Maintaining High Maintenance
The New Yorker gives high praise for this web video series called High Maintenance. The episodes are short (~5min) and there are eleven episodes in all. It is about a pot dealer who rides around NYC and meets all sorts of strange and outrageous people. This bit from the lead actor in the New Yorker piece rings true to me after I watched a bunch of episodes last night:
The thing about weed is, we didn’t want to use it as a punch line. Instead, it’s this substance that, like chocolate, causes people to expose their own foibles. People become so human in pursuit of this thing. And the interaction they have with the person bringing it is often tragic, because there are a lot of lonely people out there who order it and then that is their human interaction for the day.
But here's the part of the New Yorker article that has me thinking outloud this morning.
When I spoke with Sinclair and Blichfeld recently, they were on the West Coast signing a script deal with a major network, newly on the path to converting “High Maintenance” into a full-length cable show.
It's a bit upsetting to me that the "major leagues" for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business. Why can't entrepreneurs build something that will work better for emerging web filmmakers than that? We have investments in Kickstarter and VHX, both of which are changing the game for filmmakers. We are also big fans of Vimeo, where High Maintenance is hosted.
But this High Maintenance story tells me that we haven't yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent and realize their vision and have the financial sucess that should come with great work.
So there is more to do here.
I wonder how much is economics and how much is vanity?
It will come, just be patient. A few years ago nobodoy would have imagined that Hulu, Amazon or Netflix would be producing content themselves and now they are doing series like House of Cards.
yeah, but they are just the new cable networksi am looking for something more native to the web than thatyoutube is the obvious candidate to do it but there are issues with youtube for creators
Cable networks (and whatever succeeds them) do have a role. They distribute, and some of them also curate. For the creator it is very difficult to interact/convince every viewer. And for the viewer it is difficult to find content on his own and get/pay-for it.I guess it would be possible to create a platform in which a creator could upload content and set prices freely and the viewer could find content thanks to powerful recommendation algorithms. If payments were frictionless creators could be rewarded properly. But network effects would lead to monopoly and then the creators would be again in the weak spot… I’m not very optimistic today 🙂
“I guess it would be possible to create a platform in which a creator could upload content and set prices freely and the viewer could find content thanks to powerful recommendation algorithms.”This is what VHX does, and then some, because there are network attributes that make it beneficial for a creator to be a part of the network, on top of the tools.And, it’s not a single shot business. Films that are released on VHX and other platforms (eg, itunes) sell better on VHX than those released solely there. Those that are released for free on youtube also sell better on VHX.
That’s cool, I didn’t know VHX. I’ll explore this weekend and try to find something to watch. Thanks for the tip!
If I were you, I’d look at the networks where talent team up to do projects together. There are a couple where legit film/TV people post projects to solicit help from more junior professionals. Think Kickstarter for raising talent instead of money. Except not everyone’s donation is wanted; you get to pick the best people and leave the rest.I forget the names of these platforms, but that’s why you have a staff. :-)Follow the talent. That’s where your pot of gold lies.
“Born on Kickstarter. Raised on VHX.” is a brilliant idea. http://www.vhx.tv/kickstarter
TV is still realm of cable, regardless that it is streamed and viewable cross devices.As long as internet access and cable are bundled, the shift seems stymied.The answer may lie in breaking that coupling.
That would help for sure. In Europe it is not as bundled as in the US and the situation is not very different. However, we don’t have as much internet options as you have in the US.
True…I’m reaching obviously as it is not a black and white answer.Re: Kickstarter maybe in some ways it’s disrupting the creator piece, like seed funding for market proof, but actually making the mainstream distribution stronger by funding the evolution of content that feeds it.
I had never thought about Kickstarter in that way, but you are absolutely right. They are doing the job that angel investors do with startups. Proof of concept to go after Series A/network contract.
“The thing about avc is, we didn’t want to use it as a punch line. Instead, it’s this substance that, like chocolate, causes people to expose their own foibles. People become so human in pursuit of this thing. And the interaction they have with the person bringing it is often tragic, because there are a lot of lonely people out there who order it and then that is their human interaction for the day.”the THIRD sentence is a warning – (edited).
AVC the drug
“It is about a vc who rides around NYC and meets all sorts of strange and outrageous people.”you gotta make that film Fred.
Waiting For The Man.
I’ve been OD’ing on that ’73 Paris cafe performance on YouTube that Rolling Stone shared. Did you see it?
Not seen that – shall check it out – thanks!
http://www.rollingstone.com…If you go over to YouTube you can also watch “Heroin” and “Femme Fatale” from the same performance. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this footage mesmerizing. Something about the slowed-down nature of it made the songs more poignant.
I thought the third sentence was pretty interesting. I’m not so sure “human” is the right word choice.
sorry. i speed read two and three as one sentence – in such a hurry today. yes, the third is the one i was trying to reference. i’ll edit.
Agreed. Still more work to do. This is one of the offshoots of the intellectual property debate. It’s about the monetization of intellectual property. There is an ironic dichotomy that exists: tv/cable protects intellectual property better than internet, resulting in better licensing/monetization deals for producers. This is the elephant in the room that the anti-intellectual-property-rights advocates in the internet realm must address if they want the high quality producers (or “creators”) to come over to their side.
does talent always have to recognize money as the measure of their success?
As long as people want to eat everyday, money will be a key metric of success. Artists are not that different to the rest of us 🙂
If you are building something to grow bigger while feeding your family, hell yes!
To truly answer this question the element of livelihood would have to be removed.
If we as a society/culture decide to not compensate our creatives, then we are devaluing creativity and the creative output of those creators. Is that the kind of culture that is enviable?In addition, creatives have to live — we have homes, children, family. If I am a creative, should I become homeless, live with my kids out of a car, etc. just because the system not only does not reward my creative output, but outright steals it for other purposes? Should the best creatives live and die like artists like DaVinci who were poorly compensated in their lifetimes?
hollywood or homelessness.many people perform important but unrewarded roles. are creatives a special case?
the dichotomy exists. it’s not about a line in the sand, but about recognizing that exists — and other related factors (for example, the talent discussion which is gaining traction) — and then deciding what can be done to change it.
I think you’re talking about how things are, while Susan is talking about how things could/should be.
