August 2011

The 5 Best Ways to Use Social Media to Build an Audience For Your Film

In a continuation of the tips series on indieWire in the lead up to the book’s release, here are 5 ways co author Sheri Candler advises to use social media in order to build an audience for your film with examples gleaned from our filmmaker participants in the book.  This post first appeared on the indieWire site August 23, 2011.

photo credit Steven

Within our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen and Area23a, there are many pieces of advice regarding audience building activities. While some filmmakers started the process very early in production (Nina Paley started blogging 3 YEARS before her film, Sita Sings the Blues, was released), some started only after their films hit the festival circuit. Remember, social media isn’t just setting up a Facebook and Twitter account. Anywhere one can share a link, comment on a post, or self publish content for all to read, watch or listen to is considered social media activity.

Here are my 5 tips on using social media to build an audience along with advice found in the book.

1) Don’t spend all of your time talking about your film on social media. After a while, this constant selling is boring to read and you won’t build up interest from your audience. This is the kind of page you get when you solely entrust outside agencies with building and maintaining your social media presence. They cannot effectively be the voice of your work. Think about what interests your audience in their daily lives and why they would be attracted to you as an artist and to your film, then present them with news and information on that. “We talk about everything related to the movie, about collaborations with other people. We also talk about space, indie filmmaking, creative commons issues, and our views on piracy issues. It is a place you can come and learn about us as people, what we believe and what we are doing related to the movie. We just make it more personal and allow people to feel like they are inside the workings of the production. We find that people respond the most when you tell personal stories.” – Nicolas Alcala-Writer/Director of The Cosmonaut.

2) Regular activity is imperative. It is advisable to set up a constant system of feeding new information, assets (text, video and photos), trivia quizzes, links to news stories to your social media sites rather than to post sporadically every few weeks or months. One way to do this is to start a content calendar or editorial calendar to plan out when you will post, what events are coming up that you want to be sure your audience knows about, links to interesting stories you have found and want to comment on for the blog and any guest posts from those outside of your production who can cross audiences with you. “The most effective weapon we had in online outreach was content, which is offered as an exclusive to garner prime placement on certain homepages or newsfeeds. This might be in the form of clips, outtakes, audience reactions, new trailers, or famous fans talking about the film. These clips can be time-consuming to create, but are worth doing when the organization in question will hit mailing lists (many we hit were 20,000+), and then support again with a giveaway come the DVD release.”- Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock, the filmmakers of American: The Bill Hicks Story

3) Researching and building connections with influential people to your audience is a smart and efficient  way to reach an audience with whom  you do not have a personal connection. Largely, this can be done through online channels, but you must think what you are offering. Influencers have trust built up with their audience and cannot risk putting it in jeopardy to help you. Make sure there is a natural and reciprocal relationship built on respect. “Elden Nelson has a blog called, which I was a big follower of, and he’s got a pretty big audience. We’ve since worked with Elden and to raise money [for cancer research], and he’s talking about the project in his inner circles, which has been fantastic.”-Mike Dion, producer of Ride the Divide

4) Knowing your audience and what drives them is the most important rule of marketing . Indie filmmakers are notoriously neglectful of this basic marketing knowledge and try to embark on social media campaigns that are totally ME centric (if they start campaigns at all). Many times when you are not in touch with your audience, what you think will resonate with them is actually wrong. “Once we started directly engaging with our fans on Facebook and Twitter, we realized that many of our most active fans weren’t necessarily the fans of our bigger names; they were fans of Bridget Regan and they were absolutely insane with passion. These are the fans who have reached out to us directly, rallied their communities, and quite literally dragged the film on their backs into their local movie theaters.”-Josh Shelov, director and co writer of The Best and The Brightest

5) Another key to having a successful social media effort is making sure that there is a dialog with your audience. Great content should include a place for conversation between the production and the fans and within the community of fans. Gear your site to be the facilitator of connections among people with common interests.  They will help widen your circle of audience naturally by bringing other like minded people in so that you don’t have to be so dependent on advertising. “This conversation, between filmmaker, audience and distributor is the antithesis of the present way films are most commonly distributed and marketed. It’s a conversation where a community forms around the niche aspects of a film and then the filmmaker reacts to this conversation to improve his/her offer to the audience. In essence the audience is telling the filmmaker/distributor how to market the film.”-Andy Green, co owner of Distrify.

For more great information, RSS our blog and read our forthcoming book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen and Area23a Movie Events, find us on Facebook and follow our hashtag on Twitter #syfnotsys.


The Devil is in the definition-Know what “VOD” means.

This post originally was written for the Sundance Artists Services initiative by our co author Orly Ravid.


There is no standard yet for definitions of digital rights. IFTA (formerly known as AFMA) has its rights definitions and for that organization’s signatories there is therefore a standard. But many distributors use their own contracts with a range of definitions that do not all match up. And the same is true of digital platforms.

When analyzing distribution options, recognize that terms such as VOD can mean different things to different people and include more or fewer distribution rights and govern more or fewer platforms. And what’s more is that what is left undefined may be then generally lumped in to a broad category and that can be problematic.

