Panasonic HVX-200 for sale...

I'm selling my venerable Panasonic HVX-200 and its 8GB P2 card. No, I'm not giving up filmmaking; I just don't need the camera. I was looking to rent an HVX this summer for a few weeks to do some shooting in Knoxville and Roanoke. For the few weeks I needed it, a rental wasn't really cost-effective, so I just bit the bullet and bought the camera. Now that we've got a few HVX's at Virginia Tech, I don't need to hang on to this one. As many people who read this blog would probably testify, it is an awesome camera. The DVCPro HD codec at 24P is totally impressive. Anyway, if you're interested, email me personally [ pharrill AT you-know-what DOT com ]. You can ask me all about it and I can let you know all the details, accessories, etc. I'd rather sell it to a reader of SRF than put it up on Ebay, so I'll entertain any reasonable, sincere offer.

UPDATE: Looks like it's sold folks. Thanks for your interest!

Fundraising Tips: Money Trees and House Parties

I was speaking with a fellow filmmaker the other day who was asking me for tips on finding grants for fiction films. I've been successful at finding grant-based funding for my work ("Gina, An Actress, Age 29" was supported by the sadly now-defunct Aperture Film Grant), but I had to break the disappointing news that those sources are few and far between for fiction work these days. Having said that, if you're developing a not-for-profit film/video project -- say, a social-issue documentary or a youth video project -- there is money out there. A great introduction to finding money is Morrie Warshawski's Shaking The Money Tree, 2nd Edition.

I read Shaking the Money Tree years ago when it was still in its first edition. Since then I've probably raised close to $100,000 in grant monies for various projects (my own and others') since reading it. Documentarians will probably benefit from it the most, but I strongly recommend it to filmmakers that need help raising funds for their films, or fund-raisers new to film and video production, regardless of film genre.

One fundraising strategy that's discussed briefly in Shaking The Money Tree is given its own extended treatment in Warshawski's newly revised The Fundraising Houseparty, 2nd Edition.

As Warshawski points out in this slim volume's introduction, individual donors account for 87% of all non-profit endeavors. Fundraising houseparties are a way to bring such individuals together and introduce them to a project that might deserve their support.

I've never hosted a houseparty (nor had one hosted for my work), but I have attended a couple, so I have a decent grasp of what works and what doesn't. Warshawski's guide is the best I've seen on what can be an intimidating process for the uninitiated. The basics are spelled out in easy-to-read prose, with straightforward diagrams and illustrations helping to walk you through the process. The appendix even includes sample invitation letters and a worksheet. Yes, some of this stuff is common sense ("Thank People as They Leave" states one heading), but other topics aren't ("taxes").

As the saying goes, you gotta spend money to make money. At $20 (or less) each, these books are a pretty good investment for anyone considering or pursuing the not-for-profit realm of moviemaking. If you have other tips or reading suggestions, share them in the comments below.

IFP Rough Cut Lab

Tom Quinn, who I got to know during my stint as a visiting professor at Temple, has an interesting write-up of his experiences at the IFP Rough Cut lab over at Workbook Project. The clips I've seen of Tom's work-in-progress The New Year Parade have all been very promising. Like a lot of truly independent works, it's had a long birthing process, which has just amped up my anticipation of it. Happily, it sounds like the Lab may be that last little push Tom needed to complete the film and get it out to audiences.

In the meantime, read Tom's take on the Lab here.

Caffeine, Sequels, and Remakes...

When I realized that caffeine could be attributed to at least a few of the several headaches I get on a monthly basis, I gave it up. I've been off caffeine for over 15 years now. In addition to it helping with the headaches, I learned early on in the process how good it felt to just deny something to yourself. To echo one of the legends of self-reliance, denial helps one live deliberately. It's been so long since I had a caffeinated beverage that I take it for granted now, but I was thinking about it today when reading Matthew Jeppsen's post at FresHDV in which he quotes a recent interview with Ridley Scott.

Scott says:

I think movies are getting dumber, actually. Where it used to be 50/50, now it's 3% good, 97% stupid. [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford] is one of those rarities that does get made, thank God, and has serious characterisation and serious things to say. Altogether it's a wonderful, dramatic and historic piece. But it's becoming more and more difficult to get films like this made.

