Archives for film

The future is find – film curation & festival programmers

Just prior to Sundance and Slamdance, I conducted a very unscientific experiment and asked my Facebook friends – many of whom are programmers for film festivals who could all be expected to have long lists of “must-see’s” at the fest, and who are very opinionated when you speak to them in line for a film– what films they recommended at the festival.

I got back exactly what I expected – nothing. Now, there’s a chance that none of them like me enough to read my post and respond, and an equal chance that because it wasn’t about #metoo or Drumpf, they couldn’t be bothered. But I don’t think this was the issue.

When I was working with Ted Hope to build Flicklist (which failed miserably for other reasons), we encountered this same problem. We thought it would be great to showcase the greatest asset any film festival has – the expertise of their curators – as a way to help audiences find great new films. Who has a better handle on the films you should see in theaters and online? Who could better tell you to add that movie to your queue months before it gets written about? It seemed like a no-brainer – if I trust my local film programmer at the festival, I might trust their recommendations year-round, and take a chance on a film because of that – maybe even going to see a film at another film festival when I’m visiting another town, for just one example. And it would be a simple way to further the brand equity of those film festivals and their programmers, perhaps giving great curatorial “power” to the awesome programmer in Atlanta as well as the one at Cannes.

We approached a lot of film festivals and their programmers behind the scenes, and nearly every one of them said the same thing – oh, our programmers we would never share their real lists. They didn’t want to give away their possible programming choices, didn’t want to seem to privilege one film or filmmaker above another, especially early in the game, or didn’t want to be so public about their tastes. We made it clear they could hide their programming choices and only share other recommendations, but there was still concern. The lists of reasons went on and on – even when we suggested paying for the service. Programmers just weren’t accustomed to sharing their recommendations and favorites except in two places – in the festival selections, and possibly in end-of-the-year, best-of lists.

We gave up, but I’m convinced that part of our idea was a good one,  and I’ve hoped for a long time that someone else would crack that nut and tap into the collective curatorial power of those festivals and give them a new type of relevance outside of the time of the film-fest taking place. It hasn’t happened. No one has built any kind of curatorial machine that takes advantage of actual film curators. Not only that – no film festival, to my knowledge, has done it on their own. Not even the ones with the most power – Sundance, Cannes, Hot Docs, SXSW, or anyone else.

It seems to me like a lost opportunity, and it seems like a big, gaping hole in the services that festivals should be offering their audiences – not to mention a potential revenue stream. As content proliferates online, consumers need curators to help them cut through the noise to find the best stuff. Critics are part of this, but so are festival programmers, and they have a lot less baggage and more good-will already. And you don’t have to be a rocket-scientist to figure this out – everyone talks about the importance of curators to the future of content online. And every festival seems to think their programmers are good at finding good films, or presumably they wouldn’t pay them.

I would pay them for this service, and many of my film-going friends would do the same. If I could get a weekly email of recommendations from trusted programmers at my local festival, with a mix of things that played their festival, but also things they couldn’t program that they liked, I’d add all of those films to my queue and happily pay for it. Or I might even become a member of their festival – and festivals need reasons to convince me to become a member beyond a discount on tickets at the festival and an email newsletter (…talking about their next festival or their next fundraiser). Turn this into an app, and I’d pay for that app, and I don’t pay for anything now. Everyone I know wants help cutting through the garbage to discover the best films to watch, and fest programmers could be that guide online, year-round. And they should be, because as I’ve argued before (in 2013, jeesh), in a world of super-abundance, film festivals need to think beyond their old missions of just bringing undiscovered films to their locale.

Right now, the leading websites for finding films are Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB. These are helpful to some extent, and I use them, but they’re not really curatorial or based on any curator’s knowledge. I can’t easily follow just the reviewers I trust, and none of these focus on curation, which is very different than criticism.

