BIZ: Insound's Undie Resource, from Music to Movies in Just One Year
by Aaron Krach
(indieWIRE/10.11.00) -- It began as a simple music website: hawking EPs, LPs, CDs and any other acronym able to hold music. Then they decided to add some music videos to spruce things up. From videos to short films wasn't much of a leap, and soon enough, the site became a fledgling independent film portal, featuring work from avant-garde and underground directors. Now, less than a year later, Insound.com, the self-proclaimed resource for fans of "all kinds of indie culture," is becoming a mini distributor of defiantly non-mainstream work, ranging from Ian Kerkof's radical video deconstructions to Kelly Reichardt's Super 8 melodramas, and everything in between.
"Without truly planning it that way, Insound is becoming a de facto theatrical distributor. Arthouse theaters want these titles, but don't know where to get them," says Ed Halter, co-director of Insound Cinema. "For example, just today, the Coolidge Corner in Boston booked 10 screenings of the "Best of Jeff Krulik," something no other distributor in the world would have been pushing. A theater in Florida booked Christopher Wilcha's "The Target Shoots First" and another in Berkeley booked "Radiation" [directed by Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky]."
Founded by Ari Sass, Christian Anthony and Matt Wishnow in the fall of 1998 as an underground music site, Insound wanted to be a place online where fans could find their favorite small band's record or purchase a hard to find 'zine. (The company now has 13 full-time employees as well as a number of part-time and freelance staff members. According to the company, "Insound expects to be cash flow positive by the fourth quarter of 2000, with 5 streams of revenue, carrying gross margins of 15%-85%.") Galinsky, co-director of Insound Cinema and himself a filmmaker ("Half-Cocked, Radiation") and musician, was brought in a few months later to help with planning and work with the labels. "I immediately realized that the audience for this music was very similar to underground film," says Galinsky. "I contacted Ed [Halter] and we started working on ideas for what would make a great underground film site."
The film portion of Insound was officially launched in January of 2000. Direct-to-consumer selling of videos was part of the original plan for the site. "Most videos we sell are on consignment directly from the filmmakers," says Halter. The directors supply the tapes and set their own wholesale price. Insound then adds a set percentage to reach the retail price, according to Halter. After a sale, the artist then keeps the entire wholesale price. "Some are distributed by music labels we were already working with," explains Halter. "With each film festival we sponsor, we send letters out to the participating filmmakers that we can stock their titles for them if they wish." "Our philosophy," he continues, "was that if bigger, more mainstream festivals were being used by big studios to launch major releases, why shouldn't underground festivals and Insound be used by filmmakers to launch their self-distributed releases?"
While other distributors, like Seventh Art Releasing, have begun reaching for the college audience, Insound is the only website that has entered this arena. Part of the secret to Insound's success is the personal experiences of Halter and Galinsky. As the director of the New York Underground Film Festival, Halter not only had connections to filmmakers, but he knew what kind of work would be most popular with audiences. In the Spring of 2000, when Insound sent out it's first letter to colleges, advertising films that were available for booking, Galinsky's experience distributing his own films was instrumental.
"Having toured colleges extensively with 'Half-Cocked,' I knew there was a market for a lot of incredible films that were playing the underground festival circuit," says Galinsky. "So I contacted a number of filmmakers and we started putting together a package. We sent out an initial mailing last spring and got a very positive response for this fall."
According to Halter, Insound is not conceptualizing their bookings as a tour, like Fuel, Guess or the Dockers Classically Independent tour of the '90s. "What we are doing is booking films at various campuses and alternative screening societies, and whenever possible, building special events around them," he says, "whether it's just bringing in the directors to speak and do [filmmaking] workshops, or booking several titles to create a mini-fest, or bringing in music shows to round out the entertainment."
"While the cinema area is not the largest revenue driver for Insound at this moment, it is a very important part of a company that seeks to help foster and support artists," says Galinsky, who wants it to be known that they don't see their company as an Internet company. "We see the company as more of an interactive ecology of different enterprises dealing with underground culture. The bookings, and other offline activity create a great deal of synergy with the online aspects of Insound. Outside of film, we've also released a series of Tour Support EPs for artists like June of 44, Bright Eyes, The Lapse and others; [we] held our first annual Zine Conference a few weeks ago, and also have a record label called Tiger Style," Galinsky continues. "We see all these various aspects working together towards a common goal." Judging by their success so far, there doesn't seem to be any reason why they won't make that goal: to bring underground culture to a larger audience and make money at the same time.