Technology

How will celebs change crowdfunding?

Kickstarter BadgeWhen Zach Braff launched his Kickstarter campaign for “Wish I Was Here”, he caught a lot of flak.

Kickstarter is a platform and I believe anyone should be able to use it. Even celebrities. And I agree that famous people bring new funders to the platform.

Zach raised $3,105,473 on Kickstarter, exceeding his $2 million goal significantly. Since May 24th, when the campaign ended, till today, there have been eleven updates via Kickstarter (there were 32 while the campaign was ongoing). He says he hired a team of three to manage the kickstarter funders as he wanted “everyone to love the experience”.

As Perry and Yancey said in their post:

Kickstarter is a new way for creators to bring their projects to life. Not through commerce, charity, or investment — through a new model powered by a willing audience. The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects offered backers tickets to the premiere, cameos in the movie, access to the creative process, and other experiences in exchange for pledges. Fans were thrilled, and 100,000 people jumped on board.

It is a willing audience, who obviously thought that the perks they were getting were worth what they paid. They got to feel good about making this movie happen and Zach put effort to ensure they felt cared for.

“Wish I was here” premiered at Sundance and was acquired by Focus Features for $2. 7 million.

The budget was, reportedly, $5 million.
$3.1 million was raised on Kickstarter, so let’s say it is roughly $2.7 after all fees and fulfillment. The remaining $2.3 million came from investors of some sort – maybe from Zach himself, friends and family, and investors who didn’t insist on creative control.

This means, with the Focus deal, the investors have recouped their money. And there are still the other territories to be sold1, DVD, streaming rights etc.

If this movie had been funded without Kickstarter, Zach would have had less creative control and he would also still be working to recoup his budget. But with Kickstarter, Zach benefitted and his investors who were willing to have no creative control, also benefitted.

The hurdle rate just got a lot lower when Kickstarter is thrown into the mix. This is true for everyone, but it is specifically true for celebrities because they can fund such large amounts.

This raises all sorts of questions:

  • Is crowdfunding  a risk-free form of filmmaking that celebrities can enjoy? Is it another perk of being a celebrity?
  • Will investors ask celebrities to throw crowdfunding into the mix more often? Investors can validate the idea and reduce their own risk.
  • Will this lead to investors wanting to fund more celebrities (or proven properties like Veronica Mars) who are able to bring in “free” money?
  • Will this this help or hurt independent filmmakers who don’t bring as much crowdfunding clout as a celebrity does2 ?

It will be interesting to watch this space.


  1. Focus bought the rights only for North America, Poland and South Africa 

  2. I don’t necessarily mean “on” Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms (although that might also happen), but rather, the choice producers will make in terms of which movies to take on, the choices PE funds will make in terms of which movies to fund etc. 

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Update your RSS feed – part 2

I posted earlier about updating your RSS feed to site’s core feed.

I will be making the switch tomorrow.

I am going to re-direct my Feedburner feed to my site’s core feed – http://tatvam.com/feed. I am not quite sure how the re-direct works, so if this is the last post you see and you do not see a new post on April 15th, then it means the Feedburner feed you are subscribed to no longer works.

If you wish to keep reading, please update your feed to http://tatvam.com/feed

Thank you.

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Please update your RSS feed

If you see this post in your RSS reader, thank you for reading.

If you would like to continue reading, please update the RSS feed to this feed instead- http://tatvam.com/feed

I am in the process of dropping Feedburner, which currently powers this site’s RSS feed. Why am I making this change? Well, recently, Google announced that they are shutting down their RSS reader, imaginatively titled, Reader. All indications are that they will likely shut down Feedburner too. I’d rather get ahead of this possible (and likely) shutdown,

http://tatvam.com/feed is the site’s core feed  and it will not change as long as this blog is active. This feed is exactly what you’ve been reading all along – a combination of my film, tech and tumblr posts. If this core feed is what you have in your feed reader, you are all set. If you have a Feedburner feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Tatvam or http://feeds.feedburner.com/AlmostAsGoodAsChocolate), you should update it if you want to keep reading. To add it to your feed reader of choice, just copy and paste the URL (http://tatvam.com/feed) into your feed reader.

