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Monday, December 28, 2009

A question for 2010: Does the audience want you to make a film?

Here are the big questions I'm going to be focusing on in 2010: what kinds of visual content does the audience want to see, aside from full-length features? Who's making it? And how is it being monetized?

I wonder how many filmmakers will also be thinking about those questions in 2010... and how many would rather simply continue making feature films, regardless of what the audience is doing...and sprinkle a trailer and perhaps a couple bonus clips around the Internet as "marketing."

2009 was a phenomenal year at the box office, but growing even faster than ticket sales were online video viewing, and usage of social media services like Facebook and Twitter. One more data point: in a little over a year, Apple has delivered two billion iPhone apps through its iTunes Store.

So how sure are you that the audience wants you to make a movie? That they'll show up to your premiere? That they'll buy your DVDs?

Where the audience goes, the business will follow -- we learned that when people left vaudeville theaters for nickelodeons, and when they started buying TVs, VCRs, videogame consoles, and Internet-connected PCs.

It's hard to imagine how vast the opportunities are for story skeins unspooling on Facebook pages, narratives being shaped in part by the YouTube community watching them, or hybrid games/movies that mix real-world locations with video and interactivity, and require the player/viewer to pay for the experience through the iTunes Store. Vast, yes, but scary, too -- since it is all terra incognita.

We're living through a transitional moment, when audience viewing behaviors are changing, new creative possibilities are emerging, and the business is evolving.

You can either take advantage of transitional moments and be a pioneer -- or you can be passive and simply wait to see how things play out (and potentially, miss enormous opportunities, fail to develop important new skill sets, and watch your career prospects fade.)

I'm eager to hear who you see as the leaders of this new storytelling revolution... Who will be the pioneers to watch in 2010?

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  • The pioneers in visual media have tradtionally been the adult industry (or so it is marketed to us)
    are we able to look to that industry to see where the mainstream pioneers will be?
    I'm not saying let's copy them. I am interested to know what they are up to and how are we able to apply it to non adult (if at all)?

    By Blogger Ross Webb, at 10:21 AM  

  • I understand what you are trying to say but thinking too much about "what the audience wants and wants to pay for" is the road to crapola Hollywood remakes with scripts spun out of focus groups.

    I'm all about exploring new ways of creativity - but ultimately all you can really do is follow your passion and what you love best.

    Plus, ground-breaking work that opens new doors almost never comes from trying to please others.

    Finding your audience is the real power of new media, not catering to "most clicks online" - otherwise we should all make films with squirrels surfing and songs played by cats.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:37 PM  

  • Surfing Nazi Squirrels from Space Attack the Piano Playing Cats of Earth!

    stephen is right- follow your passions. Making a movie takes a huge chunk of your life. You should do it because you are driven to, not because a certain outlet has the most clicks.

    Ross is right. The big lesson to be learned from the porn industry is niche filmmaking. That is where indies will win. You don't need to try to get the most views. You need to make a film that satisfies your niche better than any other film. Before the internet only a small portion of 'lesbian geeks who loves sci-fi and animation' would find our film, but now I'm confident that 90%+ will know about and see our film.

    By Blogger GBH, at 1:33 PM  

  • I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that I agree with this post.

    I don't think the blog post is advocating the idea of kissing your stories good bye. I think what it is advocating is reevaluating the methods to acheive the goal. Is the feature the end goal or the story. Is it possible you could shoot your film as three shorts: Act I, II and III and then offer each one as they are finished to be available to watch PPV or subscription-based, or with limited commercial interuptions. Take for instance the fact that word travels fastest on the internet on sites like Twitter and Facebook, but when people go to check out your video they don't want a link to watch the entire thing.. instead they'd rather watch about 5 mins worth and then go do something else and post some comments.

    My point is the make the story the king, but the methods are just a for of transportation. Find a way to reach your audience and allow them to become the voice promoting your film. If you have to think out of the box, think out of the box.

    There's this mentality in the indie film world that filmmakers just make movies and other people market them for them. Or that if the film is really "that great" it will just draw a crowd. Wrong. You are your greatest marketer/promoter of your film because it's your story. You don't find any and every way to get the word out and build excitement, then you just wasted years of your life.

    The point is simple: survival of the fittest. Either your adapt or your art will die!

    By Blogger JBMovies, at 12:09 AM  

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    By Blogger GBH, at 12:49 AM  

  • After $50 million+ in a worldwide marketing campaign based on some of the most innovative viral ideas you get 10 million references from Googling "District 9". Some of the hits are references to the actual places of District 9 in various cities around the world, but still pretty great saturation.

    If you Google our film "strange frame: Love & Sax", you get almost 4 million and our title is unique enough that you don't find many errant references.

    So how do we monetize this attention?

    I really don't know.

    What I do know is there is a lot of advertising on the webpages that have our film info/review/interviews/etc on it- in a sampling of the first 20 or so web pages there are ads from: Allstate, Amazon, Netflix, GenArts, Zaxwerks, AT&T, Bounty, The Art Institue of Pittsburg, and M&Ms.

    Millions of webpages talking about our film and no way yet to get a part of those advertising streams because the model is still upside down.

    I don't have an answer for how we can monetize the attention, so we are pursuing more traditional plans with the obvious social networking and internet based VOD additions.

    Most of my ideas for audience building within these new constructs will take a serious investment - much more than an indie film budget. In that realm you are competing with a lot of high priced / high production value stolen media that is streamed ad free by a gazillion sources, Second Life/WoW/etc.

    I'd love to see some real success stories. I do hope Scott can find some. Making $200k on an indie feature is not a success, it is a blood sacrifice. Most of the so-called success stories I've read haven't made enough money to support even a small production company.

