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Distribution: Aggregators vs. Distributors

In the wake of the seeming demise of Distribber, which was one of the main ways in which filmmakers could get their work up onto major online platforms, it seems that it is still important to indicate the difference between aggregators and distributors – as well as between the two main types of aggregators:  aggregators for hire and aggregators by percentage.    Yesterday I was interviewed by Jeffrey Michael Bays and Forris Day for their Get Real: Indie Filmmakers  podcast about the Distribber situation and discuss some potential solutions.  You can find it here.   But first some background that most filmmakers still require:

Distributors are companies that will acquire a film and  take control of all the distribution and marketing for that film.  The hope/dream from  filmmakers is that this distributor will release it in the best possible way to audiences and in doing so achieve that filmmaker’s goals.   Most filmmakers are eager to move on to their next project.  The aspiration on the part of the filmmaker is that the distributor will understand the film and its audience and give it the release it deserves. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t, often in between.

Distributors will argue that they invest time and money (including hopefully an advance for the film)and in exchange, the they want to take as many rights and territories for as many years as possible.  Many distribution offers are are for all-rights in either the US, North America or the world and can run from 15-30 years.   You need to have either gotten a nice advance, or have a lot of belief and trust in that distributor to take that plunge.

While there are many very good distributors now, there are many reasons why a filmmaker may not engage with an all-rights distributor.  (for future posts)

The alternative to an all-rights distributor is to pursue a split rights or hybrid strategy.  This is a vast subject and has taken me a book and much writing since to explain.  But for this post we just need to know that an essential component to a hybrid release are the digital rights.  Generally these rights are handled by one form of aggregator who just as the name implies aggregates content and then presents it to the major digital platforms:  iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc – as well as usually cable VOD outlets.

An aggregator for hire is one that you pay a flat fee and in exchange they will shepard your film through the encoding process on TVOD (transactional VOD) and AVOD (Ad supported VOD now sometimes called ADVOD)  as well as sometimes pitch your film to SVOD (subscription VOD).  Beyond putting your films on platforms, they don’t promote your film.  That is up to you. You keep 100% or nearly 100% of all revenue that the aggregator receives from those platforms from the sale/rental of your film.  The filmmaker pays a fee for each platform the aggregator delivers to (and sometimes pitches to).   Distribber was one such aggregator.   Others are Quiver, Bitmax and The Film Collaborative (who go through Quiver).

An aggregator for percentage will generally (although not always) front the encoding costs (but they generally always take these expenses off the back end).   They  will promote your film to all the platforms they have relationships with including not only broadband but also cable VOD.   However, they also take a percentage of the gross return from those platforms.   In general they argue that they will market your films – in many cases this is in the form of what is called merchandising.  Merchandising is when the aggregator promotes their films to the various platforms arguing for prominence on that platform.  One of the most common of these is the New and Notable section (or even the front page) of iTunes.   This placement can help with one of the most common problems in our sea of content – a film being found.

Many of these aggregators for percentage do not consider themselves aggregators.  They will pitch your film for  broadcast in additon to VOD (they may also handle other rights such as educational, airplane/hotel, etc) and hence actually consider themselves distributors (even though many don’t do theatrical or semi theatrical which used to be a cornerstone of distributon).

Common to all aggregators (and distributors) is that one of their key roles is to collect money and pay it out to the filmmakers (after deduction of hopefully specified expenses).    Finding out if your potential distribution partner pays on regularly and on-time is essential.  You normally do this by asking other filmmakers who have worked with them.  You should always vet any distribution partner by talking to at least two filmmakers who have worked with them recently.


And this was the rub with Distribber.  Until recently they were very well regarded and had a reputation of paying their filmmakers.   This unfortunately seems to have changed with many filmmakers indicating that not only have they not been paid, but cannot seem to get a response from the company.   Check out the podcast indicated above if you are one of these filmmakers who went with Distribber.  If you have not – stay tuned for future posts on how to handle your release – digitally and otherwise.

