Tag Archives: Jeffrey Winter

“If A Tree Falls In The Forest” and other ruminations on social/community-based marketing…

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid

The old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (http://bit.ly/aCx5Eq) has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at the Film Collaborative (www.thefilmcollaborative.org) can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it.  This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit.  Films rarely sell themselves.  You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

• Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz.

• If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.

• Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.

• Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.

• Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)

• Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large.

• Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and this companion blog already highlight a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

 

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman

Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

 

 

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film — mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc…, or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like (http://www.facebook.com/wewerehere). Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well!  Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche.  For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures).  He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville

Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Caan, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

 

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby (http://ginsberglibby.com/) and Moving Pictures (http://www.movingpicturesfilmandtv.com/) were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

1) Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film.

Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there.  For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

2) Offer your potential partners something back in return.

With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

3) Community-building is an organic, long-term process…

Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

4) Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience.

In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

5) You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc.

Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

6) You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this.

There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page, located at http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/resourceplace/. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements;  an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need.

It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

7) A final take home: You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

 

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….

 

The 10 Things You Must Know Before You Set Foot on the Film Festival Circuit

We have started a tips series on indieWire in the lead up to the book’s release. These are meant to help you understand the material found in the book and share some of our knowledge gleaned through working with independent films and festivals. This first series appeared on the indieWire site August 16, 2011 and was written mainly by our film festival expert Jeffrey Winter.

1. You need two high-impact festival premieres.
Target an impact festival for both your world and international premieres. An impact festival is one that directly leads to results, whether that means sales reps soliciting you, distributors pursuing you or other festivals requesting to see your film. If you aren’t sure which festivals qualify, consult several industry professionals; every festival will tell you that distribution deals are done at their festival… and that’s almost always a lie.

2. Don’t be provincial.
Remember that the U.S. film market is only 30% of the world. That means you may be faced with making that same high-impact premiere choice in several key territories around the world (esp. Canada, U.K., Continental Europe and Asia). However, there are just as many places in the world where your film likely won’t sell anyway, so you might as well take whatever invitations come your way as long as you don’t think you are opening yourself up for piracy. In other words: Don’t overthink your Slovenian premiere.

3. Think Globally, Act Locally.
For many filmmakers in large markets, the best film festival close to home may be the best place to premiere. These festivals often have sections dedicated to local films that make acceptance easier; they also have locally themed prizes that often come with cash. Also, a local premiere may be easier to fill through regional word-of-mouth, and a packed house is always better than the alternative.

4. Know Your Niche.
Consider that for many films a niche festival may be an impact festival as well. The Chicago Latino, San Francisco Jewish, Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Fantastic Fest are all examples of top-notch specialty fests that may represent the best festival circuit in which to engage your particular audience.

5. Don’t spend before you have to.
Before engaging a sales agent, a publicist or throwing a premiere party, ask yourself exactly what you want that money to achieve. Hiring PR and throwing a party at a small regional festival where there is no national press and no industry attendees is unlikely to pay off professionally. Be targeted in the reasons you spend money at film festivals.

6. Include the festival circuit in your production budget.
Always remember to carve out a small percentage of your production and post-production budget to allow you to enter the festival circuit; we recommend 10-20% of the overall budget. Film festivals require submission fees (unless you can get them waived), exhibition deliverables, support staff, marketing materials and travel costs. A microbudget film might expect to spend up to 50% on film festival costs.

7. Don’t expect the festival to sell your film.
Actively market your own film. The festival won’t fill your seats; they have many movies and yours may not be their priority. You can nudge this process by requesting a prime slot and being in regular contact with the festival’s publicity and marketing teams, but in the end it’s your baby. And if you pack the seats with friends, you’re that much more likely to win an audience award.

8. Look for allies outside the festival.

Reach out to like-minded organizations to help promote the film. Offer perks like free tickets in exchange for email blasts to their partners. If the festival will allow it, let a local organization set up a table outside your screening for their literature in exchange for marketing support.

9. (Some) Films can start making money now.
Learn the game of monetizing your film festival run. If you have a world premiere at one the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, other programmers will request to see your film. The general rule is: if a programmer requests to see your film and then accepts it, you can ask for a rental fee (between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you submit on your own, generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. Also, niche festivals are much more likely to pay you fees to screen your film, since there’s less product for them to choose from.

10. Your theatrical release starts now.
Most filmmakers experience a mental disconnect when saying that they want a theatrical release; what they really mean is they want their work seen on the big screen, not on a laptop. Film festivals are big screens; envision your entire festival run as an event-driven theatrical release. Once your premieres have been achieved and other festivals are asking for your film, let it fly. Every festival has marketing, PR and word-of-mouth value.

