Tag Archives: The Best and The Brightest

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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The importance of curatorship and audience connection for cinemas

In Jon Reiss’ case study film The Best and The Brightest, there is a section that addresses the need for cinemas to be in direct contact with their audiences for all in the industry to continue to prosper.

In today’s marketplace of mall multiplexes geared more for reserving 5 screens for the latest Harry Potter film and offering giant tubs of popcorn and soda than true connection to film, most cinemas are owned by corporations and about as far removed from audience members as one can get. The most a patron may come in contact with theater staff is when a ticket is purchased and torn or as the credits roll when staff brings in the brooms to clean up before the next show. We’d like to think that the small arthouse theater is more attuned to those who frequent their screenings, but this often isn’t the case either. The group behind The Best and The Brightest learned this first hand. Below is an excerpt from this section of the book.

“Outside of some Facebook ads, a few small banner ads and some local event listings, they did not spend any money on media buys. Hence, they felt they could book into an indie theater, do a great grassroots campaign, and they would sell out.

However, they discovered that this was not the formula. In Columbus, OH and Houston, TX they booked into well-respected independent theaters and had local teams marketing the film. In Columbus, the theater was across the street from a university; it was the main art-house in town with multiple theaters. In Houston, they had more “demand it” requests than in any other city.  However, both of these cities bombed surprisingly.

From this Baldwin learned that the advance team helped, the online social media helped, but what was essential was that the theater needed to be connected to its own audience. To that end, they had the most consistent success with membership-oriented theaters whose patrons trusted the curatorial taste of the theater.

Weiser: Traditional theatrical is not connecting with audiences.What Declan did made sense because each of the theaters we booked into has a connection with their audience. These audiences trusted “their” theater—and if the theater programmed it—they would come.

A surprising note on Best’s Demand-It tool on their site: Baldwin found that there was no correlation between the number of people who “demanded” a screening in their city and box-office (as exemplified by the Houston screening). However, the surprise benefit of the Demand-It tool was that it was a good source for local marketing volunteers. Baldwin successfully reached out to the people who had requested a screening in their town and persuaded them to be the local outreach people for those screenings.

After Houston and Columbus, they were much more selective about the theaters that they booked. They had to be member oriented theaters. To this point, their success allowed them to get more bookings and better terms from theaters. These deals were either 50/50 splits or 70/30 after expenses (70 going to Best). They ended up making between $600 and $2,600 per screening, which is pretty good for a one-night event, especially considering that their per-screen average for their conventional theatrical was $2,385.50 for a week-long run.

They also discovered that the theaters knew what nights and times their membership would come out—either 7pm on Wednesday night or 8pm on a Thursday—it varied city-to-city and was very specific.”

Read about why Best decided to do week long conventional theatrical screenings in select cities as well in the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul now available in digital and print editions. Visit our store for details and pricing. As always, you can  follow us on Facebook where we post regularly and read our posts on Twitter under the hashtag #syfnotsys.

 

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.

 

 

The Best and The Brightest Found Their Audience Despite Early Distributor Rejection

Co author Jon Reiss spoke with the team behind the film The Best and The Brightest to find out how they came to be using a hybrid approach to distributing their film. The full case study is included in the book, but the following was written by co writer/director Josh Shelov to give a little more insight into their strategy and the importance of having an actor with an engaged fan base. The actress, in this case, is not a household name, but her fans are extremely passionate and it is that passion the filmmaker have harnessed to bring the film to market. Here’s Josh.

Spurned by traditional studio distribution, “The Best and the Brightest,” a new feature-film comedy starring Neil Patrick Harris, has crafted a 21st-century model, marketing its internal assets digitally, building a bridge between passionate Facebook fans and movie theaters and rolling out a worldwide theatrical release.

Bridget Regan may not be a household name.

But if you DO know her name, there’s a decent chance you’re obsessed with it.

Ms. Regan played the lead on a syndicated television series called LEGEND OF THE SEEKER, a THE LORD OF THE RINGS-esque horses-and-wizards saga based on a popular series of books by Terry Goodkind. Ms. Regan played the lead – the all-powerful Mother Confessor, Kahlan Amnell.

The series was cancelled after two seasons. Everyone who worked on the show went back to their lives, including Ms. Regan.

Except the most vivid fans of the show. They refused to let their Seeker go.

Seeker fans are an emotional lot. Most are teenage girls: goth-y, social-media-dwelling, given to violent arcs of creativity. Given the absence of new Seeker dramas on TV, the Seekerites simply exorcised the Seeker drama within. They built fan pages, edited pirated episodes into homemade trailers, and wrote entire novels-ful of fan fiction.

Most importantly of all, they clung to each other. Bonding and rallying on Facebook and Twitter, the Seekerites looked at the world outside their favorite fantasy, and simply chose to remain within.

Meanwhile, Ms. Regan went on with her life as an actress, landing a small but juicy part in our indie comedy which, like many indies, had trouble landing a traditional distribution deal.  Instead of giving up and putting the film on the shelf,  we turned to the internet.

Whereupon we found the buzzing horde of riotously passionate Seekerites. They wanted their Bridget back. And they would move mountains to do so – no matter what vehicle Ms. Regan happened to be in. Thus began a dialogue, and a path out of the wilderness for both our filmmaking team and the fans.

Once we started directly engaging with our fans on Facebook and Twitter, we realized that many of our most active fans weren’t necessarily the fans of our bigger names – they were fans of Bridget. And they were absolutely insane with passion. These are the fans who have reached out to us directly, rallied their communities, and quite literally dragged the film on their backs into their local movie theaters.

Kate Mulgrew’s fans have done the same thing. There’s a worldwide group of hugely passionate, social-media-loving female sci-fi fans [remember Mulgrew played Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager] . The Neil Patrick Harris fans may be our greatest in number. But the Bridget Regan fans, Kate Mulgrew fans, John Hodgman fans, and Peter Serafinowcz fans have been the greatest in actual activity, promoting the film to their networks, creating fan posters and fan art, and actually taking to the streets to ask their local theatres to book the film.

One Bridget Regan fan in Houston, a 19-year-old girl named Bethany, literally stood in her local Best Buy gathering email addresses from strangers to make sure that the film would come to Houston. Thanks entirely to her audience-building efforts, we were able to afford to bring the film to Houston theatrically.

The new model for indie distribution is realizing that every film has its Bethanys. And the key is not to think of them as just fans. They’re local distribution and marketing coordinators. Treating them as fellow filmmakers benefits everyone – it benefits indie filmmakers who desperately need marketing help, and it benefits passionate fans who want to be a part of the film business.

A Seekerite named Sandi is bringing the film to Denver. Seekerite James is doing the same in St. Louis. Another Seekerite in Philadelphia – in spite of having full-blown cerebral palsy, has organized not one but three sneak previews, and has convinced one of the theaters to actually book the film for a full-on run. He edited our EPK’s for our DVD extras. Superfans want to cross the line and become filmmakers. All you have to do is engage with them.

Inspired yet? You can find more great information and real experiences in the book 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.