I hear and read, regularly, about fabulous indy films that are snatching up festival awards right and left. But I’ll never see (legally or otherwise) most of them. And while I’ll grant (assume?) that some portion of these films are made primarily to snatch up those festival awards, I’ve always thought that most of the filmmakers wanted people to actually, you know, see their work. Which is incredibly frustrating, given that there is an existing conduit for these works (i.e., the Internet). I understand that not everyone can afford to just throw $$$$ worth of work out on the web for free (nor do I really want them to), so other distribution efforts are always appreciated. To that end, I’m glad to see that there’s something of a step in the right direction here:
One of the more unconventional efforts to crack that marketplace is Film Festival in a Box. Ostensibly a game, it’s also a distribution strategy: packaged in rough brown cardboard, each game contains four short films, instructions on playing and topics for discussion. Players watch, deliberate, vote online in various categories (like best movie and performance) and make their favorite filmmakers eligible for cash prizes of up to $1,000.
“It’s a real game that plays with real people and real films, real films from all over the world,” said its founder, Scilla Andreen, a Seattle native who in 2004, with Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, started the Web-based film distribution company IndieFlix. “You invite people over, have wine and cheese, watch four short films and deliberate as a group.” The group then posts its winners online, and the real filmmakers are notified. Both sides may, if they choose, interact.
“It’s a social-networking and audience-building tool for them,” Ms. Andreen said of the filmmakers. And for the players? “You’re supporting the arts, it’s recycled, it’s green, it’s made in America, and it’s $14.99.”
In fact, I just realized right now that I’ll probably try this myself. It’s a fun evening for me and a few friends, but what does it get the filmmakers? Well:
Ms. Andreen is excited too, even if her product is not quite a game changer yet. The first box was released at the start of October, and rewards so far have been modest: about 2,000 Film Festivals in a Box have been sold, at retailers like drugstore.com and Uncommon Goods (where the comedies have done the best). Ms. Andreen has earned back $12,000 on what she said were $57,000 in production costs.
So there’s much to be done, and I don’t think that the magic of the internet always translates into magic in the bank. But it’s possible:
The Australian nutrition documentary “Food Matters” recently sold about 150,000 DVDs online, said Peter Broderick, a Los Angeles distribution strategist, even before it secured a distribution deal, or television broadcasts via the French media company Canal Plus. “He did it backwards,” Mr. Broderick said of the director of “Food Matters,” James Colquhoun. “Nobody knew who he was. But the interesting thing is, if he never made a distribution deal, he’d still be fine. The biggest difference today is how people think about their audience.”
In any of these approaches, the two constants are making it available to anyone who wants it (i.e., via the internet) and providing some way for paying the filmmaker for her work. I hope to see more and more of this.