If you can’t make it to SXSW 2017, what better way to numb away the sadness and pain by spending a few hours this week checking out Vimeo’s Streaming SXSW Channel? Watch films and music videos as if you were right there in Austin with all the other cool cats. And all from the comfort of your own home! Though the majority of selections available on the channel are narrative shorts and music videos, there are also feature length options to check out. Itching for some SXSW in your life? Head on over to Streaming @ SXSW 2017 and get watching NOW!
For the uninformed: Back in 1983 the video game industry crashed and burned, and a pretty terrible game adaptation of Spielberg's E.T. took (deservedly or undeservedly) a large part of the blame. On its last legs, Atari was forced to dump millions of unsold and returned cartridges of the E.T. video game into a landfill—or so the legend goes. For years, this was one the gaming industry's biggest urban legends, like a video game El Dorado. Read on
Interviews with an underground NYC music legend, Milo Z, and his budding jazz saxophonist (Steven Frieder) give our creative community some insight on different ways to manage the ever-changing creative ecosystem.
A rainy afternoon in the early 1980s: Soft rain acts the snare as a group of young boys add the kick drum on their leaps from truck top to truck top. Right behind CBGBs is where the old U-Haul trucks used to line up tight, and that is where the bright eyed young stompers would play their games and talk of the unknown. This is where the young boys would undoubtedly stumble upon some mischief that might just turn them into young men. In general these were the days when kids went out to play for the whole day without checking in ‘til the street lights came on.
Milo Z was one of these boys, free to explore the East Village with no need to digitally check in or post a quick selfie to announce whereabouts. Humans were happy to share memories with a select few, but Milo still dreamt of big days ahead. It was one of the first days this particular group of boys had graduated from truck hopping to cab looting when the now local icon found an old practice drum set. Milo dragged that drum set home, and the rest is as Milo would say, is Razzamofunk!
This past week, I had the chance to interview two musicians in different stages of their careers, different stages of their lives, and from different eras of the music scene. Even stemming from two unique ideological generations, these talents share the stage, perform together, and inspire each other in the types of ways that make crowds gather on Indie Street. Both Milo Z and the young jazz saxophonist Steven Frieder had lots to share about their values, their music, and their paths as independent artists.
A total professional, Milo Z sings, dances, conducts, orchestrates, and interacts with the crowd, all the while dressing and grooving in a style that is unique and all his own.. Showcasing his talent in NYC for decades, now 5 albums deep, Milo has the experience and grit that produces some truly authentic music and lyrics. His appreciation for originality is pretty obvious considering he has created his own music genre Razzamofunk (a blend of Rap, Rock, Rythym & Blues, Jazz and Funk).
Steven is only 24, but some consider him a sort of jazz prodigy. His saxophone will transport you back to a day of funky soul from before you were born, or may have forgot existed. Steven wales on the sax with Milo Z and a variety of other bands, and released his first album as a leader last year.
Steven and Milo seem to have a natural synergy with each other. Not just a student-teacher relationship, but one where both realize the great benefits of the others presence regardless of age or experience. The young generation has a lot to learn from the toughness and persistence of those who succeeded in the past, but now more than ever, older generations must keep an open ear to the young street for new ways to swing and sling in the market.
The two will be traveling with the rest of the Milo Z band to spread the funk in Greece later this month. Milo Z loves bringing in and bringing up young musicians, who he admits at times end up on even bigger stages than his. He becomes enlivened from the youthful vigor and reconfirmed by challenging Steven and others to perform at their highest level. Steven looks to Milo a leader who expects the most of himself and his band while committing himself to his craft and his crowd.
