A blog project of Tribeca Film Institute

IDFA: Follow-up on Euro Fair Use

As you might have read in my Permissions Culture in the UK post, I was bowled over by the lack of flexibility in fair dealing in the UK. Patricia Aufderheide of The Center for Social Media at American University reports from the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam that there actually has been a bit of progress:

The British Broadcasting Company’s Karen O’Connor told me that the standard-setting BBC accepted Jayanti’s use as acceptable quotation and aired the program last month. Jayanti and other British producers had been emboldened to search for limitations and exceptions in British law by comparison with the U.S. example. The BBC’s decision sets a powerful precedent. Read the whole post>>

Considering many of the filmmakers I heard from at Sheffield Doc/Fest were producing for the BBC, this is indeed great news! The power of banding together to fight for the rights of filmmakers actually does work, so for those who are interested in getting active on this issue, there are some forward thinking folks to connect with after all. Another reason I’m sorry to miss IDFA.

The Center for Social Media has announced the next incarnation of the Making Your Media Matter Conference. It will be held at American University in Washington DC on February 12-13, 2009. So far, social issue documentary veterans George Stoney and Gordon Quinn are scheduled for keynotes. Who should go? “Join filmmakers, distributors, outreach specialists and an impressive cast of media pioneers for a series of panel discussions on the latest tools and trends in creating, distributing, and fundraising for social issue media.”

If that sounds like your bag, you should consider attending. This particular conference always has proved fruitful for me personally. I’ve been twice and met many new contacts that I’ve kept over the years. It’s usually a manageable crowd with lots of time for chatting and engaging with attendees and speakers. Get the whole skinny here>>

I get into an unfortunate self-perpetuating cycle where a lot of great material comes at me all at once. I want to share it but I want to look it over and digest it first as well. If you haven’t already heard about it, Scott Kirsner of CinemaTech, had produced a series of case studies for ITVS on how filmmakers are using digital technologies in social activism, distribution and promotion. He summarizes his findings into three sets of recommendations, and you can delve further into how he came to those recommendations through reading the case studies.

I haven’t gotten to the case studies yet but hope to shortly. The first on the list is from Byron Hurt’s powerful Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes (pictured right). In the meantime, go ahead and dive in… let me know if anything strikes you are particularly relevant or “new” news.

Kirsner’s Top Five Distribution Strategies

  • Make sure DVDs are available when audiences are most interested in the film: during the theatrical run, during festival screenings and at the time of the first TV broadcast.
  • Consider producing at least two versions of the DVD, at two different price points: one for general audiences and a second version for educational/group use, with discussion guides and supplemental material.
  • Carefully evaluate distribution offers that wrap up digital rights with theatrical or home video rights. What will the distributor do in the near-term to generate revenues with those rights?
  • Focus digital distribution efforts on outlets with already-established audiences (such as Apple’s iTunes or’s Unbox); if working with a newer outlet, negotiate for premium placement on the site and additional promotion.
  • Whether selling DVDs or digital downloads/rentals with a business partner, insist on regular reporting of sales figures and the ability to audit them. Read the entire article>>

Permissions Culture in the UK

I just got back from Sheffield Doc/Fest and boy o boy, do I feel bad for UK filmmakers! The “clearance culture” as the folks at the Center for Social Media call it, is totally out of control. It is so bad that I at one point an Irish filmmaker told me that the UK has no such thing as “fair dealing,” which is akin to “fair use” in the US. Though fair dealing is commonly acknowledged to be less flexible than fair use, it does exist and from my brief reading of it, it does apply in some common situations filmmakers find themselves in, such as incidental capture and quoting for the purposes of review. And at least here in the US, before all of the work around fair use, filmmakers knew that the permissions culture had gotten out of hand. To that wondering filmmaker, I explained a little bit about fair use, but clearly he is working in a system that even if he understood his rights, he would be beholden to highly conservative business affairs folks.

It was great that the Sheffield organizers invited James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins from Duke University Law and authors of Bound by Law? to speak at an Industry Session, but it was problematic because a.) UK law and US law differ and Boyle and Jenkins hadn’t prepared even an addendum to help the European filmmakers understand where US and UK law are similar, and b.) they didn’t address how filmmakers here in the US articulated their rights through the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use and the process by which they lobbied business affairs and insurers to accept their findings.

They discussed Bound by Law? which is a great tool for understanding law as it applies to filmmaking, but what I think UK filmmakers need an organization that will step up to the plate, as the Center for Social Media did, to help filmmakers articulate fair dealing as it applies to working in the UK and to garner support among the various organizations that support filmmakers. I heard over and over at screenings that films had to be cut down because makers couldn’t afford the rights. What a shame for culture in the UK.

Devlin on Festival Strategy

BLAST! by Paul DevlinDocumentary magazine editor Tom White pointed me to a great article by filmmaker Paul Devlin over at The Independent. Devlin has a new film, BLAST!, that he launched at this year’s HotDocs. He shares his experiences navigating the festival experience with valuable insight:

Festival programmers want virgins. So choose wisely where your film is going to lose its virginity, especially if you want to maximize press and sales potential. After the premiere, your film may have trouble being accepted into competition at the next festival, or even being accepted at all. Read the whole article>>

Of course, that is only one piece of advice that I chose because it’s dramatic. Paul offers many more pieces of good advice.

There are a couple of points where I can see the festival side of things. He notes that festival entry fees add up and calls it a “major revenue stream” for festivals. That might be true in some cases, but not most. $30 from 1000 films is $30,000. While that is a nice chunk of money, from that they have to pay a staff person to coordinate those submissions (track & label DVDs as they come in, distribute to screeners, etc.), pay their Withoutabox subscription fees, event staffing, travel to scout films, and create printed materials such as programs and quick guides at the fest. I’m a firm believer that a festival shouldn’t lose money and the better organizers will make that income go far, but dealing with 1000 submissions is no small task even if there are only slots for 90 films (when I worked with Silverdocs in 2005, there were 1200 submissions for about 80 slots–features AND shorts–in case you didn’t know how hard a programmer’s job is).

He digs into fests on the issue of premieres and I agree with Paul from the filmmaker perspective, noting that this is largely a press/industry issue, not an audience issue. But, for filmmakers hoping to create business relationships at a festival, that is at the heart of it. There is a rather small group of industry executives and they travel to a lot of festivals in search of films and filmmakers. If they see a program filled with work they have already seen at Sundance, then why attend SXSW or Tribeca? The festivals that aspire to be places where you can meet buyers have to put on a program that won’t be stale to the executives they are trying to attract. It’s a double-edged sword for the filmmaker. That is where thinking through the strategy becomes critical.

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