For amateur and professional filmmakers and content producers alike, YouTube has become for many, the first place to go when looking for footage of a range of topics past and present.
The sheer volume of material uploaded to YouTube, as well as the perception ease-of-use offered by the search engine interface, have changed the way we think about finding visual material both for consumption as well as professional productions.
However, for filmmakers seeking to use material found on YouTube in their final cut, here are a few of the ‘ups and downs’ of researching on the world’s most popular video platform. (more…)
‘Fair use’ is a term used in the media industries in many countries. However in the United States, ‘fair use’ refers to the doctrine in US copyright law allowing the use of short verbatim excerpts of copyrighted material for a range of “transformative” purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, research, and even parody without permission from the copyright holder. Countries such as the UK and France have their own fair use laws with specific language and guidelines, but these are ultimately quite similar in purpose to American fair use doctrine. In countries where fair use is permitted, this legal framework can be a valuable tool for filmmakers, especially fair use in documentary. However, in some cases, claiming fair use on footage used in a project can present editorial and aesthetic constraints, as well as pose a legal and financial burden to a production.
Here are a few things to remember when considering claiming fair use of copyrighted footage in film and television productions. (more…)
Recently, we had the privilege to host Peter Hamilton. Peter is an executive producer and senior consultant to industry leaders, governments and nonprofit organizations in the non-fiction television sector. He is the founder/editor/publisher of DocumentaryBusiness.com, the indispensable weekly newsletter on the non-fiction TV business where he sheds light on current trends in the documentary film industry. Here we discuss the pros and cons of the rise of powerful SVOD channels with the capacity to reach a global audience. Here’s the interview our CEO, Melanie Rozencwajg had with Peter.
Peter, you are a major expert in the documentary film industry and it is a real privilege for us that you are sharing your vision and insights with Archive Valley’s international community. First, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, when was your blog born and how many years did you have the privilege to work and witness the industry changes from inside?
Thank you, Melanie. I have always loved History since I was a little boy, growing up in Victoria, Australia. My mother liked to take me on week-long trips around the bush in her Morris Minor, with a thermos of tea and a package of roast lamb sandwiches on the back seat. She would stop at deserted graveyards and decipher for me the stories behind the migrations, epidemics and shipwrecks that she read in the gravestones. Her curiosity ignited my love of discovering the past. As a young reporter, I became thrilled by how the film archive brings stories from the past to life. I have served as a senior consultant since 1987. My specialization is marketing and business development. One of my first projects was to help plan and then launch Discovery International. Before that, I was an executive at CBS in New York.
Back in 2010, I decided to share my expertise and industry analysis in an online newsletter. I saw a gap in the trade press for revealing the ‘business of the documentary film and unscripted business.’ I’ve been excited to support Archive Valley’s creative solution to archive research since I first met your team at MIPTV 2018 ( you can find the key takeaways from our panel talk here).
Your blog offers a broad perspective on how and what are the reasons for the current shift and changes in the non fictionindustry. Latelyyou’ve elaborated a lot on the changes and challenges the SVOD channels brought to the industry: how does it affect the broadcasters’ business? and does the rise of distribution channels lead to a rise in content/shows/ documentary productions in order to feed all the different distribution channels?
We are about to enter a time when the pipeline of unscripted programming will be cut back. The rise over four decades of hundreds of Cable / Satellite channels drove a massive increase in commissions because each channel needed a certain number of fresh hours, as many as 600 a year, to fill their schedules, particularly their primetimes. And viewers watched repeats in great numbers
Enter online video platforms led by Netflix: Viewers can now watch want they want when they want to. Binge-viewing scripted series became the preferred way of consuming video.
U.S. channels are quite rapidly losing subscribers and viewers, particularly of repeats. Facing declining revenues, many networks have cut back their acquisitions of original unscripted series and specials. This trend will be replicated worldwide, although with the most resistance occurring in Western Europe and UK.
Netflix’s strategy involves a shift towards commissioning feature documentaries that cut through the clutter by involving ‘auteurs’ as directors, and A-Listers as executive producers, talent and often as subject material. It’s the Hollywood scripted model applied to unscripted, and it most resembles HBO Documentaries’ longtime strategy.
So the non-fictionbusiness is in flux, things are changing, new structures are developing. What’s your view on the global temperature of the non-fictionbusiness overall?
The new global documentary commissioning pipeline is, therefore, a narrower one, with fewer originals flowing through it. But it involves more “Blue Chip” productions, often with much higher budgets than characterized the Cable / Satellite era. Netflix and Amazon are such dominant players worldwide that I don’t see many competitive SVOD platforms emerging soon who will fill out the demand lost as channels cut their budgets and volume.
So my #1 Takeaway: Fewer projects overall. But more big budget documentaries involving A-Listers, and that are developed along the Hollywood model with agents as their packagers.
