Interview with Brian Newman, President and CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute

Last month Brian Newman, President & CEO of the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI), shared his industry expertise at a series talks programmed by Power to the Pixel called “The Indie Filmmaker’s Guide to the Internet” at the Berlin Talent Campus

Brian, who spoke on the New Exhibitors panel at PTTP’s London event last October, explained how TFI’s Reframe project is helping filmmakers digitise and sell their work on the web. The videos from the Berlin event will be available online soon, but, until then, you can learn more about Reframe from this interview Brian did for the PTTP blog. Also, check out Brian’s “rambling comments on the future of the media arts field” on his own blog and this video interview he did while at the 2009 Berlinale.

How does Reframe benefit filmmakers?
It offers free digitisation of older films and videos – a service that is very costly for most independent filmmakers who have master copies of their films only in non-digital formats.  Additionally, we make non-exclusive deals and negotiate terms with our partners that are more favourable than those filmmakers can get directly on their own.  For example, our deal with Amazon’s CreateSpace offers a revenue share that is far friendlier towards filmmakers than those that most other aggregators offer.  We also help niche films reach the academic marketplace where they can make greater revenues and we’ve tiered our pricing so that if you sell to the educational market, you get a bigger percentage back.

How does your partnership with Amazon work?
Amazon’s CreateSpace division handles all digitisation (for free) and all DVD delivery.  Amazon’s Video On Demand unit handles all streaming and download to own or rent.  All titles available on the Reframe website are also available on Amazon, and we track and pay royalties from both sites.  Amazon handles all delivery, even for films sold from the Reframe site.  Rights holders set the price, and each film can have multiple prices (for consumer use, academic use, public performance, etc).  Revenue share is 50/50 on downloads with no fees, so the filmmaker gets the full 50%.  On DVD, revenues back to the filmmaker are tiered according to how much the consumer pays:
$1-$50 = 40% to rights holder
$51-$200 = 85% to rights holder
$201 and above = 90% to rights holder

How does Reframe differ from more traditional distribution service providers?
Unlike many distributors and aggregators, we are completely non-exclusive and transparent with all revenue shares.  We give you a digital copy of your film, which we encourage you to sell from your own website and on other platforms (or even give away free).  We will be negotiating with other platforms to provide the best possible deals to filmmakers, but you can also choose to make deals on your own.  We also do DVD on demand (which ensures you don’t have to pay upfront inventory costs) and offer both streaming and download capabilities.

What are the steps and limitations involved in the submission process?
For now, filmmakers must sign a contract with us (warranting that they have all rights – including music) and send us their metadata and tape, film or digital file.  We generally look for filmmakers with some acclaim or known body of work.  Emerging filmmakers can also work with us, but if they want traditional distribution, they should pursue that before coming to us.  In addition to individual filmmakers, we work with archives, broadcast channels and distributors.  We will accept almost any film (excluding pornography) but we aren’t set up to take footage that is not a finished film – we aren’t a clip library at this time.

How many films are part of Reframe?
Currently, we have 1500 films in the database.  About 500 of these are films we brought “off the shelf,” meaning these are films that never had distribution (or at least hadn’t for a long time).  They vary in type, ranging from experimental films to documentaries to narrative fiction films.

Have you noticed any trends in sales thus far?
Yes.  The educational titles are very popular with universities.  We’ve also noticed that some of our more obscure experimental films are selling more quickly than expected.  While digital sales are slowly increasing, most sales remain on DVD – a trend we expect will continue in the short-term.

How do you anticipate Reframe will grow and expand?
We expect sales to grow through the launch of our beta 2.0 site and plan to expand our marketing, both online and at academic buyers’ conferences. Reframe is adding significant new user-generated content tools (such as tagging, recommending, sharing, and creating profiles) and is building a dashboard for filmmakers to track sales in real time, see search and user data (of permitting customers) and make real-time updates to their online content.  Besides forming new distribution partnerships, we are also in discussions with several groups about extending our metadata to new open source systems so that filmmakers can get more information about their buyers and audiences can find more detailed information on the films and filmmakers.

What other things are you working on at the Tribeca Film Institute?
We’re currently giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money to filmmakers and are building and launching educational workshops and labs.  In addition, we’re building a residency program, running numerous youth programs, launching a screenwriting lab in Rwanda and working with the USC Law School IP Clinic to develop a sampling toolkit for people interested in Creative Commons.  In the future, I expect we’ll launch more opportunities to help filmmakers distribute their films and increase education about distribution deals and numbers – revealing facts about what is and isn’t being made.

What advice would you offer filmmakers who are looking to distribute their films online?
Never trust anyone who wants to take exclusive digital rights and never sign those rights away for longer than three years.  Anyone giving you less than 70% of a revenue share (meaning after the retailer takes its cut) is ripping you off.  Distributors aren’t bad – they do work you may not be willing to take on – but negotiate and make sure they do everything you would do for your film.  Read the fine print as many distributors require a lot of deliverables that may cost more than you’ll ever make, or they charge you for their delivery costs to outlets like iTunes or bill you for marketing costs.  Lastly, don’t worry about piracy.  Your film is probably already pirated and plenty of people make money even when their film is available for free.  Just get your film out there.  As is often said – you should worry more about obscurity.