Tag Archives: SXSW

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.        

Bright Spot: Bots High

Florida filmmaker Joey Daoud writes a blog called Coffee and Celluloid and I was in touch with him just before SXSW 2011 where he was doing some guerrilla screenings of his film Bots High, a documentary following the adventures of high school students who build combat robots. He shared the path to distribution of his film on the blog a few days ago and I asked if I could repost it here for all who may have missed it. Joey is one of many entrepreneurial filmmakers who are now taking responsibility for their work and connecting it to the people most likely to enjoy it. His efforts merit some championing so he’s our Bright Spot for today.

 

Great film!
- Handwritten note on a festival rejection letter

The above note sums up the festival experience of my feature film Bots High quite well. A film that people who see, love, yet didn’t get much traction on the festival circuit. It played at some festivals, won some Best Documentary awards, got some good reviews, and I had some great experiences and am thankful for the festivals that took a chance on the film. But obviously not the Sundance, SXSW, TIFF festival run you imagine while making the film 1.

Below, I’ll be outlining how I’m taking my film’s future solely in my own hands, and the ideas that led to this strategy.

What Can You Do That I Can’t?

Epic festival run or not, the next question is, “Now what?” This is a question most of us filmmakers face once we have a finished film. Even the top indie films with recognizable actors are having a hard time getting distribution deals with upfront money. Three Sundance films just posted Kickstarter campaigns to raise distribution money. Dying to Do Letterman has run a phenomenal campaign to raise money to do their own Oscar qualifying theatrical run.

Do you try to raise more money and do everything yourself? Do you tour the film around and hope to break even, like Total Badass? Hope a company comes along to pick it up? With so many digital outlets yet so few companies putting money into buying films, choosing the right path for your film reminds me of the stress of picking the “right” college.

I received some distribution offers, but nothing that paid anything upfront, just some backend percentage. This means I’m going to have to sign away broad definitions of certain rights for 20 years (essentially forever as far as the film is concerned), no guarantee that any money will be put into a marketing campaign, and hope that maybe I’ll see a couple of thousand in return.

The main question I asked for every offer is, “What can you do that I can’t do myself?” Let’s take the best offer, one from a company whose name I actually recognized. They wanted all digital rights and would get the film on iTunes, Netflix Instant, Amazon, Xbox, etc, and keep 25%. Not a terrible deal, but not many guarantees on marketing, prominent placement, etc. I can handle the online stuff through Distribber – pay a flat fee, keep everything, both money and rights. With a lot of new online-only companies out there, I feel like they’re all just trying to build their library instead of putting their time and money behind something because they believe in it.

Good deal for someone whose film has been sitting on a shelf, not for someone that just wrapped and still has some fight in them.

Check Out the Film…Possibly at a Festival Near You…Or Online…Soon

Packed theater at the Bots High World Premiere

 

Bear with me as I take you through three realizations I had that will soon merge into the mega-idea.

The bigger question wasn’t how to get it online, it was how do I launch. How do I build enough buzz so the online launch is relevant? How do I get the film on people’s radar? Previously, if I told someone about the film, or pitched a blog to write about it, it’s like, “Maybe the film will play at a festival near you…or sign up for the newsletter and I’ll let you know when it’s on iTunes.” There was no target date, no time to build towards, that people writing about the film could say, “Here is a cool film, you can watch it on this day.”

Around the same time of this brainstorming, when I was crashing SXSW with an underground screening, I found it was incredibly easy to set up a free screening (shocker!). I held a screening at the University of Texas. They donated a theater, I didn’t charge admission (but sold some DVDs), super easy – no worries about rental costs and breaking even.

Get Your Priorities Straight

If 2 you read Jon Reiss‘ great book Think Outside the Box Office, one of his key points when making your distribution plan is to figure out your goals. Do you want to make money, promote a cause, or use the film to market yourself? Going into this, as I’m sure most filmmakers do, I’m thinking, “All of the above! It’s going to make money, and because it’s making money that means it has enough buzz that I’m being promoted as a filmmaker.” Clearly, not the case. But one of the main reasons I made this movie instead of trying to work up the Hollywood ladder was to have a feature film to my name to lead to more, paid work.

