“An entrepreneur must have both a deep understanding of his or her potential clients, and a great passion”
Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming
Yoram Schaffer • General director, Movie Discovery
A breakdown of how a small Israeli start-up is helping independent filmmakers, production companies, distributors, film festivals and film bodies to better organise their work
How can a small Israeli start-up help independent filmmakers, production companies, distributors, film festivals and film bodies to better organise their work and monetise their content? General director of Movie Discovery Yoram Schaffer provides some answers, while presenting an intriguing overview of how the VoD platform could evolve in the future.
Cineuropa: You offer audiovisual industry professionals several tools related to audiovisual content and rights management – namely, Movie Discovery, Quick Rights and Movies Everywhere. Can you explain what these tools are?
Yoram Schaffer: The three tools are complementary and aim to address the needs of all players in the film industry: independent filmmakers, production companies, distributors, film festivals and film organisations. Movie Discovery is a VoD platform, specialising in educational and academic content; Quick Rights is a management tool for distributors; and Movies Everywhere started out as a tool for the creation of virtual and hybrid events, and now covers more and more fields connected to the daily needs of film professionals. All mentors say that an entrepreneur must have both a deep understanding of his or her potential clients, and a great passion – and this is exactly the case. It was born, as all good things are, by accident: I was a full-time filmmaker (an editor and producer) for 22 years, mainly working on documentaries. I had always loved technology, and once the internet became popular (in 1997), I looked for ways to harness it for filmmaking. My first website (which still exists) was docmovies.com. It featured documentaries available for download in the legendary DivX format, back in 2001, long before YouTube.
I started teaching a course on New Media in a few film schools, trying out non-linear and interactive films with my students. I was amazed by the opportunities that technology opened up for us and thought that we filmmakers must change our habits: we had to allow more participation from the viewers, share the filmmaking process with the public right from the start, foster a fanbase (following the canonic theory of “1,000 true fans” by Kevin Kelly) and try-try-try new things all the time. Sometimes the result was horrible, and students often said that they had no idea what the course was about, but they enjoyed it.
In 2016, I decided to translate all of those experiments into structured systems that would help film professionals to extend their reach to audiences, monetise their creations, finance their future projects and manage their most precious assets. Movie Discovery was the first initiative. Quick Rights and Movies Everywhere followed afterwards, by implementing the lessons we learned throughout the process. The ultimate goal is to provide the film industry, at all levels and sizes, with solutions that can serve it throughout the whole process, from fundraising and finding partners to sales and monetisation.
How do you see the evolution of the VoD market worldwide?
Undoubtedly, it is moving towards more interactive, event-like characteristics. Allow me to explain: VoD is a lonely experience. I thought a great deal about this word and feel it reflects the deepest issue one has with on-demand films: loneliness. On the one hand, watching a film whenever you wish gives you total freedom. On the other hand, and the pandemic proved this to us, most humans love to meet each other. A good film evokes strong emotions, and the urge to share them with others is critical. The need to meet is perfectly reflected in the unprecedented flourishing of audio platforms in general, and specifically Clubhouse.
Let’s look at Clubhouse as a metaphor and a case study: there are many podcasting platforms, but Clubhouse allows people to actually meet. It expanded exponentially during the pandemic, and its value grew from $100 million to $1 billion from May 2020 to May 2021. Let me proceed with an analogy: a regular podcast is like VoD: listen whenever you want. But Clubhouse, which is analogous to a cinematic event, allows one to argue, share opinions, laugh, whine and cry together with others. Therefore, I believe that VoD platforms must adopt interactivity to some extent. It doesn’t have to be a 24/7 activity, but it can be combined with other things. For example, with the film Forgiveness, we have it available as VoD on a regular basis. In parallel, every two months, we organise an event in which VoD viewers can meet the main actors, who are also the directors and scriptwriters. Such a combination, in my eyes, is crucial for the prosperity and survival of VoD. We must listen to what the audience is telling us.
From the perspective of a small country like Israel, how do you see the competition with the big VoD players?
The answer has to be split into two: into content and concept. On the content side, we have no chance. With a language spoken by no more than 9 million people, written from right to left, comprising a strange set of letters and sounding as if it’s spoken from deep in the throat (a guttural language), it will always be perceived as exotic or somehow related to the Holocaust, the military, the Middle East conflict and anthropological topics.
Therefore, unsurprisingly, no popular content-based platform has grown in Israel. And just like a blind person can develop better and more sensitive hearing abilities, the disadvantages in terms of content push Israeli initiatives to compensate for this by venturing in global and internationally adaptable directions. That is what I mean by “concept”: if you can’t flood the world with appealing content, try to develop tools that can be used by the leading international content players. That is what we try to do with Movies Everywhere and Quick Rights: come up with innovative, out-of-the-box approaches to traditional fields, and suggest different ways and tools that can be used to execute them.
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