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Unleashing the Power of Blockchain in Cinemas
A 2021 Case Study on IndieScene's Screening Series
In the context of an ever-evolving world, the advent of COVID-19 triggered significant shifts in diverse sectors, acting as a catalyst for unprecedented innovations and revolutionary business models. This case study focuses on the entertainment industry, which, faced with unprecedented challenges in the pandemic era, has transformed and adapted, leveraging the power of technology to connect, engage, and entertain the global community. The study sheds light on IndieScene's strategic pivot in 2021, as the independent film company leveraged blockchain technology to combat the systemic issue of distribution, an essential cog in the cinematic industry.
The ubiquity of digital platforms in the recent past, thanks to industry pioneers like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon, has already catalysed a paradigm shift in the way we consume entertainment. This metamorphosis was further accelerated by the pandemic, as the world was caught up in what is now referred to as 'the streaming wars,' signifying the increasing competition and consumption of digital content across various platforms.
IndieScene, like many others in the industry, used the constraints of the pandemic to reassess the market landscape. The company's introspection highlighted distribution as a key challenge in the realm of independent filmmaking, a hurdle that can often trap filmmakers in a debt cycle and risk their creative integrity. Recognising this, IndieScene embarked on an ambitious journey to harness the power of blockchain technology to reshape and optimise distribution.
Blockchain technology, the foundational architecture behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum, offers a robust and transparent system for recording and validating information, providing an almost impervious shield against tampering, hacking, or system cheats. Pairing this technology with film distribution could potentially provide a more equitable, transparent, and secure way of delivering content.
This case study delves into IndieScene's innovative partnership with Artinii.Pro. The collaboration aimed at integrating blockchain technology into the cinema distribution process, promising to revolutionise theatrical screenings by enhancing security and accessibility, making it feasible for movies to be screened anywhere in the world. As we dive deeper into the analysis, we will explore how this initiative impacted IndieScene's business model, reshaping the independent film landscape.
Creating the Screening Series
In February 2020, amid the escalating uncertainty caused by the emerging COVID-19 crisis, the cancellation of the renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival created a vacuum for filmmakers and creators who were left without a platform to showcase their work. Seizing this opportunity, IndieScene initiated a bold venture to fill this void by offering the affected creators an alternative to screen their films as part of a Screening Series in Los Angeles. Simultaneously, negotiations were underway with the iconic art house venue, Lumiere Cinema at the Music Hall, located in Beverly Hills, California (USA), to host these screenings.
The proposed Series emerged as a viable solution for many films that had lost their opportunity for exposure at SXSW. While digital outlets such as MailChimp, Stage32, and Amazon offered moderate compensation and exposure, these platforms failed to generate significant attention and monetisation for filmmakers.
Recognising the potential of a theatrical distribution model, IndieScene negotiated a mutually beneficial revenue split between the cinema, the filmmakers, and itself, with a 60-25-15 distribution model. This approach was not only intended to maximise gains for all parties but also aimed at revolutionising the narrative emerging out of the pandemic-affected industry landscape. This model deviated from the traditional norms of distributors driving publicity and charging filmmakers a recoupment expense by leveraging grassroots marketing strategies at no additional cost to the filmmakers.
However, the progress came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 when Los Angeles announced a city-wide lockdown due to the worsening pandemic situation. While the disruption caused a pause in the activities, it did not dampen the spirit and determination of supporting these filmmakers.
Fast forward to April/May 2021. With the news of theatres reopening at capacity on June 15th, the plan for the Screening Series was reignited. Yet, the challenges were far from over. As we started re-engaging with the venue and filmmakers, the selection process inevitably shifted to 'who was interested' and 'who responded back.' As most of the films had signed with distributors and/or already launched on digital platforms, there was reduced interest in a theatrical screening. Nonetheless, the journey provided invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of film distribution and set the stage for IndieScene's innovation in leveraging blockchain technology.
Preparation: Challenges and Innovations
Executing the Screening Series presented a slew of challenges, not only due to the novelty of the event but also because of the unpredictable circumstances dictated by the pandemic. The process, though demanding and complex, shed light on the immense dedication and effort required by those who tirelessly work behind the scenes to bring cinematic art to audiences worldwide.
Aiming to provide a socially and culturally rich experience, IndieScene planned interactive sessions for each screening. Q&As with filmmakers, whether in-person, virtual, or pre-recorded, were included to offer audiences an intimate insight into the creative process behind the films and foster a deeper connection with the content.
