In this final excerpt from our upcoming edition of Selling Your Film Outside the U.S., Wendy Bernfeld of Amsterdam-based consultancy Rights Stuff talks about the current situation in Europe for independent film in the digital on demand landscape.
There have been many European platforms operating in the digital VOD space for the last 8 years or so, but recent changes to their consumer pricing structures and offerings that now include smaller foreign films, genre films and special interest fare as well as episodic content have contributed to robust growth. European consumers are now embracing transactional and subscription services , and in some cases ad-supported services, in addition to free TV, DVD and theatrical films. Many new services are being added to traditional broadcasters’ offerings and completely new companies have sprung up to take advantage of burgeoning consumer appetite for entertainment viewable anywhere, anytime and through any device they choose.
From Wendy Bernfeld’s chapter in the forthcoming Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.:
For the first decade or so of the dozen years that I’ve been working an agent, buyer, and seller in the international digital pay and VOD sector, few of the players, whether rights holders or platforms, actually made any serious money from VOD, and over the years, many platforms came and went.
However, the tables have turned significantly, and particularly for certain types of films such as mainstream theatrical features, TV shows and kids programming, VOD has been strengthening, first in English-language mainstream markets such as the United States, then in the United Kingdom, and now more recently across Europe and other foreign language international territories. While traditional revenues (eg DVD,) have dropped generally as much as 20% – 30%, VOD revenues—from cable, telecom, IPTV, etc.—have been growing, and, depending on the film and the circumstances, have sometimes not only filled that revenue gap, but exceeded it.
For smaller art house, festival, niche, or indie films, particularly overseas, though, VOD has not yet become as remunerative. This is gradually improving now in 2014 in Europe, but for these special gems, more effort for relatively less money is still required, particularly when the films do not have a recognizable/strong cast, major festival acclaim, or other wide exposure or marketing.
What type of film works and why?
Generally speaking, the telecoms and larger mainstream platforms prioritize mainstream films in English or in their local language. In Nordic and Benelux countries, and sometimes in France, platforms will accept subtitled versions, while others (like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Brazil) require local language dubs. However, some platforms, like Viewster, will accept films in English without dubbed or subtitled localized versions, and that becomes part of the deal-making process as well. This is the case, particularly for art house and festival films, where audiences are not surprised to see films in English without the availability of a localized version.
Of course, when approaching platforms in specific regions that buy indie, art house, and festival films, it is important to remember that they do tend to prioritize films in their own local language and by local filmmakers first. However, where there is no theatrical, TV exposure, or stars, but significant international festival acclaim, such as SXSW, IDFA, Berlinale, Sundance, or Tribeca, there is more appetite. We’ve also found that selling a thematic package or branded bundle under the brand of a festival, like IDFA, with whom we have worked (such as “Best of IDFA”) makes it more recognizable to consumers than the individual one-off films.
What does well: Younger (i.e., hip), drama, satire, action, futuristic, family and sci-fi themes tend to travel well, along with strong, universal, human-interest-themed docs that are faster-paced in style (like Occupy Wall Street, economic crisis, and environmental themes), rather than traditionally educational docs or those with a very local slant.
What does less well: World cinema or art house that is a bit too slow-moving or obscure, which usually finds more of a home in festival cinema environments or public TV than on commercial paid VOD services, as well as language/culture-specific humor, will not travel as well to VOD platforms.
Keep in mind that docs are widely represented in European free television, so it’s trickier to monetize one-offs in that sector, particularly on a pay-per-view basis. While SVOD or AVOD offerings (such as the European equivalents of Snagfilm.com in the US) do have some appetite, monetization is trickier, especially in the smaller, non-English regions. Very niche films such as horror, LGBTQ, etc. have their fan-based niche sites, and will be prominently positioned instead of buried there, but monetization is also more challenging for these niche films than for films whose topics are more generic, such as conspiracy, rom-com, thrillers, kids and sci-fi, which travel more easily, even in the art house sector.
However, platforms evolve, as do genres and trends in buying. Things go in waves. For example, some online platforms that were heavily active in buying indie and art house film have, at least for now, stocked up on feature films and docs. They are turning their sights to TV series in order to attract return audiences (hooked on sequential storytelling), justify continued monthly SVOD fees, and /or increase AVOD returns.
One plus these days is that conventional film platform buyers can no longer sit back with the same historic attitudes to buying or pricing as before, as they’re no longer the “only game in town” and have to be more open in their programming and buying practices. But not only the platforms have to shift their attitude.
To really see the growth in audiences and revenues in the coming year or two, filmmakers (if dealing direct) and/or their representatives (sales agents, distributors, agents) must act quickly, and start to work together where possible, to seize timing opportunities, particularly around certain countries where VOD activities are heating up. Moreover, since non-exclusive VOD revenues are cumulative and incremental, they should also take the time to balance their strategies with traditional media buys, to build relationships, construct a longer-term pipeline, and maintain realistic revenue expectations.
