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LOOKING BACK AT ’05: The Year of the (Film) Blogs, With More To Come

LOOKING BACK AT '05: The Year of the (Film) Blogs, With More To Come

[EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a series of 5 articles looking back at some of the notable people, trends and companies of 2005. Additional articles in this series will be published all next week.]

While it’s hard to prognosticate about the overall future and impact of film blogs, one thing became apparent this year, film-blog prognostication itself suddenly has become a booming Internet business. And so far, it’s benefiting indie films.

Blogs that treat film awards like a competitive sport, like OscarWatch.com and David Poland’s Hot Blog, have been joined by newspaper-sponsored blogs from The New York Times, David Carr‘s The Carpetbagger, The Los Angeles TimesThe Envelope and The Los Angeles Daily NewsOn The Red Carpet to create a growth industry in Oscar-handicapping sites. More are on the way, too, as the Academy Awards broadcast on March 5 approaches — Yahoo! is scheduled to start one up soon.

“This is the first year we’ve really had the industry pay attention to blogs,” said James Lewis, a Los Angeles publicist for mPRm, which is working on the Oscar campaigns of several movies. “They’re tied in to major publications.”

These blogs may be having an egalitarian effect on awards season, aiding smaller films like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Transamerica” or “The Squid and the Whale” against the bigger Hollywood movies so far.

“It certainly levels the playing field because our prognosticators treat them seriously and give them the same amount of space as other films,” said Tom O’Neil, who licensed his hobbyist Goldderby.com award-predicting website to Los Angeles Times last July. It became part of The Envelope, for which he writes his Gold Derby blog.

These blogs have found a good year to try to make an impact, too. “If we’re going to have the first full-scale gay Oscar season, with ‘Brokeback’ followed by ‘Capote’ and ‘Transamerica,’ there’s going to be a lot to chatter about it,” said Ray Price, vice president of marketing for Landmark Theatres, the nation’s largest art-house chain.

He’s in the process of creating Movienet.com, a new Landmark-affiliated one-stop independent film website that he hopes will host blogs from critics and filmmakers. “If I got Robert Altman to show up a few times a week while people were talking about ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ that’d be really cool.”

But while all these high-profile changes are occurring, other blog activity augers well for film buffs throughout the Internet. Lively, intelligent blogs that feature frequently updated, conversational postings about cinema — as opposed to celebrity gossip — are flowering. They’re trying to create an interlinked community devoted to those passionately interested in film, similar to what the pioneering urban art houses of the 1950s and 1960s did. And if they haven’t yet reached the point where they have a measured impact on box office, they’re trying.

These blogs include, but certainly aren’t limited to, film critic and writer Dave Kehr’s new blog, online film journal Reverse Shot’s Reverse Blog, S.T. VanAirsdale’s The Reeler, the Twitch blog, MovieCityNews’ MovieCityIndie blog, and GreenCine’s Green Cine Daily.

The blogs can be as fun as they are erudite, as newsy as they are ruminative, as friendly as they are academic. And their very logos and mottos connote a certain luminously magical quality, a sense of entering a new world similar to what early moviegoers found watching Melies‘ “A Trip to the Moon.”

Twitch, which takes a keen interest in Asian film, bills itself as “spreading the news on strange little films from around the world.” Kehr’s site dedicates itself to reporting “from the lost world of cinephilia.” Filmbrain’s blog is called Like Anna Karina’s Sweater blog.

Jeff Reichert, a co-founder of the Reverse Shot website who now co-edits its blog, believes that these all have a shot at bringing a populist, youthful energy to the aging art-film world. He thinks they’re capable of opening up criticism to the masses, without dumbing it down. (He’s also director of marketing and publicity for Magnolia Pictures.)

“If I see the new Hou Hsiao-hsien film and love it, I don’t have to talk about it in a rarified form,” he said. “And if there are more opportunities for dialogue, people will feel like they’re becoming involved rather than being told about something. That could re-energize art cinema.”

