By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Festivals Raping Filmmakers… Or Just A Friendly Reach Around?
When Tribeca, America’s Most Funded Festival Failure, made their announcement about pushing festival films to VOD before they even had a chance to premiere at a festival, I didn’t quite know what to do with the information. Besides being distracted by all this late Oscar idiocy, the press release, the news leaks, and the NYT story… none of them seemed to be able to clarify just what the hell Tribeca – a privately held for-profit company that still is selling the idea that they are in business to help someone other than their owners – is really after.
But a day later, having consumed all I could find, I think I have it.
Like most other players in the area of VOD, they are trying to fuck filmmakers. Now that wasn’t so hard to figure, was it?
The basic step to the future is this… everything will be available, both online and through some kind of streaming devices to your television set. A small percentage of filmed entertainment will have theatrical distribution. Another small percentage will have wide release via the modern version of broadcast, which includes both the networks and the cable nets.
And the rest will live in the massive clusterfuck of The Long Tail, finding niche audiences, praying to be the one in ten thousand that actually makes a profit in VOD without the marketing that goes into the other, wider delivery methods.
Festivals, led by Cannes and the Sundance, grew like wildfire because of two prongs on value. First, they became Markets that were, relatively, open to newcomers. The truth of that was a little less pleasant. 90%-plus of films at the major festivals have some kind of “insider” access to get to the top of the pile. This does not make the work that gets in less valuable, but the odds of getting into Sundance if you are a kid in Idaho with a DVD are not so good.
The second prong is Marketing. A festival was and can still be a great place to get attention for your film. As we see every year at every major fest, the media goes in thinking they know what they want to see and almost invariably, one or two of the “hot” titles remain hot and the majority of heat coming out of the fest is for unexpected films that get buzz within the confines of the festival.
Now, in the raw, ugly light of declining hope for big dollars in the arthouse universe, even with the big (and declining in $s) domestic theatrical distribution buys at the fests, we seem to be at a moment when Getting Seen is being embraced as more important than Getting Paid.
But Business abhors a vacuum as much as Nature does. And I am just about ready to start crying, “Rape!”
We saw this a few years ago with short films and a parade of companies that were going to come in and monetize the short film platform. All of those companies are now out of business or have been significantly reconsidered. And a part of that failure was YouTube and the realization of once-excited short-filmmakers that $250 wasn’t enough to give up their rights in perpetuity.
We also saw a reflection of this in the reversal of the laws that kept television networks from owning the shows they put on the air. What happened when the nets were allowed to own shows? Suddenly, the shows they owned had a much better chance of being on the schedules than shows that they were buying from others. Hundreds of millions were lost by independent TV producers when the ink hit the paper.
Let’s have a show of hands from everyone who believes that SnagFilms bought indieWIRE because they love indie film and want it to be well covered from one end of the globe to the other!
But even more troubling than a Buyer buying a media business as bait for filmmakers to Sell them their stuff cheap is when the Buyer and the Seller is the same company. I believe that Matt Dentler’s intentions are good. I even believe that John Sloss’ intentions are… uh… just give me a second… okay… good.
(ADD, 5:42p – I have been reminded, and originally intended to point out, that Cinetic’s program does not take the rights away from the filmmaker in order to be in their program. Fair enough.)
But no matter how much we all want to believe in the honor and good intentions of industry players, being both a Buyer and a Seller requires them to be on their best behavior at all times, no matter whether anyone is watching or not. When everything is in the same pile, expedience sometimes has a tendency to encroach on good intentions.
And while not-for-profit Sundance did experiment – and failed, dare I remind you – with VOD this year, now we have the For-Profit Tribeca positioning themselves, as Eugene Hernandez comedically positioned them in a story today based on a chatty, but not ready for public discussion meeting, as The New Miramax.
All of a sudden, we are finding a new basis for marketing movies that the people with marketing money do not think are capable of generating even hundreds of thousands of dollars… brands. Tribeca Presents. indieWIRE presents. Sundance Presents. Cinetic Presents.
And for the filmmaker? Well, it’s Something instead of Nothing. But as with the situation with the shorts, the Something is so tiny that it may be more expensive to have than Nothing. In the meanwhile, everyone else is building their brand.
And so what is in it for the filmmaker with Tribeca? Desperate hope is all I can see. I mean, look at what Tribeca has done for that movie… you know the one they blew up… what’s that title… um… anyone… anyone?
What’s in it for Tribeca? Well, it sounds like they are sick of this silly festival business. Too much time kissing American Express’ gold ass and finding a vodka sponsor. VOD is not a change in the festival model… it is something completely other than a festival model.
I keep screaming it, but when will people catch on that collapsing windows gives you NOTHING but fewer opportunities to take advantage of the windows that exist and will always exist? I completely embrace VOD… but it’s the caboose, not the freakin’ engine!
Thing is, 5 years from now, every one of these filmmakers will have the opportunity to self-distribute VOD – really, films of any real profile have it now – so that if they have any real success, they won’t have to share it with these organizations that will inevitably be spread so thin, with hundreds of movies to “premiere” each year, that the success of these titles will be based on promotion by the filmmaker and not by the “VOD distributor.”
We are at almost the exact same place as we were with the shorts, except the stakes are much higher for feature films being produced with festival hopes, and the potential revenue from a VOD deal is as bad or worse than the cheapie deals short-film filmmakers too back then.
You know, at least when Sundance Channel or IFC steals your short film or even your feature for virtually nothing, you are still getting seen on a cable network. You are bending over to be part of a push technology with hundreds of thousands of daily browsers.
And if you are looking at Funny or Die as a positive example… well, good luck with that. When you can get WIll Ferrell to front you, fund you, and get an HBO deal for you, let me know. You are not an indie filmmaker at that point and you don’t need anyone’s VOD.
“The New Miramax” Ha. They haven’t even been The Old Sundance or even The Old Seattle or The Old Santa Barbara.
VOD (and New Technologies, in general) is the petri dish into which you put the sperm and egg when the old fashioned way doesn’t work… it ain’t your daddy.
Crying for papa is not the future of anything. All it does is keep therapists in business. The indie world needs to learn to walk again, stand up, and be its own grown person.
There’s always someone out there who wants to sell you magic beans in exchange for your cow. But that story only has a happy ending in fairy tales. This is no fairy tale.