Friday, July 29, 2011

American Film Market

Yes, they're selling films at AFM. Which is reason enough for YOU to be there!

Register Early

Don't Miss North America's

Largest Film Industry Event!


Great School In Berlin!

My friend Christina Knauff's school in Berlin is open for students. I've spoken there. She's wonderful and the school is terrific. Check it out!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Tool Called A Camera

I'm not a camera guy, but because I make films, people are always asking me about what kind of cameras to use/rent/buy. If you're reading this, please don't ask me that anymore. When I do get asked, I always immediately suggest a 35mm Panaflex Millenium, but that just pisses off everybody. It does make beautiful images, though.

Of course I know when people ask me about cameras, they are almost always asking about HD video cameras or HD SLRs. But I'm not a D.P. I don't know the details of cameras - their functionalities, range of abilities, bells, whistles, etc. All I know is that I almost always want the greatest flexibility in image creation. Or, conversely, I need it to be able to capture the images in specific accordance with the visual plan I have for the film. So, in terms of selecting a specific camera, that's pretty much all I communicate to a D.P. I then leave it to her or him to consider what camera is appropriate given the material we're working with and the visual plan for it. They, and others, know best how to take into account such things as image quality, camera weight, functionality, light sensitivity, interchangeable lenses, assist systems, post compatibility and whatever else she/he needs to consider.

What I do know, based on talking to filmmakers and seeing lots of films, is that there are a lot of great HD video cameras out there. But so far, I've used only one on a film - the Canon 5d Mark II. And I loved the image quality it created for my short film. But it is not without issues according to my D.P., Marc Levy - especially since he is used to the functionality and control that comes with "professional" motion picture cameras (film or video). Also, the camera is not so great for rapid-movement type shooting. That is, rapidly moving objects in the frame or a rapidly moving shooter. There are, of course, workarounds for most of those issues. So, I can openly profess my love for the camera. But, nonetheless, the 5D may not be right for everyone.

Before anyone can suggest a camera to you, you need to know what kind of camera you need. What kind of project are you doing? A painterly, narrative feature or a reality show or a spec commercial or a sports doc or a nature segment or instructional videos or anything else. Each will demand different things from a camera. Or you may answer that you will be doing potentially any and all of that stuff. Fair enough. But once you know what you want out of a camera, then you can begin to compare/contrast the specs of each camera to make sure it has the capabilities that you need.

Budget may also be a consideration. You may want a camera that does it all at the highest levels of quality, but you only have a few bucks to spend. Well, then you have to begin considering what are the key features you need and can they be found in a camera at that price. The good news is, great cameras are so affordable that SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE has one. So, even if you can't buy one, or even rent one, you can probably borrow one for your project from any number of people.

But I stray from my point - which is simply that cameras are a tool. A very important filmmaking tool, but still a tool. Cameras don't make great films, filmmakers do. I know that sounds suspiciously similar to a popular NRA jingle, but it is more applicable to cameras and filmmaking - where you can't accidentally turn on the camera and cause a death....or make a movie - good or bad.

Not to toot my own horn, but my first feature (so far, the only one I've directed) "The Dogwalker" still looks great to me after 10 years. Naturally, there's lots of things I'd do differently if I were to make the film today, but the actual image quality has held up. And it was shot on one of the early miniDV cameras - the old Sony VX1000. That's because the D.P., Marco Fargnoli is a genius (and one of the nicest guys I know). As is Post God and film simulation specialist Andy Somers. It certainly had little to do with the camera.

When I go to tech expos, I see all of this amazing equipment in booth after booth and the little kid in me wishes I could snatch all the toys in the shed and play with them forever - or until the next, improved version comes out. But I look at the stuff on the multitude of screens, created by all of this amazing technology, and I'm quickly reminded how little a camera can do to enhance a squalid imagination.

Again, that's not to say that cameras aren't important. Of course they're important. Painters don't just need brushes, they need the appropriate brushes. Sculptors need the right clay or marble or whatever is appropriate for their vision. But they are, nonetheless, tools. Tools in service of imagination. A means to an end. Not having the "right" camera should NEVER stop you from making a wildly imaginative film. In fact, I know many filmmakers that, if they could only make a film on a Pixelvision camera, might possibly conjure up something far more visually interesting than they'd make with a Panaflex Millenium.

So, stop asking me about cameras. Just grab one, figure out what it can do and then stretch it to its limits with your imagination. MAKE YOUR FILM!!

All that being said, here's a few of the cameras I've heard the most about. If I'm forgetting one or two or 20, please remember, I'M NOT A CAMERA GUY!!

