Over the past year I’ve used this space a few times to showcase a marquee independent filmmaker who uses Topspin, and I’ve run my big mouth a bit about how indie film is fertile ground for real direct-to-fan disruption. I’ve highlighted our work with the Sundance Institute and Kevin Smith, and I’ve offered a basic model to guide filmmakers toward a more empowered future.
Today, I get to do something different. Today, I get to call out an artist and a project that will not only be a truly ground-breaking direct-to-fan release but also a real dividing line between the “way things used to work” and “the way things work now.” Yeah, I’m getting a little emotional ‘cuz I’m working with some personal heroes here. But make no mistake about it: Stacy Peralta is about to show the independent film community how to self-release a niche film in a profitable and artist-friendly way. You know the standard indie dream? Make a film, get into Sundance, then do a distro deal in your cabin after a killer premiere? Stacy just said “No thanks” to that dream.
Do you know Stacy? He was the world’s most famous skateboarder when he and George Powell formed Powell-Peralta Skateboards in the late 70s. Together they invented modern skateboarding as we know it, first by creating the Bones Brigade, the greatest team of skaters ever assembled (Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Tommy Guerrero) and then by inventing the skate film (or action sports video) which they used to disseminate positive ideas about personal expression to kids all over the world.
In the late 90s, after a few dark years for skateboarding, Stacy emerged as a formidable documentary filmmaker. His films Dogtown and Z-Boys, Riding Giants and Made In America: Crips & Bloods dominated the Sundance Film Festival and turned him into one of the best journalists on the planet when it comes to telling stories about the influence of skate, surf, and Southern California culture. Stacy’s films earned accolades and attention, and yes, some decent financial advances from traditional distributors. But the films have not been nearly as financially rewarding as they have been creatively.
Which brings us to today, when skateboarding is a multi-billion dollar mainstream industry and the scrappy amateur skaters Stacy mentored on the Bones Brigade team are now the most accomplished, revered titans of the sport… and the subjects of his new film. It’s the perfect moment for Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.
And it’s the perfect moment for Stacy to show the indie film community that “self-release” is not a last resort, but instead a pure, independent artistic path where the creator controls copyright and consumption — and earns the lion’s share of the profits. Stacy himself says it best:
"As skateboarders, as people that have always lived on the outside, have always had to sneak over fences or through the back door, have always had to create our own terrain, we’ve decided to put that ethic towards how we release “Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.” We turned down all of the conventional offers for distribution when we came out of Sundance in favor of doing it ourselves. The only place to fully experience the film will be through our Bones Brigade web site; where myself, Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen and Tommy Guerrero will interact directly with fans. Your involvement on the Bones Brigade site is part of the process of making our campaign work — there’s no middle-man here — it’s us and you. Everything we have to offer in regards to our film will be from our website."
- Stacy Peralta
What does this kind of release look like? We’re going to document it here, so you can come along for the ride.
It started Monday morning, when the Bones Brigade themselves asked fans to dig up their classic Bones Brigade photos and post them to Instagram with the hashtag #bonesbrigade. Out came some incredible ‘80s pics featuring seriously questionable skate fashion, favorite Bones Brigade graphics, even some classic school photos of kids with Tony Hawk’s infamous McSqueeb haircut. Oh, and there are tattoos, too. Wow.
The goal was 2,000 photos posted to “unlock” the premiere of the film’s trailer (seen above) and an incredibly generous Topspin-powered free download: a complete digital copy of Stacy’s classic skate film, The Search For Animal Chin. Yes, for free. For every skater on Earth. Thousands and thousands have downloaded thus far. And the quality of the photos from fans is truly remarkable. They are going to make incredible DVD insert artwork.
What has this accomplished? A lot. The film’s email database is growing like crazy. Fans all over the world are now invested in the creation of the DVD product and are hoping to see their photos inside. Stacy, Tony Hawk, Tommy Guerrero, Mike McGill and Lance Mountain are commenting, liking and sharing the posted photos — driving killer social sharing numbers and yes, even a little bragging from fans lucky enough to earn their attention.
And thanks to Topspin partners The Uprising Creative and Awe.sm, we’re all looking at incredible social conversion data — we can see how many email signups a tweet from Tony Hawk creates, we can see which fan’s facebook post is the most valuable, and later this fall, when it comes time to sell what looks to be a truly incredible slate of products (we’re coming for you, Josh Freese), we’ll be able to forecast sales and see how all this social sharing and free downloads convert into dollar bills.
Fun, right? And good for arts and culture, too. Stacy gets to control his film and release it his way, with his release dates, his products and the prices of his choosing. Fans get direct access to Stacy and the Bones Brigade, they get to contribute to the content itself, and they’ll get the kind of valuable, amazing products that no traditional retailer or distributor could afford to manufacture or stock on shelves. It’s a true win-win.
Oh, and did I mention that Stacy owns all the data? And gets to use it for all of his future projects? He does. Welcome to “the way things work now.”
Stacy, thanks for believing in Topspin. We’re stoked to ride with you.
Tune in late next week for Part II, featuring our friends at BitTorrent.
PS — Special shout out to Joe Beyer, Chris Horton and Keri Putnam for creating Sundance Artist Services and establishing a program that helps make projects like this possible.