Four Eyed Monsters

I just wanted to quickly mention that Arin Crumley and Susan Buice have made their feature-length film, Four Eyed Monsters available on YouTube, the first time a full-length movie has been posted to the video sharing site. The film will be available on YouTube for one week only (the film should be available on YouTube until June 15), but can be purchased for download or on DVD. You can also help the filmmakers to pay off the debt they accumulated while making the movie by joining Spout.com through the Four Eyed Monsters page. If you join Spout (for free), they will contribute $1 towards paying off Buice and Crumley’s debt.

Crumley and Buice have been cultivating an online audience for their film via video podcasts that describe the challenges they faced in the production and distribution of their film, so I was excited to watch the movie last night. The film itself is an interesting meditation on communication and romance in the internet age and is based on Crumley and Buice’s relationship. In the film, Buice and Crumley meet through an online dating service, but jaded by normal dating rituals, choose to communicate without speaking, instead passing notes, drawing, playing music, or using other non-spoken forms of communication. Eventually, they begin to communicate by videos they send to each other in the mail. Finally, after several months, they began speaking directly to each other.

I enjoyed the autobiographical elements of Four Eyed Monsters quite a bit (and think others will enjoy it) and the reflection on how communications technologies mediate our relatiohsips with each other, but I’m equally intrigued by the innovative distribution and promotion techniques that Crumley and Buice have used (it’s also worth noting that their film has already been viewed over 300,000 times on YouTube alone, which is a fairly significant audience for an indie film).

15 Comments »

  1. Sujewa Said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

    Funny Ha Ha may have been available fully through YouTube, if I recall correctly.

    - Sujewa

  2. Chuck Said,

    June 13, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

    Nicol Wistreich is claiming that FEM is the first. In a way, I’m not sure it matters what was first. What seems important to me is how YouTube fits into this online indie film culture.

  3. J. J. Murphy Said,

    June 14, 2007 @ 11:19 am

    I also wrote a very positive response of Susan Buice and Arin Crumley’s Four Eyed Monsters on my blog, encouraging people to support the special promotional showing of the film on YouTube. Buice has been an articulate spokesperson for the marketing and distribution of indie films on the Web, suggesting that the consumption of indie films will be entirely different in five years. It’s really amazing to see how much time and energy these young artists have put into grass-roots marketing: the podcasts, interactive map, the DVD sales, the Thursday screenings, the ancillary products, sponsors, and so forth. Yet despite their real genius for promotion, the two filmmakers are still struggling to make this thing work financially. That, in and of itself, is a commentary of the current state of indie films.
    As my review indicates, I really like Four Eyed Monsters. I must confess, however, that the more time I spend on the Web site and the more podcasts I watch, the more I start to wonder whether it’s really worth all this effort. After awhile, the filmmakers begin to sound a bit like two carnies working a very large room. I can’t help but think maybe they would have been better off going the art world route instead, which would have allowed them to make more money selling their art work through a gallery, but, more importantly, it would have enabled them to continue to make new work rather than spend so much of their creative energy on promotion. At some point you have to let it go, move on, and stay focused on doing your art work. That’s what some of their other mumblecore friends have done, which, in the end, means they’re being more creatively productive. The other issue I worry about is that Buice and Crumley at times seem to get lost in the vortex of the distinction between reality and fiction. Recreating autobiographical elements for the screen involves contrivance and staging. Why else would you attend acting classes? But in the podcast about the cast and crew members demanding co-credit for the film, Buice and Crumley (I’m on their side in this dispute, by the way) insist that their film’s somehow “real.” You can’t have it both ways. I hope this promotion is successful and that they sell enough DVD copies to get them out of debt, so that they can put this experience behind them and move forward with their next film project.

  4. Chuck Said,

    June 14, 2007 @ 11:40 am

    J.J., I think you raise an interesting question about the promotion of FEM. In a sense, I see the video podcasts and the website as an extension of the film itself, as part of the story they are telling, but that could be due to the fact that I experienced the film on the web, not on DVD or at a festival screening. So I see the podcasts as feeding into their reflection on communications technologies in FEM.

    And the “vortex” between reality and fiction is an important one. The film is clearly autobiographical, but as you imply, that’s something different than “real,” at least as I understand your use of the term (i.e, not contrived or staged). I think the medium of the video podcast lends itself to a slippage between the autobiographical and the documentary (staged vs. real) in interesting ways.

    That being said, I’m not sure that their creative energy is being spent in the best possible way and I would like to see them find a way to move forward with a new movie project.

