Editors’ note: We like this post from Fred Wilson at AVC for 2 reasons: 1. He mentions us, and 2. More importantly, he highlights the trend that all filmmakers, film lovers and readers of our blog should note: technological innovation—think the internet—creates new opportunities for artists that they should explore. We think his thoughts can also apply to all aspects of film.
I was passing by Cooper Union the other day and was struck by the words on the front facade of its iconic building on Astor Place.
This phrase “to science and art” has been stuck in my mind since. I’ve been thinking about what happens at the intersection of science and art, how science impacts art, and how art impacts science, how New York City has been blessed to be at the intersection of science and art for at least two centuries, and how much of what is interesting to me in the technology revolution of the moment, the Internet, is at the intersection of science and art.
I just got back from LA (which is where I both attended film school and spent the majority of my professional life until about a year ago) and something struck me this time that had never occurred to me before: there is no model for innovation in Hollywood.
Actress Q’orianka Kilcher and writer/director Leone Marucci sat down to discuss the efforts they’ve made to develop an early and active fan base for their upcoming film, The Power of Few, and why engaging a participatory audience is an increasingly important element of the filmmaking process for the industry to consider. Here’s what they had to say.
What made you decide to engage the online audience in the filmmaking process?
Q’orianka Kilcher: Back in 2006, when Leone Marucci and I first started brainstorming about the possibilities of making of The Power Of Few, we discovered a shared desire to break down some of the barriers of conventional filmmaking. We decided on an interactive and collaborative approach by inviting our fans and audiences worldwide to get directly involved in the artistic process of filmmaking.
Leone Marucci:The Power Of Few is a multi-perspective story that explores the varying influences on a single event, so inviting the world to join in with their own perspective came as a natural extension of the central theme. We took a no restrictions approach and discovered endless possibilities for fan involvement.
Did you always want to involve fans in your work?
QK: When I was 14 and shooting The New World, my first film ever, I promised myself that the day I was in a position to do so, I would pay my good fortune forward and create a platform for fellow artists, dreamers, visionaries and bright talented minds out there to share their gifts of vision and voice.
The Film Industry Must Risk Its Present to Find Its Future
By Billy Goldberg
Big news was made halfway through the 2011 edition of CinemaCon, the annual trade-show sponsored by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). After months of speculation, Warner Bros, Sony, Universal, and Fox announced they would be the first studios to offer selected films on video on demand (VOD) 60 days after their release in theaters. This model effectively shortens the theatrical window, which is traditionally at least 90 days. At the end of April, DirecTV became the first television service to allow customers to view newly released films in the comfort of their own homes for $30 a-piece for 24 hours. Comcast and other companies are expected to follow suit.
The announcement hasn’t been met with enthusiasm. At CinemaCon to support the release of the Warner Bros’ film The Hangover Part II, director Todd Phillips told the crowd, “If I had wanted to make movies for television, I would have been a TV director.” Cinemark Holdings’ CEO Alan Stock echoed this sentiment last month when, as quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, he said: “We’re not there to display and show made-for-TV movies. So, if you are making a made-for-TV movie, then take it to the TV.”
DSLRs, Websites and 3D, Oh My! New Technology for Changing Audiences
By Peter Hawley and John Otterbacher
To us, it’s all about the storytelling. If the story grabs, it doesn’t matter what form it takes – books, radio, TV, cinema, games or yet-to-be-categorized interactive media –it’s all about the story being told.
As times and technologies change, content creators have many more readily-available options for how they tell their story. But as technology makes production and distribution both more accessible and much more competitive, storytellers are finding themselves in a heated competition for audience attention. As a result, the filmmakers of tomorrow must more than ever consider their audience and how a story will reach them before making important choices about the content itself.
The power of a great story can’t be understated. Look no further than Jeff Gomez’s recent post on this very blog, Reawakening the Grand Narrative. In it he explores the potential of narrative and how it can change the world. But as filmmakers, how do we continue to tell original, compelling stories in the disruptive entertainment landscape in which we find ourselves?
Frank Rose explores the current environment in The Art of Immersion and illustrates how “…a new type of narrative is emerging—one that’s told through many media at once in a way that’s nonlinear, that’s participatory and often gamelike, and that’s designed above all to be immersive.”
I was initiated into the film distribution business starting in foreign sales, and then launched a domestic home video label for the same company. In this work, I noticed something disconcerting: the business of film distribution was predicated on being in the know of some basic information, and then trading on it.
