By lance weiler, July 29th, 2008

Over the next few days we’ll be posting various videos from the DIY DAYS LA event. The day consisted of a number of keynotes (Robert Greenwald, Marshall Herskovitz), panels (Tommy Pallotta, Femke Wolting, Alex Johnson, Micki Krimmel, Mark Stolaroff, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks, Saskia Wilson-Brown), case studies (M dot Strange, Arin Crumley, Lance Weiler), a series of special video presentations (Matt Hanson, Brett Gaylor, Brian Chirls, Christy Dena, Timo Vuorensola) and a conversation with director Mark Pellington.

diy days M dot Strange, Hunter Weeks and Ondi Timoner – photo by Mike Hedge

The Realities of DIY
There’s been much discussion about the democratization of the tools but what’s really involved in taking your film from a concept to something an audience will pay to see? How can you fight your way through the clutter and what are the pitfalls to avoid when you decide to go it on your own?

Discussion Leader: Mark Stolaroff – panelists Arin Crumley, Ondi Timoner, Hunter Weeks and M dot Strange.

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Posted in BTS DIYDays animation audience biz case study deals discussion distro diy doc dvd education event festivals funds how to narrative online panel podcast producing production promotion resource sponsorship tech theatrical tools tv 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

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 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.


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

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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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By lance weiler, March 11th, 2008

Power to the Pixel is a conference that focuses on funding, producing and distributing films in the digital age. The next edition of PTTP will be held in Paris this coming June. Liz Rosenthal the founder of PTTP was kind of enough to share the following video. Please feel free to embed and spread.

The final Power to the Pixel session brings together five pioneering filmmakers who are reinventing the way that films reach audiences and audiences reach films. Lance Weiler, Arin Crumley, Susan Buice, Matt Hanson, Jeremy Nathan explain why they chose the DIY path. Moderated by Liz Rosenthal.

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Posted in audience biz case study community cross-media crowdsourced deals delivery digital downloads discovery discussion distro diy doc dvd embed event experiment festivals funds online panel producing production promotion remix resource roundtable screening sharing social change software tech theatrical tools tv 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

By lance weiler, January 21st, 2008

The news of deals being struck is beginning to filter out of Park City. But behind the deal making that has become legendary is the reality of having to deliver the film. Long after the buzz has dwindled producers will start the long haul of delivery. For some outlets it can be minor but for others it can be a labyrinth that will take money from you at every turn.

It tends to be a dry subject but is critical to the sale and distribution of your film. This is especially true if you intend to have some type of traditional theatrical, VOD, TV or foreign distribution. Tani Cohen is an established producer who has delivered numerous narrative and documentary films. This is the first in a series of articles that will attempt to demystify the delivery process.

Tani reports – What is required for delivering your film can vary from company to company. Some smaller companies may require as few as a dozen items where the studios can demand anywhere from 40 to 75 items. The best thing a filmmaker can do is be vigilant while making their film. If possible, the first thing you want to do is hire a production attorney and have them review all the possible documents you may need to compile over the course of production and post. Have your production attorney do as many of the agreements as possible. If you cannot afford an attorney, at the least, try to have an attorney review whatever agreements you create (writer, director, actors, crew deals…)

I think what often happens is that pre-production and production can be so all consuming that things can easily slip through the cracks and then months later (when you are fortunate enough to be in a position to deliver your film), you are scrambling to gather all the documents required.

Another important thing to do is have a script clearance report done before you start shooting. This is a service that will read and break down the script and flag any items that may present a legal conflict. This can include character names, locations, artwork, music, copyrighted material, and product identification… Usually the report will recommend changes and contact information to obtain the proper legal clearances.

Your production coordinator should keep files of all these agreements and build a production folder as part of their wrap. Of course there are many post-production requirements that will be required and usually your post-production supervisor (or you) will track these items.

In additional to the legal delivery items, you will deliver your film and sound elements. Delivery requirements can range from a 35mm answer print to a digital master (or both) depending if you finish on film or a digital format. The film items can include your original picture negative, interpositive, internegaive, optical soundtrack negative and your soundtrack masters. Depending on the company, they will give you specs of what digital format they want and how they want the master delivered, along with the audio specs. There are a variation of sound elements and audio technical specs that may be required; again it depends on the company and format required.

Below is a list of 40 plus possible legal delivery requirements; (They are broken down by items that can be compiled during production, postproduction and/or both.)



2. UNDERLYING RIGHTS AGREEMENT (chain of title documents)
3. FORM PA (US copyright registration form)
19. IA SIGNATORY AGREEMENT (if applicable)


31. VISUAL EFX AGREEMENT (if applicable)


35. SYNOPSIS & PRESS MATERIALS (including production still photographs)

Tani Cohen recently produced, the HBO feature documentary, “Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater.” The film was released on DVD through Zeitgeist Films. Prior credits include the MGM released feature film, “The Dust Factory” starring Hayden Panettiere and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Cohen executive produced the Emmy nominated Showtime feature “Snow in August” adapted and directed by Richard Friedenberg. Cohen’s many producing credits include, “Inside Monkey Zetterland”, “The Souler Opposite”, “How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog”, “Forever Lulu” and “Guinevere.” Cohen is currently producing Dylan Otto’s “Listen” with director Valerie Landsburg and “The Great Divide” based on T. Davis Bunn’s best selling novel.

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Posted in BTS biz deals delivery distro doc dvd festivals how to legal narrative resource theatrical tv

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, January 15th, 2008

I’m pleased to introduce a new contributor to the Workbook Project. Kfir Pravda is a marketer, content creator and blogger. His blog “Media, Technology and Rebel Filmmaking” is read and quoted by investors, venture capitalists, CEOs of technology companies, content creators and bloggers.

Kfir reports – In the past things were clear – broadcast television required a specific level of production. Lighting, sound, camera quality – all were parts of the definition.

Not only that “fit to broadcast” affected quality of TV images and videos – it also affected the cost per production minute of TV material. This, coupled with ownership of screens and TV channels created a high barrier of entry to new players in the video and TV market.

YouTube, mobile phones, and citizen journalism changed it all. These three factors made sure that poor quality video crossed the boundaries of the Internet to prime time TV. The average TV viewer is used to seeing poor quality video, taken with low end mobile phones video cameras or web cams, as part of news flashes and entertainment shows.

But why are these grainy and pixelated low quality videos on broadcast TV? Because they tell a good story. Whether it is a Tsunami footage, extra funny lipsync, or unique view on a hot topic, viewers are willing to see low quality footage in case it is a high quality story.

In a past post I’ve argued that viewers are willing to accept low production quality in exchange for a good story. The fact that we take for granted YouTube clips on news flashes proves this point.

Therefore, a creator without a dime, that has limited resources, should remember that production value, though important, is just part of the equation. Great story, timely news flash, in-depth analysis, and believable characters are crucial for success, much more than HD camera, and great effects.


Kfir Pravda – a marketer, blogger, and content creator. His blog “Media, Technology and Rebel Filmmaking” is read and quoted by investors, venture capitalists, CEOs of technology companies, content creators and bloggers. He often moderates and participates in industry panels discussing telecom and media topics and writes for a major Israeli newspaper. His customers are publicly traded companies interested in improving their market position by utilizing social media tools and innovative marketing solutions. Kfir also serves as VP of Marketing of IMTC, an international consortium of blue chip and startup companies, cooperating on promoting video technologies by interoperability and fostering open standards. Organization members are, among others, Nokia, Ericsson, Polycom, Apple and Cisco. Loves crime films, single malt Whisky and his shiny new Mac.

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Posted in biz content online producing production resource tech 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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