Bright Spot

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.

 

 

 

 

BRIGHT SPOT: Under Our Skin | DIY Does it Again

 

From my talk with Andy Abrahams Wilson (Producer, Director, Cinematographer)

ABOUT THE FILM & ITS STRATEGY:

Under Our Skin http://www.underourskin.com/

A gripping tale of microbes, medicine & money, UNDER OUR SKIN exposes the hidden story of Lyme disease, one of the most serious and controversial epidemics of our time. Each year, thousands go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, often told that their symptoms are all in their head. Following the stories of patients and physicians fighting for their lives and livelihoods, the film brings into focus a haunting picture of the health care system and a medical establishment all too willing to put profits ahead of patients.

With a production budget of just under $1,000,000, the film had its festival premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in 2008 and went on to Silverdocs, and to win BEST DOCUMENTARY awards at many other fests including Houston and Sonoma. Filmmaker Andy Abrahams Wilson has a background in self-distribution.  He has been actively involved in New Day Films http://www.newday.com/ , a national distribution collective that believes individual filmmakers have the most interest and passion to get their film seen.

Wilson has worked with distributors but feels that films have broader distribution when a DIY strategy is employed which is what he has done with most of his films. He said this worked well for Under Our Skin. Wilson noted that what made the most impact so far was with DVD sales, which continue robustly till this day.

The broad strategy is to keep the community around the film engaged, which helps build momentum and spread awareness around the issues in the film, while also keeping up with DVD sales. Wilson chose not to follow a traditional distribution path because he did not want to give up the DVD rights and he’s glad he handled the release the way he did.

THE THEATRICAL RELEASE:

The film had a limited theatrical, distributed through a service deal with Shadow Distribution.  The reasoning behind the theatrical was to get reviews and to qualify for Oscars. The film was shortlisted, which increased the film’s visibility in the public and also helped motivate its core base of supporters.

The film grossed just under $100,000 http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=underourskin.htm which was about break even given the costs of the theatrical run, says Wilson.

The filmmakers sold DVDs at many of the festival and theatrical venues.

Generally, 20 – 30% of the audience would buy DVDs, sold at a discounted price to audiences.  Wilson noted that “the high rate of purchase at screenings helped confirm that the film was perceived as a “must have” doc”.

MAILING LIST:

Any time the filmmakers do outreach (MAILINGS, BLOGS, E-BLASTS, ETC.) they see an uptick in sales and their mailing list (which is about 25,000).

Keeping a good customer list and also staying in contact is a priority.

Wilson noted that Facebook been really instrumental for that, and they have approximately 15,000 fans.

The key to this film’s success is that there is an “underground movement of people who have been affected by Lyme disease and so they really wanted to see their stories told… [it’s] a ready made community”. Also Wilson connected with organizations involved with the issue. But this strategy works for many films, hence my interest in covering it for the blog.  One has to stay involved with the film and the issues, as Under Our Skin has done.

“Not just promoting the film but create a space where people can get info and share”, as Wilson noted.  Their outreach organizational partner is covered here: http://turnthecorner.org/

ABOUT THE DVD RELEASE & MERCHANDISE:

Wilson had a preview DVD for sale before film came out theatrically.  He sold approximately 5,000 units before the official DVD release.

Between the festival premiere at Tribeca in 2008 and theatrical release (which was about a year later, in June 2009) he sold PLAY ONLY versions of the DVD, no bonus features. He updated the DVD a few times since with title cards at the end of the film so kept film current. Wilson has come out with 2 updated versions since initial release.  He’s been selling the full DVD for two years now and has sold about 25,000 units.  And of course he’s able to control all hence able to update and do new versions.  Replication was done via Discmakers and fulfillment was done in-house. DVD distribution was done almost exclusively via his website (though also at events). Wilson started working with Amazon only as of a year ago (2010).

It should be noted that New Day’s philosophy was not to do home video till long after educational but this was primarily a home video title so did not space out but still have different prices (of course some will abuse that). Wilson does not think this cannibalized their educational sales. They still get those orders and do educational promotion but that is not their focus.  In any case, more and more it’s hard to separate the two unless one creates a window. So again, number of DVDs sold is approximately 25,000 at an SRP of $34.95 initially and now $29.95 and also has an educational price for organizations and libraries is $85 (Institutions and Libraries and non-profits).

On the website there is a store for DVDs for Educational use or Home use.

The filmmakers also sell merch such as bumper stickers and awareness bracelets: http://www.underourskin.com/store

TV BROADCAST & DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION

In January of 2011 Wilson started to work with digital aggregator Gravitas (which sometimes goes through Warner Brothers’ Digital Distribution arm) for Cable VOD and digital. Gravitas also worked with the filmmakers of American: The Bill Hicks Story and Big Gay Musical (both films are covered in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul).  The digital distribution was started only AFTER the DVD release and Wilson did none directly and still does none directly.

