7 Deadly Sins of Self-Distribution
Hot Docs Presentation and Notes from the Forum

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Earlier in the month, I had the pleasure to present and attend Hot Docs.   As I am pitching a few new projects to direct and produce, I was especially interested in attending the Forum (5 notes of pitching to forums below).

But first - I want to share the presentation that Sonja Henrici of the Scottish Documentary Institute and I did at Hot Docs - The Seven Deadly Sins of Self Distribution. (This presentation includes an introduction to the PESO concept.)

To be honest there are so many mistakes that filmmakers make, it was hard to narrow it down to seven!  Here is what we decided on: 
Sin #1: Not Having a Strategy that is Appropriate for Your Film

Sin #2: Don’t Rely on Distributors to Save You

Sin #3: Not Knowing Your Audience

Sin #4: Not Knowing the Language of Marketing

Sin #5: Not Engaging Organizations Early Enough

Sin #6: Thinking Organic Social Media Is All You Need

Sin #7: Not Collecting Data From A Variety of Sources
To download the full presentation, signup for our email list


It was very informative to watch this year's pitches.  Twice Colonized (a really wonderful pitch and potential film) won the Hot Docs Forum Pitch Prize. But the IFP Filmmaker Lab project Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers won the Cuban Hat Award.  Here are 5 takeaways:

1.  The amount of money given to projects that are pitched has definitely declined in recent years with nearly no project receiving a verbal commitment of money from any of the broadcasts.  Instead there was a lot of "we are interested, let's talk".  There was even a panel outside of the forum on whether pitch forums are still useful.  However some of those conversations did lead to some deals being made. Pitching at the Forum does the service of raising the profile of your project on the international documentary stage.   

2.  You need both an effective pitch and an effective video.  While this seems to be a no-brainer I was surprised by a number of projects that either had an amazing pitch, but the video was unfocused, or the other way around.

3.  Have a good logline.  It was interesting that the pitches that didn't have a concise logline that succinctly said what the film was about, had the less focused verbal pitches.  A good logline is a way to figure out whether you really know what your film is about and can convey it to others. 

4.   Team work.  The panel was very impressed by a presentation in which the team was very practiced and took turns nearly every third sentence in conveying the pitch.  They commented on how this indicated that the team worked well together.  Personally I though it made the pitch a little too rehearsed - but it was interesting to see its strong effect on the panel.

5.  Let the funders talk.  Each project only has 15-20 minutes with 7 minutes alloted for the pitch (verbal and video).  Some filmmakers spent a long time answering questions beyond what was needed, using up valuable reaction time from the panelists and in fact only getting a few responses in the limited time.  Keep your comments pithy and to the point!


The Power of Social Advertising
A Case Study on 3100:RUN AND BECOME

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


I recently sat down with documentary filmmaker, Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains, Challenging Impossibility), to discuss the release of his latest film 3100: RUN AND BECOME.  The film is a documentary about endurance and determination which follows participants in the world's longest certified running race - the Self-Transcendence 3100 Miler - as they attempt to shatter boundaries of human possibility. In terms of getting one’s film out into the world, Sanjay is one of the savviest filmmakers I know.  Since 3100: Run and Become has such a potent niche audience, Sanjay decided that it made sense to pursue a hybrid strategy for this release.  What Sanjay wanted to discuss the most - and what he (and I) feel is most relevant for other filmmakers is how he used social advertising to promote the release.



Release background:  3100 Run and Become had its festival premiere at Illuminate in May 2018 and was released theatrically in August of 2018. The film was rolled out to 15 markets over 12 weeks, culminating in New York City (during the marathon) and Los Angeles. 3100 was released on TVOD in the US and Canada in December of 2018 with international sales commencing in January of 2019.

Sanjay started our conversation pointing out the difficulties of getting “earned media” in today’s media environment. As a recap, ”earned media” is content about your film that is created by someone else on other people’s platforms. Reviews by reviewers, feature stories or audience reviews.  Traditionally, earned media is what has driven and still drives much of more commercial independent film releases.

But with today’s crowded media landscape, getting this coverage is harder and harder.  Smaller market papers are eliminating film departments and instead are dependent on syndication from a few major sources. Even new digital media companies are slowing down or laying people off (see Buzz Feed).  


Finally, Sanjay noted that traditional media is not setup for slow rollouts of films that benefit many independent releases.  Media outlets still favor the large nationwide release.  

The flip side of this phenomena is that now it is possible via social advertising to track your ROI (Return on Investment).  You are also able to (and need to) use social advertising to promote the earned media that you are able to achieve and promote your own owned media (the media you control and create) through shared media (social media channels and organizations).  

Now, for $1 you can get marketing impressions which never would have been possible in the traditional space!

I asked Sanjay to break down some specifics with his film 3100: RUN AND BECOME so we could get a realistic view into how targeted ad spend on social advertising can help your campaign.

First, his film did get some publicity/earned media with online publications such as “Outside Magazine.” But unfortunately what they learned was even though they had some great placements, his team still had to spend money to amplify those images and get the media media out to audiences.  Sanjay noted that with the decline of print publications, many articles get lost in the shuffle.  People used to read magazines cover to cover which would introduce them to smaller stories, but now articles need to be promoted in order to get eyeballs.  So even if you do get press - you should be pushing that out through targeted ads (and earned media makes one of the strongest ads since it is validation from a known source).  

To aid in tracking ROI you should embed a Facebook Pixel into your website’s HTML code, which will then track traffic from Facebook to your website. Facebook will begin creating a profile of this engaged audience that’s much deeper than what you could select for (ie, age, sex, location). The Pixel aggregates the entire history of this small set of users to form a target profile, which you can multiply through Facebook look-alike audiences.  Sanjay found that with as little as $1500 in ad spend, Facebook was able to develop a look-alike audience in the millions.  This wasn’t totally perfect all the time, in some cities it worked - in other cities they would have to add audience metrics to hone the results.



You need to also decide what you want your call to action (CTA) to be in the platform as well as what you want the ad to accomplish.  If you are in the wide part of the audience gathering/awareness funnel and you want views,  FB knows people who will watch.  If you want the audience to click on a link - you specify that in the Facebook ad manager etc.   If you want people to watch it on Amazon, make sure you have a button in your ad that goes straight to Amazon.  For their film trailer, they got over 750,000 views on Facebook.   Remember you have to build awareness before you can convert.  Often it takes people seeing an ad 3-10 times before they act.  That action may not be a purchase, but it might be an add to watchlist, cue, etc.  

As noted above you should of course create your own media (owned media).  A trailer is no longer enough.  You not only need trailers for different audience segments, but you need this content in a variety of lengths.  Here are some of Sanjay’s owned media for 3100 with some of the metrics:

https://vimeo.com/306098920
This had a 45 cent cost per click thru to our iTunes/Amazon page, with about 200,000 impressions

When they chose to be billed by 10 second video view, impressions went up and their our cost per video view was 4 cents each.

This was highly targeted to people most likely identifiable as Navajo:
https://vimeo.com/306098004

Here’s the 15 second Instagram ad (note the vertical orientation): https://www.dropbox.com/s/mz7eeu6mbrjlb88/TRAILER%2015%20sec%20IG%20CM%20quote_1.mp4?dl=0

This had a 20 cent cost per click thru for about 300,000 impressions. FB now has a feature that only bills you if the whole video is viewed.


Facebook vs. Instagram. Facebook will always promote its newest tool.  When the 3100 campaign was running, Facebook was promoting Instagram Stories and they realized that Stories were outperforming Instagram Ads, which outperformed Facebook ads. In the end, they pulled most of their money from Facebook Ads and put directly into Insta Stories.

You can geo-target audiences as well as target specific demographics based on what audiences like in Facebook.  For instance they were able to target people who like Navajo Times, geo-targeted to northern Arizona.  The film did a $5,000 opening box office in Flagstaff, Arizona - which is a lot for Flagstaff Arizona.  They targeted only the cities they were playing in avoiding a large national spend.   They also targeted cities for theatrical release based on their relative success of their ads.  They nixed some cities where their ads were not performing well at all.  Because of their strategy and tactic, they were held over in every city they played in except NYC. 


3100:RUN AND BECOME was in theatres from August 18th to November 17th on a rolling basis. In the end, their theatrical release earned $80,000 in gross. $65,000 of this was trackable back to their ad spend.  This resulted in a net of $37,000.   The total costs of booking, publicity, ads for the theatrical was approximately $47,000.  As a result they lost $10K on their theatrical but more than made it up in digital.  

The film was then released digitally Dec. 12th entirely on transactional platforms such as iTunes and Amazon.  They’ve discovered their sales are 8 to 9 times more on Amazon than on iTunes, so, naturally they’ve redirected all of their click thru advertising to Amazon. With the digital release they are taking roughly 30% of their net and spending it on advertising.  Roughly 25% of that spend is going to Facebook and 75% going to Instagram.

Sanjay had a successful film release by navigating the ever-changing social media advertising space and using a custom crafted distribution strategy. I hope you find his experience helpful as you begin developing your own marketing and distribution strategy!



Cheers!

Jon.


A BITTER MESSAGE OF HOPELESS GRIEF SCREENS AT BERLINALE

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


This week I will be traveling to Berlin Germany to attend the screenings of my 1988 short film, A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief. The film was selected to screen in the 40th edition of the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival, a section that has always included films with the intention to inspire, provoke, and challenge the audience. To celebrate the 40th anniversary, the festival will be screening 40 past films as a reflection program.

A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief is a fractured narrative featuring large anthropomorphic robots living in their own fictional world devoid of humankind, the machines act out scenarios of perpetual torment, exasperated consumption and tragic recognition. The film is a fast paced glimpse into the disturbing nightmare of machine psychology.

During the 1980’s I worked closely with Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) directing four documentaries of their live performances in addition to  A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief.  This film was an outgrowth of that relationship. The founder of SRL,  Mark Pauline, and I wanted to create a fiction film using the machines to go beyond the restraints of documentation and the traditional utilization of non-human characters in narrative cinema.

For the original shooting we were able to get access to an enormous warehouse in San Francisco which enabled us to create the incredibly large sets (15 feet high – 30-60 feet wide) in order to have enough space to film the machines, some standing 10 feet tall.

In 1988-89, Bitter Message had a nice festival run,  in addition to Berlin, it also screened at Sundance, New Directors New Films, San Francisco International, Chicago International, Seattle, Cleveland, Edinburgh, Sao Paolo and more.  

I have had great fun these last few months restoring the original 16mm mono film to a beautifully remastered 4K DCP with a 5.1 mix. I had tried doing a conventional telecine from the interpositive but it didn’t look as good as I remembered. Ironically for those of you who remember 16mm finishing – I kept the interpositive IP and dup negative DN in pristine shape because back in the day – this is what you needed for telecine and reprints.  However when I brought the IP and DN in for the restoration. The people at Roundabout said “this is ok – but don’t you have the original cut negative?” I started to freak a bit since I hadn’t seen the negative in some years. After much digging we found them in my office attic. I was a bit nervous about the potential for heat damage but when they put the negative on the scanner it looked exactly the same as 30 years ago. Bryan McMahan did an amazing job restoring the color at Roundabout.

For the sound – we had tried remixing the film a number of years ago but were not able to find all the original “voices” of the machines. Matt Heckert and Naut Humon from Rhythm & Noise did an amazing job with the original soundtrack – but it only existed as mono.  We fortunately found a 2” multi-track tape that had all the original sounds from the original session. I teach part time at Cal Arts and I was able to get Judy Kim, a super talented Cal Arts grad student to not only reconstitute the complicated sound edit but to create a 5.1 mix as well.  I was then lucky enough to have Aidan Reynolds who teaches sound at Cal Arts do the final mix on their stage.

I can’t wait to see the “new” A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief play in Berlin! The film will screen on February 13th at 11am and February 14th at 7:15pm. You can learn more about the Panorama 40 section on the festival’s website: https://www.berlinale.de/en/presse/pressemitteilungen/alle/Alle-Detail_46996.html

Film Restoration by
Post Services Provided by ROUNDABOUT ENTERTAINMENT INC.
Digital Intermediate Colorist BRYAN MCMAHAN
Digital Intermediate Editor VAHE GIRAGOL
Data Management RENE CLARK, STEPHEN HERNANDEZ, JOSHUA GOMEZ
Film Scanning JAMES ATKINS
Audio Restoration and 5.1 Mix
Re-recording Mixer and Additional Sound Editing: Judy Kim
Audio Restoration and Additional Sound Editing: Stephan Wunderlich
Additional Re-recording Mix: Aidan Reynolds
Mixed at California Institute of the Arts
COPYRIGHT. Reiss/S.R.L 1988-2018
Cheers!
Jon.


APPLYING TO FILM FESTIVALS 10 DOS AND 5 DON’TS

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017


So it's that intense festival time of year again. You’re considering festivals, applying to festivals and who knows perhaps already excited about the festivals you have been accepted to.

Here are 10 Do’s and 5 Don’ts when applying to film festivals. These suggestions are based not only on my own work with clients, but also from some amazing advice from some really knowledgeable folks who I have had the pleasure of being on panels with over this past year: Basil Tsiokis (SundanceFF/DocNYC), Tom Hall (Montclair FF), Dan Nuxoll (Rooftop Films), Omar Gonzales (PMK-BNC), Ania Trzebiatowska (Visit Films), David Nugent (Hamptons International FF), Milton Tabbot (IFP) But don’t hold them responsible for everything I say – I take full responsibility. I will follow up with another email on what to do when you get in and get there.

The Do's:
  1. Only submit when you are sure the film is ready to be seen. You only have one shot with each festival. 99.9% of the time festivals will not re-watch a film if submitted in a previous year. It is hard enough to get them to look at a new cut in the same year you are submitting unless you are an alumni or are an established filmmaker or both.
  2. If you intend your film to be appreciated by an audience: test screen your film before you submit it and certainly before you lock picture. Don’t let film festival programmers be the first outside audience for your film and certainly not the festival audience. (I could digress but that would be a whole other post).
  3. Know your film Part 1: Research what festivals are best for your film. Look at the festival archives to see what their taste and programming is. Find similar previously released films and see where they played.
  4. Create a Database with the dates of the festivals, their various deadlines, fees, who you may know that knows them, why you would apply etc.
  5. Create a budget for submissions. It can add up very quickly.
  6. Have a sense of the festival cycle(s) that starts in late summer early fall with TIFF, Venice, Telluride, IDFA then the mini-Winter/Spring cycle starts with Sundance – the overarching fall to spring cycle pretty much ends in June with summer off. If you are finishing your film in winter you will need to evaluate whether to submit to the end of that years cycle or wait till next year.
  7. Submit to a variety of kinds of festivals. Apply to the solid regional and niche/genre festivals – there are many of them that are super worthy and would be great for your film. Women’s, LGBTQ, Jewish, African American, Horror, Environmental etc. However be cautious about your premiere.
  8. Have a strategy. If you feel your film has the chops for a top tier festival, apply to those – and then try for stronger regional and niche festivals. This is one of the toughest parts of devising a strategy, how long to wait to apply for non-top tier festivals. You want to be cautious about where you premiere – but you also don’t want to be a year in and still not have some festivals lined up!
  9. If you have advocates here are some guidelines:
    • Make sure the advocate knows the film.
    • Understand that this is a big ask – the advocate only has so many films they can lobby for – so is this the right thing you want to ask of that advocate? Are there other more important needs for your film.
    • Understand that ultimately this advocacy mainly guarantees calling the film to the attention of the programmers. Despite rumors to the contrary – it doesn’t guarantee that a film will be accepted.
  10. Know Your Film Part 2: Your film may not be a festival film. Some films might have a better play at niche conferences than festivals – and this might result in more money and more audience connection and more opportunities to change the world than festivals. Don’t waste a full year festival cycle to find this out.

