Archive for the ‘film’ Category

MSPW – Make Something People Want

I’ve been thinking a lot about the YCombinator mantra: Make Something People Want. The idea is that startups should focus first on creating a compelling product, since that’s the hard part, and then on how it will monetize. If you build something people want, making money from it will eventually be easy.

I think the reason this mantra appeals to me so much is that my current employer (Pixar) is all about MSPW. What makes our films successful is that we make stories we want to watch. We don’t think too much about demographics or about what is popular – instead we try to make films that have great stories and expect the box office to follow. Instead of focusing on the kinds of films that will make money, we focus on the kinds of stories that are compelling. Then, we focus on great execution: everyone works towards the single goal of making the best film possible.

Apple does it too (notice a pattern?), but they’ve learned another important lesson: customers will pay (absurd) premiums for things they want to use. Marketing plays an important role, but you have to be marketing a compelling product, not just throwing lipstick on a pig.

Startups, like films, will often fail even if they have great stories and great execution. But, as people have more choice about what software they use and what films they watch, the ones that are sold solely through superb marketing will fail at accelerated rates.

People often ask what the Pixar formula for box office success is, and I think the answer is simple. We MSPW.


Startup Skool

I got into startup school, the one day free workshop started by Paul Graham et al at ycombinator. I’ve been a huge fan of pg’s writing for a while and think he has a great sense of how to foster innovation.

I’m most excited, though, about hearing/meeting Chris Anderson, since I’m reading his book and am really interested in how the Long Tail phenomenon will effect feature film production. I wonder what ideas he has about some of the ideas I outlined in my last post about Eisner.

As a related aside – I’ve really been digging the Y Combinator News site. Lots of great information from recent and older blog/news posts about starting companies and technology in general. Check it out.

Eisner Back in the Biz

Michael Eisner, (basically) ousted former CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, is breaking back into the movie business with a new venture named Vuguru – a web television production company.

I think Owen Thomas’ take on this is spot on in two ways:

1) Eisner has shown a complete inability to succeed at or understand anything about the Internet.

2) Bringing the Hollywood cost structure to Internet exclusive content is doomed to failure. Even if these spots cost half what they would cost for regular television, there’s still no way they can be profitable.

However, I don’t fully agree with him on his next point:

Clearly, Eisner hasn’t spent much time surfing YouTube. What kids are going for isn’t “slickly written produced and acted Web video”: It’s either clips from shows they’re already familiar with, or raw, first-person confessional material from their peers. In either case, YouTube’s not paying much for the video.

He’s right. That’s where we’re at now. But I believe there’s a desire and market for well produced content on the web somewhere between the lone teenager with a camcorder (for free) and rebroadcast content originally developed for television or film (for lots of $$$).

But the key to creating this content is not to bring the top down, like Eisner (and a lot of other web-exclusive production companies), but instead, to bring the bottom up even further than YouTube, digital video, and iMovie already have. The internet, inexpensive equipment and editing software have, in the words of Chris Anderson, democratized film publishing and production. It’s easier for everyone, with every level of experience, to make a movie, and get it seen.

But there’s one thing that Hollywood can still do better than any lone filmmaker (albeit, through an expensive network of casting and production companies): build teams of talented people and bring them together to produce films. In order for web-exclusive, profitably produced, professional quality content to exist, we’ll need to develop ways to more efficiently replicate the processes, not only the technology, that Hollywood uses.


Owen Thomas is right: this venture is doomed.

But I hope he’s not right about the future of digital content. I like good movies and good TV. I think people outside Hollywood are capable of making them and being empowered by the democratization of distribution that the web provides. I think we should strive for more than just silly films of kids doing stupid things. Instead of only getting YouTube quality home movies that cost nothing to produce, I hope for a future where films with Hollywood production values and niche appeal can be made for $50,000, or even $500,000.

I think of this as the Middle of the Chris Anderson Long Tail. The web can make independent film cheaper, and it can make it more popular. But first, it needs to be used to help talented people get together (and get funding) to make those films in the first place.