For success money is necessary but not sufficient.
cherry picking by old media of new media talent. people are so willing to be corrupted by money.
Do you see a relationship between the film and music industries in this regard?
I genuinely find this a fascinating topic. I used to work in TV programme development here in London before I moved into tech. In the UK at least, the entire TV industry is controlled by a handful of commissioners at broadcasters in incredibly powerful positions, none of whom have any incentive to change the status quo.Finding an alternative route by which we could have some power as independent producers was what got me looking at the tech industry in the first place, but I can’t see how anything will change, predominantly because of two reasons:1. Expecting people to pay online for original content isn’t a viable model (music industry) and advertising currently won’t suffice because of reason no. 2:2. It will always be a vastly expensive, labour intensive process requiring a huge amount of skill to make broadcast quality TV.These two things combined are what give broadcasters their power, because they are the only ones who can afford to pay for quality, and quality is what a discerning media savvy consumership want.Personally, the only thing I can see changing this is a complete shift in consumer behaviour and if that happens, ‘High Maintenance’ the cable TV style show wouldn’t be made anyway.
I was a judge for Columbia Bus School’s new batch for their accelerator on Monday and saw a team trying to do something like this. The Q&A was about the very problem you describe as “what is a successful model for filmmakers to get their work out and get paid properly for it” because there were opposing views of what success is, which system will deliver it and at what scale. Even the description of what is TV today was splintered according to the differing viewing habits of those assembled – is it network, cable, netflix, web, other?I will forward this post to the other judges.
Its not a technology issue. Its a talent issue. Talented creative people care primarily about working with other talented creative people.The makers of this show are not thinking, “Finally, distribution!” They’re instead thinking, “Look at all these accomplished creatives at the studio we get to work with!”I guarantee you that the distribution and profit potential are a distant second and third thought; talented creatives care about their craft before all else. Without the resources and talented partners to create the creme, they know they won’t rise to the top.Tech people don’t think this way. And this is why they’re not winning in this area.
Yes and no.Dollars from the studios premised on distribution revenues fund the project. The talent is now owned by the studios, it is funded by them.It’s all about money.
The studios have tons of money. So does the tech community.The studios know how to use the money to court talent. The tech community doesn’t.The problem isn’t money. It’s knowing what to do with it.
It’s easier to consume than to create.
Consumption and creation are both easy, getting distribution w/ reasonable scale and promotion is the prob.
Hhahahahaha. Creation is easy?????
Let me clarify a bit. In the indie world, it’s a lot easier to create a film than it is to get one distributed. Film festivals, such as Sundance, Toronto, etc., are annually besieged with producers/directors seeking distribution deals. Digital technology has made both film production and post cheaper and more accessible, but what good is a produced film if it can’t be seen?
That has not been my experience.Imho it is EXTREMELY difficult to create a film if you haven’t got distribution in place because most independent film financing is heavily dependent on having distribution deals in place. The fact that festivals are besieged with people seeking deals does not mean that those films do not already have deals in place that were enough to get the film financed and hence created; more typically it is that territories were held back in the hope that when the film is made and can be shown its merits (and commercial potential) will be so luminously clear that they will get a better deal for the remaining territories. There are certainly cases where people have managed to scrape together enough to get ultra low budget films made but that is a typically <$1m which is a tough spot because despite the fact that for some films it is possible to make a virtue of low production values (Blair Witch Project) and whilst this is easily forgivable for online, this isn’t a plus for TV or theaters.Digital production has reduced costs but by far less than one might imagine as a % of total production cost.
Pete, I don’t disagree, although I think it can vary based on the level of financing needed…Yes, larger budget films need distribution to secure financing, but there’s certainly precedent for smaller indie films (Blair Witch, Clerks) securing funding and production upfront followed by distribution. Fred’s post was more about the little guy, not big Hollywood productions. Redford originally conceived Sundance as a platform where indie filmmakers can get noticed and distributed, but sadly it has devolved into a cluster-fuck of parties, celebs, paparazzi, etc.
that seems to be everything though
There are always exceptions that make the rule, but most independent films (which I assume is what you mean by little guys) require distribution deals before they are ever made.The bottom line is that it is extremely expensive to make a movie, even a low budget movie, and very few are ever going to be made on spec. It is way too risky.Every now and then someone smart will come up with a way to make the low production values of a truly low budget movie a virtue but that is typically a one trick pony. It certainly can’t sustain the low end.As for Sundance, it is a cluster-fuck indeed. But you say that like it’s a bad thing. 🙂
*looks at a folder full of drafts* Bwaaahahahahahahahah 🙂
People forget that habits are hard to break.Cable is deeply, deeply engrained.
The trad studio model is certainly under duress, part w/ the demise of DVD’s, which for years was its cash cow. The model is ripe for disruption, but Hollywood is hardly a progressive industry. They’re still too tied to theater distribution, legacy deals with Walmart, etc.
Agree…they are tied together.
Until the tech community begins to act and communicate in ways that value creative/talent/intellectual property, then the high quality talent won’t jump over to the tech side.
the tech community is afraid of its own talent. It has a disruptive character to it, and you can’t have anarchy if you want to make money.Movies do not have this problem
I’m not sure I understand this point. Can you elaborate?
you can’t have anarchy if you want to make money.Sure you can, the money is only transient below a certain level in the pyramid. You just have to move above it.
Comment hot steak.
I don’t think that’s right, Brandon. My experience with both is that they are pretty much the same. Hot talent is courted by studios and tech investors to the point that they are permitted appalling excesses. Think Ishtar and Color.
Ironically the role of talent in the industry is so critical that it might be fairer to say that the talent owns the studios. Money is easy to come by. Brand level talent isn’t.
You are probably right Pete.My experience is limited to a couple of years on the tech side putting together the first 3D films and the first 1000 ready theaters.Though also clear that household brand name talent drives immense compensation and risk upside that alternative channels just don’t have yet. That seems to me to be the log jam.
Money is easy to find for established talent.Money is not impossible for emerging talent – they have likely been working inside the studio / network system to build their reputation though.Unknown talent is in the same boat as unknown SW – money is hard.You gotta hustle to get your first big break (viewers /reviewers / users).Then its a matter of keeping the ball rolling.
No. It’s not impossible. A certain number of slots open every year. Established talent suffers from attrition.
