The Audience Fund for Indie Film

“If you’re gonna make it, LEARN HOW TO SELL IT!”

Bob Lefsetz

Platforms, like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, VHX, Vimeo, Tugg and YouTube are designed for indies who are prepared to reach their audience through “direct distribution”.

It is not the responsibility of the platform to get your audience—it is yours.  Each platform gives you tools that help you achieve success but in order to succeed you have to aggressively use them.

This approach is fundamentally different from licensing your film to a traditional distributor, a method I would call “indirect distribution”.

Most filmmakers do not understand the difference between “direct” and “indirect”. This gap in understanding holds many (if not most) indie filmmakers back.

How can this gap be closed and indie film dragged into the 21st century?

Let’s imagine an audience fund for indie film. 

We start with 1 million dollars.  We want to underwrite direct distribution for up to 15 films that will be released roughly over the same year period.  We will put in between 50K to 100K per movie.

Filmmakers must have skin in the game so we require a few things from them.

Each filmmaker must bring a minimum of 25K to the effort, preferably through a crowd funding effort.  If they come with 25K we give them 50K, if they come with 50K, we give them 100K, a 2 to 1 match.  So each audience building campaign has a range of 75K to 150K to work with.

They have to commit a substantial amount of their own time to the audience gathering effort.  It has to be a central part of their job during their film’s release.  (For this we allow a modest filmmaker fee as part of the budget.)

We require that these filmmakers learn and use every tool of every platform they need to use.  We design a boot camp that educates them quickly and thoroughly.  (Best if they already use some of the tools and this boot camp is about intermediate or advanced work.)

We bring in experts to advise and implement the campaigns that each film requires.  People like Caitlin Boyle, Sheri Candler, Jon Reiss, Marc Schiller, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky.

We also bring in companies outside the world of indie film like Collective Digital Studios or Maker Studios who understand the YouTube ecosystem and people who get where the Internet is headed like John Borthwick or Andy Weissman to connect our filmmakers with the latest in social media thinking and practice.

We require that the filmmakers write publicly and often about how they are building their audience.  They must blog about what they see, what they learn, what works and what does not.  

They need to tell us where they experience success and where they find failure.

We stipulate that they collaborate with the other filmmakers supported by the fund.  They must promote each others work. They must share information about the strategies they plan to implement and how the implementation is working (or not).  They must act as resources for each other.

We stipulate further that all the filmmakers share the numbers. How many email addresses did you collect, how many tweets or emails did you send and respond to? How much money did you spend and how much did you make? 

This all has to be shared with each other as well as the public at large.

Why all these stipulations and requirements?

This is a fund that aims to fundamentally change the way indie filmmakers think about their audiences and how they distribute their films.

A few filmmakers have used the models that this fund will support– but not nearly enough.   This fund intends to amplify the work of those that are funded and create models that many others can follow.

As Bob Lefsetz writes,

“The point is people have plenty of money to give you, you’ve just got to find a way to make it palatable.  That’s Amanda Palmer’s genius.”

This fund will create and support some new Amanda Palmers in the indie film world.

Who is in?

Posted in Audience, Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

The Indie Film World Needs 100 Amanda Palmers

The challenge presented to each indie filmmaker is the same.

How do I get my work discovered?

Typically, an indie film travels to success with the aid of a small group of usual suspects.  The 2012 version of that trip is laid out in Anne Thompson’s, $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System.

Thompson covers the circus that is the film festival circuit, where distributors show their new films and filmmakers woo festival audiences, critics and distributors with their latest projects.  It is an insider game that moves from Sundance to Cannes to the Academy Awards.

Harvey Weinstein knows this game better than most.  He understands how to appeal to festival insiders at Cannes and woo the members of the Motion Picture Academy.  He knows that his success depends on his ability to shape the value of a movie by appealing to elites and through these elites find the masses. 

He serves as the filmmaker’s promoter, singing the film’s praises to all the right people.  Then he pushes the film into the marketplace positioned for box office success.

