So Who Shot Mamba? – our self-dubbed “broadband motion picture” – starts running tomorrow.
The most oft-asked question about it – is it a movie or a web series? The answer is simple – it’s both. It’s a stand-alone feature film crafted specifically to work as a web serial.
As such, instead of a self-congratulatory post about WSM? finally coming out, I’d like to explain my rationale behind why it’s been done like this, as opposed to just making an indie film, or just making a web series.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s eliminate two kinds of indie films:
1) $30M indie films backed by Peter Jackson, i.e. District 9. That’s not to take a away from what District 9 has done, it’s just that it was never not getting theatrical distribution of some kind.
2) The outliers like Paranormal Activity – if you’re planning your marketing and ambitions on a “but Paranormal Activity did it…” I admire your ambition, but I’d also like to stay in a more general area of discussion. (I really mean “realistic”, but I don’t want to be a dream-killer.)
This boils down to is a discussion about technology and the future, with a touch of marketing. To do that, we start with today.
You’ve got your forms of content:
1) Feature Films
2) TV Series
3) Web Series
Then your distribution:
2) Network & Cable Television
3) Web Streaming (Including mobile.)
4) Web Downloads
5) Web Rentals
7) DVD rentals
Here’s where I think we could be in +/- five years. Maybe not fully established, but enough that society is accepting the paradigm:
1) Feature Films
2) Series – Long Form
3) Series – Short Form
There it is – some will be studio backed, some brand backed, and some independent. I don’t think there will be a difference between a “web series” and a “TV show”.
They’re all gonna be coming through the same channels, whether it be YouTube, Hulu, iTunes, or NBC-Comcast.net or whatever. This isn’t crazy – WSM? will be on your Tivo system – this stuff is already happening.
There are movies with well-known talent hitting onDemand before small theatrical runs. Look at Friday Night Lights and DirectTV. Let’s take a break and advertise the movie.
2) Digital Streaming
3) Digital Download
4) Digital Rental
Don’t be surprised to see cable/satellite overhauled completely – think about your cable bill, and how many of the shows/channels you don’t watch. What if instead, you paid a buck for every show you actually wanted to see?
Do the math – see what your bill comes out to. Just something to think about.
(And yes, I think DVD will be gone that fast, or at least fully recognized as on the way out – the new lines of HDTVs are all web-capable, have Netflix installed, etc. It took VHS about 8 years to full extinction upon the advent of DVD – with the accelerated rate of tech advancement, DVD could die that much faster. This, especially when you factor in affordability – technology usually gets cheaper as it gets better.)
Okay, so let’s come back WSM?. Looking at the second set of distribution options, factoring in the tough state of indie film sales and distribution, what’s one to do with their independent film?
Breaking that down, there’s basically three things you want out of your indie film:
1) Profit for your investors and yourself.
2) Exposure and the new opportunities that it may bring.
3) Artistic fulfillment.
Number three you’re gonna get just from making it, unless you’re the internally-tortured type like myself. Good work.
The first one is an extreme long-shot if you’re aiming for a theatrical release. It just is – read up on the market. It’s beyond a long-shot, especially if you’re a hardcore indie, i.e. no big names or anything.
Number two however…readily available now, and even moreso in my hypothetical future.
The point for me is that looking at the project I wanted to do, even in this pre-future, it made way more sense to tailor it to the web. It’s a cult-type of film that will find its cult way easier this way.
Rather than wait/hope/pray for some kind of gift from the theatrical or cable gods, we’ve got 2,000+ people devoted to watching it when it debuts tomorrow. Not a massive number, but for a web-streaming production with no big names that hasn’t even come out, that’s not too bad.
It beats sitting around waiting to get rejection letters from festivals. Will we make money on downloads/DVD/merchandise or get the exposure to do bigger and better things? Remains to be seen.
In the future, I believe that a vast majority of indie films will go this route, and they won’t need to serialize to do so. (That said, serialization is an interesting narrative choice to make – WSM? was written with – and I believe the quirkiness of the material lends itself to – its mini-cliffhangers.)
Obviously the technology development and adoption needs to be completed first. This is already possible to some extent if you can get your indie on Netflix.
After that, there’s a certain mind-set shift that has to occur among filmmakers – like it’s okay not to be in a theater. It’s no secret it’s quickly becoming the realm of the blockbusters and nothing else. I’m certainly okay with that – if there’s an audience, they pay, and they’re happy, I won’t complain.*
*All that under the disclaimer that those $200M exploding-stuff movies are the exact ones I want to make.
What do you think? Unload your thoughts at me.
WEB SERIES NOTE: I see a lot of talk from established people in the space like Yuri Baranovsky talking about “saving the web series” or “raising the bar” for web series.
What I’m saying is that “save the web series” isn’t a concept that’s gonna happen – the web series as it is today will be a historical footnote of a transitional period, much like the film serial.
If you really want to read about the entire history of this production, there’s a free eBook I wrote right here – foreword by the esteemed director, Dustin Pearlman. Lots of screenshots and stories in there, as well.