Creating a Unique Strategy For Your Film

Posted on by Jon Reiss

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.

 

 

Launching New TOTBO Workshop Webclips

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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.

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Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

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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.

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt 1

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Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Susan Youssef Crowdfunding Habibi on Kickstarter

Posted on by Jon Reiss

In honor of the IFP Filmmaker Labs going on this week, today’s guest post is from Susan Youssef who was in the Narrative labs last year at IFP.  She learned about Kickstarter in the lab and decided to use it to raise money to finish her film.  She has generously outlined her story indicating what worked for her and what didn’t.

In December of 2010 I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my film Habibi, which is the first narrative feature shot in the Gaza Strip in over 15 years.

I waited until the absolute last minute to launch the campaign—when I needed the funds to finish the film.  I needed all the time I could get to achieve the following:  a) build a fan base that would support the film on Kickstarter, b) complete as much creative work as I could on the film in order to make it as credible as possible to that fan base, and c) seek out every other financing option available so that whatever amount I would raise on Kickstarter would be enough to accomplish my mission for the film.  I believed Kickstarter was a safe bet for financing Habibi because I had faith in the passion found in the activist base behind Gaza.  I also had faith in the friends of the project who had rallied around me during those nine years of making the film.

The amount I needed to complete the film was $15,000, which is on average about $5,000 more than what many filmmakers seek on Kickstarter.  These funds would go towards the on-line edit and color correction costs of finishing Habibi.

In the months prior to launching on Kickstarter I worked very hard at designing rewards suitable to the project. Habibi is a film about the graffiti poetry sprawling over the walls of Gaza.  Since I had a title designed by world-renowned artist Reza Abedini, I decided to make a poster with Abedini’s design, printed at the actual size of the poetry we had graffitied on the Palestinian walls. We also printed a poetry book that would feature the poetry along with images from the film.  I had made another film in Gaza, Forbidden to Wander, so I decided to include a DVD of that film as an item as well.  I also created a postcard with the key image from the film as a reward.  In comparison to other rewards offered by comparable projects at Kickstarter the Habibi rewards were expensive.  However, I wanted the film’s fans to really love the gifts.  I also wanted the rewards to represent the high quality that I envisioned for the film.   I wanted donors to feel even more excited to see the film after receiving their Habibi items, enough to tell their friends about it.

I had been advised by other Kickstarter veterans to shoot for $7,500 to a maximum of $10,000 as a donation goal.  I had also been advised that I should plan to throw in at least $2,500 of that goal myself through a loan from a family member or close friend.   Nevertheless, I decided to shoot for the $15,000 that I actually needed to finish the movie.  I believed that my film had a strong activist base that would willingly line up in support.

I designed my campaign to be 28 days long in order to meet the deadline that I had set for the on-line edit work.  This left my film on hold, waiting to be finished.  I believed that a completed film would be better received by sales agents and film festivals than a locked picture.  So, I was rushing to finish.  It never actually crossed my mind as an option to do a 90 day or longer Kickstarter campaign.  This was because I needed to finish the film as soon as possible, and I felt the urgency might push potential donors to act.

I decided to put up a trailer.  I am camera shy, so I didn’t feel comfortable just putting myself before the camera and asking for the money.  However, I believed in my trailer and I think that helped my Kickstarter campaign.  The trailer gave a sense of the rhythm and story of the film.  Most Kickstarter film campaigns that I had seen didn’t post trailers.  I needed to attract online traffic to Kickstarter, and I used my trailer to do this.

I started the Habibi donation/reward level at $10.  I felt that people who wanted to give would at least give $10.  I didn’t want to produce premiums for less than a $10 donation because I wanted to offer items that I would personally enjoy.  Anything less than $10 would amount to lost time and money.

In the first week of the campaign I sent an announcement out to my film’s subscriber list.  I also wrote to all of the Habibi Facebook fans, and I tweeted about the campaign daily.

The first few days of the campaign were grueling.  I noticed a trend that I was attracting $100 or more donations from a limited number of passionate donors, but not many at the $10 and $25 levels.  I was also surprised to find that instead of attracting money from the usual suspects–old friends and family members–I attracted support from many people whom I had never met before.

I decided that I needed to look at soliciting support as a full-time job, or my project might not make its goal.  I aggressively asked people who had large Facebook and Twitter followings to post a link to the campaign.  For every eight people whom I asked for help, one helped me.

Mid-way through the Kickstarter campaign I wound up sick in the hospital, resulting in the loss of a few days of promotion activity.  Fortunately, there were people writing to all their friends on my behalf, asking for help.  These people who took it upon themselves (without even asking me) to ask their friends to help me are the true heroes of my Kickstarter campaign.

During the last 72 hours of the campaign I don’t think I slept at all.  I was constantly looking online for new contacts to write to for help.  Then, with 24 hours to go the campaign turned out to be $2,000 short of its goal.  This was when three miracles happened.