Mr. Weinstein and others like him extract a large amount of rent for their efforts.  If the film succeeds–the distributor succeeds financially, but not necessarily the filmmaker.  In some rare cases money trickles back to the filmmaker, but as they say, “don’t hold your breath”.

This is the classic middleman model within a classic insider industry.

Today, outside the confines of the traditional film industry a new model is emerging.  It is based on the premise that one does not “promote a film”.  Instead, one “builds an audience”. 

It relies more on building a bond with an audience than bonding with film festival insiders or prominent film critics.  Here there are no classic middlemen and no insiders.

This model uses Internet based tools and platforms. So you might crowd fund your movie on Kickstarter, sell your movie from your own web site with VHX, or organize a screening using tugg.

These platforms are free or charge a nominal fee. Money flows back to the filmmaker without the extravagant extraction of rent.

Austin Kleon identifies the attitude and approach that shapes this new model in his book, Show Your Work! : 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered

He writes:

“If you want fans, you have to be a fan first.  If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.  If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong.  You have to be a connector.  The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node.  If you want to get, you have to give.  If you want to be noticed, your have to notice.  Shut up and listen once in a while.  Be thoughtful.  Be considerate.  Don’t turn into human spam.  Be an open node.”

A node exists on a distributed computer network where all nodes can connect directly with each other or route through other nodes to connect with an additional node. There is no central node through which all must pass.  This is the essential design of the Internet.

When human beings use this network, everyone can connect with everyone else. The mass media world does not operate on this network.  In that world of insiders, gatekeepers and middlemen one must seek permission to connect.  Rent is extracted at every possible turn.  

An open node world not only rides on this new network, it also creates new norms and new opportunities for human interaction.  As Kleon indicates in his book, these norms and opportunities are still being defined and explored.

If Harvey Weinstein is the poster child for the indie world of traditional gatekeepers and extractors of rent, Amanda Palmer is the poster child for the world where artists of all types work at “building an audience”.  Though she is a musician, indie filmmakers could do well to follow her example.

If you spend time following her on twitter, receive her emails or read her blog posts, you will see that she practices everything that Kleon preaches.  She deals directly with her audience and she points to others, (musicians and visual artists alike). She listens to her audience and responds to them.  She even connects members of her audience to each other.

One could argue that Amanda Palmer and Harvey Weinstein are very much alike. Each is larger than life, always ready to project him/herself upon the world like any classic promoter.

Yet Palmer follows the norms and expectations of an open Internet model and functions as an open node.  Weinstein follows the norms of a mass media architecture where the views of insiders matter and shape what the audience is allowed to see.

One exists in world of transparency, the other in a world of constant spin and PR.  One “builds an audience” while the other “promotes”.

Palmer speaks to anyone who wants to listen and listens to anyone who wants to speak to her. Weinstein speaks to an inner circle. Listening, not so much.

They are creatures of the world they choose to inhabit.

Weinstein’s world is very familiar and well defined.  Palmer’s world is new and its outlines are just beginning to emerge—it is changing every day—but it principles are not hard to grasp.  Austin Kleon lays them out for us and Amanda Palmer practices them for anyone to see.

It is often said that the indie film world is in a state of crisis.  People insist that there are too many movies and too little money. They argue that the audience for independent film is disappearing. 

All these explanations look in the wrong direction.

Filmmakers are too enamored with a world that is defined by a middleman, insider culture.  With every film, they hope to be among the lucky few that are discovered, are welcomed inside, get promoted and somehow–get saved.  

It is not their fault.  This is the world into which they were born.

They don’t see that something new is being born.

A world in which their work can be discovered.

Filmmakers need to see that they can create this new world. Not alone but in concert with each other. Each can be an open node.

Indie film has only one real Harvey Weinstein.  And that is OK.

But to solve its crisis it needs 100 Amanda Palmers. 

Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Two Distribution Scenarios for Successful Indie Films

Here are two scenarios.