I've sometimes found Ridley Scott's work to be an example of (admittedly great) style over substance, but am I ever in agreement here.

In an effort to quantify the dumbness, what follows is a list of the top 20 grossing movies of 2007 to-date, in order. Films in bold are not sequels or based on previously existing franchises (i.e., a comic book or television series).

Spider-Man 3 - sequel (#3) / comic book franchise Shrek the Third - sequel (#3) Transformers - based on TV show Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - sequel (#3) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - sequel / book franchise The Bourne Ultimatum - sequel (#3) / based on book franchise 300 Ratatouille The Simpsons Movie - based on 17 year-old TV series Wild Hogs Knocked Up Live Free or Die Hard - sequel (#4) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - sequel (#2) / based on comic book franchise Rush Hour 3 - sequel (#3) Blades of Glory I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry Ocean's Thirteen - second sequel to a remake Ghost Rider - debatable: based on comic book franchise.... Hairspray - based on broadway show, which was based on movie Superbad

Out of 20 films, seven or eight are "original", if you can call Wild Hogs and Blades of Glory "original." [Addendum: Adaptations of non-franchise literature, etc. count as original works. See discussion in comments below.]

If that doesn't get you down, look at the all-time top grossing movies in the USA, where you'll see that 13 of the 20 were released in the last seven years. Of those 13, two (The Passion of the Christ and Finding Nemo) aren't sequels, remakes, or based on pre-existing franchises.

Shutting myself in a dark room isn't going to make the headache that is this list of movies go away, but I am going to give up watching any new sequels and remakes. Even if some of these movies are ok, I'm sick of the practice in general principle. Why encourage Hollywood to do it any longer? Like caffeine, I'm going cold turkey, giving this stuff up in toto.

Sure, I might miss something like Cronenberg's The Fly or Sirk's Imitation of Life (two of my favorite remakes), but something tells me the withdrawal period will last shorter than when I gave up caffeine.

UPDATE 9/23/07: Alert reader AJ Broadbent has sent word of even more dissenting opinions. Click here for the full story!!

No Budget Film School

Back in January, I participated in a conversation on DIY filmmaking with Workbook Project founder Lance Weiler (Head Trauma) and Mark Stolaroff (producer and founder of the No Budget Film School). I enjoyed the discussion and certainly learned a few things myself. Mark recently notified me that his No Budget Film School is holding a two-day immersion workshop entitled, "The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking" in Los Angeles next weekend (8/25 & 8/26), so I thought I'd pass the word along.

I haven't attended one of these workshops myself, so I can't directly endorse it. I will say, though, that the list of confirmed Guest Speakers -- which includes Peter Broderick (President, Paradigm Consulting; former President, Next Wave Films), Craig Zobel (Director, Great World Of Sound - 2007 Sundance), and Ti West (Director, The Roost; Trigger Man) looks promising.

And it's not terribly expensive as far as these things go. The two-day workshop is $275 in advance; $200 if you're a college student with ID. When you consider that all paid attendees of the workshop receive Axium Scheduling and Axium Budgeting software for free (reportedly a $400 value) it might end up being a pretty good bargain.

If you're in L.A. and you're debating whether or not to go, you might give that conference between Lance, Mark, and me a listen. If you like what Mark has to say, check out the workshop.

Hooray for Nollywood!

Intrepid reader Ben Hartman alerted me to a fine, if all too short, article in Wired about the third largest film industry in the world. Where is that, you ask? Nigeria. The article is really a tease -- and an effective one at that -- for two recent US-produced documentaries, Welcome to Nollywood and This is Nollywood.

Until I can get my hands on those documentaries, and some actual Nollywood movies, here are some articles that I enjoyed reading today as I educated myself about the Nigerian film industry.

Cinema of Nigeria page on Wikipedia.

Welcome to Nollywood. An extensive article from The Guardian.

Nollywood drought at Fespaco. BBC article discusses allegations of snoobery at Africa's most prestigious film festival towards Nollywood pix.

Step Aside, L.A. and Bombay, for Nollywood. NYT article from 2002(!).

The Nollywood Phenomenom. Article found on the World Intellectual Property Association website (WIPO's website tells me that it is a "specialized agency of the United Nations").