Consider the term “VOD”. In some contracts it’s not even explicitly defined and hence can mean anything and everything if one wants to argue. IFTA is clear to categorize it as a PayPerView Right (Demand View Right) and limit it to: “transmission by means of encoded signal for television reception in homes and similar living spaces where a charge is made to the viewer for the rights to use a decoding device to view the Motion Picture at a time selected by the viewer for each viewing”.

However in some contracts, it’s defined as “Video-on-Demand Rights,” meaning a function or service distributed and/or made available to a viewer by any and all means of transmission, telecommunication, and/or network system(s) whether now known or hereafter devised (including, without limitation, television, cable, satellite, wire, fiber, radio communication signal, internet, intranet, or other means of electronic delivery and whether employing analogue and/or digital technologies and whether encrypted or encoded) whereby the viewer is using information storage, retrieval and management techniques capable of accessing, selecting, downloading (whether temporarily or permanently) and viewing programming whether on a per program/movie basis or as a package of programs/movies) at a time selected by the viewer, in his/her discretion whether or not the transmission is scheduled by the operator(s)/provider(s), and whether or not a fee is paid by the viewer for such function/service to view on the screen of a television receiver, computer, handheld device or other receiving device (fixed or mobile) of any type whether now known or hereafter devised. Video-on-Demand includes without limitation Near VOD (“NVOD”,) Subscription Video-on-Demand (“SVOD”,) “Download to burn”, “Download to Own”, “Electronic Sell Through” and “Electronic Rental,” for example.  This example includes everything and your kitchen sink.

One has to ask oneself if a definition of VOD or another type of digital right includes “SVOD” which is subscription Video on Demand and includes subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Why does this matter you ask? Well if the fee to the distributor and/or to you is the same either way then it may not matter. If there’s a difference in fees depending on the nature of distribution then it will.

Also, for example, a contract notes they have “VOD Rights” but does not define them, or defines them broadly, the question is, do they have mobile phone
rights or not? The words “Video-on-Demand” sometimes are used only to refer to Cable Video on Demand and other times much more generally. In a “TV Everywhere” (and hence film everywhere) multi-platform all-device playable universe one needs to know what one is licensing to whom

1. because one does not want to inadvertently be in breach of contract,

2. one does not want to lose opportunities for best distribution,

3. one does not want to give rights away for disadvantageous terms especially if there are different fees for different categories of rights/distribution.

One can split rights based on mode of delivery (e.g. download-to-own (e.g iTunes) vs. Ad-supported streaming (e.g SNAG) or based on payment method too — like SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) vs. FVOD (Free Video-on-Demand), which can refer to ad-supported content that generates some revenue, or just plain old free).

A NETFLIX SVOD license for example is a fee for a time. The Fee is determined by the demand in the system.  Not the same sort of transaction as Cable VOD which is rev/share based on transactions and Cable VOD involves numerous operators although just a couple of middle companies servicing the primaries. Still, some aggregators and distributors charge different fees for different classes of digital distribution and that can be for very good reason. The work is different and so is the revenue.

Recently, I dealt with a contract that had one definition for VOD and another for Video-on-Demand! Go figure.

I ask you: How does one classify an iPhone App that offers in-App purchase downloads? Are they mobile rights? Digital-download-to-own rights? Does the term VOD rights encompass them? Ask three people you might get 3 answers. So the devil is in the definition which you must read carefully BEFORE you sign on the dotted
line.  Don’t rely just on definitions, know what you want for and can do for your film in terms of distribution and carve it up and spell it out.

For example, you may be doing a broadcast deal that prohibits “mobile wireless” distribution (at least for a time) but you’ll at least want to make sure you’ll allowed to do a Netflix SVOD deal (hopefully) that will entail the film being available on mobile devices and the broadcaster may allow this if you argue for it (as long as the film is not streaming for free to non-subscribers). (Of course some broadcast deals don’t allow for a Netflix SVOD deal at all but that’s another matter entirely).

Perhaps your film has an iPhone App and the film is available for in-App purchase. That too should be allowed and not be prohibited by a holdback against “mobile wireless” because this form of distribution is no different than DVD or digital-download-to-own in terms of revenue model. Only the mode of delivery and exhibition is different. And further to this point, the last thing you want to do is have all digital be lumped under the term “VOD” or “Video on Demand” without realizing what’s happening.

Not all films have the same revenue potentials or work the same way on all platforms. Know your film, know its audience and their film consumption habits, know its potential, and above all, be sure to know how any and all rights are defined, classified and accounted for and analyze that in relation to the realistic potential for your film. Ask if a company deals directly with the platforms that are key for you and find out their terms with these platforms. Remember, platforms are like stores, so if we were talking about DVD, you’d probably be tempted get your film into Walmart — but that may or may not be possible, and it may or may not even be the place where people who want to see your film are most likely to shop.

Not all films perform well on Comcast, for example. These days Netflix revenue is bigger for many films than many other platforms, and still that may change. Since the launch of the iPad, download-to-rent (DTR) is growing and is anticipated to grow further.

The question is: Do you know who has those rights and how they are handling them and accounting to you for them? You should.

For more great information, RSS our blog and read our forthcoming book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen and Area23a Movie Events, find us on Facebook and follow our hashtag on Twitter #syfnotsys.

