vhxtv:

Over the past year we’ve learned volumes about the current state of distribution and the challenges presented to today’s aspiring filmmakers. Working with Erica Gorochow, we created a video to summarize these ideas and help shed light on what the future holds for filmmakers.

Watch it with your eyes, spread the word by sharing with your friends and filmmakers, and let’s work together to change the path of film as we know it. 

Apply now for early access.

Love,
Team VHX

I’m so proud of being even just a small part of VHX's success.

As of the time of this post, there are 24-hours left on Michel Gagné's Kickstarter campaign for “The Saga of Rex.” By the time you read this, the deadline might just be a couple hours away, or the campaign might be already over. If he raises another $7,000 in the next 24-hours he will have reached his final stretch goal for the project. Michel is trying to make a 4-minute short film from his beautiful graphic novel “The Saga Of Rex" If he gets to $60,000 he’ll be able to do another 30-second of animation and also create a two minute trailer for a feature film version of Rex. A feature film version that I would desperately love to see!

Michel is a legendary artist and animator who has worked on An American Tail, The Land Before Time, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He also created the BAFTA Award Winning videogame Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. I’m really just scratching the surface of his amazing career.

To give you a sense of the quality of animation in Rex, here’s a clip that Michel has already finished, and if you’re like me you’re going to fall in love with Rex immediately.



If you’re a fan of animation or art or beautiful things, I strongly suggest that you chip in for Michel’s campaign. The short film is going to be beautiful, and Michel is going to document the whole filmmaking process on a secret production blog. Imagine the things you can learn about animation and filmmaking from watching the process of a master animator creating a new film.

If you missed it the first time, here’s the link to Michel’s Kickstarter campaign. High-res

As of the time of this post, there are 24-hours left on Michel Gagné's Kickstarter campaign for “The Saga of Rex.” By the time you read this, the deadline might just be a couple hours away, or the campaign might be already over. If he raises another $7,000 in the next 24-hours he will have reached his final stretch goal for the project. Michel is trying to make a 4-minute short film from his beautiful graphic novel “The Saga Of Rex" If he gets to $60,000 he’ll be able to do another 30-second of animation and also create a two minute trailer for a feature film version of Rex. A feature film version that I would desperately love to see!

Michel is a legendary artist and animator who has worked on An American Tail, The Land Before Time, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He also created the BAFTA Award Winning videogame Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. I’m really just scratching the surface of his amazing career.

To give you a sense of the quality of animation in Rex, here’s a clip that Michel has already finished, and if you’re like me you’re going to fall in love with Rex immediately.

If you’re a fan of animation or art or beautiful things, I strongly suggest that you chip in for Michel’s campaign. The short film is going to be beautiful, and Michel is going to document the whole filmmaking process on a secret production blog. Imagine the things you can learn about animation and filmmaking from watching the process of a master animator creating a new film.

If you missed it the first time, here’s the link to Michel’s Kickstarter campaign.

Sight and Sound Magazine have finished compiling their decennial list of the greatest films of all time. You can view the critics’ top 50 here (actually 52 because of three-way tie at the 50th slot), and I assume the complete lists will be available after Sight and Sound publish their September issue. To give the list some context, Sight and Sound have been compiling a poll of film critics every ten years since 1952 to determine the greatest films of all time. In 1992, they also started compiling a separate list polling directors.
I find it fascinating to observe the shifting critical opinions around great films over the years. Some of the films (such as VERTIGO, SUNRISE, and 2001) have steadily increased in reputation over the last few decades. Some are slowly diminishing. But mostly I’m fascinated by the films that seem to bounce around from decade to decade. For example, look at the chaotic ranking changes of THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, which seems to oscillate in reputation every twenty years.
Being a narcissistic soul, my initial thought was to see how the Sight and Sound lists compared to my personal Top 10 Films Of All Time list. Answer? Not well. None of my top 10 picks show up anywhere on the top 50 of the Sight and Sound critic list.
Even more embarrassingly, I’ve only seen 17 of their top 50 films. I guess I have a lot more movie-watching to do. High-res

Sight and Sound Magazine have finished compiling their decennial list of the greatest films of all time. You can view the critics’ top 50 here (actually 52 because of three-way tie at the 50th slot), and I assume the complete lists will be available after Sight and Sound publish their September issue. To give the list some context, Sight and Sound have been compiling a poll of film critics every ten years since 1952 to determine the greatest films of all time. In 1992, they also started compiling a separate list polling directors.

I find it fascinating to observe the shifting critical opinions around great films over the years. Some of the films (such as VERTIGO, SUNRISE, and 2001) have steadily increased in reputation over the last few decades. Some are slowly diminishing. But mostly I’m fascinated by the films that seem to bounce around from decade to decade. For example, look at the chaotic ranking changes of THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, which seems to oscillate in reputation every twenty years.

Being a narcissistic soul, my initial thought was to see how the Sight and Sound lists compared to my personal Top 10 Films Of All Time list. Answer? Not well. None of my top 10 picks show up anywhere on the top 50 of the Sight and Sound critic list.

