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“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!!!!

 

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. Amplifier– ECOMMERCE 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 Limited– Monetizing 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 importance of curatorship and audience connection for cinemas

In Jon Reiss’ case study film The Best and The Brightest, there is a section that addresses the need for cinemas to be in direct contact with their audiences for all in the industry to continue to prosper.

In today’s marketplace of mall multiplexes geared more for reserving 5 screens for the latest Harry Potter film and offering giant tubs of popcorn and soda than true connection to film, most cinemas are owned by corporations and about as far removed from audience members as one can get. The most a patron may come in contact with theater staff is when a ticket is purchased and torn or as the credits roll when staff brings in the brooms to clean up before the next show. We’d like to think that the small arthouse theater is more attuned to those who frequent their screenings, but this often isn’t the case either. The group behind The Best and The Brightest learned this first hand. Below is an excerpt from this section of the book.

“Outside of some Facebook ads, a few small banner ads and some local event listings, they did not spend any money on media buys. Hence, they felt they could book into an indie theater, do a great grassroots campaign, and they would sell out.

However, they discovered that this was not the formula. In Columbus, OH and Houston, TX they booked into well-respected independent theaters and had local teams marketing the film. In Columbus, the theater was across the street from a university; it was the main art-house in town with multiple theaters. In Houston, they had more “demand it” requests than in any other city.  However, both of these cities bombed surprisingly.

From this Baldwin learned that the advance team helped, the online social media helped, but what was essential was that the theater needed to be connected to its own audience. To that end, they had the most consistent success with membership-oriented theaters whose patrons trusted the curatorial taste of the theater.

Weiser: Traditional theatrical is not connecting with audiences.What Declan did made sense because each of the theaters we booked into has a connection with their audience. These audiences trusted “their” theater—and if the theater programmed it—they would come.

A surprising note on Best’s Demand-It tool on their site: Baldwin found that there was no correlation between the number of people who “demanded” a screening in their city and box-office (as exemplified by the Houston screening). However, the surprise benefit of the Demand-It tool was that it was a good source for local marketing volunteers. Baldwin successfully reached out to the people who had requested a screening in their town and persuaded them to be the local outreach people for those screenings.

After Houston and Columbus, they were much more selective about the theaters that they booked. They had to be member oriented theaters. To this point, their success allowed them to get more bookings and better terms from theaters. These deals were either 50/50 splits or 70/30 after expenses (70 going to Best). They ended up making between $600 and $2,600 per screening, which is pretty good for a one-night event, especially considering that their per-screen average for their conventional theatrical was $2,385.50 for a week-long run.

They also discovered that the theaters knew what nights and times their membership would come out—either 7pm on Wednesday night or 8pm on a Thursday—it varied city-to-city and was very specific.”

Read about why Best decided to do week long conventional theatrical screenings in select cities as well in the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul now available in digital and print editions. Visit our store for details and pricing. As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

Book excerpt on serving niche audiences for films

If you have ever heard any of the authors speak in person or via media outlets, you know that we talk a lot about the need to identify and connect with niche audiences for your film. The question is, how to do that without limiting the potential for your film to reach the wider audience circle beyond that niche?

In the book, we included a chapter on how to find niche audiences. One documentary film in particular, For the Bible Tells Me So, went on to reach well beyond the LGBT audience it might have been most logical to target; the “choir” for the film.  Here’s an excerpt that speaks to how filmmaker Daniel Karslake and his distributor, First Run Features, accomplished this.

"For the Bible Tells Me So" was distributed by First Run Features

“Of course, no matter how powerful a subject a documentary tackles – and no matter how hungry an audience might be for the message—it is just a tree falling in the forest until it finds a platform to reach its audience. As is so often the case with successful documentaries, For the Bible Tells Me So had its first big break when it was accepted into the documentary competition at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Karslake echoed a sentiment expressed by many filmmakers:

We had some interested parties before, but once we were chosen as one of the 16 competition documentaries at Sundance everything changed. Suddenly every festival and every distributor contacted us and wanted to see the film. There was definitely a “Sundance effect.”

To maximize this “Sundance effect,” Karslake signed on high profile sales agents/film strategists Cinetic Media for the Festival, where the film was sold to Sundance Channel for U.S. TV and most importantly, to First Run Features for all other North American rights.