New Doc Qualifying Rules: Arguments, Notes, Questions

Over at All These Wonderful Things, AJ Schnack writes in depth on a subject that has long been a source of contention and debate in the documentary community: The Academy's rules for qualifying for the Oscars. Probably the biggest change is "Rule IV.2":

In addition to the Seven-Day Qualifying Exhibition, feature documentaries must complete a Multi-State Theatrical Rollout consisting of fourteen other exhibitions, as defined in Paragraph III.2, of at least three consecutive days each, at least twice daily, in any standard commercial format. These exhibitions must be distributed among ten or more states in the U.S. and must be completed by Thursday, November 15, 2007.

I was surprised when I first read about this rule (in John Sinno's Open Letter to the Academy). Mainly, I wondered how many docs could actually qualify for such a thing; it seemed unrealistic. AJ, though, is in support of the new rule and he makes a very convincing argument in support of the new policy. Pragmatically, he notes that several films qualified this year and, philosophically, he argues that

if you weren't hoping, weren't planning, weren't thinking all along that you'd have a real theatrical [run], then you shouldn't be thinking Oscar.

I found myself surprised to agree with him. My only lingering question on the issue is whether these rules are actually more restrictive than those applied to narrative features. To the best of my understanding -- and I could certainly be wrong on this -- a film like Letters from Iwo Jima really only needs a one-week qualifying run in New York or L.A. to be considered for the Oscars. If this is the case, why hold docs to a different standard? It seems like the best way to maintain integrity in the process is to have narratives and docs follow the same rules.

Aside from this minor point, I only found myself disagreeing with AJ one one other issue -- his support for the 35mm print requirement, which remains for docs short-listed for the Oscar. AJ writes:

Some filmmakers have complained that if your film is shortlisted, you must produce a 35mm film print, a costly process that is starting to seem unnecessary in the midst of the digital revolution. I find this complaint a bit hard to swallow, considering that just 6 years ago you couldn't play a film festival without a print, but Apted says that it's something the Documentary Branch is looking at, and that it's conceivable that in the near future you wouldn't have to have a print if you made the semifinals.

Actually, I think the 35mm print rule is a legitimate complaint.

While it's true that six years ago you couldn't play a festival without a print, it's also true that six years ago the theatrical experience was defined by 35mm film prints. Today, projection on 35mm is still the standard, but it no longer defines the theatrical experience. Digital projection in commercial cinemas has become increasingly commonplace. We are in an era where some viewers can go see a digitally shot, digitally projected "theatrical film" like Zodiac, as I did.

Furthermore, most documentaries these days -- including all five nominated last year -- were shot on some form of video. A 35mm blow up may be an "up-rez", but it is, in all likelihood, a decrease in visual quality of the camera original footage. In all likelihood, the best looking version is the film's videotape color-corrected edit master tape, which is probably on HDCAM SR. Heck, it might be on DVCam.

My point is this: If a film can qualify for the Oscar without ever making a print (by the new rules, it can), and if a 35mm print is a downgrade in quality (as any 35mm blow up is) then why create some flaming hoop for cash-strapped filmmakers and/or distributors to jump through? This would be a minor point, of course, if such prints didn't cost $20,000 or more. That's chump change for a studio; for the smaller outfits that distribute documentaries I would imagine that's a hefty price for what sounds like a few screenings for the Documentary Committee to decide whether or not you'll be nominated.

The supreme irony of all of this angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debating is that if a movie ends up being nominated, most people will judge the film on DVD screeners at home. This is true of both fiction and documentary features but, either way, what's "theatrical" about that?


Healthy (and ultimately minor) disagrements aside AJ's whole article is great food for thought, at least if you're a documentarian (or advocate of them) or if you follow the Oscars in that Inside Baseball sort of way.

Ten Commandments from HDforIndies

Mike Curtis posted an amusing and, more importantly, instructive rant over at HDforIndies. The post, entitled "OK Indies, listen up - 10 THINGS NOT TO DO", is a litany of Bad Things that Mike probably encounters once a day in his work as a post-production guru. Eight of the DON'Ts are technology related. Five, in fact, deal in some way with the Panasonic DVX-100. That camera has earned its spot in the Pantheon of Great Indy Film Tools, no doubt, but its framerate settings (60i, 30p, 24p, 24pAdvanced) can cause a lot of problems if you don't fully understand them. The fact that most of these problems happen in post-production only adds to the misery -- if you've shot in multiple formats without understanding their differences and potential incompatibilities, you may have really hurt your project.

