Category Archives: Independent Film

Netflix: An Unfinished Love Story

I have been a Netflix subscriber since the first year it came into being.  I, like millions of users look forward to getting that red envelope in the mail every couple of days.  I watch a lot of movies and nothing I had access to before gave me the vast amount of films in such a convenient manner.  Sure I had to wait a few days to get them, but I have since gotten used to it.  It was still better than driving to the video store, finding out that everything was out of stock and then wandering around for an hour looking at Jason Priestley movies.  When the streaming option came along I purchased a Roku player but never really found myself using it that often.  It was a nice supplement, but the selection only had a fraction of the films and TV shows I wanted to see.   The DVD library on the other hand remains amazing.  Read about an obscure film and the chances are you can have it in your DVD player in a few days.

I try to keep tabs on what is happening in the world of film distribution so it is obvious to me that one day soon films will be predominantly digitally delivered.  I am also very aware that the process of delivering postage-paid DVD packages is the most costly part of the Netflix operation.  All these rumors about the US Post Office ceasing to exist aren’t making this business model seem all that prudent either.  Then the bomb dropped.  A price increase.  Without rehashing the details, Netflix decided to separate the services and raise the overall price for having both.  This was their attempt to address the realities facing them in marketplace.  It took me less than the time it takes me to put a DVD in an envelop and drop it in a mailbox to not only cancel my streaming subscription but to lower the number of DVDs I can have at a time just to make sure Netflix was listening.  I understood that things were going to have to change, but ripping the band aid off at this point in time seemed a little pre-mature.  The price increase didn’t bother me as much as the way they went about it.  I will gladly pay more for a better service, but they were making me pay more for a lesser service.

The thing is, I was already starting to harbor ill feeling towards my favorite movie dealer as the result of their apparent lack of interest in carrying our film, The Waterhole.  I mean, the film does star Patrick J Adams after all.  (This fact doesn’t really matter much, I just want to put his name in this blog post to get more web hits. Go ahead, judge me.)  After discussing this with our distributor, they confided that in recent months Netflix had gone from ordering 100% of their releases to maybe one in five.  This was confirmed later in a discussion I had with Adam Chapnick of Distribber while on the Film Courage radio show that indeed, Netflix was losing interest in indie films.  Indiewire published an article this month with similar conclusions.  Netflix was too busy trying to compete with other monthly film subscription services and they did not need indie films to accomplish that.  They needed studio films and television shows.

Not only was Netflix screwing me as a customer, they were screwing me as a filmmaker, someone who was creating content for them to exploit for profit.   So over the past few weeks I have been complaining vocally and perhaps obnoxiously in such a way I probably deserve my own heading under White People Problems.  Many of my filmmaker peers have been surprised that I am so upset.  Why would I even want my film on Netflix?  They pay little to no money.  They can make it hard to get on other platforms.  And in the digital space there are so many options that offer so much more control.

My answer mirrors the reason why I loved Netflix as a customer.  They had a great selection of films.  I wanted my film to be a part of that selection and I wanted their millions of film lovers to have easy access to my film.  It kills me that when someone asks me if they can get The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams on Netflix I have to tell them no.  Not to sound like a self-conscientious sissy, but it’s embarrassing.   As far as the money is concerned, screw the money.  I want word of mouth.  I want fans.  I want the Netflix audience.  Who cares about a few dollars for a few downloads?  In an earlier post I stated that I would let the Independent Film Channel show my film for free and I was dead serious – too bad they don’t show independent film anymore.  Maybe I am shortsighted for thinking this, but let the money comes when it comes.  (And make no mistake, I do truly do want to make money and I look forward to the day I can race yachts with Lucas McNelly)

Thus, this love/hate relationship with my primary film provider tentatively continues.  By the time the next big Netflix evolution occurred in the form of Qwikster I had all but given up… waiting for the right time to explore new options.  I was not alone of course, the stock was tanking, subscribers were dropping and other customers were furious.  Maybe in the future they will be able to convince me these changes were needed to address their long-term goals and that we will all be better for it.  Until then I am still disappointed, both as a filmmaker and a film lover.

