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By Sheri Candler

Hello readers! We’re pleased to be back with a follow up to Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. In the interim since we published the book, we are so thrilled to have read about more and more filmmakers all over the world making proactive decisions about connecting with audiences and getting their work seen. We hope our book played at least a small role in that decision making!

This follow up book is intended to be ebook format only and will available for free from this website as a PDF. We are aiming to release the PDF just prior to the Festival de Cannes in May 2014. Our focus this time around is on productions that originate outside the US. As many of our lucky colleagues know, governmental funding plays a much bigger role in how films are made outside of the US, but those films aren’t going to be our focus either. In keeping with our commitment to highlight those who are making truly independent work, we will be looking at films made outside of any system. These works were self financed, crowdfunded and/or self distributed. As government funding is shrinking worldwide, but self financing and crowdfunded donation is on the rise as a means to bankroll production, we want to share with readers how forward thinking producers are leveraging the power of the internet to fund and distribute their work.

Papadopoulos and Sons

My first case study comes from the UK. It involves a narrative film, Papadopoulos and Sons, that succeeded in reaching a niche audience, despite not starting to connect with them until a few months prior to theatrical distribution. MANY filmmakers can identify with this dilemma! Writer/director Marcus Markou was not unlike the typical filmmaker who believed his main job was to tell a good story on film and a distributor would buy the film and bring it to market. But unlike his European counterparts, Markou self financed his film, so he wasn’t just going to sign over the rights without knowing what would happen financially.

“I had no idea about how the film business worked. I assumed it worked like any other business, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. It’s a den of snakes. There are LOTS of games being played. What I know now that I didn’t know then is they want your film for free. Really, there is no intention of paying you anything.

I was trying to work out how people get paid for making their films, and I finally worked out that no other business is funded this way. Our films [in the UK] are mainly funded by tax payers, from various film funds, or through film finance schemes that effectively help wealthy individuals and corporations reduce their taxation on profits by investing in a movie. This money isn’t really the production’s money. In meetings with sales agents, there was the assumption that I would sign a 20 year contract; the agency would take 40% of any sales as well as deductions for their costs. How would any independent film producer or investor in an independent production get their money back outside a tax scheme? Why does anyone sign these terms? Because it’s not their money at risk. Producers receive their fee, the director and everyone involved in making the film gets their fee, which comes from the people investing in the film to reduce their tax bills or from the taxpayer via film funds, so basically who cares if you give the film away for free to a sales agent? I quickly realized this wasn’t going to work for me at all, and I started scrambling around to try something new.”

Markou did finally sign with a sales agent, Maura Ford, who did not insist on the excessive terms on which her colleagues run their businesses. She took the film to the Marché du Film at Cannes to broker deals and she did close a few, but not for the UK. So Markou started his own investigation into how he could self release the film in his home country. His early discussions with Martin Myers of Miracle Communications had him pondering the value of that method.

“I talked with Martin and he said he could probably book it into some Showcase Cinemas all around the UK. And I said, ‘Where are these cinemas?’ He told me places like outside of Salford near Manchester and odd places. I asked what that would do. He said it helps get a DVD deal.  It is known as a service theatrical deal, that’s the phrase. You pay to have your film shown in the theater, no one comes to see it, but the film will get some reviews and that helps encourage interest in a DVD and VOD sale. I told him that this was not what I had in mind. But platforms like Netflix insist on a one week theatrical run before they will consider a film for distribution. You do it to get press and awareness for the film.”

When Myers came back to him with a potential for 10 screens through Cineworld, one of the biggest cinema chains in the UK, it came with a caveat. In order to convince  Cineworld to book the film, they wanted to see some proof that a sufficient marketing effort would be made to drive audiences to the screenings. That’s when Markou devised a marketing plan that would precisely outline how he intended to reach the core audience of his film, get their attention, and get them to the theater. With a small amount of additional funds, he managed not only to do that, but found Papadopoulos and Sons was among the highest per screen average films of its opening weekend and went on to have a 7 week cinema run!

Find out more about how he identified the audience of his film, how much he spent to reach them and what the outcome has been both financially and professionally when the latest edition is released.

 

 

 

Using Pinterest for your Film

Written by Sheri Candler, co author of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul

This post was originally published on February 21 on Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity’s blog and republished with additions on the Tribeca Future of Film blog February 27.

I know, collective groan “yet another social network to keep up with?” Seems like there is a new one born every minute and many of them fail to get off the ground. But here is why Pinterest might be a site you should consider using for your production.

-In just one month (December 2011-January 2012), Pinterest saw traffic increase over 155% and over the last 6 months, traffic increased by 4000%. As of this month, they had over 11 million unique visitors to the site and over 10 million registered users from all over the world.

-Statistics show Pinterest drives more referral traffic on the Web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn combined. The beauty of pinning photos/videos is they link back to websites, thus driving traffic. They are nofollow links, so it doesn’t help with SEO, but any link that drives traffic to a site is good for awareness and conversion.

-Mainly, the site now attracts women in the age range 25-44 who love fashion, home decorating and family related products. As it gains more of a following, this is bound to change. Still, if that is a target demographic for your film…

-Activities are based on images so rather than having to write a lot, you can simply post photo collections and they don’t even have to be your own photos! I think this is the highly attractive thing about Pinterest, in fact I am hearing about Pinterest addiction. Users typically spend 11 minutes on the site each visit. User scanning pictures is a lot more enjoyable than scanning status updates on Facebook clearly. Plus there is no EdgeRank to deal with. Once someone decides to follow your boards, they continually see new additions you make in their stream whenever they log in.

-The key for users doesn’t seem to be gaining followers, but gaining repins meaning they want to have people think what they pin is cool (or hot, or whatever). They strive to be INFLUENCERS and that is exactly the people you want to find and connect with. Because people can follow boards they find interesting, it is possible to have many more followers on your boards than you do on your account profile.

-It integrates with your other social accounts like Facebook and Twitter and hopefully Google Plus is coming. There are embed badge widgets you can install on your website to integrate all of your social channels. Word of caution, at the moment the site only connects to Facebook PROFILES not business or professional pages, so you probably shouldn’t opt to sign in with Facebook if you are using this for your film, just sign in with your email and don’t connect to Facebook. If you want to tie Pinterest to your Twitter account, make sure it is the one you use for your film and when G+ comes online, make sure you have signed up using a gmail account for the production, not for your personal gmail account. However, other users can sign in with their social accounts and things they pin show up in their Facebook or Twitter stream, very handy for word of mouth spread about you and your film.

There is a “scoreboard” of sorts showing how many boards and followers you have over all, as well as followers of only certain boards and repins of your pins. The site also allows you to glean from others what they are interested in. You can start to “listen” to what your potential audience thinks is interesting by viewing what they select to pin. You don’t follow people as much as you follow things, ideas, topics on Pinterest. You can repin something someone else has posted and this can open the door to a conversation. They can do the same with your pins and you are alerted via email when someone does this and it shows under that image on your board. This is an enormous help when you are trying to figure out what to post, what boards to create, what resonates most?  While Facebook is about people and brands, Pinterest is about things and interests. You can only post images or video and some comments and tags in text on your boards.

I only recently started using it for the Joffrey project I am working on which is why all of my boards are devoted to that. Looking at them gives a good idea on the kind of thing you could use it for on your production. In my workshop presentations, I talk about posting regularly on your social channels and not just information directly about your film, but also about the interests of your audience; those who would be a fan of your film and of yourself as an artist. I am using the boards to show Joffrey history through pictures and videos; the ballets they created, the ballets they revived, their alumni dancers, Robert Joffrey through the years as well as photos of the merchandise available to buy through our site. It’s a balance of audience interest and promotion for the film.

I noticed Ted Hope is using his boards to express his personal interests , things and people he admires and wants to draw more attention to, his artistic accomplishments and resources he uses that he thinks would be helpful to his connections. All of these things help in attracting an audience both to his films, but also to his professional life as a producer. His personal tastes are reflected in all of his boards and none are devoted to posting family vacations! The point being, we can get to know Ted as a professional person without his having to reveal too much private information.

