Since 1991, Anthony Soohoo has been at the forefront
of the technology revolution, working with such giants as Apple, Yahoo!,
NEC and Inktomi. In his current position as COO of ALWAYSi, a leading
online film exhibition and distribution site, he continues to keep
one step ahead of Internet trends. In an interview with MM, he talks
about the companys fast road to success and the winning formula
that keep ALWAYSi on top – and moviemakers coming back again and again.
James Menzies (MM): How did ALWAYSi originate?
Anthony Soohoo (AS): ALWAYSi was started approximately
two years ago by two filmmakers, Gary Zeidenstein and Amine Bitar,
who made a film called Triangles and Tribulations. They had
taken their film through the film festival circuit and won a bunch
of awards, but had a tough time finding distribution. So they thought
that there must be a better way. Screening technology at that time
was just taking off in terms of being able to broadcast live movies
over the Internet, so they decided hey, why not do this ourselves?
MM: How did the idea to show one film online
evolve to the enormous library of films that ALWAYSi houses now?
AS: One thing lead to another and they built
their film library up in a years time from one film to about
250. At that point, they thought they might be on to something,
so they decided to bring in a professional team. Thats when
we got around to venture funding and we made this into a real company.
Since the focus of the company has been more professional, we have
been able to grow this from a base of 250 films to over 2,000.
MM: ALWAYSis mission is “to bring
the broadest selection of independently created entertainment to
audiences everywhere.” However, couldnt that just as aptly
be to revolutionize the independent film industry by providing the
moviemaker with an audience for his or her work, as well as financial
AS: Our mission is to serve the filmmaker.
If we serve our filmmakers well, we believe we will be able to serve
our audience well because our audience consists of people who love
independent films and, in turn, are the people who filmmakers want
to attract in the first place. We see ourselves as the matchmaker
between the filmmakers that we serve and a bunch of loyal audience
members who have a collective affinity for independent films.
MM: In what ways does ALWAYSi work to promote
the independent moviemaker?
AS: On our Website we have what is called the
Unlimited Cinema, which is our subscription-based service. If you
want to subscribe to our service, you have unlimited access to as
many viewings of any films in our library. We ask for a three or
12-month commitment. The prices for a subscription range from $4.99
to $9.99. The unique thing about our subscription-based service
is that, versus anything else thats out there, we are able
to provide a revenue stream for the filmmakers that they previously
did not have.
MM: How does that work?
AS: When someone views a film on our site,
even if its not viewed in its entirety, [that filmmaker]
gets a percentage of the subscription. So a filmmaker has an opportunity
to earn money from their film immediately, as long as the film is
accepted on the site. This is in stark contrast to what else is
going on out there in the online world – on other sites that exhibit
independent movies, filmmakers have to pay to get their film distributed.
Why not get your film exhibited and get paid?
MM: Does this benefit the moviemaker in
any other way than a financial one?
AS: As a filmmaker, you want to know how attractive
and in demand your film is. If you let people view your film for
free, youre not getting a true sense of the value of the film.
However, if you charge $4.99, and someone pays to view your film,
youre getting true validation.
MM: How does the syndication aspect of your
AS: We syndicate our content out to other sites.
We have some of our content on places like Yahoo! and MSN. We license
out the film rights to some of our films; we then share that revenue
with the filmmaker.
MM: Does ALWAYSi do any offline business?
AS: We take the top films that are viewed on
our site and try to source revenue opportunities in the offline
world. Last year we sold the rights to seven films to the Sundance
Channel. We also recently licensed the rights of a film to HBO.
We are also now delving into some of the emerging DVD distributions
and video rentals.
MM: What are the criteria for selecting
films at ALWAYSi?
AS: First – above all else – the film has to have some level
of artistic merit. Second, we do not deal with pornography. Third,
the filmmaker has to be qualified in terms of having an independent
vision, and really wanting to make it big.
MM: How do you really determine that?
AS: There are several ways. Basically the filmmaker
has to make the film in a professional manner, there has to be a
budget and there has to actually be a script that contains a beginning,
middle and an end. Anyone can be filming his or her own fraternity
party for instance. Obviously, were not accepting something
like that. With that being said, however, we are still fairly liberal
with our standards. We put the films up on our site and then we
let the audience decide what works and what doesnt. If, after
two or three months, a piece of content is not working, we tell
the filmmaker its not working.
MM: I understand that you hold online film festivals?
AS: The power of the Internet really allows
more people to tap in. It breaks down geographical barriers. In
other words, a film could have more viewers in a single weekend
of our film festival then it could at Sundance or Cannes combined.
MM: With the number of competing sites out
there, why should a moviemaker submit his or her film to ALWAYSi?
AS: Because we create revenue opportunities.
A filmmaker can look at ALWAYSi as their one stop shop for the distribution
of their content.