10 Key Points on How to Move Forward With Outreach and Impact for Documentary Film

A Report from the IFP Filmmaker Lab

by Jon Reiss

With all the trauma of this past week, I at least had the good fortune of spending it at the IFP Filmmaker Lab in NYC.   We all showed up Wednesday morning stunned/tired from watching returns all night/depressed.   Some stayed home but by the middle of the morning nearly all the filmmaking teams had turned up. I say that I was fortunate because one of the things that I love about the labs is that we become a community of support for each other. Even though my morning presentation was on something as banal (for last week) as budgeting and timing a release – we were all reminded about how important stories and art can be to inspire, motivate, create community and express our humanity.  (Though, helping artists get their work out to an audience will never stop being relevant – especially now.)

For the second session the documentary filmmakers were scheduled to have a panel about “Impact” while the narrative filmmakers were to go to a session about agents and managers. Not surprisingly most of the narrative filmmakers stayed to discuss impact.

Joining me was my dear friend Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and Emma Alpert from Just Vision.   Jennifer is one of the most profound thought leaders in this field.   Emma and Just Vision do incredible work focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Here are ten key points for films seeking to have impact on the world that came out of that session.

1. Films seeking to have impact need to have a strong story that moves people and should not just be a PowerPoints of facts.

Think about how are you going to connect beyond the core audience – through story. Everyone making a film for impact wants to get beyond the choir (although now it is also important to charge up the choir). What many filmmakers forget is that this takes an emotionally engaging story that can keep an audience involved for ninety minutes. Often filmmakers get so caught up in the message of the film that they lose site of the fact is that people respond to emotions. We unfortunately keep relearning this in politics as well.

1B: Don’t underestimate the power of humor in your film to help connect with audiences.

2. Do test screenings with your film with people you want to reach outside of your choir. What are their feelings about the film? Is it moving them?   Consider focus groups of specific target audiences.

3. Since many (if not most) times documentaries are made in the editing room – it might be best to wait to start engaging outreach until you have a rough cut so that you know what your film actually is going to be and what audiences it will appeal to.  Sometimes though, you may want to engage with stakeholders earlier if you want to interview their principals, which might increase their motivation to help the film’s release.

4. Research what you are trying to change in the world. Is that possible for your film? Will it have that affect?

4A: Brainstorm what is the big idea that you are trying to accomplish – and then create a specific action item that will work toward that larger goal.

5.Identify stakeholders in your space. Determine their reach. But more importantly understand how your film can help them! Convey this to them. It needs to be a win win relationship

6. Don’t overstate what impact can you make to funders and stakeholders. What can you do and measure realistically?

7. It is a conventional wisdom to go after stakeholders that have the greatest reach. Makes sense. But perhaps consider trying a specific goal or action plan with that stakeholder – and if the relationship works – great – if not consider pivoting to another perhaps smaller stakeholder.

8.Embrace modeling. Try one tactic or goal first and see how that is working – if it isn’t working, pivot to another.

9.Because of the political earthquake last week, it will be nearly impossible to effect legislative change on the national level in the United States for the next few years. Think locally. The US Council on Mayors is a much more liberal group and one where you can meet politicians who are excited about change and want to engage in programs for their communities.

10. Funding for outreach had been difficult to come by before last Tuesday – and probably now will be more difficult to obtain. However there are people of means who support social causes – but will that money now go into grassroots community building or into media? How might those two work hand in hand? Are feature films the best platform for impact – or are there other forms of media (shorter/serialized) that might have more success?

I would love your thoughts on this. Agree – disagree? What would you add?   How can film and story affect change as we approach the age of Trump?

 

 

 

 

Heading to Sheffield International Doc Fest and Edinburgh International Film Festival

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

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

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

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Jon Reiss - Edinburgh

Back in 2010, two weeks before I went to print on Think Outside the Box Office, I coined a new crew position: the Producer ofMarketing and Distribution.   This concept/position has taken off in varying fits and starts over the last five years – with people calling themselves and being credited as PMDs in the United States, Europe and Australia.  A Producer of Marketing and Distribution is the person on a filmmaking team who takes charge of and directs the distribution and marketing process for that film to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.   It is preferable for a PMD to start as early as possible in the filmmaking process.

The PMD seems to be catching on again.  Why?   Because it is an essential crew position for independent films – in my mind as important as a director of photography.   You can make a film without a DP or a PMD (I have shot some of my films and been my own PMD).   But I think many, if not nearly all films, would be served by having both.

In Think Outside the Box Office I also coined another concept: The New 50/50, in which independent filmmakers need to spend 50% of their time and resources making their film and 50 % of their time and resources connecting their film with an audience, aka distribution and marketing. (To be honest this is not so new – but it was new to independent filmmakers.)

