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.

 

Basic principles of marketing and distribution for independent film

Co authors Jon Reiss, Sheri Candler and Orly Ravid just finished up a weeklong discussion on the D Word site about distribution and marketing for filmmakers in association with the release of  Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Doug Block, who was our moderator and co runs the site, asked us to summarize our thoughts on the subject and it seemed to create a pithy little post encapsulating some of Jon’s core beliefs when it comes to helping filmmakers release their films. They are included here along with a few closing thoughts from Sheri. We encourage you (especially if you are a doc filmmaker) to join D-Word and to check out the Selling Your Film topic which is now archived.

Doug Block: As this is our last day, I’m wondering what might be some main points you’d like filmmakers to come away with regarding the way they should be approaching their marketing and distribution.

Jon’s Summary:

Distribution and marketing of a film should start as early as possible – and be integrated into the filmmaking process as much as possible. Doing this will benefit the film and make the release more successful and make your life easier.

Each film needs its own distribution and marketing plan – unique to that film. The distribution and marketing for any one film will depend on several factors:

1. Goals of the filmmaking team (all should be on the same page).

2. The film itself – what is appropriate for this film.

3. The audience of that film:

Who is the audience (be specific)?
Where does the audience learn about films?
How does that audience consume films?

Connect with your audiences early and often.

Only talk about you and your film 20% of the time in social media – MAX!

Connect with organizations that are connected with the audience of your film.

4. The filmmaking teams resources. How much money and/or time is available?

To help solve the time issue – I recommend bringing in a PMD [Producer of Marketing and Distribution] to help with the distribution and marketing of the film.

Bring the PMD on as early as possible (see first sentence above).

Budget for distribution and marketing – expect it will be 50/50 – eg 50% on production and 50% on distribution and marketing. You may be one of the lucky ones to have a great distributor come along and write you a check and take it “off your hands” – but the % aren’t that great these days.

Think strategically about how you are going to release your film that will achieve your goals and connect with your audience – in terms of the products that you can create:

1. Strive to make your Live Event/Theatrical screenings unique – and event worthy – what will motivate people to come out for your film?

2. Create unique merchandise for your film. People still like to buy things – just often not DVDs in ugly cases anymore.

3. Think strategically about how you will release your digital rights – including TV/Cable and how they fit into the overall plan.

 

Sheri’s final thoughts:

I want to put the emphasis on the audience identification. Like Jon has said, this isn’t about making a film cater to an audience, this is about identifying and connecting with the audience that already exists for YOUR story. When you are still thinking through the idea of the film, make yourself concentrate on who would love to hear this story, what makes it compelling, describe the ideal audience member in detail, down to what they would wear when they come to see the film. If they are too vague to you, they will continue to be too vague to reach.

Trying to reach a vague audience takes a lot of money because you need to saturate a market with messages (usually through advertising placement) in hopes of reaching enough people that are interested and will buy. This is why you hear Hollywood marketers lament that marketing costs have skyrocketed. They don’t make films to reach a highly defined audience. They hope to attract EVERYONE to their films and attracting everyone is very expensive.

Allow for a very tight audience core to start. I hear many filmmakers say “well, I don’t want my story to only reach a ?? audience, I want it to reach bigger” which is a fine aspiration, but if you can’t catch fire with a small group, somewhere, how will it ever grow bigger? You should have a strong base to start with, really saturate that base, and then push outward.

Also, if you aren’t yet using social media for your personal use, get on it. This isn’t a fad or something that will just go away. It is how consumers find information now. They may see advertising, but they research information online before making decisions. In order to use it effectively for your film, you have to understand it from a personal perspective. I would distrust anyone selling those services who doesn’t have a strong personal presence in social media themselves as well and it is very easy to check on that, just Google their names and see what comes up. Expertise has to derive from the practical, not the theoretical and with no barrier to entry involved with social media activity, there is no reason why someone who says they are proficient wouldn’t show up as being personally very active online.

You can check out the whole discussion thread on the D Word site and thanks to Doug Block for inviting us!

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 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.

 

 

 

 

Seven Release Strategies That Can Make or Break Your Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Know Your Goals

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

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

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

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

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

3. Set Marketing Strategy

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

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

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

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

4. Budget for Distribution and Marketing

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

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

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

5. Identifying and Engaging Your Audience

My  three-step approach to audience development and engagement:

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

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

6. Differentiating Core and Niche Audiences

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

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

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

7. Engage Organizations to Promote Your Film

Know exactly where your audience derives information and congregates.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

September Madness: Turning Towards Mecca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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).

 

Launch Day!

books in every platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

~Orly, Jeffrey, Jon and Sheri