Building Up Georgia's Film Industry: Beware Online Sites' Murky Distribution Claims

The founders launched **** after conducting careful and extensive market research. The Management Team includes young and dynamic technology driven individuals who are dedicated to offering easier access to quality News and Entertainment to more people in our society.

Our coverage will include over 2.5 Million households on regular TV, over 1 Million Monthly Online  via desk top, laptop and tablet computers. An additional  350,000 smartphones will carry our shows monthly within the first six months of operation 

In my Google alerts this morning popped up a classified ad for film distribution based here in Georgia. Looking for films from independent filmmakers and producers I clicked on the link and came up on a site that was more an aggregator than a true distribution hub.

Nothing wrong with aggregators. Either through algorithmic magic, sweat equity, or participation of their users, their are many that are powerhouses. Relevant and robust. Home to conversations and interaction and just plain good old entertainment.

However, distributors aggregators are not. Not in the traditional sense. Most don't monetize the content they feature for the benefit of those creators. There's rarely any communication between those sites and the creators. And the relationship is at best passive with a minimal level of active engagement.

What's most important is that there's not always a tightly defined focus on what types of content aggregators are looking for. Some do, some don't. However, for most distributors, the ones that are in it for the long haul, they rarely take everything, are willing to turn down projects, and are slow to pull the trigger on anything they are iffy on.

Unfortunately, there are lots of aggregation sites that advertise themselves as distributors without clarifying the how and what that makes them so, and those are waters I find disconcerting.

I'm not saying these sites are a scam. I'm not saying the people behind it aren't legitimately trying to run an above board business. I am saying that these sites need to step up their game and understand that the lack of details on their sites is troubling.

As an example, two million households sounds impressive and all companies have to start somewhere. However here are some relevant comparisons.

  • Ovation - 50 Million Homes
  • Tuner Classic Movies - 85 Million Homes
  • Bravo - 75 Million Homes
  • IFC - 60 Million Homes
  • Sundance Channel - 39 Million Homes

TV One started with 2.2 million homes and after eight years it's passed the 50 Million mark. Here's their About Us page:

Launched on Martin Luther King's birthday in January 2004, TV One is a fast growing cable network that now serves 57 mllion households. Combining hit sitcoms, big studio movies, irrverent reality television and newsworthy specials, TV One delivers real life and entertainment programming from the African American point of view. TV One represents a connection to the authentic, rich, and diverse experience of African American life, history, and culture.

TV One is best known for its signature programming brand, Unsung. Launched in November 2008 the music biography series, that tells the untold stories of the greatest R&B and soul artists of our time, was an instant hit and helped define TV One as a trusted storyteller and voice of black culture. The 2010 debut of LisaRaye: The Real McCoy and Love That Girl, TV One's first scripted series, established TV One as a home for black hollywood stars and put the network on a new programming trajectory. TV One continues to be a unique partner for institutional African American brands such as Essence with our exclusive broadcast of TV One Night Only: Live from Essence Music Festival.

Here's what's on that site:

****** is an innovative interactive broadcast platform. Anyone with a ‘smart phone’ or internet connection is able to access trending NEWS, ENTERTAINMENT, SPORTS and CULTURAL AFFAIRS by simply logging on. With 24 hour Programming ***** provides viewers a wide variety of content (concerts, conferences, movie premieres, talk shows, sporting events, interactive games, and personal milestones to sports) anywhere, anytime desired.

Our Mission

*****’s mission is to provide trending news and entertainment content that appeal to a wide variety of interest. We aim to create harmonious relationships and improve quality of life through our communications network.

There's a clear difference in what TV One is about, who they are targeting, the type of shows they've programmed and who they've partnered with.

Starting with 2.5 million TV's is a beginning and puts this site inline with TV One, but there is no mention if this is through Comcast, DirectTV, or any known cable company. It could be a syndicated deal that's a collection of disparate stations across the country or in one particular region. It could even be a deal to work with companies that have been targeting Smart TVs to make internet channels integrated to a level that's almost seamless. In the absence of a clearer vision one has to be more than a bit standoffish and cautious.

There are benefits to being picked up by and working with aggregators.

Many do bring new subscribers and awareness. How they group and present content helps cut down the signal to noise ratio, assisting users to target the content they're looking for. But, when they present themselves as distributors and as channels, they have to do more than use business phrasing like "quality of life" or parrot the benefits of 24 hour access.

CNN brought 24 hour news to the world four decades ago, the internet gave users the ability to control that 24 hour access even further two decades ago.