Why Casper Andreas self distributes his films

Co authors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter wrote a chapter on niche audience films, many that incorporated the festival circuit as a theatrical screening tour, implemented grassroots outreach to fill the screenings and book new ones in local communities and used self distribution or split rights distribution to get their films out to audiences.

One very enterprising filmmaker is Casper Andreas, producer/director of Violet Tendencies, who has released all of his films himself. Casper believes this is really the only way he will be able to repay the investors he has so they will repeatedly fund his projects.

“I never wanted to be a distributor, I never even wanted to be a producer, but in order to be able to direct films, I had to produce and in order to keep making films, I had to be sure and  get the money back to my investors. When I would get some distribution deals that are frankly insulting, it was very hard to say yes to that for me. I put all this work into making the film and why should I just give it away? For very little upfront and sometimes for 25 years, with very little chance of ever making more money on it? That made me take charge and figure out a better way to do this.”

“I would love to sell my next film to a distributor and have them take that work off of my hands, but unless they are offering me enough money for it to make sense, I am not willing to do that. I have received some fair offers before, some like 50/50 split, but then why am I being charged all of the expenses for it? They will end up making more money on it than I will and it just doesn’t make sense to me. To give up my rights, I want an advance bigger than my budget was so that I can pay back my investors in full with the interest I promised them and for me to make a small amount. I make my films with practically no money for myself so for me to just let someone else have it, I have to make something for that.”

“With digital becoming a more important part of distribution, distributors now don’t want to take on DVD rights unless they also get the digital rights. Really, they still want all rights. Unless they have amazing relationships that I don’t have, why do I need that extra middleman? I want to keep the control and make my own deals. It is a lot of work and it isn’t for everybody. But it is a big consideration if it is important to you to make your money back for your investors and having the film be financially successful.”

“For my latest films “Violet Tendencies” and “Going Down in La La Land,” both were made for about $200,000 which is very little money for a film, but a lot to get upfront from a distributor. When you don’t have stars in your film, it is very difficult to get that upfront money. Before you sign any contract with a distributor, do your research. Speak with other filmmakers they have worked with even ones that are off of the list they give you.  A distributor can have a great, well regarded name in the industry, but still not pay their filmmakers. A lot of people are afraid to speak out, they don’t want to burn bridges, but I think it is important to speak up and filmmakers should help each other to make this a more filmmaker friendly business.”

That happens to be our mission in writing this book!

You can find more great information and real experiences in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen releasing in September 2011. Also like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter stream #syfnotsys.

 

Excerpt: Bass Ackwards

Co author Jeffrey Winter interviewed Bass Ackwards producer Thomas Woodrow to find out why a small film chosen as an official selection at one of the most prestigious film festivals for independent films, Sundance, would choose to launch straight out of the festival rather than wait for the distribution offers to roll in. That’s what is known to happen at Sundance, right?  The offers just roll in? Here’s a look at the situation.

Bass Ackwards was an official selection at Sundance 2010

With Bass Ackwards’ acceptance into Sundance, producer Woodrow had once again done everything right, and obviously the “logical” thing to do was to follow the same model he’d tried with True Adolescents [premiered at SXSW 2009 and only now finding distribution] by bringing aboard a respected sales agent and hoping for the best. Sundance is considered the “golden ticket” for U.S. indies; the best of all possible launches in North America for low-budget, character-driven films, but look carefully at its line-up every year–through the best years as well as the worst–and you’ll find that many films get no distribution offers at Sundance. In fact, the vast majority of films don’t leave Sundance with good distribution opportunities. Even those that do get distribution offers very often don’t get the kind of offers that make a picture “whole”…meaning offers that are big enough to make back the production budget of the film.

Of course there are spectacular exceptions every year, but Sundance is hardly a guarantee of distribution for films like Bass Ackwards. In fact, the film had been accepted into the newly created NEXT section of the festival, for low and no-budget films. Unlike the higher profile Premiere and Competition sections, the more “outré” sections like New Frontier, NEXT etc., are likely to be overlooked by traditional distributors who are pre-occupied with the flashier fare.

Given Woodrow’s disappointing experience only months earlier with True Adolescents, an idea began to take shape. Rather than trying to get traditional distributors to attend the Sundance screenings only to have them pass once again, Woodrow made the decision to take matters into his own hands and, as he puts it “flip everything on its ear this time.”

