As the Internet continues to change relationships within the film industry, the medium’s leading mainstream database has learned how to adapt.
Col Needham, the Seattle-based founder of the Internet Movie Database, spoke yesterday at SXSW about the site’s highly ambitious plans to radically flesh out its video content. Needham’s money quote, which wound up in a CNET headline before the afternoon discussion had even wrapped up, certainly turned heads: "We want a play button on every single page," he said.
Needham’s ballsy strategy to post video content, including feature-length films and television shows, on all of IMDb’s thousands of profiles illustrates the industry’s need to adapt. IMDb lies at the center of a new paradigm shift for the film community.
A subsidiary of Amazon, the site recently purchased popular film festival search engine Withoutabox, which hired AFI Fest’s Christian Gaines to oversee operations. Now, IMDb and Withoutabox are making major advancements by developing unique digital tools for independent filmmakers. "A play button on every page" represents just the tip of the iceberg.
With 225,000 filmmakers using Withoutabox to submit their films to festivals, the company has plenty of room to experiment with new techniques. Since last fall, as soon as a festival accepts a movie submitted via Withoutabox, it automatically gets a page on IMDb. This allows filmmakers to post trailers and other related media.
Withoutabox is targeting filmmakers whose movies play festivals and languish in distribution limbo, encouraging them to post their features on IMDb for free. According to IMDb product manager for distribution Andrei Gregor, the company plans to launch a new judging platform that will enable filmmakers to submit digital screeners of their movies directly to festival judges, eliminating the need for physical DVDs in the distribution process.
Allowing the filmmakers to post their movies online creates a new world of pain — or confusion, anyway — for festivals, which often require first dibs on a movie before it becomes available anywhere else. When such problems arise, new precedents will emerge.
In the meantime, Gregor emphasizes that filmmakers using Withoutabox will always maintain control of their property. "It’s up to the rights owner when they make their content available," he says. For now, they are reaching out to filmmakers on a case-to-case basis to clue them into their current options. Withoutabox has "a huge backlog" of movies that have been submitted through the system, with a wide range of needs.
On a panel today about the state of film festivals, Gaines struck a note of optimism, as a festival veteran would be expected to do. "People are absolutists," he said. "They think the sky is falling, that festivals will be obliterated. It doesn’t actually need to be that way." Sundance Film Festival programmer Trevor Groth agreed.
"The old model is broken," he said. "People are reinventing what’s going to work."