So with a reworking of priorities, #1 now being to use the film to market myself as a filmmaker, that means getting the film out as wide and far as possible. Combine that with my previous two realizations, and the strategy is quite clear…

A Free Worldwide Screening Day

Yep, one day to direct everyone towards that launches the film. “Hey, Mr. Reporter, check out my film. Your readers can see it October 6, for free!” Using free tools, such as Meetup Everywhere, groups can organize based on their location and create their own screening. I want to empower people to create their own theatrical experience, which as Jon Reiss redescribes as “people watching ‘films’ with other people. Any place.” ‘Theatrical’ is not a 35mm print screening in a movie theater anymore. 3

Even if people don’t come out to a screening, here are my goals from the plan when someone mentions Bots High to someone else.

  • “Oh, I’ve heard of that film.”
  • “I saw that.”
  • “I love Bots High, I own it!”

The more blogs that write about it, the more someone is aware of it, the more that will help when I need credibility for other projects.

Free Doesn’t Mean No Money

Let’s be clear, ‘Make Money’ is not off the list (to the comfort of the patient people I owe money to). From my screening experience at festivals and ones I organized, about 2-5% of the audience buys the DVD. My thinking is cast a really wide net and if 1%-3% buy, that’s still a decent amount of money.

But I can’t have a Bots High representative at every screening selling DVDs and counting money. So in the way that I’m empowering people to organize a screening, I figured I could empower them to be retailers as well.

I sell the DVD for $20 on the web site and at screenings. But I’d be totally happy selling a guaranteed 10 DVDs for $10 each, which is what I’m doing with the event organizers. They can buy a 10 pack for $100, and then sell them at their screening for $20 each and keep the profit. I’m happy, they’re happy, win-win!

I foresee a lot of groups hosting screenings being connected to robotics programs or robotics teams themselves. I would love for the film to be used to recruit new members, whether the team does combat robotics or task oriented. I feel like teams could also use this as a fundraiser. So I also setup a ridiculously low $100 fundraising license which lets any non-profit charge admission to the screening as a fundraiser. 10 tickets at $10 and they cover the fee, then everything else goes to their program.

Make it an Event

Q&A at Bots High World Premiere 

 

I am all about Ted Hope’s and Jon Reiss‘ talk of making screenings an event. I want the film to be used as a platform for teams and schools to create an event around. Show off their robots, have mini battles (Google loves sumo-bots), get guest speakers – anything to go beyond just a movie screening and make it a unique night. Also, there needs to be something special about playing the movie on October 6 other than me saying you have to.

The one thing that’s great about festival or independent screenings is the Q&A. I didn’t want to lose that element, and with all the free streaming services out there it doesn’t have to be lost. I’ll be setting up a live webcast of myself and people from the film to answer questions that are tweeted to @botshigh. I figure most of the screenings will be in some sort of college auditorium that’s hooked up to a computer, so switching over to a webcast shouldn’t be a problem.

How You Can Help

And that’s the plan – a free, worldwide launch of my film. So far the press has been good (WIREDLaughing SquidIndieWire) and I’ve got screenings set up in IndiaSpainSouth KoreaBolivia, and 26 other cities. My goal is 100. With schools getting back in session, and constant emailing, I anticipate the numbers to pick up speed pretty quickly.

Of course you, independent film lover / maker who’s reading this, can play an important role and help set up a screening. Go here for all the details.

You can follow me on Twitter at @C47 or the film at @botshigh. I’m toying with an idea of running trailers for other independent films in similar positions before the screener disks of the movie, so if you’re a filmmaker with a movie and might be interested in this, email me.

I’ll be posting more about my experiences with this, including Distribber and getting the DVD on Amazon. Stay tuned!