Scenario A

Your film gets into Sundance. Audiences love it and distributors swarm all over you.  The film gets nominated for multiple Academy Awards and it grosses over $20 million dollars. You never get a dime.

Scenario B

Your film gets into Sundance. Audiences love it but no distributor offers you a deal.   You build your own audience one person at a time using all the tools the Internet provides. As a result of two years of hard work, you earn $500,000.

You are an indie filmmaker. Would you rather have $500,000 in your pocket or nothing?

In scenario A your hard work ceases when you finish the film and a distributor picks it up.  In scenario B your hard work starts long before the film is finished and continues long after it is done.

In scenario A, you have no business control.  In scenario B you are totally in control.

In scenario A, you take on no risk.  In scenario B you take on all the risk.

You get a shot at fame or a shot at fortune.  You get one or the other—not both.

These are not abstract scenarios or simple what ifs pulled out of the air.

They are based on real films in the real world.

What drives you, fame or fortune?  The chance of fleeting celebrity or real income?

What is the plot of your film’s journey?

Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Denial at the Heart of Indie Film

It is almost a cliché it is so true.

The Internet changes every part of the media world.

No media creator or company escapes from this reality. 

There are two groups of people within this world.

Those who deny the change and those who acknowledge it.  (Sort of like the climate.)

Yes, it is that simple and that stark.

In the indie film world, the deniers are winning.

I just had a great conversation with Scott Macaulay on his recent blog post on copyright.

We both brought up Indie Game The Movie.  This film is the model for anyone who wishes to use the Internet to finance, market and distribute an indie movie. 

Any independent filmmaker can adopt the model.  

Sadly, few are doing so.

Scott refers to the movie’s producers:

“We ran a story in last year’s Winter issue detailing how they did what they did and in my Editor’s letter I encouraged people to do the same… A year later, I decided to write an article extolling all the people who were following their approach… and, crickets. I started early, reached out to people, contacted Sundance to see who the big self-distributing DIYers at the festival were. And came up with hardly anyone.”

The editor of the largest indie film magazine in the United States offers to profile any movie heading to Sundance that directly reaches out to its audience and not one filmmaker bites.  All Scott got back was silence.

When Scott wrote about this,

“Most didn’t want to go on the record with saying that they just didn’t feel they wanted to do that work.”

Not go on record?  Did they feel a sense of shame for not wanting to do “that work”?

Pioneers are unusual in any field.  Yet when pioneers are demonstrably successful fast followers appear.

These followers adopt the new model and use it. Some even innovate and broaden the model.  This creates a virtuous cycle of innovation that lifts everyone.

While there are a few pioneers, there seem to be no fast followers in the indie film world. 

No cycle of innovation exists.

Instead, most indie filmmakers are trapped by a denial that stunts the growth of their films, their careers and the indie film community itself.

Indie film needs a cycle of innovation.

Where to begin?

As with climate change, stop the denial.

Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

When TV Viewers Get Control

Netflix released the second season of the House of Cards Friday February 14, 2014.  All thirteen episodes were immediately available.

My wife and I viewed 5 of them in one afternoon.  We plan to complete the season within the next week (or not). 

Like other Netflix subscribers we choose how and when we watch the new season.

This is called “binge” viewing.  It seems an odd word to describe this phenomenon.  As in “binge” drinking for example. We immediately picture someone who gives into his worst impulses and has no control.

Curiously it is just the opposite.  Why?  Simply put, the viewer controls the experience.

This option breaks the standard release pattern for new “TV” episodes. 

The standard pattern forces you to wait for the right moment on the right day for the episode to magically appear.  The control resides with the linear network—not with you.

We are also watching True Detective on HBO, a show that runs for 8 episodes, released one at a time.  You can’t see them all at once, even if you wanted.  You are not in control.

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Assume that House of Cards and True Detective are novels.  

Can you imagine buying them and being told that you had to wait to read the second chapter or the chapter after that?  That you have to wait ten to fifteen weeks to complete the narrative?

No you cannot.

