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.

 

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.

Documentary Magazine Article – Documentary Distribution in Turbulent Times

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

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

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

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Distribution Case Study – “Finding Hillywood”

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

 

Richmond_Christian

I recently wrote a two part article featuring four documentary filmmakers who pursued hybrid releases with their films and who were generous enough to share the real data from their films’ releases – Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt1 and Pt 2. Upon reading these, filmmaker Leah Warshawski wanted to write something similar for the self release of her film, Finding Hillywood. This first post about the film chronicles the story of her release, finishing up with a list of 10 tips for filmmakers. When all of the data is in – about a year from now – she will write a follow up detailing all of the real data from the release. I encourage more filmmakers to tell their stories – not just the how, but also the results. A great way to do this is to participate in the Sundance Transparency Project. This information helps all of us learn from each other’s triumphs and disappointments so that our knowledge base continues to expand. I am already speaking with a number of other filmmakers willing to share their stories – if you wish to contact me, my information is at the bottom of this post.

Continue reading →

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.

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.

set2

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.

set3

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.

 

Theatrical is Dead – Long Live Theatrical: Events, Experiences, Scarcity & The Age of Abundance

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Part 3 of How to Make Money in the Age of Abundance 

By Jon Reiss

Theatrical is Dead Long Live Theatrical. The holy grail of a theatrical release still rings as a delusion for many.  Fighting words still for untold thousands of filmmakers. Who doesn’t want their name in lights – long lines around the block – a packed theater of adoring fans.  I believe this live engagement with fans is crucial for artists.  But traditional theatrical is probably not the way you are going to do it.

In the first post in this series, I indicated that filmmakers need to create scarce resources in order to compete with the abundance of digital.  Today’s post will focus on events – or what I have termed Live Event/Theatrical. The essence of this renaming is for filmmakers to reformulate and to reclaim what the industry calls theatrical – for more on that see Think Outside the Box Office. (PS – I first said this was a two part series – then I said three parts – well I lied again and now it will be four parts – with Part 4 tomorrow).

When films were only available in a movie theater – that was a scarce resource that could be charged for – it was the only way to see films.  As  technology developed new ways to see films, content creators/studios created release windows to control the monetization process of their film products attempting to keep the theatrical release as providing the highest per viewer fee per view fee.

But besides competition from other platforms, a traditional theatrical release is not a scarce resource:  multiple screenings per day in multiple theaters with no end date is essentially an infinite supply. The release window is still the only way that traditional distributors create artificially scarcity and for most films this is not enough for audiences to sacrifice any of their other myriad of entertainment options.   Unless you have created a rabid fan base who has to see the film at its first opportunity – which happens for a few films, but not many – traditional theatrical does not offer the consumer anything unique.  Quite the contrary:

Traditional theatrical gives consumers an excuse not to see a film when the filmmaker wants their audience to engage with it.   Why spend the time, effort (which are often more valuable than the $12 ticket price) to see something that will be available much cheaper and more conveniently soon enough?

Creating scarcity is an independent filmmaker’s way of creating demand for their Live Event/Theatrical “products”.  The essence of scarcity is: people want what they fear they might not be able to have.  Scarcity also creates something will be unique to them and a few others.  The scarcer something is, the more demand you can create for it.   Simply put:  by decreasing supply with stable demand you increase value.

The essential consumer value of Live Event/Theatrical must be a live communal experience, unavailable anywhere else.  I will write about the importance of community and the extra value that this creates to screenings at another time.  It is important to keep in mind that this post is not just about monetizing through events – but is about creating ways to keep that important experience of watching films communally with other people – especially strangers.  Hence the event creates something new – never created before and even beyond the elements that you provide.  This communal added value experience is quite different than the consumer value of Digital Products, which is one of convenience.  Live Event Theatrical can never compete with digital on the level of convenience and must create its own value to succeed.

How to Create Unique Live Experiences Unavailable Anywhere Else (AKA scarcity for Live Event/Theatrical:

1.  Time Scarcity:  Embrace the One Night Screening – All things being equal, for small films with limited budgets, one night screenings are much easier to book and will in general be more successful in terms of audience and money.   By only offering a communal experience once in a particular geographical location, is an immediate way to make it scarce (only that number of seats are available) and immediately more. The more you promote sales of tickets being sold, the more urgency you can create for the event.  When you sell out you can add more screenings “by popular demand”, creating demand where perhaps none existed before.

I have experienced this over and over again for my own films and my clients’ films.  For our recent US premiere of Bomb It 2 in Miami, the film sold out several days before the event.

One of the benefits of Live Event/Theatrical for filmmakers is publicity and awareness (events by their nature do this) – but the more you add value and uniqueness to an event – the more it will create awareness. (As a caveat – four years ago it was hard to get the press to cover one night film screenings – but now that is changing more and more – and especially if you as the filmmaker add uniqueness to the event).