What Not to Do – The Don’ts:
  1. Don’t rush the film to make a deadline. The inverse of #1 above – but worth repeating. Don’t risk making a lesser film. The world is so competitive now with so much content – you need to focus on creating the best film possible no matter what.
  2. Don't submit late: Meet an official deadline. Extensions are generally bad for a variety of reasons. Festivals give preference to films that have met their deadlines.
    Festivals will not guarantee they will look at the film.
    Films may have already become favorites – especially one that might be similar to your film – and already have a champion at the festival.
    Some films are already selected and it reduces your percentage of making it in.Extensions are extra work for the festival.
    This is especially true for first time filmmakers. If you have an experienced producer – perhaps – but still not a great idea.
  3. Don’t be secretive with film festival programmers. If you got into another festival that has a conflicting premiere status – don’t be coy with either festival – be upfront and tell the programmers who accepted your film. Ask for a few more days. The programmer won’t love it – but they will generally understand. It is best to call them and not email so that you can create a human connection.
  4. Don’t ask for fee waivers unless you are an alumni of the festival. You don’t want to start off your relationship with a festival asking them to work for free (which is what you are doing by asking for a fee waiver). If you get into a more prominent festival, you will probably start receiving invitations with fee waivers.
  5. Don’t try to talk to a programmer after you have submitted your film unless you know them well (in which case you probably wrote them an email). Understand that programmers are super busy during this time and it doesn’t do any good to try to talk to them to tell them what they already know from your submission. “My film is great and so and so is in it, it’s about such and such.” What do they say to that?

Communicate only when you have an update that is relevant for the festival such as being accepted into another festival that affects premiere status in some way.

If you have questions about the above – or need help in crafting your festival plan – feel free to reach out to us. We are here to help you.
Jon.

10 Key Points on How to Move Forward With Outreach and Impact for Documentary Film

Monday, November 14th, 2016

A Report from the IFP Filmmaker Lab

by Jon Reiss

With all the trauma of this past week, I at least had the good fortune of spending it at the IFP Filmmaker Lab in NYC.   We all showed up Wednesday morning stunned/tired from watching returns all night/depressed.   Some stayed home but by the middle of the morning nearly all the filmmaking teams had turned up. I say that I was fortunate because one of the things that I love about the labs is that we become a community of support for each other. Even though my morning presentation was on something as banal (for last week) as budgeting and timing a release – we were all reminded about how important stories and art can be to inspire, motivate, create community and express our humanity.  (Though, helping artists get their work out to an audience will never stop being relevant – especially now.)

For the second session the documentary filmmakers were scheduled to have a panel about “Impact” while the narrative filmmakers were to go to a session about agents and managers. Not surprisingly most of the narrative filmmakers stayed to discuss impact.

Joining me was my dear friend Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and Emma Alpert from Just Vision.   Jennifer is one of the most profound thought leaders in this field.   Emma and Just Vision do incredible work focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Here are ten key points for films seeking to have impact on the world that came out of that session.

1. Films seeking to have impact need to have a strong story that moves people and should not just be a PowerPoints of facts.

Think about how are you going to connect beyond the core audience – through story. Everyone making a film for impact wants to get beyond the choir (although now it is also important to charge up the choir). What many filmmakers forget is that this takes an emotionally engaging story that can keep an audience involved for ninety minutes. Often filmmakers get so caught up in the message of the film that they lose site of the fact is that people respond to emotions. We unfortunately keep relearning this in politics as well.

1B: Don’t underestimate the power of humor in your film to help connect with audiences.

2. Do test screenings with your film with people you want to reach outside of your choir. What are their feelings about the film? Is it moving them?   Consider focus groups of specific target audiences.

3. Since many (if not most) times documentaries are made in the editing room – it might be best to wait to start engaging outreach until you have a rough cut so that you know what your film actually is going to be and what audiences it will appeal to.  Sometimes though, you may want to engage with stakeholders earlier if you want to interview their principals, which might increase their motivation to help the film’s release.

4. Research what you are trying to change in the world. Is that possible for your film? Will it have that affect?

4A: Brainstorm what is the big idea that you are trying to accomplish – and then create a specific action item that will work toward that larger goal.

5.Identify stakeholders in your space. Determine their reach. But more importantly understand how your film can help them! Convey this to them. It needs to be a win win relationship

6. Don’t overstate what impact can you make to funders and stakeholders. What can you do and measure realistically?

7. It is a conventional wisdom to go after stakeholders that have the greatest reach. Makes sense. But perhaps consider trying a specific goal or action plan with that stakeholder – and if the relationship works – great – if not consider pivoting to another perhaps smaller stakeholder.

8.Embrace modeling. Try one tactic or goal first and see how that is working – if it isn’t working, pivot to another.

9.Because of the political earthquake last week, it will be nearly impossible to effect legislative change on the national level in the United States for the next few years. Think locally. The US Council on Mayors is a much more liberal group and one where you can meet politicians who are excited about change and want to engage in programs for their communities.

10. Funding for outreach had been difficult to come by before last Tuesday – and probably now will be more difficult to obtain. However there are people of means who support social causes – but will that money now go into grassroots community building or into media? How might those two work hand in hand? Are feature films the best platform for impact – or are there other forms of media (shorter/serialized) that might have more success?

I would love your thoughts on this. Agree – disagree? What would you add?   How can film and story affect change as we approach the age of Trump?

What the F is a PMD and Why Do We Need One?

Friday, March 11th, 2016


Back in 2010, two weeks before I went to print on Think Outside the Box Office, I coined a new crew position: the Producer ofMarketing and Distribution.   This concept/position has taken off in varying fits and starts over the last five years – with people calling themselves and being credited as PMDs in the United States, Europe and Australia.  A Producer of Marketing and Distribution is the person on a filmmaking team who takes charge of and directs the distribution and marketing process for that film to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.   It is preferable for a PMD to start as early as possible in the filmmaking process.

The PMD seems to be catching on again.  Why?   Because it is an essential crew position for independent films – in my mind as important as a director of photography.   You can make a film without a DP or a PMD (I have shot some of my films and been my own PMD).   But I think many, if not nearly all films, would be served by having both.

In Think Outside the Box Office I also coined another concept: The New 50/50, in which independent filmmakers need to spend 50% of their time and resources making their film and 50 % of their time and resources connecting their film with an audience, aka distribution and marketing. (To be honest this is not so new – but it was new to independent filmmakers.)

It disturbed me that I was relegating my fellow filmmakers to the physically, emotionally and monetarily draining process of releasing a film after they had already gone through the same while making their film – without help.  (Before the book I had written an article about my experience releasing my film Bomb It and it was subtitled “How I Spent Six Months Wanting to Kill Myself Everyday”)

So I created the PMD.  Five years since writing the book it’s worth taking a look again at why independent filmmakers need a PMD.  Here are my thoughts:

1. Upwards of 98% of independent films do not get traditional all rights distribution deals.  Even with a robust sales market like this year– if the estimates are true that 35,000-50,000 films are produced every year – there is no way that traditional (and non traditional) distributors can handle that volume.  Sundance Artist Services was created in part to help the numerous Sundance films that still had not received distribution after the festival.

2. Some filmmakers do not want to give away or sell all of the rights of their film to one company for a long period of time.  Many companies are doing amazing jobs releasing films – but there are many filmmakers who have become unhappy with how their previous films have been released.

3. Much more common is a split rights scenario where you run the show, you control your film’s destiny.  You can choose the best and most cost effective ways to release and market your film.   But you need to do the work.   Ahhh – But who is the “You”?  Someone needs to coordinate how the rights will work together and make sure that all rights that can be exercised are, in the proper way to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.

4. There is greater competition for audiences than ever before.  You are competing against nearly every piece of entertainment, writing, art ever created by humankind.   The amount of video uploaded to YouTube every minute is increasing  exponentially.  Three years ago 48 hours of video was uploaded every minute – for a total of 236 YEARS per month.  At last report more than 400 hours is now uploaded every minute, multiplying to 2000 YEARS of content every month!

5. Filmmakers either don’t have the skills to promote and distribute their films or don’t want to.  Granted there are many intrepid filmmakers who are engaging with this process – but even the most notable of these such as Jeanie Finlay has a PMD by her side.

6. Filmmakers don’t have the time to do this work.  Many filmmakers know they need to engage audiences before they have finished their films – or at least start the process – but most say they don’t have time.  On tight budgets most producers are too busy to do this work.  When a film is finished – many of the team either need to, or want to move onto other projects.  Sound familiar?

In working with hundreds of filmmakers over the last couple of years – I have found that very few have the desire, skills, or time to take on the task of being in charge of distributing and marketing their own films – even when they have split rights distribution partners involved.

So this creates a pain point in our world in which there are a lot of films created every year that don’t have anyone to help get it out into the world.  Hence the need.

But things are looking up.  This blog post and the one that follows is taken from a keynote that I gave at the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Make Your Market program in which four films are being paired with two PMDs in training.   I gave a similar presentation at IDFA in November that was packed with Europeans curious as to how this concept can help them as broadcast funding and other forms of traditional distribution drops.   This Sunday I will be on a panel at SXSW with Nick Gonda from Tugg, Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and UK PMD Sally Hodgson.  If you are in Austin come by – and if not and you are interested in becoming a PMD or generally interested in the concept email me at jon@hybridcinema.com

The second post of this series will cover what a PMD is in charge of on a film.

Distribution Case Study - "Finding Hillywood"

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
Written by Leah Warshawski (Producer/Director) / Introduction by Jon Reiss



I recently wrote a two part article featuring four documentary filmmakers who pursued hybrid releases with their films and who were generous enough to share the real data from their films’ releases - Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt1 and Pt 2. Upon reading these, filmmaker Leah Warshawski wanted to write something similar for the self release of her film, Finding Hillywood. This first post about the film chronicles the story of her release, finishing up with a list of 10 tips for filmmakers. When all of the data is in – about a year from now – she will write a follow up detailing all of the real data from the release. I encourage more filmmakers to tell their stories – not just the how, but also the results. A great way to do this is to participate in the Sundance Transparency Project. This information helps all of us learn from each other’s triumphs and disappointments so that our knowledge base continues to expand. I am already speaking with a number of other filmmakers willing to share their stories – if you wish to contact me, my information is at the bottom of this post.

Here is Leah’s story:




FINDING HILLYWOOD (2013, 58:00) profiles the very beginning of Rwanda’s film industry and a few of the industry’s pioneers who screen films in their own language on a giant inflatable movie screen. It’s a real-life example of the power of cinema to heal a man and a nation.

This film took seven years to complete (due to funding) and premiered at SIFF in 2013. Since then, FINDING HILLYWOOD has screened in more than 60 festivals around the world and won six awards including the Critic’s Award at Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Napa Film Festival. In order to maintain some control over our film (and after many emails and advice from other filmmakers) we decided to create a hybrid distribution strategy that we are still revising two years later. My hope is that by sharing our wins and pitfalls along the way, I can contribute to the collective knowledge that’s so important for filmmakers to share. This is often the most difficult to share,because producers are over-achievers by nature and admitting any shortcomings can feel like failure. However, it can also be quite therapeutic, so here we go!



From Day 1, we knew that FINDING HILLYWOOD would be challenging to distribute across traditional outlets - and certainly all of our mentors felt the same way. The odds were stacked against us for a few reasons. Two first-time feature directors and an hour-long film set entirely in Rwanda with English subtitles did not instill confidence in potential broadcasters in the US.



Festivals & International Broadcast

We initially set out to make a 75 – 90 minute feature, but during test-screenings the audience resonated with our hour-long cut and had a difficult time watching more. So we settled at 58:00, which meant that we had to come to terms with not having a traditional theatrical run or competing for an Oscar nomination. Our team was concerned that festivals would not be able to find a place for an hour-long film but this (thankfully) was not an issue. We applied for all of the top tier festivals and did not get in, but ended up screening at more than 60 domestic and international middle-tier festivals where we won awards. We learned that sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond. Plus, there are some great small-town festivals where the programmers pick you up at the airport and treat the filmmakers well – which just feels good after you’ve spent so long making your film. At the same time, we reached out to all of our top choices for international distributors and agents, and ended up singing with Mercury Media (UK) – who promised to work hard for us. They sold broadcast rights for two international territories and then suddenly (and without warning) shut their doors. The owner of the company was diagnosed with terminal cancer apparently around the same time that they were asking for our film, and we are now embroiled with the liquidators and have not seen a penny from any money we’re owed. In hindsight, signing with Mercury Media was the biggest mistake we made. We now have a stellar agent based in Australia that I wish we had met earlier!

Domestic Broadcast & Educational

Everyone we met told us to apply for Independent Lens and POV but we did not get accepted and never received any feedback as to why. We did apply for ITVS funding six times over seven years and when the feedback started going back on itself we decided to spend our energy elsewhere. None of the major US broadcasters wanted another film about Rwanda so we are currently trying to raise $25,000 for our own PBS campaign with a West Coast presenting partner who can help us bring the film to nationwide PBS audiences. We wanted to work with a boutique educational distributor who had a good track record with African content and signed with The Cinema Guild who we are happy with.

Digital & In-Flight

Once we had our rights back from Mercury Media, we signed with The Orchard for digital sales (iTunes, Amazon, GooglePlay) and reached out to Terry Steiner who we knew had a good reputation for selling in-flight content. We fly a lot for work and kept seeing their name at the end of airline movies so we sent them an email. Thankfully they agreed to rep our film even though it’s not something they would traditionally take on.

TOD & DVD’s

Since our film is about the experience of watching films with an audience (at a festival or a theater), we felt the theatrical-on-demand model would be a natural fit. Gathr Films approached us and pushed for us to sign before we had a lot of time to investigate Tugg or think through the entire process. We have only had a handful of Gathr screenings to date but we learned a lot from each and we still feel the best way to watch our film is in a theater. Of course we maintained the right to sell home-use DVD’s from our website and we sell these at all screenings we show up to as well.



FINDING HILLYWOOD turned out to be one massive distribution case study for me and I’m excited to use this knowledge for my next film in production, BIG SONIA. The only way I would have figured any of this out is by DOING it. The tears, and sweat, and living out of a duffle bag are all part of my education and I am grateful for this “unorthodox” way of going to my own version of film school on the road.

In summary (and in hindsight) here are the Top 10 Things I Learned From Distributing My First Documentary Film:

1.) Be ready to take a year (or more) off work if you plan to travel with your film to festivals.

2.) Talk with other producers who have worked with the distribution companies you’re signing with. They will likely be honest about their experience and if they’re not happy they will tell you.

