During an appearance at IFP‘s Independent Film Week Conference today, SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen revealed several plans to premiere new documentaries online. As SnagFilms’ library continues to expand, the company will stream two documentaries in conjunction with screenings of both films at the Hamptons International Film Festival next month, and the company is hosting an online sidebar of festival films.
The deal includes “Haze,” an intimate look at American fraternity life, and “End of America,” a bleak survey of the decline of civil rights from the directors of “The Devil Came on Horseback,” based on the recent book by Naomi Wolf. “Haze” will begin screening on SnagFilms October 16, the same day it is scheduled to be shown in the Hamptons. “End of America” premieres October 21, a few days after its Hamptons debut. Wolf and “End of America” directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern wanted to release the movie prior to the upcoming presidential election, while the premiere of “Haze” coincides with fall fraternity rushes. “One common theme for both of these is that time really matters for them,” Allen said in a conversation with indieWIRE shortly before his appearance at the conference today. “We’re going to do everything we can to work with the filmmakers to get them the largest possible audience.”
Although SnagFilms will retain streaming rights to “Haze” and “End of America,” the filmmakers are free to pursue additional distribution options. “End of America” is poised to become available on iTunes later this year, and it will premiere in the United Kingdom at the Sheffield Doc Fest on November 5, the day after the American presidential election. A DVD release is tentatively slated for January, 2009. IndiePix Studios head Ryan Harrington, who produced the film, said the time-sensitive approach would help the movies overcome the density of the conventional festival environment. “I think it’s so detrimental for films to rely on getting to Sundance when 5,000 filmmakers are thinking the same thing,” Harrington said. “It’s a hopeful time, because we don’t need to rely on that anymore.”
SnagFilms is also hosting “Hamptons Extra,” a collection of documentaries selected by Hamptons programmers that will become exclusively available online at the start of the festival. This addendum to the Hamptons lineup builds on SnagFilms’ widget-based release concept. Ten thousand widgets, which Allen called “virtual theaters,” currently have been embedded at various sites. “Sixty days into it, we’re really learning what works and what doesn’t,” Allen said during his appearance today.
The SnagFilms announcement followed several discussions at IFP this week centered on new opportunities available to filmmakers on the Internet. Finnish filmmaker Timo Vuorensola, director of the downloadable satiric feature “Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning,” screened a trailer of his upcoming science fiction film “Iron Sky,” for which he plans to take a conventional theatrical distribution route. However, Vuorensola noted that “Star Wreck” has been downloaded eight million times, and the popularity has taught him the importance of reaching out to a specific fan base and sticking with it. Recently, Vuorensola launched “Wreck A Movie,” a site geared towards giving filmmakers the tools they need to develop an audience online. “When we involve the community, they make sure each of their friends knows about us,” he said. Joining him on the panel, Zachary Lieberman and Ryan Billsborrow-Koo, directors of the contemporary urban western “The West Side” (which recently won a Webby Award), added that avoiding a web-based audience is inherently counterintuitive, since most movies wind up online via piracy, anyway. “Anyone who has made a film in the last twenty years, that film is online,” Billsborrow-Koo said.
He may have been exaggerating, but such an assertion helps explain the viability of projects created for that very arena. On a Monday panel, EQAL CEO and “lonelygirl15” co-founder Mike Beckett discussed a plan to make playlists of songs compiled by characters on the new season of the online show available on the music sharing site imeem, which will also host widgets related to the program. (MySpace TV will join in promotional efforts, and the show will continue to be available on Google and Veoh with no explicit promotion.) Beckett recalled his decision to leave the medical field and produce the cheap webisodes that eventually became an international phenomenon. “There are a variety of ways to produce what you want to produce at a much lower cost,” he said. “We thought about the things we could control: Marketing and distribution. Most of it is creative dealmaking — essentially bartering.”
But the amount of control filmmakers can retain over the ability to showcase their work on the Internet remains uncertain. During a panel later in the day titled “Net Neutrality,” Public Knowledge communications director Art Brodsky and This is That Productions‘ Ted Hope hammered home the importance of ensuring that cyberspace remains an even playing field, particularly in the wake of the Federal Communication Commission’s contemptuous 2005 decision to remove the web from the Communications Act of 1934, which jeopardized the possibility of equal access for online users with varying connection speeds. “For most of us, the Internet is the vision of a place where you can go do whatever you want,” Brodsky said. “This stuff is your lifeblood.” Hope seconded the thought. “Those words are why I was pleased to participate on this panel,” he said. “All of our features depend on [net neutrality]. The future is going to be determined in the next year.”
DISCLOSURE: indieWIRE is owned by SnagFilms.