You properly see them as unified stories, with characters and themes that deepen over time.  When they work—they grab you and refuse to let you go.  You do not want to put them down. 

Or put them down as little as you can— your schedule permitting.  And it is your schedule that shapes the experience. 

Is it all at once, without a stop or just an episode here, an episode there, as you meander to the end?  Is it somewhere in between?

You decide.

Many people see binge viewing as a stunt cooked up by Netflix. Others see a temporary fad that will fade away when we all return to the “regular” experience of TV.

They are wrong. 

The opportunity to see all the episodes of a “TV” series returns us to an experience that predates the creation of TV—when we curled up with a book, silently reading at our own pace, with our own thoughts, under our own control.  

This is an experience that human beings really treasure, young and old.

This is also the unintended consequence of whole TV seasons being released on DVDs.  Surely you remember when you first experienced that rush of seeing The Sopranos from one episode to another without interruption. 

You thought, “Why can’t I get this experience when I first watch Sopranos on HBO?”  

Netflix took the next logical step and added originals to give viewers this experience from the beginning.

The traditional networks thought that DVDs and the Internet were just another way to make incremental revenue for the shows released on their linear networks.  They didn’t realize they were doing something more profound and disruptive. 

They (re) created (old) new consumer habits.  Habits we have always enjoyed–just not on television. And by doing so, they laid the groundwork for the gradual decline of their own linear networks.

Human beings do not want to watch a scripted series when the network says they must. 

We want to curl up with great shows like House of Cards and True Detective just as we might a good book–when it calls to us and when we have time.

This is where TV is headed—where the linear schedule exists just for people who do not want to control their own lives.

Are you one of those people who longs to have someone else control your life?

I didn’t think so.

All the TV networks need to catch up with their customers.

Give us a great TV series we can curl up with.


Posted in Cable, Distribution, Hollywood, Innovation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

We Own Our Own Copyrights

The simplest distinction often tells us all we need to know. 

In the music and film worlds there are artists who own the copyrights to their work and those who do not. 

The music industry just honored Paul McGuiness, the long time manager of U2.  The Edge and Bono praised him with these words:

“We own our own master tapes, we own our own copyrights…we were designed to survive and we were designed for something much harder: we were designed to survive success. And Paul, it was your design.”

When a large record label signs a new artist the label owns the copyrights and the master tapes. Most artists live under this regime throughout their lives.

The movie business uses a similar model. When you make a film for a movie studio or they release the indie movie you have worked so hard to make—the studio owns the copyright.

Control comes with copyright ownership.  Control over everything.  If the artist owns the copyrights—she/he is in control.  If the studio or label owns them–they are in control.

U2 did not own the copyrights to their work when they started as a band.  They had to fight for them once they became successful.  Success brought them the leverage required to fight and win back control.

U2 believed that control was important for their continued creative and business success.

George Lucas followed a similar path. Fox financed the first Star Wars movie and owned the copyright.  When it was successful Lucas decided to finance the sequel himself.  As a result, he owned the copyright.

When his distribution deal with Fox came up for renewal, Lucas got back the copyright to the first movie.  Only then, would he let Fox distribute the Star Wars sequels.  He had leverage and used it.

U2 and George Lucas acquired their own copyrights and bet on themselves.

Today, more musical artists and filmmakers can do the same. 

In the past, you could keep your copyright only if you achieved monstrous success and gained leverage.

Today that leverage lies close at hand and can be found before success arrives. 

But you have to take the time to notice that leverage and use it.

Take these six artists as examples:  Aziz Ansari, Zoe Keating, Joshua Oppenheimer, Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky and Amanda Palmer.

All of them have created movies and songs that they distribute, market and sell.  

And they own them.

Study these creators and the strategies they employed. Everything they have done to connect with an audience lies within your reach.

Each leveraged some combination of the following: Bit Torrent, Facebook, Indie GoGo, iTunes, Kickstarter, Tumblr, Twitter, VHX, WordPress and YouTube.  (And some others I am sure I forgot.) 

