film distribution

New edition coming soon!

By Sheri Candler

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

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

Papadopoulos and Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

The Letter “D”

D: Distribution, DIY, Dynamo Player

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

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

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

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

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

What about GENRE?

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

Most of their success is with DOCUMENTARIES.

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

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

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

DYNAMO DIY RULES | DO’s & DON’TS:

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

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

$$$ TALK:

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

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

PRICE RANGES:

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

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

TIMING IS EVERYTHING:

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

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

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

This information is regarding Independents, DIY only:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

8 tips on on planning, negotiating deals and releasing your film digitally

Co author Orly Ravid is our resident expert on negotiating digital distribution deals and it is something that the organization she co founded, The Film Collaborative, helps filmmakers navigate often. Here are her tips on planning, negotiating deals and releasing your film digitally.

1.  CARVE OUT DIY DIGITAL:

Distributors and Foreign sales companies alike often want ALL RIGHTS and including ALL DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION RIGHTS.

What to watch out for overall is not the purview of these tips, however this is:  No matter what, at least CARVE OUT the ability to do DIY Digital Distribution yourself with services such as: EggUp, Distrify , Dynamo Player, and/or TopSpin Media , on your own site, on your Facebook page, and also directly to platforms.  Several of our case studies employed or will now employ these options even when sometimes also engaging in traditional distribution (e.g. Adventures of Power, Violet Tendencies, American: The Bill Hicks Story to name few). Platforms and services can almost always Geo-Filter thereby eliminating conflict with any territories where the film has been sold to a traditional distributor and often times a distributor will not mind that a filmmaker sells directly to his/her fans as well in any case. ADDITIONALLY, since I wrote this blog Prescreen, www.Prescreen.com launched its platform and we used it and so far it seems like really a great way  to boost the profile of a film and jumpstart one’s digital distribution.  It worked well for How to Start Your Own Country and we are trying other films now too.

2.   PLATFORMS ≠ AGGREGATORS ≠ DISTRIBUTORS:

Platforms are places people go to watch or buy films.

Aggregators are conduits between filmmakers/distributors and platforms. Aggregators usually focus more on converting files for and supplying metadata to platforms and that’s about it.  Marketing is rarely a strong suit or focus for them but it should be for a distributor, otherwise what’s the point? Aggregators usually don’t need rights for a long term and only take limited rights they need to do the job.

Distributors usually take more rights for longer terms.  Sometimes distributors are DIRECT to PLATFORMS and sometimes they go through AGGREGATORS.

It makes a difference because FEES are taken out every time there is a middleman.  Filmmakers should want to know the FEE that the PLATFORM is taking (because it’s not always the same for all content providers though usually it is other than for Cable VOD, for example) and  know if a distributor is direct with platforms or goes through an aggregator.  Also, filmmakers should have an understanding what each middleman is doing to justify the fee.  On the aggregator/distributor side, we think 15% is a better fee than 50%, so have an understanding of what services are included in the fee. If a distributor is not devoting any time or money to marketing and simply dumping films onto platforms, then one should be aware of that. Ask for a description in writing of what activities will be performed. Companies such as New Video (worked on our case studies Bass Ackwards, Note by Note and Best and the Brightest) function well as both a distributor and an aggregator.

3. THINK OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS AS STORES

A film should try to be available everywhere however sometimes that is too costly or not possible and when that is the case one should prioritize according to where the film’s audience consumes media. Think of digital platforms as retail stores.

Back in the DVD days (which are almost gone), one would want a DVD of an indie film in big chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video but especially a cool, award winning indie would do well in a 20/20 or Kim’s Video store because those outlets were targeting a core audience. With digital, it’s the same.

While many filmmakers want to see their films on Cable VOD, some films just don’t work well there. Some films make most of their money via Netflix these days and won’t do a lick on business on Comcast.  Other films do well on iTunes and some die there whereas they might actually bring in some business via Hulu or SNAG. Docs are different from narrative and niches vary.

Know your film, its audience’s habits and resolve a digital strategy that makes sense. If money or access is an issue, then be strategic in picking your “stores” and make your film available where it’s most likely to perform. It may not be in Walmart’s digital store or Best Buy’s. Above all, if you dear filmmaker have a community around you (followers, a brand), your site(s) and networks may be your best platform stores of all.  Though there is something to be said for viewing habits, so I do recommend always picking at least a couple other key digital storefronts that are known and trusted by your audience.

4. CABLE VOD LISTINGS

By now many of you may have heard that it’s hard to get films marketed well on Cable VOD platforms. Often the metadata either isn’t entered or entered incorrectly and it’s nearly impossible to fix after it goes live. Hence, oversee the metatags submitted for your film and check immediately upon release. Also, since genre/category folders and trailer promotion are not always an option for every film, it is the case that films with names starting in early letters of the alphabet (A-G) or numbers can perform better. Then again, there’s a glut of folks trying that now so the cable operators are getting wise to this and not falling for it. All the more reason to focus on marketing, marketing, marketing your title, so audiences are looking for it and not just stumbling upon your film in the VOD menu. There are only going to be more films to choose from in the future, not fewer.

5. ART must work SMALL

Filmmakers, if there is one thing I must impart to you once and for all it’s this:  TAKE GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY!!!  Take it when making your film.

