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

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Audio: Talking to Chuck Tryon, Author of 'Reinventing Cinema'

Over the last week, I've been reading the really excellent new book "Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence." The author is Chuck Tryon, a professor at Fayetteville State University who also runs the always-enjoyable Chutry Experiment blog.

We caught up by phone yesterday for a conversation about some of the ways that new technologies are changing cinema. Among the topics we covered:

- The shift from print to digital movie criticism
- Will studios remain power players in the future?
- With democratizing technology, will there simply be too many movies available from up-and-coming indie filmmakers?
- The notion of the "endless film" - the movie that is never finished (with a hat-tip to Ted Hope)
- Can filmmakers ever transcend their desire for total control over their product?

You can download the MP3 (it runs just under 20 minutes) here, or just click "play" below.

From the publisher's official overview of the book...

    For over a century, movies have played an important role in our lives, entertaining us, often provoking conversation and debate. Now, with the rise of digital cinema, audiences often encounter movies outside the theater and even outside the home. Traditional distribution models are challenged by new media entrepreneurs and independent film makers, usergenerated video, film blogs, mashups, downloads, and other expanding networks.

    Reinventing Cinema examines film culture at the turn of this century, at the precise moment when digital media are altering our historical relationship with the movies. Spanning multiple disciplines, Chuck Tryon addresses the interaction between
    production, distribution, and reception of films, television, and other new and emerging media.Through close readings of trade publications, DVD extras, public lectures by new media leaders, movie blogs, and YouTube videos, Tryon navigates the shift to digital cinema and examines how it is altering film and popular culture.

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A New Record Label Aims to Give Artists a Fair Shake

Radiohead's manager, Brian Message, is part of a group creating a new record label, Polyphonic, that'll let artists keep half of the profits they generate, emphasize digital distribution, and perhaps experiment in ways similar to Radiohead's "Name Your Own" price initiative. Polyphonic has $20 million of funding so far.

Here's coverage from New Music Express, The Telegraph, and today's New York Times.

The Times writes:

    Under the Polyphonic model, bands that receive investments from the firm will operate like start-up companies, recording their own music and choosing outside contractors to handle their publicity, merchandise and touring.

    Instead of receiving an advance and then possibly reaping royalties later if they have a hit, musicians will share in all the profits from their music and touring. In another departure from tradition in the music business, they will also maintain ownership of their own copyrights and master recordings — meaning they and their heirs can keep earning money from their music.

    “We are all witnessing major labels starting to shed artists that are hitting only 80,000 or 100,000 unit sales,” said Adam Driscoll, another Polyphonic founder and chief executive of the British media company MAMA Group. “Do a quick calculation on those sales, with an artist who can tour in multiple cities, and that is a good business. You can take that as a foundation and build on it.”

Interesting approach.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a Web site for Polyphonic. Could this digitally-savvy crew really have started to promote their company before launching a Web site? (This MySpace page for Polyphonic Records does not seem to be theirs.)

So let's play the game "Find the Web Site." Who'll be first?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Worth Reading This Monday: Turning Distribution Upside-Down... Make More Movies?...Redbox + Studios

- Filmmaker and futurist John Ott has this very thought-provoking post on what would happen if theatrical screenings became the equivalent of concert tours, and if movies were released in other formats first to build up demand for those screenings. Ott writes:

    ...Why not reverse the cycle and make the other distribution formats the advertising (much cheaper) and build to theatrical events. You could theoretically have so few screenings (such scarcity) that the filmmakers or actors could make personal appearances. You wouldn't have to shell out for the theatrical tour until you knew, from statistics on download and home video sales, that the movie had a sizable audience (and you would also have geographical stats, so you could tell where the highest concentrations of those fans were).

    The infrastructure for theatrical screenings currently exists. Most money is already made in shorter and shorter windows, theatrically. Why not confine it? That's a scarcity that the digital revolution has left untouched.

- The media analyst firm SNL Kagan apparently concluded that studios should make more movies, not fewer. (Something CinemaTech has been advocating for a few years now...) In a scenario based on 611 major studio releases between 2004 and 2008, a 15-movie slate would have done much better than slates with just five or ten titles.

- Interesting Wall Street Journal piece today on the relationship between Redbox and the studios. The central question is, will Redbox cannibalize DVD sales? From Sarah McBride's piece:

    One studio-commissioned study showed that 9% of people who visited Redbox kiosks ended up renting a title they had previously planned to buy, and 25% said they would buy fewer DVDs this year because they could rent them at kiosks.