Desolation Center Starts National Theatrical Release

After a great festival run including Slamdance, CPH: DOX, Sheffield International Doc Fest and many more Desolation Center starts the next step of its journey today with the launch of a 30+ city theatrical release.   It hits Los Angeles this week and then onward across the US and Canada.

I have been advising and working Stuart Swezey on this remarkable film since the beginning – even contributing some footage from my early Mark Pauline/Survival Research Laboratories documentaries.    The film plays exceptionally well in theaters and Stuart has been creating a number of events with musicians around the release such as the Rooftop Films screening in NYC featuring Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.   Check out the trailer here.

From the LA Times: “In the early 1980s, fed up with the violence that Daryl Gates’ LAPD brought down on the flourishing Hollywood punk scene, Stuart Swezey took to the warehouse wasteland of downtown L.A., and then to the wide-open spaces of the desert, booking punk, noise, industrial music and experimental art shows under the moniker “Desolation Center.” His first venture featured San Pedro punkers Minutemen, $12 tickets and a school bus ride to the Mojave. No one could have known that this event would be the first DNA strand of the multibillion-dollar modern music festival, as chronicled in Swezey’s documentary “Desolation Center.”

Swezey’s film is a historical record of this short-lived time and this singularly L.A. scene — he promoted only three desert shows and one on a boat. The era ended with the death of Minutemen guitarist D. Boon in 1985, but it means that Swezey never sold out. Though the “Desolation Center” served as inspiration for the massive festivals of today, in the hearts and minds of the scene’s major figures, it remains pure to the punk ethos.”

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

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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

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

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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

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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.

The Gate – 2018 Case Study

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2018 – A Year in a Glimpse

This last year has been busy, busy, busy!    Hot off the presses – we are super excited that one of the projects we have been acting as consulting producer and distribution advisor on, Stuart Swezey’s film debut Desolation Center, just got selected for its US Premiere at Slamdance 2019 following a healthy 2018 international run including CPH:DOX, Sheffield International Doc Fest, Cork, Docx, Dokufest, Indie Lisboa, and more. The feature doc is about a series of Reagan-era guerrilla punk and industrial desert happenings in Southern California which are now recognized as the inspirations for Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella. Interviews and rare performance footage of Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Swans and more.

In addition we worked with our first non-film non-profit Next7.org created by one of the co-founders of Food Democracy Now.  We not only advised and helped with the launch of Next7.org but helped run their first campaign Protect Organic.

Not to mention running the marketing and distribution campaigns for a number of other films this year:

Father’s Kingdom, directed by Lenny Feinberg, about the little know civil rights leader Father Divine who declared himself god. 

Generation Zapped, directed by Sabine el Gemayel, on the dangers of cell phone and wifi radiation.

American Visionary, directed by Karen Everett, about the mother of conscious evolution Barbara Marx Hubbard.

The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith, directed by Bob Hercules, about the origins of the Baha’i faith.

A Case Study The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith

For the last 6 months, our company has been managing the global release for the film The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith, directed by Peabody Award winner Bob Hercules. The release premiered in LA and Chicago followed by broadcasts on ABC affiliates rolling through July.  It was a particularly intense release because we weren’t able to start marketing it until the first week of April and it wasn’t finished until the end of April.   Hybrid Cinema managed the entire campaign including all marketing, social media, outreach and screenings, advertising, creation of all marketing elements (website, key art, trailer and lots of extra video content), publicity.  We also handled all distribution: screenings, broadcast, digital and DVD.

I want to share the beginnings of our case study on this project:

Goals and Strategy – The Gate

I know I am a broken record on this – but you can’t release a film (or any project) without knowing your goal(s).   With this film, the most important goal was to spread awareness for the film and the Baha’i faith to both Baha’i and non-Baha’is. Additionally, this film had a unique secondary goal, to build an engaged core fanbase that could be carried to planned future projects, as the production company plans to produce and release three more films. These two goals included strategic moves that of course overlap. Over the next few sections, I will quickly breakdown our work overview.