Yes, a few people have taken to Letterboxd to share the films they’ve seen, and for a long time, I hoped this would become the curatorial service that I think we need. Here’s my favorite programmer Tom Hall’s list of films he saw at Sundance, for example. But aside from Tom, I don’t find many actual curators telling me what to see online. Instead, Letterboxd seems mainly used by critics (here’s David Ehrlich of IndieWire posting his reviews and rankings as just one good example). But again, this is different than the curation a festival programmer could bring, and I think its lacking from the discovery process online.

But I’ve given up hoping for that world to come along. I think most of the fest industry is focused on their current model, not thinking about what they should be doing in a new paradigm. If they won’t take on that curatorial role, then we’ll need someone else to do it.

I suspect these new curators and curatorial services are developing now, being built, will launch, and they won’t include many of the experts or the expertise of these film festivals. The curatorial app of the future will probably be built on celebrity, an algorithm or some other system of trust. Once it launches, a few festivals will try to launch their own version, to jump on the bandwagon, but it will be too late. We’ll all get our recommendations from someone else – and in a world where almost any film ends up online eventually, I’ll have less and less reason to show up at the festival in person, when someone else will curate it for me in a more convenient form.

I’ve always argued that back in 2005, Sundance could have, and should have built YouTube. The technology and the need were there. The writing was on the wall, and everyone could sense what needed to be built, but nonprofits (which most festivals are) don’t think that way. They do the same old thing instead of the new. So we got a very different YouTube, and have no idea what that alternate one, informed by the curation, artistry and artist-centric thinking they had might have become. (To be clear, I’m only picking on Sundance here because they’re the most famous name, you could insert almost any other name; and Sundance has been plenty busy doing a lot of other good things).

This is another one of those moments. The need is clear. The history of the internet is search, the future is find – finding exactly what you need, hopefully with some curatorial help.  I think we have just a few more years before someone builds the perfect curation system, and a short window where this could be done by the existing players in this space. I’d much rather have that service be built by those with the curatorial vision found in our film festivals than on the backs of some algorithm or the whims of some brand or celebrity (or both). And I’d rather that the money it makes benefits these festivals than some new version of Facebook, and that this data informs better art, not more advertising. The technology exists, and festival programmers have the expertise we need.Who will pick up the charge?

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Net Neutrality and Film

Kudos to Sonos (disclosure, a sometimes client) for taking a big stand this week pre-Grammy’s. That’s their website artwork at the beginning of this post, and this week, they closed their NYC and online stores to support Net Neutrality, and took out big ads in the NYT and WSJ (and many social media posts) in support of it as well. I hope some people in the film world do the same, and soon, but it also reminded me to post this little bit about the impact of recent net-neutrality decisions on the future of film.

I’ve been writing about the importance of Net Neutrality since I started blogging in January of 2006. There’ve been many close calls since that time, and many decisions that those close to these issues considered likely precursors to the end of net neutrality, but 2017 brought the official end of net neutrality, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s the beginning of the end of the Net as we’ve known it. The changes will be gradual and practically imperceptible, but very real. We’ll wake up one day and find a very different internet unless we take some pretty radical steps, and soon.

But what does this mean for film in the short term? You can expect more deals to privilege certain content over others – get Netflix or Verizon Go90 or whatever other content faster and cheaper. That will be good for consumers when you want to watch stuff on the big guys – Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, etc. But it also means it will be that much harder for people like Fandor or Mubi to get traction, and even harder for new services to launch, as the costs to deliver quickly to consumers will become hurdles too high. That may not seem too bad, but as Netflix and Amazon buy/license less indie and arthouse fare, these alternate services are crucial to those wanting to find and watch the multitudes of films not on these larger services. And those viewers wanting to experiment might be discouraged when a “Classic,” or “experimental” focused service is slower to load or costs much more to access.

It will also mean less relevant alternatives like Vimeo, and over time, fewer opportunities for truly independent work to reach an audience. Right now, if your film doesn’t get picked up by one of the major services, you can always fall back to using a Vimeo to reach your audience, but that could become more expensive, slow or difficult quite easily.