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Note: The day before I wrote this someone from Qwikster reached out to me via Twitter to ask why The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams had been rejected.  I told them I didn’t know and they replied that they would look into it.  I have little hope, but I would still be thrilled if we could work something out.  Until then, The Waterhole starring Patrick J Adams is available to rent from Blockbuster.com.

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Filed under Film Distribution, Film Marketing, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Netflix, Patrick J Adams

A Final Thought on Film Festivals

The Waterhole has now been released on DVD and as I polish up the script for our next project I wanted to jot down a few last thoughts (read: aggressive opinions) on my experience with film festivals.   My first post on this “Why I Will Never Pay Another Film Festival Submission Fee (Unless I do.)” has been by far the most popular post on this lonely blog and with it I thought I had pretty much exhausted all I had to say on the subject.  That was until I attended SXSW last month with a press pass and got a whole new perspective on what it means to have a film at a festival.  It was eye opening.

Of the festivals I have attended, with a film or without, SXSW has by far been my favorite.   This had little to do with their approach to film, but rather how they use the great city of Austin as the backdrop for one big party, where film, music, booze, wonderful food and a little bit of business mix easily and you don’t have to work too hard to have a good time.  I was hooked after my first visit and vowed to return.  This was also primarily my basis for it being a fest I would recommend any filmmaker spend money submitting their film to, if you get in, you get to premiere at a prestigious fest and are practically guaranteed to have truckloads of fun.

As the 2011 fest got closer, I was scraping together the money for a film pass when I was told that I could probably get a press pass for the magazine I have been writing for.  Perfect, I thought as I imagined everything that such a pass would grant me access to.  The press pass, as I would find out, came with very few perks and one great burden.  When the first few emails came in from publicists I was excited.  Especially the ones that included invitations to see some of the films in LA before the festival started. The novelty wore off quickly, when dozens of emails began to flood my inbox every day in great numbers leading up to opening night.  There was the occasional party invite (yes please!) but for the most part each message was a desperate cry for attention.  At first I felt a responsibly to know every film that was showing and try and give them them equal attention but after a while it was too much to process.

In the midst of this avalanche I remembered something.  I was a filmmaker.  These emails were coming from publicists on behalf of the filmmakers that were lucky to get into a festival like SXSW and the fact was, I was only going to see a very small fraction of films that they were hoping I could see.  How could any filmmaker that did not show up to the festival with name talent or pedigree have any chance of getting anyone’s attention?   Through this process I can only remember one or two films that stood out to me simply because of what a publicist sent me, and these publicists weren’t working for free.  That is not to say that they weren’t earning their fees, but it definitely apparent that they were fighting for attention in a very crowded arena and only a few films had a chance of standing out.  It was a daunting realization.

A bigger problem is that the filmmakers were not only competing for the eyes and ears of the press, but they are also competing for an audience.   When I was planning my festival experience, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities.   I wanted to see at least three films a day, plus listen to several panels and hear some of the thousands of bands that flood the city for the last half of the festival.  I ended up averaging 1.5 films a day.  The fact is it is very hard to see everything you want to.  For the filmmaker your audience will have many options competing for their attention.  I watched many world premieres where the theaters were half full.  In fact, I didn’t attend a single film that was sold out.  I can only imagine that the films that did sell out starred Mel Gibson or Jake Gyllenhaal.

Think about it.  You beat all the odds and secure a slot at your dream festival only to have absolutely no guarantee that anyone will see your film.   When I first embarked into the film festival world, my initial shock was how difficult it was to get into any fest, let alone a top-tiered fest.  Now having been on the other side of a festival such as SXSW I now have a better picture of what the reality of getting into such a festival is.  I am not sure how many films sold out of this year’s fest and most of the films that do have deals seem to have had them in place before the festival started.  At the end of the day, the exposure has got to be better than nothing and if you position your film the right way anything is possible.  The fact is, the only guarantee you have if you get into a festival like SXSW is that you are just another indie filmmaker trying to stand out, just like you were before you got that fateful call.  Although, it has to be said, you will probably have the experience of a lifetime, and that is worth quite a bit.