While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, it is what happened next that makes For the Bible such an inspirational story of niche distribution. At first, both Cinetic and First Run (as well as filmmaker Karslake) were very wary of the gay niche, believing that the film should not be pigeonholed as a gay film for gay audiences, but rather for the uninitiated, largely straight people of faith in the so called “red states.” People who, as Karslake explains, “understood the teachings of Christ, but couldn’t square that message with the Church’s attitudes towards gay people.” As such, the film spent the first few months of its post-Sundance life playing the larger “nongay” international and doc festivals, winning awards at festivals such as Full Frame and the Audience Award for “Best Documentary”at Seattle International.

For the Bible eschewed the spring LGBT festival circuit, and even chose to skip San Francisco’s Frameline—well known as the world’s oldest and largest gay and lesbian film festival. For reasons unknown to Karslake, however, First Run Features chose to accept the film’s first queer booking at Outfest Los Angeles, a festival held in early summer and which is closely watched by LGBT Industry folks.

“I thought gay people would probably hate it,” said Karslake, citing general hostility toward religious issues in the Community, supported by his earliest experiences with “In The Life” [a TV show that was Karslake’s day job]. However, For the Bible would go on to win the Audience Award at Outfest, a major validation that would pave the way for launching the film and which would lead to startling results.

Following the cue from earlier awards as well as Outfest, For the Bible rocketed through both the summer/early fall international festivals and now also the LGBT circuit, building toward theatrical release in October. Along with the Festival accolades, another key aspect of niche buzz marketing kicked in during this period—namely a tremendous surge in LGBT groups outreaching to their memberships to spread the word about the film.

Most notable was the nationwide support of the gay civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC), well known as the best-funded, best politically connected of the gay political groups,with nearly a million people on its mailing lists. Prior to Sundance, Karslake had shown a six-minute trailer at HRC’s National Convention, and the response and support for the movie was immediate and powerful.

Mobilizing both its resources and its chapters, HRC encouraged its members to buy tickets for members for the theatrical opening weekend bookings, just to help make sure the initial release numbers were strong. Also prior to Sundance, Karslake showed the same six minutes at the National Convention of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), gaining support from its nearly 200,000 membership base.

First Run opened the film in New York City’s Quad Theater in early October to a strong result, nearly $10,000 in the first weekend. Capitalizing quickly, First Run moved wider to the Landmark Theatres of Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley, Philly, Boston, Portland, and Minneapolis—all typical big cities on the art-house circuit that include large gay populations. Within a week the film was in St. Louis, Springfield (MO), Austin, Dallas, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Denver, Santa Fe, Orlando,and New Orleans…and then Charlotte, Tempe, Hartford, Fargo, Tulsa, etc.

Choosing both full-week runs and then smaller, limited engagements at regional independent theaters, First Run was able to support the release for nearly six months, finally ending sometime in March 2008 with a gross of around $309,000. Karslake estimates that the film had some sort of theatrical presence in approximately120 markets, a real eye-opener for a doc distributed by a small indie company.

Shortly into the theatrical run is when the real “miracle” started to happen. In addition to continuing to travel the film both theatrically and along the festival circuit, First Run set up a section of  its website to invite community screenings of the film. In earlyNovember 2007, the first churches starting calling and booking the film for local, church-based screenings. After churches, it spread to university religion departments, sociology departments, religious conventions, etc. From November 2007 until January 2009, scarcely a calendar day went by that the film was not playing in several cities at once, often in multiple churches, festivals, and theatrical venues all at the same time.

In total, from the time that First Run starting posting the venues on its website soon after Outfest, the film recorded more than 600 engagements around the country, mostly in small and mid-sized towns, and very often in the heart of the Bible Belt.”

To find out how all of these screenings translated into DVD sales, download or buy the printed edition of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul on our website.

We will have our second book launch party, in Los Angeles this time, on October 28 at the UCLA Library directly following the popular and FREE DIY Days LA. We will send out invitations to all of our email list so if you are in LA and wish to attend, please RSVP. As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

 

Book excerpt covering film release strategy

Co authors Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler are answering questions this week on the D Word site for documentary filmmakers. One question usually comes up regarding distribution strategy, particularly release strategies. In the book, Jon covers the importance of planning release timing so that each “window” dovetails into the next, maximizing revenue when you have the greatest amount of attention instead of stretching the release (and your resources) over a long length of time. Here is an excerpt from the case study documentary Ride the Divide.

