Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Speaking of IMDB

I had email from a friend a few days back explaining that he'd been involved with a horror movie.

The director of the film has worked a lot as a visual effects person (on about a dozen major big-budget films) and the way I read the situation was that this film was his attempt to shift to directing. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a large budget behind it -- it was a sort of calling-card film to prove he could direct.

So I wasn't surprised when I heard the film would be posted online -- that seems like a match for the goal of the film. But my friend wrote that if the director saw a lot of online attention for the film, he would then send it to film festivals. My inner voice said "No, no, no, no and no," very quickly -- since I know how much and how explicitly festivals generally hate to screen anything that's already online. Festivals generally thrive on the idea of "World Premiere" and "U.S. Premiere" or even "Arkansas Premiere" and if a film is online they can't make that claim.

There are exceptions, of course, and if you are showing a film because it fits a program, you probably aren't as concerned with online exposure. But in general: film festivals today include a section making it clear in your application where the film has show before, and the basic model is one of exclusivity: buy a ticket and come see our fest, you won't see these films anywhere else for a long while.

In light of that, however, there's been a flurry of interest in and the "new model" they seem to be moving toward.

As backstory: owns both and -- Amazon being the place you might buy a DVD of a film, IMDB being the place you might look up a film, and Withoutabox being the site a filmmaker would use to submit their film to film festivals.

The Amazon acquisition has already had one interesting change: now, when you submit a film through Withoutabox you can get the film listed on IMDB. (Previously, IMDB had placed the qualification standard as "significance" -- usually meaning that the film had been selected to screen at a film festival that was reasonably choosy or on a "major" television broadcast.) Which is great for filmmakers without a huge distribution apparatus behind them -- while one might still make a Web site for the film, the IMDB page can certainly help with promotion.

The "new model," though, arises because IMDB has made video uploads available. Meaning one can post a clip, a trailer, or the entire film. Which, again, is great for promotion. It may also be great for films that have finished their tour of the festival circuit and not been purchased for distribution -- which is really common for first films and shorts.

The attention of the media, however, has focused on speculation that IMDB wants filmmakers to put their entire feature film online, for free, and then profit from the ads. I don't think that's what their plan is, exactly, but here's what folks are writing:

The 'New Model' of IMDb

Col Needham, the Seattle-based founder of the Internet Movie Database, spoke yesterday at SXSW about the site's highly ambitious plans to radically flesh out its video content. Needham's money quote, which wound up in a CNET headline before the afternoon discussion had even wrapped up, certainly turned heads: "We want a play button on every single page," he said. Needham's ballsy strategy to post video content, including feature-length films and television shows, on all of IMDb's thousands of profiles illustrates the industry's need to adapt. IMDb lies at the center of a new paradigm shift for the film community.
IMDb’s Needham: A Play Button on Every Page
So far, the site has 14,000 full length television shows and “a couple of thousand” full length movies and over 120,000 video items ranging from interviews to trailers and clips. Needham said IMDb will use its Withoutabox unit to give the site a direct connection with filmmakers as well as festivals in its effort to recruit feature length films for that play button. “We’re most excited at the moment with our video component,” said Needham.

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