5 Do’s and Don’t’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

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I met with Nolan from Gravitas, who I feel is one of the companies that really gets VOD for independents,  and he started saying – “filmmakers should watch out for this… it would be great if filmmakers would do…”  And since he was listing them off – I immediately asked him to write up 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of VOD for filmmakers – and he graciously obliged – and here it is – Thank you so much Nolan for your continued generosity in helping filmmakers navigate this new space:

By Nolan Gallagher, Founder and CEO Gravitas Ventures

Jon Reiss was gracious enough to ask me to write this blog post to help shed some perspective on how to navigate the increasingly exciting (and complex) world of Video On Demand film releasing.

I believe Jon asked me to write this because our company, Gravitas Ventures, releases over 500 films a year on VOD in all of its flavors/windows including transactional, subscription, and ad sponsored. Since more and more people have been enjoying films through digital cable, their Netflix or hulu Plus subscriptions, or on Apple iTunes, VOD has been driving a majority of deals out of film festivals.

While VOD is increasingly important right now, the ability to enjoy films in this manner has actually been around for almost a decade. During that time I had the good fortune to work for a cable operator (Comcast), a studio (Warner Bros) and for the last six years Gravitas. It’s from those experiences, plus some great feedback from my team at Gravitas, that I offer these suggestions for a VOD release:

5 Do’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release

1. Do Watch Windows- There is potentially big money in digital distribution.  Especially, if the timing of a release is coordinated by an industry expert with deep contacts within VOD specifically. A filmmaker should avoid licensing rights to one VOD platform first (say an online site) in an effort to “get the film out there.” Unfortunately, this happens often and can cost filmmakers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are over one hundred different cable, satellite, telco and online VOD platforms and they do not like to be disadvantaged against each other. There are industry norms in the releasing of a film and by giving one operator an earlier window than the rest, you may jeopardize both carriage and favorable merchandising placement.

2. Do Reach the Masses.  Today, filmmakers can reach over 100 million North American homes inexpensively. VOD is also flexible, so that as technology evolves, your film will find ever more opportunities to be seen. Working with knowledgeable companies that are on top of the daily changes in distribution will allow filmmakers to reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.

3. Do Engage those Masses- Do spend a lot of time early in the process making sure that you are dedicating someone to build out your social media presence.  Facebook, Twitter, and even your own website can be very powerful tools for getting your message out, but building presence take plenty of dedicated work. We have seen remarkable results from producers who do this right versus those who just go through the motions.

4. Do Your Homework- Soak up VOD insights like a sponge. Talk among your filmmaking community about what has and has not worked on past films. Read blogs, attend panels, follow industry people on twitter and do not be afraid to ask distributors the tough questions. An informed filmmaker allows distributors to spend less time on basic education and more on finding creative ways to make your film release a success.

5. Do Try to Be Nice- It’s easier said than done some days, but Patrick Swayze nailed this advice in Roadhouse. Courtesy goes both ways for filmmaker teams and those distribution companies fortunate to work on a project. The entertainment industry is filled with no shortage of shall we say interesting personalities and the nice ones often do finish first in VOD.

5 Don’t’s on a Video On Demand Release

1.  Don’t Hide in Anonymity- The most unsuccessful VOD releases are the ones that do not happen. Put another way, if Gravitas or any other distributor cannot reach you to have a conversation, it will be hard to get your film into 100 million VOD homes. Each film should choose one person as a point of contact for distribution inquiries and include a real phone number and personal email address (not info@movietitlename.com) on your film’s website and on its IMDB Pro page. It seems so simple, yet about 25% of films make it very difficult to engage in a conversation.

2.  Don’t Get stuck in the “Library”- to reiterate the importance of windows, avoid putting your film up on any internet platforms and/or releasing your DVD prior to your cable VOD launch.  Cable VOD makes up approximately 70% of your digital revenues and if you “street” your film prior to it’s cable VOD launch you will be a “library” title which means a lower price point, less visibility in VOD guides and far less revenues.

3. Don’t Run out of Gas at the Finish Line – While VOD is less expensive than replicating DVDs, it is not necessarily free to reach tens of millions of homes. Please remember that encoding and delivery costs could be thousands depending on the various VOD opportunities.  Often post production gets the short end of the stick when making a film, but what are going to do with a completed film that you can’t afford to deliver to your audience?

4. Don’t Rush into an All Rights Deal- Technology and consumer habits are changing rapidly. Savvy producers looking to harness these opportunities are increasingly skeptical of 10-15 year all rights deals for marginal upfront fees. Independent film distribution is awash in innovation and you will want a company with a strong VOD track record to help seize these lucrative new opportunities.