I’m in cable and I agree with Brandon’s POV (that profit is secondary) with two additional thoughts:1) It’s nice to be well funded to make a vision come alive onscreen, hiring the best talent, sets, etc. Kickstarter is great, but new TV series from non-name brand producers can be tricky to get crowdfunded.2) Nothing is guaranteed but creative people want a chance for a lot of people to see their work. TV has eyeballs and discussion (Twitter, a giant living room couch) and pays for promotion while the YouTube/online world has fragmentation and many uncertain clicks — as much as 2/3rds of views come from overseas and a click fraud problem, the scope of which is unknown (not that Nielsen is perfect either but it’s not equivalent.)
Yep. Its not that money and distribution don’t matter. They do immensely.But when Lena Dunham was working the deal with HBO to do Girls, her first thought was not to secure funding. Nor was it to negotiate a prime time slot for distribution. It was to get Judd Apatow on board. She knew that with his talent, not only will she make awesome film — which, as a creative professional, is her first priority — but the money, resources and distribution will fall into place because of who she’s working with.Imagine if Dunham went to HBO with the cart before that horse.First the talent, then the rest.
Agree, and we need to be thankful there are more funding sources to seed a bigger inventory of product that will appear in wider distribution.
Yes, tech has a similar success process (talent, product, distribution) but they are handcuffed in the media distribution space by thinking its a tech play when its a content play.Lena Dunham would distribute Girls on the backs of sea turtles, if she could work with Apatow & reach 200M viewers.What does she care?
Imho new tv series and movies are not going to be transformed by crowdfunding.
I don’t think so.My experience in the movie business has been that whilst ‘talented creative people’ by which I assume you mean the content creators (writers, directors, production designers and let’s even include producers) do indeed want to work with other such people they do NOT consider ‘accomplished creatives at the studio’ to be such creative people. For whatever reason studio executives are not considered to be members of the creative class.
It is more than that. Talented people also don’t want to think where the next paycheck is coming from.It is abnormally stressful to be creative and be poor. It is why most people with art backgrounds don’t do things with the background.
It’s abnormally stressful to be uncreative and poor. It just flat out sucks. 🙂
being poor helps you notice that you aren’t being creative. if it is a big driver in your life, you will be annoyed
Being uncreative helps you notice you’re not creative and hence are a two time loser with no chance of escaping through your creativity. 🙂
Bing – frickin – go!I would add only one caveat: talented people who know they are working with accomplished talent nurturers know that everyone ends up with lots of dough.I mean, you start a fun web series. HBO calls and says James L Brooks loves it and would love to shepherd onto HBO.Duh – no brainer (how awesome would it be to work with him); no brainer (he’s quietly made some serious coin in the last 30 years).Best of both worlds.
Netflix, You Tube developing original content and circumventing trad cable model. Aereo (Diller) and Snag Films (Steve Case, Ted Leonsis) are also disruptive. TWC had enormous sub disconnects this summer due to its lengthy transmission rights fiasco with CBS, as viewers learned they can do without traditional cable. Cord cutting has begun, but to date only in moderation. Here’s the rub, though. Cable nets have a built-in audience and deliver tune-in and promo support, a requisite for driving viewership. No/low promo support=low viewership=no/low monetization. Eventually it will happen, but it’s a slow build.
Right. There are many distribution and funding channels that are web native that these guys could have gotten in bed with. But perhaps the draw of the old media model was too strong for them to ignore.
Yahoo has been funding and publishing native web films as well, but it’s not widely known. My cousin’s son is an aspiring filmmaker and he produced a series of short episodes (5-7mins) on Yahoo. http://en-maktoob.news.yaho…That helped him get into Columbia University where he’s currently getting a Masters degree of Fine Arts in Screenwriting/Directing. I pointed him to VHX actually for his next films.
The team I judged was from there (see my comment). Interesting.
Masters in Art?
Think so. Film.
There are many new distribution channels and one question that I’m thinking about is what are the economics of promoting a new online only show? How can online promotion be done differently online so as to draw the same size audience as one gets on cable? There’s gotta be a model that’s more cost effective than buying out every banner ad and pre-roll.
You’re usually more verbose than that @drewmeyers:disqus hahahah. So….what do you mean?
I didn’t see William’s comment below..was thinking along similar lines, that they are going to start doing more web films.They have a massive audience…what if they turned their home page into a television station?
Yeah, that’s definitely a big promotional opportunity for Yahoo for the stuff Yahoo produces. But I’m thinking about the independent film producer. Where do they go to get broad exposure for their show or film?Broadcasters and big platforms (Yahoo, AMZN, Netflix) all have huge audiences to promote their own programs to. But when you strip the distribution channel away from the production/funder, where do you go to market your film?
I guess youtube is the best option?
My buddy Morgan Nichols from my hometown (Kennebunk/port, ME), recently shot and released a film called “How to Make Movies at Home” – http://www.howtomakemoviesa…. His budget was about $30k, $25k of which was raised on Kickstarter, http://www.kickstarter.com/….Morgan’s passion is the democratization of movie making. He believes, I think correctly, that all the equipment is there for anyone to make a film, but it’s the technique and knowledge that is lacking. His film is about a big Hollywood production company that comes into a small Maine town to film a TV show, disrupting a local organic movie-making club. There is a tension between the business and art of film that underpins the plot. Interspersed in the movie are 10 or so actual lessons on how to make films — lighting, sound, film history, etc. Morgan now takes the film around the country to film festivals, speaking at schools in particular to young people about how to get into the craft of movie making. The extension points to some form of “film incubator” are obvious.Having spent many hours talking to Morgan about his passion and life’s work, I am very certain that “we haven’t yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent” as, alas, Morgan still has to keep a day job of editing video for MTV at Viacom to pay the bills while his film continues to gain traction.
Fred, as usual, great points. The issue of independent media’s sustainability is a very tough one. People want to go to Hollywood to get their projects made for many reasons, but one of them is just the chance that they might be compensated for their work–as most/all indies do not– either upfront or after their movie or web series is made. So the creation of more tools and platforms that can help indies get a sustainable budget for their work upfront and receive adequate compensation for their work once it is finished is absolutely essential. Many more companies that attack this problem like Kickstarter and VHX are sorely needed. I hope USV can find more to invest in that can really succeed.Also, the power of the cable/studio/network ecosystem is enormous. It will not easily give up that gatekeeper/funding power. We also need more companies that will challenge that power, like Aereo and others that “unbundle” that ecosystem and allow for more new entrants that can lower costs and expand opportunities for consumers as well as indie media producers.
