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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

BOMB IT 2 VOD Release on iTunes!

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What a way to start off the day. Check us out on the front page of iTunes, right next to GI JOE! Help us stay there: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bomb-it-2/id656273050

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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.”

 

 

Monetizing in the Age of Abundance Part 1: The Age of Abundance

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By Jon Reiss
I have been giving a number of presentations on Artistic Entrepreneurship over the past year that I refined for the recentSFFS A2E Workshop and most recently presented a version of in this spring’s IFP Filmmaker Labs. In this presentation I have reformulated my approach to the challenges that filmmakers face in our current age of content abundance. I would share these thoughts to a much wider audience and get some feedback.

While there were a number of factors that caused an upheaval of the distribution landscape in 2007 and while there have been many positive signs of improvement, filmmakers and all artists still face an enormously changed market for content.

Supply and Demand

Anyone with a smattering of economic knowledge understands that if you have surging supply and static or diminished demand, prices will drop.
As a content creator you are facing:
Supply

It is not just peer-to-peer sharing that is creating an infinite supply of product.

 

1. A Surge in Supply of Original Content Part 1 – Feature Films.   As Ted Hope and Brian Newman have noted – estimates are that 50,000 new feature films enter the festival circuit every year looking for some form of distribution.

 

2. A Surge in Supply of Original Content Part 2 – Online Video Content. When I prepared this talk a year ago 236 YEARS of viewing content was being uploaded to YouTube EVERY MONTH. When I recalculated that figure for this years IFP Filmmaker Labs it is now 355 YEARS of content uploaded every month. Acknowledged, a lot of that is cat videos – but I hate to say that many people like cat videos more than independent film.

 

3. Everyone Can Watch Everything: Your potential customers, fans, audience do not only have all of the above content screaming for their time – they are very rapidly gaining the ability to watch everything piece of content ever produced in history: every book, every song, every film, everything.

 

4. Peer to Peer Sharing: Every piece of content can be shared infinitely at no cost. While the cost of digital replication is obviously less than physical production, replication of goods is only one factor of value. I think most filmmakers will agree with me that the entire cost of a piece of content should be factored into the “value” of a piece of content – e.g. the negative cost of the film. So while P2P is not the only cause of the supply glut, it does of course contribute.

Demand:

 

1. A static and potentially declining audience for independent film (and for all film). How relevant are previous forms of filmed media to new audiences: the feature film, the short film, the half hour and hour television show? How filmmakers can and should break free from these forms needs to be covered in another post.  In addition, filmmakers need to go beyond a traditional film audience to find and cultivate their own unique audiences. I have written about this many times and won’t go into this any further at this time, however this series assumes that filmmakers are doing everything to cultivate and connect with those audiences.

 

2. Audiences are faced with many more entertainment choices than ever before – audiences are not as dependent on film, especially independent film for new ideas, new voices, and fresh content.

 

So when supply increases exponentially and demand is static or declining – price drops and films become difficult to monetize. This is one of the reasons that it will be difficult for digital revenue to replace other revenue streams even with universal broadband and global digital platforms/distribution systems.

 

Some ways to deal with this phenomenon:

 

1. Embrace Infinite Supply and Use it to Develop Audience

 

Again one of the ultimate defenses against increased supply is to create demand for your work through cultivating your audience.   A number of filmmakers have given content away for free with the resulting effect of increased sales of scarce goods (discussed below). Nina Paley had great success with Sita Sings the Blues as documented by Sheri Candler in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul(in which Sheri also discusses other cases using this model).

 

A variation on the completely free model is to give a film away for a limited time to create awareness and promote other revenue streams as Mike Dion and Hunter Weeks did with a weekend long free YouTube stream of Ride the Divide to promote their iTunes launch of the same film (documented in one of my chapters from
Selling Your Film).

Other examples of this abound.

 

A second variation is the reverse crowd funding model that Jamie King has created with VODO, in which content is offered to the peer-to-peer network pro-actively for free and people are encouraged to contribute to support the filmmakers.
2. Create Repeat Viewership Content

One of the reason’s that Pioneer One is the most successful program on VODO is because it is a series, and the audience is contributing to the continued support of the series.

 

The reason I believe that Netflix is turning towards series and away from movies is because they are ultimately similar to any other television or cable channel that for years now have discovered that series provide audience retention that one-off films do not. Netflix is no different than any cable network. Films are a great way for a channel to fill empty pipelines upon launch – but it is series that bring people back to a channel. Series provide continuous engagement in stories and characters that one off films do not (ironically whether or not the series are viewed all in one sitting).   This is also why I believe YouTube is investing in so many channels and seems intent on becoming an uber network. I recommend that any filmmaker download the free YouTube Partner Handbook – it is packed with helpful information.

 

Dickens had great luck with serialized content – which is how many of his novels (if not most) were initially released. He even received audience feedback – and incorporated that feedback into shaping the story.

