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October 1, 2009 1:40 AM
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DIY With a Little Help: OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach

OpenIndie co-founder and "Four Eyed Monsters" co-director Arin Crumley.

"Four Eyed Monsters" co-director Arin Crumley and U.K.-based film school graduate Kieran Masterton are developing a new web resource called OpenIndie to provide filmmakers with the opportunity to reach audiences around the globe.

Crumley and Masterson premiered a video today outlining their concept on the fundraising site Kickstarter. They hope to raise $10,000 for the project from a total of 100 filmmakers by October 29.

As explained in the video, OpenIndie.com will allow filmmakers to input their e-mail lists and discover locations with high audience demand. The grassroots strategy allows movies to reach their intended audiences with a community-based approach. Because the site is open-sourced, anyone can enter a location into the site and figure out the level of interest for specific movies. "In their normal viewing habits, audiences are actually expressing their desires for what they want to see in movie theaters," Crumley told indieWIRE in an interview yesterday. "The goal here is for filmmakers to make money through this kind of system by creating a community."

The idea of building theatrical demand for movies and other products with social networking is not exactly new. The Auteurs, an online cinematheque, applies a similar model to raise awareness for classic films. Crumley also cited the travel resource couchsurfer.com as an inspiration. Despite the precedents, however, the implementation of this strategy has been gradual. Crumley said he first started thinking about the idea for OpenIndie while traveling the festival circuit with "Four Eyed Monsters" in 2005, when he and co-director Susan Buice eschewed a distribution deal in favor of developing an online following and showing the film in 31 cities, each of which contained at least 100 requests for screenings. "I was pretty convinced we would see the industry head that way," he said. "But we haven't really seen an infrastructure arise that allows people to have a say in what they can access."

OpenIndie founders Arin Crumley and Kieran Masterson.

Masterton, the software developer for OpenIndie, was in film school when he became aware of the new media strategy fueling the popularity of "Four Eyed Monsters," which the filmmakers, boosted by support from Spout.com, continued to develop episodically as their fan base grew. "Obviously, what they were doing was very new," Masterton said. "Film school is very narrow in terms of the stories it teaches you to tell. Now, my friends from film school are interested in episodic stuff online. They see it as more achievable." He added that OpenIndie could assist international audiences with getting a chance to view films that generate buzz in other parts of the world.

"Being outside the U.S., the choice of venues is limited," he said. In a blog post, Crumley elaborated on the plan as a "push versus pull" concept. "There are countless ways to push films out into the world," he wrote. "This has been the style for marketing movies for decades...OpenIndie.com is the only site we are aware of that lets users keep a list of the films they want to see and regularly add new films to that list and then simply displays the demand for that film to any other member of the site, who can then organize a screening should they see fit."

Since Crumley and Masterton plan to make the site an online social network, they are not relying on major investors for the project. Instead, they are relying on support from filmmakers on Kickstarter, where Crumley raised $3,800 to fund his second feature, shot at burning man 2009 and yet to be titled. Crumley hopes the project, currently in post-production, can benefit from OpenIndie if the site succeeds. "We're not going to seek distribution from the festival circuit because we tried that and it didn't work," he said. "Festivals are still a great way to do screenings, and I would love to see festivals use OpenIndie." Masterton, who has directed a short film and hopes to shoot his feature-length screenplay soon, also expressed an interest in using OpenIndie for his next movie. "I have almost twelve years of experience developing large websites for media organizations," he said. "It seems logical to put those skills to use while providing filmmakers with a means of getting their films seen."

Coincidentally, a study released this week by the entertainment marketing firm Stradella Road revealed that 94% of all moviegoers use the Internet as part of their viewing decisions. Crumley emphasized that online technologies should not focus on replacing movie theaters. "When you meet people in a real setting rather than a virtual setting, the whole experience comes together," he said. "To give up on theatrical and only focus on downloads is missing out on something hugely important."

The Kickstarter page for OpenIndie is viewable here.

