A few weeks ago, Nate Westheimer was sitting at a table outside a Chelsea cafe with bleary eyes and his brown hair sticking out in five different directions toward the sunny sky. He looked like he could use a beer. But it was only 10 a.m., so he ordered granola over milk.
“Last week, I got dumped on the Lower East Side,” he told The Observer. Mr. Westheimer, the 26-year-old head organizer of the NY Tech Meetup, had just ended his term as an entrepreneur in residence at Rose Tech Ventures. He fiddled with his iPhone, and said he wanted to create a mobile application designed for wallowing—one that could queue up classic New York–based breakup scenes from movies like Annie Hall and Kramer vs. Kramer. “I was like, I really want to see all the scenes about heartbreak that happen on like the Lower East Side,” he said. “People do that all the time, right? They do see a sad movie when they’re sad. Movies are about life.”
Mr. Westheimer was explaining to The Observer why he had decided to return to the start-up game as vice president of product at AnyClip, an Israeli-based tech company that is planning to battle YouTube and other piracy sites in the free-media market by creating a competitive, legal database of movie clips for application developers. Only this one might cost ’em: AnyClip is hoping they can become a kind of iTunes for film scenes.
Of course, YouTube has some legal movie clips after signing contracts with various studios, who generate revenue through advertising. The more people who view the videos, the more cash the studios get. Hulu has the same approach. But Mr. Westheimer’s company has a different one, with both free and paid subscription options to get quality, developer-friendly content.
“You can’t build an application off of things on YouTube because there’s no standards. It’s Napster 2001—everything’s shit on there,” he said.
ANYCLIP WAS FOUNDED two and a half years ago by Erel Margalit and Illi Edry, two of the top venture capitalists and partners at Israel-based Jerusalem Venture Partners, and Mickey Schulhof, the former chief executive of Sony Corp., who resigned in 1995 and is currently chairman of New York–based investment firm GTI Group. Back then, the project was called MyHollywood; Mr. Margalit and Mr. Schulhof signed contract deals with Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros. to build an instant messenger add-on called PopTok, which inserted legal snippets of quotable movies directly into chat windows. Instead of typing in a winking emoticon, users could submit a clip of Mike Myers as Austin Powers, slurring, “Do I make you horny, baby?”
Mr. Westheimer, along with the rest of the AnyClip team, plans to build a bigger database so developers will be able to create more cool applications, like his own hypothetical, location-based, breakup-movie-clip montage. Or Casting Couch, the Facebook application that AnyClip released last week. With Casting Couch, users can find a scene from a movie and label their friends as characters. Tag your geeky single buddy as Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin on his first date or label your prudish friend as Molly Ringwald’s Claire in The Breakfast Club.
And users sick of YouTube’s inconsistency and quality-of-content issues will be able to browse AnyClip’s high-quality movie scenes and post them on their blogs and Twitter feeds for free, without the risk of the video disappearing because of a take-down notice.
For example, Mr. Westheimer has never seen ’90s stoner classic Wayne’s World. “I know, right?” he said. “But when I do, I certainly plan on blogging about it or Twittering about it. And when I do, I want to be able to see how my view of it might be different now compared to other people when they first saw it.”
Mr. Westheimer said he plans on building a detailed metrics log that will track who uses the videos and on which platforms and in what context—so users can see how the clips are helping others explain their world. He explained: “How is this scene relevant in society? How are all these scenes relevant socially? How is the universe of movies affecting the world right now? How many people now reference Pirates of the Caribbean because of this Somali pirates situation? There’s something we can do here on the aggregate, showing how movies affect society and society affects movies.”
MR. WESTHEIMER SAID one of the reasons he joined AnyClip, despite having several offers from New York–based companies, was because of the challenge of monetizing media. Those moviemakers, from the big-time studios to the independent filmmakers, need to be compensated for making that “epic stuff,” he said. “I believe in the flattening of media,” he told The Observer. “I do not rejoice when a newspaper goes out of business but … I am an Internet person. At the same time, there needs to be a future, a revenue future, for people making cultural artifacts which make people’s lives better.”
Mr. Schulhof, the former Sony executive, told The Observer that, from the beginning, his company approached the studios from the front door instead of the back. In March, he hired Aaron Cohen, former chief executive of MenuPages and director of the independent-film-in-the-works about Jewish guys with his same name, to “restart” the company (there are three Aaron Cohens working at the company, by the way).
“I did not want to run a business that would be solely dependent on advertising for its revenue,” Mr. Cohen wrote in a post on his personal blog. “This ad-only business model did not excite me and, candidly, felt a bit soulless. At the same time, I needed to be close to the consumer. I love people and I love to design products/services or places that make them happy.”
So, merging his love of movies and the Internet, Mr. Cohen, 42, joined the company in late March as chief executive with plans to make every movie ever made available for legal use and to help studios create revenue in what he calls the YouTube-dominated “clip economy.”
“The challenge of the movie industry is that they get zero,” he told The Observer. “They have no control and they make no money. So what Nate and I are seeking to do, along with our other colleagues, is to build a service where application developers can take advantage of a gigantic, comprehensive database and build cool applications for it.”
“But the hassle of getting a legal, comprehensive, license-able clip database is essentially like putting people on the moon,” he admitted. “It’s really, really hard.”
Mr. Westheimer was wooed into the challenge during the last few months by Mr. Cohen over coffee at Roasting Plant on Greenwich Avenue or Comfort Diner on West 23rd Street.
“It’s going to be about convincing them about the future of the Web and what that means for them—it’s a different paradigm than they’ve been living in,” Mr. Westheimer said. “We have the consumer and we have to go back to Hollywood, we say, ‘Without them, we’re nothing, and you’re nothing, so this is why you sort of have to come along with us. Your content has to make sense for users.’ The hardest challenge is balancing those two things, having two customers and making both sides happy.”
But that will come with more contract deals, according to Mr. Cohen, who has been meeting with Hollywood executives and will be making frequent trips out to California to continue the conversations. Mr. Westheimer has been flying back and forth from Israel, preparing to restructure his team, and building an AnyClip location in New York, which currently has six staffers and sits between the Out magazine office and a movie production office. “It’s nice to be surrounded by creatives,” he said. He plans on hiring a slew of interns this summer to start picking out great scenes in movies and burning them into the AnyClip database.
“I love uncertainty and the seriousness of this,” Mr. Westheimer said, finishing up his granola at the Chelsea cafe. He has been on red-eye flights back and forth from Israel for the past month, but he bears a boyish grin when he talks about AnyClip. “The VC thing was fun and [I was] really, really appreciative of the opportunity, but, even David Rose [Rose Tech Ventures’ founder] said the first day he offered me my job, he said, ‘You’re not a VC, you’re a start-up guy,’ and it’s true. I’m so much happier now being in a start-up. I love not wanting to go home.”
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