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.
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’.
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!
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.
It seems fitting to write about the state of independent film on Independence Day (here in the US). Indeed, the topic is not only apropos, but fashionable. Much has been said about Mark Gill’s comments at the LA Film Festival last week. Some agree that the sky is falling, while others take comfort in his optimistic closing remarks. I won’t rehash all of that here, but I want to echo my support for John August’s take on the matter. In his postmortem of The Nines he suggests that success for an independent film is measured not in dollars but eyeballs.
You should make an indie film to make a film. Period. Artistic and commercial success don’t correlate well, and at the moment, only the former is remotely within your control.
So, you make the film you want to make. And because film is your passion, you’re not in it for the money. You’re doing what you love, not shooting for an early retirement. You try to break even, maybe gain enough capital or recognition to make another. So, how many people saw your film? Who heard your story? It’s a different way of looking at success.
Image by Elsie esq.
August also writes some about the impact of BitTorrent on the success (financial and otherwise) of The Nines. In the end, he says he would have made the same movie but distributed it differently. This is emblematic of the changing tide in the indie film world. Despite the ever increasing availability of filmmaking tools, the artist’s ability to create an emotional connection with the viewer is as crucial as ever. The arena where technology is truly changing the game is in the methods for putting that story in front of an audience.
Digital distribution opens up avenues of connecting with an audience that weren’t available to independent artists ten, or even five, years ago. So make your film and do it cheaply enough that you don’t have to worry about the money. Then, see how many people you can share your story with. And throughout the process, revel in your independence.
Image by hereinvannuysThe SAG is looking at extending or renegotiating their contract with the studios, and no doubt weighing their options in light of the most recent WGA strike. Even though it looks like a strike from Hollywood actors is unlikely at this point, it’s interesting to reflect on this extremely bizarre year for studio-produced media. . .
Looking back on the writers’ strike, I have to wonder if it actually changed the landscape of media consumption at all. Did we spend more time watching YouTube? Probably, but I’m guessing that the only careers launched were those of a few adorable kittens. Did we suffer without our regularly scheduled network programming? Possibly, but I was too busy watching Sex and the City reruns. Unless Ben Stiller plans to go around unplugging everyone’s TV’s and trashing their iTunes folders, it’s really going to be tough to make every screen in America go dark.
In the years since the 1988 writers’ strike, regular Americans have become accustomed to consuming media multiple times a day. And while that means we are able to consume more studio-made media (due to DVDs, video streaming services and bittorrent), it also means that it’s harder for the loss of any one type of media (new television dramas, blockbuster films) to make an impact on our daily lives. There’s simply too much good stuff being produced for us to consume all of it. And too much bad stuff that we’re willing to watch anyway.
Image by jblyberg
Seth Godin recently posted on his blog about the Kindle ($359 from Amazon). He mentions publisher resistance to lowering prices on digital books, similar to studio or label’s resistance to lower prices on film, tv, or music. They all claim that lower prices would mean less revenue for the artists, authors, actors, etc.
If you eliminate the cost of physical products, you should be able to lower the total cost, raise the percentage that is paid to the content creator, and still make a profit. Unless the reason to keep prices high is to maintain the bloated physical distribution arm of a studio/publisher/label.
Maybe the idea is just to keep milking the connections that keep traditional distributors on top of the promotional game before an agile content aggregator/digital distributor/promoter comes along who doesn’t have to keep supporting the whole physical production and distribution department and can afford to simultaneously pay the creators more and charge the consumers less. Imagine what that would be like.
So, the Producer’s post got me thinking. First of all, thanks to SXSW for the shoutout! Second of all. . .
I read this article in the NY Times a while ago. To sum up: Steve and Barry’s is setting out to be the cheapest, most fashionable chain store ever created. They’re using celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker to design fashionable outfits that sell for less than $9. Are these guys going to put Chanel and Oscar de la Renta out of business? No way. They’re doing the same thing that the big studios are doing right now: Taking the most popular trends from high fashion (or its most popular public faces) and co-opting them for the masses. Warner Brothers, Paramount and the other studios seem to be angling to be the Target and Walmart of new media: You like Steve Carrell in that arty Little Miss Sunshine movie? More Steve Carrell! Steve Carrell for everyone!
Now, the difficulty here is that everyone, absolutely everyone, needs shirts and pants. The content of those shirts and pants (color, cut, pattern) is all up for grabs. So if Target can make cheap shirts and pants that look like something out of Sex and the City, then that starts to look like a pretty good deal. However, not everyone needs movies. Not everyone enjoys movies (I know, I’m as shocked as you). So what happens when the economy is a bit shaky, and people start thinking that their $9 is better spent at Steve and Barry’s than at Landmark Cinemas?
Vaudeville. If you were around in the 1890′s, and you went to the theater, you could see a vaudeville show consisting of comedy, drama, dance, music and some seriously weird stuff (does this remind anyone of the CW’s Monday night lineup?) – it was affordable for the middle class, and acts traveled all over the country. There were people whose acts inspired the same kind of fannish devotion as any modern-day Miley Cyrus. But the advent of this cheaper form of entertainment called “film,” plus that nasty financial incident in the fall of 1929, forced theaters to turn into movie palaces. Vaudeville’s best talent headed for Hollywood. If this interests you, PBS put out a really good documentary on vaudeville for American Masters.
Film didn’t kill theater. It just changed the nature of the theater-going experience. Now it’s unlikely you’ll see variety shows trying to attract a mass audience. Theaters had to adapt to appeal to a specialized audience. Target hasn’t killed high fashion, either.
Are films going to die? No. Art doesn’t die. It gets chopped up, rehashed and made into a collage somewhere else. Just like fashion – everything comes back into vogue eventually. When technology gets ahead of the curve of theory and critique, people get all agitated. Right now, nobody is reviewing YouTube videos in the New York Times. No academics have cannonized it, no critics have turned it into a comparison-fest. In vaudeville, there were some trashy, mind-blowingly stupid acts roaming around the country. But what we remember now are the geniuses – the people who influenced generations to come.
Eventually, we’re going to see great art, really great narrative art, come out of these weird little platforms. I agree fully with the Producer: It’s a great time to experiment and make something new.