This may require new approaches and initiatives, drawing on DIY and shared hybrid distribution, for example, when the traditional sales agent or distributor is not as well-versed in all the digital sector, but very strong in the other media—and vice versa. Joining forces, sharing rights, or at least activities and commissions is a great route to maximize potential for all concerned. One of our mantras here at Rights Stuff is “100% of nothing is nothing.” Rights holders sitting on the rights and not exploiting them fully do not put money in your pockets or theirs, or new audiences in front of your films.
Thus, new filmmaker roles are increasingly important. Instead of sitting back or abdicating to third parties, we find the more successful filmmakers and sales reps in VOD have to be quite active in social media marketing, audience engagement, and helping fans find their films once deals are done.
To learn more about the all the new service offerings available in Europe to the savvy producer or sales agent, read Wendy’s entire chapter in the new edition of Selling Your Film Outside the US when it is released later this month. If you haven’t read our previous edition of Selling Your Film, you can find it HERE.
Sheri Candler May 15th, 2014
This week’s member profile looks at the documentary The New Black, an examination of how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights issues and homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar—the black church.
Producer Yvonne Welbon and director Yoruba Richen shared how The Film Collaborative helped them figure out the right distribution strategy for their film.
At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?
“We reached out to TFC after completing the film, about a month before we premiered at the LA Film Festival in June 2013.”
What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film? What results were achieved with TFC’s help?
“We sought a lot of advice from TFC. They were instrumental in helping us figure out our film festival strategy both domestically and internationally. To date, we have screened in over 50 film festivals around the world.
TFC was also helpful in figuring out distribution options. Orly Ravid provided consultation services in terms of figuring out the foreign market for our film. She helped us to be realistic in terms of what to expect because of the subject of our film. She was right. And each distributor who loved our film, but couldn’t distribute it, basically told us the story she prepared us to hear.
We finally received an offer and signed with Java Films. We had a limited theatrical release and the film will be broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. California Newsreel is our educational distributor and we release the film on VOD next year through Sundance Artists Services.”
Where can the film be seen now?
“The film is screening all over the country. Please check the website for more information. www.newblackfilm.com. Our broadcast debut on Independent Lens will be on June 15, 2014 at 10:30pm, following Masterpiece Theater. Also, educational institutions can buy the film from California Newsreel.”
Here is a peek at the trailer
Sheri Candler April 16th, 2014
This week’s member story focuses on how TFC helps filmmakers who request our consultation on their release. Director John Chi will also write a further guest post that goes into more detail about how his first feature film Tentacle 8 was released, but today he talks about how he discovered our organization and, through consultation with us, changed what he thought about distribution success.
At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?
JC: “Three months after we wrapped production, we had a very solid cut of the film and we were ready to start showing it to people. Casey Poh, one of our producers, immediately suggested we reach out to TFC and get their thoughts. Casey had previously met Orly Ravid when he was working at Outfest, and later approached her to serve as a consultant for his Stark Producing Graduate Thesis Project at USC.
We contacted TFC and Co-Executive Director, Jeffrey Winter, was kind enough to watch our film, and give us his thoughts. He flatly stated that we weren’t a festival film, that our subject matter wasn’t mainstream enough to be programmed, and beyond that, it was going to be a very challenging film to market. This wasn’t the reaction we expected. We heard and respected Jeffrey’s comments, but we also wanted to proceed as planned. So we signed with Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films to act as our sales representative, and began submitting to all the major film festivals.”
Did the premiere lead to any sales interest? Did you have a plan for distributing the film?
JC: “TENTACLE 8 submitted to all the major acquisition festivals (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, and Tribeca) and many of the other premier festivals (Slamdance, LAFF, and Seattle International), but we didn’t get into any of them. After nearly a year of futility, we accepted that Jeffrey Winter was right, and that we weren’t a good fit for festivals. We decided to go directly to distributors via our sales agent, and two months later, we received a few offers for domestic DVD and VOD/Digital Distribution.”
What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film?
JC: “When we realized we weren’t going to get into a major festival, we contacted TFC again to explore our distribution options. The first thing we did was scour the TFC archives to read everything we could on traditional distribution, DIY distribution, and compared the pros and cons of the two approaches, incorporating any processes that were relevant to us.
I then had a thirty minute conversation with TFC founder Orly Ravid about our prospects. She very succinctly explained that our film wasn’t mainstream enough for any distributor to really go out on a limb for us. We could bypass traditional distribution and go with a DIY approach, but we’d need to put in a lot of additional time, energy, and money with no guarantees of success; OR we could sign on with one of the traditional distributors and manage/lower our expectations. She cautioned, however, that no distributor was going to spend a lot of money or energy marketing the movie. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the importance of that warning; I just wanted to move forward.
The final decision to sign with Grand Entertainment Group, was based mainly on their long history and experience in the home entertainment business. We determined that there was just no way to get a cable tv deal or get our DVDs onto store shelves at Walmart and Best Buy without their help and prior relationships.”
Where can the film be seen now?
JC: “Our DVD was released on March 18, 2014 and sold out our initial shipments at Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon within the first 8 days of release. 8 is our lucky number!
