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Die, Hollywood, die (benwerd.com)
93 points by benwerd on Jan 22, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

If you think you can't make a minimally viable movie check out 'Primer'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primer_%28film%29 ($7K)

Another one would be 'The man from Earth'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_from_Earth ($200K)

Both are (I believe) awesome movies, especially taken into account the very limited budgets.

Cheap doesn't mean minimally viable. The story which the Director was telling was able to be told in a 'present day' simple way. There's no way you can tell the story of "Star Wars" without scale models, expensive cameras, good actors, and special effects.

However, even though Primer only cost a few $K to make, there was nothing "minimal" about it. The entire story needed to be told, and the process of filmmaking already includes editing and pairing down the story. I think that the notion of thinking of products and movies as both things which have unique and compartmentalizable "features" (which lead to the notion of MVP) is a flawed analogy for this reason.

I think that we agree the process of MAKING movies is OK, but the process of distribution and consumption is what needs the change.

Oh, and these movies are awesome.

I would think a minimal-viable Star Wars would be something like a comic book - that seems to be the path taken by many fantasy/SF/"necessarily set/prop/effects-heavy" films recently.

Before some productions start the studio will put together what's called an animatic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storyboard#Animatics), where the storyboard frames are cut together with rough dialog to give an idea of the final product. It's similar to what you're suggesting -- a comic book that moves and talks. It's essentially a film's MVP.

Unlike a comic book an animatic isn't actually a product with end-customers, though, and I thought getting end-customers quickly was the most important part of the MVP doctrine.

I guess that depends a bit of your view of the market. If you think the "customers" are the "bums on seats in cinemas", then perhaps it's not a product. If you're thinking more B2B and view the movie distributors as the "customers" perhaps it is.

The very profitable XComics app would BEG to differ.

Not totally apropos, but calling Primer "minimally viable" does it a bit of a disservice. The low-budget aesthetic feels perfect, and it's executed flawlessly-- one of my favorite films, full stop.

Carry on.

They're fantastic! I'm definitely not trying to say that low budget cinema can't be amazing. In some ways, low-budget indie films more consistently amazing than the blockbusters. But are they MVPs?

For me, the crux is in this argument: http://22ideastreet.com/blog/2012/01/11/signs-you-arent-real...

The most innovation and the largest growth in distribution for video in the modern world has been in the many professional YouTube channels that exist. EpicMealTime, FreddieW, RealAnnoyingOrange, have literally millions or fans that watch every single one of their videos and they are currently making millions of dollars.

In fact FreddieW has raised over $270K on kick-starter for to create a movie, all donated from his fans http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/freddiew/video-game-high....

Now, beyond just the individual YouTube channel owners, there are currently (start-up) studios that professionally manage and assist YouTube channels (for a cut of course). Some of these start-ups are http://machinima.com/, http://makerstudios.com/, cloudmedia, http://fullscreen.net/ http://www.thecollective-la.com/ http://break.com/

All of these companies, either have millions of dollars or have raised millions of dollars. Now they are currently in a land grab for all the top YouTube channels, because if you control the top YouTube channels you control distribution. And currently top YouTubers are some of the only people on the web, that can effectively and consistently distribute to millions of fans.

My point is this, innovative people are already challenging hollywood and are off to a great start. In my opinion, if someone is serious about killing Hollywood they need to first study whats already out there and figure out how to work with the people who have already made some serious progress!

If you want to kill Hollywood, you need to kill its revenue streams. In the case of TV, that would be advertising. The examples you've raised are off to a good start there. Once brands and marketers see that these folks can reach bigger and more dedicated audiences each week than a typical TV show can, dollars will be taken away from TV spend and placed on YouTube instead. It'll be a slow process, but we're already seeing some really big brands and companies placing big bets on YouTube, Facebook, etc. There are plenty of cases where spending on a YouTube star makes more sense than spending on a TV show (when reaching a targeted audience or youth demographics, say). That said, YouTube -- and its associated studios -- have a ways to go before theyr'e taking serious bucks away from TV network advertising.

As for the movie business, that one's a bit tougher to kill. The barriers to entry for Hollywood-quality movies are fairly high. But there are some levers to pull. In recent years, hedge funds have quietly emerged as one of the biggest sources of film financing in the business -- bankrolling everyone from production companies to studios themselves. Independent producers looking to work outside the Hollywood system should find a) distribution paths that make sense, and b) court this sort of money, which will be agnostic as to who's making the content if the content is good enough.