TIMING

FESTIVAL LAUNCH

Hunter and Mike wanted the credibility that a film festival offers, so when they didn’t get into Sundance or SXSW they decided to premiere at The Vail Film Festival, which made sense both because of their audience and because of their prior relationship with the event.

Hunter: We knew after that we wouldn’t spend much time screening in film festivals, because quite honestly, we could build audiences just as easily and capitalize on the experiences versus letting the film festivals take all of the money from the shows that they screened.

They started selling DVDs and conducting their live events one and a half months after their premiere at the Vail Film Festival.

PREMIERE DATE

If there are special days, weeks, months or seasons in which your audience is particularly primed to see your film, then you should take advantage of that. For Ride the Divide, they knew they wanted to get the film out when cyclists were getting excited about riding again—in the spring.

Mike: I think it was imperative that we released the film in the spring, as cyclists are coming out of the winter doldrums and are eager to get back on a bike and experience that particular weather and that particular season, especially going into theatrical, because cyclists are used to getting together with their cycling buddies and their cycling clubs and gathering together and going for rides and beer. So that theatrical event tie-in, yeah, was absolutely perfect for the season we released.

LIVE EVENTS

In keeping with their intelligent audience engagement strategy, Hunter and Mike wanted to utilize more components than a traditional theatrical release for their film; they wanted to incorporate all forms of public exhibition—traditional or not. To date, Ride the Divide has had 135 screening engagements! Hunter and Mike booked 25 of those screenings (all in conventional theaters) and then their audience and the promoter who took the film and booked engagements for them handled the rest. In my book, that’s a 135 city theatrical release.

Mike: Pretty much everything we did was in a conventional theater, more of an indie-type theater. Definitely, we weren’t hitting the AMCs or anything like that, but we were able to put together, probably 90% of the theaters we did. We worked out a 50/50 split, which took any risk off us. We broke it up into legs, so we would put together a Denver-Salt Lake City-Boise-Portland-Seattle sort of show, that would take us on the road for 9 or 10 days. Then we would come back and do some business work and some more marketing. I think to be out there for a full 40 or 50 days is tough, it’s difficult, it’s going to wear you down, and it’s taking you away from perpetuating the other aspects that you should also be concentrating on—marketing and engaging your audience.

Mike and Hunter are working on a 40 city tour with their new film, The Path, but this time their main sponsor is doing PR/marketing and stepping up as a true partner in the release.

Here is some of what they found:

THE PARTNERSHIPS PAID OFF

For them it was key to have national organizations to promote awareness, but also, more importantly, to have the support of local groups and commercial entities (bike shops, etc.). In Dallas, TX for instance, Villy Customs brought bikes to the screenings to enhance the experience. They also had bike valets at several locations. This type of grassroots support ensured the local screenings of Ride the Divide were always well-attended.

CREATE AN EVENT

As much as they could, Hunter and Mike created a sense of an event around their film. In addition to bike themed events, they also enlisted musicians. One of the bigger risks they took was to four wall (in which a filmmaker rents the “four walls” of the theater) their premiere at the Boulder Theater (which wouldn’t give them a percentage deal), for their opening night on May 22, 2010. I’m not usually in favor of four walls for most films, but at times it can make sense and even turn a profit. Hunter and Mike were nervous about pulling the trigger on this event because of the nut ($4,500), but they realized that this was the best-case scenario for their premiere—Boulder being not only a Rocky Mountain community, but also a strong bike community.

Hunter and Mike made the premiere a premium event by providing a film and musical experience, including a performance by Gregory Alan Isakov, who also appears on the film’s soundtrack. It paid off for them. They charged $18 per ticket and with 600 people in attendance, they grossed $10,800 in one night. They paid $3,000 to rent the theater plus $1,500 for the musician fees and other costs. That’s a $6300 theatrical profit for one night (not including the sweat equity to arrange and market the show). They did other event screenings with another Ride the Divide soundtrack musician, Dominique Fraissard.