The film industry is fundamentally flawed. Deals are made based on the films. What is missing is a way to invest in talented filmmakers instead of in the films they make.
personal IPO. I believe David Bowie sold bonds based on his future earnings
I wasn’t sure how to word my comment properly and still keep it brief. 🙂 I know there are ways for filmmakers to fund themselves, but I think the problem is breaking out of that other mold AND what others have mentions about the path to market. I think personal IPOs only solve part of the problem.BTW, I think doing a personal IPO has a lot of downside, but I will admit to having discussed deals like that before from both sides of the table. 🙂
when you find the solution for this, and apply it widely to artists please give me a call. Looking for Medicis!
If there were better processes in place to facilitate connecting and distilling groups of talent-rich creatives to coalesce around quality production-ideas and then pitch those quality ideas to producers whom had a proven established alternate path to market for those quality-base alternatives to the established brand-base retread production-ideas then we might be off to the races?Its the chicken or egg problem again ! ?
I think so. I took my son to a great session at Celebration IV in 2007. Shane Felux was talking about bootstrapping his film and the process of recruiting help online, etc. and I couldn’t help but think that there should be a place for creatives to meet and collaborate on projects. My thought then was to have dashboard for managing the production end while placing the collaborators into the system as they join. Production people were relying on software that other production people used too, etc. Switching was a tough sell.I wasn’t thinking so much at the point about bringing the funding part into things. I also wasn’t thinking about the film v. filmmaker issue. It was Steven Soderbergh’s state of cinema talk in April made me think a lot about that issue. He and I might not agree on a lot, but I think he’s right about that.
There is such a process. In fact it is exactly how the system works. The only problem is that such forums are closed to the overwhelming majority of people. The entertainment business is like the French Court. The elite hobnob and do deals and the commoners scrape around outside looking for a way inside the banqueting room. Those in the inner circle have no interest in including them, in fact quite the opposite. Who is and who is in in the court is (in most cases) not determined by talent. It is as much luck and relationships as talent and each year there are only a small number of slots open for new members of the clique. But it is a self sustaining oligopoly in which the players collect rent. So just because you’re not an insider doesn’t mean that the system isn’t in place. 🙂
I don’t think that is right.Studios used to ‘own’ artists and it turned out to be inferior to the ‘sub contract’ model.Studios still can and do ink multi picture and first look deals with producers, actors and directors which is investing in talent.It is hard to see why studios shouldn’t be investing primarily in films. Films are, after all, their product. They aren’t selling talent directly to their audience.
You’ve hit on what is, in my opinion, the problem.”Owning” the artists is not ideal, but the current model works that way already. If money flows only to certain kinds of films, the effect is the same.First look deals are done, but almost exclusively with writers and directors who have scored before. I’m sure most of us can think of a few recent examples of writers or directors who were given first look deals based on an early success only to fail at later projects – critically and/or commercially.I am thinking more of a way to find new talent using some measure other than previous success at the box office, and then funding their work.
That’s exactly what the industry tries to do. Everyone wants to find brilliant new talent because it’s cheap. (Agents, producers, studio executives…)
In my opinion, if that’s what they are trying to do, they are failing.
But are you an outsider looking in or an insider looking out?From the perspective of an outsider it may be easy to think this. But from the perspective of an insider it is certainly what you are trying to do and how do you measure success and failure here? The industry does bring new talent onstream constantly. There is a limit to how much new talent it can absorb. If you think it easy to find, for example, a brilliant new director, then put yourself in the place of the many junior agents tasked with exactly that, the studio execs who need fresh blood etc. Precisely how do you feel they are failing? You think there is a huge pool of utilizable exciting talent that is not being used? You feel that the end product is not worthy of its audience? I don’t really understand what you think isn’t working or how you think the current system works.
I’m an insider. And I didn’t say it was easy to find and fund talent. I’m not an “art house nut” by any means, or a indie film snob, I just think it’s unfortunate that box office sales is the primary driver of which films people get to see.I’ve also commented here before about how I’d like to see new films released at the theatre, on Blu-Ray, and in my home all at the same time.Solderbergh’s state of cinema talk I referenced in another comment sums up the issue of funding films instead of filmmakers. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’m with him on that issue.
I don’t see how the business could operate in a fundamentally different way – in the sense that if you care going to produce a product that costs tens or hundreds millions of dollars it is going to be mass market entertainment. And with the enormous increase in the percentage of revenues that come from overseas (non-english speaking, often very different cultures) this has a ‘flattening’ lowest common denominator effect on the product. It is total sales, not just box office sales, that determines the kind of product, but how could it be otherwise? And this, in effect, is actually the same no matter what the budget. No matter how much you deviate from the mainstream global blockbuster action format you still have to have a market large enough to pay for your movie. I don’t think studios for example have any ‘religious’ affinity with one release program vs another. All they care about is maximizing total revenues. If it proves to be the case that releasing on all formats at the same time does the job then they’ll do it.As for funding filmmakers rather than films, ironically most of the biggest creative and financial bombs in the history of filmmaking have come from precisely that strategy. Betting on talent is a nice way for studio execs to wash their hands of responsibility – just as you didn’t used to get fired for buying IBM hardware you don’t get fired for hiring Spielberg – but talent can and does go off the rails. IMHO it is very risky to bet on talent rather than on projects.
Exactly! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I know the reality. I don’t like it, and I don’t have to like it.Two comments …If it proves to be the case that releasing on all formats at the same time does the job then they’ll do it.I’m not so sure. The entertainment industry has historically made the wrong decisions on these matters. And you can’t prove anything to be the case without data.ironically most of the biggest creative and financial bombs in the history of filmmaking have come from precisely that strategyNot exactly. I’ve already mentioned this in a previous comment. A writer or director hits one home run and then the studios bank on that person no matter what the film. THAT is a bad strategy, and not the strategy I was recommending. Just because a w/d can “put asses in the seats” once doesn’t mean they can do it again.