But in a world of super-abundance, where I can barely keep up with the content coming over the transom, this will be imperceptible to all but those stuck behind, trying to break through, and I suspect very few people will care. That’s one reason why it’s even more important to fight this trend now, before we forget why we’re even in the fight.

But the more important concerns are the loss of possible futures we can’t even imagine now. It’s hard to believe, but we’re at the very beginning of the revolution(s) brought about by digital, and what movies you get to watch are in many ways the least concern. Perhaps artists will come up with entire new artforms, utilizing new technologies still to be built, but they cant get them out to an audience because they’re made harder to find or censored from the web altogether?

And speaking of censorship, that becomes much easier under a non-neutral net as well. Incumbent powers who might be threatened by new competitors to their services, or regimes who don’t want certain voices heard already have it pretty easy, but the loss of net neutrality makes it even more assured that alternative voices, business models and visions of the future will be that much harder to find.

Want to join the fight? I recommend Public Knowledge and Free Press as two great places to find out what’s happening and how to fight back.

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FAANG and Film

FAANG

FAANG

In the business world, people refer to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google as FANG – also known as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This has been widened by many to include Apple, and while Google is now “Alphabet” the acronym has stuck as FAANG – the big companies that are changing all business through their digital prowess, market capitalization and stock performance. They are also increasingly impossible to compete against – just starting a real competitor to Netflix today would probably take a starting investment of maybe a Billion dollars.

For the film world, this is especially true – and its why Disney and Fox are merging, why AT&T wants Time Warner, and everything else you see happening. In the future, you need to own the content and the pipes to even have a chance at surviving. While everyone continues to underestimate Facebook Watch, and yes they’ve launched like amateurs, they will one day rival Netflix for where you find, watch and talk about content (movies, TV, news, likely music and everything else). Amazon, Apple (via iTunes) and Google (via YouTube) are close behind, and no one else stands a chance.

We can already see a real impact in the film world – when it comes to stellar offers for film, you’ve got Netflix and Amazon offering beaucoup bucks, and literally everyone else in the business is a second thought. Increasingly, if you aren’t on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you don’t exist to a substantial portion of the potential audience (iTunes and YouTube Red remain far behind here, and while Hulu is spending more, their subscriber base is still paltry). And bad news –while Amazon Prime takes almost anything, Netflix is buying less and less indie and doc content.

Meanwhile, nearly every OTT service that could fill the void in offering content NON (not on Netflix) struggles to gain attention or traction. Why pay for another service when it seems like you have more than enough content on Amazon Prime and Netflix, and can augment it with one-off purchases from iTunes?

Things are still shaking out, but my bet is that by 2020, FAANG will be the only names you think about when watching films (studios will still make films, and indies never quit), and it might possibly be just FAN (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix alone).

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KodakCoin is worth watching

KodakCoin

Yesterday (Jan 9th) Kodak announced the launch of KodakCoin, their new Bitcoin/Blockchain offering for photography, and their stock price jumped on the news. Why? Not because it’s a brilliant business strategy (which it is), but because investors go crazy for anything related to Bitcoin right now. But beyond that hype, this is something to watch.

The general idea of KodakCoin is that photographers can use it to get credited and compensated appropriately for their work in a digital world. This has been a big problem in the digital realm because a copy is the same as the original and as any other copy, and attribution and payment for use has been pretty hard to handle (or easy to skip). With KodakCoin and the Kodak One system they announced, there will be a ledger-based system to more easily track photographic images, and in theory, give them proper attribution, get paid, and (if they’re smart), photographers could also tie-in licenses for use not unlike Creative Commons – letting people use images for free in some situations, pay in others, or possibly even be paid based on future consumption instead of paying a license fee up front.

This has great implications for film as well. As I’ve written elsewhere, Blockchain could revolutionize how we do business in film, and this is a great first step. Most of the press just chalked this up to Kodak “trying to capitalize on the current cryptocurrency mania,” (The Verge), and the trades ignored it, but this could be a big deal. If Kodak knows what they’re doing, and does it right, this could be the future of how we deal with rights and consumption of images both in photography and film. Blockchain will work best for film if it’s tied into everything from capture to consumption – and Kodak is weirdly well positioned to capitalize on all of these areas.

