Checked out the Espresso book machine today at McNally Jackson books. It’s an on-demand printer that can print and bind a single copy of a book. They had some samples out and it was quite impressive – I couldn’t tell the difference in quality from what came out of the machine and what was on the shelves.
They boast being able to print over 4 million copies, but just about all of those are public domain. Where it gets interesting their program for authors to self publish (and publishers participate too, where royalties are split upon each printing).
Now the distribution cost is nearly zero and someone can buy and hold a physical copy of your book. But you still run into the problems of shopping online, where unless your stuff is on the front page or featured, chances that someone will find it in the catalog without knowing what to look for are slim (aside from other sources and your own marketing).
I was surprised that there wasn’t a featured Espresso book table, filled not with stacks of books to buy, but featured books you can get printed on demand at the machine.
I first read about the Espresso Book Machine (there’s a few around the country, check out On Demand Books) in Monocle. How does a small bookstore compete with the unlimited inventory of Amazon and instant gratification of eBooks? The book machine brings the advantages of both to a brick and mortar store.
This lead me to wonder if we’ll see on-demand DVD printing? CreateSpace does it now, but online. Will we see a machine that will make a retail quality DVD (not the purple DVD-R disc) on demand from a massive library? Can there be a network of these machines in stores around the country, and all we have to do for distribution is upload the DVD image and artwork to a central server? What if you found them in movie theaters? Make yourself a copy of the film right after watching it.
At the right price this could be a new model and life for DVDs.
Bots High was rejected from SXSW. Bots High is playing next Tuesday in Austin in a SXSW venue. This Friday it will also be represented at an official SXSW event. This took about two emails and ten minutes to make happen. And it’s free. Here’s how.
Bots High is my feature documentary on high school battling robots. I finished it about two months ago and have been working on a DIY distribution model at schools, theaters, co-working sites, and pretty much anywhere with a screen. SXSW was obviously a top choice to premiere at, but I got the rejection email and moved on to other plans (like having a World Premiere on my own terms).
Fast forward a few weeks, I get an email from a friend about documenting a Miami StartupBus that’s heading to SXSW. 30 entrepreneurs have 48 hours to start a company on a bus to present at SXSW.
So now that I’m going to end up at SXSW, I figured I might as well capitalize on that opportunity. I jokingly threw out an idea of an underground screening – set up a projector and show the film on the side of a building or something. But from this joke I got a pretty good response – people said they would come if it was playing.
A projection on the side of the building didn’t seem ideal, so now I started thinking of other venues. This is about two weeks before the festival – any obvious place will either be booked or insanely expensive.
Then I started thinking about schools – there’s University of Texas nearby, have to be a bunch of high schools and middle schools – and they all have auditoriums. I checked out UT’s website – not only do they have an engineering school, they have a Women in Engineering Program. And I’ve got a film that features all girl teams building robots – I feel a win-win happening here.
So I shot them an email, got a reply from Tricia the Director who thought it was a great idea and booked an auditorium Tuesday evening, the week of SXSW. The day before there will be a SXSW panel in the same room – so it’s not a venue in the middle of nowhere.
I feel like this was bizarrely too easy, and that leads me to wonder why I’ve never heard of other films doing this, aside from maybe the start of Slamdance.
Major festivals attract large crowds, and what festival goers wouldn’t love a free screening of a film? This is a really interesting model I definitely want to explore further. I wish I had more lead time so I could get more swag together, like stickers, t-shirts, 3 lb. robot battles…
The other SXSW event I’ll be at is an Ignite/Dorkbot event. Ignite is a collection of 5 minute presentations, 20 slides each set to auto-advance every 15 seconds. They’re really cool. But it was Dorkbot that drew my attention – if you have the word ‘robot’ or ‘bot’ in your title, you’re a target for my film.
Before the Ignite talks there’s going to be a “science fair” with booths setup with projects on display. I emailed them, knowing I was late to the game, if I could get a booth for Bots High and surprisingly they had some open spots. And this is an official SXSW event. So if I play the whole movie on my laptop, does this mean Bots High officially played at SXSW?
The timing works out perfectly as well, because Dorkbot is Friday, the screening is Tuesday, so it’ll be a great opportunity to promote the screening.
My other SXSW experiment will be how to make the most of the festival without a badge.
So if you’re at the festival, please come by one of the events. Or shoot me an email and we can meet up. And if you’re not there, please spread the word! Here’s the Facebook Event Page.
Damn, it’s been long since my last post. Too long. It’s not from forgetting – I have dry erase boards and notecards full of blog posts ideas. And Andrew and I have had countless conversations that end with, “This should be a Coffee and Celluloid Post.” They just never made it from the list or conversation to the computer screen. Until now.
This post is basically going to be a bulleted recap of the past few months. Hopefully I’ll go back and elaborate on certain points, but for now this’ll do to get us up to speed, so I can write about the many upcoming adventures that are planned.
We’ll start right after the last post, when I was stuck in an airport and ranted about Chris Gore’s book. About a month later I realized Chris Gore is on G4 now. I like G4, I think they should play my movie. So I’m sorry Chris Gore, I’ll just pretend the 4th Edition of your book doesn’t exist and continue to refer to your 3rd edition.
Traveled to Texas to get Bots High sound designed
Sent out the first batch of screeners to film festivals
Went to New York to get the film color timed. Escaped before the snow storms hit.
Bots High is officially a finished picture!
