Distributor FAQ: Atomfilms.com

What is AtomFilms.com?
Atom is a next generation entertainment company that specializes in the best short films and animations from all over the world. It’s the coolest place for consumers to see up-and-coming and established artists.

Why do you consider yourselves distributors?
We actually consider ourselves marketers and entertainment innovators, but we do license content to both on-line and off-line companies, including domestic and international TV, airlines, VHS/DVD, major Internet sites, and many other emerging channels. We also display and sell directly to consumers via our web site and some theatrical outlets.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy:
Shorts are cool.

Who is AtomFilms.com?
A potent combo of people who wear platform shoes and people who wear pocket protectors.

How big is your staff?
36 employees, with offices in Seattle (HQ), LA, and London.

How, when, and why did AtomFilms.com come into being?
Mika has been a fan of shorts since childhood and collected animations as a kid. When he moved from France to New York City in 1994 in order to work in the music biz, he was frustrated that it was so hard to find his favorite stuff—outside of film festivals, that is. (Mika had various international roles for both Sony and EMI. Having discovered and signed two major artists—Nine Inch Nails and The Presidents of the USA—Mika discovered his true passion for finding new talent and helping artists get their ‘big break.’)

He wrote a business plan to market shorts in the same way you market independent bands. He chickened out in executing the business plan, but was re-energized while working at RealNetworks and seeing the potential of the Internet for shorts. He left RealNetworks and hit up some rich friends for initial funding for Atom. They thought he was crazy but gave him the money anyway. AtomFilms was born in October 1998 and the site launched in March 1999.

Where does the money come from to fund AtomFilms.com’s activities?
A combo of individual investors, venture capitalists, and industry heavyweights who want to part of the “web thang,” like [former CEO of Universal Films, and current AtomFilms.com’s board member] Frank Biondi, Jr.

If I went to AtomFilms.com’s site, what would I find?
A site design like you’ve never seen before—very active and engaging. Plus, a ton of films and animations to watch; new ones are added daily. There is also an active “community” of fans/users and filmmakers. The site is very deep in information about each film/animation and who created it.

How is the site organized?
Daily Picks, Animations, Films, Downloads, Audience Favorites, and “Spotlight.”

On the web, what’s the difference between distribution and exhibition?
The level of rights. In other words, can I show this only on my site or do I have the right to license it to other sites (or off-line channels)?

What’s the difference between AtomFilms.com and a traditional distributor?
We are more a marketing company than a middleman. We are interested in the long-term success of our artists and take that view in everything we do, from the contracts to the promotions. We’re more of mini-studio or record label, so we have a vested interested in creating success stories.

What’s appealing to a filmmaker about having his/her work on AtomFilms.com?
Lots of people will see their work all over the world, including some Hollywood-types in thin-soled shoes with tassels.

Do filmmakers whose work you handle ever see any income from their web release, either directly or indirectly?

How is a typical AtomFilms.com contract structured?
An upfront advance plus royalties on every sale.

Do you have exclusive webcast/web distribution deals?

What territories and media are covered in a standard AtomFilms.com contract?
Our business model relies on distributing shorts to as many channels as possible—small pieces will hopefully equal a big pie. In other words, we need as broad of rights as possible to do our job properly and serve the artist the best.

Best known titles and/or directors on AtomFilms.com:
Hmm . . . I don’t think I’ll pick favorites at this time!

How do you decide what titles to add to the site?
We do some initial filtering between two to four people in house and look for production quality, acting, story, etc. However, there are plenty of films that don’t meet any of those standards but still have a certain “I don’t know what” (je ne sais quoi, I stole that line from Austin Powers), so we test things with our on-line audience and let them decide. On the one hand, we don’t want to have a bewildering amount of stuff (like mp3.com), and we want to make sure the visitors to our site aren’t disappointed. On the other hand, tastes vary greatly, and we don’t want to play God too much. Finally, there is a business decision involved, as we’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what certain channels want to buy, like television.

Where do you find titles to put on AtomFilms.com?
Under rocks.

Can makers approach you directly?
Yes! Send us a videotape or point us to a web page that has your work.

What sort of licensing and copyright issues do makers need to make sure they’ve cleared before a web release on AtomFilms.com?
SAG and music are the main two.

How many “hits” are recorded daily on AtomFilms.com?
We had over 20 million hits in June, and it has gone up substantially since then.

Who do you think those people are?
The bulk are 18-34 year olds, but they really are all over the map. We got a great letter from a 70 year old who says he shares our site with all his friends!

How do people find out about AtomFilms.com?
We have syndication deals with major sites like Go, Snap, RealNetworks, Warner Bros., and many others. But to date, it has mainly been word of mouth via people e-mailing each other.

Biggest challenge in reaching your audience:
Meeting the needs of a diverse audience—in other words, delivering targeted programming.

The most important issue facing AtomFilms.com today is…?
that our office has no air conditioning.

A year from now AtomFilms.com will…?
still be here.

Five years from now AtomFilms.com will…?
still be here.

If you weren’t running AtomFilms.com, you’d be…?
really bummed out.

Upcoming AtomFilms.com projects to keep an eye out for:
Sid Sidesplitter, a very funny series of animations.

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.