    Redbox says its research shows many customers take a "trying before buying" approach and end up buying the DVDs after renting, and that its customers purchase DVDs at the same rate as Blockbuster Inc. and Netflix Inc. customers.

    Every time a customer rents from Redbox rather than Blockbuster, the studio is missing out. While other companies cut the studios in on revenue each time they rent a movie, Redbox doesn't. With Redbox, the only income studios see is when the retailer buys the movies for its kiosks.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Worth Reading: Crowdsourced Animation...AMPAS Rules & The Internet...'United Breaks Guitars'...The Etsy Economy, And More

A bunch of great stuff to point you to... some of which I've tweeted about earlier in the week...

- Sony Pictures is going to handle theatrical distribution of a crowd-sourced animated short called "Live Music" this November, from the start-up company Mass Animation. The budget was about $1 million (spent on what, exactly?), and 51 people around the world contributed shots; each was paid $500 (that adds up to about $25,000 of the budget) and will get a credit on the film. Here's the press release, the Mass Animation Facebook page is here (they don't seem to have a corporate site), and the teaser is below:

-Filmmaker Noah Harlan has this thoughtful rant about the Academy's Rule 12, which limits experiments with day-and-date releasing (at least if you want to be Oscar-eligible.) The rule says: "No type of television or Internet transmission of a contending documentary feature may occur anywhere in the world until 60 days after the completion of the New York and Los Angeles seven-day qualifying runs.” Here's an earlier Deadline Hollywood post on the issue.

- Some analysis of the impact of the music video "United Breaks Guitars" (worth watching if you haven't seen it) -- a customer complaint about United Airlines that turned into a viral hit.

- Fortune Small Business looks at the online crafts marketplace Etsy, where a few artists earn six figures annually -- but most are still working day jobs.

- Adam Chapnick points us to this important explanation of how to create "overlays" on your YouTube videos -- for instance, to suggest to viewers that they buy your DVD/CD/book.

- I'm a big Steely Dan fan, and I love the approach they're taking on their summer tour: playing some "Internet Request" concerts, where the entire set-list will be determined by fans.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Calling All Creatives: DIY Days Philadelphia Happens August 1st

If you're in Pennsylvania, DC, NYC, or the environs... consider being part of DIY Days Philadelphia, on Saturday August 1st. The one previous DIY Days event I've participated in was phenomenal -- and it's free (but you do need to RSVP to hold a slot.)

Here's the scoop:

    DIY DAYS is a FREE day of talks and networking centered on how to fund, create, distribute and sustain from your creative work. After a successful first year that included stops in LA, San Francisco, Boston, NYC and London, DIY DAYS returns with a series of day long conferences for creatives that enable the sharing of work and ideas while providing an important networking outlet with industry innovators.

    Many of those working in film, music, design, gaming and tech are wondering how to sustain themselves in challenging economic times. How does one monetize their creative work and get the word out? DIY DAYS aims to answer these questions with a day of - speakers, panels, case studies, roundtable discussions and workshops presented by an impressive list of innovative thinkers and doers.

    Acclaimed author and filmmaker, Douglas Rushkoff (Life Inc., Get back in the box: innovation from the inside out) will open the conference with a keynote on storytelling. Other speakers include Scott Kirsner (Friends, Fans and Followers), Dan Goldman (Shooting War), Lance Weiler (Head Trauma, The Last Broadcast). Michael Monello (co-founder of Campfire Media & Blair Witch Project producer), Brian Clark (GMD Studios) Esther B. Robinson (ArtHome), Ana Domb (MIT) Arin Crumley (Four Eyed Monsters), Scott Macaulay (Producer Gummo, Raising Victor Vargas, editor Filmmaker Mag), Don Argott (Rock School), Eugene Martin (Diary of a City Priest) Alex Johnson (WBP Labs), Anita Ondine (STM) Brian McTear (record producer Miner Street Studios), Mark Schoneveld (the Poverty Jetset) and Geoff DiMasi (founder of P’unk Avenue). Plus many more.

    Lance Weiler, a resident of the greater Philadelphia area, and founder of the WorkBook Project and DIY DAYS explains the genesis for the project. “DIY DAYS is an attempt to pull back the curtain on a once closed industry - to share the process of what it takes to make work and sustain from one’s creative efforts. Philadelphia has so many talented people working in different areas, and our hope is that DIY DAYS can help to bring some of them together and, maybe in the process, spark some new collaborations.”

    The conference runs from 8:30am to 6:30pm on Saturday August 1st and will be followed directly by an after party/ mixer to be held at the Brandywine Workshop located at 730 S. Broad Street.