The initial schedule encompassed a diverse range of fifteen feature films and four blocks of shorts, music videos, and episodic/pilots spread across seven days over two weeks. However, hurdles such as unresponsiveness, disapproval from distributors or sales agents, and requests for additional screening payments led to the final tally being reduced to nine features and four blocks within the same seven-day period. This was a considerable accomplishment given that IndieScene operated with a lean staff, only one of whom had prior experience with event production and technology.
A vital step in the preparation process was ensuring all parties involved signed the necessary contracts. Despite hiccups concerning the contract details and an attempt by the venue to alter the revenue share model to a traditional rental agreement, IndieScene stood firm in its original model for the Screening Series.
In terms of film acquisition, the team opted to utilise the blockchain technology provided by Artinii.Pro, a choice which raised concerns among filmmakers. To mitigate these concerns, filmmakers were advised to use Artinii.Pro's cloud-based solution to White Label their films to a ProRes format of 2K quality. This streamlined the uploading process and allowed for efficient quality control.
Eventbrite was chosen as the ticketing and payment system due to its comprehensive and user-friendly features, despite its relatively high fee. The platform provided valuable data and analytics, which proved beneficial to both IndieScene and the filmmakers.
The promotion and marketing of the Screening Series was predominantly executed through social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and personal networks. Yet, there was a lack of support and recognition from media publications centred around indie films.
Partnerships also presented a set of challenges. Nevertheless, IndieScene successfully collaborated with the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Star Beer, SkyPilot Theatre, Dances With Films Film Festival, and MacEnthusiasts. Additionally, optional donations for every screening were aligned with local organisations that support causes related to the content.
Despite the various obstacles, the preparation phase of the Screening Series exemplified IndieScene's resilience and commitment to innovative solutions. Through the integration of new technology and the fostering of beneficial partnerships, the company persevered, setting the stage for a transformative event in the world of independent filmmaking.
Screening Series Film Schedule
Wednesday, 30th June, 2021
Teenage Badass (Grant McCord, 2020) - Live Q&A
Thursday, 1st July, 2021
Echoes of the Invisible (Steve Elkins, 2020) - Live Q&A
Animated Shorts & Episodic/Pilots with Live + Pre-Recorded Q&As: Blackheads, Hudson Geese, No, I Don't Want to Dance!, Alice AI, Bananas, Beached, Bored, Cooper's Bar, Everyone Together, Heart to Heart, This Isn't Me
Friday, 2nd July, 2021
Insert Coin (Joshua Tsui, 2020) - Pre-Recorded Q&A
Beast Beast (Danny Madden, 2020) - Pre-Recorded Q&A
American RapStar (Justin Staple, 2020) - Live Q&A
Wednesday, 7th July, 2021
The Shock of the Future (Le Choc du Futur) (Marc Collin, 2020) - Pre-Recorded Q&A
I Will Make You Mine (Lynn Chen, 2020) - Live Q&A + Music
The Mystery of the Pink Flamingo (Javier Polo Gandia, 2020) - Pre-Recorded Q&A
Thursday, 8th July, 2021
Make Up (Claire Oakley 2019) - Pre-Recorded Q&A
Friday, 9th July, 2021
Music Videos & Documentary Shorts with Pre-Recorded Q&A: 1980YEN - Takoyaki Story, Kiddy Smile - Slap My Butt, Vagabon - Water Me Down, Affurmative Action, Broken Orchestra, Call Center Blues, Hysterical Girl, Mizuko, Modern Whore
Sunday, 11th July, 2021
I'll Meet You There (Iram Parveen Bilal, 2020) - Live Q&A + Dance
The Good, The Bad… The Screening Series.
As the Screening Series progressed, we encountered several challenges related to the administration of ticket sales. Initially, we adopted a traditional approach, manually printing and validating ticket reservations, which was rather time-consuming. We soon discovered the benefits of using the Eventbrite App, which expedited the check-in process considerably, especially when lines began to extend. This system also facilitated payments for customers who preferred to use cash, thus enhancing our service efficiency. However, we experienced certain difficulties with our payout system, particularly after the first week. Discrepancies were observed between the Gross and Net profits, which proved problematic when trying to allocate the revenues between the charity donations, the filmmakers, the venue, and our company. Additionally, the payouts were not immediately accessible; for some films/blocks, we were obliged to wait a week or more for the funds to be fully released. This not only complicated our financial management, but also made it harder for us to ensure prompt payments for all involved.
