MS Podcast#150

Kieran Masterton from OpenIndie

(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

Kieran Masterton is the Co-Founder of OpenIndie. Kieran talks about running a startup, funding, using social media tools in his daily life and reacting to a community, hungry for a new service to come live.

0.00—1.00 intro
1.00—2.05 the idea for OpenIndie
2.05—2.40 site launch
2.40—3.42 crowdfunding with KickStarter
3.42—4.40 using free spaces and social tools
4.40—5.15 PR process
5.15—5.55 interviews
5.55—7.30 site security
7.30—9.14 community feedback
9:14—10.45 openness and transparency
10.45—11.05 the first screening
11.05—11.50 work / life balance
11.50—14.47 the future for OpenIndie
14.47—15.09 outro

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Mark: Hi. This is Mark from MediaSnackers and I’m here with Kieran Masterton from OpenIndie. Kieran, can you tell me roughly sort of who you are and what is OpenIndie?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah, sure. Well my background is I’m a developer. I’ve been developing for probably about 12 years now. You know, traditional web development type stuff, PHP and that kind of thing; and my academic background is in film. So OpenIndie is a new way for filmmakers to get their films out there, and get them seen, and a way for film fans to see films in areas they normally wouldn’t see them. What we’re basically doing is weíre taking the traditional Hollywood model of pushing content out to people and weíre turning it on its head. We’re saying that users can now request that content to them so that the screenings can happen in areas where there is demand for that film.

Mark: So where did this idea come from? I mean, what’s the background behind it?

Kieran Masterton: Well my business partner, Arin Crumley, is a filmmaker. He made a film called Four Eyed Monster I think it was back in about 2006. And even though the film was really well received, critically and by film fans and he played a lot of festivals, he couldnít pick up distribution because people didn’t really know, you know, who to market this film to and what niche they were going to target with it or even if there was a big enough niche for the film. So he set about trying to leverage an audience via the web and this really hadn’t been done before and Arin was the first person to have his film on YouTube. The part of his campaign that we really are harnessing is his theatrical tours, which he basically had a system online where you could request Four Eyed Monsters, it asked you for your postal code and then he, based on demand, took the film to your city.

Mark: So at what stage are you at now with this site? I believe it’s in beta still is it?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah. We launched on March 1st, but we’re still very much in beta. So we crowd funded our funding. So, originally, there was 100 filmmakers who backed up our project and they are all on board and some of them have uploaded their films and some of them are allowing people to request screenings of their films. So we’ve got about almost 40 films on the site right now and, you know, weíre still in the stage of ironing out bugs and that kind of thing.

Mark: So, not only are you a start up, you didn’t have any money to fund this either?

Kieran Masterton: No. No money at all.

Mark: And Kick Starter was a way forward. How does Kick Starter work?

Kieran Masterton: Basically, Kick Starter is a crowd funding site, which allows, originally it was designed for creative’s, filmmakers, musicians, that kind of thing, to fund their latest project but, increasingly, businesses are using it to bootstrap their business. So effectively what you do is you set yourself a goal, a monetary goal, so in our case that was $10,000, and then you set out rewards at different levels. So if someone donates $10 they get X, $100 they get Y and our approach was to pre-sell our product basically. So we said for $100, if youíre a filmmaker, you can get a film profile on OpenIndie and we were lucky enough to get that 100 filmmakers. So essentially Kick Starter is a way for ideas to become reality via crowd sourcing money.

Mark: Can you tell me what sort of free spaces and social tools you’re utilizing to get this project off the ground?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah. I mean, we’re using, you know, social media is pretty much our only form of advertising or reaching out to the audience. So, you know, Twitter was a huge part of our crowd funding campaign. We basically didn’t use any other social platform other than Twitter to push that out. We blog using Tumbler and the reason for that was that I noticed a lot of filmmakers were using Tumbler and I wanted them to be able to re-blog what we were writing about. And so, yeah, really the two tools, it sounds very small now, social tools, but the two tools in our arsenal right now are Twitter and Tumbler and, you know, we’re, both Arin and I are on Facebook. I mean we’re all on the social platforms it’s just that in terms of communication, OpenIndie is pretty narrow in those two sites right now.

