Monday, May 06, 2013

The New Independent Film Revolution Is Happening Online -- Disruptive, Democratizing

The times, they are a' changin' for independent films.  And, the disruptive force is the Internet.  Finally, its long-anticipated democratizing promise is here.  Right now.  So, take note.  This is incredibly promising for the indie film community which is struggling right now.

Here are some recent powerful examples of disruption to the historical traditional status quo:

(1) Indie Film Financing -- Kickstarter's crowd-funding promise for independent film is real, very real.  Case in point -- Garden State's Zach Braff is a big enough name to raise film financing the traditional way for his new film "Wish I Was Here."  But, he wanted to retain full creative control and do things his way.  So he turned to all of us to make this a reality.  His goal was to raise $2 million via Kickstarter and minimum micro-contributions of $1.  Well, he crossed that $2 million goal in an incredible 3 days -- and, he is now at nearly $2.4 million.  Not bad.  And, he didn't need to give any "piece" of the film's revenues or profits to any of his contributors.  Instead, they get certain cool "prizes" that start at the $10 contribution level and become "cooler" as those contributions escalate (check out his site to see the packages he offered, which include being an actor in the movie itself, screen credits, and sitting with Braff at the movie's premier).

(2) Indie Film Distribution -- two disruptive examples here:

The first is not a novel concept -- "day and date" (meaning simultaneous) availability online as well as in theaters.  Theater chains don't like that concept.  That's why while not a novel concept, "day and date" online distribution is still in its infancy.  But, Kristen Bell's new indie film "Some Girl(s)" chose this route for similar reasons to Zach Braff -- retention of more control (as well as driving a more direct revenue path to the filmmakers).  The producers chose new premium online service "Vimeo On Demand" for the film's online debut -- hoping to leverage Bell's more-than 1 million rabid Twitter followers (note, that these same followers recently used Kickstarter to raise over $5 million to crowd-fund Bell's upcoming "Veronica Mars" movie!).  So, what theatrical distribution chains will tolerate this path?  I highly doubt that the major chains will support it ... yet.  But, it is inevitable, because the audience -- especially the kids -- will demand it.

The second disruptive new indie film distribution concept is new -- offered by a new company, Gathr, which utilizes local "Movie Captains" (i.e., individual promoters -- like you and me) in cities around the country/globe to champion the film and drive local screenings.  These captains, together with the filmmakers, establish minimum ticket sales commitments for each screening.  And, if those individual screening commitments reach the "tipping point," then the screening happens.  If that tipping point is not reached, then no one's credit card is charged.  (By the way, Kickstarter uses the same "tipping point" concept -- i.e., no one's credit card is charged unless the minimum fund-raising goal is reached).  While new, and still highly experimental, Gathr works.  Insiders on the filmmaking side who have been the first to use Gathr have been thrilled by its results.

True that all of these disruptive new online services work best with a built-in audience either for an established actor, filmmaker or "cause" with a rabid following, the fundamental point remains -- indie filmmakers can now harness the promise and power of non-traditional and democratizing online services via grand experiments never before available.  And, the really cool thing is that potential audiences -- like me and you -- can directly contribute in getting certain stories told that should be told.

And, that's powerful!

NOTE -- I regularly write about independent filmmaking, particularly in the context of the digital media world.  I recently wrote a guest post for The Huffington Post titled "Indie Filmmakers and the Digital Dilemma" which discusses the surprising -- and misunderstood -- reality that digital films are more vulnerability to destruction than good old-fashioned celluloid and that, accordingly, we risk losing a whole generation of independent films to such degradation.

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