By ben hicks, August 12th, 2009

It’s an interesting time to be a filmmaker. Technically we could all make a film, build a website, make a DVD, have our film seen by tens of millions of people and sell enough DVD’s online to make our money back and earn enough to make another film. But as we all know this is what could “potentially” happen and unfortunately not what “actually” happens.
There’s a few problems.

Exposure; trying to stand out in a sea of thousands of other films.

Profit; now that most films can be easily streamed or downloaded for free, it seems dumb to even ask for a dollar.

Share; if filmmakers do get traditional distribution the shares are too small to support their future films.

Sustainability; how can I continue making films if I can’t even pay off the last one?

In a time with so much potential, many sites are quickly figuring out ways to profit off of our films through their distribution outlets. The problem with that is the filmmakers share is too small to support their future films. Hulu is one example that acquires films and streams them on their site for free (yeaaaa!). The films are broken up with commercial breaks (boooo!) so the site can make a little money off advertising and the audience can view the hard to find film for free.

Now I don’t know this but I’m guessing those films aren’t getting a cut off of each stream. They probably got a moderate buyout which is great but it won’t continue to bring in money to fund future work. (Anyone out there who has a film on Hulu please fill me in on the details.)

The time is now for filmmakers to collaborate on a strategy, structure and system to profit from our work while making it available to our fans for free. If we don’t figure this out someone else will and filmmakers will continue to be starving artists. The time is now for independent filmmakers to figure out a way to secure our own future.

The goal here is to get feedback from other filmmakers and begin to build this structure and system that will help us maintain our independence.

At the most basic level what we want is a platform where fans can easily find our work, watch it for free and we (the filmmakers) can make a little money out of it per viewing. Right?

Example # 1

What if filmmakers joined forces and created a “Co-op” website where fans could download/stream/VOD all of our movies at the highest quality possible for free, knowing that IF they watch a free film on our “Co-op” site that the filmmakers somehow gets paid. The site could also have links to everyone’s individual sites where they could buy the DVD or poster or whatever and there could also be a rating system so the site could suggest other movies/filmmakers you might enjoy.

So, how do the filmmakers get paid if the fans aren’t paying to view it?
The only ideas I have now is through banner ads, pay per click, sponsorships or commercials. I’m not an expert in this field but would love to hear from someone who is.

Would fans be willing to sit through commercials at the beginning of a free film (not cut into the film like Hulu) in order to help out the filmmaker?

If fans knew that simply by clicking on our “Co-op” site they are helping the filmmaker come one small step closer to funding their next project would they do it?

Would you?

How do you get exposure if everyone puts their film on a comon “Co-op” site?
There has to be some sort of quality control to gain credibility and respectability for the filmmaker. Who says what stays and what goes? I don’t know, maybe there is a rotating jury by filmmakers already on the site. Maybe it has to get into a certain amount of festivals? Maybe there is some type of recommendation system?

What do you think?

I don’t have all the answers but we must start figuring out how to gain control of our future. Only then can we, as a group, create a solution using the latest technology to benefit independent filmmakers and our fans.

This is a call to arms to all independent filmmakers. If we don’t act now to establish a path for true independence then when will we?

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Posted in Kids Go Free To Fun Fun Time creative collaboration

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  • ben hicks

    Great points Joe! I feel confident that soon the technology will be available in the States where theaters find and screen independent work online and bring people together in a communal way. In Brazil there is something called movie mobz which is a form of cinema on demand. Basically fans online place their vote or demand to see films they want to see and if there is enough demand for it theaters then play the film. This idea incorporates even more audience participation. For example, if a new film I really want to see needs only 10 more votes to get a screening for it on Saturday night, I could then reach out to others I feel might be interested in the content and try to get it screened together. It would also be possible to do the same thing with video art, super bowls, episodes of Sex and the City etc. If there is a demand for it in theaters there is no reason to not let it screen. You can see more about movie mobz at

    Once this technology is in the mainstream, filmmakers would no longer be a slave to distribution companies and could collect screening revenues directly. If this technology could get filmmakers to a point where they can fund their future work and not have a day job I would die a happy man. But this technology isn't here yet and filmmakers need to figure out a way to finance films now. What is the difference if the opening of the film has a logo of (insert any company logo) as opposed to Paramount's logo? Why can music festivals have dozens of sponsors but films can't? What's the difference if we get financial backing through the Guggenheim Foundation or through Pabst Blue Ribbon? If both backers don't interfere with the overall product, their function is exactly the same. They are both middle men supporting a film/work of art and bringing it to an audience through financial backing. Now I don't support product placement as a way of financing a film and I wouldn't use a company that has business practices I completely disagree with but for hundreds of years artists have been a slave to their investors (even Michelangelo was commissioned to paint things within the confines of what the financial backers wanted.) and I feel like now, for the first time, we are entering an exciting age where the financiers have to answer to us as opposed to the other way around.

  • Joseph Belknap

    In an age of viral/bit torrent/open source I think the solution maybe far more disparate than acquiring/implementing strategies on this macro and commercially control format. The system itself provides and nurtures this era of consumable media. I am an artist who produces short video/film of sculptural performance when deemed necessary so I do not claim expertise in this field but the problem is universal for the arts which demand some reverence. The simple fact that our films are viewed on laptop screens, computer monitors is just one problem with the idea of online viewing. Do we all hope to become viral? Have our films viewed in an incorrect format/color and what about the audience of one or many? What happens when I go to theater versus sitting in my underwear alone in the afternoon? Also I cannot say the last time I really was inspired or talked to others about I video online. I ramble. I think that bodies together (the audience, the corporeal viral local movement) This is key. Subversive local movie screenings with controlled format and ways of producing money (merch, beer, admission) This is the case for the music industry. Most money is made on tour. Plus is not a better experience the whole way round. Does it not nurture community and the actual integrity of FVNM (film video new media) I know this is harder but where are we headed as a group when the idea of commercials before a film is actually considered?

  • Hi Kieran, I can't wait to see what you and Arin are working on. If anyone can solve some of these problems it's you guys. Are you keeping everything secret for now? Are there any details out there yet as to how openindie works?

    I look forward to the updates

  • Thanks for the mention Mike. is indeed currently in development. Arin Crumley and I are working hard to bring filmmakers and film fans a site that attempts to address, initially, some and ultimately, all of the issues raised in this post.

    For now, I encourage you to register for updates at and you will know more as soon as the closed beta is ready for launch.

    Great post btw Ben!

    Kieran Masterton
    OpenIndie Co-Founder

  • Frank Perrotto

    These are some awesome ideas, especially the rotating panel of judges. I had put up a website a while back (2006) that was doing something like what indieflix does, but I thought it would be a good idea to have a panel choose one feature and a compilation of the three best shorts and then have ONLY THOSE FILMS on the main landing page of the site for an entire month. I didn't have enough money to market the website, so it kind of fell flat and though I got some great submissions, it wasn't enough to sustain it. With the exposure of a ring of blogs and a magazine like indiefilmmaker, something like a co-op could well with a mixture of models that really let a potential buyer/viewer know what they're getting (in other words, don't market a dark drama as a comedy) and that there is some sort of quality control on the filmmaking, like you said.

    I feel like a new day is getting close and that it's really just a matter of having some sort of summit on either coast about putting something together. The devil is in the details, though, isn't it!

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