Tag: sundance

Five Reasons Why “Whose Streets” is Essential Viewing

Posted on by admin

While at the Sundance Film Festival this past week I had the fortune to to see the premiere of “Whose Streets” by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis – produced by Jennifer MacArthur.   It was even more fortunate because I was able to view this powerful film on inauguration day and it provided wonderful counterprogramming. I was struck by a number of things in the film that still resonate with me almost a week later.

1. The film shows how far we still have to go as a nation to confront a legacy of slavery that is still with us.  The film wisely starts with a reference to the Dred Scott decision in 1846 and compares it to contemporary St. Louis and Ferguson. (In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court in one of its most notorious decisions, declared that since Dred Scott was a slave he was not a citizen. As such he did not have a right to sue for his freedom even though he lived in a non-slave state.)  This initial juxtaposition, along with the quotes from prominent black leaders that served as chapter breaks, was all the contextualization the audience needs.   Very soon we see the largely white police using overwhelming force to intimidate and control the primarily black citizens of Ferguson.  The dogs used for “crowd control” is enough to throw you back to the 60s and beyond.

2. The film does an incredible job of constructing the story of people living through the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death focusing on four activists:  Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed. Weaving a narrative from a wide range of filmed and archival/cell phone material the filmmakers provide a visceral experience where you feel that you are there on the streets with the mourners and protesters. You live the events with them, and see how truth unfolds through their eyes.  

3. I believe it might have been the LAPD under Daryl Gates that spearheaded the militarization of local police with armored battering rams being used in the early 1980s. (http://www.laweekly.com/news/the-militarization-of-police-started-in-los-angeles-5010287). The film Do Not Resist (http://www.donotresistfilm.com/) which came out last year, uses Ferguson as a backdrop to examine the increase in militarization of police forces across the country. But Whose Streets is the first film that I have seen that gives a sense of what it is like for American citizens conducting peaceful protests to come face to face with police in full combat gear flanked by armored personnel carriers.  Our founding fathers would be aghast.

4. I like to feel that I am a savvy media viewer – but the contrast presented by this film between the stories of the people on the ground and traditional news media was stunning.  As shown in Do Not Resist, the events of Ferguson have been used as a justification to increase the militarization of police forces in the US.  But Whose Streets deftly shows the distortion of the mainstream by constructing the reality of events as witnessed by those on the receiving end of force.  There is much talk about media bias these days and real stories not being told.  Somehow my bet is that most of the untold stories and media bias is of and against the marginalized.

  5. On the bus after the screening a white women commented on how she felt that there should have been many more interviews with white people to broaden the appeal of the film. But why does a film about black experience in America need to be mediated by white people?   I think she perhaps missed one of the key points of the film:  having a lived experience of how racism in American society has stayed embedded in our society.

I was inspired by the bravery of the activists in the film and their families in the face of such intense opposition. The film shows through the lives of Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed how difficult the struggle for human rights can be.   Coming at a time when our country is facing an attempt to push back gains made across the board in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, etc., the film is a much needed inspiration for activism and the need for continued struggle.




I am super excited to announce the publication of a new book written by myself, Sheri Candler and The Film Collaborative titled Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul!

I am also super excited to tell you that you can download the PDFor ePub version for free or by tomorrow you can order the paperback for $9.99 ($10 off the regular retail price of $19.99) by clicking here.
Continue reading →

Guest Post by Jon Fougner: Cinema Profitability

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I had the fortune of meeting Jon Fougner, who is the Principal, Product Marketing Monetization at Facebook at Sundance this year (he was showing filmmakers how best to use Facebook to connect with audiences). He works with the ads engineers and Product Managers to define products that will be successful in the marketplace. I mentioned Think Outside the Box Office and he said «Hey, I wrote this white paper on how movie theaters could be more profitable if they would experiment more, especially with online and social tools. Would you like to take a look at it?»  I immediately jumped at the chance to read it and publish it with my good friend Ted Hope.   The original is 4000 words – so we have broken it into 5 sections which we will run consecutively through the beginning of next week.   Jon will be appearing at the American Pavilion at Cannes on May 13th as well as the Produced By Conference in Los Angeles on June 4th.  He’s at facebook.com/jfougner.  Note that this draft was written last year; its qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the landscape are still fairly accurate, with at least one key exception: AMC has since revamped their loyalty program.  And as Jon predicted in April 2010, Blockbuster’s equity capital was wiped out.”

Here is Jon’s Post:


The role of film exhibition in our imagination dwarfs its role in our economy. Dolby surround sound, residual awe of movie-going as children, proclamations of Hollywood’s sway — all this industrial light and magic create the illusion that movie theaters are a big industry. In fact, cinemas represent only 0.1% of the $14 trillion U.S. GDP. State lotteries rake in 4 times as much. Ticket sales barely outpace inflation, and wispy margins bounce around the single digits. Whether family- or sponsor-owned, their mandate has been to spit off cash.

The result is a space that has attracted an anemic level of innovation, led by three scaled chains: Regal, AMC, and Cinemark. Together, the “Big 3” control 43% of the U.S. market. I say “together” because the three tend to act as consortia and exhibit (no pun intended) parallel behavior. Some adjacent innovation offers hope. For instance, as Avatar demonstrated, the studios’ development of 3D may prove one of several sorely needed silver bullets. But most adjacent innovation — in particular, high-resolution flat screens for home viewing, and Internet-based distribution vehicles to supply them with video — is an existential threat to the cinemas.