Remember, most marketing imagery if not all for digital distribution (which will be all of “home entertainment”) must work SMALL so create key art and publicity images that also work well small and in concert with the rest of your campaign. Look at your key art as a thumbnail image and make sure it is still clearly identifiable.

6. KNOW YOUR DIGITAL DISTRO GOALS

This harkens back to Jon Reiss’ points. I have seen distribution plans wasted because a vision for the film’s path was not resolved in time to actualize it properly.

If your film is ripe for NGO or corporate sponsorship and you want to try that, you will need loads of lead time (6 months at least!) and a clear distribution plan to present to potential sponsors (who will always need to know that before agreeing).  If making money is a top concern, then know how YOUR FILM’s release is mostly likely to do that and plan accordingly. It may be by collapsing windows or it may be by expanding them. All films are different and that’s why our case study book has different examples to look at.

American: The Bill Hicks Story for example did Day & Date Theatrical/VOD with Variance & Gravitas.  That strategy can increase revenues, but is not for every film so know what sort of release makes sense for the film before starting so you don’t inadvertently lose out on options. With Prescreen now an option, if interested, one needs to carve out that window before EST (electronic sell through) / DTO (digital download to own) and streaming digital rights are sold. TFC is doing this with the film HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY for example. If showing the industry that your film is on iTunes matters to you for professional reasons more than financial then know that is your motivator but also understand that getting a film onto iTunes does not automatically lead to transactions, marketing does.

7. TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Digital distribution often has to be done in a certain order if accessing Cable VOD is part of your plan. That is not the only reason to consider an order and an order is not always needed, but it can be a consideration.  Sometimes Cable VOD is not an option for a film (films often need a strong theatrical run before they can access Cable VOD) and, in this case, the order of digital is more flexible and one can be creative or experiment with timing and different types of digital. However, Cable VOD’s percentage share of digital distribution revenues is still around 70% (it used to be nearer to 80%) so if it’s an option for your film, it’s worth doing, at least for now.

It is very often the case that if your film is in the digital distribution window before Cable VOD (on Netflix for example), that will eliminate or at least dramatically diminish the potential that Cable MSO’s (Multi System Operators) will take the film or even that an intermediate aggregator will accept it.  There is more flexibility with transactional EST (electronic sell through) / DTO (download to own) / DTR (download to rent) services such as iTunes but much less flexibility with YouTube (even a rental channel) or subscription or ad-supported services such as Netflix (subscription) or Hulu (which is both).

Films that opted to be part of the YouTube/Sundance rental channel initiative (such as Children of Invention) could not get onto Cable VOD after. The Film Collaborative has to hold off on putting films in its YouTube Rental Channel if cable VOD is part of the plan.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule due to relationships or a film proving itself in the marketplace, but better to plan ahead than be disappointed.

Companies such as Gravitas are also programmers for some of the MSOs so they have greater access to VOD, but they too discourage YouTube rental channel distribution before the Cable VOD window and they do Netflix SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) distribution after. In general, films are often released on transactional platforms first and ad-supported last with Netflix being in the middle unless it’s delayed because of a TV deal for example. This is not always the case and some distributors have experienced that one platform can drive sales on another but in my opinion it depends on the film and habits of its audience.  You should know that Broadcasters such as Showtime will pay more if you do your Netflix SVOD after their window rather than before.

The question you have to resolve is what value does each option have and what is the best order for your film given your resources.

This tip was written for the Sundance Artists Services initiative: http://bit.ly/ArTiSts

8. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DEFINITIONS

This tip was also written for the Sundance Artists Services initiative (http://www.sellingyourfilm.com/blog/2011/08/25/the-devil-is-in-the-definition-know-what-vod-means/).

There is no standard yet for definitions of digital rights. IFTA (formerly known as AFMA) has its rights definitions and for that organization’s signatories there is therefore a standard. But many distributors use their own contracts with a range of definitions that are not uniform. When analyzing distribution options, be aware that terms such as VOD can mean different things to different people and include more or fewer distribution rights and govern more or fewer platforms.

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

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

One has to ask if a definition of VOD or another type of digital right includes “SVOD” (Subscription Video on Demand) and includes subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Why does this matter? Well if the fee to the distributor and/or to you is the same either way then it may not matter. If there’s a difference in fees depending on the nature of distribution, then it will.  Recently an issue in a deal came up with respect to distinguishing ad-supported specifically from general “free-streaming”.  Is ad-supported governed by a “free-streaming” rights reference?  Why wonder, Just spell it all out; better to be safe than _____.

Another example, if a contract notes a distributor has purchased “VOD Rights” but does not define them, or defines them broadly, then do they have mobile device distribution rights as well? The words “Video-on-Demand” sometimes are used only to refer to Cable Video on Demand and other times much more generally. In a “TV Everywhere” (and hence film everywhere) multi-platform all-device playable universe, the content creator needs to know.

The devil is in the definition which you must read carefully BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.  Know what you want for and can do for your film in terms of distribution and carve it up and spell it out.

The free period for all digital platform downloads has ended, but you can still get the book at a reasonable price. Digital copies, apart from the forever free pdf version, are $4.99 from Amazon Kindle and Apple iTunes.  You can also get ePub and .mobi files for any reading device and the printed edition from our site. The printed copy is $9.99 plus shipping on our site only.

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.

 

 

 

 

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).