July 2011

Excerpt: Adventures of Power

One of Orly’s case studies takes a look at the 2008 Sundance official selection Adventures of Power written, directed and starring Ari Gold. AoP  took a long and winding road to market and Ari was extremely open about mistakes he made and things he got right.  His film was finally released on DVD in January 2011 by Phase4 and he had a small theatrical release working with Variance Films in the fall of 2009.

Ari Gold shared his experiences in releasing his film Adventures of Power

One thing Ari shared with us is his experience in handling publicity.

“Having never done [a theatrical tour] before, I thought ‘ok let’s do it, let’s do what an indie [theatrical distributor] would do.’ But what I didn’t realize was how much work goes into putting a movie in theaters than just getting it into a theater. Consistently in our theatrical release, we would do better on the last day than we would on the first day which was a sign that in a sense we were doing the right thing because word was spreading in each town, but because the way the theaters are, they determine whether a film will continue its run within the first 48 hours so that didn’t work in our favor. I would come into a town on Friday when the film would open to try and get some press but [articles] didn’t run until Sunday or Monday and by then they [the theater] had already cancelled the extension of the run. It wasn’t until my last city, Portland, Oregon, that I realized we had structured this incorrectly in the sense that I had to be in each city at least a week or more ahead of time to do press.”

“At the same time, the local newspapers have all been hard hit by staff cuts and we couldn’t get the film reviewed locally. We were playing their theater, but we weren’t deemed press worthy because we weren’t a mainstream release and that is frustrating.  Studio indies have the muscle of the studio marketing and publicity machine behind them, they can force a review to be done and we didn’t and that is when I realized I had to turn my focus away from mainstream press and doing what a studio machine would do, instead I concentrated on connecting directly with the people of those communities.  That’s what’s good about the internet, you can really pinpoint people in a community who would like your film.”

“The traditional publicity that came with our DVD release was not able to get us much press and not on rock music stations. So my partner and I bought an email list of every radio station in the US and Canada and we emailed them all. I had to use a spam email program to do that and probably about 15% of the emails made it through past a filter and then to actually be read. But it lead to maybe 40-50 radio interviews with college and traditional radio that we got completely on our own. I got an email from one of the colleges after I did the interview with them and they said our movie was the number one movie rental on campus.  No one would have heard of the movie much less rent or buy it if I hadn’t done that interview.”

“On the one hand, I can do all of the work that a studio marketing department can do, at home on my laptop and with a camera. But the flipside is, I HAVE to and where will I find the time to do my next work, my next film when I have to spend so much time reaching the fans of the film I just made?  It would be great to be one of the few doing this inside of the system or who was plucked out of Sundance to be the next ‘made man’ and you go to premiere and the press just shows up and everything is paid for by Fox Searchlight.”

But he wasn’t the “made man” for this release and most people aren’t with their films so it is better to plan for taking on this work as Plan A and Plan B is that the load will be lightened if you do get the golden ticket.

To read more about the story behind bringing Adventures of Power to an audience including the amount of time, effort and money it took, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ our Facebook page.




Sponsor Spotlight: Dynamo Player

Our Official Sponsor is Dynamo Player and we are thrilled to have them. The tool they provide to independent filmmakers is amazing and renders the whole notion of needing a distributor to handle your film’s digital rights obsolete. With Dynamo Player, filmmakers can reach worldwide audiences on the internet by embedding the video viewer on their own website and by having a film’s fans embed it on their websites or blogs. Prices are set by the filmmaker, payment is immediate via Paypal and a monthly statement is sent letting you know how many streams were sold, geographic information, and where the traffic originated. Better than waiting a year to get a statement from a traditional distributor!

Recently, I talked with Rob Millis, CEO of Dynamo Player, about all of the capabilities of the player.

Explain a little about what the Dynamo platform does? Why is it a benefit for filmmakers and film audiences?

“Dynamo 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. You no longer need a DVD to include all of your great content!”

