blog_
Here’s the latest news.


Mark

Report from Sundance


I had an intense, inspiring and quite informative time at Sundance this year.  I committed to seeing films (where in the past I might only catch two or three films over five days), this year I got to see seven in Park City and then another seventeen after I got home.  There were a lot of incredible films - a great year for Eugene Hernandez's first as director of the festival.  I was also able to catch up with quite a number of people and 8 Above even co-hosted our first Sundance party on Saturday with the DPA, TFC and Portrait.

People have talked about/written about Sundance's role in saving independent film (see Scott Macaulay’s excellent Editor’s Letter from last week). This is being asked of Sundance because of the role Sundance has had in supporting independent film.  Sundance not only supports excellent films through their lab and other support programs, but the large sales at Sundance benefited many filmmakers and financiers in years past. Many would say that Sundance launched the independent film sales market in the US and remains one of the few such in existence.  Many other films were financed based on the illusion that this could happen to anyone.

But the dark side of this is that these sales created a mythology that most filmmakers until very recently believed (and unfortunately many still do): You could make a film (without even considering if there was an audience for it) and then sell it and even perhaps get rich. Most importantly:  you wouldn’t be responsible for connecting that film to an audience. Someone else - the distributor would take care of that.  You could cash the check and make another film.

This system has never worked for all, even most, filmmakers and has been broken since at least 2007. Even Sundance recognized this and created Artist Services and the Creative Distribution Fellowship to help the plethora of Sundance films that never sold during or after the festival.  The problem with the supposed golden age of documentaries wasn’t just that it only helped a relatively small number of filmmakers, but that it reinvigorated the mythology of sales as salvation for filmmakers when the underlying system was anemic at best and flailing at worst.

Fortunately, the vast swath of the independent film community is keenly aware of the problem now and there are a lot of interesting initiatives being launched.  While on the one hand, I hope that there are sales and worthy films find homes and that this perhaps results in audiences seeing their films and their goals being realized.  On the other hand, I would be concerned that an avalanche of sales would reignite the mythology and potentially impede the very labor-intensive work being conceptualized to rebuild our system on multiple fronts –through organizations, entrepreneurs/companies, legislation, regulation – so that we as a community are not reliant on monopolistic entities that don’t care about our art or sustainability – and are only concerned for their profit and share price.

At the festival, I was able to talk to a number of people creating programs that were either in place or being developed.  I have believed that a lot of audience data exits in our world - amassed by intrepid filmmakers and companies - but much of this data has been poorly utilized and shared.  One exciting innovation I heard about from three different companies was a new data-driven form of PVOD/TVOD model for independents. The three are Kinema, Eventive and a third company I cannot name yet.  I thought something was up recently with Kinema when I saw how Israelism was releasing their film. While direct-to-consumer TVOD models have existed for some time, the difference here is that each of these companies have large data sets of consumers (10 million tickets sold in the case of Eventive) and they have figured out a way to legally use this data to help filmmakers connect to new audiences.  Eventive's is the Eventive Discovery Portal - Kinema's is Watch Now. You can read about Watch Now in Christie Marchese's post here.  Presumably, you could use each of these platforms non-exclusively to reach different audiences.  I'm looking forward to experimenting with these platforms in the near future with one of our projects and reporting on them in more detail later.

Other initiatives are brewing - but back to the films!  One that blew me away both in content and form was Gary Hustwit's Eno.  Besides being an excellently crafted film about a brilliant musician who I didn't realize was a lay philosopher, Gary and his team created an AI engine that recuts the film for every screening - in other words, you will never see the same film twice.  Each screening in a theatrical run will be unique. A week-long theatrical would require 21 different DCPs.  I've already heard from keyboard nerds who will see the film multiple times just to see new elements that they hadn’t seen. But I have a feeling Gary is planning something bigger than traditional theatrical. He has been an innovator in event cinema since Helvetica and it will be exciting to see what he does with Eno (not to mention the merch possibilities).

