Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly great for connecting with an audience and meeting people in a given field, especially if you're an independent artist like I am.
Sometimes, it's nice to just get up from behind the laptop and get out. Since January, I've attended Sundance, South by Southwest (Interactive and Film conferences), and two different medical marijuana-themed expos at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (My first feature film's about people who can't handle a pot brownie high one night, so why not.)
I've made an overwhelming number of quality contacts at each, and while emoticons may pass for being social of late, I'm finding it much more fun and lively to actually engage with people and communities in person.
I attended Digital Hollywood and the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit this past week at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. It was a solid 60-75 minute drive each morning in traffic coming from Silverlake, though was well worth it. As an independent filmmaker embracing digital distribution, this was the place to be.
I had no specific game plan other than to attend the panels that sounded the most interesting and pertinent, and to introduce myself to the people I figured I should get to know.
The first day of the symposium was put on by Variety and held mainly in one large conference room. I was shocked that the room wasn't equipped with wireless internet, and access in the rest of the hotel was spotty at best. In situations like this, I can't help but think of the Louis CK bit, "Everything's Amazing & Nobody's Happy" and feel like an entitled 21st Century Digital Boy. But, seriously, come on -- it's Digital Hollywood, not a dog show or a bridal expo! The gestalt of the whole event was that Hollywood's becoming more and more digital, and people couldn't even tweet from their laptops? Hmm. (After all, South by Southwest had every crevice of the Austin Convention Center wired.) I took a couple deep breaths and eventually came to peace with this weak sauce once Joe Roth, founder of Revolution Studios, came up to the stage to give the opening keynote interview.
Roth was like a calm sage, and I hung on to his every word. He believes X-Box has essentially become a cable network and wonders why they aren't producing content. He stressed content over and over, and that nothing happens if nothing gets made. As a content creator, this was reassuring, though he was also quick to point out that "everybody's scared of content." In an industry where a fine line can separate a flop from a hit, it makes sense. I grinned from ear to ear when Roth said that the reason for the Weinsteins' decline was that they "were taken away from the street." I love when Hollywood people let loose and speak candidly about their peers, especially in a form similar to rappers dissing one another.
One thing Roth said that really stuck with me was that we have to go beyond generalizations; that every idea has its own set of rules. As a first-time feature filmmaker with a movie that I know works for a certain audience, though is perhaps the antithesis of Toy Story 3, I couldn't agree more.
Next up was the "Global Advertising Power Roundtable," where Lloyd Braun of Berman Braun said something that particularly stood out to me: He believes it's not really in the DNA of many CEOs and CMOs to move money to digital; however, when the internet/digital age starts to take over en masse in these positions, we'll really start to see the shift. Makes sense, and it might happen sooner than people think.
The Digital Hollywood panel, "Freemium - Free vs. Pay - The Conundrum of Content Monetization", featured some brilliant minds and still has me thinking. Satya Patel of Battery Venture stressed that scarcity plus quality monetizes best. What is quality, though? According to Patel, "you know pornography when you see it, and quality is the same." Couldn't agree more.
Eduardo Hauser, Founder/CEO of DailyMe, pointed out that you have to present the right content to the right person at the right time at the right device. Thus, you really need to know your user, or viewer. In addition, if you own the contact opportunity, then you are the retailer. I found this all to be particularly interesting as I'm just starting to distribute my movie Bad Batch online. Who do I think my user/viewer is? Anyone who enjoys either character-driven black and white films or comedy relating to getting high. The right time is now, as marijuana is all over the news as laws are changing rapidly. As far as the right device? The easy access of online and paying through Paypal and Amazon makes sense to me. I'm happy with the infrastructure I currently have in place as a micro-budget filmmaker turned micro budget distributor. The real challenge will be attracting attention, and I know this will be an uphill battle.
I asked the panel what they'd recommend for a filmmaker in my position. They all stressed social media networking, with which of course, I agree. Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon.com, suggested that I "marry well", which made the audience chuckle a bit. I didn't really take offense, though Gingras approached me after the panel, apologized for the remark, and gave me his card. I found his self-awareness to be especially cool, and I'm sure I'll be emailing him sometime this week.
I spoke with Eduardo Hauser, as well, after the panel. He stressed to really think about all of the aspects of distribution and think about how it all can be done differently. He also pointed out that I should somehow get in-the-know with Bill Maher. Completely agree. (I wonder which dispensary he goes to?)
I attended many more panels, in addition. Topics ranged from creating content for mobile devices to branding content across all platforms. I met people who work for studios, emerging distribution platforms, in the press, etc. Everyone was friendly, and I now have a lot of follow-up emails to write.
I'm realizing there's so much more to learn in regards to digital distribution. I feel as though I've gotten on the right train; I just happen to be at the first stop. Even if Hollywood is heading in the direction of all things digital, human interaction will still play a vital part.
Although I initially wasn't too happy with the lack of wireless internet in the main conference space, it felt good to get away from my computer (and internet), and be truly social with people working in digital media. I'm sure I'll be attending and writing about more events in the near future.
Follow Abe Schwartz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbeSchwartz