD on the Web site, to make sure it's still available at your closest kiosk when you arrive.

Have you tried Redbox yet? Do you use it regularly? What's the experience like?

(Update: The Wall Street Journal just posted a great story about Netflix's strategy that references Redbox.)

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Keynote at LA Film Fest's Financing Conference: Endgame Entertainment CEO & Director James Stern

The LA Film Festival's Financing Conference started this morning with a great keynote from James Stern, CEO of Endgame Entertainment, and director of the recent doc 'Every Little Step.' IndieWire has the full text of his address, but here are four big ideas that stuck with me -- along with a ten-minute audio clip where Stern talks about niche marketing, 'the App Store effect,' handheld devices, and turning your film into an impulse buy.

    1. In a world where millions of people will be accustomed to making instant impulse purchases of movies (through rental or download services on laptops, TVs, and mobile phones), the economics of making indie films could improve. Pricing will be key. People may pay $50 to watch a big-budget, well-marketed movie the weekend it is released in HD, in the comfort of their home. But $3 or $5 may be the right price if you're trying to get someone to sample something new, edgy, challenging, or independent.

    2. Finding the target groups that can help start a groundswell around your movie is important. Stern mentioned a few films that have done this well: his theater doc 'Every Little Step' (16 million people have seen 'A Chorus Line' on Broadway), Coraline (they targeted knitting and sewing enthusiasts, because of the film's handmade look), and 'Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill' (bird lovers.)

    3. Telling a surprising, remarkable story is much more important than production values. Outside of LA, who talks about an amazing dolly shot as they're leaving the theater? Regular people talk about characters and performances and plot.

    4. Short form content is an area of great opportunity. Think about stories that can be consumed episodically, in small bites, and also potentially assembled into a longer 60-minute or 90-minute package. Stern said he expects to see more hit web series spawning movies and TV shows.

The audio:

Here's the MP3 file, or just click play below.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Second Most Important Question a Filmmaker Can Ask

I had some great conversations with documentary filmmakers earlier this week at SilverDocs, and look forward to more stimulating debate at the LA Film Fest's Financing Conference tomorrow.

At SilverDocs, I suggested that there are two important questions filmmakers need to ask during the process of making a film. Filmmakers already ask the first one, constantly: will you give me money to help make my movie?

But the second one -- just as important -- isn't one that most filmmakers know about, or ask often enough.

Here it is: what groups, online communities, blogs, Web sites, or non-profits do you think would be interested in this film?

I think you should ask that of everyone you meet: your cinematographer ... your investors ... your screenwriter ... your prop master ... everyone you interview for a documentary. And keep a list of their answers.

You will discover that there are magazines, blogs, fan communities, and organizations with millions of members that you should build relationships with. Let them know what you are working on. Get them (and their audiences) involved in some way -- as you are making the movie. Give them sneak peeks as you are in post-production. Give them a trailer or early cut to show at their annual convention. Enlist their help in spreading the word once you're on the festival circuit or in theatrical release. Do ticket and DVD give-aways to get their communities buzzing.

You ought to be asking this second question throughout the process of making your movie because that will help you discover who the most powerful taste-makers are, online and off. People you encounter who know these bloggers and publishers and non-profit presidents will make introductions to them for you. That's something that no amount of Googling during the post-production phase can do, unfortunately.

What's the benefit of all this? Rather than building a great Web site and then trying desperately to get people to come to it, you'll have created powerful connections to people who already have an audience, and can tell that audience about your project.

There would be no movie if you weren't good at asking question #1: will you give me money?

And there won't be much of an audience if you aren't good at asking question #2.

(Of course, these two vital questions pertain to the business of making and marketing movies. I acknowledge that when it comes to the art of cinema, there are lots of important questions, starting with, "What do I need to do to tell a great story?")

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two from the LA Times

Two pieces on the digital media future that ran in the LA Times this week:

'Hollywood hits the stop button on high-profile Web video efforts' and 'Digital technology and dollar signs' (an op-ed piece I wrote.)

From the first piece, by Ben Fritz and Dawn Chmielewski:

    Conceived with great fanfare, big media's attempt over the last two years to capitalize on the Internet video phenomenon embodied by YouTube and "Saturday Night Live" digital shorts has fallen victim to recession-triggered cuts and inflated expectations about the advertising revenue they would command.

    "It's very similar to what happened in '99 and 2000, where everyone saw gold in the hills," said Mika Salmi, the former head of digital media for MTV Networks and now a technology venture capitalist, in reference to the first dot-com boom. "The reality is that it's much harder to make money than everyone thought."

It mentions the recent shut-down of 60Frames Entertainment, Disney's Stage 9 Digital studio, and earlier failures like NBC's DotComedy Web site and SuperDeluxe.

