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What If You Could Tip a Filmmaker?

Thompson on Hollywood By Chris Dorr | Thompson on Hollywood February 15, 2012 at 3:54PM

Over at the Tribeca Film Festival's excellent "Future of Film" blog, its editor, internet expert Chris Dorr, asks: "What If You Could Tip a Filmmaker?" Here's the piece, in full:
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Louis CK
Matthais Clamer

Over at the Tribeca Film Festival's excellent "Future of Film" blog, its editor, internet expert Chris Dorr, asks: "What If You Could Tip a Filmmaker?" Here's the piece, in full:

At the end of 2011, Louis CK pulled something off that a few years ago would have seemed like an impossible dream. He created a video of his own standup comedy show, put it up on his own site to download at a low price (1/4 of the price of an equivalent DVD) and used social media (at no cost) to market to his fans.

The result is well known.

Louis CK got over 200,000 downloads in the first 10 days. No middleman, no deductions—all the monies went to him.

He took a risk and made a lot of money.  Another great example of an artist who went directly to his fans and achieved artistic and financial success.

We will see other artists achieve similar success as the Internet continues its relentless and disruptive drive to flatten traditional production, marketing and distribution models.

But this is not the only model we can imagine where an artist could receive direct payment for her work.

In fact, we must continue to imagine new ways to bring audiences and artists together that financially reward the artist. These new models will also be enabled by the Internet’s inherent multi directionality, which allows consumers to connect with other consumers as well as the artist.

Here is a “what if” idea that exploits that potential and uses Netflix as a test bed.

Let’s assume you are one of Netflix’s 20 million+ subs.

At the end of every month, you are presented with a list of each movie or TV show you have seen over the prior month. In addition, you can access the key artistic categories for each movie and TV show.  Imagine the Emmy categories for TV and the Oscar categories for movies. So in addition to Best Picture, you also have Best Costume Designer, Best Actor, etc.

Now you are given the chance to vote for up to 5 people across all the movies and TV shows you have seen that month.

Say you saw a movie where you really liked the editing, another where the supporting actor was brilliant, another where the writing was superb, another where the musical score was inspiring, and yet another where the production was great in every respect. You get the picture.

Now you combine this voting feature with a payment scheme.

There could be two ways to imagine this.

1. Netflix allows you to allocate $.50 of your monthly subscription to this “artists direct payment program,” and with each vote, a proportional part of your $.50 gets allocated and paid directly to the artist you select.

2. Netflix gives you the ability to pay an additional amount that goes to pay artists directly. I for one would be happy to add $1.00 per month to my Netflix streaming fee if I could reward artists directly for their work.

With each method, you get to reward up to five artists per month with additional monies for their great work.

Now add two more steps that are crucial.

1. Combine my voting with my social graph. So, every time I vote, I automatically let my social graph (pick the platform—FacebookTwitterTumblr, etc.) know how I voted. So everyone sees what I am willing to put my money behind.

2. Netflix anonymously aggregates the data across all the voting and publishes a list of who received what votes and what monies they received. All Netflixsubscribers (and the world for that matter) get to know who Netflix subscribers think are worthy of consideration.

These two steps accelerate the program and cause more people to jump in and vote with their money, thus increasing the votes and money flow to individual artists.

This imagined model is potentially very powerful, as it enables users to pay artists directly in a way that assures that no middleman takes any cut. (OK maybeNetflix takes 5 percent for handling the payment. We will allow that.)

The deep distrust of the machinery of Hollywood is eliminated, because I know as a user that my money is going directly to the artist—just as Louis CK fans knew.

And now all the creators of movies and TV shows are further incentivized to connect with their fans and encourage them to see their work. A virtuous circle is created.

And at scale, large dollar amounts for individual artists can be generated.

Is this imagined model easy to pull off? Is Netflix the right vehicle for such a thing? Who knows? There are no easy answers to these and other questions.

But someone should try.

This article is related to: Media, Digital Future, Web/Tech


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.