Other artists in the indie film space currently starting to use Pinterest are writer/director James Gunn; transmedia educator/artist Christy Dena who uses her boards to showcase ideas about narrative, interactive and game design ideas she has discovered;  filmmaker Erik Proulx has created boards that show his advertising and design background and what he finds inspirational for this. You may remember his short film Lemonade about those who were laid off, particularly in the advertising industry, and found inspiration to reinvent their lives completely. I think Erik is kind of into these inspirational, motivational, life changing stories which is why he is making another film called Lemonade Detroit about a city that is reinventing itself. Filmmaker Gary King uses his boards to show his inspirations, showcase actors and actresses he loves and his career accomplishments. Film blog Film School Rejects uses their boards to keep readers updated on this year’s Oscar contenders, interesting movie posters their readers might like and films they are watching.

Pinterest is just getting started so don’t be alarmed that you have missed the boat. You still have first mover advantage here. You must join by invitation only, but those invitations aren’t difficult to obtain. You can request one on their site.

A word about self promotion

As with any social network, you should be using Pinterest to directly connect with audience on a personal level, not as a one way promotional channel. Use creative ways to showcase your personal identity and vision and use it as a magnet to attract those most interested in what you, as an artist, have to say. You will find your audience is much more willing to stay with you across projects when you are mindful of their interests.Sho us your style, the way you see the world, the way you tell a story, not just “buy my DVD.” Contribute something of value to the community, and they will keep coming back.

Populate your boards before you start trying to add followers. As with any new endeavor online, you need some interesting content first. You wouldn’t promote a website that only has a landing page that says coming soon, so start by thinking through what you want to say about yourself and your work, who are you trying to attract (this could be different types of audiences, which is fine), and analyzing visuals you can use from your own assets. Also, the account can have more than one contributor which is good for sharing the responsibility of board maintenance with your marketing team.

As with anything you do online, track referral traffic coming to your site via Pinterest. If you use Google Analytics, you can find out how to do this here

Pinterest is dead easy to get started on, but if you like tutorials, watch this video.

Pinterest jargon

A Pin-an image added to Pinterest by a registered user

A Pinner-someone who is a registered user of Pinterest

Pinning-the act of sharing an image on Pinterest

A Pinboard-a collection of pins usually categorized around a topic, interest or theme

Repin-sharing some else’s pin on one of your own boards

Pin It Button-a widget badge one can embed on their website to let others know about a Pinterest account. Also a bookmark shortcut one can add to a toolbar to easily pin something  seen online to one a board.

 


“If A Tree Falls In The Forest” and other ruminations on social/community-based marketing…

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid

The old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (http://bit.ly/aCx5Eq) has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at the Film Collaborative (www.thefilmcollaborative.org) can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it.  This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit.  Films rarely sell themselves.  You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

• Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz.

• If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.

• Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.

• Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.

• Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)

• Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large.

• Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and this companion blog already highlight a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

 

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman

Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

 

 

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film — mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc…, or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like (http://www.facebook.com/wewerehere). Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well!  Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche.  For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures).  He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville

Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Caan, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

 

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby (http://ginsberglibby.com/) and Moving Pictures (http://www.movingpicturesfilmandtv.com/) were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

1) Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film.

Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there.  For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

2) Offer your potential partners something back in return.

With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

3) Community-building is an organic, long-term process…

Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

4) Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience.

In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

5) You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc.

Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

6) You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this.

There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page, located at http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/resourceplace/. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements;  an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need.

It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

7) A final take home: You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

 

The Letter “D”. Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player.

The Letter “D”

D: Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player

I got educated more all about how it works, with owner Rob Millis who I finally met in person at IDFA in Amsterdam.  A fine gentleman indeed. I usually recommend a filmmaker work with at least two DIY options to give customers a choice and just to not have all one’s eggs in one proverb.

Rob explained why Dynamo serves its filmmakers well.  He noted its “designed with presentation and high quality” and that the “filmmaker’s brand is in front.”  It’s not just about the Dynamo brand. Dynamo can handle any of the popular video standards and offers viewers up to 1080HD quality, a clean crisp presentation and as many extras as one can pack in.  Hence it’s a good alternative to DVD, but with the instant gratification of an online rental.

A filmmaker once remarked that the issue with DIY is the “TRUST FACTOR”:

People don’t trust too many places with their credit cards and feel safer with big companies that have built a solid reputation.  Well at Dynamo, and some other DIY services, the payment method is secure.  Rob Millis explains: “The key is payment process and protecting information”.

Dynamo does not handle any payment information directly. They rely only on PAYPAL and AMAZON. Dynamo does not receive any of that confidential information so as not to risk anything going wrong.  They just confirm that one is approved rather than handling payment info.

What about GENRE?

What kind does Dynamo work with and which ones do well with the service:

Most of their success is with DOCUMENTARIES.

“They have the highest value and there are a lot of reasons for that,” noted Millis.  “Entertainment for its own sake is competitive and as soon as it’s online one is competing with mainstream studio product.  DOCS have a hook for those interested in the subject matter and hence people are willing to pay for it”.

“Dramas are harder to sell.  The marketing for them needs to be more powerful than that for docs.  Docs are also EVERGREEN.  Dramas die off as soon as the marketing stops and are very competitive.   There are hundreds of love stories but only one or a couple docs or at most a few about any given specific topic”.  Millis concluded “One can sustain sales for a doc”. However Dynamo still accepts all kinds of films.

In fact the first-ever film rented on Facebook was a Zombie film (“Stag Night of the Dead”) hosted by Dynamo that played on the page for $1.99 and then dropped to $0.99 as a special sale.

DYNAMO DIY RULES | DO’s & DON’TS:

“The most obvious rule is to be in touch with your audience, especially on Twitter & Facebook”.  Millis elaborated that in a more vague sense it’s best to put oneself in a viewer’s shoes. “Think of them as consumers…  Recognize that people have a million options.  Film needs to be well-presented and easy to consume, make it easy and possible for them to choose your film instead of all their other options”.  I also note this to filmmakers about theatrical releases and suggest they remember how many choices people have for how to spend their time and money.

Millis exclaimed the “BIGGEST MISTAKE FILMMAKERS make is believing that their film is beautiful enough to compel people to watch it just because the trailer reflects that to some extent.” A poorly designed website will not do!  ”Think about it as a product that is being sold and that you are competing for really valuable time when your audience has a million other really good options available”.

$$$ TALK:

Right now iTunes current releases are $6.99 RENTAL for 2 days New Releases for OLDER TITLES it goes down as low to $1.99 or $2.99. Millis thinks iTunes is pricing things correctly. The Dynamo mean average sale price for all sales is approximately  $4.00, including shorts and music videos, that amount to approximately 1% of all sales are below $1.99.

Millis told an anecdote that taught the moral of not making content seem too cheap. There’s so much for free online and people judge what is priced like a discount bin, hence the $0.99 rule, which is, most of the time, $0.99 makes your film look cheap!

PRICE RANGES:

$9.99 seems at the top of what works and sells well. Dramas do well $1.99 – $4.99 (“they see a strong drop off on either side of that,” Millis noted). Documentaries can be priced higher – he sees solid sales all the way up to $9.99The best range is $2.99 – $6.99 for most films, except for big films or those with a serious marketing team behind them.

Of course it’s always hard to predict what will work or not. For long tail, mid tail, smaller filmmakers the difference between sales of $5.00 and sales of $10,000 in a month is based on the work done with the audience and a good looking player. Great films with A-list talent sit idle all over the internet because nobody knows they exist, while independent titles that strike a chord with the audience can catch on fire overnight with just a little bit of communication and an appealing web page.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING:

The timing varies, as one would expect because strategies and distribution needs vary.  People sometimes do a first release with Dynamo and then stop to do theatrical and DVD and then start again, or others do it later on in the process and get on Dynamo only at the tail end of the sales. A film that has been heavily pirated can still do good business because the film looks good this way and one can add compelling extra features.

One can read about an example of this: UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US (see her Guest Post on Ted Hope’s blog).

What’s the MOST $$$ made for any one DIY film on Dynamo Player?