2. Time Scarcity – Part 2 National and/or International One Night Screenings.

This takes time, effort, coordination but can be extremely successful.  Going through satellite service providers such as Fathom, Screenvision and Cinedigm can be expensive (although the latter has started releasing films that they acquire in this manner).   But savvy filmmakers can do this without the traditional $75,000-$125,000 satellite fee.

Two notable cases are The Age of Stupid from Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillet of Spanner Films (who used Fathom in the US), which still has the record for number of screenings (500) and number of countries (40) for an independent film in a 2 day period. (Can anyone beat this?)  For Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Sheri Candler and I worked with Ira Deutchman and his Emerging Pictures to create a 45 city one day event which was also the world premiere screening of the film. The total cost of this was $1000 (Emerging’s Fee), which we was deducted from the box office.   In both of these cases the filmmakers added unique elements besides the limited time to further enhance the event.

3.  Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Topical Celebrities

For the Joffrey film we netcast a q&a with Joffrey Ballet alumni which our research indicated was what our audience valued the most for live events (not live ballet that I had originally thought).  We also enabled audience from around the country to participate in the Q&A via Twitter. Video documentation here.   For Age of Stupid Franny and Lizzie had a numerous celebrities participate both live and via Skype.

For the Connected New York theatrical Tiffany Shlain arranged a different notable guest speaker for every screening turning each one into a unique event and selling out nearly all of her screenings in the process.

4. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music

Examples abound from Anvil: Story of Anvil, DJ Spooky, Braden King’s Here, Corey Mcabee whose own band The Billy Nayer Show plays live with his films and again Ride the Divide who still take the cake by selecting bands for their soundtrack proactively who would perform in the cities they knew were geographical targets for their audience.

5. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music Remix. 

I am finally putting my money where my mouth is – our Austin premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse for Bomb It 2 with be remixed live by DJ Chorizo Funk.  To do this I created a D&E (dialogue and effects) mix of the film on a separate screener – and then provided all the tracks to the DJ and theater on a separate CD/download.   Other event attributes of this screening:  live graffiti painting in front of the theater before the event, local featured artist Sloke appearing after the screening (note the importance of using a local artist with his own audience base) and skype Q&A by yours truly (although this may convert into a pre-recorded pre-screening intro).  I also timed this event to coincide with the conclusion of the Bomb It 2 Kickstarter campaign to have a special event to cap off our fundraising.

6. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Film Editing

A difficult undertaking, and only for particular films and filmmakers – but check out what Peter Greenaway did for Tulse Luper Suitcases.  He had a customized VJ board created and reedited the film live for select event screenings like this one in Krakow, Poland.   A technological update to this is Mark Harris’s The Lost Children which based on audience reaction “alters itself, hiding and revealing different aspects with each screening.”

7. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Audience Participation.

Rocky Horror Picture show is the most famous example, but indies such as Best Worst Movie have had their fans dressing up and participating as well.  Corey McAbee recounted that in Melbourne Australia people would dress up as the characters in American Astronaut and sing along – for years of midnight screenings.

8. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Actors Performing With the Film, Text Messaging, Immersive Experiences.

Each of these techniques can be done separately, but so far the filmmakers experimenting with this such as Lance Weiler with Head Trauma and more recently Mark Harris with The Lost Children are combining multiple aspects to create immersive experiences for their audiences.

9. Beyond Live Event Theatrical:  Experiences

This needs its own blog post – but again crowdfunding has pushed filmmakers to think expansively about creating unique scarce experiences that can be offered to fans such as dinners, set experiences, live chats, backstage access etc.  What you offer depends on your audience.  Since my audience is mostly comprised of independent filmmakers, for my Kickstarter I have offered a variety of experiences that are based on my consulting brand:  a monthly group conference call/presentation with twitter q&a,  one time conversations, monthly workshops and individual intensive consultations.  What value can you provide to your audience?  What does your audience want from you?

10.  Creating Unique Live Events – What Am I Missing?

I would love to get examples from you as to what unique screenings and events you have created or experienced?

On Tuesday I will conclude this series with a look at creating scarcity with merchandise.   I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here:  bombit2Kickstarter.com http://www.bombit2kickstarter.com

We have met our goal – but have added a stretch goal of $20K to help cover all of our expenses. More important than the stretch goal, though, is our goal to create a community of 300 backers for BOMB IT 2. As of this moment, as I am writing this for you, I have 280 dedicated backers who have not only pledged money but most of whom has dedicated time and effort toward spreading the word about the campaign. Yes, I’ll give them the movie and other perks, such as consultations, posters, original art, etc. in exchange for their contribution, but they’re giving me much more.