“We knew that the only one thing Sundance guaranteed us was a tremendous amount of publicity, a chance for people to hear about the film and to be curious about it. We also knew that we had an anti-commercial film, difficult to market, without an obvious target audience outside of the people that go to film festivals. We knew we had virtually no chance for traditional pick-up, and imagined that if we did things the regular way and waited for other companies to come to us, we’d probably see ourselves on IFC’s digital platform six months later, and nothing else. We also knew that we had spent so little on the film that we could afford to take risks. So we decided to just go for the jugular and to use the publicity generated by Sundance to release the film directly to the audience. We knew we couldn’t wait until people forgot about the Sundance press, so we decided to launch the film as wide as possible immediately after the Festival, meaning February 1st…one day after the festival concluded.”

To find out how this strategy worked, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen coming in September 2011. Also “like” our Facebook page and keep up with our tweets here.

What’s this book all about? and why digital?

Thanks for stopping by to find out more about our book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Yes, we are calling it a book even though it will be published only in digital form to start with. If we find that there is an overwhelming desire for filmmakers to hold a physical copy, lovingly plucked from the shelves of their local bookstore and personally signed by our intrepid authors, we will do what we can to make this possible. In the meantime, you’ll be able to try before you buy and read it online for free or purchase a premium version from iBooks or Kindle (or whatever other formats we think will be popular) and download it into the portable device of your choice.

What’s this book all about?

It is a book of case studies that takes a look at the ways filmmakers are now approaching distribution. None of the cases have used the purely traditional route of make a film, sell all rights to a distributor and hope they do a good job and earn overages beyond the advance. All have either split rights or gone totally DIY and my chapter looks at creators who are using file sharing sites to give their work away while still meeting their goals of either making a name for themselves or getting the widest audience possible for the least cost and/or making money either from crowdfunding or as revenue.

Confirmed cases are PioneerOne (a webseries), The Cosmonaut (a feature film/transmedia project), Sita Sings the Blues (feature animation), Ride the Divide (feature documentary), Note by Note (feature documentary), Bass Ackwards (feature narrative), Adventures of Power (feature narrative), Undertow (feature narrative and LGBT themed), For the Bible Tells Me So (feature documentary, LGBT themed). The cases will present an accurate picture on revenues and where they came from, marketing and distribution spend, and production budgets because we want this to be an unprecedented work; the true picture of what it takes to succeed and what success really looks like not the secrecy and  myth that largely surrounds the film industry.

Knowledge you will find in the book:
-Sales numbers in applicable windows and territories
-Budgets both production and P&A
-Outreach and partnerships with organizations and influencers, how it was accomplished
-Sales numbers on other revenue streams like merchandising, speaking gigs
-What tools and services were used to achieve results
-advice on crowdfunding and building communities around your work
Following along in these courageous filmmakers’ footsteps, this book will be self distributed because we know our audience, we know where they congregate and what they read and how to reach them. It doesn’t really make sense to turn the work of marketing and distributing (and our rights!) this book over to a publisher. We are paying for the development costs of the book and the freely distributed copies through sponsorship. Our Presenting Sponsor is PreScreen with contracts out to 2 other Official Sponsors. If you have a company that wants to reach the independent filmmaker community, please have a look at our sponsorship deck. We anticipate a lot of excitement for this book and our sponsors will surely get their brand in front of a very targeted audience. We will launch the book at one of the most premiere events in the independent film calendar, IFP Week in the brand new Film Society of Lincoln Center facility in New York City in September, but promotion of the book will continue throughout 2011/2012 at various other high profile events.

Why digital?

This book was conceived from the start in digital format because 1)The future is digital and to make this a physical text book didn’t make sense considering the themes being discussed in it, namely the future of film distribution. 2)We wanted to include a richer experience than text books could provide. There will be video interviews with the filmmakers, video samples of their work, URL links to articles used as source material or additional info the reader can use to do further research, some social media capabilities and charts/graphs/photos. 3) Orly and I were adamant that at least one copy (text only) would be given out for free online to anyone in the world who wanted this knowledge. With restrictions on physical distribution of a paper based book, that wouldn’t be possible or feasible. By using the efficient distribution abilities of the internet, we won’t be hampered by distribution logistics and costs to get the book anywhere in the world.

During the summer, we will be releasing excerpts from the book, some content that had to be cut for length or because the participant got off topic during interviews, highlights of our lovely sponsors and extra film stories that couldn’t be featured in the book, but offer valuable advice. Stay tuned because we are just getting started. We also have a hashtag on Twitter #syfnotsys (Selling Your Film Not Selling Your Soul, we have to conserve characters!) and a Facebook page, so come join us there.

You can also follow all of the authors on Twitter @shericandler @filmcollab @jon_reiss because we post some good stuff!

Take care

-Sheri