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Thursday, November 29, 2012

A few days ago I got invited to an info session on the new Cinecoup program. It's intended to be a sort of incubator / gamified competition for $1,000,000 in production financing.

Jason Joly comes out of the hi-tech world of incubators and accelerators -- companies that help entrepreneurs get their act together. Although he's spent time in show business, he talks more like someone from the game world. He talks about analytics and metrics and social media.

And he's got a million dollars to make your movie, and guaranteed distribution. Distribution is the Achilles heel of the already not over-mighty Canadian film industry. Most English Canadian movies get released for a week or two on a few screens and then head straight to DVD, with a few (government-mandated) appearances on TV. Joly has a solution for that.

His idea is to get a hundred filmmakers to submit two minute trailers for their film idea. Through the magic of the Internet, potential viewers will vote on the trailers. Winning filmmaking teams movie through stages of writing scripts and refining their ideas until ten projects are optioned. Then one winning project gets a million bucks and a distribution deal.

The winning project has, at this point, got a lot of support from people who want to see the movie. Joly has the metrics that tell him where these people are. So he can then go to exhibitors, and say, hey, fifty thousand people in Winnipeg want to see this movie, and I have all their eddresses. The exhibitor can now show the movie knowing he already has an audience for it.

Then, as word of mouth spreads, the release can go wide.

Back in ancient days (1974), there was a dog movie called BENJI. Nobody wanted to finance it. Once it was made, nobody wanted to show it. The producer-director rented theaters and showed it. Word of mouth began to spread. He started taking out ads telling people in a city that if they wanted to see BENJI, they should bug their local theater. BENJI started to roam around the country.

BENJI went on to gross $35 million on a budget of oh, say, two million. Equivalent to about $175 million now.

So I am excited by the idea of using Internet metrics to match up clusters of interested audience members with local theaters. Your local theater doesn't have anything against EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL or PEEPERS in principal. A ticket is a ticket. They object to the lack of marketing. They don't know if anyone will come in to see EDDIE. With TRANSFORMERS 2, they know some people will come in the door.

There are a few issues with Joly's model. You don't start with a script or a concept. You start with a trailer.

There are certain kinds of movies you can go out and shoot a teaser trailer for with no money and no time. Joly mentioned HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and PARANORMAL. Neither of these depends on acting or cinematography. If you have a 5D and some friends, you can go out and shoot a trailer for something like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN this weekend.

If you wanted to make something like AWAY FROM HER, it would be harder. That kind of movie is all about the acting. (Most of what I write is all about the acting.) You would need to have some really amazing actors as friends, or go through a casting process and hire actors. You would need to rehearse them.

And some movies don't "tease" well. There are movies where one scene can't show what's good about the movie. There are already plenty of great movies where trailer cutters struggle to convey in two minutes what works in a hundred minutes. And they have an entire movie to choose moments from.

On the other hand, it's perfectly fair to design a program that favors high-concept low budget movies over execution-dependent movies. It's probably easier to market HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN on no money than it is to market AWAY FROM HER.

If you're a professional, a two minute trailer is probably something that eats two to four weeks of your professional life. That's a lot of resources to put into a 1 out of 100 shot at distribution. If I make a short, I have something I can submit to festivals and build my reel. A two minute trailer -- especially if it's not as good as, or better than, the movie I want to make -- isn't really something I have another use for.

If you're successful with your trailer, the program expects you to write the script for nothing, and then offers to option it for two years for $2500. That's a long time to tie up your best idea, considering you only have a one-in-ten shot of it getting made; and if it's not your best idea, then why are you wasting your time on this program? You should be working on your best idea.

So this program favors people who have some spare time on their hands.

Also fair, by the way. There are already plenty of programs for pro filmmakers. You can't even apply to Telefilm's Independent stream unless you have two shorts that have been to specific festivals, or some produced longer form credits.

Another issue is the social media aspect. If you know any filmmakers, then your Facebook feed is filled with friends who want you to like their stuff on various sites to help them get it made. So to make it to the top of the Cinecoup pyramid, you either need to be a genius at social media, or you need to find a genius at social media for your team.

Maybe that is the future, and we will all have to partner up with social media folks. But right now, some of my filmmaker friends are really good at pestering their Twitter feed and their fan base and their Facebook feed, and some perfectly good filmmakers I know don't have a Twitter feed, 'cause they're too busy making films.

So, as I asked Joly in the meeting:  will the Cinecoup competition have a large enough audience base that votes from the actual audience swamp any one filmmaker's buddies? Otherwise it's not a filmmaking contest, it's a personal popularity contest.

(Filmmakers probably will have to team up with marketing people in the future, as filmmaking becomes more individual and entrepreneurial. According to Ernesto Sirolli on his TEDx talk, every successful entreprise needs a creator, a marketer, and someone to look after the money. Right now marketing is an afterthought -- filmmakers depend on their distributor to market their picture after they've sold it. But you can't do that with a web series that you never actually "sell."  And you really can't even do it on a low budget movie:  the distrib just isn't going to put that much into it. On a million dollar budget, you can't afford to take out ads in papers. But with digital distribution technology, there's no reason why a million dollar Canadian, or American, or South African movie can't find an audience across the globe -- if you team up with someone who's savvy at promoting it internationally on the Internet.

(Unless, say, it's about hockey. Hard to sell hockey globally.)

I have no idea if Cinecoup will be successful. I admire Joly's effort to disrupt the current paradigm. Anything that gets the filmmakers and the audience closer is a good thing. Anything that "disintermediates" opens the door for certain kinds of projects that won't get made if Telefilm and SODEC analysts have anything to say about it, which they do. At the same time, there are movies that need a couple of decision makers to make a gut check -- you can't really sell them until they've been made. There's room for both kinds of movies and room for both kinds of distribution paradigms.

It will be interesting to see what Joly and Cinecoup come up with.

UPDATE:  Markuze has his own issues with this program


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