Distribution & Self Promotion
New School – Steven Frieder
The simple act of referring to this young talented musician “new school” is probably an injustice because his musical soul and spirit are from a different generation. In any case, his physical age is of the digital era, so we asked him about the new tools for getting out there. For the most part, Steven believes it is very different from musician to musician depending on their priorities, but he did reveal what he believes to be the most intriguing new digital concepts:
“I think that one of the most powerful social media phenomenas is that of the viral video. Do you remember this video of the subway street performers that went huge last year? It’s this trio with Bari Sax, Trumpet and percussion. Too Many Zooz. I know the horn players, good friends of mine that I went to college with. That video went viral overnight because someone posted it on reddit. Now, they are touring all over, playing in Europe and all over the west coast. I couldn’t be happier for them, cats that went to a major jazz conservatory, and got big playing “Brass-House” as they call it. It’s some great stuff.”
Old School – Milo Z
As an old school cat at heart, Milo Z (and many other humans on the planet) feel that the social networking and digital media have started a trend toward shameless self promotion:
“Nowadays everybody is a star, everyone is taking their selfies. There is no shame. It seems now the old expression there is no bad press has reached a new height.”
Lyrics from Milo Z song, “Bitch (for the camera)”:
“Nobody cares if they’re comin’ off wrong or right, as long as their name in the paper gets spelled right.
Even for artists who have some hostility toward youtube stars and the year of the selfie, there are still many ways to hit the avenues while still creating art. Milo Z for example, is taking advantage of his creative drive and rich childhood to write his first book.
“It's a coming of age story of a kid growing up in NYC and the (Lower East Side) in a time when the L.E.S. in particular was a very different place, a rough place that was untamed and untrendy. I’m exploring a different way to be creative and i'm excited about the process. Maybe I can drop my next album when the book comes out and one thing can cross pollinate the other, than who knows.”
We School – What can other cooperative artists learn
It seems the takeaway is that being genuine in your marketing is what matters. Even if you don’t want to write a whole book, you can tell your story without it being shameless self-promotion. Cross marketing, collaborating, and finding new ways to reach the audience is part of surviving for an entrepreneurial artist. Artists have always been entrepreneurial by necessity, and new tools like viral videos, social networking, and crowd funding, (while making it more complicated), do give more ways for creative to think a bit more about business.
Old School - Milo Z
When I asked Milo Z if he ever considered using a Kickstarter or Indiegogo crowd funding campaign, he was a bit taken aback. “Passing the can around just doesn’t feel right for some reason.” If you are from an era like Milo Z and myself where you feel weird to ask your friends and family for some extra scratch, then the odds are that they may think it a little awkward too if they are of similar age and upbringing. Crowd funding can alienate your core audience if your audience doesn’t think its cool.
New School – Steven Freider
Steven used IndieGogo to help finance his first album, After Time (Produced by Jake Hertzog, feat. Bob Meyer, Luke Franco, & Peter Brendler) and had this to say.
“I think crowd funding is a great idea for independent artist to finance their project. How much you can raise definitely comes down to your strategy and your audience. My audience was mostly friends, family, my fellow musicians, and people who kept asking about when I was going to make a CD! I kept the project within my limits, and still paid for most of it out of pocket.”
We School – What can other cooperative artists learn
If you have grown up in the age of crowd funding and to your knowledge your circles support the idea or would really enjoy your rewards, than what is the harm in going for it? Even if all your friends and family don’t have much dough, they can spread the word to others in similar circles so you can grow your audience (even if you don’t raise millions). There may be one new fan you get who may have some serious connects or a huge network of followers themselves. On the other hand, be honest about who your core audience is. If you think they would be offended by asking for donations, than maybe look toward other avenues of financing your next project. We have not used crowd funding yet directly for IndieStreet, but thre is surely value in it: some of our filmmakers have raised a good amount of money, as well as increased awareness for their projects.
Creation – The School of the Insane Now
When I asked both of these unique artists why they made music, I got answers far from the realm of digital, all of the words were lined with human passion and grace. So rather than me go on about why they create, I chose a few of the most telling quotes from my talks with each of these talented musical creators:
Milo Z: I make music because I have to. If I wasn’t making music I would lose my mind. I think we are all a little bit crazy and what keeps us sane is our outlet.
Steven: My mother played and taught classical piano, played guitar and sang. She passed away when I was 17, and it is very much because of her that I play music today.