 

  1. I don’t have a definitive answer for why this is, especially since festivals don’t really give feedback, just some theories from an attempted objective viewpoint, such as the film is light hearted, has a narrow focus, and doesn’t tackle a heavy issue. All the rejection letters cite record high submissions, thanks to the digital revolution which now creates a higher level of noise. I’d like to imagine my film was buried in a Raiders of the Lost Ark style pile and never watched. But who knows. Obviously this experience has left me a little bitter about festivals, which led to question their relevance at all. Especially after my short Space Miami got over 50,000 views and more online press than any festival could give a short. That’s another post, though check out this Fest vs. Online comparison. The thorough Filmmaker Magazine article on Blast! is a good example of what my film went through. 
  2. ‘If’ shouldn’t be there; if you make movies and want them to have a life after creation you must have read Think Outside the Box Office
  3. I’ll be writing in more detail about the online tools I’m using to organize this. 

Read more: http://coffeeandcelluloid.com/the-free-film-distribution-experiment/#ixzz1VLBAfaza

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.

Excerpt: American: The Bill Hicks Story

Today’s excerpt will take a look at the British documentary American:The Bill Hicks Story.

Documentary that split rights and had a day&date release

Orly first met filmmakers Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock at 2010 SXSW Festival where the film was screening. At the time, it was getting a lot of distributor interest from participating in the festival and though there were all rights offers, the filmmakers opted for a split rights scenario.  The all rights offers were not enough to recoup the steep animation costs for which the filmmakers had personally gone into debt plus the BBC provided initial production funding through a DVD advance and TV acquisition fee totaling $280,000 (this is a NET #, 20% of the gross fee went to their UK rep). However this included $60,000 (again this is a NET # after the fee to the UK rep) for USA DVD rights and it’s this that caused the filmmakers problems later in not being able give a US distributor an all-rights deal, and ultimately led them to handling the split rights themselves.

“At SXSW, we met both Nolan Gallagher from Gravitas and Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films who were both very keen to work on the film. Nolan said that a theatrical would help secure strong VOD placement across the platforms and that a day & date VOD release with theatrical would work best to achieve this. We did consider releasing with a the help of a cheaper theatrical booker but, with one shot to get it right, we concluded that Variance would achieve the best that was possible and so decided to run with their larger fee,”said Thomas.

“We would have launched earlier in the USA, but had to wait for our Australian advance to come through and then we missed the fall slots. Variance suggested avoiding Oscar season, and coordinated with Gravitas for a spring release date of April 8th 2011, which Gravitas sold in to Warner’s VOD networks and synchronised the VOD date. It was also the first non studio film the company had sold to Dish Network.  Trailers then worked across both platforms announcing the day & date availability in cinema and home pay-per-view.”  The day and date situation did cause some problems with cinemas. “Dylan said that a lot of theaters didn’t take it because of the day&date VOD, which we knew was the risk you take, plus we’ve also had the Hicks factor of a doc about a marginal figure for a lot of Americans. However, the theatrical is what led Warner to place it well across all their platforms and aggressively market it on screen in cable homes.”  First month VOD sales reached over $80,000 at the $6.99 price point.

In regard to day & date, Marchetti has said “almost all of the chains have taken a hard line against any film with a VOD window of less than 94 days, while a significant portion of the independent theaters have decided that for the right film, it doesn’t really hit them in the pocketbook and they’ll tolerate it (supporting it is a stretch)- as long as you present them with a fleshed-out plan as to why people will come to the theater rather than simply stay at home.” With the film’s small P&A, they still achieved $7,000 opening weekend at Cinema Village in NY and reached a total USA gross of $90,589 though they failed to break even. Though the filmmakers took a loss, they note gladly “the theatrical release secured a lot of favorable film press and allowed Gravitas to present a strong case to Warner who gave the film great placement across their VOD and PPV networks.”  The film stayed in iTunes top 10 documentaries for 10 weeks and performed well across the States. Gravitas estimates it grossed $100,000 that first month , and that it will reach $600,000 gross over the next 3 years. “Without the theatrical lead, it’s unlikely we would get anywhere near that figure,” said Thomas.

To find out the whole distribution and marketing details on this and many other recent independent films, read Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen coming in September 2011. Also ‘like’ our Facebook page.