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What Can Indie Film Learn from Indie Music?

On May 7, I led a discussion at the Maryland Film Festival  of what independent film can learn from the upheaval in the music business. At the festival's "Filmmakers Taking Charge" conference, music manager and promoter Jason Foster talked about the value of providing free downloads of songs, in order to make money at live events and with direct sales, often at those events. (He also noted that it was a lot cheaper to make music than to make movies.) Promoter Cullen Stalin talked about the challenge of dealing with industry behemoth Live Nation/Ticketmaster, which has a lock on many venues and on promotion as well. Both said that promotion via social media was absolutely key to their work; giving work away was one feature of their promotion. They also noted that iTunes was by far the most important source of downloading revenue. This echoed a concern that Ira Deutchman raised as he left the earlier panel--"Watch out for any organization that controls 80% of the market."

Cinetic Rights Management's Chris Horton promoted his company's ability to strike deals with a range of online movie outlets. He too said that iTunes accounted for the overwhelming majority of revenues in the area, and despite pleas would not provide any indication of about how much a filmmaker can hope to make in the online market today. Director Linas Phillips went to Sundance with his film Bass Ackwards and had DVDs ready for sale the same day the film debuted (the sales covered the groups' travel costs to Sundance). In the end, one thing filmmakers can learn from the music business, it seems, is that creative promotion, employing social media, is key to online distribution success. But so far, if Cinetic is any guide, free access is still not an experiment most filmmakers are ready for.