MONTANA AVE — Filmmakers and aficionados alike will flock to the Aero Theatre this Saturday for the Santa Monica Film Festival, an annual tradition in the city by the sea that showcases the best that independent creatives have to offer.

But before the main course, festival organizers have a little something special to whet the appetite for the films.

This year, filmmakers will not only have the opportunity to promote their work, but a chance to learn how to sell it at the Video on Demand Marketplace, a panel discussion and networking event to explore the new world of content distribution.

It will be an entity unto itself that will take place in conjunction with the festival, said David Katz, the executive director.

“We’re really excited about what’s going on with the festival,” Katz said. “We’re focusing on how the industry is changing, and how the power is being put in the place of the independent filmmaker to promote, sell, advertise and distribute their work.”

Video on Demand, or VOD as they call it in the industry, may sound familiar, particularly if you happen to pay one of the large cable companies for their services.

Even those who have “cut the cord” with cable likely have experienced the phenomenon that is revolutionizing the independent world.

Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and Hulu are all popular places to find video either to purchase permanently (also called electronic sell-through) or to view at a whim through the consumer’s computer or streaming device.

That gives filmmakers more places to sell their work, and the panel, largely composed of aggregators of that content, will be there to tell them how.

“We felt there’s so much information out there that it would be best if we could put everyone under one roof, if they could, for an hour and let the filmmakers network, meet one on one,” Katz said.

Filmmakers no longer have to go to move studios with ideas, scripts or completed projects, hand them over and hope. With the ability for people to stream things directly to their televisions and mobile devices, it’s possible to get that product to the consumer without going through the traditional, and often restrictive, routes.

“I think it’s easier for them to get their films seen,” said Jay Friedman, director of sales with Bitmax, a company that specializes in the technical end of preparing a movie for online distribution.

Not that the Video on Demand world is a path to immediate success, it just democratizes access, taking ultimate decisions out of the hands of the studio oligarchy.

“There are more gatekeepers, there are just also more gates,” Friedman said.

It’s a powerful gate. Video on Demand platforms reach 100 million homes in the United States, and relatively inexpensive marketing campaigns targeted at potential viewers can make films a success.

A famous, although not necessarily perfect, example is “Bachelorette,” a 2012 dark comedy starring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fischer. The movie was released in theaters, but did poorly compared to its exceptional reception in the Video on Demand format.

Movies like that can create false expectations, said Logan Mulvey, CEO of Go Digital, a Video on Demand distribution company.

“There are success stories for independent film in the VOD marketplace, and they think ‘That should be my film,’” Mulvey said. “They look at ‘Bachelorette’ and say how come my film isn’t doing that?”

Success comes when filmmakers treat their projects as if they were a business and stay involved, Mulvey said.

“Don’t just hand over the film and hope people watch it,” he said. “Be an evangelist. The days are completely gone where you hand your movie in and hope for the best.”

Even panelists have something to learn.

Bitmax may be old hat when it comes to the technology, but content aggregation is a new piece of their business, Friedman said.

“We’re kind of the new kid on the block,” he said

The remainder of the film festival will be fairly standard from years past, but will only last a day.

It opens with the award-winning documentary “Without a Net,” an hour-long film that follows a Brazilian circus as it performs in the somtimes-vicious slums of Rio de Janeiro.

Following that, festival organizers selected another 16 films in a variety of lengths and styles before the closer, a short documentary called “Pot Country” that chronicles the experience of a female marijuana cultivator from Northern California.

“It’s only 26 minutes long, but it’s powerful, educational and very timely,” Katz said.

Tickets to the screenings cost $10 each, but an all-event pass costs $20. A portion of the sales will go to planting trees and another will go toward cancer research.

For more information, visit www.smff.org.

 

 

ashley@smdp.com