I think we agree on a lot of this.the industry is conservative wrt distribution. But there is a lot at stake and its understandable. I couldn’t agree more that one trick ponies get doted on and then blow it. So how would you propose investing in talent? What could be done better in this regard?
If early stage VC is high risk investing and the next risk level is pure speculation, then investing in lifetime earnings of an unknown, unproven artist is the level beyond that……..
One of the smartest things Steve Jobs ever said was that Internet TV was not a technology problem, or a vision problem… it was a path to market problem. We can all imagine fantastic end-states where home-grown content is subsidized by advertising or subscription models, but ultimately, the challenge is getting to the end state. How do you get content providers, an audience, and a delivery system to the party when no one wants to be the first to arrive?
Maybe we need a tipping point event that will help to open this up in a bigger way. For example, if Veronica Mars were to open on VHX only, that might be interesting…
this is the goal, its moving in that direction, not there yet, but not too far
VHX should be courting all the aspiring film directors that are studying art at universities now. This is a generational shift.
they are 😉
VHX should be courting established directors so they don’t even have to try to recruit the up and coming talent.
It might easier to lure the young souls than the older generation.
Younger souls that will hopefully disrupt the industry with a much wider scope/footprint of engagingly authentic topics and maybe even some sort of App-function surprises embedded in their video creations?
they are 😉
Good luck courting ‘established directors.’ I may be wrong but I think the odds of success marketing to them are vanishingly small.
The two “tech” companies that are showing the way are Netflix and Kickstarter.Both realize that talent is king.Netflix is obvious. They put recruiting talent above all else, culminating in Kevin Spacey starring in House of Cards, and the rest is history.Kickstarter, is less obvious, but its there if you pay attention. The folks who actually raise money on Kickstarter are the ones who already demonstrated talent and have already created something that people want — the money is 100% secondary. Kickstarter knows that money, distribution, etc. follow talent, so they recruit talented people to raise money on the platform. They screen projects to make sure folks have already done something to prove their talent, instead of ask for money blindly. They’re not throwing tech at the problem, they’re throwing talent at it. And by putting talent first, the people with the money follow.I’m not surprised these are the companies getting it right. Neither associate themselves with the tech community. Netflix is trying to be the next HBO, and Fred has already talked about how the Kickstarter team has bucked every startup cliche to do their own thing.Creative types beat to a different drum than the tech types. Thinking like a tech person is not going to solve any of the problems Fred brought up.
interesting observations Brandon
Its a brilliant observation in my opinion. I often witness a purely technical lens when it comes to problems like this. I’m more inclined to relate it to the music industry. A great song will always sell. Doesn’t matter how much eq, compression or lipstick you put on it. It helps to have some funding and streamlined distro but those elements don’t guarantee success. Great talent and great content are the overriding factors.
Even with DIY tools, crowdfunding, distribution, and monetization, you still run into the ‘cognitive surplus’ problem.Established media properties can deliver the promotion punch that’s hard to replicate via self/social promotion. Moreover, large media companies are still the primary filter for consumers.I think the missing bits are better filtering mechanisms (rapid, efficient, transparent).The time lag between conception / creation and finding out if you birthed something that motivates a slice of humanity is typically huge. Creators spend lots of time, energy, and heartache trying to validate market and industry acceptance. In the creative industries…learning (that you have IT) is too slow.For a lot of reasons, I don’t think this is a big-data or a (large) crowd-filtering solution.
The most talented creatives I know don’t want to think at all about distribution and monetization, and they think very little about technology other than cameras and editing systems. Their dream is the support of a studio or network they hope will liberate them from thinking about anything other than telling their stories. Also important is “getting in the club” and the access to other A list talent that is needed to scale their story telling up, from 5 minute webisodes to 30 minute and 1 hour TV shows and feature length movies. It is incredibly hard to creatively and logistically sustain a production at that level and the support of a network is critical. The crop of films that will premiere at Sundance next month are being furiously finished, scored and edited right this second, few of these filmmakers have the bandwidth or mindset to think about self distribution or even what happens the day after Sundance. They suck at business and are dreaming about Oscars and Indie Spirit awards. So far at least, the rise of tech platforms in this area is kind of like an emergent version of baseball “farm” teams, and all the players want to be called up to the majors.
I know several RISD friends in this category. They are not business stupid, they are business bored. Distribution mechanics are such a pain in any field, and now you want a creative to care deeply about them, and sadly you find they are disinterested. The ones who succeed are sometimes more of the Warhol cloth and that begs the question of what is the art – the thing made, or the art of selling it?
what is the art – the thing made, or the art of selling it?Well of course 99% of the time (arbitrary) it’s the art of selling but more importantly recognizing and acting on opportunity.My sister is a really good artist. Went to school in rome and had a painting stolen from a public place in Philly that ended up in some rich ladies basement – was a story in the local news about it.But she wouldn’t know how to market or promote or to take advantage of any opportunities. Like I mean I can tell her things till I’m blue in the face and it’s totally deer in headlights.With respect to music probably the best example I can think of is what Madonna was able to do marketing wise given her raw talent. Which w/o the antics would have gotten her nowhere fast.Artists are simply not willing to understand or play the game.
“Artists are simply not willing to understand or play the game.”I beg to differ. We are bored by the game. It’s not as interesting nor compelling as making the art. For an artist like myself, a subset of the rest perhaps, making art has content, and making money has no content aspect (not like the art).
We are bored by the game. It’s not as interesting nor compelling as making the art.Bored with the game? So what if you are bored with the game.If you have a goal you are pursuing you have to be willing to deal with the boredom in order to achieve the goal. And actually it should end up being a positive not a negative anyway.Do you think politicians like walking in stupid little parades on sunny weekends instead of being somewhere else? They do it because it’s actually a positive for them because it’s their “business” and they get votes and votes are their currency. And that currency feels good.There are many things I don’t like to do. Probably more than most people. But if you dangle the prospect of business and achieving what I do like along side those things they become quite attractive to me. And they turn into a positive.Anyway back to this again:We are bored by the game. It’s not as interesting nor compelling as making the art.You remember that “what I learned in kindergarden” thing?Well what would you tell a kid who told you they would rather go out and play than study history because they found it boring?You would tell them they have to do things they don’t like to do to get anywhere in life.I think there are many people who don’t get anywhere in life because they simply aren’t willing to do the shit parts of jobs they want everything to be the good parts. These are the same people that want to only use the hose to wash the suds off the car they don’t want to do the actually soaping or drying. (How do you like that one?)