Milo Z: What has changed for me in the last few years is that I'm a father now and that now my daughter Sierra is the most important thing to me, even more than my art! If I never did another show I still be her dad so the rest Is gravy.
Steven: One of the greatest truths for any art, is that there is always more to learn, no matter what level you have achieved…
Milo Z and Steven Frieder are innately insane artists from different schools, but they both really live by the same code. Don’t fight the human need to create, don’t stop learning, create with your heart, and be authentic. The actual creation of art and its motives do not seem to change too much from generation to generation. No technology can stop our primal emotions and releases. No technology can truly engage a human audience without a human story behind it. Milo is building on his already rich story, and Steven is just starting to write his.
If Indie Street can help harvest discussion and keep the most talented (and by Milo Z’s definition the most insane) creators with sustainable outlets, then we can all stay a bit more connected to our human roots. By getting creative with technology and sharing the experience of truly unique individuals, the world gets to hear more great music, watch more great films, and keep some really awesome people from going insane.
-Jay Webb, Indie Street
Check out more and keep informed on Steven and Milo Z at the links below:
After a couple weeks of over-the-top crowdfunding, with the help of Aubrey Plaza, Newcastle Brown Ale on Tuesday released its "crowdfunded" Super Bowl ad. The spot squeezes 37 brands into a single 60-second ad that the Heineken-owned brand has said will air on only one local NBC TV station during Sunday's game. Worth it? Perhaps it will usher in a whole new era of collective advertising. You be the judge, watch the final product here
Walking down Main Street of the Sundance film festival this year, it felt like there was an ever-growing gap between the east and the west side of the street. Hollywood and Independent seem to be growing further and further apart, making the Sundance film festival, and other L.A. hyped festivals like it, such an increasingly awkward phenomena. You have a festival director who wants to keep the slate as Independent, fresh, and intriguing as possible, an audience that attends who has come to expect way more “accessible” stories, and big biz owned media companies like Variety claiming the festival “suffered from too much Brooklyn” and squawking at 2 million dollar advance tags for indie films in today’s market. We feel for you Mr. Redford, we do…but you created this monster, and now it ‘s become a near perfect representation of the dichotomy within the film Industry. The divide: This is not an East vs. West thing, but more of a continued divide in mentality and approach to film. It is exclusivity, public relations, and celebrity versus collaboration, community building, and storytelling. Old Hollywood versus new thinkers. Creatives vs. creative exploiters. I think there is some ancient adage about a poor old man with a paint brush who grew frightened he may never be able to buy paint again if something were to happen to his even older brother who convinces the village people that the old man’s art is worth money. If there is no adage, then now there is. The artist and the thinker are inherently self-critical and the Hollywood older brother is inherently opportunistic. Ah’ the parties: As this is more of a state of the industry post and not a review of the actual films we saw, I think it is appropriate to tell a story of this microcosm within the microcosm. I was able to attend a few LA parties and a few non-LA parties, and from my vantage point, the two settings were effortlessly distinguishable. In the same evening we attended: At Party One: A writer/filmmaker engaged me and got me excited about new methods of audience building he had executed that I had never even considered. I offered him some biz techniques that were working for us at IndieStreet. Awesome for us. At Party Two: After a quick intro, a girl yells out to me that they were just at a party and Aaron Paul was there. Awesome for you. She then stared waiting for a reaction or possibly a one-up name drop. So I yelled over the pumping bass, “I was just at a party with Zack Lieberman Betchhhh. (the filmmaker I had met earlier) The girl laughed at the Jesse impression, and assumed that my name drop was of some Hollywood celebrity that she just didn’t know yet. She didn’t ask who he was, because guess what, she didn’t care. And this woman is not at all representative of the creative capital in Hollywood, but is representative of the focus of Hollywood. Get the masses salivating about names and exclusivity and make that money. 