I will make the switch on April 15th.

Thank you  for reading and participating.

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Showing invisible motions on screen

The New York Times reports that scientists at MIT have uncovered a way to show the invisible motions of your body, like your heart beat, eye movement etc., on screen. You have to watch the video in the link – it’s pretty incredible.

The system works by homing in on specific pixels in a video over the course of time. Frame-by-frame, the program identifies minute changes in color and then amplifies them up to 100 times, turning, say, a subtle shift toward pink to a bright crimson.

What’s even better is that they have released the source code so that anyone can use it. There are a ton of applications to this, across several fields. But in film, there are immediate and cool uses. I’m betting someone is going to come up with a short film, run it through the algorithm and have it up online in… less than 2 weeks.

Such great work. Thank you, Prof. William T. Freeman and team!

Lytro has changed the game

From Ben Horowitz’s blog:

People often refer to taking a picture as capturing the moment, but conventional photography does not really capture the moment. It captures one angle, one set of light, and one focus of the moment. If you are a professional photographer, you might capture the best parts of the moment. If you are someone like me, you most certainly will not. With Ren’s light field camera, you actually capture the moment or at least all of the light that visually represents the moment.

Once you have captured the moment, you can go back at any time and get the picture that you want. Specifically, after you take the picture, you can refocus, re light, and re-orient the shot.

Essentially, you can take the picture you wish you would have taken after the fact. If you are used to the old paradigm, it’s like travelling backwards through time. You can take a picture then figure out what you really wanted then go back through time and take that picture. And oh by the way, you can view the pictures in 3D. Way.

You may be thinking that this is all good and fine, but is there really a market for a magic camera? It turns out that the three biggest frustrations with conventional plane-of-light cameras are:

  • They are too slow—It turns out that auto focusing takes a fair amount of time. How many times have you tried to capture a moment only to have the moment disappear while you were waiting for your camera to focus?
  • The pictures aren’t bright enough—Somehow, you didn’t actually capture enough light on the plane to get the shot you wanted.
  • They are too complicated—Current cameras provide lots of buttons and knobs to overcome the one plane limitation, but the result is a super complicated device.

With Lytro’s light field camera, you take pictures instantly. No need to focus, because you can do that later. The camera uses all of the available light in the scene, so you can take photos in very low light environments even without flash. With no buttons for special focus, the Lytro camera is dead simple.

This is just amazing. And if you want to be really amazed, check out their site and specifically the picture gallery.

I wonder if you can do this for moving images. Talk about ratcheting down production times and ratcheting up post-production!

Streaming and the world

Fred Wilson wrote a post on how streaming and easy availability of content via streams can/will kill piracy via the torrent download. I largely agree. And especially for movies and TV shows I think people are even willing to pay to get instant access rather than download a torrent and wait an undefined period to get the file.

However, what happens globally? I’ve been in India for a few months. I can’t watch any Netflix stream here. I can’t watch Hulu. If I wanted to, I would have to go through a US proxy server that slows things down tremendously and even that does not work for Netflix. If the customer is a US customer but is traveling globally, these restrictions are simply ludicrous. I live in New York City. My Netflix account is tied to my address in Manhattan. I am still paying the monthly fee. And just because I am out of the country I am no longer a valid customer? Ridiculous.

I understand there are convoluted rules governing global rights. But the content creators should also realize that in today’s connected world, the audience for any piece of content is global. Excluding the situation of a traveling user (which is a no-brainer), here’s a very simplistic solution to the problem

  • Let’s assume the rights for a certain TV show or movie, that is created in the US, are sold in India. A viewer from India arrives a US site showing the movie. The site should let the viewer watch but share a certain % of the revenue with the rights owner in India. Clearly the rights owners in India have failed to provide the customers in the country access in a timely and/or user-friendly way. Why should the end-user be punished? Why should the content creator be punished by having fewer viewers. Distributors get your act together! Get stuff out to users in your country on-time. Get the content out to them in a way they want to watch it. Otherwise be okay with a provider in another country doing this.
  • If the rights in a certain country are not sold, then the users can view the content without the streaming site having to worry about reverting payment. If US site makes money via advertisements, and the advertisers don’t care about a global audience, then either make the user pay a fee or let them watch for free and build brand loyalty.

