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Five Reasons Why “Whose Streets” is Essential Viewing

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While at the Sundance Film Festival this past week I had the fortune to to see the premiere of “Whose Streets” by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis – produced by Jennifer MacArthur.   It was even more fortunate because I was able to view this powerful film on inauguration day and it provided wonderful counterprogramming. I was struck by a number of things in the film that still resonate with me almost a week later.

1. The film shows how far we still have to go as a nation to confront a legacy of slavery that is still with us.  The film wisely starts with a reference to the Dred Scott decision in 1846 and compares it to contemporary St. Louis and Ferguson. (In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court in one of its most notorious decisions, declared that since Dred Scott was a slave he was not a citizen. As such he did not have a right to sue for his freedom even though he lived in a non-slave state.)  This initial juxtaposition, along with the quotes from prominent black leaders that served as chapter breaks, was all the contextualization the audience needs.   Very soon we see the largely white police using overwhelming force to intimidate and control the primarily black citizens of Ferguson.  The dogs used for “crowd control” is enough to throw you back to the 60s and beyond.

2. The film does an incredible job of constructing the story of people living through the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death focusing on four activists:  Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed. Weaving a narrative from a wide range of filmed and archival/cell phone material the filmmakers provide a visceral experience where you feel that you are there on the streets with the mourners and protesters. You live the events with them, and see how truth unfolds through their eyes.  

3. I believe it might have been the LAPD under Daryl Gates that spearheaded the militarization of local police with armored battering rams being used in the early 1980s. (http://www.laweekly.com/news/the-militarization-of-police-started-in-los-angeles-5010287). The film Do Not Resist (http://www.donotresistfilm.com/) which came out last year, uses Ferguson as a backdrop to examine the increase in militarization of police forces across the country. But Whose Streets is the first film that I have seen that gives a sense of what it is like for American citizens conducting peaceful protests to come face to face with police in full combat gear flanked by armored personnel carriers.  Our founding fathers would be aghast.

4. I like to feel that I am a savvy media viewer – but the contrast presented by this film between the stories of the people on the ground and traditional news media was stunning.  As shown in Do Not Resist, the events of Ferguson have been used as a justification to increase the militarization of police forces in the US.  But Whose Streets deftly shows the distortion of the mainstream by constructing the reality of events as witnessed by those on the receiving end of force.  There is much talk about media bias these days and real stories not being told.  Somehow my bet is that most of the untold stories and media bias is of and against the marginalized.

  5. On the bus after the screening a white women commented on how she felt that there should have been many more interviews with white people to broaden the appeal of the film. But why does a film about black experience in America need to be mediated by white people?   I think she perhaps missed one of the key points of the film:  having a lived experience of how racism in American society has stayed embedded in our society.

I was inspired by the bravery of the activists in the film and their families in the face of such intense opposition. The film shows through the lives of Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed how difficult the struggle for human rights can be.   Coming at a time when our country is facing an attempt to push back gains made across the board in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, etc., the film is a much needed inspiration for activism and the need for continued struggle.

 

 

Documentary Magazine Article – Documentary Distribution in Turbulent Times

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During IDA’s Getting Real 2016 conference in September,  Susan Margolin and I hosted a two part panel on the state of documentary distribution.  I conducted a series of case studies with Nanfu Wang, from the critically acclaimed Sundance film Hooligan Sparrow. Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito’s Touch the Wall, and finally Keith Ochwat and Christopher Rufo’s Age of Champions.   Susan then dove into a panel of  industry experts including Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment; Orly Ravid, entertainment attorney and founder of The Film Collaborative; Annie Roney of ro*co films; Nolan Gallagher of Gravitas Ventures; and Felicia Pride of Tugg, the theatrical event platform.

Susan and I wrote an in-depth article of analysis and case studies for Documentary Magazine which just came out online which you can access on the Documentary Magazine site:

http://www.documentary.org//feature/independent-documentary-distribution-turbulent-times

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Artist, Filmmaker, & Renowned Disney Producer Don Hahn Comes to Cal Arts

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Hard to believe we are already halfway through the first month of 2017! So much has already happened this year. I just got back from Winnipeg where it was below -10 degrees. TALK ABOUT FREEZING. Luckily, I didn’t have to leave my hotel too much and I had a fantastic time at All Access 2017 hosted by On Screen Manitoba. I not only got to give a keynote address and take part in a fantastic panel discussion, but I also got to meet with some wonderful filmmakers. That is truly one of my favorite things. There is a lot going on in Winnipeg!