Filmmaker Edward Burns uses Dynamo Player for his film "Nice Guy Johnny"

Does Dynamo take any rights over the work?

“None at all. Dynamo is a completely non-exclusive service. We believe strongly that filmmakers should not have to give up rights in order to reach their audience directly.”

Is your platform difficult to access for the majority of filmmakers? Are there special qualifications needed to use your service (ie, prestigious festival inclusion, favorable major publication reviews, large web traffic or social media presence)?

“Dynamo is as easy to access as any online video platform, with no restrictions or qualifications and is available for any legal content you own the rights to, excepting pornography.”

How does a viewer pay to watch a stream and how does the rights owner get paid?

“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.”

Do you send statements to the filmmaker to show number of sales and if so, how often?

“We 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.”

“Dynamo provides geographic data and an opt-out list of viewer emails. Early feedback made it clear that film sales would suffer if we required viewers to share their emails, but a majority of viewers are willing to share their email addresses with filmmakers they love.”

Can one put the viewer on other sites, including Facebook?

“Absolutely, and they should! The key to great sales is presentation and an excellent viewer experience, so filmmakers consistently see better sales on a well designed home page with a large, attractive player. Dynamo Player puts filmmakers completely in control of presentation, with a clean, scalable and understated player that can look good in any context. The vast majority of online film sales come from filmmakers’ main film sites and fan blogs though. Facebook restricts player size and presentation, and is not typically a destination for viewing. While Facebook is a great buzz machine and marketing tool, most sales we see for films published on Facebook still tend to come through clicks back to the main film site where filmmakers can present films in a more appealing way.”

Is there a special format the film needs to be in to upload to your service? Is the technical aspect of access easy to understand or is it better to work with you or someone with technical expertise?

“No special expertise required! Dynamo accepts all digital video formats and has no stringent file format restrictions. For best results, we recommend uploading a video file that is 1920×1080 in h.264 or a similar codec, but this is not necessary.”

UK filmmaker Chris Jones uses Dynamo for his short film "Gone Fishing"

Can one restrict sales by territory if a filmmaker has sold digital rights in some areas or if their theatrical/DVD distributor doesn’t want digital access to the material in some places?

“Absolutely. 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.”

Does Dynamo help in any way with marketing or promotion of titles?

“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.”

How long is the streaming rental period?

“Filmmakers are completely in control of the rental period and can set it to be anywhere from 6 hours to 30 days.”

Thanks again to Rob Millis and Dynamo Player for sponsoring our book so that we can bring you tons of information on what is happening in the world of independent film distribution. Keep following our posts here for more information on the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen releasing in September 2011 and like us on Facebook.



Ben Niles Talks About Note by Note

One of Jon’s chapters concerns the film Note by Note, a documentary about the making of a Steinway concert grand #L1037 piano from forest floor to concert hall. The film was completed in 2006 when the talk of internet distribution and social media marketing of films had hardly begun. Back then, the conventional route of getting a sales agent, premiering at a major film festival like Sundance or Toronto to start a bidding war of offers was all the rage (some still think this is the way things are done) and it was the way Niles envisioned how the distribution of his film would go. But it didn’t happen. While he did secure a sales agent, Note by Note was not accepted into the big festivals  that agents use to launch a title into the market and his sales agent’s interest waned. He knew he had to take matters into his own hands lest his film completely die.

Note by Note partnered up with the Steinway Company

Since the Steinway company plays a big role in the film, Niles found a way to incorporate their enthusiasm into a workable relationship to help promote Note by Note.

“There are hundreds [of Steinway dealers] around the country. The film was done and we had just screened it as a courtesy to the executives at Steinway and they were very happy with the film.  They approached us and said they wanted to show it to the dealers at the dealer meeting in California. I didn’t even know they had a dealer meeting, but of course I was happy to do it. Once we screened it, that really unleashed a wonderful resource of finding new fans for the film because every single one of the dealers asked ‘when can I get my hands on this film, how can we help you promote it?’