3 conceivable paths from the growing divide: At Sundance, there was panel after panel of NY and SF and other natives discussing how to navigate a sustainable career as an artist and new ways to own your product through distribution. In opposition to this progressive think tank atmosphere, the LA crowd was sending out fluff about how wow they can’t believe how low the sales were this year. Indie filmmakers better start making more relatable films they said (films that they can sell to their mass markets). God forbid an artist tells a story in their true voice that may only relate to (and knock the socks off of) 200,000 people and the content creator make the majority of the revenue from the film’s exploitation. That’s not good business for the west side of main street. So with this continuing divide comes a few crossroads, and many individual choices will determine the aggregate path of Indie film, with SunDance as a small but representative piece. Here are three paths (or some combo of the 3) that could arise from the growing gap in philosophy. 1. Big Brother reels Independent back into a headlock, leaving Indie with a continued Identity crisis. This path would be driven by Hollywood’s acquisition of progressive production & direct-distro companies. Money talks, and if this occurrence is too prevalent in the near future at least a few amazing films will not be made that should be. 2. A new breed of middle ground filmmakers arises to fill the gap created by the divide. If the most talented of story tellers keep pushing the envelope, their stories will continue to slowly lose mass appeal. This combined with studios continuing to opt for lower risk epic franchises might create a new more clearly defined space for soft Indie products. Films with Indie feel that have formulaic stories. Old stories wrapped in hip new boxes: the middle child that isn’t as tough as the older one, and isn’t as smart as the youngest. 3. The most talented Indie filmmakers change their philosophies. Realigning goals away from the traditional “Success = Hollywood recognition” and toward more self or group reliant success routes. We know that it is nearly impossible to not get sucked in when there is an opportunity for mass exposure. Creating a film that is finally getting some type of official stamp of approval is something we all yearn for, but if the goals when beginning your project can shift, the landscape and power of big brother will shift with it. If you center the goals around building an audience that will care about and support your future career, then the fantastical aura of Hollywood will lose its luster. A true storyteller will be at the happiest (=most successful) when they can personally see and experience his/her impact on their audience. The more new talent that finds the courage to give themselves that stamp of approval and take some control of distribution, the less reliant the Independent community as a whole will be on their older brother who really just doesn’t share the same interests. Based on the risk-taking films at Sundance and the energetic bursting of forward thinking companies like Tugg, Heretic Films, Seed and Spark, Big Vision Empty Wallet, Candy Factory Productions and many others we had the pleasure of meeting, we are all smiling wide on the sidewalk of IndieStreet; gazing toward the west with a subtly confident smirk (that Hollywood will hopefully confuse as growing insecurity) - Jay Webb, IndieStreet www.indiestreet.com @indiest_films
IndieStreet believes that 2014 is the year the cracks widen in the film distribution system. These cracks will make room for entrepreneurial artists to take back deserved revenue generated from their own content. In 2014, Filmmakers will begin to eliminate middlemen, customers will support more creative talent directly, and at least one studio will fall due to its lack of preparation for the cooperative artist revolution. By nature, an artist who looks to distribute their work is an individual with an ego. Someone with a unique vision who feels passionately that other humans will be impacted by looking at the world through their lens. This inner confidence is the artist’s, “Creation Ego”, and it’s surely prevalent in Indie filmmakers. This ego is not only healthy in an artist or filmmaker, it is actually necessary to maximize creative potential. If you did not think that your vision as an artist was special or worthy you would not take the necessary risks that make you shine creatively. The creation ego must be preserved and celebrated in the artists of our time, but it should be contained to the process of creation. When looking to distribute, we urge Independent artists to acknowledge this ego, but then temper and separate it when it comes time to distribute your beautiful story to the world. Creation is a time of solitude, distribution needs to be a time for connection and togetherness. This is true now more than ever for the Independent Artist who lives in a dynamic age of social networking. It has always been difficult for artists to find a balance between the creation & distribution ego, always searching to maintain artistic integrity but also maximize number of eyes on the product. In the past, channels were in place that stimulated a competitive (kill or be killed) philosophy between professional independents, but we now have the technological resources and platforms that can maximize audiences without fighting amongst ourselves and without giving up as much control our artistic forefathers. Here are three things to remember when reinventing your “Distribution Ego”. 