NEW YORK – When a nonprofit film producer hits the jackpot at Sundance, filmmakers may benefit, but not in a traditional way.
Nonprofit outfit Artists Public Domain, which funded the $300,000 feature “Another Earth” and sold it for nearly $3 million in January, has decided to take much of that windfall and plow it back into an initiative to help all indies.
“Our goal is to drastically change the landscape of independent film,” says APD’s Hunter Gray, who can’t legally give profits from the Fox Searchlight sale to the “Earth” filmmakers.
Instead, APD co-founders Tyler Brodie and Gray are launching Cinema Conservancy, an organization formed to create a filmmaker-monitored website with legal, union, nondisclosure and grant application documents and templates — along with essential production docs unavailable anywhere else — all for free.
“Some of the costs to get actor agreements, foundation forms and other paperwork are a bit extreme for new filmmakers,” Brodie says.
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Cinema Conservancy’s founding director is Jacob Perlin, owner of niche theatrical distributor the Film Desk, who was hired from a longtime post as associate film programmer at Brooklyn’s BAMcinematek.
Brodie and Gray tentatively plan to use around $1 million from the “Another Earth” deal to help fund the new org. Unlike APD, which finances films and IFP grants solely through donations from the duo, Cinema Conservancy will be supported through fundraising efforts.
“We want to help people streamline their work (and) create tools so filmmakers don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel,” Grays says.
The website will include information-sharing and networking features for filmmakers, and is expected to launch in six months to a year. Free or low-cost production software may be developed.
“Our main concern is that a lot of films get distributed and someone makes money, but a lot never comes back to filmmakers,” Brodie adds. “The goal is to make everything much more transparent, allowing filmmakers to see where the money goes so they can get money back and continue making films.”
Perlin also will oversee archival and restoration efforts on modern titles often overlooked by film preservation orgs.
“It’s an uphill battle,” notes Perlin, who’s helped restore some of the Criterion Collection and Zeitgeist Films titles he books in theaters. “Because so many films are now shot digitally, a lot of people think that preservation isn’t as much of an issue, but I’m finding there are important films that haven’t been looked after from the 1990s (on).”
Parts and Labor producer Jay Van Hoy (“Beginners”), Philipp Engelhorn (founder of nonprofit film producer and foundation Cinereach), Brodie and Gray, along with a nonprofit lawyer and an intellectual property attorney, have committed to join the org’s board once it’s established. (Brodie hopes to eventually expand the proposed board with Internet and technology execs). The founders incorporated Cinema Conservancy earlier in the month and are applying for not-for-profit status, which could take up to nine months to approve.
Gray says the site will improve upon currently available film scheduling and budgeting software. “There needs to be (a site) that can take a film through delivery that’s integrated, so nothing falls through the cracks,” he says. “(Right now) there are no checks and balances other than manually going through everything. I imagine something akin to online tax filing — once all of the data is entered, it could generate any type of report and final delivery lists.”
The org will be based out of the Manhattan building that also houses APD, Brodie and Gray’s for-profit production outfit Verisimilitude (“Half Nelson”) and Brodie’s other business, a recording studio for LCD Soundsystem’s label DFA Records.
Van Hoy, who once worked on a for-profit online production network similar to the new initiative (at the now-defunct Shooting Gallery), will help build the site’s knowledge-sharing sections and develop potential partnerships with orgs like Cinereach and IFP.
“I’ve been thinking about it as a ‘wiki’ informed by knowledgeable filmmakers, producers and artisans who are self-checking, or being checked for any potential risks it could create,” he says, noting the site is still in a very early stage of development.
The act of producers sharing information and helpful tips with each other is one thing. The open, free distribution of legally binding documents is another entirely, something all the principals are now evaluating. While parts of the site might be open to editing by anyone, other sections may be controlled by a vetted or moderated group of industry professionals. Certain documents and areas will likely be locked from user changes before they’re posted.
Potential copyright issues surrounding uploaded content need to be discussed and resolved before the site launches, as do the ways filmmakers and studios can work together with the site’s features and the org to ensure accounting transparency. Many other details have yet to be finalized — the principals are still getting feedback from their peers to create an ideal site — and Gray says the group’s Web and preservation efforts are just the beginning of their ambitious plans.
While there will be differing opinions about what the site should feature — many, no doubt, from entertainment lawyers — Cinema Conservancy’s principals say their efforts likely will be welcomed by filmmakers.
“Film and Internet companies aren’t making enough money to warrant creating software that makes their lives easier and more efficient in the future. And we can’t band together to do it, because different producers and investors’ interests are never aligned — it’s hard enough to get the films made,” Gray says. “We should have a system in place. Having an organization (like ours) can actually get this done.”