How to get your indy film on public television

On March 30, 2011 by Colin

An excerpt from Jennifer Owensby Sanza’s article about her success with “The Teachings of Jon” on public television. Really excellent advice (though I’ll add that it helps to talk with your local PBS station early on about the possibility of being a presenting station, sharing some resources or applying for ITVS’ LINCS program together. Click on the link at the bottom to read the whole article.

Jon (right), Jennifer Owensby Sanza's brother, inspired her first documentary film.

Jon (right), Jennifer Owensby Sanza’s brother, inspired her first documentary film.

Getting my first documentary, The Teachings of Jon, broadcast nationally on public television felt like walking through a minefield, blindfolded. As a recipient of a completion funds grant from Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), I was fortunate to have the best mentors to guide me through the process. Now when I work with other filmmakers, I’ve noticed that some of the mistakes I made are quite common, and easily remedied. Here are some important tips to help you avoid major pitfalls on your way to a national public television broadcast.

When One Door Closes, Go to the Next One.
Other cable channels may be known for producing some pretty good documentaries, but only public television has the potential to reach 99 percent of homes in the country. And let’s face it, having your documentary air on PBS’s national schedule or in an award-winning series such as POV or Independent Lens is the top of the heap. After pouring your heart into making your dream film, a pass from those programs can be really discouraging. Many producers don’t realize that within the PBS world there’s also APT (American Public Television) and NETA (National Educational Telecommunications Association). After being rejected by POV and Independent Lens, I took my film to APT, and they loved it. The rejection turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Teachings of Jon is a great family film and through APT, my film was actually carried by more stations than it would have been on POV, and it aired during family-friendly timeslots (POV usually airs at 10 pm). So even if The Teachings of Jon had been accepted on POV, it wouldn’t have been the best way to reach the audience for my particular film.

Newbeats – Bread And Butter

On March 29, 2011 by Colin

There’s nothing to say… just sit back and let your jaw drop… then hit replay.

Send Hazel McCallion to Washington!!!

On March 18, 2011 by Colin

This video is full-blown inspiration… and pretty fun.

Netflix poised to turn entertainment industry upside down – Lost Remote

On March 16, 2011 by Colin

Netflix just keeps setting the pace. The real shocker may be the note at the bottom of the article about Netflixes share of the digital movie biz… 61%!!

Now it’s getting really interesting. Netflix is in talks to buy a remake of the British TV series “House of Cards” starring Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher (The Social Network). To date, Netflix has just licensed existing programming, but negotiating for original programming puts it head-to-head with the likes of HBO.

Typically, networks buy pilots, but Netflix wants to buy two seasons right off the bat, for as much as a $100 million, reports (Although a Reuters source says that number is too high.)

Regardless of the price, if the deal happens, it could make big waves in the TV industry, as a two-season commitment is unheard of — producers/actors would gravitate toward deals that give their shows the time to make an impact, instead of getting yanked off the air due to low initial ratings. There’s also the “decoupling” of a TV show from the network/channel. “Once entities like Netflix can acquire programs—without having to be ‘programmers’—that dynamic could melt away. You no longer have to fit a show to a channel, you just have to fit it to an audience,” writes’s James Poniewozik.

And more interesting to us, Netflix is working on deep Facebook integration, which would power recommendations not only from your viewing behavior, but what your friends are watching. As TiVo has taught us, that will likely boost consumption even more.

A new industry survey found that Netflix owns 61% of the digital movie business, with second place going to Comcast with just 8%. That helps explain why a Goldman Sachs analyst upgraded Netflix stock to a “buy” and a price target of $300 (it was last trading at 214). Very interesting times.

BBC News – Fukushima workers withdraw after radiation spikes

On March 15, 2011 by Colin

Disastrous news. The skeleton crew (one 10th the normal staff) is forced by spiking gamma radiation to walk away from two (soon-to-be burning) fuel storage ponds – one with a 10 meter hole in its containment – AND the remaining unstable reactor unit #2. Big trouble for the world.

A spike in radiation levels at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant has forced workers to suspend their operation, a government spokesman says.

He was speaking after smoke was seen rising from reactor three. Earlier, a blaze struck reactor four for the second time in two days.

Coat Hanger HDTV Antenna!

On March 15, 2011 by Colin

I posted this a couple year’s ago, but here it is again… The DIY HDTV antenna that pulls in the cleanest HD signal you can get… over the air! Cable companies squash down the HD signal to cram as many “HD” channels as they can into your wire. Over-the-air is the least compressed you can see. (Forget 1080 vs. 720, if the signal is compressed, its going to look crummy regardless of vertical line number.)

Set up an antenna like this and feed another input on your TV to pick up clean HD.