1.Unique Vision does not mean your audience is only yours. Unless you have invented a whole new form of media, it is likely that people that have consumed other stories or enjoyed other art might also like yours. Consumers of creative products typically don’t pick one creator and stay faithful only to their works. Even the most die-hard David Lynch fans have still at least checked out a Christopher Nolan film, no matter how traditional or mainstream his stories may feel in comparison. Honest acceptance that audiences are overlapping and must be shared between artists (whether you cooperate or not) is your first step to separating your egos. 2.Be proud of your work, enough to put it along side of other talented creators. As an artist you are undoubtedly a fan of other artists out there. Some of them have larger networks than you, some have smaller ones. Regardless they are most likely a fan of talented story tellers as you are. Sending your film to other filmmakers you admire or to a group platform like IndieStreet can start your exploration on what you can do to promote the works of others and what they might be able to do to help get your stories in front of more eyeballs. No matter how you slice it, when you start cooperating with another filmmaker you are creating a sort of brand. There are thousands of sites that are either social networking or film related or both who are grouping and recommending filmmakers based on their audiences. Why not use these social groups of fans to find other filmmakers like you as well. Your film deserves your additional effort to put it along side of other great films, making your film stronger and making it easier for your audience to find similar impactful stories. 3.Staying flexible, supportive, & long term. Group Distribution needs to be a philosophy that is adopted for the long term but declaring a dedication to cooperating does not mean that any filmmaker in a group of Independents would be expected to turn down a great third party deal if presented. Being incredibly flexible is something an artist would never accept during creation, but it can free us during distribution to see that options are not limited to a black and white choice between “studio” or “alone”. Finding other artists in any creative industry to support in a group can open up your distribution and marketing plans to a number of hybrid efforts across communities. At the end of the day most of us want the same thing: For innovative filmmakers to keep making films. For this to happen their films have to reach interested audience members in ways that the creators can have sustainable careers. And everyone in the film community should want at least that for other talented filmmakers. Even if one of your film projects gets picked up by Fox Searchlight with a huge advance, that is no time to abandon your new group mentality. Just because this film was marketable, be honest with yourself. Do you think that all the amazingly beautiful and risk-taking stories buried deep in your mind will all be so marketable? Use your personal success as an opportunity to help your group and brand of storytelling, even if it is in incremental ways. It will further fuel the collective approach and will come back to you in the future for less mainstream products. And other artists in a distribution support group need to check their egos as well if one group member decides to go with a larger company for one film project. Be elated for them, as their success can only be good for your group brand’s awareness and reach. By combining the networks of a multiple artists & staying flexible, the overall support of your personal creation ego will also be an inevitable side effect. More aggregate eyeballs for your work means some of those eyeballs will be in the investment, grant, or fundraising space. As many of you reading this are Indie artists or professionals in the creative world, we urge you to join this resolution and embrace the new distribution ego that can ultimately lead all you wonderfully innovative individuals to preserving your creation egos that make your work so remarkable. IndieStreet 2014 “The year Artists Unite” Jay Webb www.indiestreet.com @indiest_films
This Detriot based Indie Rock/Pop band dropped their self titled debut album in January of this year. Sounds reminiscent of Phoenix and the Smiths, this unsigned group sounds as if they are destined for bigger things. We love to support self-distributing artists on Indie Street, and we love it even more when their talent has a potential mass appeal. While having admitted influences (including the Strokes), Traits surely display their own style and artistic range and we like the album more every time we hit repeat. Listen to two of IndieStreet's Favorite Tracks from their debut album below, and you can support this up and coming indie band by buying these songs or albums on ITUNES now. [soundcloud id='129659842' playerType='html5'] [soundcloud id='129659774' playerType='html5']
Being honest about your motives is the first step toward a clear path to a successful film production and distribution. And it’s a healthy habit for anyone entering a new life-consuming project; starting a new company, getting married, or in this case, shooting a film.
