I get complaints when I write a blog about the Dr. Film show. People like the blogs about classic films better. Someone wrote about the “existential whining” that he didn’t like. Well, this is going to be another one of those blogs, but it affects what we’re going to do with the show, which means classic films and restorations you won’t see anywhere else.
A lot of people come up to me, especially at conventions, and ask, “When is the Dr. Film show coming on?” Some think it’s already on. Some think it should be on, and are surprised it isn’t. Still only know Dr. Film from the blog. This blog has gotten surprisingly popular.
The Dr. Film facebook page is pretty popular too, and the show isn’t. It’s because no one has seen the show. On the Facebook page, we talk about preservation issues, and there are plugs for new projects and odd copyright problems. It’s a neat forum. In a very strange way, a way I never expected, I’ve created a community around a show that doesn’t really exist, and a fan base and people who come together over something that has never developed. I’m not complaining, but it’s surprising.
You see, I put up the blog to promote the show, which I figured would get popular and then we’d have more people clamor to see the show. And the Facebook page was put up to promote the blog and the show. But we only have the pilot, which was shot in 2008, finished in 2009, and remastered/recut in 2011. That’s it.
If you’ve been a loyal follower here, then you know what I mean and how we’ve struggled with this. We’ve been completely and utterly ignored by cable and broadcast. Few people will even give us a chance by watching the show. I really don’t think we will ever be on an over-the-air broadcast or cable network. I want to emphasize this. I just don’t think we’re high-profile enough.
There’s been a continuing thing, something that I get asked all the time, “Why don’t you just put Dr. Film on YouTube?” I don’t do that because I can’t afford to. YouTube is dominated by teenagers, rich folks, and the chronically unemployed. I don’t qualify for the first two, and hope to avoid being the third. The economics of YouTube are awful. I’ve looked into it, and with the viewership I’m likely to get, it’s impossible for me to make enough money to justify expenses.
And then people tell me, “But people will see you and you’ll be famous!” Well, I don’t care about that. I want to a) show old movies and b) not go broke doing it. Those are my goals. I really don’t care if no one knows who I am. If I have to be a little more “known” in order to accomplish my goals, then that’s fine.
One of the things I do to accomplish my goals is to study the marketplace, and I see odd things happening, especially in social media.
I noticed my friend Archie Waugh doing something that I’d never even considered with Facebook. I’ve never met Archie, but I’ve known him for years, even before Facebook, because he is a long-time silent film fan. But Archie is geeky (I consider this a good thing!) in a number of areas, and one of his favorite ways is that he’s a big Godzilla fan… not just Godzilla, but all of the Japanese monster and TV shows. Properly, they’re called Kaiju.
Archie hosts a group that gets together every Saturday night and they all pop in a DVD at the same time and then start talking about it as it runs. They used to use Facebook’s chat function, but they grew into their own chat room that one of the members puts on his own server. And they’re not making fun of the movie (although sometimes they might kid it a bit), but they’re talking to each other and enjoying the film and sharing an experience…
They’re not seeing each other, but are spread literally all over the world. They’re a community, and more to the point, they’re an audience. They love to do this! I’ve polled them about it. It runs counter to my way of thinking, because I go to a movie so that I don’t talk to other people, so I can immerse myself in the experience. I don’t like to share that with others. But it’s not all about me.
This is a new kind of audience. It’s a different kind of audience. I can see why some people utterly fail to accept this. The texters hate the immersion people and the immersion people hate the texters. And I hope there’s room for both in the world, because there are just too few people who are interested in some things to make an immersive audience pay off. If there are 10 people in each big city, then you may get 1000 people in a virtual audience, but go broke doing a movie roadshow.
I hate that. I love the movies, but I have to face reality. I hope that some of the texters can become members of the immersive audience and vice versa, but neither is going away.
And that brings me back to Dr. Film. If YouTube doesn’t work out economically, then what about some sort of internet streaming? Netflix was not interested. Well, I’m not sure whether they were interested or not. I never heard back from them.
I thought, well, OK, we can stream the Dr. Film show on a private YouTube channel and do an Archie-style chat along with it. I even spoke to Archie about it. I almost did it, looked like everything was coming in place, but…
People yelled at me. Some people had seen the pilot that we shot, and a few hated it. The complaint was not that the idea was bad, but some people hated the feature I’d picked, and a few hated the video transfer I’d gotten. The statement was that it was like one of the Star Trek pilots… they were good enough to incorporate into the run of the show, but you wouldn’t want to show one for your first episode. The complaints were loud, and I listened.