As a filmmaker I was nervous about that because I didn’t set out to make a film to promote the Steinway company or to promote a Steinway piano. I fell in love with the story for many different reasons. I was reticent about joining forces with them because I wanted the film to be objective and I wanted to maintain my sense of control. But I couldn’t deny the fact that these people could reach our audience very easily. We never asked the Steinway company for any kind of funding. I knew if we did that, if we crossed that line, people wouldn’t take the film seriously. It was the first question from every critic, ‘did they fund this in any way?’ and when I said no, the interview would continue.

We premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival in New York and we called the Steinway company and asked if they wanted to be involved. They brought the piano out from the film, with a pianist to play it and they catered it and we had an aftershow party. It was a big success and it really set the model for other festivals and theatrical screenings from that point forward. They started moving the piano around [the one from the film] to over 20 cities. Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, Florida, we would call the dealer and say where we would be screening the film and ask if they wanted to team up and do this event. They did it very tastefully it, it wasn’t like a ‘Steinway Presents’ type of thing.  We had a lot of autonomy and the theaters were happy and the dealers were happy. They are still doing it. Now that it is airing on PBS, if it airs in say Phoenix, they get in touch with the Phoenix affiliate and try to do a private screening.”

To hear more about Note by Note’s theatrical and community screenings distribution strategy including the revenue it generated, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ ourFacebook page.


Sponsor Spotlight: Prescreen

In addition to highlighting material that will be available in the book, we will be publishing information on the sponsors who are supporting our efforts to bring this information to you, especially giving us the ability to provide the free copy version. All of the sponsors are resources and tools for the indie filmmaker and we hope after learning more about them, you will seek out their services.

Today marks the launch of our Presenting Sponsor, Prescreen. Thus far, if you visited their web page, you were asked to submit an email address to be kept informed of their activities. Even I wasn’t quite clear on what they are offering until I did this interview. Prescreen curates films and distributes them via a daily email to an opt-in audience. Today, they will start accepting applications for films to be showcased on their site, but they will not accept every film. “Unlike some of the other services that currently exist, we will not be a sea of titles. We will do our best to try and create signal out of noise,” said founder and CEO Shawn Bercuson.

What will PreScreen mean for the indie filmmaker?

“For the indie filmmaker, Prescreen means you now have a viable alternative to distribution. That said, we do not intend to replace any of the existing channels, we are merely a tool to help make the marketing and distribution efforts much easier. Being featured on Prescreen means revenue instead of marketing spend, analyzing demographics of *your* audience instead of looking at the audience of comparable titles, and increasing the potential to go ‘viral.’ We give the filmmaker and distributor relevant information that they can use to maximize the success of each title.”

“We believe there is a lot of great content that exists that never finds a home or has a hard time reaching the right audience. As we all know, movie distribution has historically been a very arduous and risky endeavor for filmmakers, distributors, or studios alike; however, we now live in a world with exciting technology that enables us to communicate in real time with…everyone. If you use these tools correctly, the supply vs. demand curve can be shifted. Whereas, before content was created, money was spent, and hours of work were completed prior to the release of a film trying to create demand for a title; we can now gauge demand at the beginning of the process such that the entire endeavor is more efficient.”

Will the service cost anything, either for filmmakers or for audience? If so, what?

For moviegoers, it is free to signup to receive the Prescreen daily email. If a movie catches your eye, you have the opportunity to ‘rent’ the movie to stream. Each movie we feature lives on Prescreen for 60 days. On Day 1, the movie costs $4 and you’ll have up to 60 days to view the film; while on Days 2 – 60, the movie costs $8 and you’ll have 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 and you’ll have 48 hours to complete the film once you start the stream.”

“Why 60 only days? Movies live on Prescreen for 60 days for many reasons. First, to allow a film to capture (and capitalize on) the word-of-mouth exposure that organically ensues throughout the social graph. Movies are inherently social. If all my friends are talking about a specific title, I don’t like to be left out of the conversation and I’ll want to partake. 60 days allows people to join the conversation. The second reason is piracy. As iTunes has successfully proven with the music industry, people are happy to pay for content as long as they have access to it. For example, if a movie is screening in 6 cities not named Omaha, Nebraska and I live in Omaha, my only option is to illegally download that title. 60 days allows access to content that people might otherwise be forced to get through illegal means.”