    Registration is now open but space is limited.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Video demo: Stereo speakers that can be layered atop a flat-panel display

From Emo Labs, a way to "layer" stereo speakers on top of a flat-panel display with a thin sheet of plastic:

(via Forbes.)

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The Redbox Experience

I rented two movies from my local Redbox kiosk in the past week ('Rachel Getting Married' and 'Marley & Me' -- the latter chosen by my spouse, I feel compelled to add). I used a free credit coupon that you can get from their Web site for 'Rachel,' and we paid $1 for a one-night rental of 'Marley.'

Here's my take:

- Redbox is a classic low-end disruptor, as "Innovator's Dilemma" author Clay Christensen would call it. They are attacking the video market with a cheap price, and targeting the mass market, where video selection is not all that important -- they just want the big hits. (Each Redbox kiosk stocks 200 titles.) It's cheaper, even, than renting an on-demand movie from the cable company.

- The selection ain't bad. Our local kiosk had at least four or five titles that seemed worth watching, and I don't feel like my tastes would qualify as "mainstream."

- I wonder if movies stop showing up on the kiosk's screen when they're not available. Hard to tell how easy or hard it is to rent hot new releases from the kiosks. (Perhaps you'll comment.)

- Are you old enough to remember the early days of ATMs, when banks that had them only had one, and customers weren't very familiar with how they worked? Redbox is like that. Since there's one kiosk, if you get in line behind someone, you may be waiting a while. Similarly, if you're at the kiosk and want to spend a few minutes considering the choices, you may feel rushed by someone tapping their foot behind you. (That, my wife explained, was what resulted in 'Marley & Me.')

- The experience was perfectly pleasant, though I would've liked to see some star ratings or reviewers' comments attached to each movie description. Even if you returned a movie a day or two late, you'd still be paying just $2 or $3 for the rental, and wouldn't feel like you'd been fleeced.

- My local Redbox is near the exit from the grocery store. They're going to get people to rent movies on nights when they might not have stopped by the video store. So this will "steal" some time from TV and pay-per-view.

- With 15,400 kiosks already up and running, and one new one being installed every hour, Redbox is also gonna kill plenty of local video stores and hurt the surviving chains. After our first rental, my wife said, "Let's not use this again. I don't want the local place to go out of business." (And we're already Netflix subscribers, visiting the local video store 6-8 times a year at most...)

Your thoughts?

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

From 1995: Esther Dyson on Monetizing Creative Content

There's a review of Chris Anderson's new book 'Free' in the NY Times today that references a fifteen-year old article (in Wired, it turns out, which Anderson now edits) by Esther Dyson, the investor and tech forecaster.

I tracked down the original piece, 'Intellectual Value,' published in July 1995, and it is an incredible read (you might call it a book proposal for Anderson's book, written a decade and a half early).

Dyson wrote:

    ...Creators will have to fight to attract attention and get paid. Creativity will proliferate, but quality will be scarce and hard to recognize. The problem for providers of intellectual property in the future is this: although under law they will be able to control the pricing of their own products, they will operate in an increasingly competitive marketplace where much of the intellectual property is distributed free and suppliers explode in number.

    ...What should content makers do in such an inverted world? The likely best course for content providers is to exploit that situation, to distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships. The provider's vital task is to figure out what to charge for and what to give away - all in the context of what other providers are doing and what customers (will grow to) expect.

It's an amazing piece of futurism.

Update: Virginia Postrel, author of the book review that ran yesterday, points us to the original version of Dyson's essay, which ran in her Release 1.0 newsletter in December 1994. It includes this pretty scary (and prescient?) passage:

    In entertainment and art, there will be unique content, but pricing as a whole will trend downwards as more and more creators compete for attention using low-cost, easy-to-use production tools. More artists will find their audiences within their local communities -- geographical or net-based -- rather than hit the big time. Local barriers to entry will be low, but global competition will be strong. There's the odd movie star or work of art for which no substitute is acceptable, but most entertainment is a way of spending time -- not a unique experience.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Thursday Goodies: Porn as a leading indicator, Netflix prize, Distribution roulette podcast, and more...

- It's always fun to debate whether porn is a "leading indicator" for the way other media will go.... and this NY Times story will get you thinking. Given that much of the porn industry is abandoning narrative for short, "chunkified" content, is that the wave of the future? From the piece:

    Vivid, one of the most prominent pornography studios, makes 60 films a year. Three years ago, almost all of them were feature-length films with story lines. Today, more than half are a series of sex scenes, loosely connected by some thread — “vignettes” in the industry vernacular — that can be presented separately online. Other major studios are making similar shifts.