Dynamic technology driven individuals could describe a web savvy 15 year-old or a 20 year veteran of Silicon Valley.

Quality of life is a phrase that has a different meaning to someone who is looking for Health Information, a Gospel Television Show or the latest Unrated Independent film. It is possible to find a viewer is who looking for all three, but it's rare they'll look to one site, one channel, to do that all. It's rare that one site or one channel can provide that content and provide a high level of quality of it without sacrificing something or requiring lots of capital human and financial.

What if there's no harm? No foul? If there is no risk and I keep control of my content I'm good right? What if it adds to my viewership?

Maybe there is no damage done. I for one find that doubtful. More viewers is meaningless if they aren't the viewers who can become part of a core, if you aren't able to forge a relationship and if you can't identify them. If you don't have access to them and you aren't seeing any significant revenue, you're back to someone benefiting off of you more than you are them, even it's not strictly in money. At some point those viewers will turn into something. You may not be upset now, but you may look back 10 years from now with less fondness. And there's the guilt by association. Your business dealings say quite a bit about you and you may unintentionally say more about how business savvy you are than intended.

For the company itself, they may maybe hurting or retarding themselves. If a company isn't hustling to build you up, are they really doing what they can to make their own business all that it can be? Are they maximizing their own assets?

Having done this for a while, I've learned that a number of these sites are mostly harmless and the people behind them are often well intentioned. Their enthusiasm genuine.

However, I've also sat in enough meetings, did enough reading and kept my eye on enough companies that I'm instantly skeptical at how successful they'll ultimately be. Facebook has 800 million active users and the stock is taking a beating because the question of how it will make money still isn't clear.

If folks are wary of a company that can boast 10% of the worlds population as users, how much scrutiny will people who have been in this business for years apply when you're starting small, and can't answer the same question, and exhibit not even 1% of the transparency* Facebook has?

If we're to build up Georgia's industry, legit companies and sites based here need to be aware of what impact they can have on perceptions and the health of our industry.

Georgia content creators and producers would do well to approach theses sites and companies carefully and do their research. Creators and producers hold a great amount of power and the potential of our state in their hands. They can help a Georgia distributor morph into a new Miramax, or they can help line the pockets of the next  low level Maddof.  They also have the ability to do a lot of this work on their own and bypass the old paradigm entirely.

So do your homework. Be careful. Be optimistic. Be wary.

Support the companies you have confidence in, avoid the ones you aren't sure about. Don't be afraid to ask for more information if you aren't sure.

*And Facebook, rightly or wrongly, is beat up for not being transparent enough, no matter how much information they release.

Review: DAMSELS IN DISTRESS

Whit Stillman has returned to feature filmmaking after a 14 year absence with his latest movie Damsels in Distress. The reaction from those who were able to see the film upon its early release has ranged from bemused nostalgic welcoming to callous rebuffs from those immune to the charms of Stillman’s affectionate observations of the "urban haute bourgeoisie", dubbed UHBs in his classic first film Metropolitan. Times have changed but, maybe thankfully, Stillman’s characters don’t seem to have astutely noticed.

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Blood Ties sets Release Date

I like to do a follow-up on stories we’ve already done at CinemATL, it proves our instincts were true in discovering a local filmmaker who had the mettle to bring their project to fruition. I especially like the one I’m doing now because of how determined the filmmaker involved has been at getting his work completed and at such a high production value.

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Distribution For Filmmakers? Awesome...Now a Few Questions First.

As communications director for the Atlanta Film Festival, I'm hit up once a week by someone offering distribution for festival filmmakers.

More often than not, I ignore them as the feeling I get is that it's little more than someone wanting to get to our list of filmmakers. At best, it's someone with a sincere desire to assist filmmakers in reaching audiences and making some actual money, but it's not apparent these "distributors" have fully thought out either the economics or the marketing. Most damning is the cursory website check, plus 5 minute Google search, that highlights the lack of a track record that would give me any confidence in what they're offering.

However, I think I'm changing my "ignore them" strategy to a "hit them up with questions" one. By doing this I hope I won't miss the opportunities that might be viable for filmmakers (and our festival). Although, deep in my gut, I don't think that's going to happen, as savvy folks can really just go directly to the filmmakers themselves if there's a film they really believe in.

What I know this will do is inform companies contacting us is that we take distribution and the careers of our filmmakers very seriously. Festivals should be kind of like doctors in that we should always strive to "first, do no harm".

