Tag Archives: independent film

Using Pinterest for your Film

Written by Sheri Candler, co author of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul

This post was originally published on February 21 on Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity’s blog and republished with additions on the Tribeca Future of Film blog February 27.

I know, collective groan “yet another social network to keep up with?” Seems like there is a new one born every minute and many of them fail to get off the ground. But here is why Pinterest might be a site you should consider using for your production.

-In just one month (December 2011-January 2012), Pinterest saw traffic increase over 155% and over the last 6 months, traffic increased by 4000%. As of this month, they had over 11 million unique visitors to the site and over 10 million registered users from all over the world.

-Statistics show Pinterest drives more referral traffic on the Web than Google+, YouTube, Reddit and LinkedIn combined. The beauty of pinning photos/videos is they link back to websites, thus driving traffic. They are nofollow links, so it doesn’t help with SEO, but any link that drives traffic to a site is good for awareness and conversion.

-Mainly, the site now attracts women in the age range 25-44 who love fashion, home decorating and family related products. As it gains more of a following, this is bound to change. Still, if that is a target demographic for your film…

-Activities are based on images so rather than having to write a lot, you can simply post photo collections and they don’t even have to be your own photos! I think this is the highly attractive thing about Pinterest, in fact I am hearing about Pinterest addiction. Users typically spend 11 minutes on the site each visit. User scanning pictures is a lot more enjoyable than scanning status updates on Facebook clearly. Plus there is no EdgeRank to deal with. Once someone decides to follow your boards, they continually see new additions you make in their stream whenever they log in.

-The key for users doesn’t seem to be gaining followers, but gaining repins meaning they want to have people think what they pin is cool (or hot, or whatever). They strive to be INFLUENCERS and that is exactly the people you want to find and connect with. Because people can follow boards they find interesting, it is possible to have many more followers on your boards than you do on your account profile.

-It integrates with your other social accounts like Facebook and Twitter and hopefully Google Plus is coming. There are embed badge widgets you can install on your website to integrate all of your social channels. Word of caution, at the moment the site only connects to Facebook PROFILES not business or professional pages, so you probably shouldn’t opt to sign in with Facebook if you are using this for your film, just sign in with your email and don’t connect to Facebook. If you want to tie Pinterest to your Twitter account, make sure it is the one you use for your film and when G+ comes online, make sure you have signed up using a gmail account for the production, not for your personal gmail account. However, other users can sign in with their social accounts and things they pin show up in their Facebook or Twitter stream, very handy for word of mouth spread about you and your film.

There is a “scoreboard” of sorts showing how many boards and followers you have over all, as well as followers of only certain boards and repins of your pins. The site also allows you to glean from others what they are interested in. You can start to “listen” to what your potential audience thinks is interesting by viewing what they select to pin. You don’t follow people as much as you follow things, ideas, topics on Pinterest. You can repin something someone else has posted and this can open the door to a conversation. They can do the same with your pins and you are alerted via email when someone does this and it shows under that image on your board. This is an enormous help when you are trying to figure out what to post, what boards to create, what resonates most?  While Facebook is about people and brands, Pinterest is about things and interests. You can only post images or video and some comments and tags in text on your boards.

I only recently started using it for the Joffrey project I am working on which is why all of my boards are devoted to that. Looking at them gives a good idea on the kind of thing you could use it for on your production. In my workshop presentations, I talk about posting regularly on your social channels and not just information directly about your film, but also about the interests of your audience; those who would be a fan of your film and of yourself as an artist. I am using the boards to show Joffrey history through pictures and videos; the ballets they created, the ballets they revived, their alumni dancers, Robert Joffrey through the years as well as photos of the merchandise available to buy through our site. It’s a balance of audience interest and promotion for the film.

I noticed Ted Hope is using his boards to express his personal interests , things and people he admires and wants to draw more attention to, his artistic accomplishments and resources he uses that he thinks would be helpful to his connections. All of these things help in attracting an audience both to his films, but also to his professional life as a producer. His personal tastes are reflected in all of his boards and none are devoted to posting family vacations! The point being, we can get to know Ted as a professional person without his having to reveal too much private information.

Other artists in the indie film space currently starting to use Pinterest are writer/director James Gunn; transmedia educator/artist Christy Dena who uses her boards to showcase ideas about narrative, interactive and game design ideas she has discovered;  filmmaker Erik Proulx has created boards that show his advertising and design background and what he finds inspirational for this. You may remember his short film Lemonade about those who were laid off, particularly in the advertising industry, and found inspiration to reinvent their lives completely. I think Erik is kind of into these inspirational, motivational, life changing stories which is why he is making another film called Lemonade Detroit about a city that is reinventing itself. Filmmaker Gary King uses his boards to show his inspirations, showcase actors and actresses he loves and his career accomplishments. Film blog Film School Rejects uses their boards to keep readers updated on this year’s Oscar contenders, interesting movie posters their readers might like and films they are watching.

Pinterest is just getting started so don’t be alarmed that you have missed the boat. You still have first mover advantage here. You must join by invitation only, but those invitations aren’t difficult to obtain. You can request one on their site.

A word about self promotion

As with any social network, you should be using Pinterest to directly connect with audience on a personal level, not as a one way promotional channel. Use creative ways to showcase your personal identity and vision and use it as a magnet to attract those most interested in what you, as an artist, have to say. You will find your audience is much more willing to stay with you across projects when you are mindful of their interests.Sho us your style, the way you see the world, the way you tell a story, not just “buy my DVD.” Contribute something of value to the community, and they will keep coming back.

Populate your boards before you start trying to add followers. As with any new endeavor online, you need some interesting content first. You wouldn’t promote a website that only has a landing page that says coming soon, so start by thinking through what you want to say about yourself and your work, who are you trying to attract (this could be different types of audiences, which is fine), and analyzing visuals you can use from your own assets. Also, the account can have more than one contributor which is good for sharing the responsibility of board maintenance with your marketing team.