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Filed under Film Distribution, Film Festivals, Film Marketing, Filmmaking, Independent Film

The Festivus Film Festival: A Reaction

Well, hello!  This is Daniel Menahem, producer of THE WATERHOLE, with my first KR7 Productions blog post.  While Nathan (as chief writer and creative director) has been in charge of our blog, I plan on relieving him of writing duties for a few updates strictly from a producer’s perspective.

I want to share my filmmaking experience in more depth in the near future, but seeing as we have just screened THE WATERHOLE at the Festivus Film Festival (www.festivusfilmfestival.com), I thought I’d share with the readers the rollercoaster ride that was presenting our vision to the paying Denver public. Ok, rollercoaster ride maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but as most of you reading this who have created and then presented to an audience know, there is a certain high (and low) that comes with the experience.

First, a word about Festivus Film Festival (aka FFF). I cannot speak highly enough about the job that Jonathan, Tim and the FFF crew have done in creating a vibrant, eclectic festival catering equally to filmmakers and the audience.  While all of our festival screening experiences have been great, this is the first festival that I had been intimately involved with.  The 2011 edition of FFF offered a variety of categories (comedy, docs, music videos etc) all populated by quality films.  In today’s market we are all competing for limited screen space, however it was refreshing to see such filmmaking talent that will definitely keep our KR7 Production humbled and inspired as we try and decide what project to bring to the screen next.

As far as the screening itself goes, well, I’m glad to report it was a surprisingly pleasant experience. Being that Denver is currently my hometown, I had many friends and colleagues in attendance, which always adds a new level of nervousness.  As in past screenings, I made a point of not watching the film in the months leading to the screening, so to try and get as “fresh” of a look as possible (as fresh as possible after 200+ viewings.)  The film is a character and dialogue-driven story with a very simple plot and there always exists the fear that the audience may not relate and grow restless.  It was great to see and hear the reaction throughout the movie.  People laughed and gasped in the “right” places, and the film definitely held their attention throughout.

The screening was held at the fantastic The Bug Theatre. A quaint and cozy little independent theater that one could have imagined had been there for many decades and many great films.  It even had a bar inside, which always helps any screening, especially one with a film about a bar.  We are always a bit nervous about the turn out, but the crowd steadily filled up all but a handful of seats.  Per usual ritual, I stayed through the first couple of scenes until nerves got the best of me and I bailed to Patsy’s “the Oldest Italian Bar in Denver,” checking the time every few seconds until I felt safe enough for my return.

The Q&A can always be a dicey proposition, but that night we were treated to a stream of compliments and thoughtful observations about the story, the characters and the ramifications within the themes. There is nothing better than hearing “the characters felt so real, like people you actually know.” One female audience member stated that she loved the idea that this was a relationship movie from a guy’s perspective.  I always take pride that every Q&A that we’ve had so far has gone over the time limit – people do get excited to discuss their thoughts and feelings. It’s nice to know that we’ve made a thought-provoking film.

There are many choices you need to make when making a film and while there are still many things we might have done different given a second chance, I think both Nathan and I are comfortable with what we’ve created.  Our screening at the Festivus Film Festival in Denver certainly served to validate our creation.  Now it’s on to the next project

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I am not an Indepedent Filmmaker

Recently, I was invited by the great folks at Film Courage to write an article for their website.  The resulting piece – which you can read here:  http://filmcourage.com/content/can-indie-filmmakers-unite-create-brand – are the thoughts I had pondering why there are not more known “brands” associated with consistently good  film in this business.  The article was not meant to be a call to action or a business plan, it was just hypothetical fantasizing.  It did create discussion and I greatly thank anyone who would take the time to read anything I write (including you reading this), let alone share their own perspective.  Funnily enough, as I read the comments something else that struck me was what the readers seemed to think of “indie” film.

What is an independent film?  I had wrestled with this a few months ago when filmmaker Michael Barnard had asked his readers to participate in a survey that’s objective was to define what classified indie film. ( http://michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/just-what-the-hell-is-an-%E2%80%9Cindie-film%E2%80%9D/ )  As I read through the questions I found myself unsure.  Is it budget?  Is it attitude?  The more I thought about it, the less I cared.  Then something struck me:

I am not an independent filmmaker.