IMDB also put us on a list of Most Popular Independent Feature Films released in 2014, based on their movie meter rankings. Pretty incredible considering we had very little press and publicity prior to our DVD release. It was based almost entirely on our small, but very loyal and dedicated base that we grew completely organically. While we are very grateful to be on any list of success stories, there are probably thousands of independents released each year that never see the light of day, which is incredibly unjust and unfair because we might have been one of those films had the ball bounced a little differently.
Our VOD/Digital release will be sometime in April or May, and we’re partnering with Tugg, Inc. to have some promotional theatrical events in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and possibly San Francisco. I ultimately realized that no one was more responsible and obligated to market and promote the film than me, the producer/director/writer of the movie. I don’t think I would have truly understood that, if someone else had been doing it for us. We never could have harnessed and cultivated the same level of ownership our audience has with the film, if we didn’t do it the old fashioned way, by personally reaching out one person at a time. It’s really hard work, but I know we’re much stronger because of it.”
To find out more about Tentacle 8, visit these websites:
Sheri Candler April 9th, 2014
Sheri Candler April 3rd, 2014
Tags: BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Bloor Cinema, Bryan Glick, Cinema Village, client, documentary, Downtown Independent, Film Festivals, I am Divine, Jeffrey Schwarz, Jeffrey Winter, membership, Roxy Theater, screening fees, Sheri Candler, SXSW, testimonial, TFC, The Film Collaborative, Wolfe Releasing
Trailer and short clip video editing is a much needed service in the independent film world, especially by lower budget filmmakers who can’t go to the bigger digital agencies and spend tens of thousands to get a trailer cut. Too often, lower budget filmmakers try to edit trailers themselves, but are too close to the material to understand that a trailer is a sales tool, not a visual synopsis.
In addition, the internet space is becoming dominated by visual material, photos and video clips. It isn’t enough to have just one trailer, multiple video pieces are now needed to enable social sharing, video channel subscription growth and capture and maintain an audience’s attention over a long period of time in the lead up to release.
While searching online for video editors that specialize in short clips and trailers, I came across a new site called Videopixie, a community of video freelancers offering post-production services at fair prices. I immediately contacted the site’s cofounder and COO, Thomas Escourrou, to find out more about how Videopixie might be the solution for independent film marketers who are long on footage, and short on money and skills to create compelling marketing videos.
How long has Video Pixie been around?
TE: “We launched in June 2013. My cofounder and I have been in the video space for a while, but the site is less than a year old. We are growing quickly with a 700 member community of video freelancers: from editors, motion designers, animators, FX specialists, to videographers and writers.”
Video material is quickly taking over the internet space. Over 100 hours of video are uploaded just to Youtube every minute and over 6 billion hours of video are watched every month. There is a lot of competition for attention so a video really has to be compelling. Is Videopixie trying to help companies, non profits and artists who don’t have the skills and expertise to create their own videos do that in an affordable and collaborative way?
TE: “Definitely! Videos are everywhere now. With mobile access and higher bandwidths, video is becoming the medium of the web. Companies make videos to announce new products. Inventors and creators make videos to crowdfund their projects. Experts make videos to teach the world. App developers and filmmakers make trailers to sell more of their apps and films. As video distribution gets easier, the stakes are shifting to video production. How to create quality video content, frequently and affordably? When there was little distribution for a short video, it was an undertaking to invest in making a video and getting it into the world. Now that video can be put out online in a global way by anyone, it is a much more worthwhile investment.”
Video is also a great medium to put a face on a company or artist or non profit. You can demonstrate what they do, bring it to life, and make an emotional connection to an entity.
TE: “Right, basically show the soul of the venture. It isn’t easy to communicate soul through text and ad copy on the web. Video is more like real life. It hits a lot of the senses; sight, hearing, and the ability to have conversations around it. The web is becoming warmer and more human through the use of video.”
There is a nonprofit video clip I saw on your site showing what they do in Africa. It was awareness building for the organization and a fundraising initiative I guess.
TE: “Yes, the Impact Network is a non-profit improving the quality of education in rural Africa through digital tools. They needed a video for their annual fundraiser, to connect with potential donors. Their staff on the ground in Zambia shot some every day footage and interviews with their iPhones. They uploaded the footage to Videopixie and had it edited for about ~$250. The editor arranged the footage to tell a compelling story, and added some simple motion graphics.
It proves that you can get solid videos without spending a fortune. Of course, higher production value projects aren’t going away! The video production market is as vibrant as ever. But with marketplaces like Videopixie, it’s now possible to find great options for a wide range of budgets.
Often times, our users ask for help with their script and storyboard in the pre-production phase and we connect them with writers and directors. Buying 1 hour of a writer’s time to jazz-up a script is well worth it.
Kickstarter videos require planning and we have freelance directors/writers on the platform who help with pre-production. Kickstarter videos also benefit from polished post-production. Here is one of our blogs with tips to make great crowdfundng videos.”
How does one get started with Video Pixie for a project? What would I need to upload? How does the system work in getting an editor interested?
TE: “To get started, just answer a few questions about your video, upload any existing footage, and post the project to the community. Freelancers engage, suggesting ideas and styles. Some create teasers from the uploaded assets, others link to relevant videos they’ve made.