Only problem, as I’ve seen others ask in comments on the announcement, why didn’t they call it KodaCoin, like Kodachrome, instead of KodakCoin? Missed opportunity.

Update – January 31, 2018 – Some news has come out in the NYT since I wrote this, and it seems that while the underlying idea of using blockchain to manage image rights is good, the way Kodak has set this up is a little wonky and that makes it possibly a lot less interesting. I recommend reading the article, and keeping a skeptical eye on how this develops.

Ed. Note: I haven’t blogged since July, 2017 and my output has been slow for the past year or two. I plan to write more often this year. If you’re receiving this via email subscription, and don’t want to anymore, there should be an unsubscribe button in your email. Otherwise, you’ll hear from me more regularly.

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Distribution & Discovery Ideas

After my last two posts on IndieWire (and here) about the need for more distribution funding and the problems with the algorithm ruling film discovery, several people asked me in the comments, on Facebook and offline for some ideas. So here’s a more positive post about five ideas for better funding of distribution and discovery. They’re five easy to think about, hard to implement ideas, and I’m not claiming them as just mine or as ground-breaking, but I hope this kick-starts some conversation.

via Ambulante

1. Plain ol’ distribution funds – Ok, the easiest route to helping with both distribution and discovery would be strategic offerings of distribution funds. They should focus on smart, tried and tested models; new ideas that show promise; projects to increase the diversity of what’s being distributed and big initiatives that might have impact beyond one film (slates, curated programs, regional strategies, etc.).

 Personally, I’d be open to the idea of funders backing the distributors themselves. In many countries, government funds already do this, because they support culture beyond the marketplace, and that’s what foundations should be doing anyway (some do support public broadcasting). But in the short term, it would be great if the money goes straight to producers/filmmakers, and the funds could be used to augment a distributor’s campaign (with extra grassroots outreach, for example) or for service deals, “direct” distribution, etc.

Importantly, I don’t think these should be focused on impact. We have a lot of impact funds already, and while they’re great, I’d love to see more funds supporting work finding its audience even when “impact”- read social impact – is not a goal.

As mentioned in my recent post, Sundance is already doing some distribution funding, and there are a few other funds, but more foundations should offer this support, as should more nonprofits, festivals and venues.

2. Transparency – I am biased here, as I helped on the pilot Transparency Project for Sundance, but I think this is the biggest need in the field. It’s impossible to build comps, speak honestly with investors about potential returns, plan for distribution, evaluate offers, etc. because there is no transparency as to what is being made where beyond box office.

We need data, perhaps anonymous and grouped by genre, budget and release strategy. But we need more than just VOD numbers. Festivals should be required to report attendance numbers for your screenings. Theaters should do the same (they do to distributors, but these numbers rarely make it to filmmakers). We should have transparency on diversity numbers – behind the camera, in the curator’s office, on the screen, how well films perform based on diversity…the list goes on.

A quick side-note, festivals and screening organizers should also share photo and video documentation to filmmakers. I’ve used this as evidence to secure better deals, and it can also be used for marketing.

We’ll probably never succeed in getting more transparency into Netflix, but we can start with the easy stuff, and work together – we need a transparency movement, and quite frankly, it needs to be forced on the field by filmmakers and their funders, because the nonprofits and even the distributors are stuck in the middle here, with little political capital to lead this fight. I bet some incentive grant money could open some windows, as could some requirements for numbers in grant reporting as a condition of funding.

3. Network Building & Data Sharing – We need funding to help build more direct connections between film festivals, theaters, nonprofit programmers and even alternate venues on an ongoing basis, to help them build audiences. What does that mean?

A few ideas – Building systems where the film-lover in Sarasota can track a film from Sundance to the Sarasota film festival and maybe not just buy a ticket in advance, but someday even let the programmers know how many of them want to see it. Systems to let regional festivals better triangulate artist and guest travel. Sharing of audience data, even if in aggregate, to help build databases of where the fans for certain types of films reside, and how to best reach them.

