Back in the last century Tom and I had just begun our second year at Westminster Uni's BA in Film and TV. I was working for a business analyst firm, writing a report on the global film and TV market, and doing all my research on the Internet. I came across some great websites for the US film industry, and signed up to Shooting People - but was amazed at the lack of anything offering comprehensive information on the UK. At the back of my mind was a plan to build a website - I'd long wanted to teach myself. I also decided that the NEXT BIG THING would be shorts on the Internet. You must remember, dear reader, that these days were fuelled by hype and excitement. Almost everyone who had risked their fortune on the Net had come out superstars and millionaires. Newspapers devoted whole sections to the wonder of this epoch-making revolution. On September 21st I registered the name Shot.co.uk through a free domain service with the plans to put short films and filmmaking info online.
One day a friend of a friend who I'd met just once - Wendy Bevan-Mogg calls, offering me a spare ticket to a reception for the BBC British Short Film Fest. Now in those days such an invite in my eyes was like being handed a ticket to the Oscars - moreover Wendy was serious A-class because she worked at a REAL distributors (Artificial Eye) that delivered both REAL and GOOD films. We both arrived at a dim-lit reception at Titanic, slurped our Cranberries and Vodka and made small talk until the shock discovery that both of us had an ambition to do something on the Internet. Stunned and over-excited on a surprisingly small amount of Vodka, we set to immediately in recruiting any filmmakers in the room to our service. A service we hadn't even invented yet.
This continued at another reception on the last night of Short Film Fest. I persuade one of the winners - Adrian J McDowell and his producer - to let us stream his short film 'Who's my Favourite Girl?'. I later - as has happened too, too many times since - lost his business card, and instead watch him pick up the BAFTA for Best Short film on TV.
The report has finished and Wendy and I spent an evening in the Global Café in Golden Square trying to choose a name for our service. One of the names we almost chose was Britshorts, not to mention SeenOnTheScreen.com, Britishorts, CardinalCinema, FilmNet, NetFilm, FuschiaFilms - and of course Shot. Somehow, don't ask how, we ended up with Netribution - as in 'Net Distribution' which is kinda ironic as we've never streamed so much as a trailer. I've long since cursed the day after thousands of phone conversations - 'yes this is Nic from Netribution. No, not retribution, like retribution but with an 'N' - yes an 'N', 'N' for 'Nobody'."
Then at some point Tom hears of the plans and wants in. 'I've never sent an email, I don't like computers - or the Internet - but I want to help' are a close approximation of the words Tom would live to regret. Wendy, Tom and I meet regularly and discuss all the tedious things like company registration and business cards. I attend the NPA's producer training course and learn how you can register a company yourself - which I later turn into Netribution's first 'How To' guide.
I attend the first Shooting People birthday party at the Lux and Great Eastern Dining Rooms and chat to the odd filmmaker about our plans. David Reeve tells me that Indiewire is good because they email festival submission deadlines to him. I make my first posting there asking Shooters what they think of the idea, and the sort of services they would be willing to pay for, when I encounter my first Indie-Film-Wanker - a flamer who lambastes me and Netribution as cynical money grabbers. I publish a 'coming soon' page for the site - grand total of page hits for November - 60.
More meetings and I start getting serious in putting as much info as I can lay my hands on online. I'm desperate to launch in the twentieth century, and work night and day around Christmas to get 800 pages ready and uploaded New Years Eve. I'll never forget the bewilderment and shock when I realised that it had worked - that I had a site online. What I failed to do, however, was upload the images - here was a big sexy site with no pictures. But I had a train to catch - and hopped up to Edinburgh, partied in the millennium, watched the sun rise over Arthur's seat, got a train back to London, went to a screening of Fantasia 2000, went home, and uploaded the missing files. Number of hits for December - 362
This upload was our 'soft launch', as they say in the trade - and I emailed the handful of people who had replied to my Shooting People's post asking them to look at the site and tell me what they thought. The response was pretty good, and I had a full month to get another 800 pages online before our 'hard launch'.
It was around this time that Tom and I had our first 'power meeting' We trekked over to Canary Wharf for a meeting with an Oglivy and Mather director in his three story office. Tom and I decided in advance to operate the famed good cop-bad cop routine. I forget who was to take each role, but it's of little matter because upon arrival we both became a pair of tongue-tied terrified buffoons. Mr X told us that he'd get his mates (Damian Hirst and Ewan and Jude and the rest of those Natural Nylon guys) to give the site a big push. 'Yeah it needs some animations, a bit of (throwing in newly learned jargon) Flash… but how much money do you fellas need?' 'Er, sixty thousand', I stutter. 'No problem - make it 100 thou, I'll take a 10 per cent fee, the investors will want 25% of the company. Need to take this to my boss here, maybe the board - formalities, so forth. I'll give you a firm answer within a week. Things should move pretty fast.'
Tom and I left the meeting dumbstruck. Quickly on the phone to Wendy, we rushed over to her office to meet for lunch with the glee of an adolescent who's just figured out it ain't just for peeing with. One meeting and our company was valued at ?400,000! Our stakes were worth ?100,000 each!