I made what most would consider a very independent film.  That film faced and continues to face very unique challenges by being an independent film.  A great number of the films I love could easily be defined as being independent.

But, I am not an independent filmmaker.  I am a filmmaker.

If a studio gave me one hundred million dollars to make a dream project, I would do it.  I would feel no remorse, no betrayal to a set of values. (I would, however, be scared shitless.)  If I had a great story that I could make in my backyard for free.  I would make that.  Right this minute.  I have neither of those options.  It doesn’t matter.  The struggles that must be faced to get any film of merit written and produced will always exist.  I need no additional labels.  I need no additional associations.  I will always support fellow filmmakers regardless of what they are making.  I will always strive to tell stories that I think are original and bring them to life with as many resources as possible to ensure they look and feel the way I think they deserve.

When I was younger I would have been more attached to the idea of independent film as something unique and special.  I would have known down to my core what an independent film was, what it stood for and how much better it was than a mainstream film.  In the last few years most of the truly great films I have seen could not, in a business-sense, be called independent and on the other side of the coin recently I have seen far more bad independent films than good ones, many that actually got into festivals like Sundance.  Maybe it would be suffice to say that I have an independent spirit,  but after reading the nominees for the actual Independent Spirit Awards, I’m not sure how much that would even matter.

I will always love the romantic notion of independent film, but at the end of the day the film is what matters, not how you made it.

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Long Live the Movie Theater

Yesterday marked somewhat of an unusual landmark for me.  It was the first time since the birth of my son that I have seen a film in the theater for three straight weeks in a row (it will be four if I make it to next week’s Film Courage Interactive).   This is significant in that ever since I could drive I have seen at least one film a week in a movie theater.  I love going to the movies and the reasons I no longer make it out as frequently are not because I spend too much time on the internet, playing video games or that the theatrical experience is bad (which it is), it’s simply because at this stage in my life it isn’t as convenient.  I still go as often as possible, I just have to be more selective.

During these recent trips something occurred to me as I watched the previews, all ten thousand of them that preceded each film.   Of all those films I had to look forward to, there was only one that aroused my interest enough to make me think:  “I have to see that yesterday!”  That film was the first part of the final films in the Harry Potter angst-ridden boy wizard series.   I have seen only two of the prior films in theaters.  I enjoyed the books but find them utterly forgettable, yet my desire to see this film is high.  Feel free to speculate as to why this is, but what interested me most is all the other films previewed.   As I watched one after the other I mentally cataloged each: 1) Must See 2) Rental 3) Seriously, do they really think people want to see this shit?  Going to the theater is as much of a choice about content as it is about experience.

The future and viability of the theatrical window is always the subject of morbid speculation.  How long does it have left?  How many more gimmicks like 3D can they attach to its dying body to keep it alive longer?  The fact is that the theatrical window will see a decline but not because people aren’t willing to go to the theaters.  Do you know how expensive it is to take a family to the movies?  It’s about as much as my bar tab*.  Even faced with this expense families pile into theaters every time a kid-friendly film arrives.  And just like I did, those kids will fall in love with the experience and they will return again and again.   As long as there is something that compels them to.

Any reason you could give me why people won’t go to the theaters will more than likely be valid, but the fact is that people do go to the theater and they must like it because they do have other options to see a film.  Many people are willing to wait.  The thing is, nobody ever says – “Damn, are you telling me I have to go to the theater to see that? Oh well, I guess since there is no other way to see this film in my lifetime I will have to make this tremendous sacrifice.”  People aren’t stupid.  Well, that stupid. People still pay to see Katherine Heigl movies and she has scientifically been proven to be awful.

Granted, theaters must improve the experience if they want to extend their life expectancy.  They need to  keep the prices reasonable (Hey AMC – charging $3 extra for an “E” ticket to a film in a theater with good projection and sound is truly awful marketing.  Shouldn’t that be ALL of your theaters?) and accept that short windows are the new reality.  Distributors need to better leverage marketing costs, choose carefully what needs to go to theaters and not make decisions too hastily that could unnecessarily kill their theatrical markets.  Independent filmmakers have always had a tough fight to get their films into the theatrical arena, and maybe it just isn’t right for most films from an economic standpoint, but if the audience for your film is there, they will see it in a theater.  You are just going to have to work your ass off to get them there.