I might rephrase Point #3 as "You can't make a minimally viable blockbuster."

The biggest hits that drive the most people into theaters and make the most money are the biggest budget movies that require massive coordination of people and require skillsets that don't scale down to small budgets. You don't build an NFL stadium based on what you learned at a high school stadium, and you don't build a Busch Gardens style theme park based on what you learned doing county fairs.

Isn't a movie MVP in the funding process of movies a script with storyboards?

Producers don't film a movie and then get funding.

The post is right about distribution being the biggest challenge, it is not about how movies are being made, is about how can you shift the industry model into another distribution channel.

I personally believe in the exact opposite. Alternative channels exist today and are already used by alternative producers. But the problem, as I understand, is that Hollywood producers are somewhat tied to traditional channels. Because making a movie is so expensive, and today only traditional distribution returns your investment. Then after you spend a few million dollar making a movie, you'll find it a bit risky to try a new unproven distribution model.

It's naive to say that today anyone can make a movie, because cameras are cheaper. The average guy is still far from being able to produce anything remotely near a Hollywood production level. If that was true, if anyone (or any reasonably sized studio) could make a near Hollywood level movie. Then the competition would have killed them already. But that's a point where technology is specially important in fixing. The tools are still not cheap enough, but are getting cheaper. We can make them better.

Distribution is already here. But there's not enough content to distribute. I'd argue that the distribution problem is "reasonably well" solved today. The last piece of the puzzle is to solve content creation. We need to focus on building content, and tools that will democratize content creation. Not distribution.

I feel it's a balance between both, yes, you're right the distribution channels are already there, but the quality of the productions that use those channels are not even close to the quality Hollywood productions have.

We need to find a way to give independent studios a way to develop quality content that can be easily distributed and develop technology that lowers the production cost, because probably Hollywood studios won't shift until they see there's a market, where independent studios are actually making profits.

I agree with the entertainment point. For example, I think that video games offer a higher entertainment/dollar value. They are probably a greater long term threat to movies than infringement is.

Especially as time goes on. Eventually everybody will have grown up playing video games.

But the real competitor in my mind is television. With reduced costs for special effects, television has pretty much all the same tools as movies. Although on average television shows are not as compelling as movies, I think that the problem is currently cultural (an example of the limitations of television is that in many shows (not all) main characters will not be killed, despite constantly going into dangerous situations, the negative aspect is that it makes shows predictable).

I've derived more enjoyment from television than movies for years now. My question is, can technology assist in producing television at a lower cost?

But I just want to point out the distribution problem... It really isn't one, because if all people were truly adverse to seeing movies on a computer screen then infringement wouldn't be a problem in the first place.

I think the "You can't make a minimally viable movie" point immediately contradicts itself by pointing out that so many movies are predictable commodity pablum. Hollywood has been producing mainly minimally viable movies since forever. And people keep going to see them. So "can't?" I don't understand.

Distribution issues should disappear as digital projection edges toward ubiquity, no? I thought industry observers considered the 3D resurgence to be a long-term distribution strategy: Modern digital 3D processes give the theaters the incentive to invest in the digital equipment that will eventually eliminate the distribution issues.

Fair points :) I've updated my post to reference the MVP discussion - and the idea about 3D processes hadn't occurred to me. Presumably those films also come through the standard distribution companies though?

You can’t make a minimally viable movie

Of course you can. It's just that the script (and "vision") has to be part of it. But there's plenty of extras that can be added only later: getting a professional actor instead of your cousin to do a secondary role, adding that CGI touch to improve ambiance, paying a good compositor to create some custom music, etc.

And tweaking based on research is done all the time: it's called "test screenings".

I would like to hear more on this thought!

To me, I would say that when you compare the effort needed to create the "final" print of the film (the one with the CG and professional actors) vs an early test take made with your family, the delta between the cost of the two would be very high.

I feel that a closer metaphor would be that a good treatment and a demo are the "pitch deck" for the real film you want to make, not first versions of it.

Making a movie requires a very special set of circumstances and people. Consider all the involved:

- Director, actors, writers and crew. The creative team behind the movie.

