Independent Filmmakers Working with New Technologies: Case Studies by Scott Kirsner
In an effort to keep up with the changing landscape of new technology, ITVS commissioned author Scott Kirsner to find out what independent filmmakers are doing in the field.
New technologies are creating unprecedented opportunities for social issue filmmakers, whether they are already members of the ITVS community—or aspiring members. But chasing every new opportunity can be a waste of a filmmaker’s energy and resources. Which ones will generate the biggest return, in terms of attracting viewers, making change in the world and producing positive financial results?
The ITVS Digital Initiative: Report from the Field, a series of case studies published on the ITVS website, aims to answer that question. By sharing the stories of filmmakers who are experimenting with new technologies, and trying whenever possible to quantify the results, we’ll seek to inspire other filmmakers to innovate—while trying to avoid raising unrealistic expectations.
The Report from the Field will focus on three main changes, or pillars: opening up production, finding new audiences and taking advantage of new distribution opportunities:
Opening Up Production to Participation
During pre-production and production, how are filmmakers communicating with audiences, widely dispersed teams, funders and prospective subjects in new ways? What new opportunities for involvement and participation are they exploring?
Finding New Audiences
Once a project is completed and ready for release/broadcast, how are filmmakers using blogs, social networks, games and other technologies to reach audiences that will care about their project?
New Distribution Opportunities
How are filmmakers presenting their work on websites, cell phones, iPods and the new generation of Internet-connected TVs and set-top boxes? Do these distribution avenues create conflict with more traditional outlets? Are there substantial economic benefits or simply promotional positives?
Scott Kirsner’s recommendations from the ITVS Digital Initiative: Report from the Field:
Top Five Connection-Creating Strategies
* 1. Start a blog or create a bare-bones website to generate awareness of what you’re up to; this can be a way for potential collaborators, sources, funders, and DVD-buyers to get in touch with you early on.
* 2. Participate and post in existing online communities related to your film’s topic.
* 3. Maintain a database of everyone who you’ve interviewed or who has offered help during production, so you can let them know when the film is finally finished.
* 4. Consider ways to allow interested parties to get involved with your filmmaking process; some filmmakers have “open-sourced” their research, having others contribute by shooting far-off locations and interviews, and even some editing.
* 5. Think about posting some clips/excerpts from your rough cut on video-sharing sites to begin building an online presence for your film. Provide links back to the film’s site or to your blog.
Top Five Marketing and Promotion Strategies
* 1. Leverage the lists and websites of membership organizations related to the topic of your film to communicate with viewers who may be interested in seeing/purchasing it.
* 2. Connect with bloggers who cover the issues in your film, offer them interviews, review copies of the DVD or embeddable clips from the film.
* 3. Collect email addresses (and ideally ZIP codes too) from the visitors to your film’s website; you can notify them when the film is playing in theaters or on TV, or when it becomes available on DVD or as a download.
* 4. Post clips on video-sharing sites or social networking sites, with links back to the film’s main site; this can help introduce it to new audiences.
* 5. Consider allowing Internet users to remix or “mash up” parts of your film, or create their own trailers for it. This adds their perspective to the work and, ideally, helps it reach a broader audience.
Top Five Distribution Strategies
* 1. Make sure DVDs are available when audiences are most interested in the film: during the theatrical run, during festival screenings and at the time of the first TV broadcast.
* 2. Consider producing at least two versions of the DVD, at two different price points: one for general audiences and a second version for educational/group use, with discussion guides and supplemental material.
* 3. Carefully evaluate distribution offers that wrap up digital rights with theatrical or home video rights. What will the distributor do in the near-term to generate revenues with those rights?
* 4. Focus digital distribution efforts on outlets with already-established audiences (such as Apple’s iTunes or Amazon.com’s Unbox); if working with a newer outlet, negotiate for premium placement on the site and additional promotion.
* 5. Whether selling DVDs or digital downloads/rentals with a business partner, insist on regular reporting of sales figures and the ability to audit them.
