FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHTDecember 03, 2009
On Demand Weekly (ODW) continues our Filmmaker Spotlight series focusing on filmmakers distributing their film via Video On Demand (VOD). I recently spoke with Chris Smith (AMERICAN MOVIE), the director of COLLAPSE, FilmBuff (On Demand)’s new documentary (available on VOD December 6th).
ODW was interested in the making of the film and his perspective on VOD as an entertainment option.
On Demand Weekly: Your film opens with a card stating you met the subject for COLLAPSE, Michael Ruppert, for another project. How soon after meeting him did you know you had the makings of a documentary around Ruppert and did you have to convince him to do the film?
Chris Smith: It was about two or three weeks after our initial meeting that we wrote to Michael pitching him this idea. He was pretty much onboard once he read the treatment.
ODW: There are lots of people with strong points of view on the film's main topic. Why Michael Ruppert?
CS: I think when you see the film the answer becomes obvious. It's not only his knowledge and the way he synthesizes information, but his life story and his journey that makes the film what it is. He's a captivating speaker and his mixture of information, anecdotes and delivery is truly unique.
Michael challenges us and everything we hold to be true. He gets under your skin and you can't stop thinking about what he says. The Toronto Film Festival called Michael a 'radical thinker', and in the end I think that's the most appropriate description. He looks at the world in a completely different way than the rest of us.
ODW: On a scale of 1 - 10, how paranoid is Ruppert?
CS: Only time will tell.
ODW: Did you ever consider IN SEARCH OF THE 100TH MONKEY as a subtitle to the film?
CS: We considered The 100th Monkey, but in the end we chose Collapse as it related not only to the collapse of industrial civilization, but to the collapse in Michael's life due to his passion and commitment in trying to get his message out.
ODW: What didn't make the final cut you want people to see?
CS: There are always things you love that don't make the final edit - but ever since DVD it has been so much easier to make cuts as you know those clips will at least find a home as deleted scenes. For Collapse, we started posting some out-takes on our site. Similar to VOD, it seems all part of an evolution that's happening. Where you once put out-takes on a DVD as added value, you can now also post them on your site and other sites to draw people to the VOD.
ODW: What do you hope the film accomplishes and what would be your call to action to people who watch it?
CS: I hope people see the film and are entertained and engaged. It's a very thought provoking film and I'm most excited about the debate and dialogue the film seems to create. The Toronto Film Festival screenings were really encouraging as people really liked the film regardless if they believed in all, some or none of what Michael had to say - which is what we were after. We wanted the film to stand on it's own as an intriguing look at an individual. Michael truly lives outside the mainstream. He's been criticized and ostracized for most of his life for trying to get across his message. The film is much more a character study of Michael than it is a full examination of the issues he presents. It's about the theory he's developed over thirty years, how he ended up here and the effects it's had on his life.
ODW: If only one person could watch this film to enact change, who would it be? And has he/she seen it?
CS: I think Mike's message is that it's about more than one person. It's about a collective conscious. In his mind, the problem is too big for one person to solve, so it's more about getting everyone to understand what the challenges are and working together towards solutions. So in that vein, it's not about getting one person to see it - but as Michael says finding the 100th Monkey.
ODW: Had you heard of Video On Demand (VOD) before shopping COLLAPSE for distribution? If yes, what was your impression and has it changed?
CS: I've had the benefit of working closely with John Sloss for a number of years, who is at the forefront of independent film sales, so I've been very aware of this shift. Over the past few years it's become more and more obvious that the traditional distribution model for many independent films hasn't been working. VOD just seems like the natural evolution. My impression had been very positive from the start. The ability to get these films into people’s homes is an incredible evolution.
ODW: FilmBuff is new to VOD and to VOD users / film fans. What convinced you to work with FilmBuff?
CS: They offered the most in terms of passion, energy and enthusiasm towards the platform and our film.
ODW: Many of the theatrical distributors who acquire independent films have been downsized or gone out of business in recent years. How important is VOD to independent filmmakers?
CS: In regards to independent film, VOD is the perfect compliment to a limited theatrical release, and an incredible alternative to theatrical altogether. If you're lucky enough to get a theatrical, VOD allows you to capitalize on the national press you receive. If someone in Peoria reads about your film in the New York Times, they can now watch it that night on VOD. If you can't get a theatrical release, VOD allows for a much needed additional revenue stream given the lower fees and reduced options in traditional DVD and television.
ODW: Are there any drawbacks to VOD distribution?
CS: This is the first film we've released a film through VOD, and since we're at the beginning of the process it's somewhat hard to tell. So far it's exceeded our expectations in terms of exposure and the amount of homes we were able to reach. Our film has had great energy online - so to have the film available in more than 35 million homes is something that wouldn't be possible without VOD.
ODW: Do you and your production team have to promote the film on VOD more or differently than in theaters?
CS: We've been lucky as we're working with Film Buff who know the space and have cultivated a strong strategy to get attention for their films. From a filmmakers perspective it feels much more about creating an awareness online (through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) than through traditional advertising.
ODW: How do you wish the Cable Operators behind VOD (Comcast, Time Warner, etc) would promote VOD exclusive films that they are not currently doing?
CS: Just having a space dedicated to exclusives would be a start - so people would know that this was a place they can see films that can't be found anywhere else. Ultimately it's finding a way to cut through the clutter to let people know that the films are there - especially ones that may not have had as many dollars already spent advertising the theatrical release.
ODW: "Straight to Video / DVD" often carries a negative connotation. What can filmmakers and VOD distributors do to avoid this with VOD titles?
CS: I am not an authority on VOD, but my perception has always been that VOD started with bigger, high profile films and has been branching out to more premieres and independents. I think because it evolved this way, it's seems to have already avoided the straight to video connotation since the initial offerings were fairly sought after films.
ODW: After this experience, would you ever make a film to be specifically released via VOD?
CS: Every film is different - but if it was the right project, then definitely. Ultimately the goal is to get your film seen - so if VOD made the most sense for a specific project, then I would be happy to make a film specifically for VOD. In independent film, there's a good chance that more people will see your film on VOD than in theaters, so it's increasingly becoming a viable alternative.
ODW: From a director’s point of view, why is VOD better than viewing films available via the internet?
CS: Of course as a filmmaker you'd prefer people to have the best viewing experience possible. Watching a film on a computer screen doesn't equate to watching a film on a television. You want people to be immersed and engaged in what their watching, and although the internet is improving rapidly, TV still seems to offer a much better experience in terms of picture and sound.
ODW: What are you working on next?
CS: I'm just getting back to ideas I was working on before meeting Michael. I seem to always have about 10 projects floating around and when I finish one I just see which seems the most exciting to work on next. My current focus is an animated script I've been working on for a few years.\
For more information on COLLPASE visit www.collapsemovie.com