I may be old school, but if you are the artist who truly believes in your work and a big audience would adore it, you have to accept the fact producing it and letting it set in the basement isn’t going to get you the audience.That’s okay, because the inventory of artwork to come will evolve via busting your butt to get it in front of and gain feedback from the bigger audience. An old chum (has done the commercial side in California working for the corporation thing) was running into stumbling block where he was doing production to then be time focused on promotion. I kept cool and encouraged because of my thinking he didn’t want to hear me tell him he should have done a little less time on production and double down on the promotion. That is where you will get future ideas.
I agree. The endorphins come from creation.Many artists I know genuinely don’t care about the audience – though they like being told they’re great sometimes 😉
As usual, I agree with you mostly. 🙂 I agree that artists need to think more about selling ( which doesn’t require selling out ). I agree that SOME ( many? ) artists are not willing to play. I DISagree that Madonna would have gone nowhere without the antics. I think her talent is under appreciated.
The antics get attention and sell records. No question (I don’t think you would disagree) that she wouldn’t have been anywhere near as big w/o the antics. Not even close. How many stars of the 80’s are still somewhat relevant now in popular culture?The flip side is Streisand (who has a good voice) who got attention by not making herself available. By keeping her distance. And making herself more valuable.If you watch the David Geffen PBS (excellent documentary) he talks about Laura Nyro and see what happened to Laura when she blew off Geffen the promoter.Actually there is this (from wikipedia the might be accurate encylopedia:Both The Tonight Show and the Late Show with David Letterman staffs heavily pursued Nyro for a TV appearance during this period, yet she turned them down as well, citing her discomfort with appearing on television (she made only a handful of early TV appearances and one fleeting moment on VH-1 performing the title song from “Broken Rainbow” on Earth Day in 1990). She never released an official video, although there was talk of filming some Bottom Line appearances in the 1990s. On July 4, 1991, she opened for Bob Dylan at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.”Discomfort” – Get over it if you want to be a success. We aren’t talking about anything that you can’t learn to deal with with a little practice and coaching. This isn’t wing walking or anything.
Madonna’s greatest strength is brand management.PR, positioning & product.She new a good pop tune when she heard it, early on. Think Holiday blasting on a shoulder top boom box.She nuked the opportunity that MTV presented.
Agreed. The antics were a big part of her success.
The art of selling is hugely interesting. It shares a lot of the formal elegance of math. It also is not for everyone.
Almost have to build something that is fee for service. Where there is an inventory of stuff, rated by the community, and then I can buy off the rack for a one time fee. Sort of like the iTunes store. Unregulated, and available to anyone on any format. Make the movie cheap, 2 bucks or something. An internal algo can recommend stuff to me based on preferences I put in.Problem you run into is I doubt if AppleTv or Chromecast would support you. Might have to build web/mobile infrastructure and a device to plug into a monitor.
Thought provoking blog. There are literally thousands of film festivals each year littered with films that 99% of us will never see. Great films are rare, super-rare. Not even academy award level films are particularly good. Remember Rocky? This is a talent issue not a money issue.
God I would do anything to not have had Rocky have been made. I just hate those Philly associations with the art museum steps so much and people running up like Rocky flailing their hands. Actually what I hate more is that whole Philly cheese steak stuff. Anyway to your point when you say talent you mean not only acting talent but the talent that goes into the entire production, the story, screenplay, the cinematography, the music as well. I just am watching Seal Team Six and it’s failing on both acting and on the quality of production and it’s a major picture with a budget as well. But it is failing on the details.  Notice how in NYC they have taken any negative references and placed them squarely in the boroughs so they don’t damage the “brand”. Like with “fuggadeboutit”. I’m a small fan of live music videos and can see a big difference in the camera work, audio and production quality (down to the lengths of the camera shots and angles) between different rock concerts that to me makes it very obvious who knows their shit. And this is in addition to the music.
Yes. Watch a film by Scorsese or Capra or Spielberg or Allen, and then try to watch Rocky.
working on it…
Not certain why this problem with visual art is any different than music, unless of course film is a lot more expensive to produce?
Distribution businesses are not democratic by nature. It is in the nature of this business to lend to monopolies. Therefore, we have FedEx, Comcast, ATT, Mastercard.
BUt every non-local business is a distribution business.
If there were more web shows like burning love http://www.imdb.com/title/t… then, this will all start moving faster. Very interesting that this show has a mix of A + B + C talent. It is really funny/stupid and works great with 10 minute webisodes. I don’t know about many other shows like this. If they are out there, I would watch em
Perhaps it’s not technology that’s the problem, but the organizational structures.
Film is uniquely difficult in the number of different creatives that have to come together to create the final product. If any one of them underperforms or their visions simply don’t mesh then it can spoil the entire final product.Cable television, as we know it, will slowly matriculate to the web by the very nature of advancing technology and changing consumption habits. The technical platforms for high quality video on the web already exist. As many have pointed out it is more an issue of attracting, funding, and putting together the necessary talent for quality programming.To combat the dominance of cable and the studio system as the place multimedia creatives strive to be we need to offer something different on the web. If we simply translate the old media and medium to a web platform, all we have done is bought a newer car, probably still from the same manufacturers, and most likely we still have to drive it ourselves and fill it with gas.Google and Tesla aren’t just trying to compete with the new cars. They are working on a new class of product to supplant existing cars the way the iPhone supplanted cell phones. Nobody who has the option wants to create apps for a feature phone anymore. The opportunity on the web for not only new media, but an entirely new medium and audience experience is a paradigm shift not just an upgrade. There is a dynamic two way interactivity available on the web that does not exist in television. Utilizing this will change the relationship between the viewer and the content and elevate the experience for both creator and consumer. It will cause High Maintenance to strive for the attention of Internet platforms and the “studios” behind them. Though it is in a distant future, likely one we may not fully attain, the “North Star” for this new medium is described well in the ‘ractives’ of Neil Stephenson’s Diamond Age. In many ways I think Snow Crash describes the world that has been created over the last twenty years while Diamond Age describes the twenty years yet to come.