3.) Hire an entertainment lawyer to look over every single contract you sign. Small cost up-front to save disaster down the road.

4.) Don’t sign all of your rights away to one company unless they have a track-record for selling all of those rights. Divide your rights up and find the best people / companies to sell each.

5.) Watch other documentaries. Lots of them.

6.) Create merchandise and DVD’s early, and sell them at every screening and event you attend.

7.) Start raising money for festival travel and distribution while you’re producing your film. It’s tough to raise this money once the film is already done.

8.) Ask for a screening fee. Always.

9.) Be ready to generate your own press and marketing materials. Distributing a film is like running a small business.

10.) Not everyone wants to see your film, and that’s ok. Go find the people that DO and give them a million ways to see it and support you. Make it easy for people to buy your film as many ways as possible!

***

Project Links

Web - http://findinghillywood.com

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/FindingHillywood

Twitter - @hillywoodmovie

Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt 2

Friday, May 8th, 2015


Wednesday's post looked at Neil Berkeley and Judy Chaikin as two filmmakers who wanted to create a theatrical release for their films to boost visibility, increase ancillary value and learn for themselves how to operate in the new hybrid model of distribution and marketing. Today we will look at Paco de Onís the company Skylight he runs with with creative director Pamela Yates and editorial director Peter Kinoy and their film/media project Granito

Paco de Onís, Skylight & Granito

According to de Onís, Skylight is “as much a filmmaking organization, as a human rights organization.” Hence their goals are not about monetary gain – but about social change specifically in the realm of social justice. To do this according to de Onís “we’ve had to develop a model where we can work without a distributor,” he explains. “A distributor is looking for financial dividends, but we’re out looking for social dividends.”

In this quest for change and larger audience, they often give their films away for free. They gave their film Granito, about genocide in Guatemala, away to a major Guatemalan bootlegger who then spread it across the country in a way they never would have been able to. “There’s no better distributor in Guatemala. We don’t make any money from that but our film gets seen everywhere.”

In addition when the film screened on PBS, they persuaded the broadcaster to take off geo-blocking from the PBS streaming feed so that anyone in the world would be able to see the film. Skylight also creates indigenous language versions of many of their films which are given directly to that community.

Skylight also makes its films available for free to groups that want to screen them. Whether it’s a community group or a local human rights organization, you simply have to fill out a form on their website explaining why you want to show it, and they’ll provide you with a copy. They also ask that you let them know how the screening went after it’s over, but Paco says this often doesn’t happen.

It is very hard to track eyeballs and impact – but here are some of the statistics they have collected for Granito:
  • 1 million PBS viewers.
  • For ancillaries – 65K views in English, 8K views in Spanish.
  • 35,000 Unique visitors on the Granito Website
  • 78,000 Uniques for the PBS companion site.

They have also collected 8000 email addresses from their website over the years including 5000 email addresses garnered from 300 screenings and festivals.

Much of the money that Skylight earns from their films comes from broadcast and educational sales. For educational they sell their own films working with the New Day Film Co-Op. Here are some of their monetary figures:
  • $410K from ITVS and LPB for the broadcast of Granito
  • $90K from NatGeo for State of Fear
  • $50K from POV for The Reckoning
  • $80K in Educational Sales for Granito
  • $80K-$100K on educational sales for all of their titles each year.

Their transactional VOD sales are not that significant partly because it was released on iTunes several years after release – after being available on free streaming for all of that time. Total iTunes revenue: $4K.

Skylight’s unique business model makes it extremely clear as to why it’s crucial to determine the goals for your project before you decide on a path of distribution and how you will execute that path. Of note:   One year after the release of Granito, the dictator of the title was charged with genocide and put on trial in Guatemala. Footage from the documentary was used as evidence in court.

Jon Betz, Collective Eye Films

Like Skylight, Jon Betz, Director of Collective Eye Films, also had a social goal in mind for the film Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us? which he produced with director Taggart Siegel. The film is a profound, alternative look at the bee crisis, and from the beginning, Betz and Siegel’s goal was to bring awareness to this issue. Siegel’s previous film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, was nationally broadcast on PBS Independent Lens, but Siegel felt that his theatrical distributor didn’t effectively engage grass-roots audiences for a theatrical campaign. Siegel felt that through Collective Eye Films, he and Betz could do a better job pursuing a hybrid grass-roots distribution approach on Queen.

Collective Eye Films booked their own event theatrical release, including traditional open-ended bookings, one night & community screenings. Betz: “We couldn't find a theatrical deal that would make financial sense for us as filmmakers. So we chose to grow our own business and non-profit reach by booking and conducting outreach for theaters on our own.” By doing this, instead of paying someone else for their institutional intelligence, they used the release of Queen to build their own institutional intelligence.

Here are the numbers from the total and event theatrical release:
  • Total cost of release including theatrical, and all DVD, VOD, Broadcast deliverables, staff and expenses for the last four years: $338K
  • Total gross revenue from release: $473K
  • Total net income: $135K
  • Total Box Office Gross for traditional theatrical: $245K
  • Net Revenue to Filmmakers from traditional theatrical $108K
  • Net Revenue from community screenings: $82K
  • Total number of screenings: 400

Note that their expenses not only include a staff to release the film but also a salary for Betz who also functioned as the Producer of Marketing and Distribution on the film. They not only broke even but actually made money from both their theatrical and their non-theatrical release. Part of this has to do with their audience cultivation which I will address below.

Betz: “We started where we knew we could draw audiences, in Portland, in the NW and in areas in the West and NE where our audience demographic was strong. The Hollywood Theater in Portland had a great opening that ran for 10 weeks, and grossed over $30K. After Portland, we did a filmmaker tour in the NE to understand first-hand how our outreach efforts would work promoting both one-day events and week long runs. Then we staffed up and led a very interesting "reverse" roll-out where we booked over 100 cities in North America in the course of 2011. We ended in NY/LA and made the connection with Music Box after our Cinema Village screening in NYC.”  Collective Eye opted not to have a tight focus of release in all theaters over just 1 or 2 months as they knew they couldn't do the proper outreach city-by-city with that volume and a small staff. They conducted all of the outreach and PR, with the exception of working with a publicist in CHICAGO, SF, NY/LA.

Music Box handled the DVD and VOD of the film, but Collective Eye carved out direct to fan rights. Here are the numbers from the ancillary sales:
  • Total gross distributor DVD sales: $100K
  • Net revenue from distributor DVD sales: $50K
  • Direct to fan DVDs sold: 5,800
  • Direct to fan net revenue from DVDs: $96K
  • Educational sales: $38K.
  • Total gross distributor VOD sales including Netflix: $74K.
  • Netflix sale: $60K
  • Net revenue from distributor VOD sales: $52K

Note the much higher net revenue for direct to fan DVD sales over what the distributor sold.

So let’s talk about audience. Collective Eye is working to transfer their audience from film to film – including carrying it over to their new film Seed: The Untold Story.

Email list progression:

2005-2008: Real Dirt on Farmer John
  • Audience grew to 3,500 over 2-3 years.
  • Sources: sign-ups, screenings, handing out clipboards.

2008-2013: Queen of the Sun
  • Started with 3,500 from Real Dirt
  • List grew to 9,000+
  • Sources: website signups, screenings, website, purchases across all direct distribution methods, additions of key organizations and partners.

2012-current: SEED
  • Started at 8,175 (Queen list lost names due to unsubscribes/old e-mails)
  • Grows to 12,376. Kickstarter campaigns in 2012 and December 2013 for Seed brought in 2,534 new e-mails.
  • Note: at this point the amount of audience still intact from the original 3,500 from Real Dirt is in the realm of 1,227.  Note the importance of updating and growing your email list.

Facebook
  • Queen created a Facebook page after festival launch in summer/fall 2010..
    • July 2011 – 6,000 likes
    • April 2015 – 25,000 likes
  • Seed During first Kickstarter in 2012 - 300 likes
    • Start of second Kickstarter in late 2013 – 1,200 likes
    • After cross-promotion with QOTS – 20,000 likes in just over one year.

Collective Eye is a great example of filmmakers making a connection with an audience and working hard to carry it from film to film. Instead of relying on an all rights distributor who owns the connection to their audience – they decided to create their own distribution business so that they would own that relationship and could cultivate it as they saw fit. Betz: “The hybrid method of release was key for us making a profit in the long run, and we had to do much less work to get those DVD and VOD sales through existing platforms.  However we wouldn't have made that money had it not been for our grassroots approach to theatrical and community screenings. By raising the profile of the film our aggregator was able to do what they do best (sell to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and other wholesalers).”   This also allows them to use the revenue from their films not only to pay themselves a salary but to also invest in their next project as they have done with Seed. Betz: “You really have to focus on how you build on each film and discover what works. This comes from listening to your previous films and their impact, the side effects of what happened that was unexpected, and then harnessing that on your next film and pushing it out in a really strategic way.”

Some takeaways from these four case studies: Even though there has been quite a number of changes in platforms and companies over the last several years – it is surprising how many basic tenets of the hybrid distribution route have stayed constant over the past few years:
  • Knowing your goals is essential to creating a release strategy.
  • Know your audience and target your release to where they are, offer your audience products (event, digital or merchandise) that are interesting to them.
  • Split rights have a greater advantage of control and profit for filmmakers over all rights deals.
  • Work with distribution partners to get films on major platforms.
  • Engaging in distribution and marketing is very hard work and generally involves a staff or at least someone full time managing the process.
  • Email lists are gold – develop them constantly.
  • Events motivate people to go to theaters.
  • Events are excellent ways to connect with audience.
  • Event theatrical is a good/great way to promote ancillary sales.
  • It is possible to break even or even make a little money from an event theatrical release.
  • If you can, carve out direct to fan sales since this will give you the following advantages:
  • Higher profit margin per purchase.
  • Audience data for future projects
  • Ability to package the film with merchandise and extra content for higher price points, or to make purchasing direct to fan more attractive.
  • Most importantly – focus on long term audience development since it is possible to transition audiences from one project to another if you reward them for their continued interest and keep them engaged.

I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.  Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.


Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Reveal Their Distribution Numbers Part 1

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015


Alternative distribution models are no longer the experiment, but are now the norm for the vast majority of filmmakers. However because of a variety of reasons, including not least contract obligations and a fear that exposing numbers may not show the filmmaker in the best light, many filmmakers have been reticent to give out the real numbers from their film's releases.

As a result, for last October’s Getting Real Documentary Conference, held by the International Documentary Association, I wanted to create a panel where the participants were required to reveal the data about the releases of their films. I wanted to see how these filmmakers might be working within new models to not only release one film, but how they are starting to use these individual releases to create a long term career path. I always intended to publish the data and since I will be presenting a Distribution and Marketing Masterclass with the IDA this Saturday May 9th and I will be heading to NY to participate in the documentary section of the IFP Filmmaker Lab on May 11th, I thought this would be a good time to get this information out into the world.

The filmmaker panelists were Neil Berkeley (Director of Beauty Is Embarrassing & Harmontown), Judy Chaikin (Director of The Girls in the Band), Jon Betz (Producer of Queen of the Sun), and Paco de Onís (Executive Director of Skylight Films). My intention was to not only get the real data from their films, but also discuss why they chose to release their films in the manner that they did (eg what were their goals and how did their goals affect their choices). I tried to expand the data beyond gross monetary amounts and include numbers about their audience base –specifically how they tried to carry this audience from one film to the other and whether this could become a sustainable model. Before starting – I really want to thank the filmmakers for sharing the information with me – and agreeing to share it with the world wide public, you. Note – occasionally some of the numbers below are a range because of a possible restrictions on revealing exact numbers. Also you will notice that I use the term “event theatrical” instead of theatrical or non theatrical. As I wrote in Think Outside The Box Office, I believe that filmmakers need to reclaim the concept of theatrical to include traditional theatrical, one night and community screenings – eg any public screening where an audience is present. In the book I called this “Live Event Theatrical” but I have since started shortening it to “Event Theatrical” to emphasize the importance of creating an event with your screenings.

Neil Berkeley Beauty is Embarrassing

Neil Berkeley’s film Beauty is Embarrassing premiered at SXSW in 2012, but no one came forth to give them an event/theatrical release, which Neil wanted for the film and felt was appropriate. His goals were to get the film out into the world, and try to recoup while building a fan base for the future. So Neil and his team ran a $55k Kickstarter campaign and hired a booker to get the film into theatres across the country – they ended up in 60 theaters, spending between $90K and $110K but earning enough revenue to break even.

Regarding the theatrical Berkeley noted: “My goal was to break even. And that’s what everyone said: ‘good luck if you break even.’ But for me, I did it just to learn how to do it because I want to keep making movies and I believe in this model. So if I get to do it again on my own, I’ll be much more versed in how to go about it.”

Most effective were the 15 screening events they did with the film’s subject, artist Wayne White. He not only spoke, but conducted workshops and art installations. This not only drew a larger crowd, but also created the opportunity to sell merchandise and collect emails. Email lists and Facebook became two of the biggest tools for building their audience. Berkeley: “Email lists are gold.” They grew their email list from 0 to 5,000 and their Facebook likes from 0 to 11,000. Some other marketing notes:
  • They sent students to cities with the large LBJ heads as promotion.
  • Facebook and Twitter ads were the most effective.
  • Don’t buy print ads if you can avoid it. But if you have to, buy the cheapest ones since they aren’t effective.
  • They had 10-12 super fans who helped evangelize the film.

Here are the essentials of their digital/broadcast/merchandise distribution:
  • Digital Aggregator was Cinedigm/New Video
  • Netflix deal was between $40-$60K.
  • Other VOD sources: $30-40K including cable and broadband VOD.
  • PBS Independent Lens $70-$90K
  • They set up direct to fan sales through VHX
  • Digital sales through VHX: $30-$40K
  • Merchandise sales through VHX: 80-100K (note that much of this were higher priced items such as art by Wayne White. They split this revenue with Wayne 50/50)
  • Of these merchandise sales 15% were DVDs – still a healthy $12K-$15K
  • Books were another 15% of merchandise sales $12K-$15K

An important note about the effects of their broadcast on PBS: While many people feel that forms of “free” such as broadcast and other free streaming or peer to peer sharing adversely affect transactional sales (DVD sales, broadband rentals and downloads to own), in this case that was definitely not true. After the film aired, their website was bombarded with traffic, and they earned a spike in revenue through direct to fan sales.

Neil took what he learned on Beauty is Embarrassing to his next project Harmontown which follows Dan Harmon (comedian/creator of Community) on a 20-city tour. Neil’s investors secured a more traditional distribution deal with The Orchard. However he made sure to keep all of the direct to fan rights, and paid The Orchard a percentage of these sales to reward the distributor’s publicity efforts. To make sales on their website more attractive, they created over 50 hours of bonus content including every live show they filmed on the tour with Dan Harmon, this deluxe edition is available for $9.99 to rent and $24.95 to purchase. Also for even more content they sell monthly memberships for $5 a month that gives access to exclusive blog posts to additional videos every month. The deluxe edition includes a free 3 month membership.

