Sincerely Ours

The first movie to premiere on YouTube toys with the model of the future

Another landmark moment for self-distribution
Usually, when an entire movie winds up on YouTube, you've seen it before (and then, once noticed by the authorities, it comes down). Little by little, however, filmmakers are beginning to recognize online video sharing outlets as a tool. Now, for the first time, a feature length movie is premiering on YouTube. While films like Four Eyed Monsters found audiences there in the past, they wound up online only after a festival run failed to yield a decent theatrical deal. The guys behind a quaint little comedy called The Cult of Sincerity, however, have opted out of that process, skipping forward and debuting the feature-length film today with YouTube's stamp of approval. The story focuses on a despondent metropolitan character named Joseph on a seemingly unending quest to "find the most genuine thing you could ever say to anyone." Is he a revolutionary figure or just plain naive? Viewers can find out by watching the film below. To add some context, we sought out the creative team behind it --New York-based directors Adam Browne and Brendan Choisnet, as well as screenwriter/producer Daniel Nayeri--for an interview.

How did you guys come up with this idea?

DANIEL We were living together and all had our separate day jobs. Brendan was in production, I was working as an editor at a publishing house. Every day we'd come home and talk about someday doing our own project. Finally, after about a year, Brendan just said, "Why don't we take two months off and go shoot a movie?" It was this novel idea to us for some reason. It was pretty difficult, because we ended up quitting our jobs and taking two months off to work on it. It was a crazy, guerilla-type of shooting in subways and bars, that sort of thing. We knew what were making: a niche film. There were no superstars. Some were SAG [members] and some weren't, but they all came from independent movies. We were making a movie for a young, Internet-savvy audience. Generally, the audience at film festivals don't skew that young. It could get lost at a film festival.

BRENDAN We have some friends that have worked in the festival market. While we love the idea of festivals, and we think festivals work for a certain type of film, the bigger festivals work for films with stars in them. Other festivals work for other things. Our audience is early career, post-college--the sort of thing Noah Baumbach went for when he made Kicking and Screaming. Honestly, we're not going to find that audience in a major or minor festival. The festival audience doesn't match. We had started to think a little bit about distribution at the beginning of things, but we weren't really set on a distribution plan. While we were in the edit, YouTube had a contest for Project: Direct. It was this sort of make-your-own short film in a month thing. Dan had actually discovered it. All these filmmakers had about a month to do it, but when Dan discovered it, there was about a week to go. We were able to clear our schedules and spend a few days making a submission for that. While we didn't win, we placed in the top twenty. That really gave us the opportunity to start talking to YouTube directly. Out of those conversations came the opportunity to have the first film premiere on YouTube. We met with Sarah Pollack from YouTube. She's been a champion of ours. She originally suggested the festival run, but we felt that the festivals are selective. That's the whole point. We had the opportunity to bring it straight to the audience that would like it.

How are you going to make money from this arrangement?

B We have a deal with, a music site. They came on as a partner fairly early on, because the community we're trying to reach is the same as the community they're trying to reach. They're basically an independent music website where the whole engine is built so you can discover new music. Every song that goes on there starts free of charge, and the price goes up depending on popularity. They're going to give us $2 for everybody who signs up care of our link. We've been able to do a lot of things with it. Not only do we get $2, but people get two free songs. The final thing that's really important is that our film is a lot about community and finding a way to give back. We wanted our film to reflect that. There's a charity organization called Fount of Mercy, which helps Western organizations connect with groups in Africa. People get $2 worth of music, a download of our film, and two of those dollars go to Fount of Mercy. It fulfills the mission of our film. Everyone can find a way to give back.

Would you like to see the movie in theaters at some point?

ADAM There is a future for the film beyond YouTube that we're planning and hoping for. If there's an audience for it that we see on YouTube, planning DVD distribution or even using Insight from Google to learn more about who's viewing it and where we could potentially hold theatrical screenings.

B We recognize that the great thing about the Internet is that it allows for a wide distribution, but people aren't seeing it in the right environment. For some people, the ideal environment is DVD, theatrical or on their iPod. We're hoping to take what others have done and seeing if we can create a different way of getting films like this out there, and if we can build this YouTube release into a more traditional run. We'll be able to collect data on where people are watching it, when they're watching it, and how they like watching it. Whether it's a self-distribution model, which we're considering, or if we have some additional partners, the main thing is we want to find ways to bring it to an audience in a way that makes sense for our film.

D What was really cool about the initial way of doing this is that we're immediately accessible to the audience. We have a Facebook account, and people are signing up, asking about a scene, or asking a technical question. As a result, we can ask them questions, and find out what the audience wants. Like Brendan said, a lot of people want it via iPod, and that's already available. We don't have anything ontologically against DVD or anything--it's nothing like that. It just seems that this is the best way to reach our audience.

Do you think the independent film community offers enough room for everybody?

B That's the biggest struggle with independent film. There are plenty of movies out there that are completely worthy of an audience and worthy of being seen. Access to that audience is something that's always been difficult for independent filmmakers. The independent movie scene has changed to featuring a lot of Hollywood stars. I have no problem with something like Juno being an independent film, but that's definitely a different world. There almost seems to be two needs. Juno has Jennifer Garner in it, so it has a totally different feeling to it than a completely independent film with actors you've probably never heard about. We want to have a dialog with our audience, which is something a big studio movie probably can't do. Anybody can interact with us. That's hopefully the way movies are going. They're creating a shared experience. I've been to festivals and there's certainly a benefit, but with our film, if you want to enter the top fifty or hundred festivals, you've probably dropped $5,000 for submitting to all the festivals, which is probably coming out of your own pocket.

There have already been several examples where filmmakers get noticed on YouTube and kick-start their careers that way. Let's say Sony Pictures Classics sees The Cult of Sincerity and offers you a deal for a theatrical release. Would you take it?

B In a word, yes. While I love the ideas that there are more options out there, I don't have any problems with the traditional models, necessarily. I think that's what happening is that there are places for both. We loved making this movie, and the do-it-yourself model is what works for us. But there are benefits and drawbacks to each method. I don't think all the other models are broken in any way.

D The subject of the movie is about how art has a message. There's a musician, a filmmaker...and they all kind of run a gambit on how they interact with the market. There's a guy that all of them would call a sell-out. He's this guy so involved with this one masturbatory project, and they call him on it. For us, as artists, we're trying to go out there and be honest with our project, but we want people to watch it.

--Eric Kohn


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