Other films that I really loved were Sujo, Ibelin, Realm of Satan (made by one of my super talented former Cal Arts students Scott Cummings!), Eternal You (for me the best of several films dealing with AI -- two of which dealt with AI and death in a smart and critical way), Daughters (one of several films dealing with daughters relationships with their fathers at the festival), Gaucho Gaucho, Dig XX (which reinvigorated the immense respect I have for Ondi Timoner's craft). I still missed some films I was hoping to see such as I Saw The TV Glow, which I’m sure I would have loved - but it already has a distributor and I generally didn’t see films that already had distribution in place or where distribution was pending. Hats off to the entire Sundance team for an excellent program and festival

While I was privileged to be able to attend the festival (partly because I have a free place to stay in Park City) not everyone has that ability – and that expense does create a barrier.  This is well pointed out in Megan Gilbride and Rebecca Green's post from last week: Sundance Reinvented in which they propose an alternative touring structure for the Sundance festival that not only could reduce the cost of attending the festival but would enable filmmakers to use their premiere festivals (and the resources needed for a Sundance festival launch) to launch the entire distribution of their film - this is something I advocated for in Think Outside the Box Office and I think their proposed Reinvention could help a lot of filmmakers. It would also support art houses and most importantly help develop new audiences. 
Progress on the 6 Month Distribution Intensive

Meanwhile, we are 2 months into the first cohort of the 6 Month Distribution Intensive that launched in December.  So far we have covered: All rights vs Split Rights deals, Marketing for Film 101, Budgeting, Windowing, Organic Social Media with the wonderful Dor Dotson (see her slide below on the myths of social media for filmmakers), Impact with Laura Fallsgraff (who I have had the pleasure to work with on four campaigns and who recently retired to become a high school history teacher - lucky kids!), An Overview of Event/Theatrical, Marketing Materials, 2 sets of 1x1s and more.  I've been really excited to see it come together and the benefit it has had for the filmmakers involved.  I've decided to launch another cohort in March/April. More info here or join one of our informational sessions.


OTHER NEWS:


Distribution Advocates has started a podcast where host Avril Speaks unravels the convoluted world of indie film distribution with honest insider stories. This show aims to examine the concerning practices of the current industry and hopes to find alternative solutions for a more sustainable distribution model. Their first episode features conversations with Pat Murphy, Orly Ravid, Alece Oxendine, Set Hernandez, Abby Sun, Efuru Flowers, and Kaila Sara Heir and demystifies the role of sales agents. Take a listen or read the transcript here. They released a second episode on the truth behind awards campaigns featuring Matt Stoller, Abby Sun, Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh and Kaila Sarah Hier. Check this second episode out here

Anthony Kaufman (who I was able to meet for the first time at Sundance) has been writing quite a few great pieces about film festivals.  Related to my notes above are Will This Year's Sundance Save Documentary Distribution (probably not).  He also recently wrote about the issues with film reviews at film festivals.  Kaufman points out how reviewers tend to “criticize films for what they’re not” when needing to review a film they just saw. When critics have a platform that is high enough to influence a good portion of a film's potential audience this can wreak havoc on a film’s distribution.


Because it is so good and such a jumping off point for important conversations, I'm going to highlight again Megan Gilbride and Rebecca Green's  Dear Producer post Sundance Reinvented where they indicate the problems of both monetary and physical access at the festival and propose a new kind of Sundance. “On average, a low-budget film can expect to spend (and scramble to raise) upwards of $50-75k to properly attend.” Gilbride and Green hypothesize a better future and point to Sundance’s Satellite Screens initiative which saw theaters around the country exhibiting films from Sundance during the pandemic, but the program was sadly discontinued after 2022. Sundance itself has considered moving away from Park City after its contract with the City runs out in 2026. But Green and Gilbride eloquently argue that the shift needs to be bigger and broader. Read the rest of the piece here.



What is Old Is New: Film Festival Edition

This week, Paula Bernstein wrote a nice piece for Filmmaker Mag reporting from the Bend Film Festival about a panel of film festival programmers on recommendations of how to apply to film festivals.  Since this is prime film festival application season - its a timely and helpful article.  Included are advice on keeping shorts short since programmers only have so much time in their schedules, pay attention to the power of regional festivals and filmmakers must do their research before applying to festivals - don't apply to fests that don't make sense for your film.  However she emailed me to tell me that she referenced an earlier article of mine:  "Given the technological advances and sweeping cultural shifts over the past few years, it’s surprising—but not necessarily problematic—that the process of applying to film festivals, and therefore the advice programmers share with filmmakers, has remained remarkably unchanged. Go back and read Jon Reiss’s excellent article on the topic from 2017 and the tips are quite similar to the ones shared in Bend."  I just re-read that article and I feel that all the 10 do's and 5 don'ts are as relevant now as they were in 2017 and unless there are major earthquakes in our system, will probably be relevant in 2028.  While much of the world of distribution is fast changing - some aspects of it are remarkably constant.  If you have additional tips - please send them in.  I am on the Film Festival Subcommittee of the DPA and we created a Film Festival Toolkit that hopefully will be posted to the DPA site in the near future - I'll see about including any new tips in that document. 