5. Don’t Go it Alone- It takes a team (filmmakers, producers, distributors, PR agencies, post production vendors and trusted advisers to name a few) to help usher in a successful release. One of the most rewarding aspects of film distribution is collaborating with the thousands of fellow movie enthusiasts to bring great stories to VOD. There is so much knowledge and friends to be gleaned from a great team effort.

I look forward to reading more suggestions for good do’s and don’t in the comments section. Should anyone have any questions for me directly, I can be reached at Nolan@gravitasventures.com or @gravitasvod.

Thanks,
Nolan Gallagher

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt 1

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Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules’s new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,about the history of the Joffrey ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. Future posts will go more in depth on certain aspects of this release.

With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, by some estimates, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals.   When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film.   We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape.   Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event.   Festivals are great partners for these types of events – even if you don’t get into a top 10 festival – because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences.

In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1.  A premiere that will reach your audience.  Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey:  Mavericks of American Dance.   Sure, there are other audiences for a film like this – but it is essential to go after who will be the most passionate about seeing the film.   For this reason, we targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival which not only is one of the premiere dance film festivals in the world, it is based in New York City – the birthplace of the Joffrey ballet and the center of the dance world in the United States.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film.   Festivals have many films to care for and promote as well as promoting the brand of the festival in general and often they have a small staff to accomplish all of this.  There is a lot for the media to choose from for coverage.  What will make your film unique and interesting to cover?  We decided early on to partner with Emerging Pictures to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press to pay attention to. Emerging was a natural choice because they screen live ballet performances from Europe through a digital network of cinemas throughout the US, so their cinemas already have an audience for this type of programming. They also have the technology in place at Lincoln Center that enables a netcast to happen so the venue and the festival wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics of the simulcast.

Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always  enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences.   You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend.  Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.    Having this panel discussion netcast live to theaters around the country allowed audiences in to ask questions of this panel as well as interact with each other via Twitter using the hashtag  #joffreymovie – creating a unique event not only in the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, but in 44 other cities around the country at the same time. This is also a unique event for media coverage because so few films take advantage of the technology today that enables something like this to happen and having such a concentration of iconic dancers in one place makes this newsworthy.

3. The budget you have to work with.  We have a modest budget for the release of Joffrey so we had to do a lot with limited means.  We have a small staff handling publicity, audience outreach, booking screenings and organizing merchandise sales. Bearing this in mind, we needed the most bang for the effort because we launched the film into the market during our festival premiere. We won’t have separate budgets for festival publicity and then release publicity in order to start selling.

Utilizing the Emerging network only costs at most $1000 (which can be taken off the top).  Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time.

In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time – it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets – thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

In another post, we will talk at length about the need for additional media assets to promote your film and all of the ways we have done this.   One way that you can garner additional assets during release is by filming and documenting your events.

You want to film the event itself – outside the theater, crowd shots, audience arriving at seats, applause, the audience watching the film during the screening and the entire Q&A. Very important to capture audience expectation before and reaction after the screening.  I recommend having two cameras so that one can be filming the Q&A and the other filming the crowd reaction outside.  You also want a photographer shooting the event if possible.

What you film can be utilized in a number of ways:

  • Short promotional videos that you can release on your Youtube channel to promote the film.  For the premiere we created two videos.  The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction.

The second piece which we are now premiering with this article concerns the simulcast of the film and the audience participation.

  • Still photography of the people and personalities at the event (especially those that are interesting to your core audience and some that may be interesting to society pages and other publications).
  • Longer pieces of the Q&A panel discussion or even of just the filmmakers in conversation.  You can use these on your extra features.  Since our extra features have already been locked and since we have received numerous requests from people around the country to see these panels, we are going to put the full-length panel discussions up on the web on Distrify and charge a dollar or two for the viewing as an additional revenue stream.

5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. Where will all of this publicity attention go? In the past, they hoped it led to a distribution deal, but that cannot be relied upon now. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. In the lead up and following our premiere, we have booked over 20 other screenings and we continue to set up screenings. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise. Don’t let the efforts and the financial resources you put into the premiere stall out from waiting. In a future post, we will talk about how we prepared for sales by setting up the web store and creating the merchandise.

The Results

We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film.   A number of these screenings actually sold out.  We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once).    Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie  reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.   Some of the comments we received through twitter:

#JoffreyMovie Santa Fe, NM – our audience loved it, thank you so much! congrats on premiering a new, high tech way of running a Q&A!”

@JoffreyMovie #joffreymovie It’s insightful, performance history is fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tBeFP9IN.”

“The excellent #joffreymovie & panel yesterday @danceoncamera made me wistful for @joffreyballet of old. I loved taking class w Mr. Joffrey.”

