By lance weiler, August 31st, 2008

This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix – Hunter Weeks left a cubical job to embark on a filmmaking career and within a three years has completed two documentaries and is in post on a third. One of the core elements of his strategy is to mix a DIY production and distribution approach with a variety of promotional partners. Hunter and Josh Caldwell his producing partner, have structured numerous partnerships with brands that have created funds for production, post and distribution. In our discussion Hunter shares how he crafts his sponsorship / promotional deals, why he’s bypassing the festival circuit and how his newest doc 10 yards is being released for free online prior to hitting DVD on Sept. 30th.

For more on Hunter and 10 yards visit www.10yards.com

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lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, July 21st, 2008

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This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix and Breakthrough Distribution – Inventing the Movies is a new book by Scott Kirsner that details Hollywood’s epic battle between innovation and the status quo. Scott joins us for a discussion about cinema’s past, present and future. Of particular note for filmmakers is a discussion around the pull economy / attention economy and how building and maintaining audiences is going to be the future of independent filmmaking.

For more on Scott visit www.cinematech.blogspot.com

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To buy a copy of the book:
Paperback edition
PDF/E-book edition

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Posted in animation audience audio biz deals delivery development digital downloads discovery discussion distro diy education experiment funds interview online podcast production resource tech theatrical tools

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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  • POLLINATE: The Film & The Roller-Coaster Ride – Part 2
    By Lisa SalemThis is the second of four posts covering the film BLACK GOLD – a social-issue driven documentary co-produced/directed by brothers Marc and Nick Francis. The film joins the dots between coffee consumption in the west and coffee production in developing countries. As I said last week, BLACK GOLD is remarkable because of the tangible social impact it has… read more
By lance weiler, June 18th, 2008

Timo Vuorensola is a filmmaker who has fully embraced the concept of crowdsourcing. After the success of his last feature film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning which has been downloaded over 8 million times, Timo and his team created a platform to help others crowdsource their movies.

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WB: Can you explain Space Wreck and how the audience played a role in the film?

TV: Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was a huge collaborative effort made by a core group of 5 people, and a community of about 3000 volunteers from around the world, during the years 1998-2005, in a small country of Finland, with the help of Internet.

We started working on a film with only a little knowledge in how to actually make a feature-length film. Luckily we had a small base of a community, thanks to our earlier Star Wreck -episodes (mainly short animations), who were very eager to help us out. Without thinking too much, we started to ask for help from the community, which proved pretty soon to be a very good resource base, whatever was our need – when we wanted people to help us out with the script, when we needed actors, when we needed 3d-models, and later when we needed publicity, subtitles & all that type of things.

WB: What is the concept behind Wreck a Movie and what lead to its creation?

TV: The idea was when we started working on our next film, Iron Sky, that we wanted to do the film in many ways the same way as Star Wreck – by having the community joining the production. We realized, that what we did with Star Wreck, communicating via email, forums, ICQ, MSN, IRC and other stuff like that was OK, but pretty inefficient. So we wanted to build a platform that would support what we called ‘collaborative film production’ for Iron Sky, and started to design one.

Obviously none of us knew anything about coding or anything, but we had a good understanding on how the community works, and what makes it tick – we’ve always had this kind of intuition. So we gathered some money, hired some coders and started to build the platform.

Few years later we now have a good Alpha of the system up and running, and it’s already working the way I’ve always wanted it to work: it activates people, gets a lot of good input, and strengthens the community around the film.

WB: Looking forward what type of role do audiences play in the process of creating and distributing films?

TV: I would say there’s a lot of roles that the community can either fill or be helping with. Personally, I wouldn’t think about writing the script collaboratively, or trying to find some solutions on collaborative directing, but I think on pre-production and post production the community can be a very effective help, and later on on getting the message across the Internet, it’s most valuable.

WB: Do you think audiences are looking for a richer experience with their entertainement and if so what have you personally seen that shows this?

