Tuesday, December 29, 2009

CwF + RtB For Filmmakers (Part 6 of 6)

This is an article in a series called The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value. You may read all the articles in this series by clicking here.

A lot of film people address parts of the CwF + RtB equation but not the whole equation comprehensively. Mike Masnick does a wonderful job explaining the equation's fundamentals in the concluding article of his series, The Grand Unified Theory On The Economics of Free. Masnick lists four steps with examples from the music industry:

  1. Redefine the market: The benefit is musical enjoyment
  2. Break the benefits down: (not a complete list...) Infinite components: the music itself. Scarce components: access to the musicians, concert tickets, merchandise, creation of new songs, CDs, private concerts, backstage passes, time, anyone's attention, etc. etc. etc.
  3. Set the infinite components free: Put them on websites, file sharing networks, BitTorrent, social network sites wherever you can, while promoting the free songs and getting more publicity for the band itself—all of which increases the value for the final step
  4. Charge for the scarce components: Concert tickets are more valuable. Access to the band is more valuable. Getting the band to write a special song (sponsorship?) is more valuable. Merchandise is more valuable.

If we applied these steps to filmmaking, the results wouldn't be that much different:
  1. Redefine the market: The benefit is musical cinematic narrative enjoyment
  2. Break the benefits down: (not a complete list...) Infinite components: the music story itself. Scarce components: access to the musicians filmmakers, concert tickets theatrical showings, Q&A with the filmmakers, merchandise, creation of new songs films, CDs DVDs, private concerts screenings, backstage on set passes, time, anyone's attention, etc. etc. etc.
  3. Set the infinite components free: Put them on websites, file sharing networks, BitTorrent, social network sites wherever you can, while promoting the free songs films and getting more publicity for the band itself film company—all of which increases the value for the final step
  4. Charge for the scarce components: Concert tickets theatrical showings (actually, the true equivalent here is a Q&A with the filmmakers) are more valuable. Access to the band filmmakers is more valuable. Getting the band filmmakers to write a special song shoot a short webisode (sponsorship?) is more valuable. Merchandise is more valuable.

Using this approach for films and skillfully blending it with Kevin Kelly's generatives is the next logical step; below is a first pass at how generatives might be applied to create value for films. One size does not fit all here—the final phase would be a much deeper analysis to break each good listed here into its scarce components (attention, time) and its non-scarce components (reputation, trust, etc.)... enough material for a book in itself.

Fans want the product now. How can they get it?

Film: Internet VOD, Cable VOD, Hulu, Netflix, tickets to a premiere, BitTorrent, sneak preview (like a software beta release, but for a film, the preview is either free if you need a full house, or at a discount price if your product is high in demand)

Non-film: Email notifications and newsletters from the filmmakers, physical newsletters, blog posts, twitter/facebook updates, forum threads, IMs, live broadcasts (Ustream), lifecasting, ebooks, pdfs, iPhone apps. NB: in development, customers' feedback adds value by focusing on areas they want to see developed; transmedia is ideal for this.

Fans want something just for them. To create that "personal touch", producers start and maintain a dialog with fans. The end result is "stickiness"—both sides have a time investment in the relationship, so neither is inclined to let that relationship die. And the dialog adds further value to the product.

Film: Customized DVD mixes (for different ratings, a 3D and/or 2D version), a high quality version, limited editions, special editions, a director's cut, some versions could be tweaked for a specific theatrical venue, e.g., LOST did some hilarious mock clips at a convention just for publicity. Allow consumers to create their own mixes and offer a prize for the best mashup. Offer up the film without a soundtrack so musicans can show off their musical prowness by adding their own score. Let editors try their hand at editing your trailer and choose the best as your trailer. Or let the community pick your trailer for you.

Non-Film: customized merchandise (e.g., Cafe Press, or autographed goods), customized soundtracks like a kareoke version, offer only parts of a soundtrack so musicians can riff along with the score, customized ebooks, autographs, web sites with varying subscription levels (higher levels have more personal interaction with the filmmakers).

Some fans simply want a film to be explained, while others want a film to be a rich starting point for a discussion. A movie could be free (or nearly free), but its accompanying commentary or literature could be charged for because a free product is more valuable with deeper insight, references, and a vibrant (and intelligent) forum discussion.

Film: A special edition DVD with multiple commentary tracks by actors, director, film critics, etc.

