The thing not stated here is the how of finding that audience, or the audience finding you. The means of production asre cheaper, distribution via the net easier, getting found harder, thats the key.
This model says we will take the films you make and we will market them for you sort of and if you make any money we will collect it and you will get paid. This model does not say we will invest in your movie, we will help you get funded, we will create funding for you so you can pay your crew, distribute your movie, advertise, it, etc. This is the vanity publishing business, and there will always be people who want to make movies or be published and some may have a good idea, well executed, in a timely fashion which gets to Sundance and gets seen and bought and released, want to take a guess at how many films that is, less than 5%.
The rest, and there will be many, will get to go online and HOPE they get discovered. Ask yourself, are these deep pocketed companies going to pay for acquisitions? Will they be at Sundance bidding against the Weinsteins or Sony Classics. If not there will be a lot of projects they can snag, a good name.
Good luck Indie makers, if you are going to rely on this,make sure you pay the rent.
Sites Specific: Can Streaming Save Indie Film?
The way we watch movies is changing. And no one knows how, in the not so distant future, cinema’s going to be consumed — especially those independent and art films that are increasingly unloved by the Hollywood distribution system. Multiplexes may not be the place for defiantly indie cinema, but are iPods, Xboxes, laptops and flat-screens their next best hope?
There are entrepreneurs who are betting on it, which has led to the recent spread of web sites dedicated to putting harder to find films online, from the documentary-centric SnagFilms to the highfalutin internet cinematheque The Auteurs. If there’s one thing that these sites share in today’s tough economic climate, it’s a boldness to try something new when most businesses are scaling back — that, and the fact that they all have founders who are filthy rich.
For the record: SnagFilms’ Ted Leonsis is a former key executive at AOL and a majority owner in NHL’s Washington Capitals; The Auteurs’ Efe Cakarel is a Turkish entrepreneur and former Goldman Sachs investment banker who helped orchestrate the $17 billion merger of the Zurich Financial Services; and Babelgum founder Silvio Scaglia was recently ranked #962 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires 2008. Cineastes can rejoice in the fact that multi-millionaires also share their love of film.
But are a handful of deep-pocketed backers enough to make independent films thrive online? At this point, it’s hard to say. But by all accounts, at least one heavily capitalized site, Jaman.com — founded in 2006 as a viewing portal for independent and world cinema, with a significant emphasis on Bollywood movies — is losing steam and may not survive in its current form.
The central problem for lovers of indie film and the people who make it their business to show those films, whether in theaters or in the newfangled Web, is that the population that drives the business is ultimately a small one. Why is Hulu the most popular kid in school, and Jaman that nice, hard-working student that nobody remembers? Because Hulu has “Saturday Night Live,” “National Lampoon’s Spring Break” and “Family Guy,” while Jaman has “Chokher Bali,” “A Monk’s Awakening” and a low-budget T&A pic called “Pool Party” among its most popular titles. Netflix is one of the rare companies that has helped to cultivate a taste for indie films, but its primary business is still the delivery of old-fashioned DVDs.
Indie-focused sites have a much harder time of making a dent in a slowly developing marketplace. As Efe Cakarel admits, “The truth is that there are not enough people paying to watch films online at the moment.” But he has hope. “We believe that by focusing on quality films that are hard to find on other online platforms we can build our brand, and when the online VOD market takes off, we will be a leading platform for foreign, independent and classic films.”
The problem is waiting for that day to come. Though The Auteurs has made some high-profile partnerships recently — art-cinema juggernaut The Criterion Collection took an equity stake in the outfit and Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation is lending them select films — current traffic to the site is paltry. It’s still in its nascent stages, but the top-viewed films (South Korean director Kim Ki-young’s 1960 melodrama “The Housemaid,” Turkish auteur Metin Erksan’s 1964 film “Dry Summer” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s modernist classic “L’avventura”), all available for free, have been watched, collectively, fewer times than this YouTube video of a golden retriever jumping up to bite a dangling udon noodle. “The numbers,” says Cakarel, “are not an indication of the scale nor the opportunity of what we are trying to achieve.”
Really, how much can be achieved on an indie level?