What he did do was in May 2011 a TV Broadcast with PBS, but for free.  Wilson did the deal directly.  Had a 3-4 month run, got 80% carriage and Wilson notes that also pushed DVD sales. On the filmmaker’s website you can see all the stations and air dates:  http://www.underourskin.com/tv

PBS broadcasting was via NETA National Educational Telecommunications Association http://www.netaonline.org/programming.htm (so again, the film was made available for free) but generated sales. Reaching over 80% of the PBS market translated to millions of viewers which Wilson noted lead to a significant and unexpected uptick in sales (about 20%) when the film aired on TV and even when it was first released on Netflix’s Watch Instantly streaming subscription service.  It should be noted he had tried to sell TV rights via Josh Braun of Submarine (who we, TFC, co-repped Shut Up Little Man with) but no sales could be generated, perhaps the film was seen as too controversial Wilson wonders.

On the digital front the film has been up on Hulu (via Gravitas) for free since August of this year (2011) (via their subscription and Ad-supported platform/service).  Wilson also noted an uptick in sales due to the free streaming on Hulu. Wilson noted it was hard to tell if the uptick in sales came from the streaming on Hulu or the promotion for it (done via Wilson’s lists/community).  On the rest of the digital front the filmmakers are not doing anything on their own yet. Perhaps because the DVD sells so well they are not in a rush to sell cheaper digital formats but I do think it will be time soon to add sell the film digitally via either Topspin, Distrify, EggUp, or Dynamo Player etc..

They also have a clip on SNAG films, and it’s one of the only films that the whole film is not shown, just 10 mins. Under Our Skin is consistently one of the most viewed or discussed but very very few returns. Wilson feels “the verdict is still out about digital overall”. Time will tell, he says, and he’s waiting to see overall digital revenue and to determine if the Hulu strategy made sense.

And after we finished the call, I was determined to buy the film for my mother who suffered from Lyme disease for many years. I cannot wait to see it!

(this is Orly by the way, covering for our resident blog guru and marketing master, Sheri Candler, who is in Chi Town at this moment).

 

Bright Spot: Sound It Out

This week’s bright spot film is from the UK. I often get the feeling that our European filmmaker colleagues look at the things we American indies are talking about and shake their heads. “What are they on about seeing films outside of a cinema? Not needing a distributor? Raising money on their own without investors? We’ve got government funding to take care of us!” The disruptions in the film industry that are happening over here in America will be (and already are) happening to you too so it is important to us to showcase filmmakers from around the world who are already taking advantage of the new technologies to reach audiences and thinking in different ways about production funding and geting their films out to market.

I met the filmmakers behind Sound It Out through Facebook and Twitter first and then had the pleasure of speaking with PMD Sally Hodgson at the film’s premiere at SXSW in March 2011. The team has used crowdfunding 2 times so far to raise production funding and finishing/festival funding and just have embarked on a 3rd round of donation collection to widen their theatrical screening efforts beyond festivals.  Sally shared with me a little of what they have done with the film so far.

photo courtesy of Jeanie Finlay

Synopsis: Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days. SOUND IT OUT is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England.

Directed by Jeanie Finlay Producer of Marketing and Distribution: Sally Hodgson, Pipoca Pictures

Festivals, screenings and raising money

“SOUND IT OUT is a tiny budget film and the production and post-production finance came from two crowdfunding campaigns on IndieGoGo, we raised just over $10,000. We wanted to honour the support of all our fantastic donors by doing a real grass roots publicity campaign for SXSW. We were delighted to be accepted into SXSW for the film’s world premiere. The audiences were amazing and we screened in the Alamo Ritz, possibly the coolest cinema I’ve ever been in!  [In the lead up to SXSW] from our UK base, we organised an in-store performance by Saint Saviour in a fantastic store in Austin called End of an Ear, and we took the SOUND IT OUT portable jukebox onto the streets of Austin to play tracks from the film on vinyl.”

“SOUND IT OUT has screened at festivals from Mexico to New Zealand, having a premiere at SXSW means your film gets onto the radar! We also had a joint UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest and Edinburgh International Film Festival. We’ve tried to secure a screening fee for the majority of festivals (outside of our premieres) and this has brought in a small income. It really all depends on the size of the festival and of course the festival’s budget.”

“We did two special screenings to celebrate SOUND IT OUT being the official film of this year’s Record Store Day, one in London at Rough Trade East (with live performance by The Chapman Family) and the other in New York at Lincoln Centre. We also did a member-only screening at the Electric Cinema, where we met one of our PR people and made some great industry contacts.” “At the moment we’re crowdfunding again, to release the film into cinemas in the UK. The finance we raise will unlock support from the British Film Institute to allow us to make digital copies of the film, get it classified and do some targeted publicity work. Our crowdfunding target is $10,000.”

Distribution and working with organizations

“In the UK, we did an ultra limited boutique DVD release on Record Store Day [in April] through a distributor called PIAS. The split we negotiated meant there was some cashflow on the film, which helped to pay off the costs of attending SXSW. The guys behind Record Store Day (especially Carrie) have been wonderful and amazingly supportive. Before SOUND IT OUT became their official film, our first crowdfunding campaign was promoted on their Facebook page which brought in a donation of $2,000 from an American solider serving in Iraq. His brother works at United Records and he loved the idea that the vinyl his brother makes could be for sale in a tiny shop in the North-East of England!”