This information is regarding Independents, DIY only:

$20,000 per film MAX if it’s an independent and with small marketing team. It won’t be bigger unless you have serious marketing experience.  But Rob Millis encourages: “don’t give up even if you have no traction in beginning, you just may have not hit critical mass yet”.

“I can tell you that sales typically taper off slowly for documentaries, continuing at a rate of perhaps 10-20% of the original month.  If a doc did $10,000 in online rentals its first month, with some dedicated online promotion, then you might expect sales of $1,000-$2,000 per month several months later.

Dramatic features are a different animal, and you can expect major sales drops after promotion stops.  A lot of residual interest depends on star power and search results, but dramas get stale faster.

Regarding dollar values, I can’t really give a solid estimate in any way that wouldn’t be misleading.  No matter what number I give, every filmmaker then expects to reach that number.  My biggest hesitation is attributing an estimate to Dynamo specifically, which always makes people really excited or really disappointed about Dynamo.  In reality, it’s about the marketplace, and the online rental market can certainly support revenues of 7-figures for independent films. There really is no limit, practically speaking.

For instance, Louis C.K. just produced his own comedy special and did over a $1mm in sales using PayPal and direct downloads in about a week. He’s a well-known comedian, but this was a mid-budget shoot completely financed and marketed by Louis, totally independent. I certainly think his sales numbers would be at least as good if he had used Dynamo, but the success or failure would still lie mostly with his ability to convert the audience.

Beyond that we’re talking about differences of probably 10-50% between different platforms, depending on the customer experience.”

Dynamo is proud to note that its sales are growing overall, significantly.

To find out more about Dynamo email info@dynamoplayer.com or visit DynamoPlayer.com to see an introductory video and sign up.

TEN (10) TIPS FOR FILMMAKERS Presented @ IDFA (Amsterdam)

It was truly delightful being at IDFA. Great films, panels, parties, and I even worked in a quick museum visit. The city of Amsterdam is fantastic.
Here is a recap of some of the tips I presented to filmmakers at IDFA, and some examples. For you veteran producers/directors this may be gratuitous but others find these useful so here we go, and similar to the Four Agreements, reminding and repeating can only serve to reinforce:

1. BUDGET FOR MARKETING and DISTRIBUTION: Budget for Marketing & Distribution even if you think you want a sales agent and distributor(s). This money will still be useful and will also afford you the ability to execute DIY even if it’s a backup plan. I recommend at least 10%-20% of your budget, depending on how big it is. By having some money set aside you will be able to properly market your film at festivals and markets and also well-positioned to do DIY distribution should you want to.  Any investor or supporter should be happy to see this budget line item as part of your plan.

2. BUILD COMMUNITY | DEVELOP A LONG TERM CONNECTION WITH COMMUNITY AROUND YOUR FILM: Designate someone who is intimately connected with your film to be engaged in the work of building community around your film well in advance of the film being finished. Six months is not too long, in fact more is better. And doing the grassroots outreach and social network marketing around your film cannot just be you trying to sell your film. Rather, it must be authentic communications and participation in dialog and discussions that are relevant to the film. Sheri Candler and Jon Reiss also discuss this at length in our co-authored book which has good examples (Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul). Only a small percentage of your communications should be about your film in a sales oriented way, otherwise you will turn people off. If you continue to collect emails and continue to grow your community then you will have a bigger support system for your film at each stage of its release and of course for your next works. Several filmmakers in our book have done this very well.

3. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Know who your audience is. Sheri Candler suggests being super detailed about that, really specific. And as Jon Reiss also notes, be clear about how your audience consumes films. I always recommend one think about preceding films that have tapped into similar audiences and that you can relate your film to. This will help resolve what can work well or not and you can even hopefully access some of the contacts from another filmmaker. Some films for example are much more ripe for educational distribution, monetizing festival distribution, and also television sales. Other films may not be suitable for all three of these but just one but may also do better via transactional VOD and/or SVOD. Some films lend themselves to corporate sponsorship or under-writting (e.g. Revenge of the Electric Car which got Nissan to sponsor, after the film was made) whereas a small film about a specific local issue in a third world country may not be viable for such financial and marketing support. The key is to note that most films do not appeal to most people and that if you are trying to appeal to general audiences you better have tens of millions of dollars to do it, and if not, be specific, be niche, targeted, grassroots oriented about it and authentically clear about who you are speaking to so that you know how to speak to them and when and where. Some films demand to be owned while others do very little sell through business but rent very well and work on television well.

4. KNOW YOUR GOALS. People on a filmmaking team may have different goals but it is important to note yours and the hierarchy of them so you can plan accordingly. If changing the world is your top goal that will yield a specific strategy that may not completely coincide with making money, or it can, depending on your film. Hence all the above-points and this one go together. If changing the world and making money are equally important and your film is not one that will likely do a lot of sell-through business you may find all the more reason to monetize offering the film for free, whether via YouTube, SNAG, or underwriting free airings on PBS (in US) or Hulu (for example) but this way you will reach broader audiences, build awareness for your film and monetize it in other ways (via ad-support, sponsorship, increased transactional business because of the awareness, and maybe even a reverse window theatrical if your film proves its audience traction). But it’s very hard to resolve the best plan without being clear internally about the priority of your goals. (Please note one can also sell the film to PBS in the US).

5.DON’T SHY FROM A BUSINESS PLAN. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU DIRTY.  Having a business plan will help you know what you don’t know and help you plan ahead and be able to effectively market and distribute your film and achieve your goals. Plan ahead. It’s a must and does not make you dirty or any less creative, just more sustainable. You will fall behind and lose opportunities or make mistakes otherwise.  Digital distribution strategies vary per film and are quite individual so planning ahead will help make sure you execute the best plan for your film and know best how to respond to opportunities at markets and festivals that present themselves. Also, if you are comparing your film to others in order to resolve goals and a plan, make sure the other films are relevant either in terms of timing or scope. For example what happened in the 1990′s is really not a viable comparison today. Also remember if you are looking at THEATRICAL GROSSES, the distributor gets usually at most 50% of that revenue or even as little as 25 – 40% and there are expenses to get there, sometimes rather big ones depending on the release so your plan needs to be based on the real and complete set of information.

6. THE THREE Ms | CARVE UP RIGHTS | TIMING OF DIGITAL: The THREE (3) M’s are: MIDDLE MEN, MONEY, and MARKETING. Before giving rights to anyone you need to be clear if you are dealing with a Distributor, Aggregator or Platform. It is important to know that these are not the same, and yet, they are CONFLATE! SNAG is now for example both a PLATFORM and an AGGREGATOR. Some SALES AGENTS are now acting as AGGREGATORS or trying to. However the key is before giving rights to anyone, especially a sales agent or distributor, one wants to know how DIRECT the entity is with the places you want your film to be and at what terms. In the digital distribution realm, which is eclipsing DVD quickly, if you think of platforms as stores, you would want to be in all the good ones at the very least, and you will be better served being only once removed at most. Most good platforms are not direct with filmmakers so one middle man is usually unavoidable, but two really starts to be terrible for you financially. Also in terms of fees that an aggregator or distributor can take, 15% is a fee we approve of, and sometimes as much as 25% is acceptable but not more than that generally speaking. Platforms themselves usually take 30%-50% (but not all platforms have the same deal with all aggregators or distributors so you will also want to evaluate that). The other thing to analyze is what sort of marketing the entity taking your rights will do to earn their fee. The higher the fee the more they should be doing for you in terms of handling delivery and marketing.  An example, the Oscar shortlisted film We Were Here has seven (7) different companies involved in the North American distribution alone, and can sell off the websites(s) too. Always carve out the ability to sell off your site(s). If you are ever confused about this please feel free to contact us for advice.

7. AFFILIATE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ORGANIZATIONS, FESTIVALS & CORPORATE / MEDIA SPONSORSHIP: The sooner you identify the organizations, media or corporate sponsors that may want to be connected to your film and help you either via outreach or financial support or both, the better. And corporate sponsors especially need at least 6 months of lead time or even a year or more so better to approach early and guess what? YOU WILL NEED TO SHOW THEM YOUR DISTRIBUTION PLAN. With NGOs you can do a lot to both change the world and generate more revenue and we recommend giving them the incentive of an affiliate relationship (whether for theatrical, DVD, VOD or all of the above). Also festivals you’ve shown it can and should let their members / audiences know about your film when it comes out. An example from our book is Ride the Divide (a Jon Reiss case study). The filmmakers premiered the film on a small US television channel called Documentary Channel (which they sold to) and this was coordinated with the transactional digital on iTunes and they also debuted with a free screening period on YouTube which launched their partnership with non-profit organization Livestrong with which they have an affiliate relationship.