Questions I'm asking:

What type of films are you looking for? How are you finding the films? How are the rights for the film handled? Or is this more of a service deal? If filmmakers are giving over any rights, what is the time period for those rights? How wide is the release? What's your average release window? What marketing is included? What is your marketing to release window? Do you have any marketing partners? What is the revenue split? Who are your investors? What's your companies break even point? Is it an exclusive deal, or can filmmakers partner with others? Can filmmakers still do a simultaneous release of their film through other channels (digital, DVD, etc.) as it's being released theatrically?

Yes, it's been almost two months since my last post. But, I'm back baby, and my mojo is ready to do the damn thing.

No Little feat; Bret Wood completes another indie feature

Bret Wood is an example of an atypical filmmaker for the Atlanta scene. He’s a scholar of classic film and someone bold enough to make period pieces on an ultra-low budget. The fact that he’s also been an enthusiastic participant in the popular community film activities like the 48 Hour Film Project right next to the weekend warrior auteurs show that he’s also willing to have fun with filmmaking too.

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End of Movie Theaters? Right Lipsky...Right...

800px-MovieTheatre_gobeirnen via Wikipedia.orgMark Lipsky has pontificated again--if you've never read his previous posts on The Wrap, he's made the claim a few times before--that theaters are destined to be virtually extinct in less than two decades. Technology he argues, along with multiplexes' lack of personality--i.e. they're not the opulent movie houses of old--will hasten the culling. What this reminds me of is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when three cryogenically frozen people from 20th century Earth were revived in the 24th. One of the 20th century folk, marveling at all the techno-advancement, asks where's the television? I believe it's Riker or Picard that intimates with their answer that Federation society has evolved beyond television.

When I was 14, I bristled at the idea that ST:TNG would make such a claim, not because I was a TV watching teenage fiend, it was because it sounded arrogant. It was one of those elements that demonstrates why some people have never warmed to Star Trek's utopian undertones. Gene Rodenberry's egalitarian vision of society aside, Trek could often feel more exclusionary than evolutionary.

In imagining the theatrical landscape of 2025, Lipsky makes the same mistake. By ignoring the actual social component and artificially separating the film experience into "then" and "now" he never takes into account how audiences actually consume, participate and engage in the movie experience. The Grand Movie House experience may be what Lipsky wants exhibitors to aspire to, or ultimately not, either way it isn't what modern audiences want. And technology may change many things, but creating an experience that only folks like Lipsky will enjoy won't be one of them.

Lipsky does try to address the social side of film watching with this bit here: "the coming metamorphosis will not only provide a superior and untethered AV experience, it will enhance the communal aspect of "moviegoing" to an almost unimaginable level." However I suggest you should never underestimate the power strangers sitting together and enjoying the same event has. It is one reason why, among many, plays, concerts and sporting events have existed and thrived for thousands, not hundreds, not dozens, but thousands, of years.

All Audiences want to be pulled into a movie, and to feel the entire endeavor from credit card transaction to final credits was worth it. Ask the folks who saw Inception or Toy Story 3 this Summer. However, I'm pretty sure the multiplex itself isn't the prime culprit for audience dissatisfaction--that would be horrible movies and poor scripts (and I'm pretty sure it isn't since the multiplex has been king for the last 30 years plus). Nor, do I think that home theaters are going to totally replicate what it feels like to hit your local theater to laugh, cry or recoil in anticipation--nor do I think it's the only, or best way to see a film, or any film for that matter.

That all being said, IF studios, and exhibitors, do not adjust their business to meet audience expectations, to give audiences films they'll respond to, except for when they are at home watching those same films on a flat screen in HD with surround sound, then yes, theaters will be dead.

Summer Box Office: What Happened to the Twitter Effect?

Last year the Twitter Effect was a major topic of conversation. As films like BRUNO underperformed and films like THE HANGOVER were surprisingly strong in 2009, many pondered the impact social media was having on Opening Weekend box office. The main hypothesis for the Twitter Effect was that Saturday audiences were beginning to be influenced more and more by what Friday audiences were saying via Twitter and Facebook. Among the many pieces: 'Twitter effect': User reviews affect box office?

Movie studios try to harness Twitter effect

'Bruno': Did Twitter Reviews Hurt Movie at Box Office? - TIME

The box office Twitter effect. Fact or fiction? | Econsultancy

Of course there were those like Patrick Goldstein who asked Is the 'Twitter Effect' on box office just big-media hype?

With the Summer Box office significantly lagging last year's you'd think Twitter and Facebook would be a greater part of the conversation. Why did THE A-TEAM tank and THE KARATE KID soar, it's got to be that Twitter Effect? Right?