The release continues and we will provide some in depth posts on this site of the different methods we have used to reach audiences and generate awareness and sales for the film.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs.  He will be at SXSW this weekend participating in the panel “Tough Love: Why You’re Still Not Festival Ready” on Saturday, March 10, 2012 He will also be signing the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler.   Next week he will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for the Digital Capital Symposium March 13-14, speaking on Artistic Entrepreneurship.  If you’re in the Austin or Baltimore areas, please drop in and introduce yourself. Follow Like

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist for independent films. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers. Currently, she is working with Hybrid Cinema to release the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a history of the Joffrey Ballet. She can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter  and on Google Plus.

Report from the UK: The PMD, Digital Rights and Booking Theatrical in the UK

I’m back now from my trip to the UK – workshop and consulting at the Edinburgh Film Festival as well as a workshop at the London Film School.  What I love about travelling and doing these workshops is meeting people who are really helping change the lives of filmmakers, creating tools and resources to help them release and monetize their films!

First – in Edinburgh:

I had dinner with Peter and Andy from Distrify which I think is an incredibly powerful Broadband VOD platform.  The most significant aspect of it is that it not only allows your audience to share your trailer (with a direct ability to buy) but it also incentivizes your audience (and others) to do this via a built-in affiliate program.  You can also set different price points in a number of different currencies so that you can adjust pricing for local financial circumstances (eg different prices for first world buyers and third world buyers).  In addition:  you can take your money out whenever you want, you can sell different combinations of streaming, download and DVD (only on-demand currently – but they are working on fulfillment) and their user interface is very simple.  I strongly suggest checking them out.

I also spent a fair amount of time with Michael Franklin from Creative Scotland who is very eager to develop new models for film coming out of the north.  One of my meetings that he arranged was with the Scottish Documentary Institute who are in the process of hiring a Producer of Marketing and Distribution for the institute to work with all of their films and filmmakers.  Of course I love that idea.  I’ve heard of other government funds considering this action – but this is the first one that I know of that will be put into place.

In London, I had a nice chat with James Collie who produced and released Beyond Biba and is currently distributing Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo in the UK.   He told me about an accessible digital rights and VOD aggregator in the UK called Re:Fine that is a bit of a cross between Distribber and a conventional aggregator.  For 300£ they will aggregate your film to iTunes and then take 19% in addition to the standard iTunes take of 30% – so filmmakers end up with 51%.   A pretty decent deal.  According to James, they also aggregate to other platforms.

At my London workshop, James gave a great presentation about booking theatrical in the UK and revealed two significant resources.  The first is Launching Films which for 30£ they will list your film in a schedule used by most film reviewers and bookers in the UK along with all the major releases.  He indicated that through this listing he was called up by all the major reviewers in London for Beetle Queen.  In addition, included in the fee, they will also set up your press screenings in London (you have to pay for the screening room).

The second resource is The Independent Cinema Office which lists contact information for most of the independent theaters throughout the UK – giving you direct access to the people who program theaters.

VOD seems to still be in its formulative stages in the UK with only 2 major players:  Skynet and Virgin.  I heard that you needed to have a very significant theatrical campaign (over 1 million spend) to get on Virgin although this was just something I overheard – but didn’t strike me as odd.

Finally I met with Terry Stevens who runs home video at Dogwoof (Dogwoof is releasing Bomb It July 25th in the UK).   At my LFS workshop he spoke about the Ambassador program they are setting up – coordinating with community groups and community screenings venues to create a network of alternative screening locations to host live event/theatrical screenings.    Initially this will be for Dogwoof films, but it seems that eventually the goal is to open up this ability to all films.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

And a heads up – the book that I am writing with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler: Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul (link to fb page) is launching at IFP Week in September!  Stay tuned.

Back to Writing – 3 More Books

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I have embarked on writing again and have two new books in the works and one more on the horizon.   First off, I am writing a book on the Producer of Marketing and Distribution or PMD.  In the tradition of Think Outside the Box Office, the book will define the role and responsibilities specific to the PMD, lay out best practices for those wanting to be PMDs,  lay out the tasks for a PMD over the lifecycle of a film, provide guidance on how to fulfill those tasks.  This includes developing a marketing and distribution plan and budget, the PMD in prep, production and post, audience engagement, timing of rights, as well as different marketing and distribution options available to films.  The book will cover education of PMDs and will propose a curriculum of study for PMDs.    I will be tweeting my progress on this book starting next week.