Distribution – The Gate

The film started with large premieres in Chicago and Los Angeles, quickly followed by the launch of the ABC broadcasts in May, that eventually reached between 2-3 million people. Although having the public broadcast so front-loaded might narrow more traditional distribution avenues (festivals and films sales) – and create all kinds of windowing problems and other difficulties – it was a key component in achieving the main goal of audience reach.  It is hard to argue with the power of traditional broadcast.

Even though the film was available for free – we found that the audience still wanted to book the film for community screenings – which 6 months later still continue.  We have sold over 450 screening licenses in over 20 different countries. All of these sales not only funnelled into our database but we strongly encouraged the screenings organizers to use our Eventbrite account which gave us access to the email addresses of all who signed up for the screenings.    We were able to track the results of our Facebook advertising through the sales on Eventbrite so we could target ads to screenings that needed a bit of help. (I’m not saying I love Eventbrite – but it has tools that are helpful – I am looking for a better platform for ticket sales). Finally we were able to survey the hosts and attendees which gave us important information for our ROI.  

We eventually started selling the film off the proprietary website and eventually transactionally on iTunes, Amazon etc. (We have had a very good experience with Distribber but we are going direct to Amazon through Prime Direct).  There will be a blog post coming about why it is still important to sell from your own website even if you aren’t building an email list.

Marketing – The Gate

Our marketing was a blend of outreach, social, advertising,  publicity and content.

Outreach has had their hands full servicing the core audience’s screenings for the past number of months and we are just getting able now to expand into the wider interfaith community (hence the trip to the Parliament of World Religions – one of the largest interfaith gatherings in the world). We have also attended the largest Persian conference in the US as well as the Religious News Association conference.

We have had great success with the content/social media and social advertising part of the campaign.   Based on early test screenings, we knew that most audiences wanted to learn more about the Baha’i community today, as this film is primarily focused on the history of the Baha’i. With that new information in hand, we created a cross media campaign to broaden the scope of the project.   We shot additional material and brought on a content producer and editor creating over 40 new short pieces of content for social channels.

We quickly discovered that most of our audience was on Facebook and doubled down on that platform.  While our organic reach was very strong – Facebook is now a pay for play platform that does give you incredible targeting and measurement of your campaigns.  In our first six months we reached 14 million people through our Facebook page

Our 6 month social stats were off the charts: 12 million reached through organic and paid social an additional 6 million reached through advertising, 10,000 followers on Facebook, another 1500+ on Instagram, 300,000 100% views of our short form content and over 380,000 engagements (emojis/likes/comments/shares).   I’ll be diving deeper into this data – especially the ad component in further posts.

Short Wrap Up – The Gate:

Even at the midpoint of the release (we plan to expand SVOD in late 2018 or 2019 and we have a number of other broadcast opportunities in 2019), the film has reached a huge audience and continues to do so.  The film is coming out on Cable VOD (Comcast, Direct TV and Dish) and wide to to large retailers through Passion River on DVD in November. We are just starting the educational release through Outcast.

Hybrid Cinema News

A Busy November

This past month has been a whirlwind of travel! I kicked off November in Toronto from the 1st – 7th for the Parliament of World Religions (this was for one of our projects – but I am getting quite a few spiritually oriented projects lately).

Then it was on to NYC for November 8th-15th.  First at Doc NYC to deliver a “manifesto”on independent film releases and data as part of the DOC NYC: PRO Series on Tuesday the 13th  This is approximately nine years after my manifesto on hybrid distribution that I gave at CPH:DOX just prior to launching Think Outside the Box Office. (I still remember going over proofs in my Copenhagen hotel room).  While in New York, I was also helping to run the IFP Filmmaker Lab in Marketing and Distribution for first-time filmmakers.  This year’s lab was full of exciting and inspirational projects including: 

512 Hours, directed by Giannina La Salvia and Adina Istrate. For 512 hours, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world flocked to experience the latest exhibition by acclaimed performance artist, Marina Abramović.

