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Filmmaker Discussion: Streaming vs. DVD

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A recent Underground Film Journal article titled “Web Series Or Movie: Which Should You Make?” inspired a lively and spirited discussion on Facebook between several independent filmmakers that explored their personal ideas on the future of digital distribution. The provocative back-and-forth has been reprinted below. (With all the filmmakers’ permission.)

The dialogue was particularly kicked off by Australian indie filmmaker Dominic Deacon (Only the Young Die Good, Burlesque) and also included filmmakers Nathan Wrann (Burning Inside, Hunting Season), Bob Moricz (Felony Flats, Bumps), Robin Franzi (Susan for Now), Michael Galinsky (Battle for Brooklyn, Horns and Halos) and Journal editor Mike Everleth.

(Filmmaker comments below have not been edited except for some extremely minor format/style changes and typos. Otherwise, these are their exact words.)

Dominic Deacon
“No filmmaker claims their feature-length film is only seven minutes and nobody is making 90 minute webisodes. But, why the hell not? Easy answer: Nobody else will think that’s an acceptable practice. And don’t we all just want to be accepted?”

It’s not just about acceptable practice. The audience has different expectations. When a person sits down in front of a TV with a DVD they’re committing time to your work and, assuming its half decent, will generally stick with it to the end.

On YouTube and Vimeo on the other hand people are just stumbling around trying to kill time. I could upload a feature onto YouTube (and Vimeo has some attractive options in that direction at the moment) but the audience I’ll hit is most likely not ready to sit down and watch a feature. Too many distractions on a computer for that.

I don’t want to make work for an audience to dip in and out when they’ve got a spare minute. I want their full attention.

Nathan Wrann
Dominic, all you’ve done there is taken Mike’s accepted time expectations and swapped them with accepted platform assumptions. DVD vs YouTube = 90min vs 5min. Who’s to say that someone putting a DVD in doesn’t have their laptop open and is just as distracted while the movie is playing? Or what about the millions of people that only watch movies (whether Netflix, Amazon or YouTube) on their laptops or even their phones? Something David Lynch discovered when he was doing Twin Peaks was that when it came to home viewing he had very little control over how the audience was viewing his work in their homes (poor picture, bad TV speakers etc).

As a (self-professed) “storyteller” I think the story should dictate the format. Some stories are better told in 5min webisodes. Some are better as 90min movies.

Dominic Deacon
You can’t control how the audience watches the movies but you can play the percentages. Someone who rents or buys your DVD generally intends to give it proper attention or what was the point? They may be playing ping pong while the tellys on but that’s not the norm.

Alternatively they may stream your YouTube clip off to a 50″ TV and a 5.1 soundsystem and sit down with some popcorn for a viewing but most likely they’re listening to it through laptop speakers while writing an email.

Generally audiences approach the two mediums in a different way and so will filmmakers.

Mike Everleth
One of the things I guess I was trying to get at is that audiences only approach the two mediums in different ways because they’ve been conditioned to, but those conditions are changing, particularly as DVDs fade out and streaming/downloading fades in, in a big way.

YouTube “clip” is becoming a subgenre of sorts of what’s available on YouTube: Full-length bootlegged movies, official full-length films for rental/purchase, short-form content that mimics TV show formats, short films, music videos, cat videos. And any filmmaker can make any and all of those formats and play around with them, if they’re open to it.

“Audiences” are consuming media in so many different formats and on different devices. A few generations down the line aren’t going to see format differences anymore when they are flipping from a classic film to a friend’s home video to a video movie review to playing a video game to reading a book on their same device.

Nathan Wrann
Exactly right, Mike.

Dominic Deacon
Definitely physical media is on the way out- and Ive been looking hard for whats next- but I don’t think an acceptable option has been given to independent filmmakers yet. I’m totally open to digital downloads if we can find a decent platform to host them but not YouTube. YouTube is built around the idea of browsing in your spare time and I don’t think that will ever change. I genuinely don’t want people watching my movies on their iPod or the device they use for reading and web browsing. I would much prefer they didn’t see it at all because that presentation is damaging to the film. Young people are doing that but I’m with Lynch in saying that that is a very sad trend and not something I want any part of.