Do you want your film to change the world? Do you want to make money so you can make your next film? Do you have something to prove to yourself? An honest answer in the early stages can do wonders for a filmmaker in finding a workable distribution path, uncovering a forthright story, and figuring out an appropriate amount of money and energy to expend on the project. (Please note: An answer like “I am creative and want to express myself” misses the scope. This is a reflective question for professionals or budding professionals who live in the reality of scarce resources and time who will express themselves creatively regardless of their path)
Human beings are motivated by different factors, but when I was only 19 years young, a drunk man who I was serving steak to explained to me that motivation could be broken down into the ‘4 Fs’.
The guy seemed like a good tipper, so I let another table’s diet coke die at the service bar. He told me, “Son, if you remember anything in business remember the four F’s…everyone is motivated by one of ‘em and when you figure out which one, you can get them to work for ya…” “Fortune, Fame, Familiarity, and Fear” he said. This lonely, mouse-nosed gentleman was speaking a little more on negotiations or employee motivation I think, but here I am going to examine the 4 F’s in relation to filmmaking…Again, it is understood that your underlying motive is to tell a story that can touch people, but that in itself is not enough reason to make the movie you want, and surely is not enough information for you to know how to distribute this story. Motivation: Fortune Suggested Path: Use all available connections & extensive market research to build a choice business plan, then start making (many) movies. If you can’t raise money: Network further, design a new business plan, & repeat til movies and money are made. To make money is typically not the first-time filmmakers motivation, but it can become so quickly for those that want to continue to make films. I have a friend who is a part of a company that started with two feature films from a slate of 10 films. Both flics caught some critical acclaim but lost money. The CEO realized that he was not in this business to get a pat on the back from someone he didn’t know or care about: he gained clarity of his motives and scrapped the rest of the film slate. He realized that his motive was, and had to be, to make a profit. This sounds extremely cold and capitalistic for an ‘artist’, but in truth he just loved making movies so he knew he had to make money in order to keep doing it. He wanted to put out good films of course, but the perfection of the product was not as important as the pleasure of the process, and there was no shame in that especially if he could make select audiences happy while profiting. The company gained some important foreign sales and TV contacts through the first films, so decided to start making low budget films on advances and eventually started producing films for TV. The company is flourishing now and the partners are happily making a few pretty good films each year because they were honest about motives. Motivation: Fame (Recognition) Suggested path: Varies depending on from whom you’d like recognition. Everyday fame is becoming a more fleeting enterprise. There are numerous niche pockets of fame that develop and disappear on a daily basis, so we will go with ‘Recognition’. The term recognition is even quite broad, but I think this is where most will fall into when thinking of approaching a new film. And no matter how selfless the product, there is still some ideal recognition that will follow if all your goals are reached. If you can figure out where your film would be ideally recognized before embarking on the filmmaking journey, you will have a more reasonable time creating the story and finding that story’s distribution path. For example, maybe your film aims to bring awareness to world hunger through glaring statistics and a precise plan of action. Of course the best reward would be the end of world hunger, but if your film had a huge hand in this, of course you will be recognized...so maybe your ideal recognition might be from Action Against Hunger. How can you create your story and distribute your film in order to directly make that type of impact? Maybe you need to adjust your million dollar budget and forget the Oscar qualifying theatrical push- cut production down to 100k and allot 900k to pay ninjas to deliver the heartbreaking film at night to the 100 richest men in the world. Or maybe when you realize that the end of world hunger is your true motive, you decide that a film might not even be your most effective route to effect change. Maybe you remember you have a connection high up at a fast food giant who would be turned off by your biased film, but might actually help you get a meeting to make a proposal to change some of their processes in order to cut waste and feed the hungry. Be honest about what you want to change, what you have at your disposal, and then figure out if and how you can make the best film to tell the stories that will make that change. Getting your film shown on the big screen might feel good to you, but is it the best way to get your film to the desired audience? Motivation: Familiarity Suggested path: Don’t make the film. Individuals that are motivated by familiarity, in my opinion, should not make films. These humans make wonderful programmers, mechanics, general store owners, and a slew of other jobs that are helpful to the