And here's a nice HDSLR comparison.

Anthony Kaufman’s ReelPolitik

Anthony Kaufman has relaunched his blog in a dynamic way. Here's how it begins:

Why relaunch my blog with a specific emphasis on film and politics?

Inspired by such declarations of purpose as Dogme 95, the Oberhausen Manifesto, Dziga Vertov’s We: Variant of a Manifesto and Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles,” I’d like to outline my reasons below in a little manifesto. I’ve always liked such proclamations. Pretentious and polemical, sure. But they’re also passionate and alive.

So here are 6 reasons for ReelPolitik’s being:

Read the the rest HERE.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peter Brodericks's Distribution Bulletin #16



Three new studies assessing the impacts of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, THE END OF THE LINE, and WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” finally prove Sam Goldwyn wrong. The Hollywood mogul famously declared, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” These reports highlight the real world results these films sparked and provide a new framework for evaluating the impacts of documentaries and features.


In the past, there was little research or rigorous analysis of powerful films such asFAHRENHEIT 9/11, SICKO, SUPER SIZE ME, and FOOD, INC. Instead they were evaluated primarily on anecdotal information and subjective impressions. The appearance of these three new studies finally provides the research and analysis filmmakers need to better understand how to ignite social change.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, THE END OF THE LINE, and WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” were each made to avert a looming crisis: global warming, the collapse of the world’s fisheries, and the failure of America’s public education system.

This Special Report includes exclusive coverage of the studies of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN,” along with a concise analysis of THE END OF THE LINE report.

THE END OF THE LINE – A Social Impact Evaluation

exemplary report documents the significant changes THE END OF THE LINE produced, highlights the importance of brand partnerships, and provides useful lessons concerning social media and coordination with partners.


The film was described by The Economist as “the Inconvenient Truth about the impact of overfishing on the world’s oceans.” Produced in the UK by the invaluable
Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation and financed by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, this beautifully designed report is the product of an 18-month study, which used qualitative and quantitative analysis, focus groups, and media analysis. It concludes that the film had a major impact on public awareness of overfishing—directly on viewers and indirectly on nonviewers through the huge amount of press it generated. The report estimates that the PR value of this media coverage was £4,186,710, more than four times the budget of the film.

The study also concludes that the film helped create “a tipping point in corporate policy” that spurred a number of corporations to switch to sustainable sources of fish. The upscale grocery chain Waitrose sponsored the film’s release and promoted it in their stores, giving customers postcards about film and the importance of buying sustainable fish. The classy PrĂȘt A Manger chain of sandwich shops totally changed its fish buying policy after its founder saw the film.

When I interviewed the visionary Jess Search (CEO of BRITDOC and co-creator of the report with her colleague Beadie Finzi) about the report, she shared her belief that businesses are “engines of change.” Top-down change (requiring legislation and/or elections) and bottom-up change (requiring widespread grassroots involvement) are very difficult to achieve, but if you can persuade corporate decision-makers that the change you are seeking is in their interest, hundreds of thousands of consumers can be affected.

The study features a brilliant graphic that illustrates the complementary and interlocking partnerships filmmakers need to build with foundations and philanthropists, NGOs and advocates, policymakers, the media and brands. The report shows how much difference a film can make – expanding public awareness of an urgent issue, changing consumer behavior, altering corporate policy, and providing advocates with an effective tool.

BEYOND THE BOX OFFICE – New Documentary Valuations

pioneering study assesses the true value of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH in the UK. Jess Search conducted research concerning AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH over a two-year period for her MBA dissertation. After calculating the film’s financial returns, Jess tackled the complex task of examining and quantifying the social good the film created.

Her study begins by noting that “over the past seven years documentaries have proven to be effective drivers of public awareness, setting press agendas, influencing politicians, companies, and campaigners.” Given the limited funding available for documentaries, the paper states that it is essential to “capture and measure the public good films deliver.” Documentary investors, from individual philanthropists to representatives of foundations, charities, corporations, and government “need hard data to show to colleagues, bosses, and boards when it comes to media funding decisions.”

The dissertation explores alternative ways of assessing the social impact of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. One approach would be to “measure and then value the effects of the film” from swaying public opinion to changing behavior and reducing carbon emissions. The film generated extensive press coverage, which reached people who saw the film in theaters, on TV, or on DVD as well as many more people who never saw it, but learned about global warming through this coverage. The dissertation estimates the advertising value of this media at £3,732,000. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH dramatically increased the press coverage of global warming, which continues to this day.