Secondly, I am working with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler on an electronic book of film case studies.    Each of us are drilling down to the specifics of a number of films distribution and marketing paths and providing hard numbers on their successes (and failures) to help filmmakers make informed decisions about the releases of their films.  This project was generated by The Film Collaborative who brought Sheri and I on board and is part of their educational initiative.  (as you know from my book and previous writings I am a big fan of what TFC does – and you know I’m a big fan of Sheri’s as well!).   We are currently locking down the title – and would love your input:  Please participate in our on-line survey.

On the horizon – I am writing a book about how all the art forms: music, film, art, photography, book authorship, journalism, dance,  comedy, gamers and expanded storytellers (etc) are all utilizing similar techniques to get their work made, marketed and distributed.   I came upon this idea while researching examples for my TOTBO workshops and discovered that many of the other art forms (music especially of course) were much further ahead than film in using these techniques.  But I also discovered that while some people used some of the techniques available, many would leave numerous opportunities unexplored – didn’t even know those opportunities existed.  As a result I saw a purpose for writing a book in which I would adapt and expand the system that I outlined in Think Outside the Box Office for all the arts.  This project will allow artists to learn from others and create opportunities for themselves that they may not have thought of by the nature of the traditional paths of their respective fields.   It will also provide a guide in how to use these techniques.   Over the next months, year, I will be interviewing a wide range of artists on this topic and I will be sharing excerpts on this blog.  I look forward to your input and feedback!!  (Look out for a revamped website and FB page in the future as well).

Prevent Film Piracy and Globally Monetize Instantly

Today’s guest post is by filmmaker Solomon Mac-Auley who contacted me to offer his opinion about a DIY Digital alternative that I have been intrigued by called Egg Up.   Egg Up offers an elegant solution for filmmakers to monetize their films via Electronic Sell Through (previously known as Download to Own) by selling a film digitally while protecting it from being copied.    I was curious as to how consumer experience was with the service – so here is Solomon’s feeling about Egg Up:

Prevent Film Piracy and Globally Monetize Instantly by Solomon Mac-Auley, QNX LTD

The Challenge:

Piracy is the biggest worldwide threat to the film industry. The internet and social media have made it easy for consumers to pirate and share movies illegally. This growing model has disrupted and destroyed the traditional distribution channels such as DVDs, theatres, video stores and pay-per-view providers. It also doesn’t help that many platforms and media channels do not have any digital-rights-management (DRM) in place to prevent piracy. This phenomenon has cost the industry a whopping $18.2 billion and the figure is growing daily and has left in its wake a growing number of frustrated filmmakers and distributors who are unable to monetize their films. Continue reading →

Ride The Divide Part 3: Digital Rights and Merchandise

In Part 2 of this 3 part series on Ride the Divide, I examined the strategic, well executed, and successful event strategy that Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion engaged. In this third and final part, I will take a look at their merchandise and digital strategies and execution. Finally, I will touch on some of the key points that they have learned so far on this journey.

Merchandise
They began selling “plain vanilla” versions of their DVDs at their live events. They started selling from their online store in April just after their world premiere at Vail Film Festival (DVD, Poster, Soundtrack). To date they have grossed $55,000 from all merchandise in the on-line store (this includes around $13,000 for the screening boxes). They’ve sold 1300 DVDs and Blu-Ray through their store.

But they are not just selling from their online store – they partnered with Video Action Sports and Rep Net who buy them at between 40% and 50% of the retail price for each DVD sold – about $10.00 per DVD. They researched each of these wholesalers to make sure they were 1) getting a good deal that made financial sense and 2) that the wholesalers had good reputations for paying independent filmmakers. These distributors get the Ride the Divide DVDs into larger chains and into major on-line retailers. They’ve sold another 600 DVDs through these wholesale accounts.
Continue reading →

ITVS Releases Digital Survey 2009

Posted on by Emy

This was published on itvs.org.

Producers today face unprecedented challenges in finding and engaging audiences. The proliferation of platforms and promotional outlets make it harder than ever to develop a unified strategy for connecting with diverse viewers. In the spirit of helping each other navigate the changing landscape, ITVS for the second year surveyed nearly a thousand independent producers to determine what is working, what is not, and how the attitudes of filmmakers are gradually changing in the digital era.

Some key findings:

- Television is still king. More producers in 2009 ranked television broadcast first or second in order of importance among six venues, up 11 percent to 65 percent, while the percentage identifying DVD as first in importance fell 10 percent from 2008.

- Social media is rising. Most producers report using social media one to three hours per week, with 35 percent reporting four hours or more.

- Internet drives revenue. Nearly half of all producers reported the Internet continues to drive revenue opportunities such as speaking engagements and merchandise sales.

- Nonexclusive digital rights are essential. More than 93 percent consider nonexclusive digital distribution rights as “important” or “very important” to their success.

Check here for more info and to download the survey.