  5. Eric Said,

    June 15, 2007 @ 10:45 am

    There are some really great questions being raised here.
    I know I’d love to see Buice and Crumley spend their time making a new film instead of spending what seems like all their time promoting and trying to raise money from a film they completed years ago. But they made a decision to promote/sell/distribute their film full-time themselves. So, that’s the road they now must continue down. (And although I largely agree with what JJ said, I don’t think choosing to be an artist in the traditional sense would be financially any easier for them. But yes, they probably would produce more.)
    In April, I was in the audience for a panel discussion at the Independent Film Festival of Boston called the Realities of Independent Filmmaking. In it, Joe Swanberg and Michael Tully (contemporaries of Buice and Crumley) said that they don’t really concern themselves with self-distribution largely because it is too much work. Panelists David Redmond and Ashley Sabin do self-distribute their work, but said that it was a full time job. I think that they make it work largely because they are documentarians. Docs have a built-in audience, where narrative films don’t. As far as Swanberg and Tully go, they may be poor and probably in debt, but because they haven’t really worked on distribution, they’ve produced more films. Swanberg has released three features and Tully two since Buice and Crumley made FEM.
    Like Crumley and Buice, I believe that the day will come when some independent narrative filmmakers will be able to support themselves through non-traditional distribution, but it may be a bit further off than five years. I believe a system will develop similar to independent music distribution in the 1980s, with film “labels” somewhat equivalent to music labels like Dischord, SubPop and Merge.
    The idea of self-distribution in the way that Buice and Crumley are approaching it is still relatively new. I wish them all the luck in the world. They have a great film and and I hope a great future ahead of them as filmmakers and artists.

  6. cynthia Said,

    June 15, 2007 @ 11:49 am

    i should have read your blog earlier, i only learned here late last night that FEM was online, and i was too tired to watch more than a half hour…but i very much liked what i saw, very similar aesthetic to their video podcasts. i’ve been eager to see the film but haven’t had a chance; i was aware that they were selling it online but it was too much money for me to part with. i know they need to make a lot of money but i think if they lowered the price–halved it, really–they’d probably get a lot more sales and therefore a lot more profits, and more people would be seeing the film and word would spread further etc.

  7. Chuck Said,

    June 15, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

    Eric, I’d love to see more indie distribution. The record label comparison is one that I’ve heard before. I’m not quite sure the model translates to movie theaters where you have a much different distribution model than record/CD sales, but certainly there could be DVD or online distribution models that would fit here.

    Cynthia, like you, I’ve been eager to see FEM for a while but found purchasing the DVD too expensive, and I think you’re right to suggest that if they sold the DVD at a cheaper price, they’d make up for the reduced cost in volume of sales. I’m willing to gamble $10 or so on a DVD I haven’t seen if I know enough about the filmmakers, but $15 (plus shipping) is a bit steep.

  8. cynthia Said,

    June 15, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

    it was more than 15 wasn’t it? i thought they said 25 that’s why i didn’t buy. i might have bought for 15.

  9. Chuck Said,

    June 15, 2007 @ 10:52 pm

    Just checked the website. The DVD is down to $15, which may not be so bad, considering. I’m still recovering from being on a graduate school budget (and have my own credit card debt to think about), so my initial reaction to any expense is that I can’t afford it.

  10. cynthia Said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 8:34 am

    yeah i just checked it out, did they originally only have the $44 version available with all the bells and whistles? i think that’s the version i first heard about and balked at the price, even though they did add lots of cool stuff on it. maybe not too many people bought it at that price so they offered it in different/cheaper versions too?

  11. Chuck Said,

    June 19, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

    I’m honestly not sure. I’m planning to buy the cheaper package at some point and I’m glad to see that Spout has helped Buice and Crumley to make a dent in their credit card debt.

  12. j.j. murphy on independent cinema » A Skeptical View of YouTube Said,

    August 1, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

    [...] Web site (MySpace, Facebook, del.icio.us, etc.). On June 14 on Chuck Tryon’s blog about FEM on The Chutry Experiment, I expressed concern that the two filmmakers have become so obsessed with promotion that it’s [...]

  13. The Chutry Experiment » 21 Media Moments in 2007 Said,

    December 21, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

    [...] when it comes to digital distribution. With that in mind, I’ll just point you to my Four Eyed Monsters review, simply because of Arin Crumley and Susan Buice’s use of YouTube as a platform for [...]

  14. The Chutry Experiment » Crowdsourcing the Studio Said,

    May 16, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

    [...] credit for a $1 donation to The Global Fund for Women.  And, of course, films such as Four Eyed Monsters and The War Tapes were marketed in large part through a variety of grassroots techniques.  But [...]

  15. The Chutry Experiment » Crowdfunding, Indie, and Occupy Cannes Said,

    February 28, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    [...] distribution, among other issues. In this context, a number of filmmakers began experimenting with do-it-yourself approaches to filmmaking that sought to get the audience involved in the making of a movie from the very [...]

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