» Posts Tagged ‘thewestside’
Filmmaker Magazine asked a number of Independent Film Week participants to guest blog on their website; I started writing a post but it ballooned into a verbose treatise on the future of digital distribution, so it ended up on their site as a Web Exclusive. It’s cross-posted here for no good reason.
Along with Zachary Lieberman (co-creator of The West Side), I spoke on Monday’s panel “Your Film Online,” and I wanted to expand here on some thoughts I shared during that panel — mostly in response to the prevailing wisdom that “the sky is falling” on independent film.
I’m a New Face of independent film, not an Industry Veteran, so maybe it’s naiveté that leads me to have a very different outlook on distribution than The Film Department CEO Mark Gill, whose comments in June were still on everyone’s lips at IFW. After proclaiming, “as it relates to independent film, the sky really is falling,” Gill’s solution was for the indie film world to make “fewer, better” movies. Unfortunately, that’s not actually a productive piece of advice. After he spoke, did most of the audience pack it up and leave to pursue a different career? No. Everyone’s already trying to make the best film they can, and telling financiers or filmmakers to try harder isn’t going to materially affect the market.
While Gill obviously gave the right speech at the right time and touched nerves across the industry, if we take a step back from the shake-up currently going on, the future is very clearly brighter than ever for independent productions; we just need to embrace a number of fundamental changes in distribution. Ten years ago, to get someone to pay to see your indie film, you had to mobilize a local crowd in dozens of markets in order to get butts into art house seats. Now we’ve got a global interconnected audience of millions of online movie watchers and the answer is to make less movies? No. The audience is larger than ever; we don’t need to make fewer movies. The answer is we need to make it easier to watch movies.
The way independent film distribution currently works is self-defeating. Let’s say I’m reading the current issue of Filmmaker and I find out about a film that opened at Sundance. I want to see it… but I can’t. The film showed at the festival, a distributor bought the rights to it, and now it won’t come to a theater for six to nine months and won’t be on DVD for a full year. Here I am with my interest piqued, the title of the film foremost in my head, but in order for that movie to earn a dime from me — an interested, paying customer — they’re going to have to count on me remembering the film several months later. They have to count on me actually becoming aware of its release through an advertisement or a listing of showtimes during the theatrical window, they have to count on me being in town and having some free time during that brief period, they have to count on me being able to interest someone else in the film as well (like most people I prefer not to go to the theater alone), and on top of all of that, they have to count on me actually remembering the article I read nine months ago and connecting that to the title of the film currently listed on the marquee next to several other titles.
What kind of consumer-facing product is intentionally made this elusive? In the above situation, if I do eventually realize I wanted to see the film, I’ll add it to my Netflix queue at position 336, which is not a great value proposition to the distributor or filmmaker. Even worse, after reading the Filmmaker article, I might never hear about the film again, and, like so many other movies I was interested in at one point, it might fall through the cracks and I’ll never see (or pay for) it.
It doesn’t make sense: if your film has someone’s interest piqued, they need to be able to plunk down a few bucks and watch it NOW. Not tomorrow, not next month, certainly not a full year from now.
The way I see it, there are two main problems with distribution as it stands today: one, release windows, and two, online experience.
In terms of release windows, I understand the arguments behind finding an audience and building hype. But the marketing costs that a movie incurs in order to achieve some sort of penetration into the collective cultural conscience is not befitting of an indie film. Besides, in the indie world, advance hype for something that hasn’t come out yet is more expensive and less effective than a simple recommendation from a friend for something that’s currently available. Regardless, if you’re going to spend money building an audience for a film, why not build that audience while the film is actually available for purchase, instead of during an “advertising-only” window?
The supporters of staggered theatrical windows and expensive ad campaigns have a reason to want to stick to their guns: their jobs depend on it. Distributors are the ones whose companies are in trouble, so they’re the ones most likely to cry apocalypse. On Wednesday’s panel “The State of Independent Distribution,” Scott Kirsner of Cinematech asked Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard about the wisdom of continuing to use release windows in the face of piracy. Why not make a film available for paying customers if it’s already available for free via illicit channels? Bernard’s response: “Because people are used to windows.” Well, people were used to snail mail before e-mail came along, and most of us have managed to adapt (with the exception of a certain Presidential candidate). I doubt many of us would want to go back to waiting three days for cross-country written communication, just as one day I doubt any of us will want to go back to waiting for film reels to be shipped across the country for an exclusive theatrical window.
If release windows are completely done away with and we put every film online day-and-date, wouldn’t that put many theaters out of business? Probably, but for most major releases nowadays, the film is already online day-and-date. It’s on Bittorrent, it’s on Kazaa or whatever file-sharing service they use on college campuses these days, it’s available via any number of illicit online distribution channels. These pirated copies are popular for two main reasons: price (free!) and convenience (now!). It’s hard to beat the pirates on the price issue, but as it stands, the illegal option is also more convenient than the legit option, and that’s a problem. Not only is it more convenient, but it’s also often of higher quality: if you look around on Bittorrent, the community cares deeply about the quality of the films they’re downloading; they rip a movie from an HDTV broadcast if possible, they make it available with subtitles in several different languages, and in general a downloader can watch a better quality movie for free than if they actually ponied up the cash to watch it through an authorized download or streaming service. Ultimately, when piracy is offering a more convenient, higher-quality experience in addition to a cheaper one, we’re failing at digital distribution.
There are existing online distribution options — including nascent day-and-date release plans like IFC’s VOD program — but the currently available choices offer limited viewing options and no sense of ownership. Using myself as an example, at home I have several legal means to watch movies online: one is my Netflix subscription, with its Watch Instantly feature, but it offers an extremely limited selection (less than 10% of Netflix’s titles are available to watch online), and it doesn’t work at all on my Mac. So I turn to iTunes, Amazon, or my Playstation, all of which tout online video stores; each has a different catalog, however, so you never know if the content you’re looking for will be available on that particular store. Additionally, each store has a different pricing structure and different viewing limitations thanks to their Digital Rights Management. Only my Playstation is hooked up to my TV, so content bought at Amazon or iTunes is only viewable on my laptop. Whereas if I download a movie illegally I can play it on the screen of my choice, if I “buy” a movie from an online store the DRM often won’t let me transfer the film to other devices. And limited transferability is only part of the problem with DRM; mainly, the issue is the consumer’s ephemeral ownership of a product they paid real money for. I don’t have any faith that a movie I purchase online today will be watchable three years from now; I might have an entirely new computer that it won’t transfer to, or I might forget the password to an account I have to “refresh” my licenses with. Imagine if you bought a DVD at the store and it expired after a few days unless you logged into a server; no one would buy such a disc. They actually tried that with DIVX ten years ago… and no one bought it. Yet DRM today is essentially the same as the failed DIVX experiment.
After years of hemorrhaging money, the music industry is finally offering decent options for online music consumption: iTunes and Amazon (and Rhapsody, I should note, since I currently work there) are finally selling MP3s, which are DRM-free and thus work on any device. That sounds like actual ownership. That sounds like an experience finally equal to that of… what’s already available online via pirated means, for free.
And that’s where watching movies online becomes viable. If I want to buy something, give it to me free of restrictions and I’ll gladly pay money for it and start building a library. Indeed, if people are buying millions of unprotected MP3s from online stores — instead of just one person on the planet buying the album and emailing the files to everyone — I’m pretty sure consumers will buy a DRM-free movie, load it onto any device they own, and enjoy it however they want. They’re much less likely to email around a 2GB movie file than a 4MB music file anyway. As a final point, does anyone think that selling a protected file to the paying customer is going to prevent piracy when there are a million unprotected, pirated copies of that same song or movie already available online? All DRM does is screw the person who actually paid for it.
Consumers don’t expect to pay as much for a digital file as they would for a physical product that was manufactured and shipped across the country, and rightfully so. But as filmmakers we’ll sell a whole lot more copies of our movie at a lower price point, and we’ll end up making more money this way anyway (the same thing happened with DVD when it undercut the price point of rental tapes — the drastic increase in number of units sold more than outweighed the drop in per-unit revenue). Today, a $20 DVD nets the filmmaker how much after the physical production, distribution, and company overhead? $2? Environmentally it’s not a great time to be shrinkwrapping a disc and freighting it all around the country, anyway. If we sell it through an online store for $10 we’ll keep significantly more than $2 of that sale; if we sell it on our own site, we’ll keep the whole $10.
And that’s another point about the bright future of indie film: direct sales. Gary Hustwit (dir., Helvetica) talked on Wednesday’s panel “The Digital Download” about the revenue streams he was able to generate directly from fans; when asked how much they added up to, he tellingly responded, “a lot.” And thus ended the panel. Some of these revenue streams were just rounded up by Peter Broderick in a two-part post at IndieWire, “Welcome to the New World of distribution” (part 1, part 2). As with countless business innovations over the years, cutting out the middleman, or at least reducing his role, is of paramount importance for independent productions. Getting back to Gill’s speech, he predicted, “it will feel like we just survived a medieval plague. The carnage and the stench will be overwhelming.” He’s right, but the carcasses he speaks of will be the bodies of distribution companies and theater owners, not filmmakers.
The future of independent film is instant, digital gratification. As filmmakers, we’ve already brought down production costs down by shooting digitally; now we need distribution costs brought down by distributing digitally as well. Cut out the P&A — the 35mm blowup, the trucks across the country, the bloated ad campaign — and put our films in digital theaters and online, simultaneously. Make our films available anytime, anywhere: on our computers, on our iPhones, iPods, Playstations, TVs, etc. — all with the guarantee that if you buy it, it’s DRM-free. People will pay for something if they actually own what they’re paying for. In addition to hundreds of digital theater screens, we also now have hundreds of millions of computers with internet connections as our venues. That’s a lot of screens. I’m pretty sure the sky is not falling.
IFP’s upcoming Filmmaker Conference takes place here in New York September 14th-19th and features such esteemed panelists as Kevin Smith, Robert Greenwald, and… Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman.
When I say it that way it looks like we’re featured alongside the industry heavyweights, but there are of course dozens of other panelists, including Rick Allen (pres., Snagfilms), Frida Torresblanco (prod., Pan’s Labyrinth), Gary Hustwit (dir., Helvetica), Lance Weiler (dir., Head Trauma), Barry Jenkins (dir., Medicine for Melancholy) and many others. Check out the schedule of events and get tickets to whatever tickles your fancy. Everyone’s talking these days about the economic hard times indie film has fallen on, and the re-thinking of the market — along with the ongoing developments in digital distribution — should make this a very interesting conference.
Zack and I are on a panel Monday, September 15th at 2:30pm entitled Case Study: Your Film Online. On the panel, we will be talking about our film… online.
Along with The West Side co-director Zachary Lieberman, I’m one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Actually, collectively the two of us are one Face out of the 25; I’d like to think I’m the Harvey Dent side of the Two-Face.
I’m not sure when I started reading Filmmaker; in high school I subscribed to the similarly-themed The Independent, but at some point made the switch to Filmmaker. By the time I was out of college, I was eyeing the annual New Faces filmmakers with a touch of envy, wondering how I could transition from North Carolina-based corporate videography to New York-based narrative filmmaking.
The answer, I’m sure, is somewhere in here.
Thanks to Scott Macaulay for selecting us (and for writing a very complimentary profile) and to Richard Koek for taking a photo befitting of an Urban Western.
–Episode Four of The West Side went live a month ago. Sorry for the lack of updates; we hustled hard to get the episode done before the Webby Awards, and then we hustled hard to the open bars at the Webby Awards.
–At the Film & Video Webbys, we were the assholes. Maybe gracious and humble was the way to go, but everyone was saying those things and our speech was at the end of the show, so we went for something more memorable. Sorry, girl.
–The Webby Awards are at an interesting crossroads; they’ve been around for 12 years but are only now on the cusp of becoming well-known. Considering most of us spend more time surfing the web than we do watching TV, viewing movies, reading books, or going to plays, you’d think the web would have an awards show as prestigious as the Oscars, Emmys, etc. The Webbys are certainly the foremost Internet award, but they still have a ways to go.
–To further distinguish the award, the show-runners could axe many of their hundred or so categories, such as “Best Rich Media Advertising: Business-to-Business.” Maybe there really were hundreds of entries in that category. Or maybe there were more like nine entries, five of which were in turn nominated, two of which were then winners (the Webbys add a popular-vote “People’s Voice” award in addition to the judge-determined Webby Award). Add on the Official Honorees distinction and the show starts to feel like “everyone gets a star.” As a nominee (for Best Drama–certainly not a category that would be dropped, I should note), I tried to watch as many as possible of the other nominees, but I couldn’t make it through the 25+ Film and Video categories, not to mention the hundred other Website, Mobile, and Interactive Advertising awards.
–On the other hand, there should be awards for websites in a broad array of categories, given the Internet is such a broad and varied community. I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds us; we couldn’t be happier about the award itself, or the accompanying shows and events. The boost in interest we’ve gotten because of winning the award will hopefully be career-launching. But it’s also in our best interest to hope the award continues to gain prestige; at the very least, the Webbys need to start prodding their sponsors for a higher percentage of their operating expenses to reduce their reliance on fees from participants (which is the most immediately obvious explanation for why there are so many categories).
–The first act of WALL-E is entrancing. It’s one of the greatest first acts ever committed to digital screens or celluloid film, for children or adults. But (minor spoiler alert) I was jarred by the appearance of actual live human beings in a Pixar film, in the form of Fred Willard no less; I’m still grappling with Stanton, et al’s decision to portray the Earthbound human civilization as a live-action digital video relic, but then 3D-animate the masses of human beings who appear on the spaceship. I get why they did it, but I’m not sure I like it. (That specific decision, I mean; while I think the second half of the film is a bit disjointed, as a whole it nevertheless ranks up there with Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles as Pixar’s best… and that’s saying a lot).
–At-home high definition is anathema to the movie theater industry; since I bought a cheap HD projector for my apartment, I’ve seldom set foot in a theater. This isn’t a new observation, but I’ll add to the chorus of voices: for $12 a ticket–$35 if you go with a friend and buy popcorn–the theater had better be a vastly superior experience than home, and it’s not. At the very least, the sound and visuals should be unbeatable, but when I eventually get a Blu-ray player, WALL-E will be brighter, sharper, and more colorful on my own wall than it was at the theater. And WALL-E will cost the same to own on disc (digital, re-watchable, with behind-the scenes interviews, commentaries, deleted scenes) as it did to see the analog film reproduction of it projected once in the company of strangers. I hope theaters find a way to right the ship, but at this point it’s simple economics as to why attendance is down (and yes, box office records are still being broken, but that’s due to increased ticket prices and more screens, not increased attendance).
–In other world news, “Mission Accomplished.” We got that oil–oho! And not only mission accomplished for Mr. Bush, in light of gaining control over Iraqi oil through no-bid contracts for American companies worth up to 75% of the country’s profits; also for Mr. Bin Laden, who stated in 2001 after 9/11 that his goal was to get oil to $144/barrel. Last week, it hit $145.85. Congratulations, oil barons/religious zealots! Somehow, you both won.
–On the other hand, neither of them can be blamed for the direction our auto industry took–or, more accurately, didn’t take–in the ’90s. Between 1974 and 1989, fuel efficiency doubled; since then, how much more efficient do you think our cars have gotten? Actually, the question is, how much less efficient have our cars gotten? The average car in 1989 got 27.5 MPG and today the average car gets right around 25. One could point to the fact that a higher percentage of hulking SUVs on the road today lowers the MPG average across the board, but the 1989 Toyota Camry got 27 MPG, while the 2008 Toyota Camry gets… 22. Surely that doesn’t represent 20 years of scientific progress? Granted, there is a hybrid Camry, which gets 34 MPG, but even that only represents a 25% improvement on a 20 year-old relic. As the New York Times points out, this mileage crunch was entirely preventable, and it’s our politicians who are largely to blame–on both sides of the aisle–although it was Republicans who passed a six-year bill in 1995 that expressly forbade the highway administration from spending any money to elevate fuel efficiency. Justify your existence!
–Speaking of which, I’m still waiting for an Obama-Edwards ticket. Pretty crazy: when I wrote that here two years ago, not only was I convinced Clinton was certain to get the nomination and anyone else even having a chance was wishful thinking, but I also had Obama penciled in as a Vice nominee because I didn’t think anyone’s star could rise that fast. Yes We Can!
