This past Friday the film community lost a legend. Don Krim was the president of Kino Films for the last 33 years and in that role he had an immeasurable impact on the film community both within the United States and beyond. He brought works of iconic filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai, Michael Henneke, and Amos Gitai to American audiences and he passionately believed in the importance of cinema history. He oversaw the remastering and re-releasing of iconic works like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, and Potemkin - the last two of which are available in the US on Blu-Ray courtesy of Don. Kino also released seminal collections of classic works including those of Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ingmar Bergman. In addition to the classic and foreign works, Kino recently released on DVD important American indies like Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Lance Hammer’s Ballast.
Last wednesday Don sent out an email:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As of Friday, May 13th, I am withdrawing from active participation in the film industry due to health reasons.
It has been a terrific and productive 30 years, first at Kino International and during the last 18 months at the newly formed Kino Lorber. I am confident that what we have started with Kino Lorber has not only brought into being a respected, medium-sized distribution company – a whole greater than the sum of its parts, as the expression goes – but an enterprise with considerable potential to assume a still broader role in the acquisition and release of important classic and international cinema in North America.
I am sorry that I will not be able to continue to participate, but I will certainly be watching and listening with great enthusiasm. I extend my deeply felt thanks for your friendship and for our many shared experiences. These experiences brought us close together and resulted, ultimately, in a large measure of success, success in which we can all take pride.
As we face the future, I wish each of you all and only the best.
Thank you again.
Two days later Don passed away. If ever there was a person who lived great cinema, Don was it.
Among the films that Don released was two by my filmmaking partner, Raphael Nadjari. Our Cannes Competition feature Tehilim in 2007 and the two-part documentary A History of Israeli Cinema in 2009. In 2009, Raphael took the above photo of Don in the Kino offices.
I will be moderating the “New Opportunities For Writers” panel at IFP’s Script 2 Screen conference today, Saturday, at 2:30PM (Eastern). It will be livestreamed on uStream so please check it out. The panelists will be Carol Kolb, Head Writer of the Onion News Network, Ursula Lawrence from the WGA East, and Susan Miller and Tina Cesar Ward from the webseries “Anyone But Me“. The live stream is here:
We’ll see what it looks like when it goes live, but it appears to embody so much of what TV needs to do. It seems like someone out there was annoyed by the same things I highlighted in my post on Mark Cuban. The idea is that no longer will TV be hijacked by the tyranny of your local cable operator’s interface. You can now search for content non-linearly. But there’s more: it appears, from the screen shots, that it connects with Amazon & Hulu & Netflix. Search once, find what you’re looking for on your TV schedule or online. This product, in one fell swoops, takes a swipe at services like Speed Cine, AppleTV, Boxee and more.
I, for one, applaud them.
The Comodities Futures Trading Commission approved today the creation of infrastructure for the first ever Hollywood Futures Exchange. There is still another round of approvals to go but it looks like Media Derivatives and Cantor Fitzgerald will both be starting film futures exchanges soon. Cantor Fitzgerald is the company that created and runs the Hollywood Stock Exchange (they are also the company that took a direct hit on 9/11 and for which my friend Kevin McCarthy worked that day, along with 657 coworkers, none of whom survived).
Hollywood has been vigorously fighting the establishment of the exchanges via an MPAA-led coalition. Their written argument is:
“A distributor for a variety of reasons could determine to substantially reduce or expand its marketing budget, which can materially affect opening weekend box office receipts. A major exhibitor could determine to show the motion picture on smaller or larger screens, which can materially affect audience interest and capacity. (The Media Derivatives exchange) has no effective means to detect or prevent such conduct or to determine whether it was undertaken for valid business reasons rather than to manipulate futures prices.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the following:
“We are additionally concerned about the nature of these movie futures exchanges in the wake of the recent financial crises.”
I actually think those are weak arguments against the exchange. The better argument? The exchange can create it’s own market. Specifically, if you are betting on pork bellies, or gold, or concentrated frozen orange juice, you are assuming that the market is immutable. There is a supply and demand, both of which don’t respond to the market. The market reflects the demand. For example, if there is an early frost then orange juice production might be down, supply would be more limited and prices would go up thus futures would go up (ie: the future price will be higher than it is today so buy now and sell later). The problem with film is that an opening weekend box office can be massively affected by word-of-mouth. If people perceive that a film won’t be successful they’re less likely to go to it. If the stock exchange sees a dropping futures price on a film that could become the tale of the tape for the film – people would hear that the experts think the film isn’t going to be good and they, themselves won’t show up and voila, the market has changed the market.
Reed Martin from NYU has a post over at YouTube’s Biz Blog about the YouTube movie rental experiment during Sundance. While the actual numbers were disappointing (probably not least of which to the producers participating – though they did get great exposure), Reed is making the case that this is a harbinger of successes to come. I agree with him. This is the future for small indie films. Get your film out there on as many platforms as possible and grab what revenue you can. But Reed then says this:
From now on, the Lee Daniels’ (“Precious”) and Kathryn Bigelow’s (“The Hurt Locker”) of tomorrow will be able to bypass traditional gatekeepers and monetize their hard work and creativity using only an HD camera, a fast laptop and a decent Internet connection. Indeed, the day when nearly everyone has made an independent film, in the same way that most people today have both an e-mail address and a Facebook page (and perhaps a blog and a Twitter account), may not be far off.
What? I mean… what?
Those two statements are just bizarre. Let’s look at them.