Meanwhile, in my piece, I argue that perhaps Hollywood hasn't been experimental enough with the Web, or taken users' behavioral changes seriously enough. (The top talent in Hollywood still wants to make feature-length, big budget content for cinemas, I'd argue...not short clips for mobile phones.)

From that piece:

    Many in Hollywood still deride the wacky, user-generated videos that occasionally turn into viral hits on YouTube, the top website for video viewing. And it's true that one of the most-watched videos ever uploaded to the site is titled "Charlie bit my finger -- again!"

    But a number of young creators -- many of them working outside of Hollywood's orbit -- have been feverishly experimenting with new ways to tell stories and generate revenue. An office worker in Connecticut created the catty entertainment commentary show "What the Buck" on YouTube, and suddenly found he was making more from the site's "partner program," which offers creators a cut of ad revenue, than he was at his desk job, which he promptly quit. Lance Weiler accents his suspense films with cellphone and Web-based "alternate reality games" that enable players to explore the story and interact with characters after they've left the theater. Robert Greenwald, a Culver City-based documentarian, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars online to support his left-leaning films and Internet videos on such topics as the mortgage crisis and the war in Afghanistan. And Gregg and Evan Spiridellis are building a new kind of animation studio in Venice, where they produce a series of viral videos about current events and politics, and sell subscriptions to a vast collection of customizable digital greeting cards. This month, they'll debut their latest video for President Obama at the Radio and TV Correspondents Assn. Dinner in Washington.

    Business models for content on the Internet are still evolving. But it's already becoming clear that $100-million movies like "Land of the Lost," or even $10-million independent films, may not represent the future of the industry. And new technologies like YouTube, the iPhone and next-generation gaming consoles are opening up all sorts of new, creative possibilities. The artists and business people who will succeed in this new environment are those who are paying attention to the changing behaviors and tastes of this new digital audience -- rather than trying to ignore them or, worse, explaining why they are wrong.

Your thoughts?

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Links: New Movie Review Aggregator, Mark Cuban @ D7, New Distribution Venture, and the Ransom Model of Fundraising

- The NY Times ran a story on Saturday about a new site aggregating movie reviews, started by David A. Gross, a former marketing exec at 20th Century Fox. It's called Movie Review Intelligence. I found it pretty useful...

- There are a bunch of great videos from the Wall Street Journal's D7 conference earlier this month, including interviews with NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker, the founders of Twitter, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Cuban. (There's also a video interview and several performances by Jill Sobule, one of the stars of Fans, Friends & Followers.) Definitely worth checking out...

- The Times writes today about a new distribution venture for movies with budgets up to $10 million, called DF Indie Studios. Behind the launch are Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher.

From the Times' piece:

    Ms. Dickinson and Ms. Fisher — the D and the F in DF Studios — think independent productions are ripe for reinvention. “There is going to be a dearth of quality product in the marketplace because financing has dried up for so many people, and that means we can move into that open spot,” Ms. Dickinson said.

    The two would not discuss the company’s financing and had no film projects to announce. They are still seeking investors.

    “We are happily on the way with our financing, which will allow us to start making films in the fall,” said Ms. Fisher, whose background is in entertainment business development and restructuring. Ms. Dickinson’s experience includes reorganizing an extreme sports film company, Teton Gravity Research

- Ross Payton is a designer of role-playing games who also hosts the video podcast Raillery. He read Fans, Friend & Followers, and wrote in to share the story of his success in raising money via the "ransom" model. More about that here.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kinda Bizarre Audience-Building Strategy: Come to My Apartment

Interesting approach to audience-building: requiring fans to make a pilgrimage to experience a given work.

Check out this Wall Street Journal story about the only way you can hear a Sufjan Stevens song called "The Lonely Man of Winter." The rights to the song are owned by Alec Duffy, who won it in a contest. You can't hear it online, and you can't buy it on a CD.

From the story:

    ...Mr. Duffy decided that putting it on the Internet wasn't special enough. He wondered: What if the only way the song could be heard was in person, in intimate gatherings?

    "This is the finest way we felt we could curate this song," Mr. Duffy says. "It brings people together," he adds, rather than "being lost among 14,000 iTunes."

    The experiment lures strangers to Mr. Duffy's living room about once a week, to "recapture an era when to get one's hands on a particular album or song was a real experience," as he says on an invitation posted on the Web site of his theater company.

    Fans come from near and far, taking subways or timing flights to New York City to attend listening sessions. They walk through a corridor strewn with strollers to get to his corner apartment in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights. Since January, when he started the sessions, Mr. Duffy says about 60 people have come to his place to hear the tune, called "The Lonely Man of Winter." He doesn't charge them to hear it.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All Your Questions, Answered

I had fun today doing a live Webcast (which will eventually be on iTunes) about building an audience and a business model in the digital age. It was hosted by PermissionTV, and they took a number of questions via Twitter. (I also gave away a couple copies of Fans, Friends & Followers to a few lucky viewers.)