Why can’t I subscribe to indie horror films, black directors, LGBTQ films or indie docs, and get updates via email or app of what’s playing at 10-20 festivals around the country and add those films to my Netflix queue? Let’s go further – if I like Lucy Walker’s films, and see one at the New York Film Festival, they should let me know her new one is playing at BAM CinemaFest (an ostensible competitor), and vice versa. In the long run, each venue will win, as will Lucy.

Let’s build a ScreenSlate for every town, and get some foundations to fund it. But let’s broaden it, and let me subscribe to filmmakers I like (a la BandsInTown) and be notified whenever they play in town, whoever is programming the film. And let’s go further and remind me when that film is available on Fandor, or Netflix. How about when BAM shows the new Jim McKay film, they also link to his past films, or similar themes, for further perusal, even if it doesn’t hit their bottom line immediately? Again, in the long run, we all win as we’ve built a better culture of film discovery.

These are just a few ideas, and I’m sure other programmers can think of more.

4. Empower our greatest assets – the Programmers –  Film festivals don’t take advantage of their greatest asset often enough – their curation via their programmers. In many smaller cities, they’ve practically taken the place of critics as only local voice on film, but far too often, their voice is only heard by a small crowd (those who know them).

I trust Tom Hall’s programming more than almost anyone in the US. It would be great if Montclair was promoting his curation throughout the year, on other films, not just festival films. And to continue to remind me of films that played Montclair (or even a rival fest) that are now online. But for this to be done, fests can’t literally “take advantage” of these programmers, meaning more work for no extra pay. They’d have to build a financial model, which could include grant or sponsorship funding, but would more likely work in aggregate – as a tool built by multiple fests with a business plan and revenue model that supports all of them.

Let’s also take the programmers out from behind the curtain and hear their opinion a bit more. I know most are resistant to this, but I want to see a public list of the five films they rejected that they wished they could have programmed that are now available across town or online. Tell me your opinion, because you actually have one worth listening to (usually) and I trust it, and you can help build a better culture of discovery beyond your fest or venue (And yes, I know you already do a lot and with three jobs, like I said, let’s build financial models around this). One last note – I think a foundation should make a genius grant for a programmer/curator every year. Give them a ton of money and let them do something cool with their skills, or just pay their bills.

5. Touring support to organizations and to individuals – Yes, digital rules the world now, but the best way to get enough buzz to get people to know you exist online remains real-world screenings, be they full theatricals, or one-offs. Touring can be profitable for filmmakers and audiences alike, and it keeps the notion of watching a film in a group, together, alive. There are a few great tours out there (I know of Southern Circuit, which I used to run, and Ambulante in Mexico and now California, but am sure there are others), but there used to be more.

 We need funding to support more tours of films, in multiple ways. For the individual filmmaker to take their film on tour, even if they had a theatrical, let’s get them in towns without a arthouse cinema. For groupings of films – let’s curate a package of films with similar themes and have pop-up festivals around the country. Hell, there’s enough films about minimalist living to fill a couple of weekends.

Let’s fund film festivals to take their top films around their state, outside of the blue cities they reside in, to the neighboring red ones (oh how we need this). Let’s pool resources between a few festivals and take the best of one fest in each region (NE, NW, SE, SW for simplicity) to the others, perhaps Camden’s favorite in Albuquerque? Perhaps the best of the American Black Film Festival as a side-bar at, oh, every film festival?

Let’s take a series of human rights films to 300 public libraries around the US (we used to do that at NVR way back when). Let’s put some of these films in churches, or bars, but not just one or two, an entire tour of them. And let’s get sponsorship and grant funding for it. These are just some quick ideas, I’d leave it to smart curators (with genius grants) to build even better ones.