Digital Distribution By the Numbers
Digital distribution of films remains a nascent business, not rivaling DVD sales in most cases. But movie downloads seem to be catching on quickly: from $689 million in sales in 2006, they’re expected to hit $1.6 billion in 2008, according to the research firm SNL Kagan.
iTunes, presumed to be the leading site for sales and rentals of features in digital form, was selling or renting 50,000 movies a day by mid-2008. In 2007, an independent documentary, Tiffany Shlain’s The Tribe, briefly topped iTunes’ list of best-selling short films. Makers of the documentary 10 MPH say they sold more than 1000 downloads from their own site over the course of a few months in 2007, priced at $7.99. (By handling the technology themselves, the filmmakers held onto the lion’s share of each sale.) In just one week, the documentary Maxed Out was streamed 35,000 times on the Netflix website; Netflix passes on a fraction of its subscriber revenue to the filmmakers.
Some filmmakers have chosen to explore digital distribution possibilities on their own, while others have been working with aggregators like the Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA) or New Video Digital, which help negotiate deals with Internet outlets, mobile phone or cable companies and set-top box makers.
Read the ITVS Digital Initiative: Report from the Field case studies:
Byron Hurt:HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes
Katy Chevigny: ELECTION DAY
Curt Ellis: KING CORN
David Iverson and Michael Schwarz: MY FATHER, MY BROTHER AND ME
Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell: 10 MPH
Tiffany Shlain: The Tribe
Brad Lichtenstein: WHAT WE GOT
Scott Kirsner is a journalist who writes about the ways that new technologies are changing the entertainment industry. He edits the blog CinemaTech, and is the author of two books: Inventing the Movies and The Future of Web Video. Scott's writing has appeared inVariety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the New York Times.
Top Five Digital Strategies for Social Issue Filmmakers
Call for Entries: The Doorpost Film Project
The Doorpost Film Project exists to encourage truth-seeking visionaries by honoring their creativity as filmmakers, serving them in the context of building community and sharing their discoveries with the world so that others may have hope. The Doorpost is offering over $500,000 in total prizes during the '09 competition, including all-expense paid trips, final round film budgets and the following top contest prizes: $100,000 Grand Prize, $35,000 Second Place Prize, $25,000 Third Place Prize, $15,000 Filmmakers Choice Award More info: http://www.thedoorpost.com
The Doorpost Film Project recognizes, honors and equips filmmakers whose work depicts thecore of life, its struggles and its purpose. The second annual Doorpost Film Project will be held during the 2009 calendar year, culminating in Nashville, Tennessee USA, for a showing of selected short films, awards presentation and an exploratory symposium September 17–19, 2009. Filmmakers selected as finalists will be required to attend the screening of their short film and other special events at the expense of The Doorpost Film Project. These events will be designed to allow interaction between filmmakers and their films’ audience.
Each submitted film shall be a maximum of seven (7) minutes in duration and must be submitted under one of the following topics: Freedom, Forgiveness, Redemption, Joy, or Humility. A Submitted Film(s) shall not have been previously broadcast, transmitted or distributed commercially prior to its submission to the Doorpost Film Project, nor shall a Submitted Film have previously received any awards or accolades from any other film festival.
January 1 – January 31: Early Registration ($40)
February 1 – February 28: Regular Registration ($50)
March 1 – March 15: Late Registration ($60)
March 15 11:59pm EST: Round 1 Submission Deadline
Deadline Approaching: ITVS Open Call Funding
Attention filmmakers! Looking for funding for your next project? INDEPENDENT TELEVISION SERVICE (ITVS) seeks proposals for public TV programs which take creative risks, serve underrepresented audiences and express points of view seldom seen on commercial or public TV.
OPEN CALL provides completion funding for single non-fiction programs (not series) that are already in production. It is our largest funding initiative with two funding rounds per year. There is no minimum or maximum funding amount, though ITVS funds must be the last money in to the project. Please note that the deadline for Open Call 2009 Round 1 is JANUARY 16, 2009.
**Please note that Open Call no longer accepts submissions for fiction (i.e., narrative, drama, etc.) projects.
The online application and guidelines are posted on our website at http://www.itvs.org/producers/opencall_guidelines.html
Deadline Approaching: TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund
The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund will provide up to $170,000 in support of innovative and compelling filmmaking that explores scientific, mathematical, and technological themes and storylines, or a leading character who is a scientist, engineer, innovator or mathematician in fresh ways.
We are seeking exceptional narrative work of all genres (except science fiction or fantasy) with scientifically accurate themes or characters. Selected projects from eligible directors, screenwriters and producers will be highlighted at the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2009. In addition to funding, grantees will receive professional guidance and industry exposure as needed.
Apply Now! Deadline is January 12, 2009.
Visit www.tribecafilminstitute.org for complete details.