These tools do not require you to sign over your copyright.

If you want real leverage you must combine these tools.  One tool by itself is not sufficient.

That combination can yield significant results. 

No one teaches artists how to do this.  No film school prepares its students for this work. You have to learn on the job.

You might have a manager, a lawyer, a web developer, a digital marketing expert or distributor assist you, but if you want to bet on yourself,

Design for success.

Own your own copyrights.


Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation, Internet | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Have a Great Song, a Great Film? Give it Away for Free

In the old days (say five years ago), if you had a great song or a great film you needed to promote and sell it to an audience through a skilled distributor.  

This is no longer the only route.  Success has now added a new business plan.

When Lorde and Joel Little won Song of the Year for Royals at the Grammies this past Sunday, Little said,  “We made this song originally to give away for free…”

I was reminded of Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift, in which he argues that even though many forms of art (books, paintings, movies or music) are sold as commodities in our transactional economy they can still function as gifts.

He quotes Joseph Conrad, “The artist appeals to that part of our being…which is a gift and not acquisition—and, therefore, more permanently enduring.”

In today’s always connected world, where any artist and any audience can interact 24/7 the interplay between art as commerce and art as gift becomes even more important.  Artists need to find their audience by first creating something that emotionally appeals to them. Then the artist needs to treat that art as a gift and give it away.

The audience then feels that the art is truly its own and feels gratitude towards the artist.  The audience becomes the marketing engine, the distribution pipeline and the passionate community that fuels the artist’s work.  The gift can lead to monetary success.

Royals was originally released on YouTube on May 12, 2013 for free, with no ads.  You can still see it here.  It currently has over 42 million views.

The song was later sold on iTunes, on VEVO, (with ads) and put on CDs.  But it started out as a pure gift, because in Conrad’s words—it “appealed to that part of our being—which is a gift and not acquisition”.  It connected with an audience.

This initial audience used YouTube’s platform to bring an even larger audience because they wanted to share the gift they had received with others.

The interplay between the gift economy, (often called the sharing economy) and commercial economy in the 21st century is very new and still not completely understood.

We are so used to believing that when you create a book, a song, a film, a TV series, you turn it over to mass media middlemen who sell it to an audience—because these middlemen know where to find your audience.   But this is becoming just one business model among many.

New business models are emerging that challenge this old mass media model. They rely on platforms that can take a song performed by an unknown 16 year old from New Zealand from nothing to 42 million views and onto the Grammy stage in less than a year.

They start with thinking about art as a gift–with the crazy idea that,

“We made this song originally to give away for free…”

All artists should give away some of their work as part of their business model.  By doing so, they create the opportunity to make money. So every artist, be they a singer or filmmaker has to think in a new way.

What am I creating that I can give away for free?

Posted in Distribution, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The More Films, The Better

Just before the Sundance Film Festival opened last week, Manohla Dargis started a conversation about independent film with her piece As Indies Explode, an Appeal for Sanity.

Dargis bemoans the fact that the NY Times reviewed 900 films during 2013.  For her that is just too many. She goes on to write:

But I have a little favor to ask of the people cutting the checks: Stop buying so many movies. Or at least take a moment and consider whether flooding theaters with titles is good for movies and moviegoers alike…There are, bluntly, too many lackluster, forgettable and just plain bad movies pouring into theaters, distracting the entertainment media and, more important, overwhelming the audience.”

Apparently the villains of this piece are the people who write the checks. They should keep bad movies away from us by financing and distributing fewer movies. An odd argument wouldn’t you say? I thought the sign of a vital film culture was a large variety of films from which the audience can choose.

Sharon Waxman joined the conversation with her piece, 5 Cold Truths from an Uninspiring Sundance:

There are TOO MANY movies being made … and we see it in the middling quality of too many films that are not getting bought. The production tools that make filmmaking accessible to just about anybody are resulting in a glut of films that aren’t nearly good enough to attract an audience of consequence. How can we make it stop?”