A young woman in Qatar helped me make the $15,000 goal.  She pledged the exact amount I needed to get to $15,000.  I had contacts in Qatar because of a Habibi work-in-progress screening that had taken place three months prior.  Those contacts were now asking their friends to help Habibi.  That is how she learned about me and Habibi.

After I had made the $15,000 goal another young woman donated $1,000.  She was an assistant at a production company.  For over four years I had been speaking with her off and on while attempting to bring her production company on board as a producer for Habibi.  While it didn’t work out with the production company, all my efforts resulted in her becoming a fan of the film.

Finally, a whopping $5,000 came from a friend of a friend who had been promoting the film to everyone he knew.  That donor was a filmmaker himself and later told me that he gave to the film because he was impressed by the nine years I had put into making it.

When Kickstarter provided me with the statistics behind the campaign I was shocked to find that donors had come from all over the world:  Americans, Chinese, Finnish, Qatari, Jordanian, Brazilian, Kuwaiti, English, Cypriot, Dutch, French, New Zealander, Palestinian, German, Swiss, Canadian, Australian, Mexican, and Austrian.  I never thought the campaign would have had such diverse international support since Kickstarter is based in the United States.  Then again, Palestine is an international issue.

Getting funded wasn’t the only success I experienced with Kickstarter.  I made new friends that I now speak with regularly.  Most importantly, the Kickstarter campaign gave me faith that I would have a wide audience for the film.  Months before, Jon Reiss had suggested Kickstarter as a way to grow the film’s fan base.  I didn’t really understand how right he was about this until I actually conducted the campaign.

It is now three months since the campaign ended and I am still sending out Kickstarter rewards.  Thankfully, the donors have been patient.  One of the largest donors said “Don’t worry about the rewards!  Finish your movie first.”  So, that’s exactly what I did.

I would definitely recommend Kickstarter to other filmmakers—not just because of the financial support it provided to my film, but also because of the growth it created in the Habibi fan base.  I feel even more driven to work for my film’s release knowing that support for Habibi comes not only from Palestinians inside and outside the U.S., but also from people around the world, many of whom I met thanks to Kickstarter.

——-

Susan Youssef is a New York and Amsterdam-based filmmaker.  Habibi is her first feature.  The film is an IFP Lab Fellow, and has received support from grantors including Cinereach, The Princess Grace Foundation, Austin Film Society, Women in Film Foundation, and others.

You can learn more about Habibi at www.habibithefilm.com and on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/dTpFIZ.

Susan Youssef is on Twitter as @susanyoussef.

Guest post by Lila Yomtoob: The Added Value of Blogging

Posted on by Jon Reiss

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 lila@yomtoob.com.

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.

Guest Post by Jon Fougner: Cinema Profitability

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I had the fortune of meeting Jon Fougner, who is the Principal, Product Marketing Monetization at Facebook at Sundance this year (he was showing filmmakers how best to use Facebook to connect with audiences). He works with the ads engineers and Product Managers to define products that will be successful in the marketplace. I mentioned Think Outside the Box Office and he said «Hey, I wrote this white paper on how movie theaters could be more profitable if they would experiment more, especially with online and social tools. Would you like to take a look at it?»  I immediately jumped at the chance to read it and publish it with my good friend Ted Hope.   The original is 4000 words – so we have broken it into 5 sections which we will run consecutively through the beginning of next week.   Jon will be appearing at the American Pavilion at Cannes on May 13th as well as the Produced By Conference in Los Angeles on June 4th.  He’s at facebook.com/jfougner.  Note that this draft was written last year; its qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the landscape are still fairly accurate, with at least one key exception: AMC has since revamped their loyalty program.  And as Jon predicted in April 2010, Blockbuster’s equity capital was wiped out.”

Here is Jon’s Post:

Introduction/Abstract1

The role of film exhibition in our imagination dwarfs its role in our economy. Dolby surround sound, residual awe of movie-going as children, proclamations of Hollywood’s sway — all this industrial light and magic create the illusion that movie theaters are a big industry. In fact, cinemas represent only 0.1% of the $14 trillion U.S. GDP. State lotteries rake in 4 times as much. Ticket sales barely outpace inflation, and wispy margins bounce around the single digits. Whether family- or sponsor-owned, their mandate has been to spit off cash.

The result is a space that has attracted an anemic level of innovation, led by three scaled chains: Regal, AMC, and Cinemark. Together, the “Big 3” control 43% of the U.S. market. I say “together” because the three tend to act as consortia and exhibit (no pun intended) parallel behavior. Some adjacent innovation offers hope. For instance, as Avatar demonstrated, the studios’ development of 3D may prove one of several sorely needed silver bullets. But most adjacent innovation — in particular, high-resolution flat screens for home viewing, and Internet-based distribution vehicles to supply them with video — is an existential threat to the cinemas.