As with anything you do online, track referral traffic coming to your site via Pinterest. If you use Google Analytics, you can find out how to do this here

Pinterest is dead easy to get started on, but if you like tutorials, watch this video.

Pinterest jargon

A Pin-an image added to Pinterest by a registered user

A Pinner-someone who is a registered user of Pinterest

Pinning-the act of sharing an image on Pinterest

A Pinboard-a collection of pins usually categorized around a topic, interest or theme

Repin-sharing some else’s pin on one of your own boards

Pin It Button-a widget badge one can embed on their website to let others know about a Pinterest account. Also a bookmark shortcut one can add to a toolbar to easily pin something  seen online to one a board.

 


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: Sound It Out

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

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

photo courtesy of Jeanie Finlay

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

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

Festivals, screenings and raising money

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

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

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

Distribution and working with organizations

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

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

Spending money and using social media

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

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

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

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

Sally’s role as a PMD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit Steven Roddy.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sponsor Spotlight: Prescreen

In addition to highlighting material that will be available in the book, we will be publishing information on the sponsors who are supporting our efforts to bring this information to you, especially giving us the ability to provide the free copy version. All of the sponsors are resources and tools for the indie filmmaker and we hope after learning more about them, you will seek out their services.

Today marks the launch of our Presenting Sponsor, Prescreen. Thus far, if you visited their web page, you were asked to submit an email address to be kept informed of their activities. Even I wasn’t quite clear on what they are offering until I did this interview. Prescreen curates films and distributes them via a daily email to an opt-in audience. Today, they will start accepting applications for films to be showcased on their site, but they will not accept every film. “Unlike some of the other services that currently exist, we will not be a sea of titles. We will do our best to try and create signal out of noise,” said founder and CEO Shawn Bercuson.

What will PreScreen mean for the indie filmmaker?

“For the indie filmmaker, Prescreen means you now have a viable alternative to distribution. That said, we do not intend to replace any of the existing channels, we are merely a tool to help make the marketing and distribution efforts much easier. Being featured on Prescreen means revenue instead of marketing spend, analyzing demographics of *your* audience instead of looking at the audience of comparable titles, and increasing the potential to go ‘viral.’ We give the filmmaker and distributor relevant information that they can use to maximize the success of each title.”

“We believe there is a lot of great content that exists that never finds a home or has a hard time reaching the right audience. As we all know, movie distribution has historically been a very arduous and risky endeavor for filmmakers, distributors, or studios alike; however, we now live in a world with exciting technology that enables us to communicate in real time with…everyone. If you use these tools correctly, the supply vs. demand curve can be shifted. Whereas, before content was created, money was spent, and hours of work were completed prior to the release of a film trying to create demand for a title; we can now gauge demand at the beginning of the process such that the entire endeavor is more efficient.”

Will the service cost anything, either for filmmakers or for audience? If so, what?

For moviegoers, it is free to signup to receive the Prescreen daily email. If a movie catches your eye, you have the opportunity to ‘rent’ the movie to stream. Each movie we feature lives on Prescreen for 60 days. On Day 1, the movie costs $4 and you’ll have up to 60 days to view the film; while on Days 2 – 60, the movie costs $8 and you’ll have 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 and you’ll have 48 hours to complete the film once you start the stream.”

“Why 60 only days? Movies live on Prescreen for 60 days for many reasons. First, to allow a film to capture (and capitalize on) the word-of-mouth exposure that organically ensues throughout the social graph. Movies are inherently social. If all my friends are talking about a specific title, I don’t like to be left out of the conversation and I’ll want to partake. 60 days allows people to join the conversation. The second reason is piracy. As iTunes has successfully proven with the music industry, people are happy to pay for content as long as they have access to it. For example, if a movie is screening in 6 cities not named Omaha, Nebraska and I live in Omaha, my only option is to illegally download that title. 60 days allows access to content that people might otherwise be forced to get through illegal means.”

“For filmmakers and distributors, there is no out of pocket charge at any point throughout the entire Prescreen process. Prescreen is only successful if the movie is successful. Prescreen will send the filmmaker a check for 50% of the revenue generated from the sales on Prescreen along with a ‘Prescreen Performance Report’ that details all of the relevant information a filmmaker or distributor would need to continue to reach the targeted audience including: a Prescreen performance summary, detailed demographic information, the size of the addressable market, and suggested continued marketing plan.”

*NOTE*: Prescreen has a strict privacy policy that protects all of the personal information of its subscribers. All information shared with the filmmaker or distributor is aggregated and does not compromise any personal or contact information that could lead to any unwanted use or abuse.

“At any given point in time, Prescreen has up to 60 films featured on the site: 1 featured film and the 59 previous featured films. As one movie enters  our library through their feature, another one leaves. After 60 days, the filmmaker should have enough data points and insight to continue to market their film effectively and reach the right audience.”

How does one sign up for an account?

“For filmmakers and distributors, visit prescreen.com/submit. Here, you can submit your film to Prescreen to be the ‘Featured Film.’  The featured film is the highlight of our daily email that goes out to all of our subscribers and will also be the only film on our homepage for 24 hours.”

On what devices is the service geared toward viewing?

We believe that movies should live where moviegoers want to see them. Because of this, Prescreen plans to be platform agnostic and live on the web, mobile, and other connected devices like streaming TV’s, gaming consoles, and set top boxes. However, as any Prescreen engineer will tell you: ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ so we’ll start on the web and prioritize platforms based on where our audience is telling us to go.”

If you are interested in having your film considered for the service, you can start submitting today.

Keep following our posts here for more information on the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen and like us on Facebook.