The 10 Things You Must Know Before You Set Foot on the Film Festival Circuit

We have started a tips series on indieWire in the lead up to the book’s release. These are meant to help you understand the material found in the book and share some of our knowledge gleaned through working with independent films and festivals. This first series appeared on the indieWire site August 16, 2011 and was written mainly by our film festival expert Jeffrey Winter.

1. You need two high-impact festival premieres.
Target an impact festival for both your world and international premieres. An impact festival is one that directly leads to results, whether that means sales reps soliciting you, distributors pursuing you or other festivals requesting to see your film. If you aren’t sure which festivals qualify, consult several industry professionals; every festival will tell you that distribution deals are done at their festival… and that’s almost always a lie.

2. Don’t be provincial.
Remember that the U.S. film market is only 30% of the world. That means you may be faced with making that same high-impact premiere choice in several key territories around the world (esp. Canada, U.K., Continental Europe and Asia). However, there are just as many places in the world where your film likely won’t sell anyway, so you might as well take whatever invitations come your way as long as you don’t think you are opening yourself up for piracy. In other words: Don’t overthink your Slovenian premiere.

3. Think Globally, Act Locally.
For many filmmakers in large markets, the best film festival close to home may be the best place to premiere. These festivals often have sections dedicated to local films that make acceptance easier; they also have locally themed prizes that often come with cash. Also, a local premiere may be easier to fill through regional word-of-mouth, and a packed house is always better than the alternative.

4. Know Your Niche.
Consider that for many films a niche festival may be an impact festival as well. The Chicago Latino, San Francisco Jewish, Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Fantastic Fest are all examples of top-notch specialty fests that may represent the best festival circuit in which to engage your particular audience.

5. Don’t spend before you have to.
Before engaging a sales agent, a publicist or throwing a premiere party, ask yourself exactly what you want that money to achieve. Hiring PR and throwing a party at a small regional festival where there is no national press and no industry attendees is unlikely to pay off professionally. Be targeted in the reasons you spend money at film festivals.

6. Include the festival circuit in your production budget.
Always remember to carve out a small percentage of your production and post-production budget to allow you to enter the festival circuit; we recommend 10-20% of the overall budget. Film festivals require submission fees (unless you can get them waived), exhibition deliverables, support staff, marketing materials and travel costs. A microbudget film might expect to spend up to 50% on film festival costs.

7. Don’t expect the festival to sell your film.
Actively market your own film. The festival won’t fill your seats; they have many movies and yours may not be their priority. You can nudge this process by requesting a prime slot and being in regular contact with the festival’s publicity and marketing teams, but in the end it’s your baby. And if you pack the seats with friends, you’re that much more likely to win an audience award.

8. Look for allies outside the festival.

Reach out to like-minded organizations to help promote the film. Offer perks like free tickets in exchange for email blasts to their partners. If the festival will allow it, let a local organization set up a table outside your screening for their literature in exchange for marketing support.

9. (Some) Films can start making money now.
Learn the game of monetizing your film festival run. If you have a world premiere at one the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, other programmers will request to see your film. The general rule is: if a programmer requests to see your film and then accepts it, you can ask for a rental fee (between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you submit on your own, generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. Also, niche festivals are much more likely to pay you fees to screen your film, since there’s less product for them to choose from.

10. Your theatrical release starts now.
Most filmmakers experience a mental disconnect when saying that they want a theatrical release; what they really mean is they want their work seen on the big screen, not on a laptop. Film festivals are big screens; envision your entire festival run as an event-driven theatrical release. Once your premieres have been achieved and other festivals are asking for your film, let it fly. Every festival has marketing, PR and word-of-mouth value.

Bright Spot: Bots High

Florida filmmaker Joey Daoud writes a blog called Coffee and Celluloid and I was in touch with him just before SXSW 2011 where he was doing some guerrilla screenings of his film Bots High, a documentary following the adventures of high school students who build combat robots. He shared the path to distribution of his film on the blog a few days ago and I asked if I could repost it here for all who may have missed it. Joey is one of many entrepreneurial filmmakers who are now taking responsibility for their work and connecting it to the people most likely to enjoy it. His efforts merit some championing so he’s our Bright Spot for today.


Great film!
– Handwritten note on a festival rejection letter

The above note sums up the festival experience of my feature film Bots High quite well. A film that people who see, love, yet didn’t get much traction on the festival circuit. It played at some festivals, won some Best Documentary awards, got some good reviews, and I had some great experiences and am thankful for the festivals that took a chance on the film. But obviously not the Sundance, SXSW, TIFF festival run you imagine while making the film 1.

Below, I’ll be outlining how I’m taking my film’s future solely in my own hands, and the ideas that led to this strategy.

What Can You Do That I Can’t?

Epic festival run or not, the next question is, “Now what?” This is a question most of us filmmakers face once we have a finished film. Even the top indie films with recognizable actors are having a hard time getting distribution deals with upfront money. Three Sundance films just posted Kickstarter campaigns to raise distribution money. Dying to Do Letterman has run a phenomenal campaign to raise money to do their own Oscar qualifying theatrical run.