I believe that, without innovation, at least 1 of the Big 3 exhibitors risks losing its equity capital2 in the next five years. To be sure, their plight facing looming debt maturities is not as dire as Blockbuster’s. What’s more, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit. What I lay out below is an array of product, channel, marketing, and (in less detail) cost control tactics to get the ball rolling. More important than any one of these tactics, however, is the overall strategic mentality: to think more like a technology company. They need to embrace the scientific method to experiment, analyze, and iterate. They need to distribute to the edges of their employee base permission, responsibility, and incentive for delivering great products (think Starbucks or Nordstrom) and generating new ideas (think Best Buy or Google). And they need to move fast.3

Here’s a summary of where they stand4:

Footnotes

1 My employer is Facebook. This article represents my thoughts, not its. Thanks to Zakia Rahman, Colin Darretta, Harry Chotiner, and Jared Gores for providing helpful comments on a draft. The usual disclaimer applies.

2 In the case of Apollo-owned AMC, it’s possible that, instead, value will be transferred from debt holders to equity holders, as was the case with Harrah’s, which Apollo and TPG own.

3 Some of these insights may be applicable to smaller cinema businesses, too.

4 Does not yet reflect 4Q 2009.

END OF PART ONE  Tomorrow:  Products

Back to Writing – 3 More Books

Posted on by Jon Reiss

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

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

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

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business Part 1

We’ve been exploring alternatives to fulfillment for filmmakers in the last month or two.  Many filmmakers are actually doing self fulfillment when their numbers are low – and using a shopping cart such as E-Junkie.    J.X. Carrera is a PMD who specializes in online media and international entertainment, particularly in regards to China and Japan.   He offered to write up how he uses E-Junkie to distribute a film that he made while doing the actual fulfillment himself.
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How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business

In this walkthrough, I’m going to break down how to create a simple automated business in which you are selling a video in the form of a download or a DVD from your own exclusive website to a niche market. For illustrative purposes, I’ll be using my own product and automated business – a video tutorial called Crash Course: Final Cut Pro that I sell from papersamurai.net – as a case study. Although the product is a video tutorial, the same DIY process would be applied to narratives, docs, books, music, software, and much more. I’ll also be discussing my decision to distribute downloads through the use of E-junkie in finer detail, since the opportunity for filmmakers to sell their movies as downloads (.avi, Quicktime) is often overlooked.

1. Find Your Niche, Assess its Needs
The niche market I chose was the Final Cut Pro tutorial market. Despite there being an abundance of tutorials already in existence, I strongly felt there was an unmet need for a high-caliber Final Cut Pro tutorial for beginners. Most FCP tutorials touted being 5-6 hours long, which I felt didn’t appeal to the newbies who just wanted a comprehensive crash course that would allow them to “jump right into the game.” It took several weeks for me to script, screen capture, and edit my tutorial, and I did it all with just my laptop and a good external microphone. The only software I used was Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and ScreenFlow, a fantastic screen capturing software. I paid a web designer/graphic artist $800 to work side-by-side with me in building a website using Drupal, as well as design a logo and DVD cover.

2: Using E-junkie to Sell Downloads
I knew I wanted to offer my customers the choice of buying the tutorial as either a DVD for $39, or a download for $29, but I wasn’t sure how to handle the digital delivery. After researching all the services available I decided E-junkie was the best choice to handle my needs. E-junkie provided me with buy buttons and a shopping cart that integrated seamlessly with both my website and Paypal, as well as automated the secure delivery of my downloadable video file.
E-junkie’s pricing is determined in two ways: the number of products being sold and the file size of the download. After testing various compressed versions of my tutorial, I found that 500 MB allowed me to deliver a 70-minute HD Quicktime file without much detail loss. For $18/month, E-junkie would allow me to upload the 500 MB file to their server and sell it an unlimited number of times. But it’s important to mention that at $18/month, E-junkie also allows you to issue downloads from any web server. In other words, if I wanted to, I could’ve compressed a 1GB file, uploaded it onto my own web server, and still have used E-junkie to handle its delivery – all for the same price. Note to non-profits: E-junkie also boasts that they will consider giving you their services for free. To quote from their site: “Non-profit organizations (charitable, humanitarian, or otherwise just plain awesome causes in our opinion) can qualify for FREE E-junkie services.”
With E-junkie, when a customer purchases a download from my site, a download link is emailed to him or her. One of my initial concerns about this was that the download link could easily be forwarded to other people or posted on a forum. To E-junkie’s credit, their service is highly customizable, and I could limit how many times the download link could be accessed before expiring. I knew a 500 MB file would be difficult for customers with slow bandwidth to download, and if I didn’t allow for multiple download attempts per link, I would be inundated with angry emails. So I decided to set the limit for the number of attempted downloads to 5. If the customer failed to download the file after 5 attempts, they would have to email me directly for assistance, at which point I’d hop on the E-junkie interface and email them a new download link with no questions asked.
I also use E-junkie to handle the payment for the DVD version of my tutorial. This is the one part of my tutorial business that is not automated but easily could be. Instead of paying a fulfillment service to pack and ship the DVDs for me, I have no problem just dropping DVDs in the mail whenever I go to return my latest Netflix.
In terms of sales, the majority of my business comes from downloads, which outnumber DVD purchases 3-1. I make a few more dollars with the DVD than I do the download, however, so I would never eliminate the DVD option.