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

 

Paco de Onís, Skylight & Granito

 

According to de Onís, Skylight is “as much a filmmaking organization, as a human rights organization.” Hence their goals are not about monetary gain – but about social change specifically in the realm of social justice. To do this according to de Onís “we’ve had to develop a model where we can work without a distributor,” he explains. “A distributor is looking for financial dividends, but we’re out looking for social dividends.”

 

In this quest for change and larger audience, they often give their films away for free. They gave their film Granito, about genocide in Guatemala, away to a major Guatemalan bootlegger who then spread it across the country in a way they never would have been able to. “There’s no better distributor in Guatemala. We don’t make any money from that but our film gets seen everywhere.”

 

In addition when the film screened on PBS, they persuaded the broadcaster to take off geo-blocking from the PBS streaming feed so that anyone in the world would be able to see the film. Skylight also creates indigenous language versions of many of their films which are given directly to that community.

 

Skylight also makes its films available for free to groups that want to screen them. Whether it’s a community group or a local human rights organization, you simply have to fill out a form on their website explaining why you want to show it, and they’ll provide you with a copy. They also ask that you let them know how the screening went after it’s over, but Paco says this often doesn’t happen.

 

It is very hard to track eyeballs and impact – but here are some of the statistics they have collected for Granito:

  • 1 million PBS viewers.
  • For ancillaries – 65K views in English, 8K views in Spanish.
  • 35,000 Unique visitors on the Granito Website
  • 78,000 Uniques for the PBS companion site.

 

They have also collected 8000 email addresses from their website over the years including 5000 email addresses garnered from 300 screenings and festivals.

 

Much of the money that Skylight earns from their films comes from broadcast and educational sales. For educational they sell their own films working with the New Day Film Co-Op. Here are some of their monetary figures:

  • $410K from ITVS and LPB for the broadcast of Granito
  • $90K from NatGeo for State of Fear
  • $50K from POV for The Reckoning
  • $80K in Educational Sales for Granito
  • $80K-$100K on educational sales for all of their titles each year.

Their transactional VOD sales are not that significant partly because it was released on iTunes several years after release – after being available on free streaming for all of that time. Total iTunes revenue: $4K.

 

Skylight’s unique business model makes it extremely clear as to why it’s crucial to determine the goals for your project before you decide on a path of distribution and how you will execute that path. Of note:   One year after the release of Granito, the dictator of the title was charged with genocide and put on trial in Guatemala. Footage from the documentary was used as evidence in court.

 

Jon Betz, Collective Eye Films

 

Like Skylight, Jon Betz, Director of Collective Eye Films, also had a social goal in mind for the film Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us? which he produced with director Taggart Siegel. The film is a profound, alternative look at the bee crisis, and from the beginning, Betz and Siegel’s goal was to bring awareness to this issue. Siegel’s previous film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, was nationally broadcast on PBS Independent Lens, but Siegel felt that his theatrical distributor didn’t effectively engage grass-roots audiences for a theatrical campaign. Siegel felt that through Collective Eye Films, he and Betz could do a better job pursuing a hybrid grass-roots distribution approach on Queen.

 

Collective Eye Films booked their own event theatrical release, including traditional open-ended bookings, one night & community screenings. Betz: “We couldn’t find a theatrical deal that would make financial sense for us as filmmakers. So we chose to grow our own business and non-profit reach by booking and conducting outreach for theaters on our own.” By doing this, instead of paying someone else for their institutional intelligence, they used the release of Queen to build their own institutional intelligence.

 

Here are the numbers from the total and event theatrical release:

  • Total cost of release including theatrical, and all DVD, VOD, Broadcast deliverables, staff and expenses for the last four years: $338K
  • Total gross revenue from release: $473K
  • Total net income: $135K
  • Total Box Office Gross for traditional theatrical: $245K
  • Net Revenue to Filmmakers from traditional theatrical $108K
  • Net Revenue from community screenings: $82K
  • Total number of screenings: 400

Note that their expenses not only include a staff to release the film but also a salary for Betz who also functioned as the Producer of Marketing and Distribution on the film. They not only broke even but actually made money from both their theatrical and their non-theatrical release. Part of this has to do with their audience cultivation which I will address below.

