BitTorrent's alpha program Bundles is developing new release strategies every day and people in the content creation business are starting to catch on. Joel Bergvall & Tim Staples, the creators of the new "television" series Fly or Die, spoke to No Film School about eschewing traditional paths in favor of creative control and audience interaction. They will be turning to the people of the internet, the BitTorrent community specifically, to vote on whether they should pursue a network deal, a deal with an internet partner, or perhaps develop a series with each episode distributed as a BitTorrent Bundle. In other words, the audience has a much bigger say in what content is getting created. Read on for our interview with the creators of Fly or Die and find out how they chose the BitTorrent route -- the answer might make you smile.
"There is no better sales agent for your content than a fan of your work."
Imagine you're part of the world's biggest songwriting couple. Now, imagine an endless stream of new young divas, crazy managers, and record label dinosaurs sucking the joy out of what you do best: making music. Do you keep going? Or do you call it quits?
NFS: How did you come to choose BitTorrent as your marketing / distribution strategy?
Tim: When we decided to launch this show direct to audience, we looked at a number of options in terms of distribution partners. We were leaning toward YouTube, because of that platform's ease of use and compatibility to social media. While we were in the middle of making plans, Joel came across an article on the BitTorrent Bundle on No Film School. He forwarded it to me with a note that said "this is spectacular."
I read the article and immediately reached out to Matt Mason, whose email was included in the article. We had some good conversations and then went to meet with BitTorrent's senior management team in San Francisco. We explained our vision to them, which admittedly is a little crazy and expected some confusion and a lot of questions, but we only got one: "How can we help?"
We knew right then that we had found the right partner. We really wanted our audience to be invested in the process, and I'm an avid No Film School reader so when we saw your article the lightbulb came on.
NFS: Wow, that's cool. It's gratifying to know people are actually reading these long-form articles. How are new media outlets relevant to the story you're telling?
Tim: There's a great parallel between our story and our strategy, our story is about surviving in a changing business. Rock Mafia who we're partnered with on this has always said: "If we can make music than millions of people like, the selling part will take care of itself." And we're very much on board with that approach.
Joel: New media outlets are the way for content creators to reach their audience in a very direct way, and, more importantly, to start a conversation with them. By speaking directly to the audience you can have the people who actually care about your work help you develop it and actually use them as a springboard to help hone your craft. It's a new dawn of creative communities all over the world, and new media outlets are the catalyst for that exchange.
NFS: Were you trepidacious about using BitTorrent at all due to misinformation about piracy?
Tim: We had no reservations about partnering with BitTorrent. Hollywood has a lot of misperceptions about it, but I think that once Hollywood understands the power of BitTorrent and their ability to deliver a large and engaged audience, I think that perception will change quickly.
Hopefully Fly or Die will serve as another positive step in that direction. BitTorrent's sole focus through this process has been on empowering us to share our content with the most people possible. They've been amazing partners and the process has been incredibly smooth and free of any politics or ego. I can't say enough good things about BitTorrent.
Joel: If you still think BitTorrent is associated with piracy then you've probably been living under a rock. We really love what they are doing.
NFS: What kind of projects do you think the BitTorrent bundle strategy is best tailored towards?
Joel: Projects that want to have a dialogue with their audience. If you want to simply create something and put it into the world, I'm sure BitTorrent will be great for that as well, but for us the biggest benefit is the direct engagement with a very active community that can provide realtime feedback on what we're creating for them.
NFS: What other alternatives did you consider before choosing BitTorrent?
Tim: We were strongly considering launching this platform on YouTube before we chose BitTorrent. Converge has made a sizeable investment in a company called Consulting Virality that specializes solely in YouTube content and marketing. They are really tapped into the YouTube audience and why they share what they do.
CV has generated over 250 million views in the past year on just over 70 videos, so it seemed like a good fit for what we are doing. But in the end we felt that BitTorrent could deliver a deeper level of engagement with a highly creative and tech savvy community.
NFS: How will you refine your strategy for next time?
Tim: I think next time we'll optimize how we receive feedback from the audience, which is a really hard thing to do considering releasing to tens of thousands of people or even millions of people.
NFS: You're releasing today [August 13th], how does that feel? How do you know if it will work?
Tim: We're excited. We've been working on Fly or Die for a long time and it feels good to finally show it to the world. We're opening up this process to the audience in a way that hasn't really been done before so we don't know what exactly to expect.
A lot of times in Hollywood you invest blood, sweat and tears into a project that never gets seen. It literally get locked into a vault. So no matter what happens here, we feel good about this process and launching this show on our terms. I think the ultimate promise of new media is that it can empower a direct relationship between the creatives and the audience without a lot of noise in between.
Regardless of how successful this show ends up, we feel that we've taken an important step in helping redefine how shows of the future will be developed, funded and distributed. We're proud of that.
This is the true story of how music gets made. And it’s also the larger-than-life tall tale of life inside the industry trenches; how artists struggle to balance passion projects with paychecks. In this case, the narrative is happening off-screen, too. Fly or Die is currently a pilot pitch. And BitTorrent fans, not network executives, get to decide what happens next.
NFS: Will you use BitTorrent bundles again?
Joel: So far the experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I would certainly do this again. In fact, we are planning to continually use BitTorrent to engage the audience in Fly or Die. As for what we might do different, it's still too early to tell. We are living the whirlwind right now and once that calms down I'm sure we will have learned a ton that we will utilize in the next round.
NFS: Do you have any tips for filmmakers who are going through the process of choosing their release strategy?
Tim: Ask me again in 6 months, I'll probably have a lot. [Laughs] But seriously, I think the one thing we have done right is just staying open to the process and what it can be. The most important thing is to go out and do it. And something that Hollywood is starting to embrace is the idea of the multi-hyphenate.
There's a whole generation of kids who are going out there and just creating stuff and putting it out into the world. And they're getting real-time feedback. So I think it's important, for example, if you wanna learn how to write, then learn how to operate a camera. It will teach you so much about writing.
Okay, you wanna direct and work with actors? Learn about editing. In Hollywood they want to put you in a box, and as creators we just want to live so far outside the box that we don't even know there is one.
Joel: Look at all your alternatives and really think your plan through before you launch. Using a traditional distributor still has huge upside in their infrastructure and expertise. If you are willing to put it all on the line and go the independent route, do everything you can to build a community and engage with them.
There is no better sales agent for your content than a fan of your work. Make them understand that and feel appreciated, and they will go through walls to engage others.
NFS: What does this mean for Hollywood in 5, 10 years? Hollywood is in a reinvention process.
Tim: I'll just remind people to look at the music industry, the shift was very dramatic. There is going to be tremendous change in the next 5 to 10 years in Hollywood. I think we've just reached the tipping point in the last 6-12 months.
In decades past, Hollywood owned the distribution pipeline and therefore controlled the content. Now that that distribution pipeline has burst wide open, it's only a matter of time before non-traditional companies start playing a bigger role in how content is developed, financed and distributed. We're starting to see that already with the success of companies like Netflix.
I have a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old. To them television is the big screen that hangs on the wall. They don’t care where their favorite show comes from. They don't understand the concept of appointment TV. They only care about watching what they want when they want to watch it.
The companies that will succeed in the future are going to be the ones that truly understand and engage their audience and give them the content that they want, when and where they want it. No matter how you look at it, the biggest winner is gonna be the audience because they're gonna have a lot more say in the content.
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I'm personally really happy that people are not only finding out about new distribution methods but actually diving in and trying them. Tim and Joel have a very refreshing approach from what we imagine would be the standard "studio" attitude based around fear. They are creators that are very much willing to try new things, see how the process develops and trust their content.
What do you think about this new organic feedback based approach to internet television? Who among you is considering a BitTorrent bundle for your content? Join the discussion in the comments below.