Even more embarrassingly, I’ve only seen 17 of their top 50 films. I guess I have a lot more movie-watching to do.

But They’re Already Famous…

One of the common responses to my “Tear Down These Walls” post is that people are afraid the new artist/fan model is only sustainable for artists who have already built a huge fan-base under the traditional entertainment industry model. People who are already famous. I don’t think this is true. First of all, there are already success stories of content-creators who have thrived in the new model without any major prior success from the traditional content distribution system. But I also think that this perception is a result of where we are in the timeline of transition. The new model of artist/fan interaction is, after all, a new model. Of course the artists who already have big engaged fan-bases are best suited to use this new model, and of course most of the artists who already have big fan-bases managed to build those relationships in the old system. That too will change.

But the simpler response to this criticism is just to highlight some artists who have already found success with the new model without the benefit of large fan-bases built on the back of traditional media. (And I’m ignoring the incredibly successful artists that used online popularity to build a foothold in the traditional media system, such as Justin Bieber and Soulja Boy and Carly Rae Jepson and let’s be honest almost every other big new pop or hip-hop artist.)

So here are some people who used online and non-traditional media to build strong artist/fan relationships and who used these relationships to build successful pipelines for creating and distributing art and entertainment.

JONATHAN COULTON

As Wikipedia says, Coulton is “an American singer-songwriter, known for his songs about geek culture and his use of the Internet to draw fans.” He was a computer programmer who started creating his own music in 2003. Coulton has released his music under the very friendly Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license which lead to a lot of early podcasts using his music. As Coulton’s popular online built, he was approached to make the song “Still Alive” for the end-credits of the popular video-game Portal.

In 2011 Coulton revealed that he was making $500,000 a year from his music, without having a traditional record label contract. It’s fair to assume that his earnings have increased in 2012.

FREDDIE WONG

Freddie Wong (aka FreddieW) joined YouTube in 2006. The competitive Guitar Hero player and video-game junkie started creating and sharing wacky VFX-heavy video-game inspired videos. He currently has 3.4m subscribers on YouTube and his videos have over 675m views. In 2011, Freddie tried to raise $75,000 on Kickstarter to fund a more ambitious online video series called Video Game High School. He ended up raising $273,726.

RICH BURLEW

Burlew was a Dungeons and Dragons geek growing up. He attended Pratt Institute for a degree in Illustration, and ended up with a job doing elementary school textbook design and layout. I guess technically that’s a job in the old media system, but it’s not much of a foothold. In 2003, Burlew decided to add a stick figure comic to his personal website Giant In The Playground. This web-comic grew to be “The Order of the Stick.”

After selling self-published “The Order Of The Stick” books from his website for a few years, he ran out of copies of the original book. This year, Burley decided to try to raise some money to fund a reprint. He set a target of $57,750 which was the minimum needed for a second print run. When the Kickstarter campaign closed, Burley had raised $1,254,120.

JERRY HOLKINS and MIKE KRAHULIK

In 1998, Holkins and Krahulik started a web-comic called Penny Arcade. It is incredibly popular. It’s hard for me to explain the level of cross-media popularity and impact attained by Penny Arcade in a short paragraph, so I recommend checking out the long Wikipedia entry for Penny Arcade for some more context.

MARKUS “NOTCH” PERSSON

I saved the biggest for last. Notch is the pseudonym for video-game developer Markus Alexej Persson. Notch is currently one of the biggest celebrities in the video-game community. Back in 2009, Notch was just another programmer working for a video-game development company. However, all that changed when Notch released a tech demo for a personal gaming project called Minecraft. This was a game he created, promoted, and marketed himself. He has now built a small company around the game, and remains vehemently independent. As of today, 6.8 million people have purchased the PC/Mac version of Minecraft. The game is available for computers, and has versions available for XBox 360 and iOS. Minecraft has earned well north of $50m for Notch and his company Mojang. All of this without using any traditional video-game distribution systems until after earning more than $20m in revenue from direct sales to fans.

Minecraft has very transparent sales figures. In the last 24-hours, direct sales of Minecraft resulted in over $360,000 in revenue.

The power, influence, control, and yes, money, that Notch gets from Minecraft vastly outstrips what would be possible if he developed and released Minecraft through the traditional channels. Although, let’s be honest, the traditional channels never would have made a game like Minecraft in the first place.

Perhaps you notice a pattern here (besides the unfortunate pattern that all the people I listed are men). These success stories are primarily people who are creating content that appeals to gamers. As I mentioned in my prior post, I believe that this new model is currently more successful in the world of gamers because gamers are already highly engaged with finding, purchasing, and consuming content online. Gamers are the early-adopters of the new model of artist/fan interaction. There are also plenty of robust alternative distribution, marketing, and publicity platforms for independent game developers and for people making content that appeals to gamers. I think that other audiences are a few years behind on this timeline, but we’re going to start to see these success stories rolling out across more types of content as more and more people become engaged online.

This is where we’re going.

Of course, this list would look totally different if I started talking about self-publishing e-book authors… But that’s another post.

Tear Down These Walls

In the entertainment business, we’re living in very interesting times. There’s a wave of momentum pushing forward a powerful new relationship between artist and fan.