    The biggest success on YouTube is a guy who lives on our island here at the edge of America in the Pacific Ocean. Ryan Higa aka Nigahiga is the #1 - Most Subscribed (All Time) channel on YouTube. He makes between $3000-$6000 per video which is huge if you are a one or two person shop like his gig. Doesn't work for my company with 10 people on payroll.

    I do look forward to seeing how Nina Paley's numbers pan out with Sita Sings the Blues. She should have some hard numbers during 2010.

    I do hope there is a model that doesn't take the crew out of the filmmaking process, but with types of incomes streams being kicked around?

    By Blogger GBH, at 1:47 AM  

  • Guys - I'm definitely not suggesting that you focus group your script, or mimic the tropes that are garnering the most views on YouTube.

    I'm merely suggesting that new storytelling forms and formats are emerging with all these new technologies -- and that making a 90 minute feature may not be the best way to reach an audience in 2010 and beyond.

    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 6:05 PM  

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    By Blogger Mental Eclectic, at 8:01 PM  

  • A 90 minute feature may do well if you can get the audience to be part of the process. Create ways to document the development of the film. I once posted on FB a comment about needing a prop for a character in a script that I was writing and I got tons of comments and thoughts. Of course there are various sites that promote the active crowd creation of a film. You can also do things like Tweet live from a meeting using a hashtag for your film, or tweet about the results of the film. Hell, use your iPod, iPhone, Flip Mino or what ever you have to visually document anything and everything on your film. Send/post them to pages like FB and Twitter. Maybe do a live video session of a reading of your script via U Stream?
    My point is if you let the audience participate by watching the process develop as it happens then the audience will salivate for the final product. Chances are watching the making of a film is a great natural conversation starter for most people to have with their friends either face to face or status comment to status comment.

    By Blogger Mental Eclectic, at 8:06 PM  

  • Scott,

    I did hear you talking about "new ways of story telling" but I'm not sure I think the things you cited are currently closer to gimmick/fads than real revolutions or new mediums. A lot of stuff falls into "junk food for the brain" category.

    Sure, someone may get rich on certain kinds of entertainment/media, but my favorite saying is "just because you can does not mean you should".

    Just like all the consequences to humans manufacturing and eating junk/bad/processed food, I suspect our brains may be the next area.

    This is why "Idiocracy", while not the greatest film ever made, should be required viewing.

    Right now the biggest entertainment of any kind and largest money and audience maker right now today is a nearly 3 hour feature film.

    So yeah, a story made of facebook pages and Youtube feedback seems a gimmick/fad, not a new way of storytelling.

    Storytelling requires, by definition, a story and teller. It did 5000 years ago and does today. Yeah, somebody make twitter the next great novel 140 characters at a time, but it's still just a gimmick.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:34 PM  

  • "Does the audience want you to make that film?"
    ~ Yes, but should filmmakers have to ask to express themselves?

    "What kinds of visual content does the audience want to see, aside from full-length features?"
    ~ Outside theaters... There's a market for everything. Some make Art, others make Circus.

    "Who's making it?"
    ~ Anyone & Everyone. From Warner Bros to little Billy from down the street.

    "And how is it being monetized?"
    ~ For the last 100 years, advertising has subsidized everything from: Newspapers, Radio, TV, and now the Internet.

    Never really understood why DIY filmmakers are looking to reinvent the wheel?


    By Blogger mrmoe, at 11:42 AM  

  • I thought I might say something unique and special, but I got here too late! I'm not sure if the audience wants me to say this, but my point is that it's not their call. And how they want me to say it is not their call. Audiences are great; financial success is fabulous; but at some level, effectively making my point, telling my story, communicating with those who can understand -- that's the best.

    On a related point, if you have people's attention, then the question about monetizing 4 million links in a Google search has to be reduced to a work flow that can be repeated in a variety of situations with predictable results. I think we'll see that happen in 2010. That will be major!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3:14 PM  

  • Hi,

    Here's what Werner Herzog has to say about his film Heart of Glass:
    A: The only thing always is: What do you have on the screen at the end of everything? And, of course, in some cases, we have to make bold moves to elicit something extraordinary from a person. This is why the entire cast in Heart of Glass acted under hypnosis. I needed a somnambulistic sort of attitude and climate, something like sleepwalking, a collective trance into which the whole village community lapsed. We should not stop being bold and looking for new ways to achieve something extraordinary.

    The reason I post this is to help introduce two different elements in your post: there is a difference between film form and new media/communication technologies. Let's not confuse the two. The example you give talks about evolving technologies that give way to new media formats. Yes, new formats are born, but the art of filmmaking form has been around for over 100 years.

    And artists like the DuPlass brothers (Puffy Chair, Baghead) and James Cameron (Avatar of course) are pushing the form in new, albeit separate, directions -- and not creating new media forms. The queries you present in this post are directed at entrepenurial investors looking for the next hot media technology. And that's fine, don't get me wrong.

    But filmmakers exploring the craft of storytelling in the filmic form don't have to stop making films because a new media device is born. They should instead be focused on what Herzog is concerned with -- pushing themselves to take risks, "to make bold moves." Making bold moves, as we can see here, does not mean giving up one's passion for filmmaking just because segments of the audience are breaking off and participating in new media forms. By the way you word your post, it seems that someone interested in making a movie should stop what they are doing and switch over to making, say, holographic, three dimensional video games.

    Let new wave media creators pioneer their new wave media and may they be blessed with investment capital to do so. But also let Herzog, DuPlass Bros. and Cameron operate in a tried and true form that, although showing sings of flattening, is by no means going away anytime soon.

    I don't know about you, but I love films and I intend an watching them for a very long time into the future. This Friday night I may chose to play a video game...but next Friday I'm going to waiting by the mailbox for my Netflix.

    - Matt

    By Blogger Matt Binetti, at 5:59 PM  

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