Let’s look at the logic of this.  First, remember that Sharon Waxman has not seen every movie at Sundance so she is not using her own critical judgment in making this statement.  She simply believes that if a distributor is not buying a movie, it does not possess the right ‘quality”. Secondly, she believes that because “anybody” can make a movie now, it therefore follows that most movies are simply not good enough.

Then she lays out her second “cold truth” where she, like Dargis, blames the funders.

Crowdfunding is creating a bottleneck …The wonderful financing platforms of Kickstarter and Indiegogo are fueling dozens of new projects. That’s a great thing for filmmakers, and a big problem for the indie business. Because now hundreds of movies are getting financed that have no prayer of financial return for the filmmaker. Yes, there is distribution on VOD and Vimeo and Netflix in addition to Sony Classics and The Weinstein Co. Good luck paying your rent with that revenue.”

First, how does crowdfunding create a bottleneck, when more money is raised? I thought bottlenecks restrict the flow of something, not increase it.  Is this because the filmmaker will not be able to earn any money from a crowdfunded movie? Well, guess what, thus far the record shows that some filmmakers make money and some do not. Does Waxman have some numbers to share with us that actually show how these filmmakers have fared financially?  Not amongst her 5 cold truths.

And how exactly, does this hurt the “indie business”?  Apparently the indie business is hurt simply because there are more movies.  Perhaps the Waxman solution would be to have indies stop making movies all together for at least a year or two.  Then the market glut would disappear and movie quality would rise—especially for those movies that never got made.  Her argument is based on zero empirical data and makes no sense on its face.

Dargis and Waxman blindly believe that scarcity is a good thing and as a result they fail to recognize the real value of abundance.  They naively feel that the gatekeepers who create scarcity are a positive force in our society. They would argue that whether those gatekeepers are distributors, film financiers, or the various insiders within the film industry, they help the audience discover quality.  In other words, they want to hold onto the old mass media world that is highly restrictive. They act like medieval scribes who have just seen their first Gutenberg press: angry and fearing for their jobs. As I wrote in my previous post, they can’t get the movie theater out their heads.

The Internet disrupts gatekeepers and it does so by empowering audiences and creators alike to connect to each other in ways previously unimagined.  Audiences can fund or market a movie and the movie creator can connect directly with his/her audience without a middleman.  And guess what, gatekeepers who understand this new dynamic can adjust and continue to have a role in this new movie ecosystem. They can discover quality along with creators and audiences, but to do so, they have to change how they think and give up old prejudices.

Tim Wu understands this new media ecosystem.  As he writes in More is More in Independent Film:

“It is tempting to think that fewer films would mean fewer duds, but accepting this logic would be to misunderstand contemporary media markets…It’s easy to look back at a year of films and say that only the good films should have been made, but that’s like saying that venture capitalists should fund only the Twitters and Googles and not bother with anyone else. It just doesn’t work that way.”

He states further:

“The larger question is: Who exactly gets hurt if too many movies are made? If making films weren’t challenging and fun for the people involved, they wouldn’t do it… The average film might start with an exciting idea, turn out to be not that great, and fail to gain much attention or interest. Big deal…. It may sound strange, but visible failures are the sign of a fertile cultural industry.”

Dargis and Waxman believe that easy access and abundance breed mediocrity.  I disagree. Wu argues that the more movies produced–the greater the chance that something will really connect with us.  I agree.

Only when more filmmakers dare to fail and venture forth with movies that may or may not succeed will we create a more vibrant film culture in the age of the Internet.  The audience is not overwhelmed. As a matter of fact, it is happy to be part of the ride.

The more films, the better.


Posted in Distribution, Hollywood, Independent Film, Innovation, Internet | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Movie Theater in Our Heads

We are in the middle of the competitive season, as the build up to the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards plays across our many screens.   We are constantly reminded about the winners and losers amongst the football and movie elite. In a not so subtle way we are told that football and movies are each a zero sum game where for every winner, there is also a loser. 