More festival submissions
In January I had a sneak peek screening of the film. This was because SXSW, which was the goal to premiere at, of course has premiere requirements. So I had a sneak peek / cast and crew / fundraiser screening, with pretty much no ability to market it due to fear of “getting caught.”
Turns out that was all for naught, since I got rejected from SXSW, True/False, and some other minor festivals
Accepted into Florida Film Festival (schedule posted soon)
Said, “Fuck festivals and their premiere bullshit, I’m going to have the premiere on my own terms.” So this Saturday I’m four-walling a movie theater and having the official world premiere of Bots High in conjunction with the BotsIQ National Robotics Competition, the same competition the film was shot at. While the screening is free, going to sell DVDs and posters at the door.
Lining up more screenings at alternative venues and planning different pricing experiments, from free to ticket sharing to flat screening rate.
Just today it was confirmed that I am going to SXSW, but for a completely different reason (going to SXSW Interactive). Seriously considering planning an underground screening of Bots High while I’m out there.
Plus there’s a lot of tech talk to write about, from DVD encoding (and making it look good) to Avid vs FCP to XML and Final Cut to Blu-ray burning.
But actually going to a NASCAR race I can better understand why 140k people would go too – they make it an event and experience that you can’t replicate by watching it on TV. And that’s why I’m writing about NASCAR – because like a film screening, it’s all about adding something that you can’t get by watching at home.
Merchandise – Outside of the track each driver had their own mobile 18-wheeler gift shop. Everyone’s their own brand.
Follow Your Driver – And not just on Twitter. You can rent or buy a radio scanner and tune in to the radio chat between your driver and the pit crew, to get a more immersive experience while watching the race (I assume they say more than, “Turn left! Go fast! Keep turning left!”). Sprint goes one step further with FanView, which is a scanner and wireless TV, so you can listen in, watch the TV feed, or watch your driver’s in-car camera while pulling up stats.
Visit the Pit Area – This was by far my favorite. With a special ticket, you can go down to the pit area a few hours before the race and check everything out, take some photos, chat it up.
To get to the pit area you walk across the track. It’s pretty cool to be down there and feel the angle of the track and how massive it is.
The pit area.
You can also get a picture in the Winner’s Circle (or have one of the Fan Photographers take one for you, which of course you can purchase later).
Of course nerdy me noticed a RED camera team and this one with a Phantom V2 high-speed camera.
What other event lets you bring your own couch to the sidelines?
For some cross-promotion action, before the race started The A-Team van drove out on the track to bring the starting flag. But once it did start it was pretty much what I expected – cars driving around in circles. I saw a lot of people with scanners, some pointing at their car, telling them to go faster (they can’t hear you, dude). And of course there’s the obvious draw that I kind of left out – an excuse to drink as much as you want.
There is something to be said to feel the intensity of 40 high speed cars driving past you, but that wears off in about five minutes.
Apparently there was a time when a young filmmaker such as yourself could make a decent independent film, submit it to festivals and sit back while distributors threw wads of cash at your feet, all while begging for the privilege to give your little indie the theatrical release it rightfully deserved. Well if that time ever existed have no doubt – it’s long since passed.
These days, the fairy tale seems much more Hans Christen Andersen than Walt Disney. Case in point – today I attended a panel discussion on Digital Distribution as part of the Miami International Film Festival, where I sat before the likes of filmmaker Jon Reiss and Arianna Bocco (of IFC fame) as well as reps from Cinetic and the no-longer-in-business B-Side Entertainment. If there’s a simple way to summarize the 90 minute conversation it’s this quote from John Reiss:
If you want to make an independent film and also make money you must “find a superniche that spends money and make your movies for them.”
The idea is that these days the flip side of DIY production is DIY distribution. They go part-n-parcel. If you’re signing up for one of them, you’re signing up for the other. So as an independent filmmaker it behooves you to figure out who wants to see your movie and how they will see it before you set out on the already difficult task of making. This brought up the first excellent idea of the discussion – Hire a Marketing Producer from day one.
In practice, filmmakers never work alone – the job is just too daunting for one person, no matter how big their ego. Instead, films are made through team work. In this example, the core film-making team includes a producer whose role is primarily promotional. While the other producer is scouting locations, contacting SAG and clearing music, this producer is taking behind the scenes videos, hustling up twitter followers, selling t-shirts and maintaining the production blog. The reality is that this job is so utterly crucial to a films success that it can no longer be relegated to an after thought, especially since it seems that company’s like Netflix determine whether or not to pick up a film based on the amount of buzz it has prior to it’s festival run.
Other things I picked up:
Marketing and distribution is so crucial that half of your budget should be reserved for it. If you only have $10,000 to make your film, spend 5k on the production and save the rest for distribution.
When releasing your DIY movie the biggest obstacle you will face is not piracy, it’s lack of exposure.
The time has come to redefine “theatrical release.” Back in the day, a movie theater was a dark room with a working projector and enough seats for a handful of people. We’re going back to that. If you play your cards right, free screenings can raise awareness and push DVD and merch sales.
There are tons of options available when it comes to online aggregators (people who will help get your movie on iTunes and other credible places). Find one that has great reach and favorable conditions and little upfront cost.
Treat your films like children – if you nurture them correctly, they’ll come back and take care of you in your old age.
The distribution landscape is everchanging. Be flexible. Be aggressive. Also, check out Dynamo. It’s relevant.
I couldn’t find a way to shoe-horn this into my rambling, but if you’re interesting in the future of digital distribution filmmaker Barry Jenkins talks about his experiences in this excellent interview with NoFilmSchool.