September 15, 2009 Jill

CoplandI got very excited reading the transcript of Liesl Copland‘s keynote speech to Sunday’s Doc Conference at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Copland is an executive at William Morris Endeavor’s Global Finance & Distribution Group and a former Netflix employee.  Her speech was — on the surface — about the future of the specialty film centre in the not-so-new media world.  But on a deeper level it’s a primer on how to think about merging the old media with the new.

Copland touches on audience, promotion and making money.

This moment, right now is an important one. We have been living in the new media world for a while now (so let’s first agree to call it “not-so-new media”) and brave companies have experimented.  But now is the time to figure out what is working and what isn’t working. Why? I think our product is slowly being devalued.

Copland showed her audience this video:

Social Media Revolution

First, we as doc filmmakers and doc lovers need to read like never before – and not just the film trades and the MPAA yearly report. We need to look also at the news sources where the innovation is happening: Tech Crunch, and Ad Age. Information is power. Every crime thriller and cop show has that scene where investigators put pictures and pieces of a puzzle up on a bulletin board. Eventually the epiphany comes – the bolt of lightning” and then our hero runs out of the room.

I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that traditionally all goods, including movies, have been purveyed to the world at large by a certain power structure that filters the content through a certain supply chain. The few – the people with money – pay for the works of intellectual property to be produced and then marketing happens and then down at the retail level, after consumers receive successful marketing messages, there is a point of purchase. The only talk back session ever to touch the supply chain logic in the movie industry was something called the focus group.

But now, much of the activity is happening in a new layer that the Internet has provided. And what is more exciting to me is that in the same place where we are reading and watching these messages about content we have immediate access to the content itself and can transact right there. Our TVs, our computers, and our phones are learning us.

Whatever way you look at it the old and new media are melding.  We’re telling our stories differently.  We’re distributing them in new ways.  Promoting them with new tools.  That part seems so exciting and creatively liberating.

And then there’s the whole scary scary money piece.  What’s the business model?  How will we make money?  In many ways, it’s time for us to stop cowering about the money and start looking at the business end as another creative opportunity that digital offers us.   It’s not as though Canadian film and television has offered artists and creators such a fabulous business model in the first place.  It’s been wrought with problems for us.  And the shape of the business model does not produce particularly creative working environments.  It is not conducive to producing great work.

Suddenly, we’re faced with a blank slate.  It’s true, no one can tell you exactly how to finance your digital project or make money from it.  But that is freedom.  There are no rules, so we can make them ourselves, build new patterns, experiment.  It’s time for us to get creative about business and making models that work for us in two ways:

  • pay the artist first
  • foster a great creative working environment.

I have to echo Copland’s sentiments.  This is an exciting time.  And if we act now and act together, this is our time.

Thanks to Justine Whyte of the CFC for linking me up with Copland’s speech.

Comments (4)

  1. Great post, Jill. I agree with Copland in many instances but to pick a nit, I would have to revise her statement to say:

    “pay the investors first”.

    We all have horror stories to tell regarding creative accounting. It’s time for that to stop. If we can demonstrate an accurate business model to investors then that is going to go a long way toward creating a great work environment. Investors want their money back (and rightfully so) and should be first in line followed by the producers, etc…If a solid track record of good business accounting can be established as opposed to the creative accounting of the entertainment industry, we’ll be able to flourish. Already online portals are ramping up ad venues in their video – pre-roll ads, embedded ads, post rolls, and others. People are looking for and refining the income opportunities.

    But what good is it if the financials aren’t there to back up the vision?

  2. admin

    Copland is a money person. I post her speech because of the thinking that underlies it, not as much the detail.

    As to pay the investors first? One of my pet baby ideas is to treat the artists who work on the project as first tier investors. Let’s not ask them to defer, but to invest. Their time and talent is as valuable to me as an investor’s money — in fact it’s actually equivalent because if the investor gives me cash, I’m only going to use it to buy time and work from fellow artists.

    I want to pay artists first.

Comments are closed.