 

Betz: “We started where we knew we could draw audiences, in Portland, in the NW and in areas in the West and NE where our audience demographic was strong. The Hollywood Theater in Portland had a great opening that ran for 10 weeks, and grossed over $30K. After Portland, we did a filmmaker tour in the NE to understand first-hand how our outreach efforts would work promoting both one-day events and week long runs. Then we staffed up and led a very interesting “reverse” roll-out where we booked over 100 cities in North America in the course of 2011. We ended in NY/LA and made the connection with Music Box after our Cinema Village screening in NYC.”  Collective Eye opted not to have a tight focus of release in all theaters over just 1 or 2 months as they knew they couldn’t do the proper outreach city-by-city with that volume and a small staff. They conducted all of the outreach and PR, with the exception of working with a publicist in CHICAGO, SF, NY/LA.

 

Music Box handled the DVD and VOD of the film, but Collective Eye carved out direct to fan rights. Here are the numbers from the ancillary sales:

  • Total gross distributor DVD sales: $100K
  • Net revenue from distributor DVD sales: $50K
  • Direct to fan DVDs sold: 5,800
  • Direct to fan net revenue from DVDs: $96K
  • Educational sales: $38K.
  • Total gross distributor VOD sales including Netflix: $74K.
  • Netflix sale: $60K
  • Net revenue from distributor VOD sales: $52K

Note the much higher net revenue for direct to fan DVD sales over what the distributor sold.

 

So let’s talk about audience. Collective Eye is working to transfer their audience from film to film – including carrying it over to their new film Seed: The Untold Story.

 

Email list progression:

2005-2008: Real Dirt on Farmer John

  • Audience grew to 3,500 over 2-3 years.
  • Sources: sign-ups, screenings, handing out clipboards.

2008-2013: Queen of the Sun

  • Started with 3,500 from Real Dirt
  • List grew to 9,000+
  • Sources: website signups, screenings, website, purchases across all direct distribution methods, additions of key organizations and partners.

2012-current: SEED

  • Started at 8,175 (Queen list lost names due to unsubscribes/old e-mails)
  • Grows to 12,376. Kickstarter campaigns in 2012 and December 2013 for Seed brought in 2,534 new e-mails.
  • Note: at this point the amount of audience still intact from the original 3,500 from Real Dirt is in the realm of 1,227.  Note the importance of updating and growing your email list.

Facebook

  • Queen created a Facebook page after festival launch in summer/fall 2010..
    • July 2011 – 6,000 likes
    • April 2015 – 25,000 likes
  • Seed During first Kickstarter in 2012 – 300 likes
    • Start of second Kickstarter in late 2013 – 1,200 likes
    • After cross-promotion with QOTS – 20,000 likes in just over one year.

 

Collective Eye is a great example of filmmakers making a connection with an audience and working hard to carry it from film to film. Instead of relying on an all rights distributor who owns the connection to their audience – they decided to create their own distribution business so that they would own that relationship and could cultivate it as they saw fit. Betz: “The hybrid method of release was key for us making a profit in the long run, and we had to do much less work to get those DVD and VOD sales through existing platforms.  However we wouldn’t have made that money had it not been for our grassroots approach to theatrical and community screenings. By raising the profile of the film our aggregator was able to do what they do best (sell to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and other wholesalers).”   This also allows them to use the revenue from their films not only to pay themselves a salary but to also invest in their next project as they have done with Seed. Betz: “You really have to focus on how you build on each film and discover what works. This comes from listening to your previous films and their impact, the side effects of what happened that was unexpected, and then harnessing that on your next film and pushing it out in a really strategic way.”

 

Some takeaways from these four case studies: Even though there has been quite a number of changes in platforms and companies over the last several years – it is surprising how many basic tenets of the hybrid distribution route have stayed constant over the past few years:

  • Knowing your goals is essential to creating a release strategy.
  • Know your audience and target your release to where they are, offer your audience products (event, digital or merchandise) that are interesting to them.
  • Split rights have a greater advantage of control and profit for filmmakers over all rights deals.
  • Work with distribution partners to get films on major platforms.
  • Engaging in distribution and marketing is very hard work and generally involves a staff or at least someone full time managing the process.
  • Email lists are gold – develop them constantly.
  • Events motivate people to go to theaters.
  • Events are excellent ways to connect with audience.
  • Event theatrical is a good/great way to promote ancillary sales.
  • It is possible to break even or even make a little money from an event theatrical release.
  • If you can, carve out direct to fan sales since this will give you the following advantages:
  • Higher profit margin per purchase.
  • Audience data for future projects
  • Ability to package the film with merchandise and extra content for higher price points, or to make purchasing direct to fan more attractive.
  • Most importantly – focus on long term audience development since it is possible to transition audiences from one project to another if you reward them for their continued interest and keep them engaged.

