Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Jay A. Fernandez
September 25, 2012 1:33 PM
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Reinventing Story: Bob Berney, John Sloss, Lance Weiler and More Face the Future During Independent Film Week

"The digital platform is starting to get just as crowded as the theatrical platform is," said Berney, who noted that Rentrak listed 24 films opening the weekend of Sept. 21. "We’re moving beyond the period where anything might work on VOD. Because whenever a film comes in you have these anomalies. My favorite is 'ATM,' which did really well for IFC because it starts with an 'A.' Everybody’s like, 'My movie’s now called "AAA Action Film.'" You’re going to have to spend more as a distributor or a filmmaker to support VOD or pre-theatrical. You have to rethink your plan — even the companies that do this [regularly], IFC or Magnolia — everyone has to rethink it every year."

In a presentation that counter-intuitively championed the tension between community and curation, Hernandez connected the impulse behind creating Indiewire 16 years ago to the forward-thinking approach he brings to his relatively new job at FSLC. "The Film Society has always been a very analog place," he said. "One of the things I started thinking about was, How could we leverage digital tools and strategies to build a new foundation for the Film Society? And I was anxious to apply digital approaches. People want digital strategies or new technologies to be definitive when in fact making sense of these changes is actually what’s exhilarating. That’s the power of digital from my vantage point — how you apply it, and how you preserve the analog core that exists at the very center. We can’t expect digital to fix or replace everything about an aging system or a structure we don’t like. All or nothing answers are way too easy. The answer lies in the gray area.”

Walking through the origins of Black Public Media, the company she started in 1979, Fields-Cruz detailed just much the public TV audience has changed in the decades since. "The problem right now for us if our goal is to help public television provide diverse content for the American public — also to cultivate diverse audiences so that they will engage with public television — is how can we do that when right now public television’s core audience is 60 and older, white, middle-class, college-educated Americans? How do we connect with all the African Americans who might not engage with public television the same way?” Her attempts to answer that have recently encompassed creating short media content such as the “Black Folk Don’t" web series and other direct-to-audience efforts.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and this is easily the most dynamic period that I’ve ever been a part of," said Sloss. "A lot of the changes that are taking place in distribution are mutating hourly. The 20th century was a century of distributor ownership, where everyone was serving that beast. The 21st century is about creator ownership and facilitation."

Leslie Fields-Cruz

Berney applauded exhibitors experimenting with "new ways to show movies," such as Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, the Nighthawk in Williamsburg, the Bell Lightbox Theater in Toronto and the growing Sundance Cinemas chain. "The other big change has been Netflix and streaming," said Berney. "Indies now have a pay TV outlet. That’s really made all the difference in getting the support for a theatrical release. That’s what’s made distributors willing to step up and do theatrical."

"People wanted social media or social networks to replace critics and curators," said Hernandez, pointing to his recent efforts (in a joint initiative with Indiewire) to create a festival-centric young critics academy at, first, the Locarno Film Festival and, next, at the New York Film Festival. "What excites me is that tension between curation and community. It’s not going to replace the need for critics anytime soon. I’ll state categorically, film criticism is not dead. But like indie filmmaking, monetization is a big challenge. We need to take a critical approach to our content. We need curators, we need filters. We also need to enable and support and cultivate new voices."

Alamo Drafthouse

Among the transmedia projects Reilhac is working on: an "augmented reality app" called Cinema City that will launch next summer that connects global tourists to the sites around the world where their favorite films were shot and encourages them to film their own versions of scenes and upload them; a crowdsourced sci-fi film called “Rosa” that takes place in 2040 Paris that will be inspired by the intermingling of two groups of real people — a geek-oriented, male, ’50s computer science community fixated on the archeology of cybernetics, and a female community based around burlesque and pin-ups; and a movie-oriented LARP (live-action role-playing) experience in October that will involve two large groups of people viewing a film in character and then improvising the ongoing story as a kind of sequel. “We take this as an exploration of different dimensions than the ones that would be expected for a broadcaster so that we can provide artistic experiences to the audience, taking them to story worlds, to fiction worlds, that they would like to experience just to have something different from the traditional film experience,” Reilhac said. “We do believe that it's part of our mandate as a cultural public broadcaster to explore those new fields, because the fundamental need that we all have, and the pleasure that we all have, when we go and watch a movie is not so much the movie, it’s the story and it’s the experience of where it takes us. It’s such a privileged moment right now that we have so many options at our disposal to tell stories in so many different ways. We think we need to explore all of them, including those that do not sound like they are technical or tailored for a traditionally received audio-visual medium. It’s a very exciting adventure.”