Seeing the film inspired the CEO of the Marks and Spencer chain to radically cut the company’s electricity usage while increasing its use of renewable electric power. Around £200 million is being invested over five years to transform the core business, which is on-track “to become carbon neutral by 2012.” The M&S websitehighlights the company’s goal of “becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.”

While it would be possible “to interview a selection of UK companies to discover if corporate policy had changed as a result of the film, and, if so, gather facts and figures on the carbon impact of these changes,” it would be very time consuming, labor intensive, and expensive.

Instead the dissertation uses an alternative “willingness to pay” technique for determining social value. As the study notes, contingent valuation surveys are used by environmental economists “to ascribe a dollar value to things like clean air and biodiversity in forests which had previously been attributed with no economic value.” In 1990 the US government used a major “willingness to pay” study to calculate damages in the Exxon Valdez case. Since then libraries, museums, and other subsidized institutions have used this approach to demonstrate their worth.

Jess applied this technique to film for the first time. She did a “willingness to pay” study to determine the intrinsic value placed on AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH by UK citizens. People who agreed with the film’s message were asked how much they would have been willing to pay to ensure the film was released in cinemas and on TV. Of those surveyed by YouGov, 54% would have been willing to pay something to ensure that others had the opportunity to see the film: 5% would have contributed £82.75 | 2% - £28 | 10% - £14 | 26% - £7 | 9% - £3.50 | 2% - £0.89. The results were similar for men and women, and also across economic classes “perhaps contradicting ideas that the environment is a more middle class pre-occupation.”

Extrapolating from those surveyed to the adult British population, the dissertation gives AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH an intrinsic valuation of £73,411,565. When this value is combined with the estimated advertising value (£3,732,000) and the film’s estimated UK profits (£1,258,972), the social return on investment in the UK for AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is a whopping 57:1.

The paper demonstrates that the “willingness to pay” approach can be applied usefully to film. The dissertation makes a compelling case that “willingness to pay” studies may be the most practical method for evaluating the impacts of many social issue documentaries. Using a “willingness to pay” approach could provide a way to compare the impact of different films. Filmmakers seeking funding could also do preliminary research to show there’s significant interest in the topic of their film.


substantial study analyzes the impact of WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” on viewers’ perceptions and attitudes. It examines how successful the film was in changing their views of the US education system. The study also highlights which content was most effective and which was least effective.

Funded in part by The Ford Foundation, the report was written by the Harmony Institute, a nonprofit research center established in 2007 to assess the influence of entertainment on social and environmental issues. Research began just before the US theatrical release of WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” in September 2010. It included an analysis of press coverage, focus groups, an online survey, online trending reports, and in-depth interviews. This six-month study focused on the immediate effects of the film on viewers’ beliefs rather than on the film’s long-term impacts. The primary author was Eleanor M. Cleverly.

The paper concludes that “WAITING FOR ‘SUPERMAN” had a notable effect on audience perceptions of education in the US” and that “the film increased general understanding and elevated concerns over a number of problems plaguing public education.” The report described the film as “one of the most expansive communication campaigns concerning education in America to date.”

However the research showed that many viewers complained that the film didn’t make clear what they could do to improve things. Directives such as “get involved in your child’s education” were vague, and “offered no actionable items for individuals.” Audiences also felt that the film “failed to discuss many of the larger social issues that contribute to low-performing students and schools.” As one respondent noted “bad teachers and bad unions are not the only impediment to educational success… poverty, parenting, resources, and curriculum are just as important.” Viewers also felt that “there was a general overemphasis on charter schools.”

Viewers did respond quite well to the characters in the film and found the charter school lottery a compelling metaphor for the state of US public education. Reactions to the film differed sharply between educators and the general public. Overall general audiences and the press “reviewed the film favorably, giving the film an average rating of four stars out of a possible five.” Teachers disagreed sharply, giving the film an average of 2 stars and challenging the film’s “depiction of teachers and unions as simplistic.”

The report also looked at the ripple effect on organizations that were affiliated with the film’s outreach effort. increased its individual users by 75,000 in 2010 and generated $2.1 million in pledges to fund classroom projects across the country. Being affiliated with WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” also helped the United Way establish itself as a central player in the education world and changed the way it works within local communities. The lesson for other filmmakers is that “garnering early support from reputable affiliates currently working on a social issue can greatly assist both parties.”