“For filmmakers and distributors, there is no out of pocket charge at any point throughout the entire Prescreen process. Prescreen is only successful if the movie is successful. Prescreen will send the filmmaker a check for 50% of the revenue generated from the sales on Prescreen along with a ‘Prescreen Performance Report’ that details all of the relevant information a filmmaker or distributor would need to continue to reach the targeted audience including: a Prescreen performance summary, detailed demographic information, the size of the addressable market, and suggested continued marketing plan.”

*NOTE*: Prescreen has a strict privacy policy that protects all of the personal information of its subscribers. All information shared with the filmmaker or distributor is aggregated and does not compromise any personal or contact information that could lead to any unwanted use or abuse.

“At any given point in time, Prescreen has up to 60 films featured on the site: 1 featured film and the 59 previous featured films. As one movie enters  our library through their feature, another one leaves. After 60 days, the filmmaker should have enough data points and insight to continue to market their film effectively and reach the right audience.”

How does one sign up for an account?

“For filmmakers and distributors, visit prescreen.com/submit. Here, you can submit your film to Prescreen to be the ‘Featured Film.’  The featured film is the highlight of our daily email that goes out to all of our subscribers and will also be the only film on our homepage for 24 hours.”

On what devices is the service geared toward viewing?

We believe that movies should live where moviegoers want to see them. Because of this, Prescreen plans to be platform agnostic and live on the web, mobile, and other connected devices like streaming TV’s, gaming consoles, and set top boxes. However, as any Prescreen engineer will tell you: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ so we’ll start on the web and prioritize platforms based on where our audience is telling us to go.”

If you are interested in having your film considered for the service, you can start submitting today.

Keep following our posts here for more information on the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen and like us on Facebook.



Excerpt: American: The Bill Hicks Story

Today’s excerpt will take a look at the British documentary American:The Bill Hicks Story.

Documentary that split rights and had a day&date release

Orly first met filmmakers Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock at 2010 SXSW Festival where the film was screening. At the time, it was getting a lot of distributor interest from participating in the festival and though there were all rights offers, the filmmakers opted for a split rights scenario.  The all rights offers were not enough to recoup the steep animation costs for which the filmmakers had personally gone into debt plus the BBC provided initial production funding through a DVD advance and TV acquisition fee totaling $280,000 (this is a NET #, 20% of the gross fee went to their UK rep). However this included $60,000 (again this is a NET # after the fee to the UK rep) for USA DVD rights and it’s this that caused the filmmakers problems later in not being able give a US distributor an all-rights deal, and ultimately led them to handling the split rights themselves.

“At SXSW, we met both Nolan Gallagher from Gravitas and Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films who were both very keen to work on the film. Nolan said that a theatrical would help secure strong VOD placement across the platforms and that a day & date VOD release with theatrical would work best to achieve this. We did consider releasing with a the help of a cheaper theatrical booker but, with one shot to get it right, we concluded that Variance would achieve the best that was possible and so decided to run with their larger fee,”said Thomas.

“We would have launched earlier in the USA, but had to wait for our Australian advance to come through and then we missed the fall slots. Variance suggested avoiding Oscar season, and coordinated with Gravitas for a spring release date of April 8th 2011, which Gravitas sold in to Warner’s VOD networks and synchronised the VOD date. It was also the first non studio film the company had sold to Dish Network.  Trailers then worked across both platforms announcing the day & date availability in cinema and home pay-per-view.”  The day and date situation did cause some problems with cinemas. “Dylan said that a lot of theaters didn’t take it because of the day&date VOD, which we knew was the risk you take, plus we’ve also had the Hicks factor of a doc about a marginal figure for a lot of Americans. However, the theatrical is what led Warner to place it well across all their platforms and aggressively market it on screen in cable homes.”  First month VOD sales reached over $80,000 at the $6.99 price point.