If you don't understand this stuff, check out the CallBox DVD or read carefully in the DVXUser forums.

The two non-technology issues have Mike addressing the fact that so many poor independent filmmakers want him to do their tech consulting for free. Though his blog (like many others, including this one) provides information freely, Mike's really in business to sell his expertise and information. Since the "product" Mike sells has no physical properties (i.e., it's not a car or a widget) people seem to think that it should be given freely since it can be asked for freely.

I can relate. Since I teach, it's my obligation -- and it's my pleasure -- to give my information freely to my students. I also try to serve the community (both the film community and my local community) in different ways. But you have to draw the line somewhere in order to do your own work and to pay the bills.

Mike's answer to people needing answers to specific post-production questions is that you can "pray to Google" or hire him. I'm someone who's done both. Here's a post from the past of my own experience in hiring Mike as a consultant.

An Open Letter to the Academy

John Sinno's open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is worth a read, so I'm posting it below. Sinno was one of the producers of James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, a documentary full of poetry and ambiguity -- uncommon virtues for such a political film. Like the movie, the letter speaks for itself.

John Sinno Typecast Films 3131 Western Ave Suite 514 Seattle, Washington, USA March 2, 2007

An open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers' craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very "real" quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films "incredibly depressing!"

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld's remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind's reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries "incredibly depressing," he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they're nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general.

To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology.

Seinfeld's introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers' work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision.

On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we'e living in.

John Sinno Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

DVGuru's Demise: On AOL and the owning of blogs

DVGuru, the valuable group blog about most things video and film, is no more as of Wednesday. I read it daily, which I can't say of many websites. I'm disappointed, as are a lot of other readers. What made it an especially useful site was the fact that it served as a kind of aggregator for more specialized and esoteric film/video content-related websites around the web. But beyond aggregation, the writers had a talent for quickly summing up an issue and then leading you to the original source. As a reader -- and as someone whose own writing was at times cited by DVGuru's editors -- I really appreciated that. Alas, I'll now have to find some of my news from other sources.

The announcement caught a few people off guard. What's the story?

I've heard and read that DVGuru, along with some other blogs, were given the axe by AOL, the company that owns Weblogs, Inc. There was nothing controversial about these sites that led to their shutdown -- in these cases it's always about money. Ads weren't selling or getting clicked through or, in all likelihood, it was just too much trouble for AOL to do the research to figure out who should be advertising.

I understand why AOL wanted to acquire Weblogs, Inc. It's a way to own content, and doing so would be a throwback to AOL's dial-up heyday, those halcyon days when it housed a good percentage of the polished content on the internet. The difference is that, in the mid-late 90s, AOL's content was general information, the "frontpage" kind of face that Yahoo and others provide these days. Blogs are different though; almost all of them focus on niche markets. Some companies get this; others mail out millions of CD-roms pleading with you to use dial-up.

(As a point of comparison, consider Google's approach to weblogs. Google didn't try to acquire various popular blogs. It acquired Blogger. The same thinking, no doubt, went into their acquisition of YouTube. Google doesn't want the content. It wants the delivery system for the content.)

Anyway, I'm not going to wring my hands about this -- there are, after all, another billion or so websites out there to read, and there is no such thing as death on the internet. Still, it only re-confirms my skepticism about the long-term viability of corporate-owned weblogs.

So long, DVGuru. It was good to know ya.

Self-Reliant Film Store

I get a fair number of emails asking me to recommend this or that book, or asking what films constitute a "Self-Reliant Film canon" and so on. So I thought that I'd add a modest Amazon store so that I can simply point people towards books I recommend, movies I like (or want to see), and so on. You can access the store by clicking the link below and, after this post loses prominence, you can always access the store by clicking on the SRF Store in the menu bar at the top of the site, just under the banner.

Purchasing through the store will help offset the costs of server space, etc. so if you do purchase something, thanks a bunch!

