Saving Indie Film History – IndieCollect and the Apparatus Films

He Was Once (1989, 16min) via IndieCollect Kickstarter page

Filmmakers – Do you know where your negatives are? Didn’t shoot on film? Do you know how little time digital masters are expected to last if you don’t keep migrating them to new formats? The history of independent film – especially its current history – is in jeopardy. As an industry, we’re always focused on what’s new and what’s next, but our indie history is just as important as what’s around the corner, and the reality is that the majority of independent films aren’t properly stored, archived and indexed (so they can be found), and current indie films are being shot on digital formats that disappear quickly (remember floppy disks?). Sure, it seems like you can find just about anything on YouTube, but actually, you can’t and even those films online are usually not being preserved for the future.

Sandra Schulberg has a solution – IndieCollect, and when Sandra comes up with an idea it always goes somewhere – she founded the IFP, and has been a leading figure in the indie film sector (and is also a filmmaker). She realized that the history of indie film needs to be saved, and she’s gathered up a posse of like-minded people, including me and some others – to help out. IndieCollect is indexing, archiving, preserving, digitizing and making available the history of independent film. They’re partnering with existing archives (such as UCLA, the Academy Film Archive, the Library of Congress and others) to ensure that indie films are properly stored, and finding homes for those that are in danger. They’re rescuing thousands of films that were close to disappearing, and they’re working on solutions to make sure that filmmaker’s work can always be discovered, and that (whenever possible) filmmaker’s can get paid for that work.

IndieCollect recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to save some super cool films from early indie film history – the Apparatus films of Christine Vachon and Todd Haynes. Check out the Kickstarter page to learn more about what IndieCollect is doing, the Apparatus films they are saving and more. If you want to learn more, read this NYT article on IndieCollect, and if you like what they’re doing, please contribute and/or spread the word.

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Windowing & Piracy

Another year, another bogus analysis of piracy in indie film. The latest is this gem from Adam Leipzig (who I actually like a lot), and Entertainment Media Partners in Cultural Weekly. The report came out just before Sundance, but I was too busy to even take a look until now. Adam does a pretty good job of showing the numbers for indie films at Sundance this year – how many applied, got accepted, possible budget ranges, etc. I like it when anyone tries to explain data in indie film, so kudos for this.

The problem comes when he starts to analyze piracy’s impacts on indie film. He shows a lot of lost revenue, but his calculations are based on a pretty interesting assumption – that 5% of illegal downloaders would have purchased the film at $3 per transaction. There is no evidence, or even theory, presented as to how he arrives at this percentage. But my bigger problem is the logic – let’s just pretend for a minute that 5% of the 12M+ people who illegally downloaded Whiplash would have purchased the film for $3 meaning $1.825M in lost revenue (per the infographic)… well, that assumption leads to another, that there would be a mechanism for them to actually make this purchase. But that wasn’t an option for anyone who pirated Whiplash (he doesn’t offer transaction dates, so let’s assume most of the piracy occurred early in the film’s release). If they wanted to pay $3 for the film instead of pirating it, they couldn’t.  There was no button, no availability, because of old-fashioned windowing practices. This is true of every film on the chart.

What the study actually shows is not that piracy hurts anyone, but rather that millions of dollars are lost each year because of antiquated business practices. If pirates could buy the films for $3 they might, and if 5% of them did, the business would see millions in new revenues. In fact, for the 14 films from Sundance 2014/5 that he studied, that’s over $6.5M dollars lost because of a crap business model. Seems to me that if we studied this a bit more, we might focus less on piracy and more on getting rid of windows.

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Branded Documentaries Workshop at UnionDocs

Branded content has become a big story. I’ve been working for awhile now with many different companies exploring film and new media partnerships, and increasingly, I’ve been working with some of them on documentary films. Most notably, I recently helped Patagonia with the distribution and marketing of DamNation. It was a team effort, and I learned a lot, perhaps as much as I offered in advice. Now I get the chance to share that knowledge in a three day workshop at UnionDocs, and I’ll be joined by several other experts in the space. There’s an early bird discount until this Friday (Feb 27, 2015) as well.

I’ve given a shorter version of this talk at IDFA, Sundance and IFP Week, but this is the first chance I have to spend a few days with filmmakers giving in-depth advice. We’ll cover a bit of everything: what is branded content? How does it work? Are you selling out? How do you keep creative control? What are the pros and cons? Can it help you have a bigger impact with your film? How do I break in to this work? We’ll talk about this and more.

From the UnionDocs website: This seminar is a theoretical and practical intensive course designed for documentary filmmakers looking to develop their skill sets in the emerging field of branded content. Branded videos are on the rise, as clients are looking to engage with their customers through creative collaborations. Filmmakers can learn how to build a sustainable practice for financing their own works.

Designed by UnionDocs in partnership with Mathilde Walker-Billaud, the seminar will explore new business models for documentarians. It will offer technical tools and strategies for working with clients while developing and maintaining a creative voice. The course is designed for graduate students and professionals in documentary and media arts (the audience is limited to 14 students).

This seminar will bring together five guest instructors who are thinkers and practitioners from different disciplines: producers, marketers and strategists, entrepreneurs, documentarists and filmmakers. The goal is to expose a small group to a broad range of creative approaches to branded documentary, including audience engagement, online and cultural marketing, fundraising strategies, digital innovation and production/distribution.

Here’s the breakdown of each day, and guest instructor bios are on the website – and seriously, these are some awesome people. I can’t wait to learn from them as well:

Each day will explore one topic with one or two guest instructors:

Friday – The filmmaker as an entrepreneur
The first day of the seminar looks in-depth at the ways we produce and distribute films. How innovative is the branded documentary model?

AM: Brian Newman
PM: Marc Schiller

Saturday – New strategies for brands
The second day of the intensive focuses on content and cultural marketing. How do the brands implement successful marketing campaign and generate audience engagement with the help of artists and filmmakers?

AM: Adam Katz

Sunday – The final cut
The third day explores the creative execution of branded content. What is the impact of brands on the process?

AM: Harrison Winter
PM: Trish Dalton

Register here.

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