 

I’m not a Pollyanna as to how serialized content will monetize for filmmakers although a number of filmmakers have figured out how to make money doing this by either monetizing their own channels, creating original content for other channels, or creating original content for branded channels. A series still has to become very popular for it to directly monetize via ad revenue or reverse crowd funding. There are outliers leading the way – most notably Freddie Wong’sVideo Game High School (who notably calls this a serialized feature).   But there are filmmakers creating short regular content (not always serialized) who are not outliers, but are making a living at what they are doing – such as the folks atZoochosis.com.
While I am an advocate for filmmakers to explore regularly delivered short form content, filmmakers are exploring other ways to contend with audiences increased desire for serialized content.   Ed Burns for instance connects with his audience on a regular basis via twitter – often providing video answers to their questions – as well as engaging them in the creation of his films. He has also ramped up production of his films so that they come out yearly – or almost annually. While this is not serial, it is more regular than most filmmaker’s production.   I understand that film (and novel writing) is a process that takes time – but just as some writers are discovering the value of the digital short form it is also important for filmmakers. Tiffany Shlain has extended her film Connected into her Cloud Filmmaking project where she is producing more regular, shorter content with help from the crowd.  If filmmakers cannot increase the frequency of production, it is important for them to maintain some form of content connection with their audience whether it be social media based or other. Filmmakers who ignore this are then either faced with rebuilding their audiences whenever they produce a film – say every three years – or are at the mercy of selling their films to whatever buyers may want to take on the job of connecting their films to an audience.

 

3. Create Membership
Those artists who have achieved a certain popularity can create memberships to either “fan clubs” or priority access to content. Some are borrowing the tech Fremium model where some content is available for free – other content is paid for. These memberships often do not give access only to digital content but scarce real experiences that I’ll discuss in more depth later in the series. I’m starting up my own version of this via the monthly conference call reward on myKickstarter page – so that I can have regular live contact with my audience. But unless there is a demand for the content – it is difficult to charge/create barriers to it.

4. Exclusive Digital Editions

Crowdfunding has been very instructive in teaching filmmakers about merchandising and they have used this and other pre-sale campaigns to create exclusive digital editions of their work that are only available during their crowdfund or presale campaigns. I would recommend filmmakers consider exclusive digital editions during pre-sales or crowdfund campaigns only available during that sales period.   Because these are still digital products, I do feel that the effect won’t be as strong as other forms of scarcity – but it is a worthwhile tactic.

 

A caveat to the above can be witnessed with studio strategies to digital content. You may have noticed that films are available for sale a week or weeks before they are available for rent on transactional digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon, etc). The studios and digital platforms have discovered that few people are buying films to own digitally. So the ownership window has in essence become a premium rental window for people (like my daughter) who want the digital content before anyone else and are willing to pay extra for that privilege. (Ultra VOD being another version of this digital windowing). Aggregators who a year ago were advocating near day and date releases for transactional, SVOD, AVOD are now advocating again for a longer transactional window before subscription and ad supported revenue streams.

 

All of the above tactics will work to some extent to create revenue for filmmakers and help develop audiences (especially repeat content), but I feel it is important that filmmakers learn how to create scarce goods and and create price tiers to fully monetize their films and brand.   The rest of this series will deal with various ways of creating scarce products such as through events/experiences and physical products.

 

I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign and 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.

Bomb It 2 Hits Miami!

Posted on by Jon Reiss

UPDATE — the U.S. premiere of BOMB IT 2 in Miami is sold out!

Bomb It 2

It is finally time for the US premiere of BOMB IT 2! Thanks to our good friends at Bombingscience.com, Keepitclassic.com, and Tugg.com, you can catch BOMB IT 2 at the O Cinema in the Wynwood District on Wednesday, May 29th at 7:30 pm. But there is a catch. We still need to sell 33 more tickets in order to make the screening happen, so PLEASE help spread the word and reserve your tickets for the US premiere of BOMB IT 2 today.

The screening will be introduced by host Marc Ferman of www.Keepitclassic.com. There will be a live Q&A with director Jon Reiss via Skype following the movie. If you are a fan of street art, graffiti, art, or just pop culture, this is a screening you CANNOT miss! In BOMB IT 2 director Jon Reiss takes audiences to previously unexplored areas of the Middle East, Europe, Asia, the United States and Australia on a hunt for innovative street art and artists.

BOMB IT 2 explores the indigenous street art scenes in Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Perth, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Chicago, Austin and the Palestinian refugee camps on the West Bank.

BOMB IT 2 from Jon Reiss on Vimeo.

For those of you who are not in Miami but want to see BOMB IT 2 in your town, please contact our friends at TUGG — they will help you organize a screening of BOMB IT 2 at your favorite local theater!

Ways to Distribute Merchandise

I recently posted a short piece about innovative merchandise.  Here is a quick rundown on the different ways to sell your merch!  Let me know what you think!