Seeing a film in the theater can be a special thing.  Viewing our film “The Waterhole” at the high-end Arclight in Hollywood was one of my proudest moments.  I suspect that when the Harry Potter finale reaches theaters it will be a tremendous success, maybe even breaking records.  There are many things I dislike about going to the theater, but if you create a story I really want to see, you can bet I will be there and I will not be alone.

*Alas, in reality I never get to go to bars anymore either.

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Become a Successful Filmmaker in One Difficult Step

Every day I read dozens of new articles, blogs and tweets piling on to the mountain of advice on how to build a career as a filmmaker.  Some of these posts have proven very valuable, some have spawn heated debates in the comment section, and others seem to beg the question as to why they were written at all.  It’s a lot to sift through.

Given all this information on film making I think it is helpful to remind those that aspire to make a film, are currently making films or even those that have successfully made films to the point where driving their Bentleys off a Malibu cliff side is a weekly occurrence of one simple fact.  You need to make the best film you can.  Duh, right?  I guess another way to put it is if you have an idea that you would like to spend years of your life getting made into a movie, you had better be clear with yourself as to the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.  This must be the driving force behind everything you do to subsequently get the film before audiences.

If you cannot do this you are setting yourself up for failure.  Anyone can make a film, the trick is to make a good one.  If you have a good project that you have a complete vision for it will help you tremendously in making the decisions to get it made.  It will also help draw those who can help you get it made and made well into your fray.  I truly believe that talent rises.  Your work will be your best advocate, your best marketing tool.  Never forget that.

Nobody wants to make bad movies and yet so many bad films get made.  Hollywood tries to second-guess audiences or re-heats past successes but even after decades of experience they still make more flops than hits.  As indie filmmakers we are just as susceptible to these trappings.   If you think of all the greatest independent films what was the one thing they have in common?  They are made by artists that were true to their vision.  Artists that saw something new and exciting and fought for it.  This is why independent film found an audience to embrace it and this is what me must continue to do.

There is no “right” way to make a film.  When I was lucky enough to chat with filmmaker Gary King he shared the same sentiment and I instantly liked him for it.   I love this philosophy, a more constructive take on William Goldman’s famous statement about Hollywood that “Nobody knows anything.”  It is true.  The final product is the only thing that matters and the only tool you truly have to get to that point is your idea and the will to do whatever you can to see it through to the finish.  Depending on how you eventually decide to make your film, you will have to wear many hats.  If you get too bogged down with all the other things that can occupy your time it is easy to lose sight of the original goal.  If you spend too much time obsessing about technology or money or marketing or audience – although they are all important factors – the film will suffer.

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Twitter and the Independent Filmmaker

Filmmakers, how many times have you either been asked or asked yourself this question: do I need to move to Los Angeles (or New York etc.)?  My smart ass response is always “No, there are already too many people here.”  There are lots of great reasons for a filmmaker to live in L.A., but the reason I would answer “yes” is that in order to be able to fully accomplish your filmmaking goals you will need to know the right people.  People with special skills, people that can teach you, people that can give you support or even money, or people that can get you in touch with these people.  The saying “it’s all who you know” is never more true than in the business of making a film, but it is getting easier every day to know the right people without committing to a life of traffic, earthquakes and punching paparazzi.

We were days away from our world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival when I started using Twitter.  My brother-in-law suggested that it might be helpful in getting the word out about our screening.   The only advice he gave me was that everyone in the world could read it, so not to write anything I didn’t want everyone to be able to see.   I started my account and began sending out short messages into the void of cyberspace, not sure if anyone was reading them.   Actually, pretty sure no one was reading them.  I made a few contacts with other filmmakers that were going to be in the festival, but nothing significant, and at the end of the day I wasn’t really sure it was worth the effort.

