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.
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.
I’m launching the channel today as part of my Spring Workshop Kickoff. Yesterday I gave a “Strategic Distribution Workshop 202” at Hot Docs Toronto. I will be helping lead the IFP Filmmaker Labs in NYC in May and June. I will also be giving a mini-workshop at Sheffield Doc Fest in June 15th and then in London on June 23, 24th for a newly revamped two day TOTBO Distribution Master Class.
I’ve also created some Hot Docs Specials on my store where you can get a PDF of TOTBO for $4.95 and a hard copy for $9.95.
I met with Nolan from Gravitas, who I feel is one of the companies that really gets VOD for independents, and he started saying – “filmmakers should watch out for this… it would be great if filmmakers would do…” And since he was listing them off – I immediately asked him to write up 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts of VOD for filmmakers – and he graciously obliged – and here it is – Thank you so much Nolan for your continued generosity in helping filmmakers navigate this new space:
By Nolan Gallagher, Founder and CEO Gravitas Ventures
Jon Reiss was gracious enough to ask me to write this blog post to help shed some perspective on how to navigate the increasingly exciting (and complex) world of Video On Demand film releasing.
I believe Jon asked me to write this because our company, Gravitas Ventures, releases over 500 films a year on VOD in all of its flavors/windows including transactional, subscription, and ad sponsored. Since more and more people have been enjoying films through digital cable, their Netflix or hulu Plus subscriptions, or on Apple iTunes, VOD has been driving a majority of deals out of film festivals.
While VOD is increasingly important right now, the ability to enjoy films in this manner has actually been around for almost a decade. During that time I had the good fortune to work for a cable operator (Comcast), a studio (Warner Bros) and for the last six years Gravitas. It’s from those experiences, plus some great feedback from my team at Gravitas, that I offer these suggestions for a VOD release:
5 Do’s on a Successful Video On Demand Release
1. Do Watch Windows- There is potentially big money in digital distribution. Especially, if the timing of a release is coordinated by an industry expert with deep contacts within VOD specifically. A filmmaker should avoid licensing rights to one VOD platform first (say an online site) in an effort to “get the film out there.” Unfortunately, this happens often and can cost filmmakers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are over one hundred different cable, satellite, telco and online VOD platforms and they do not like to be disadvantaged against each other. There are industry norms in the releasing of a film and by giving one operator an earlier window than the rest, you may jeopardize both carriage and favorable merchandising placement.
2. Do Reach the Masses. Today, filmmakers can reach over 100 million North American homes inexpensively. VOD is also flexible, so that as technology evolves, your film will find ever more opportunities to be seen. Working with knowledgeable companies that are on top of the daily changes in distribution will allow filmmakers to reach a wide audience today and tomorrow.
3. Do Engage those Masses- Do spend a lot of time early in the process making sure that you are dedicating someone to build out your social media presence. Facebook, Twitter, and even your own website can be very powerful tools for getting your message out, but building presence take plenty of dedicated work. We have seen remarkable results from producers who do this right versus those who just go through the motions.
4. Do Your Homework- Soak up VOD insights like a sponge. Talk among your filmmaking community about what has and has not worked on past films. Read blogs, attend panels, follow industry people on twitter and do not be afraid to ask distributors the tough questions. An informed filmmaker allows distributors to spend less time on basic education and more on finding creative ways to make your film release a success.
5. Do Try to Be Nice- It’s easier said than done some days, but Patrick Swayze nailed this advice in Roadhouse. Courtesy goes both ways for filmmaker teams and those distribution companies fortunate to work on a project. The entertainment industry is filled with no shortage of shall we say interesting personalities and the nice ones often do finish first in VOD.
5 Don’t’s on a Video On Demand Release
1. Don’t Hide in Anonymity- The most unsuccessful VOD releases are the ones that do not happen. Put another way, if Gravitas or any other distributor cannot reach you to have a conversation, it will be hard to get your film into 100 million VOD homes. Each film should choose one person as a point of contact for distribution inquiries and include a real phone number and personal email address (not 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.
Sheri Candler and I were just holding a week long discussion on the D-Word about distribution and marketing for filmmakers occassioned by the release of the book that I co-wrote with her and The Film Collaborative, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Doug Block who was our moderator asked me to summarize my thoughts on the subject and it seemed to create a pithy little post encapsulating some of my core beliefs when it comes to helping filmmakers release their films.So I have included them here and encourage you (especially if you are a doc filmmaker) to join D-Word and to check out the Selling Your Film topic which is archived. Please note that in trying to make sure I didn’t dither over the wording of this post – it was written on the fly and unedited – I’m going to try to increase my blog writing speed in the coming months!