Non-Film: A "manual"—especially one written by the filmmakers—might ask questions like, What is the product? How does it pertain to me? What can I do? If your movie is a stand-alone product, it will eventually fade over time. But if you wrap your movie in an issue, it will have a much longer shelf life on the long tail.

Fans can get your product from other sellers... but why not get it from you?

Film: If a film is allowed to be mixed and remixed by its fans, then the original unmixed and "authoritative" version becomes extremely valuable. Authentic DVDs could be marketed as donating its proceeds to related charities, e.g., a prison movie could donate its proceeds to Amnesty International. DVDs that glow in a DVD player when played also dissuade customers from pirating DVDs. Remember how cool it was to see the Paradise Theatre LP by Styx?

Non-Film: Autographs establish credibility. Twitter & blogging, podcasting, and audio commentaries are all voices of authority which add value to the scarce product (a DVD). In some cases—like Ansel Adams purposefully burning negatives of prints he considered complete—destroying a master adds enormous value to all other copies.

Fans want your product at any time. Are you part of their problem or part of their solution?

If you accidentally break a DVD, wouldn't it be nice if you always had free access to a replacement DVD, or at least a digital copy (which costs a producer nothing to produce)? If you buy a standard DVD and want to upgrade to a Blu-Ray version, wouldn't it be nice to upgrade to the better quality version for a small extra fee rather than feel gouged when buying the latest full price version? Why not create a subscription-based service through your web site to stay in contact with fans by providing them a service after you sell them a product? If you've done it right, users should feel completely safe that buying from you means they'll never have to worry about their content again. If they buy a DVD from you, they should know that they'll be able to watch that content on any device they own—TV, computer, iPhone. Customers should have access to anything they want, whenever they want, however they want. Offer that kind of service at a low price, make it simple and intuitive, and you'll have loyal customers forever... who will be very interested in whatever you sell next.

Fans will pay good money to get their product in a high-quality physical format.

Film: IMAX 3D tickets are $16 ($18 if you buy them online). Fans will pay extra money for anything they can't get at home: 3D, Digital Light Projectors, Dolby Surround Sound, etc.

Non-Film: Q&A with the filmmakers, related live events before and/or after the film. Special print collateral could be given out or sold at screenings, e.g., a sheet with the cast of its characters, information about the movie's issue, or a special souvenir. Why not sell or raffle off a printed screenplay (with official card stock covers & Acco brads)? Or auction off clothing actually worn in the movie? Or create a book of collected printouts of development emails to be sold only at screenings? You could print high quality invitations, all slightly different, and include a "Willie Wonka" type invite with a special prize only to be given out at the screening (not only does a lucky audience member get the prize, but everyone gets to keep that high quality invitation as a cool keepsake!).

Fans want to throw you their money—are you ready to catch it?

Use a web site as a portal for fundraising and donations (subject to SEC regulations about soliciting investors). Let users join the web site as free members but offer paid tiers, too, with every donation range, especially the lower tiers. It's important to let people feel part of something no matter how small and their seemingly insignificant patronage could pay off later when you need free word of mouth to promote your film's release. Each tier would include more perks and make consumers feel they're doing the right thing. You need not simply ask for funds, either: along with subscriptions, you should also be offering scarce goods like T-Shirts and books. One example of a subscription tier, with amusing labels:
  • $1-$9 Pal
  • $10-$49 Friend
  • $50-$99 Sneezer
  • $100-$249 Supporter
  • $250-$499 Megaphone
  • $500-$999 Decoder Ring
  • $1,000-$2,499 Patron
  • $2,500-$4,999 Super Patron
  • $5,000-$9,999 Über Patron
  • $10,000–$24,999 Advocate
  • $25,000-$49,000 Heavyweight
  • $50,000-$99,999 Aristocrat
  • $100,000–$249,000 Time Lord

Create physical and virtual tip jars: checks, VISA, cash, Paypal, cell phone donations. Allow options for anonymity and/or ability to leave notes with donations.

Accept bartering as payment by offering partnership deals with companies, e.g., you let us show our film at your company and help us advertise, we'll donate X% of our proceeds to your company. Perhaps advertise that all or some of the film's proceeds go to a charitable cause.

Make it easy to give. It should be so easy that your septuagenarian grandmother could donate without help in less than sixty seconds.

