This is part 2 of a 2 part series in which I talk to redbox Director of Product about how independent filmmakers can think inside the box with redbox. In this part Eric gives some candid advice to independent filmmakers and talks about redbox’s online distribution plans. Part 1 focuses on the minimum requirements for a film to be included, their target market and the most popular films on redbox.
BTBO: Do you accept films directly from independent filmmakers? Or, do you only work with distributors?
Eric: We have a primary distributor which is called Video Products Distributor, VPD. If we were going to be interested… say you, or someone had submitted an independent film to us, and we said, “Wow, we really want this,” we would work or direct you to work with VPD, or try to find a manufacturer, or label that would be interested in distributing your film.
I’ve had a few people approach me. There was one film in particular that was an interesting independent film. It was something that wasn’t even based on whether or not we were going to pick it up, but I was able to kind of point those people to a few different lines. Then, they were able to make contacts with those people, and eventually one of the studios picked it up.
BTBO: That’s really good. That worked out really well for them.
Eric: It did. It did. And again it had the right… it had the right mix. Sometimes… You know, I’ve done some panels, and I’ve watched a lot of independent film, and I’ve been to Sundance and all of that good stuff. And one of the things I find with independent filmmakers… and as they’re all learning the business …you know sometimes what they don’t pay attention to is; they’re great at maybe, you know they’ve got an interesting story, or they’ve got something that is maybe eye catching, but they don’t have good box art. And the box art looks very cut and pasty. And you know, they really need to spend some time taking shots when they’re on set, things that they can use to help create a very compelling cover box.
BTBO: Kind of along that line; are there any misconceptions that you have noticed that filmmakers have, having attended some of these film festivals?
Eric: Well to be fair… and I don’t mean this disrespectfully. But, I think sometimes… and I know it’s hard when you’re close to your own project. It’s hard for people sometimes… the biggest thing I see is that sometimes filmmakers are overestimating the entertainment value of their project. That’s why you need to get a good outside person’s perspective.Would this be a film that you could show your friends and family and they would all love? Or not even your friends and family, because they would like it, because they love you. Or people, just the man on the street, so to speak. Especially when I’ve been like to Sundance… you know how at a film festival, after you see a film, everybody is like clapping and they’re going, “Great!” But, if you really step out and think about it, it’s like, “Wow, would you pay $10 to see that in the theatre?” No.
Or previewed it, and finished watching it at home? No. So the film festivals have a little too much kind of like; we just want to, you know, sort of pat each other on the back. And, I think it’s great to celebrate independent film, but I grew up at also… it this makes me sound like I’m 85 …but, I also was around during the time when independent film was exploding. You know when Parker Posey was sort of the Indie girl and…
Eric: And, Party Girl, and Heathers, and those kinds of films were kind of on the scene. They weren’t the main stream studio films, but they were well done. They were hidden gems. Now, the problem is anybody with a camera, who has only watched MTV thinks they can make a film.
I think the problem that we have is that filmmakers really need to think about you know creating a film that — it’s great if you want to explore your creativity — but you want a film that is going to be a good story for people, that’s going to be engaging, and be interesting. The Act I, II, III thing, always seems to work, you know? It has a beginning, middle, and an end.
BTBO: So shifting gears back to redbox. A lot has been announced this summer; Google TV, Apple TV has had an update, which was announced recently, and I recall hearing at one point that redbox was looking into streaming of films, given the fact that DVDs are kind of going by the wayside if you will. Any update on that?
Eric: So the biggest thing I would say is in terms of the digital initiative; we have you know a small group of people here that are working on that initiative, and I would just say it’s something that is in process — nothing really to report — nothing to announce. Just, I think we all recognize that if you want to, get your content out to as many people as possible, the digital space is a space that is going to be important to a number of consumers. I also think the physical media — just like when you know television came along, it didn’t kill radio — that the physical media will still exist as well.
BTBO: What are your thoughts on digital film distribution in general, in this new world?
Eric: I think digital film distribution is great. I think, you know, it’s sort of a transitional thing, because you have to think about; you know the movie going experience is all built around —for at least your home, for the most part — wanting to curl up on your couch, or watch it with family and friends. So it’s got to be sort of turn key. It’s worked well when people are able to pop a disc into a player and “Boom!” they’re able to watch the movie.
There’re people that are using either internet, streaming, or people who use their on demand service; say if they have Comcast. So I think it’s definitely going to be another channel for filmmakers to create access to their content. These things that you have to be cognizant of is that; the digital space is great, but again because people are so visual, one of the advantages of things like a video store or redbox is that when you’re browsing, you get to look at those cover boxes, and read those synopses, and go and watch that trailer, and go, “Oh that looks interesting to me.” As opposed to like when I’m scrolling through stuff on just line listings through Comcast. I don’t necessarily have… you know could associate with a cover box and go, “Wow. That looks really interesting.”
The browsing experience; I think will need to become more robust. I think for the consumer, for digital to really be successful; it’s going to have to be a one stop shop for people. Just like you could go to a redbox, or another place, and find all your films that you want in one location; you have to be able to have that same experience if you’re going to be using something. It’s really hard for people to go, “Well I know I can get these things here or these from here.” It’s a lot like, I have to go to this grocery store to get my bread and my milk. And I have to go to this grocery store to get my fruits and vegetables. And by the way, chicken is down the road, you know?
BTBO: Great analogy! Finally; what is the future for Redbox?
Eric: We plan on taking over the world. No. I’m kidding.
Eric: No, I’m just joking. I think the future of Redbox is; we’re going to continue to be, I think, a viable distributor of content. We’re trying to look at, ways to bring both content that people are looking for, and interesting content that people may not have been exposed to that is of value. Not just, because we think it would be good, because we think if people, knew about it they would want to watch it. So, I see the future of redbox as something that is definitely going to have a prominent place in the distribution of content going forward.
You know we’re a very entrepreneurial organization. We work with people that love to think outside the box, and think of creative ways to do all sorts of things. So I think, you know in the spirit of redbox; we’re going to continue to look for opportunities to continue to make the kiosk more of a robust experience, both for video and you know see what other opportunities they could sell there as well.
BTBO: Cool. Any final thoughts for filmmakers?
Eric: The thing that I guess… the thing that I would say to filmmakers is I’d say; you know make sure that, when you’re making a film, make sure you know where you’re going with it. It’s always great to experiment, but again, if you’re …like, “I really want people to see this movie,” make sure it’s a movie that it’s got something you know that people want to see.
Films are just another way of telling stories to people. A good story has interesting characters, a plot that makes sense, it has a beginning and an end. Make sure that you pay attention to; not just your kind of artistic vision, but also what’s going to be interesting for the audience as well.
BTBO: Very good advice. Kind of the basics.
Eric: Yeah. You know what? It’s always about; you know, eat your vegetables. It’s advice that was true back then. It’s true today.