The value of the knowledgeable middlemen was in knowing who to sell to, for how much, and how to go about it. Actual rights to one’s intellectual property and content were seized, and the money made from “exploiting” it went to the middleman. Much of the time, one did not receive one’s due share. All sorts of money was being spent by those middlemen going from place to place to sell and resell rights.
There’s got to be a better way to do business that works for the actual investors in the product being sold. Do producers of food products go through the same experience? No. They just sell items through a wholesaler who takes a fee for doing the work and yes, for knowing the names of whom to sell to.
Documentary filmmakers have pioneered a more flexible, usable understanding of their right under copyright to fair use, which is the right to quote and re-use copyrighted material under some circumstances. Before 2005, documentarians were prisoners of a “clearance culture,” which often kept them even from starting projects that might involve work they could not clear.
By creating their own, solid and legally sound interpretation of fair use, in a Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use tailored to their own practices, documentarians through their organizations dramatically changed the field. Within a year of issuing the Statement, every errors and omissions insurer in the U.S. accepted fair use claims, which they now typically do without even incremental charges. You still need a lawyer to write a letter saying that your claim falls within the terms of the Statement, but that’s usually an easy letter to write. You can still find lawyers who haven’t read the Statement, but lawyers can learn.
I serve as the director of the Tribeca Film Festival, and in this position, I have an incredible opportunity to find and showcase films that I believe are important. I’ve made it a priority to show films that seek to dispel myths and prejudices. These are the kinds of films that I enjoy, and that can have a lasting impact on audiences.
We started the Festival in the wake of 9/11 to help a devastated and demoralized community downtown. The founders—Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff—had a vision. They believed that by showing movies, they could stimulate a dying economy, and bring a community together to mourn, commiserate and revive itself through the art of film. What we learned in those early years is that film has the power to transcend specific communities and bring people together.
Can Data Save the Studios in the Age of Social Media?
By Nick DeMartino
Warner’s acquisition of Flixster is Hollywood’s savviest move yet to survive a wrenching transition into the age of social media.
It’s not just that Flixster is the leading social movie site on the iOS, Android and Blackberry mobile platforms with 35 million downloads to date. Or that its sister site, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, attracts 12 million monthly visitors. Or that Flixster powers Facebook’s Movies app, also the market leader.
No, this is about more than traffic and traction. It is about data. Data is the secret sauce of social media that will empower Hollywood to take control of its own business, rather than to cede it to the disruptors from Silicon Valley.
When I began my career in film as a director 13 years ago, it was a hugely different world. Mounting a feature film production required significant time, money, equipment, and manpower, none of which were easy to come by as a first-time director from Chicago.
Today, budding filmmakers are blessed by the extraordinary technological advances our business has experienced since my first moments behind a camera. You don’t need a $100,000 Panavision behemoth to capture your stories anymore. Instead of a crew of hundreds, a handful of friends can suffice. Rather than releasing your film on thousands of screens in theaters, you can release it on millions through YouTube. Young directors now have the ability to shoot, edit, and even distribute their films completely independently using the tools available to them at any Best Buy. Plus, most of the technical expertise necessary to wield those tools effectively can be acquired with nothing more than a willing mind and the most basic of Googling skills.
Every year, just before the Academy Awards are held, the Motion Picture Academy finds a beautiful young actress (such as Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson or Charlize Theron) to host the luncheon for the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards. These awards cover technologies like new advances in 3D camera design, software for improving postproduction workflows or technical improvements in film sound technology.
To capture the luncheon for posterity, all the winners gather as a group behind the beauty and get their picture taken. Then the beauty shows up at the official Academy Award ceremony to let the world know that this has all taken place.
Crowdfunding changes the way filmmakers fund their movies. The power of crowdfunding helps filmmakers take control of their destinies.
Independent filmmakers like seventeen year-old Emily Hagins, who wrote, produced, directed and successfully raised more than $16,000 on IndieGoGo for her film My Sucky Teen Romance. Emily and her bedazzled laptop crowdfunded the costs of production and post-production, and now she’s considering using IndieGoGo to support distribution costs for her film. Crowdfunding is helping every step of a filmmakers’ journey but it’s up to the individual auteur to make it successful.
Over the course of my career I have made films about a broad range of subjects, immersing myself in each while making the film. It was not until Food, Inc. that my involvement in a subject continued to grow after completing the film. I thought I could move on to new topics, but the tailwinds have been too strong.
Since the film’s release I have given talks across the country and have been asked at every event, “What can I eat?” and “What can I do to change the food system?” It’s exciting to begin work in a new form that can address these questions and offer real forms of action. But getting people to take action may require a different format. I became intrigued with the idea of making short videos to be viewed quickly and distributed widely. I’m talking about web-based content, making films for telephones with clickable options for action.
