I’m so thrilled to be participating in two IFFR events this year! For those of you attending, I hope we run into each other. On the morning of Monday, the 26th, I’ll be serving on a distribution panel called Get Your Film Out There! (moderated by Amy Dotson). That afternoon, I’ll be participating in an “on stage workshop”-style presentation of IFFR’s new Tiger Release distribution initiative, showing how three different films each benefit from the initiative’s offerings.
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.
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.
I just returned from Park City where I had the pleasure to judge the Slamdance Documentary Competition. I saw some compelling and inspiring work. Being a judge forced me to actually see films at a film festival for the first time in two years since embarking on the TOTBO project (usually I am lucky to see one film). In addition, I got to catch nearly all of “Gandu Asshole” – a stunning visual and narrative feast by first time Indian filmmaker Q that is headed to the Berlinale. Last but not least, I got the opportunity to see the finished version of the moving and brilliantly structured Kinyarwanda, a film I mentored in the IFP Filmmaker Labs.
It was a very exciting time at Park City. First off, more films have sold at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than in recent memory and that is good news for independent film as Ted Hope points out in his blog it “should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.”
However, I am concerned that filmmakers see these sales and think they can revert back to depending on the festival acquisition system to handle the distribution and marketing of any and all of their films. I hope all will analyze the elements that were most attractive to the buyers (name cast, compelling documentary subjects, past success with a similar film) before assuming that the old days are back.
I got the sense there is a growing awareness that while sales happen for some films, filmmakers understand that the system cannot and does not handle all films. In fact, these sales make up a small percentage of films on the festival circuit each year, much less than the films produced every year. More and more filmmakers are understanding the need to engage audiences on their own – or with partners – and craft unique distribution and marketing strategies for their films. Continue reading →
Almost two weeks ago I wrote a piece for those who did not get into the Sundance or Slamdance Film Festivals. Today, I want to write one for those who got in, or will be getting into similar sales oriented prominent festivals in the coming months. First off – congratulations – you got into one of the premiere film festivals in the world for independent film.
This post was inspired by the recent completion of the first year of the newly expanded Independent Filmmaker Labs run by IFP that I helped convert into completion distribution and marketing labs. (I plan to do several of these posts highlighting information that we either learned as a group – or were stressing to the participating filmmakers). To be honest, this advice applies to all filmmakers – whether or not they are going to a premiere festival.
1. Know yourself, know your film. When you are accepted into one of these prestigious festivals you are accosted by many people who want to help you sell your film. You should have a sense of who you are and what your film is in order to evaluate what you are being told by those who want to help you. In order to do this you must: Continue reading →
The Sundance Film Festival has started announcing its slate for the 2011 festival. This has traditionally been a nerve wracking time for independent filmmakers who, in the past, have put so much stock into premiere film festivals like Sundance. They have traditionally done this because it has been believed that a premiere festival can 1. Sell your film for lots of money (or at least enough to pay back your investors) or 2. Potentially launch your career (but normally only if #1 happened).
But in the new world of distribution, marketing and audience engagement the world is a much better place than it was just five years ago for the thousands of films that do not get into Sundance, or any other premiere festival.
Here are 6 thoughts on the importance of getting into a premiere film festival for you films distribution and marketing strategy.
1. Premiere festivals are not the only gatekeepers to independent film anymore. In fact there are no gatekeepers. The knowledge and the technology exists so that anyone can release their films themselves. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this anymore – right?!?
2. Getting into a premiere film festival is not a distribution and marketing strategy. It is common knowledge now that only a small percentage of films that go to Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, Cannes, Berlin etc end up with traditional all rights deals that make any kind of financial sense. 98% of filmmakers at least still end up being responsible for the distribution and marketing of their film – even if they obtain a distributor partner hear or there for specific rights. The less you mentally rely on what I call the Festival Acquisition Model, the better off you will be. Filmmaker now must have a plan that doesn’t rely on selling all of their rights to a distributor. they need this plan before they go to their first festival (frankly – it is best to be engaging in this plan from inception) so that you can:
3. Incorporate festivals into your larger release strategy. This will vary for every film. But just because you didn’t get into Sundance doesn’t mean that there aren’t other, perhaps more appropriate festivals for your film. These festivals can be worked into a robust Live Event/Theatrical release for your film that you coordinate with your other rights, as well as your audience outreach and engagement. There are a plethora of good festivals that are connected with their community and/or provide great experiences for filmmakers throughout the world.
4. Just because your film didn’t get into Sundance or any festival does not mean that it is not a good film. There are many reasons for this. Festivals and programmers have particular tastes and perhaps your film didn’t suit them. (Did you take a look at what that festival tends to program and see if your film fit?) In addition – they might have loved your film, but didn’t feel that it fit into that year’s program for one reason or another. Finally, some films are just not “festival films” and need to find their audience in different ways.
5. Festivals used to be one of the few ways for independent films and filmmakers to connect and engage with audiences. Now there are not only a myriad of ways to do this – primarily through the web but:
A. Relying on festivals to do this work for you is not reality. In other words they will do some of this work (and are quite good and it and can make great partners)– but you are crazy to rely solely on them (eg it is a partnership.
B. You should be doing this work well before you get to your first festival anyway.
6. I would take the time to reevaluate your approach and your film. Many films are submitted to festivals and released into distribution before they are really finished. Have you screened your film to people outside of immediate friends and family? Have you screened your film to a large audience, in a theater (for a private pre lock screening)? What was the reaction? Do you need to do more work on the film – shorten it, make it more understandable, make it funnier, scarier etc.
Are you submitting it to festivals that support the kind of film you have made?
