If you're a film person on the SXSW Interactive trade show floor, it's easy to leave with a complex. Film, to put it mildly, is not a priority for tech people -- and these people, easily identified by the orange lanyards attached to the all-important badges, are everywhere. (As one said when meeting a film attendee, "What's the blue one for?")
And among the endless rows of companies hawking the latest and greatest way to share, tweet, sell, upload, download and otherwise ensure you're connected within an inch of your life, there were just a handful of entrepreneurs interested in solving problems in the film space.
To be fair, the relative absence of filmcentric products among the overwhelming preponderance of geek booths doesn't necessarily mean they aren't being developed. As tech icon Robert Scoble told me, "SXSW is a terrible place to launch a product. This is spring break for Silicon Valley. It's more a reward for having launched."
There's another factor at work as well: Like many industries, Hollywood is slow to adapt to change -- tech change in particular. When agency and studio heads are still having one of their assistants type and print out their emails, it's not surprising that we aren't seeing more innovation.
So before I launch into my roundup of film tech for SXSW 2012, here's my wish for next year: I'd like to see a startup incubator entirely devoted to problem-solving for the entertainment industry. Having Interactive run in tandem with Film at SXSW is a terrific asset, but that crossover needs to become a permanent condition.
And with that, here's the contenders. Note: If the pitch contains a quote without attribution, I've taken it directly from the copy on the website.
The pitch: It's crowdsourced exhibition: Create an event, get people to sign up and show the film. As Indiewire wrote about Tugg late last month, "The most compelling elements of the Tugg model are what it could mean for indie films that do and don't have distributors. For example, will Tugg allow small cities to see indie films that would otherwise pass them by? Better yet, could the site provide a new distribution model for self-distributing filmmakers?"
The backstory: Although not part of the trade show, Tugg was embedded with SXSW through its Buzzworthy Screenings, which lets you vote for the movies that deserve an additional screening. However, the real buzzworthy winner is Tugg itself, which became a familiar talking point as the festival went on. No one's entirely sure if this will work, but there's a long line of companies - from theatrical distributors to VOD companies to film societies -- who are willing to find out.
The pitch: "JuntoBox Films is a global, collaborative film studio that unites a social media platform with a traditional film production process."
The backstory: The privately funded JuntoBox launched at SXSW last year; they've recently relaunched the site and announced Forrest Whitaker as co-chairman. In 2012, JuntoBox says it plans to invest $2.5 million in five films.
The pitch: It's a Facebook timeline app that allows you to add clips from movies you watch and rate. "I think movies are inherently social and so now (timeline) amplifies behavior people have always done, talk about movies, go to movies together," said Nicholas Lehman, president of Digital Entertainment & Digital Networks at NBCUniversal (Fandango's corporate parent), in an interview with USA Today.
The backstory: This app wasn't part of the trade show; Facebook hosted a launch event at its Austin offices, since it was announcing nearly a dozen new timeline apps for the site. At this point, Facebook has nearly 3,000 of these opt-in apps and surely there's more to come; will this lead users to adopt Fandango's app as convenient, or reject as being part of the noise?
The pitch: "Financing and distribution are the two biggest obstacles facing most emerging filmmakers. We launched IndieFilmZ to help talented directors and producers clear these hurdles in a snap and gain instant access to a worldwide audience of film lovers and supporters."
The backstory: Filmmakers upload short films to the site and sell their films for $1.49; $1 goes to the filmmaker. While it's straightforward enough, it's hard to see how the site could gain the necessary audience. (And the design doesn't help.)
The pitch: "Moviepilot.com is a new home for upcoming movies – and a home for the movie fans around the globe who care about them."
The backstory: Berlin-based, Moviepilot lets you "subscribe" to upcoming movies to build a "personal news stream," discover new projects based on your likes and discuss them with others, Doesn't sound terribly compelling yet, but the Moviepilot crew appears to be comprised of serious tech geeks who could develop some interesting ideas.
The pitch: Milyoni.com products include Social Cinema, a Facebook-based, pay-per-view service that allows viewers to communicate with other friends and fans while watching a movie.
The backstory: The first film they released was "The Big Lebowski" and most of their content currently comes from Universal, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate. The library isn't impressive at this point -- 167 titles -- but it's also accessible to any filmmaker who has the rights to show the movie, which could make it potentially interesting if Facebook distribution takes off.
The pitch: Filmaster "recommends what you should watch tonight at your local theater, on TV or Netflix based on your unique taste in movies."
The backstory: The Poland-based company launched at SXSW last year as an iPhone app; this year, they're adding a website and Google TV interface. Currently they're only integrated with the Netflix API, but they're planning to add many more.
The pitch: "We truly believe monetization should be as easy as posting a video and slapping a price tag on it. Veam will take content creators closer to this reality."
The backstory: Upload your content and set a price; Veam creates an app -- one that doesn't require the internet to watch -- for you to distribute. They appear to be well financed; not only have they launched a "Veam Dreams scholarship contest," they also sponsored the SXSW Film awards ceremony.