Below is the video of the keynote speech I gave this past January at the Art House Convergence, an annual event that brings together many of the independent art houses from all over the U.S. and with some representation from the rest of the world. I used the opportunity to give a kind of personal history lesson about the distribution and marketing of indie films, and to draw some lessons for the world we currently live in. A big thank you to Russ Collins of the Michigan Theater for giving me the opportunity to speak, and to Doug Tirola and his team at 4th Row Films for recording it.
These video originally appeared on Thompson on Hollywood, part of the Indiewire network.
Last night’s presentation of the annual Chaplin Award to Barbra Streisand for her film work was a fascinating reminder of what a polarizing and beloved figure she was and remains. As the years fly by, her fans have lost none of their adoration, while many people I spoke to at the event were either too young to remember that Barbra had anything to with film, or too arty to have any appreciation for her body of work. For those in latter two categories, it is worth pointing out some of the reasons that Barbra remains such a huge cultural icon in spite of not having produced much work at all in the last few decades.
First of all, there is the VOICE. At the tribute, Streisand went out of her way to say that her primary goal as a kid was to be an actress. Her singing was just a means to an end. It was her way in. This piece of information should not be surprising to anyone who followed her early career, and became even clearer when watching the clips from her early films. More than that amazing voice, her talent was in the emotion she brought to a song, making her arguably one of the greatest interpretive singers of all time.
I just came back to my office from spending a couple of hours scouring the film vaults at DuArt Film & Video in New York. If you hadn’t heard, DuArt stopped processing film around 18 months ago and is trying to responsibly dispose of all the film materials they have been storing over the decades. With the help of Sandra Schulberg — who is spearheading the “IndieCollect” campaign — they are attempting to locate the owners as well as find archival homes for the films. Representatives from Academy Film Archive, UCLA, MoMA, George Eastman House, Library of Congress and Anthology Film Archives are going through the vaults and have agreed to provide proper climate-controlled longterm storage for many of the titles at risk. In my brief visit, I enountered original 35mm and 16mm negatives for films that I worked on at Cinema 5 and Cinecom, films that I recognized that were made by friends and by Columbia alums. So, if you have any materials that were stored at DuArt and are looking for a permanent home for your materials, let me know and I’ll hook you up. If you want to make a direct inquiry, please don’t call DuArt. Instead please email Steve Blakely and Sandra Schulberg. Comments after the break…
This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Filmmaker Magazine.
Over the last decade, as the tools of filmmaking became less expensive and more generally accessible, there was much excitement about what came to be known as the “democratization” of filmmaking. Suddenly, one didn’t have to be rich or the relative of a studio executive to get a movie made. In addition, web sites such as YouTube and others opened up distribution to the masses, creating a new paradigm that was dubbed “user-generated content.”
All of this sounded great on the surface, but like other seemingly positive advances—remember the “thousand channel universe” or the “long tail theory?”—there are always unintended consequences. While it was true that more people were making “movies” than ever, I would characterize the change not as democratization, but rather as “amateurization.” These market forces—an oversupply of product and seemingly endless channels of accessible distribution—caused the bottom to drop out of the professional marketplace. Content in all its forms was being commoditized. Why should distribution channels pay for content when it could be provided for free? If audiences could be attracted by offering them quantity, why worry about quality? In other words, the so-called democratization of filmmaking was ensuring that no one could make a living at it. Continue reading →
I should start this by saying that I hate Oscar prognostications. It’s a ridiculous exercise that only feeds the massive publicity machine that the studios and mini-majors do their best to manipulate. When I come across yet another column that offers up daily updates on the “race,” I tend to cross my eyes and turn the (sometimes virtual) page.
The one and only time that I start paying attention is when I’m preparing to participate in various Oscar pools, which by the way, I almost never win. I know who I voted for, of course. But I also know that my votes are likely to be way outside the mainstream, and therefore offer no clues as to what the majority of Academy members will do. I find myself guessing differently with each pool that I enter.
That said, I’m probably the worst person to turn to for advice about filling in your Oscar pool choices. But I’m going to do so nonetheless. Continue reading →
Russ Collins, the intrepid leader of the Art House Convergence, a yearly conference of mission-driven community art houses across the country, gave the following kickoff speech for this year’s get-together. Read it and be inspired!
Welcome Address by Russ Collins, Director, Art House Convergence
January 15, 2013 – for the Art House Convergence conference, Zermatt Resort, Midway, Utah
Welcome to the Art House Convergence. Welcome as we celebrate the Brave New American Art House. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to gather here in Utah with colleagues and friends and, with strangers who will soon be friends, to execute the mission of the Art House Convergence.
The mission of the Art House Convergence is to increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America. We hope you will help us pursue this mission by: 1) constantly improving your own Art House; 2) helping colleagues make their Art Houses better places for audiences to experience cinema art and 3) working to make all Art Houses serve as highly effective community cultural centers. Continue reading →
This was a fun and informative panel at this past year’s Toronto International Film Festival, in which Christine Vachon, Cinedigm’s Jeff Reichert and BOND Strategy and Influence’s Marc Schiller discussed social networking strategies for independent film marketing. By the way, I was the moderator.
Columbia University has designated October 24th as “Giving Day.” It has set up a competition among all the schools that make up the University, backing it with up to $400,000 in matching funds. All of the funds will go to student support.
In case you didn’t know, attending an MFA program at a major university like Columbia is a very expensive proposition, made even more so by the fact that our film students create their own productions while they are learning their craft. Students in Columbia’s Film Program make an enormous commitment to attend, in the belief that what we offer is well worth the price. We owe it to them to do whatever we can to ease that burden.
Let me just say that competing with the Business School or the Law School to raise money seems quixotic at best. But I’m a Cubs fan. What can I say? To quote a certain current President, every small contribution matters. As little as $10 can make a difference. Can you help us out?
Here’s a video of a panel discussion that took place at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, at the UK Film Center. It’s a fascinating look at the various initiaves that are taking place to reinvent the theatrical experience by virtue of digital technologies. It’s a subject that, as you all know, is dear to my heart. And yes, I’m on the panel.
John Tilley sent me this great video he took with his brand new camcorder at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987. I edited it down, and added names for everyone John and I could identify. There are a lot of familiar faces if you’ve been in the film business long enough to remember that far back. Check it out. Maybe you are in there somewhere.