Promotion and audience engagement posed their own set of obstacles. We were proactive with our marketing efforts, regularly sending out promotional blasts that reached between 500 to 3500 locals per event. Despite these efforts, the response rate was relatively low, averaging between 130 to 150 views and/or engagements per blast. Moreover, we found that these promotions did not translate to a significant decrease in our Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). Interestingly, word-of-mouth proved to be the most effective promotional tool, as a majority of our attendees learned about the event through shared links and posts by filmmakers.
LinkedIn, a social platform we used for outreach was surprisingly unproductive. Even though we had over 1000 connections in the Los Angeles area, we only managed to attract a small number of attendees from that network over the duration of the event. This underscored the importance of selecting the right marketing channels for our target audience. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were used as well, with mild success — dozens of likes that failed to convert to attendees.
In the second week, we faced an unexpected setback with our primary partner, the Los Angeles LGBT Center. They were not only late in releasing their email blast about the event, but also had little to no social presence regarding their involvement. When we addressed these issues, the response was unhelpful and even hostile. Given our objective to support their organisation, the community, and content-related films, this lack of cooperation was both disappointing and counterproductive. These experiences offered valuable lessons on the need for clear communication, mutual cooperation, and understanding when partnering with external organisations.
Why this Screening Series affects the industry.
In conclusion, our Screening Series can offer a significant contribution to the film industry, challenging the dominant perception of what constitutes commercially successful cinema. As evidenced by our event, independent films hold an enormous potential to captivate audiences. However, they often face the unfortunate fate of being overshadowed by major studios, tentpole films, remakes, and productions with A-list talent.
The Screening Series has proven the existence of a dedicated audience for indie films, underlining the need for the industry to pay more attention to these often overlooked cinematic treasures. By focusing on community-centric tastes and fostering an interactive, rather than transactional, cinematic experience, independent films can redefine the movie-going culture.
But how do we effectively champion indie cinema in an industry that's often skewed towards big-budget productions? The answer may lie in leveraging innovative technologies like blockchain. Blockchain offers the prospect of a more equitable and transparent distribution model, a new supply chain that pairs filmmakers and their content directly with art house cinemas and venues. This system not only increases the film's exposure but also generates sustainable revenue for all parties involved.
With this model, filmmakers aren't left at the mercy of lowball offers for Minimum Guarantees from distributors. They get the chance to showcase their work to a wider audience and recoup their investments in a fairer manner. Moreover, this gives the power back to the creators, encouraging the production of diverse and creative content that reflects the demand within communities.
By shifting the industry's focus to indie cinema, we can usher in a new era where independent films become part of the mainstream pop-culture, much like the roaring 1920s. Our Screening Series stands as a testament to the fact that the independent marketplace holds immense value, and its high time the industry started appreciating it. Through concerted efforts and adoption of novel technologies, we can redefine the cinematic landscape, ensuring a brighter, more inclusive future for indie cinema.
Furthermore, the success of our Series demonstrates that indie cinema has a tangible impact on viewers. Indie films offer the ability to challenge the status quo, provoke thought, and inspire action in a way that big-budget productions often struggle to do. By providing a platform for independent filmmakers, we are promoting inclusive storytelling, perspectives, and voices.
Admittedly, the journey is challenging and there are hurdles to overcome. For instance, our Screening Series faced operational issues such as logistical challenges, technical glitches, and unsupportive partners. However, these obstacles serve as stepping stones to greater proficiency in future events. What's critical is the learnings we have gathered through these experiences, which we will utilise to improve and refine our future screenings and, in turn, our contributions to the independent cinema sector.
This Series reaffirmed the significance of community building in promoting indie films. Word of mouth, shared links, and posts from filmmakers were instrumental in driving our event's attendance. These findings emphasise the importance of grassroots marketing and community engagement in the independent film industry.
By using a more equitable distribution model through blockchain technology, we are creating an opportunity for a more democratic cinema landscape. This model not only supports independent filmmakers but also encourages a culture that values and appreciates diversity and innovation in filmmaking.
In sum, the Screening Series underlines the importance of championing indie cinema and carving out its rightful place in the industry. The journey is challenging, but the potential rewards—for filmmakers, audiences, and the industry as a whole—are immense. By forging ahead with our commitment to indie cinema, we believe we can contribute significantly to a more inclusive and innovative cinematic future.