In sum – even though Neil has utilized both traditional and hybrid distribution models, he is working hard to provide extra value for his fans in order to grow that audience and carry them into his future as a filmmaker. Berkeley: “The thing about making a film on your own, is that on day one you have a dollar – and every day after that you’re just trying to hold onto as much of that dollar as possible. And now, we have options to do that. We can hang on to digital, we can hang on to our website, we can hang on to merchandise.”

Judy Chaikin The Girls in the Band

Judy Chaikin has worked in the industry since the 80s, but she was tired of watching each of her films live a short life with traditional distributors and then disappear from view. “One of the things you learn as a filmmaker is that you constantly have to keep changing,” Chaikin said. She had always been very interested in DIY distribution and after reading several books (including Think Outside the Box Office), she decided to try it for herself.

Her goal was to have a theatrical release that would help her negotiate higher sales figures on her ancillary release and to try out a new model to take control of the process.

Here are the numbers:
  • Total cost of the release: $100K including creating marketing materials, DCPs, screeners, publicity, staff, festivals etc.
  • Total cost of theatrical release $40K of the $100K above.
  • 22 week traditional theatrical release (week long runs):
  • Total revenue traditional theatrical: $67K
  • Total revenue from 47 one night screenings in theaters $8.7K
  • $25K “Non theatrical” revenue from museums, film festivals, jazz festivals, etc.
  • $15K in direct merchandise (t-shirts, posters, tote bags) sold at screenings and from their website.

By the end of the theatrical release they had amassed 3000 on their email list: 300 from their website, 500 from screenings, 2200 from other sources. Of these they count about 25 super fans who are active champions of their film.

Their distribution process isn’t over yet, and they have just signed on with Virgil Films for domestic distribution and PBS Foreign for overseas television. Judy doesn’t see herself going back to traditional distribution models any time soon. She says that this direct-to-fan method gives her a sense of control over her own projects – something any filmmaker knows is irreplaceable.

Building her audience online has also given Judy the motivation to regain the rights and begin re-releasing her older projects that had previously fallen out of release. She is beginning to see some success in this by using her email list, and releasing the films direct to fan on DVD. This “new model,” she explained, “gives you so such more control over what you do, and it gives you a sense that you really are guiding the direction of your film. It’s important to recognize that this way of working is very labor intensive, but in the end it’s worth it.”

On Friday we will continue with the results from Paco de Onís from Skylight & Granito and Jon Betz from Collective Eye Films.   I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.   Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.

Guest Post: Top 5 Webseries Tips

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

I've been talking about serialized content for some time now - and how filmmakers need to look at this as a way to engage with new methods of distribution and marketing for their work. This can take many forms - but the most obvious are episodic television and web series. I asked Carrie Cutforth the creator of Spy Whores and the Executive Director of The Independent Web Series Creators of Canada to write a post about webseries in honor of her new TO Web Fest that happened in Toronto May 9-11th. Here is her post:

Don’t Overlook these 5 Top Essentials in Making a Web Series
by Carrie Cutforth

TO WebFest, Toronto’s screening/conference festival dedicated to web series, took place May 9-11th. Regan Latimer, the program director and myself are no stranger to web series, being both founding board members of then Independent Web Series Creators of Canada. We are very pleased that a highlight of the festival, beyond three days of free screenings, and a two-day conference track, which included a special presentation into an economic profile of web series creators in Ontario, the first of its kind in the world (made possible with the support of the OMDC).

Have you ever thought of making a web series? Here are things you need to know to make the transition from indie film or Television production. This list covers web series (as defined here), which is different than the digital series that broadcasters or portals such as Netflix produce.

1) Your Audience is Not Trapped in a Room full of Strangers
How many films have you walked out of in your life? I think I’ve walked out of one that was “too adult” for me as a young kid, although I did fall asleep once…during Joe Versus the Volcano. What is the psychology of sticking out a bad film to the end in a theatre? Getting one’s money worth?
Online, however, your content is up against a fierce competition of eyeballs, with something “else” waiting to be discovered just a mouse click away. You got 15 seconds to get your audience engaged, and then you need to keep them engaged. You need to be succinct. You need to be haiku.
That means dropping some of the common conventions of film intros, including credits and theme songs. You don’t NEED a theme song. You don’t NEED intro credits. You can shunt that “boring” stuff for the audience to the info section below the player. Boast to the world you are the creator in savvier ways.
That also means things dropping opening conventions like city skyline orgies at the outset of your narrative. Jump into the story with both feet landing right away. Then run.

2) Web Series is not TV Online
Web series is to TV what blogging is to the Six O’clock news: they might seem familiar in content, but there are a lot of nuances between the two simply based on differing distribution methods. For example, unless you are on a portal that behaves more like a broadcaster with requisite running times, the story itself can dictate how long an episode is or even what an episode is. You can have one episode run ten minutes, and another only three. There are many other examples of the nuances besides. Don’t let the confinements of the TV format limit your thinking.
The sooner you think in terms of what works on the web than trying to translate a TV show or a film into a web series, the further ahead you are in the game. This works for both content and format. TV shows require mass appeal to be sustainable, while web series are often nurtured by hardcore fandoms that aren’t getting the content they want anywhere else. Don’t try to be TV of film online.

3) Sound
Audiences online can be pretty forgiving of production values for online content, particularly niche die hard fandoms that are underserved. They don’t expect a Hollywood budget, especially when Hollywood hasn’t had a legacy of producing content that speaks particularly to them – the talking heads of popular vloggers testify to this. But the one area you CANNOT skimp out on is sound.
Your sound budget has to be top notch particularly since you are not in control of the playback situation – is it on mobile? With shitty earbuds? While on a bus competing against the din of the crowd? Any sound issues that seem minimized in optimal conditions will be exasperated the way many people consume video content: in hand and on the go.

4) Alliances
As filmmakers know how to package films to attract attention and audiences, web series add value to their production through strategic alliances. This can take shape in many forms, the most popular being cross-overs and cross-promotional strategies with other web series, and casting in a smart way – instead of “named” actors, those who have developed hard core passionate audiences that share a fan base YOU want to target. Get connected with key influences and advocates who have a reputation for activating audiences: this includes online communities, bloggers, and even platforms. This is how some powerful MCN’s (Multi-channel networks) got their start to be the powerhouses they are today.

Think in terms of collaboration not competition. Share your audiences, don’t try to divide and conquer. Partner, partner, and partner.

5) Community Management
And on the topic of social: I had a good friend whose series exploded with popularity that brought an unexpected outcome: hate mail. When the fans didn’t like a turn in the story, they let him know, and they let him know hard. (“We should all have such problems,” I told him while stringing an imaginary violin).
Web Series is social. It allows a direct connection between creators and fans. This can be a mixed blessing, particularly in a cultural climate where fans feel an ownership over their fandoms, and territory fights can break out: even between fans and creators. Connectivity can be a blessing or a curse, but the great thing is you can be in control with how much you want to engage. Some web series creators engage in ongoing dialog with fans daily and others are standoffish. There is no single right way to engage.
However, it is wise to have a community management plan or strategy in place before problems arise. Never be reactionary. There are many great guides online for community management, social media policies, so use these to build your own template and guidelines. Being consistent is key.

And remember: fan hate means people are watching.
One final tip: if you are submitting to WebFests, remember what you might be able to get away with under the radar online you can’t get away with at a Fest. I’m talking particularly about rights management. You might elude the copyright cops by ripping a Top 40 song just through lack of discovery, but WebFests operate like any other Film Fest: they won’t take a risk on shows that may appear to have compromised E&O issues. So make sure you have managed rights properly from the get-go, and don’t take on a permissive attitude cause “everyone else is doing it”.

Guest Post: How I Made a Feature Film Right Out of Film School

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013



I'm Jaymes Camery and I just wrapped production on my first feature film, Guys and Girls Can't Be Friends. I graduated from California Institute of the Arts with an MFA in Film Directing in May 2013. I grew up in Virginia and have always had a special affinity for stories that take place in the South. My filming partner and long-time friend, Ben Solenberger, and I have been working on this project off and on for 5 years. We'd done about 5 or 6 test shoots, tons of re-writes, and gotten feedback from all over. Our goals for this film include making a good movie and also helping start our own careers. Our website is facebook.com/guysandgirlscantbefriends

Outside of production, we wanted to start our social media outreach early. I'd talked with Jon Reiss before I'd graduated about fundraising and getting the community involved as much as I could. Guys and Girls Can't Be Friends is about falling in love for the first time but from the male's point of view. It's backbone evolved from Virginia's state slogan of, "Virginia is for Lovers." Although a partnership hasn't materialized between the film and Virginia Tourism, I was able to get some help from the Virginia Film Office with a small grant as well as some production resources. In addition to showcasing the area and it's culture, we also wanted to get local people involved as much as we could.

One of the first things I did when I came back to Winchester, VA was to reach out to the local media. I contacted the local ABC station, newspaper, and a hip, online Winchester magazine. It took some time but I finally started to get some press going before production (Even though we were pushed back to page C6 and a dog that was left in a car was on the front page).

My goal was to get a quick, widespread word out around the time I was trying to get locations, because the film is littered with unique and specific locations. We figured it'd be easier to approach local businesses if they were aware of what was going on. It turned out I underestimated the small town relationships we already had, and through Ben's family we were able secure all the locations we wanted. Word started to get out about us and we had businesses email us and invite us in. They got free advertising and we got a great location.



We knew that raising money would be very difficult. We came up with investor/donator packets which had info on the film and who was involved. We emailed and handed them out to people we knew would be able to help. Slowly everything started to come together, we started to increase our budget as well, and we had our funding, or at least what we needed for production, a month before. Most of our money came from family and friends. We considered going to businesses and offering to shoot promos/commercials, as well as going to the casino and putting everything on red in roulette, but we never made it that far.

Then, two weeks before we started shooting, we reached out to an actor we had wanted from the beginning and decided to use our contingency money on him. It was risky and dangerous but we figured we'd rather have an actor that we admired than to have the emergency money. We felt we couldn't pass on the opportunity.

I was opposed to doing an Indiegogo campaign before production because of the amount of work and I didn't want it to take away from the film itself. Ben was adamant it wouldn't become a distraction. From keeping an eye on Jon's ongoing crowd-funding campaign and what I learned in his class Reel World Survival Skills at CalArts, I preferred to do a campaign for finishing funds.

That changed when we scared ourselves into doing it before production when the thought that we might not be able to raise the money we needed, sank in. Ben said he would run it and we came up with some creative rewards: a night of dining and drinking with Ben and I, a "bootleg" copy of the film, a.k.a. an early cut, and a beer on set. I guess beer and hobo rewards really. We did a few video updates, they were a little wacky and obscure, but we wanted to stand out. In the end we never pushed enough and I wonder if people got confused by the tone of the campaign. The money we raised was still extremely helpful and I'm thankful for the people that helped.

Having two recognizable names in our film and its production value were a big deal to us so we put all our money into our actors and camera/sound. We found a group of fellas out of Frederick, MD who came as a package deal with their own equipment and crew. It saved us tons. Renting equipment and crewing up out of Washington D.C. was the last thing we wanted to do. We were able to cut costs by avoiding location fees, lodging, and a catering company. Almost all of our locations were more than willing to help free of charge. The support was amazing. Everyone welcomed us into their business and we saw true southern hospitality.



We avoided hotel costs by putting everyone up in Ben's Dad's house. He had an open basement and bedrooms that we made very suitable for cast and crew. It was on a large chunk of land surrounded by apple orchards, so it was perfect. We were able to avoid a catering company when Ben's Mom and sister volunteered to make all of our meals for set. We saved a huge amount this way and the food was delicious! These are a few of the perks we had by shooting in our hometown. Our friends and family came through big time for us and made it all possible.

By the time we were filming, everyone in town knew what we were doing. In pre-production we posted video updates for our followers and content similar to our story (articles on dating and love, etc.). During production we kept our Facebook updated. We'd post when we were at certain locations and we added set photos as we went. That's one place that really connected with the community because people would say, "Hey, I know that place!" We'd get shares from that, which put more eyeballs on our page. One thing that got the biggest amount of hits was a video recapping Day 3 of production with actor Clint Howard (https://vimeo.com/73791299). We got 22 shares on it and probably 75 page likes.

We also had an Instagram that our script supervisor ran but it never really picked up a lot of followers. I guess #guysandgirlscantbefriends was having trouble catching on. Still, I want to keep getting content out there. I'm not worried about spoiling scenes or that plot, I just want to give people a taste of what's to come. We could be a year plus from getting this film done and I worry about that wait time and what happens to that buzz we started in Winchester, VA. Yes, it's a small audience, but we haven't met one person there who hasn't said, "I can't wait to see the movie." We're hoping by the time the film is done we can have 1,500 likes.

Our plan is to submit to festivals for our first line of screenings. Winchester will be one of the first places we screen after that. We're planning on doing a screening at the local drive-in movie theater as well as some out-door screenings. Jon turned me onto the Southern Circuit, which is something that I'd love the film to make it's rounds on. Since the film is a modern romance film, we thought of doing screenings based around date nights. As Jon says, make it an event. Either a date night or a guys vs. girls screening night. Also, my friend Michelle Kim designed a logo for us (in about 7 different color schemes), that we've used on Facebook, T-shirts, and business cards. The logo's great and I think it will be useful when we start to think of different pieces of merchandise we can come up with.



The production seems like a blur. We shot for 15 straight days, took 3 off, and then finished with 2 days. It wasn't the most ideal conditions but we got it done. One of our sayings between myself and the DP was: "Get to day (so and so) with quality." Even with the fatigue, I wanted to make sure we never settled or sacrificed anything, and we didn't. We stretched every dollar as far as we could. And really, every dollar.

As I edit, the only thing that matters to me is that it turns into a good movie. One of my main concerns was the amount of time that social outreach could take from prep time for filming itself. Now's the time where I need to start targeting specific groups of my audience and really introduce my core audience to the film. While editing I'll start to get a better sense of what type of screening/distribution strategy I need to take and what some realistic goals are. But boy, it's been a hell of a ride so far.

A Little About Happiness and Slavery

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013



Early in my career I avoided music videos like the plague,  they just seemed like commercials for music.  Fortunately – this led me to one of my favorite collaborations on Happiness in Slavery – since Trent Reznor was looking for filmmakers who had never done a music video before.  He didn’t want anyone polluted by the process.  (I understood this years later after I became polluted by the process and then quit doing music videos).    He found me through Film Threat Magazine who had been fans of my shorts and my documentaries of Survival Research Laboratories.   Trent wanted to do a video that didn’t have any limits, he had a new deal (with Interscope) that gave him full creative control.  His guidelines were “consensual S&M” and “gears grinding flesh”.

We discussed the video in the back house of the former Sharon Tate estate (where we shot another video together for the song “Gave Up”).  I proposed loosely basing the video on the French decadent writer Octave Mirabeux’s The Torture Garden in which wealthy people visit Chinese prisons to witness gruesome tortures.  But what struck me and what I borrowed for the video was the symbiotic relationship between the torture and the lush plants that were fertilized by its awful results.   Inspired by my work with SRL, I decided to update the story making the ritualized relationship between a man and a machine.   I also made this tortuous relationship purely voluntary – so that the men were giving themselves to this process, ritual, transcendence.  

I felt it had to be in black and white because color would make it too real and remove the feeling of allegory I wanted.  I also definitely wanted the lead to be a man so that it could help dispel any sense that it was a typical horror film.

