Syracuse New Times tech writer Joe Cunningham speaks with K. C. McCleod, CEO of Vyer Films, a unique way to “see something new.”
Joe Cunningham (JC): Describe your background and how you came up with Vyer Films.
K.C. McCleod (KM): I’m originally from Vestal, NY. I went to New York City to study film at NYU. Afterwards, I worked as an assistant to directors and producers for a number of films. My years in the industry made me notice some things: on the one hand I had a lot of friends trying to make and promote their first films; while on the other my parents and friends where constantly asking me what they should see.
There are lots of great movies out there that have a hard time connecting with audiences who are overwhelmed with content. I wanted to make a space for new films of quality to reach their audience, while at the same time building a sustainable platform for aspiring filmmakers.
JC: How would you compare yourself to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and the cable networks?
KM: Looking at the mainstream, there’s a lot of talk about whether Netflix is the new HBO, especially now that they are creating their own content. We’ve all had the experience of surfing around, scrolling through posters, looking for something to watch – and they have a great selection – but at the cost of your time. We are looking for an audience who values their time and wants to watch something good.
I use the analogy: Netflix is like the menu at a diner – about a hundred different options and they all are pretty good. We are a fine dining restaurant: we might have only five entrees that night but they are all a unique enjoyable experience.
JC: What kinds of films are you streaming right now?
KM: Our catalog is pretty diverse. One of our films Soft in the Head takes place in Brooklyn and follows a 20-something’s life wildly spiraling out of control; another film Letters to Father Jacob features an ex-con in Finland who starts living with a blind priest – more of a stately drama. We have a wide variety from intense to charming.
JC: Do the films you release ever see festivals or small theater showings?
KM: Absolutely yes! Both here (NYC) and LA, the Berlin International, Cannes, Rotterdam, and the New York New Directors Film Festival. Some have seen limited screenings and maybe have hit other markets. Moreover, it’s our endeavor to choose films that are excellent, even if they don’t have the opportunity for audiences to normally find them.
JC: What kind of criteria do you use for choosing the films you release?
KM: Great question. Basically we are trying to create a unique experience. We want someone who watched a film we featured to walk away with something to talk about.
JC: Are you yourself making any films right now?
KM: Not currently.
JC: If you could make a movie what would you make?
KM: Great question – I don’t know if I’ve been asked that before.
In high school I spent a year abroad in Germany. I was fascinated with the fact that over there they don’t do subtitles, only dubbing. They are very vigorous with it and, for instance the same person will do all of Brad Pitt’s movies and become known for doing so. I always wondered what a dubber would do if, say Joaquin Phoenix walked away from movies and they lost their identity and had to take control of their life.
JC: What are your favorite films?
KM: Rushmore by Wes Anderson and Oslo: August 31st by Joachim Trier.
JC: Regarding the technology you use, how does Vyer Films stream movies via your website compared to, say, Netlfix?
KM: Netflix uses Microsoft Silverlight to stream. We use HTML 5 Video Player because it is very fast to load and also very compatible on any browser or device. You don’t have to install the app and it allows you to move around and buffer very quickly.
JC: Do you have plans to develop an app?
KM: Absolutely! We are working with a firm now to expand our user experience. However, since browsers are working so well for us, we are moving first towards set up boxes like Roku, Apple TV, and Fire, and then ideally circling back around to the tablet.
JC: What do you see as the future of the entertainment/film/TV industry, after Spielberg made that comment on how big blockbusters with low returns would someday upset the business model?
KM: Yeah, it seems unsustainable. I once worked for a director who made a huge amount of money and was very successful but he would get notices that his film company hadn’t made the money back yet for a “widely successful” film they had made.
They call it “Hollywood accounting” because companies pay themselves to distribute movies. You need to figure out more ways to cover those costs. Even when movies make a billion dollars they have to give half to the theaters, and then there are marketing costs, etc.
I do think the industry will implode but the blockbuster won’t go away. Compare it to the SuperBowl: everyone watches it but not everyone watches every single season game.
I think we are going more towards these keurig communities where we know what we are getting when we go there and we come back for that: for instance going to Netflix to see House of Cards, Season 22, etc.
I think the days when we are trying to appeal to as many people as possible are behind us.
JC: How long has Vyer been around?
KM: The concept of Vyer has been up since a little over three years ago, but we’ve transformed a bit. We really started picking up steam last summer and are at about a year on this version of the site.
JC: Who is your target audience and how do you guys reach them?
KM: Great question. I really like the Syracuse New Times definition of their “educated, affluent” readership and I think we are right there also with affluent, curious minds.
I feel that if you are 15-25, Hollywood takes care of you. Then, as you start to get older and have a real career and family, you go to the movies and all you see if Ironman 4 – it can be frustrating.
We are trying to reach baby boomers and Gen X-ers – anybody really who is ready to see something new and of substance.
JC: What is your revenue system – how do you guys make money?
KM: Vyer Films is a subscription service. We offer three subscription tiers, which we call “Present,” “Past,” and “Future.” “Present” is only $15 a month and allows access to our four current monthly releases. “Past” is $20 a month and gives you our current releases and our entire back catalog. “Future” is $99 for six months and gives you the same access as “Past” but with a 17% discount.
Of the revenue we generate, 70% is remitted back to filmmakers and rights-holders of the films, and we keep the remaining 30%.
JC: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers and also people looking for better movies?
KM: Well, if they are looking for better movies, definitely go to Vyer.
For both groups: the world is a place of constant change. If you open your eyes enough and notice how people are changing you can observe the change and it helps you experience new things and create new things simply because you recognize where we all may be going. To artists: you cannot create art in a vacuum: you need to respond to what others might notice. And to viewers: if you want to see new films it’s important to be open to new things.
Fifteen years ago we wouldn’t be having this conversation about where to see good films online. Back then, “artsy” films where only at the local art theater if that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies! But I am convinced that the only good things I’m going to see are not all on a giant screen.
My Mom’s favorite way to use Vyer is to watch it on her iPad with a glass of wine by herself in a comfortable place in the house; again, a truly unique experience.
People love stories and it’s important for people to connect to that story. Coming back to our criteria: if you can give people something real they can hold onto, they can carry it with them now and even when they leave this earth.
For more information or to sign up for Vyer, go to www.VyerFilms.com.