The report notes that although the film played in US theaters for 13 weeks grossing $6.4 million and had 149,000 followers on Facebook as of March 18, 2011, it was “unable to foster a national conversation among those not previously invested in the education reform debate.” However, the study also noted that WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” was “successful at reinforcing a commitment to teaching among those already in the profession.” One teaching student said, “the film illuminated for her how important teachers are to the success of their students.”

Debika Shome, the Harmony Institute’s Deputy Director, explained that the report had enabled the Institute to refine its methodology for measuring the success of media.

While the report is an internal document, the strikingly-designed highlights are available


These three studies mark the beginning of a new era of impact evaluation. They expand our understanding of how films can create real change. They include concrete examples of the significant effects of these films on corporations, consumers, and nonprofits. The reports also explore ways of tracking, measuring, and valuing impacts. Their methodologies will be used and refined by other researchers.

More foundations will follow Esmee Fairburn and The Ford Foundation in funding impact studies. The Wolfensohn Family Foundationand the Pacific Foundation both provided additional funds for the WAITING FOR “SUPERMAN” study. The Fledgling Fund will continue highlighting the importance of assessing the social impact of media that began with the publication of its working paper, which includes this chart.

More cutting-edge research on documentaries and features will enable independents to prove that films can make a difference. Filmmakers who learn how others have achieved social impact will be empowered to make films that can truly change the world.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independent Film (Dis)Integration

I often look at Independent Film at a macro level seeking trends and ideas that might make my job of supporting it much easier. And from that perspective, it's not hard to find issues to address. However, that macro perspective does not preclude me from appreciating the micro - the little victories that keep us passionately invested in the success of Independent Film….and ever hopeful. But are those little victories just anomalies with no relationship the "the big picture?" When an indie film is compellingly made and/or earns revenue that benefits its investors, is its success repeatable or always a kind of accident - the result of a numbers game where so many indie films get made that one or two are bound to be well-realized and/or profitable?

The answer is sorta both. For me, it is not a question with a clear answer. And because there isn't a clear answer, the fact that indie film success is, statistically anyway, unrepeatable becomes a multi-faceted problem with a number of possible solutions. And although people like me will continue to blog relentlessly about it and offer up all kinds of solutions, I believe there is a core concept at the root of this problem and that, for me, is integration - or rather, the lack thereof.

I don't just mean cultural or ethnic integration, although Independent Film is certainly still principally the domain of the young, privileged, white male. That's just one manifestation of the issue. Independent film suffers from disintegration and disconnection in nearly every way. Education is disconnected from experience, talent is disconnected from resources, aesthetics are disconnected from technology, filmmakers are disconnected from investors, films are disconnected from their audiences, etc., etc. There's no irony, then, that a well-realized and successfully distributed indie film is almost always a gorgeous miracle of integration. All the various, sometimes disparate talents and disciplines that make up the filmmaking jigsaw puzzle come together seamlessly to create the film and then the film itself folds nicely into a marketing/distribution/delivery strategy that hits the mark with audiences. It doesn't happen often, but it happens. And when it does, there are always things to be learned by the process of integration that made success possible.

Now, I realize Independent Film is called Independent Film partly because it can't be systematized. It pulls itself in many different directions at the same time with a certain cowboy mentality that gives Independent Film its energy and charm. Filmmakers can burst onto the scene from seemingly nowhere using creative or entrepreneurial chutzpah, tearing up the festival circuit before fading away, striking gold in "the system" or becoming revered, if somewhat mysterious, iconoclasts. And the fact that such discoveries are so rare might be part of a necessary cinematic Darwinism, ensuring that the cream always rises to the top. I could accept all of that if there weren't so many easily correctable issues that could be addressed or if there weren't so many potentially strong and/or strong-performing films undone by simple ignorance or negligence. Precisely because Independent Film is so disintegrated that it can benefit hugely from a communal trough from which filmmakers can gain what they need. And that communal trough is the internet.

What? The interment? If anything suffers from disintegration, it's the internet itself. There are so many disparate sites, social networks, tools and apps splattered across the web that before you can figure out how best to use them all, one or more of them are obsolete. Even the mighty Facebook, judging from it's recent downturn in membership and the example of MySpace, may not be around forever. And, anyway, you can't make movies on the internet, can you?

Well, first of all, you can indeed make a movie on the web. Not any kind of movie, of course, but that's beside the point. What's more important to keep in mind is that not matter what any one site may offer filmmakers, the web is, and will always be, a giant repository of education, information, tools and resources - many of which can greatly enhance the filmmaking process if organized and used intelligently. More than that, it can be a powerful communal gathering point for people sharing a common goal. Especially if that goal is to make and distribute great independent films. But aren't there currently lots of great sites, tools and apps for filmmakers? Why isn't it galvanizing and rescuing Independent Film right now? Because it is, of course, missing one key ingredient: integration…along with the three most important elements of successful integration - curation, aggregation,and organization.

