DISTRIBUTION U

The old world of making a film: I can’t do anything until I raise five million dollars.
The new world: How can I start right now? With $50, $500, or $5,000.

That was the most important lesson from Saturday’s very excellent Distribution U workshop held by Scott Kirsner and Peter Broderick at NYU Cantor Film Center.

The morning started off with Scott and Peter laying the foundations of new world distribution. Scott’s presentation gave many excellent examples of successful artists who have used the internet to build awareness and an audience. Peter’s presentation dedicated a lot of time contrasting the old world model distribution with the new world models.

The briefest summary I could give is: old word models are fundamentally based on control. Content companies control the intellectual property, they control when and where the audience consumes the experience, and they control how the artist gets paid.

The new world model is scary to so many businesses because it’s the antithesis of control. The artists most successful in the new world model are the artists most confident in their art to give up control. Encouraging your audience to remix, reuse, and recycle your art is the surest way to build an audience.

For example, if a band release a music video, encouraging people to remix it is smart because 1) the people taking the time to remix your art are your most loyal and engaged audience, and 2) as the derivative works gain popularity, they will draw people to your original work.

The lunch time sessions were brilliant. Unfortunately the lunch time sessions were “off record” so I can only say that many people I spoke with after the workshop said that the lunch time sessions were thoughtful, engaging, collaborative in nature. “Worth the price of admission alone.” And I agree with that sentiment.

The afternoon case studies were interesting. I can most thoughtfully summarize them by saying; in hindsight the best marketing and distribution plan for a film will seem obvious when you think about the subject of your film.

For example, when your film is about graffiti artist Banksy then a guerilla marketing and distribution plans makes sense. When your film is about the craftsmanship of making a piano then a slower methodical distribution plan makes sense, because your product is evergreen, no need to rush.

The final part of the day was a frenzied brainstorming session where participants went in front of the audience to pitch their ideas and receive valuable feedback from the panelists and the audience. The quality of the ideas were as diverse as the feedback they received. As I mentioned before, the most valuable lesson was: don’t wait around. Start making something today!

Wanna make a feature film, start producing short webisodes to build interest. Don’t have the money for a webisode, then start a blog from the point of view of your character. Build a fan page on Facebook, and always offer people the opportunity to get involved. If your audience has to ask, “What can I do now?” then you’ve already failed.

That about summarizes the day. If you are in the Los Angeles area next weekend, I highly recommend you sign up. You can find out more about Distribution U on twitter here.

Thank you to Scott and Peter for organizing such a thought provoking event. And a special thank you to Scott’s sister Shira who handled a million things behind the scenes.

The Pro App Paradox (Part 2) REVISITED

In my previous post I wrote about the demise of Shake and XServe. Now we’ll see how the future of editing is bearing down on us unexpectedly.  Just look at YouTube Video Editor and Avid’s “edit anywhere” technology preview. Notice what these lack? A filesystem.

I used to teach nonlinear editing at a University and from my experience students had the most difficulty in three areas:

  1. input: digitizing footage into the NLE.
  2. output: exporting a finished project.
  3. file management.

Once the footage was ready for editing, the cutting and trimming came easily. The current barriers of entry for nonlinear editing are technical. And the future belongs to whoever can eliminate them.

Final Cut Server was Apple’s attempt to abstract away the filesystem in order to make editing more accessible. But abstracting the filesystem away on the desktop is difficult for multiple reason. People are used to downloading files and putting them on a “media drive”.  But if Final Cut Server were moved into the cloud… well suddenly the file system isn’t a problem anymore. Just like…

Word processing! Document management and sharing used to be the province of your computer and the sneakernet.  Then Google Docs put it all in the cloud and now problems such as “where is the most up-to-date document” are a thing of the past.

Writer’s note: Sadly, old habits die hard. I’m still surprised by how many of my peers continue to lose data because they refuse to use Dropbox!

The future of editing will be like this. Xsan, Avid ISIS, and similar SAN solutions are stopgaps.  We’re really only waiting on the bandwidth.

Writer’s note: And we’re still waiting…

Apple is the one company that won’t hesitate to kill a technology on the decline before the rest of the world is ready. They did it with the floppy drive, they’re doing it with the optical drive. If the future is going to look like Avid’s “edit anywhere” Adobe’s Project Rush why develop and support the stopgap?

Writer’s note: In hindsight I overestimated the availability of high speed, low latency bandwidth in the United States. Sadly the situation is only getting worse. Also, my loathing of file management is just as strong today as it was eight years ago. If technology, especially in the motion picture industry, has failed us. It is in this realm. That Apple would lean into the file system on their iOS platform truly caught me by surprise.

In the final part of this series I will explain why content creation tools are the antithesis of Apple’s design philosophy.

Note: Revisited September 27, 2018.

The Pro App Paradox (Part 1) REVISITED

Writer’s note: Let’s look back at what I had to say about Apple abandoning the pro market almost eight years later.

In his most recent newsletter Larry Jordan attempts to quell the hysteria around the “Apple is abandoning the Pro market” rumors with the following argument:

Now, let us assume that Apple decides to abandon Final Cut – or not upgrade it – or sell it – or in some other way give it up.

That means that other companies – OUTSIDE of Apple’s control – will have primary responsibility for editing video and other media. There’s nothing to prevent these other companies from inventing codecs that don’t run on iDevices. Or redesign their editing software so that it doesn’t support Macs. … The only company that has a permanently vested interest in keeping Macs successful is Apple – and as their recent financials indicated, they are selling more Macs than ever before.

I don’t agree with this reasoning. The tools to create the movie Avatar are very different than the tools to watch it. Watching Avatar requires an iPad.  Creating it requires an awesome set of tools and a small army. By killing Shake years ago Apple essentially abandoned their only chance of playing even a small role in high-end cutting-edge productions. But perhaps this example is a little too extreme.

The tools to create The Real World are very different than the tools to watch The Real World. A show like The Real World requires either an army of loggers and a highly collaborative post production infrastructure.

Writer’s note: in retrospect this post proved to be amazingly prescient. I choose ‘The Real World’ because Bunim Murray was the face of a successful Final Cut Pro implementation for years. It was news when they dropped FCP and returned to Avid in 2012.

Final Cut Pro, Xsan, and Final Cut Server were supposed to be the holy-trinity of the Apple collaborative post production workflow. Say whatever you want, but yesterday Apple effectively killed the infrastructure component of the mythical collaborative workflow.

Two Mac Pros shelf mounted in 12RU’s of space does not equal 2 rack mounted Xserves with LOM and total redundancy.  And again, people spending $50k or $100k or more want to make sure they’re making a long term investment. Xsan suddenly looks a lot less attractive.

Suddenly post production understands the adage, “nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.” An integrated Avid solution end-to-end is certainly better then a mixed solution.

Amateurs and Soccer Moms will create content for their iPads with iMovie on their iMacs. But the future of professional editing is collaboration. Make no mistake, Apple has abandoned its future in collaborative post.

Writer’s note: I cringe thinking about my statement “Amateurs and Soccer Moms” because it comes off as disparaging, which it wasn’t meant to be. Apple brilliantly captured the power of enabling ‘Soccer Moms’ to create family memories in their absolutely touching 2013 Christmas commercial. And in retrospect, the power (and money) that top social media influencers wield is enviable to many struggling artists in Hollywood. But what I was trying to get at is the fact that creating motion pictures on par with ‘Avatar’ or ‘The Real World’ requires tools that Apple is no longer interested in making.

In Part 2 I will explain why this is a good thing.

Note: Revisited September 26, 2018.