How I look back now and smile.
Number of page hits for January - 6419
February 2nd 2000
The second of the second 2000 and at Peeping Tom's we officially launch the site. We'd sent out over 400 (badly written) press releases. We'd had cards and letterheads printed. We'd posted on Shooting People and the whole day we'd been receiving the warmest possible user feedback. People hailed us as heroes. Women threw flowers at our feet. Harvey and Bob sent a basket of fruit. We felt great. Mr X never made it to our launch party, but there was a crew from FilmFour there and my arse even made it past their final edit for Short Attention Span Cinema. Nobody knew who we were, but it didn't matter - everyone agreed, our site was really useful. The total number of page hits for that first day - 4,687.
One of the first to email us with praise was Leslie Lowes - a filmmaker living in the Shetlands. Two weeks of continued dialogue later, and Leslie is offered an unpaid job writing news from the North of England and Scotland. Northern Lights soon becomes Northern Exposure, and Leslie becomes James MacGregor, as we publish the most comprehensive film news for the North available anywhere.
Of course Mr X never quite gave us the firm 'yes' we were looking for, yet set up meetings with the head of finance at Open Interactive - the interactive side of Sky Digital. Plenty more meetings and it transpires that Open need a funky, sexy and youthful interactive film magazine. I put together a project - 24-7film - that would couple film reviews with trailers and online ticket purchasing. These things are a dime-a-dozen now, but it was pretty adventurous in those days. We meet the Total Film editor and got an agreement to use all their film reviews for free. He asks where our offices are, and - for the last time - we let slip we're still working from our bedrooms. The second term starts at Westminster, and Tom and I aren't there. Fortune is within our fingergrasps, so why waste time getting a degree.
Number of page hits for the month - 32,835
I attend First Tuesday for the first time - a net-entrepreneur networking event. The first people I speak to walk away when they discover I only want ?100,000. I try again with next set of bankers - one million, and film streaming to consumers. They walk away. I try again now, with Apax Partners - one of the biggest venture capital firms. Confidently I demand 3 million for a B2B (business-to-business) film-streaming project that would connect post production houses with film companies. Nice idea, I'm told, but far too small - they only want to spend 10 - 15 million. I finally end up chatting to a big team from Enron. Mr Y in Enron Broadband decides he's finally met a true entrepreneur and gets very excited. My hunt for 5 - 10 million seems modest enough. He wants to meet as soon as possible.
Meanwhile Sky want us to get guarantees from all the distributors that they will give us content so we start lobbying them all, as well as chiefs at Odeon to let us have access to their online booking facilities. The number of people that returned our calls was probably under five percent.
Mr Y insisted we meet in Chelsea's finest bars and restaurants. He wants to leave Enron and work for us, after securing a large amount of start-up cash. Mr Y earns 85 large a year, but doesn't like picking up the bill. We begin to develop a project called Ad-Network.co.uk that I only later discover is already being attempted by dozens of companies, which is to wire up post production houses through a broadband services portal allowing people to ship rushes and SFX around the world electronically in real-time. Olly Ravaux - a true hero working as a producer in ad-land - helps us no end with introductions, advice and encouragement. [Even today, Olly is interested in our development and remains keen to involve himself. He never promised anything and he remained human throughout. Those don't sound like extraordinary qualities, or do they?]
In the midst of all this the site suffers - total page views 25,977
So Mr X from Oglivy never follows through on his promises to get us bought out by Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP. In comes US film producer Mr Z with Mayfair office and pad, who wants to finance us in return for us helping him get his Brit-set feature made.
We arrive for The Big Meeting with Sky. We eat cheap and local and we look as sharp as our wardrobes allow. The finance director is impressed with our progress. The head of new business is convinced, and an investment in us to produce this interactive funky film magazine looks set. Programming Director Ms A, however, arrives late, and takes an instant dislike. Too niche, not popular enough she begins. 'It's a film-lovers magazine - big money, they spend a lot on videos and DVDs. And of course it'll cover blockbusters.' I say. 'Hmm…' says the brooding Ms A - too similar to something we have in development. The finance guy expresses surprise. 'Yes,' he says, 'it's identical to one of their planned services.' So that's that. Four months work, and the project is binned.
More expensive meetings with Mr Y from Enron who promises us great riches - but after the stock market crash begins in web stocks, he stops returning our calls.
More First Tuesdays and more meetings, phone calls and people to send business plans to. One - Guerrilla Park seems to bite - and we have a long meeting resulting in nothing. Mr Z the US producer wants a new business plan from us - going back to the original plan of raising a hundred thousand - we send this off. That's the last we hear from him. At least he was a laugh and paid his tabs.
Throughout this Tom and myself are devoted full time to Netribution, while Wendy has a job to juggle. As the months pass it's clear that it is unbalanced - until there's a secure salary Wendy can't leave her job, and until then we're doing most of the work. We agree on reducing the company to just Tom and me - Wendy steps down as company director. This seemed to work well - reducing hard feelings - and we’ve stayed friendly since.
Page hits for May - 40,192