Do you try to raise more money and do everything yourself? Do you tour the film around and hope to break even, like Total Badass? Hope a company comes along to pick it up? With so many digital outlets yet so few companies putting money into buying films, choosing the right path for your film reminds me of the stress of picking the “right” college.

I received some distribution offers, but nothing that paid anything upfront, just some backend percentage. This means I’m going to have to sign away broad definitions of certain rights for 20 years (essentially forever as far as the film is concerned), no guarantee that any money will be put into a marketing campaign, and hope that maybe I’ll see a couple of thousand in return.

The main question I asked for every offer is, “What can you do that I can’t do myself?” Let’s take the best offer, one from a company whose name I actually recognized. They wanted all digital rights and would get the film on iTunes, Netflix Instant, Amazon, Xbox, etc, and keep 25%. Not a terrible deal, but not many guarantees on marketing, prominent placement, etc. I can handle the online stuff through Distribber – pay a flat fee, keep everything, both money and rights. With a lot of new online-only companies out there, I feel like they’re all just trying to build their library instead of putting their time and money behind something because they believe in it.

Good deal for someone whose film has been sitting on a shelf, not for someone that just wrapped and still has some fight in them.

Check Out the Film…Possibly at a Festival Near You…Or Online…Soon

Packed theater at the Bots High World Premiere


Bear with me as I take you through three realizations I had that will soon merge into the mega-idea.

The bigger question wasn’t how to get it online, it was how do I launch. How do I build enough buzz so the online launch is relevant? How do I get the film on people’s radar? Previously, if I told someone about the film, or pitched a blog to write about it, it’s like, “Maybe the film will play at a festival near you…or sign up for the newsletter and I’ll let you know when it’s on iTunes.” There was no target date, no time to build towards, that people writing about the film could say, “Here is a cool film, you can watch it on this day.”

Around the same time of this brainstorming, when I was crashing SXSW with an underground screening, I found it was incredibly easy to set up a free screening (shocker!). I held a screening at the University of Texas. They donated a theater, I didn’t charge admission (but sold some DVDs), super easy – no worries about rental costs and breaking even.

Get Your Priorities Straight

If 2 you read Jon Reiss‘ great book Think Outside the Box Office, one of his key points when making your distribution plan is to figure out your goals. Do you want to make money, promote a cause, or use the film to market yourself? Going into this, as I’m sure most filmmakers do, I’m thinking, “All of the above! It’s going to make money, and because it’s making money that means it has enough buzz that I’m being promoted as a filmmaker.” Clearly, not the case. But one of the main reasons I made this movie instead of trying to work up the Hollywood ladder was to have a feature film to my name to lead to more, paid work.

So with a reworking of priorities, #1 now being to use the film to market myself as a filmmaker, that means getting the film out as wide and far as possible. Combine that with my previous two realizations, and the strategy is quite clear…

A Free Worldwide Screening Day

Yep, one day to direct everyone towards that launches the film. “Hey, Mr. Reporter, check out my film. Your readers can see it October 6, for free!” Using free tools, such as Meetup Everywhere, groups can organize based on their location and create their own screening. I want to empower people to create their own theatrical experience, which as Jon Reiss redescribes as “people watching ‘films’ with other people. Any place.” ‘Theatrical’ is not a 35mm print screening in a movie theater anymore. 3

Even if people don’t come out to a screening, here are my goals from the plan when someone mentions Bots High to someone else.

  • “Oh, I’ve heard of that film.”
  • “I saw that.”
  • “I love Bots High, I own it!”

The more blogs that write about it, the more someone is aware of it, the more that will help when I need credibility for other projects.

Free Doesn’t Mean No Money

Let’s be clear, ‘Make Money’ is not off the list (to the comfort of the patient people I owe money to). From my screening experience at festivals and ones I organized, about 2-5% of the audience buys the DVD. My thinking is cast a really wide net and if 1%-3% buy, that’s still a decent amount of money.

But I can’t have a Bots High representative at every screening selling DVDs and counting money. So in the way that I’m empowering people to organize a screening, I figured I could empower them to be retailers as well.

I sell the DVD for $20 on the web site and at screenings. But I’d be totally happy selling a guaranteed 10 DVDs for $10 each, which is what I’m doing with the event organizers. They can buy a 10 pack for $100, and then sell them at their screening for $20 each and keep the profit. I’m happy, they’re happy, win-win!

I foresee a lot of groups hosting screenings being connected to robotics programs or robotics teams themselves. I would love for the film to be used to recruit new members, whether the team does combat robotics or task oriented. I feel like teams could also use this as a fundraiser. So I also setup a ridiculously low $100 fundraising license which lets any non-profit charge admission to the screening as a fundraiser. 10 tickets at $10 and they cover the fee, then everything else goes to their program.

Make it an Event

Q&A at Bots High World Premiere 


I am all about Ted Hope’s and Jon Reiss‘ talk of making screenings an event. I want the film to be used as a platform for teams and schools to create an event around. Show off their robots, have mini battles (Google loves sumo-bots), get guest speakers – anything to go beyond just a movie screening and make it a unique night. Also, there needs to be something special about playing the movie on October 6 other than me saying you have to.

