January 28, 2007
Online Video Distribution Transforms the Sundance Film Festival

In the spirit of Ted Hovet's recent piece here on the C3 blog about the film and its review in the New York Times, I thought I would point to a Times article about another innovative filmmaker, particularly the launch of M dot Strange (Michael Belmont) through the Sundance Film Festival. Meanwhile, another movie was premiered in Second Life the day after its Sundance premiere.

As David Carr writes in his recent article, M dot Strange's movie gives "new meaning to the term 'studio apartment' by jamming eight computers into his place and producing 'We Are the Strange.' The movie has a wide visual vocalbulary borrowed from the far reaches of the Web, anime, video games and children's nursery rhymes. And dolls. Lots of dolls."

While plenty of viewers apparently got up and left at the Sundance instead of watching his film, Strange benefitted from a strong following from viewers who had already seen his work through YouTube. The filmmaker had been regularly updating a video blog on YouTube for the past two years, giving updates on his movie and then posting a trailer that received almost 650,000 views when the article was published.

Carr writes, "The money is not there yet -- M dot Strange is doing a brisk business in T-shirts associated with the film -- but the Web has proved that if you produce something the consumer wants, a business model might follow."

The other film, "Strange Culture," by Lynn Hershman Leeson, was premiered on Second Life with a live question and answer session. Carr writes that Leeson wanted to get the film out quickly, "and after working with the Stanford Humanities Lab to create a digital archive of her work on Second Life, building a theater there and premiering the film seemed like a natural step. Admission is by invitation only so that demand does not swamp the servers."

Certainly, "convergence culture" is changing the ways in which the media industry works and is creating a variety of new ways to reach audiences, not just with user-generated content but with work meant to be vying for traditional artistic and commercial success as well.

I've written in the past about Internet television shows as a haven for independent producers, while Bubble provided an interesting cross-platform experiment last year, which we wrote about here and here.

Certainly, for independent filmmakers, YouTube, Second Life, and a variety of other tools of convergence culture provide interesting new ways for material to find audiences. That also means, of course, a much greater increase of traffic, so the key has to be producing content and finding the way to reach the right audience with it. For work like M dot Strange's and Lynn Hersman Leeson's films, these types of technologies become important tools for creating markets that would not exist otherwise. For instance, the traditional Sundance crowd may not have cared at all for M dot Strange's film if there hadn't already been a substantial following previously because it just doesn't appeal to the masses.

How will these relatively new video sharing tools affect the film industry long-term? It's still too early to predict the ending point, but--much as with independent television--the potential to reach new audiences is at an unparalleled level.