Same thing applies to an Australian movie and a viewer in the US. The locations of content creator and viewer are irrelevant.

Content wants to be global. Why should the viewer be concerned about rights in each country? Even brands are becoming more global every day – why should Hulu be a US brand? YouTube isn’t. It is really time for a new model. In future, my hope is that content creators and rights owners forget the country-by-country rights sale model. Just put the movie online, let the whole world watch it, collect your money. Much more efficient, elimination of months of negotiations, everyone is happier. Some content creators are starting to do this. It is time more jumped on the bandwagon.

Chennai Screenwriting Workshop-Part 2

Slightly delayed, but let me jump into coverage of Day 3 and Day 4.

May 31st, Sunday, 2009. Day 3.

The morning of Day 3 belonged to Atul Tiwari and dialog. Atul was a great mix of prepared notes and extempore. He started off with a history of cinema in Chennai1 and then waded into the key elements of writing good dialog. He talked about how characters give birth to dialog and dialog gives birth to characters; that to write good dialog, you really need to know a lot about the character, who she is, the physiology, sociology and psychology. He stressed the importance of subtext and of the unspoken word.

He also talked about common pitfalls to avoid – like falling in love with dialog and ensuring some character in the script (or in your next script) says those lines. I can honestly say I’ve had those moments where there’s a great line and I spend time wondering how to get a character to say that.

We then watched several scenes of dialog from movies and he deconstructed what worked in each of those scenes. He ended with stressing that dialog should not be used for exposition in your script. After all, cinema is a visual medium – show don’t tell, as the oft-repeated phrase goes. Atul is an engaging speaker – expressive, witty, and very aware of the pulse of the audience. All in all, a very good session.

While Atul owned the morning of Day 3, the afternoon session was run by Mr. Hariharan. The topic was Deconstructing a Screenplay. The session started well – he screened a movie called The Lunch Date written and directed by Adam Davidson. This is a famous short and used in film schools all over the world as an example of a great short. Davidson made it as a student at Columbia and it won the Student Academy Awards as well as at Cannes and at the Oscars. So far, so good.

Mr. Hariharan then dived into a very detailed deconstruction of the short from the perspective of film making. Not the screenplay, film making. So we were treated to details about how to figure out the location size and block your characters accordingly, how to stage the scene, how many seconds it took the character to do something, how many shots it took to communicate a certain event etc. All very good stuff but really, it was not deconstructing the screenplay at all. It was deconstructing the film. Mr. Hariharan is clearly a very visual filmmaker (a good thing) and he communicated the intense focus on detail one needs to make a good shot, scene and short film, but I think it left a lot of the audience confused as to what it had to do with the script. And, it also left several newbies wondering what to put in a script (location details, shot details, etc.)

A more effective method for this session might have been to read a script (as the writer wrote it), examine how it worked with regard to building momentum and tension, character detailing, dialog construction etc. and then watch the director’s vision of the same piece as a film. The session as it was held, definitely had some positives, but I’d mark it as the one with opportunity for improvement.

The day’s screening was Cyrano de Bergerac with the exquisite Gérard Depardieu, directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and written by Jean-Claude Carrière. Monsieur Carrière was on the schedule for Day 5 of the Workshop, in the Seminar portion.

June 1st, Monday, 2009. Day 4.

Day 4 was a sizzler – packed and useful. When I was considering whether to apply to the workshop, I chatted with a friend, Somen M. When he saw that Anjum was leading many of the sessions, he insisted I apply because Anjum “was an exceptional teacher”. Let’s just say that Somen’s respect for Anjum lived up to the hype.