In regard to day & date, Marchetti has said “almost all of the chains have taken a hard line against any film with a VOD window of less than 94 days, while a significant portion of the independent theaters have decided that for the right film, it doesn’t really hit them in the pocketbook and they’ll tolerate it (supporting it is a stretch)- as long as you present them with a fleshed-out plan as to why people will come to the theater rather than simply stay at home.” With the film’s small P&A, they still achieved $7,000 opening weekend at Cinema Village in NY and reached a total USA gross of $90,589 though they failed to break even. Though the filmmakers took a loss, they note gladly “the theatrical release secured a lot of favorable film press and allowed Gravitas to present a strong case to Warner who gave the film great placement across their VOD and PPV networks.”  The film stayed in iTunes top 10 documentaries for 10 weeks and performed well across the States. Gravitas estimates it grossed $100,000 that first month , and that it will reach $600,000 gross over the next 3 years. “Without the theatrical lead, it’s unlikely we would get anywhere near that figure,” said Thomas.

To find out the whole distribution and marketing details on this and many other recent independent films, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ our Facebook page.




Excerpt: Nina Paley and Free Culture

In the lead up to the book release, we will be posting all sorts of information on this blog site. Some directly related to film distribution, some related to audience building, some to crowdfunding, which is both an audience gathering and financial exercise and some to using the internet as a free distribution mechanism in order to accomplish your goals as an artist. Also, one full chapter from the book will be published in this month’s Filmmaker Magazine, both the print version and online. This is the only time that a full chapter will be available ahead of the book’s release.

In the chapter on using file sharing networks to distribute work, Sheri talked with Nina Paley who released her animated film Sita Sings the Blues for free on the internet. Releasing her film for free wasn’t Paley’s initial intention and it took about 9 months to go from believing that copyright was a good thing that protected artists to believing it was an extortionate racket designed to lock content away and rarely benefited the artists it was supposed to protect.

Here is more from her interview:

“Right now the sad truth seems to be that people don’t come to this [free culture idea] without having a really traumatic experience with copyright. And I did, I had the whole thing with trying to follow the rules, do everything by the book in trying to clear the songs I used in Sita Sings The Blues and then being confronted with this insane, Kafka-esque nightmare.  Basically I was told you have to get $220,000 together [to clear the rights] or nobody gets to see your film. Told this by a group of faceless corporations who don’t give a shit about me or anything really.  I was like ‘wow, I have to not let anybody see this film, even for free, unless I can get $220,000?’

The difficulty of resolving that, even the time it took, and all the while people saying ‘oh, but remember this system protects you,’ that’s what lead me to begin questioning the system.  Initially, I agreed. It’s the copyright system, it protects me. But as all of this was happening I thought ‘I wonder if it really does protect me?’ I looked at my whole career, all of my work and I am sitting on years of comic strips I made. Nobody knows about them, they were originally syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate and King Features Syndicate. The copyrights have reverted to me but nobody is seeing them. What good have these copyrights been to me? Nobody else can reproduce these comics I have done, therefore everyone has forgotten about them as soon as they stopped running in newspapers. How is this benefiting me? It’s not.

I thought about where my money comes from and how much came from copyright royalties? Not much, most of it comes from direct commissions, teaching, every once in a while a grant. This is the same for many artists, very few artists I know get significant income from copyright royalties. Then I just woke up one day and thought ‘wait a minute, I could free this movie and what would happen if I did?’ I didn’t know everything that was going to happen. But the thought that it was possible seemed like this exciting and subversive thing to do and I had nothing to lose. And then it worked so well, that I just went back to all my old copyrighted work and have been doing everything I can to rerelease it free, but it has been a lot of work.”

Find out why giving Sita Sings the Blues away for free turned out to be a successful strategy by reading Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen, coming in September 2011. Also, like us on Facebook.