I always wanted to cast my friend Bob Flanegan as the lead as an artist and self described “SuperMasochist” he also had the perfect body – molded by years of struggle with cystic fibrosis.   I was concerned he might be too sick – but he eagerly jumped into the role.  I think the video would have been totally different without Bob’s incredible performance where we as an audience are unclear whether it is pain, pleasure or both.   One day on the set his mistress/wife/partner Sheri Rose was not available, so I was left to operate the device that pulled on Bob’s testicles.  I have the distinct pleasure of having made Sheri jealous.

We had a feeling that people were not going to be happy with the piece.  We heard MTV was furious since they were eagerly awaiting Trent’s new video from his new label and this video was basically a Fuck You to the industry.  I heard his label freaked out as well – but then took the credit for what a brilliant marketing move it was!   It went viral on VHS cassette throughout the industry – this is in 1992 – well before the prevalence of the internet and certainly before video could be shared effectively on the internet.    It was screened on Much Music (the Canadian MTV) on a special program on censorship and the programmer got fired the next day.

It caused a shit storm and Trent and I were both happy that it caused such a reaction. What more could we want? The piece seems to have some legs popping up on lists for most outrageous/banned/horrifying/etc music video ever.  Twenty years later – because of the creative freedom we had – that Trent gave me – its one of the purest artistic expressions that I have ever created – and one that I am incredibly proud of.   There still is a seven minute version – that is just the short film component – without Trent singing – that has yet to be released.  I still have the master of this version in my closet.  Here’s hoping that Trent will put a soundtrack to it and release it some day!

How To Make Money in the Age of Abundance: Part 3 
Theatrical is Dead – Long Live Theatrical: Events, Experiences, Scarcity & The Age of Abundance

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Theatrical is Dead Long Live Theatrical. The holy grail of a theatrical release still rings as a delusion for many.  Fighting words still for untold thousands of filmmakers. Who doesn’t want their name in lights – long lines around the block – a packed theater of adoring fans.  I believe this live engagement with fans is crucial for artists.  But traditional theatrical is probably not the way you are going to do it.

In the first post in this series, I indicated that filmmakers need to create scarce resources in order to compete with the abundance of digital.  Today’s post will focus on events – or what I have termed Live Event/Theatrical. The essence of this renaming is for filmmakers to reformulate and to reclaim what the industry calls theatrical – for more on that see Think Outside the Box Office. (PS – I first said this was a two part series – then I said three parts – well I lied again and now it will be four parts – with Part 4 tomorrow).

When films were only available in a movie theater – that was a scarce resource that could be charged for – it was the only way to see films.  As  technology developed new ways to see films, content creators/studios created release windows to control the monetization process of their film products attempting to keep the theatrical release as providing the highest per viewer fee per view fee.

But besides competition from other platforms, a traditional theatrical release is not a scarce resource:  multiple screenings per day in multiple theaters with no end date is essentially an infinite supply. The release window is still the only way that traditional distributors create artificially scarcity and for most films this is not enough for audiences to sacrifice any of their other myriad of entertainment options.   Unless you have created a rabid fan base who has to see the film at its first opportunity – which happens for a few films, but not many – traditional theatrical does not offer the consumer anything unique.  Quite the contrary:

Traditional theatrical gives consumers an excuse not to see a film when the filmmaker wants their audience to engage with it.   Why spend the time, effort (which are often more valuable than the $12 ticket price) to see something that will be available much cheaper and more conveniently soon enough?

Creating scarcity is an independent filmmaker's way of creating demand for their Live Event/Theatrical “products”.  The essence of scarcity is: people want what they fear they might not be able to have.  Scarcity also creates something will be unique to them and a few others.  The scarcer something is, the more demand you can create for it.   Simply put:  by decreasing supply with stable demand you increase value.

The essential consumer value of Live Event/Theatrical must be a live communal experience, unavailable anywhere else.  I will write about the importance of community and the extra value that this creates to screenings at another time.  It is important to keep in mind that this post is not just about monetizing through events – but is about creating ways to keep that important experience of watching films communally with other people – especially strangers.  Hence the event creates something new – never created before and even beyond the elements that you provide.  This communal added value experience is quite different than the consumer value of Digital Products, which is one of convenience.  Live Event Theatrical can never compete with digital on the level of convenience and must create its own value to succeed.

How to Create Unique Live Experiences Unavailable Anywhere Else (AKA scarcity for Live Event/Theatrical:

1.  Time Scarcity:  Embrace the One Night Screening – All things being equal, for small films with limited budgets, one night screenings are much easier to book and will in general be more successful in terms of audience and money.   By only offering a communal experience once in a particular geographical location, is an immediate way to make it scarce (only that number of seats are available) and immediately more. The more you promote sales of tickets being sold, the more urgency you can create for the event.  When you sell out you can add more screenings “by popular demand”, creating demand where perhaps none existed before.

I have experienced this over and over again for my own films and my clients' films.  For our recent US premiere of Bomb It 2 in Miami, the film sold out several days before the event.

One of the benefits of Live Event/Theatrical for filmmakers is publicity and awareness (events by their nature do this) – but the more you add value and uniqueness to an event – the more it will create awareness. (As a caveat – four years ago it was hard to get the press to cover one night film screenings – but now that is changing more and more – and especially if you as the filmmaker add uniqueness to the event).

2. Time Scarcity – Part 2 National and/or International One Night Screenings.

This takes time, effort, coordination but can be extremely successful.  Going through satellite service providers such as Fathom, Screenvision and Cinedigm can be expensive (although the latter has started releasing films that they acquire in this manner).   But savvy filmmakers can do this without the traditional $75,000-$125,000 satellite fee.

Two notable cases are The Age of Stupid from Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillet of Spanner Films (who used Fathom in the US), which still has the record for number of screenings (500) and number of countries (40) for an independent film in a 2 day period. (Can anyone beat this?)  For Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Sheri Candler and I worked with Ira Deutchman and his Emerging Pictures to create a 45 city one day event which was also the world premiere screening of the film. The total cost of this was $1000 (Emerging’s Fee), which we was deducted from the box office.   In both of these cases the filmmakers added unique elements besides the limited time to further enhance the event.

3.  Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Topical Celebrities

For the Joffrey film we netcast a q&a with Joffrey Ballet alumni which our research indicated was what our audience valued the most for live events (not live ballet that I had originally thought).  We also enabled audience from around the country to participate in the Q&A via Twitter. Video documentation here.   For Age of Stupid Franny and Lizzie had a numerous celebrities participate both live and via Skype.

For the Connected New York theatrical Tiffany Shlain arranged a different notable guest speaker for every screening turning each one into a unique event and selling out nearly all of her screenings in the process.

4. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music

Examples abound from Anvil: Story of Anvil, DJ Spooky, Braden King’s Here, Corey Mcabee whose own band The Billy Nayer Show plays live with his films and again Ride the Divide who still take the cake by selecting bands for their soundtrack proactively who would perform in the cities they knew were geographical targets for their audience.

5. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music Remix.

I am finally putting my money where my mouth is – our Austin premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse for Bomb It 2 with be remixed live by DJ Chorizo Funk.  To do this I created a D&E (dialogue and effects) mix of the film on a separate screener – and then provided all the tracks to the DJ and theater on a separate CD/download.   Other event attributes of this screening:  live graffiti painting in front of the theater before the event, local featured artist Sloke appearing after the screening (note the importance of using a local artist with his own audience base) and skype Q&A by yours truly (although this may convert into a pre-recorded pre-screening intro).  I also timed this event to coincide with the conclusion of the Bomb It 2 Kickstarter campaign to have a special event to cap off our fundraising.

6. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Film Editing

A difficult undertaking, and only for particular films and filmmakers – but check out what Peter Greenaway did for Tulse Luper Suitcases.  He had a customized VJ board created and reedited the film live for select event screenings like this one in Krakow, Poland.   A technological update to this is Mark Harris’s The Lost Children which based on audience reaction “alters itself, hiding and revealing different aspects with each screening.”

7. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Audience Participation.

Rocky Horror Picture show is the most famous example, but indies such as Best Worst Movie have had their fans dressing up and participating as well.  Corey McAbee recounted that in Melbourne Australia people would dress up as the characters in American Astronaut and sing along – for years of midnight screenings.

8. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Actors Performing With the Film, Text Messaging, Immersive Experiences.

Each of these techniques can be done separately, but so far the filmmakers experimenting with this such as Lance Weiler with Head Trauma and more recently Mark Harris with The Lost Children are combining multiple aspects to create immersive experiences for their audiences.

9. Beyond Live Event Theatrical:  Experiences

This needs its own blog post – but again crowdfunding has pushed filmmakers to think expansively about creating unique scarce experiences that can be offered to fans such as dinners, set experiences, live chats, backstage access etc.  What you offer depends on your audience.  Since my audience is mostly comprised of independent filmmakers, for my Kickstarter I have offered a variety of experiences that are based on my consulting brand:  a monthly group conference call/presentation with twitter q&a,  one time conversations, monthly workshops and individual intensive consultations.  What value can you provide to your audience?  What does your audience want from you?

10.  Creating Unique Live Events – What Am I Missing?

I would love to get examples from you as to what unique screenings and events you have created or experienced?

On Tuesday I will conclude this series with a look at creating scarcity with merchandise.   I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here:  bombit2Kickstarter.com http://www.bombit2kickstarter.com

We have met our goal – but have added a stretch goal of $20K to help cover all of our expenses. More important than the stretch goal, though, is our goal to create a community of 300 backers for BOMB IT 2. As of this moment, as I am writing this for you, I have 280 dedicated backers who have not only pledged money but most of whom has dedicated time and effort toward spreading the word about the campaign. Yes, I’ll give them the movie and other perks, such as consultations, posters, original art, etc. in exchange for their contribution, but they’re giving me much more.

How To Make Money in the Age of Abundance: Part 2 
Ask Not What Your Audience Can Do For You – But What You Can Do For Your Audience

Monday, August 5th, 2013



When I wrote the first post in this series, I thought this would only be a two-parter, but I decided to expand this to a 4-part series because of a little voice in my head that said I needed to talk about audience engagement more.

Yes, I said in Part 1 that I wasn't going to address it in this series because I had addressed it before - sue me. The truth is, audience engagement is so central to this whole process that I needed to add my evolving thoughts on it. I think you'll appreciate my change of heart.

Audience engagement is a term that I have recently come to use interchangeably with "distribution and marketing." What else is distribution and marketing - if not enticing, conversing with, and ultimately wooing your audience?

Up until a year ago my marketing and distro presentations had a 3-step process for audience engagement. Each step could reasonably comprise a blog post in its own.

1. Who is your audience?

What niche audiences does your film appeal to? What are the core audiences within these niches? What secondary and tertiary audiences might there be that this core can expand out to?

2. Where does your audience receive information and recommendations?

I examine this by looking at various channels of communication that audiences rely on, such as influencers, social media, traditional media, organizations, etc.

3. How does your audience engage with media?

In other words, how does your audience consume media? Do they download? Do they pay for media? Do they go to the theaters?

Every film, artist, creative project is different because their audiences are different. There is no cookie cutter audience engagement shortcut. You have to figure out who your audience is, what they're doing, and where they are before you figure out how to approach them, get them on your side, and get them to see (and champion) your film.

However, in the last year I have added a fourth step in this process:

4. What value can you provide your audience?

After identifying your audience, this is actually the most important action to consider - and it will be different for every audience. It forms the basis for engaging with your audience as well as the products you offer them.

You can't just think about what you want them to do for you; you truly have to assess what you're doing for them.

What Do You Have to Offer:

1. Your film/creative project.

Most people say that if you don't make a something great - then nothing else matters. I don't know if that is precisely true anymore (since people are investing in people - eg you - not as much your project anymore) - but as a purest and as an idealist - I will put this first. Your value to your audience is to provide them with a great film - or creative project. Perhaps you can boil it down even to a great story - either fictional or dramatic - which could play out in a variety of forms.

2. Information.

What is the audience of your film interested in? 90% of what you communicate (at least) should be information that your audience is interested in - and not promotional. If your audience is interested in your life and your thoughts - great - all the better.   But there are other non-personal issues, ideas, tidbits that I bet they are perhaps more interested in. Most of all - save the promotional part for your communication for your crowdfund campaigns and releases - and even then you should be providing content - not just "give me, pay me, buy from me."

3. Connection.

This can range from online interaction with audiences - real give and take on social media channels where your audience feels that they are engaging with you. Or it can be live - hanging around after a screening talking to people one on one.

My monthly conference call in my Kickstarter campaign is a way to achieve 2&3.

4. An Experience.

I will discuss this more in the next part of this series - but at its most simple it involves getting beyond the notion of theatrical screenings as the epitome of the way film is to be experienced.   What kind of events can you provide with your film? What kind of experiences can you provide around your film? What kind of experiences can you provide around yourself as an artist?   Again - crowdfunding has been great to get filmmakers and all artists to think creatively about creating exclusive experiences with their audiences - one to one conversations - year long group projects - etc.

5. Content Part 2 - Other Assets.

You don't need to create a full blown transmedia experience to create other assets that engage people in your project. Braden King's Postcards From Here are an elegant, simple, compelling example.   Showing me your vision on Instagram everyday makes me see your evolution as an artist. Perhaps there is something else you can offer that I could never even imagine. I hope so. I want to see it.

I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here:bombit2Kickstarter.com.

We have met our goal - but have added a stretch goal of $20K to help cover all of our expenses. More important than the stretch goal, though, is our goal to create a community of 300 backers for BOMB IT 2. As of this moment, as I am writing this for you, I have 286 dedicated backers who have not only pledged money but most of whom have dedicated time and effort toward spreading the word about the campaign. Yes, I'll give them the movie and other perks, such as consultations, posters, original art, etc. in exchange for their contribution, but they're giving me much more. Please check it out, contribute if you're moved, and - no matter what - stay tuned for the final part of this series on "How to Make Money in a Time of Abundance."

How To Make Money in the Age of Abundance: Part 1 
The Age of Abundance

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I have been giving a number of presentations on Artistic Entrepreneurship over the past year that I refined for the recentSFFS A2E Workshop and most recently presented a version of in this spring's IFP Filmmaker Labs. In this presentation I have reformulated my approach to the challenges that filmmakers face in our current age of content abundance. I would share these thoughts to a much wider audience and get some feedback.
While there were a number of factors that caused an upheaval of the distribution landscape in 2007 and while there have been many positive signs of improvement, filmmakers and all artists still face an enormously changed market for content.

Supply and Demand
Anyone with a smattering of economic knowledge understands that if you have surging supply and static or diminished demand, prices will drop. As a content creator you are facing:
Supply
It is not just peer-to-peer sharing that is creating an infinite supply of product.

1. A Surge in Supply of Original Content Part 1 - Feature Films.   As Ted Hope and Brian Newman have noted - estimates are that 50,000 new feature films enter the festival circuit every year looking for some form of distribution.

2. A Surge in Supply of Original Content Part 2 - Online Video Content. When I prepared this talk a year ago 236 YEARS of viewing content was being uploaded to YouTube EVERY MONTH. When I recalculated that figure for this years IFP Filmmaker Labs it is now 355 YEARS of content uploaded every month. Acknowledged, a lot of that is cat videos - but I hate to say that many people like cat videos more than independent film.

