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Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Reveal Their Distribution Numbers, Part One

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Blog post

 

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

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Join It Session Tonight with Gregory Bayne

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I’ve been doing “Join It” sessions approximately once a month since last October as one of my Kickstarter rewards for Bomb It 2. In these sessions everyone who selected the Join It perk can dial in for a monthly conference call and ask anything about filmmaking and distribution and marketing. These sessions have been a mix of discussions, presentations by me and at times my doing mini consults with the filmmakers who were online. We then record these sessions (all but one) and post them for those who couldn’t attend (unfortunately the majority). I once experimented with not recording the sessions because I wanted to promote the live nature of the sessions and encourage participation – but with everyone’s far flung schedules I soon realized that this was not possible and those that want to be there will be there and those who just want to listen in will just do that.

But last month everything changed when Mark Stolaroff was online (one of the Join It members) and I commenced to interview him about his recent experiences in the landscape. It was so much fun that I decided for the time being that all of the future Join It sessions will have a special guest at least for the first half hour and then the 2nd half hour will be questions – which not only I but the guest will be involved in answering.

This month I chose Gregory Bayne because I got an email from another Join It member concerned about the broken business model of independent film distribution and marketing and wanting figures about how all these films turn out. As you may know – its very difficult to get filmmakers to reveal these numbers and usually all one hears about are the successful outliers. So I thought a better avenue would be to talk to a filmmaker who has had great success utilizing the new audience engagement landscape to foster a career in film – Gregory Bayne. He started with the ultra low budget Person of Interest and was one of the first to crowdfund for distribution and marketing. He then crowdfunded his next more ambitious film Driven and is exploring both transmedia and episodic. Can’t wait.

New Selling Your Film Book Released– and it’s FREE

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I’m really excited about this brand new book, Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. (click here to download the book for free) that I wrote with Sheri Candler, The Film Collaborative co-executive directors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter and Wendy Bernfeld, managing director of the European content curation and licensing company Rights Stuff BV edited and published by The Film Collaborative. Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. is the second volume in the “Selling Your Film” case study book series. While our first book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, focused on U.S releases and case studies, this volume takes a deep dive into digital distribution (and distribution generally) in Europe and provides several case studies of films released there.

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Within the pages of this book, you will find marketing and crowdfunding strategies, real distribution budgets, community building activities and detailed ancillary and digital distribution revenues for independently produced films.

My chapter is a case study of the Scottish film I Am Breathing and how the release was run by Ben Kempas, the Producer of Marketing and Distribution hired by The Scottish Documentary Institute for all of their films. The chapter not only discusses their outreach and release strategies, but also the Portable Fundraiser technology they developed with Distrify. It finishes with an evaluation of the effectiveness of the PMD, not only for films, but for film organizations to have on staff.

Click here to get your free copy.

Guest Post: Top 5 Webseries Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 reasons why you should get your s–t together and apply to the IFP Filmmaker Lab

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I have had the pleasure of being one of the lab leaders at the IFP Filmmaker Lab for the past 5 or so years (as you can imagine I help run the distribution and marketing component of the labs).  Each year the four times I travel to New York for the labs are some of the highlights of my calendar.  Yet I am continually amazed by the number of first time filmmakers that I talk to that didn’t apply to the lab (and many had not heard of it!).   So as the deadline for the Documentary Lab looms (March 7th! Narrative App due April 4), I thought I would take a little time to encourage filmmakers to apply – you never know what might happen!

1. It’s the first of its kind post production, distribution and marketing lab that helps shepherd first time filmmakers through the difficult aspects of not only creating the best film possible but also the often arcane post production and delivery process.

2.  It is not a one-time lab – it takes place over -6-7 months and meets three times– each session building on your progress and what you learned the last time.   The first session is focused on editing and postproduction, the second on marketing and the third on distribution.  Your film is assigned a mentor who is with you during these months.  You also get continued support from the amazing team at IFP: Amy, Milton, Rose, Dan, Chantel and more.

3. You get new eyes on your film: During the post production session, you get feedback on your edit not only from a super experienced editor but also from the aforementioned folks at IFP and your peers in the lab.

4.  Speaking of peers – each lab creates a close knit group of friends who then proceed to help each other out not only through the post process but through the arduous and at times elating and at times discouraging process of distribution and marketing.

5.  It is the only lab that helps you develop a distribution and marketing strategy for your film.  Many of the films in the lab receive some form of traditional distribution deal – but many – like most films – create some form of hybrid release – combining unique theatrical, broadcast, merch and digital opportunities.  We bring in industry experts to discuss the latest trends and workshop what might be the best distribution strategy for your film.

6.  We help you identify the audience for your film, figure out ways to connect to that audience and bring in a panel of industry experts to review and hone your marketing strategy and materials.

7.  Your project is elevated within the independent film community.  Of the 50,000 films made every year – yours are one of 20 selected by one of the premiere film organizations in the world.  People pay attention.

8.  You are automatically included in IFP’s Independent Film Week either in the Spotlight on Docs or Emerging Narrative.  This is an amazing program designed for films that are just about to hit the marketplace – you are teamed up with top notch film festivals, distributors, aggregators, broadcasters, service providers who are all interested in your film.  The marketing lab is timed to help you hone your materials and pitch right before you go out and present your film to the industry.

9.  IFP will be your partner in crime after the labs are finished.  They make calls on your behalf, they help you give birth to your film through festivals, screenings etc.  Nearly every film that has come through the lab in the last few years has received some form of distribution from the incredible DIY approach of John Henry Summerour’s Sahkanaga to Dee Rees’ Pariah.

10.  All of the above for the low low price of 0!   Its Free – you just have to get yourself to NYC three times a year. And really – how bad is that?

Bonus Reason:  Best of all, you become a part of the IFP family.  (This has actually been one of the most gratifying parts of the lab for me as well – that even though I live in LA – I consider the people at IFP my second family).  They want to help you with your next films, cheerlead you, and push you in new directions.  It is truly a magical group that any filmmaker would be lucky to be a part of.

Unlike many other labs – this is a one time opportunity – only open to first time filmmakers – so if that’s not you – sorry, share it with a friend.  If it is you – why not take the plunge?

Jon Reiss on BYODocs with Ondi Timoner

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Had a great time with Ondi Timoner today filming for her BYODocs Show – seen here!  We spoke a little about Think Outside the Box Office – but mostly about my docs Bomb It, Bomb It 2, Better Living Through Circuitry and even going back to Survival Research Laboratories and Target Video.   Let me know what you think!

The BOMB IT 2 DVD is here!

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This week marks the official release of the BOMB IT 2 DVD. To purchase, visit our BOMB IT 2 website. Don’t forget to check out this exclusive webisode with BOMB IT 2 artist Darbotz, where he explains his artistic process and the story behind the Squid Monster character featured in his work. Thank you for all of your support!

 

Countdown to the DVD Release of BOMB IT 2!

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As we count down to the DVD release of BOMB IT 2 on 11/5, check out this exclusive webisode with featured artist NUNCA. Learn about his art, Brazilian culture, and family influence in his work.

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

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Writer/Director Jaymes Camery on set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logo

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

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

 

A Little About Happiness In Slavery

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

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