Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:
In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
One caveat to this post – we are still in very early experimental times and the tools, techniques and strategies continue to evolve. In addition – hindsight is easy. What I hope this post will do will provide helpful insight into how what I learned can help your process.
1. Better Integrate The Distribution and Marketing into the Filmmaking Process.
We actually did a pretty good job of engaging fans for Bomb It early on, considering the tools available and our resources. But we could have done more (although the technology/facility with much of what I mention didn’t really exist in 2005 when we started): More organizational and partner outreach – and earlier in the process.
• Earlier sponsorship engagement.
• Utilized more crowdsourced content for our website – encouraged fan submissions of material and been faster with turnaround on submitted material.
• Art, poster-design, and trailer-editing competitions.
• Allowed mash-ups of footage (might still do this).
• More activity on a broader range of social media (not as possible then as it is now – our new FB page grows by 500-1000 a month now – 4 years later).
• More engagement with prominent blogs and websites (didn’t have enough time to do all we wanted)
My producer Tracy Wares who handled most of the outreach during production (and did a great job – we ended up with 5000 Myspace (social network of choice for graf back then)) fans by Tribeca but was too busy producing the film and then left when we premiered at Tribeca (she had to get a job) – at the beginning of distribution. I’m sure many of you are in the same situation. Hence:
2. Engage a Producer of Marketing and Distribution
The concept didn’t exist for Bomb It – I created the concept in reaction of not having someone like this for Bomb It. (Its why the first article I ever wrote on the subject, for Filmmaker Magazine, was subtitled “Or how I “invented” the Two Month Window and spent six months wanting to kill myself every day.” Recently, I just brought on someone to train as a PMD for Bomb It 2. I can’t say enough how important it is to have help, a lot of help, in this process. Part of what I do now is help train and supervise PMDs for other filmmakers. For more on the PMD you can check out my chapter in the free ebook: The Modern Moviemaking Movement.
3. Budget for Distribution and Marketing.
We should have taken at least a third of our budget for Bomb It and used it for distribution and marketing (Hell we spent/wasted $25,000 opening the film at Tribeca – $10,000 for publicist $5000 for an event the City of NY shutdown at the last minute, travel, street teams etc. But we sold out and turned away 200 people per screening). Some of this money would have gone to pay the PMD. It would have also allowed us to create some of the merchandise outlined in item 7. You can have the TOTBO budgeting chapter for free in an E4M exchange (see 5) to the right (or left)
4. Crowdfund for Audience Engagement
I would have at least done a crowdfund campaign to raise part of the distribution budget. Gregory Bayne even incorporated the theatrical screening booking process into his Kickstarter campaign for Driven recently. And Joke and Biagio raised $40,000 for distribution of their film Dying to do Letterman also on Kickstarter.
5. Engage Social Media from Inception.
If you don’t have an audience you are sunk. Its easy to put your stuff up for sale online. Its hard to get people to want to watch it (even for free). It takes time to develop audience. Start early. Find the social networks that make sense for your audience and use them. We spend a lot more time on Flickr now – some graffiti writers only have a Flickr account – no email or even cell phone. Twitter didn’t exist when we nor did Facebook “like” pages – etc. But we now have 11,000 fans on the Bomb It personal and “like” pages and we are just starting to use Twitter as we find our audience does. You can have your PMD handle your film sites/pages – but you as a filmmaker need to handle your personal sites – you need to be authentic. To help manage the process I use Hootsuite which I like much better than Tweetdeck – especially for the Mac. You can follow and like me to see how I use Twitter and FB – Same with the Bomb It Page. But I also recommend you check out Tiffany Shlain, Kevin Smith and especially Ed Burns. People say you can’t monetize using Twitter, but by being engaged with his fans Ed was able to push “Nice Guy Johnny” into the top 10 on iTunes when he released it by appealing to his fans on Twitter.
