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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Today’s video concerns the fundamental principle of how every film is different and needs a unique marketing and distribution plan. To create this plan, filmmakers need to examine:
1. Their Goals
2. Their Film
3. Their Audience
4. Their resources.
I spend a little extra time on goals again talking about “Ride the Divide” and how right before distribution, the producer and director didn’t realize that they had disparate goals. The director, Hunter Weeks, wanted the film to help launch a new film, the producer, Mike Dion, wanted to recoup. They ultimately decided to pursue monetization first. However in doing so they were actually able to meet the goals of launching new projects – but they realized without setting one goal first – they would have had trouble achieving either one.
Future posts will cover the other topics of your film, your audience, your resources.
I am kicking off a series of excerpts from my Think Outside the Box Office Master Classes today on my new YouTube Channel TheJonReiss. I am rebooting my YouTube channel because even though I had some decent views on YouTube.com/jfilm1 – it didn’t feel like that accurate or searchable. Since I am going to start releasing regular content not only from my workshops, but also interviews with filmmakers, artists and people on the cutting edge of audience engagement, I thought it was time to start fresh. On the channel you can also see excerpts from my film and music video work as well. I look forward to your thoughts on the clips as they roll out.
This week’s post concerns setting the goals for your release. I am a firm believer that it is essential for filmmakers to have a clear idea of what their goals are for their film’s release and to prioritize one or perhaps 2 specific goals because a film team will use different release strategies to achieve different goals. I see 4 main goals that most filmmakers strive for in their releases:
1. Money (Fortune)
2. A career launch, helping get another film made. (Fame – for a traditional career based on the previous film career paradigm that only exists for a small percentage of filmmakers these days).
3. Audience (some people just want their film to be seen by an audience as wide as possible.
4. Change the World – especially for documentary.
However I encourage most (if not all) filmmakers to consider a fifth goal:
5. A long-term relationship with a potentially sustainable audience/fan base. This is an essential component of any modern media release – yet most filmmakers still do not consider this a primary goal. This goal is different in objective than the old school fame based career launch (Number 2 above). It is not about press, “heat”, ego. Its about connection, engagement and a bringing your fans with you from project to project. This goal is not achievable if you sell your film outright in an all-rights scenario. In that case your distributor has access to your audience data – not you (although most don’t cultivate this data – yet).
Next week’s clip will talk about the importance of prioritizing your goals. In other words you are better off pursuing one goal. If you don’t, you are at the risk of not achieving any of your goals. Upcoming posts will concern identifying and engaging audience, creating events, merchandise, digital rights, timing as well as interviews with artists and filmmakers such as Timo Vuorensola, Molly Crabapple, Corey McAbee and many more.
Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (2nd Edition, Focal Press) by Stacey Parks. Available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.
Interview With Filmmaker Jon Reiss On Target Audience
Q: Tell us about Target Audience and what will happen if a filmmaker doesn’t identify this early on in the process?
A: To me a target audience is one of the niches that exist in the world that would be interested in your film (or anything that you do). A niche is a group of people focused on a particular interest. They are accessible. You can afford to market to them.
For instance in the case of my film “Bomb It”, one of the niche audiences is graffiti writers and street artists. Another niche audience is people who love graffiti and street art. A third audience for Bomb It is underground hip hop (specifically people who argue over how many “elements” there are in hip hop – graffiti often being called one of the “4 elements of hip hop” (some people feel that there are 5, others 9, etc). While you may think that people who love hip hop is also an audience – that is too broad of an audience for us to tackle with limited means. It is best to drill down as deep as possible to the narrowest niche, or core within a niche, in order to begin engagement.
This process takes time and the earlier you start it, the better. Your release will be much more successful (assuming connection with audience is one of your goals) if you have started to engage your audience (or at least the core of your audience) prior to your release. If you don’t, you will be struggling to gain audience during your release. By not laying this foundation, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.
Q: Once you identify your Target Audience, what’s next? Any tips on aggregating?