You receive the first bids within a few hours and hire the freelancer you like best. Then project delivery starts using collaboration tools (real time chat, easy file transfer, reviewing tools etc). Payment happens at the end when everyone is satisfied.”
Right, I saw there is a money back guarantee so there is protection on both sides. The editor knows the money is there so they won’t get stiffed for work. And the buyer is protected in that their money isn’t paid until they sign off on the final cut.
TE: “We play an insurance role for both parties, which brings peace of mind to the users and the freelancers. Users know they’ll only pay when satisfied. And freelancers know they’ll get paid for their work.
We chime in when necessary to make sure projects are budgeted properly, and that quality standards are met.”
If I am an editor looking for extra work, how do I get started with Video Pixie?
TE: “Signing up is easy, there is a link at the bottom of the home page. We require reels and a list of skill sets. Within minutes you can browse available projects and you’ll start receiving email notifications when new projects are posted.
You can ask questions directly to the clients from the real-time chat. You submit bids for projects you are interested in. If you have relevant reels then great – just attach those to your bid – or you have the option to create a teaser (using the project’s footage which we make available in SD for faster download in the bidding phase).”
When you say bid, do you mean you offer to do a project for a certain amount of money? Is it by the hour, by the project?
TE: “It is by the project, not an hourly rate. Editors have access to the database of projects that includes a brief, the asset list, and the budget range. They can quickly scan through and see what is involved in the project and how many others are also interested in bidding. If a lot of people are bidding, it might not be attractive to submit something. “
What is the typical turn around time on an edited piece?
TE: “It depends on the scope of what needs to be done. It could be just a few hours for very simple, scripted clips. Many of our users make videos every week, so they know exactly what to submit and what they want. For projects that need more creativity and back and forth, it could be one to two weeks.”
In uploading assets, how long can the footage be? A trailer for a feature film would involve uploading a 90 minute film.
TE: “There is no size limit. Uploading 200 GB of footage is no problem on a fast connection. We built an HTML5 resumable uploader called Evaporate JS. It works straight from the browser, no plugin. It’s free, and takes full advantage of your connection speed.
Uploading is the recommended workflow for most projects. Shipping hard-drives is also an option, and it is sometimes needed. For example, if the director wants the trailer cut from TeraBytes of uncompressed footage (eg. DPX , open EXR). In that case we still recommend to upload at least some footage so that interested editors can make teasers for you in the bidding period.
With the easy upload, you get a notification that it went through. We also have a notification system that alerts you when input is requested from either party. There is also a real time chat feature that gives a better sense of what it would be like to be in the editing suite with the person working on the project. We are also working on in-timeline commenting, so instead of making note of the timestamp to make comments on a certain aspect of the edit (make a hard cut or transition here, or insert a different image, or whatever), you can leave a comment within the timeline edit and the editor can bring those comments right into their editing suite, instead of searching through email or message communication. This is our next improvement.
It may be that you don’t upload the full hi res footage. Maybe you want to do proxy edits where you upload SD footage and editor works off of that to get the final cut. Then you would take that trailer file into your own editing system and render the high definition trailer on your own system. This is a process for a more advanced person who just needs help formulating a good edit.”
Besides non profit videos, weddings, music videos, what other kinds of videos have been made through Videopixie?
TE: “Hundreds of videos have been made on Videopixie since launch: Kickstarter videos, animated explainers for start-ups, Udemy course videos, game trailers, movie trailers, sizzle reels for TV shows. Here is a link to recent examples: www.videopixie.com/happy-new-year
Some projects are straight forward, others involve tons of footage, creative scripts, motion graphics, FX, color grading, animations.
We also have started doing a lot of work with Youtubers. We created a partnership with a multi channel network (MCN) called Fullscreen. Videopixie serves as a post production house for their network of Youtube channels to get shows edited and make motion graphic logos or intro or bumper pieces to make the videos unique.”
This would be great for independent filmmakers who want to make audience testimonials as people come out of a screening or on set video for crowdfund backers. There are all kinds of things a production shoots, but never finds time to edit.
TE: “Yes, the goal is to make video production easier and possible for a wide range of budgets. So people can create quality video content frequently with economics that make sense.
Audience testimonials are a no brainer, they are very compelling and cost very little to make. Just film, upload the footage, and get a finished video back for under $150 a day later to post on your FB page.”
Also, films need more video content than just a trailer. In the months leading up to release, many short clips need to be created and released at regular intervals to keep an audience’s attention and enable them to share these videos on their own channels. Every filmmaker and distributor wants buzz for their films, but they need to enable people to share material with their friends and widen that buzz.
TE: “We also see this trend in the video game industry. It used to be about one big trailer for the game, but now the most successful games are creating new videos every month in lead up to release and well after. It is important to find a workflow for creating this content that doesn’t become burdensome.”
Videos can be used to bring critical moments in the production of a film to life for its audience, in near real time. Why only shoot on set for the special features when you could share a critical moment on the set from this morning or this week? This is a great way to keep backers of a crowdfunding campaign up to date on how their donation is working to create a project. Having an on demand editing service that is affordable and quick keeps the production from having a backlog of shot footage that no one is in charge of editing.