Generate massive publicity around your release date. Have a central web site where all traffic is directed. Put that URL on all your literature. Make that URL dead simple to remember and type into a browser:
YES: www.deadsimplemovie.com
NO: www.deadsimplemovie.com/moviesplash/&2hg/index.html

More tips:
  • One piece of merchandise can and should cross-sell another piece of merchandise, e.g., a behind the scenes pictorial book could promote a printed screenplay, T-Shirts, etc.—but all merchandise should point back to the same URL. Perhaps all collateral would even have the URL at the bottom of every page.
  • Don't be haughty about where your film gets distributed: upload teasers/trailers/movie to every single video platform you can, including Vimeo, Youtube, blip.tv, Facebook, Apple trailers, Hulu, Netflix... even BitTorrent (if you are hesitant about uploading to BT, why not insert sponsored ads into your BitTorrent release?).
  • Generate buzz by putting different clips on different video platforms to get people comparing notes.
  • Hand out partial or full-length screeners with your URL emblazoned across the bottom.
  • Launch your film domestically and internationally on the same day.
  • Donate a copy of your film to related charities or organizations.

As you can see, there are countless ways to infuse generatives to bring value to your film, and in doing so, bring value to all of its related scarce goods. The unfortunate truth filmmakers face in the modern age: films are no longer a protected scarce commodity as they were a half a century ago. In this digital age, the internet is one giant copy machine... once content gets online, it stays there, echoing throughout eternity. Rather than waste time and money fighting that Hydra, why not use the internet's unique ability to infinitely distribute content to add more value to your scarce goods? Why not use transmedia to build audiences who will buy your scarce goods? Why not let profits from your scarce goods fund your film's fixed costs? Why not weave generatives into every aspect of your business model so that only you can offer the product you're creating?

Filmmaking isn't only feature films anymore—it has expanded to be storytelling across many different media. Things like machinima will creep onto the scene as well as webisodes and short, funny clips. Feature films as a format will still exist, but they'll have to compete with the freemium and transmedia models that indie filmmakers are pioneering today. And, because of these wonderful new models, more indie filmmakers are connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy.

There will always be money in filmmaking because there will always be value in storytelling... just don't expect films to be the main products that generate all the money.

This article is part of a series called The Filmmaker's Roadmap to Value. You may read the entire articles by clicking here, or the other articles here:
  1. Save the Tower Theatre
  2. A Plea to Consumers
  3. A Rotating Film Tour
  4. What Are You Really Selling?
  5. Transmedia: Connecting With Fans
  6. CwF + RtB For Filmmakers


D.A. Sebasstian said...

As a musician turned film maker you hit the nail on the head! I see the same dilemma in the film industry that hit the music industry nearly a decade ago. Brilliant!

Will Entrekin said...

Ross, this series has been extraordinary in terms of new ways to think about creation, production, and delivery. My abiding realization in taking courses recently has been that all business comes down to service: how can we provide our customers the best experience they deserve.

This is a great start toward getting there, I think. There's no single way to do it; as each of us has our own ... er. I hate to say "vision, artistically," but can't think of a different way to put it ... we're all going to have our own careers and our own business models. What's going to work for one may not work for another.

Great stuff here. I like the subscriber ideas. Not sure about interpretation (I'm one of those writers who just wants to put stuff out there and leave it be, myself), but that's just me, personally; I know lots of writers/directors/etc. love to talk more about their work.

Ross Pruden said...

@Will: Here's an epiphany I picked up on Techdirt... product is something you sell from past work, service is something you sell for future work. The digital age has placed a stronger emphasis on service over product than ever before.

Luci Temple said...

Great article Ross! A lot of fantastic detail and ideas.

I would add that for many there is huge value not so much in "storytelling" but rather intangibles of the relationship between the audience (participants) and the creator.

Mass media has become so impersonal the broadcasters frequently ignore and disrespect the audience. People want to be able to have a say, to feel listened to, to feel connected, and in facilitating this we create value for the audience that doesn't necessarily have to do with the story narrative.

I'd add that while I call myself a filmmaker, content creation needn't be as predefined as "film", and some projects needn't be about story narrative. The risk of saying that our USP is narrative storytelling is that books already offer that! What people online want is interaction, something they don't get from traditional media, and in some cases this will be interaction in the forms you've outlined in your articles, but in others it may be by being involved in the creative process itself such as Star Wreak allowed.

Filmmakers need to be clear about their specific project goals, and work out which actions they can take with the audience that will add value to the audience without compromising the filmmaker's goals. Transpancy gives audiences understanding of what to expect, where the lines are drawn.

Now, the question is, what comes after part 6 of 6? :) Looking forward to finding out.

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