8. KEY ART: BIG & SMALL: First of all I want to remind people that sometimes it does serve a film to have two campaigns and that is not necessarily bad or confusing marketing. For example a film that is both speaking to a niche community but also wants to change the world and speak to a more general and mainstream community may have two different art works. But one has to try to integrate the two because of course brand recognition is key and the whole point of festival and theatrical distribution is to have a film be known in the public consciousness so keep that in mind when choosing publicity and marketing images. Also remember, your key art will have to work small so even if you are doing theatrical posters and want good art for that, you need to make sure your image(s) works as a thumbnail image on the web.

9. MANY WAYS TO DO THEATRICAL: In the US this topic has been covered quite a bit and we have several examples in the book. In Europe doing theatrical in a non-traditional manner is still under construction. However we are inspired by what Dogwoof does in terms of Pop Up Cinemas and a Dutch documentary mini showcase of sorts that Sean Farnel explained to me and which I have to research better (in fact I am probably even explaining it incorrectly here). But the key is for European festivals and organizations to help filmmakers with a solution that eliminates the need to accept theatrical defeat if one’s film is not bought by a traditional distributor or would be bought only via deleterious terms. This may also take the burden off of MEDIA needing to fund quite as much because after all, most films do not need to be on screen five (5) times a day seven (7) days a week to mostly very few people most times. But what they do need to is to engage with public audiences, get some key publicity and buzz. One new interesting company in the US that may inspire is a digital / virtual theatrical service company called CONSTELLATION www.constellation.tv  Another one is Emerging Pictures which is a service that networks theaters for event theatrical / hybrid theatrical. this is a cost-effective way to achieve the goals of theatrical without the burdensome expense. Of course if one is qualifying for an Oscar there are specific theatrical guidelines that are unavoidable but even that is more doable via the IDA, for example.

10. STAY CURRENT: Digital distribution changes weekly, at least monthly. Different ways of working windows changes so stay current, ask around, and always ask more than one person.

One last EXTRA TIP for the road: Don’t ever write your blog post in Word Press directly without constantly saving draft as I just did because then if it freeze, which mine did, you will have to start all over again!

Distribute in Peace,
- Orly

NEW WORLD DISTRIBUTION IN THE OLD WORLD

As DVD sales continue to crumble (allowing us to use less petroleum), VOD is growing (now in 65.7 million US homes — about 55.7% of TV homes, according to MagnaGlobal). Digital distribution revenues are starting to percolate and be more reliable. Worldwide revenue from video-on-demand movies and TV programs will reach $5.7 billion in 2016, up 58% from revenue of $3.6 billion in 2010, according to a new research report. The tally does not include pay-per-view sports events, adult entertainment or subscription-based VOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google, among others, according to London-based Direct TV Research Ltd.  It should be noted this is not all related to new film but rather making catalog or library content available digitally. According to the study, “Internet-based TV (IPTV) is projected to overtake digital terrestrial TV (DTT) in revenue next t year to become the third largest platform globally. Indeed, VOD revenue from DTT is expected to be largely confined to Western Europe” (http://www.homemediamagazine.com/vod/global-vod-revenue-climb-58-24580).

In South Korea of course we know almost all have Broadband and watch films digitally but the US digital distribution market has been slower to mature, though it is finally, and so how is new world distribution faring in the old world? I wanted to explore the digital distribution trends in Europe.

“The EU records the second highest TV viewing figures globally, produces more films than any other region in the world, and is home to more than five hundred online video-on-demand services” (European Commission “Green Paper” on the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union, 7/13/11).   It should be noted that this 500 number is more theoretical and that probably only 100 are worth talking about and half of those being the main revenue generators.  The EU funds new platforms but not all of them emerge successfully, much like our US government’s funding of alternative energy.

“A range of platforms offering transactional on-demand services span multiple territories e.g. E.g. Acetrax, Chello, Headweb, iTunes, Playstation Network Live, Voddler, Xbox Live.  These tend to continue the practice of addressing customers “in their own language”, and tailoring content to local preferences such as language, film classification, dubbing or subtitling requirements, advertising, holiday periods, and general consumer tastes.  This is consistent with the experience of producers and distributors whether large or small scale, who have indicated that although they license content on a multi-territorial basis where there is a business case to do so, targeted and local investments in distribution and marketing are nevertheless required in order to promote and sell films in each country” (IBID).  To read the paper in its entirety go to:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/consultations/docs/2011/audiovisual/green_paper_COM2011_427_en.pdf

On a side note: many European countries are used to having films dubbed not subtitled and there is apparently a new software that facilitates dubbing in the same voice as the actor / speaker.  I’m looking into it further.  In any case, subtitling for digital is getting less and less expensive and can be done via software or labs.  If one has played a film at a film festival in another country and then plan to distribute the film there I recommend you ask the fest for access to the subtitles (if cleared for other distribution).  Traditionally, Nordic, Benelux, and some others are fine with and prefer subtitles, while others (such as Germany, Spain, and Italy) require dubbing.  In the higher educated arthouse/filmfest world, one can often get away with just subtitled versions even in the dubbing countries.

At The Film Collaborative we have noticed that iTunes has just recently expanded its footprint into Europe and is now available in the following EU countries:

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Non-English stores include:

Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal.

NETFLIX, Amazon (via Lovefilm), and Hulu are expanding their EU footprint too.  In the US Hulu is ramping up its competitive edge with Netflix on the SVOD HuluPlus and these days it’s looking for more films that it can do stunts around.

So what are the other key EU platforms? Trends? And which kinds of films are viable?

I asked TFC Board of Advisor / EU digital distribution guru and TFC partner Wendy Bernfeld of Rights Stuff (www.Rights-Stuff.com) to weigh in.  Wendy noted that various international platforms are increasingly interested by now in licensing art house and festival films, not just mainstream, and that they also have room for niches.  (For an example, TFC received an offer for 300 EU from one small platform but sometimes the money is quite better, and/or is coupled with rev shares and small upfronts. The point is that the deals are non-exclusive and can ripple through various windows and regions.  Keep in mind some platforms are transactional (pay per view) and revenue sharing, others ad supported  (free to consumer) and others subscription (e.g. pay per month) and hence the license fee, just like TV, but smaller often though sometimes greater.  Wendy notes that whilst some earlier pioneer platforms have gone out of business, others are launching or strengthening, and diversifying into thematic genres instead of only mainstream.  Wendy cites that some of those non-USA platforms include Orange, Viasat, XIMON (for art house/festival/docs) in the Netherlands, Voddler (Nordic), Blinkbox (UK), mubi.com (EU), not to mention many telecom and cable VOD platforms that have online offerings of their own Wendy adds that “LOVEFILM in the UK (now owned by Amazon) usually only takes larger packages, not one-offs, if dealing direct with producers/ distributors, otherwise one can go through aggregators/digital distributors and sometimes one is pressed to have had a DVD or local theatrical release already, while in other case they are willing to premiere online or Day & Date.   Lesser-known or library (catalog) films can usually find a home on a non- exclusive and on ad-supported (AVOD) basis, but more current films usually start with transactional (TVOD) basis and/or subscription platforms (SVOD)…  Many of these platforms are willing to take delivery of art house films via DVD” or a hard drive or digital master (instead of requiring the expensive encoding/digitizing the way Apple does).