No one's talking about it because, as influential as word of mouth is, turning public opinion around on a film is like turning around a massive ship, it takes time and a lot of energy. The Opening Weekend fates of most movies were decided weeks ago in the hearts of movie-goers. For any large scale release, audiences have seen enough trailers and watched enough Good Morning America interviews to more than make up their mind.

Anyone shocked at the weakness of this summer so far wasn't paying attention when, as the first official mega-film of summer IRON MAN 2 was nearing release, very few Summer films seemed to be generating any buzz beyond their core audience or those interested in the business of movies and not the movies themselves.

Removing TOY STORY 3, because it's a beloved franchise whose sequel is considered to be GODFATHER 2 level good, from the conversation, the only film that's really gotten to audiences this summer appears to be INCEPTION.

While some of the talk about the Twitter Effect last summer was partially a result of the service's 2008-2009 explosion. Some of it also had to be a result of execs protecting their asses and admitting that no matter how much money spent on marketing, their influence over box office results is only so finite*. When you have a chance check out Box-Office Blindsides: The Trouble with Tracking over on The Wrap.

Where Twitter and Facebook could have the greatest impact is in slowing down the erosion of films from one week to the next. So many films every year are well reviewed or connect with audiences, only to see their theatrical lives cut short. While others, surprise at how well received they are, only to get no marketing backup to keep that momentum going.

So the question is, could a few more years of social media influence distributors into reworking their theatrical release strategies? Marketing and distribution is still mostly built around a Open Big, move on to DVD model. Little of it, from my humble perspective, is about what actively happens in that squishy in between period. However, maybe it's not distributors who are best equipped to experiment and innovate here.

If anyone should be pioneering how to use social media at point of sale--turn your nose back down, this art IS a business--it should be exhibitors. Imagine what could be possible if theater owners leveraged their places as community hubs with the power of social media to not only better reach audiences, but to better cultivate and cater to them as well.  A real Twitter Effect could be exhibitors redefining and rediscovering what it means to be your neighborhood theater.

*This sentence has been rewritten since this post went live for clarification and to lessen the snark. The original sentence can be read here: Any talk of the Twitter Effect last summer was more likely execs not only protecting their asses, but also a slimy, backhanded admission that no matter how much money spent on marketing, their influence over box office results is only so finite.

Stop Blaming the Actors for Poor Box Office

When PRINCE OF PERSIA underperformed, a few articles and blogs popped up asserting that Jake Gyllenhal was the weakest link. Last week THE A-TEAM got stomped by THE KARATE KID, trailing it's fellow remake/re-imagining by $30 million. Already one piece has materialized laying partial blame on Bradley Cooper. It's true that the current crop of Hollywood's stars have no where near the pulling power of their predecessors. Even powerhouses like Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington have seen their prowess wane over the last decade plus.

So when a movie fails to break wide, would different casting choices have made the difference?

That's a question that only has merit when you're talking about a film where a majority of the other factors are clicking. On point direction, a tight script and a premise or story that the public gravitates to.

By no stretch of the imagination would PRINCE OF PERSIA have been a better movie with Vin Diesel as the lead. The A-TEAM could have been made 30 years ago with Harrison Ford and the script would still be problematic.

In a front loaded, opening weekend matters most world, maybe the films would have had larger grosses with a different faces. Eventually though, an audience still has to decide if a movie is worth recommending or not when they walk out into the light.

Unless you're filming a one man show, no actor by their lonesome has the power to mystify audiences into ignoring plot-holes, poor scripting, confused direction and an underwhelming premise. If that was so, then there's a host of actors whose records should be damn near spotless. However, in the history of film, no actor has escaped having a few duds on their resumes. No one.

$29.99 Movies, Day and Date, 2006 Sundance: or We've Been Talking About This Forever

In my day job at the Atlanta Film Festival, I was looking for some links to use for the 48 Hour Film Project, when I stumbled across the old CinemATL blog. The particular portion I hit was from my first Sundance and the first Sundance we covered in 2006. Among the posts, is one in which I wax a bit about two women who hadn't been to the movies in years, $4.50 tickets was when they had last seen a movie, and an in theater survey asking people would they pay $29.99 for DVDs to own them day and date. It's fascinating to flash-forward 4 years and to see how little the issues about what's driving people to see or not see films at the theater, and what will those same folks pay, have changed. If you didn't know any better, at some point you think I had stolen the words out of Ted Hope's blog.