- Seems like a team of programmers has managed to improve Netflix's movie recommendation algorithm by more than 10 percent, potentially winning the $1 million Netflix prize.

- CineVegas just posted this great distribution podcast, where a panel of experts talk about how they'd handle distribution of several different kinds of indie films, like an "edgy, sexy film," a "subculture doc," or a "quirky character doc." (You can read IndieWire's summary of the panel, too.)

- Here's an interesting read on why Hulu succeeded in attracting an audience, while other sites like Veoh and Joost didn't. I'd note that Hulu still isn't a notable financial success, given the cost to produce all that network programming (nor is YouTube.)

- The LA Times is reporting from the annual Allen & Co. Sun Valley summer camp for media moguls, where at least some of the talk is about monetizing content.

- I did an interview to promote Fans, Friends & Followers with the music site zed equals zee, Their first question:

    Q. So, one of the themes that I took from the book is the ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach – that there is a diversity of ways to use the Internet to share your creative efforts. Anything that you think is an absolute necessity? Anything that you would recommend against?

    A. One thing that’s a necessity: carving out the time and the energy to spend cultivating your fan base, and communicating with fans. There should definitely be a dedicated person in any band who’s responsible for audience-building (that’s a term I like better than “marketing”), or maybe someone you know who isn’t in the band but really understands the Web and social media well. I think in the 20th century, your label took care of all that stuff. In the 21st century, it’s your responsibility. One thing I recommend against is building a super-fancy, expensive, Flash-heavy Web site that no one can update except for the original designer. I can’t tell you how many bands do that — and the result is that fans visit your Web site once or twice, but never come back because it never changes. (And people assume that because your last gig listed is in 2007 that you must have broken up!) Even if you have a bare-bones MySpace page or blog, it’s better to have something you can continually add content to than something better-looking that stays static.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Does Length Matter? ... Distribution Strategy for 'Lovely by Surprise' ... A First Film for Cinetic Film Buff

- This piece from yesterday's NY Times suggests that attention spans on the Web are getting longer (though the average video is still just 3.4 minutes in duration). Microsoft blogger Don Dodge offers more on length, based on a recent chat with MTV executive David Gale. Dodge writes:

    Building the story from the ground up with a couple scenes in an 8 minute sequence works well for the web, and easily transitions to the 30 minute TV format. However, trying to work backwards from a 30 minute show and break it into web length clips doesn’t work so well, for obvious reasons.

- I wonder what the turn-out was like today at the 88 movie theaters that offered a live simulcast of the Michael Jackson memorial service.

- Jake Abraham has a nifty piece on Filmmaker Magazine's Web site. (Abraham was part of the founding team at InDigEnt Entertainment.) He writes:

    We decided on a “day-and-date” release for two reasons. One, we’re a tiny group and can only sustain this level of attention for so long. Two, as momentum has grown over the past few months of promotion, we think its time to get the film out there while awareness is still high and let people consume the film in any way they want. Unfortunately, this meant that we’ve had to pass on some deals that required exclusivity.

    For example, the IFC FestivalDirect VOD deal requires that the DVD release be held back ninety days from the VOD release date due to deals with the cable operators (they don’t want to compete with Netflix). With the lengthy backlog to get on the service, we were looking at a DVD release as late June 2010. While I love IFC and was excited that they liked the film, there was no way we wanted to suspend our entire operation just so the film could be carried on a consignment basis through cable monopolies starting sometime next year.

- Anne Thompson reports that 'New Orleans Mon Amour' will be the first film distributed by Cinetic Film Buff, a new cable VOD service. No info about Film Buff on Cinetic Media's 1997-era Web site, but there is a Twitter feed.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Video: Forecasting the Future of Public Media, from Silverdocs

Pat Aufderheide, the brainiac who runs the Center for Social Media at American University, put together a fun panel at Silverdocs last month to try to forecast the future of public media. The video is now available here. Responding to Pat's scary/fascinating/hopeful scenarios for the next five years were:

    - John Boland, chief content officer, PBS
    - Andy Carvin, social media strategist, NPR
    - Doug Craig, senior vice president, home entertainment, Discovery Communications
    - Paco de Onís, producer, Skylight Pictures
    - Jacquie Jones, executive director, National Black Programming Consortium
    - Scott Kirsner, editor, CinemaTech, and contributing writer, Variety
    - Alyce Myatt, executive director, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media
    - Marita Rivero, vice president and general manager, Radio and Television, WGBH

The video below is the first segment... not sure if the other segments will play automatically... but the entire session ran about 90 minutes. That should supply plenty of Holiday Weekend Viewing Pleasure.

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