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.
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.
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.