While traveling a few weeks back I had the good fortune to meet an Egyptian scholar. “Isn’t it wonderful,” I said, “how the Internet and social media were used by your people to free themselves from an oppressive regime?”
His response surprised me: “Oh no, Facebook and Twitter didn’t free us. Yes, they were tools we used along with diligent housewives, copy machines and handwritten flyers. The true tipping point happened late last year when our parliament retained power with the usual brazen wave of election fraud, corruption and thievery. The difference this time is that they didn’t even bother to lie to us about it. They didn’t even tell us a story.”
If you follow to any extent the happenings out of Silicon Valley you’ll see that the founders, investors and other key players in any number of start-ups are always hustling. They’re on Twitter and Facebook talking the site/service/app/tool up, investing time in pitching influential media outlets and hitting as many parties and other events trying to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing. They’re doing so with a handful of potential outcomes in mind: They might be looking to make money through either selling paid versions or through ad sales. They might be hoping to attract a critical mass of users in the hopes of being acquired by a bigger existing company. Or they could genuinely think they have a great idea and just want as many people as possible to know about it.
This contrasts to a great extent with something I’ve heard more than once from independent filmmakers, which is that they’re much too busy to be personally involved in the marketing of the movie they’re planning, shooting or have already completed. There’s no problem with attending festivals, of course, but writing a blog or something like that apparently will require more time than they have and is akin to asking them to dilute their art with tacky marketing. I’m generalizing of course but I’ve come across this sentiment enough times to worry that it’s fairly widespread.
Two years ago last month, as editors worldwide were beginning to debate whether anyone would actually go see Avatar, the $200-million-plus, 3-D movie extravaganza that James Cameron was making, Josh Quittner wrote in Time about getting an advance look. “I couldn’t tell what was real and what was animated,” he gushed. “The following morning, I had the peculiar sensation of wanting to return there, as if Pandora were real.”
It was not the first time someone found an entertainment experience to be weirdly immersive. For all the cutting-edge technology that went into the making of Avatar, in that sense there was nothing new about it at all.
The faster real time social merges with television, the more valuable live television becomes… beyond sports. – Jason Hirschhorn If we are all gonna die anyway shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves now? You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.Dazed and Confused
It feels like one of the themes emerging in 2011 is that “social media will kill the DVR.” To wit, social media conversations in real time are the new water cooler, except that they are happening while that content is being viewed – not the day after. Says this New York Times article: “Twitter and Facebook messages about shows may well be the most efficient way to drive tune-in.” Taken to its extreme, this conversation about content will incent users to watch that content live, in real time, so they can participate in that conversation. Live television – the Oscars, the Grammys, American Idol, the Superbowl – becomes even more interesting once that real time social layers merge with the broadcast.
As much as I encourage creators to identify, communicate and collaborate with audiences in the direct way made possible through social media tools, I do wonder how audiences view this approach. Have audiences noticed we are starting to do this? Are they ready for this direct, one to one communication? Do they know what we expect to happen from this connection? Do we care what they will get from it?
In talking with people outside of the industry, I am reminded that the things we are increasingly focused on (crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, transmedia) have very little recognition. Those subjects presuppose there will be audience participation. This will happen, but largely it is not happening yet. Only those who have made consistent effort over time are seeing this participation at present.
For years, all industries have trained the audience/consumer to wait for notification when a product (project, film) was ready: ready for a theater viewing, ready for a physical copy buy (DVD or VHS before it), ready to view on television. This is a constant process of interruption marketing and the need to get attention every time there’s a new buying opportunity.
It used to be that there were all kinds of speed bumps between a hopeful filmmaker and a finished film. Film stock was expensive. Cameras were expensive. And of course, distribution was limited, precious, and costly.
Now - all those barriers are distant memories, and virtually anyone who thinks they want to be a filmmaker can make a film. Is it a good film? Or more importantly, one you want to watch? The future of film can be found in curation - a new way to mix a professional point of view with the wisdom of your friends, neighbors and trusted sources.
Adam Horowitz blames the whole thing on Star Wars. Horowitz—who with his writing partner, Eddy Kitsis, was an executive producer on LOST and a screenwriter for Tron: Legacy—remembers seeing Star Wars in Times Square with his mom when he was five. As soon as it was over, he wanted to go right back in.
