Industry Report: Digital
Cross-media: the range of possibilities
by Fabien Lemercier
- With the explosion of digital and the current decrease in traditional funding, film industry professionals are hurriedly exploring new avenues. Their aim? To find growth catalysts and, above all, prepare for the cross-media revolution and its impact on writing, economic resources, promotion and distribution. One of the main innovative experiments already in development is the building of direct links with consumers, who are invited to contribute financially and artistically to content. These forward-looking practices were analysed in detail at the Pixel day, the first international cross-media film forum, organised on December 3, 2009 in Paris by Arte, Media Desk France and the Forum des Images, in partnership with Media Consulting Group and in collaboration with Power to the Pixel / London.
Changing times, where a powerful but slowly declining traditional model still dominates, while a still rather vague future rapidly approaches on the horizon, always offer an extraordinary range of possibilities to pioneers. Such are the experimenters of cross-media, who are today launching original initiatives to closely follow and analyse in an unbiased way with respect to their currently modest financial resources.
For the change they herald is radical: the emergence of a model that would turn its back on the traditional system based on exclusive rights, territories, windows, where the "gatekeepers" have the power to make or break a project, with low transparency and often short-lived exhibition. This overhaul of perspectives could be described as totally utopian if the new globalised digital frontier wasn’t its main driving force.
Conducive to all hybridisations of creative content and multi-media distribution, this space is, nevertheless, only in the early stages of its conquest, with film industry professionals in particular showing themselves to be rather cautious on the matter. Alternate Reality Gaming, transmedia, VoD (see interview with Alain Rocca) and other elements of cross-media newspeak are, on the contrary, manna to the pioneers of the digital future, whose concrete results will offer serious clues about the right paths to follow to avoid getting lost in the digital infinity. For changing times always involve a mixture of true visionaries and clever opportunists.
Attracting crowds of professionals, the Pixel day in Paris unveiled some remarkable ongoing experiments. Cineuropa has chosen to focus in particular on the Production side, but all the Pixel discussions are available on video on the Arte website by clicking here.
How do you make free services profitable?. This is the question asked in the introduction by Brian Newman (Springboardmedia), a crucial question for creators because the trend towards free-of-charge services could spell their sudden demise. Recalling that the film world has until now operated on a scarcity model that gave it value, while the digital world is one of overabundance, the former head of Tribeca Film Institute identified eight reasons that may lead to an act of purchase in a free-of-charge context: immediacy, personalisation that uses client profiles (free extracts made available by certain archive sites for example have led to sales), interpretation, authenticity (essential amid the flood of content), incarnation (the feeling of being able to touch the artist and their production; for example, the possibility of choosing the personality who will come to present the film in theatres), patronage (subscription on the model of the Radiohead experiment), accessibility (which enables consumers to look at their content anywhere) and being able to easily find what you are looking for. Emphasising in particular that the Vodo model works very well (directors offer to let you download their films for free and one click enables you to make a donation to the artist), Newman believes that we now need to use new tools to connect filmmakers and their audiences.
Crowd-funding is the tool used by young Spanish producer-filmmaker Nicolás Alcalá, co-founder of Riot Cinema Collective. For the science-fiction feature project The Cosmonaut, which will be shot in Spain and Russia, the Madrid-based company is appealing for contributions from Internet users who become co-producers from a minimum of €2 investment upwards. "Before, a small number of people invested a lot of money in a project whereas nowadays, a large number of people can get involved with a small amount of money" explained Alcalá. "At the moment, in Spain, the film industry is poor and depends on public support. There are few producers and it’s always the same ones. We want to create a new model".
The project was launched on the Net via a presentation video, which sparked an immediate reaction from the bloggers targeted by Riot Cinema Collective and wide coverage in the traditional media. In six months, the project has attracted 1,320 co-producers who have invested different amounts. "We always give something in return, a physical gift for example, and we organise events to involve the community. For its support also enables us to negotiate with the industry." Riot Cinema Collective, which is planning a transmedia distribution of The Cosmonaut (cinema, DVD, television, video game, mobile, TV and Internet) has also chosen to work under a Creative Commons licence: "All those who watch the film will be able to do what they want with it, circulate it, remix it, copy it, even make a profit from it, the only condition being that they mention the creators and the Creative Commons licence". It’s worth noting that this form of licence, which is quite rare in France, is currently in the process of being incorporated into international law and crowd-funding already covers 17% of the projected budget for The Cosmonaut.
Meanwhile, Benjamin Seikel, who heads C-Films production company in Hamburg, has chosen the experimental field of cross-media marketing. "Usually, we produce features with no relation to the Internet", he starts by specifying. "But we have this romantic comedy, Roula Rouge (€3.5m budget), and a small distributor which allows us to hope for 100,000 admissions. Why not make this cinematic experience spill over into real life, prolong it before the film’s release and after? Our aim is to attract attention and win over very young audiences. For Internet audiences are very difficult to reach through the classic media. We also had to find a concept to attract the interest of advertising agencies." Seikel has chosen to pin his hopes on the character of Roula who will keep a blog and write about her city, Berlin, post videos and downloadable music that she likes, log onto all the social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter…), organise events and parties…, and, of course, advertise the film’s release. "The difficulty lies in creating traffic in order to reach out to youngsters. So we’ve set up a partnership with Der Spiegel and Neon magazine: newspapers also want to discover content that appeals to youngsters." Several major brands (Nike, Diesel…) jumped at the opportunity and are actively involved in Roula’s Internet world, which will open up 25 weeks before the film’s theatrical release. "We hope to be able to finance 5-10% of the film project like this. Old-school producers are sceptical about our initiative, the first of its kind in Germany, but we must think about new financing methods, compared to the traditional system where a single “no” can put an end to everything. And it’s an experiment that hasn’t required enormous investment, barely 2% of the budget."
Finally, although it is in the television sphere and not strictly film-related, it is worth mentioning the remarkable project The Artists, headed by Peter De Maegd of production company Caviar Films (My Queen Karo). This co-production between Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands is a TV series centred on the disappearance of five paintings by major masters in museums in five countries. This thriller is a 5-part suspense story for a broad television audience and takes it a step further. Each episode will be broadcast simultaneously in the six countries, and at the end of each episode, television viewers are invited to log onto the Internet to help find the stolen works. On the Web, they will be more occasional players or more involved participants, right down to an interactive narrative where they will become a character as a group, which generates content (crowd-sourcing).
Budgeted at €5m, the project is expected to have traditional financing covering 85% of the total, and De Maegd admits that financing the remaining 15% is difficult because there is no economic model. However, he emphasises the value of a tool that is potentially very powerful, particularly in terms of viral marketing, sales of related merchandise (DVDs, original soundtracks…), for once it is established, the connection with the community is very strong. All the Forum Pixel participants are acutely aware of this connection, but no-one yet knows to what extent it will contribute to financing productions. Will a strong alternative model emerge on the basis of current experiments and, if successful, will the pioneers still do well if major companies in the film and audiovisual industry start exploring cross-media territory? Watch this space for further developments…