community. Likewise, filmmakers that have made films and are motivated to continue to do so because they are comfortable should not continue to make films…it is one of the reasons that Hollywood puts out a significant amount of crap. If you have no passion about making a film and are just going through the motions, please find something else you are passionate about. Executives need to find the balls to recognize this complacency in directors and producers and take risks on fresh, risk taking talent. Maybe then we would start to see some change in story, technique, and overall product innovation in Hollywood. Motivation: Fear Suggested Path: Make an inexpensive but passionate film about, for, or in dedication to your family. This is the hardest motivating factor to be honest about, because it is most primal and it is probably true that we are all motivated in part by this type of fear: the fear of being forgotten. You have amazing thoughts and stories in your brain and what happens if it is never published or put into a film? There are hundreds of thousands of films being made that will not achieve any type of timelessness, but if you create an amazing film for your family, yours will. If you can be honest with yourself and say that this is a main reason that you want to make the film, then congratulations on your honesty. The path is simple, you need to create a micro budget film with the utmost passion, care, and relevance to your own family and your/their story. Who cares if it takes years to perfect, it will be there for generations. Put your love and passion and every ounce of storytelling brilliance you can muster into it, and then distribute it to your family. You will never be forgotten by the people that matter the most: your family & their descendants. They may even send it to others and with that much genuine attention it surely has a chance of becoming loved by outsiders too. Even if it is just a 5 minute long, but genuinely crafted story that is a message from you to your wife (or son who passed, or brother who went to the marines, or…) your family will pass that down forever just to show the type of love and support that your family was built on years prior. There all types of viable reasons to do things, but if more people who created Indie films laced their films with the candid fear of being forgotten and the resolve of a letter to family descendants, then even if Indie became more specific, the world of film would be a far better place. Indie Street is still searching for these authentic filmmakers to round off our group of award winning storytellers. Be honest about your motivation, create a film & goals that best fit, then put all of yourself into it. Looking forward, Jay Webb
The Rebirth of the Indie Video Store Experience:
Why human curation will never die.
By Lindsay Blair Goeldner
At Indie Street we are holding on to all hope that the interpersonal human elements of storytelling will never fade away into obsoleteness. The following piece comes from one of Indie Street’s own curators. While she is not programming a film festival or being one of the coolest computer programming chicks in the game, Lindsay finds time to work at one of the last Indie Video Rental Stores in Canada. Who better to get a street level breakdown about the effects of technology on film consumer’s behavior…Enjoy!
The death of the indie video store is imminent. At least that’s what everyone tells me. Working as a video store clerk in one of a handful of stores (Queen Video) in Toronto is both a blessing and a burden. While the job remains interesting, I’m continually receiving remarks about how great it is that we’re still open. In the wake of the Blockbuster collapse, the independent video store flourished. Business seemed better than usual around late 2011 when the last Blockbusters were closing down in Canada. At that point in time, Netflix had already arrived, and streaming was still popular, but for some reason many people did not want to let go of the video store experience.
Our store’s customers range from our regular cinephiles to young families that are excited to show their children what a video store is. Even my great store seems close to its end, but an anomaly of a customer that came in recently re-assured me that the spirit of the Indie Video Store will never perish. Humans like interaction with each other, especially when it is “cool”. This customer was a teenage boy who rented a Fellini film. Now, I’m usually hesitant to mention the dreaded streaming site Netflix in the store, but after telling me he had just gotten into “old Italian movies” I had to ask what brought him in. The answer was simple: “Going to the video store is cool. My friends all download but they’re missing out.” This young trend re-setter inspired me to think about what has made the video store experience a popular one, and likewise what the future of film renting should try to preserve…so I have narrowed it down to two crucial factors:
1. The Inherent “Cool” Factor of the Video Store.
Coolness is indeed a reason older technology comes back to life. The resurgent popularity of vinyl is embodied by way of the expanding independent vinyl shops around the city. Vinyl-enthusiasts, who may easily download the same content online, brandish their title as “collector” like a badge on their chest. They may argue the sound quality is better than digital or that they’re expanding on their already well-established collection, but either way, they could have opted to download and yet, they don’t.