6. Bonus idea: Funding for fest websites and outreach – As I mentioned in my recent post, festival websites are notoriously horrible (mine may be worse, I know). That’s because few of them can afford to build a proper website, and they’re harder to build than you think. Back in the day, B-Side was helping with this, but now we have a hodge-podge of solutions, and I’ve yet to find a good festival website or app, meaning one that actually works. Even the best festivals in the world tend to have horrible web interfaces.

I still think an enterprising company could build this for multiple festivals and build a business on the data alone, even though this didn’t work for B-Side (but they tried to build a distributor instead of a data broker, which I think was a mistake). Regardless, it’s an area in dire need of funding, and if we can help festivals, theaters and other venues build better sites, we can encourage discovery and eventually build even better tools (like some suggested in 3 above) more easily.

 I’m not even sure we actually need more money. Festivals have no problem building big bulky print catalogues with tons of sponsor ads and words of wisdom from the executive director and the governor in the front pages. But beyond selling sponsors a fancy print ad, their print programs are worthless (usually), and are mainly a library badge of honor of your attendance. Many surveys show that audiences do use the print materials to find films, but I’d argue this is just because your website is such crap. This is the same dilemma the newspaper business is facing, in a way. To disrupt your print ad model with a better website is hard to justify when sponsors want ads. But we need to focus on discovery not just sponsors (we need both, to be sure), so those budgets should shift to digital. Heck, your sponsors would be better served by better in-person activations anyway. So let’s get creative.

So there’s 6 ideas (5+1) for a few ways to better fund distribution and creativity. I’d love to hear more ideas from the field.

 

 

 

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Wither the pull quote? On Ratner and Rotten Tomatoes

Brett Ratner hit the news this past week, saying: “The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes, I think it’s the destruction of our business.” He went on to say: “But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”

Now he’s likely just upset that Batman vs. Superman scores so low on Rotten Tomatoes, which most articles pointed out, but he does raise a valid point about the industry that I’ve been pondering as well, but from a slightly different angle: the disappearance of critical reviews and pull-quotes from the marketing of films to audiences.

Working with Abramorama, I recently released a film I produced called Love & Taxes by Jake Kornbluth and his brother Josh. It’s a little movie, with a small theatrical release, but we’ve gotten amazing reviews. We’re happy to be at 100% for the critic’s scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and have gotten heaps of quotes like this one from the NYT’s Ken Jaworoski:”A Minor Marvel.”

Love & taxes poster

It used to be that distributors would tell you that one of the reasons to show films in theaters was to get the critical reviews, so you can put them as pull quotes on your movie poster and then your DVD case (or way back, your VHS box). And they seemed to work, because everyone did this. And you still see it in advertising for movies in newspapers, etc.

But guess where you don’t see them – online, where most audiences watch these films. Go to iTunes, Amazon or Netflix and look – no pull quotes anywhere. Each of these platforms requires film distributors to remove these quotes from their poster art. Heck, Netflix doesn’t even really show your poster art anymore, mainly using images from your set of film stills. Click on a film on these platforms, and you get some extra synopsis, and some cast and above the line credits, but mostly no reviews or reviewer’s quotes.

Heck, Netflix doesn’t even show the Rotten Tomatoes score anywhere. You have to try hard to even get to a details screen where you can see a few member reviews – and who knows how valid their opinions are anyway. Amazon Prime shows the aggregate IMDB score and customer scores, but you have to link away to even look at IMDB, and there’s no RT link at all.  iTunes does show the RT score and does include the top four critics reviews. But even then, we can see that the majority of the marketing of films on the platforms is very limited.

And that’s a problem for smaller indie movies. If you’re a blockbuster or larger film, you can rely on your own marketing spend to gain awareness for your film. You can run that pull quote thousands of times in print and digital and try to get the word out. But for most indies, the majority of their marketing spend has been around their theatrical release and sometimes the beginning of their digital life. And almost all of this marketing goes into building word of mouth and discovery, so that someone seeks out your film, and perhaps helps it to land on the top ten on iTunes, which makes it get streamed more – because most people look on the home screen for their films.