Wendy believes that 2012 will see more of the same consolidation that 2011 witnessed.  Also some key platforms (such as Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo, Endemol/AOL, Nokia, Canal+, Orange) are selectively commissioning Transmedia and/or branded film opportunities.  Ad- supported (AVOD) platforms such as YOUTUBE and subscription platforms such as Lovefilm in the UK (owned by Amazon) are adding premium transactional VOD (TVOD) in order to handle current films and not just library or PAY TV window titles, and some are competing against the premium PAY TV window and occasionally buying an SVOD window exclusively instead of nonexclusively, to beat out a PAY TV licensee (e.g. as with Netflix, Lovefilm recently, in some key indie deals).   More platforms are open to REVERSE WINDOWING (a trend growing and succeeding in the US, e.g. Melancholia), which is launching online first and then opening theatrical.

Interestingly, EPIX began licensing international festival documentaries in 2010 but have now focused their attention on co-productions instead of acquisitions.  As in the US, many traditional PAY TV platforms are going cross-platform and on multiple devices (a la “TV EVERYWHERE”, and similarly the nonlinear online channels are often seeking multiple device rights and/or at least have an App).  In terms of trends, it still seems like the bigger funds and bigger platforms are still more focused on more mainstream content.  Yet having said that, here’s a summary from Wendy on key platforms for Art House films:

For films not released theatrically Wendy cites among others, XIMON & MUBI (TFC is direct with them and they also often deal directly with filmmakers) and also notes there are the local equivalents of Fandor and IndieFlix in various regions.  Some PAY TV film channels have online offerings that explore more niche or arthouse material, even where the film is not on the main channel.  MUBI (www.Mubi.com) is co-owned by the rights holder to one of the most expansive libraries of art house cinema, Celluloid Dreams. MUBI is technically available everywhere, and is sometimes syndicated as a channel carried on a telecom platform (as in the case of its SVOD service on Belgacom in Belgium).  It is also on Sony Playstation, has (last time I checked) 60% of its audience in the US and most of the rest in Europe.  Wendy explains that for bigger indie titles and mainstream ones there are about 5-7 or so VOD outlets per country, usually in the form of television related, IPTV, Telecom/Cable companies, (as well as the online and/or mobile sites, and offerings that are being put together by OTT box and consumer electronics/connected TV manufacturers.)

For example in even the small country Holland (where Wendy, former Canadian, resides) there are: KPN, Tele2, SBS/Veamer, Ziggo, Upc/Chello/Film1, . Others in EU include e.g. Orange, Canal Plus, (France etc), Telenet, in Nordic, etc.), Telefonica, Viasat…  Most buy TVOD and sometimes SVOD and/or AVOD.  Some web-based sites for VOD, according to Wendy, include: Veamer (NL); Popcorn (just launching in UK),  Blinkbox and Lovefilm(UK); Voddler & Film2Home & Headweb  and Viasat nonlinear offerings (Nordic),. In Benelux, Cinemalink, Veamer  , Pathe (soon launching) , idfa.tv and Ximon (Netherlands); Maxdome (Germany); Sony-related Qriocity, Daily Motion & Orange (many countries in EU) , Movieeurope, Zatoo, and sales agent Wild Bunch has launched a platform service called FilmoTV.  And there are plenty more!

Wendy’s final and most important kernel of wisdom is this:  “It is really important to WINDOW (i.e. Transactional, Subscription, Advod, Sell Through) carefully and balance traditional with new media.  But also, windows can be in reverse for certain films, especially indies, i.e. producers can build (and engage with) the audience before the film is even out and perhaps premiere ONLINE first, (or day and date with another cross-promoted window), and then one can still end up in theatres. The key is to know the audience and try to tailor the marketing and distribution patterns accordingly…producers can be more active these days to heighten the chances of film success.

There are a lot of small markets and platforms and all this takes a lot of work but if one has built community around a film and awareness then the effort may pay off and add up to a nice revenue stream. Once the first deals are in place with platforms (deal structures, relationships, contacts, contracts) it’s easier to build on that and add new films to the deals with just short amendments or riders, so the effort at the front end makes years of future dealings run smoother.

My first interaction with Viewster was during its previous incarnation as DIVA.pro which seemed to function more like an aggregator.  Now Viewster serves that purpose in some ways but is also a platform.  In that way it’s similar to SNAG FILMS, (www.SnagFilms.com) which is now both a platform and an aggregator.  Kai Henniges of Viewster (www.Viewster.com) describes the company as follows: “today we are largely a consumer-facing cross platform VOD services, a content retailer.  Our focus is on a number of CEE markets where we see the opportunity to emerge as the leading one-stop-shop.  In parallel we supply movies to leading platforms in the UK, US, Germany (Netflix, Hulu, Virgin, Lovefilm).  In these heavily competitive markets we rather work with the leading retailers as an aggregator than position ourselves against them”.  Viewster has 18 manufacturer deals and estimate being on 50,000,000 devices now.  They are especially excited about their cross platform deal with Samsung.  Viewster works with local mini majors such as Kinowelt in Germany, Aurum in Spain and also sometimes individual filmmakers.  They have 160 content suppliers so far.  When I asked what sort of films Viewster seems as working best Kai noted “a mix of classics such as Death Proof, Crank, or local films such as Empty Nest work well and course Day & Date releases”.  Kai added the need for a good trailer and key art, ideally an inspired title (e.g. “Dirty Deeds did fantastic”), preferably a known actor.  “Without any of these attributes, films are likely to languish in VOD, the selection is even more harsh than in the old home entertainment business”.

TFC recommends picking a specialist in new media / digital distribution to handle these rights as opposed to letting a more traditional company handle them unless they prove to know what they are doing and offer you fair terms (we like the 15% commission and under model or flat fee).

Filmmakers, whatever you choose to do with respect to your digital distribution, do not forget, one can reach the whole wide world via one’s own website(s) and social networking pages by utilizing DIY digital distro services (for more on this topic please refer to numerous past blogs about digital distribution and DIY platforms and services. For past blogs about these topics go to www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/blog

REMEMBER: Films do not market themselves.  There is a proliferation of films (thousands per year, and hence an emerging glut and your film will die on the digital vine if you do not connect-the-dots and create your community around your film (a la Sheri Candler).  We had a lovely discussion about this at the Lone Star Film Festival.  Ted Hope was especially charming and humorous as he rolled off the staggering stats.  Anyway, even when there are better curation mechanisms on platforms or via services, marketing is king.

For those not into monetizing piracy (though we recommend trying it!) well, you can try to stay ahead of the pirate ad-supported sites (because that’s the latest trend in piracy and it’s huge, to the tune of tens of millions).  Key would be to 1. Watermark screeners or use private streaming service; 2.  Do some serious SEO work (Search Engine Optimization) and hopefully with some other technological assistance redirect traffic your way (as did Wendy’s former ADVOD client in the UK www.IndieMoviesOnline.com 3.   Release your film at the same time worldwide and in as many places as possible and for a reasonable fee that is competitive to free.  When we (The Film Collaborative) help filmmakers sell internationally we try for a UNIVERSAL STREET DATE. And per Wendy (and also in Sheri Candler’s case studies in our book www.SellingYourFilm.com), some filmmakers partner with Bit Torrent, Pirate Bay etc to launch their films online, tapping into the audiences already there (e.g. Nasty Old People, The Tunnel). And, a little something extra never hurts.

Bon Chance!

 

 

 

Highlighting 10 DIY Tools & Services You Should Know About

Since we are completely committed to providing you with information that will make your filmmaking lives easier, today’s post looks at tools. Many of these services are found in the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul with explanations as to how the filmmaking teams utilized them. Or they are ones that we reached out to for support of the book because we believe in what they’re doing.  For sure there are others to be covered in future posts.

 

1. AmplifierECOMMERCE TOOL-

This company powers the estore for Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues. She sells DVDs (both standard edition and artist signed edition), tshirts, necklaces, pins and soft toys. Amplifier is an ecommerce tool that allows you to sell custom merchandise directly to your fans, cutting out the retailer middlemen, by providing fulfillment and customer service. If you don’t have a warehouse and staff and equipment to store, pack and ship your merchandise and deal with any complaints (and I know you don’t), Amplifier takes orders from your site, stores your merch in their warehouse or fulfills just in time merchandise, ships it out and handles any customer problems seamlessly. They can also service custom orders (like give freebies to any order over $50 if you want to do that, or they can fulfill print on demand merchandise) all under one roof.