Finally, if this feels crassly commercial, please note that the header of the SRF store says "Stuff to Buy or Borrow." Knowing what you need and don't need to buy are good principles of self-reliance. If you got some of these things from your local library or a friend I'm sure Thoreau and Emerson would be proud.

Click here to enter the SRF Store.

I'll be doing holiday stuff over the next week. When I return I'll be doing some posts related to a new film project of mine. Happy Thanksgiving!

A Swarm of Angels

Matt over at FresHDV had an interesting post the other day about A Swarm of Angels, which is a self-described attempt to create "cult cinema for the Internet era." On one level, this isn't that different than what I wrote about in my last post: Filmmakers using the internet to raise funds for a project that harnesses the collaborative nature and spirit of the internet. Still, some key differences make me skeptical about its potential for success, at least compared with a project like Lost in Light on Have Money Will Vlog:

First, instead of trying to raise $1500, they're trying to raise a little over half a million dollars. I have no doubt that it is possible to raise that kind of money over the internet, but this project is essentially asking people to pay about $18 to participate. Maybe that's reasonable? Personally, I would rather give money to a more personal project like Lost in Light

Secondly, the project is trying to enlist 1000 people to help create it. Again, I think you can find this many people to collaborate on a project. Firefox, Wikipedia... these are great examples of internet, open-source collaboration. But are 1000 heads better than one (or even 20) when it comes to feature filmmaking? Snakes on a Plane, as one previous example, isn't exactly Exhibit A for the so-called "wisdom of crowds."

Reservations aside, I'll be interested to see the project evolve and I wish the best of luck to the participants. All one thousand of you.

Gotham Award Nominees

IndieWire has a story on the Gotham Award nominees. Eugene Hernandez clearly seems nonplussed by at least a few of the selections, stating that it's "a selection of films that may stun some observers" and then reporting that indieWire asked IFP Executive Director Michelle Byrd to "reiterate the criteria" for nomination. While I respect indieWire's attempt at so-called "objective" journalism, wouldn't it be so much more interesting for them to just come out and say what they really think instead of having us read between the lines? Hm. Perhaps an editorial is in the works?

Clearly, of the five nominees for Best Feature, a couple, maybe even three, seem out of place. Of course, which two or three depends on your definition of "independent film."

There will probably not be any disputes over the "indie cred" of the "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" nominees: Steve Barron's "Choking Man," Richard Wong's "Colma: The Musical," So Yong Kim's "In Between Days," Jake Clennell's "The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief," and Goran Dukic's "Wristcutters: A Love Story." Congrats to the nominees.

UPDATE: IndieWire gets response from the indie (and indiewood) community and finds lots of questions and criticism.

David Lynch self-distributing Inland Empire

David Lynch has decided to self-distribute his new film, Inland Empire. The Hollywood Reporter has the story. Says THR:

After a flurry of rumors pointing to just about every indie studio in the business, director David Lynch has worked out a deal with French producers Studio Canal to self-distribute his three-hour epic digital video feature "Inland Empire," in the U.S. and Canada. Producer Mary Sweeney said the plan will "explore a new model of distribution."

Lynch will work with well-known theatrical and home video partners to launch his epic fever dream of a film, retaining all rights to the low-budget project in each service deal. The partnerships will be announced within the next week.

If you've read any of the press about this movie so far, you already know it's a labor of love for Lynch. He shot it on DV over two and a half years; he says he's never going back to film. To me, DIY distribution is a logical next step. What makes this noteworthy is DIY is so often associated with younger filmmakers trying to "break in." Here we have an older, established filmmaker going back to basics.

Of course, some will say that Lynch's decision to self-distribute is simply a response to the fact he didn't receive any offers, or good offers, from major distributors. I have no idea if Lynch did or didn't get offers but, even if that's true, one shouldn't take that as an indication of quality: Should we be surprised, especially in today's climate, that this film scares off distributors? Lynch has never made blockbusters, this film is 3 hours long, and it's reportedly one of his most impenetrable movies (and that's saying something).

Self-distribution (or brokered self-distribution, like IFC's First Take or Truly Indie) is, more and more, the way that the real labors of love reach audiences these days. Is it surprising, then, that Inland Empire is any different? Yes, a little. But that makes me that much more interested.