PROGRAM ON ALTERNATIVE NIGHTS

Echoing the experience of Todd Sklar and his Range Life tours, Hunter and Mike found that the best nights to screen were Wednesday and Thursday, with Monday and Tuesday being fine as well. Most of their screenings were 1-3 nights, except in Denver where the film ran for 3 weeks. They strongly recommend staying away from Friday and Saturday nights because there is too much competition and Sundays “are the worst.” Note: Saturdays did work well for bike-event themed screenings when a group ride or bike shop got behind the screening.

To read about moving into digital and DVD release, buy the digital or printed copy of the book on our website or download the free pdf.

We will have our second book launch party, in Los Angeles this time, on October 28 at the UCLA Library directly following the popular and FREE DIY Days LA. We will send out invitations to all of our email list so if you are in LA and wish to attend, please RSVP. As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

Bright Spot: The Lamp

Today’s Bright Spot post features narrative film The Lamp. The film is a faith affirming, family film based on a novel by best selling author Jim Stovall. It covers themes such as grief, neglect, adoption and foster care. Joe Jestus, Producer of Marketing and Distribution for Trost Moving Pictures, took some time out of the film’s theatrical and community screenings tour to talk with me about what they are doing to promote the film.

Narrative film The Lamp

Charity screenings and network marketing

“We’ve tried a couple of different things. One thing that has worked for us in spreading the word was creating a charity screening program through teaming up with a network marketing company.  While we were hoping to raise more money for charities, any time you can raise money for great causes and affect people’s lives, it’s a good day. In fact, that site has had even more traffic than our main film website. We gained a list of 1,200 people who were interested in holding an event, had over 200 sign up to become hosts and have had almost 50 events scheduled from July till the end of this year.”

“If you visit www.LightofTheLamp.com you can see the system at work. To date, we have raised over $12,000 for charities around the country. People get two tickets to the screening, the DVD and 2 books to take home and we give $25 to charity for just $50. We’re also working on giving 10% of all product sales from our site to a charity of the purchaser’s choice and we are just now rolling out that promotion. This way people can purchase after the event and still support their event charity. We learned a lot in the process and we’ll definitely keep doing it for future projects with some changes of course.”

“We also made special edition versions of our products and offered them to the network marketing associates at 50% off for marketing or gift giving opportunities.”

Working with their distributor

“Our distributor is Destiny Image Films and they were with us on our last film A Christmas Snow. They are new to the industry as they were book publishers previously, but they are learning fast and doing a good job. Our distribution model is a bit different because we have a working relationship with our distributor. We create a movie and two books each time we do a project. They get a bigger share on the books and we get a bigger share on the movies. This way it works for us all. Because of this, we don’t do the festival circuit to gain distribution. Instead we hit niche festivals for our target audience to gain exposure and hopefully some awards to add to marketing materials. We try to enter at least 5 in our niche, which is family friendly movies. We aren’t looking to make money on these festival screenings, we are just looking for publicity like most films having theatrical runs.”

Working with organizations

“We worked with the local chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation here in Tulsa to hold a screening to raise money for their cause. I believe it was very helpful in getting the word out in our local market. It helped us get on news stations, radio, and in the paper as well. Because of the event, they will be able to grant two kids’ wishes and that’s what is most important. We also contacted some organizations that deal with issues in our film, but nothing as of yet has materialized from it.”

“One other test we are trying is offering free viewings of the film through a podcast network that the director Tracy J Trost has a show on with a friend of his. We wanted to see if people would buy the film off our site after viewing it for free, but to date we haven’t sold any that way.”

Digital distribution and Cable VOD

“Our distributor is going through Gravitas Ventures and it just started on August 1 so I don’t have any numbers on it yet. We are on DirecTV, iTunes, Walmart.com – Vudu, Zune, Amazon Instant Download, and Playstation.”

More activities and the next film

“We’re constantly working at finding new ways to connect with our audiences and create revenue streams for our projects. We’re really excited about the stage play version of our 2nd film, A Christmas Snow, that’s opening in November in Branson, Missouri, www.aChristmasSnowLive.com for more information. We’re also working on getting ready to shoot our next film in the spring.”

