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THE WEB, ETC | WEB SCOUT

Indie site tries studio savvy

A former Paramount exec helps bring a big-box-office mind-set to the online screening mix with iklipz.com.

April 22, 2007|Deborah Netburn | Times Staff Writer

ARTHUR COHEN was the head of marketing at Paramount Pictures from 1989 until 2003 and was either lucky enough or talented enough to see the studio through such phenomenal box office successes as "Ghost," "Forrest Gump" and, most famously, as a co-production with Fox, "Titanic." ("The key was selling it as a love story and letting the press come to see it," he said.)

He looks the part of a Hollywood player too, with his laid-back yet regal stature, silver hair and blue eyes.

But in the last year, the man who once ushered stars such as Angelina Jolie through press junkets and commanded marketing budgets of up to $50 million a movie has turned his attention to helping low-budget films find an audience on a much smaller screen. He's the co-founder of iklipz.com, a website that showcases, markets and one day hopes to facilitate the sale of independent movies.

Cohen has stepped into a crowded field. Websites that have hoped to tap into and unite the independent film community have existed since 1998 when ifilm.com launched as a place for filmmakers to screen their short films online. (After hemorrhaging money for a few years, ifilm gave up on that business model and now functions as a sort of abridged and curated YouTube.)

These days, as video technology has improved, aspiring filmmakers have their pick of scores of video sites on which to upload their films and trailers.

Cohen made it a priority to get a high-quality video player on his site, and indeed the image is better at iklipz than YouTube, where the picture is usually pixilated and jumpy.

So far iklipz's intention to promote movies made outside the studio system is bearing fruit. The second most popular clip on a recent day, for example, was footage from the independent film "Bored in Palo Alto," which will screen at the Tribeca Film Festival. But that one stood alongside many videos born and raised inside the studio gates. The "Grindhouse" trailer was No. 1, and clips from Judd Apatow's studio-funded and -distributed "Knocked Up" were at Nos. 3 and 4.

The independent film part of this independent film site is under a tab called "Industry." That's where you will find films uploaded by users that have been hand-selected as worth viewing by iklipz employees.

So what makes Cohen think iklipz can become the MySpace of the indie film world?

"I'm very connected in Hollywood," he said.

Fair enough. When he co-founded iklipz in July, Cohen already had an advisory board in place that includes writer-director-actors Ed Burns (writer-director of the Sundance sensation "The Brothers McMullen") and John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch"), artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, and Magnolia Pictures President Eamonn Bowles. Board members occasionally offer advice to beginning filmmakers, which the site posts, but the theory -- so far just a hope -- is that one of these powerful people, while perusing the site, will stumble across a world-class film with no distribution and champion it.

And it might motivate filmmakers that if Cohen and his team like a film, they will get behind it with all their savvy marketing know-how. It has happened, but only once.

In September, David Dinerstein, former head of Paramount Classics and a consultant for iklipz, heard about a documentary film called "A Clown Short of Destiny" being shown on the festival circuit. It was a sort of revenge film against the metal band Slipknot and told how the band had abandoned the scene in which it had grown up.

Dinerstein brought the film to iklipz, where Cohen and his team recognized they might have a moderate hit on their hands. The director, Chad Calek, agreed to give them the first 20 minutes of his film, but rather than just upload it to the site and wait for viewers to find it, they decided to give it a small promotional push. They took out ads in heavy metal magazines and did radio spots. The budget was different from what Cohen used when promoting "Braveheart," but when they premiered the film on Sept. 27, they got 160,000 views over two days.

Like so many destinations on the Web, iklipz seems to be more about what it could be than what it actually is, and Cohen has no plans to promote other films, although he says he hopes to do that. Next year, he would like to go to Sundance as a buyer -- or at least part buyer. His idea is to put $10,000 toward helping a studio buy a film and then get the right to air the first 10 or 15 minutes exclusively on his site. Eventually, he sees iklipz as being a marketplace for independent film -- a year-round film festival where filmmakers and film buyers can meet and hold discussions.

"The movie isn't just about the theatrical release or the DVD anymore," said Mora Stephens, a director who won an Independent Spirit Award for her 2005 film "Conventioneers" and has since used iklipz to help market it. "Every filmmaker just wants people to see their movie and know about it, and all these resources help."

deborah.netburn@latimes.com

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