Interview with Louie Psihoyos

Teague and I met Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, at AFI SILVERDOCS.  Psihoyos talked about how he made The Cove, which documents his team’s mission to expose the destruction of ocean wildlife in a secret cove in Japan.  We really enjoyed his stories about getting footage using both high and low tech spy tools – many of which are featured in the film.  We asked Louie Psihoyos about the role of the web in distributing his film, and about how he ended up making a documentary that feels more like a thriller.  Take a look at our interview below!

Still Indie Interviews Louie Psihoyos from Anna Pinkert on Vimeo.

Are You Guilty of Media Malpractice?

Last week I attended Making Media Now at Bentley University, where, among other really interesting panels, I saw Andy Carvin talk about crowdsourcing. I was also really glad to hear Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films talk about making media that matters with Lisa Mullins of The World. Greenwald also screened a clip from his upcoming work on the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

When asked by Lisa Mullins to fill in the sentence, “If you’re not using new media you are. . .” he answered, “. . . guilty of malpractice.” Greenwald described the new media scene as the opposite of Hollywood: “Suddenly the gatekeepers are gone.” With decreasing costs to make media, filmmakers can create quality work with fewer people on board. Greenwald says he takes an “if you build it they will come” approach – starting with a 2-minute version of a film he wants to make, and finding an audience that will support it.

Greenwald insisted that filmmakers think creatively about marketing and distribution – reserve a short simple URL when the idea for the film strikes, distribute short web clips if you can’t get a feature length doc on the air, collaborate with groups that will promote or financially contribute to the film, and, my favorite quote: “Think about it not as a microphone, but as a conversation.”

How Much Would You Pay for an E-Book?

“While Amazon might be able to find a market for $9.99 books on the Kindle, the iPhone-iPod Touch world is a very different place. Very few people are willing to pay that kind of money for any sort of application, let alone an e-book.”

via Why people won’t pay for e-books on the iPhone | Fully Equipped – CNET Reviews.

With the lower cost of production and distribution, you might expect publishers to pass some of the savings from e-books on to the readers, but the trend seems to be a strategy of maintaining prices and simply expanding the profit margin, and you can’t really blame a company for looking at it that way, as long as readers are still buying.

Amazon Kindle E-Book Reader

Amazon Kindle E-Book Reader

There are two considerations that come to mind here. The first is that if readers won’t pay the increased prices, then the market will correct itself and the price of goods will drop to reflect the lower cost of production. The other is that the majority of these increased margins are likely going to the publishing houses, not the authors (similar to the relationship between record labels and musical artists). This means that there is an opportunity for independent authors to self-publish and cut out the middleman.

This possibility has existed before, and e-books have been distributed online for on-screen viewing, but the mainstream market’s push to popularize the portable e-book devices, similar to the explosion of MP3 players (notably, the iPod), has opened up a new market for self-published e-book authors to tap into, who are already primed for the delivery method.

Moreover, the idea that users pay more for content when they have a convenient way of viewing it means that more e-book readers may signal higher prices for the e-books themselves.  For consumers, the questions still remain: How much would you pay for an e-book and does the platform you read it on make a difference?

Norway’s public broadcaster launches BitTorrent tracker

NRK Tyholt Tower by Fredrik Thommesen

NRK Tyholt Tower by Fredrik Thommesen

“NRK, Norway’s public broadcaster, has decided that its BitTorrent distribution experiment has gone so well that the company will launch its own tracker in order to distribute its programming. Norway’s commitment to openness means that the files are DRM-free and even available for fansubbing.” –  Norway’s public broadcaster launches BitTorrent tracker.

Several public broadcasters have experimented with BitTorrent as a distribution platform.  The example that comes to mind for me is the CBC distributing Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister on BitTorrent around this time last year.

NRK has taken this a step further and started their own tracker to distribute programming and get some sense of the analytics.  Granted, one of the main reasons NRK can do this is because 94% of their revenue comes from a licensing fee paid by television owners, similar to the system in the UK.

I imagine this is an exciting development for Norwegian ex-patriates, but I wonder how the owners of televisions feel about their fee supporting viewing on computers.  It will be interesting to see if Norway adopts a broadband or computer licensing fee to replace the television licensing fee, or if revenues simply drop as viewers switch from TVs to computers.

Creative Commons Doesn’t Cannibalize Sales

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor (Photo by Capital M)

NIN Frontman Trent Reznor
(Photo by Capital M)

Chris Anderson recently posted “The best selling MP3 album of the year was free” on The Long Tail blog. Apparently, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the best selling MP3 album of 2008 despite being released under a Creative Commons license that allowed for free, legal sharing.

The album grossed more than $1.6 million in revenue duing the first week in release.  Creative Commons blog has more:

NIN fans could have gone to any file sharing network to download the entire CC-BY-NC-SA album legally. Many did, and thousands will continue to do so. So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked.

This would seem to be another big win for proponents of alternative models to the traditional intellectual property attitudes stemming from the physical goods economy.

Radiohead’s Pick-Your-Price a Success?

In Rainbows Album Cover Image from WikipediaThe Chicago Tribune has a good set of numbers from the Radiohead “In Rainbows” release. As you may recall, Radiohead offered the album as a download in advance of the physical release and allowed fans to choose what price to pay for the album (if at all).

A few highlights:

  • $8 million from 100,000 box sets sold
  • 1.75 million CDs sold (on top of box set sales)
  • 1.2 million fans on the concert tour
  • 3 million copies sold overall (including digital)
  • Web sales alone exceeded the total sales from their previous album
  • Upon physical release, “In Rainbows” debuted atop both the U.S. and U.K. pop charts

What do you make of this? Do you think the experiment was a success? Are theses numbers indicative of a good business model despite the number of users who downloaded the album for free, or is this the effect of a quality album coupled with Radiohead’s previous popularity?