Is there, in your opinion, a risk that the distribution channels (svod, broadcasters) will suffer like other industries from industry concentration and monopoly?
The new online video model is a duopoly: Netflix and Amazon dominate, with Hulu chasing them. They are evolving to become platforms that offer subscribers everything from $200 million budget star-studded movies to the NBA and Premier League. Amazon enjoys the most sophisticated model because, as Jeffrey Bezos says, “Video helps sell shoes.” The center of power in video entertainment has shifted: It was shared by LA and New York, with London important in many genres, particularly documentaries. And Washington, too. Now, nearly all cellphones are dialing LA. Disney, Comcast, Apple, Facebook and YouTube are also in the picture. They enjoy tremendous resources, but they have been left behind by Amazon and Netflix. The BBC plus French and German and several other European public broadcasters will remain important commissioners of unscripted programs as they retain strong tax-based funding and loyal if ageing audiences.
In your own words you said that “Despite the challenging business environment, the global documentary film industry and
unscripted sector is responsible for $ billions in annual productions and sales”. Will the competition landscape open up new opportunities and raise the quality bar and the amount of content (shows, films, documentaries…) produced to feed the viewers’ appetite for good shows ?
Industry veterans became certain that our sector would grow forever. The shock of this decade is that the boom came to an end. But it’s not a bust. The global unscripted business will remain a huge mega-billion dollar industry compared to its size back in the early Eighties before the Cable / Satellite boom. It will be somewhat smaller, with more high-quality projects eating up the total pie spent on the genre. Channels will continue to commission originals, though fewer of them and with tighter budgets.
Netflix and Amazon are in a growth spurt, spending furiously to grab market share everywhere. Their hectic spending on original, A-Lister commissions will become more selective as they reach maturity. And new entrants to the online video business will chase them, providing new opportunities for filmmakers, including for specialists in archive-base History.
What are in your opinion to you the next big opportunities and challenges producers/ filmmakers will face with this current industry shift?
Oscar-nominated directors or producers who are working with celebs and A-Listers are finding open doors at the SVOD’s, particularly if they are represented by a credible agent.
The mid-size producers who did well with Cable networks will find the going tougher, but they are still earning commissions. Europeans with strong relationships with public broadcasters will continue to do well.
And outside the commercial economy, the documentary film is one of the most prestigious forms of creative expression today. Governments, foundations and the super-rich together spend billions of dollars every year on feature docs. Their motivations range from winning awards and ten minutes of fame to changing minds. The creative talent involved is often amazing, with the art of documentary story-telling forever finding new ways to compel viewers.
Archival documentaries seem to be experiencing a golden age right now – if we add to that market shifts – it looks like archive sources can gain a lot by connecting with international filmmakers who are looking for new ideas and fresh local perspectives on historical events. Is that your reading of the situation? And what opportunities do you believe are out there for them?
Topics that rely on the archive are hot and are features of Netflix’s list of originals and top-performing commissions. Celebrity bio-docs, portraits of great musical artists, True Crime involving unheard of cases: these are among the genres in great demand. The celebrity bio-docs are particularly high-budget projects, often in the $5-10 million range, because of the cost of clearing the archive and music.
Many mid-priced commissions will rely on resourceful directors and researchers to efficiently discover fresh archive sources.
My final Takeaway is that the SVOD leaders are going global, and they are being challenged by local platforms. Giants like Netflix and their local competitors will all need regional productions to win and retain subscribers. We can see this trend in dramatic series created in Turkey, Israel, Scandinavia, India and more territories. Soon there will be an growth spurt in spending on local documentaries, and archive-based History will be one of the preferred genres.
Peter Hamilton is a senior consultant who specializes in business development and marketing for the unscripted video industry. His clients have included NBC, A+E Networks, National Geographic Channels, Global Canal+ and BBC; the Rockefeller Foundation; and governments, notably Singapore’s IMDA. He has planned and helped launch dozens of channels, notably for Discovery International. Peter is the founder, editor & publisher of DocumentaryBusiness.com, giving weekly insider analysis to 20,000+ executives and producers worldwide. He served as an executive for CBS International in New York. His consulting firm has been based in New York since 1987. He served as an executive for CBS International in New York. His consulting firm has been based in New York since 1987.
We were thrilled to meet brilliant director Chuck Smith last November at Doc NYC 2018 to talk about his new documentary film, BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND. More than simply a retrospective into the work and legacy of Barbara Rubin, a pioneer of underground cinema, the film recounts the wild-child life of Rubin as she experiments with drugs and sexuality before becoming a Hassidic Jew. Featuring Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and many more influential artists and musicians of the time all inspired by Rubin, this documentary explores the budding underground movement of 1960s New York City. BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND is also a beautiful tribute to Jonas Mekas, the Godfather of avant-garde cinema and the gatekeeper of Rubin’s archives, who passed recently.
