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Uber-Creative Steven Soderbergh - an American film producer, screenwriter, editor, cinematographer, and an Academy Award–winning film director has just opened up an eCommerce website called Extension 376, where it appears he is reaching out to his fans in a new way.
The brain behind cult classic Sex, Lies and Videotape and blockbusters such Out of Sight, Erin Brockovic, Traffic, and the remake of Ocean's Eleven, has recently launched Extension 756 and, according to Marc Schiller, from Bond Influence:
"...its absolutely fucking brilliant".
He goes on to write:
And the reason it's so smart isn't because Soderbergh is selling interesting unique, one-off products online (which he is). It's because Extension 756 gives Soderbergh a whole new platform to explore his craft as a master storyteller, blending fact with fiction. And for someone who's achieved the highest levels of success as a filmmaker, Extension 756 gives Soderbergh the opportunity to venture into completely uncharted territory both as a retailer and as a storyteller. I'm not a fan of the word "transmedia" but Extension 756 is not only a transmedia project, it has the potential to be transmedia at it's absolute finest. Soderbergh's focus on integrating storytelling into an e-commerce expereince starts with the name of the site itself. "Extension 756" is taken from a line that's spoken by Harrison Ford's character every time he answers the phone in Coppola's still under appreciated masterpiece, The Conversation.
...But what interests me most about Extension 756 is that Soderbergh has created a personal sandbox that's impossible to create in any other medium. He's given himself a place to experiment with multiple "businesses" at the same time, and have a ton of fun while doing it. When you make a film or write a book you have to write a beginning and an end. But with Extension 756, Soderbergh can extend his narrative and update the site not only whenever he wants, but also as much or as little as he desires. Because of this, he has given himself a freedom and a control that doesn't exist in most industries, especially studio filmmaking.
So it would be a mistake be to check out Extension 756 and then, like so many websites, never go back. The real pleasure in the project will be in seeing how it evolves and where Soderbergh takes it. And since nobody knows where it's headed, like any great story, we'll have to wait and see what happens next.
Direct-to-Fan is de rigueur in the music industry today, as the Internet collided with the Music industry and forced artists to not only go back on tour to generate income (rather than support a CD) and maximize revenue from merchandise and by selling VIP experiences. But also looking to build and leverage a fan community throughout their career. It appears that Soderbergh is making a similar play with his own brand in the film industry.
Sam Grobert from Bloomberg writes:
One part of Extension 765 promotes a Bolivian liquor, singani, that is distilled from muscatel grapes. Soderbergh can’t sell the liquor on the site, but he has an intricate plan for getting it into the hands of customers: “I’ve got the stuff in a warehouse in Florida. I’m in the process of obtaining a distributor, and I think you’ll be able to either buy it from them or they can tell you where to buy it, or something,” he writes.
And since no celebrity is a real celebrity without a signature line of headphones, Soderbergh is working on that as well. His limited-edition pairs (only 1,000 will be made) are being designed in partnership with the makers of the RED digital movie camera (a camera that Soderbergh uses extensively and which is beloved by many filmmakers). Prices have yet to be announced, but as RED cameras start at around $8,000 (body only, no lens), these headphones will presumably cost more than most.
Schiller also writes at The Independent Filmmaker Project website:
As new digital technologies continue to evolve and disrupt the landscape for independent cinema, I continually get asked by filmmakers for my thoughts on how they should adapt. My answer lately has been… "Stop acting like a filmmaker, and start acting like a rock star" And I don't mean this figuratively. I mean it quite literally.
And he's right. Though it's a common strategy for young filmmakers on Youtube or Vimeo - and those creatives tapping crowdfunding at Kickstarter - we will likely see a lot more A listers such as Soderbergh exploring Direct to Fan in the future.
Schiller adds that filmmakers should treat their fans like they are the most important thing in the world and build a community of fans themselves and then sell directly to them without a middleman.
In terms of new distibution methods coupled with deep fan engagment for a filmmaker, I can think of nothing more radical than Hanna Sköld whom I wrote about last summer:
Hanna is a Swedish writer and director that explores new narrative models for participatory storytelling and is best known for the unconventional way she produced and distributed her first feature film Nasty Old People, which had its premiere at the end of 2009 on the front page of The Pirate Bay.
Pirate Bay? Yes.
Four years ago Hanna Sköld did what few people dare to do - she took out a private bankloan to produce her film Nasty Old People and when it was done smacked a Creative Commons license on it, then collaborated with researchers and students connected to MEDEA, Malmö University on the distribution and marketing strategy of Nasty Old People and her film was distributed through The Pirate Bay and marketed through social media. The film quickly spread across 113 countries and was downloaded more than 50,000 times and live screenings erupted around the world. Translations were made into multiple languages, it was remixed by numerous other creatives, and it all became an overnight sensation.
Her critics were silenced.
Her second project “Granny’s Dancing on the Table” raised over 50,000 dollars at Kickstarter.