Videopixie takes a 10% fee for facilitating the editing project. If you plan to have a regular schedule of videos that need to be edited, many of the editors will offer a bulk discount for repeat customers.
As already stated, there is a money back guarantee for your satisfaction. If you are unhappy with the work of the editor you chose, Videopixie either will pay to have another editor re edit your piece or release your money from escrow and return it to you.
There is a full FAQ section on the site as well as some sample work. Before you sit down at the editing console and struggle for the right cut, consider spending a little bit to get a professional’s time and experience instead. In fact Videopixie is giving $100 credits to the first 20 readers who start a project. Make the perfect trailer or compelling short video clips for your film with the community on Videopixie.
Sheri Candler March 20th, 2014
You may remember that I profiled a new digital distributor last year called Devolver Digital who was adding independent films to their existing line up of video games. Yesterday, Devolver announced a new initiative with the folks at Humble Bundle and VHX to release the “Devolver Digital Double Debut” Bundle, a package that includes five games both classic and new and the new documentary Good Game profiling the professional gaming lives of the world-renown Evil Geniuses clan as well as other films on the VHX platform. Proceeds from the bundle benefit the Brandon Boyer Cancer Treatment Relief Fund as well as The Film Collaborative.
You may remember, we are a registered 501c3 non profit dedicated to helping creators preserve their rights in order to be the main beneficiary of their work. We plan to use our portion of the proceeds to fund the new edition of our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul which will be given away totally free upon its publication. If you’ve ever benefited from our advice, our speaking or our written posts, now is the opportunity to give us support in expanding even more of your knowledge as well as help Brandon Boyer, chairman of the Independent Games Festival (IGF), to help with his astronomical medical bills for cancer treatment.
You can find the Bundle here https://www.humblebundle.com/
It is just this kind of out of the box thinking we love and we couldn’t wait to be involved.
As a follow up to last year’s piece, I asked Devolver Digital founder, Mike Wilson, to fill me in on how the company has ramped up and what this initiative means to gamers, to filmmakers and to the non profits involved.
In the year since Devolver Digital started, how has your games audience transitioned into an audience for the films you handle?
MW: “When we announced the start the Films branch of Devolver Digital last SXSW, we did so for a few reasons. The first was seeing an opening to create a more publishing-like digital distributor for micro-indies. Curation, promotion, transparency, versus what we perceived as the status quo in the VOD distribution space where films were uploaded in bulk and they hope for the best.
One of the biggest reasons, though, was the knowledge that the biggest games platforms that we do 95% of our (very healthy) digital distribution business with on the games side were going to be moving to start delivering films this year. Those platforms are still not very active in the film space, aside from Games/Movies bundle with Humble Bundle that just kicked off. But they are coming, so we’ll know more about how much we are able to turn the indie game-loving audience onto indie films from the fest circuit a little later this year. Our hopes remain high, as these are people who consume an inordinate amount of digital media, are very comfortable with digital distribution and watching films on their computers, and they have a community around independent content from small teams around the world like nothing we’ve seen on the film side. It’s more akin to music fans, turning friends on to great bands they’ve never heard of, and gaining their own cred for unearthing these gems. THIS is what we hope to finally bring to the independent film space, along with these much more sophisticated platforms in terms of merchandising digital content.”
Where are you seeing the greatest revenues from? Cable VOD, online digital, theatrical? Even if one is a considered a loss leader, such as theatrical typically, does it make sense to keep that window?
MW: “We just started releasing films on cable VOD in the Fall, and most of that content didn’t hit digital until recently, so the jury is still a bit out. We are now able to do day-and-date releasing on all platforms as well. We have done limited theatrical, purely as a PR spend on a couple of our strongest releases, and that has been very successful in terms of getting press the films never would have gotten otherwise, but of course it does cost some money and it’s just an investment in the VOD future of the films. There is still no hope of breaking even on a theatrical run for indies as far as we can tell… but at least the cost to entry has gone down and will hopefully continue to do so. For now, we still expect cable and iTunes to be our best performers, until the games platforms start delivering.”
What lead to this recent initiative through Humble Bundle and VHX? Have you partnered with them before?
MW: “Humble Bundle has been a miraculous success on the indie games side. We do bundles with them as often as possible. The key was getting them and VHX to work together, as we needed a high-quality, low-cost streaming solution to deliver what we expect to be hundreds of thousands of ‘keys’ purchased in these bundles.
VHX is pretty forward thinking on this front, again watching the games platforms carefully, and has come up with an elegant solution that works. We have been asking Humble to let us do a movies bundle for at least six months now, since we’ve had such success with them on the games side. They decided that this games+movies bundle would make for a stronger segue. They have delivered other types of media before such as music, soundtracks, audio books, and comedy records, none of which has had anywhere near the attach rate of their games bundles, but are still quite successful when compared to other digital options for those businesses. We expect films to do better than any of these other ancillary avenues they’ve tried.”
What is the split for all involved? There are several entities sharing in this Pay What You Want scenario, so is this mainly to bring awareness and publicity for all involved or is revenue typically significant?
