Saturday, November 20, 2010

IndieFlix charts a new course

It’s not every day that a Madison Park business becomes the focus of national media attention, but that’s what happened this week when The New York Times ran a flattering story in its Sunday edition on IndieFlix, an independent film distribution company based right here in the Park. The article describes IndieFlix’s innovative product, Film Festival in a Box, as the centerpiece of an “unconventional” strategy to get short, independently produced films in front of new audiences. Those who attended IndieFlix’s Halloween screening of four scary films, which was held at the Madison Park Starbucks last month, are already in the know about IndieFlix’s creative game plan. For others, however, it might be a bit of a surprise to learn that there’s a company headquartered in the neighborhood with aspirations of changing the way business is done in a segment of the international entertainment industry.

When IndieFlix was formed in 2005, the initial idea of founders (and Madison Park residents) Scilla Andreen and Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, was to use the internet to help independent filmmakers find a wider audience by streaming their films online. And that was exactly what the Company did in its formative years—and still does. More recently, however, Andreen (whose first name, by the way, is pronounced SHE-la), hit upon the concept of marketing short independent films as part of an interactive game that would be played in social settings, with DVDs as the delivery vehicle rather than the Web. From there the idea developed into Film Festival in a Box (FFB), which debuted in September with its first boxed set of indie flicks on DVD. Each box, which retails for $14.95, contains a disc with four 8- to 20-minute films of a particular genre: for example, Love, Comedies, Fantastical and Powered by Girls. Eight different Film Festival in a Box games are currently available, but the plan is to ramp that up to at least 50.

The kickoff for FFB was held in New York’s Times Square (shown in the video above); and as the New York Times reported, the inaugural event provided a bit of an attention grabber when the IndieFlix films suddenly appeared on the JumboTron outside the W Hotel. Since its introduction, FFB has been picked up by online retailers such as Uncommon Goods and, and is also available at many bricks-and-mortar locations nationally and at shops such as NuBe Green on Capitol Hill and the University Book Store locally.

The game is intended to work this way: you invite to some friends over for a social occasion and FFB becomes part of the event. Everyone watches the four films and then votes on the winner, following which you post the result online. The filmmakers are notified by FFB of all the votes they receive, and there are sometimes online opportunities for fans to interact with the creators of the films they’ve voted for. It’s all designed to get these films seen and get people talking about them. Tom Skerritt, the well-known actor and neighborhood celebrity, has played the game and is quoted as saying that “Film Festival in a Box is doing what Hollywood’s been trying to do for years—getting people to connect over films.”

It’s a start, but Andreen, who is the Company’s CEO, realizes there’s still a lot of work to do to push these interesting-but-often-overlooked films into the mainstream. FFB represents just one aspect of IndieFlix’s operations. The Company will continue to be an online independent film distributor, and there’s also the intriguing idea—still on the drawing boards—of creating an IndieFlix cable TV channel. With over 2,000 titles in the IndieFlix film library (features, shorts and documentaries, including foreign films), there’s no lack of product.

What’s needed, and what the Company's 13 employees have been tirelessly working on, is a business model that accomplishes the ultimate goals of the founders: provide a forum for filmmakers and their audiences to interact, while helping those filmmakers achieve commercial success. Both Andreen and co-founder Scandiuzzi (who, as executive director of ACT, is no longer involved in IndieFlix’s operations) had extensive background in filmmaking. Andreen spent many years in Hollywood, where she was an award-winning producer, director and Emmy-nominated costume designer, before returning to Seattle in 2005 to start a new career (she had grown up in Madison Park and attended Lakeside). As a champion of independent films, she was motivated to find a way to use her experience and connections in the industry and her marketing talents to develop a new-media distribution model that would work.

It’s way too early to declare success, as The New York Times noted, but the media buzz about IndieFlix has certainly been positive. In addition to the favorable NYT article, FFB was recently the subject of a Tweet by national film critic Roger Ebert, and the trendy lifestyles website Daily Grommet (“fresh finds, true stories”) also featured FFB earlier this month.

Andreen says her vision is to provide indie filmmakers with up to ten different revenue streams for their productions. “We launched [IndieFlix] with very little money,” she told PodTech in an early interview, “and it has sort of taken off, like a vine that grows and grows--and there’s no stopping it.” And at this point, after five years of effort, it looks like Madison Park’s own “next-gen” trend setter is well on its way.
[IndieFlix is located at 1938 43rd Avenue E. Upper photo: Times Square NYY Film Festival in a Box event. Lower photo: Scilla Andreen, CEO of IndieFlix with her latest product. Photos and video courtesy of IndieFlix.]

1 comment:

  1. To be embraced by our own hood means a lot! Many thanks Bryan!


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