The one thing that’s great about festival or independent screenings is the Q&A. I didn’t want to lose that element, and with all the free streaming services out there it doesn’t have to be lost. I’ll be setting up a live webcast of myself and people from the film to answer questions that are tweeted to @botshigh. I figure most of the screenings will be in some sort of college auditorium that’s hooked up to a computer, so switching over to a webcast shouldn’t be a problem.

How You Can Help

And that’s the plan – a free, worldwide launch of my film. So far the press has been good (WIREDLaughing SquidIndieWire) and I’ve got screenings set up in IndiaSpainSouth KoreaBolivia, and 26 other cities. My goal is 100. With schools getting back in session, and constant emailing, I anticipate the numbers to pick up speed pretty quickly.

Of course you, independent film lover / maker who’s reading this, can play an important role and help set up a screening. Go here for all the details.

You can follow me on Twitter at @C47 or the film at @botshigh. I’m toying with an idea of running trailers for other independent films in similar positions before the screener disks of the movie, so if you’re a filmmaker with a movie and might be interested in this, email me.

I’ll be posting more about my experiences with this, including Distribber and getting the DVD on Amazon. Stay tuned!


  1. I don’t have a definitive answer for why this is, especially since festivals don’t really give feedback, just some theories from an attempted objective viewpoint, such as the film is light hearted, has a narrow focus, and doesn’t tackle a heavy issue. All the rejection letters cite record high submissions, thanks to the digital revolution which now creates a higher level of noise. I’d like to imagine my film was buried in a Raiders of the Lost Ark style pile and never watched. But who knows. Obviously this experience has left me a little bitter about festivals, which led to question their relevance at all. Especially after my short Space Miami got over 50,000 views and more online press than any festival could give a short. That’s another post, though check out this Fest vs. Online comparison. The thorough Filmmaker Magazine article on Blast! is a good example of what my film went through. 
  2. ‘If’ shouldn’t be there; if you make movies and want them to have a life after creation you must have read Think Outside the Box Office
  3. I’ll be writing in more detail about the online tools I’m using to organize this. 

Read more:

Book Trailer

At long last, our book trailer is live. Thanks to filmmakers Casper Andreas, Nicolas Alcala, Ari Gold, Hunter Weeks, Nina Paley, Ben Niles, Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith for allowing us to do video interviews. The full interviews with them will be available in the iBook premium version releasing on September 13, 2011.

Why Casper Andreas self distributes his films

Co authors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter wrote a chapter on niche audience films, many that incorporated the festival circuit as a theatrical screening tour, implemented grassroots outreach to fill the screenings and book new ones in local communities and used self distribution or split rights distribution to get their films out to audiences.

One very enterprising filmmaker is Casper Andreas, producer/director of Violet Tendencies, who has released all of his films himself. Casper believes this is really the only way he will be able to repay the investors he has so they will repeatedly fund his projects.

“I never wanted to be a distributor, I never even wanted to be a producer, but in order to be able to direct films, I had to produce and in order to keep making films, I had to be sure and  get the money back to my investors. When I would get some distribution deals that are frankly insulting, it was very hard to say yes to that for me. I put all this work into making the film and why should I just give it away? For very little upfront and sometimes for 25 years, with very little chance of ever making more money on it? That made me take charge and figure out a better way to do this.”

“I would love to sell my next film to a distributor and have them take that work off of my hands, but unless they are offering me enough money for it to make sense, I am not willing to do that. I have received some fair offers before, some like 50/50 split, but then why am I being charged all of the expenses for it? They will end up making more money on it than I will and it just doesn’t make sense to me. To give up my rights, I want an advance bigger than my budget was so that I can pay back my investors in full with the interest I promised them and for me to make a small amount. I make my films with practically no money for myself so for me to just let someone else have it, I have to make something for that.”

“With digital becoming a more important part of distribution, distributors now don’t want to take on DVD rights unless they also get the digital rights. Really, they still want all rights. Unless they have amazing relationships that I don’t have, why do I need that extra middleman? I want to keep the control and make my own deals. It is a lot of work and it isn’t for everybody. But it is a big consideration if it is important to you to make your money back for your investors and having the film be financially successful.”

“For my latest films “Violet Tendencies” and “Going Down in La La Land,” both were made for about $200,000 which is very little money for a film, but a lot to get upfront from a distributor. When you don’t have stars in your film, it is very difficult to get that upfront money. Before you sign any contract with a distributor, do your research. Speak with other filmmakers they have worked with even ones that are off of the list they give you.  A distributor can have a great, well regarded name in the industry, but still not pay their filmmakers. A lot of people are afraid to speak out, they don’t want to burn bridges, but I think it is important to speak up and filmmakers should help each other to make this a more filmmaker friendly business.”

That happens to be our mission in writing this book!

You can find more great information and real experiences in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen releasing in September 2011. Also like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter stream #syfnotsys.


The Best and The Brightest Found Their Audience Despite Early Distributor Rejection

Co author Jon Reiss spoke with the team behind the film The Best and The Brightest to find out how they came to be using a hybrid approach to distributing their film. The full case study is included in the book, but the following was written by co writer/director Josh Shelov to give a little more insight into their strategy and the importance of having an actor with an engaged fan base. The actress, in this case, is not a household name, but her fans are extremely passionate and it is that passion the filmmaker have harnessed to bring the film to market. Here’s Josh.

Spurned by traditional studio distribution, “The Best and the Brightest,” a new feature-film comedy starring Neil Patrick Harris, has crafted a 21st-century model, marketing its internal assets digitally, building a bridge between passionate Facebook fans and movie theaters and rolling out a worldwide theatrical release.

Bridget Regan may not be a household name.

But if you DO know her name, there’s a decent chance you’re obsessed with it.

Ms. Regan played the lead on a syndicated television series called LEGEND OF THE SEEKER, a THE LORD OF THE RINGS-esque horses-and-wizards saga based on a popular series of books by Terry Goodkind. Ms. Regan played the lead – the all-powerful Mother Confessor, Kahlan Amnell.

The series was cancelled after two seasons. Everyone who worked on the show went back to their lives, including Ms. Regan.

Except the most vivid fans of the show. They refused to let their Seeker go.

Seeker fans are an emotional lot. Most are teenage girls: goth-y, social-media-dwelling, given to violent arcs of creativity. Given the absence of new Seeker dramas on TV, the Seekerites simply exorcised the Seeker drama within. They built fan pages, edited pirated episodes into homemade trailers, and wrote entire novels-ful of fan fiction.

Most importantly of all, they clung to each other. Bonding and rallying on Facebook and Twitter, the Seekerites looked at the world outside their favorite fantasy, and simply chose to remain within.

Meanwhile, Ms. Regan went on with her life as an actress, landing a small but juicy part in our indie comedy which, like many indies, had trouble landing a traditional distribution deal.  Instead of giving up and putting the film on the shelf,  we turned to the internet.

Whereupon we found the buzzing horde of riotously passionate Seekerites. They wanted their Bridget back. And they would move mountains to do so – no matter what vehicle Ms. Regan happened to be in. Thus began a dialogue, and a path out of the wilderness for both our filmmaking team and the fans.

Once we started directly engaging with our fans on Facebook and Twitter, we realized that many of our most active fans weren’t necessarily the fans of our bigger names – they were fans of Bridget. And they were absolutely insane with passion. These are the fans who have reached out to us directly, rallied their communities, and quite literally dragged the film on their backs into their local movie theaters.

Kate Mulgrew’s fans have done the same thing. There’s a worldwide group of hugely passionate, social-media-loving female sci-fi fans [remember Mulgrew played Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager] . The Neil Patrick Harris fans may be our greatest in number. But the Bridget Regan fans, Kate Mulgrew fans, John Hodgman fans, and Peter Serafinowcz fans have been the greatest in actual activity, promoting the film to their networks, creating fan posters and fan art, and actually taking to the streets to ask their local theatres to book the film.

One Bridget Regan fan in Houston, a 19-year-old girl named Bethany, literally stood in her local Best Buy gathering email addresses from strangers to make sure that the film would come to Houston. Thanks entirely to her audience-building efforts, we were able to afford to bring the film to Houston theatrically.

The new model for indie distribution is realizing that every film has its Bethanys. And the key is not to think of them as just fans. They’re local distribution and marketing coordinators. Treating them as fellow filmmakers benefits everyone – it benefits indie filmmakers who desperately need marketing help, and it benefits passionate fans who want to be a part of the film business.

A Seekerite named Sandi is bringing the film to Denver. Seekerite James is doing the same in St. Louis. Another Seekerite in Philadelphia – in spite of having full-blown cerebral palsy, has organized not one but three sneak previews, and has convinced one of the theaters to actually book the film for a full-on run. He edited our EPK’s for our DVD extras. Superfans want to cross the line and become filmmakers. All you have to do is engage with them.

Inspired yet? You can find more great information and real experiences in the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen releasing in September 2011. Also like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter stream #syfnotsys.

Sponsor Spotlight: Gravitas Ventures

One of our Affiliate Sponsors is Gravitas Ventures and we are very happy they are willing to support our initiative of bringing experience and knowledge about the world of independent film distribution today to filmmakers worldwide.  Here is some information about how Gravitas is helping to make independent films succeed in digital and cable VOD distribution.

What services does Gravitas provide to independent filmmakers?
Gravitas is one of the largest distributors of independent content to the Video-on-Demand (VOD) marketplace.  The company is solely focused on VOD and all of its windows and business models (transactional, subscription, and ad-sponsored).  Gravitas can place a film into more than 100 Million VOD homes in North America all at the same time while focusing on marketing tactics that work to move the sales needle.
What factors determine a good film fit for Gravitas to work with?
Gravitas is looking for independent content that is well produced and recognizable cast always helps.  The company would like to see that the film has a built in audience already or one that can be captured.  Gravitas handles VOD on dozens of films every year that have a theatrical release either before VOD or increasingly at the same time or “day and date” with VOD release.
Name recent film successes that your company has helped?
On the narrative side: Alabama Moon—family film starring John Goodman and Jimmy Bennett; A Matador’s Mistress an epic period romance starring Penelope Cruz and Adrien Brody,  IP Man  and IP Man 2—outstanding martial arts films out of Hong Kong starring Donnie Yen; My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend—a well produced romantic comedy staring Alyssa Milano and Christopher Gorham that is a Top 20 mainstay on Hulu and Page 8 a sexy spy thriller starring Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, and Ralph Fiennes.
On the documentary side: The Elephant in the Living Room—will be in more than 100 million homes at the end of August and tells the story of the tens of thousands of Americans who keep exotic pets—lions, bears, tigers, poisonous snake, etc.—at their homes; Fat Sick and Nearly Dead –is an uplifting docu about two men who fight disease with unconventional methods that has been a Top 10 renting documentary on iTunes all summer; and  America the Beautiful 2: the Thin Commandments—second in the series from director Darryl Roberts about America’s obsession with image and being skinny, will be available day and date across  North America VOD and in theaters in October 2011.