When a game is played in a physical space, where rules dictate its play and it ends with a score that shows a winner and a loser—a zero sum game is definitely played.

In the movie business, the game has long been played in a defined physical space as well.  The battle for movie supremacy used to be fought exclusively in movie theaters.  Distributors fought to get their movies into more theaters in order to grab a larger box office gross—that elusive number at the end of a weekend or a year that shows your movie and your studio was the “winner”.   Now, of course, movies are available on multiple screens. Yet the idea of a movie theater still holds us in its thrall.

We still believe that a movie has greater “value” if it is shown in a theater.  I would argue that we even believe that it is not really a “movie” unless it has been shown in a theater.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that sponsors the Oscars, certainly believes that is true.  They will not nominate or award an Oscar to a movie that has not been shown in a theater for a specified number of days.  They believe that if it has not shown in a movie theater—it is not a movie worthy of consideration.  (Yet a web series can be nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe—see House of Cards or Orange is the New Black—both of them web, not TV series.)

This strong hold that the movie theater has on our imagination has an additional consequence.  It leads us to believe in scarcity as an important value. It presumes that if you can only get something in one place but not in all others it has greater value and greater appeal.  It presumes that people will want it more and will pay more for it.  This notion is deeply rooted in the physical world of movie theaters—where there is only so much real estate, and where the cost of construction and maintaining a physical structure is high.

Today, movies are distributed digitally across many kinds of networks and devices that do not have those high cost constraints.  While the cost of real estate and construction is likely to go up, the cost of digital distribution inexorably goes down. We are in a world where scarcity is being replaced by ubiquity and abundance.  Yet, our minds are held hostage to beliefs that are grounded in scarcity.  These beliefs are rooted in a world bounded by the physical constraints of an older game.

This leads us to think wrongly that when this game is played, the winners will automatically push out the losers.  For example, when my film plays in a theater, there is no room for yours.  The metaphor of the Super Bowl applies here –there is a clear winner and a clear loser.  However, while the Super Bowl continues to be played in a physical space with specific rules and time constraints—movie distribution does not.  Therefore the determination of winners and losers is not so easy to make.  The game has changed.

Imagine if The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decreed that any movie could qualify for an Oscar nomination as long as it ran a certain length and premiered on any platform during the year under consideration.  Or any documentary, or any short film, animated film, etc.  They would recognize that the game has shifted from its historical physical limitations and its focus on scarcity as a determinant of value.  More movies would get to play in the game.

The focus should be on quality, wherever it resides, whoever has created it and wherever it has been shown. 

We have to get the movie theater out of our heads and find the best movie stories–wherever they play.


Posted in Distribution, Hollywood, Independent Film, Innovation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Voices of Clarity on Net Neutrality

Since the January 14 court decision that overturned the FCC’s position on net neutrality many people have held forth on the issue.  Here are three who have addressed the issue in a clear manner and added insight to a topic that is hard to understand.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, spells out in Back To The Digital Drawing Board, that:

High-speed Internet access isn’t a luxury; it is basic infrastructure, like electricity, clean water and a functioning street grid, that is essential for the free market to function.”

And therefore needs to be protected.

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist, paints a future scenario without net neutrality that chills innovation in his post, VC Pitches in a Year or Two

This is Internet 3.0. With yesterday’s court ruling saying that the FCC cannot implement the net neutrality rules they adopted a while back, this nightmare is a likely reality. Telcos will pick their preferred partners, subsidize the data costs for those apps, and make it much harder for new entrants to compete with the incumbents.”

LEAKED: The Internet Must Go,  is an entertaining film that surfaced on the Internet last fall.  Gena Konstantinakos, the director, takes a satirical approach.  The film features John Wooley, a market research employee of a cable company who sets out to prove that net neutrality is a bad idea.  Of course, he fails miserably.  It is a short, fun ride filled with information and sends up the laughable position of the cable industry.

So take a little time to check out these three voices of sanity and intelligence in the net neutrality debate. 


Posted in Cable, Innovation, Internet | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment