As curation becomes more important, it becomes about how we carve out small pockets of culture online for audiences who are hungry for unique, uncompromising and refreshing work. Vyer Films is a new subscription service that not only selects a robust catalogue of independent movies, but also strives to coax their audiences deeper into the culture of their movies. I see what Vyer Films is doing with the curatorial streaming model as pretty representative of where things are headed, so I asked founder K.C. McLeod to chat with No Film School about their commitment to sharing great films, their take on the streaming subscription model and where it all fits in the future of film distribution.
"Another side to curation is providing entry ways into the art that people are going to use."
NFS: How did it start? What was the inception of this model?
KC: I had friends who were starting to make their own films, and the biggest issue that came up over and over again was, "How are you going to pay for your film?" So I started thinking, "Is there a unique perspective to take on addressing this idea of money?" So I thought, what if there was a destination where we could collect films that audiences could return to over and over again, where audiences wouldn't necessarily have to know what the film is, who the filmmakers are or what it's going to be about. Could the brand of that service speak for the quality that they were going to experience? Could we actually create a sustainable system for non-mainstream films that struggle to get noticed in the noise that surrounds us?
NFS: The future of independent film distribution seem to all be about curation, curation, curation.
KC: We're trying to embrace the idea of what curation means fully, using the full scope of the definition. We're not just gonna pick things and turn around and say you should be seeing them. Another side to curation is providing entry ways into the art that people are going to use. People want information, but sometimes maybe it's not reviews, maybe it's an interview, maybe it's a comment about the themes of a film. We all connect to art in different ways, I think it's important for us to not just highlight work, we want it to connect to people.
NFS: What kind of things are you doing at Vyer Films to provide that entryway?
KC: We call them our features. We try to look at every film and say, "How can we break this down into parts that might spark someone's interest?" Some of those are traditional, like an essay about the themes of the film and why we think it's interesting. Interviews with the creators, etc. Other times we'll track down a short film that distills what a filmmaker is trying to do to get people interested in the filmmaker's work. Sometimes we try to focus on things that are specific to the film, other times we try to move away and integrate it more into literature, foreign cultures, things that might resonate with a potential audience member. The diversity of those features is integral in what we're trying to do.
"It's amazing the amount of catalogues that have amassed of quality films that are very risky bets for traditional distributors to pick up."
NFS: What's your process of finding films?
KC: Our head of acquisitions Josh Johnson is a filmmaker; he'll scout any repository that might exist. He's just a beast. He'll watch everything and he's got a very insightful eye. Also, any film that plays at a festival will be written about, even if it's just on a blog somewhere, so by pure virtue of seeking out information that people are voluntarily putting out into the world we can find things that people aren't aware of. So it's less about going to festivals -- it's almost by staying away from festivals that you can avoid the hype that surrounds things.
Our process is just doing a lot of research, looking at slates of festivals that are happening or that have happened in the past, seeing what people have talked about, what kind of films the filmmakers we've worked with are interested in, and trying to work with sales agencies. It's amazing the amount of catalogues that have amassed of quality films that are very risky bets for traditional distributors to pick up, but it's very easy for us to come in and say, "We love these films, let's do this."
NFS: How do you acquire films? How do the filmmakers make money?
KC: We either work with sales agents or with filmmakers directly. We remit a very large share of revenue to the filmmakers. So even with our premium model, 70% of revenue goes back to filmmakers. So dollar for dollar, more money from a Vyer Films subscriber is going back to the filmmakers than any other subscription service at this time. So we're really proud to be pushing money back to the people who deserve it.
NFS: How has it been going so far? Is the model working? Are you making money for your filmmakers?
KC: It began as a solo venture on my part and I spent a lot of time just figuring out the model. And the site you see now in its current iteration is relatively new -- it started last summer. We were able to raise some capital and grow the team and now, 2014 has been our year of growing and we're growing rather rapidly. The numbers are still small in terms of what we remit and what we collect, but the important thing for us is that they are drastically larger each month. So we're moving in the right direction and we can see the resonance that it's having with our audiences. We can see how they're engaging with our films and how much time they spend on the site. So people are starting to see what we are -- it's not just supposed to be indie Netflix; it's something different entirely.
"The internet is a very comforting experience and I think it can be transformed into something a little more exhilarating when there are humans behind the experience you have."
NFS: Catalogues on Vyer can go out of print. How does this work?
KC: It's an ongoing topic of conversation. Those are films are from the very early iterations of Vyer films. When we moved over to the feature driven model we took those off the site voluntarily. The idea of breaking down our catalogue into volumes and throttling their availability is the idea that: if the catalogue is too large then it defies the purpose of what we're trying to accomplish, which is getting people spending their time seeing great films, not building something where people are going to spend their time browsing for great films. We want to provide structure to our audiences in a way that Netflix doesn't do.
"What we've always wanted all along is human curation. That human touch makes everything in life so much more meaningful."
NFS: How do you see this fitting into the current state of distribution. The future of distribution?
KC: There's the curatorial side, which I think everyone recognizes the importance of, but the other thing we're trying to do is create a premium service around it. And that's because, frankly, we need to find a way to bring real money back to the filmmakers making films of quality. And that's a huge issue, services that are existing now don't provide the returns that allow filmmakers to keep making films.
There are people out there that are creating work that's never been seen before, and at the same time there are busy people who just want to see something unique. Because what do we value the most? It's our time. If you can save people time by showing them excellent things then that's something that people will really value. So I think what we'll see in the future of digital services is a drift towards premium curated services where people really value their time over browsing to find something.
What we've always wanted all along is human curation. That human touch makes everything in life so much more meaningful. When you have someone who can push you outside of your comfort zone. An algorithm can't push you outside your comfort zone. A human curator can say, "I think you're ready for this now." The internet is a very comforting experience and I think it can be transformed into something a little more exhilarating when there are humans behind the experience you have.
NFS: How can we stop film festivals and online audiences from cannibalizing each other?
KC: That's a really interesting question, and I think that the way we can transcend it is thinking about the idea of experience, and experiences. Theoretically they are in competition with each other, but I think the experience you're looking for when you go to Vyer is wildly different that the experience you're looking for at a film festival. For certain groups of people it's just about the films, but most people don't function that way. At a festival you can see a movie and walk out of it into a party and talk to people about it. That's how festivals can thrive because that's something that will never be replicated online. In turn, being an independent streaming service is much more about transforming what would be a normal Tuesday night into a unique experience. I think there will always be room for both.
A big thanks to K.C. McLeod for reaching out to us and making me aware of their platform. It's the exact type of thing I hoped existed in the online ecosystem, and a platform like theirs restores a lot of my faith in the online curatorial space. They stream movies to subscribers for $20.00 / month or $99.00 / 6 months. I personally plan on subscribing and it's something I can feel really good about supporting. Check it out and let us know what you think in the comments!
Link: Vyer Films