MW: “In this particular bundle, since all the games and films are roughly $10 values, we’ve split it equally. So you have 10 artists splitting what will probably average out at $5 or $6 bucks a ‘bundle.’ But the volume will be so high, we still expect each of these filmmakers to make more money in these 10 days than they will likely make on their entire iTunes run.
And, TONS of new people watching their movies who would never have found it otherwise, which as a filmmaker, I know counts for as much as the money. I’d personally much rather have my film (and one of the films in the bundle is the last one I produced) in a bundle like this than shoveled onto subscription based VOD, and I know it’ll make more money and get more views.” [editor’s note: Those purchasing the bundle get to choose how the contribution is split between Devolver, Humble Bundle and the charitable contributions.]
Why did you decide to include a donation aspect to the Bundle? Is that an incentive to pay a higher price for the bundle?
MW: “Humble is committed to supporting charities with their platform. It’s part of the magic (other than the tremendous value) that makes their 4 million + regular customers feel really good about taking their chances on games (and other media) they’ve never heard of.
From Devolver’s standpoint, our last weekly games bundle on Humble resulted in nearly $150k for charity in addition to our developers all making a nice payday. It’s a miracle of a win-win-win. In this case, hopefully a lot of filmmakers will feel compelled to try this method out since it’s new, an incredible value, and will support TFC, who have helped so many filmmakers learn to navigate these murky waters. And there’s a very local, very specific cause on the games side, helping a champion of Indie Games like Brandon Boyer overcome his devastating personal situation of fighting cancer while battling mounting medical bills. It just feels good, and this is a big reason Devolver is such a fan of Humble Bundle.”
We can’t think of a better situation than contributing money to receive fantastic games and films while helping those who enable the creators to reach new audiences, keep rights control of their work and celebrate their creativity. Check out the Devolver Digital Double Debut on the Humble Bundle site. We thank Devolver, Humble Bundle and VHX for allowing us to partner with them on this initiative.
Sheri Candler March 7th, 2014
Tags: Brandon Boyer, cancer, Devolver Digital, Devolver Digital Double Debut, documentary, Evil Geniuses, Good Game, Humble Bundle, independent film, Independent Games Festival, iTunes, Mike Wilson, non profit, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, Sheri Candler, The Film Collaborative, theatrical distribution, VHX, video games, VOD
There is a lot of talk in independent film circles about the need to “eventize” the cinematic experience. The thought is that audiences are increasingly satisfied with viewing films and other video material on their private devices whenever their schedule permits and the need to leave the house to go to a separate place to watch is becoming an outdated notion, especially for younger audiences. But making your work an event that can only be experienced in a live setting is something few creators are exploring at the moment. Sure, some filmmakers and distributors are adding live Q&As with the director or cast, sometimes in person and sometimes via Skype; discussion panels with local organizations are often included with documentary screenings; and sometimes live musical performances are included featuring the musicians on the film’s soundtrack, but what about work that can ONLY be enjoyed as a live experience? Work that will never appear on DVD or digital outlets? Not only is there an artistic reason for creating such work, but there can be a business reason as well.
In reading a New York Times piece entitled “The one filmmaker who doesn’t want a distribution deal” about the Sundance premiere of Sam Green’s live documentary The Measure of All Things, I was curious to find out why a filmmaker would say he never plans for this work to show on streaming outlets like Netflix, only as a live event piece. I contacted Sam Green and he was kind enough to share his thoughts about why he likes creating for and participating with the audience of his work and why the economics of this form could be much more lucrative for documentary filmmakers.
The Measure of All Things is a live documentary experience to be screened with in-person narration and a live soundtrack provided by the chamber group yMusic. It is loosely inspired by the Guinness Book of Records and weaves together a series of portraits of record-holding people, places, and things, including the tallest man (7 feet 9 inches), the oldest living thing (a 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pine in Southern California), the man struck by lightning the most times (seven!), the oldest living person (116), and the woman with the world’s longest name, among others. This is the third such work Green has made to be viewed in this way; 2012’s The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller featured live music from Yo La Tengo and 2010’s Utopia in Four Movements with musical accompaniment by Dave Cerf were his previous works.
What draws you to your subjects?
SG: “I guess all of them have come out of curiosity. Ever since I was a kid I have been curious about things almost to the point of becoming obsessed. I am still the same, but now I’m making movies out of it. I obsessively research and look into things and sometimes that just goes nowhere, but occasionally it has turned into a movie and that is where they all have come from.
I don’t look at this in a strategic way. I don’t sit and think about what kind of project I could raise a lot of money for, or what would make a successful film. In some ways, I wish I did do that, but really I just make films that I would want to see.”
How do you tell if it will be a live performance piece or just a screen based piece? Does it have anything to do with being a performer?
SG: “I do both, but I am most inspired by the live stuff at the moment. For political and aesthetic and economic reasons, that form inspires me a lot these days so when I am making longer things, I work to make it a live cinematic event. I kind of backed into this form. It is an odd form. I’d never heard of people doing live documentaries. I stumbled into it and learned that I liked it, but it is a huge challenge for me. I am not a performer. Like most documentary filmmakers, I am a shy person and much more comfortable behind the camera. Part of why I like it is it is scary…scary as hell! But I’m learning a lot. I don’t want to keep making the same kind of movie over and over again.”