Could you tell me a bit about you? About your work? Your career as a filmmaker?
I wasn’t one of those kids who was fascinated with films and started using a camera at an early age. Yes, I liked watching films, but I never saw myself making films until I met some friends who had a Super 8 camera. Then I played around with the camera, but only for fun, still never
What made you want to tell this Barbara Rubin’s story?
I’ve always been fascinated with “larger than life” characters who seem to have been forgotten by conventional history. Sometimes the most interesting and inspiring people in a historical moment are dropped from the historical narrative and replaced by others who carried their inspiration forward. These people are often a little too “crazy” for mass consumption, so their art/music/filmmaking or whatever needs to be
For how long did you work on this project? Were there any major challenges financing the project?
From my first idea to the finished film took over 5 years. I didn’t work exclusively on BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND for that whole time, but it was a “
What was more important for you: telling the personal trajectory of this strong woman, showing her contradictions (from a free spirit feminist to a hassidic wife) or painting the portrait of a visionnaire, an artist, the motor of this New York creative scene?
Barbara Rubin’s life had a lot of fascinating aspects that intrigued me, but the most important part of her story from a filmmaking perspective was the fact that she had a personal transformation. All the best stories have a twist, or a moment when the “hero” goes through a life-changing event. Without this drama, it’s very hard to sustain interest in the narrative. For Barbara, the fact that she became a Hasidic Jew at age 23 is crucial. It gives her life a trajectory that is both inspirational and tragic in some sense. I wanted to understand – and help the viewers understand – how someone can make such a change in their life. I’m not sure we can ever fully know why Barbara had to evolve that way, but I think my film helps explain it a bit.
You had access to the archives of Jonas Mekas, who is preserving part of the Barbara Rubin’s Heritage and who’s is also working very hard to preserve avant-garde cinema through Anthology Film Archives. Could you tell us a bit more about your collaboration?
Jonas Mekas was crucial to the making of my film. Without Jonas’ support and love I couldn’t have done the film. Not only did he give me complete access to his archives, but he opened his heart to discuss and remember a woman (Barbara Rubin) who meant a great deal to him.
The role of the researcher is essential in archive driven documentaries. How did you work with Rosemary Rotondi? What was your process?
Yes, archival research was critical to my film and Rosemary was very helpful. Since, I started the film with access to all of Jonas Mekas’ footage, and the Warhol films and archive, I had a good head start on period archival footage that either featured Barbara Rubin and her friends or was shot by Barbara. But, once I had the basic story of her life down, I had to fill in all the gaps with more basic archival footage such as Queens, NY in the late 1950’s, or Vietnam War protest footage. For that, I used Rosemary who was very familiar with what was available from the ’50’s and ’60’s.
While Immersing yourself in personal footage and archives of Barbara’s work, what did immediately catch your attention?
What caught my attention about the footage that Barbara shot in the early 1960’s was that it was so ALIVE with energy. She was using a 16mm camera like an iPhone! At the time, it was probably seen as erratic or shaky camera work, but now it seems very prescient of how fast our eyes work these days. I also was impressed with her use of super-imposing images.
How did you conduct the interviews? Did it take a lot of preparation or it was more a natural, intuitive process?
For my interviews, I had a few basic questions and an outline written down, but more often then not, I forgot all about the “planned” interview and followed the subject where they led. Intuitive interviews are always better then sticking to a script. Certainly, with Jonas Mekas, I had absolutely NO control over where he would go or what he would talk about. He heard my questions and then always said whatever he felt like. Although he did read certain letters and pieces of his writing for my camera when I asked him to.
How did you combine visual creativity and storytelling? Could you elaborate on your artistic choices?
Since BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND is based on history and a particular period in experimental filmmaking, I tried to take all of my visual storytelling cues from the footage and films of that period. Since Barbara often used multiple screens and double projections, I wasn’t afraid to use these techniques as well. I also tried to give my documentary a very tangible “film feeling” – showing sprockets, actual film, and projectors when appropriate. Maintaining the same “film feeling” while working with various film/video sources helped me give the documentary a more unified look. I even layered film “headers” which had nothing on them over some of the still photographs in the film to give the stills an active look.
Barbara Rubin thought that the act of filming could change the world. What would be a good example for that today?
I still think that filmmaking can change the world. For Barbara Rubin, it was the boundary-pushing aspect of film to change the culture and then the world. If she could make people see radical images, then their understanding of what’s appropriate would change and so would their attitudes. Today, I’m not sure that filmmakers can still find aesthetic and content barriers to break like Barbara did, but there’s no doubt that powerful images can still affect people. If you film a lonely polar bear on an iceberg that is floating and shrinking, a viewer will be forced to confront the reality of climate change and will hopefully act on that. Film and moving images, in general, are still a very powerful force in the world. Barbara would be happy about that.