Video rental is a little different; no one claims ownership or is excited to tell you about their invoice history at the rental store. Instead, there is something inherently cool about going back to the video store while everyone else stays cozy and warm in their apartments scrolling through Netflix or downloading content online. I like to think of current video renters as cultural purveyors of an era that has passed as they help keep in place a system others have long forgotten. It’s outdated, sure, but because of this it’s also not mainstream and hence, cool.
As the last physical video stores prepare close their doors, these cool video renters like the Fellini teen will not just disappear, they need a new cool place to congregate outside of Netflix and Hulu. Highly curated online film platforms like IndieStreet and others will help to fill this gap, but these platforms need to be extremely conscious of being more “cool” than Netflix, and more importantly they need to remember critical factor #2.
2. The Human Advantage
Algorithms on YouTube and Netflix recommend titles based on the user’s previous picks, but can never come close to the recommendations of a human who has similar tastes. These algorithms keep in the general theme of the user’s preferences but can not figure out the nuances of human likes across genres. On top of that they often point out other selections that are big-budget Hollywood flicks or syndicated television series. These systems look at keywords and umbrella terms in describing the body of films a user selects so the choices remain in the mainstream. A video store clerk, on the contrary, will most often point a customer in the direction of something less well known, a hidden gem that once exceeded their personal expectations. Quite often that is precisely what customers are asking for; they want a hand picked film experience that can create a personal connection with the curator and give them something to discuss with their friends.
As great as an online suggested pick might be, it can never top a recommendation from someone who loves film and loves to talk about it. I’m frequently caught up in conversations with customers about a great Danish television series they just finished, or a French film they loved. These are the times I often forget that I’m working. The human interaction of talking to a video clerk is precisely what made me want to work there, and now what makes me interested in helping the next generation of the online Indie video store. I’ll never forget sifting through film cases as a kid in Movie Village in Winnipeg. I would be looking at the horror film titles my mother would never let me rent, and I distinctly recall a clerk telling me how great Sleepaway Camp is as they walked by (much to the chagrin of my mom).
When discussing this article concept, I asked Jay Webb how he thinks IndieStreet can retain the “cool” and the “human advantage” of the Indie video store that we have come to adore:
“First, I do think there is still hope for a physical video store if someone like you comes along and incorporates tech or event elements into the model. My hope for this lies mostly in the fact that kids never want to have the same interests as their parents. Mom is on facebook, maybe I will go hang out with my friends instead of chatting online. I have heard a rumbling of teenagers who are going anti-social networking so maybe the next generation actually will continue to experience human contact.
As far as IndieStreet goes, I think the cool factor will hopefully happen organically by only selecting cool and innovative filmmakers into our group. Our newest member, Sean Dunne (won Tribeca award for best new documentary director in 2013), has upped the cool factor to a level I am having trouble keeping up with…As far as the human factor, IndieStreet will be focusing on community events and screenings, connecting customers to the filmmakers throughout the process, and all of the selected films we will feature on our site will also be curated by a passionate group of humans. But we are open to suggestions.”
As Jay paraphrased, generational cycles prove that trends and technologies that were once popular will be so again in a few years time, so one may hope that video stores reappear as a nostalgic encounter. If they are doomed, I think Netflix, Hulu, IndieStreet, and other streaming sites could really benefit from finding a way to interject the “coolness” and human element the video store has within their system. Therein lies a negotiation between old and new, and the cycle of trends would become conflated.
It remains to be seen if an online streaming site can become cool in the way the rental store is or if they can really integrate a human element in recommending content without being face to face. I don’t have the answers, but if this article helps IndieStreet figure it out, I expect a larger profit share! – thanks.