The morning and early afternoon were dedicated to sessions on The Hero’s Journey, led by Anjum Rajabali. This is a hard session to write about since so much of the detail was in Anjum’s delivery. So instead of transcribing my notes, I’m going to provide an overview. Using Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as the basis, Anjum spoke at length about the various parts of the hero’s journey. This is fascinating stuff and is an exceptional way to understand why mythology all over the world has stood the test of time. In terms of screenwriting, it is a very useful way to think of both plot construction and character construction and growth. Campbell’s book is now on my must-read list and it should be on yours if you love screenwriting. Before Anjum started speaking, Atul introduced the session and said many of Anjum’s former students seek out his talks on the hero’s journey. After the session, I certainly understand why. If I’m ever in a position to attend another of these sessions, I certainly will.

This long and utterly fascinating session was followed by two quick and practical ones on the writing process and terminology (Anjum) and a review of a free screenwriting software called Celtx (Mr. Hariharan). Screenwriting software greatly enhances the speed of writing because you don’t have to worry about indenting things the right way and Celtx certainly seems pretty bulletproof in most regards. And who can beat free?

The final session was about the Industry Aspects of writing. Anjum and Atul, both of whom have been instrumental in crafting a standard contract for writers in the Bombay film industry led this session. They talked through the writer’s rights – fees, credit, termination and rolayties and the writer’s duties – schedule of submission and presence at meetings. I was stunned to learn that they had a really hard time of getting people to agree to a minimum fee of Rs. 6 lakhs (USD 12,000) per script. I mean, months, perhaps years of work and the payoff is 6 lakhs? How on earth is a writer to survive? Someone at the seminar pointed out that promo cutters (the folks that cut the trailers for films) get paid 6 lakhs for a month or two of work. Sure you need to know how to edit, but are we kidding here? There’s really no comparison in the amount of work involved.

This session was an eye opener. And to think that the writers union worked really hard to even get to this point! A lot of credit to them. I really hope this is just a starting point and over time, the amount paid even to first time writers – for a good script – goes up dramatically. On that note, it was interesting to see Mr. Kamal Haasan’s reaction to this session; he wears several hats – one as a writer himself, two as the host of the workshop and three as a producer who hopes that this body of students will produce some great work for him, at a reasonable price. He was clearly torn on which hat to don 🙂

The session was an excellent jolt of reality. Everyone should go into this profession with their eyes open. Knowing the reality will better prepare folks for the crazy world that awaits them. The session also wrapped up the day and yes, as of Day 4, Mr. Kamal Haasan had still attended every single session. Impressive.

The next post will cover the final part of the workshop, the seminar. Coverage will be light since I was sick as a dog for a majority of it. My being sick also made me miss the screening on Day 4 РIndig̬nes, directed by Rachid Bouchareb and written by Olivier Lorelle (who was scheduled to speak on Day 5).

Also read: Part 1 – Days 1 and 2


  1. To placate the crowd, to some extent, which frequently asked for examples from Tamil movies which many of the presenters had not watched. 

Chennai Int’l Screenwriting Workshop

A few weeks ago, I learned (web, twitter) about the Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop and decided to apply. The application process is probably one of the most tech-savvy I’ve seen. Everything was run through their website (a modified blog, really). Regular updates kept the masses fed in a very efficient manner. And just a day later than their originally promised schedule, I found out that I got in.

And here we are…

May 29th, Friday, 2009. Day 1.

The day kicked off with an introduction by Mr. Kamal Haasan. He put the entire workshop together to make screenwriting more accessible to aspiring writers. This is the first time I’ve seen the man in person and I have to say that he’s articulate and intelligent. He also seems very self-effacing. Most importantly, he seems really committed to the workshop. I’m writing this at the end of day 2 and he’s been in every session – hasn’t skipped a single one. He also introduced the rest of the presenters for the workshop – Hariharan, Director of the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy, Anjum Rajabali, Head of departments of screenwriting at FTII and Whistling Woods, and Atul Tiwari, a professional screenwriter and an excellent dialog writer.