TV: I’d say that the media consuming habits are changing and adjusting to the fact that Internet is around, and the people want to have a more personal experience with the media. Thus, the most personal experience with media is actually to create or join the creation of the media itself.

WB: What is next for you?

TV: Right now we are working on a film production called Iron Sky, which tells a story about Nazis that went to the Moon in 1945, and now, it’s 2018, and they are returning to earth. It’s the first film on WreckAMovie, with another finnish film, a horror flick called Sauna. We are opening Wreck A Movie for outside productions slowly during this year. I’m also working on few very early ideas for some films, and going around the world to talk about WAM and our stuff etc.

Iron Sky trailer:

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Posted in audience crowdsourced development digital downloads distro diy narrative production vidsocial

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, May 13th, 2008

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This edition of TCIBR is brought to you by IndieFlix and Breakthrough Distribution – Our guest today is Ondi Timoner writer / director of the critically acclaimed doc DiG. Ondi’s most recent film, Join US is an intimate look at cults and mind control. Over the course of the discussion Ondi was very candid about the distribution of both her films and how the landscape for Docs has changed in the four years since DiG was acquired at Sundance.



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Posted in audience audio biz community deals digital downloads discovery distro diy doc dvd featureVid festivals funds interview podcast promotion resource theatrical

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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By lance weiler, March 13th, 2008

For anyone who isn’t reading Brian Chirls’ blog you are missing out on a valuable resource. He’s a self professed Indie Nerd Filmmaker (Director, Distributor, Technologist) with a unique perspective on the emerging digital DIY movement. In addition to contributing to the Workbook Project he is also the Head of Theatrical for From Here to Awesome.

by Brian Chirls – Here at SXSW, I’ve met a number of cool, smart, ambitious filmmakers, some of whom even have great films. Even as I attend premieres and parties that fit the fantasy, the sad reality of distribution prospects for the films is all too evident. That’s why I’m working with the From Here to Awesome team to build a strong case for DIY distribution. Maybe, rather than drag filmmakers kicking and screaming, we can see a DIY distribution as a positive opportunity.

Inspired by our roundtable discussion, I pulled out a couple of old distribution contracts I had and took them apart to look for the value that the distributors brought to the table in exchange for the rights granted. A typical distribution deal will offer the following:

  • Physical distribution
  • Cutting the deal
  • Promotion
  • Cash advance and/or minimum guarantee

If we can understand what this value is, we can evaluate whether these distribution deals are the best option. Here is a look at what each of those means and which rights and costs to the filmmaker are associated with each service.

Physical distribution

Getting your film (and soundtrack, posters, t-shirts, etc.) to an audience is a clearly necessary and valuable service. It includes replicating and shipping DVDs and placing them in stores (online and offline); theaters and film prints or digital cinema; and digital download or streaming services. Most of the above services are commodities, in that there are many competitive companies from which a filmmaker or distributor can choose, so prices tend to be reasonably close to the actual cost of time and materials. For physical distribution, the filmmaker often pays either a fixed fee or a small percentage of revenues. Exclusivity is almost never required, and contract terms are for short periods of time.

DVD replication is a great example. Depending on volume, you can pay about a dollar or two per DVD. Shipping costs are fixed, as is the amount per unit that a retailer will usually pay. Download services are not quite there yet as far as deal terms. ITunes is pretty good, passing along 70% of gross revenues, though you have to go through an aggregator, who will take their own small cut. (See the next section.) Other download services have yet to come on board with reasonable terms. It is fair for a download contract to lock you in for a certain amount of time to cover encoding costs, but those costs are always falling and terms should become shorter. (The term should be somewhere from zero to no more than three years, but about one year is fair.)

Cutting the deal

Unfortunately, many distribution platforms won’t work directly with filmmakers, so you need someone to close the deal for you. This could include a lawyer to double-check your contracts. Again, iTunes is one such example; they require that you go through an aggregator, though it’s very possible that they’ll eventually drop that requirement as they learn how to scale the acquisition process. Think of these people as agents, whose services might be worth about 10%.

Promotion

Promotion is perhaps the most illusive and tricky of all the value points distributors will claim to offer. They will often incur costs for advertising, though incurring cost is not the same as providing value. Unless you have the kind of movie that is well represented by newspaper ads, billboards and trailers on television, a distributor is not likely going to know better how to promote your movie than you do. To look at it another way, you can spend $30,000 (guesstimate) on a quarter page ad in the New York Times. For a truly independent film, that might bring ten or twenty people to a screening. (For Four Eyed Monsters, it brought one.) Now, imagine what you could do spending the same $30k on a web video series, where your audience can subscribe and interact repeatedly directly on your website.

Promotion is particularly nasty because it’s the primary reason for someone to demand exclusivity. The idea is that if a theatrical distributor pays for a newspaper ad, someone might see that ad and then buy a DVD instead of going to the theater. So they need to not only get a cut of that DVD but also determine how and when you can sell that DVD. You can get around exclusivity by working with companies that don’t do much or any promotion, though there are many that will claim that they promote your work but don’t really. A buried listing on a website or in a catalogue is not sufficient promotion to justify exclusivity. You may want to offer very limited exclusivity (e.g. on a given platform for 30 days) in exchange for a great promotion or placement opportunity.

Cash advance

At the point that a film is picture locked and ready to screen, filmmakers often find themselves desperate to make a deal that will cover their budget. Such desperation gives any source of said cash undue negotiating power, and the whole situation should be preventable by preparing distribution funding in advance. Consider that a distributor’s advance/minimum guarantee is simply time-shifting of money and sharing of risk. It happens that these are the exact services that financial institutions and equity investors provide. So why would you go to a movie company for financial services instead of to a financial services provider?

Typically, before shooting a single frame, a filmmaker will raise money from one or more investors – perhaps private equity (like a dentist uncle), from a production company or by credit card. At that point, the investor is taking on a great deal of risk and will expect an accordingly high share of the profits. Maybe the film will stink; maybe the production will go catastrophically over budget; or maybe the director will get hit by a bus. But once the film is completed, much of that risk has dissipated. The movie has been delivered, and maybe it’s even pretty good. Any further investment from then on should take significantly less ownership, corresponding to the lower risk.

Given an investor-filmmaker relationship that has been successful enough to make it to picture lock, a filmmaker might be best served to return to the original investor(s) to fund delivery and distribution until revenues start coming in from box office, retail, etc. Better yet, one might prepare a business plan to receive a first round of production funding with a high-risk return, followed by a second round of distribution funding at a pre-determined lower return rate once the picture lock milestone has been reached. This is no different from how start-up companies prepare for venture funding.

Build vs. Buy

Whatever resources I need for a film project, I’m always asking myself whether to build or to buy. I look at the costs and benefits of hiring another company provide a service for me, compared with the costs and benefits of putting together the resources to do it myself. Once you break down the real costs and added value of any distribution or other deal, you can determine at each step whether you really need someone else to do it for you. Depending on what you find out, a distributor may be the best way to go, or maybe it’s just better to DIY.

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Brian Chirls is a filmmaker and technologist in New York. He has worked on the film Four Eyed Monsters as Manager of Distribution and Marketing. Brian is currently consulting on the distribution of John Sayles’s latest film, Honeydripper, while continuing to develop and write about ways for independent artists to create and distribute their work. Brian has also produced and directed a number of short films, video blogs and a bit of machinima.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Brian built financial software and worked in construction management on subway stations and highways. He graduated from the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology at the University of Pennsylvania and is the least successful member of his graduating class.

To learn more about Brian’s work, see chirls.com.

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Posted in BTS audience biz community content deals delivery digital downloads discovery distro diy doc dvd pov tech theatrical tools tv vid web 2.0

lance weiler is the founder of the WorkBook Project and also a story architect of film, tv and games. He's written and directed two feature films THE LAST BROADCAST and HEAD TRAUMA. He's currently developing a number of transmedia projects

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