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Uni Shorts 2013: the marketplace for your content

When I saw that the panel discussion, “The Marketplace for Your Content”, was scheduled to run for twice the usual amount of time usually allocated to a session like this, I became a tad concerned. Surely there was little chance that the three local gentleman programmed to speak would come near matching the entertainment value of Chris Wyatt’s keynote speech the day before. I needn’t have worried – while there may not have been many overt laughs, there was thought-provoking entertainment aplenty in the content shown us.

Moderator Dan Wagner offered the three panellists 15 minutes each to discuss their own perspective on how to distribute content over the new platforms available to us today. Each ran over time, but nobody minded.

First up was Nick Beachman, representing his production company Thick as Thieves. Beachman has a background in production management and producing short films – he was a member of one of the Film Commissions pods. Thick as Thieves was founded 5 years ago in the wake of the Silverscreen collapse. While conventional TVC’s are still a mainstay of their company, they’ve become less and less the main focus. They’re developing other media strands, while also searching for new talent – not just in technical craft but also in storytelling. It was gratifying to see that this focus on storytelling ability was a consistent theme through the seminar from each of the 3 panellists.

After showing us some video clips of their work, Beachman assured the filmmaking students in the audience that there is in fact a definite path from making innovative short films into TVC’s. Ditto from documentary making to TVC’s.

Aaron Turk represented Colenso BBDO, which he described as a middle-sized agency in New Zealand’s advertising market. Colenso’s modus operandi, he told us, was “storytelling for brands”. Most of their work is focused around keeping up with technology, and attempting to push the boundaries. He illustrated this first with the “V-Motion” project, an exercise lasting 6-7 months. The idea: creating a method whereby an individual can create moving images projected on a wall simply by moving or dancing. This involved creating the appropriate technology, staging a public event, filming the event to make TVC’s, and then putting the end result upon the Vimeo website. The ultimate indicator of success: a 15% increase in sales of the energy drink.

To contrast, Turk presented a clip made for Amnesty International, in which we were shown how everyday actions we take for granted are punishable by torture or death in other parts of the world; and in a lighter vein, an ad in which a hidden camera was installed in a young woman’s jeans back pocket and aimed at filming people’s reactions to her walking by. The resulting clip was posted on YouTube.

Ben Woollen’s company, Chasing Time Productions, is focused on creating apps particularly for mobile phones. But his background includes a making short films and a $7000 feature. Referring to this history, he insisted that filmmakers must go to film festivals and meet people there – not just send a film to a festival and hope.

In moving on to discuss the development of new apps, Woollen lamented that it would surely be much easier for someone like him to understand the new technologies if he were 15 to 20 years younger. He also admitted that he hated watching a feature film on a mobile phone, but clearly there are people who do like to do this. He discussed the intense competition in the market for new apps; one’s effort can come to naught when a competitor gets a similar app out onto the market merely one day sooner. He referred to YouTube and Vimeo as useful platforms for targeting an audience, and then encouraged the young filmmakers present to explore New Zealand On Air’s New Media Fund, saying that NZOA couldn’t even give that money away last year.

Woollen’s company’s efforts are not restricted simply to apps. A feature film is in development with the NZFC, a webisode series is also in development. In these realms, apps are useful to reaching out to gather an audience, instead of entering and going to film festivals. One may not reach the producers, distributors and buyers this way, but one can reach the audience. Perhaps this is a better use of one’s money?

To conclude, Beachman insisted that while we have these great new distribution possibilities, everything still always comes down to the quality of content and the storytelling. However, it’s great not having to deal with cinemas – perhaps this makes things more democratic! Turk commented that while anyone can be a director nowadays, it is still necessary to talk with as many people as possible, to be willing to collaborate with other people. Discuss with each other what you are all doing, work out ways in which you can mutually support each other.

In response to an audience question about in-house directors, Turk explained that his company has two editors who are not really directors; but since one really tells stories in editing, they have what they need. He suggested that it would be interesting to see how the new technologies will enable agencies in future to use and develop their own resources rather than going to big film companies.

The panellists’ final nuggets of advice to the young filmmakers:

  • Crowd-funding is really good, as it creates a community;
  • Don’t put all one’s eggs in one basket – for example, do ads as well as your own films;
  • Nothing you do will ever be 100% perfect, but don’t put up unless you think it’s pretty good;
  • Be hard on yourself;
  • Don’t be defensive in regard to feedback – take it on board, consider it and feed it back into the process;
  • It’s up to you to build up your own fan base, so that when you do put stuff up you can tap into that fan base for promotion.
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