Sundance Institute #ArtistServices WorkShop – Notes from IFP Indie Film Week Day 4

Day 4 of IFP Independent Film Week, held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, was a Sundance Institute sponsored affair entitled #ArtistServices Workshop NYC, which geared itself heavily toward the various tech-specific possibilities of modern independent film production, distribution and technology.  The Indiewood/Hollywoodn’t day began with a Dolby Laboratories presentation/panel on Digital Cinema Package processes.  DCP is another peripheral effect of the age of digitized production technology, which essentially describes itself as an all purpose package of digital files, meant to limit file size, as well as piracy and unauthorized use.  The panel was extremely technical where one could easily get lost without a proper vernacular knowledge base, yet remained a necessary evil in understanding self-navigateable technology areas for an enriching indie film life.  The presentation aspect of the Dolby Laboratory specific capabilities in New York and Los Angeles was presented by Graef Allen and, to her immense credit, managed to convey the hyper technical presentations of XMLs, MXFs and DCPs in just about as layman a way possible. Another notable (and admirable) heads up came from IFP themselves, citing “a presentation NOT for the faint of heart” in the events official program.  Without getting into the specifics of digital conversions and encryption techniques, the gist of the presentation dealt with package deals independent filmmakers (and filmmakers in general) are able to acquire via Laboratories like Dolby.  The importance here being stressed in the vain of the casual, consumer software horror story.  Many accepted truths of digitization were addressed, including the need/capability of long lasting archiving abilities, the acceptable rate of information loss on certain DCP transfers, the accessibility of the DOLBY DCP Conversion machine (a very un-intimidating machine, which resembles an early ’00s external CD Burner…something I wish I could have utilized better whilst launching a, now defunct, DJ career prior to the USB/Sync button craze).  For us, the biggest take away was the need for encrypted deliverables, and NOT because of the potential for digital piracy (perhaps something that will change should my filmmaking career ever resemble an iota of financially viability), but more so in the vain of personal and corporate manipulation of content at the digital level.  Unfortunately, in the age of NSA, Silk Roads and identity theft, the overall lack of trustworthiness against ego driven industries such as film are now the prevailing paradigm.

As the day continued David Larkin, Founder & CEO of presented his “What We Love Right Now” talk on the existing gaps between film discovery and ultimate consumption.  The talk was heavily geared toward the financially minded independent filmmaker, looking to navigate that space between a film’s festival success and its ultimate distribution implementation (not ALL films are ‘Fruitvale Station‘).  As a platform seems to have a forward thinking idea that is very technologically based.  Essentially it utilizes the “widget”, leading interesting parties to all respective platforms a particular film of interest can be found.  This widget can be found on such film-centered online platforms New York Times Film, and Filmmaker Magazine.  Interesting to note that of all social platforms, it is Facebook which ultimately leads to the most conversions of viewers after initial point of discovery, despite the social networks somewhat dismal sub 30% information to user ratio.  Though this rate is low, its prominence is high (unlike, say, the time specific nature of Tweeting).  Of added interest would have been some specific discussion regarding the algorithm, which seems advanced and on par with the renowned Netflix one.  I would have been interested in hearing how it compares with that of Netflix, as its purpose ultimately provides a similar service to a similar audience.  Regardless, for the entrepreneur minded independent filmmaker, remains a valuable tools for audience building, as well as down-the-line marketing and promotional services for grassroots filmmaking.

The next event was a Case Study geared presentation on Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl‘s grassroots ‘Sound City‘ documentary, about the famed Van Nuys recording studio who has hosted everyone from (Grohl’s own) Nirvana to Nine Inch Nails, Fleetwood Mack, Neil Young and a virtual whose who of classic & contemporary rock & roll.  The film was heavily handled by prolific entertainer Grohl, whose extended musical Rolodex surely helped, not only, build ultimate consumer interest and virtually guarantee festival inclusion, but also in the overall production of the film itself.  Speaking on behalf of ‘Sound City‘ were its producers John Ramsay and Jim Rota, who both sang Grohl’s praises as an artist, visionary and entrepreneur extensively throughout the discussion.  Of particular admiration for those in the audience who may not have the pre existing contact list ‘Sound City‘ (as well as several presented Film Week films…something which might need to be addressed next year), was the determination for ‘Sound City‘ success with or without the Sundance Film Festival.  Despiet Grohl’s name recognition and almost guaranteed big studio (film OR music) distribution contract, his desire for ‘Sound City‘ to be available to as wide an audience as possible (resulting in the decidedly independent route in production, development and distribution, via platforms such as VHX) is of great admiration, despite his coming from a place of the utmost artistic (and transferrable business) privilege.

Wrapping up the days events, and leading into IFP Independent Film Week Industry & Filmmaker party held at Williamsburg’s ultra trippy Brooklyn Bowl, was the “True Disruptors Roundtbale” featuring representatives across the spectrum of contemporary digitally minded distribution, marketing and audience building, VHX, FilmBuff (full disclosure: IndieWood/Hollywoodn’t Editor in Chief Stephen Reilly is a FilmBuff employee), Cinedigm and ReelHouse, moderated by #artistservices Assoc. Director Chris Horton.  The panel discussed the differences in approach from platform to platform, as well as the financial viability of 100% subscription based VOD services, such as Netflix. Though the Netflix model remains the one with most consumer recognition, is its $8 per month, unlimited viewing service the be-all-end-all of digital film-based impressions?  As mentioned, each platform approaches its distribution angle with slight subtleties and presentations, ranging from curated film lists (Reelhouse) to highly personal distribution campaigns (FilmBuff), yet also with a wide acknowledgment of individualized approaches to film awareness.  Diverse film examples from (the great) ‘Short Term 12‘ (Cinedigm) to ‘Missed Connections‘ (FilmBuff) to ‘Gamers Hand of Fate‘ (VHX) all painted a comprehensive picture of this aspect of digital filmmaking landscape.

– Steve Rickinson



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