It disturbed me that I was relegating my fellow filmmakers to the physically, emotionally and monetarily draining process of releasing a film after they had already gone through the same while making their film – without help.  (Before the book I had written an article about my experience releasing my film Bomb It and it was subtitled “How I Spent Six Months Wanting to Kill Myself Everyday”)

So I created the PMD.  Five years since writing the book it’s worth taking a look again at why independent filmmakers need a PMD.  Here are my thoughts:

1. Upwards of 98% of independent films do not get traditional all rights distribution deals.  Even with a robust sales market like this year– if the estimates are true that 35,000-50,000 films are produced every year – there is no way that traditional (and non traditional) distributors can handle that volume.  Sundance Artist Services was created in part to help the numerous Sundance films that still had not received distribution after the festival.

2. Some filmmakers do not want to give away or sell all of the rights of their film to one company for a long period of time.  Many companies are doing amazing jobs releasing films – but there are many filmmakers who have become unhappy with how their previous films have been released.

3. Much more common is a split rights scenario where you run the show, you control your film’s destiny.  You can choose the best and most cost effective ways to release and market your film.   But you need to do the work.   Ahhh – But who is the “You”?  Someone needs to coordinate how the rights will work together and make sure that all rights that can be exercised are, in the proper way to achieve the filmmaking team’s goals.

4. There is greater competition for audiences than ever before.  You are competing against nearly every piece of entertainment, writing, art ever created by humankind.   The amount of video uploaded to YouTube every minute is increasing  exponentially.  Three years ago 48 hours of video was uploaded every minute – for a total of 236 YEARS per month.  At last report more than 400 hours is now uploaded every minute, multiplying to 2000 YEARS of content every month!

5. Filmmakers either don’t have the skills to promote and distribute their films or don’t want to.  Granted there are many intrepid filmmakers who are engaging with this process – but even the most notable of these such as Jeanie Finlay has a PMD by her side.

6. Filmmakers don’t have the time to do this work.  Many filmmakers know they need to engage audiences before they have finished their films – or at least start the process – but most say they don’t have time.  On tight budgets most producers are too busy to do this work.  When a film is finished – many of the team either need to, or want to move onto other projects.  Sound familiar?

In working with hundreds of filmmakers over the last couple of years – I have found that very few have the desire, skills, or time to take on the task of being in charge of distributing and marketing their own films – even when they have split rights distribution partners involved.

So this creates a pain point in our world in which there are a lot of films created every year that don’t have anyone to help get it out into the world.  Hence the need.

But things are looking up.  This blog post and the one that follows is taken from a keynote that I gave at the Scottish Documentary Institute’s Make Your Market program in which four films are being paired with two PMDs in training.   I gave a similar presentation at IDFA in November that was packed with Europeans curious as to how this concept can help them as broadcast funding and other forms of traditional distribution drops.   This Sunday I will be on a panel at SXSW with Nick Gonda from Tugg, Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and UK PMD Sally Hodgson.  If you are in Austin come by – and if not and you are interested in becoming a PMD or generally interested in the concept email me at jon@hybridcinema.com

 

The second post of this series will cover what a PMD is in charge of on a film.

Heading to IDFA

IDFA logo

 

I’m excited to be heading to the IDFA festival and market in Amsterdam today! I’ll be attending BritDocs Global Impact Producers Assembly on Saturday – then doing three presentations over the next 5 days:

First on Sunday November 22nd 10am – 11:45 I will be doing a Distribution Crash Course for the newly launched Impact Academy in the Netherlands. I’ll be covering event theatrical, educational, broadcast and VOD and how to make those releases work in relationship with each other. Location Meetberlage (Oudebrugsteeg 9, 1012 JN Amsterdam).

Next same day Sunday at 13:00-15:00 I will be doing a Distribution and Marketing Masterclass for the IDFA Academy about creating an overall strategy for a film’s release in a hybrid model focusing on goals, audience engagement, and working within resources with a little taste of event theatrical and VOD. From the IDFA Academy program: “During the workshop, you will learn how to set goals for your release, the essentials of audience engagement, how to release your films digitally and timing factors in a release. In addition, you are encouraged to consider how your work fits into your entire career so that you can keep your audiences with you in the future.” (Kloveniersburgwal 50, 1012 CX Amsterdam)

Lastly with all the excitement about Impact Producers at this IDFA, on Wednesday November 25th at 11:30am I will be doing a presentation at the Industry Office about the Producer of Marketing and Distribution what that role is, how is it similar and different from an impact producer, what the responsibilities are, and how to pay one. (Vijzelstraat 4, 1017 HD Amsterdam)

If you are at IDFA would love to meet you.

This is me!

Jon headshot 11.16

Romania Interviews

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

 

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Digi TV

Romanian State Television

Radio Cultural