Until we hear more about how the release will unfold, you can watch Lynch, and IE stars Laura Dern and Justin Theroux, on YouTube doing Q&A at the New York Film Festival. More indieWire coverage here. The reviews from NYFF and Venice have already begun.

And, speaking of getting back to basics, here's an amusing review from the past.

Amazon Unbox, or: The Price of Immediate Gratification

You've probably heard that Amazon has gone live with it's movie download service -- Amazon Unbox. In the interests of movie-loving consumers everywhere I decided to visit the site for 30 seconds, role-playing as a prospective customer to this new technology, to report my first impressions. Here's how it went:

0-5 seconds: The Unbox page loads.

6-10 seconds: Oh, ok, it's the same old stuff. Hey, there's a list of what other people are buying. What are the tastes of the early adopters? Lots of TV shows, Office Space, The Family Stone, Walk the Line...

11-15 seconds: Wow these seem overpriced to me: The Matrix via Unbox digital download is $9.88, while the DVD from Amazon is... the same price.

16-20 seconds: Oh hey, look: I can get The Matrix on DVD from one of Amazon's Marketplace Sellers, for $1.98. That seems reasonable for a mass-produced piece of Hollywood entertainment that's seven years old. Plus, if I buy this DVD I would have a permanent hard copy that can be played on a DVD player, unlike what the Unbox regulations allow. And it's at that point that I stopped looking.


Unbox is clearly aimed at people wanting immediate gratification. I can't WAIT two-to-five days for The Matrix to arrive in the mail -- I need it now! But I think you always pay extra for immediate gratification -- sometimes in cash, sometimes otherwise.

I would, however, consider using Unbox for movies that were otherwise not available on DVD. Something tells me that this might take a while to materialize, but Amazon says its in the works.

One final note: The Unbox page for The Matrix says those with DSL might need about 68 minutes to download. (Cable modem speeds are MUCH faster.) If you have DSL, it will take you longer to download this movie than it would to drive to your local video store. Then again, that would require that you interact with human beings. You make the call.

UPDATE: Beyond the issues outlined above, there are apparently some pretty insidious things buried in the agreement Amazon asks (read: demands) of its customers. Read this fancifully titled post from BoingBoing for more.

AIVF: Gone. The Independent: Stayin' Alive

I just received an email from AIVF, which answers some of my earlier questions about the fate of The Independent:

AIVF Closing Operations While Moving Forward with The Independent.

AIVF is closing its operations and will vacate its office space by the end of July. In June, a group of supporters gathered to explore the potential for a turnaround that would include hands-on management of the Independent magazine while also reinventing AIVF as a membership organization. Although the AIVF Board is grateful for these expressions of interest, we are not seeing sufficient capacity and resources in place to move ahead. Instead we are focusing on transitioning the Independent to new management and securing benefits for AIVF members through sister organizations.

In order to keep the Independent as an information resource and voice for the independent community, AIVF has approached potential successor organizations to take over publication—including a combination of print and expanded online resources. The AIVF will be reviewing proposals over the next month and we hope to have a concrete plan for transitioning the Independent in the fall.

"Americans' tastes are really broad."

The IFC Blog (which, by the way, you should read even if you don't watch -- or even get -- IFC) writes today about an article in the NYT about Netflix. Sounds like a worthwhile read. Here's the quote that whetted my appetite:

Its return from oblivion is a nice illustration of a brainteaser I have been giving my friends since I visited Netflix in Silicon Valley last month. Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix's inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day?

The most common answers have been around 1,000, which sounds reasonable enough. Americans tend to flock to the same small group of movies, just as they flock to the same candy bars and cars, right?

Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That's right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. "Americans' tastes are really broad," says Reed Hastings, Netflix's chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process.

I've believed this last bit for a long time, but I've only had anecdotal evidence to prove it (conversations with all sorts of non-film people, experiences on the festival circuit, etc.). It's great to hear the CEO of a company confirm my intuition with some data.

See also: The Long Tail.

AIVF is (probably) dead. Long live independent film.