“The way I see it, everything we do is another planet in our brand’s universe and our goal is connect with our audience with each project and keep growing it as we continue to move forward. Our overarching mission is simple: Making movies is what we do, but making a difference is what we love. That’s why we’re constantly looking for ways to support charities with our projects.”

Thanks to Trost Moving Pictures PMD Joe Jestus!

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. These are the final 2 days to download it for free. As of Oct 1, the digital editions will be $4.99, though there is a forever free, text only pdf.  Also follow us on Facebook and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

 

 

 

Seven Release Strategies That Can Make or Break Your Movie

This piece originally ran on the indieWire site on September 6, 2011 just prior to the book’s release. Co author Jon Reiss takes a look at release strategies that need to be considered for independent films starting with the goals of the release. Many filmmakers (and distributors) only consider the money aspect, but there may be a variety of goals involved in making and distributing a film which will affect release patterns. Here’s Jon:

photo courtesy of Miles Maker. Co author Jon Reiss autographs the book

There are many elements in formulating a strategy to release your film. The most important consideration on the list? Knowing what you want to accomplish. Films can have a variety of goals and they aren’t all tied to making money.

1. Create a Unique Marketing and Distribution Strategy for Your Specific Film

Each film is unique and requires its own individual distribution and marketing strategy.  Each film in the book is different; most have very different audiences. Similarly, each filmmaker has a different set of goals, needs, and resources. While the studio one-size-fits-all model worked well for some independent films over the last 20 years, it was a disaster for others. With the new hybrid model of distribution, you can craft a distribution and marketing strategy that makes the most sense for your film.

You have a unique vision; use that vision to engage your audience in a unique manner. This will help separate you from the media noise that surrounds us every day.

One of the first films included in the book, “Bass Ackwards,” implemented a unique distribution strategy launched the day after their Sundance premiere concluded. To date, they are if not the only, one of the few to have tried this method.

“This really was an industry play as opposed to anything that got noticed by a more mainstream audience,” said producer Thomas Woodrow. “The intention was to create publicity buzz through the unconventional nature of the release and to have that alone drive audience interest in the film. It was definitely successful on that level. We did far, far better revenue-wise and exposure-wise than if we had tried to go a more conventional sales route.”

2. Know Your Goals

I cannot stress this enough. I cannot repeat this enough. There are multiple goals that you can strive for in the release of your film, but you must prioritize what is most important to you. I categorize the goals for the distribution and marketing of your film into the following five:

1.  Money
2.  Career launch—i.e., help for your next project.
3.  Audience/eyeballs to see the film
4.  Change the world
5.  A long-term, sustainable connection with a fanbase.

Choices you make in service of one goal will often sacrifice another goal. For instance, releasing your film for free on the internet might get you the most eyeballs, but it won’t always help you monetize the film.

You must make sure that everyone on your team is on the same page and doesn’t have conflicting goals. An example from the book, savvy and talented filmmaker Hunter Weeks from “Ride the Divide” had the goal of career launch to help his next project, but his producer Mike Dion’s goal was to make money to repay the investors. These goals are two that are traditionally in direct conflict because career launch is normally associated with some form of traditional theatrical, which in turn is usually a money drain and will not result in repaying investors.

They chose to go for the money. As a result of this focus, they have paid back their investors and garnered a lot of attention in the process, both of which will help Hunter launch his next project.

3. Set Marketing Strategy

Two helpful ways to think about marketing:
1) reaching the audience that already exists for your film
2) thinking creatively of what audiences might be interested in your film.

I recommend that you consider and conceive of a marketing strategy for your film early in the production process, even at inception. Who is its audience? How are you best going to reach them?  Are there particular blogs, organizations, print media that they subscribe to? Who will you bring on to help you outreach to your audience? How does this audience consume media?   Answering these questions will help to fashion your release strategy.

Case study film “Note by Note-The Making of  Steinway L1037” identified their core audience as Steinway owners and pianists who played Steinway pianos, then moved on to all pianists, music teachers and musicians. Another audience group they discovered through screening the film at festivals comprised people who worked with wood such as boat builders and carpenters.