How do you usually collaborate with musicians for these works? How do you find them and what is the process of how you work?
SG: “To find people to work with, I just look at people whose work I love a lot. I have always been a big fan of Yo La Tengo, and I saw them do a night of music to a work by a French filmmaker called Jean Painlevé [Science is Fiction] and it was one of the best film viewing experiences I ever had. I was in the audience at one of the shows. I loved their sense of cinematic music so I asked if they would work with me on the Buckminster Fuller piece.
It is the same with yMusic, I saw them at Carnegie Hall and they have such a fantastic, huge, epic sound and I really wanted something like that for this piece. I got in touch and we worked something out.
The way I work with the musicians is like any film/music collaboration. A lot of back and forth, I shoot some video and they make some music and I adjust the video and write some voice over. It is just cobbling the whole thing together in an organic way.”
What are the challenges to taking your film on the road and performing night after night? It is like touring with a band.
SG: “The first live performance movie I made was Utopia in Four Movements. I was very pleasantly surprised how much we screened it. We screened it all over the world for several years after it was released. The challenge is you have to go to every screening and do the performance and it is a lot of work and time, but I actually love that. I am a filmmaker who likes to be around when the audience is watching and talking to them afterwards. Some filmmakers don’t, they want to go off and make another movie. But I like the distribution process, the challenge of distribution. I was never in a band as a teenager, so this is probably as close as I will get.
People often ask me at screenings, ‘Why not put this online and hundreds of thousands of people would see it? When you’re touring, maybe only a few thousand people will see it.’ And that’s true, but if you look at the most viewed clips on Youtube, most of them are super dumb. People view things online in a totally throw away manner. I am more interested in smaller numbers of people actually having a more meaningful experience through my work. It is a trade off I don’t mind, actually.”
Is it fair to say that these are more art pieces than films that have revenue potential?
SG: “No, and this is why I am happy to talk to you about the distribution part of my work. The film distribution business is in total flux. Everyone is trying to figure out how to survive, how to make money, in the new paradigm we are in. The truth is most people don’t. I know many documentary filmmakers whose films are out there, they have distribution deals, and they make no money whatsoever.
Although this was not my reason for creating my documentaries like this, I found that I make way more money on these live performances than I would make if these were traditional movies. The performance world still has an intact economy. If you go see a dance performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or the RedCat in LA, those performers get a performance fee that is pretty significant. They can get $10,000 to do a show. That is pretty standard performance fee.
The film distribution world has imploded largely because of the digital world. Everything is online, consumers are getting used to seeing things for free or very low cost. The bottom has really fallen out of the revenue. But that hasn’t happened to the performance world because there is no real digital equivalent to seeing a live performance. It is possible for a filmmaker to access this performance world. A lot of the shows I do are in the performance world; in museums and performing arts centers. The fees they pay are significant. I soon realized this is a much more viable way for me to distribute work.
I am guided by art and not primarily by financial considerations, but I also think filmmakers and artists should put their work out in a way in which they get something back from that. Artists should be compensated for their work and I am pained by the fact that many filmmakers make no money off of their films. Their films may get out there, but they don’t make any money from that. I am happy to have figured out a way to get my work out there and make money from it.
The film world is a few years behind the music world in terms of changes. The music world has already gone through all of this. Unless you are Miley Cyrus, you have to tour to make money as a musician. Not much is going to be made from downloads. I think the film world is also heading that direction and for me, this is a solution.”
How do your screening fees usually work? Is it a flat fee or a cut of revenue?
SG: “I screen these pieces in 3 different contexts. One is in the film context. I screen them at film festivals and we work out some screening fee amount. Festivals are strapped and so I negotiate on the fee.
The second is in a performance context. Say it is in a museum, they pay a flat fee and that has nothing to do with tickets sold. But I do work hard with the venue to sell tickets. I like to promote the screenings and I want them to do ok with the event.
The third way is in the context of the rock music world. The last piece I did was in collaboration with Yo La Tengo and we’ve done some rock concerts. When dealing with rock promoters, it is often pegged to how many tickets are sold. Those end up not being as good of a deal. Rock promoters are good at making money for themselves and their split is not very advantageous to the artist.”
Do you do these bookings yourself or through an agent?
SG: “I do book a lot myself. But I also work with Tommy Kriegsmann at ArKtype They book many performance people.”
Since a lot of your documentary performance depends on a written script, how is that different from making the traditional documentary with talking heads and maybe a little narration? Yours has a lot of narration.
SG: “The process is in a lot of ways still like making a film. You have an idea, you shoot a bunch of things, it turns out not to be quite what you thought, so you adjust and you start editing. I kind of edit and write voice over together. I’m a big fan of editing and doing many, many cuts to hone the piece. It is the same process one would do on an essay film.
