Point of No Return: On-line Film Festivals, Showcases & Distributors

The Bit Screen
www.thebitscreen.com The Bit Screen

Launched: July 1998

Plug-ins required: RealPlayer

Audience (per month): 100,000 page views, download totals unavailable.

Contact: Druid Media, Box 343, Narberth, PA 19072; (610) 664-6945; info@druidmedia .com

"It’s really not about distributing films over the Internet," says Bit Screen creator Nora Barry. "To me, it’s a completely new art form." On-line in the summer of 1998, more than six months before other Internet distributors, The Bit Screen got a big shot in the arm after a New York Times profile last January.

Barry describes the site, run by herself and a staff of four, as a laboratory where filmmakers can experiment on-line. "It’s the site where I want people to come and try things out. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to work, but I am willing to take the trip." With an eye on the future, Barry is launching the Cinema Lounge this month as a special site for high-speed broadband users. It will screen independent films, list local film resources, and offer other information for filmmakers and enthusiasts. The site, created with MediaOne, is rolling out in select cities through January.

Most movies screen on-line for about two weeks. "If the goal is to get your work seen, then it’s worth shooting for the Internet," she says. "There don’t seem to be as many barriers for entry as there are on the festival circuit."

iFilm Network

Launched: February 1999

Plug-ins required: RealPlayer

Audience: [figures not available]

Contact: 832 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA 94111; (415) 773-2080; fax: 773-1506; contact@ifilm.net

"If the consumer thinks ‘films’, we want them to come to iFilm as their first point of entry," says iFilm founder Rodger Raderman. "We see ourselves as the portal, the first stop on the web for all things film-related."

With that goal in mind, Raderman is taking the industry by storm. This summer he poached two key staffers from Variety–film editor Andrew Hindes and sales and marketing head Coco Jones. iFilm now has offices in three cities (New York, LA, and San Francisco) and employs more than 40 people.

iFilm offers filmmakers a "nonexclusive, performance-based, revenue-sharing deal," says Raderman. (Through a new on-line revenue tracking system, filmmakers can find out how many people are downloading their movie and see how much money they’re making.) The site had over 450 movies on-line by the end of the summer, with 1,000 expected by the time this article is published. iFilm rejects home movies and pornography, but everything else is fair game. It’s "very democratic, but it is also a meritocracy; [we] let everybody have their chance and let the good stuff bubble to the top." Raderman adds, "We don’t want to become a filter. That’s not what the Internet is about."

Filmmakers attracted to the Internet, Raderman proclaims, "are young, enthusiastic, fundamentally empowered. They know that if they make a film, they can get it seen these days. That’s a shift; you can almost call it a revolution."


Launched: March 1999

Plug-ins required: RealPlayer

Audience (per month): 800,000 content plays and downloads; company does not disclose page views

Contact: Seattle Headquarters: 80 S. Washington, Ste. 303, Seattle, WA 98104; (206) 264-2735; LA office: 531 North Flores St., Ste. 5, LA, CA 90048; (323) 653-0476

"Shorts are cool and we want to make them a viable part of the entertainment spectrum," says Mika Salmi, founder and CEO of AtomFilms.com To that end, AtomFilms is not only webcasting shorts, but acting as a sales agent and making deals with airlines, cable networks, and other websites for the few hundred short films and animations now in its fold. [see Distributor F.A.Q., p. 46]

Unlike some other online distributors, Atom takes a "less is more" approach. In order to serve his audience, Salmi believes AtomFilms needs to be selective. Shorts are chosen through an internal process that can include screenings before small audiences. The company recently created an "artist’s fund" that rewards its filmmakers with ownership in the company through an artist’s fund which provides stock options to filmmakers, along with fees generated by deals that Atom makes. The company also announced the addition of several high-profile Hollywood executives to its boards of directors and advisors: NBC’s Warren Littlefield, Viacom’s Frank Biondi, and the WB Network’s Craig Hunegs.

Outwardly focused on nurturing new talent, Salmi adds, "We want to create and find hits." The company has already found at least one in J.J. Keith’s Holiday Romance, which was nominated for an Academy Award after Keith worked with Atom to book the short in a Los Angeles theater to guarantee Oscar eligibility. "We want to develop a market and make the short format popular," says Salmi. "We think that shorts will work well on the Internet."

Always Independent Films


Always Independent Films

Launched: April 1999

Plug-ins required: RealPlayer

Audience (per month): 60,000 page views; 8,000 downloads

Contact: 27 Water Street, Milford, OH 45150; (513) 965-0049; fax: 965-0067

"We accept all formats," explained Always Independent Films (AIF) president Gary Zeidenstein. "We do have a screening process, [but] as long as it’s not the backyard homemade movie, we’re going to post it on the site." In its first few months AIF received some 300 entries and about 50 were rejected.

