Wired magazine US reported in Januarythat less than half the movies at Sundance in 2008 had theatrical distribution deals. The result of this has been that more and more independent film makers are looking for new ways to get people to view and pay for their craft. Here’s some of the methods noted by the Wired gang, along with a few of my own:
1. Build your success out of BRIC
2. Get people to pay what they think it’s worth
Radiohead were ahead of the times when they released ‘In Rainbows’ online and asked people to pay what they wanted for it. The genius of the idea was not the money they made this way, but the new fans they pulled in to the band and the subsequent money they made from touring and merchandise. Last year Nina Paley, released her animated fantasy film, Sita Sings the Blues in a similar way receiving $50k in ‘tips’. Now admittedly this isn’t going to knock
3. Embrace the Whedonverse
I wrote a post on our sister agencies blog about the ‘Whedonverse’ that you can see here. Joss Whedon (hence the phrase), Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Buffy, Firefly, Serentity and more is known as the Godfather of youth TV to his fans and colleagues, such as Tim Kring (Heroes), JJ Abrams (Lost) and more. The interesting thing about Joss is that he doesn't measure the success of his shows by the ratings and ad revenue they make. He measures the success of the shows by 'the aftermarket' (how deeply his fans get in to the story) and the back end sales he makes. In effect, he embraces the long tail of engagement, immersing fans in circular stories that go beyond the regular TV series, making money out of that. As a result of his approach, during the writers strike he was able to leverage his various fans to launch Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. An online mini series that became a huge success amongst his fans. Embracing his own philosophy, obviously you could find out more about it on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube.
Joss is taking a different approach to mass market TV. Rather than spend huge sums on pilots, he is leveraging his advocates to seed in ideas at a low cost. In doing so he gets to see which ones generate the excitement and aftermarket he is after. TV is relegated down the adoption process, just as maybe a theatrical release of his films would be too. In the 'Whedonverse', cinema and TV are simply a means to pull more people in to a deeper world he values.
4. Split it up
After experimenting with mobile phone distribution of a music video, in 2007 Cory McAbee made a feature film called Stingray Sam. Instead of releasing it as a whole he has released 6 snippets of the film available for download at a fee.
5. Ad Funded film making
For a long time the industry has been talking about ad funded programming. But what about ad funded film making. Before you jump ahead of me, obviously I realise that many films are heavily ad funded already (Casino Royal is an obvious example), but I think we can expect more aspiring film makers to go to brands first in future to get their film off the ground.
6. Start on YouTube
Be it Lonely Girl 15, those singing Japanese kids, Mr Evolution of Dance or the tonne of other up coming internet stars, we can expect more and more aspiring film makers to use the likes of YouTube to first showcase their creative talent. Do it well enough and they can make money back in ad revenue share deals, as well as attract the attention of potential investors and distributors.
7. Embrace Piracy
A paper by the law professors Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman argued that weak intellectual-property rules, far from hurting the fashion industry, have instead been integral to its success. The professors call this effect “the piracy paradox.” In effect, as companies copy brands and distribute them illegally, rather than harm the industry they actually grow it and enable the cycle of fashion trends each season. Just as many bloggers have argued that Wolverine may well have benefited from pre release piracy, it is possible that we may see more and more independent film makers deliberately releasing content in to the market early in order to build interest and demand in the brand through file sharing. If your not sure it could work, just ask the Arctic Monkeys!
8. Slice the pie
Another interesting way film makers could look to raise funds and build distribution could be through a model akin to the music website Slice the pie. On this site unsigned bands can air their music and raise funds from prospective investors such as yourself. It might be that you just invest a pound, but before long the band has enough ot cut the track. Come to think of it, if this hasn't happened already, we really should set this site up for the films industry.
9. Demand led distribution
Paranormal became the poster child of this method using eventful.com to get people to demand the film be shown in their area (they received over a million 'demands'). While it may well have been just part of the marketing machine, the fact is that film makers and distributors should take note as it is a fantastic way to further build buzz, excitement and distribution.
If you think of anymore do let me know, as 9 is never a good number for lists! The important point is though that all have their place, highlighting the opportunities and challenges both independent and established film distributors face in the future. There is much we can learn, not least the importance and value of leveraging your fan base to help market and fund a film for you.