Please check it out, contribute if you’re moved, and – no matter what – stay tuned for the final part of this series on “How to Make Money in a Time of Abundance.”

Jon Reiss is filmmaker (Bomb It, Better Living Through Circuitry), author (Think Outside the Box Office) and media strategist who works with filmmakers, companies and organizations to help them utilize the most recent techniques of direct film distribution and audience engagement.

Ask Not What Your Audience Can Do For You – But What You Can Do For Your Audience

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Part 2 of How to Make Money in the Age of Abundance

MOS Poland Screening - BI2 a copy

When I wrote the first post in this series, I thought this would only be a two-parter, but I decided to expand this to a 4-part series because of a little voice in my head that said I needed to talk about audience engagement more.

Yes, I said in Part 1 that I wasn’t going to address it in this series because I had addressed it before – sue me. The truth is, audience engagement is so central to this whole process that I needed to add my evolving thoughts on it. I think you’ll appreciate my change of heart.

Audience engagement is a term that I have recently come to use interchangeably with “distribution and marketing.” What else is distribution and marketing – if not enticing, conversing with, and ultimately wooing your audience?

Up until a year ago my marketing and distro presentations had a 3-step process for audience engagement. Each step could reasonably comprise a blog post in its own.

1. Who is your audience?

What niche audiences does your film appeal to? What are the core audiences within these niches? What secondary and tertiary audiences might there be that this core can expand out to?

2. Where does your audience receive information and recommendations?

I examine this by looking at various channels of communication that audiences rely on, such as influencers, social media, traditional media, organizations, etc.

3. How does your audience engage with media?

In other words, how does your audience consume media? Do they download? Do they pay for media? Do they go to the theaters?

Every film, artist, creative project is different because their audiences are different. There is no cookie cutter audience engagement shortcut. You have to figure out who your audience is, what they’re doing, and where they are before you figure out how to approach them, get them on your side, and get them to see (and champion) your film.

However, in the last year I have added a fourth step in this process:

4. What value can you provide your audience?

After identifying your audience, this is actually the most important action to consider – and it will be different for every audience. It forms the basis for engaging with your audience as well as the products you offer them.

You can’t just think about what you want them to do for you; you truly have to assess what you’re doing for them.

What Do You Have to Offer:

1. Your film/creative project.

Most people say that if you don’t make a something great – then nothing else matters. I don’t know if that is precisely true anymore (since people are investing in people – eg you – not as much your project anymore) – but as a purest and as an idealist – I will put this first. Your value to your audience is to provide them with a great film – or creative project. Perhaps you can boil it down even to a great story – either fictional or dramatic – which could play out in a variety of forms.

2. Information.

What is the audience of your film interested in? 90% of what you communicate (at least) should be information that your audience is interested in – and not promotional. If your audience is interested in your life and your thoughts – great – all the better.   But there are other non-personal issues, ideas, tidbits that I bet they are perhaps more interested in. Most of all – save the promotional part for your communication for your crowdfund campaigns and releases – and even then you should be providing content – not just “give me, pay me, buy from me.”

3. Connection.

This can range from online interaction with audiences – real give and take on social media channels where your audience feels that they are engaging with you. Or it can be live – hanging around after a screening talking to people one on one.

My monthly conference call in my Kickstarter campaign is a way to achieve 2&3.

4. An Experience.

I will discuss this more in the next part of this series – but at its most simple it involves getting beyond the notion of theatrical screenings as the epitome of the way film is to be experienced.   What kind of events can you provide with your film? What kind of experiences can you provide around your film? What kind of experiences can you provide around yourself as an artist?   Again – crowdfunding has been great to get filmmakers and all artists to think creatively about creating exclusive experiences with their audiences – one to one conversations – year long group projects – etc.

5. Content Part 2 – Other Assets.

You don’t need to create a full blown transmedia experience to create other assets that engage people in your project. Braden King’s Postcards From Here are an elegant, simple, compelling example.   Showing me your vision on Instagram everyday makes me see your evolution as an artist. Perhaps there is something else you can offer that I could never even imagine. I hope so. I want to see it.

I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here:bombit2Kickstarter.com.

We have met our goal – but have added a stretch goal of $20K to help cover all of our expenses. More important than the stretch goal, though, is our goal to create a community of 300 backers for BOMB IT 2. As of this moment, as I am writing this for you, I have 286 dedicated backers who have not only pledged money but most of whom have dedicated time and effort toward spreading the word about the campaign. Yes, I’ll give them the movie and other perks, such as consultations, posters, original art, etc. in exchange for their contribution, but they’re giving me much more. Please check it out, contribute if you’re moved, and – no matter what – stay tuned for the final part of this series on “How to Make Money in a Time of Abundance.”