Matt Dentler, head of programming for Cinetic Rights Management, which provides film sales representation for digital media, argues that digital distribution isn’t a “one size fits all” model: “A film has to speak to the demographic that wants to stream.” In other words, the audience that’s keen on seeing “L’avventura” may not really be the same one that wants to watch that movie on their computer.
According to Dentler, films that work online are older indies that already have established a name for themselves, such as Richard Linklater’s debut “Slacker,” or a documentary like “We Are Wizards,” about “Harry Potter” fandom, which has a built-in mass of interested viewers online. As he puts it, “You need the film to stand out and be attractive on its merits. People aren’t deciding what they want to watch online based on reviews. It’s about the synopsis; it’s about what sounds like a good time right now.”
A lack of name recognition, for instance, will always plague the offers at a site like IndiePix Films, which is both a regular DVD retailer and also hosts micro-budget indies for downloading, like regional festival favorites “Audience of One” and “Toots.” Owned and run by Bob Alexander, a market analysis veteran and a member of the board of directors for the Alliance Capital Management Technology Fund, among others, IndiePix currently doesn’t stream its films, but Alexander knows streaming is the company’s next logical step and vital to their success in providing different price points for consumers: say, a DVD download for $14.95 or a streaming rental for $3.99.
Though Alexander claims there’s been a steady rise in the market — 15-20 percent quarter-to-quarter growth in the last year — the number of sales for individual films on the four-year-old site remains tiny, on the order of 1,000 DVD units for the top seller. Another online indie retailer and buzz builder B-Side, by comparison, may sell over 20,000 units of a particular title, while established DVD documentary company New Video sells over 10,000 units. Many outsider observers suggest that IndiePix’s days are numbered, but Alexander is confident that his company will be, for the first time in its history, in the black by the end of the year.
IndiePix’s existence may also be threatened by an outdated model — charging for films. People don’t like to pay to watch things online, notes The Auteurs’ Cakarel: “So pay-per-view is not the right model. We all need to wake up and smell the coffee.”
At the same time, online advertising alone isn’t enough to pay for content either, which puts web sites like these in a difficult bind. Cakarel says the answer is a two-tiered model: premium pricing for what audiences value highly, and free for everything else.
But who will shell out for indie films hardly anyone has heard of? As SnagFilms’ CEO Rick Allen says, “Most nonfiction films haven’t had the luxury of a [print and advertising] campaign and tend not to be known, so you can try to sell those films in an e-commerce model, but it’s hard to do when people don’t know your film.”
For that reason, SnagFilms, unlike IndiePix, The Auteurs or Jaman, doesn’t charge anything. “We wanted to reduce the barriers to exploration,” says Allen. “You don’t have to register, there’s no player, and you don’t have to wait. You can just sample the movie and then know enough to make an informed decision about it.” (Babelgum doesn’t charge for content, either, but lacking in a clear-cut identity — its film section mixes a hodgepodge of random foreign and indie films, with shorts and trailers — the site lacks market penetration.)
On the other hand, the top-watched SnagFilms movies have been seen hundreds of thousands of times, according to Allen, boosted by the company’s “widget” application, which allows films to be inserted into Web pages like an ad. For example, smack dab in the middle of an Associated Press story about police in the Sudan beating women protesters, posted on AOL News, is the SnagFilms widget for “The Art of Flight,” a doc about Sudanese refugees. “We’re far more able to penetrate a broad swath of consumers,” says Allen, “and put these films in front of audience that’s passionate about the subject matter.”
SnagFilms has another ace in the hole: Leonsis’ long-standing relationship with Internet giant AOL. If most indie film sites can’t rope in big-time corporate advertisers, SnagFilms has its ads sold by AOL as part of a package that includes AOL-owned film sites like Moviefone and Cinematical. For filmmakers, unfortunately, only a paltry amount of those Fortune 500 ad dollars makes it back into their pockets, according to industry sources, but at least audiences get to see their movies for free.
In this way, SnagFilms, like industry leaders iTunes, Amazon and Netflix, may be better situated to deliver indie content as part of a larger, more corporate-subsidized model. While this may be disappointing to those looking to patronize the mom-and-pop movie shops of the Web, the fact remains that it’s always hard out there for an indie, whether the films themselves, or the companies that distribute them.