But we didn't get to all the questions during the hour-long Webcast, so here are some quick takes on other questions. (Please add your thoughts...)

Q. bobwoolsey: What is the best way to get advertisers for programs?

A. If you can sell ads or sponsorships to companies on your own, that's going to let you pocket the most money. Otherwise, you can have Google or another ad sales firm (like Brightroll,, or ScanScout) place ads in or around your video and cut you in on a portion of the revenue.

Q. kellyannlive: Is there a good balance between providing valuable content for your "fans" and letting them run the show?

A. I think this will be different for everyone. Some people, like Matt Hanson with 'Swarm of Angels', seem to enjoy creating content in collaboration with the community. Others will want to pick specific tasks, like when Jonathan Coulton invited his fans to submit a solo for the song 'Shop-Vac.' How much you want to let fans do is entirely up to you.

Q. marcaross: do blogs still matter?

A. Obviously, I think so. There are some people I enjoy hearing from in bursts longer than 140 characters. Blogs are also indexed by Google... which is not as true with messages on Twitter and some social networking sites.

Q. jonarcher: Wondering what the difference is b/n #kirsner's FF&F model and the 1000 True Fans model.

A. I like Kevin Kelly's "1000 True Fans" idea, although there has been considerable debate about the sorts of artists it will work for. With my Fans, Friends & Followers research, I certainly was trying to explore the same terrain as Kevin -- how does this new relationship with fans work, and how can you earn a living? -- by talking to people I identified as pioneers, and analyzing some of the lessons they've learned.

Q. MichaelKolowich: @scottkirsner Can you comment on need for good production values in web video? Do they matter? Someday, a "flight to quality"?

A. I think Web video is always going to have an aesthetic that's different from broadcast TV, in part because it needs to grab your attention in a short period of time, and in part because lower production values can feel more intimate and authentic. So far, the number of pixels doesn't seem to have mattered much -- but decent lighting and sound are always nice. Lately, I have been thinking that if we start watching Web video on our TV sets in a couple years, that will change and HD will be important.

Q. bobwoolsey: What is the easiest way to get to the book?

A. Google works, or you can visit this page to find out how to buy it as a paperback, PDF, or Kindle download.

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The Digital 25: Visionaries & Innovators, according to the Producers Guild

Check out the interesting list below, released yesterday by the Producers Guild of America.

Some great names on it, but for a list that aims to recognize people who "have made the most significant contributions to the advancement of digital entertainment and storytelling over the past year," I'm not sure I'd still have the founders of YouTube, MySpace, or Second Life on there... (but I did learn about Mass Animation, a cool crowd-sourced animation company, headed by ex-Sony Pictures exec Yair Landau, from the list.)


-- Sandy Climan, Steve Schklair, Jon Shapiro, & Peter Shapiro, Co-founders -- 3ality Digital
-- Jeff Bezos, CEO -- Amazon (Amazon Kindle)
-- Steve Jobs, CEO -- Apple computer (iPhone)
-- Henry Selick, Creator/Director -- CORALINE
-- Alex Albrecht & Kevin Rose, Co-founders -- Diggnation
-- Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO -- DreamWorks Animation Studios
-- Mark Zuckerberg, CEO -- Facebook
-- Seth MacFarlane, founder -- Fuzzy Door Productions
-- Jason Kilar, CEO -- HULU
-- Roger Guyett (Visual Effect supervisor), Mike Sanders (Digital Supervisor) and Steve Sullivan (CTO) -- Industrial Light & Magic
-- Evan Spiridellis & Gregg Spiridellis, Co-founders -- JibJab
-- Jason Goldberg & Ashton Kutcher, Co-founders -- Katalyst Media
-- Yair Landau, Founder -- Mass Animation
-- Tom Anderson & Chris DeWolfe, Co-founders -- MySpace
-- Fred Seibert, Creative Director -- Next New Networks
-- Shigeru Miyamoto, Video Game Designer -- Nintendo
-- James Cameron, Chairman and CEO -- Lightstorm Entertainment
-- Ed Catmull (President), Pete Docter (Director of UP), John Lasseter (EVP, Creative), Jim Morris (GM & EVP, Production), Andrew Stanton (Director & VP, Creative) -- Pixar Animation Studios
-- Laura Michalchyshyn, President/General Manager -- Planet Green
-- Jonathan Kaplan, Founder -- Pure Digital
-- Jim Jannard, Founder -- RED digital Cinema
-- Sam Houser, founder/director -- Rockstar Games
-- Philip Rosedale, Co-founder -- Second Life
-- Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone & Evan Williams, Co-founders -- Twitter
-- Steve Chen & Chad Hurley, Co-founders -- YouTube

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Audio: Sunday's Panel on 'Where Film & Internet Collide' at the Apple Store SoHo

There was a really great crowd at the Apple Store SoHo yesterday for the panel that IndieGoGo organized about how the Internet is changing production, promotion, and distribution.