But we have always hoped people would find our films through browsing as well, and might see the critics reviews, and maybe even a great pull quote and take a chance on our films. But that doesn’t work anymore. And even if they heard about our film from its theatrical release, or elsewhere, they might be further persuaded to take a chance when they read a great pull quote. But that’s not possible if it’s not even there at the buying site. Few people are going to go look it up on your site, or in the NYT or on RT.

Now I’m almost ready to blame the platforms for removing the critics or reducing them to a Tomato score, but… they wouldn’t have done that if it didn’t work. They have more data than any of us can imagine, and if showing pull quotes sold or rented more films, they’d be pressuring us to get more of them, and would be displaying them properly.

Or maybe they do work. iTunes after all needs you to spend money and rent or buy the film, and they make a few of them available. Netflix doesn’t care if you watch a title – it just cares that you keep subscribing. And just by having a good inventory of TV and films, you’ll probably keep subscribing even if you don’t read the reviews or watch my film. You don’t need a conspiracy theory about lessening the role of critics to see why it may not matter to Netflix at all.

But it matters to us indie filmmakers. And it means we have to start re-prioritizing our marketing. Your thumbail images need to be that much better. Your poster design (and its pull quotes) matter less. Your marketing spend, especially on Facebook, should emphasize your best quotes even more. And for some people, they’ll have to debate whether a theatrical run predicated on  getting reviews even matters for their film anymore – perhaps that four-wall or service deal money would be better spent on other marketing. Lots to consider in the digital age.

All that said, I think Rotten Tomatoes is not the problem. If you go to their site, you can access a lot more reviews now. But Ratner is right that our reduction of these reviews down to one score, and even worse – the cutting of pull quotes from online sites – is a problem.

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Panel at IFP Week: Social Capital

I’m excited to be attending IFP Film Week this week. I’ll be doing acquisitions work for Brainstorm Media and DIrecTV, and also speaking on a panel about social capital. Here’s info from their website, and you can click here to learn about other panels, or to buy passes.

Social Capital: You’re Richer Than You Think:

Social capital is the goodwill and excitement generated by your network of invested friends, family and fans. It can help your projects earn wider audiences — but how much can it do toward creating financial success? What are the practical limits of the word of mouth? Is social capital always necessary to create a successful independent film — or to be a filmmaker? We’ll discuss and debate the importance of social capital with some of the forward-thinking creatives who maintain artistic integrity while making the most of their fanbases.

Panelists: me, Dana Harris (Indiewire, moderator); Emily Best (Seed & Spark), Jon Reiss (filmmaker and media strategist).

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Vote: Two Panels at SXSW

I’ve been asked to speak on two panels at SXSW this coming year. Both look great and are being organized by some cool folks. SXSW picks panels (largely) through online voting, so if you think these are good topics, please click through and vote. While you’re there, check out some of the other panels and vote for them as well.

Panel One: The Key to Making Money with Digital Discovery

In today’s content oversaturated world, digitally released films often get buried so deep that audiences can’t ever discover them. How can technical advancements work to make the world of independent film a better place? How can filmmakers ensure their films are more discoverable and get audiences to pay attention? While there is no silver bullet to virality, great content isn’t enough. It takes resources both financial and physical, which filmmakers often don’t have access to. But with new tools emerging that apply discovery technologies to video – changing the way we find and watch films, and making lesser-known media tools more accessible. The future is bright for filmmakers who know how to marry filmmaking, social media, and technology. Join Jonathan Marlow, CCO at Fandor, an industry leader in streaming entertainment, and other thought-leaders for a candid discussion about video discovery and how filmmakers can make their films more accessible, and ultimately, more profitable.

Put together by the folks at Fandor

Panel Two: Didn’t Get In To SXSW

Didn’t get your film accepted into SXSW? Don’t sweat it. Every year, thousands of films are rejected from major film festivals, yet many still go on to become major hits. Learn how to turn a negative into a positive by making your distribution “Plan B” into your “Plan A”! A panel of industry professionals will offer their expertise on how to pursue alternative (and potentially lucrative) methods of distribution for your film—even if you didn’t necessarily win that big name laurel.

