Friday, 12 December 2008

The Bottom Line (The New Black - day 1)

    Led by Karen Alexander. A group of people who do black film festivals (whatever that means). Funded by ukfc , to bring together the cultural with the commercial. Held at Film London. A good bunch people it seems to be sharing time with. So far nothing to go on but vibe. It's good.


    Peter Buckingham - head of uk film council

    Justin Marciano - md, revolver (chair of panel)

    Bryony Duncan - Audiences london

    Grace Carley- allfilms?marketing?

    Revolver did kidulthood . I'm feeling remarkably under-researched and under loving of the film industry by not knowing what any films are and any directors. This lack of passion for film is compensated by a love of the idea of film and how its used and can be used. I hope. Still love a good film though , like the next person, and must see more. My list of films to watch just grows.

    Like the next person, I am also full of too much to do. While i can see how this whole network of people and sharing of this particular knowledge could work with past and ongoing projects and ideas, it has to be followed through. This will be the real test after all is said and done.


    Distribution is a key word here today. And that's all about rights! Rights I say. Not prints, dvds, posters, slots on telly, on billboards, events, festivals, trailers, talent tours and talks, press and public relations and all that. That's just the cost of exercising those rights. So the brutal business equation leads to the question. Can the film take more than the cost of all that? And then much much more to make the bankers smile. So this is the basic question with any project. It's the business proposition. Will it be worth our while financially? And that is the basic lesson of the whole course. So do we have to spend three months to learn that?...

    And furthermore, what is the point of this group and course?


    It is peddled as 'cultural leadership'. The best take-out for me from the leadership part, is the idea, as Karen suggests that we have strategic view of the overall landscape. A landscape which is changing fast. even as we talk Justin Marciani from Revolver says that they have collapsed all the distribution windows into one for a hundred thousand pound piece of work from the ukfc 'microwave' scheme called Mum and Dad. A horror. Genre piece.

    My take on Karen's general framing of the cultural leadership was the idea of us all knowing the bigger picture of what's going on, how the industry is structured, how you have to play, and who you have to play with. Well at least to interface with that particular the traditional business model. That tower of the business. And the language and core concepts at the basis of this industry were outlined in the morning, with promise of more demystifying throughout the programme. This programme was also about not suffering in silence, and sharing pain, knowledge and resources. It was not! Just about funding. Hear Hear!


    This business of being in their business was of course was questioned. Do we have to be like them and do things their way? Or do we do things differently? Or course we , in the light of the changing landscape, were encouraged to embrace this possibility. With Karen's original introduction being to have a 'yes' mentality about approaching all this of this course. While Peter Buckingham didn't see any evidence in market research surveys that black audiences consumed mainstream film very differently. He could see that a network of players such as ours could reach black audiences as a niche which could have an angle in the industry. However , whatever, it's all going to be about the tills ringing at the end of the day. In that respect we are being 'them' anyway. It's not about black or white, it's about green!


    With the cultural product now. A good rich time at the top of the panel chat was the discussion about a black film. Karen later pointed us to the definition that she supplied to ukfc for a recent study, but the question was the inevitable starting point for the afternoon. Kidulthood was a Youth film says Justin Marciano. He built the Revolver business by importing youth themed videos and dvds (Well getting the rights, and then putting them on the shelves ). His company also recently distributed Richard Pryor stuff, which i think have at home. Bought and paid for. But overall the question is unresolvable. Black film, what is that? We don't really know but we know it when we see it. The definition (Karen/UKFC) is going to be somewhere else on this blog. I'm sure.


    Justin from Revolver thought that a film just had to be a 'good film' to pass his distributable test. While there was some questioning of this, presumably from people who know of good films that distributors have rejected, or has never heard of. Which is where the Relationship amongst us and them come in. He thought the key thing between distributors and festivals was relationship. They actively cultivate this with London and Edinburgh film festivals because he can get something from them for his business. They are key festivals. Good festivals might be characterised by new films, new talent, hype opportunities and critical appraisal of new releases. This get much needed Press and PR that fuels those all important opening weekends in the cinema that are so fundamental to the established business model.

    If people in a festival are paying to see the film then it's straight business. Then the distributors get their percentage. Otherwise a distributor might use a festival for market/audience testing. If it's just that (i.e. Free for audiences to see, or just minimum guatantee payments), then the distributor would not want to put it about too much before free/discounted screenings starts 'cannibalizing' their film's natural, most likely audiences. Ideally for the distributors the festival should generate good word-of-mouth, which just needed stimulating. He's of course now deploying viral marketing techniques from his modern distributor arsenal. In a word Street.

    There's loads of stuff about release windows and such depending on the pecking order of the distributors, which Karen spoke about later in the afternoon, but essentially festivals can be 'acquisitions' people for them too. He's looking for hits, with audiences he can identify and sell to markets he understands too. Content he can get rights for to distribute and sell profitably.

    The current issue for him is in what form: theatrical release (which has lost a lot of its business glint of late, in fact is was never really profitable, hence why cinemas sell popcorn), dvds, television, online, ipod , mobile etc. These are all competing for attention , all jumbled up and the film marketeers are finding ways of putting it back together in ways that still make the tills ring. People got mortgages and all that. Meanwhile the established business model collapses and new models are created in the production-distribution-exhibition line. More like production-exhibition. Or in the youtube-webcam world, just straight exhibition. So the all-powerful distributor of films are looking for ways to ensure they remain so.