I stuck with it.  At first following anyone and everyone but slowly starting to get a sense of those out there that I found interesting, as well as those interested in what we were doing.  It took a long time and a lot of feeling around in the dark, but eventually I could see a community taking shape.  I found a tremendous amount of filmmakers and film supporters that were engaged in an open forum discussion addressing all the issues I had been dealing with practically alone.   What at first I thought was just a platform to promote the film turned out to be something much more valuable.  This was social networking at it purest.

Yet my experience on Twitter has not just been confined to a computer interface.  Two of our non-festival screenings (Film Courage Interactive in Los Angeles and The Pretentious Film Society in Annapolis) would not have occurred had I not started that account.  Three of our most positive reviews came from bloggers (Film Snobbery, Movie Cynics, and Rogue Cinema) that I met or read about from other filmmakers.  Plus, there all the great filmmakers I have had the privilege to meet in person, see their films and pick their brains.

Although there are folks out there that are much better adept at Twitter (looking at you @kingisafink) I thought I would share some tidbits of advice.  Take ’em or leave ’em.

1. Be interesting –  This isn’t easy.  Try and share thoughts, ideas and information that are pertinent to the people following you.  Converse with people, don’t just promote.  In fact, your best promotion is to make sure people want to read your tweets so try and make each one count.  Your comments will be available for anyone to read, but you don’t want to be so cautious that you become bland. Your personality must come through.  My personal guideline is never make statements unrelated to our film or the film industry.  Everything within that realm is fair game.  Find your voice and stick to it, be respectful, and if you can, be very fucking funny.

2. Don’t feel like you have to follow everyone –  Try to follow people that you would want to talk to in real life.  There are thousands of filmmakers and film writers out there and they alone will give you more tweets than you can keep up with.  If someone follows you it is a courtesy to follow them back, but not mandatory.  If they seem like someone you are interested in knowing more about or if you think they may be a fan follow back for sure, if their description seems like an odd fit, it probably is, don’t fill your feed with stuff you won’t read.

3. Don’t feel like you need everyone to follow you – Think quality over quantity.  Don’t waste time chasing new followers.  If you follow advice #1 and are patient they will come to you.  Having five million followers is meaningless if they don’t care about what you tweet or pay to see your movie.  [Editor’s Note: weak Ashton Kutcher joke was removed here.]

3. Engage and Re-Tweet – I am shy in real life.  I hate talking to people I don’t know.  Twitter makes it easy.  If someone says something you find interesting or have a comment about, let them know, or share it by re-tweeting it. Re-tweeting is simply re-posting what another user has already written.  When you re-tweet, try and add your own thoughts, always have a voice associated with anything you send out.  Be gracious when someone re-tweets your tweet, they are helping you by getting your name out there to their followers, so thank them.

4. Do not use Twitter.com – There are many wonderful and free desktop applications you can download (I use tweetdeck) that allow you keep different columns, which you can tailor to meet your needs.  For instance, my first column is all tweets from my list of film people am most interested in.  The next are my “mentions” – every tweet where my user name gets mentioned.  You can also set up columns for particular searches or “hash tags.” (hash tags are a way of marking certain topics  with a “#” sign.  For instance, two good ones to keep an eye on are #scriptchat and #infdist.)  Do whatever you can to help manage the time you spend on Twitter, because once you get sucked in it can quickly take over.  I’ve check twitter 50 time writing this.

5. Have only one account – I have two.  One for the film and one for me.  One withers and the other thrives.  Sometimes I get them mixed up.  If I could do it over I would have stuck to a personal account.  More flexibility, more personal and it still could be used to promote the film.  Again, make life easy for yourself.

I recently had lunch with an old friend that had just finished principle photography on his first feature film.  I shared with him my Twitter experiences and he was interested but unconvinced.  His argument is that filmmakers need to focus on making the film, which as anyone knows takes a tremendous amount of work to accomplish, and much more energy, insight, talent and luck to do well.  I can’t really argue with him, but I can say that if you manage your time and have a smart plan of attack, the effort you put into your Twitter account will become a tremendous asset, and you just might make a few friends along the way.

You can follow my tweets @waterholemovie.  Do it now, because regardless of what I wrote above,  I really want over 1000 followers.

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