Are you submitting it at the end of the submissions process when programmers are deluged with films? Or are you submitting it earlier in the process when more programmers will have a chance to see your film and perhaps champion it?
In sum – more filmmakers are finding distribution and marketing paths for their films (in other words – connecting with audiences) outside of the Festival Acquisition System than are doing it inside of this system. A wonderful case in point Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion who wanted their film Ride the Divide to play at a premiere festival – it didn’t. But they created a wonderful, inspiring release for their film that all filmmakers can take lessons from. (if you didn’t read them before – there is a three part series on their film in this blog: Part1 Part2Part3.)
I heard a number of comments after this weekend’s LAFF Seize the Power Symposium that people where overwhelmed – that their brain’s had been fried by so many ideas and so much information. To me that’s a sign that we succeeded. When Film Independent and the Los Angeles Film Festival asked me to help them devise the Symposium (and accompanying Distribution Boot Camp for competition filmmakers) we were in immediate agreement that the event would focus on: 1. Nuts and bolts practical information for filmmakers. 2. Forward thinking thought leaders indicating what the future might be. 3. Practical case studies of filmmakers who were using the new tools of distribution and marketing. We wanted to avoid people sitting on a panel rehashing how we got here. I also get the same brain-fry feedback when I give my weekend workshops – and I’m delighted. This is what I suggest to people:
1. Focus on the Inspiration and Creative Potential One of the best uber-takeaways is how a symposium or workshop can inspire filmmakers to new creative opportunities. Allow these ideas to run through you and don’t get caught up with any of the specifics just yet – you can delve into those when the time comes for you to act.
2. Identify on What Resonates With You. Many ideas and concepts are presented – but no two filmmakers are alike and no two films are alike. Take a moment to check in with your gut and see what resonates most with you, what makes sense for your current project, what makes sense for your artistic trajectory.
3. One Step at a Time. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. Do one thing first. See how it feels – works for you. The world of distribution and marketing can seem overwhelming – they each comprise an entire division at every studio. You are one person – reread item 1.
4. Connect and Collaborate. Further the connection with the people that you meet at these events. Create study groups and film cooperatives. Film distribution and marketing does take a village. I was really excited to hear that some of the attendees of my Vancouver workshop formed a PMD discussion group to process the information and more importantly to work with each other in order to act on it. I still feel that cooperatives among filmmakers is one of the ways to handle all the new work and potential.
5. Revisit the information. You can be sure that any of the speakers have written about the ideas that they have presented. The day after the symposium Henry Jenkins posted the basics of his talk on his blog. Subscribe to Peter Broderick’s newsletter. Check out The Film Collaborative’s site. Read Truly Free Film. Keep up with Film Independent’s ongoing educational program. Heck – even check out my blog or my book Think Outside the Box Office – I wrote it so that all filmmakers could have a companion to this process. And of course – if you are inclined, follow all of the above on Twitter – and then engage.
The Symposium is designed to focus on the nuts and bolts solutions to the current distribution and marketing malaise plaguing our industry. The intention is to provide an introduction to a wealth of new tools for filmmakers (and all artists/media content creators) as well as strategic guidance from many of the key practitioners and thought leaders in our field. It is an antidote to the concerns of too much talk talk talk on this subject with little true education.
In addition there is a non-public component that you can participate in via twitter. I will be giving a distribution and marketing boot camp to the LAFF competition filmmakers Friday June 18th 9am – 12:30pm and 2:30pm – 5pm and Saturday June 19th from 9am-11:30am. All times PST. We will be tweeting bullet points on #totbo We have done this in the workshops I have given in the past month – and we have found that people around the world start to participate and chime in – creating a global discussion around these topics.
The Symposium: Starting Saturday afternoon at 1pm – Ted kicks it off with a presentation on the need for the artist entrepreneur to encourage filmmakers to think expansively about their creative output in order to create sustainable careers. This is followed by a plethora of service providers (from Orly Ravid of the Film Collaborative to Yancy Strickler of Kickstarter to Bob Moczydlowsky of Topspin) that we brought together so that filmmakers could learn the best ways to put these tools into practice in their own careers.
Sunday morning will kick off with a discussion between myself and Corey McAbee (The American Astronaut and Stingray Sam). We will explore how he uses the new distribution and marketing tools and landscape to create a viable artistic career for himself. Caitlin Boyle from Film Sprout will give one of her incredible introductions to grassroots audience development and distribution. I am super excited to see Lance Weiler and Henry Jenkins on Transmedia. (somehow Lance always has a way of frying my brain – in a good way). The inimitable Peter Broderick will lead a discussion on crowdfunding, Colleen Nystedt and Sean Percival will present different tactics for audience engagement. The event will cap with one of those incredible Film Independent public case study examinations of two films: Children of Invention and Bass Ackwards.
Last but not least – it will give filmmakers an opportunity to connect with each other and the presenters. Come on down and introduce yourself, learn and contribute. I hope to see you there (ps I won’t be there Saturday afternoon due to my daughter’s dance recital – but Ted will be in the house and many others!)
When calling the theater, ask for the person in charge of programming. These bookers are generally very nice people who love film. Why else would they be involved with small theaters that make no money? And remember, it is important to call first before sending an e-mail. An e-mail cannot express your passion, nor will an e-mail exchange allow you to address the bookers‘ concerns about your film in a direct and instantaneous fashion. I always followed up my phone calls with an e-mail and not the other way around.
My workshops are coming to NYC on June 5 & 6th organized through IFP – and Vancouver on June 12 & 13th. One of the perks of attending is a digital pack of articles and documents my theatrical pitch letter and a list of theater listings etc. I hope to see you there! Check out the book and workshops here.