Look out for some informational blog posts coming up in the next few weeks where I will be talking about the importance of planning out the marketing of your films from inception and at various stages of the process which was the subject of my keynote.

In the meantime, I want to tell you about yesterday. As many of you know, outside of being a filmmaker and a marketing and distribution consultant, I have the pleasure of teaching some courses at Cal Arts. Yesterday, we had the fantastic Disney legend, Don Hahn, join us to give a presentation on unlocking one’s creative self. If you aren’t familiar with Don, he is best known for films like Beauty and the Beast and the Lion King. One of the things I truly like about Don is that he is also an avid fan of documentaries and has made some amazing ones himself. Those include Waking Sleeping Beauty, Earth, the incredible Tyrus (which he was the EP on) and many others.

I have to say that his presentation wasn’t only a learning experience for my students, but myself as well. (And I have to say this is always the case in our Guest Artist Workshop class).

Don touched on a lot of really interesting and important topics. He talked to the students about not letting fear hold them back, about the importance of creative collaboration, and about how many artists borrow and take from each other. But there was one message that really stood out to me and I think to my students as well.

That being, there is no such time in life when we are ready. He implored us to remember that it is a terrible thing to sit around and wait to be ready. Sometimes, you have to just get out and create. Don’t worry about the rest. Just get out and create.

What do you all think about that? How many times in life have we all let the fear of failure hold us back? How many times have we said, I’m not ready yet? Don’s message is one I think people from any industry can take heed from.

Thank you very much, Don, for coming and talking to the students at Cal Arts.

And of course, if you want to learn more about Don or check out his book Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self visit his site at http://www.donhahn.com/

Keep checking back regularly. I will be posting content from Sundance Film Festival coming up!

Heading to Sheffield International Doc Fest and Edinburgh International Film Festival

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I’m excited to be heading to the UK for the Sheffield International Doc Fest and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. In Sheffield I’ll be taking meetings with a number of international documentary foreign sales representatives but I’ll also be participating in Sales Sunday which is Sunday, June 12th.  Then I’ll be meeting with filmmakers as part of the distribution and marketing Switchboard Surgeries – as well as 10 Minute Meetings with impact oriented films.

In Edinburgh – I’ll be there for the final sessions of Make Your Market the PMD training initiative through the Scottish Documentary Institute.   I’ll also be participating in EIFF’s Distribution Rewired program which is Tuesday the 21st.   DISTRIBUTION REWIRED is a two-day focus dedicated to developing communication and collaboration between filmmakers and film distribution professionals working with new/emerging distribution methods.  Continue reading →

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

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Jon Reiss - Edinburgh

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.

Romania Interviews

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I just got the links to the TV and Radio interviews that I did while in Romania. We talked a lot about distribution and marketing within the film industry, and how that relates to all art forms – specifically in Romania. Check them out below.

 

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Digi TV

Romanian State Television

Radio Cultural

Distribution Case Study – “Finding Hillywood”

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Written by Leah Warshawski (Producer/Director) / Introduction by Jon Reiss

 

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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.

Continue reading →

American Film Showcase Trip to Romania

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Earlier this month I was lucky enough to travel to Romania with the American Film Showcase which is a collaboration between the American State Department and USC which bring mainly documentary filmmakers and film experts (yours truly) to various countries around the world. This program serves as bridge between American filmmakers and filmmakers abroad mostly in the developing world but occasionally in more developed countries.   Frankly I didn’t know what to expect – I actually thought that Romania already had a pretty amazing film industry producing some pretty incredible films.  However my one experience being in Romania (before the revolution) did not create much of a desire to go back.  Boy was I surprised – Romania is an incredible gem in many ways – the people are warm and generous (and speak English better than most European countries), there are a plethora of amazing Greek Orthodox churches (I’m a sucker for architecture, mosaics and any images on walls as you may know), and there is a huge vibrant section of artists who are eager to embrace the new entrepreneurial world.

Continue reading →

Off to Romania!

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Tonight I’ll be heading off to Romania as an “expert” for the American Film Showcase. The AFS is a cultural exchange organization that uses film education across the world as a means to opening a dialogue about important contemporary issues. I’m very excited to work with this great organization, and to visit such a fascinating part of the world. We will be holding film workshops in Bucharest for several days, and then heading to the Transylvania International Film Festival!

After that it’s off to New York to participate in the IFP Narrative Lab. Earlier this month I was there for the Documentary Lab, and it was an amazing week. I’ve already watched the 10 docs that were selected, and have started watching the 10 narrative films. They all look incredible! I’m very excited to work alongside such talented people

Should be a fun couple of weeks!

Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt 2

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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

Continue reading →