Now remember, by this time, years have gone by. I’m thinking we just trash the show. It was fun, it was a good idea, but it didn’t work. That idea didn’t set well with people either! Meanwhile, the blog readership expanded, the Facebook memberships went up, and we still had no show.
I thought, well, OK, we can try to make some more shows. By now HD has taken over, so we need more equipment and more expensive film transfers. That’s OK, I can work that out… I applied for grants, and, gee, I got none of them. People don’t really understand what I do. It’s not “art” to them.
I kept thinking that I needed my own internet TV station, and I was looking into that. I knew that it was possible to make a private station with a dedicated server. I’ve seen a lot of them, and I know that many are on Roku.
And then there’s this other problem: most of the TV stations on the internet are BAD. The classic movie stations rely almost exclusively on material that’s been cobbed from archive.org. I’ve lived through this before: it was like when Goodtimes video came out and flooded the marked with awful-looking public domain movies. They were cheap, but they gave headaches to those of us to tried to be a little more up-market. I can’t always be Kino or Criterion; there simply are some things that look bad in the surviving prints, but I’d like to show them anyway. I just don’t want to be painted with the same brush as Alpha or Goodtimes, who seem to go out of their way to get bad material.
So I thought about offering Dr. Film as a streaming service ala Netflix. I did a survey there, too. People told me that they wanted free, please free, we have no money. Well, that means commercials, which I can do. But an equal number of people said, NO, please have a monthly subscription. It was evenly split down the middle.
Ben Model is at least somewhat successful with his Accidentally Preserved DVD sets. I helped him work on those, so it’s possible that we could just produce Dr. Film shows and put them on DVD. But I think that’s silly. We don’t have the kind of following to make that work. Ben’s DVDs sell because people know Ben and people know that they’re getting rare films on the DVDs. I don’t think Dr. Film would sell because not enough people know what it is… at least, not yet.
And then I see that Netflix is dropping a chunk of its older movies because no one cares, and no one watches them. It makes me ill. I know there is an audience, maybe a small one, for classic films. And there’s a lot more out there than what gets shown on TCM.
Part of that audience is on the Dr. Film Facebook page. Another part of it reads this blog.
I have a number of ideas that I’m mulling over. I need your input on these. I’ve got technical skills but not a lot of cash. Please let me know what you’d like to see. If I initiated a Kickstarter program, I’d also need to know that you or your friends would donate to help cover startup costs.
MY FIRST IDEA: A 24-hour streaming TV channel, all movies made before Star Wars. We’d have serials, cartoons, shorts, and features, but also shows that were made exclusively for the channel that are about older films. Everything from film, nothing from archive.org!!! Movies would be from my collection and from other collections. Everyone who contributes films will be paid, no matter what! (It’s important!) Dr. Film would be a part of this network, and it would air probably once a week.
I could work something out so that we could have a subscription version and a free version of the same network. The subscription people would see the shows uninterrupted and then have a cartoon at the end of the show, all real content, no ads.
As cool as I think this might be, it is a marketing nightmare. The problem is that there’s already so much dreck out there that we’d have to find a way to differentiate this network from all the other cheesy networks. Do you have ideas on how we could promote it? Please tell me! It would be a lot of work for me to set this up and maintain it, so we’d have to have some viewership to make it worthwhile.
ALTERNATIVELY: We just admit that the whole idea is limited, but we have a following with the Dr. Film sites. And then we have a site that would ONLY be Dr. Film, nothing else, but shows could be streamed on demand with or without commercials. This one is less work for me, and I suspect less cool for you. But I don’t know. You tell me.
I sometimes will just have the TV on in the background and come in and out on it when something caught my interest. People tell me that this JUST ISN’T DONE anymore. It’s all streaming on demand, all the time. You tell me!
In either case, I’d probably expand the Facebook presence a little bit and put in a chat function on the Dr. Film page so that people could discuss the shows as they are watching.
What do you think? What would you like to see? Feel free to post here, on the Dr. Film page, or email me and give me ideas. If this really is a community, let’s let it function like one!