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10 Things Every Filmmaker Should Know From John Sloss's Hot Docs Master Class

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 2, 2013 at 2:48PM

Few folks in the independent film industry are more qualified to teach a master class on rights management and film distribution than John Sloss. Founder of Cinetic Media, a co-founder of both FilmBuff and Producers Distribution Agency (the theatrical distributor of "Exit Through the Gift Shop," "Senna," and more), Sloss himself has facilitated the sale and/financing of well over 300 films including "Before Midnight," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Precious," "Super Size Me," "The Kids Are All Right" and "We Need To Talk About Kevin."
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6. On expectations for documentary filmmakers in particular: "If you're not Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, you're not necessarily going to immediately make millions of dollars. I mean, Alex Gibney made serious money off "Client 9" but made almost nothing off 'Taxi From The Dark Side,' which is the film that won him an Academy Award. You have to responsibly look at the subject that you're writing about and whether it is a  commercial subject. Not everything is."

7. On piracy: "Piracy is a drag. I believe in copyright. I know that's probably unpopular point of view among the youth of today. But I'm very concerned about it. I've always said that I'm not concerned about the demise of the DVD. I'm all in favor of economic efficiency. If the right price for content is $1.99 then that's what it should cost. The free market system should determine that. If you have something that is completely viral and people have to have it and you want to charge $50 or it, then more power to you. But the only thing that cuts against that is piracy. Piracy is a big concern. My own point of view about it -- and I don't know if people feel the same -- is that it is less about the desire to have something for nothing than it is about the desire to have something when and where you want it.

8. On how that applies to the film industry today: "The mistake the music industry made was thinking they control when people would listen to music. If iTunes had started the same day as Napster then the music industry may look very different today. The equivalent of that in the film space is the insistence of theaters on windowing. On having there be four months between when you can see something in a theater and when you can see it at home. If say to a 25 year old today who can just go to BitTorrent that they can't buy something even if they wanted to. They're gonna say screw you and they're going to download it... It's a real concern. I am a huge advocate of collapsed windows. Most studio heads are, oddly enough, huge advocates of collapsed windows. The only people who aren't are the people who own movie theaters."

9. On what kind of films do well on various platforms: "There are certain films that do well in general on VOD and those are films that are genre or have movie stars in them. The films that do well on iTunes are the ones that skew younger because of the sort of broadband utility. The people who tend to watch films on cable and VOD tend to be older and less technology savvy. There's a better, more specific answer to that... But that's sort of at a top level what the difference is.

10. On crowdfunding: "I am a gigantic fan of crowdfunding. I'm super annoyed I didn't do the first mega one... the Veronica Mars or Zach Braff. I'm also very concerned that left to its own devices, it's going to be sort of tarnished by being used incorrectly... Someone said something to me very early on that really resonated with me. Which is that crowdfunding is less about raising money than it is about building community. To finding the people that really support what you do. What I love about crowdfunding and what I'm dedicated to seeing happen is to use crowdfunding in essence to build loyalty. And I think the best use of crowdfunding is pre-selling. I've been making this point to filmmakers lately. The notion that there's some guy who needs to give you permission to make a film -- that being the financier -- and then the film gets consumed is a very primitive notion in a universe where you can now go to the people who will eventually consume the film and get them to help finance the movie."

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit: Distribution, Hot Docs