Anjum Rajabali took charge of the next couple of sessions. He’s a very impressive man – funny, engaging, articulate, compelling. An excellent presenter who captures and holds your attention. He clearly loves what he does and he communicates that joy when he talks about his craft. In his first session, he walked through each of the elements of a screenplay – idea, premise, theme, plot, character, structure, scene, dialogue. It was a solid primer and a good grounding on the basics of what’s involved with writing a screenplay. He then spent an entire session on Premise. The key take away for me:  figure out the Premise early in the writing process in order to ensure you have enough to power an entire feature film.

Mr. Hariharan (feel compelled to say Mister here… Anjum seems like a guy who’d be cool with it if you called him by his name though, so I’m going with it) then led a very detailed session on Characters, Characterizations and Characteristics. And when I say detailed, I mean extraordinarily detailed – pages and pages of detailed PowerPoint, each one filled with great stuff. The best parts of the session were when he took the time to illustrate with examples – he came up with hilarious examples that will stay with me for a long time. An example of one of his examples – “What if you named one of your characters Abithakuchalambal? It immediately embodies the character with certain attributes. Then what if you name the other character Tania? You have an image of an Abithakuchalambal and you have an image of a Tania. Now what if Abithakuchalambal was 20 and Tania was 60?” It’s enough to convince you that you have to have a weed-smoking, goth-styled Abithakuchalambal in your next script, yes?

The day wrapped up with a screening of On The Waterfront. I’ve watched it before and I can honestly say the second viewing of Kazan’s masterpiece was better than the first.

May 30th, Saturday, 2009. Day 2.

Anjum led the session on Structure. This is one of those parts of a workshop that has to be taught (I mean, can you actually say you don’t teach anything about structure in a screenwriting workshop?) but, one that really shouldn’t be applied by screenwriters *as* they write their screenplays. And fortunately, Anjum himself stressed that point – do not think about structure, do not work to a formula. Having learned the basics of screenwriting from the inimitable Mick Casale (head of the writing program at NYU’s Tisch), I was jumping up and down in agreement with that statement.

The next session was on Scene design and Anjum screened and dissected a handful of beautifully constructed scenes including the opening scene from The Godfather, the scene in the car from The Sixth Sense where Cole reveals his secret to his mom, the scene from Satya where Bhiku Matre comes home and exchanges slaps with his wife, and finally the opening scene of Charulata which Mr. Hariharan talked us through.

Despite the fact that we spent a session and a half on Scene Design, I really feel this needs even more time. Creating a great scene is hard and I would love to learn more about the variables in the writer’s toolkit to build a great scene. I’m hoping they can spend a bit more time on this on Day 3.

The last session of the day was led by Mr. Kamal Haasan. He chose to focus on Hey Ram, in which he was the writer, director and actor, and spent most of the session answering questions. A very open and honest exchange despite the occasional, cringe-inducing “question” that was really a verbal love-letter from an ardent fan.

The day’s screening was Ghatak’s extraordinarily depressing Mehge Dhaka Tara, widely regarded as his best film. Even though I like Ajantrik better, one can’t really complain at having to watch any Ghatak film again, especially on a large screen.

Finally, I have to say this is a really well-organized conference. It’s located in IIT, unarguably the best campus in the city, the presenters stick to their times, the food is decent and handed out in a very organized manner and the volunteers are genuinely helpful. When was the last time that happened? Kudos to everyone involved!

Also read: Part 2 – Days 3 and 4

The Art of the Story

This NY Times article on MIT’s Media Lab examining titled “Saving the Story (the Film Version)” bothered me on a number of dimensions.

The first huge issue is confusing form and function or the story and how it is delivered. Consider this –

The center is envisioned as a “labette,” a little laboratory, that will examine whether the old way of telling stories — particularly those delivered to the millions on screen, with a beginning, a middle and an end — is in serious trouble.

How a story is delivered – via the studio distribution system, YouTube, or Twitter has nothing to do with whether the story has a beginning, middle and end.

The art of storytelling has existed since man learned to communicate. The form has changed. Dramatically.