While there are good indie-film blogs, there are so many there’s concern that any single one’s impact is minuscule, even with host sites and links to direct traffic. BlogPulse.com identified 19,666,253 blogs of all type in existence – 36,945 added in a recent two-hour period. And a search of “film blogs” on blogger.com came up with 40,329.

Still, hope is building that they can help first-run specialty movies find an audience, especially if newspaper coverage of art and indie films undergoes cutbacks due to stagnant circulation. “The biggest problem we have is that a film is always dying of anonymity,” Landmark’s Price said. “And declining newspaper space doesn’t help that – that’s the essential problem in our business and it’s getting worse.”

“Blogs are good but there has to be a way to navigate through them,” he said. “Maybe 10,000 places, each with a little audience, are fine. Maybe they add up to one nation. But on the other hand, maybe there’s a need for some centrality.” Indie distributors and filmmakers are also getting more active in creating their own blogs.

For instance, right now “Cape of Good Hope” director Mark Bamford is chronicling the slow rollout of his Artistic License-distributed drama about three women’s lives in South Africa on his own blog. He posts reviews as well as such material as snapshots of the actors at the film’s New York opening. “It brings people into the experience in a personal way,” he said.

“For the indies, blogs can potentially be much more important for any given film for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that other forms of publicity are relatively so much more expensive yet not necessarily more effective and certainly not as ‘targeted’,” said Green Cine Daily’s David Hudson, in an E-mail.

“When an indie production has a particularly intriguing or creative personality involved, getting them online and blogging can arouse not just a certain level of buzz but also, if something sparks between them and their readers, a whole core of evangelists for that particular film.”

A particularly good example of that this year was Miranda July‘s blog for the IFC Films release, “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” “What’s interesting here is that, in July’s case, anyone who saw the film was likely to be very interested in finding out more about her,” Hudson said. “If they found the blog, they found a place that not only had the look and feel of the overall campaign for that film but also that July was a pretty fun read – and anyone who would warm up to the film would likely warm up to the personality there, too.”

IFC Films’ new marketing director, Ryan Werner said he plans to redesign the company’s website to incorporate blogs, and that he’s working on having Danish director Lars Von Trier — whose fear of flying prevents him from traveling to America — personally address that issue as part of IFC’s Internet-marketing campaign for his upcoming “Manderlay.” He also may advertise on both film blogs like GreenCine.com and politically oriented ones like huffingtonpost.com.

The film-blogging experience seems sure to grow in 2006. And that will mean more work than ever for the writers involved, who often have other careers involving writing, that pay the bills.

Anne Thompson, the Hollywood Reporter columnist who this year expanded her Risky Business column into an ongoing Risky Biz blog, plans to file on her personal blog, in her column and in other Reporter coverage at Sundance this year.

“I hope I see some movies,” Thompson said. “But I love doing (the blog). I have to fight to keep from doing it more than a few hours each day. And it’s helped my voice, helped my writing become more opinionated.”

indieWIRE continues its monthly series with AppleStore – SoHo that presents
indie film professionals discussing various aspects of the filmmaking

WHEN: Friday, December 16th, 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m
WHERE: AppleStore – SoHo, 103 Prince Street, NYC

indieWIRE is pleased to bring together some of it’s favorite film bloggers
to discuss their corner of the blogosphere. As film blogs become more and
more popular, meet the people behind these blogs that cover indie, foreign
and Hollywood films.

Bloggers confirmed include:

– Karina Longworth: Cinematical
– Scott Macaulay: Filmmaker Magazine Blog
– Alison Willmore: IFC News
– Andrew Grant: Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
– Aaron Dobbs: Out of Focus
– S.T. VanAirsdale: The Reeler
– Michael Koresky: Reverseblog: The Reverse Shot blog

The event will be moderated by indieWIRE Editor in Chief (and blogger) Eugene Hernandez.

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