Mark: Regarding sort of promotion for OpenIndie, what are you guys doing and what sort of spaces are you going to or events for example?

Kieran Masterton: In terms of events, we have been invited to speak at a number of film festivals. I know Arin went to Spain recently and spoke at a film festival, I went up to Leeds International Film Festival. He’s speaking at The Conversation, which is a conference in Manhattan, next week. So I know that that’s basically the point where we get to meet filmmakers face-to-face and have them, you know, ask us questions.

Mark: Have you done any other source of media like print kind of interviews or, you know, website interviews. You doing that sort of thing?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah. I mean, when we first started our crowd sourcing campaign, we were lucky enough to get an interview with indieWIRE and that was really, really great in terms of boosting our profile. And Arin’s been interviewed at Filmmaker Magazine and Lance Wheeler from the Work Group Project has interviewed me for Filmmaker Magazine. So there have been lots of opportunities for us to get press through traditional media, but their web outlet if you see what I mean.

Mark: This is a new site so, I come along and sign up to it and it gives me the option of logging in with my Twitter account and my Facebook account and I always say to myself, oh my God, I’m giving another site my login details to my Twitter account. How does that affect like the average user coming to the site? Security is a concern, obviously.

Kieran Masterton:First of all, I’d say that you’re not giving your login details to us in the sense that we don’t store any of that information whatsoever. Some sites do store that and you have to be careful, but we’re, in every case we’re using Facebook Connect, which takes you off the Facebook, authenticates, and then sends it back to us to say this person is kosher. In terms of Twitter we’re using Authentication, so that’s Twitter’s bonafide way for you to authenticate. We don’t store any of that information. They, basically, sends us back a token telling us that youíre kosher again and we store that and that’s all we do.

So I think people do have to be careful. I mean, I’ve come across a few sites where they’re literally taking your Twitter details and they’re storing it in a database which is, you know, obviously an incredibly dodgy thing to do because if that site then gets hacked, your Twitter account is free for that hacker to use. That being said, most reputable sites are now moving over to these forms of third party authentication. So if you ever want to authenticate via Twitter or Facebook, any of that stuff, make sure it’s passing you over to Twitter first and then passing you back and if it’s not, don’t do it.

Mark:So what sort of instances have you had to deal with so far regarding conversation in the community? Any positives and negatives you can tell us about?

Kieran Masterton: Positives definitely. I mean there have been, you know, our entire, you know, business is based on the fact that filmmakers have been so supportive and have come out there and really, you know, pushed our campaign for us and referred other filmmakers and acted as advocates on their own platform, you know, so there’s, you know, filmmakers have a great audience and they’re out their blogging and tweeting and do all that stuff as well, so theyíve been, you know, massive advocates of what we’re doing. In terms of negativity, actually very, very little. We’ve been very lucky on that front. The only negative feedback we’ve received has been the odd comment on, as I said before, the traditional press platforms.

So people have reacted and there was one specific negative comment about why we were crowd funding our business. You know, why are we asking for handouts? Because itís a business, you know, itís not a charity. I think, you know, we were hesitant to reply straight away because it was such a negative response but, you know, after some consideration I think it was important to, you know, tackle that head on and just, you know, give the reasons why we’re doing this. State, you know, we’re not asking for handouts, we’re pre-selling a product so that these people are going to benefit from. It’s just a way for us to get off the ground.

Mark: when you say you think you were lucky that you haven’t received much negativity do you think that’s more because of your approach to being open, excuse the pun?

Kieran Masterton:I think that that is a huge part of it. I think we are always very conscious to not try and spin anything. To just, you know, tell it as it is. To say, look, weíre two guys, we’re building a website, we’re building it for you, with you, but ultimately, this is a business. We need to make money to pay our bills every month. And I think, you know, someone with that honestly resonates with filmmakers because they’re in that position. You know, they are struggling to make a living; theyíre often working, you know, a couple of jobs in order to be able to shoot their films the rest of the time. So I think it’s partly our audience and itís partly the way weíve approached things.