–I’m excited to announce I’ll be doing television commercials for the McCain campaign.
–Sorry, this temporarily became the so-not-film-school-that-it’s-politics-school; back to movies.
–The Dark Knight is going to make a metric ton of money, but how much of its opening weekend gross will be inflated by Heath Ledger’s baffling, sobering, premature death? Over the course of its theatrical run, domestically, internationally, including cable TV airings, adding in DVD and Blu-ray sales and all the other ancillaries, how much will the increased interest in the film because of his death end up being “worth?” No one wants to profit from an event like that, and no one wanted it to happen… but it did happen, and people are going to end up being richer because of it. Unsettling.
–As parts of The Dark Knight were actually shot on IMAX film stock–and scanned in at 8k for the DI–this is the film to see in an IMAX theater. So much so, in fact, that I had to buy tickets two weeks ahead of time; even the 2AM, 4AM and 6AM showings that I thought were listing errors on Fandango.com (“they must mean PM, right?”) for opening weekend were sold out. If you’ve been wanting to see a grown man run around in a glorified Halloween costume on an 80-foot screen at 6AM Monday morning on your way to work, now’s your chance.
–This late-night ticket phenomenon was also reported in the pesky New York Times; they somehow manage to beat nofilmschool.com to every story!
–Because I apparently write a lot about Christopher Nolan projects, I’ll keep going on The Dark Knight: my West Side co-director Zack is predicting a $114 million opening weekend, which I initially filed under “just another example of Zack’s boundless and unreasonable optimism,” but I’ve slowly come around to believing he’s on the money. Despite the movie’s dark subject matter, it’s both a sequel and a comic book movie, which collectively dominate the top of the all-time box office charts. At Media Predict, where “trading” ends 30 days before the film opens, the over/under finished at $101.5. We’ll see.
–The Brothers Nolan (Christopher and Jonathan), who have worked together in some form on Memento, The Prestige (one of my favorite films in recent memory, which I attempted to explain as a polemic on the price of religion), and now The Dark Knight, are at the top of their game. (Batman Begins was directed by Christopher, but penned by Blade scribe David S. Goyer, and Christopher’s other studio picture, Insomnia, was adapted from the Norwegian original by Hillary Seitz, an apparently prolific script doctor). So, yes, I’m really looking forward to this massive Hollywood blockbuster; I’ll get off the Nolans’ collective jock now.
–Wait a second, Bush is “pushing” for an average of 31 MPG by 2015?! We were getting 27 MPG in 19-fucking-89 and a mandated 12% improvement over 26 years is being called “aggressive”!?
–Sorry. I don’t own a car and I live in a city where mass transportation is readily available, so I’m allowed to be incredulous. If you’re in the market for a car and care about these things, however, you may be wondering which is better for the planet: a new Prius or a used compact sedan.
–Our screening and panel at IFC Center was a great experience and is covered a bit here and here. It was great to meet and chat with the other participants, and I was surprised at how well The West Side’s visuals held up on the big screen. As for the panel, I learned for the hundredth time that I’m much more coherent in writing, with or without editing, than I am when talking. Good thing this isn’t a podcast.
–If the most common approach for an aspiring filmmaker to break into the industry in the ’50s and ’60s was to get a studio apprenticeship, if the path in the ’70s and ’80s was to go to film school, if the path in the ’90s and ’00s was to direct music videos and commercials, the ’10s and ’20s will see the internet become the most prolific source of new talent. And not just for people who can film a video of their cat mowing their lawn; legitimate directors at the highest echelons of the industry will be most commonly discovered via their hitting the “Upload” button.
–That’s about as self-interested a statement as you’ll find. But you are, after all, at nofilmschool.com.
–On the other hand, reading about The Wire’s Ed Burns and how much of the greatest television show in history was informed by his personal life, one gets to thinking about how much more important real-world experiences are than anything they can teach you in a school, much less a film school. I’ve successfully avoided paying a lot of money to incubate in a film classroom, but on the other hand I’ve been stuck in a cubicle day in and out and haven’t traveled outside the country in two years. Day jobs are a bitch.
–Thus the name of our nascent production company: Exit Strategy.
Sorry for the duplicate post (also at TWS blog). Hustling to finish Episode Four!
This Thursday, June 5th, at the IFC Center here in New York, Zack and I will be on a panel fittingly titled “Where Internet and Film Collide.” As part of the night’s screenings, we will be premiering Episode Four. Here’s your chance (and, indeed, ours) to see The West Side on the big screen!
If you’re in New York City, come on down. Official details here, and note the start time is 8:30, not 8. The meat-and-potatoes:
Filmmaker Magazine, the IFC Center and IndieGoGo present “Where Internet and Film Collide,” a night of screenings and conversation centered around the convergence of filmmaking and web video, Thursday, June 5 at 8:30pm.
Held as part of Internet Week New York and hosted by the IFP, the night will consist of a number of exciting short form works that could only have been created for the web and then discussions with their makers about their creative and production processes.
Here, the nitty-gritty from our press release:
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 6, 2008 – The 12th Annual Webby Awards today named The West Side as Best Drama Series of 2008. The show is self-produced by co-creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman.
Described as an “Urban Western,” The West Side transforms contemporary New York City into a unique, alternate universe by melding together elements from two disparate film genres: the grit of an urban setting with the tradition of the American Western. Presented in episodic form on the Internet at http://thewestside.tv, the show is written, directed, produced, shot, edited, and designed by Bilsborrow-Koo and Lieberman.
“This award is a perfect example of the opportunity the Internet represents for truly independent filmmakers to showcase their abilities,” said Bilsborrow-Koo. Added Lieberman, “for the judges to recognize the quality and ambition of our show is a great honor.”
Bilsborrow-Koo and Lieberman will be honored at the star-studded Webby Film & Video Awards in New York City on June 9th.
The West Side has been nominated for Best Drama Series at the 2008 Webby Awards, which are the “Oscars of the Internet” according to the New York Times. With only two episodes up (as we just posted the third this week), we somehow bested 80 episodes of the Michael Eisner-backed Prom Queen—along with some other undoubtedly better-funded shows—for a nomination.
While it’s up to the judges to determine who wins amongst the five nominees, there’s also a People’s Voice award determined by… well, people. If you consider yourself a person, please head on over to the voting site, complete their quick registration, and cast us a vote!
And no, there would be no way to gerrymander the internet without some sort of convoluted system of awarding delegates per district instead of the overall popular vote, but I just wanted to use one of my favorite words. Unlike certain other ongoing elections, at least you know if you cast your ballot for us in the Webbys that your vote has no chance of being discarded by a superdelegate.
“Very good” in French means “three well” in Spanish. It’s almost a pun, and almost relevant because we’ve just released Episode Three (tres!) of our Urban Western, The West Side. Sorry, I had to come up with a post title other than “Episode Three,” and figured I’d use my extensive knowledge of foreign languages to do so.
The same goes for Episode Three as did Two, so I’ll just change some numbers and quote what I said about the last one:
Episode Three of The West Side is finally live, a long four months after we posted the last; blame Murphy’s Law. Be sure to start with Episode One if you haven’t seen it. If you have an iPod or iPhone (or you use iTunes), subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and get new episodes automatically. Episode Four should be up in much shorter order.
Except Episode Four won’t be up in much shorter order, as we don’t already have any scenes in the can for this one (as we did with Three). As detailed on The West Side blog, this is both a blessing and a curse; so it goes. At least I already have a post title ready for the next time: Cuatro Bien.
Zack and I just wrapped our longest shoot to date for The West Side, a two-day weekend session in Brooklyn consisting of five scenes spread out over four episodes. Episode Three is now in the can. (Photo by Cate Corley).
Episode Two of The West Side is finally live, a long four months after we posted the first; blame Murphy’s Law. Be sure to start with Episode One if you haven’t seen it. If you have an iPod or iPhone (or you use iTunes), subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and get new episodes automatically. Episode Three should be up in much shorter order.
After a full year spent writing and producing our urban Western, The West Side, Zack and I finally premiered the first episode of the serialized feature in July. Now, months later, Western films are dotting the Hollywood landscape like so many buffalo on a windswept plain. I’ve been joking with friends that, similarly to Justin Timberlake and Sexy, I brought the Western back. But Sexy never left; the Western’s been gone awhile.
Regardless, the truth is, I didn’t bring Westerns back. George W. Bush did. More »
My creative juices have been diverted to my new internet film project for so long that I don’t have much left in the tank to write the oh-so-clever blog post that this ought to be. Functionally, this post should suggest I’m a self-deprecating, talented writer in addition to a resourceful no-budget filmmaker… but I’ve been burning the 5AM oil for too long to have the energy to write that post. Suffice it to say that I hope this is an important moment in the “tries to start a film career in New York” storyline of this site.
So, without further ado, please go and watch The West Side. Zack and I have been working on the show for a full year, during which time we triumphed over approximately one billion setbacks. It’s a great feeling to finally have the idea we talked about a year ago–an urban Western–fully realized and up and out there for the world to see. We’ll see what happens as a result.
I’ve been working on an internet video serial for the better part of the past year (yes, despite avoiding writing about “starting a film career,” I am actually, actively trying). My once-a-month-at-best posting schedule on this site is likely due to the amount of time I’ve been putting into this project (at least, I’d like to think it is–in reality it’s due to any number of reasons, possibly 46).
A few weeks ago a contest came to my attention which seemed to be the perfect opportunity for our work-in-progress. The New York Television Festival and Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace (the best hi-def movie download service, from what I’m told) are running a contest wherein would-be filmmakers submit a 5 to 15-minute TV pilot, and the winner receives $100,000. In addition to the sizable paycheck, said winner goes on to produce a six-episode TV series, he or she undoubtedly receives a good amount of exposure, potentially launches a film career in the process, and enters into unilateral negotiations with Iran.
My co-creator and I were understandably excited about this prospect. So it was with an elevated blood pressure that I combed over the submission guidelines, liking our chances more and more as I read on: the contest is open to all genres (good) and it’s judged by a panel on merit and originality rather than a populist (and potentially sophomoric) voting system (great). However, the final page of the agreement put forth the most draconian legalese I’ve seen in any submission guidelines:
NYTVF and the Designated Entities shall have the perpetual and exclusive right to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast each entry (and any portion(s) or element(s) thereof) in any manner, media or format now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe. Each entrant agrees not to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast, or authorize any third party to exhibit, disseminate, or broadcast, in any manner, media, or format, his or her entry (or portions thereof) and, by entering the Competition, each entrant irrevocably and perpetually waives any copyright and intellectual property rights in and to the entry, including, without limitation, rights of droit moral or similar rights which entrant may now have or may hereinafter become entitled to.
Basically: you can never show your entry anywhere else, even if you don’t win. As someone who’s participated in (and won, I should–or perhaps should not–note) some of these contests in the past, I’d never seen anything like it. You’re asking someone to enter their original work into a contest where it’s overwhelmingly likely that they’ll walk away with nothing, and even then you refuse them the right to try their hand at building an audience elsewhere? It’s like submitting a film to a festival under the agreement that even if your film doesn’t get in, you can’t show it at any other festivals. It’s patently absurd.
I called the festival to confirm this deal-breaking rule, and afterwards considered submitting a pilot anyway, guessing that they’d be unlikely to sue us if we later premiered a modified episode elsewhere (assuming we didn’t win, of course–for that kind of money it’s understandable that the winner would enter into an exclusive agreement). On the money side, $100,000 would be approximately $100,000 more than our current budget. On the legal side, I briefly considered consulting an IP lawyer. But on the content side, I realized that our first episode was already shot and was not meant to be an end-all-be-all pilot, but rather the first ten minutes of a serialized feature–not exactly ideal for this contest. So after some long discussion with my co-creator/writer/director Zack, we realized that our dream all along was to build an audience purely through word-of-mouth with a do-it-yourself approach to everything–the content, the website, the production blog, and whatever else there may be.
One thing’s for sure: because of digital video and the internet, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at truly independent filmmaking. It’s why I started this site two (long? short?) years ago. Stay tuned, because within a few weeks, Episode 1 of The West Side will finally be up (you can bet I’ll let you know the minute it premieres).