My Summary for the D-Word:
Distribution and marketing of a film should start as early as possible – and be integrated into the filmmaking process as much as possible. Doing this will benefit the film and make the release more successful and make your life easier.
Each film needs its own distribution and marketing plan – unique to that film. The distribution and marketing for any one film will depend on several factors:
1. Goals of the filmmaking team (all should be on the same page).
2. The film itself – what is appropriate for this film.
3. The audience of that film:
Who is the audience (be specific)?
Where does the audience learn about films?
How does that audience consume films?
Connect with your audiences early and often.
Only talk about you and your film 20% of the time in social media – MAX!
Connect with organizations that are connected with the audience of your film.
4. The filmmaking teams resources. How much money and/or time is available.
To help solve the time issue – I recommend bringing in a PMD to help with the distribution and marketing of the film.
Bring the PMD on as early as possible (see first sentence above).
Budget for distribution and marketing – expect it will be 50/50 – eg 50% on production and 50% on distribution and marketing. You may be one of the lucky ones to have a great distributor come along and write you a check and take it “off your hands” – but the % aren’t that great these days.
Think strategically about how you are going to release your film that will achieve your goals and connect with your audience – in terms of the products that you can create:
1. Strive to make your Live Event/Theatrical screenings unique – and event worthy – what will motivate people to come out for your film.
2. Create unique merchandise for your film. People still like to buy things – just often not DVDs in ugly cases.
3. Think strategically about how you will release your digital rights – including TV/Cable and how they fit into the overall plan.
That’s a pretty good 2 minute drill of what I try to convey to filmmakers to help them with connecting their films to audiences.
This is an excerpt from my introduction to the new book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, that I wrote with The Film Collaborative (Orly Ravid & Jeffrey Winter), and Sheri Candler. This post also ran on Chris Dorr’s Tribeca Future of Film blog.
A New Path to Engage Film Audiences and Create Careers: An Introduction
The three films that I researched for this book, while different in genre, size, year of release and experience level of the filmmakers also share a remarkable number of similarities in addition to their differences. I want to compare those similarities and contrast the differences in a structure that that I use to help filmmakers conceptualize strategies for their film’s releases. Some of this system is included in my book Think Outside the Box Office, while some of it I have developed through my work with filmmakers over the past two years.
It is essential to determine the goals of a particular project’s release before employing any strategy for that launch. (Note—these goals are potentially different from those envisioned by the filmmakers when they set out to make their film.) In order to evaluate the success of a film’s release, one must first identify the filmmakers’ original objectives in releasing their film.
Continue reading →
Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:
In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
Continue reading →
The Added Value of Blogging – by Lila Yomtoob
Lila contacted me via the web – introducing herself and I asked if she would like to write a blog post – and she offered to write a post about: blog posting! Not only the importance of it – but how to do it effectively. Thanks Lila!
Lila Yomtoob is a producer specializing in marketing and distribution. She has 12 years of experience in different parts of the industry, including directing, editing, teaching, curating, and consulting. She has been a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Science as a result of her Emmy Award, and was a card-carrying member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild until she went rogue. You can read more about her at www.yomtoob.com and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blogging is not dead, and should not die.
No one reading this is a stranger to the multitude of ways to get the word out about a project. Recently, I’ve seen articles suggesting that blogging is dead and that Facebook and/or Twitter is sufficient. In this article I will make a case for blogging, recommend some ways to go about it, and present a few case studies.
Blogging is a great way to root your project in a community, create a tone for your project that extends beyond the actual film, and can even attract press. A blog allows you to create original long form content that lives on your website, as well as aggregate news about topics surrounding your film, and make announcements about the status of your project. Having a blog that is embedded into your website (via WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger) allows people who visit your films website to find out more about what the project is about, without having to leave the site. It sets a personal tone, one that may allow a visitor to get just a little bit more excited about your project.