3. Everyone Can Watch Everything: Your potential customers, fans, audience do not only have all of the above content screaming for their time - they are very rapidly gaining the ability to watch everything piece of content ever produced in history: every book, every song, every film, everything.

4. Peer to Peer Sharing: Every piece of content can be shared infinitely at no cost. While the cost of digital replication is obviously less than physical production, replication of goods is only one factor of value. I think most filmmakers will agree with me that the entire cost of a piece of content should be factored into the "value" of a piece of content - e.g. the negative cost of the film. So while P2P is not the only cause of the supply glut, it does of course contribute.
Demand:

1. A static and potentially declining audience for independent film (and for all film). How relevant are previous forms of filmed media to new audiences: the feature film, the short film, the half hour and hour television show? How filmmakers can and should break free from these forms needs to be covered in another post.  In addition, filmmakers need to go beyond a traditional film audience to find and cultivate their own unique audiences. I have written about this many times and won't go into this any further at this time, however this series assumes that filmmakers are doing everything to cultivate and connect with those audiences.

2. Audiences are faced with many more entertainment choices than ever before - audiences are not as dependent on film, especially independent film for new ideas, new voices, and fresh content.

So when supply increases exponentially and demand is static or declining - price drops and films become difficult to monetize. This is one of the reasons that it will be difficult for digital revenue to replace other revenue streams even with universal broadband and global digital platforms/distribution systems.

Some ways to deal with this phenomenon:

1. Embrace Infinite Supply and Use it to Develop Audience

Again one of the ultimate defenses against increased supply is to create demand for your work through cultivating your audience.   A number of filmmakers have given content away for free with the resulting effect of increased sales of scarce goods (discussed below). Nina Paley had great success with Sita Sings the Blues as documented by Sheri Candler in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul(in which Sheri also discusses other cases using this model).

A variation on the completely free model is to give a film away for a limited time to create awareness and promote other revenue streams as Mike Dion and Hunter Weeks did with a weekend long free YouTube stream of Ride the Divide to promote their iTunes launch of the same film (documented in one of my chapters fromSelling Your Film).
Other examples of this abound.

A second variation is the reverse crowd funding model that Jamie King has created with VODO, in which content is offered to the peer-to-peer network pro-actively for free and people are encouraged to contribute to support the filmmakers.
2. Create Repeat Viewership Content
One of the reason's that Pioneer One is the most successful program on VODO is because it is a series, and the audience is contributing to the continued support of the series.

The reason I believe that Netflix is turning towards series and away from movies is because they are ultimately similar to any other television or cable channel that for years now have discovered that series provide audience retention that one-off films do not. Netflix is no different than any cable network. Films are a great way for a channel to fill empty pipelines upon launch - but it is series that bring people back to a channel. Series provide continuous engagement in stories and characters that one off films do not (ironically whether or not the series are viewed all in one sitting).   This is also why I believe YouTube is investing in so many channels and seems intent on becoming an uber network. I recommend that any filmmaker download the free YouTube Partner Handbook - it is packed with helpful information.

Dickens had great luck with serialized content - which is how many of his novels (if not most) were initially released. He even received audience feedback - and incorporated that feedback into shaping the story.

I'm not a Pollyanna as to how serialized content will monetize for filmmakers although a number of filmmakers have figured out how to make money doing this by either monetizing their own channels, creating original content for other channels, or creating original content for branded channels. A series still has to become very popular for it to directly monetize via ad revenue or reverse crowd funding. There are outliers leading the way - most notably Freddie Wong'sVideo Game High School (who notably calls this a serialized feature).   But there are filmmakers creating short regular content (not always serialized) who are not outliers, but are making a living at what they are doing - such as the folks atZoochosis.com. While I am an advocate for filmmakers to explore regularly delivered short form content, filmmakers are exploring other ways to contend with audiences increased desire for serialized content.   Ed Burns for instance connects with his audience on a regular basis via twitter - often providing video answers to their questions - as well as engaging them in the creation of his films. He has also ramped up production of his films so that they come out yearly - or almost annually. While this is not serial, it is more regular than most filmmaker's production.   I understand that film (and novel writing) is a process that takes time - but just as some writers are discovering the value of the digital short form it is also important for filmmakers. Tiffany Shlain has extended her film Connected into her Cloud Filmmaking project where she is producing more regular, shorter content with help from the crowd.  If filmmakers cannot increase the frequency of production, it is important for them to maintain some form of content connection with their audience whether it be social media based or other. Filmmakers who ignore this are then either faced with rebuilding their audiences whenever they produce a film - say every three years - or are at the mercy of selling their films to whatever buyers may want to take on the job of connecting their films to an audience.

3. Create MembershipThose artists who have achieved a certain popularity can create memberships to either "fan clubs" or priority access to content. Some are borrowing the tech Fremium model where some content is available for free - other content is paid for. These memberships often do not give access only to digital content but scarce real experiences that I'll discuss in more depth later in the series. I'm starting up my own version of this via the monthly conference call reward on myKickstarter page - so that I can have regular live contact with my audience. But unless there is a demand for the content - it is difficult to charge/create barriers to it.
4. Exclusive Digital Editions
Crowdfunding has been very instructive in teaching filmmakers about merchandising and they have used this and other pre-sale campaigns to create exclusive digital editions of their work that are only available during their crowdfund or presale campaigns. I would recommend filmmakers consider exclusive digital editions during pre-sales or crowdfund campaigns only available during that sales period.   Because these are still digital products, I do feel that the effect won't be as strong as other forms of scarcity - but it is a worthwhile tactic.

A caveat to the above can be witnessed with studio strategies to digital content. You may have noticed that films are available for sale a week or weeks before they are available for rent on transactional digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon, etc). The studios and digital platforms have discovered that few people are buying films to own digitally. So the ownership window has in essence become a premium rental window for people (like my daughter) who want the digital content before anyone else and are willing to pay extra for that privilege. (Ultra VOD being another version of this digital windowing). Aggregators who a year ago were advocating near day and date releases for transactional, SVOD, AVOD are now advocating again for a longer transactional window before subscription and ad supported revenue streams.

All of the above tactics will work to some extent to create revenue for filmmakers and help develop audiences (especially repeat content), but I feel it is important that filmmakers learn how to create scarce goods and and create price tiers to fully monetize their films and brand.   The rest of this series will deal with various ways of creating scarce products such as through events/experiences and physical products.

I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign and you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here: bombit2Kickstarter.com.

Film Business Plans: Learn to Stop Worrying (and Love the Spreadsheet)

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Today we have a guest post from the New York Film Academy about writing a business plan for your film.  The one thing I would note is to be upfront with the investors with how long it takes to recoup money and the very good chance that they may not recoup at all (in fact stating this in your prospectus is required by law in the US).  Remember - if your film is cause related - many of your investors may be more concerned about how you will change the world than actually recouping.

by Zeke A. Iddon, New York Film Academy                    

Us filmmakers are, by nature, creative souls and abhor business plans as much as filing taxreturns. Even the very words ‘film business plan’ are enough to evoke groans from seasoned professionals in the industry.



But despite the panic many people find themselves in when it comes to putting pen to paper (or figures on a spreadsheet), the truth is they’re not nearly as beastly as many would have you believe.

Here we explore the very nature of film business plans, what they’re for (versus what you might think they’re for), and why you should keep it simple…

Never Forget the Golden Rule

Investors don’t open your business plan to find out how much you’re planning on paying the dolly grip. They cast their gaze upon it with one – and only one – thing in mind:

Is this investment going to make me money?

And really, that’s all you need to answer. That’s why it’s called a ‘business plan’, not a ‘leather-bound tome of every penny going in and out of our account’.

If you’ve managed to get a potential investor to look at your business plan, congratulations! You’ve already accomplished the two mountainous tasks of a) creating a great film, and b) garnering people’s interest. Be sure you don’t undermine yourself at this critical stage with a flawed business plan!

Don’t Get Carried Away

As long as you keep the golden rule in mind, you’ll prosper. However, it is admittedly easy to lose sight and overanalyze every aspect of the project.

At the heart of it all, you’re an expert in filmmaking, not accountancy, and while the importance of a tight financial projection cannot be understated it shouldn’t take more than a week to write it up. If you’re still stressing about the finer details for months on end – or worse, incapacitated by the fear of starting it – you’re probably over thinking things and taking far too much time away from your actual job. After all, stakeholders would infinitely prefer you to deliver a stellar movie rather than a flawless bit of accountancy.

And on that note…

The Devil’s in the Details

A good film business plan should be concise, filled only with pertinent information and, ideally, be somewhat attractive for investors to look at…

… what it should not comprise of is a ninety-page spreadsheet filled with hundreds of rows of figures typed out in 8-point font. Believe it or not, but stakeholders are humans too – as a rule of thumb, if it felt like murder to compile your plan, chances are it’ll feel like murder to read it and a business plan which doesn’t hold the reader’s attention is virtually a waste of paper.


So what should your plan include? As a rule of thumb, try to stick to the following information:

1) Is the film going to make the investor money?
2) How is it going to make the investor money?
3) It is going to make the investor money, right?

Sorry, just wanted to drive that point home. Joking aside, you’ll best demonstrate the above by sticking to just the following:

Outline: As it sounds, but resist temptation to get into the nitty gritty of the project here.  Do, however, sum up the script in a tantalizing way (no more than 500 words) and provide a few very clear details about your financing requirements. In addition, include some key points about the director/producer/company if these add to the attractability.

Shooting Schedule: This part is a little intense, and you may need to hire a line producer to analyze this for you depending on your experience level. Essentially, it should detail every location, scene, prop, staff and acting talent needed for each part of the script – from here, you’ll be able to formulate an accurate budget.

Production Budget: As above, but accounting for the production aspect of the project.

Marketing Plan: is more in-depth than just listing how many Twitter followers you think will retweet the film’s website. Detail your target demographics, advertising costs and expected conversion rates to said ads, the schedule for your marketing campaigns and any details regarding how you plan on getting bums on theater seats.

Distribution Plan: How are you going to get your DVD/Blu-Ray out there? How much will each sale make, and how many sales can you reasonably expect to achieve? What about online distribution? How about the value of rights sales for your area? These are all things which should be listed in the distribution plan.

Revenue Projections: Against most of the amateur advice which gets trotted out, do not compare your project to similar films. They are nearly always baseless comparisons without meaningful correlation – instead, stick to the hard figures based on all the market research you conducted for your marketing plan, as well as reliable statistics which are specific to your region/genre/marketing budget.

Letters of Intent: These are incredibly alluring to potential investors, so make sure you include them. Not only do letters of intent from recognizable talent, other investors and anyone else attached to the film help inspire confidence, but a letter of intent from an insurance company will allay fears of financial meltdown should the worst happen (heaven forbid).

Executive Summary: Oddly, many people feel that this should be at the forefront of your business plan. The clue, really, is in the name – your executive summary should come right at the end, almost as an extended version of your overview in which you highlight the script’s strengths, the team’s talent and why all of the above figures mean that this film will be a not-to-be-missed opportunity. That all said, we would be naïve to say that investors don’t often skip to this section, so keep your two pages here a fine mix of being too the point as well as being effusive about the film.

Close off with any supporting materials you have, including investment packages and cashflow statements (where applicable) or anything else that will tantalize potential stakeholders. Just don’t overdo it with photo shoots of all the team, et cetera.

What you’ll be left with is a clear and well-thought out business plan which will scream out to anyone reading that you know precisely what you’re doing… and that’s the name of the game.

One Final Note

Writing a solid business plan is not as arduous or painful as many would like to make out. That said, don’t try to cut corners by using templates or adopting other people’s plans – you’ll invariably end up in a pickle, and it’s more hard work than just getting on with it and writing your business plan from scratch.

Zeke A. Iddon is a consultant writer for the New York Film Academy, having previously come from a background in business marketing. He's more familiar with words and film reel then numbers, buy hey, that's what Excel's AutoSum function is for!

Top 10 Things Learned in the IFP PMD LAB

Thursday, December 20th, 2012



I have had the good fortune to be involved in IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs for the past several years now and I have seen innumerable benefits to the films and filmmakers who participate.  The Labs provide an opportunity for first-time filmmakers to not only receive feedback on their films from their peers and experienced filmmakers but it is the first lab to prepare filmmakers for the essential work of distribution and marketing.

This year we launched the IFP PMD LAB (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) the first of its kind.  This year, the PMD Lab worked in conjunction with the Filmmaker Labs, with all the participating PMDs attached to a film in the Filmmaker Labs.

Since the end of the year if full of 10 best lists – I thought I would compile the 10 best results of the inaugural year of the PMD Lab.

1.  Defining What A PMD Is. I think this is of critical importance as this nascent crew position develops.   A PMD is not just a social media manager.  To be a PMD a person must be involved in all aspects of a film’s distribution and marketing, including audience identification and engagement, creating a distribution and marketing plan, budgeting that plan, creating marketing elements, creating and managing other assets to help promote the film, etc. All of this in concert with the filmmakers.    See this post for more.     I think the PMD trainees were amazed and excited about the scope of this position.

2.  Learning how to identify audience.  After understanding the goals of the team, the first assignment for the trainees was to identify the audience for their film.  Many of the films had already started this process in the spring Filmmaker Labs sessions.  But rarely do first-time filmmakers fully understand their audiences in the first go round.  It also takes time for the notion of niche vs. core audience to sink in – and how to view how audiences can expand from a core. See this clip from one of my workshops for reference.

3.  Learning how to engage that audience.    This is a career-long process and can be daunting at first.   It is important again that it is not just about social media – we stress that it is crucial to know how each particular audience learns about films and then to target that source - influencers, social media, organizations, traditional media – whatever works.

4.  Develop marketing tools for the film (after understanding who the audience is).   We have the PMD trainees (and in fact all Lab films) create initial marketing materials most of which are essentials for a press kit: logline, one line synopsis, short synopsis, key art, website and, if possible and appropriate, trailer and social media sites.

5.  Workshop those marketing tools.   One my favorite parts of the Filmmaker Labs and PMD Labs are the Marketing Labs held right before IFPs Independent Film Week.  Each team presents the marketing plan for the film and it is workshopped with a panel of professionals.  Some heated discussions result.  The process either helps crystallize the beginnings of a plan for the team – or makes them realize they have a ways to go.  Either way I find that they are so much further along than most filmmakers by starting this process in post.

6.  Writing a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  The last assignment for the PMDs was to write a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  I am a broken record on this: every film is different and needs a unique plan.  It is essential that PMDs learn not only how to write these plans – but to understand all of the aspects contained within.  It is hard to teach this in a crash course (which we had in September and December).  But what I found most instructive was:

7.  Evaluating different distribution options.   In the December Distribution Labs, we had the opportunity to see each of the 20 filmmaking teams present their distribution plan, and to have that discussed by incredible experts in emerging distribution models. It became very apparent what types of distribution options are available to filmmakers and how those can be crafted for each individual film.

