SXSW Xcript: New Media Goes to the Movies

I came into the panel New Dogs, New Tricks: New Media Goes to the Movies just slightly late, but caught most of it. It looked largely at marketing and promoting films in the new media environment, but didn’t seem to go very far past current services like YouTube and several recent launches represented by the panelists. The MTV rep, however, did venture into the land of new modes of storytelling that new media might make possible.

Moderator: Scott Kirsner from Variety
Panelists:
Rick DeVos from Spout.com:
David Gale of MTV New Media
Scilla Andreen of IndieFlix
Seth Nagel of iKlipz

When I came in, Kirsner was asking about who the new power players would be in the new media space, where long-form downloadable content was concerned.

Rick DeVos from Spout.com didn’t see any big new players in long-form downloadable content. Rick believes in the power of social recommendation and word of mouth to hook up niche filmmakres with niche audiences, which is what Spout is trying to do.

David Gale talked about what he looked at at MTV, which covers everything “from short films to a gaming mechanism. MTV launched the Daily Rage this week, wher the audience can win money in a gamelike mechanism.” They also bought a company recently that takes comic books and graphic novels and turns them into cool new media versions. “There’s a whole opportunity to take what’s been traditional media and turn it into new media. It really opens up another way of telling stories. Film is still its traditional media thing [in terms of MTV’s business]. My division is about taking anything that is not film- or televison-originated and looking at the platform and how you can create things in those mediums.”

I think really the only power player that anyone thinks about is iTunes and Apple. They’ve been so far ahead of the curve that everybody else is going to have to catch up. In the next year or so you’re going to see not only a shakeout but a new way of determining who are the power players. Something like YouTube, could that become a distributor of films? Absolutely.

Kirsner also thinks Amazon’s Custom Flicks is interesring, though Amazon is not promoting it very well.

Scilla Andreen of IndieFlix: I come from a filmmaker background. At IndieFlix, we focus on independent films only. Is a YouTube movie going to fall under indie film? Everything is fragmented at the moment. We’re trying to build a foundation for filmmakers to access all these different platforms until we see which are going to bubble up.

We started with the DVD delivery, but we really wanted to do download. We have all of our titles launching for download on March 22. We’re doing a big launch on the 22nd. We’re also up on Joost, we’re channel 6.

Seth Nagel of iKlipz: We are a user-based site, we want filmmakers to post on the site. You post, we watch, if we love it we’ll try to get you in the door with someone on our advisory board [which is packed with indie film heavyweights]. We’re starting a new feature on the site, Bridging the Gap, to put a filmmaker in the room and give them the shot. It’s not just like the president of distribition telling the filmmakers, Here’s what you do, Here’s how you do it, the filmmaker will then have the opportunity to ask questions they wouldn’t normally get to ask. [Their advisory board includes people like Jon Landau, Ruth Vitale and Ed Burns.]

In terms of power players, I think it’s iTunes right now, like with music. It’s just easy. With the phone, the new TV service, they’ve made it sort of idiot proof.

Kirsner: iTunes is frustrating for indie filmmakers, they don’t seem to want to let indie filmakers upload their movie.

Nagel: As of last week was the first time they picked up an independent film, and I’m sure that that’s going to change.

Kirsner: That was a snowboarding documentary in the 30-60 minute range, which they’re selling for $1.99 like a TV show.

Gale: The other company that’s doing it is NetFlix, they’ve caputured traditional filmmakers and the indie market, in a way that allows people to select what they want to see. They’re actually acquiring and financing films now as well. With their settop box you can now get films delivered directly to your set or your computer.

Kirsner: There’s a tension between what longform filmmakers have typically done, chasing theatrical distribution deals, and this complete leap off the cliff of, Well, let me give it to iTunes and see how many they can sell at $9.99, or if YouTube goes into some ad supported full-length model, or Joost. Why has there been this resistance to making that leap? Do you see anything that can change it?

Gale: Most filmmakers want to see their movie on the big screen. That’s what these services are about, giving people a platform to be recognized so they can get a film set up at a studio. As a result, people have to open their minds up to telling stories differently. The thing new media does is to allow people to use interactivity to provide another way to tell a story. We’re talking to filmmakers about doing things in virtual worlds. At Sundance there was a film [Four Eyed Monters] that was screened in Second Life. What happens when you start telling a story in a place like Second Life? When you start thinking about that, then you may have something where you start making the economics work for you.

Kirsner: So maybe you need to start from scratch and say, what can you build that can earn a return in this new environment?

Gale: Right, and maybe it’s serialized so you can tell it in bite sizes.

Kirsner: Seems like what we’re going to need is someone to be an example where they make a short and either sell it or give it away and leverage that into money for a feature.

Andreen: People don’t have any time in life now, so I think shorts are going to have a wonderful life.

Audience question: Is there a good example of this, of new distribution modes?

Answer from a couple of panelists: Four Eyed Monsters [which was the film screened in Second Life at Sundance] is a great example of cross-platform, everything from grassroots screenings and a lot of other things, I think that’s probably the best example. They’ve done an amazing job of getting the word out there, but if you read Arin’s blog he’s sitting there complaining about how he has to retun his computer because he can’t afford it, so I don’t think the financial side has come around yet. But they’re a role model.

A couple of audience members also mentioned Have Money Will Vlog, a WordPress PlugIn that’s actually funded about 5 to 7 projects.

Audience question: Will behavior change with generational change?

Gale: YouTube is good for people who are trying to give people snack food. Joost is trying to enhance that experience. I think people’s behavior will start to change if, for instance, Joost is already built into your computer and your computer is built into your TV screen. A couple of years from now, when people realize there’s other ways to get content you want, YouTube won’t be the only game in town.

Nagel: NetFlix is a fantastic system. I also think YouTube may play younger, but Joost, and I’d like to say iKlipz as well, because I think our player, which we own [and which does Mac and PC], is really good.

Question about whether MTV Interactive is really dead. Gale: Everything at MTV Networks is focused on interactive right now. Within the last 6 months or a year, all resources have been directed toward that and I think there will be a lot of changes, and they’re already occurring. Just about every week there’s a new initiaitive, a new set of ideas. It’s pretty exciting over there right now because they’re so driven to make sure that on every platform there’s advanced thinking and user compatilbity. I’m not too worried about the company.

Question about how filmmakers can actually make a living in this environment.

Kirsner: The big challenge right now is that we haven’t yet seen who is going to control the giant distribution machines in this new world.

Gale: The old world still exists. There are going to other ways to get your movie out there. But there’s also a democratization of filmmaking. This new system of distribution allows those people, who don’t have the same kind of costs involved, to get their content out there. I think we have to start thinking outside the box. Stop thinking movies. I fyou want to do movies, it’s going to be traditionall. But if you can start as creators to start thinking new ways to create content, to create and tell stories differently, then I think you’re talking about economics that could really work.

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