Foreclosure (Narrative, psychological horror)
I co-produced “Foreclosure” through development and pre-production, and I insisted we start a blog early on. The director did not want to spill the beans about the themes of the film, which may be seen as controversial, so we created parameters on what we would write about. As a result, our blog was about the art of horror, including quotes from different filmmakers on filmmaking, reviews of esoteric films, and artistic and intellectual items that influenced the filmmaker. We rarely discussed the actual film. This gave a visitor “a peak into the director’s mind” and, unbeknownst to us, we created a compendium of intelligent horror content.
Once we had around ten entries, we posted a short and simple trailer and sent press releases about the film to all of the horror blogs and websites we could find. We were thrilled and very surprised by the response. The director was interviewed for a few of the larger horror sites, and we began relationships with film writers who continued to write about “Foreclosure” as it progressed. We were still in development – hadn’t even set a shoot date, and already we had press. The writers often commented on the content of the blog, hinting to me that it left a positive impression on visitors.
Subsequently, “Foreclosure” attracted Michael Imperioli (“Soprano’s”) to star, and a top sales agent before production began. It would be silly to say that this was because of the blog, but the blog was clearly one step in the right direction.
The Bang Bang Club (Narrative Feature, based on a true story)
I recently visited the website for The Bang Bang Club, a new narrative film based on real events about a group of journalists in South Africa during apartheid. The trailer and story were compelling, but I was on the fence about the film. I noticed they had a blog, and so I clicked on it. There were stories of journalists covering wars around the world now being detained, recovering from injuries, etc, and the films’ timeliness and urgency hit home. It gave me a frame of reference, and made me want to see the film just a little bit more.
Hidden Battles – feature documentary
I started working on “Hidden Battles” when the film was finished, and we were working on a self-distribution strategy. For this blog, we had to be very careful, because of the subject matter of the film. “Hidden Battles” follows five soldiers as they understand their combat experience. The film stays away from making any judgments, and is consciously apolitical, and the director wanted to make sure not to politicize the film in anyway. So we created parameters: the mission of “Hidden Battles” was to educate people on the mental health issues facing veterans. We were only going to be supportive and caring. Largely, the blog reports on organizations that help veterans, new things the government is doing to help, and statistical reports on the status of mental health amongst soldiers and vets. We set up Google alerts with keywords like “veteran,” “PTSD,” “military”, which made it easy to find stories to write on. This also allowed us to find organizations to forge partnerships with, who have subsequently helped publicize the film.
We also share news about the films progress on our blog. Most content is also shared on Facebook and Twitter as well. A distributor approached us and when I asked him how he heard about the film he said, “Twitter.”
Fresh – feature documentary
I spoke with Ana Joanes, director of “Fresh,” a documentary about food production. After a few years of successful grass roots self-distribution, and a limited theatrical release, she is now concentrating on creating original content for their blog. For years they have aggregated news relevant to their community through their blog, Facebook and Twitter, but now they want to go a step further and become a resource to the community they’ve created. In essence, they are planning to extend the life of the project through the blog. I asked Ana, if they set parameters for what they blog about, and she said no – they just go with their gut. They have posted stories that have gotten bad reactions, but she doesn’t find it to be problematic.
A few tips for getting started
• If you don’t have a clue about how to start a blog, check out mashable.com, they have lots of “how to” articles that might help you get started. Or enlist/hire a web savvy person to set it up and explain it to you.
• If you don’t know what to blog about, imagine yourself as a potential viewer of your film. What would you want to hear about? OR take a chance and write about what you want to write about! Until you are ready to create original content you can start by reposting relevant news stories and comment on them. Set up Google Alerts, or start an RSS reader to aggregate stories from reliable sources to get ideas.
• Cross post your content on your other social networking platforms. Your blogging platform may have an option to do this automatically, but I find that it’s often problematic. Take the 5 minutes to do it manually, write a short description and add a link back to your blog.
• The most difficult part of this might be setting aside time to do it, especially if you don’t fashion yourself a writer. Independent film involves a lot of juggling of time and resources, and blogging may easily be the thing that falls off the to do list. Fair enough. This is why a lot of filmmakers hire someone (or have an intern) to work 10-12 hours a week on their social networking. “Fresh” had a full time person working on their social networking, which may account for their 4000 grassroots screenings. Just keep that in mind when you decide not to do it.
I don’t have any metrics to back up my case studies, because I don’t believe that the number of people that sees your site amounts to success. It’s about getting the right people to see your site and your film. And sometimes this takes a long time. Be patient. Do what you can do. Good luck.