Additional Supporting Materials: http://www.slideshare.net/PRFilms/didnt-get-into-sxsw

Put together by the good folks at Passion River Films

I’m not on it, but I’m also a fan of this panel on subscription VOD

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Crowdfunding Projection Template

Thinking of launching a Kickstarter (or other) crowdfunding campaign? There’s a lot to consider – how much can I raise, what rewards should I offer, what shirt should I wear in my video? Too often, however, artists forget a lot of other details: fulfillment and processing costs amongst the many other factors.

Taylor Davidson has just launched a new financial modeling tool for anyone about to embark on a crowdfunding campaign. It gets very detailed – helping you estimate the impact of marketing, which rewards might be popular, costs and even let’s you compare what is going on to what you hoped.

I’ve used Taylor’s other financial models in my business, and I highly recommend that anyone considering a campaign use this template. It might help you plan for the unforseen, think of new ideas or just make sure you do it right.

Here’s the video from his site:

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Oh, Really Reed

Jeesh, Reed Hastings, you can really f-up a situation can’t you?! WTF man, as if the whole recent Qwikster debacle wasn’t bad enough, you get the opportunity to clean things up a bit in Sunday’s New York Times interview puff piece with you and you utterly screw that up as well.

Ok, fair enough, you suck at what might be the most important part of your job – public relations, but you did make a pretty cool service. I’ve been willing to forgive you, all along, and I’m still betting your stock will rise, against most pundits in the film world, but… you finally lost me today.

Andrew Goldman, the NYT interviewer, comes down pretty hard on you in the interview. He asks some tough questions, and finally gets to the meat of his argument when he points out that not only is your streaming collection woefully inadequate compared to your DVD selection, but that you’ll be losing your Starz deal soon, which includes Disney content such as Toy Story 3. What can cushion the blow (to his son) of losing Buzz Lightyear? he asks. Your response:

“I watch mostly independent films. I’m not in that particular demo. I’ll send you a list”

Oh, Really Reed. That’s your answer?

So, you defend your current crappy situation by appealing to indie film? That’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?

If you love indie film so much, why do you keep cutting the deals you give to indies? It’s an open conversation these days that you’re not renewing scores of indie film deals. It’s an open secret that outside of a few select indie aggregators, you’ve never paid that much for them in the first place.That’s fine, it is a small market, but don’t act like that’s why you don’t know – as the CEO of a publicly traded company whose very popularity hinges on being a repository of just about all films, indie and Hollywood – some better answer to the question. Jeesh. Yeah, I’m Reed Hastings, so f-ng busy watching indie films that I didn’t realize we’d be losing Toy Story 3, and don’t know why anyone would care.

So, do you really love indie film, or was this your publicist’s brilliant strategy for deflecting the criticism? I can almost hear her/him: “If they ask about Starz and Disney, say you watch indies and don’t know about that. No one watches indie films, but they have stellar street cred. It’s almost like pulling out a f-ing puppy, you become criticism/bullet-proof. People love to support indie films in spirit, but no one watches enough of them to actually call your bluff and point out that our indie selection is decreasing as well. It will be brilliant.”

But it’s not.

Luckily for you, your real customers – the majority – care about Real Housewives and other shows they couldn’t figure out how to DVR, so they need them streaming on demand. Your core customers, the ones you built your business on and who watch indies and classics and obscure titles, don’t realize that you’ve shifted your tactics and these titles are slowly disappearing. Your competitors can’t figure out that having 10K crap titles can’t compete with a mixture of good big/small content (and can’t afford to license it). You can be comfortable in your ownership of this space. You don’t need to change anything. You don’t need to listen to your core customers. You don’t need to listen to anyone. You’ll just do whatever you want while people continue to pay up.

Nope, no need to be strategic here. Once you’re the big kid on the block, who is going to disrupt this situation?

Oh, wait. I’ve heard this story before. This might actually get fun pretty soon.

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