February 28, 2008
Bringing "Awesome" to Self-Distribution

As you might have noticed, I've been on the film distribution beat lately. It's a subject that interests me well beyond the extent of this blog.

For a long time, I considered distribution concerns to be a kind of luxury, having worked for various years in enabling a more abundant and empowered Central American and Caribbean film production. Then, the subject of distribution seemed important, yet a distant second to the immense hurdles that production entailed all over the region.

After being here for six months, I'm allowing myself to think about this very pressing issue to which we haven't found satisfactory answers, not only in Latin America, but in all sorts of independent/low-budget films worldwide as well.

While I find it essential to understand existing industry paradigms, reinforcing them is not going to bring about substantial change in distributing independent and low budget films; at most, it will open the doors to a wider audience for one or two films. The vast majority of films produced will continue to remain invisible when working completely within the system.

Luckily, both for mainstream and independent production, there are some who are questioning the current models and, more importantly, proposing potentially successful alternatives.

This is when "awesome" comes into the picture.

Last year, Head Trauma's Lance Weiler contacted two other fellow directors, M dot Strange from We are the Strange and Arin Crumley, who co-created Four Eyed Monsters with Susan Buice. They all had participated in the traditional festival circuit in one way or another, yet they found the experience to be lacking. Instead, they decided to create their own kind of festival. In an interview with NewTeeVee, Crumley proposed that, since the audience was going to decide how they wished to behave, the industry needed to create a model in which all audience behavior is acceptable. Given that this is a long way from happening, they chose to name their endeavor From Here to Awesome.

For Weiler, this new festival model:

is an experiment to connect filmmakers and audiences directly. The tools to make movies have become democratized but the struggle for those stories to reach an audience is the largest obstacle filmmakers face. There is a permission based culture around filmmaking and From Here to Awesome is a step toward letting filmmakers know they have options - that not getting into a major festival is not the end of their movie's life but just the beginning.

They attempt to achieve this by creating a festival whose main venue is online. Their first phase is receiving submissions (until March 31). The filmmakers submitting to the festival must create a presentation/trailer for their movie, explaining why the film is 'awesome' and hence, deserves a spot in the final selection. On April 03, the audience will be invited to vote on which films they would like to see.

Through this process, From Here to Awesome doesn't only curate their festival, but, with the zip codes of the voters, they are able to propose and organize screenings all over the country.

Jane Green, who is in charge of publicity, explained to me that the 10 selected shorts and 10 features will be screened in Paris at the Cinemateque Francaise, but they will also be offered exhibition and distribution deals with the impressive list of partners that festival has acquired thus far: Withoutabox, YouTube, My Space, Amazon Unbox, IFP, and Current, amongst others.

All of the organizers have extensive experience harnessing the power of online social tools, which could certainly help make this a success, but, since the filmmakers will come with the expectation to start recouping their investment through these alternative channels (part of the festival's objectives) and there are no specific deals on the table yet, the negotiation process will be a delicate one.

Although not every loose end has been tied yet, we should keep an eye on this project because it's bound to push the boundaries of current distribution models. And come June, I do hope that we get to see the 20 selected projects that should be well on their way to "awesome."