I believe that, without innovation, at least 1 of the Big 3 exhibitors risks losing its equity capital2 in the next five years. To be sure, their plight facing looming debt maturities is not as dire as Blockbuster’s. What’s more, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. What I lay out below is an array of product, channel, marketing, and (in less detail) cost control tactics to get the ball rolling. More important than any one of these tactics, however, is the overall strategic mentality: to think more like a technology company. They need to embrace the scientific method to experiment, analyze, and iterate. They need to distribute to the edges of their employee base permission, responsibility, and incentive for delivering great products (think Starbucks or Nordstrom) and generating new ideas (think Best Buy or Google). And they need to move fast.3

Here’s a summary of where they stand4:


1 My employer is Facebook. This article represents my thoughts, not its. Thanks to Zakia Rahman, Colin Darretta, Harry Chotiner, and Jared Gores for providing helpful comments on a draft. The usual disclaimer applies.

2 In the case of Apollo-owned AMC, it’s possible that, instead, value will be transferred from debt holders to equity holders, as was the case with Harrah’s, which Apollo and TPG own.

3 Some of these insights may be applicable to smaller cinema businesses, too.

4 Does not yet reflect 4Q 2009.

END OF PART ONE  Tomorrow:  Products

Making “Smarter” Independent Films (or rather, make films more wisely)

Posted on by Jon Reiss

The Hollywood Reporter posted a great article last week on Jim Stern’s LA Film Fest Talk. Some of you may remember that last year around this same time, Mark Gil was going off about indie film’s declne and ultimate demise. Needless to say, Jim was singing a different tune, calling attention to the ever-importance of the relationship between director and producer, especially in the indie film world.

Producer calls indie world to task – Jim Stern touts careful budgeting, and more

The Hollywood Reporter, June 20th 2009

Producer Jim Stern issued a warning call to the indie business Saturday, saying that if it wanted to endure, it needed to stop working at cross purposes with itself and its financiers.

Speaking in the high-profile slot at the Los Angeles Film Festival where Mark Gill last year gave his now-famous ‘The Sky is Falling’ speech, Stern told the audience that the indie world needed to more deeply consider marketing and financing.

“It’s been hip to disrespect the money,” he said. And “most businesses have a complete plan from the start of a project, which includes the whole chain, from manufacturing through distribution. Ours typically does not.”

Instead, he said filmmakers needed to develop marketing plans and work more closely with financiers. “We need to cut costs, mitigate risks, target our audience,” he said.

The Endgame Entertainment principal, the producer behind such pics as “A Chorus Line” documentary “Every Little Step” and Mark Ruffalo con-man movie “The Brothers Bloom,” spoke during the Finance Conference at the festival. The address has become a kind of barometer for the state of the indie business.

Last year, Gill gave a keynote in which he warned that financing models, distributors and other part of the indie world were on the brink of collapse. Less than a week later, Paramount Vantage was consolidated; a year later, the indie world finds itself in a far bleaker place.

Given the market travails, Stern faced a tough task with his address: He couldn’t simply underscore the misery, but he also couldn’t risk sounding overly optimistic about the indie world’s future.

So he walked a fine line, acknowledging the brutal realities but offering several ways out.

“We’re upside down on the mortgage and it’s time to mail in the keys,” he said, citing the stat that nearly 10,000 films were submitted to Sundance last year, but only three so far have been released theatrically.

In parts sounding like the second coming of Gill, Stern described a climate in which studio tentpoles are flourishing but the number of indies that have made even $1 million this year has dwindled from 16 at this point last year to six.

But he also prescribed several solutions. He highlighted what he called “smarter movies” — those that were careful about budgets and conscious about audience.

Filmmakers who followed their own heart at the expense of the market, Stern said, were due for a rude awakening.

“I love Sundance,” he said. “But it gave rise to a sense of entitlement to personal films,” adding that filmmakers are at a point in the business cycle that “if you make a personal film, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t get an audience, or, even much worse, if it doesn’t get sold.”

Greater attention to marketing from the earliest stages of development has been a major theme in the indie world recently, though naysayers have noted that some of the best indie and specialty pics in the past year — such movies as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Wrestler” — were driven by intensely personal visions that didn’t explicitly consider marketing until after they were made.

As part of his solution, Stern singled out entities, including Hulu and iTunes, that were exploring and peddling on-demand and streaming video. “These are the once and future friends of independent film,” he said.

Stern also suggested that producers stop worrying about casting pricey A-level talent, which he said in most cases ceased being a factor for international sales and domestic boxoffice. “I don’t think stars drive people to the theaters in small movies,” he said.

He warned against the temptation of concentrating on such areas as special effects and photography, that should be the province of tentpoles. “Movies can look terrible and get an audience, and movies can look terrific and not,” Stern said.

But making successful indies also required a complex series of traits, he said. “You need to be as sly as a fox, as slippery as an eel, as thick-skinned as a hippo, and as rich as Sidney Kimmel.” He added: “But if you don’t meet those qualifications, don’t worry. It works just as well to be crazy as a loon.”