“When we screened in Vermont I had all these people come up to me and say, ‘You know, I have a business; I make furniture and I loved watching these guys build this piano,’ said director Ben Niles. “It really gets down into doing things by hand, so I think anybody who likes to grow organic tomatoes or cook in the kitchen, or anybody who’s really doing something tangible can really identify with the film.”

4. Budget for Distribution and Marketing

In order to successfully execute a marketing plan for your film, a budget must be developed in tandem with your production budget. This is not an optional expense to be decided at the end of post. A marketing and distribution budget is a tool that balances what needs to be spent against what can be afforded, and helps make choices about which methods will be priorities and which ones cannot be implemented due to cost.

A well-analyzed, affordable budget will help to focus achievable marketing efforts without wasting time and money. Doing this also will show that you have a sense of how you are going to make your investors money back (and that you care).

Case study “The Best and the Brightest” went into distribution thinking that they would receive distribution offers. When those did not materialize in a way that would make sense to sell the rights to the film, producer Patricia Weiser had to find a way to raise more money for a hybrid distribution approach. “Don’t forget to have a plan (and a back-up plan) and budget for marketing/distribution in case Fox Searchlight doesn’t write you a big, fat check,” she said. “I had a plan (to use tax credit dollars for the marketing/distribution plan) that didn’t work out (investors wanted the money back). I think we’ve put together a pretty good back-up plan. We will see. The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.”

5. Identifying and Engaging Your Audience

My  three-step approach to audience development and engagement:

1.  Know WHO your audience is.  This is not 18-25 year old boys/men. Or 35 – 55 year old women. As an independent filmmaker, if you cross over into a mass audience, great – but you need to be much more specific.
2.  Know WHERE your audience derives information/congregates. In other words, how you can contact them, engage them, communicate with them. It may not be by using online tools, but you have to know where.
3.  Know HOW your audience engages media, or HOW they will support you.

For case study “Pioneer One,” the filmmakers already had experience connecting with torrent fans through their previous film “The Lionshare,” a low-budget, narrative film about the world of file sharing. When it came time to start crowdfunding for the web series, they did outreach to every file sharing forum and publication they could to attract interest and gather donations. Not only did they surpass their initial goal of $6,000 to make a pilot, but they ended up raising all of their production budget (over $70,000 total) to finish the series through fan donations. The series is available where their fans are most likely to see it, via BitTorrent and YouTube.

6. Differentiating Core and Niche Audiences

The terms core and niche are often used interchangeably; this is a mistake.

The niche audience for your film is that slice of the population that has a particular interest in your film or an aspect of your film; the core audience for your film is those people within each niche that are your most ardent supporters. Those people will spread the word about your film not only to their networks, but to the rest of that niche. You can have multiple niches interested in your film, and within each niche there is a core who, combined, adds up to the whole core of your film.

While many of our case studies, especially the documentaries, had niche audiences, the key to their successes lies in getting through to the core audience first. With “Ride the Divide,” it was cyclists living along the race route of The Great Divide and they chose musicians also based in those areas to include in the film’s soundtrack, further bringing in the core fan base. With “American: The Bill Hicks Story,” it was reaching the fans of Hicks in the US and the UK including other comedians who were friends and colleagues of Hicks, not targeting all fans of standup comedy.

7. Engage Organizations to Promote Your Film

Know exactly where your audience derives information and congregates.

Many niches have organizations that support those specific topics and interests. Engage those organizations early in your filmmaking process (as early as conception and prep). It is important to have the proper attitude toward your audience and these organizations. Think, “What can I give them?” instead of, “What can they do for me?” If you think of the former, the latter will flow. People are very busy. You need to give them an incentive to be involved with you. That fact that you are making a film is not enough. How will the film service their organization, their lives and the lives of their members? In turn, they will help you promote your film to their direct audience.

This has been used by great effect by documentary filmmakers.  Narrative filmmakers need to follow their lead. Case study doc “For the Bible Tells Me So” was able to reach their target audience through organizational partnerships with churches AND gay rights organizations, even though their initial thought was these two groups would be at opposition to each other.

“Most of the time, maybe 70% of the time, it was small gay groups alerting other small gay groups about the film, and those groups contacting First Run [the film’s distributor] and finding venues in which to show the film to the wider (non-gay) community at large,” said director Daniel Karslake. “And then word would catch on, and people would want to be a part of the discussion. Just about everywhere, audience turn-outs were tremendous, and sellouts were common.”