SAM NOW ON THE CRITERION CHANNEL

Sam Now, the beautiful film we released earlier this year is now available for streaming on the Criterion Channel. If you missed this powerful film about family and intergenerational trauma, now is your chance to catch it.

FILM FATALES AND THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE


One more day till I'll be joining Film Fatales on this Friday November 3rd 2pm PT / 5pm ET for an online distribution and marketing workshop. I'll be doing a short presentation followed by 5 "Speed Consults" moderated by Jennifer Takaki (Photographic Justice: the Corky Lee Story). These are the wonderful Film Fatales members and their films that will be participating:   Hazel Gurland-Pooler (Storming Caesars Palace), Jasmín López (Silent Beauty), Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso (Powerlands), Nana Ghana (You Are Always Right Here), and Ruth Du (Samson).  With support from event partners IDA, Minorities in Film, Pano Network, and The Gotham.

The workshop will be accessible with live captions and a recording will be shared the day after.

RSVP: http://ffla110323.eventbrite.com

A FEW MORE SLOTS FOR THE 6 MONTH DISTRIBUTION INTENSIVE

The response has been wonderful for my upcoming 6 Month Distribution Intensive which is launching on November 29th.  I've been hosting weekly webinars on how the program works and I am really excited to hear from all the filmmakers that are signing up to participate with their wonderful projects. If you have a project nearing completion, or on the festival circuit, or in production and want to plan appropriately for distribution,  I hope to see you at one of the webinars.   
Applications for the 2024 Rotterdam Lab Fellowship are due this Thursday, November 2nd. The Rotterdam Lab is designed to build an emerging producer with no more than two feature film producing credits' international network and experience. The lab offers panel discussions on financing and audiences, as well as speed dating sessions with industry delegates and many more project building opportunities. 



The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful in Film Distribution This Week



I'll start off with a little bit of good - inspired by the Distribution Town Hall at the Camden International Film Festival last month, I have been chatting with a number of folks, especially IDA's Abby Sun, about creating a systematic master list of the various ways we and our collective industry can respond to fix our broken distribution system. 

This week Ovid announced a collaboration with Means.TV in which they would each promote their networks to their audiences.  This is a long running successful strategy by YouTubers (who independent filmmakers could learn a thing or two from). Popular YouTubers regularly appear on each others channels - cross-promoting each other's audiences.  I've been thinking of a variety of ways that filmmakers and those within our ecosystem could do something similar.   I also believe that while there might need to be some bigger/broader initiatives - our success will really be built on "smaller" collaborations like the one between Ovid and Means.TV.  I'm a particular fan of Means.tv because they are a worker owned.

Please share any movement/policies, programs, solutions that you are seeing or thinking of - I would love to hear about them!

                   

Next is mixed bad news/good news:  A letter from the UK Doc Film Council signed by many UK doc makers noting that doc filmmaking in the UK is facing an "existential threat." The letter goes on: “Production funding for independent docs is chronically low and support for development, let alone distribution and exhibition, is practically non-existent. Sustaining careers in these conditions is all but impossible aside for a relatively privileged few, which has direct implications for filmmaker wellbeing and the docs sector’s devastating lack of diversity.”

The good news aspect of this is that it is from an organization formed last year to help deal with this threat: the UK Doc Film Council. It received government funding in the UK to do so.  Govt funding for this is unlikely in the US but I would suggest that it is time for organizations and philanthropists with interests in this area to do something similar here (and I'm looking to be involved in these initiatives). These new entities then need to connect on a global level.  The tech giants are certainly functioning on a global level. 

The Bad (and frankly the Ugly):  While the collapse of Passion River and the pain and financial loss it cost its filmmakers - not to mention the time and review history lost for their films etc is not new news. however this week Kelly Thomas' wrote a post about the situation on Distribution Advocates Substack (which I recommend subscribing to).  Unfortunately I am hearing from a couple filmmakers that another formerly storied aggregator hasn't paid them or even sent statements in over six months. They both surprisingly received a letter from an employee of that company suggesting that they take action against the company!  Perhaps it might be time for a webinar with filmmakers discussing how filmmakers can respond when their distributor starts to fail. 

