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Sites Specific: Can Streaming Save Indie Film?

Sites Specific: Can Streaming Save Indie Film? (photo)

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The way we watch movies is changing. And no one knows how, in the not so distant future, cinema’s going to be consumed — especially those independent and art films that are increasingly unloved by the Hollywood distribution system. Multiplexes may not be the place for defiantly indie cinema, but are iPods, Xboxes, laptops and flat-screens their next best hope?

There are entrepreneurs who are betting on it, which has led to the recent spread of web sites dedicated to putting harder to find films online, from the documentary-centric SnagFilms to the highfalutin internet cinematheque The Auteurs. If there’s one thing that these sites share in today’s tough economic climate, it’s a boldness to try something new when most businesses are scaling back — that, and the fact that they all have founders who are filthy rich.

For the record: SnagFilms’ Ted Leonsis is a former key executive at AOL and a majority owner in NHL’s Washington Capitals; The Auteurs’ Efe Cakarel is a Turkish entrepreneur and former Goldman Sachs investment banker who helped orchestrate the $17 billion merger of the Zurich Financial Services; and Babelgum founder Silvio Scaglia was recently ranked #962 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires 2008. Cineastes can rejoice in the fact that multi-millionaires also share their love of film.

But are a handful of deep-pocketed backers enough to make independent films thrive online? At this point, it’s hard to say. But by all accounts, at least one heavily capitalized site, Jaman.com — founded in 2006 as a viewing portal for independent and world cinema, with a significant emphasis on Bollywood movies — is losing steam and may not survive in its current form.

The central problem for lovers of indie film and the people who make it their business to show those films, whether in theaters or in the newfangled Web, is that the population that drives the business is ultimately a small one. Why is Hulu the most popular kid in school, and Jaman that nice, hard-working student that nobody remembers? Because Hulu has “Saturday Night Live,” “National Lampoon’s Spring Break” and “Family Guy,” while Jaman has “Chokher Bali,” “A Monk’s Awakening” and a low-budget T&A pic called “Pool Party” among its most popular titles. Netflix is one of the rare companies that has helped to cultivate a taste for indie films, but its primary business is still the delivery of old-fashioned DVDs.

Indie-focused sites have a much harder time of making a dent in a slowly developing marketplace. As Efe Cakarel admits, “The truth is that there are not enough people paying to watch films online at the moment.” But he has hope. “We believe that by focusing on quality films that are hard to find on other online platforms we can build our brand, and when the online VOD market takes off, we will be a leading platform for foreign, independent and classic films.”

The problem is waiting for that day to come. Though The Auteurs has made some high-profile partnerships recently — art-cinema juggernaut The Criterion Collection took an equity stake in the outfit and Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation is lending them select films — current traffic to the site is paltry. It’s still in its nascent stages, but the top-viewed films (South Korean director Kim Ki-young’s 1960 melodrama “The Housemaid,” Turkish auteur Metin Erksan’s 1964 film “Dry Summer” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s modernist classic “L’avventura”), all available for free, have been watched, collectively, fewer times than this YouTube video of a golden retriever jumping up to bite a dangling udon noodle. “The numbers,” says Cakarel, “are not an indication of the scale nor the opportunity of what we are trying to achieve.”

Really, how much can be achieved on an indie level?

09042009_lavventura.jpgMatt Dentler, head of programming for Cinetic Rights Management, which provides film sales representation for digital media, argues that digital distribution isn’t a “one size fits all” model: “A film has to speak to the demographic that wants to stream.” In other words, the audience that’s keen on seeing “L’avventura” may not really be the same one that wants to watch that movie on their computer.

According to Dentler, films that work online are older indies that already have established a name for themselves, such as Richard Linklater’s debut “Slacker,” or a documentary like “We Are Wizards,” about “Harry Potter” fandom, which has a built-in mass of interested viewers online. As he puts it, “You need the film to stand out and be attractive on its merits. People aren’t deciding what they want to watch online based on reviews. It’s about the synopsis; it’s about what sounds like a good time right now.”

A lack of name recognition, for instance, will always plague the offers at a site like IndiePix Films, which is both a regular DVD retailer and also hosts micro-budget indies for downloading, like regional festival favorites “Audience of One” and “Toots.” Owned and run by Bob Alexander, a market analysis veteran and a member of the board of directors for the Alliance Capital Management Technology Fund, among others, IndiePix currently doesn’t stream its films, but Alexander knows streaming is the company’s next logical step and vital to their success in providing different price points for consumers: say, a DVD download for $14.95 or a streaming rental for $3.99.

Though Alexander claims there’s been a steady rise in the market — 15-20 percent quarter-to-quarter growth in the last year — the number of sales for individual films on the four-year-old site remains tiny, on the order of 1,000 DVD units for the top seller. Another online indie retailer and buzz builder B-Side, by comparison, may sell over 20,000 units of a particular title, while established DVD documentary company New Video sells over 10,000 units. Many outsider observers suggest that IndiePix’s days are numbered, but Alexander is confident that his company will be, for the first time in its history, in the black by the end of the year.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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