For me there are 3 TOTBO (Think Outside the Box Office) Steps of Audience Engagement:
1. Who? You must identify your audience – discussed in #1 above. And within each niche you should identify the core audience(s) within each niche.
2. Where? You must determine where and how this audience(s) receives information – and it will be different for every audience. Some audiences don’t use social networks – even today. Others are on Facebook or Ning more than Twitter. Each niche will have certain blogs that are important to it. You determine this via research.
3. How? Does this audience consume media? In other words – how might they watch or interact with the story of your film? Will they go see a live event, do they still buy DVDs. What other kinds of merchandise might they buy? On what platforms do they watch digital content? You need to know this in order to connect your final film (or any product) with your audience(s).
Q: I hear filmmakers say all the time how difficult it is to start any type of campaign for their film during Pre-Production because nothing is really ‘happening’ yet. In your opinion, how can filmmakers create an initial campaign for their films during Pre-Pro?
I think “campaign” is the wrong way to think about it. I recommend that people/filmmakers think in terms of connection. You have fans out in the world (they may not know you exist) – you need to connect with them.
Topics could include: What are you interested in? Why are you making this film? What are your struggles? How might you need help? How can your audience contribute to your film, not just financially (crowd funding), but also creatively (crowdsourcing)? Ask them questions about different concepts, techniques you are considering etc. Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are as important for audience connection as it is for money or creative contributions.
But more importantly – don’t just talk about yourself and your film. In fact no more than 20% of what you talk about or put out through your various channels should be about your film and yourself. 80% (at least) should information valuable (or entertaining) to your audience. Go out and listen to your community and then become an authority within that community. Talk about the film once in a while – and then when you are in release, your audience will gladly support, promote, and refer you.
Q: All this can be so overwhelming to think about doing on your own — what kind of team should filmmakers be building during Pre-Pro to facilitate the marketing of their film?
I believe that filmmaking is a two-part process. The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience. I think the most important team member to bring on in Pre-Production is the person I call the Producer of Marketing and Distribution – or PMD. This person is the point person for all aspects of audience engagement as outlined above. If you recognize that it is important to connect with audiences, then you absolutely need to devote resources to this process. Everyone with traditional film positions already has their plate full making the film. Filmmakers need to realize that unless they themselves will take on this work, they must get someone on their crew who will, just like they have someone line produce or edit. That is why I created the position of the PMD in Think Outside the Box Office, because unless there is a clearly defined role for these tasks, they will not get done.
Q: Tell us about “Bomb-It” – what did you if anything during Pre-Pro that set you up for a successful release of the film later?
For “Bomb It” we started shooting right away, so our pre-production and production happened simultaneously – for about 2 years. But all during this time we were actively engaging our audience:
1. We set up a website and a blog. We posted regularly to this blog, very rarely about our film. We posted almost exclusively about our subject – graffiti and street art. Specifically, we posted items that interested us and we felt would be interesting to our audience. We featured artists that we interviewed as well as bloggers, journalists and influencers within our community – see #6 below.
2. On our website we incentivized people to join our email list by offering to mail them stickers (yes via snail mail). This is an early example of an Email for Media campaign. It cost a few hundred dollars to execute but 1). It was directed at our specific audience. 2). It gave people something in exchange for what they were giving us (their email address). We had 1000 people on our list by our premiere.
3. We set up a Myspace page. Remember this is 2004/2005 when we started (Facebook wasn’t the force it is now – and our audience was not on Facebook at that time. Our audiences were on Myspace – see research above). By the time we premiered at Tribeca Film Festival we had nearly 5000 fans on Myspace.
4. We cut trailers as soon as we had enough footage and posted them to YouTube – and directed our audience to them. We were on our 2nd trailer by the time we premiered.
5. We reached out to key bloggers, journalists, galleries and influencers within the community. We created friendships with these people that lasted beyond the release.
Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.
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’son 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. DoEngage 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 toBe 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’son a Video On Demand Release
1. Don’tHide 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 email@example.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.
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.
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!”
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.