Monthly Archives: March 2012

Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

Posted on by admin

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?

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?

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?

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?

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

Posted on by admin

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 Pt 1

Posted on by admin

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

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:

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

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.