Based in Ohio, AIF stole the spotlight from iFilm and AtomFilms when it announced a pact with the on-line distribution powerhouse Broadcast.com. This immediately gives AIF a high profile via Broadcast.com’s highly-trafficked site. (Yahoo! acquired Broadcast.com earlier this year.)

AIF President Gary Zeidenstein touts his company’s decision to focus on feature work, "because that’s the future." This decision was enabled by the Broadcast.com deal. "[The partnership] helped us with bandwidth [and has] given us the opportunity to stream a whole film." For those with shorter attention spans, AIF launched a TV section with short pieces and original programming in the works, including a hip hop show, comedy, a dating show, indie filmmaker interviews, and a doc series about women and minorities in filmmaking.

Zeidenstein also highlights the site’s on-line film festival which streamed 83 films. They plan to host two or three festivals per year at no cost to filmmakers. Other plans include an e-commerce section for filmmakers to sell their works online, as part of the nonexclusive deal it makes with producers


Expected launch:

November 1999

Plug-ins required:

None required with On2.com’s free proprietary codec software

Audience: Not launched at press time.

Contact: 375 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10013; (212) 941-2400; fax: 941-3853; info@on2.com

"We are basically creating an environment where a user can build their own television show," explains On2.com’s Joel Roodman. A former executive at Miramax who also headed Gotham Entertainment, Roodman states, "Everybody believes that broadband is the future; [our] sole focus is on the broadband consumer."

On2.com is starting with content about movies, including film trailers and shows that highlight films and filmmakers. "We’ll be taking existing content and wrapping original content around it," says Roodman. Plans include offering outtakes from documentaries and a heavy festival focus, where they will follow participants and build shows related to the event.

"The challenge is to make sure that broadband is in as many homes as possible," says Roodman. "It is a great opportunity for video- rich content."

Media Trip

Launched: October 1999

Plug-ins required: Flash, RealPlayer, QuickTime, or Windows Media Player

Audience: Not available at press time

Contact: (323) 933-0797; fax: 933-0866; info@mediatrip.com

Announced this summer with a full-page ad in Variety, Media Trip is a new site from some familiar faces: Robert Faust (president), founder of the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival; Patrick Lynn (VP of acquisitions), a well-known producer’s rep and former distribution executive; and Tom Brunelle (director of programming and marketing), former associate publisher of Filmmaker. The company’s CEO is Austin Harrison, formerly of Hollywood.com

MediaTrip is targeting films, music, and original programming for the 18-34 demographic. With a focus on what Faust calls "sophisticated or edgier programming," the site will have new programming weekly, ranging from new movies to news programming about film and music.

With an eye on broadband down the road, the company is currently providing programming for normal-speed dial-up visitors. MediaTrip’s first acquisition is Joe Nussbaum’s short George Lucas in Love, which played at the Toronto Film Festival. "We are focusing on quality," offers Robert Faust. "Our first acquisition makes that statement–we want to build a brand with a sense of quality to it."

Pitch TV

Launched: September 1999

Plug-ins required: Flash and Quick Time

Audience: Not available at press time

Contact: 304 Hudson St., 6th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 584-5840; fax: 584-5845; info@pitchtv.com

"It’s a home for people within the industry to view interesting work," explains Linda Walsh, describing Pitch TV, a new site which debuted this fall. Launched by the folks behind PITCH, the New York City-based animation and commercial company, Pitch TV is a way to showcase their work and that of media artists.

"One of the things that Pitch TV brings to the party is the experience of the people behind it," adds Walsh. The effort is a combination of work by S.D. Katz, Jean-David Boulnah and Walsh, among others. Walsh indicated that they all come from the television, commercial, or film production communities, and are determined to use their experience as a way carefully to select qualified work.

Site sections include a festival area for screening short films from a variety of sources, a news section covering indie films, filmmaking and festivals, and finally a survey of international movies spotlighting a new country and new filmmakers each month. Additionally, Pitch TV plans to offer an off-line experience–live monthly screenings of new work.

"Electronic Cinema and the Internet open up new ways to reach an audience," explains Katz. "I can write a short story, a musical, an animated short or a feature and build a following without the usual layers of approvals. When you take selling out of the equation, you find you gain a lot of creation time."

About :

Eugene Hernandez is co-founder & editor in chief of indieWIRE [www.indiewire.com]