My thought for the day: “You can’t rebuild Rome while it’s still burning.”Too many online industries are living off arbitrage. Online readers read the newspaper for free subsidized by print readers. Other sites and platforms live off VC money hoping to grow enough to sell ad inventory.I’ll leave you with this Google Trends graph. Lots of interest in making movies, but declining interest in consuming them. That’s quite a gap to figure out.
Movie audiences are young (<34).THose people are broke.They wouldn’t watch clips on Youtube if they could blow thru $40 on a popcorn, coke & 2 ducats to the local decaplex.
It’s a bit upsetting to me that the “major leagues” for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business. Why can’t entrepreneurs build something that will work better for emerging web filmmakers than that? We have investments in Kickstarter and VHX, both of which are changing the game for filmmakers. We are also big fans of Vimeo, where High Maintenance is hosted.Because in peoples minds the major leagues is the major leagues. It’s not a team that plays in Trenton NJ. And it doesn’t matter how many people that stadium can hold.It’s not something that your aunt knows or cares about. Your aunt cares if you are on 60 minutes. Or on Leno. Or on HBO or Showtime.So do your parents. Doing a network show or being affiliated with something that is “legacy” is a career builder and a brain party enhancer. Period. At least in this decade. Anything can change but it takes a long long time.The same way nobody cares (other than tech) about tech awards. Walk into a Starbucks (in IRL not SV or the Alley) and tell someone you won a webby and see if they give flying you know what or even know what that is. I had to google to see if that even still existed. Nice marketing job webbys I didn’t even know if you were still around!But this High Maintenance story tells me that we haven’t yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent and realize their vision and have the financial sucess that should come with great workNot all about money and financial success. Money is separate from influence, power and respect. You know this. (Otherwise why would Bratton be police commissioner (in the news today) rather than make way more money in private industry?)I think you are underestimating the “party in your brain” part of all of this. That is the intangible part. The fact that people have grown up to feel that the networks and cable are important (was not always the case obviously) and so they are going to place a much higher value on being associated with that. Same reason you can’t un ring the bell of the Ivy League or “top” schools try as you might. Or of Rhodes Scholars or Genius Grants or clerking for a Supreme Court Justice. It’s an achievement that people have been brainwashed (meant in a positive way) to value way above what the reality is. The reason Malcolm Gladwell (a customer of mine) is dead wrong about the value of the Ivy League. (see 60 minutes interview…other stuff I did agree with that he said).Networks and cable are a branded achievement. Same reason people pay for luxury goods – for the label. And you can’t put the Sears label and have them think the same way about it..
Talent still works under the notion of “If I can make it in Hollywood, I’ve made it. everywhere” Same with publishing. Music might be a little more on the edge as it’s a more renegade group to begin with. People stick stuff on Vine now and get deals for shows. People still want to say, I’m working for HBO, CBS, Paramount. It still means I made it. The big guys want me. Owning your own product while financially appealing still leaves you out on your own. And not being accepted by the establishment as broken as the establishment might be is just not as appealing.What does it mean for your next project? People use Kickstarter and others as a road to bigger things, I believe that.Netflix has now become a network too. You Tube has not figured out how to do whatever it is they need to figure out.They have been trying to do programming for years. I talked to them 5 years ago. Nothing happens.Ask a filmaker for TV creator if they want to be on Vinneo or Fox? I promise you everyone will say FOX. The upside is still far greater and the prestige much higher.
the prestige much higher.Summary: it matters what your aunt and the hotel desk clerk thinks.
how about bunnycast enabling disqus commenters to record and upload their responses to posts and threads? name, avatar, and voice.
You should be able to record and upload a response using your own soundcloud account and then post that using Disqus’s soundcloud integration.
The real nugget here is the highly lucrative pot delivery market. Why isn’t there a Freshdirect for weed yet??? Get on it, nerds!
Fred, it’s happening, just not as fast as we’d all like. Check out this chart from this article: http://www.businessinsider….For the first time we are about to drop below 40M cable subscribers.
I hate cable. A million channels and nothings on.
That;s hard to believe.There is more top notch TV produced today than ever before.
Do we all break out in bad Bruce Springsteen songs now?I agree. Haven’t had cable in years.
One of the things I am seeing – it becomes less and less worth it to try for the 25 minute spots. Either you do long form for big returns or short form (under 15) for ease. Interesting to watch
“It’s a bit upsetting to me that the “major leagues” for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business.”I think that perhaps this is a very US view because I don’t see why TV (as opposed to cable per se) shouldn’t still be the dream? It’s a (relatively) easy way to reach viewers at scale. What’s wrong with that?Do you get upset when your favourite little band become popular? Do you think they have sold out if they want to get in the charts/FM radio/MTV/whatever?Maybe people just prefer watching this type of thing in the lounge, on a big screen. That certainly seems to be what the data suggestshttp://ben-evans.com/benedi…
The business models dont work online because of the way risk is allocated.The web model currently puts an inordinate amount of risk on creatives. Creatives invest up front, and cannot diversify (just like an entrepreneur, who is putting the vast majority of their time/dollars/opportunity cost into a single startup).Mediaco’s, on the other hand, are willing to assume this risk on behalf of the creatives – because #1, they can diversify their risk by investing in a lot of creative product, and #2, they have a path to monetizing the content either through sub fees, ad sales or licensing revenue.Kickstarter (or other crowdfunding) will a total gamechanger because it provides a path to limit the creative’s upfront risk, while allowing the creatives to control the back-end economics. I think what you will see are creatives developing samples online (like High Maintenance) and use those samples, and the data generated, to raise funds. I think you will also see institutional money come into the crowdfunding space (studios will start to launch their own crowdfunding platforms, and develop matching programs)…