Socks on Fire: Uncle John and the Copper Headed Water Rattlers, directed by Bo McGuire. Socks on Fire documents the fluidity of identity, personality, and performance in one particular place, after a failed poet returns home to Hokes Bluff, Alabama to discover that his aunt has locked his drag-queen uncle out of the family home.

Border South, directed by Raúl O. Paz Pastrana. Told against the backdrop of the North American migrant trail, Border South weaves together migrant stories from different vantage points.

The Burning Field, directed by Justin Weinrich. The Burning Field presents a unique portrait of life in an environmental wasteland through the eyes of four young people who live and work in Agbogbloshie, one of the largest unregulated E-waste dumps on earth.

Flood, directed by Katy Scoggin. In Flood, a jaded filmmaker convinces herself she can fix her strained relationship to her evangelical dad by writing a father-daughter screenplay with a happy ending.

The In Between, directed by Robie Flores. The In Between is a poetic ode to a greater reality of the border than the one portrayed on the news, offering a nuanced and intimate portrait of a place and its people at the heart of Mexican-American identity.

1982, directed by Oualid Mouaness, and edited by Sabine El Gemayel, director of Generation Zapped. In the narrative feature, 1982, an 11-year-old boy is determined to tell a girl in his class that he loves her but has trouble finding the courage to do so until the unexpected occurs; an air invasion reaches Beirut and the school is being evacuated. He gets even more determined.

Clementine, directed by Lara Jean Gallagher. In Clementine, a heartbroken woman steals away to her estranged lover’s lake house and becomes entangled with a teenage girl.

House of Hummingbird, directed by Bora Kim. Seoul, 1994 — In the year the Seongsu bridge collapsed, a teenage girl named Eunhee wanders the city searching for love.

Lost Bayou, directed by Brian C Miller Richard. After news of her mother’s death, a struggling addict ventures out into the Louisiana swampland to reconnect with her estranged “traiteur” (Cajun faith healer) father, only to discover he is hiding a troubling secret aboard his houseboat.

The DOC:NYC manifesto on data was the 2nd talk I am doing on this subject and not the last – stay tuned for more presentations as well as information coming through this newsletter and the updated blog. Sonja Henrici from the Scottish Documentary Institute and did a joint presentation on the importance of data for filmmakers at this year’s IDA Getting Real Conference in September.

Check back for our next blog when I breakdown a short case study for one of my current projects, The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith.

Creative Distribution and Audience Engagement post-Cambridge Analytica

This Wednesday at 12:45pm most people will be scrambling to get to their coveted lunch break. They’ll sit on a bench outside, breathing their allotted 30 minutes of fresh air, holding a faux-turkey sandwich in one hand and their cell phone in the other. As they scroll through Facebook, trying not to drip mustard on their new iPhone X, I’ll be co-hosting a conversation alongside Sonja Henrici from the Scottish Documentary Institute, for the IDA’s Getting Real Conference. The topic of our conversation is, “Creative Distribution and Audience Engagement post-Cambridge Analytica: A look at changing strategies, roles, demands and data.” It’s a mouth full, but to break it way down, we’re discussing the cat video you clicked on while the tomato fell out of your sandwich. Who owns that video? Why did they post that video?  What action did they want you to take? And most importantly, who’s audience do you, holder of the faux-turkey sandwich, belong to?

Long after I’ve penned books on selling your film on your own, the audience is closer than ever and yet so, so far out of reach. Large corporations whether social media giants (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… oh wait that’s Facebook now too), or streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu etc etc etc), hold all the data which is the most important key to self-distribution.

So, without these keys to the castle, how can filmmakers function in this new kingdom? We’re still figuring this out. But breathe easy because everyone else – including studios, ad agencies, brands are still figuring this out too.

I know I sound like a broken record on this but as I have been saying for over 10 years: a film’s success is based on its goals. It’s important to know what you are trying to achieve before you start trying to achieve it. The most common goals for distribution are:

  1. Make some money
  2. Make your next film.
  3. Change the world
  4. Build an audience for your future films.
  5. Just get people to see your film!

These goals are all different and yet have one common factor when related to the film – they need audience engagement to succeed.