And now for the beautiful, which perhaps is laying it on a bit thick - but it made the headline sing: Our release, My Love Affair with Marriage, which is a beautiful movie, is having super successful run so far selling out screenings in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston with sizable turnouts in all the other markets even outselling Taylor Swift in Glendale!  This on top of a NY Times Critics Pick and a rave THR review and an avalanche of other press. What we are finding is that getting butts in seats is the hard work of community outreach (what we call Impact Event Theatrical) via domestic violence and women-centered nonprofits, animators and Latvians.  Its nothing new to say that identifying specific audiences and engaging those audiences for a release is a path to success - but it is good to see that it continues to work and form a path for filmmakers.  We have found this to be crucial for theatrical releases - even non-documentaries like this My Love Affair with Marriage

                         

  FILM FATALES AND THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE

Join Film Fatales and myself on Friday November 3rd 2pm PT / 5pm ET for an online distribution and marketing workshop. I'll be doing a short presentation followed by 5 "Speed Consults" moderated by Jennifer Takaki (Photographic Justice: the Corky Lee Story). These are the wonderful Film Fatales members and their films that will be participating:   Hazel Gurland-Pooler (Storming Caesars Palace), Jasmín López (Silent Beauty), Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso (Powerlands), Nana Ghana (You Are Always Right Here), and Ruth Du (Samson).  With support from event partners IDA, Minorities in Film, Pano Network, and The Gotham.

The workshop will be accessible with live captions and a recording will be shared the day after.
RSVP: http://ffla110323.eventbrite.com



6 MONTH DISTRIBUTION INTENSIVE


Very excited about the filmmakers and films that are signing up for the 6 Month Distribution Intensive I announced last week.  We landed on a start date of November 28th for the first cohort.  We've added informational webinars about the Intensive for the next three weeks. If you are interested in attending you can sign up here. You can also learn more about the intensive and find FAQs at 8above.com/6-Month-Intensive


WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM BY NASRIN SOTOUDEH


One of the films we released during the pandemic was Nasrin about the Iranian human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh directed by Jeff Kaufman. She has just published a book (from prison) Women, Life, Freedom: Our Fight for Human Rights and Equality in Iran for which she is receiving the 2023 Laurence and Lynne Brown Democracy Medal TODAY! Jeff wrote the foreword. The ebook is free, and a copy of the actual book is just $7.99. Jeff also did a wonderful job editing the book for Nasrin with Parisa who was the translator.


LEONARD PODCAST


Super proud of my former assistant Rory-Owen Delany on the acquisition of his podcast about Leonard Peltier by Wondery+ (Wondery's subscription podcast service). The podcast series details the life of Leonard Peltier and injustices committed against him. Leonard, a Native American activist was falsely accused of killing two FBI agents in 1977. In 2000 he was proved innocent yet he remains behind bars today. You can now listen to the entire series, including four final unreleased episodes of season two on Wondery+.




MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE, An 8 Above Release

We are really excited to be releasing the new feminist animated feature by Signe Baumane (of ROCKS IN MY POCKETS fame),  MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE. It opened Friday October 6th in NYC at the Quad Theater before proceeding to 30 more cities throughout the US with multiple sold out screenings.

‘My Love Affair With Marriage’  has received the NYT Critic’s Pick! Natalia Winkelman of  The New York Times called the film "remarkably beautiful", read the rest of the review here: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/05/movies/my-love-affair-with-marriage-review.html

“Funny, moving, and visually stunning throughout, it's easily one of the most distinct animated films I've seen in quite a while and it serves as a needed reminder that animation is an art form that can be used for more than family-oriented narratives."
- Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com

My Love Affair with Marriage is an animated feature film following a young-woman's 23-year quest for perfect love and lasting marriage set against a backdrop of historic events in Eastern Europe. Voiced critically-acclaimed actors Dagmara Dominczyk, Michele Pawk, Cameron Monaghan, Stephen Lang, and Matthew Modine.

The film had its World Premiere at Tribeca and went on to play at 60 other festivals, winning 13 awards, followed by a 3-month theatrical run in Latvia and a theatrical run in France.  

After NYC will have screened in over 25 cities across the US, in what the filmmakers are calling their Animation Rock Tour (they will be doing Q&As in nearly every city).  Shout out to Brian Newman for introducing me to Signe and producer Sturgis Warner - super pro-active filmmakers!




