First off, apologies for not getting this lot up on Wednesday – a dead PC and multiple domestic crises pertaining to Christmas got in the way. But here you go!
The conference was moderated by Nick Roddick of Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company. He opened with the notion that it is not a “digital future” so much as a “digital present” and this really resonated with me: I have spent so long producing simply words on a page that I have not really given much thought to the changing face of production. Just how will we be affected as writers and how will this change turn out? The bad news is, no one really seems to know; the good news is, there are plenty of people out there with interesting ideas and business models to help digital production really establish itself in the UK and thanks to the internet – *beyond*.
In the morning the first of the sessions were devoted to marketing and Simon Oakes of legendary horror prodco Hammer and Helen Brunsdon and Robin Gladman of the fab Aardman had positive things to say about the transition to digital. Simon was particularly vocal, believing the internet is not a threat to the industry but an “effective marketing tool”: this is backed up by Hammer’s recent jaunt into MySpace with its own mini series due to be launched in March 2008 called Beyond The Rave. Helen and Robin agreed; their jobs at Aardman basically involve seeking and raising finance for new programming and they believe all the different platforms out there – like the internet, but let’s not forget good ol’ mobiles – will really offer new avenues for filmmakers to get their stuff “out there”. They did have a sage warning for those who believe the internet is a dead cert however: the public don’t like to be manipulated; if you’re putting your stuff on the ‘net for no other reason than you’re trying to make your first million, you won’t get very far. Internet distribution is not the easy way, it’s just as hard as the traditional routes in terms of connecting with audiences, “increasingly savvy users will find you out”.
We were joined next by Grace Carley of All Industry Marketing and Teun Hilte of Content Republic: Teun Hilte explained that Content Republic is all about “the unlocking oh the value of film online” and that this does not refer only to the actual film, but extras like Teasers, Trailers, “makings of” etc. Grace Carley’s outfit then is more about promoting the cinema experience rather than film itself and this was an interesting pairing, for in some respects they were diametrically opposed about their views of film and its digitalisation, though Grace later conceded that approximately 58% of people decide to watch a film in the cinema from its trailer, so she could see the value in putting trailers on the internet in order to get people into the cinema. Teun believes that we can learn from people’s behaviour online marketing-wise; perhaps seeing what users click on can actually in theory help customise film online’s content? He also made the point that there is a section of society who just will not go to the cinema: they exist almost exclusively online, should we not cater for them? Grace agreed, we should and Nick Roddick made the point that Cinema nearly died with the advent of home video until they “joined forces”: is it not time for Cinema and Internet to do the same?
The next session was devoted to distribution and this is where my notes get a little hazy I’m afraid since there was a LOT of technical jargon I simply didn’t understand – what with encoding and whatnot. However I can tell you the first session brought us Phillip Schluter from Content Lizenz Agentur (CLA) and Michel Peters from Content Republic (CLA’s function is very similar to Content Republic’s, as outlined in the previous paragraph) and Alfred Chubb from Arts Alliance Media. Much was made in this session about the fact that the indie distribution market is incredibly fragmented in comparison to the studios’ market which tends to give them global rights. I did a bit about distribution at university, so I think I followed and it boils down to the fact that we’ve got all these territories (Asia, Europe, The States, etc) and the “little man” is kept from accessing them in the same way as a big studio like, say, Paramount. Paramount can go and put one of their big releases on iTune for example; an indie can’t on the basis that they won’t have rights across all the territories. In short, it’s a minefield – yet outfits like CLA and Content Republic can help with this, using the internet to the indie’s best advantage, so again this session was all about the positives of the digital situation. Apparently there are different portals like MySpace, Facebook etc are global and not subject to the same boundaries as “closed networks” like AOL, BT etc so you can distribute your indie film through them instead. One tip that was offered was the idea of promoting your movie through the portal by giving them something exclusive like stills, making of featurettes, etc so they can differentiate from their competitors in terms of pimping your movie – yet you still retain a non-exclusive deal.
The next session was all about exhibition and we were joined by Marc John of City Screen aka Picture House, Mark Cosgrove of The Watershed and Alex Stolz of The UK Film Council. This section was all about digital screens for cinemas; Alex reckons there’s still only about 240 digital cinema screens in the whole of the UK. The idea put forward here mostly was screen space is valuable, it has to be a viable film supported by (and this was the most interesting bit I thought) a “proper” marketing scheme: they were all quite insistent that this means the “floodgates of crap” are not about to open. Mark Cosgrove was keen to stress the difference between being a lone independent like his venture The Watershed and corporate independents like Picturehouse and Marc John believed that diversification was what was needed – and showed us some clips of how Picture House is doing that, showing rock concerts on the big screen with satellite link ups for Q&As with the stars as one example of this.
That’s it for the morning sessions… Lots more to report on, but I’ll write about the afternoon sessions as soon as I can. I think I will also go into more detail on a few of the interesting elements that came up and explore them from a writer’s POV, what do you think? Let me know.