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3 Comments

  • milesmaker | October 7, 2009 10:55 AMReply

    You guys over there at OpenIndie truly 'get it.' This venture isn't desperate--it's ingenious. Filmmakers benefit from the collective social business savvy of 100+ filmmakers, while OpenIndie itself grows exponentially by acquiring every participating filmmaker's audience coffer--imagine the reach and potential after 10 years! 'Demand' spells 'sales,' and minimizing all the risk makes this concept a no-brainer.

    It's common knowledge among DIY filmmakers and anyone growing their audience that the two most valuable pieces of information one can ever obtain from fans and followers is their e-mail addresses and zip codes. This is how you 'own' your audience.

    This model works when you've produced an indie film with a modest production budget--I believe Pegu is missing the point altogether. If my 'little film' screens in every city in the country using this method and I only make $5, I'll take that any day (in theory) because this business is about branding and your body of work. My 'little film that could' absolutely must be seen by any and everybody with peepers--even if that includes a lil' bootleg action--it all makes sense (cents) the second time around when you follow that title up with a new movie.

    Having said all that--there must be protections in place for the content itself (property) and the revenue generated--so will the process be an Ebay-like clearance system? i.e., if payments (tickets sold) are transacted Online and profits are viewed by both parties (transparent) before they're split, I can see some potential here.

    I'm surprised your cost is only $10K actually--do you already have the rest, or will you simply complete phase 1 with the money?

    Miles Maker
    Video Producer, Movie Tech Blogger and Social Business Strategist
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  • kieranmasterton | October 7, 2009 9:26 AMReply

    Hi Pegu,
    Thanks for your comment and your interest in OpenIndie. I think you've slightly misunderstood our intentions. I'm not sure what you mean by "rules" exactly. The premise is simple. Filmmakers upload their films. Users request screenings in their area. Any user can then screen any film. The user exhibiting the film can then collect donations for the filmmaker and pay the them via the site.

    After the 10 months we will be assessing how successful OpenIndie has been for the 100 filmmakers and deciding how best to evolve the site and make it better for the filmmakers and film fans who join.

    We're especially interested in films who have already begun to use social media to gather interest for their films because that allows the filmmaker to invite their current audience to the site which will generate a community. Our reason for mentioning this is not so that we have to do less work, but so that OpenIndie will be better for all 100 filmmakers who join.

    As you may or may not know, online start ups regularly come unstuck because they open the flood gates to too many users too early and their server infrastructure falls over. Twitter would be a good example of such a company. By limiting our launch to 100 filmmakers and their fan base we can ensure that we control the server load and avoid massive spikes in traffic that could kill the service. Our desire to avoid such issues is natural and in the interest of the user. Another good example of a similar approach would be the way Google is rolling out Google Wave in blocks of 100,000 invites.

    Finally, I think it's important to note that this is phase one and we have many more plans for OpenIndie in the future. Our goal for this phase is to get the site up and running after that current features will evolve and new ones will be released. Keep an eye on openindie.com for the latest info.

    Thanks again, and I hope I've been able to answer some of your questions.

    Kieran Masterton
    Co-Founder OpenIndie.com

  • pegu | October 3, 2009 12:10 PMReply

    Wow ... this reeks of desparation. The original Four Eyed Monsters distribution "strategery" was more PR fluff than substance. The proof is in the pudding whether this strategy can really be repeated in a scalable fashion. "you'll be able to request any film and put on any screening of any film on the site" ... where are the rules? So you can screen a film, charge $1 a head (or $0) and the filmmakers gets what exactly? The joy of being a guinea pig?

    From the kickstarter site:

    "This profile will be live and active for 10 months at the end of which time we'll assess how to move forward and sustain the site" [and then ... bye bye filmmakers]

    "you'll also get 1 hour of free consulting time" [awesome ...]

    "We especially want films that have already built up a mailing list of email addresses and zip codes or at least some twitter followers or have friends who can push your OpenIndie page once it's live" [oh, we only want people who have already done work so it's less for us]

    "the server load can only handle a small number of operations while we build the site"