Can Indie Film Achieve a Network Effect?

In a recent post entitled Networks And The Enterprise, Fred Wilson explains how his firm Union Square Ventures invests in networks. He included this line.

My uber goal of writing this post is to explain that the wired and mobile internet is a global network and it powers all sorts of smaller networks to get built on top of it.

These networks connect people with each other.  Each network gains value as more users join and as each user contributes value to the network which in turn becomes available to every other user. As he points out with respect to one of their investments,

Every time a new participant in the ecosystem joins the Return Path data network, their systems and tools get smarter, making the service more valuable for everyone. That’s a classic network effect and it is very powerful.

Achieving a network effect is the holy grail within the world of technology.  The network grows in size, power and value.  Kickstarter, one of the companies funded by Union Square Ventures, is approaching this holy grail.

James Cooper has just published an ebook entitled Kickstarter for Filmmakers: Prepare and Execute Your Next Crowd Funding Campaign.

Every filmmaker who has thought even briefly about using Kickstarter or other crowd funding platforms to raise money for a film should spend the $1.99 and read it immediately.

Cooper provides an overview of the state of crowd funding for film and then uses the crowd funding campaign from his own short film Elijah the Prophet to provide examples of what worked.  He also takes the reader through the various stages of a crowd funding campaign and highlights keys to success.

What I find most remarkable is the level of detail he provides on his own campaign.  He tells us which team member brought in how many dollars through their efforts and the number of people who contributed that no one on the team knew and how much these strangers contributed. In other words, he provides complete transparency into what his team did and how they did it.

It is worth noting that Cooper has done something that is really quite unusual within the film industry.

He actually provides real numbers.  There are no approximations and no spin. He simply says here is the data and here are my conclusions from that data. And by doing so, he provides real value to all independent filmmakers.

Now I ask you to imagine, what if there was really a network of independent filmmakers who did exactly what Cooper did and then did it repeatedly over all their projects? 

I mean the kind of network that Fred Wilson suggests in his blog post.  One where every participant provides knowledge to the network that every other participant can access.

This is a model from the  technology world that needs to borrowed by the indie film world and used to transform the way indie film is created, financed, distributed and marketed.  I would also argue further that it even needs to transform the way indie film is discussed.

Primarily indie film is viewed as if it is a disparate group of individuals who battle all odds and surmount great obstacles to finally get a shot at the brass ring.  Each filmmaker is seen as the lone auteur who has climbed the mountain.  At festivals each spin their tale of triumph as they court audiences.  It makes for great copy (and is often true) but does it help move independent film forward?  I am not sure. To me, it is not sufficient. Something more needs to be done.

Independent film needs a new metaphor.

Instead of a group of disparate individuals,  indie film has to be seen as a network. One which is powered by the wired and mobile Internet.  A network with participants who add value for each other participant.  To paraphrase Fred Wilson, each participant in the ecosystem needs to help the services get smarter and therefore make it more valuable for everyone who is part of the ecosystem.

This requires transparency and the sharing of real details-by everyone.

James Cooper has created a model of how to begin.  Others need to follow his example.

Then indie film might begin to achieve a very powerful network effect.

And every independent filmmaker will benefit.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Stuart William Ross

    The model could hold promise for both independent for profit and social conscience not-for-profit films if the initial experiments are successful and crowd funders show up again or for the next producer.

    The mainstream and indie film models are so financially and largely ethically broke for investors, new and fundamental change is required.

    • chrisdorr

      Stuart, thanks for your comment. You are right about the current models needing fundamental change. And crowd funding creates a layer of transparency that hopefully will spur that change.

    • leigh

      Experimenting with new funding models with brands — clients are open but similar to film model — it’s the advertising model that is also broken with agencies trying to become filmmakers (and so they story goes, filmmakers trying to understand and get more into the advertising game as a solution).  

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  • cbh , a community of independent documentary filmmakers has been doing just this for over 10 years. It really is exactly what is described above and has over 10,000 members. 

    • chrisdorr

       cbh, Thanks for pointing this out to us.  I will check it out.

  • spoxx

    I am absolutely convinced that the power of network is what indie filmmaking is all about in a flat world.
    Shure - we all need to make real money to buy us potatoes and curds (and caffeine) - but if we are into filmmaking because we want have an impact on society - by fostering a cause, spreading an idea or “simply” by entertaining - then our ultimate goal and means is to bring people together.

    To me, social media is a very usefull tool to achieve this. We needn’t join a “club” or sign a manifest to do our networking; we simply need to communicate: And that’s our job anyhow, as filmmakers…

    But be careful, and don’t get it upside-down:
    Recently - with the growing success of networking, e.g. through crowdfunding campaigns - I’ve been reading advices from more and more people who tell you that you need to build a community if you want to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. They see networking as a means of fundraising.
    But it’s the other way around: If you run a good crowdfunding campaign, you’ll get more and more people interested in what you are doing. They will stand behind you in your endeavour to foster a cause, spread an idea or “simply” entertain.
    Fundraising serves community building - not vice versa.

    • chrisdorr

       Hi spoxx, Thanks your comment.  You are right in saying that there needs be more communication. Also, more collaboration. I think you can build a community with a Kickstarter campaign. However, I think if you are not already adept at using social media it is very difficult to start from scratch on a Kickstarter campaign and  be successful.