In case you haven't heard the news, AIVF is shutting its doors. In indieWire's article on the subject AIVF's interim executive director Lina Srivastava says, "(The organization has) kind of gone into moth balls to a certain extent." Her choice of words suggests that the organization's status is still indeterminate, but what's indisputable is that the only two people left working for AIVF are Srivastava (who had always signed on to only an "interim" position with the organization) and Shana Liebman, editor of The Independent Film and Video Monthly. Hibernation? Coma? Death? I guess we'll have to wait to find out. In AIVF's semi-annual member surveys I was always a vocal critic of its service and outreach to filmmakers based anywhere but New York, and Jim McKay made the case better than I ever could about how the organization, though it desperately needed to transform itself, had not done so.

But, after speaking with some staffers in February as news of their crisis leaked out, I argued for its survival because I believed that this could be the wake-up call the organization needed.

Pretty soon into its funding drive, though, I saw that AIVF wasn't going to meet its (modest) goals, and I came to the conclusion that it's probably better for the long term that the organization close shop, at least for a while, and possibly forever.

Now that that's happened, we're left with more questions:

Will The Independent Film and Video Monthly live on in some other way, and if so, what shape will it take?

Will AIVF ever have its "moth balls" dusted off? If so, by whom and under what circumstances?

And, perhaps most pressingly, what organizations will take this as a wake-up call and transform themselves? And which ones will be the next to collapse?

One small bit of hope:

As I wrote in a post midway through the AIVF funding crisis, the controversial Showtime-Smithsonian deal would be an interesting test case of what things might be like in a world without AIVF. One of AIVF's strengths was as an advocate of the collective rights of independent filmmakers. Under normal circumstances AIVF would have led the charge against the licensing of America's "attic" to a private corporation.

Happily, it appears as if the filmmakers that banded together (without the help of AIVF or, to the best of my knowledge, any other organization -- see Brian's comment below) have been at least partially successful in getting Congress to take notice.

Undiscovered Gems

If you didn't read indieWire's press release about the Undiscovered Gems series, you should check it out. Basically, the series aims to be a mother to those motherless children of the independent film circuit -- those independent films deserving of an audience that somehow never manage to secure a distributors. The initiative is a partnership between Emerging Pictures, the New York Times, IndieWire, Sundance Channel, and the California Film Institute. The venues include:

Cinema Village (New York, NY) Market Arcade Film and Arts Center (Buffalo, NY) The Loft (Tucson, AZ) Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (San Rafael, CA) Theatre N at Nemours (Wilmington, NC) Cinema Paradiso (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) The Duncan Theatre at Stage West (Lake Worth, FL) Island Theatre (Martha's Vineyard, MA) Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center (Lincoln, NE) Circle Cinema (Tulsa, OK) Scranton Cultural Center (Scranton, PA)

Commentary: Because most of these venues aren't in places that are "major markets", releasing will be cheaper. This means more venues, more potential moviegoers -- a good thing for audiences and filmmakers alike.

I am, however, deeply troubled about the contest aspect of the series. According to the press release, "an audience prize competition will provide the winning filmmaker a cash award of $50,000, theatrical release in New York, Los Angeles and at least five other U.S. cities during 2007, as well as an exclusive broadcast on Sundance Channel."

It seems wildly unfair that audiences in a few select places essentially determine the viewing options for other audiences halfway across the country! Especially when those places are so culturally and geographically different! Just think -- the good people of Los Angeles will have their moviegoing choices dictated by folks in cities like Tulsa and Scranton! What an outrage!

Oh wait. This already happens everyday. Just in reverse.

All joking aside, congrats to the "filmmakers whose undiscovered gems" will be distributed. And if you're in a city with a venue listed above, enjoy the show.

Showtime/Smithsonian petition

Scott Macaulay has an in-depth post about a coalition of filmmakers petitioning to stop Showtime's licensing of the Smithsonian's archives. Anthony Kaufman's blog has a copy of the petition for you to download, as well as a link to the NY Times article on the movement. I encourage you to get involved.

In addition to rooting for the petition drive to work, I'm also curious to see the effectiveness of the petitioning for other reasons. As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is exactly the sort of issue that a healthy AIVF would have been able to lobby against in years past. Now, with AIVF ailing, the petition drive is an interesting test case that might predict how well filmmakers might be able to organize, advocate, and change the system in a world without AIVF.