Imagine a world where...

2014 CRI Fellows (from left) Michelle Ow, Forest Conner, Artel Great and Colin Whitlow.
2014 CRI Fellows (from left) Michelle Ow, Forest Conner, Artel Great, and Colin Whitlow.
  • Filmmaking was demystified to the financial sector, providing potential investors with better information and filmmakers with unprecedented access to capital…
  • Moviegoers could take advantage of special offers and tiered pricing options – delivered directly to their phones –giving customers more of what they want, when they want it while increasing profit margins for cinemas…
  • Filmmakers can better understand and communicate with their audiences using market research and data based on robust consumer profiles…
  • Enthusiastic but underserved audiences have greater access to films that reflect their experiences and perspectives…

These are the outcomes sought by this year’s Cinema Research Institute (CRI) fellows, who were recently named by the Graduate Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The annual fellowships support the work of innovators in the film industry from both the creative and commercial standpoints. Fellows engage in the entrepreneurial exploration of the film business and initiate valuable research to be leveraged by the film community at large.

“The NYU CRI was created to fulfill an increasingly important role in the film industry - to encourage the exploration of new models of financing, producing, marketing, and distributing media and entertainment,” said John Tintori, who, together with Dean Mary Schmidt Campbell, industrialist philanthropist Richard Vague and independent producer Ted Hope, founded the CRI in 2012. "Fellows are selected based on demonstrated strength of work product, originality of approach, and the research’s promise in helping artists successfully bring films to market.”

This year’s group of CRI Fellows and their projects include the following:

Forest Conner – Online Tool for Audience Profiling
Conner’s research will involve accessing data tracking and analytics surrounding film consumption in order to make it available to filmmakers and producers. Struck by the dearth of sophisticated product marketing data available in the film industry, he hopes to leverage digital marketing methods to develop more sophisticated customer profiles, enabling the development of more effective, targeted advertising.

“I’d like to create a tool that operates almost like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story: filmmakers and producers can enter information about their film and then be guided on how to find an audience through an algorithm that would match them with populations that were attracted to something similar,” said Conner. “Essentially, I’d like to vastly improve what’s out there currently in terms of analytics, which is almost nothing.”

Artel Great – Distribution Strategies for Artistically Underserved Communities
Great’s research will focus on leveraging the latest digital and mobile technologies, in conjunction with theatrical exhibition, in order to address issues of media diversity for underserved populations. By moving beyond narrow formulas for promotion and distribution and combining both innovative transmedia techniques and old school community building, Great plans to launch a distribution model that empowers artists creating for communities outside the Hollywood mainstream to more effectively engage audiences and galvanize loyal followings. This model will ideally enable filmmakers to directly reach their target audiences, not only in theaters but also across multiple media platforms, while providing multicultural filmgoers with an increased variety of art that better reflects the diversity of their communities.

“We’ve barely reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities available through the convergence of cinema, art, and technology. I’m designing a platform to meet the needs of passionate emerging communities who yearn to be inspired by new productions of culture they can take pride in,” Great said. “The audience is there – I see them, and they’re thirsty for fresh images and stories that emanate from and speak to their experiences.”

Michelle Ow – Testing the Effects of Dynamic Pricing Models for Cinema Attendance
Ow's research centers on movie theater attendance and profits can increase under digitally-driven, dynamic pricing models. A former employee of HBO, Vimeo, the Disney-ABC Television Group, Ow has previously conducted research on cable subscription adoption for media research firm SNL Kagan.

“We know that the industry is skewed to the occasional moviegoer to a great degree, so increasing attendance and consumption by the population by even a small percentage could deliver tremendous upside,” said Ow.

Colin Whitlow – Developing Sound Financial Modeling Around Film Investment
Whitlow’s research aims to create an information source through which prospective films can be contextualized as investment opportunities, resulting in more reliable valuations and less risk for prospective investors. Through creating an objective index representing the relative financial success of specific subsets of films, Whitlow hopes to reduce the opacity surrounding film investment, ultimately resulting in a more steady influx of capital into the industry from a wider range of sources.

“The film industry is like the fine wine industry in that, since its inception, it’s been difficult to make accurate prediction in prospective value and profitability. But there’s no reason why the opportunities in this industry could be more clearly delineated, enabling filmmakers to attract a broader pool of investors,” said Whitlow.

Fellows have the opportunity to work intensely with industry mentors, creative advisors and consultants as they develop their projects, ranging in industry expertise from independent game development to film finance to cooperative production strategies.

The Institute has completed two rounds of projects and hosted 5 symposia highlighting their results. One project, the Virtual Toolbox created by 2013 fellow Claire Harlam, provides a comprehensive guide to digital resources for fundraising, promotion and distribution, and can be accessed by the CRI website ( The CRI will host its 6th symposium featuring Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald’s (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD) research on grassroots filmmaking, which was inspired by their work on the Obama 2008 campaign.

The Cinema Research Institute will publish its 2015 fellowship application in May. For more information or to apply, visit the website at

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