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  • Gary Sales | October 12, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    I'm not sure about the ideas proposed for the "new" story telling as described in this article. When it comes to the perception of what's entertaining and worth paying to watch the audience is always ahead of the curators. If they like it, their interest transcends any expert's criticism of why it's bad. Sometimes the professional critics are the last to "get it" when it comes to the heretofore unknown tastes rumbling up from cinema culture's grass roots. There's no shortage of critically panned movies that have risen to the top of the box office. There are also a number that take a while for even the public to catch on to. (Rocky Horror suffered from both I think.) What I am sure of, is that the landscape for selling & distributing my latest indie feature has changed yet again.

    Here I am coming through final post for THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, starring Stephen Lang, Henry Ian Cusick, Nicki Aycox and David Margulies in a superbly written, well shot, neo-noir murder mystery that I produced for writer/director Larry Brand last spring here in NY. We're d only weeks away from attending the AFM in LA and from the stories I'm hearing I have major concerns about navigating those labyrinthian Loews hallways to make a deal that will offer me and my associates & investors enough up front to buy a bottle of Champagne to celebrate a deal.

    I've been making movies since the early 80's and have been part of, and witness to, the great rise and blossoming of the indie film sector. A number of under financed indie efforts broke though to great viewership and financial success. Sadly, most failed and many movies never got seen beyond their initial festival push and many producers went into the real estate business. Nowadays there may be a digital shelf somewhere where those movies might be accessible. Still, the money's long gone and getting them in front of eyeballs for even the satisfaction that at least someone's getting to see the work, is still the issue.

    In the last couple of decades, technology has opened new doors to cinemamakers, (I hesitate to say film any more), both on a production level and in distribution but now the new problem is way more supply than demand; way more movies to curate than curators; way too many digital diversions to hijack paying eyeballs; and way too little advance money to help a guy/gal and their investors get whole after maxed budgets and his credit cards used to deliver a movie. It's laughable, that having cracked the code on delivering unique, quality content to viewers by shifting from schlepping atoms (film prints) to sending bits (media files), little has changed for indie creators in terms of a knowable pathway to making and releasing our hard made wares for reasonable payments, so we can get back to the work of creating new movies.

    Yes, I can see the new model they say is forming-- becoming a part of the continuing sales and marketing of our creations. I'm just not sure that those of us who slave to produce and deliver movies are suited to sales or that eager to take it on. The old model had certain advantages if you were successful-- you got paid an advance for your movie; you left the crass, crazy world of sales & marketing your movie to your distributor; and you went back to the hard work making or thinking about making your next one. Luck and the quality of the distributor's campaign be with you-- and you might even see a check in your mail box 60 days after the end of the first quarter after the movie's release.

    BTW-- I'm willing to wear as many hats as needed to succeed so I'll just have to call you guys up at Cinetic and PDA and find out, "what's a 21st Century Indie producer to do.?"

  • Sàrah | September 26, 2012 2:23 PMReply

    "...inspired by the intermingling of two groups of real people — a geek-oriented, male, ’50s computer science community fixated on the archeology of cybernetics, and a female community based around burlesque and pin-ups..."

    Gee, what progress!


  • Doubting_commodity | September 26, 2012 12:40 PMReply

    ""Because in the end, it’s a three-tiered thing: Is it fun, is it social and participatory? Is somebody emotionally invested in it? .... We can move past the commoditization and finally move it to the point where story can really take hold, as it should in the 21st century."

    What is being described here is not "story"; it's crowd-funding sublimated or glorified into "content" creation. Without "commoditization", there are no stories in the usual sense of the word, i.e., crafted materials which take the viewer out of his own pitiful head. Still worse, the process Weiller yearns for is already well-advanced in the indie film world: these films may have auteurs attached, but they're aggregations of the interests and market assessments of the attendees of this very conference. And nobody's interested.

    What Weiller argues for may have broader democratic ambitions and reach, but it remains a product which only interests its own creators, rather like poetry today (lots of people write it, but very few read it). This solipsistic paradise may well be the future, but nobody will make a living from it, because everyone will be the creator of it. Beware what you wish for....