A bunch of folks had Flip cams (and other cameras) in the audience, so if you recorded video of some of the panel, do post a link to it in the comments here.

I've got some rough audio (listenable, but recorded on my iPhone) of the entire panel, which runs 90 minutes. Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo talks first, then me, then Gary Hustwit, Noah Harlan, and Chris Roberts (just to give you a feel for people's voices.) Gary makes docs... Noah does narrative and transmedia stuff... Chris mostly narrative.

You can read some tweets from the panel here. Some interesting tidbits: we talked about how to promote your film on Twitter, various funding and business models for film and Web video series, and how much life the DVD still has in it (doc-maker Gary Hustwit predicted that this is the last year he'll make DVDs for his films, and speculated about a really nicely-designed USB drive that would contain one of his films.) We also bashed iTunes a bit for being so impenetrable to indie film and video folks who'd like to sell their work there.

My favorite tweet about the panel: "'Where Film & Internet Collide' panel is the MOST informative event at NYC#internetweek hands down..." I didn't attend other events at Internet Week, but I'm sure that person is right.

Here's the MP3 file, or just click play below.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

'Fans, Friends & Followers' update: Events, Articles, and a Twebinar

I'm spending a lot of time on the road in June to spread the word about 'Fans, Friends & Followers.' Maybe I'll see you on my travels?


- Tomorrow (Friday , June 5th), I'll be running a filmmaker pitch session at Making Media Now, put on by Filmmakers Collaborative

- This Sunday (June 7th), I'll be at the Apple Store in Soho to moderate a free panel on film funding, promotion, and distribution as part of Internet Week NY.

- On June 17th, I'll be at Silverdocs to run a Silver Session workshop on 'Building Big Audiences & Generating Revenue in the Digital World' (sign up is required, and space is limited), and also to participate in a panel on the future of public media.

- On June 20th, I'll be at the Los Angeles Film Festival to moderate a panel called 'Digital Distribution: The Future is Here, But Where is the Money?'


- Kendall Whitehouse has just published a great interview with Kat Parsons, an LA singer-songwriter who is following some of the same strategies for connecting with fans (and enlisting their support) as I explore in the book.

- Chris Holland from B-Side interviewed me via e-mail about some of the challenges filmmakers face as they're forced to do more marketing, promotion, and social networking.

- Liz Rosenthal of Power to the Pixel posted about the book this week, including an MP3 link to the interview I did with documentarian Robert Greenwald, which is excerpted in the 'Fans, Friends & Followers.'


- Next Tuesday (June 9th), I'm doing a "Twebinar" on cultivating an audience for your work and developing a successful business model, with PermissionTV. You'll see a live video feed at 2 PM EDT, and you'll be able to Tweet in your questions. (Hence, "Twebinar" instead of just "Webinar.") It's free, but you'll need to register here.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How Do You Discover Movies?

Just a quick question for you...and perhaps you'll answer in the comments.

How do you discover new movies today, predominantly? If you think about the last few movies you've seen (whether in theaters, on DVD, via iTunes or BitTorrent), how did you hear about them? Was it via a Netflix suggestion, a Variety review, an e-mail or Tweet from a friend? (Or maybe even an old-school billboard or TV commercial?)

That is all - I'm eager to hear what you have to say.

(As for me, I think I mainly discover movies via reviews or stories in print media... from the NY Times to the New Yorker to Variety...though I hope to see a movie tonight that I discovered via Flixster, a nifty little app on my iPhone.)

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Audio: Dan Bricklin on Piracy, Monetizing Content, and More

Dan Bricklin is a technology pioneer who has a new book out called "Bricklin on Technology."

We talked last week about a few of the topics he addresses in the book, including how content will be monetized in the future, how creators (whether musicians, filmmakers, or software developers) ought to deal with piracy, and how Dan is promoting and selling his new book (including Twitter and YouTube). The MP3 is here, or you can just click 'Play' below. (It runs about 25 minutes.)

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Imax: A digital transition, and smaller screens

I hadn't been following the growing uproar (covered by Variety) over the smaller-size Imax screens that have been going in to multiplexes. There's even a site called Liemax that aims to help you discern "real" (giant) Imax locations from "fake" ones.

Here's a recent LA Times piece in which Imax's co-chairman says the company is considering sharing more info with consumers about screen size.

And there's this interesting stat in today's NY Times story on Imax:

    How did Imax win over Hollywood? For starters, next-generation Imax projection systems, which rely on digital images rather than film, sharply lowered costs. Before digital arrived, a single Imax print of a major Hollywood film could run $60,000, according to Warner Brothers, compared with about $1,000 for a standard print. Imax’s digital prints cost about $500 each

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