8. Learning how to budget that plan.   In order to execute a plan you have to figure out how much money you need to execute the plan.   Going through an extensive distribution and marketing budget can be daunting – but it is also important to know what you need to pay for in order to achieve that film’s goals.

9.  Creating a community of PMDs.  The trainees told me that one of the best outcomes of the PMD Lab was the community that they created amongst themselves.  While we had monthly phone sessions and 2 separate Lab meetings, the trainees would contact each other on a regular basis, which has continued even after the Lab’s completion.  They are even supporting other films from the Labs that did not have PMD trainees.   Several of the trainees have been so excited by the concept that they will be participating in the PMD website that we intend to put on the IFP site next year and to determine a way that PMDs around the world can find community (stay tuned!).

10.  Learning how to develop a career as a PMD.  This was a strong interest for the trainees – naturally.  What I stressed is that the PMD is just like any other film position.  You have to start small to build your way up – finding any way to gain experience.  Little by little filmmakers are realizing that they need to budget for this crew position.   One of the goals of the above mentioned site is to provide a centralized place that filmmakers can find PMDs for their projects.

If you think you can be a PMD please feel free to contact me so that I can keep you abreast of these developments.

Merchandise: Ways to Distribute

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012


Creating Innovative Merchandise

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


Top 5 Crowd Funding Tips for Filmmakers

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Good news. Another special guest blogger has been added to our arsenal. Author and filmmaker James Cooper wrote the book Kickstarter for Filmmakers after successfully funding his short film Elijah the Prophet through the popular crowd funding website. Below James shares his top five crowd funding tips for filmmakers.


TOP FIVE CROWD FUNDING TIPS FOR FILMMAKERS by James Cooper

Kickstarter is creating a boom in creative communities around the world! Filmmakers everywhere are chomping at the bit to get in on the action, but did you know over half of all campaigns launched on Kickstarter fail?

Crowd funding is still a relatively new business model, and it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all. Without the proper preparation, though, you may be dooming yourself to failure before your campaign even sees the light of day.

There are many things to take into consideration when launching a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any similar platform, but here are some of the most important:

5. Know Your Audience

This should be easy, but for some reason seems to be overlooked not just in crowd funding campaigns, but in general. When many new filmmakers are asked “Who is your audience?” with respect to their new project, they too often answer “Well, everyone!” This will not do. Crowd funding sites are jungles, and even though some do have good tools for discovery, it will be very easy for you to get lost in the crowd.

Your success will be determined by your ability to get the word out, and your success in that will be determined by your ability to identify what groups and niche audiences you can focus on reaching. Crowd funding is still new enough that an interesting campaign is in of itself news.

4. Tell Me Who Is Involved

Simple, right? You'd think so, but quite often you'll read through a project's entire description and still not know who else is involved aside from the person writing the description/appearing in the pitch video. It takes more than one person to make a film, and your audience will want to know they can all be trusted to deliver.

Even if none of the people involved in your film are recognizable to the uninitiated, it still helps spur support if people can get a quick glance at the passionate team that’s dying to bring this project to fruition.

3. Be Realistic

It's easy to be blinded by dollar signs when looking at other successful campaigns, but don't get carried away when setting your goal. Maximize your odds of success by taking stock of your network and making realistic estimates of what kind of support you'll be able to gain. Be conservative in these estimates. It would be a far better surprise to end up with more than you thought you'd have, than to come up with less.

To this effect, you also have to figure out if you think you can realistically fund the entire project through your campaign, or if you’ll have to bring outside financing to fill the gap. If you do, it’s far safer to have that in place prior to launching your campaign.

2. Be Honest

This seems obvious, but it's one of the most important things to keep in mind as you build your campaign: Don't lie; don't misrepresent yourself or your credits; don't make promises you can't keep. When people back a campaign, they're making a deal directly with you. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other similar platforms don't police your ability to deliver, so it's up to you to do so. You don't want to waste their money or ruin your reputation, so ensure you're not promising more than you're capable of.

Everything you include in your pitch video and your project description should be able to be distilled into two words: “Trust me.” For better or worse, crowd funding is a model that relies solely on trust: Trust that you can get this film made, trust that it will be good, trust that the money will be well spent, and trust that the claims made in your campaign are true. Don’t forget: This is the internet; it’s not hard to sniff out false claims.

1. More Than Money

Don't let the funding part of the term crowd funding distract you - you're getting more out of your campaign than money. Backers are early adopters, and they are more likely than anyone else to champion your project and shout it from the rooftops. They are now invested, literally, in your success. They've become part of the process, so treat them as such. Don't just take their money and say thanks; show them you're grateful for their help. This can take any shape you choose, but make them feel like they've backed the right horse.

I had a hard time deciding if #2 should be #1 or not, as they’re both equally important, but I ultimately decided the backer/campaigner relationship is the cornerstone of any crowd funding campaign and that the benefits outside the strictly financial should not be overlooked.

James Cooper is a film director and the author of Kickstarter for Filmmakers, now available on iBooks, Kindle, Nook and DRM-free PDF. www.kickstarterforfilmmakers.com



Between the Lines: Jon Reiss Interview

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Bomb It 1 + 2 director Jon Reiss speaks with the filmmakers behind "Between the Lines" about street art and graffiti, freedom of speech and democracy. “Between the Lines” is a documentary about a group of Toronto street artists who find new meaning in their work as they defend it against Mayor Rob Ford's War on Graffiti.


Top 5 Misunderstandings About Self Distribution

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

In the US many filmmakers are starting to get that they need to be responsible for distributing and marketing their films. We've been in this new paradigm since 2007 at least. But here in Europe - the mythology of white knights rescuing your film and you and carrying your film into the limelight is still very much alive. Most likely because there are still remnants of broadcast deals, co-production and government support even though those are declining precipitously. So Chris Jones asked me to write a blog post to address the top 5 misunderstandings of self distribution. Here it is - would love to know your thoughts.

1. “I don’t need to worry about distribution – a company will buy my film and do that for me.”

Unfortunately the world has changed. Estimates range that 35,000-50,000 new feature films made every year. Only 600 get on the international festival circuit. 200 get into Sundance. Of those, last year only 20 made deals starting in the low six figures. Multiply that by 5 sales markets worldwide. In a great year 100 films out of 50,000 are making deals starting in the low 6 figures. All rights distribution deals don't exist anymore except for the lucky few. Part of the reason the Sundance Institute started Sundance Artist Services was to help all of the films who had been in the Sundance Film Festival but never received distribution. Around the world broadcast licenses are decreasing and film fund revenues are shrinking. However the world rewards entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy.

2. “Distribution and Marketing is something I can worry about later – right now I need to focus on making my film.”

Filmmaking used to be only about making films. Now filmmaking has 2 parts – making a film – and connecting that film to an audience. It is what I call the new 50/50. But this is not a sequential process any longer. The earlier you start engaging your audience the more successful you will be in achieving your goals. Full stop. The process will also be more organic – since you will involve your audience in the process of making the film and as a result they will be invested with you and your project. A very good example of this is Iron Sky.

3. “If I think about my audience I am selling out.”

A better way to think of this is: You are not changing your film for the market (that usually results in failure anyway), instead you are connecting with the audience that already exists for your film.

However by thinking of the audience in advance perhaps there are elements that you might include that will aid in financing or marketing. For instance the documentary Ride the Divide received sponsorship from some of the manufacturers that supplied clothing to the endurance bikers featured in the film. This way the film benefited from considering the larger audience with no sacrifice to the creative spirit of the film.

Taking this one step further, it is better to know in advance that your film might have a very small audience – since then it would be best to keep your expenses low in creating the film (if you need to be concerned about recouping your financial investment). Better to make a film for less than be saddled with a mound of debt later. Even further if you have $100,000 to make a film, better to spend $50,000 on making the film and $50,000 on connecting that film to an audience. You will be far ahead of 95% of other filmmakers.

4. “I can’t imagine doing all that work by myself.”

Self distribution is not self distribution. It is not DIY. I am known as the “DIY guy” because I wrote a manual to help filmmakers distribute their films. However in that book I stress that distribution and marketing is about collaboration and partnerships. I prefer the term Hybrid Distribution. You as the filmmaker manage the process but you engage various entities to do much of the actual distribution: digital aggregators, DVD companies, shopping carts, fulfillment companies, television broadcasters, bookers, publicists. It still involves work – but not as much as doing everything yourself, which I only recommend as a fallback. Partnering with companies extends your reach tremendously and there are more and more companies forming every month for you to help you. American: The Bill Hicks Story is a wonderful UK example of this.

5. “I am not a salesperson, I am an artist.”

Well that may or may not be true. Many great filmmakers are also salespeople. It takes sales skills to sell your film to actors, financiers or anyone else to believe in your film and get involved. Most successful directors in the traditional Hollywood world are “good in a room.”

In the new model of artistic entrepreneurship (which musicians have been engaging with for a number of years now) artists need to think more and more creatively about making a living. Look at the products on OK Go’s website.

In the spirit of collaboration (see #4 above) I recommend that films have what I have termed a Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or PMD) on their team to be the person on their team to spearhead audience engagement (which is what I call distribution and marketing). Since nearly half of the work of filmmaking (if not more) is distribution and marketing and since distribution companies cannot in any way handle the glut of films that are made every year, filmmakers need a PMD as much as a DP, Editor, AD, Line Producer etc. The earlier filmmakers recognize this, the more they will achieve their goals and the happier they will be. This concept has already been embraced in the UK: Sally Hodgson is the PMD for Sound It Out, Ben Kempas is the PMD for The Scottish Documentary Institute and Dogwoof has started being a PMD for select films.

Don’t be one of those filmmakers that I constantly encounter who say “I made a film, I’m in a mound of debt, I’ve been in a ton of film festivals, and no one has bought my film and I don’t have any money or energy to do it myself and I don’t have anyone to help me.”

Start early, plan for it, engage and embrace the new world.

The Importance of Events in Your Career Toolkit

Tuesday, June 8th, 2012

This week's TOTBO video concerns the importance of redefining the nature of theatrical. In this clip I speak about how creating a "live event" for your film can be an essential aspect of your film's release. As I've said before I feel that theatrical must be redefined as live event/theatrical. Eventually I feel the term theatrical will be dropped and people will only refer to events. I emphasize live and event because I feel that those are truly the essential nature of screening your film in public - that it is a unique communal experience unavailable anywhere else. That is what is going to motivate people to see the film live - not just the fact that it is in a theater playing Fri-Thur.

Events have a multitude of benefits - they let you engage directly with your audience, they provide a way to organize publicity, they enable you to put your work out in the form it was intended (for me the form initially was a book - the workshops are now an adjunct to that - but all part of the same concept) and they are an additional revenue stream.

I feel that all artists can benefit from creating events for their work - musicians have concerts, artists have gallery openings, authors have readings and book signings etc. But there are new and exciting forms emerging such as last years theater/dance/immersive hybrid "Sleep No More".

I'm releasing this particular clip as I prepare to go out on my own live event tour this month - hitting New York, Sheffield, Nottingham, London and Berlin (if you are in any of those cities in June - check out the dates below and I hope to see you there).


Your Audience: Niche vs Core

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

This weeks TOTBO workshop clip continues the process of audience identification and differentiates between the concepts niche versus core. They are not the same thing. The core are the most engaged members of any niche - the most likely to engage with you and potentially spread the word about your work. I use Bomb It as an example but in the new workshops will be talking Joffrey and other films. For Joffrey the core of the ballet niche was of course people who loved the joffrey and within that the supercore are the former members of the Joffrey and of course the current Joffrey Ballet. They have been incredibly supportive of the film, have spread the word, participated in events and much more.


Identifying Your Audience

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

This weeks TOTBO Episode concerns the first steps of audience engagement. To do that you must evaluate your audience - which I propose in three steps:

1. Who is your audience (s)?
2. Where do they receive information and recommendations?
3. How do they consume media?

In the episode I then talk about the importance of niche audiences and distinguish them from core audiences. For independent films, and all independent artists, it is important to identify your audience as specifically as possible. You can't compete with marketing budgets of corporations (the studios) to reach large mass audiences, so you must start small. Fortunately the internet gives you the tools to reach out to niche audiences. But within each niche are cores who are the people I recommend starting with - who are the most active within each reach and are more liable to engage with you.


Creating a Unique Strategy For Your Film

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Today's video concerns the fundamental principle of how every film is different and needs a unique marketing and distribution plan.  To create this plan, filmmakers need to examine:

1. Their Goals

2.  Their Film

3.  Their Audience

4. Their resources.

I spend a little extra time on goals again talking about "Ride the Divide" and how right before distribution, the producer and director didn't realize that they had disparate goals.  The director, Hunter Weeks, wanted the film to help launch a new film, the producer, Mike Dion, wanted to recoup.  They ultimately decided to pursue monetization first.  However in doing so they were actually able to meet the goals of launching new projects - but they realized without setting one goal first - they would have had trouble achieving either one.
Future posts will cover the other topics of your film, your audience, your resources.


Creating a Unique Strategy For Your Film

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

I am kicking off a series of excerpts from my Think Outside the Box Office Master Classes today on my new YouTube Channel TheJonReiss. I am rebooting my YouTube channel because even though I had some decent views on YouTube.com/jfilm1 – it didn’t feel like that accurate or searchable. Since I am going to start releasing regular content not only from my workshops, but also interviews with filmmakers, artists and people on the cutting edge of audience engagement, I thought it was time to start fresh. On the channel you can also see excerpts from my film and music video work as well. I look forward to your thoughts on the clips as they roll out.

This week’s post concerns setting the goals for your release. I am a firm believer that it is essential for filmmakers to have a clear idea of what their goals are for their film’s release and to prioritize one or perhaps 2 specific goals because a film team will use different release strategies to achieve different goals. I see 4 main goals that most filmmakers strive for in their releases:

1. Money (Fortune)

2. A career launch, helping get another film made. (Fame – for a traditional career based on the previous film career paradigm that only exists for a small percentage of filmmakers these days).

3. Audience (some people just want their film to be seen by an audience as wide as possible.

4. Change the World – especially for documentary.

However I encourage most (if not all) filmmakers to consider a fifth goal:

5. A long-term relationship with a potentially sustainable audience/fan base. This is an essential component of any modern media release – yet most filmmakers still do not consider this a primary goal. This goal is different in objective than the old school fame based career launch (Number 2 above). It is not about press, “heat”, ego. Its about connection, engagement and a bringing your fans with you from project to project. This goal is not achievable if you sell your film outright in an all-rights scenario. In that case your distributor has access to your audience data – not you (although most don’t cultivate this data – yet).

Next week’s clip will talk about the importance of prioritizing your goals. In other words you are better off pursuing one goal. If you don’t, you are at the risk of not achieving any of your goals. Upcoming posts will concern identifying and engaging audience, creating events, merchandise, digital rights, timing as well as interviews with artists and filmmakers such as Timo Vuorensola, Molly Crabapple, Corey McAbee and many more.

I’m launching the channel today as part of my Spring Workshop Kickoff. Yesterday I gave a “Strategic Distribution Workshop 202” at Hot Docs Toronto. I will be helping lead the IFP Filmmaker Labs in NYC in May and June. I will also be giving a mini-workshop at Sheffield Doc Fest in June 15th and then in London on June 23, 24th for a newly revamped two day TOTBO Distribution Master Class.

