Tag Archives: Note by Note

Theatrical screenings

While it is still the hope of every filmmaker we know that their film will be seen on the big screen, very often they do not have a clear idea of the work and money involved in making this happen. They also do not have an idea of the kind of revenue (or lack thereof) these screenings will generate. There are a few passages in the book that address this topic and the many ways filmmakers are screening their films.

This first piece is from Ben Niles, director of Note by Note. After Ben had taken the film back from his sales agent, he set about looking for a theatrical distributor.

I was trying to find an indie distributor and I was getting pretty frustrated because these people that I was told were indie distributors still wanted me to spend $50,000 to$75,000. They wanted me to get a 35mm print; they wanted a ton of money for P and A, and I said, ‘I guess I’m missing it, because that’s not indie to me.’

Ben met with Jim Brown from Argot Pictures and they agreed on a monthly fee for Jim to book the film theatrically. The successful Film Forum screening was crucial, because theaters across the US look to NY box office figures to see what might be good to book locally.

Jim and I worked out a guaranteed three-month deal to see if he could get any traction for the film, and then we would step back and renegotiate if everybody was happy. Well, we renegotiated like within six weeks. The phone wasringing off the hook.

Within the first year, they had 50 theatrical and 20 alternative theatrical dates grossing $100,000.

Since the New York theatrical was done at Film Forum, who provided the publicist, Ben was able to keep the costs of the theatrical release very low. He spent a total of $4,500 on publicists in LA, SF and Chicago, which Ben thought was very effective and a wise spend. He also spent $3,000 on print ads, (which Ben considered a waste of money [but is often required by the theaters]), and $500 on dubs.

Case study The Best and the Brightest had an interesting theatrical release partly through Emerging Pictures.  Jon Reiss explains Emerging’s model

Emerging Pictures has a relationshipwith about 100 theaters nationwide, in which they can deliver a digital “print/file” for no cost. In other words, they have eliminated all print costs (even BluRay) and created a network of theaters that are connected to audiences. In addition, if you have a live event after your screening, Emerging can net-cast this to any of their member theaters. All this costs is $1000 encoding fee and 70% of the box office; the filmmaker keeps the other 30%.

Here is more about Best’s theatrical screenings:

“New Video [the film’s DVD distributor] and Weiser [the film’s producer] engaged Marian Koltai-Levine of PMK to create a theatrical release for the film in New York and Los Angeles (Miami also came on board as part of Baldwin’s sneak previews) for a fee of $50,000. New Video put up 50% of this fee,which included around $20,000 for print ads. The 50K also included the four-wall fees for the theaters in NY and Los Angeles. It made sense for Best to spend this money because they had stars in the film. Hence, they would get reviews as well as other forms of national press, such as Neil Patrick Harris on Conan O’Brien, Amy Sedaris on Letterman and John Hodgman on The Daily Show, among others. Total gross for opening weekend—$4,771—hence the per screen average for NY/LA: $2,385.50. Weiser told us, ‘There was no expectation of making our money back from the theatrical itself, but we hope it will all impact the bottom line DVD/VOD/digital sales.’ Koltai-Levine was also able to get Emerging Pictures on board to continue the theatrical into about 30 to 40 additional cities.”

The chapter on Adventures of Power demonstrates the work, expense and risk of theatrical screenings.

“Ari hired Dylan Marchetti’s company Variance Films to do the theatrical release and he worked with Range Life on the event/semi-theatrical.

Did you do traditional theatrical, and if so, how much time did you spend to set it up?

Ari: I spent about four months setting it up.

How much did you spend on the theatrical?

Ari: $150,000. [he thinks that $20,000 went to prints.]

How long was the theatrical run?

Ari: About six weeks.

How many cities were full-week runs?

Ari: Eight.

In how many cities did you have alternative theatrical screenings?

Ari: 15.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed just $17, 419. Ari still feels like it helped by generating publicity and awareness for the film for the ancillaries.

How much did you spend to book your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $1,500.

How much did you gross on your alternative theatrical release?

Ari: $800.

To read more in depth about how each case booked their screenings, worked to promote them and how they felt about the service providers they hired to work with, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul.

Our Los Angeles book launch party is tomorrow night at the Young Library at UCLA. If you plan to attend, please RSVP. There will be printed books for sale autographed by the authors as well as food and drink.

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Seven Release Strategies That Can Make or Break Your Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Know Your Goals

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

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

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

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

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

3. Set Marketing Strategy

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

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

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

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

4. Budget for Distribution and Marketing

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

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

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

5. Identifying and Engaging Your Audience

My  three-step approach to audience development and engagement:

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

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

6. Differentiating Core and Niche Audiences

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

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

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

7. Engage Organizations to Promote Your Film

Know exactly where your audience derives information and congregates.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Ben Niles Talks About Note by Note

One of Jon’s chapters concerns the film Note by Note, a documentary about the making of a Steinway concert grand #L1037 piano from forest floor to concert hall. The film was completed in 2006 when the talk of internet distribution and social media marketing of films had hardly begun. Back then, the conventional route of getting a sales agent, premiering at a major film festival like Sundance or Toronto to start a bidding war of offers was all the rage (some still think this is the way things are done) and it was the way Niles envisioned how the distribution of his film would go. But it didn’t happen. While he did secure a sales agent, Note by Note was not accepted into the big festivals  that agents use to launch a title into the market and his sales agent’s interest waned. He knew he had to take matters into his own hands lest his film completely die.

Note by Note partnered up with the Steinway Company

Since the Steinway company plays a big role in the film, Niles found a way to incorporate their enthusiasm into a workable relationship to help promote Note by Note.

“There are hundreds [of Steinway dealers] around the country. The film was done and we had just screened it as a courtesy to the executives at Steinway and they were very happy with the film.  They approached us and said they wanted to show it to the dealers at the dealer meeting in California. I didn’t even know they had a dealer meeting, but of course I was happy to do it. Once we screened it, that really unleashed a wonderful resource of finding new fans for the film because every single one of the dealers asked ‘when can I get my hands on this film, how can we help you promote it?’

As a filmmaker I was nervous about that because I didn’t set out to make a film to promote the Steinway company or to promote a Steinway piano. I fell in love with the story for many different reasons. I was reticent about joining forces with them because I wanted the film to be objective and I wanted to maintain my sense of control. But I couldn’t deny the fact that these people could reach our audience very easily. We never asked the Steinway company for any kind of funding. I knew if we did that, if we crossed that line, people wouldn’t take the film seriously. It was the first question from every critic, ‘did they fund this in any way?’ and when I said no, the interview would continue.

We premiered at the Hamptons Film Festival in New York and we called the Steinway company and asked if they wanted to be involved. They brought the piano out from the film, with a pianist to play it and they catered it and we had an aftershow party. It was a big success and it really set the model for other festivals and theatrical screenings from that point forward. They started moving the piano around [the one from the film] to over 20 cities. Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, Florida, we would call the dealer and say where we would be screening the film and ask if they wanted to team up and do this event. They did it very tastefully it, it wasn’t like a ‘Steinway Presents’ type of thing.  We had a lot of autonomy and the theaters were happy and the dealers were happy. They are still doing it. Now that it is airing on PBS, if it airs in say Phoenix, they get in touch with the Phoenix affiliate and try to do a private screening.”

To hear more about Note by Note’s theatrical and community screenings distribution strategy including the revenue it generated, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ ourFacebook page.