    Either way individual festivals or even a network of festivals could be useful partners for distributors. It's all about how you step to them.

    Some of it is in the gloss of a brochure, presentation, telephone manner or most usefully to him, feedback on the audience's qualitative reaction to the film. It's all such things, but most of how you step to him has to be in the attitude. He needs you like you need him. As a festival partner you can exhibit, talent scout, research audiences, test them, feedback and other useful things that a distributor might need.

    The attitude thing therefore is not in going in there all feisty and arrogant. You present a business proposition. The attitude begins way before you ever meet him. It's on the basis of your (reliable) research and audience understanding, professional bearing and ability to put it in a language he understands. Which is where this course comes in. It's a window into their world. Which me may be in though maybe on the fringe. We have to sell ourselves.

    These words won't even sit easy with deep ideas about enslavement so present in people's thinking, but that's what it it. As people once interested primarily in cultural product, we have been thinking about, motivated by and effective in raising the cultural side. The time has come (once again) to look at the product, or business side of the black film festival. Since we also have the mortgages, are also therefore motivated here by the business opportunity.

    Of course black means so many things and it changes by the minute. And we know black has been culture-marketeered into urban and youth. It was Grace and Bryony looking at audiences to state that unlike Bollywood, (and Nollywood,) there was no 'Black' audience. You couldn't really go on colour as a judge of what would appeal because there's diversity in the diversity. We already know Black becomes meaningless quite quickly. Futher 'segmentation' would have to be considered. They could not market a film to a White audience. There is no such thing as far as the marketing people are concerned either. Gender, Age, Cinema going habit , genre lover, star-followers come into play.

    Kunle did also point out that Africans were soon to outnumber African-Caribbean. This is an interesting thing in itself. Which also reminds us that even as a colonially imposed concept, there is enough cultural identification to make Nigerian films, with questionable production values, still generate such a following. We forget! It's not all about Brad and Angelina (and Jennifer). It's about knocking out cult-ural product profitably. Like Hollywood and Bollywood, Nollywood just keeps familiar product coming. And coming. It has it's own star system, genre expectations, mythologies , distribution network and expectant audiences. It's the prolific factor that makes it an industry. That's not to say Nigerians cant be found watching mainstream film, and will be caught by a marketeers survey from time to time. But they also watch their own films, with language and cultural bearing they enjoy. What 's that all about?

    Now UK 'black' mainstream films try to reflect the lifestyles of those descendents of migrants who are now more immersed in the playstation with their white friends and cousins and become urban. Meanwhile the game industry is seen as different again. It's Parallel. But we didn't talk about that. In the context of this discussion, games were more competitive attention-seeking choices for consumers to draw them away from film. Basically as far as the mainstream distribution business is concerned, in the UK, there is no black film.

    The Matrix I asserted is a black film because not only was it written by a black woman before being nicked by the coen bros. I said that but... Actually since looking it up i can say it was Sophia Stewart whose film was stolen by the Wichowski bros. And Warner bros. Anyway the substance of the point was that it fitted a fear of the evil state, who exploits us as a people, and destroyed or realities to suck our energies away. Powerful figures played by black folk but not the central character. That would be too black they must have thought. Meanwhile the people try to free themselves from the soul-sapping devices of some Babylon, the Matrix. And with it's fair spattering of kung fu, it's a black film through sensibilities, form, style, cast and story. Not sure anyone was buying my argument though. Maybe after i got all the names wrong, they weren't listening.

    Lots of potential US imports are not arriving. Tyler Perry kept on coming up. Why was his stuff not available? And there was some chat about piracy. Well it was acknowledged as a big issue for anyone who wanted to make money out of film sales in some 'black' communities.

    Kunle was the one who mentioned the R word. He acknowledged that we seem to be skirting round the issue of racism. There is after all a basic institutional misunderstanding of a black audience. 'No body knew that was going to happen' thought Peter about Kidulthood. It was make apparently as worthy cultural product. We heard later how it was marketed to cinema-goers rather than audiences that reflected where the film's characters came from. They made it a success because the industry have some very set ideas about who their audiences are, and how to reach them. It doesn't really know black people. It's forgotten about Blaxploitation and the hunger to see black characters, settings, stories and sensibilities. After all, the Blax came before the ploitation, which is the point the industry took notice of the numbers in the light of dwindling mainstream sales.

    I still don' t know why Revolver is called revolver and wondered I was trying to make it anything more than a Gun! I forgot to ask that one.

    Anyway bottom-line. We have to have an even more entrepreneurial attitude. Of course we are already pretty enterprising to have been doing what we were doing and to have found our way onto the course. But the business grasp and attitude. Knowing we have lots to offer other than a begging bowl.

    Suhail rightly questioned the value in an informal networks. As in whether we would like to become on and carry on linking up in between the sessions.

    So let's define what that could be (initially):

  1. Sharing films and programmed content.
  2. Collaborative bargains with distrubutors
  3. People supporting the People side of us.
  4. Operation support with events and film events.
  5. Shared marketing materials.
  6. .... We could go on. But save that for the group.

    Well there will always be a need for people to get together and meet. Like i-robots we feel the need to be social while doing nothing even. We congregate. Well mostly. Going to the cinema is part of that. Or community centre of art gallery or library to watch a film. And as far as the 'black' bit. We know there are audiences for our stories. We just have to live the making films and finding audiences part in very dragon's den kinda way. That bottom line. Here is a business waiting to happen.

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