 

2. Believe LimitedMonetizing YouTube and Viral Videos

Adventures of Power utilized this service to help raise their Youtube profile. There is a whole section in the book written by Ryan Gielen about what Believe did for the film. The gist of their service is video marketing that helps a film reach the top spots on Youtube, Amazon, iTunes etc by spreading video content around, collecting large amounts of views, comments and subscribers (in the case of Youtube). They design branded channels and help craft video content that is compelling enough to spread and help seed it around the Internet to ensure that it spreads. According to their service sheet for a $50K campaign that runs 6 months, they recommend creating 20-25 pieces of video content that they can drive roughly 5-6 million views on Youtube. They start from the film’s target release date and work backward to help plan out the content release strategy that will ensure a continuous build up of interest and viewers. 

 

3.  ConneXtion – Fulfillment services of all Media

Jon Reiss recommended them to handle fulfillment for our book and he has been happy with them as is Topspin which considers them a preferred vendor.  The ConneXtion was founded in 1997 and has been running the direct2fan (d2f) business for artists, labels, authors, filmmakers, comedians, nonprofits ever since.  They’ve worked with films such as The Yes Men.  They handle fulfillment and manufacturing for DVDs, CDs, Merch, books both on digital and brick and mortar side.  COSTS are: OFFICIAL D2F STORE: $200 setup fee & 80% paid on all physical items and digital albums sold direct2fan. DISTRIBUTION to DIGITAL RETAIL: No setup fee; 85% paid on each dollar from retail. ConneXtion’s services are: DISTRIBUTION -D2F:  physical and digital cds/merch/etc sold via an estore; DIGITAL to RETAIL (ie iTunes, Amazon, Emusic/400+ others); PHYSICAL to RETAIL (ie. brick and mortar stores); DISTRIBUTION of PHYSICAL items via AMAZON, eList/Newsletter Management (coming Fall 2011), Tix, Licensing, and Clearance of Cover Songs,  and eMarketing.

 

4. Dynamo Player Direct to Fan Distribution Tool

Filmakers use Dynamo Player by embedding the video viewer on their own website and by having a film’s fans embed it on their websites or blogs for a rental period of the filmmaker’s choosing. Prices are set by the filmmaker, payment is immediate via Paypal and a monthly statement is sent letting one know how many streams were sold, geographic information, and where the traffic originated. Dynamo is non-exclusive and enables any filmmaker to immediately upload their film, set a price, publish the film on their own site and elsewhere with no up-front costs or monthly fees. Filmmakers receive 70% of every transaction, every time, with no hidden costs, no matter what features they use and they get paid immediately by every viewer, no matter where they watch the film. They can include a free trailer, supplemental videos, multiple language versions and other bonus material at no additional cost. Viewers pay easily with PayPal, Amazon or credit card in just a couple of clicks. A single-click auto-debit option is coming soon as well. Payments are made to the rights holder by PayPal or Amazon, on-demand, at any time. Some filmmakers get paid every week if they want and we are happy to write checks for high volume publishers. Dynamo accepts all currencies and works in any country.  Dynamo provide sales numbers and a range of related data by day, week, month or by a custom range of dates. Sales statistics are immediately available, so there is never a need to wait for a monthly report to see your sales performance, but a formal downloadable or printable monthly report will be available in July. Filmmakers can also see statistics for trailer views, player interaction, payment follow-through and more, so they can gain insight into viewer behavior and tweak the presentation of their film to boost sales.  Filmmakers can control access by DVD Region, continent or country with a simple set of checkboxes. Dynamo enables geo-blocking at no cost because we consider it absolutely necessary for independent filmmakers to have this option while shopping their films in different markets. Dynamo often includes films in public announcements, blog posts, tweets and other marketing efforts. Dynamo filmmakers have been featured in stories on IndieWire, GigaOm and other media sites, and have earned new sales when their films have been embedded within the articles.

5. EggUp - DIY Distribution Platform / Tool

EggUp is a publishing platform for filmmakers and film distributors. They note that they “help filmmakers and distributors rent and sell their films online while preventing piracy”. Their free online publishing tools can help one distribute and sell film or video which is all packaged and encrypted into a file called the “Egg”. The Egg is made available for download and allows consumers to watch and share with friends and family virally while filmmakers are able to make money. With EggUp gets a website to promote their film together with an integrated pay per view solution. They also list your films in our film catalog called GoEggit. One can distribute the Egg on a website, and other online retailers with your very own buy now button without setup fees and inventory.  They are Worldwide and can Geo Filter as needed.  Again the key is marketing one’s film; they can’t do it for you.

For pricing and fees etc go to:

http://www.eggup.com/how_it_works/transactionfees

http://www.eggup.com/pricing

6. DISTRIFY- DIY Distribution Toolset

One can use Distrify to sell a film anywhere on the web and via social media platforms by embedding their widget. Ideally one gets one’s fans to embed the widget on forums, blogs, websites, etc.. If your trailer and film are on Distrify, when you share the clip, you’re also sharing the store to buy the film or find out about upcoming screenings. When your audience shares it further, you’re always spreading the point-of-sale along the way. Anyone who shares it gets paid a share of sales they generate. One does not have to start selling through Distrify right away – one can use it to promote screenings and events through the trailer interface. If the film’s not available in the user’s area, they can make their interest known directly through the player as well. Distrify compiles the statistics for filmmakers and give them the mailing list data – all part of their service. Any new screenings you add are also automatically listed in all the players that have been embedded around the web. And when one wants to start selling the film, one can add it as well. There are no up-front charges, fully non-exclusive, and they don’t need any rights.  They take a 30% transaction fee on sales and split the 5% affiliate revenue with the filmmaker. Distrify worked with Adventures of Power and is also working with Lionsgate in the UK, for example.  Excerpt from the book regarding Adventures of Power: “In terms of the player/purchase options, Ari noticed a huge emerging fan base in Mexico that he speaks of in his interview. He realized 50% of his 100,000 Facebook fans were in Mexico. Distrify added Spanish closed captions as well as English and they introduced streaming as an option in Mexico. They’ve been told that several companies prevent streaming in Mexico, and they added the Mexican Peso as a currency that people can sell with.” The Adventures of Power team was especially impressed with the Facebook tab – which will soon have customizable art, html linkage, and of course, the Distrify player widget.  It’s easy to add (embed) the widget – so not only is it easy to get on the film’s website and blog, etc. but it is easy for affiliates to embed as well. NOTE: The key will be to have consumers be comfortable with buying films this way and via DIY services in general and that should get easier and easier with time. And of course marketing and publicity are up to the filmmaker’s team as usual.

7. LBi- ePR and Internet/Viral Marketing Services

Case study Adventures of Power utilized LBi for their ePR services paid for by their distributor Phase4. LBi focused on media placement for trailers and news stories on a large array of film and entertainment websites. LBi provides a multitude of services, including social media maintenance, but AoP did not find their “voice” authentic for the film’s social media sites and instead funneled the firm’s work into utilizing relationships with website editors and bloggers to secure unpaid editorial features for the film, a useful service since filmmakers typically do not have these relationships.