Camden Recap


I had such an amazing first trip to the Camden International Film Festival which is now one of my favorite festivals.  Shout out to Ben Fowlie and Sean Flynn and the entire CIFF staff for a great fest - the perfect combination of incredible films, intimate gatherings and fun dance parties (I posted a video from the silent hurricane disco to Instagram last week). It was easy to reconnect with old and new compatriots - while preparing for a hurricane - (that ended up unfortunately cancelling the live North Points Pitch - 15 min into the introductions the lights went out - they went on to record them and upload them for online viewing - but disappointing for the participants after all that prep (and hats off to CIFF for all the prep/mentoring that they give the pitch participants)).  The Distribution Town Hall (additional shout out to Abby Sun) which was my primary motivation for getting me to Camden was also disrupted - but then reconvened in two locations.  A report is being prepared by the Sara Archambault of Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy (one of the sponsors of the town hall) which I hope to share as soon as its completed.

As part of my preparation, I read Chokepoint Capitalism by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow which is a must read for any artist wanting to understand better how we got where we are - and to take part in solutions.  I was turned onto the book by Cory's interview on this episode of Gaslit Nation which has a quick summary of their argument - so a good entry level drug. While most of their focus is on writers and musicians - he does deal with video creators a bit with an excellent chapter on YouTube.  However the problems we are facing are equally shared by all artists and nearly everything discussed in the book is applicable to indie film.  More on this below.

Back to Camden - one of the highlights of the festival was Keith Wilson's performance "Moore for Sale" (bottom left photo)  I love documentary as performace (pioneered by Sam Green whose work I love and others) and Keith's event was funny, engaging, thought provoking and profound.  He said during the performance that it was going to be the only time it would ever be performed - but I think myself and a few others have hopefully convinced him otherwise.  I was acquainted with Frank Moore since he was at many of the punk rock shows I was at in SF in the early 80s.  His story is so incredible it should known by so many more and I feel Keith's performance is the perfect vehicle for this.


Chokepoint Capitalism




Here a quote that summarizes Giblin's and Doctorow's thesis as to where we are at: "Our exploration shows corporations have strategically achieved the conditions they need to take control of creative markets and use them to shake down creators: anticircumvention laws, vertical and horizontal integration, high costs of market entry, captured regulators, opaque accounting, and the power t o aggregate copyrights on an industrial scale and wield them against the very people they are ostensibly meant to protect. Combined with antitrust's blinkered focus on consumer welfare and the neoliberal economic dogma that a company's only purpose is to increase profits and maximize shareholder value, the outcome is inevitable: ever bigger corporations squeezing out an ever bigger share. That's why the choice between Big Tech and Big Content is no choice at all. Whomever creators throw their lot in with, they'll get essentially the same deal: the least the industry can get away with, and the promise it will be ratcheted downward whenever it's possible to do so."

The hopeful aspect of the book is that it not only lays out the problems that media artists face, but half of the book discusses potential solutions. Giblin and Doctorow encourage us to dream big and create plans that might seem unrealistic but are what should happen - by creating "ideas lying around."  They argue that eventually there are crises (like the one we are in now) and the right has always been good about having these "ideas lying around" for those crises. For example neoliberal icons Milton Friedman and Robert Bork proposed ideas in the 60s and 70s that people thought were crazy and would never happen - and now we are suffering under the imposition of those ideas and resluting policies throughout the west and beyond.   So we should think big.  They illustrate number of ideas (some from adjacent industries) that can serve as inspirations.

One idea I found intriguing is laid out in Chapter 16 on Radical Inoperability.  A small example of what they mean by this (this concept is related to a broader "right to repair" campaign going on now) is requiring streamers and others to put links back to artists' pages to give people an option of connecting with and supporting the artist.  They give an example from music: What if Spotify was required to provide an artist's Bandcamp link whenever that artist is mentioned?  What if Amazon was required to provide a link back to your website - along with alternative ways to consume your content that might benefit you? 

Giblen and Doctorow suggest a two prong approach - one through government initiatives and regulation - like stricter enforcement of anti-trust regulations - shout out to the Biden administration for appointing activist heads of the FTC and antitrust division of the Justice Department who are now prosecuting Amazon and Google respectively.    But it also takes organizing - and grass roots solutions.  Very excited for the pending resolution of the WGA strike - but where is the documentary union?  (I know the DPA is doing research and learn-ins about this).

Would love to hear your thoughts.  Take a read and give me a shout.

BAY AREA THEATRICAL: KEYS BAGS NAMES WORDS



Keys Bags Names Words, the wonderful documentary about Alzheimer's and Dementia we are releasing had a sold out premiere 200+ at the Vogue in SF and huge attendances in NYC, Berkeley and Sebastopol. We are now over 100 screenings in 28 countries in the next month.

Find community screenings near you or sign up to host a screening here:
https://www.keysbagsnameswords.com/screenings/host