EXCLUSIVE: San Francisco Film Society Launches New Digital Distribution Lab A2E

EXCLUSIVE: San Francisco Film Society Launches New Digital Distribution Lab A2E
EXCLUSIVE: San Francisco Film Society Launches New Digital Distribution Lab A2E

On the brink of announcing the full lineup of the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, the San Francisco Film Society has exclusively revealed to Indiewire a new plan for a series of labs designed to help filmmakers release their films under the constraints of the 21st century marketplace.

Titled A2E: Artist to Entrepreneur, the new initiative will take the form of several short labs to help existing film productions invited to participate in the program to develop distribution and marketing strategies tailor-made to each film’s need. “We’re looking to further help filmmakers to develop the skills to exploit digital platforms,” said SFFS executive director Ted Hope, “to improve the knowledge base of the filmmakers so they can figure out the best practices.” Two of these labs will take place during the San Francisco Film Festival next month, and Hope intends to develop “at least four more chapters” in the near future.

A2E marks a major initiative for Hope as he enters into his first festival in the role at the Film Society he first took on last summer. The veteran indie producer told Indiewire that A2E emerged in part from inspiration by Sundance’s #ArtistsServices distribution program, which assists filmmakers at the festival to find ways of bringing their projects to digital platforms. However, A2E has been formulated to go one step further by helping projects not only become available on a variety of platforms but also ensuring that filmmakers have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with audiences and further embolden the prospects of getting their films seen.

Hope added that A2E reflected shifts in the marketplace for independent film that he has witnessed over the course of his career, pointing out that as filmmakers are offered increasingly smaller pieces of a film’s revenue in conventional distribution deals, the need for self-reliance has dramatically increased. Recalling his own experiences with production house Good Machine, Hope pointed out the drop in distribution offers in both national and overseas deals typically used to compensate for negative costs. In the nineties, Hope said, a combination of U.S. and overseas distribution deals could enable filmmakers to cover 100% of those costs. “That really allowed independent film as an enterprise to flourish,” he said.

Over the past decade, offers have shrunk to numbers that fail to cover such costs. “Starting around then, we started to recognize that people weren’t acquiring films in that ballpark anymore,” Hope said.  Citing a recent example, he noted that Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse,” which Hope produced, received 13 distribution offers, the highest of which covered a mere 10 percent of the film’s negative costs.

With A2E, Hope intends for filmmakers to consider a wider range of possibilities for their films, taking into account the potential revenue streams available on VOD and other emerging platforms. “Everyone has access to this whole variety of digital platforms online,” he said. :You can reach your audience with your film. Can you get them to engage and plan on that? You certainly can, but we haven’t been thinking that way. “

As with #ArtistsServices, A2E will include the participation of several organizations, including IFP, Film Independent, Cinereach and Indiewire parent company SnagFilms. While Hope intends for the labs to take place over the course of several months, for the time being, the SFFS has planned two initial mini-labs set to take place over the course of the festival’s second weekend: From May 2 – 5, filmmakers will participate in the A2E Direct Distribution Lab during which each various companies will assist filmmakers in formulating distribution strategies for each film.

During that same window, from May 3 – 4, the A2E LaunchPad will find participating filmmakers holding 20-minute meetings with various tech partners to allow filmmakers to consider a wide range of options for releasing their films using new tools.

With more and more filmmakers growing frustrated by the limited revenue and visibility available by way of conventional distribution deals, A2E certainly has the potential to allow filmmakers a bigger piece of the pie and tighter control of their work. Hope added that the labs won’t force filmmakers to embrace unconventional distribution but instead provide them with the opportunities to explore as many innovative options as possible. “This isn’t to require them to use direct distribution,” he said. “This is to help them evaluate their choice of direct distribution.”

Ultimately, of course, the success of the program is partly dependent on the strength of the movies and engagement of the filmmakers selected for the program, whom Hope said they will unveil in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to this space for more details on the participants and the impact of the lab on their films.



Pilot Programs Designed to Foster Entrepreneurial Skills in Today’s Filmmakers

Set to Trigger Flashpoint of Creative Innovation and Artistic Expression in SF Bay

Area San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Film Society today announced the launch of A2E:

Artist to Entrepreneur, a new suite of programs at the San Francisco International Film Festival

(April 25–May 9) designed to match independent filmmakers with cutting-edge tools for digital distribution,

outreach and audience engagement in the heart of the nation’s new frontier of technological innovation.

Under the auspices of SFFS’s Filmmaker360 program, A2E will bring filmmakers and tech pioneers

together May 2–5 in a lab-like setting to collaborate and confront the challenges facing artists today in

getting their work seen, connecting with audiences and building community.

“When we first started designing this program, we were particularly inspired by Sundance Institute’s

community-minded approach to their #ArtistServices distribution platform,” said SFFS Executive Director

Ted Hope. “Just as they invited us and other organizations to participate, we are doing the same with

A2E. This is a new era of cooperation—not competition—among support organizations in film. For this

initial pilot program we’ve invited Sundance and our other #ArtistServices collaborators—IFP, FIND,

Cinereach, BritDoc and the Bertha Foundation—to work with us, and have invited projects from BFI, Film

London, Frameline and the Canadian Film Center. Also, none of this could have happened without the

help of Screen Australia, who sent producer Alicia Brown over to help launch A2E with the Film Society.”

A2E is the San Francisco Film Society’s first attempt to address filmmakers’ new challenges head on and

create an environment where storytelling and entrepreneurial culture intersect. The program is committed

to providing artists with entrepreneurial skills and bringing them together with leaders in technology,

engagement and investment in order to make independent filmmaking a more sustainable and profitable

enterprise for artist, industry, financier and audience. The cinematic landscape has changed—new

technology has removed almost all barriers to access yet increasingly fragmented audiences are faced

with an overwhelming abundance of content. Through A2E, the San Francisco Film Society leads the

charge in developing new tools, strategies and practices for moving-image artists in conjunction with key

players in the tech world, so all parties involved can prosper in the emerging terrain together.

A2E Direct Distribution Lab (May 2–5)

The Direct Distribution Lab is an event designed to explore various direct distribution opportunities

and identify successful financial and creative avenues for independent filmmakers. Over four days,

filmmakers, technology partners and distribution experts will consider and strategize new models of

audience outreach and engagement to determine how each film may best engage audiences in the digital

age. Through an “open source” collaborative approach, the Direct Distribution Lab will not only connect

artists, services, tools, and tech partners but also build custom plans for each filmmaker to utilize. At the

end of the process, select projects committed to a direct distribution approach will then be presented to

potential funders and collaborators in the hope of making their engagement strategy a reality. The Direct

Distribution Lab is open to narrative filmmakers (documentaries will be considered moving forward) on

an invitation-only basis. The list of participating filmmakers and tech partners will be announced in the

coming weeks.

A2E LaunchPad (May 3–4)

Held in conjunction with the Direct Distribution Lab, A2E LaunchPad will present a select group of

companies and forge productive relationships between the global filmmaking community and the

emerging film tech sphere. 20-minute meetings will be scheduled over the course of two days for

tech partners to demo their product to filmmakers from the A2E Direct Distribution Lab, international

filmmakers visiting for the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Bay Area film community

at large. A2E LaunchPad is where new players and new ideas in film technology work directly with

filmmakers to hone their offering and enable artists to use the technology from the very early stages of

the creative process. The full list of participating startups will be announced in the coming weeks; for

more information about how to participate, contact Alicia Brown at abrown@sffs.org.

For more information visit festival.sffs.org.

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