When the 2008 National Convention of the United Methodist Church met to change their book of common prayer to stop condemning gay people, they ordered one DVD for each of their 900 voting members. A similar order was placed on behalf of 900 Bishops in advance of the 2008 Worldwide Anglican Communion.

This is the final week to get your free download of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. After October 1, digital copies will be $4.99 and the print copy will stay at $9.99 on our site. There will be a forever free pdf copy that does not contain pictures, links or video on our site. By November, the print copy edition will be hitting many bookstores so if you do not want to order online, you should find it in stores. The SRP is estimated at $19.99 though.

 

 

September Madness: Turning Towards Mecca

Today’s post was written by co author and festival strategist Jeffrey Winter. Late deadline for Sundance is looming and he has this advice for all of this year’s hopefuls.

With the Toronto International Film Festival now ending, and the submissions closed and programs largely locked for major fall fests like Hamptons, Chicago, and AFI FEST, the annual festival cycle turns once again…and the thoughts of indie filmmakers turn once again to Sundance dreams. Click here and recoil in collective realization/horror that there is just one week left until the official “final late deadline” for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

In our role as advisors and educators with The Film Collaborative, strategizing around Sundance of course plays a major role in the analysis of the distribution arc of an independent film (particularly for U.S. filmmakers of course….less so for international filmmakers). In the last few days alone, I’ve watched seven films and spoken to seven filmmakers who’ve articulated their distribution strategy to me as “well, I’ve applied to Sundance now…so I hope I get in.” When I ask them what else they are planning, the response has mostly been, “well, I’m waiting to see.”

Keep in mind, I’ve actually seen these films. My best guess would be two of the seven have a chance, and one of those perhaps better than 50% likely. Considering that each and every one of these filmmakers is smart and industrious enough to actually finish a feature-length film, it’s astonishing how little of that capacity for informed decision-making is being applied to the life of the film AFTER it is in the can.

This is in NO way a shot across the bow at Sundance. In SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL, we profile a number of films that premiered at Sundance, and clearly document the utterly profound and dramatic good that a Sundance premiere can do for an independent film. We can all point to numerous Sundance miracles; even life-changing events that can probably ONLY happen through Sundance. My favorite of 2011 (although not in the book) is the story of Evan Glodell’s BELLFLOWER, for which the director and some of the crew spent a large part of five years homeless and crashing on each others’ couches in order to get made, and then found theatrical distribution through Oscilloscope at the Festival (and subsequently, actual homes to live in). One of my recent filmmaker meetings was with a middle-aged British filmmaker who told me that BELLFLOWER is the model for their distribution strategy, to which I had to chuckle, and ask him, “really, you want to suffer that much?”

Of course, by most all accounts, the 2011 Sundance Film Festival was a banner year for indie films sales, and numerous six and seven figure deals were splashed across the headlines. So to this I say, by all means, if you CAN premiere your film at Sundance, you should certainly do so….there is no other U.S. festival with nearly as much “impact potential,” and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future. But let me be one of the first to go on record here and say, I highly doubt Sundance 2012 will be anything like Sundance 2011 (except of course, it will be cold weather, as always). The economy has been in serious backslide since then, and I am certain that many of the film purchases of Sundance 2011 are already underperforming at the box office and this will cause buyers to be more wary this time around. I have been calling Sundance 2011 a “bubble” for months now….and if I am wrong, well, that will be good news indeed.

If SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL has taught us anything, it’s that the most forward-thinking of today’s filmmakers understand it is no longer up to “others” to make their film a success, it is first and foremost up to them. There are a lot of people out there that can help you (including The Film Collaborative), but at the end of the day, your film is YOUR baby, and your passion for the film will outstrip everyone else’s, and that passion needs to be present in your distribution strategy every bit as much as it was in making the film in the first place. Do us ALL a favor and stop thinking that this is the “future” of independent film, and recognize that the future is NOW.