“But there’s no bigger Star Wars geek than Damon Lindelof,” he admits. Lindelof, the co-creator of LOST with J.J. Abrams, was only four when he saw the picture. Years later, when ABC’s Lloyd Braun paired him with Abrams as the show was in development, Lindelof showed up for their first meeting wearing an original Star Wars T-shirt he’d gotten when he and his dad joined the Star Wars Fan Club. Abrams was wowed.
Lindelof, Abrams, Joss Whedon of Angel and Fireﬂy fame—for a whole generation of Hollywood writers in their thirties and forties, Horowitz quips, “Star Wars was a gateway drug.”
Rapidly Changing Media Environment: Publishing and Film
By Jeffrey Sharp
Over the past twenty years, there have been many changes in the film industry. But one in particular, that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of, seems to be growing more and more by the day- the merging of publishing and filmmaking – to the benefit of both storytellers and audiences alike.
We have come a long way since Ernest Hemingway said:
Let me tell you about writing for films. You finish your book. Now, you know where the California state line is? Well, you drive right up to that line, take your manuscripts, and pitch it across. No, on second thought, don’t pitch it across. First, let them toss the money over. Then you throw it over, pick up the money, and get the hell out.
I started my career watching my first boss Oliver Stone adapt Ron Kovic’s memoir Born On The Fourth of July and Jim Garrison’s epic On The Trail Of Assassins into powerful films that shaped the national dialogue on Vietnam and the JFK assassination.
What Arab Stories Need To Be Told? And Will You Listen?
By Hania Mroue
When I began preparing the first edition of our Arab film festival in Beirut in 2000, many from the regional film industry questioned: “But what for? There’s no audience for Arab films!” This dubious assumption implied that the audience - this abstract mass of people - had absolutely no interest in content coming out of the Arab world, and hence, was neither interested in discovering regional talents, nor able to relate to Arab subjects, characters, genres or stories.
Image from Grandma, A Thousand Times, a 2011 official Tribeca Film Festival selection from Lebanon
For decades, many great Arab filmmakers therefore suffered from a lack of visibility, support and access to the market. As a result, several Arab films were produced but never released. More problematic was the fact that industry professionals often underestimated the audience’s capacity and desire to learn and to discover new images, cinematic approaches and stories coming from the Arab region.
How the Web is Changing the Films We Want to Watch
By Nelson George
The conventional wisdom is that web content should be short. But as more and more network TV and feature films are viewed online, I think that truism is going to fall away. I think original web content will have to be longer and more complex as it competes with non-Web content for eyeballs. The real difference will continue to be budget. No one is consistently putting up broadcast level dollars content for original online work. That means the scope of your story telling is confined by budget, forcing you make mini-indie films — long on interiors and talking scenes.
I’ve been engaged with online distribution of content for a couple of years now. I’ve been doing travel videos for American Airlines for three years now. It’s a corporate gig, so the pay is good and, for the most part, they have allowed me to write and produce these five to nine minute pieces as I see fit. The pieces are distributed via their website and I link them to my followers via Facebook and Twitter. There is something very satisfying about getting well paid to get content out there that’s supported by advertising and promotions on and off line. This content is targeted toward African-American adults with some means, so that influences the content.
Beautifully Invisible: The Technology of Film Sound
By Tom Blakemore
For me, the movie that changed film sound was Francis Ford Coppola’s essential war epic, Apocalypse Now. Released over 30 years ago, its groundbreaking audio design still stands out as the gold standard for the art of sound design. Don’t remember it? Let me refresh your memory:
In Apocalypse Now, every piece of audio – from the dialogue to the choppers to the rock and roll soundtrack – was carefully captured, mixed, remixed, edited, and/or recreated to fully capture the surrealism that the characters were experiencing both on the river and in their minds. On-location audio was all but foregone in favor of studio recording, and even familiar sounds such as the passing of helicopters were deconstructed with synthesizers and rebuilt from scratch. This close attention to detail helped achieve the dream-like effect that abounds throughout the film, and earned Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nathan Boxer the Academy Award for Best Sound. (To learn more about the sound design of Apocalypse Now, check out this interview with Walter Murch from Salon.)
Yet In 1979, when Apocalypse Now was released, audio technology had not yet caught up with the creativity of sound designers. All film sound was done using big, expensive hardware, and every step in the process was lengthy. Add in the time it took to share those recordings with others off-site (remember, this is before email), and then edit, re-edit, and finalize the audio, and now we’re talking about an incredibly time-consuming (and, hence, exponentially expensive) portion of the filmmaking process. As a result, high-quality audio was a luxury practically exclusive to big-budget films. Low budget films could not even dream of such a thing.
