Today is my last day as Chair of the Film Program at Columbia University.
It’s been a great four years and I’m very proud of our accomplishments over that time.
The end of my chairmanship should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The position is a rotating one among faculty, and Columbia has very strict term limits. I’ve also mentioned it numerous times (albeit off-handedly) in recent writings and speeches. I’m pleased that my colleague Maureen Ryan will be the next Chair. She is more than capable of taking up the mantle and bringing the program to the next level.
Meanwhile, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back to concentrating on teaching rather than administrating, back to producing and consulting on marketing and distribution of indie films, and perhaps paying more attention to this blog.
Stepping back has already given me the opportunity to think about things with a clearer head, and I share with you now some words that were part of my speech at this year’s Columbia University Film Festival in both New York and Los Angeles.
In the last few years, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the technology of what we do, in the ways in which audiences consume what we create and in the general perception of the value of our work. Some people, given what they read in various publications, might draw the conclusion that we’re heading toward a day when 12-year-olds with iPhones will be born with all the necessary skills to create works of art. Other reports would indicate that theatrical movie-going is dead and that TV has supplanted the movies as the main art form of the 21st century.
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.
Earlier this year, Emerging Pictures worked with Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler on the release of the film “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance.” We had a simultaneous premiere of the film in 44 cities, at the same time it was having its World Premiere at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, as part of the Dance on Camera Series. After the film, the panel discussion was broadcast to the theaters nationwide, with a Twitter feedback loop. This is a great example of what I’ve been preaching for quite some time–that we need to more focus on “eventizing” independent films, in order to entice people out of their homes and into movie theaters. Check it out…
Last week, I moderated a master class on Independent Film Financing at the IFP’s Independent Film Conference. The panelists were Nekisa Cooper, producer of “Pariah,” Philipp Engelhorn, founder of Cinereach, Pat Kaufman, the Executive Director of the New York State Film Office, Richard Sheehan from HSBC Bank and Jonathan Gray, Senior Partner at Gray Krauss Des Rochers. It turned out to be an interesting overview of how to piece together financing in the current environment. I only wish it had lasted longer. You can read more about it at indieWIRE.
The video below is of a panel that I participated in last weekend at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It was in honor of the 15th anniversary of indieWIRE and the idea was to reflect on the changes that the film distribution business has undergone during that 15 year period. In spite of the large number of people on the panel, a lot of information was discussed. It was fun seeing all these people in one place (and several other prominent folks in the audience) especially because we’ve all worked together at one time or another. Anyway, enjoy!
Check this out…We just completed a test of the technology we are using to do a live Q&A with participants in the UK and Australia, that will be broadcast live into Emerging Cinemas venues this Saturday morning. The film is “Third Star,” which will be screened at 11am Eastern time as part of the “From Britain With Love” series, followed by the Q&A with the director from Sydney and one of the cast members and the writer from London. In NY the screening will be at the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. For other locations, check out the Emerging Cinemas web site. Or if you can’t make it to the theaters, you can watch the Q&A live at www.tinyurl.com/britfilmlive at approximately 12:40.
Here’s what the test looked like. That’s me standing in for the director.
For a very long time, I’ve been proselytizing to just about anyone who would listen about how digital projection could change the way we think about a theatrical release. While most people in the industry focus on cost savings, which can be substantial over time, I’ve been fascinated with the disruptive element–the fact that our entire notion of what constitutes the traditional theatrical model has been built around the economics of shipping these precious items called “prints” around. These assets, once bought, beg to be used as often as possible to justify their cost. Yet, every time the print is run through a projector it is deteriorating, and constantly at risk of being severely damaged. Switching from one film to another in the projection booth is a clunky process of splicing and unsplicing reels, subjecting the prints to even further potential damage. It’s not for nothing that the budgets for theatrical release are called P&A, indicating that the budget for prints has a prominence that is equal to or greater than any other part of the distribution budget. Continue reading “A Theatrical Showcase Points the Way”