Tag: “think outside the box office”

TOTBO Tip of the Day 11 Developing Organizational Relationships

Posted on by Jon Reiss

Jon Reiss’ TOTBO Tip of the Day 11 Developing Organizational Relationships

Last week I spoke about connecting with audience, creating a dynamic website and bloggin. Today’s tip is how to create relationships between your film organizations that should be interested in your film. This is an especially useful strategy for documentaries that naturally have a wide range of potential issue-oriented sites to connect to. But with a little outside-the-box thinking you can probably find relevant sites for your narrative film as well.

Ways to create a relationship with other sites/organizations:
1. Blog about their sites and link to them.
2. Request that they link back to you.
3. Send them your film and ask them to blog about the film and/or review it. (This also helps your search engine rankings — search engines will improve the rankings of sites that other sites not only link to but also write about.)
4. Go one step further: Create an affiliate relationship with those sites or organizations.
5. Use this relationship to generate community screenings.

My workshops start this week in London on May 8th-9th and Amsterdam on May 12th-13th. Hope to see you there!

I want to know what you think! Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book Think Outside the Box Office. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Producer of Marketing and Distribution

Posted on by Emy

This is my article published on screendaily.com.

The Producer of Marketing and Distribution
BY JON REISS

In my first guest column for Screen Daily in November of last year, I introduced what I call the new 50/50. This idea is to convey to filmmakers that half of their work is making the film, half of their work is connecting the film to an audience.

As a filmmaker, I know how difficult adopting these new tasks of marketing and distribution are. I also know how they can interfere with making new films – and there have been a fair amount of complaints lately from filmmakers about being responsible for doing this additional work.

However, just like most filmmakers do not make their films on their own, they should not be distributing and marketing those films on their own. I would argue that from now on, every film needs one person devoted to the distribution and marketing of the film from inception, just as they have a line producer, assistant director, or editor. This person is part of your team from inception, not tacked on at the end of the process.

This is why last autumn, just before sending Think Outside the Box Office to print, I came up with the concept of the Producer of Marketing and Distribution or the PMD. I gave this crew position an official title of PMD because without an official position, this work will continue to not get done. I gave this position the title of producer because it is that important. (For someone learning the ropes, you can start them at coordinator then move them up to associate producer and so on).

Creating a crew position will cause people to seek jobs as a PMD, train to become a PMD, apprentice as a PMD just as people do this for any film crew position. (I’ve already received emails from people excited to become PMDs.) Without a title, it won’t happen. The creation of this crew position should spur schools and institutes to create curriculums in order to train people to fill this role and other people will write books about it (just as there are a plethora of books on how to be a line producer).

I look forward to a near future in which filmmakers/directors will be able to put out calls for PMDs just as they do for DPs and Editors – and that they will get an equal volume of applications. Directors will develop long term relationships with PMDs that “get them” just as they do with DPs, Editors, and Producers etc.

Responsibilities of the PMD include:

1. Identify and engage with the audience for a film.

2. Development of a distribution and marketing strategy and plan for a film in conjunction with the entire team.

3. Create a budget for said plan.

4. Assemble and supervise the necessary team/crew elements to carry out the plan.

5. Audience outreach through organizations, blogs, social networking, online radio etc.

6. Supervise the creation of promotional and (if necessary due to the lack of a separate transmedia coordinator) trans media elements: including the films website script and concept for transmedia, production stills, video assets – both behind the scenes and trans media, promotional copy and art.

7. Outreach to potential distribution and marketing partners such as sponsors, promotional partners, various distribution entities, publicists.

8. When appropriate, engage the distribution process as designed.

9. Supervise the creation of deliverables.

I have created a number of educational activities to help recognize the creation of this position and help filmmakers take control of the distribution and marketing of their films. The first was the book mentioned above which I feel is the first training manual for the PMD. The second is a distribution and tools website www.ultimatefilmguides.com. Finally, I am beginning a series of Think Outside the Box Office (TOTBO) Workshops throughout the world kicking off in London next week on May 8&9 followed by Amsterdam, New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco and Boston. All of these resources should help define the position and the duties of the PMD and I encourage filmmakers to take advantage of these opportunities to learn and grow in their abilities and their craft.

TOTBO Tip of the Day 8 Engage Organizations to Promote Your Film

Posted on by Emy

Step 2 of Audience Engagement is: Know WHERE your audience derives information/congregates.

Many niche’s have organizations that support those specific topics and interests. Engage those organizations early in your filmmaking process (as early as conception and prep). It is important to have the proper attitude toward your audience and these organizations. You need to think, “What can I give them?” instead of “What can they do for me?” If you think of the former, the latter will flow. People are very busy. You need to give them an incentive to be involved with you. The film is not enough. How will the film service their organization, their lives and the lives of their members? In turn, they will help you promote your film to your direct audience. This has been used by great effect by documentary filmmakers. Narrative filmmakers need to follow their lead.

My live workshops are coming to London on May 8th-9th and Amsterdam on May 12th-13th. Hope to see you there!

I want to know what you think! Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book Think Outside the Box Office. I look forward to hearing from you.

TOTBO Tip of the Day 7 Differentiating Core and Niche Audiences

Posted on by Emy

The terms Core and Niche are often used interchangeably and this is a mistake. The niche audience for your film is that slice of the population that has a particular interest in your film or an aspect of your film. The core audience for your film is those people within each niche that are your most ardent supporters. Those people who will spread the word about your film to not only their networks, but to the rest of that niche. You can have multiple niches that are interested in your film, and within each niche there is a core who combined adds up to the core of your film.