Alfred Hitchcock said a film is made three times: when you write it, when you shoot it, and when you edit it. Today there’s a fourth: when you distribute it. With all the new technologies and D.I.Y. opportunities available to reach people with your project in fresh and exciting ways, you get to be just as creative when you take a film out into the world.
My team and I have done a lot of experiments in distribution with our film The Tribe, which played at Tribeca Film Festival in 2006. In many ways, I felt like we were throwing spaghetti at the constantly receding wall of the Internet to see what sticks. A lot stuck. Our 18 minute film, The Tribe, became the first documentary to ever reach #1 on iTunes.
What is it about stories, anyway? Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener—an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy. Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature—a face, a figure, a flower—and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.
So powerful is our impulse to detect story patterns that we see them even when they’re not there. In a landmark 1944 study, 34 humans—Massachusetts college students actually, though subsequent research suggests they could have been just about anyone—were shown a short film and asked what was happening in it. The film showed two triangles and a circle moving across a two-dimensional surface. The only other object onscreen was a stationary rectangle, partially open on one side.
The Future of Distribution: Thoughts From a Platform Agnostic
By Howard Gertler
Theatrical distribution used to be the primary way in which you’d see narrative films that were different, transgressive, innovative, and feature-length. But now you can see these kinds of visual stories on almost any screen, including the one in your pocket. Filmmakers can no longer take for granted that audiences want a feature-length experience when the latest online viral sensation is competing for their eyeballs.
As a film producer, I’m platform-agnostic. Wherever and whenever a viewer can watch a movie I’ve produced is fine by me. But I still believe in the importance of theatrical releases. Moreso than in the past, you need to defend a project’s theatrical merits rigorously starting at the development stage. Why is the story worth seeing larger-than-life? Why would an audience want to experience it communally? What’s the story about the film beyond the film itself? How does the film differentiate itself from everything else in the marketplace?
How Digital Technology Changed the Senna Filmmaking Experience
By Asif Kapadia
You could call me a bit of an old-fashioned filmmaker. Twenty years ago, I started making short films on super 8mm and 16mm, cutting them on film and projecting them myself. Being a “film” person, I was a bit late coming to the “digital” party.
When the producer James Gay Rees and writer/executive producer Manish Pandey approached me to direct a film about Ayrton Senna, the greatest driver in Formula One (a sport watched by millions around the world on television and a sport where the teams are always pushing themselves to the limits of new technology), it made perfect sense that the production and distribution of the film in the same way would make use of television and new forms of digital and online technology.
As a filmmaker, it’s not enough to dream of an idea for a film. You need to find the resources to bring it to life. Sometimes, this can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be- not with a little help from your friends. Or your mother. Or your next-door neighbor. Even a complete stranger may be ready and willing to believe in you.
Rockaway; Photo Credit: Jordan Schiele
The power of film as a medium is its ability to unite all walks of life in a shared setting and spark discussion. Whenever I’ve sat in a dark theatre of anonymous faces in anticipation of what we’re about to experience, I’ve often wondered: “Why not turn the lights on before your film hits the festival circuit? Why not seek out your future audience and humbly ask them for the help required to execute a piece of work that will ultimately speak directly to them?”
Over the last two years Netflix has become available on every Internet enabled screen sold in the United States. Desktops, laptops, tablets, TVs, and phones can now be used to view the Netflix streaming service. And if you can’t find the movie you want on their streaming service you can always have the DVD sent to you via the US Postal Service and watch it on your old fashioned non-internet-enabled DVD player.
Content Anywhere: Stern, Oprah, Olbermann, Sheen, Beck and the Future of Media Disruption
By Richard Greenfield
The pace of change in the media industry is accelerating with actors, artists, and content creators able to take far greater control of their franchises than ever before. Technology is knocking down barriers to entry with distribution platforms proliferating. New web-based platforms offer content creators the ability to build their brands outside the traditional content gatekeepers with greater creative freedom and the potential for generating more wealth in the long-term (albeit, likely means sacrificing near-term rewards).
What’s the Future of Film? (Now That’s An Open-Ended Question)
By Brad Wechsler
In a word DIGITAL…
Movies are already shot digitally, manipulated digitally (a creative process in and of itself) and, of course, distributed digitally. Digital enabled 3D and digital has helped directors create new visions of new worlds (Avatar) and new visions of old worlds (The 300). Digital is also wreaking havoc with business models, i.e., Netflix already has as many subscribers as Showtime and almost as many as HBO. VOD will emerge as a cost effective substitute for DVD’s. With YouTube, an unknown movie can go viral. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.