I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.  Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.

 

Reach me at Twitter or on Facebook and if you are in LA come to my IDA Masterclass on Distribution and Marketing May 9th.

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

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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.

 

As a result, for last October’s Getting Real Documentary Conference, held by the International Documentary Association, I wanted to create a panel where the participants were required to reveal the data about the releases of their films. I wanted to see how these filmmakers might be working within new models to not only release one film, but how they are starting to use these individual releases to create a long term career path. I always intended to publish the data and since I will be presenting a Distribution and Marketing Masterclass with the IDA this Saturday May 9th and I will be heading to NY to participate in the documentary section of the IFP Filmmaker Lab on May 11th, I thought this would be a good time to get this information out into the world.

 

The filmmaker panelists were Neil Berkeley (Director of Beauty Is Embarrassing & Harmontown), Judy Chaikin (Director of The Girls in the Band), Jon Betz (Producer of Queen of the Sun), and Paco de Onís (Executive Director of Skylight Films). My intention was to not only get the real data from their films, but also discuss why they chose to release their films in the manner that they did (eg what were their goals and how did their goals affect their choices). I tried to expand the data beyond gross monetary amounts and include numbers about their audience base –specifically how they tried to carry this audience from one film to the other and whether this could become a sustainable model. Before starting – I really want to thank the filmmakers for sharing the information with me – and agreeing to share it with the world wide public, you. Note – occasionally some of the numbers below are a range because of a possible restrictions on revealing exact numbers. Also you will notice that I use the term “event theatrical” instead of theatrical or non theatrical. As I wrote in Think Outside The Box Office, I believe that filmmakers need to reclaim the concept of theatrical to include traditional theatrical, one night and community screenings – eg any public screening where an audience is present. In the book I called this “Live Event Theatrical” but I have since started shortening it to “Event Theatrical” to emphasize the importance of creating an event with your screenings.

 

Neil Berkeley Beauty is Embarrassing

Neil Berkeley’s film Beauty is Embarrassing premiered at SXSW in 2012, but no one came forth to give them an event/theatrical release, which Neil wanted for the film and felt was appropriate. His goals were to get the film out into the world, and try to recoup while building a fan base for the future. So Neil and his team ran a $55k Kickstarter campaign and hired a booker to get the film into theatres across the country – they ended up in 60 theaters, spending between $90K and $110K but earning enough revenue to break even.

 

Regarding the theatrical Berkeley noted: “My goal was to break even. And that’s what everyone said: ‘good luck if you break even.’ But for me, I did it just to learn how to do it because I want to keep making movies and I believe in this model. So if I get to do it again on my own, I’ll be much more versed in how to go about it.”

 

Most effective were the 15 screening events they did with the film’s subject, artist Wayne White. He not only spoke, but conducted workshops and art installations. This not only drew a larger crowd, but also created the opportunity to sell merchandise and collect emails. Email lists and Facebook became two of the biggest tools for building their audience. Berkeley: “Email lists are gold.” They grew their email list from 0 to 5,000 and their Facebook likes from 0 to 11,000. Some other marketing notes:

  • They sent students to cities with the large LBJ heads as promotion.
  • Facebook and Twitter ads were the most effective.
  • Don’t buy print ads if you can avoid it. But if you have to, buy the cheapest ones since they aren’t effective.
  • They had 10-12 super fans who helped evangelize the film.

 

Here are the essentials of their digital/broadcast/merchandise distribution:

  • Digital Aggregator was Cinedigm/New Video
  • Netflix deal was between $40-$60K.
  • Other VOD sources: $30-40K including cable and broadband VOD.
  • PBS Independent Lens $70-$90K
  • They set up direct to fan sales through VHX
  • Digital sales through VHX: $30-$40K
  • Merchandise sales through VHX: 80-100K (note that much of this were higher priced items such as art by Wayne White. They split this revenue with Wayne 50/50)
  • Of these merchandise sales 15% were DVDs – still a healthy $12K-$15K
  • Books were another 15% of merchandise sales $12K-$15K

 

An important note about the effects of their broadcast on PBS: While many people feel that forms of “free” such as broadcast and other free streaming or peer to peer sharing adversely affect transactional sales (DVD sales, broadband rentals and downloads to own), in this case that was definitely not true. After the film aired, their website was bombarded with traffic, and they earned a spike in revenue through direct to fan sales.