Alabama Moon's page on the Time Warner cable VOD menu

Do you work directly with filmmakers or do you prefer submissions come through a sales agent? Do you visit markets or festivals in search of titles or are titles usually brought to you?
We’ll take submissions from the filmmakers directly or from sales agents, producer reps, talent agencies, or other distributors.  Gravitas will look at over 2,000 titles each year.  Some of these are sent to us by people we know, but many are also unsolicited.  Gravitas also covers the major markets and festivals to actively look for product including, AFM, Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, and Tribeca.
Is Gravitas willing to work with other vendors to coordinate a release? How far in advance of release do you need to be involved?
In situations where rights are split among different distributors, coordination is key.  In 2011, distributors need to work in concert to manage windows and territories.  The sooner we can be involved in a project the better. We’re working on films now that won’t be in the VOD marketplace until 2Q 2012—we like to get involved at least 6 months before a films VOD/DVD debut date.
After a film is accepted, take us through the process of getting it onto VOD and other platforms. About how long does it take, what elements need to be created or provided by the filmmaker? What elements are created or provided by Gravitas?
Each film is different, but to have the best chance for the widest carriage and distribution, we need to license a film at least 6 months before the desired VOD debut date.   Cable operators and online VOD platforms schedule their programming well in advance.   Generally we don’t have our Licensors create deliverables until we know exactly what the VOD opportunity is—as we are very cognizant of costs.   We will have our Licensor work with one of a handful of labs/post houses to ensure work is done right the first time and so that our Licensors can take advantage of volume discounts labs will afford them because it’s a Gravitas title.   The burden of deliverables is on the Licensor, but there are very little to no distribution or marketing expenses taken by Gravitas.

The Elephant in the Living Room is on pre order status on iTunes which is normally reserved for studio films. The film launches August 23.

Do you work with international filmmakers to access the US market? Do you work with domestic filmmakers to access any overseas platforms? if so, which countries/platforms?
We work with any and all filmmakers and rights holders foreign and domestic to access the N.American VOD marketplace.   We are increasingly working with US based VOD platforms that have an international footprint to distribute our content to Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Latin America, Europe, Asia and other territories as the VOD market abroad continues to mature.
Can you name typical terms for working with you?
We are happy to have business term discussions with any potential Licensor. Given our five year track record in VOD,  we are confident that on a per transaction basis, we are returning more money to our Licensors than through other avenues to the VOD marketplace.
What is the best way for a filmmaker to get in touch with you to submit a film and get the conversation started?
1.      Filmmakers can either send us screeners directly:
209 Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245.
2.      Contact our Director of Acquisitions, Mel Miller: melanie [at]
3.      You may also submit a film or trailer through our website:
Thanks again to all at Gravitas Ventures 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, like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter stream #syfnotsys.

Excerpt: Bass Ackwards

Co author Jeffrey Winter interviewed Bass Ackwards producer Thomas Woodrow to find out why a small film chosen as an official selection at one of the most prestigious film festivals for independent films, Sundance, would choose to launch straight out of the festival rather than wait for the distribution offers to roll in. That’s what is known to happen at Sundance, right?  The offers just roll in? Here’s a look at the situation.

Bass Ackwards was an official selection at Sundance 2010

With Bass Ackwards’ acceptance into Sundance, producer Woodrow had once again done everything right, and obviously the “logical” thing to do was to follow the same model he’d tried with True Adolescents [premiered at SXSW 2009 and only now finding distribution] by bringing aboard a respected sales agent and hoping for the best. Sundance is considered the “golden ticket” for U.S. indies; the best of all possible launches in North America for low-budget, character-driven films, but look carefully at its line-up every year–through the best years as well as the worst–and you’ll find that many films get no distribution offers at Sundance. In fact, the vast majority of films don’t leave Sundance with good distribution opportunities. Even those that do get distribution offers very often don’t get the kind of offers that make a picture “whole”…meaning offers that are big enough to make back the production budget of the film.

Of course there are spectacular exceptions every year, but Sundance is hardly a guarantee of distribution for films like Bass Ackwards. In fact, the film had been accepted into the newly created NEXT section of the festival, for low and no-budget films. Unlike the higher profile Premiere and Competition sections, the more “outré” sections like New Frontier, NEXT etc., are likely to be overlooked by traditional distributors who are pre-occupied with the flashier fare.