At its most basic, there are only two important parties in the world of art and entertainment: the artist and the fan. However, over time, a wide variety of industries have set up shop between the artist and the fan. These middle-man entities took control of helping artists fund their art, helping artists market and distribute their art, helping fans discover and consume the art, and helping fans build a semblance of a relationship with artists they admire.

These industries used to serve incredibly important purposes. It was very expensive to make a lot of modern art forms such as music, Broadway, or film. It was very expensive to create and administer a distribution network that had to get vinyl records into thousands of stores or to manufacture and ship heavy 35mm film prints to hundreds of theaters. It was very expensive to market art to the public. And while some of these expenses are still here, the need for most of them have started to drop or disappear over the last few years.

Unfortunately as these expenses have started to disappear, the middle-man system has clutched harder and harder at the control it maintains over the creation and distribution of creative content. Studio executives wield creative power with a stronger fist than any time in the last few decades.

But over the last few years, the reality is that these middle-man positions have become less and less important. First the web and now the social-web (mostly Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr) have removed communication barriers between artists and fans. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it possible for artists to fund their work through a direct relationship with fans. Amazon, iTunes, Steam, and other initiatives make it simpler for artists to make their work available directly to millions of potential customers. Google and Facebook both have advertising systems that are incredibly powerful and user-friendly.

It’s possible today for artist and fan to have a direct relationship in terms of content consumption, communication, and commerce.

From my position as an independent film producer, it looks like we’re at a turning point. If you are creating content that appeals to an online-savvy audience, all of the tools you need for creation, distribution, and marketing are accessible and affordable. And clearly I’m not the only person to see this. There are success stories across all popular forms of art and entertainment:

This is something Patton Oswalt recently discussed in his keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012. Patton puts it incredibly well:

Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone.

The old gates are gone, and new gates don’t try to control the content. Kickstarter, iTunes, and Twitter don’t try to fiddle with what an artist wants to create. They don’t try to own the content. They don’t try to insert themselves into a position of power in the artist/fan relationship. They have business models based on facilitating artist/fan relationships, not based on controlling the content of those relationships.

I believe that comedians and video-games are the best early-adopters for this new model, and that’s why we’re currently seeing the most success in these areas.

Comedians have been building direct artist/fan relationships for years, based on touring. This is what lets Louis CK reach his fans directly. This is what led to Kevin Hart’s huge success with his theatrically self-released standup special. As artists in other fields build these direct artist/fan relationships, they can start using the same powerful direct-distribution and communication models that are being pioneered by comedians. I suspect that music will come next, and then finally film.

In terms of potential business models, video-games are the most interesting example. The current state of video-game distribution gives a sense of where all entertainment distribution will go over the next few years. Video-games are ahead on this timeline compared to other forms of entertainment for a variety of reasons:

  1. Video-games appeal to people who are already online-savvy.
  2. The people in control of video-game production are already online-savvy.
  3. Video-game players are already conditioned to experience the content on the same platform where they discover and purchase content.

All three of these things will happen to other forms of entertainment over the next few years. So let’s see what interesting models we see in the world of video-games…

  • Steam is a hugely successful distribution platform for independent games.
  • Kickstarter has had multiple video-game projects funded for over $1m, proving the power of a direct artist/fan relationship.
  • Humble Bundle provide a powerful promotional and sales platform for independent games. They package multiple video-games into a limited time sale where people can pay whatever they want for the games. A business model like this would be laughed out of most board rooms a decade ago, but the last Humble Bundle video-game bundle grossed over $5,000,000.

Right now Humble Bundle are selling their first non-video-game bundle. The Humble Music Bundle includes geek-friendly releases by OK Go, MC Frontalot, They Might Be Giants, Christopher Tin, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and Jonathan Coulton. There are ten days left in the bundle, and they’ve already sold $300,000 worth. That’s a pretty significant chunk of change for a limited-time sale where people are allowed to pay whatever they want.

So I sit here in 2012, looking around myself as an independent film producer stuck in the traditional world of film marketing and distribution. Like Patton Oswalt, I have benefited and failed based in large part on the whims of people in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in my direction. And I’m stuck in this position despite the fact that I usually only show up in the plush offices with completely finished and releasable films. I could get into specifics, but there’s no real advantage to throwing people and companies under the bus. But I sit here looking at the film-industry around me right now, and I don’t like what I see.

I look over the fence at Louis CK, Amanda Palmer, and Double Fine. It’s not just that their grass is greener than my grass. It’s that their grass is growing, and my grass is dying. I want to be on the side of the fence where the grass is growing.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I recently invested in VHX, a platform for artists and filmmakers to distribute video content directly to fans. I am a vocal supporter of Kickstarter, and have backed over 30 projects on their platform. I’m looking to support new platforms that will help build direct relationships between artists and fans.

And yes, my plan over the next year is to jump over that fence myself. I’m sick of relying on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in my direction. I want to live at the intersection of artist and fan. I want to help tear down the broken system so we can build something better in its place.

[You might also want to read my follow up post: “But They’re Already Famous…”]