Is this evidence compelling enough to make you consider a similar model for your own work?

Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem: DRM done right? Or yet another failed attempt?

Here’s what we know so far. DECE will announce details at CES in January. The general principle is something along the lines of a digital rights locker in the cloud that keeps track of what content you have purchased and have rights to play.

Burned (read: Destroyed) DVD Image from Night Star RomanusThe major goals of the project are interoperability, allowing users to copy content onto household playback devices (as opposed to streaming only) and to enable writing to physical media.

Sounds like an ambitious project, and maybe a pipe dream given the walled garden approach that most content providers have been pushing thus far. But with a list of players that includes most major media corporations, some serious technical expertise, the device manufacturers of both HD disc technologies (and then some), and at least one major retailer, this might have a chance to get past the conception stage.

The list of companies signed on so far is Best Buy, Cisco, Comcast, Fox, HP, Intel, Lions Gate, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Warner Bros.

What does this mean for indie producers? That remains to be seen, but for most of us, there’s already an alternative. What else supports interoperability and portability of content to offline and physical media? What lets viewers watch what they want, where and how they want to? Anything without DRM. Just sayin’.

Indie Films in Hollywood: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Indie Theater Image from Brandon Cirillo’s PhotostreamBy now you’ve probably already read the Wall Street Journal’s take on the state of independent film in Hollywood. If you haven’t, I’ll sum up: Hollywood studios are finding that lower budget indie flicks are not paying off at the box office. No matter how many movies you make (and it looks like they’re making quite a lot of movies), there aren’t any more screens to show them on than there were before. Small movies, no matter how star-studded, aren’t inspiring people to amble on over to the multiplex.

As someone pointed out at the always fabulous Boston Media Makers session Sunday morning, the movie industry is just catching up to the same issues that have plagued the music industry for years.* I think that’s a pretty fair summary of the situation. The old ways of doing business are not as profitable as they used to be. The WSJ focuses largely on the financial problems this creates, but I’m also wondering how this will change the storytelling landscape.

If funding is drying up for people who want to make small family dramas and slow-paced coming-of-age fables, where else will they go? Are viewers genuinely uninterested in smaller stories, or are they just getting their fill elsewhere? Television seems to be flush with nuanced drama, and fascinating things are happening with graphic novels these days – not to mention the rapidly evolving universe of web-distributed film. Is the feature-length indie film never again coming to a theater near you, or is it just in hibernation?

*I cannot recall who said this at the meeting, please comment if you remember!

Dr. Horrible Defeats the Internet

Dr. Horrible Scene Image from Steve Garfield’s PhotostreamDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is alive and kicking! After hordes of fans crashed their servers, the site appears to be back up and running. The first act is now available, streaming, for free. More info on the site crash can be found at Save Hiatus.

Since the site appeared to be on permanent hiccup when I got home yesterday, I bought myself a season pass on iTunes. I wasn’t the only one: Dr. Horrible is currently the top iTunes download for TV single episodes and season passes. For something that people expected to get for free, that’s kind of amazing. The long-tail-economics of that situation are better left to someone with more expertise, but I will say this:

Studios and record labels have based their attacks on peer-to-peer sharing on the basic premise that if a piece of media is available for free, no rational person will pay for it. Either Joss Whedon’s fans are crazy, or there’s something else going on. My suspicion is that there is something valuable ($4 worth of valuable) about becoming a part of the first wave of media consumers. This is why people dress up and wait in line for opening nights of movies (like Star Wars and Sex and the City), even though they could watch the same movie at a discount theater in a month, or get it for free from the library a couple months after that. As we move toward an increasingly information-rich society, the information itself becomes almost secondary to how it helps us relate to other people. We want to know where our information came from and how we can share it with others. People crave communal experiences, and getting to gab about Dr. Horrible on the day it appears is just one of those community-building events.

More Dr. Horrible news is on its way! Next time, a serious discussion of silliness. No joke.

ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!

Our special agent in New Jersey gave us a tip on a new web  and television fusion project from a major network:

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Earth 2100 is a “television and internet event” set to debut this fall on ABC [Editor’s Note: The site now simply says “Coming in 2009”]. Here’s how they describe it:

The world’s brightest minds agree that the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results.

We need you to bring this story to life — to use your imagination to create short videos about what it would be like to live through the next century if we stay on our current path. Using predictions from top experts, we will feed you detailed briefings from the years 2015, 2050, 2070 and 2100 — and you will report back about the dangers that are unfolding before your eyes.

Your videos will be combined with the projections of top scientists, historians, and economists to form a powerful web–based narrative about the perils of our future. We will also select the most compelling reports to form the backbone of our two–hour primetime ABC News broadcast: Earth 2100, airing this fall.

They have a few sample “reports from the future” up there already. Kudos to ABC for trying to combine documentary, fiction and user-generated content all in one go. I see some problems with the approach. . . for one thing, the “reports from the future” are bound to be depressing and bleak – because that’s what all the experts are describing. There is also the problem of combining gorgeous HD footage of experts with cheesily shot, low budget versions of Children of Men. I don’t want to be a wet blanket here – I love documentaries, and I love cheesy, homemade science fiction. . . but I don’t know if I can take the leap to watch both at once.

This project STILL doesn’t solve the “can’t I just get it on YouTube?” problem. Meaning, if you bother to make a movie that’s as clever as the sample clip with the snorkel and the pink walrus – why would you let ABC decide whether or not to distribute it for you? Why would you go to the ABC site, rather than google video or YouTube?

The fact that ABC is going to put some of these in a national broadcast is certainly a draw, and I am all for educating people about climate change and public health any which way you can.