Given Woodrow’s disappointing experience only months earlier with True Adolescents, an idea began to take shape. Rather than trying to get traditional distributors to attend the Sundance screenings only to have them pass once again, Woodrow made the decision to take matters into his own hands and, as he puts it “flip everything on its ear this time.”

“We knew that the only one thing Sundance guaranteed us was a tremendous amount of publicity, a chance for people to hear about the film and to be curious about it. We also knew that we had an anti-commercial film, difficult to market, without an obvious target audience outside of the people that go to film festivals. We knew we had virtually no chance for traditional pick-up, and imagined that if we did things the regular way and waited for other companies to come to us, we’d probably see ourselves on IFC’s digital platform six months later, and nothing else. We also knew that we had spent so little on the film that we could afford to take risks. So we decided to just go for the jugular and to use the publicity generated by Sundance to release the film directly to the audience. We knew we couldn’t wait until people forgot about the Sundance press, so we decided to launch the film as wide as possible immediately after the Festival, meaning February 1st…one day after the festival concluded.”

To find out how this strategy worked, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen coming in September 2011. Also “like” our Facebook page and keep up with our tweets here.

Bright Spot: Iron Sky

We developed the Bright Spot post to showcase films and filmmakers that we didn’t include in the book, but are embodying the themes we address in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul: audience building, keeping control of rights, using the internet to keep costs low, partnering with organizations and alternative financing like crowdfunding and sponsorship. We think it is important for us to celebrate any filmmaker who doesn’t see his/her role as simply an “artist” who is dependent on others to deal with the business of their film.

Today’s Bright Spot is the Finland based feature film Iron Sky now in post production and the following is based on an email interview with community manager Jarmo Puskala.

Iron Sky teaser poster

The makers of Iron Sky have been working on the production for over 6 years and admit that it has been a challenge to keep an audience’s attention for so long. “It’s a long time to keep up interest, but it is also necessary. We do not have the money to get the word out quickly, we needed to build up our fanbase slowly so we will have enough buzz going on when the premiere is near. The danger is obviously that people from the early days won’t stay interested long enough – but thus far we’ve been lucky. We have been sustaining this by trying to open the film making process and trying to make production interesting to follow – in some ways I guess we’re doing reality TV about film making.” At present, Iron Sky has over 67,000 Facebook fans.

Regarding Youtube video promotion

“Our teasers have gathered some 6 million views on YouTube plus a few million more on other video sites. We don’t use any seeding services. We spread the content to networks by ourselves. We get the viewers via the network of fans and followers we have built over the years and via skillful and effective use of social media. All this is above the board, so we don’t do any astroturfing, ie. posing as fans or anything like that. The most important period for a video is the first 48 hours after upload. If you reach enough views during that time, your placement on YouTube charts will bring you a lot of extra visibility. Overall, the first half a million views for the teasers tend to come quick, during the first week or two. After that the view count settles down to a comfortable 20-30 thousand views per week. Our experience is that high visibility in blogs and social media is the best way to drive YouTube views. Anything else is small potatoes.  The making-of videos we release get some 2000 views for director’s diaries and other small updates and approximately ten-to-twenty times that for longer videos we call Iron Sky Signal. These diary videos are only promoted to our YouTube subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans and mailing list members.”

Iron Sky’s latest teaser video

Regarding the importance of an in house social media team and the cost

“We hired our own in-house team that handles our online visibility, publicity and social media presence together with the director and the producer. For us, it is important all the people involved in marketing are also part of the production in other functions – that way we have an online presence that is directly connected to the people making the film – not some marketing drones trying to sell stuff. Our social media campaign is relatively low-cost, but it has been running for a long time. Our monthly expenses are the salaries of three persons who are all paid according to Finnish standard. We only spend a couple of hundred dollars on services, the rest is all salaries. In total, we spend about 10,000 euros per month.”

“Our visibility is comparable to a small genre film from a major studio. Film blogs mention us together with films such as J.J. Abram’s Super 8. This is now when we are still 9 months from release. I would say our strategy has been effective, considering we have no big stars, no superstar producers nor do we have a multi-million advertising budget like the studio films. Compared to most marketing teams, I suspect we’re flying by the seat of our pants. We do keep track of our statistics, but deep analysis tends to take a lot of resources and time. Thus far it’s been more effective to trust our instincts and spend that time working on the campaigns – after all, social media is all about talking to people. That’s not saying statistics aren’t useful. We do keep an eye on our numbers constantly, but we do not make marketing decisions based solely on  statistics.”

Regarding paid advertising placement

“We’ve bought print ads from industry papers, but we haven’t done any traditional advertising towards the public yet. But there will be time for that close to the premiere. We use Facebook ads to drive traffic to our online store. The ads are targeted to our existing fans.”*

*This is an interesting point, instead of placing Facebook ads to boost their fan page “like” numbers among strangers, they use the ads to drive traffic to their store where they convert those who have already become fans of their page into paying customers.

For more Bright Spot posts of filmmakers successfully navigating new paths to finding audiences and distribution, keep reading this blog and read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen when it is released in September 2011. Also follow us on Facebook and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.