8. Prescreen -Streaming PLATFORM

Prescreen is a new platform that curates films and distributes them via a daily email to an opt-in audience.  Their list is presently approximately 40,000 and growing daily. It is free to sign up to receive the Prescreen daily email. One has the opportunity to ‘rent’ the movie to stream. Each movie they feature lives on Prescreen for 60 days (and this is an exclusive period in terms of digital distribution). On Day 1, the movie costs $4 and one will have up to 60 days to view the film; while on Days 2 – 60, the movie costs $8 and one has 60 – (x days) to complete the film. Though a moviegoer has up to 60 days to complete the film, ‘renting’ on Prescreen is similar to that of any other the other mainstream steaming services offering 48 hours to complete the film once one starts the stream.  TFC worked with Prescreen for its first film during the Beta phase, HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY, and the numbers of transactions are as follows:  As of 10/18/2011 (when this was drafted) the movie will still be available on Prescreen for another 27 days, so the numbers will probably change. 19 sold during Private Beta; 46 sold on Day 1; 18 sold after Day 1 (21% of total sales have come after Day 1).  Prescreen noted: “This 21% is consistent with the breakout we’re seeing for other movies as well. Across the site we’ve seen about 22% of purchases come after Day 1.” RE: The 60 Days and WINDOWS (I quote Shawn Bercuson Founder & CEO): “Individual filmmakers typically view Prescreen as a marketing and distribution outlet while bigger libraries and producers tend to see prescreen as a promotional tool given the finite amount time a movie lives on Prescreen (60 days)… We built Prescreen as a way for content owners to gain more visibility into their target market and transparency about their core audience. At scale, we believe Prescreen is most powerful when used as a promotional tool along side other distribution windows in other mediums (theatrical, DVD, etc). By doing so, a content owner is able to leverage existing marketing dollars from other windows and capture (and capitalize) on the audience however way they want to consume online. Once the content owner understands his/her audience, they can market within the digital medium much more efficiently and cost effectively. “

9. SonicbidsPAIRING BANDS TO BRANDS

Sonicbids is an online matchmaker between bands looking for gigs and promoters and brands who need music. According to their website, their mission is to help create and empower an Artistic Middle Class through the use of innovative technology. The site helps fashion an EPK for bands who are looking for bookings, either live or in partnership with brands (your film is a brand) so that they may be found by promoters or marketing people. They also allow bands to search people looking for talent for international music festivals, clubs, songwriting contests, radio, licensing and more and vice versa. This how Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion found music for their film Ride the Divide‘s soundtrack.

Excerpt:

“In the case of Ride the Divide, they specifically targeted bands that lived in one of their niche communities. They used a source for music called SonicBids.com, where musicians offer their music for use in films, events and concerts. Half of the musicians in RTD came from Sonicbids and they specifically searched for musicians from the states along the Rocky Mountains.”

10. VODOPeer-to-Peer (P2P) Monetized File Sharing

Case study Pioneer One has been releasing their episodes on VODO since day one. To date, their series has been downloaded over 3.2 million times and raised almost $80,000 for the production costs through fan donations.

According to their website, VODO was launched in late 2009 to help creators promote and distribute their independent films, music and books using Peer to Peer technology [some call them pirate sites]. VODO believes there is immense untapped potential for independent creators in P2P distribution and that the new model of networked, free-to-share, peer-powered distribution will soon present better opportunities for creators than the old scarcity-powered models (theaters, DVD, etc.). Each month they release and promote one free-to-share film, in conjunction with their distribution partner BitTorrent and viewers are encouraged to donate funds to the productions they view. Pioneer One raised $30,000 in its first eight weeks using VODO. The Yes Men Fix The World raised over $25,000 in its first month using VODO.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Both Prescreen and Dynamo player sponsored our book but we pursued them because we believe they provide a good service to films and filmmakers and are great solutions.

 

Theatrical screenings

While it is still the hope of every filmmaker we know that their film will be seen on the big screen, very often they do not have a clear idea of the work and money involved in making this happen. They also do not have an idea of the kind of revenue (or lack thereof) these screenings will generate. There are a few passages in the book that address this topic and the many ways filmmakers are screening their films.

This first piece is from Ben Niles, director of Note by Note. After Ben had taken the film back from his sales agent, he set about looking for a theatrical distributor.

I was trying to find an indie distributor and I was getting pretty frustrated because these people that I was told were indie distributors still wanted me to spend $50,000 to$75,000. They wanted me to get a 35mm print; they wanted a ton of money for P and A, and I said, ‘I guess I’m missing it, because that’s not indie to me.’

Ben met with Jim Brown from Argot Pictures and they agreed on a monthly fee for Jim to book the film theatrically. The successful Film Forum screening was crucial, because theaters across the US look to NY box office figures to see what might be good to book locally.

Jim and I worked out a guaranteed three-month deal to see if he could get any traction for the film, and then we would step back and renegotiate if everybody was happy. Well, we renegotiated like within six weeks. The phone wasringing off the hook.

Within the first year, they had 50 theatrical and 20 alternative theatrical dates grossing $100,000.

Since the New York theatrical was done at Film Forum, who provided the publicist, Ben was able to keep the costs of the theatrical release very low. He spent a total of $4,500 on publicists in LA, SF and Chicago, which Ben thought was very effective and a wise spend. He also spent $3,000 on print ads, (which Ben considered a waste of money [but is often required by the theaters]), and $500 on dubs.

Case study The Best and the Brightest had an interesting theatrical release partly through Emerging Pictures.  Jon Reiss explains Emerging’s model

Emerging Pictures has a relationshipwith about 100 theaters nationwide, in which they can deliver a digital “print/file” for no cost. In other words, they have eliminated all print costs (even BluRay) and created a network of theaters that are connected to audiences. In addition, if you have a live event after your screening, Emerging can net-cast this to any of their member theaters. All this costs is $1000 encoding fee and 70% of the box office; the filmmaker keeps the other 30%.

Here is more about Best’s theatrical screenings:

“New Video [the film's DVD distributor] and Weiser [the film's producer] engaged Marian Koltai-Levine of PMK to create a theatrical release for the film in New York and Los Angeles (Miami also came on board as part of Baldwin’s sneak previews) for a fee of $50,000. New Video put up 50% of this fee,which included around $20,000 for print ads. The 50K also included the four-wall fees for the theaters in NY and Los Angeles. It made sense for Best to spend this money because they had stars in the film. Hence, they would get reviews as well as other forms of national press, such as Neil Patrick Harris on Conan O’Brien, Amy Sedaris on Letterman and John Hodgman on The Daily Show, among others. Total gross for opening weekend—$4,771—hence the per screen average for NY/LA: $2,385.50. Weiser told us, ‘There was no expectation of making our money back from the theatrical itself, but we hope it will all impact the bottom line DVD/VOD/digital sales.’ Koltai-Levine was also able to get Emerging Pictures on board to continue the theatrical into about 30 to 40 additional cities.”

The chapter on Adventures of Power demonstrates the work, expense and risk of theatrical screenings.

“Ari hired Dylan Marchetti’s company Variance Films to do the theatrical release and he worked with Range Life on the event/semi-theatrical.

Did you do traditional theatrical, and if so, how much time did you spend to set it up?

Ari: I spent about four months setting it up.

How much did you spend on the theatrical?

Ari: $150,000. [he thinks that $20,000 went to prints.]

How long was the theatrical run?

Ari: About six weeks.

How many cities were full-week runs?

Ari: Eight.

In how many cities did you have alternative theatrical screenings?

Ari: 15.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed just $17, 419. Ari still feels like it helped by generating publicity and awareness for the film for the ancillaries.

How much did you spend to book your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $1,500.

How much did you gross on your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $800.

To read more in depth about how each case booked their screenings, worked to promote them and how they felt about the service providers they hired to work with, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul.

Our Los Angeles book launch party is tomorrow night at the Young Library at UCLA. If you plan to attend, please RSVP. There will be printed books for sale autographed by the authors as well as food and drink.

As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

 

The Porno Clause and Other Legal Tips Filmmakers May Not Know, But Will Wish They Had

Legal counsel, Cherie Song, wrote this post originally for indieWire and we thought it was so good (especially the title!), we’ll repost it here.

Full disclosure: There’s no end to the legal rigamarole that accompanies any film’s distribution and this article will not make it any shorter. However, the only thing that’s worse than paying legal fees is wishing that you had. So with that in mind, here are four items that could be overlooked on your legal checklist and absolutely should not be.

The Porno Clause
Otherwise known as section 2257 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, this is the law that was enacted not long after the Traci Lords scandal in 1986, which very nearly took down the adult industry altogether. And while odds are none of your actors actually have sex on camera, your film might contain a simulated sex scene. And if it does, you may be subject to the record keeping and labeling requirements of Section 2257A.

Section 2257A is an extension of the enforcement guidelines for the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988. In short, that law requires producers of visual depictions of actual sexually explicit conduct to 1) maintain records to ensure that actors are not minors and 2) to label materials containing such depictions with the location of the records. In 2006, it was broadened to include depictions of simulated sexually explicit conduct with the addition of Section 2257A. Either way, failure to comply is a criminal offense.