But one thing about this form of film is you never really know what works until you show it to an audience. Only then can you tell whether people are engaged and when they’re not, you can feel it. So when you feel what works and what doesn’t, you can still make changes. We did our premiere for The Measure of All Things at Sundance a few weeks ago and now I have a million ideas of what I want to tweak. I think where I could change a line or put a pause and I can continue to work on it which is really fun and exciting. It allows me to really hone in on things in a way I couldn’t do with a normal film. You’re kind of done after you edit.”
Does that allow for you to change it from performance to performance for different audiences?
SG: “For the Buckminster Fuller piece, I did change things wherever we did it. Fuller did stuff everywhere so when we had some shows in London…he spoke there many, many times and he inspired some British architects so I worked all that into the piece. I can change it each time and that is part of the fun of it, it is a very fluid form.
The piece is in a Keynote file. I take still images and Quicktime video and put them in Keynote so I can go through and change things, swap out things. It is totally ephemeral.”
How do you fund your work? Do you get grants, investors, I saw that you recently did a campaign on Kickstarter?
SG: “It is a combination. Like any filmmaker, I am hustling. With this I got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. They have a multi-disciplinary grant and this project is a combination of film and performance. Some foundations have given me grants and some individuals and I did a Kickstarter campaign“
How was running that campaign? In one of your backer updates you said you weren’t sure about raising the money this way, which is a sentiment a lot of filmmakers who have been around for a while have expressed. How do you think it worked out and will you ever do that again?
SG: “That experience changed my feeling about Kickstarter and crowdfunding. I had been pretty grumpy about it because as a filmmaker I get TONS of campaign solicitations, you probably get them too. I felt bitter about that. Is this the level we’ve been reduced to as filmmakers, as artists? We are now funding our work by hitting up all of our friends? And the corollary to that is if I did give money to everyone who asks me, I’d be homeless. There was something that depressed me about the whole state of affairs.
One thing I had always heard people say, and I thought this was really just lip service, is there are a lot of people out there who want to be part of your work. For them, it isn’t a burden, they aren’t doing it out of charity or guilt or obligation. They are excited to be part of what you are doing. I had never taken that sentiment seriously. I always thought, ‘Wow I’m besieged by these campaigns and this sucks.’ But there are a lot of people who are not getting hit up by other filmmakers all the time and, for them, it is a way to help you get your work out into the world and be part of what you do.
I was struck during my campaign by the fact that this is TRUE. I was actually very moved by how many people responded and were so generous. It did change the way I think about it.
I would definitely do it again. I might do some things differently, like I wouldn’t do it when I was trying to finish the film. That was hard trying to finish the film and run a Kickstarter campaign at the same time. It just requires a lot of work.”
I noticed you have an ecommerce aspect to your website where you sell DVDs and streams for some of your other work. Do you purposely try to retain the right to distribute on your own?
SG: “Hell yeah, I’ve been doing that for a while. I’m not like a luddite. I love the internet and the way you can reach people all over the world. I made this movie about Esperanto called The Universal Language. There are people all over the world that still speak it. How would one reach people all over the world to see the movie? Without the internet and streaming, it would be impossible. I have a place on my site where people can pay $4.99 to watch it. That happens all the time and I think being able to use the internet to get work out there is fantastic.
Distribution is a trade off. With my film The Weather Underground, I had a terrific experience with distribution. The theatrical distributor was fantastic. The DVD people we worked with were great. I have nothing but good things to say about that. The truth is you give up money, but someone else is doing the work. So, in that sense, it can be a good deal.
But now, especially with people who want to distribute online, signing with a distributor who is going to tie up your rights, you often won’t make money from that. I am a big believer in either reserving some rights or making companies pay an advance if they are serious about distributing for you online. A lot of companies now are not paying anything up front and that means they don’t have an incentive to do a lot with the work.”
Green wanted to make it clear that he is not the only filmmaker creating live experience work. “I never want to give the impression that I am the only person out there doing this. There’s Brent Green, Jem Cohen, Travis Wilkerson. I was also very inspired by Guy Madden’s Brand upon the Brain. It had an orchestra and live foley and, when I saw it, Isabella Rossellini was narrating it and it was a such a great live cinematic event.”
Perhaps this has inspired some of you to rethink the cinematic form for your work. You have to be open to creating a live experience, putting yourself physically out there and screening in venues that are not specifically dedicated to filmed entertainment. But from an artistic and economic standpoint, these creations could be very fulfilling and lucrative.
The Measure of All Things is now booking screenings for 2014. Love Song for R. Buckminster Fuller is still on tour with upcoming screenings in Miami and Austin, TX. Sign up to Sam Green’s email list to stay updated on the screenings.
Sheri Candler February 12th, 2014
Tags: ArKtype, Brand on the Brain, Brent Green, documentary, event cinema, film distribution, Guy Madden, independent film, Isabella Rossellini, Jean Painleve, Jem Cohen, Kickstarter, live documentary, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Times, R. Buckminster Fuller, Sam Green, Sundance Film Festival, The Measure of All Things, The Universal Language, The Weather Underground, theatrical distribution, Tommy Kriegsmann, Travis Wilkerson, Utopia in Four Movements, yMusic, Yo La Tengo