- The producer: the business side.

- The movie studio: the financial, marketing and distribution side.

When YC asks for startups to think of ways to "Kill Hollywood", they are talking about the last category. So far I have not seen a single comment talking about cutting out directors or producers. The problem is the movie studios, and their Walmart-like hold on the industry.

Now that that's established, what can we do about this? How to we break up the relationships between the creative team and the movie studios? I see several ways:

1. We need a simple and cheap distribution channel. In 20 years there will be no movie theaters. They might remain as a novelty, but 90% of them will be gone. They are already not making much money and as home theater setups get better, there is no way that people will want to go to a theater and overpay for the soda and popcorn. Platforms like Roku and iTunes or "networks" like Hulu and Netflix are the future. Allowing people to publish directly to these channels and making it transparent how much return there is "per view" is key here.

2. We need independent marketing for movies. A director who, for the sake of the argument, self-financed a movie needs a way to market it. This is analogous to a web app developer marketing her app via Google AdWords. Once again content platforms like Roku and iTunes can help greatly here since they already have access to lots of people and are common places to seek movie trailers, etc.

3. We need a new source of finance. The problem is that a successful blockbuster movie takes many millions of dollars and someone has to front the money before any return is made. This problem has some technical solutions. For one, we could create a web app that matches the creative team with potential investors. The investors get to read the script, watch the castings, even interact with the team if they for example are looking to invest >$10k, etc. Then if the movie meets its budget (the interface would be similar to Donors Choose), production starts. Investors wait, watch and pray, potentially even trading their investments in these movies (this is risk sharing after all). Once the movie is made it goes into marketing and distribution and the returns come in, where they get split up between the investors.

The above are not business plans, just a quick brainstorm of different approaches to disrupting or evolving the industry. I have no experience making movies beyond taking videos with my phone so this is a bunch of hogwash with 99.5% probability.

>We need a simple and cheap distribution channel. In 20 years there will be no movie theaters. They might remain as a novelty, but 90% of them will be gone.

I don't completely agree with this part. I do think the number of theaters will decrease but I don't think they will become simply novelty items (in the way that drive in theaters are).

There are several selling points to theaters only one of which is "new releases". The other primary selling point is the experience, which breaks down into two sub points.

One is "you can't get this at home". This covers things like IMAX, even a 50" 3D TV doesn't even come close and with any foreseeable technology it just isn't going to happen in the home outside those few who build $x0,000 setups with a dedicated room.

The other part of the experience is the social aspect, which covers the growing trend for theaters to be less the "500 seats" style and more the tables serving beer and real food style.

So I think theaters will continue to be popular. The ratty "cram 500 people into a room for a new release" variety will die out. IMAX style theaters and those that provide a more "dinner and movie with friends around a table" style will grow.

I think if you look at the industry statistics, this is already happening. I know at least around here (Northeast USA) numerous old style theaters have either closed or converted to the "dinner and movie" style and IMAX theaters seems to be popping up everywhere.

Agree with all of this.

Another angle is the advertisers' participation. Fox doesn't put some of their shows on Hulu not because it's hard, but because they won't make the same $ per impression that they make on TV.

There's work to be done to convince the advertisers (ad agencies?) that placements on digital screens are just as valuable (hopefully more valuable) as TV. Remember that Movie studios are also TV studios, and you can't fight one without the other.

Oh, and this is the kind of thing which increases piracy, and then SOPA http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/22/delay-on-hulu-availability-...

Cool, let's also push a DIE MSM (mainsteam media) as a whole movement. News can be crowdsourced, we just need to get on the boob tube. This republican primary race, case in point. America needs our help

Just last week I watched a demo day for a local incubator (PiePDX). Here's someone trying disrupt distribution, but it doesn't sound like they have theaters in the mix:


Die, Hollywood, die...? I never, ever thought I'd find myself in this position. It's ... surreal. "radioactive mega-worms", Raiders Of The Last Ark references...ok. bla. But, John Cusack sux.

Funding a film like a start-up is a good short term solution. Sure, PG asked for a model for the future, but that isn't going to happen overnight. Something like this actually could.

Some theme music for reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6MlwT1lBk0&feature=youtu...

Sorry 'HN Etiquette', I couldn't resist.

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