A good chunk of the rest of the article is about Hollywood griping about Hollywood.

But Mr. Kirkpatrick and company are not alone in their belief that Hollywood’s ability to tell a meaningful story has been nibbled at by text messages, interrupted by cellphone calls and supplanted by everything from Twitter to Guitar Hero.

“I even saw a plasma screen above a urinal,” said Peter Guber, the longtime film producer and former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who contends that traditional narrative — the kind with unexpected twists and satisfying conclusions — has been drowned out by noise and visual clutter.

A common gripe is that gamelike, open-ended series like “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Spider-Man” have eroded filmmakers’ ability to wrap up their movies in the third act. Another is that a preference for proven, outside stories like the Harry Potter books is killing Hollywood’s appetite for original storytelling.

Whatever, people! Hollywood’s ability has not been “nibbled away” by text messages!! It has been nibbled away by the fact that every decision is made by focus groups and marketers – not the the writers and the directors!

Let’s look at Slumdog Millionaire – how has that story been affected by the noise of tweets or smses? If the story has merit, it stands above the trash… er… or above the urinal screen, as the case may be.

Open-ended series’ – who created them? Who produced them and distributed them? Right – you, Hollywood.

The article goes on to talk about Hollywood insiders complaining that small stories can’t compete with Transformers. So? Hasn’t that always been the case? And if the problem is getting worse who’s making it worse? You, Hollywood!

And again, what, pray tell does this have to do with the “story”? Nothing. So far, all I’ve heard is whining about marketing budgets.

And then there’s the classic “blame the audience” strategy.

Ultimately, he blames the audience for the perceived breakdown in narrative quality: in the end, he argued, consumers get what they want. Bobby Farrelly, a prolific writer, and director with his brother Peter of comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal,” concurred.

“If you go off the beaten path, say, give them something bittersweet, they’re going to tell you they’re disappointed,” Mr. Farrelly said. He spoke from his home in Massachusetts, where he is working on the script for a Three Stooges picture, and said he missed complex stories like that of “The Graduate.”

Really? Really?? Let me point you again to Slumdog Millionaire. People are thirsting for great content, but your marketing focus groups will never tell you that. If you miss complex stories, then write them! Is a complex, intriguing and multi-layered story burning inside you Mr. Farrelly? Please, please write it and get it made. You know enough people to do that. I promise you I will spend my twelve bucks to watch it. Why are you writing stuff like Shallow Hal and then complaining that you are being forced to do so?

The only person I agree with in the whole article is Ken Brecher, the Sundance institute’s executive director.

“Storytelling is flourishing in the world at a level I can’t even begin to understand,” said Ken Brecher…

:

If anything, Mr. Brecher added, technology has simply brought mass storytelling, on film or otherwise, to people who once thought Hollywood had cornered the business.

Exactly!

So what exactly will the Media Lab be doing?

The people at M.I.T., in any case, may figure out whether classic storytellers like Homer, Shakespeare and Spielberg have had their day.

Starting in 2010, a handful of faculty members — “principal investigators,” the university calls them — will join graduate students, undergraduate interns and visitors from the film and book worlds in examining, among other things, how virtual actors and “morphable” projectors (which instantly change the appearance of physical scenes) might affect a storytelling process that has already been considerably democratized by digital delivery.

Rubbish. They are not going to figure out whether classic storytellers are done. They are going to investigate how new technologies will affect the creation and the consumption of content.

And that is… fine. In fact, it is great and wonderful. And it makes for a good, news-worthy article. So why on earth did the Times make it about “the story”? The article opens with

The movie world has been fretting for years about the collapse of stardom. Now there are growing fears that another chunk of film architecture is looking wobbly: the story.

Let’s get it clear – as long as there are writers, no, as long as there are people, “the story” will survive. It is part of us. My grandmother is a fantastic storyteller and there are thousands of people out there who are telling stories every day.

What’s at risk is Hollywood’s business model and the standard methods of distribution. And perhaps the Times’ ability to figure out what the underlying story is all about!