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The New Auteur

Independent Film in Times of the Internet

Franny Armstrong raised £865,000 by crowd-funding her documentary The Age of Stupid. The amount was entirely raised from individuals and groups; not from TV networks, government grants or distributors. This way, the production team had total creative freedom. Contributors who gave more than £2,500 will earn a percantage of the profits (if the film makes profits). People who gave smaller amounts got free tickets to the screening and a credit on the DVD or website (depending on the amount they gave). Armstrong raised some of the budget offline and the rest after the website was launched. On the film’s website, she is giving indispensable advice on how to crowd-fund your film.

Weizenbaum: Rebel at Work is a documentary by Peter Haas and Silvia Holzinger about Joseph Weizenbaum, a Jewish child who left Germany in the 1930s to become one of the first computer programmers, later returning to Berlin and criticizing mankind. The directors financed the film out of their own pockets – it cost them 35,000 Euro. They then recouped their investment with DVD sales and, most importantly, touring with the film from university to university. They termed this approach “slow-budget filmmaking”, commenting on the amount of time and the commitment it takes to make a film. They did everything, from website, PR, marketing and promotion right up to sales, themselves, making heavy use of the internet. Their “slow-budget filmmaking” meant that they had to work on the project full-time for over two years. What counts is that, in the end, they got their film made and seen and they earned back their investment and managed to make a living out of it.

Robert Greenwald is another prime example of maneuvering around old distribution systems. His documentaries Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism and Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers were both distributed independently. A lot of films, especially documentaries, have build in audiences – interest groups that mirror the concern of the movie and that are already organized; not only offline but also online. Greenwald managed to tap into those build-in audiences by promoting his political films in cooperation with, an advocacy group of the US Democrats. MoveOn did not only offer Greenwald a huge potential audience, critical of the Bush administration (just like Greenwald’s films), but also helped him organize house parties, which he used to premier his films across the USA.

One of Greenwald’s more recent projects, Rethink Afghanistan, loyally continues his path of political critical documentaries. More importantly (for this blog’s purpose), the film demonstrates Greenwald’s attempt to reach immediacy. He moved away from the feature length film in favor of releasing his time-sensitive films faster. Producing a feature film often takes long. By the time it is completed and premiered, the issue might be far gone. Releasing shorter films (which he later joined together into a feature length film) via the internet (no DVD prints needed, no shipping, a continuous marketing effort) allows audiences to watch the films while their topics are still urgent. The NY Times says it better.

A very interesting article on the distribution efforts for Lovely By Surprise. The film was not picked up for distribution, despite winning a couple of awards. For their DIY approach, producers used social media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, uploading clips to video sites) and tried to target the right audience for their film online (fansites of the actors, indie film sites, music sites that suited the music in the film) and offline (film festivals, film clubs, film societies, arts magazines etc.) to get reviews and word-of-mouth. Film blogs proofed especially fruitful. The film got a very limited theatrical distribution. Indigenous helped with DVD and online distribution.

SXSW 2009 Grand Jury Award Winner, 45365 was shown for a week in August 2009 on SnagFilms; before it got any cinema or DVD release. It will be interesting to see what this strategy does to the film’s revenue in the long run.

A prequel to the Lord of the Rings saga, The Hunt for Gollum cost only £3,000 and was entirely made buy volunteering fans. Star Wars: Uncut divides Star Wars: A New Hope into 842 15-second clips and lets fans remake them. Both films are powerful examples of what collaboration can achieve and how easy collaborating across borders can be on the internet.

Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning is yet another social filmmaking project. Half of the film was produced by members of a 3,000 enthusiasts strong community from around the world, including actors, composers and animators. The film was made with 15,000 Euros and released in 2005. Four years later, the film earned more than 20 times what it cost. Director Timo Vuorensola used his new earned fame and set up Wreck a Movie, an online platform that lets filmmakers build a community around their film. He also raised 4.2 million Euro from traditional sources for his new sci-fi feature Iron Sky.

Condition: Human is not the greatest show but it is a good example of the many, many series from aspiring filmmakers, solely produced for the internet. Most of those series seem to be comedies; because they are obviously cheap to produce. Condition: Human shows that even no-budget sci-fi series can look good.

Series of short documentaries of hip people in New York: Revel in New York. Not much of a money making approach (I don’t see any monetization on their site), but that’s not the important thing here. The films are nice little stories that nobody would have told before the internet; and they might be a nice calling card for their producers.

Would we have seen Vendr TV on traditional TV? Maybe. But nevertheless, check out what a good web series is: Obviously great content, but also regular/scheduled updates (new episode every Wednesday), easy subscription (iTunes, RSS), easy connection (newsletter, Facebook, Twitter), constant news (blog), chance for fans to feedback (comments), additional content (Info on Cast/Crew, Behind the Scenes), opportunity for people to help with finances (donation)…

I haven’t read anything about Keith Loutit yet, but I just love what he is doing. His work just reminds me how great it is that everybody can just upload stuff and that I can discover it. I especially love this video of Keith.

Another of my Vimeo favs: Jon Rawlinson’s video of Kuroshio Sea – second largest fish tank in the world. What’s interesting here is that the video boosted album sales and concert attendance for the band Barcelona, whose song Please Don’t Go was featured in the video. Are we seeing the new form of music videos (filmmaker makes film and uses a song of her choice) and collaboration between musicians and filmmakers?

Lance Weiler is a very busy DIY pioneer and founder of the WorkBook Project and DIY Days. His first feature, The Last Broadcast, was made for $900 and made more than $4 million. It is said to be one of the first digital feature films. Its satellite distribution in 1998 was way ahead of its time.

The Slow Dramatic Clap is a short video made up of 288 video snippets. It nicely demonstrates the power of collaboration, harnessed by the internet. Newteevee had a little story on the clip.

The New True Charlie Wu tries to raise production costs through up-front PayPal donations. They need $35k. A good way to raise production money for micro-budget films?

An article on the short animation Live Music. Thousands of animators uploaded sequences for the film. Fans on Facebook voted for the best sequences. At the end, sequences of 51 contributors made it into the final film, which then was picked up by Sony Pictures Entertainment for theatrical distribution. Mass Animation, the producer of the short, paid all of the 51 animators $500 each – a fair share? How about the animators whose clips didn’t make it into the final cut? Not sure this is too inspiring though.

We all know Ask a Ninja. Not much about that show, but some simple calculations from its creator Kent Nichols. His maths tells us that 10,000 hardcore fans can earn your entertainment web series around $12k during its first year.

Inspiration from the Fine Arts comes from Natasha Wescoat. She markets (website, blog, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Public Now) and distributes (Ebay, Overstock) her artwork herself. Ebay sales brought a lot of new customers. Her exposure resulted not only in sales but also in regular exhibitions and Hollywood commissions of her work. Here is a story on her approach.

Politics Blog Daily Kos seems to do a lot of things right when it comes to blogging. Judged on the daily output, the blogger should be able to make a living from the site (Politics seems to be one of the areas where that is possible).

On the music front, it is nothing new anymore that artists give away their music for free online in order to promote concerts, increase merchandise sales or monetize the buzz by selling limited editions. Nine Inch Nails is one example. Radiohead’s pay-what-you-will approach is another.

Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience was rentable on Amazon before its theatrical release. A story on it on NewTeeVee.

Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public also goes the DIY route.

Morris: A Life with Belts on is a £500,000 mockumentary about Morris dance (whatever that is). It wasn’t picked up by any of the major distributors – apparently because of a lack of audience appeal. So the directors took it on a town-hall tour across England’s Sout-West. The film became a word-of-mouth success within the regional (possibly less mainstream movie-going) audience. Persuaded by its success, Picturehouse decided to give it a UK-wide theatrical release.

Speaking of Documentaries: A very clever one is For Love & Stacie. As far as I can see, it was meant as a calling card for its director. Nice idea and definitely watchable – and would we have seen it if it were not for the internet?


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