Hoping to bridge the gap between the independent filmmakers and a paying audience, From Here to Awesome is a new online “film festival” where indie filmmakers can post an online video pitch, drum up support from fans and win a chance at being selected for a finalist showcase in April. And unlike many festivals, submission is free.
The project is a collaboration between filmmakers Head Trauma‘s Lance Weiler, We are the Strange‘s M dot Strange and Four Eyed Monsters‘ Arin Crumley. All three are pioneers in using the web to promote and distribute feature films — in the video above Crumley and co-Director Susan Buice present a production and distribution case study for Monsters.
“We just wanted to break open the bottleneck that currently exists,” Weiler told me in a phone interview that included Crumley about the project last week. “Make it easier for audience members to find [films], make it easier for filmmakers to have that conversation with them.”
Film festivals have traditionally been a place where independent filmmakers might talk to a buyer for a distributor. But there are only a few fests where deals are regularly struck — Sundance, Toronto and Cannes, for instance — and the costs of submitting a film and traveling to the screening if it’s accepted offer no guarantees of renumeration.
Even if distributors like a film, they can be scared away by any signs that a market might have already been exploited, which is why the top festivals often require that films submitted haven’t already been screened somewhere else. Nor is selling DVDs of a film at a festival, as a rock band might sell their CDs or merchandise at a concert, kosher — since distributors still think in terms of regions and windows.
But Crumley and Weiler suggested that it’s not, strictly, about exploiting markets but about presenting films where and how people want to see them. If a potential viewer would rather see a film in a theater, then they won’t necessarily buy the DVD even if it’s available — but a big fan might do both. Or they may download a copy to watch on their phone, irregardless of what David Lynch might have to say.
It’s not the filmmaker’s or distributor’s job to tell their audience how they should watch something, but instead to ask how they want to watch something. Hence, after watching a filmmaker’s pitch, viewers can choose to be notified of screenings, provide their location and express their interest in going to the theater, hosting a screening, watching online or buying a DVD.
“There’s a missing infrastructure here — we don’t have public ways for people to share and list the pictures they’re interested in seeing in a way that movie theaters can use to book screenings based on demand,” Crumley pointed out. For Monsters, “we created a little map where we could see clusters around cities which had a lot of interest in our film, and we showed that map to theaters.” Presented with evidence of a market, theaters booked the film.
Another new approach they are taking with the festival is to share any revenue from screenings with the filmmakers. While running a film festival isn’t exactly a road to riches (many are operated by non-profits), filmmakers don’t generally see any money from the box office, hence this could provide a new revenue stream for cash-strapped productions. And by opening up to the audience about the process of making and selling a feature film, creators can leverage intimacy to garner support that a movie studio owned by a multi-billion dollar parent company can’t.
There’s no business like show business, especially when it comes to independent filmmaking. One can spend years working on a film that may never see the light of day, much less recoup production costs or make a profit. By kicking off a conversation with audiences, From Here to Awesome has a chance of tacking on an upbeat ending.