5. Utilize widgets for fan acquisition early in the process.
Topspin didn’t exist when we released Bomb It on DVD. Their technology for fan acquisition is perfect for Bomb It (and many films) and I wish I had it to use in 2007. You can see “like for media” in action on our Facebook page. You can also see an “email for media” widget on the TOTBO page. While you’re on the Bomb It or my personal “like” page – check out our Rootmusic “BandPages”.
6. Develop More Win-Win Partnerships Earlier
We created a number of promotional and corporate partnerships for the release of Bomb It – Urb and Arizona Ice Tea to name 2. But we could have done more, however this work is labor intensive and where a PMD can really help. In the last two years we have started working with Meeting Of Styles and The Estria Foundation as promotional and screening partners. My new PMD will be expanding this network for Bomb It 2 as it appears appropriate. More creative corporate engagement would have been great – although it is hard when you are dealing with people who most of society considers criminals.
7. Focus on Live Events instead of Traditional Theatrical
I learned in releasing Bomb It that events are more powerful than week long runs (however I would still have done my theatrical in NY and LA for the reviews – and/or I would have used TribecaFF as my NY theatrical and let the reviews run then.) Having a PMD would have enabled me to use Tribeca as my NY premiere and to follow up with my live events close afterward. My live events would have involved having a DJ remix the music live at screenings; having graffiti battles at screenings; having panel discussions and debates after screenings (most of which I have done since – but not on a large coordinated scale). I would let the local organizers determine which event would work best for them and their local organizational support. Mike Dion and Hunter Weeks did a great job of creating events and utilizing a combination of local and national partner organizations for their release of Ride the Divide. I go into depth into their process in my section of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, my new book that I am writing with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler due out on ebooks and iPads this September.
8. Created More Merch Geared for My Audience for the Release
I always wanted to do a Bomb It book/DVD combo: no time. A PMD would have made that happen. Since releasing Bomb It I have also wanted to do a vinyl soundtrack and a toy – perhaps as an enclosure for the DVD or USB pen as created here by DataRock.
Or a DVD/Vinyl package like this for Frownland from Factory 25:
In fact the toy/DVD-USB works better for my audience than the book/DVD. I have considered doing it now – but the time and money involved don’t seem worth it several years after the release.
9. Gotten all my digital rights up on as many platforms as possible sooner.
Digital was in its infancy in 2008 – at least for monetization. But it is really emerging now and once you put it up for download (ETS) or rent (broadband VOD) I would get it up on as many of these platforms as possible – giving thought to potential lucrative exclusives and strategizing streaming and SVOD appropriately. I would get the film up on a DIY Broadband VOD service such as Dynamo, Distrify or EggUp in order to handle everyone who can’t or won’t use traditional services. Since so many of my audience engage in peer-to-peer activity, I would talk to James King about putting Bomb It up on VODO. Perhaps I would have done a series on VODO as part of the cross media experiment.
10. Thought Outside of the Film Box
In other words – I would now have embraced the cross media aspects of Bomb It earlier in the process – from inception. We knew we were producing more content than we could accommodate in a feature. Our main plan was to produce more features! We eventually output many webisodes via Babelgum as well as some timed with the release. But this was only scratching the surface of potential ideas. We recently (fall 2010) launched the Bomb It geo-location iPhone app – and how I wish I had launched this 6 months to a year before I released Bomb It.
In fact, I should have had it before I started shooting so that I could have preloaded it with photos when I was shooting the film! Alas – the iPhone didn’t exist when I was shooting Bomb It!
There are constantly new and exciting ways to engage audiences and create media. One only has to look at Tiffany Shlain and what she is doing with Connected or Kevin Smith’s new Topspin powered website, or what the Cosmonaut folks are doing in Spain (who Sheri Candler writes about in our book) to get a small glimpse at the future.
Jon Reiss is a filmmaker who also helps filmmakers strategize and execute the releases of their films and train their PMDs. His new book is a collaboration with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler titled “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul” to be released in September. His latest “film” Bomb It 2 will be released on iTunes and other digital platforms later this year. He can be reached at:
Reiss.firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook Twitter