The Future Of Documentary - Brian Newman
17 May 2011Brian Newman is the founder of sub-genre consulting, focusing on business development projects in the entertainment and cultural industries as well as helping filmmakers, artists and organizations to distribute content and connect with audiences through innovative uses of new technology.
Brian was most recently CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), where he conceived and launched the Reframe project, a unique initiative to digitize and make available thousands of films for DVD, streaming and video on demand. He speaks regularly on new media, audience development and the future of the industry, and contributes irregularly to a blog on these subjects at Springboardmedia.
DocMovies caught up with Brian for an insightful discussion about DIY and Indie documentary filmmakers
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview. Let's start off by telling us about yourself
I studied film both in undergraduate and graduate, I was always disappointed that I always heard about thousand of films form all over the world that I heard about,but never seen. As a student I always wanted to have films and study it frame by frame. At the time I lived in NY and I used to go to the Anthology, and I was infuriated that I couldn't have them. When I was working on Tribeca, I've noticed that many films that were made years ago were stuck on a shelf and filmmakers don't have the money to transfer them to digital. So we did a program where we digitized a few thousand films and made them available for iTunes and Amazon, and Hulu. The idea is that filmmakers reserve their rights, and the program still goes on today. So I started working a lot with digital distributors, at the same time during my time in Tribeca, when we were giving filmmakers grants to do their films, and every single filmmaker I would talk to would give me 4 stories of their distributors. And it wasn't so much that they were stealing or hiding money, a few did, but after one year that the film fell, they stuck it on their catalog, if the filmmaker could, they would have taken it on a tour or doing other things to promote it.
"In the US and Latin America Cable VOD is becoming a lucrative dream for many filmmakers"
We are curious to know your take on filmmakers who are saying that they want to focus on the art not the business
Artist want to impact the world through their films. There is a big dichotomy around the world of artists saying "I want to focus on the art not the business" The reality is it's a myth. Shakespeare not only had to think about his audience but his audience screamed at him and throw things at him when they thought they didn't see something good. Theatre was much more participatory back than. The famous artists of our time had to worry about the church to get audience for their work. If you have the auteur like Godard, they were very conscious about what audience want. They were pushing boundaries being artistic, and the fact of the matter is that there was period of time where you could focus solely on your art, get a state funding and the distributor done a good job. The reality is that many of them not all, aren't doing their job of finding their audience.
The second thing is, we now disrupted globally, that paradigm shift, and when you look at a TV set you don't expect to talk to it, but with your computer you expect to talk and get a response as a consumer. Film audience are more content driven, and if you are bothering to look for someone's film online you would want to engage with it. It doesn't mean that every audience member want to interact with you or you film, but if someone wants to engage more you should look them up. Another thing you can do is build your audience and than go with a distributor, it doesn't hurt to have a 30,000 fan base on facebook.
What are the most fundamental rules filmmakers should adopt going DIY?
Start early. It takes from 3 month to 10 years to produce a film, and than another 3 months we try to sell the thing to the world, and sometime it's a waste of time, you could have at that time work to find your audience. You have to have a really good website, clean and simple that from the very first day somebody can give their postal code, their email address so you know not just who they are, but where they are. Make sure you are collecting it. When somebody finds you, make it easy for them to find you again.
Make sure that you have some kind of really good images for your film, it will help start selling the film. Leaving aside aesthetic, you need to have a good movie of course.
"What a lot of educators are now asking for is don't send me a dvd, send me a hard drive at the highest resolution and let me load it to my server.If you give them a hard drive they pay five to $600"
Can you tell us about the education market in the US and the interest in documentaries?
In the US there is a pretty robust educational marketplace. They pay a higher price in order to show the film to multiple students. And what a lot of educators are now asking for is don't send me a dvd, send me a hard drive at the highest resolution and let me load it to my server. WHat happens they'll pay more upfront, that way they can let their student log in to their server and watch it right there in the classroom. So if a DVD cost $150 or $300, if you give them a hard drive they pay five to $600. There are some experiment with streaming in the educational system in the US, a lot of people are moving to pay as you go smaller fee per student and the student pays directly. So instead of the university paying 300, the student would pay a $1.99 and in the end if you think about it, you end up making more money. It's a long controversial subject in the US.
How can filmmakers approach institution DIY way, without the middle man?
Filmmakers can go on multiple forums and blogs dedicated to professors. Rachel Gordon from Energized Films which I don't have an affiliation to, she works a service deal which you pay a flat fee and she can help you locate mailing lists including emails. And there is a marketplace in the US called the National Media Market and she goes there and represents filmmakers who don't have a distributor. She's great, but you can find it yourself online.
We know that film festivals the only chance to for filmmakers to have theatrical screening. It seems that film festivals are preventing filmmakers to sell their films during the festival, because they ask them to hold off selling until the film festival ends, do you see any change?
If a film festival really wants your film you can negotiate and give them a cut of your sales. They are afraid, and i think they are wrong, that for their next screening you're going to cut down their audience. So you can hand out postcards or stickers with your website address. Every single film festival you go to, you should let people know where they can buy your DVDs through your website. If you are smart you should put up a QR code that takes them straight to your site. You can google and do a QR code yourself. And tell the festivals they have to show those credits that you have in there. Because film festivals are your advertisement to sell your film.
I remember that we had film festivals with a 600 people screenings, and they love the movie, the director is there doing Q&A, they raise their hands, and every single time they ask "How do I buy this movie?" And the director would be saying "I'm looking for a distributor" 600 people leave, they will never remember your movie again, if the film was available, at least 10 percent would buy it. It's just a missed opportunity. Often time you can't do it with your premier. For you and I we are film lovers, we go to theaters, but the reality is that for Hollywood, film theaters are only advertise for TV VOD. And filmmakers should keep the astatic reasons to show their films in the theatre and for their audience. But indie filmmakers can also look at it as their big billboard for their movie.
What is the most lucrative channel for indie filmmakers?
In the US and Latin America Cable VOD is become a lucrative dream for many filmmakers. You have to go through a middle man to go on the cable system. There are multiple places you can got through like New Video, distribber and most people would tell you that 60-70 percent of your income will be from VOD cable. Internet pays is okay, but not a lot. The minute your film is on Netflix, that a subscription service and most people have it, it's essentially free from this point. So hold netflix for 3-6 months, people can add it to their queue while it's not available. If a lot of people add it to their queue, Netflix will pay more license fee. Simple trick every filmmaker can do, now that Netflix is spreading to Europe and elsewhere, is tell every friend you know to add it to their queue.
Keep in mind that titles matters. I'm serious, the system in the US is very simple you go through your remote, so the lower your movie is in the alphabet you are less likely that people will rent your film. If you ask for the statistic, you will find out that titles with the letter A make more rentals.
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