Monday, November 26, 2012


I have to quickly point out how much I love the above image. Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins as a one-man band, playing all instruments simultaneously. Get it?

Back to the point at hand, I have said before that exhibitors are the biggest problem facing filmmakers in the evolving entertainment landscape:

In a changing world, exhibitors (the cinema owners) are in the 'flat earth map' business.

They keep resisting improvements that would make the film business relevant again, maybe even economically sustainable.

One such improvement is 'Simultaneous Distribution'; the act of releasing a film in all forms (in cinemas, online, on Blu Ray, on DVD, etc etc) at the same time.

This idea goes against the traditional release windows, where a film would be in cinemas, then video stores, then for retail sale, then TV, then Pay TV, etc etc.

The traditional release windows, of course, represent a pay wall, intended to keep the movie business profitable.

But times have changed. Audiences have changed.

The pay wall in movies is KILLING THE MOVIE BUSINESS.

Audiences have less time.

They have more forms of entertainment than ever before.

They have piracy.

And what do the movies do?

Make it HARDER for audiences to get to the content.

How does this make sense?

Instead of being more creative by making the audience experience better in the different delivery mechanisms (e.g. an easier streaming movie website to navigate; or a better cinema experience) we instead are entrenching the pay walls that protect scarcity in movies, thereby hoping to protect the economic viability of cinema.


If you want to read up on this, I found an excellent article in the NY Times on the subject. The overall article's message is average reading, it goes to great lengths to labour a point we understood in the title, but it's the tidbits scattered throughout that should make the hair on filmmaker's necks stand up. I'll share the best ones:

'Films, while in theaters, live behind a pay wall; television is free, once the monthly subscription is paid. And at least since “The Sopranos” sophisticated TV series have learned to hook viewers on long-term character development; movies do that mostly in fantasy franchises like the “Twilight” series.'

'After the shock of last year's decline in the number of tickets sold for movies domestically, to 1.28 billion, the lowest since 1995...' 

'As the awards season unfolds, the movies are still getting smaller. After six weeks in theaters “The Master,” a 70-millimeter character study much praised by critics, has been seen by about 1.9 million viewers. That is significantly smaller than the audience for a single hit episode of a cable show like “Mad Men” or “The Walking Dead.”'

There is so much entertainment available to audiences, that the one who makes themselves the hardest to reach...loses.

Less people are going to the movies, but exhibitors keep raising cinema ticket prices to...stay profitable.

More and more audiences are watching movies on phones and tablets. Instead of making the movies readily available on these devices from day 1, to engage both the audience who wants to go to the movies and the audience who prefers to watch in their own space, we have 'release windows' that ensure that you can only see the movie at a cinema. This preserves a false scarcity for cinemas to help them...stay profitable.

When did cinema's need for profitability overtake the need for the film industry to stay relevant and connect to their audience?

While exhibitors fight to stay profitable, they are creating a smaller and smaller pie overall for the movie business. They are winning battles, but really losing the war. Badly.

If a film could be in cinemas and available to tablet watchers at the same time, the filmmakers would actually be better off. But somehow it's not even about the filmmakers anymore, much less the audience.

Yes, the exhibitors may suffer a little under simultaneous distribution, so it seems that they are therefore shouting the loudest, and thus getting the most consideration. For now.

But what would happen if they embraced simultaneous distribution instead?

What if they realised that there are some people who just don't like going to the cinema? They prefer their living room.

These are the people who are most likely to pirate films, because they were never going to go to the cinema anyway, and they don't want to wait for the film to be legally available.

Or they give up on the film and get their entertainment from something else instead: games, television, real life...

So, we lose this person's purchase of a legal copy that they can watch at home, so that the exhibitors can keep trying to force people to go to the cinema.

That is the real effect of the pay wall.

Exhibitors are actually harming the industry they rely on. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Breaking down the pay wall, brick by ridiculous brick, needs to happen. Embracing simultaneous distribution will force cinemas to do something positive: offer a better service or experience to their customers, to stay in business.

Rather than relying on a false scarcity, exhibitors will have to justify their price increases by making the movie-going experience more enjoyable for the audience.

Because, in the end, without an audience, we have nothing.
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Sunday, November 11, 2012


So, President Barack Obama won reelection.

Four years ago I shed a few tears when he walked onto the stage and gave his acceptance speech.

It seemed to me that a decade of a world that had become hate filled, corrupt and insular was coming to an end.

And they had.

Yes, we had the GFC, but you can't undo 8 years of damage overnight.

Four years later, as he walked on stage again, I was watery, but no tears.

It's not that I wasn't happy that he won. Quite the opposite. It was more that my expectations of the U.S.A., to make a sane choice of leader, have grown since they elected President Obama four years ago.

I have been asked why I care quite a few times now. I am based in Australia after all.

Why is this even important to you?

A small part of it is that I eventually would like to make films in America. Self-interested, I know, but true.

But a much MUCH bigger part is something more intangible.

In a world seemingly becoming increasingly divided, you have the leader of the most powerful country in the world being elected on the strength of white, black, asian, brown and hispanic voters.

In a world where some people say I have to step on your throat to achieve my dreams, Obama proclaims that we thrive together, when we push for shared prosperity and inclusiveness.

And when faced with the politics of hate, Americans showed they can see past the lies and elect a leader based on facts and achievements rather than ideology.

As a filmmaker, I need a world that respects education and culture, because that ensures I have an audience. In the present and the future.

As a filmmaker that wants a long career, I need a strong middle class, because they are the ones who spend their disposable income on the movies. The wealthy buy yachts, not cinema tickets.

Obama, as well as being a leader who believes in empowering all people, not just the wealthy elite, delivers on these tangibles and intangibles.

But, even more fundamentally, it is a simple equation:

President of America = Laws of America = America's policies = Wall Street crisis = GFC = impacts you.

The GFC ripped money out families, businesses, governments, film financiers and potential cinema audiences alike. A recession followed shortly after.

We are in a connected world.

So, President Barack Obama won reelection.

That's why I care.

Why don't you?

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Saturday, November 10, 2012


You are on the train coming home.

Imagine hearing about a film from your friends, searching for it on your phone or ipad, finding it, and then putting it on your playlist via your film viewing platform subscription. When you get home, it is waiting to stream on your synched IP enabled television.

Then you get a call, you forgot you had to meet a friend tonight. 

But you are already two thirds through the movie, and loving it. You don't want to stop watching.

Imagine you could watch the rest on the train on the way to meet your friend, streamed via the same subscription to your ipad. No extra cost because you already pay the subscription fee.  

When you get there, your friend is so interested by what you say about the film that you decide you want to see it again with them.

This time, however, you want to see it on the big screen, with the extra content that enables.

Imagine you go to the cinema, using the heavy ticket discount you get for already 'owning' the film, via the online movie club you are a part of. You also passed a fan quiz on the film to win free popcorn. Nice.

As you are watching the film, you get a vibrate notification on your phone that this part of the film has extra content. 

Imagine using your phone to actually 'look around' the environment of the scene that is playing. Seeing things the character sees in their world, using your phone as your own personal viewfinder. Immersing yourself in the story world, for a truly amazing experience. 

Imagine telling your friends about it online, because the experience was so incredible, so that they can all be a part of it. Because your group is so large, you get a satellite delivered 'demand it' screening at your local cinema, again for a heavily discounted price because many of you 'own' the film and have become champions of it to the world.

Imagine that you are now a part of a community of fans, cultivated by the filmmakers providing an incredible story telling experience on film, who are then welcomed as a part of the film's tribe to special events for free. As a fan you not only engage with the story world, but you convert others, because you believe in the filmmaker's work and the experience you receive in return for your loyalty, fandom and a reasonable amount of your hard-earned cash.  

For the filmmakers, imagine you achieve all this by making great films, caring about your audience, engaging with your audience, and thinking outside the box when it comes to innovation and new technologies. 

It may shock you to know that the technology to do everything I suggested above, exists already. It's true.

With so much focus on the negatives in today's society, it is easy to forget that we are in an amazing era of change, technology, ideas, innovation and mass consumption of culture.

Recognising and making the most of the incredible opportunities on offer, as people and as storytellers, is the greatest challenge we face.

There is a world of opportunity to tell stories that engage and delight an audience. Connecting with them in ways we never thought possible.

All it takes is a little imagination.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

ARE WE RUNNING OUT OF TIME? get people to think of film and TV as a paid commodity first and free second?

The music business is suffering because they missed the opportunity, as piracy grew, to make people think of music as something you still pay for.

Now, music industry pundits like Bob Lefsetz (who has an excellent newsletter, by the way) are saying that music has missed its chance. For the new generations, music is something that is usually free, with the live show being the commodity worth paying for.

As films become more commonly viewed online and internet speeds increase, the Film and Television industry is facing this same problem. 

The more I see, the more I interract with people, the more I realise this same shift is happening for Film and TV audiences. We are in a watershed moment that will define how people think of their content, and therefore how likely they are to pay or pirate in the future.

This was crystalised for me recently, via the cornucopia of humanity, Facebook.

Someone posted:

Does anyone know of a good site where I can download tv shows? 

I was, of course, both annoyed and curious at this person's motivation so, with some pressing, I received this explanation:

My only gripe with authorised or legal downloading is the price charged for Australian consumers. I will pay for downloads, but not when I'm being gouged. Itunes being the example.

And this is the tipping point. The new audience who feel they can consume film and television content, yet they get to decide whether they should pay for it or not. 

So I responded:

Not your call - price is the price. You don't like it, don't buy. Skydiving is overpriced, but that doesn't mean you get to do it for free

The person didn't respond after that. I don't know if I changed their perspective. 

I doubt it.

But even if I did, this is only one person. We are faced with an entire generation who think it is OK for them to decide whether they should pay for content AFTER they have watched it. If you did that at a restaurant or, like my example, skydiving, it would be considered stealing.

And remember, movies are not like musicians. We can't tour with a live show to make up for the lost income from piracy.

And there won't be DVDs for much longer. It will be all online eventually: both paid and pirated content, side by side.

What then, if audiences don't think film and TV content shoud be paid for?

What then, if we have not captured the audience's hearts and minds?

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