Jackson Scott does not fit the typical entrepreneur model. He has no business, economic or technological background. His new venture “Filmshelf,” where select films will be distributed through local cafes and packaged with visual artwork and critical reviews (pictured above), is not aimed at a pre-existing problem.
And he has actively rejected outside investment, instead choosing to fund the project himself.
“I was looking into angel investors I had leads with, but I make a lot of decisions that aren’t ‘good business’ decisions, they’re based in a social grounding,” Scott says. “How much I’m charging for it, how much I’m paying artists; they’re not how much I should be from a business point-of-view, but how much I want to.”
“I want to be able to continue to make decisions that don’t make business sense but make sense for society and the ethos of company,” he says. “I’ve been trying to avoid people having a stake in the company who might not understand that.”
But with an infectious passion for cinema and a firm emphasis on fair trading, Scott looks set to create a working, entirely unique creative company. He stresses that while Filmshelf was never profit driven, the business may still pay itself off.
In setting up the business, Scott researched local rental laws and contacted film producers for distribution advice. He discovered that, unlike screening rights, there are no copyright payments associated with DVD rentals, so his only limitations were Australia’s region available and rental restrictions.
So with operating costs limited to buying and repackaging DVDs, paying critics and artists, and standard administration fees i.e. ASIC/ABN registration, the three-in-one distribution company’s budget came under $10,000, and is shaping up the be relatively cost-effective.
The origins of Filmshelf can be traced to Scott’s time at the University of Queensland. Like so many other Arts graduates, he left university with a passion for cinema, impressive critical skills, and a frustrating lack of options.
“I just had a craving to do practical stuff,” Scott says. “After three years of writing essays, I wanted to make something”.
“I had this big list, and every time during uni I had an idea I wrote it down and emerged at the end of it with a book of ideas,” he says. “Not a full book, but a bunch of ideas.”
After months of deliberation and collaboration with initial business partner and fellow graduate Daniel Barnett, Scott decided on the DVD distribution service earlier this year.
Aimed at intelligent but not necessarily film literate audiences, Filmshelf’s reviews have been sourced from local critics, largely UQ academics, who were tasked to choose three films each: a widely seen film e.g., “Singing in The Rain”; an absolute obscurity e.g., “The Double Life of Véronique”; and something in the middle.
The critics were chosen in collaboration with Barnett, who worked with the business until the first set (ten writers for thirty films) were complete and has now left the company.
While the films happened to range from the 1940s up to 2013, the critics were specifically chosen to offer a range of perspectives, with attention paid to both gender representation and literary backgrounds.
“We kept check to make sure that there was a good even spread of guys and girls,” Scott says, adding that the spread came naturally. “And different, not so much ethnic backgrounds, but ways of approaching films.”
“We’ve got a few people where film isn’t their specialty, but we saw they were intelligent in other fields, had some chats with them about films, and saw they had a really good perception.”
The artwork, however, is designed as a separate response to the film entirely. Scott says that where the reviews have an analytic skew, the artwork supplement’s the package from another point of view entirely.
“It seems really important to me to get a more affective, emotional, illogical response to the film,” Scott says. “Sort of Dionysus to the Apollo of writing, getting both of those sides.”
“And hopefully that becomes apparent, that the art is not just an illustration on the front but it’s its own unique response to the work,” he says. “Another way of delivering a response, of comprehending a piece of art and then speaking about it.”
For the expected rollout in February 2015, Scott has just started approaching cafes and remains hesitantly optimistic towards the operation’s appeal. Four of an expected six-to-eight cafes around the city, South Bank, Teneriffe, and New Farm areas have expressed interest in hosting the Filmshelf.
Reflecting on his year of planning, Scott expresses discomfort with the conflicting business/ethical decisions inherent in starting a new company, but remains confident the central message will come through.
“When you take away profit as your primary objective, you start to get a bit confused as to how many things you can and should be doing, and start to feel bad making any business over ethics decisions,” Scott says. “At one stage we were looking at getting the boxes manufactured in China because they were a whole lot cheaper, then we decided to get it done in Australia.”
“It won’t look like it but there’s been a lot of thought had over getting stuff right,” he says. “Over treating people with the respect they deserve and not being too preachy, but sending the right message, or allowing the right message to be sent.”