PBS needs to settle into "the gig economy," 2011

On February 21, 2011 by Colin

Into the gig economy

Let’s not dream about bigger staffs
and more taxpayer funding

The author is president of Western Reserve Public Media (WNEO/ WEAO), which serves Akron, Youngstown and Kent in northeast Ohio.

Published in Current, Jan. 10, 2011
Commentary by Trina Cutter

The world is going through a major economic transformation. If public media is going to survive, much less thrive, it needs to break out of its 20th-century mode of operation and figure out how to operate in what Daily Beast editor Tina Brown calls  “the gig economy.”

…no matter how our governance is structured, no matter how we direct our resources, no matter how much diversity we embrace and what we call ourselves, at the end of the day we are a business that operates in a market economy.

…public media should take a cue from Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams’ book, Wikinomics, or Stanley M. Davis and Christopher Meyer’s book, Future Wealth, and develop an operating model around Brown’s “gig economy” — piecework contracted project by project. It’s a major economic shift away from institutional employees to Form 1099 contract employees. Staffs contract and expand to meet the production needs of an organization.

Public television stations that put together and then disband a team for a grant-funded project already know how to operate in a gig economy. How we buy programs from syndicators is gig economics. If we hire outside freelancers to create our websites, stream our video, manage interactivity or process our web transactions, we are using the gig model. Independent producers have always operated gig by gig. It allows the coordinator to bring together the right people and resources to put a program together without having the mess and fuss of ongoing human resource expenses.

A gig model allows for more diversity, the worker’s expertise tends to be much greater, and output is significantly increased. Case in point, Western Reserve Public Media is a $5 million operation with 17 full-time staff members. We engage a pool of 20 to 25 seasoned “flex employees” to work on a per-project basis.

Western Reserve PBS’s broadcasts spans the northeast Ohio region — Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown — and we reach more than 1 million viewers a month. We don’t have an endowment. Unlike other arts organizations in our region, we don’t receive $1 million or more a year in county money from “sin taxes” on cigarettes and tobacco. We don’t have a Board of Directors that raises funds for our organization. We don’t have outside marketing firms creating slick campaigns. We are not housed in a multi-million-dollar building. And, aside from the Community Service Grant we receive from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for our Youngstown station, we do not receive special project funding from CPB.

Yet we offer four 24/7 noncommercial public television services: Western Reserve PBS, Fusion, MHz Worldview and V-me — the first two programmed locally and the other two presenting national program ervices that are unique to the market. Between 2007 and 2010, we produced 35 local program and series, including two ongoing weekly series, and we serve as the region’s premier television outlet for local independent producers. In the 2010 academic year, our Educational Services division offered 184 workshops to 1,995 teachers and added two more multimedia projects for use in regional K-12 classrooms to our already long list of multimedia projects.

… Department heads are project managers or facilitators. They put together the right teams and ensure that the teams have the necessary resources to do the job. Department heads don’t mediate constant personnel conflicts and get bogged down in performance evaluations because in a gig world a 1099 “employee” gets the job done right or they are not hired again. Our support staff members are masters at multitasking. Engineers aren’t just doing broadcast engineering, for example — they’re our liaisons with the outsourced IT network manager; they keep master control functioning; they trouble-shoot voice-over-IP issues; and they are the point-people for the transmitter sites.

For those of us accustomed to the functional management model, it’s unnerving to step into a gig economy. The rules of the road haven’t been written for public TV. For one, federal labor laws and Equal Employment Opportunity regulations were enacted for a different economy.

Trina Cutter has outlined an agile business model for PBS stations that needs to be seriously embraced by stations facing budget shortfalls, increased expectations and younger workers with different workplace expectations. Even stations such as ours (Mountain Lake PBS) that still operate with full-time staffers can adopt a “gig economy” mindset. (This article is abridged for this blog entry.)

Public broadcasting behind the scenes – oh boy!

On January 4, 2011 by Colin

Wow… we’re still using some of the machines in this fabulous behind-the-scenes peak at Public Television. Plus as Southern Ohio’s public broadcaster WOUB is featured in my documentary Skatopia: 88 Acres of Anarchy (though we feature the radio side.)

Our Animated Documentary – Prime Time in Los Angeles 1/4/11!

On December 29, 2010 by Colin

Dead Reckoning: Champlain In America Dead Reckoning: Champlain In America

  • Tue
    Jan 4

Dead Reckoning: Champlain In America
Dead Reckoning: Champlain In America
This animated documentary shares the story of the brave explorer and visionary, Samuel de Champlain.

A great by-product of KCET dropping their PBS membership – independent documentaries will get their day in the sun! Thanks KCET!

Making Stuff Preview | NOVA

On December 14, 2010 by Colin

I’m looking forward to this new Nova mini-series… something to sit down and watch with my 6-year old son. Its all about the technologies that he’ll take for granted in his life.