Creating Innovative Merchandise

Its the IFP Film Week in NYC where I just was for the IFP Lab and the new IFP PMD Lab – so with that in mind – I am posting my new clip about merchandise and an intro to innovative merchandise.

 

Top 5 Misunderstandings About Self Distribution

In the US many filmmakers are starting to get that they need to be responsible for distributing and marketing their films. We’ve been in this new paradigm since 2007 at least. But here in Europe – the mythology of white knights rescuing your film and you and carrying your film into the limelight is still very much alive. Most likely because there are still remnants of broadcast deals, co-production and government support even though those are declining precipitously. So Chris Jones asked me to write a blog post to address the top 5 misunderstandings of self distribution. Here it is – would love to know your thoughts.

1. “I don’t need to worry about distribution – a company will buy my film and do that for me.”

Unfortunately the world has changed. Estimates range that 35,000-50,000 new feature films made every year. Only 600 get on the international festival circuit. 200 get into Sundance. Of those, last year only 20 made deals starting in the low six figures. Multiply that by 5 sales markets worldwide. In a great year 100 films out of 50,000 are making deals starting in the low 6 figures. All rights distribution deals don’t exist anymore except for the lucky few. Part of the reason the Sundance Institute started Sundance Artist Services was to help all of the films who had been in the Sundance Film Festival but never received distribution. Around the world broadcast licenses are decreasing and film fund revenues are shrinking. However the world rewards entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy.

2. “Distribution and Marketing is something I can worry about later – right now I need to focus on making my film.”

Filmmaking used to be only about making films. Now filmmaking has 2 parts – making a film – and connecting that film to an audience. It is what I call the new 50/50. But this is not a sequential process any longer. The earlier you start engaging your audience the more successful you will be in achieving your goals. Full stop. The process will also be more organic – since you will involve your audience in the process of making the film and as a result they will be invested with you and your project. A very good example of this is Iron Sky.

3. “If I think about my audience I am selling out.”

A better way to think of this is: You are not changing your film for the market (that usually results in failure anyway), instead you are connecting with the audience that already exists for your film.

However by thinking of the audience in advance perhaps there are elements that you might include that will aid in financing or marketing. For instance the documentary Ride the Divide received sponsorship from some of the manufacturers that supplied clothing to the endurance bikers featured in the film. This way the film benefited from considering the larger audience with no sacrifice to the creative spirit of the film.

Taking this one step further, it is better to know in advance that your film might have a very small audience – since then it would be best to keep your expenses low in creating the film (if you need to be concerned about recouping your financial investment). Better to make a film for less than be saddled with a mound of debt later. Even further if you have $100,000 to make a film, better to spend $50,000 on making the film and $50,000 on connecting that film to an audience. You will be far ahead of 95% of other filmmakers.

4. “I can’t imagine doing all that work by myself.”

Self distribution is not self distribution. It is not DIY. I am known as the “DIY guy” because I wrote a manual to help filmmakers distribute their films. However in that book I stress that distribution and marketing is about collaboration and partnerships. I prefer the term Hybrid Distribution. You as the filmmaker manage the process but you engage various entities to do much of the actual distribution: digital aggregators, DVD companies, shopping carts, fulfillment companies, television broadcasters, bookers, publicists. It still involves work – but not as much as doing everything yourself, which I only recommend as a fallback. Partnering with companies extends your reach tremendously and there are more and more companies forming every month for you to help you. American: The Bill Hicks Story is a wonderful UK example of this.

5. “I am not a salesperson, I am an artist.”

Well that may or may not be true. Many great filmmakers are also salespeople. It takes sales skills to sell your film to actors, financiers or anyone else to believe in your film and get involved. Most successful directors in the traditional Hollywood world are “good in a room.”

In the new model of artistic entrepreneurship (which musicians have been engaging with for a number of years now) artists need to think more and more creatively about making a living. Look at the products on OK Go’s website.

In the spirit of collaboration (see #4 above) I recommend that films have what I have termed a Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or PMD) on their team to be the person on their team to spearhead audience engagement (which is what I call distribution and marketing). Since nearly half of the work of filmmaking (if not more) is distribution and marketing and since distribution companies cannot in any way handle the glut of films that are made every year, filmmakers need a PMD as much as a DP, Editor, AD, Line Producer etc. The earlier filmmakers recognize this, the more they will achieve their goals and the happier they will be. This concept has already been embraced in the UK: Sally Hodgson is the PMD for Sound It Out, Ben Kempas is the PMD for The Scottish Documentary Institute and Dogwoof has started being a PMD for select films.

Don’t be one of those filmmakers that I constantly encounter who say “I made a film, I’m in a mound of debt, I’ve been in a ton of film festivals, and no one has bought my film and I don’t have any money or energy to do it myself and I don’t have anyone to help me.”

Start early, plan for it, engage and embrace the new world.

All of these concepts and more I will be covering in my 2 Day Distribution Master Class this weekend in London June 23, 24.