To this end, here are some things you can do:

1. BUILD YOUR OWN COMMUNITY. I know its harder to do than it sounds. But you built a community to MAKE the film, so keep building your community to get it out there. Social media is of course a key, but even a Luddite can do it. Most of the most successful indie films I’ve ever worked on have been driven by filmmakers who knew the organizations they needed to connect with, the churches they needed to engage, the fan bases they needed to activate, etc.

2. KNOW YOUR NICHE. In keeping with the community theme, identify and target the people who are likely to be the “first responders” to your film. Don’t fool yourself that your film is “for everybody”…this is the first mistake we frequently hear. Unless you’ve got major A-level stars in your film, we can tell you right now that your film is NOT for everyone….it will take activation of a specific kind of consumer/ lifestyle-based audience to drive your traffic. Ask yourself seriously, how am I going to reach these “first responders,” and you will be way ahead of the curve. Don’t just ask yourself these questions, put your ANSWERS into ACTION. The real work doesn’t end with finishing the film….in today’s film climate the work practically STARTS with activating your particular fan base.

3. DO YOUR INDUSTRY NETWORKING. Does anyone for a minute imagine that getting into festivals and/or getting your film distributed is a democratic process based on the quality of your film alone? Ha, that would be nice…but not based in reality. Programmers and executives and everyone else in the distribution chain are just actual humans, and of course they are more likely to favor your project if they have actually met you and pressed your flesh in a handshake or a cocktail party kiss. You need to be out there, pushing your film in the same way a politician pushes their campaign.

4. HAVE MULTIPLE BACK UP PLANS. This is the essence of entrepreneurship. No self-respecting business person would start a company based on the whims of one particular “popularity contest,” which is essentially what any one Festival like Sundance or any other boils down to. When looking at a Festival like Sundance (or any other), you are essentially looking at one “corporate culture” that may or may not find your film fitting to their needs according to factors you can’t possibly control. Don’t be disheartened by any particular rejection…have a broad based strategy that circumvents any particular eggs in any particular basket. It may take you a while to find your audience and your fan base, but don’t let anyone tell you that it is impossible.

Because in today’s world, believing that it is impossible is likely the surest road to failure. And stubborn determination and dogged hard work is probably the surest road to success. Assuming of course, you’ve got something special (in terms of the quality of your film) to work with….

 

Launch Day!

books in every platform

The day has come at last and probably most of you can relate. Our baby is finally out for the world to see and we hope you all find her beautiful.

You can access the store here where all of the digital edition downloads can be found. But a few explanations…

-Our experience in dealing with the Amazon Kindle platform as a self publisher was a little frustrating. We can’t set the price at free due to a download charge they impose, so…we have a free .mobi edition on our site that you can manually upload very easily to your Kindle. It keeps the integrity of the Kindle edition with the photos and the links intact. We will have this on the site until October 1, after which time the edition will be $4.99 on the Amazon site and you can use the Whispernet system to download it in one click.

-Even though we sent the files to iBooks about 2 weeks ago, they still haven’t made it out of the processing system so the video versions are not available today unless we discover they somehow made it out. Keep checking back on this as it could be any minute. You can get the ePUB without video for your Apple device from the site.

-The free pdf will be forever free, but does not contain photos, charts or any URLs. Since the other, more enhanced versions are free for September, you may want to download those first.

We would like to express sincere gratitude to our developer David Averbach who put up will all of our incarnations of the book, our requests, our demands and a boatload of emails. We would also like to thank Jon Reiss and his assistant Alexandra Tapley for spending so much time uploading the Topspin store for our site.

We would love to thank all of our sponsors who have made this book a reality and given us the ability to publish on our own and keep control over the work. Prescreen and Area23a for the print edition, Prescreen, Dynamo Player, Gravitas Ventures, Topspin Media, Snagfilms, EggUp, as well as all of our media sponsors and in kind sponsors for the digital edition.

A huge thanks to all of the courageous and pioneering creators who participated in this book. You inspire us every day with your generosity and leadership in the cause of empowering artists to take charge of their work, their livelihoods and show them how it can be done.

I saw a great quote today that I want to share with you as it is especially fitting for the ideals behind this book. “When the heart is willing, you’ll find a thousand ways, and when it’s unwilling, you’ll find a thousand excuses.” This book is for those with willing hearts to help them find their way.

Happy Reading!

~Orly, Jeffrey, Jon and Sheri