Breakfast With Tiffany’s (dad)

Dr. Leonard Shlain – Surgeon, Author, Raconteur.

Yesterday I got an interesting response, reprinted below, from Stephen Press, a cameraman who lives New Zealand.

Because of the enormous time difference Press, (who posts himself as Cameragod in and Pencilgod (in homage (or perhaps not) to my vision of the camera as the electronic equivalent of a pencil) here, asks if I am not going after the wrong problem in TV news. Perhaps, he opines, the issue is with management and distribution. Perhaps.

Ironically, yesterday I had breakfast with an old friend, Dr. Leonard Shlain.

Shlain, is the author of three fascinating books, as well as a world wide lecturer and in his spare time is a surgeon and is the Chairman of Laparoscopic surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is an Associate Professor of Surgery at UCSF. He was with his wife, Ina Gyemant, who is a judge in San Francisco.

Time spent with Len Shlain is always fascinating. Before going into surgery, he trained to be a psychiatrist, and that training is evident as he synthesizes history, biology and technology to create entirely new insights into how the world works.

One of his books, (and the way I met him) is, to my mind, required reading. It is called The Alphabet vs. The Goddess. It is a study of the move from oral culture to print, and now to video, but with a view to the left brain/right brain ramifications.

Read it.

But what does all this have to do with Cameragod?

Shlain’s daughter, Tiffany (hence the title) is a filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Unlike many independent filmmakers, she was fortunate to find funding for her film. Other projects are bogged down for years for lack of money. Distribution is a bit harder to come by for Indys. The process generally requires making the film and then dragging it from festival to festival in the hopes of getting it recognized by a distributor who will then deign to run it on a few screens for a few weeks.

Shorts are the hardest to place. And Tiffany’s most recent film, The Tribe, is a short.

Tiffany, however, did something different a a bit radical.

She took the film to Apple, and convinced them to offer it on their iTunes site.

No theaters, no distributors – direct from creator to consumer.

It is now the number 10 downloaded film on the site, behind Pixar’s offerings. Quite an achievement for an indy. But also quite an interesting way of indys both being distributed and making some real money.

In a world in which the web is in every household, and it can carry video, do we really need distributors, or movie houses… or networks anymore?

Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times on all this.

We will always need creative people who can make content.

But the path to more efficient economies is going to sweep away more than just camera crews…..


3 responses to “Breakfast With Tiffany’s (dad)

  1. Michael,

    Interesting post, again. I enjoy thinking about the future in our changing world of communications.

    I have come to a conclusion. Of course I can always change my conclusion on a dime if I want. That’s the fun of discovery in this new digital age.

    My conclusion is that “Programming” will still have value and a place.

    Individuals can and will produce content. So will companies large and small. But I am not sure I nor the masses will want to click on individual videos … all the time. I, and they, will want programming. Long form programs such as movies, documentaries. Shorter form programming like news programs, sit coms. And new programming which can take the best niche video clips and combine them into 1/2 hour shows.

    Talent does not disappear. Because talent is mindless entertainment that has value to someone sitting at home on the couch.

    There will be “interactive” content where the viewer picks and chooses. But there will also be value in simply watching programming….for a longer length of time. So I don’t think programming will disappear. There will be more and more programmers, so perhaps there will be more jobs as programmers.

  2. Ah movie disputation on the Net. I was DOP for a digital indi called Event 16.

    It was a no budget but big FX movie with a lot of stuff improvised.

    For the Director, Derek Person, it was a work of passion. It cost him his job, house, car and finally his wife and child.

    but he got it done and to start with things looked ok. It did well at a few local film fests and it got an Australasian distribution deal that paid off all its costs. It was New Zealand’s highest selling digital feature DVD in two years but within the month it was free to download illegally from any number of bit torrent sites… forgive me if I don’t provide a link… on just one Asian site it was downloaded over 10,000 times in the first month it was there. To ad insult to injury for a subscription fee to the site you could download Chinese subtitles that they had done (we only had done French for the festivals) so they were actually making money by adding value to our stolen product…

    Part of me is just happy with the exposure our movie got. Part of me morns the money we may have lost because that exposure is hurting our chances of getting any further distribution deals. Video piracy may be hurting the big studios but it’s killing the small indis.

    Movie distribution on the net faces the same issue. Some of the illegal download sites are even more user friendly than the official ones. Why pay when you can get it more efficiently for free?

    Also you notice that Tiffany “took the film to Apple, and convinced them to offer it on their iTunes site.” Convinced Apple, still there is that gatekeeper deciding what content makes it. the gate may be wider but its still there.

    At the moment I’m doing development on a $16million film. By Hollywood standards that’s small but it keeps me awake at night, how it will be distributed is very high on the agenda, especially for the investors. For the kind of money involved the internet is too ethereal for them right now, the traditional model looks a lot safer.

    Lots and lots to think about.

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