There’s an exception if you’ve filed what’s called a “safe harbor” exemption letter with the U.S. Attorney General certifying, among other things, that you collect and maintain IDs of all performers.  As “secondary producers,” distributors also may be required to maintain records that identify the filmmaker for any depiction and that verify the filmmaker checked the legal age of performers prior to the date of original production, so a growing number of distributors are requiring safe harbor letters from filmmakers to minimize liability.

The Out Clause
You’re sick and tired of waiting for the company to live up to its promises. You’ve had it and want out. Where do you go from here?

In the context of a distribution deal, you want your contract to contain a clearly written default/termination provision that allows you an “out” if the distributor fails to do something material—say, pay you overages or send you statements. In addition, you should have an “out” if the distributor files for bankruptcy or assigns the contract to an unaffiliated third party who may or may not be able to live up to the promises made by the original distributor.

Make sure your rights automatically revert to you upon termination, subject to any presold territories. Then you can take your film and try to monetize it in any unsold territories. That’s not an easy task, but it’s better than the alternative of being stuck in a bad relationship.

The Trigger Clause
If you’re getting a minimum guarantee (usually paid out in installments), your contract should contain clearly defined triggering events for payments and a time period within which they should be made. If distributor fails to pay the full minimum guarantee within a certain time period, you should have the right to terminate the agreement, get any materials in distributor’s possession returned to you and all rights granted to the distributor should revert to you so you can take your film elsewhere.

The Clause Clause
Otherwise known as defining your terms. Oddly enough, it’s normal (as in ordinary) for distribution contracts to contain terms that are undefined or defined only “in accordance with industry standards.” Some filmmakers prefer Independent Film and Television Alliance definitions because they’re believed to be more “fair” than those contained in some distributors’ contracts.

In a way, it doesn’t matter what your preference is—only that you have one. Identifying terms that demand definition, and understanding them to your satisfaction, can make the difference between legal protection and giving your rights away.

For example (and this is only one of many), if you want to stream your film on your website or social networking pages, make sure the definition of “Digital Rights” in your contract excludes this right. A reservation clause might read: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained herein, Licensor shall retain the right to [list reserved rights].” In all cases, you should have a qualified distribution attorney review the contract to make sure it reflects the deal you made.

Cherie Y. Song is an entertainment attorney and legal counsel for The Film Collaborative.

Our Los Angeles book launch takes place at the Young Library at UCLA this Friday October 28. If you plan to attend, please RSVP. There will be printed books for sale autographed by the authors as well as food and drink.

As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

MICRO-ANALYSIS: Looking at the Micro-Budget feature in the contemporary distribution landscape

By Jeffrey Winter

At some point in our formative childhood years, we learn that “progress” is the process of getting “bigger and better.” We come to understand that $100 dollar in 1900 is roughly the equivalent of $2,680 today (http://bit.ly/aeZM3U). What we used to call a millionaire we now reserve for billionaires. We assume that the passage of time means things get easier, more rational, and yes, “better” overall.

As adults we learn that “progress” is not nearly as simple as all that. In fact, — we backslide, we re-invent, we encounter new technologies that change everything. When I first got into this business full-time, a $1 million movie was considered a throwaway, what we flippantly termed  “straight to video” or a network “movie-of-the-week.” Yet for the most part, those films did very well financially, and were the cornerstone of a rich, powerful, and largely insular and undemocratic Hollywood.

Now that time seems like a distant dream (or nightmare, depending on your perspective). Nowadays, if your average indie filmmaker says they spent $1 million on their film, people look at them like they are utterly decadent and out-of-touch (unless they have movie stars in their film).  There are numerous factors that have contributed to this of course, including… 1) the democratization of digital filmmaking technology and the explosion in the number of independent films being made as a result; 2) the radical fracturing of the film consumption habits of the public given their thousands of channels and ubiquitous access to on-demand content; and 3) the crash of 2008 and the predominantly backsliding global (especially US and European) economy that offers us no reason to think that things will get any better any time soon.

And so, we have entered the era of the Micro-Budget film, which Microfilmmaker Magazine defines as a “less than a 30,000 budget,” and which they claim amounts to 80 – 90% of all independent films today (http://bit.ly/o1oD5h). For the purposes of framing this discussion, I am going to be a bit more generous as to what we can call “Micro-Budget” ….I’ll go to approximately $100,000 for sake of argument. (Note: prior to 2008, I was preaching to filmmakers that $250,000 was still micro-budget, but my how things have changed).

Why $100,000 today you ask? Because at $100,000 or less, one can easily wrap one’s brain around how a no-stars indie film can achieve financial recoupment by simply plumbing the basic mechanics of contemporary film distribution, from film festivals straight through to digital distribution and all the steps in-between. Therefore, it falls more in line with the model we previously called “straight-to-video,” (i.e. not requiring profits from theatrical distribution), albeit much more complicated and work-intensive than it used to be.

This model of the contemporary Micro-Budget film doesn’t necessarily require a big Sundance premiere or major sales miracle, but I am not making the claim that it is therefore easy by any means. First of all, it generally requires that the film be good if not great, which certainly wasn’t the case in the straight-to-video era (when so much less product was available than it is today, such that mediocre and even god-awful content was still most of what was available to us as a film-viewing public). In addition, today’s marketplace requires incredible dedication, marketing savvy, and brute hard work to get the film available, noticed, marketed, and consumed….which filmmakers can either choose to do themselves, or find like-minded partners, consultants, and platforms to help them achieve their goals.

As the technology has evolved, today’s filmmaker are no longer constrained by “gatekeeper” companies in their ability to get their films available for public consumption… there are endless number of good ways now to get your film available to millions to be seen. Now the challenge is to let people know that your film actually exists, to find an audience you can connect to, and to monetize that connection.

As a mini-case study of this phenomenon, I’ll refer here to a micro-budget film that we, The Film Collaborative, shepherded to marketplace in 2010 called THE OWLS, directed by Cheryl Dunye (OWLS in this case is an acronym for “Older, Wiser, Lesbians”). The film, produced for under $25,000, achieved a significant film festival world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival, as part of the Panorama section.

As a lesbian-themed feature with major festival pedigree, it attracted significant attention from gay & lesbian film festivals all around the world…nearly all of whom paid screening fees to show the film. While there were no “movie stars” per se…it featured a cast that was very well known in lesbian communities all over the world. It sold to small queer distribution companies in all major territories, and achieved favorable DVD and digital distribution arrangements in the U.S.

And voilà, the math added up and the budget was easily recouped through the basic steps of niche, micro-budget distribution.

This is the blueprint of the contemporary micro-budget feature, although of course it isn’t always as easy to identify your core audience. Most of you will have to work harder at doing so….but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doable for many. The key factor here is to “know your audience,” and to remember that in a fractured distribution audience, in fact, “niche is king.”

I’ll close here by saying that one of the core mistakes of micro-budget features today is to think that by finishing a film for a remarkably low production budget means you are “safe” because they money will inevitably flow back to you. That is utter folly. First of all, and most importantly, your film will need to be good. Long since gone are the days that a mediocre film will attract an audience already glutted by available content.

Even more critically, you’ll need to find ways – both creative and financial – for alerting people to the fact that your film exists and that it demands to be seen. In a standard Hollywood studio model, there now exists at least a one-to-one model for matching marketing dollars to budget dollars….meaning that is entirely understood that a $100 million studio flick will require a minimum of $100 million dollars in P&A to market it. And yet this concept is entirely overlooked in the indie space…. I have yet to hear of an indie filmmaker who made a $50,000 film and also spent $50,000 to market and promote it. Imagine all the facebook ads, social media consultants and interns, marketing promotions, grassroots organizations, special event screenings, reviews and blogosphere promotions you could generate if you actually spent as much money on your distribution and marketing as you did on the production of your film.

I realize that most of us are still a long way away from being able to budget the marketing of our films into the actual production process…I realize that most of us can’t set $50,000 aside for our $50,000 micro-budget films. But I would argue that ultimately we will have no choice,  as marketing emerges as king above all other factors. If the means of distribution will democratize, then only the most savvy of marketers will survive.