The good news is there has never been bigger acceptance of Internet-based distribution than now and the outlook is very bright. Not only is there fantastic original and indy content online, but the prestige of TV is blurring into the convergence that was long prognosticated but finally has truly happened.The best proof of this is Netflix and the fact that they have attracted star talent and more importantly industry acknowledgement including the pinnacle of the television establishment, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, who gives out the Emmy Award. HOUSE OF CARDS has been a bit of a trailblazer for defining the Internet as a bona fide mainstream and legitimate venue… not just as a rights exploitation window but as a place for original content to debut.It is important to note that TV used to be several orders of magnitude larger than people who would watch TV online. The app revolution has helped a LOT. People can watch web content on phones, tablets, and on TV screens as equal-class citizens whereas before web content used to mean sitting in front of a keyboard.Amazon Studios launched and is doing GREAT original content and there are lots of indy outlets like VHX and Yekra and other niche outlets that are highly curated.In my opinion, the biggest catalyst is established actors from TV and Film WANTING to do online content. That brings other up and coming talent no longer thinking of TV as the end-all destination. Take some solace in the fact that your High Maintenance guys are sort of bucking the trend right now. A smart producer should shop their wares everywhere including traditional media and strike the best deal they can. I can’t speak in an informed way about their deal in particular. But great deals are getting done for online.To my eye, the industry and people like you are doing a GREAT job of making online the preferred model. This is simple a matter of making a continual and concerted effort and there will eventually be a tipping point. When it happens, most people will hardly notice because we’ll still be watching in all the places we watch now but the content will be coming from these distinct online outlets you describe.I really believe in the a la carte future of channels-as-apps (or apps-as-channels). HOUSE OF CARDS season 2 just got announced and it has never been hotter than now to be producing original content for the Internet and the future outlook just gets better and better. That’s a trend that will never revert. You can’t un-ring the bell. The metrics, the fan access, the level of control are unparalleled.In closing my long missive here, during the Emmys I attended a conference on the future of online for showrunners (executive producers). They had the Exec Producer of ALL the major shows this year: Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and Mad Men. The only real traditionalist was the producer/writer of Downton Abbey. The rest were VERY gung-ho about online. Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad said if he had to do it over again he WOULD go to Internet-only distribution but he cited that the folks at AMC were the best people he’d ever worked with and really wanted to be loyal to them. But he cited that he largely regarded the success of the series finale to the droves of people who binge-watched the entire series from Episode 1 Season 1 up to present on Netflix. He also said that the shows fan website became an essential part of how the show got built and that going forward he can’t do a show without thinking about the online and social media component. The showrunner for MAD MEN, also on AMC, echoed his sentiments across the board. House of Cards was the exemplar of the future for them all and it received the utmost respect from the TV people. THAT’S the big change. TV people used to look down on web content. Those days are over for good. The talent is attracted and wants in. Continued execution and more hit shows, frankly, will bring it all the way home.
Great series! They make it look so easy. Talented bunch!!
I’m actually really, really surprised that in an entrepreneurial community, no one has yet cited “cash flow” as a problem here.For decent production value, you are going to pay for some things. With a traditional Network (cable, big four, etc); you are going to get cashflowed “close” to up front if your production company does their homework and you’re not dealing with Viacom (oops….).In all other cases, we’re talking about deficit financing content and hoping that a distribution chain generates enough cash at some later date to make it worthwhile. But that later cash cannot compensate for the fact that on most shoots, especially low-budget ones, you are working 12-14 hours days, and 6 or sometimes 7 days a week.If your budget is really low, you’re deferring your pay; and it’s not like your landlord or your bank is deferring your rent or mortgage, right?Cash flow, ahead of production, is THE number one reason that Networks retain predominance.The second reason is that they can and do commit significant marketing spends, and marketing campaign overhead to make sure audiences know about a new show. I ran the digital product on a primetime show this year, and I can tell you the marketing spend was almost half again as much as the production budget; and it was in the millions. It’s hard, even for a Network, to make sure folks know about a new show.And marketing is more than just $$, it’s also talent, ability and patience. Most creative producers I know want next-to-nothing to do with the marketing campaign other than to throw some ideas around and approve or reject things that are presented to them. That’s because they know their core talent doesn’t lie in marketing their product; and that’s the 2nd largest value of a real Network.In my opinion, there is no way that online distribution networks actually disrupt/displace traditional Networks until the cash flow and marketing pieces are solved for. (This is something I’ve written about a few times in the past:) However, if someone can effectively solve this with a new model and couple it with some of the really innovative and cost-effective self-distribution platforms out there, it could be a huge win.Oh, one last thing, someday maybe someone will do a longitudinal study of production companies, because even *with* the cash flow upfront problem solved by the Networks, there is *massive* churn in television production companies.If I had to guess after 15 years in the business, that in television that 90-95% of production companies fail within 5 years. The gross margins hover around 7-10%, and if the Network cash flows too late (happens all the time); or decides to withhold last payments because they don’t like the final show edits and they’ve run out of editorial budget.Long story short, cash flow problems eat content producers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; it’s going to take more than just new distrib models to fully disrupt traditional networks.
Serious Talk: this show is HIGHLARIOUS 🙂
The business model originally planned for Akimbo was solving this exact problem, every piece of content was meant to be ppv, 50% to Akimbo and 50% to the content owner and content owner set the pricing (and the option to bucket in multiple pieces of content into a single ppv sale),
From a web series creator’s perspective it’s definitely not the technology. It’s the audience’s investment. There are a LOT of independent (and GREAT) series that still kick it on the web but people (especially adults) perk up their ears when they hear “cable” “network” “TV” much more than the phrase “web series”. Of course on the web there’s an oversaturation of mediocre that causes people to tune out or assume it’s not up to par. High Maintenance is an example of the fantastic work that could be done and continue on the web if everyone was aware of it. Not everyone has heard of High Maintenance (I think) because socially we don’t scream from the rooftops when we find a great web show with the same fever that we scream about Mad Men or Eastbound and Down. Indie producers can have all the resources they’d need to make the product but marketing is a different story. An indie web series on a billboard is something that will probably never exist.
That’s what I was thinking. Those institutions and their acceptance are still the golden ring, the seal of approval for creatives. I guess NetFlix has now achieved that status.
It’s really no different from the mentality in startups and investing: “Hey friends, USV just invested in our startup!” is very different than “Hey friends, my friends and family just gave me $50K!”.For better or worse, most people are followers, not leaders. The best investors understand that they’re taking a flier on some crazy idea and/or some crazy founder. The VERY best investors work hand in hand with that crazy founder to change the future.
It must be nice from an institution pov – you get to select already proven stuff
At a web discount no less. (most likely – but I have no proof of that)
Of course. And the pilot director was Fincher.