 

Neil took what he learned on Beauty is Embarrassing to his next project Harmontown which follows Dan Harmon (comedian/creator of Community) on a 20-city tour. Neil’s investors secured a more traditional distribution deal with The Orchard. However he made sure to keep all of the direct to fan rights, and paid The Orchard a percentage of these sales to reward the distributor’s publicity efforts. To make sales on their website more attractive, they created over 50 hours of bonus content including every live show they filmed on the tour with Dan Harmon, this deluxe edition is available for $9.99 to rent and $24.95 to purchase. Also for even more content they sell monthly memberships for $5 a month that gives access to exclusive blog posts to additional videos every month. The deluxe edition includes a free 3 month membership.

 

In sum – even though Neil has utilized both traditional and hybrid distribution models, he is working hard to provide extra value for his fans in order to grow that audience and carry them into his future as a filmmaker. Berkeley: “The thing about making a film on your own, is that on day one you have a dollar – and every day after that you’re just trying to hold onto as much of that dollar as possible. And now, we have options to do that. We can hang on to digital, we can hang on to our website, we can hang on to merchandise.”

 

Judy Chaikin The Girls in the Band

 

Judy Chaikin has worked in the industry since the 80s, but she was tired of watching each of her films live a short life with traditional distributors and then disappear from view. “One of the things you learn as a filmmaker is that you constantly have to keep changing,” Chaikin said. She had always been very interested in DIY distribution and after reading several books (including Think Outside the Box Office), she decided to try it for herself.

 

Her goal was to have a theatrical release that would help her negotiate higher sales figures on her ancillary release and to try out a new model to take control of the process.

 

Here are the numbers:

  • Total cost of the release: $100K including creating marketing materials, DCPs, screeners, publicity, staff, festivals etc.
  • Total cost of theatrical release $40K of the $100K above.
  • 22 week traditional theatrical release (week long runs):
  • Total revenue traditional theatrical: $67K
  • Total revenue from 47 one night screenings in theaters $8.7K
  • $25K “Non theatrical” revenue from museums, film festivals, jazz festivals, etc.
  • $15K in direct merchandise (t-shirts, posters, tote bags) sold at screenings and from their website.

 

By the end of the theatrical release they had amassed 3000 on their email list: 300 from their website, 500 from screenings, 2200 from other sources. Of these they count about 25 super fans who are active champions of their film.

 

Their distribution process isn’t over yet, and they have just signed on with Virgil Films for domestic distribution and PBS Foreign for overseas television. Judy doesn’t see herself going back to traditional distribution models any time soon. She says that this direct-to-fan method gives her a sense of control over her own projects – something any filmmaker knows is irreplaceable.

 

Building her audience online has also given Judy the motivation to regain the rights and begin re-releasing her older projects that had previously fallen out of release. She is beginning to see some success in this by using her email list, and releasing the films direct to fan on DVD. This “new model,” she explained, “gives you so such more control over what you do, and it gives you a sense that you really are guiding the direction of your film. It’s important to recognize that this way of working is very labor intensive, but in the end it’s worth it.”

 

On Friday we will continue with the results from Paco de Onís from Skylight & Granito and Jon Betz from Collective Eye Films.   I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.   Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.

 

Reach me at Twitter or on Facebook and if you are in LA come to my IDA Masterclass on Distribution and Marketing May 9th.

IFFR, Tiger Release, and the Trend of Festival as Distributor

I’m so thrilled to be participating in two IFFR events this year! For those of you attending, I hope we run into each other. On the morning of Monday, the 26th, I’ll be serving on a distribution panel called Get Your Film Out There! (moderated by Amy Dotson). That afternoon, I’ll be participating in an “on stage workshop”-style presentation of IFFR’s new Tiger Release distribution initiative, showing how three different films each benefit from the initiative’s offerings.

IFFR

IFFR is now the latest film festival to adopt a distribution initiative, Tiger Release following the creation of Sundance Artist Services, Tribeca Film and the Dok Incubator at Dok Leipzig. Here’s a look back at Chapter 14 of Think Outside the Box Office, when I mused on this new landscape of distribution:

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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.

cover_web

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.