First, looking at PRECIOUS and THE HURT LOCKER (both very, very good films that I am thrilled got made and are having success), why on earth would those films want to bypass traditional gatekeepers. Reed is acting as though those films have been somehow hurt financially by the gatekeepers. Nothing could be further from the truth. PRECIOUS was acquired in a multi-million dollar sale at Sundance by Lionsgate – one of the few remaining traditional distributors that still acquires. THE HURT LOCKER was made and released by Summit (yes, the same Summit of TWILIGHT) and directed by the woman who made POINT BREAK. Neither of these films suffered from being independents. They are the wonderful exceptions to the rules. The films that did very well because the traditional system worked, not in spite of it. Why use them as examples in this discussion? Why would anyone looking at the performance of those films want to embrace new alternatives?
Second, what on earth does Reed mean that “nearly everyone has made an independent film”. Is this implying that any video clip put on YouTube is an independent film? Is Reed actually arguing the equivalent of saying that anyone who does a Facebook status update is a professional author or blogger? This makes absolutely zero sense. Is he implying that anyone who uploads anything will be earning money from that and thus we have the basis for an industry? That’s completely counter to every law of economics and reason. If everyone is a professional filmmaker (by ‘professional’ I mean seeking to earn a living at it) then the market becomes vastly over saturated and, assuming the amount of media consumed & paid for remains relatively constant (most people aren’t suddenly going to be watching & paying for vastly more movies) that money will get divided across far more films and the viability of films economically will plummet. I think Reed just undermined his own argument.
Suffice to say, I applaud YouTube and those filmmakers who participated (especially Tze & Mynette’s CHILDREN OF INVENTION) but articles like this that simultaneously point to the outliers and the unrefined masses are missing the point. These systems will allow the wonderful films that traditional gatekeepers deemed too challenging to sponsor to finally find an audience and will allow artists with their 1,000 True Fans, to effectively marshal those fans and create a sustainable ecosystem.
“Just gave a dollar to a Filmmaker crowdfunding on the subway. He sold about a dozen demo dvds and a toy on one car.”
It made me wonder: what is the line between begging and crowd-sourcing?
I have a mental rule about giving money on the street (or on the subway): I don’t give to anyone begging. I never buy anything from someone selling trinkets on a subway car. I will sometimes give to musicians or other entertainers, but only if they haven’t trapped you in a space. For example, I give to a good musician on a subway platform, but I don’t give to someone who leaps onto my subway car and plays between stops. I think the dividing line is whether I can choose to move away if I don’t like the performance: if I can’t then I consider it an invasion of my personal space and it is unwelcome. I would make an exception for spontaneous performance groups like Improv Everywhere as they are there to create and experience and leave, but are not then trying to get money out of you before the doors open.
So what then, is the dividing line between begging and crowd sourcing?
This filmmaker was selling trinkets, thus my ruleset says I should not buy. However, he is (or is claiming he will be) using the proceeds to make a film, something I tend to support. I did, after all, support the guys making the One Second Film (I’m a “producer”). Despite my thinking that they are probably 99% about getting enough cash to cruise the film festival circuit, they were entertaining and ambitious and I rewarded that. But what if they had come to me on a subway car, and not in a pavilion at Cannes? I likely would not have bought in, I suppose, but I have a hard time saying why. I suppose that context is everything.
As a filmmaker one part of our job is to find money and, in so doing, we beg. Yes we come up with business plans, financial models, marketing schemes and the like, but we are, in a way, begging. When we turn to our audience and say to them, please finance my work so I can make another we are, in a way, begging. We are ok with that because the cause is film, it is noble and we feel justified in making that request. Why then would any other type of begging be less noble? I don’t really have an answer but I’m interested in your thoughts.
What is the difference between being a beggar and being a crowd-sourcer?
I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus and posting has been light but I had a good reason.
I have a couple posts that I’ve been mulling over and will try to get those up soon, so stay tuned. However, in the meantime, I wanted to share something with you.
My friend, Drew Bunting, is a minister by day, but by night he’s one of the coolest musicians I’ve ever known. He took a break after recording his first album, “I Want To Believe” and now is back with an awesome new album entitled “The New South”. To help promote the album he’s released one song for free – “Please Don’t Rip Me Off”, it’s a riotous screed about file sharing and artists rights – something we talk about a lot here at the 401st Blow. Give it a listen (click the play button above), pass it on (right-click or control click this link and select ‘save as’) and please go get the album on iTunes or from the great team at Idiots’ Books who designed all the packaging. The Idiots’ Books hard version includes a 4-panel album jacket and a 16-page booklet.
And ps: the awesome pic above? That’s courtesy of the amazing Pat Furey.
Here is the panel discussion I participated in during DIY DAYS in Philadelphia this summer. As always, kudos to Lance Weiler for putting this amazing event together.
TALK – FROM HERE TO AWESOME: Production has become democratized while digital distribution is quickly becoming commoditized thus fragmenting the marketplace and resulting in little to no revenue. The problems that the independent film industry faces are well documented but where do we go from here? What are the new models of discovery and distribution? How are storytellers going to fund, create, distribute and sustain from their work? ARIN CRUMLEY (Four Eyed Monster, As the Dust Settles) SCOTT MACAULAY (film producer & editor of FILMMAKER MAGAZINE) NOAH HARLAN (film producer & mobile app developer), SCOTT KIRSNER (journalist and author), DON ARGOTT (ROCK SCHOOL)