And now, we’ve circled back to audience engagement. On Wednesday, Sonja and I will be introducing a strange new world for most documentary filmmakers – data and advertising – including why you should care about data, how you can access it to help connect with your audiences, the differences between owned, paid, shared and earned media and how and why you can use, promote and track the results of your campaigns.   We’ll also be touching on the new world of GDPR (OY!) and why you need to know what that means and how you can function within the new world of data privacy while still increasing your audience.

Over the next year I will be writing and speaking a lot on this topic so stay tuned.

APPLYING TO FILM FESTIVALS 10 DOS AND 5 DON’TS

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.

How to Craft a Marketing and Distribution Plan That’s Right for You

Here is a post published by FIND after the marketing presentation I made at Film Independent in August.

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So! You have a great idea for a film. Even better: the pieces are coming together for the film to actually be produced. While you’re thinking about things like funding, filling key positions and casting, other aspects of filmmaking—like marketing and distribution—may seem like they should take the back burner. But this is precisely where filmmaker, author and distribution expert Jon Reiss would disagree.

Reiss begins his Members workshop at Film Independent by reminding the audience of the oversaturated film market, citing an average of 2,000 years worth of content uploaded to YouTube alone per month. “Your marketing and distribution plan must be an ongoing document,” Reiss says, stating the need to be able to present a cogent marketing strategy as part of your business plan for investors and grant applications.

In his book Think Outside the Box Office, Reiss lays out all the components necessary for independent filmmakers to craft a personalized, ongoing marketing plan. Reiss broke down the main elements from the book for Members: clarifying your goals as a filmmaker, identifying your film’s brand, doing an in-depth analysis of your audience (and how to reach them) and lastly, how to build a realistic, results-driven distribution plan. Here’s a little of what we learned:

CLARIFY YOUR GOALS, CLARIFY YOUR BRAND

As a filmmaker in a world of daily content, the first thing you need to think about is where you want your film to take you. Maybe you want it to catalyze your career. Or maybe you just want this particular story to have an audience. Maybe you want to pay the bills. Whatever the case, it’s important that the film serve your purposes.

Similarly, your film’s brand must be clear from the start. An audience can tell when a film doesn’t know where it’s going—both onscreen and off. A film that has a clear brand can benefit from things like brand-enhancement casting (i.e. including a specific actor/influencer in the project who might appeal to similar audience.)

WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?

The study and execution of your project’s “audience connection” can make or break your film. After all, the point of making a film is to have people see it! Reiss explains how identifying your niche audience versus your core audience (you can go after the core once you know the niche) can really help you pinpoint marketing efforts and enhance your film’s reach.

Once you identify who your audience is, you must analyze the way they receive information in order to find the best route to reach them. Some of these routes include partnerships with influencers, media outlets, non-profit organizations and sponsors. These are all two-way routes, however. So mapping out what you can offer to both partners as well as your audience is just as important as determining what they can offer to you.

THE FOUR PLATFORMS OF DISTRIBUTION

In order to maximize your return on the film, Reiss explains, selecting the best avenue (or avenues) for release is crucial. The four main platforms for your film to be seen are: Theatrical/Event, Digital, Merchandise and Educational.

Along with selecting the platform, a good way to give your film’s life span longevity is by considering “windowing.” This is essentially a way to secure the rights to different distribution methods over a period of time with “windows” of exclusivity (e.g. does educational need a six month or longer window before VOD, where does event/theatrical fit within that window, how long of a transactional window before subscription – etc.)

You’re probably thinking, “How in the world am I going to produce my film and handle all the distribution planning?” And you’re right, it’s a lot of work. That’s why Reiss recommends finding a team to help with this aspect of the film, just as you would fill in any other positions in your production/post-production team.

Having what he likes to call “a producer of distribution and marketing” can help you really find the financial return as well as maximize the impact of your film on a broader audience. At the very least, you can check out Jon Reiss’s book, Think Outside the Box, or schedule a consultation with his strategy company, HybridCinema, to get a personalized evaluation of your film’s marketing and distribution needs.