 

 

SFM documentary funded by House Parties & Kickstarter

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Today we are hosting a guest blog post written by the team behind the documentary STREET FIGHTING MAN. The documentary (twitter, FB) is due out in Spring 2013, and the production and post-production have been funded almost entirely through two Kickstarter campaigns, which raised over $30,000. Additionally, the Street Fighting Man team threw a series of old school house parties, hosted by some of their biggest Kickstarter cheerleaders, in cities across the United States to supplement their campaigns. The combination effect of the Kickstarter campaigns and the house parties is noteworthy. Not only did they raise the needed money to help complete production on the documentary, but they also managed to create an audience for STREET FIGHTING MAN months before its release in the process. The following interview features insights into their success from director/producer/cinematographer Andrew James and producers Sara Archambault and Katie Tibaldi.

Continue reading →

Top 5 Crowd Funding Tips for Filmmakers

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Good news. Another special guest blogger has been added to our arsenal. Author and filmmaker James Cooper wrote the book Kickstarter for Filmmakers after successfully funding his short film Elijah the Prophet through the popular crowd funding website. Below James shares his top five crowd funding tips for filmmakers.

TOP FIVE CROWD FUNDING TIPS FOR FILMMAKERS by James Cooper


Kickstarter is creating a boom in creative communities around the world! Filmmakers everywhere are chomping at the bit to get in on the action, but did you know over half of all campaigns launched on Kickstarter fail?

Crowd funding is still a relatively new business model, and it can be overwhelming to make sense of it all. Without the proper preparation, though, you may be dooming yourself to failure before your campaign even sees the light of day.

There are many things to take into consideration when launching a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any similar platform, but here are some of the most important:

5. Know Your Audience

This should be easy, but for some reason seems to be overlooked not just in crowd funding campaigns, but in general. When many new filmmakers are asked “Who is your audience?” with respect to their new project, they too often answer “Well, everyone!” This will not do. Crowd funding sites are jungles, and even though some do have good tools for discovery, it will be very easy for you to get lost in the crowd.

Your success will be determined by your ability to get the word out, and your success in that will be determined by your ability to identify what groups and niche audiences you can focus on reaching. Crowd funding is still new enough that an interesting campaign is in of itself news.

4. Tell Me Who Is Involved

Simple, right? You’d think so, but quite often you’ll read through a project’s entire description and still not know who else is involved aside from the person writing the description/appearing in the pitch video. It takes more than one person to make a film, and your audience will want to know they can all be trusted to deliver.

Even if none of the people involved in your film are recognizable to the uninitiated, it still helps spur support if people can get a quick glance at the passionate team that’s dying to bring this project to fruition.

3. Be Realistic

It’s easy to be blinded by dollar signs when looking at other successful campaigns, but don’t get carried away when setting your goal. Maximize your odds of success by taking stock of your network and making realistic estimates of what kind of support you’ll be able to gain. Be conservative in these estimates. It would be a far better surprise to end up with more than you thought you’d have, than to come up with less.

To this effect, you also have to figure out if you think you can realistically fund the entire project through your campaign, or if you’ll have to bring outside financing to fill the gap. If you do, it’s far safer to have that in place prior to launching your campaign.

2. Be Honest

This seems obvious, but it’s one of the most important things to keep in mind as you build your campaign: Don’t lie; don’t misrepresent yourself or your credits; don’t make promises you can’t keep. When people back a campaign, they’re making a deal directly with you. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other similar platforms don’t police your ability to deliver, so it’s up to you to do so. You don’t want to waste their money or ruin your reputation, so ensure you’re not promising more than you’re capable of.

Everything you include in your pitch video and your project description should be able to be distilled into two words: “Trust me.” For better or worse, crowd funding is a model that relies solely on trust: Trust that you can get this film made, trust that it will be good, trust that the money will be well spent, and trust that the claims made in your campaign are true. Don’t forget: This is the internet; it’s not hard to sniff out false claims.

1. More Than Money

Don’t let the funding part of the term crowd funding distract you – you’re getting more out of your campaign than money. Backers are early adopters, and they are more likely than anyone else to champion your project and shout it from the rooftops. They are now invested, literally, in your success. They’ve become part of the process, so treat them as such. Don’t just take their money and say thanks; show them you’re grateful for their help. This can take any shape you choose, but make them feel like they’ve backed the right horse.

I had a hard time deciding if #2 should be #1 or not, as they’re both equally important, but I ultimately decided the backer/campaigner relationship is the cornerstone of any crowd funding campaign and that the benefits outside the strictly financial should not be overlooked.

James Cooper is a film director and the author of Kickstarter for Filmmakers, now available on iBooks, Kindle, Nook and DRM-free PDF. www.kickstarterforfilmmakers.com