I realize none of those terms sounds even the list bit sexy, nor do they seem to have anything to do with the art of filmmaking. But they are important to anything you want to create for yourself, including all aspects of your life. So, I'll break it down for you. Obviously, you must always curate - make choices. Then, you must acquire the things you want. Then you must put those things where they do you the most good. It's a simple formula, but surprisingly ignored all too often in life and art.

First of all, curation. The stuff floating around the web that is really valuable to filmmakers needs to be found and selected - the best tools, apps, education and more. What is it that filmmakers need and what's the best incarnation of it? Communal editing space? Scroome. Film Festival submissions? Withoutabox. Virtual producer? Yet to be created. But something more than tools, apps and education needs to be found. We also need to find things that wrap all of that generic stuff into an ideological perspective that not only facilitates indie film viability but also the highest levels of creative ambition. What are the best blogs and forums? What kind of interface allows filmmakers to share ideas and perspectives? Someone or some group needs to act as a "trusted guide" for filmmakers - and not just a gatekeeper. Of course, there will also have to be community curation. Meaning, anything that exists on the site as a tool or resource should be open to review and feedback by users.

Secondly, aggregation. Once found and selected, all of this great stuff needs to be brought together. No one could possibly build from scratch or even recreate all of the great tools, apps and resources that exist for filmmakers out on the web. Instead, partnerships need to be created, which may also demand technological bridges to be built. The whole point is to avoid the needless hopping around from site to site, multiple logins and resource incompatibility that plagues filmmaking life on the internet at the current moment. But this is no easy task. Many sites charge fees for their tools/resources and/or jealously guard them for other reasons. They tend not to think holistically and instead stubbornly insist on trying to build communities around their single-purpose resource. So far, unless it is a indispensable resource without competition, such as Withoutabox, that approach has not served them. Hopefully, they can be made to see the wisdom in being part of a larger whole.

Thirdly, there is organization. You can't just throw stuff up on the internet randomly, although many sites seem to do it all the time, making finding things very difficult and efficient usage almost impossible. Ideally, resources, tools and apps can be organized intuitively for filmmakers - mirroring the process of production and/or film management. That means it all needs to be put together by a group that understands the way filmmakers - especially indie filmmakers - think and work.

Fortunately, there is an organization that can do all of that. Not only can do it, but will do it. Filmmakers Alliance has been hatching a plan to for years to create just such a space for filmmakers. We've met with all manner of resistance and challenge, and the plan has been scrapped and rebuilt several times over, but we're still surging forward. We currently have a Crowdfunding Campaign underway to help us push it through to a first stage launch. From there, it will evolve organically, driven by the participation of filmmakers/users. Our goal is to integrate the ongoing discussion about the state of indie film with the actual work. As discussed, we are building a site that is not just a tool, but a home for filmmakers - allowing them to not only access filmmaking and film management resources, but also exchange ideas and perspectives on filmmaking - all infused with a demand for creative ambition. We really want the community to challenge each other to take their films - and, subsequently, all of independent film - to the next level. The plan we have will facilitate it nicely with a lot of key partnerships and collaborative tools.

But why is any of this important? Simple. It will make filmmaking easier. There are many filmmaking orgs out there (along with various filmmaking sites), and they are there for a reason. Filmmakers need help. Lots of it. To this day, I get tons of calls and emails daily asking me for everything under the filmmaking sun. Clearly, filmmakers still need help educating themselves and accessing resources - anything from securing grants, to getting production insurance to finding good crews, to utilizing web marketing tools, to finding health insurance, etc. The easier we can make the filmmaking process, the faster we can move on to a conversation about the kinds of films we're making and how they can have a social and/or aesthetic impact on the world. And that conversation, too, will happen on the site.

A website is NOT going to save Independent Film, I'm told. Perhaps not in and of itself. Great independent filmmaking that is well-distributed will do that. But education, intelligent discourse, access to funding and resources, shared creativity and inspiration are all tools to help create those great, well-distributed independent films. And a site that provides and/or facilitates all of that will indeed do it's part to create an Independent Film renaissance. It can, at the very least, facilitate some necessary integration on all levels and bring a sense of cohesion to a very disintegrated community.

To see the crowdfunding campaign page, go HERE.
If you want a bit more detail about Filmmakers Alliance's new website, go HERE.
If you want to donate to the project, go HERE.