I’ve also created some Hot Docs Specials on my store where you can get a PDF of TOTBO for $4.95 and a hard copy for $9.95

Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (2nd Edition, Focal Press) by Stacey Parks. Available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

Interview With Filmmaker Jon Reiss On Target Audience

Q: Tell us about Target Audience and what will happen if a filmmaker doesn't identify this early on in the process?

A: To me a target audience is one of the niches that exist in the world that would be interested in your film (or anything that you do).   A niche is a group of people focused on a particular interest.  They are accessible.  You can afford to market to them.

For instance in the case of my film “Bomb It”, one of the niche audiences is graffiti writers and street artists.  Another niche audience is people who love graffiti and street art.  A third audience for Bomb It is underground hip hop (specifically people who argue over how many “elements” there are in hip hop – graffiti often being called one of the “4 elements of hip hop” (some people feel that there are 5, others 9, etc).  While you may think that people who love hip hop is also an audience – that is too broad of an audience for us to tackle with limited means. It is best to drill down as deep as possible to the narrowest niche, or core within a niche, in order to begin engagement.

This process takes time and the earlier you start it, the better.  Your release will be much more successful (assuming connection with audience is one of your goals) if you have started to engage your audience (or at least the core of your audience) prior to your release.  If you don’t, you will be struggling to gain audience during your release. By not laying this foundation, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.

Q: Once you identify your Target Audience, what’s next? Any tips on aggregating?

A: For me there are 3 TOTBO (Think Outside the Box Office) Steps of Audience Engagement:

1.  Who?  You must identify your audience – discussed in #1 above.  And within each niche you should identify the core audience(s) within each niche.

2.  Where?  You must determine where and how this audience(s) receives information – and it will be different for every audience.  Some audiences don’t use social networks – even today.  Others are on Facebook or Ning more than Twitter.   Each niche will have certain blogs that are important to it.  You determine this via research.

3.  How?  Does this audience consume media?  In other words – how might they watch or interact with the story of your film?   Will they go see a live event, do they still buy DVDs.  What other kinds of merchandise might they buy?  On what platforms do they watch digital content?   You need to know this in order to connect your final film (or any product) with your audience(s).

Q: I hear filmmakers say all the time how difficult it is to start any type of campaign for their film during Pre-Production because nothing is really 'happening' yet. In your opinion, how can filmmakers create an initial campaign for their films during Pre-Pro?

A: I think “campaign” is the wrong way to think about it.  I recommend that people/filmmakers think in terms of connection.  You have fans out in the world (they may not know you exist) – you need to connect with them.

Topics could include: What are you interested in?  Why are you making this film?  What are your struggles?  How might you need help? How can your audience contribute to your film, not just financially (crowd funding), but also creatively (crowdsourcing)?  Ask them questions about different concepts, techniques you are considering etc.   Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are as important for audience connection as it is for money or creative contributions.

But more importantly – don’t just talk about yourself and your film. In fact no more than 20% of what you talk about or put out through your various channels should be about your film and yourself. 80% (at least) should information valuable (or entertaining) to your audience.   Go out and listen to your community and then become an authority within that community. Talk about the film once in a while – and then when you are in release, your audience will gladly support, promote, and refer you.

Q: All this can be so overwhelming to think about doing on your own -- what kind of team should filmmakers be building during Pre-Pro to facilitate the marketing of their film?

A: I believe that filmmaking is a two-part process.  The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience.   I think the most important team member to bring on in Pre-Production is the person I call the Producer of Marketing and Distribution – or PMD.   This person is the point person for all aspects of audience engagement as outlined above.   If you recognize that it is important to connect with audiences, then you absolutely need to devote resources to this process.  Everyone with traditional film positions already has their plate full making the film.  Filmmakers need to realize that unless they themselves will take on this work, they must get someone on their crew who will, just like they have someone line produce or edit.   That is why I created the position of the PMD in Think Outside the Box Office, because unless there is a clearly defined role for these tasks, they will not get done.

Q: Tell us about "Bomb-It" - what did you if anything during Pre-Pro that set you up for a successful release of the film later?

A: For “Bomb It” we started shooting right away,  so our pre-production and production happened simultaneously – for about 2 years.  But all during this time we were actively engaging our audience:

1.  We set up a website and a blog.  We posted regularly to this blog, very rarely about our film.  We posted almost exclusively about our subject – graffiti and street art.  Specifically, we posted items that interested us and we felt would be interesting to our audience.  We featured artists that we interviewed as well as bloggers, journalists and influencers within our community – see #6 below.

2. On our website we incentivized people to join our email list by offering to mail them stickers (yes via snail mail). This is an early example of an Email for Media campaign.  It cost a few hundred dollars to execute but 1).  It was directed at our specific audience.  2). It gave people something in exchange for what they were giving us (their email address).   We had 1000 people on our list by our premiere.

3.  We set up a Myspace page.  Remember this is 2004/2005 when we started (Facebook wasn’t the force it is now – and our audience was not on Facebook at that time. Our audiences were on Myspace – see research above).  By the time we premiered at Tribeca Film Festival we had nearly 5000 fans on Myspace.

4.   We cut trailers as soon as we had enough footage and posted them to YouTube – and directed our audience to them.  We were on our 2nd trailer by the time we premiered.

5.  We reached out to key bloggers, journalists, galleries and influencers within the community.   We created friendships with these people that lasted beyond the release.

Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

5 Do’s and Don’t’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

I met with Nolan from Gravitas, who I feel is one of the companies that really gets VOD for independents,  and he started saying - "filmmakers should watch out for this... it would be great if filmmakers would do..."  And since he was listing them off - I immediately asked him to write up 5 Dos and 5 Don'ts of VOD for filmmakers - and he graciously obliged - and here it is - Thank you so much Nolan for your continued generosity in helping filmmakers navigate this new space:

By Nolan Gallagher, Founder and CEO Gravitas Ventures

Jon Reiss was gracious enough to ask me to write this blog post to help shed some perspective on how to navigate the increasingly exciting (and complex) world of Video On Demand film releasing.

I believe Jon asked me to write this because our company, Gravitas Ventures, releases over 500 films a year on VOD in all of its flavors/windows including transactional, subscription, and ad sponsored. Since more and more people have been enjoying films through digital cable, their Netflix or hulu Plus subscriptions, or on Apple iTunes, VOD has been driving a majority of deals out of film festivals.

While VOD is increasingly important right now, the ability to enjoy films in this manner has actually been around for almost a decade. During that time I had the good fortune to work for a cable operator (Comcast), a studio (Warner Bros) and for the last six years Gravitas. It’s from those experiences, plus some great feedback from my team at Gravitas, that I offer these suggestions for a VOD release:

5 Do’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

1. Do Watch Windows- There is potentially big money in digital distribution.  Especially, if the timing of a release is coordinated by an industry expert with deep contacts within VOD specifically. A filmmaker should avoid licensing rights to one VOD platform first (say an online site) in an effort to "get the film out there." Unfortunately, this happens often and can cost filmmakers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are over one hundred different cable, satellite, telco and online VOD platforms and they do not like to be disadvantaged against each other. There are industry norms in the releasing of a film and by giving one operator an earlier window than the rest, you may jeopardize both carriage and favorable merchandising placement.

2. Do Reach the Masses.  Today, filmmakers can reach over 100 million North American homes inexpensively. VOD is also flexible, so that as technology evolves, your film will find ever more opportunities to be seen. Working with knowledgeable companies that are on top of the daily changes in distribution will allow filmmakers to reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.

3. Do Engage those Masses- Do spend a lot of time early in the process making sure that you are dedicating someone to build out your social media presence.  Facebook, Twitter, and even your own website can be very powerful tools for getting your message out, but building presence take plenty of dedicated work. We have seen remarkable results from producers who do this right versus those who just go through the motions.

4. Do Your Homework- Soak up VOD insights like a sponge. Talk among your filmmaking community about what has and has not worked on past films. Read blogs, attend panels, follow industry people on twitter and do not be afraid to ask distributors the tough questions. An informed filmmaker allows distributors to spend less time on basic education and more on finding creative ways to make your film release a success.

5. Do Try to Be Nice- It’s easier said than done some days, but Patrick Swayze nailed this advice in Roadhouse. Courtesy goes both ways for filmmaker teams and those distribution companies fortunate to work on a project. The entertainment industry is filled with no shortage of shall we say interesting personalities and the nice ones often do finish first in VOD.

5 Don’t’s on a Video On Demand Release

1.  Don’t Hide in Anonymity- The most unsuccessful VOD releases are the ones that do not happen. Put another way, if Gravitas or any other distributor cannot reach you to have a conversation, it will be hard to get your film into 100 million VOD homes. Each film should choose one person as a point of contact for distribution inquiries and include a real phone number and personal email address (not info@movietitlename.com) on your film’s website and on its IMDB Pro page. It seems so simple, yet about 25% of films make it very difficult to engage in a conversation.

2.  Don’t Get stuck in the “Library”- to reiterate the importance of windows, avoid putting your film up on any internet platforms and/or releasing your DVD prior to your cable VOD launch.  Cable VOD makes up approximately 70% of your digital revenues and if you “street” your film prior to it’s cable VOD launch you will be a “library” title which means a lower price point, less visibility in VOD guides and far less revenues.

3. Don’t Run out of Gas at the Finish Line – While VOD is less expensive than replicating DVDs, it is not necessarily free to reach tens of millions of homes. Please remember that encoding and delivery costs could be thousands depending on the various VOD opportunities.  Often post production gets the short end of the stick when making a film, but what are going to do with a completed film that you can’t afford to deliver to your audience?

4. Don’t Rush into an All Rights Deal- Technology and consumer habits are changing rapidly. Savvy producers looking to harness these opportunities are increasingly skeptical of 10-15 year all rights deals for marginal upfront fees. Independent film distribution is awash in innovation and you will want a company with a strong VOD track record to help seize these lucrative new opportunities.

5. Don’t Go it Alone- It takes a team (filmmakers, producers, distributors, PR agencies, post production vendors and trusted advisers to name a few) to help usher in a successful release. One of the most rewarding aspects of film distribution is collaborating with the thousands of fellow movie enthusiasts to bring great stories to VOD. There is so much knowledge and friends to be gleaned from a great team effort.

I look forward to reading more suggestions for good do’s and don’t in the comments section. Should anyone have any questions for me directly, I can be reached at Nolan@gravitasventures.com or @gravitasvod.

Thanks,
Nolan Gallagher

Keys to a Successful Film Launch

Friday, March 9th, 2012

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules’s new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,about the history of the Joffrey ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. Future posts will go more in depth on certain aspects of this release.

With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, by some estimates, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals.   When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film.   We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape.   Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event.   Festivals are great partners for these types of events – even if you don’t get into a top 10 festival – because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences.

In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1.  A premiere that will reach your audience.  Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey:  Mavericks of American Dance.   Sure, there are other audiences for a film like this – but it is essential to go after who will be the most passionate about seeing the film.   For this reason, we targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival which not only is one of the premiere dance film festivals in the world, it is based in New York City – the birthplace of the Joffrey ballet and the center of the dance world in the United States.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film.   Festivals have many films to care for and promote as well as promoting the brand of the festival in general and often they have a small staff to accomplish all of this.  There is a lot for the media to choose from for coverage.  What will make your film unique and interesting to cover?  We decided early on to partner with Emerging Pictures to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press to pay attention to. Emerging was a natural choice because they screen live ballet performances from Europe through a digital network of cinemas throughout the US, so their cinemas already have an audience for this type of programming. They also have the technology in place at Lincoln Center that enables a netcast to happen so the venue and the festival wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics of the simulcast.

Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always  enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences.   You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend.  Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.    Having this panel discussion netcast live to theaters around the country allowed audiences in to ask questions of this panel as well as interact with each other via Twitter using the hashtag  #joffreymovie – creating a unique event not only in the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, but in 44 other cities around the country at the same time. This is also a unique event for media coverage because so few films take advantage of the technology today that enables something like this to happen and having such a concentration of iconic dancers in one place makes this newsworthy.

3. The budget you have to work with.  We have a modest budget for the release of Joffrey so we had to do a lot with limited means.  We have a small staff handling publicity, audience outreach, booking screenings and organizing merchandise sales. Bearing this in mind, we needed the most bang for the effort because we launched the film into the market during our festival premiere. We won’t have separate budgets for festival publicity and then release publicity in order to start selling.

Utilizing the Emerging network only costs at most $1000 (which can be taken off the top).  Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time.

In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time – it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets – thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

In another post, we will talk at length about the need for additional media assets to promote your film and all of the ways we have done this.   One way that you can garner additional assets during release is by filming and documenting your events.

You want to film the event itself – outside the theater, crowd shots, audience arriving at seats, applause, the audience watching the film during the screening and the entire Q&A. Very important to capture audience expectation before and reaction after the screening.  I recommend having two cameras so that one can be filming the Q&A and the other filming the crowd reaction outside.  You also want a photographer shooting the event if possible.

What you film can be utilized in a number of ways:
  • Short promotional videos that you can release on your Youtube channel to promote the film.  For the premiere we created two videos.  The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction.

    The second piece which we are now premiering with this article concerns the simulcast of the film and the audience participation.

    • Still photography of the people and personalities at the event (especially those that are interesting to your core audience and some that may be interesting to society pages and other publications).
    • Longer pieces of the Q&A panel discussion or even of just the filmmakers in conversation.  You can use these on your extra features.  Since our extra features have already been locked and since we have received numerous requests from people around the country to see these panels, we are going to put the full-length panel discussions up on the web on Distrify and charge a dollar or two for the viewing as an additional revenue stream.

    5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. Where will all of this publicity attention go? In the past, they hoped it led to a distribution deal, but that cannot be relied upon now. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. In the lead up and following our premiere, we have booked over 20 other screenings and we continue to set up screenings. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise. Don’t let the efforts and the financial resources you put into the premiere stall out from waiting. In a future post, we will talk about how we prepared for sales by setting up the web store and creating the merchandise.

    The Results

    We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film.   A number of these screenings actually sold out.  We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once).    Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie  reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.   Some of the comments we received through twitter:

    #JoffreyMovie Santa Fe, NM - our audience loved it, thank you so much! congrats on premiering a new, high tech way of running a Q&A!”

    @JoffreyMovie #joffreymovie It's insightful, performance history is fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tBeFP9IN.”

    “The excellent #joffreymovie & panel yesterday @danceoncamera made me wistful for @joffreyballet of old. I loved taking class w Mr. Joffrey.”

    The release continues and we will provide some in depth posts on this site of the different methods we have used to reach audiences and generate awareness and sales for the film.

    Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs.  He will be at SXSW this weekend participating in the panel “Tough Love: Why You’re Still Not Festival Ready” on Saturday, March 10, 2012 He will also be signing the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler.   Next week he will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for the Digital Capital Symposium March 13-14, speaking on Artistic Entrepreneurship.  If you're in the Austin or Baltimore areas, please drop in and introduce yourself. Follow Like

    Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist for independent films. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers. Currently, she is working with Hybrid Cinema to release the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a history of the Joffrey Ballet. She can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter  and on Google Plus.