Trent Reznor Adds Value for a Good Cause

Stan Schroeder posted a story on Mashable today about Trent Reznor raising over $850.000 for a fan who needs a heart transplant. Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction set up a site to take donations for Eric De La Cruz and offered special gifts and access to the bands for larger donations.

Trent Reznor by bampop

Trent Reznor by bampop

Schroeder’s insights about NIN’s business model are enlightening:

“Once again, NiN prove that fans are very willing to give money (even significant amounts of money) for CDs or digital downloads, if they come with added value that seems fair to them.”

Likewise, his analysis of the mainstream music industry is biting:

“The music industry, on the other hand, has been doing exactly the opposite for years…they even tried to decrease value by introducing DRM to digital copies, which is now a scorned and widely abandoned tactic. No wonder they’re now complaining about how Internet is bad for the industry.”

Do you agree with Schroeder’s analysis?  Would you consider a similar fundraiser/giveaway?

Funding an Independent Film

How do you get the money to make a film about dying languages?
How would you convince funders to back your film when it doesn’t have a clear audience?

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists Theatrical Poster

The Linguists

Last October, the Independent published an article about funding independent films and examined Ironbound Films‘ documentary, The Linguists, as one case study.

The film’s creator, Seth Kramer, upon facing resistance from foundations and grants, self-funded a $10,000 expedition to Siberia with scientists David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, to film the first 20% of the film. With a reel to show, they were able to attract an additional $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to finish the film.

Success?

The Linguists recently aired on PBS after showing at Sundance last year. A DVD is available directly from Ironbound Films, and the film has been well reviewed by Vanity Fair, the Washington Post, the LA Times and even Noam Chomsky.

The Independent’s article also includes case studies of two lower budget films, the $60,000 USC student short, The Abattoir, and the $100,000 feature A Good Day To Be Black and Sexy.

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?

Lucky There’s Seth MacFarlane

Family Guy Graffiti Image from Cheryl’s PhotostreamI used to be a pretty big Family Guy devotee (back in that golden age when it was only shown on Adult Swim). While I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the manatees-with-idea-balls approach to storytelling (just watch the South Park episode), I think that MacFarlane’s talent for tapping into everything from Victorian literature to modern art and coming up with a poop joke is kind of impressive in its own way.

And that leaves us with MacFarlane’s latest venture, Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. These are mini episodes (1-5 minutes a piece) that seem like deleted cutaway scenes from Family Guy.

Now, if you read the URL in that link, you’ll notice that you can find this Cavalcade at www.youtube.com/user/bk – Burger King’s YouTube channel. Every episode is branded with the Burger King logo and a snippet of an animated version of BK’s King character. That is in addition to the regular YouTube logo that plays in the lower right corner of the clip window.

The Cavalcade is branded in three ways: (1) Seth MacFarlane, (2) Burger King, (3) YouTube. It’s an innovative approach to producing web media, but one that was phenomenally popular in the early days of TV and radio. Comedian Jack Benny was sponsored by everything from Canada Dry to Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the show was labeled as the Canada Dry Show, The Grape-Nuts Show, etc. Philip Morris used to sponsor “I Love Lucy” – and characters, or animations of those characters, actively hyped their cigarettes on screen before the show. This level of corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s brand is equally or more visible than the brand of the show itself, might be exceedingly valuable to indie and mainstream producers trying to get their shows on the web. It also creates some problems.

Up until now, the internet has not been an epicenter for high-quality, original, intentional humor. “Charlie bit my finger” was and is much more typical of online comedy than, say “Nobody’s Watching.” But well-established celebrities producing web exclusive content is going to mean higher production values, actual scripting (gasp!) and possibly even some steady camerawork. This means that maybe, just maybe, your well-scripted, innovative comedy has a chance to shine out there too.

However, while Seth MacFarlane can get away with a foul mouth when he’s sponsored by a “hip” brand like Burger King, I’m sure a sketch about transfats and obesity would not be welcome. Finding a patron if you are not already on the inside will be an uphill battle. And patron-sponsored content may mean sacrificing some ideas to preserve an overall brand image.

Would you go the patron route with your own web TV series? Or would you rather get your content out there, and find funding later?

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!