“We’re following a live event model [for theatrical release] and working with the Independent Cinema Office, Picturehouse Cinemas, the British Federation of Film Societies and Dogwoof Ambassadors as well as direct to venues. We’ve recently agreed to release the film through the British Federation of Film Societies, that’s up to 500 screens and each venue will be paying a screening fee. We estimate the live event tour will cost in the region of $20,000. We plan the theatrical activity will run for one month. Also we’re negotiating with a high-profile UK distributor who does things a bit differently and we’re excited about their ideas for SOUND IT OUT.” “We’re doing all merchandise sales ourselves and had a great practice run when sending out the perks from our previous crowdfunding campaigns! Also, the film will be on iTunes in the UK in 2012.”

Spending money and using social media

“We have a budget of $4,000 to hire a publicist to promote our final phase of crowdfunding and the potential UK cinema release. To promote the UK screenings, we did consider print ads, but instead we’re trying out ads on Facebook. It will be an interesting experiment. Our budget for Facebook Ads is around $1,000, not a huge amount but we hope by being very targeted, this spend will convert into new fans and donations on our crowdfunding campaign.”

“I think it’s really important that someone close to the film is the person who interacts with the audience. Jeanie, the director of SOUND IT OUT, posted a personalised music dedication to everyone that donated to the film [in previous crowdfunding campaigns] and there’s nearly 300 lovely people on that list.  She regularly posts on Facebook roughly 5 times a day, about 20% specifically about the film and the rest with interesting and relevant links. She also looks after the Twitter account.”

“Every festival screening brings new fans to the film’s Facebook page and we’ve found Twitter really useful to connect to the audience and also to industry people. As I said, we’re about to experiment with Facebook Ads for the crowdfunding campaign so I’m looking forward to getting into the analytics once that’s underway. Google Analytics for the film’s website show that festival screenings and writing for blogs can bring in a lot of traffic. For SOUND IT OUT coverage in NME, The Guardian and on the Filmmaker Magazine blog were very influential. We’ve also done competitions on Facebook for screening tickets and they’ve been really effective and helped to add to the buzz about the film.”

“As far as consultants, we started working with UK-based James Collie from November Films early on in the process. Having James to consult with has been really useful, it’s great to have someone to discuss splits and strategies with. He has experience with independent cinema releases and brokering sales deals. He took a small fee and a credit on the finished film as payment.”

Sally’s role as a PMD

“Jeanie and I started working together when she’d just launched her first crowdfunding campaign, I worked to bring on-board partners to support our campaign, corresponded individually with each of our 200 donors, connected the project through social networking, identifying people who might be interested in hearing about the project and building up the number of Facebook fans. Jeanie and I devise what we post on Facebook and Twitter, but  it’s Jeanie’s voice and I think this is important, she is the creative behind the film, her love of music helps to further connect with our audience.  However, I do use my personal Twitter account to spread the word about the film and in the early days of SOUND IT OUT spent a lot of time researching and carrying out searches in order to promote the film, these connections have proved to be very useful (a review in Variety for example).”

“I’ve handled all press up to now and continue to do so. The only reason we will start to work with a specialist music PR person now is because of the involvement of the BFI (British Film Institute) and their need for us to target a ‘secondary’ audience. So the coverage prior to this week has been through my connections and work. Securing the BFI ‘s support required a lot of detailed paperwork and costings, which I took the lead on.”

“The grassroots marketing and promotion of the film, for example the mobile jukebox we took to SxSW, came about through my connecting with the guys at Crosley Radio and I organised the instore at End of an Ear in Austin. I’ve also organised the fulfilment of our three crowdfunding campaigns, getting the perks produced, packaged up and posted out. ”

“James Collie, as our distribution consultant, has provided a mentoring role for me and has discussed with me the deals we’ve been offered – he’s been a great help but I’ve been making a lot of the initial contact and did so with the distributors we’re negotiating  with.  I’ve also connected with other organisations such as the British Federation of Film Societies and we are screening SOUND IT OUT at a forthcoming programmers event and award ceremony.”

“In relation to the theatrical, I’m dealing with cinema programmers, negotiating box office splits, scheduling the tour, organising the logistics of our supporting events (live bands, Djs) and connecting with the independent record store in the cities where we are hoping to screen. I’ve also organised special private screenings, attracted an audience to them and organised the logistics.”

Obviously, Sally is an integral part of the SOUND IT OUT team who works intimately with all of the aspects of getting the film noticed and distributed. Both she and Jeanie work tirelessly on every detail of the marketing and distribution of this film and the work is really paying off.

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 one week. Also follow us on Facebook and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.        

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: http://coffeeandcelluloid.com/the-free-film-distribution-experiment/#ixzz1VLBAfaza

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.