Mark: So you wouldn’t say you’re rolling in money yet then?

Kieran Masterton: No. Not at all, no.

Mark: But you have enough funds from the Kick Starter to kind of just keep you going and to do what you want to do?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah. Essentially we have enough money from the Kick Starter campaign to keep us in hosting for a year and we’ve also got income coming in because filmmakers can now sign up straight on the site, get a film profile, and that’s $100 a year per film. So that money is coming in slowly and also thatís helping to fund the hosting charges. Because the size of these files that we’re dealing with for films, you know, film downloads, is quite a lot of bandwidth charges involved in that.

Mark: And I believe the first screening was last night?

Kieran Masterton: It was. Yes.

Mark: What did you watch?

Kieran Masterton: The first UK screening. It was The Incident At Tower 37, which is Chris Perry’s short animation. I thought it was wonderful. I’d already seen the trailer and I thought the storytelling was amazing and, you know, it actually was a really beautiful film, you know.

Mark: OpenIndie is live now?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah.

Mark: So your work/life balance is shaking back to normal hopefully. I imagine you can get some sleep?

Kieran Masterton: Yeah, just about, yeah.

Mark: It must be a load off your mind as having to check things every day instead of just work on it constantly, constantly, constantly or is it still as it was when, before it went on?

Kieran Masterton: I think things are starting to level out a little bit. There’s still a lot of bug fixing and stuff to do. You know, I’m not working on OpenIndie full-time right now. I’m doing a bit of freelance work and jumping back and forth because, obviously, you need to pay the bills. But, yeah, in the main I’m still up late, you know, doing things to OpenIndie, but it’s better than the three months slog where I was working, you know, 16, 18 hour days.

Mark: And is there anything you can tell us about the future for OpenIndie? What sort of things do you got planned for it?

Kieran Masterton: There’s loads of things. In terms of minor stuff actually a lot of filmmakers have mentioned to us on our support platform, they’ve said stuff like they’re looking to add more meta data about their film, they want to add more, for example, cast and crew type stuff. We need to start taking stuff about duration of films. They want more way, users want more ways to filter the contents, they want to know the most requested films on the site, they want to know the newest film on the site. I think one of the things that’s really important for us right now is social leverage, so we need to be able to do that at the moment, you can sign in via Twitter, you can sign in via Facebook, OpenIndie, etc., but we need to be able to leverage those networks for people.

So I think the most important thing for us next is to ensure that when you request a film, you can tweet out the message that you’re using that with, you can push a request to your Facebook wall, you can do all of that stuff, that will, leverage the rest of your network to see that you’re interested in that film and also come over to OpenIndie and request it. In terms of longer-term stuff, late summer, there’s a couple of things in the pipeline. First of all, we are looking to release our API, which I’m sort of designing in my head at the moment, which will allow anyone to build up on top of our data, so they can, leverage our data in the same way you can leverage Twitters or whatever else and access statistical information about their film and where people are requesting, etc.

There’s a thing called open license which, very briefly, it’s just a way for filmmakers to specify where and how, and for how much money their film gets seen. So they can say I don’t want it to be seen in Canada because I’ve got traditional distribution deal in Canada and that would, clash with my deal I’ve got over there. So really we’re looking for ways that OpenIndie can augment a traditional distribution deal as well so that that’s not out of the question. And finally we’ve got venues. We’re looking to employ a Theater Booker either on a full-time or a part-time basis who will basically facilitate traditional theaters and cinemas, getting on board with screening OpenIndie films.

Mark: Can you tell me is the site still in invite only at the moment?

Kieran Masterton: It’s not. In a sense it never was in the sense that you could always request a film meant you could get an account. So if you request a film, you’ll get an account, if you’re a user. If you’re a filmmaker and you want to sign up that’s really simply just go to the OpenIndie homepage and click add film and, you know, pay your $100 a year and you’re on your way.

Mark: Okay. I think that’s just about the end. I’d like to thank Kieran Masterton from OpenIndie for joining me.

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