What we need is an iTunes that the public is aware of and that will accept our content.

Black and white photo of man covered in blood holding a shovel

Nathan Wrann
Amazon instant streaming? The non-physical world does not favor independent films. Despite the democratic ability of any artist anywhere to be able to upload to the web/net/cloud/etc discovery is atrocious. I don’t foresee a big indie uprising or leveling of the playing field like there was with self-publishing and the kindle. And definitely no leveling of the playing field if the filmmaker refuses to allow their content to be viewed on the millions of portable screens out.

Dominic Deacon
It may have changed but Amazon instant streaming was not open to no budget cinema last time I checked. It was difficult and expensive to apply to and the criteria of how they judged submissions was kept secret.

With the portable screen thing, the shortest thing ive ever made is 65 minutes long. If your willing to commit 65 minutes to a film why not find a decent screen? The audience will have a much better time than squinting at their phone. Squinting at your phone though works fine with cat videos and I do it all the time myself.

Mike Everleth
Dominic: I totally get where you’re coming from and fully support artists “sticking to their guns” as it were. It does depend on what each filmmaker wants from his/her career. E.g. I love Crispin Glover only allowing his directed films to screen at places where he’s present at, even if I also think his “What Is It?” would KILL it on streaming.

I think Amazon streaming has opened up a lot to no budget cinema people. I think they were locking people out for awhile, but as far as I can tell, it’s open. My friend Carlos Atanes uploads his stuff there, but I think he’s run into some censorship issues.

Amazon streaming quality is pretty good, too. I’ve been known to order an Amazon movie on my computer, open it up on my Kindle and plug the Kindle into my big TV and things look great. But I have also downloaded movies on my Kindle and watched them on the subway/bus/airplane, as well.

Woman in sexy black dress

Robin Franzi
Mike: Susan for Now was limited to DVD sales only by Amazon due to censorship of content; n/a rating.

Dominic Deacon
Robin Franzi just to be clear, are you saying that Amazon streaming doesn’t accept unrated content? I was going to look into Amazon streaming when I got home as this thread was making it sound promising but if that’s the case it definitely locks me out.

There was an interesting story a while back about Amazon banning some Bigfoot porn novels. Made for interesting reading as Amazon wouldnt be drawn on exactly what their censorship policies are except to say that “they’re about what you’d expect them to be”. The article was fairly humorous but I’ve got a feeling we may look back on Bigfoot porn one day as the canary in the coalmine.

Mike Everleth
Don’t want to speak for Robin, but from what I’ve heard from different filmmakers, Amazon accepts “unrated” content, but things that might seem pornographic to rubes might get censored, case in point Susan for Now. Something like Burlesque would most likely be fine.

Just to clarify: Susan for Now is a tasteful and extremely intelligent documentary about S&M.

Nathan Wrann
Not to derail the convo but the Bigfoot porn stuff runs a razor thin edge. Amazon rejects incest, rape fantasy and bestiality (for obvious reasons) and since Bigfoot is an “animal” it skirts a little too close to the bestiality side. But with that said, amazon hasn’t “banned” it or “censored” it, the titles just don’t come up in a regular search for erotica. And to be clear, that book is written word porn. I’m sure they have different criteria for filmed entertainment.

Graphic design of crazy man behind bars of blood

And for what it’s worth, both of my films (Hunting Season & Burning Inside) are available on Amazon instant streaming. Both are micro budget “unrated” (having never gone through the rating system), but neither one would ever be remotely considered porn or erotica. They’d probably both get an R rating.

Bob Moricz
Been toying with Felony Flats: the web series. Your article may have just tipped my boat!

Mike Everleth
I’ll watch it!!

Michael Galinsky
Right on… we have been doing mini docs for newyork.com

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