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September 4 at 8:30am

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation

Diary of a Film Start-Up Part 2: Birth of a (Kino)Nation
By Roger Jackson
We were determined the site would be a dot com domain — not dot biz or dot US or dot-whatever. But available dot coms are rare and we weren’t going to pay thousands of dollars to some shady cyber-squatter. Klaus found KinoNation.com — it was available, it makes sense, we like it and seems easy to remember. “Kino” is German for cinema. And “Nation” can be defined as a community of persons bound by a shared interest or passion. That seems to work. We’re also excited about the potential for this venture in China, making thousands of Chinese indie films available to the rest of the world. So the name had to sound OK to the Chinese ear (we’re assured it does) and it more or less translates into Mandarin as “Film Kingdom.” But. There’s always a “but.” In this case there’s a site in Russia, kinonation.ru where you can watch Hollywood movies — in Russian — for free. Hard to say whether they’re legit or pirated. Either way, we have the dot-com, they have the dot-ru — there’s no reason we can’t co-exist, right?
The Lean Startup
Klaus and I are fans of The Lean Startup — the idea that all new ventures are based on big, untested assumptions, and the best way to test them is to get a minimum viable product out there quickly. In weeks rather than months. That way, if you’re going to fail, at least you fail fast! Our big assumptions are that filmmakers and content owners will see value in KinoNation and want to upload their movies. And that digital video-on-demand outlets will want those films enough to work with us.  Are those assumptions true?
First 6 Weeks
So now we’re 6 weeks into it. What have we accomplished so far? We’re filmmakers so we started with a video. We convinced a few successful friends to talk about the problem we’re trying to solve, and Remy Boudet, our talented French director/DP/editor, pulled it all together. We built a website, nothing fancy, we used a WordPress template but I think it looks pretty good. Remy designed an ice cream logo, because apparently in France they still quaff ice cream in movie theaters. We decided to experiment with fund-raising on Indiegogo. We haven’t started a company yet, an actual legal entity. Haven’t printed business cards. Haven’t bought any equipment. It’s too easy to get bogged down in stuff like that and pretend you’re making progress, when it’s really just spending money you don’t have, before you need to. We’re focused on writing code, doing deals, spreading the word to filmmakers.
Response So Far
The response from filmmakers and indie producers has been remarkably consistent: “KinoNation is a great idea, but since your success is dependent on the online success of the films uploaded, you’d better help filmmakers reach their audience, because there’s the real challenge.” We can provide online tutorials and tools, of course. Plus lessons on guerilla marketing, case studies of indie films that have grossed a ton of money via VoD – and examples of decent films where the online marketing was a fail. But we need more. I have a strong feeling there’s a more imaginative and even game-changing solution lurking just over the horizon? We’ll see.
Coming Soon
The first few weeks were the easy part. Who doesn’t love brainstorming, shooting video, building websites. Now we have to build the technology that will do the uploading and transcoding magic. That will move massive digital movie files around the planet without any loss of quality. We have to do deals with digital distributors like Hulu and Netflix and iTunes and dozens of others. We have to convince filmmakers to trust us with their films. We have to figure out a business model that is fair and reasonable and transparent. Oh, and of course we have to find investors who believe in the vision and the potential to create a global distribution business.
That’ll keep us busy for a few months.
Next week:  Post #3: The Producer’s Dilemma – you know how movie talent won’t commit until you get funding, and film funders won’t commit until you’ve signed talent? KinoNation struggles with the same dilemma with content owners and video-on-demand partners.

Roger Jackson is a producer and co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in LA, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. He is executive producer at Midnight Swim Productions.



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  • chrisdorr

    I think that the fact that you are openly discussing the evolution of your startup is great. It is also interesting that you note that the response you have received thus far from filmmakers is consistent. They note that the problem that needs to be solved is about reaching an audience not getting on digital distribution platforms. So maybe you need to change your focus and work on that problem–not the problem you initially perceived. Thoughts?

  • Roger Jackson

    I should clarify that the feedback from filmmakers — from all over the world — is how incredibly difficult, expensive and just plain frustrating it is to get digital distribution. There’s just an enormous amount of “friction” in the system, including the lack of format standardization, the huge variability in the process among different VoD/SVoD platforms, and the hassle of having to ship hard drives around the world, instead of being able to upload their film. So job #1 for KinoNation is to transform that process from a costly hassle to a delightfully simple, rational experience with no upfront cost and zero risk. Marketing the film must remain the responsibility of the producer — it’s their baby, and the subject matter of the film is typically their area of expertise. KinoNation can provide tools to help producers aggregate an audience, but the actual work of marketing must remain with the creator of the film.

  • chrisdorr

    Roger, Thanks for your clarification. I understand the friction that exists in the system and it is great that you are working to reduce it in a cost efficient way. I would only add that you are not “aggregating an audience” by doing so. You are getting the film on the store shelf. That is important, but there is no audience watching yet. Aggregating an audience is getting people to show up and buy your movie. That is a completely separate issue from getting shelf space. The success of your business depends on getting people to buy the movies that you get into these stores. (As I understand it you take 15% of the filmmaker’s share from the store and no money upfront.) Thus you depend on people buying these movies. If I were to invest in your company I would want to know how you are going to get people to buy a movie, not just get shelf space for the movie. In other words your business must be just as devoted to getting attention for these movies as it is on getting shelf space. If you simply rely on filmmakers to get the audience to show up they are unlikely to do so. (Unless you only get filmmakers to join who are a wiz at marketing their movies and themselves.) I would think that you should have a part of your business that is devoted to really “aggregating” an audience, which in my definition means getting people to actually buy.

  • http://hopeforfilm.com/ Ted Hope

    I would say that is another step in the chain though, Chris. We can’t do everything at once. We need others to address the audience aggregation problem. Right now it is too expensive and cumbersome to distribute a film on your own. It is also the same in terms of building an audience. Luckily there are a hell of a lot of us. If Roger tackles the format problem, I bet we can find at least a lot of people tackling the audience one.

  • chrisdorr

    A point well taken. As I say below, the real issue for Kino Nation lies in their business model. They do not make money unless filmmakers make money. (A good model by the way.) Therefore it is in KinoNation’s self interest to have filmmakers sell a large number of movies. How do they make that happen? They have to get attention for each movie, not just shelf space. (Though shelf space is very important.) Simply relying on each filmmaker to market their own movie may not be sufficient for KinoNation to make money–which I believe is very important. In other words the two issues are intertwined. Can’t solve one without the other.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aston-Walker/759698625 Aston Walker

    My name is Aston Walker and I have an 80 minute superhero genre sci-fi movie I want VOD with you guys. Andy Mackay, a very talented film maker, got me into this whole film making business in 2001 when he exposed me to Troma films (yeah, I know I was late but hey ho..). All I have ever wanted to do is get my movie onto itunes and the various other outlets you mentioned. Just to see my movie on there would be very, very cool as we have decided to publish ebooks to go with our movies, a first I think. Tempted as I am to put my website address in this comment, I’m just going to go with your process and put some trust in an innovative film makers vision. Roger, I’m backing this effort a 100%. Good work. Keep it up, you’re a pioneer!

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