By Indiewire | Indiewire July 12, 2000 at 2:00AM
BIZ: How's Your Dotcom Treating You? Part 7
by Alan and Smithee
Two filmmakers, in the midst of the current dotcom frenzy, have agreed to share their email correspondences on the subject with indieWIRE in a continuing segment called "How's Your Dotcom Treating You?" To protect their privacy, the filmmakers (one with a deal at AtomFilms, the other who has finally sealed a spot at Pop.com) have decided to remain anonymous as they tread the muddy waters of the new e-business, trying to find the best place for their shorts, the most money and the widest exposure. Their conversation continues, with Smithee breaking the big news about signing with Pop, Alan's resistance to the move, and the trials and tribulations of publicity and promotion on the Net.
The time has come. The deal has gone to press. You may now officially compare and contrast your dotcom experience with mine at Pop.
I know you're full of doubts, and are concerned (as a friend) that I'm making a mistake in signing to a company that doesn't exist on the web yet, and in signing away all my rights beyond the Internet. Time will tell if I should have retained my ancillary rights. I will admit it makes me nervous, but not as nervous as before. Having met the faces behind the company and felt their palpable excitement at the way it's all coming together --slowly, but surely -- I too feel excited about being a part of it. They also have the convincing argument that their (admittedly much larger than mine) share of the profits IS their income as a company, so of course they will be working hard (busting their asses, I hope) to market the film in as many ways as possible.
I also feel that the company is at least peripherally plugged into the Hollywood side of the business, and in spite of rumors to the contrary, Hollywood is still eagerly anticipating their launch. Being a part of their launch is one of the bonuses of signing with a company that is not as of yet on the web.
A big portion of their company also seems devoted to original content. I guess that's becoming standard with all these places. It does open the possibility of future work. It remains to be seen if that work will be "quality."
Fundamentally, I think my film is as well suited as a short can be to Internet viewing. It's short and sweet and people seem to love it. I have also made shorts that are longer and I don't know how an audience can experience them on the small-stuttering-screen. Maybe as broadband becomes more common this will make longer films more viable. On the other hand, the shorts market could be wiped out, as full-length TV shows and movies begin to work on the Internet, they could push shorts aside again. Right now, there's a window of opportunity in that (1) people have short attention spans and (2) computers handle smaller streams better. The first will remain true; the second may not.
All in all, I'm happy to report that I feel good about letting my film go into their hands. I feel confident that it will play well and that I have a relationship with the company to make sure of it. The gambler in me likes not knowing what will happen, but I also like that my hand looks pretty good.
I can tell from your long-winded writing style and your generous/optimistic view of Hollywood, that you are presently on the West Coast, and trying to fit in. No need to ask how it's going out there. . .
The Pop boys and girls will be busting their asses, for sure. Some say that the pressure of working for a Start-Up has created a new and very specific type of stress related syndrome where virtual and real become confused: employees start believing the whole world is actually taking place on the Internet. But, busting their asses (to save their asses) has precious little to do with their attitude towards their filmmakers. I have yet to see a dotcom try to create publicity around individual filmmakers. If short films are their business, wouldn't it seem logical for them to promote and publicize the people who create them?
Let's take my present situation with Atom: they have recently licensed my short film to a third party website for a record amount of money. This is a great opportunity for a press release -- it's a clear indicator of the rising value of short films (very interesting, great for the press), it is great for Atom (it shows that they are doing their job well), and it is great for me (it shows that my films are liked and are worth loads of money).
So far, so good. But the reality has been that for over a month now, I have been trying to get Atom to discuss doing a press release -- and I still have not had a proper conversation with them about it. Weeks of phone and email tag because the AtomFilms publicity people have been busy doing other more important projects, like publicizing the relaunch of their website, and other successes and announcements.
I'm glad Atom are doing so well, but at the same time, as a filmmaker, I feel that I am too low down on their list of things to do. Why should I even have to suggest such publicity stunts? Surely, news that they have made a record sale could be something that they would be excited to share, and a perfect opportunity for them to promote one of their filmmakers (thereby further raising the value of the films).
But they are too busy.
Over to you. . .
I love L.A. I love the hot smoggy weather; I love the girls on Sunset with fake tits who won't talk to you; I love driving 45 minutes to say hello to somebody; I love that woman in the SUV who nearly runs you over while barking into her cell phone; I love the people who say "Your film sounds really great" because it won a prize, and they still haven't seen it; I love the hipsters in Silver Lake who still, years after retro, wear granny-spectacles and gas-station-attendant shirts and are friends with Beck's ex-girlfriend; I love it! Have I gone Hollywood?
I hate L.A.
But I will say this: I AM truly optimistic about Pop. Are they stressed? I think so. That's okay. Do they have a good attitude towards filmmakers? Maybe, maybe not. But here's my attitude: they are building a big machine, and it very well might be a good one. I accept that they are huge, and I will act accordingly. I will make SURE -- on my own --that the film is promoted. You write: "I have yet to see a dotcom try to create publicity around individual filmmakers." True, and that is somewhat annoying, but my response is this: it's not going to happen unless they see money at the TAIL end of it.
I don't know if MediaTrip is doing the publicity for "George Lucas in Love" or if the filmmakers are doing it, but the video for that film is selling like hotcakes, and more importantly in a way, mainstream news (New York Times, et cetera) is actually reporting on the story. "Short film which was already on the Internet sells big through Amazon." The filmmakers may have scored: I think Mediatrip does not own their video/DVD rights, so maybe the money's all going to the filmmakers. I'm not sure. But regardless, they are getting into the press, and you can be sure that someone is doing publicity.
My guess: it's the filmmakers.
My explanation: it advertises the video sales.
Your situation with Atom is different: your film sold big to an Internet/advertising content-seeker, and promoting that sale is not going to help future sales, either on DVD or to other content-seekers. Quite possibly, publicizing that sale may actually decrease the value of your film in future content/Internet sales. All publicity will do. . . is promote YOU and YOUR FILM -- but NOT SALES. Therefore, I can see why Atom is not promoting it. If they had a DVD out already, with your film on it, they might do it, because then the "publicity" would actually be advertising your film.
Do you see my point?
Now, this doesn't mean I don't think it's valuable for YOU the filmmaker to get the news out. But I think it's unrealistic to expect the dotcom to do the publicity, unless they see direct dollar-value in that publicity. (I understand that the news makes their sales department look good, but that news has nebulous monetary value.)
The most important lesson I have learned in this business, and it applies to work, making films, promoting films, getting jobs, dealing with agents, managers, producers, and press, is this: DO IT YOURSELF.
Companies of the size of Atom and Pop will only do something if they see the dollar value at stage one. It's unfortunate they are too swamped to do more. I think of Mediatrip, with its small roster of films, and think: that's a damn good model. Maybe you should have been with a smaller company like Mediatrip. But maybe even that wouldn't have helped. Do you think the other films besides "George Lucas in Love" are getting attention from the company? Who knows? If you want to have a press release: call the press. Unfortunately that's the reality, and you'd be making a mistake to expect otherwise.
You join a multi-million dollar company with hundreds or thousands of films, instead of a little boutique -- you can't expect boutique treatment. Of course I'm hoping Pop will treat me differently. I'll bet they will, but only if my film is hugely popular (which it will be, by gum! Arrgh! (spoken pirate-style). But I'm prepared for DIY if necessary. You should be too.
"George Lucas in Love" has been a Hollywood favorite since it got copied and sent around all the agencies in town -- TWO YEARS AGO!!! As it is a spin-off, and popular by association, and already famous before Mediatrip even existed, I don't think it is a good example of how to market and publicize a short film.
About the bottom dollar-aspect of a company's interest in publicity: anyone knows that publicity means dollars. Publicize a film; it becomes more valuable. Publicize a filmmaker; his/her films become more valuable. Of course they would profit from such press coverage.
I have since (FINALLY!) spoken to Atom and their publicity dept. The situation is like this: the buyer who paid the big bucks for my film does not want the sale, and especially the high price, to be publicized. Unfortunately the headline, "Someone paid an undisclosed sum of money for x-film" doesn't make great news. So that's it.
About DIY publicity: you can't publicize a deal unless both parties agree to the publicity. If Atom can't do it, then I can't either.
Good luck with Pop.com. You are in a strange position: While procrastinating the DIY method, you also hope that big Pop will help make you become the next George Lucas. If so, I hope you find love, because you deserve it, my dear Smithee.