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A Magazine for Sheffield

Digital Distribution.


Now Then readers who happen to follow the Filmreel content with a degree of faithfulness may recall a previous article on Digital Cinema entitled 'Bridging The Gap'. In that piece, I touched upon the gradual introduction (and rapid proliferation) of digital technology into the filmmaking practice and the way it has enabled, liberated and somewhat legitimised those working outside the constraints of mainstream Cinema. But the main focus was Mike Figgis' book Digital Film-Making - which delivers a wonderful template for working with confidence with readily-available technology and encourages us all to explore the vast new realm of creative possibilities on offer. My conclusion of that very same article can be seen as the starting point of this one.

In projecting into the future of digital dissemination of independently produced material, I chose to highlight the slow death of distribution companies (despite their key role in the mechanism through which big studios fuel the multiplexes across the globe) and the advent of digital projection, which the majority of cinemas are now equipped with. I suggested that there is already no reason for distributors not to be altogether bypassed in the process and I called for more initiative, on both the side of independent filmmakers who truly achieve a singularity of vision and the creative management of cinemas.

Now I call for action and present to you a platform that is arguably farther-reaching than the average cinema release. It offers creators of original digital content the chance to take complete control of how and where our work is seen and to actively seek and attain direct revenue from it.

Let me take you back a good few months in time, when I was involved in the development of a feature-film that was to be largely shot in Northern Ethiopia. Due to the nature of that project, I had to delegate aspects of it to different organisations, more firmly grounded in heritage and history. That's when I became acquainted with Anand Kannan and SixInchSpace. His company had already produced and successfully sold a number of historical documentaries to broadcasters. Anand was impressed with my production package and previous output and was therefore very keen to help.

As it happens in this unforgiving business, the project was forced to halt and I swiftly decided to pursue other options, taking on commissioned work and receiving funding for a smaller-scale production along the way. Anand and I maintained sporadic correspondence and more recently, in response to a production update I circulated around, he contacted me with details of a new international venture that he was involved in. Soon after, he offered me an in-depth 45-minute presentation via Skype and I was introduced to the exciting world of Eggup.

The following is now mostly dedicated to the succinct outlining of Eggup's mission, services and recent achievements. So, by means of your press-release, over to you, Andy... is a Do-It-Yourself film distribution platform that ensures secure transactions and protects films through its anti-piracy software. This innovative Hawaii-based company is playing a key role in reshaping technology and film industry standards throughout the world. Recently they took part in the Living Labs Global competition, winning the prestigious award in the category of Sustainable Initiative on Intellectual Property Protection. Eggup's platform allows filmmakers to upload their 1080p quality films, thus creating an encrypted .egg file. This secure file is made available to consumers in a number of formats. Since your film is encrypted as an 'Egg', it can be safely passed from one consumer to another. Whenever a consumer shares an .Egg with friends and family they can only access the trailer of the film. For them to see the full film they have to purchase it.

The filmmaker can add, edit or delete their pricing options, content and country restrictions. Not only that, there are a few great features such as the embedding 'Buy Film' button into other third party websites and blogs. Another great tool is the 'Create Affiliates' feature that allows filmmakers to create strategic alliances that generate heavy traffic by capturing the same target market. The filmmaker decides the split per transaction fee. It's all trackable. Another favourite is 'Create Pay-Per View Site' - your own website to sell your films securely.

It's clearly a business - there's no arguing - but the foundations of it are noble. Eggup stems from technology originally conceived to prevent piracy and now allies that with the will to empower creative independent individuals, whilst recognising the fastgrowing niche of consumer sharing. It's remarkable what this very young platform can already offer and, even more so, to think of the possibilities that lie ahead.

Although Andy decided to share the information on Eggup with me when he recognised the value it could have for my current Web Series project Where Her Dreams End, I have been invited to submit older work. Ironically, I have chosen to test-run the services with my most piratised feature film, Antlers of Reason (2006). I like the idea that now, even on the other side of the world, in some remote town of a totalitarian country, someone may choose to purchase my Egg...


Alex Keegan.

'POW!' yelps Lethal Bizzle as he marches towards the camera, a noble cry from a man whose heart is set on fighting against a corrupt world riddled with movie piracy. Before he makes his next step a brief sparkle appears in his eye, some insight into the elusive hero who's taken it upon himself to go where no other below-par musician has dared to go to protect the rights of filmmakers. This isn't a man driven by glory or self-congratulation - Bizzle has come to fight the pirates and he's not leaving until filmmakers receive due financial reward for their efforts.

Unfortunately brazen Bizzle's interest isn't solely motivated by his commitment to authentic cinema exhibition. A wad of cash seems to help any celebrity of his ilk drum up enthusiasm for a cause. Who can forget some of the 90s' greatest out-of-work actors desperately trying to draw analogies between stealing someone's handbag and pirating films?

Despite the indifference many of these adverts elicited from their viewers, the problem of pirating is one that does directly affect those working within the film industry and can make or break a film's success. The Hollywood studios' cries against film piracy always feel unjustified and greedy. Who really cares if a summer blockbuster makes two million less at the box office? Of course, it is those lower down the industry ladder who pay the price, and independent filmmakers' projects are often crushed by the refusal of audiences to part with their hard-earned cash instead of resorting to illegal downloading. This has resulted in many British distribution companies, especially art house heroes Artificial Eye, adopting multi-platform releases as a strategy to counteract potential money loss. Audiences can now watch a film upon its release in nearly any format - in the cinema/on DVD/via the Internet - giving viewers more freedom as to how they watch things and reducing the desire for people to resort to pirating if a film isn't readily available to them.

Multi-platform releasing seems like one apparently successful way to deal with illegal downloaders, but there are still inherent problems for those filmmakers and production companies that never had a market share to begin with. If your films aren't being seen by anyone then the threat of piracy is non-existent. Recent surges in online distribution have meant that many up-and-coming filmmakers no longer rely on Hollywood studios or large, impenetrable distribution companies to get their films out there. Revolutionary websites like Distrify allow users to upload their films for a small fee, and in the process get their creations onto iTunes, Amazon and other platforms without the convoluted bureaucracy of physical distribution. This means that filmmakers with a worthy product - after all film distribution is sadly entirely business focused - have more of a chance of getting their film seen and appreciated.

But there is always the problem of exposure. How do you get all that lavish praise and attention your cinematic masterpiece so deserves compared to those worthless pieces of trash that share online space with you? The answer is one that is complex and constantly misunderstood. No one has devised a winning 'formula' that allows films to receive instant success - such is the joy of cinema.

One person who doesn't seem to face such a problem is American independent cinema poster boy Kevin Smith, whose film Clerks set a new standard for DIY filmmaking in the 90s. Recently Smith has declared an all-out war with American distribution companies, furious at the sycophantic, soul-selling behaviour required to sweeten up Hollywood companies in order to get your film seen. At Sundance festival this year he sold the distribution rights for his latest film Red State to himself for $20. He jointly proposed a manifesto for young filmmakers to free themselves of their dependence on the Hollywood system. Instead he called for all to partake in international crowd-funding schemes, where a mass of individuals who share passion for cinema come together to help fund and distribute each other's films. Despite his idealistic intentions, this back-fired somewhat because he was preaching to a room of Hollywood distributors who had come to buy his film. He was greeted with a reception of boos and has subsequently been lampooned in the media for his disregard of the people who helped make him a star. The latest update is that he has sold the European distribution rights to Lionsgate Films, one of the world's largest 'independent' distributors. Think of that what you will.


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