My live workshops are coming to London on May 8th-9th and Amsterdam on May 12th-13th. Hope to see you there!

I want to know what you think! Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book Think Outside the Box Office. I look forward to hearing from you.

NEW BREED PARK CITY – Discovering the Questions Jon Reiss, Ira Deutchman,

In Park City From Sabi Pictures and Filmmaker Magazine and Workbook Project

SOLUTION-BASED: NEW BREED AT PARK CITY PART 2

Here’s the second of the New Breed videos discussing the current and future states of distribution. From the makers:

Filmmakers Zak Forsman and Kevin K. Shah of Sabi Pictures arrive at Park City with an intent to define the questions most relevant to independent distribution options. Insights from Brian Newman, Dan Mirvish, Jon Reiss and Ira Deutchman open a path toward discovering some real solutions.

NEW BREED PARK CITY – Discovering the Questions from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

Review: DIY Filmmaking | Think Outside the Box Office and Tips from Bomb It!’s Jon Reiss

From Adam David Mezei (Thanks Adam for the nice words!)

DIY Filmmaking | Think Outside the Box Office and Tips from Bomb It!’s Jon Reiss

I spent Sunday evening flipping through Winter 2010’s edition of Filmmaker Magazine, fresh off the press for January. I stumbled across two excellent DIY articles, one called REMIND (p84) penned by its aspiring editor, the filmmaker Scott Macaulay that reported on several hot do-it-yourself trends from 2009, some of which set to become the norm for the coming decade and beyond. The second was by the excellent guest editor Alicia Van Couvering (“SLUMPDAYS,” p90), who gave a clever summary of five Sundance-entry films that recently shattered the independent funding sound barrier using innovative crowdsourced fundraising approaches which helped catapult these titles all the way to Park City.

For all you indie filmmakers out there, these are less ironclad stepwise prescriptions to follow rather than helpful departure points to jog your memory and inspire you as you go about your own filmmaking odyssey.

That dude pictured above is none other than Jon Reiss, director of the documentary Bomb It and the man most well-known among indie circles as “the DIY guy,” having recently penned the book Think Outside the Box Office in what’s become a key resource for indie filmmakers presently the road to landing traction (read: distribution) for their film. Yes, folks, this is filmmaking’s dirty little secret.

Normally, I’ll blow through a book’s pages in just a couple of sittings. Sure, I’ll take notes and reflect on things as I do so, but T.O.T.B.O. isn’t the sort of work you want to plough through like quicksilver. Instead, and on Jon’s advice in the book which he gets to rather early on, I’ve opted for a more considered approach this time, chapter by chapter with ample breaks in between to put several of the tips Jon suggests in into play. I can safely say that some of Jon’s suggestions have reaped already dividends for us. I’ve plucked out gems about how to better leverage my Facebook and YouTube presences, with nifty ideas on how to gain increased video views and tips on how to better leverage my use of Facebook Groups (better) and FB Fan Pages (not so good) for keeping fans in the loop. Most of all, I admire what Jon repeatedly counsels about conceiving your film’s marketing plan months in advance of your shoot. Jon supplies helpful approaches on compiling your mailing list, your film’s credit list (for when the film locks), and makes available unheard-of indie marketing strategies for geo-locating your fans through such innocuous things like US zip codes to more accurately pinpoint fans when passing through various parts of the country on road shows or for film festivals.

Jon also talks about the appointment of a new position called the “PMD” – Producer of Marketing and Distribution – someone who has production-level authority yet who isn’t directly related to the actual shooting and production of the film because then the P&A (prints and advertising) duties won’t ever be completed. This individual is your point person on the following items in your marketing arsenal, among others, and this position will scale closer to your film’s post-production:

* keeping on top of all Facebook posts, FB Groups and their management, and replying to all comments in a very timely manner. The PMD posts clips, links, and other relevant items of interest to your film’s FB Wall as you go through the production cycle.
* maintaining sole login access to your film’s twitter account, so that the film stays on message and all “@” mentions are responded to on time.
* establishing strategic relationships across various social media spheres as your picture picks up speed.
* moderating and responding to all comments off your blog and keeping content current and tasty off your homepage.
* gaining media exposure for the film, managing your interview schedule, taking phone calls, and various other line responsibilities that have a PA-feel to them, but which aren’t the sole purview of the officially-designated Production Assistant.
* collecting email addresses at festivals.
* shooting DVD Bonus Feature material or organizing spare bits of festival Q&A and other odds and ends for your film’s Special Features.

With social media and Web2.0 taking center stage in the new indie filmmaking cycle, Facebook-ing, MySpace-ing, tweeting, and blog commenting are here to stay. They are the bane of filmmakers, given how it tends to detract from the creative process, but Reiss clearly emphasizes how the new distribution realities in the filmmaking world now compel filmmakers to elevate these daily chores to a higher priority position given how notions like crowdsourcing and “the cloud” and such similar concepts have gained prominence over the past three years.

I’ve been enjoying the read, and I’m sure you will as well.

Jon Reiss Consulting at Slamdance & Offering free Consulting to 10 Sundance/Slamdance Filmmakers

As some of you might know, one of the reasons that I wrote Think Outside the Box Office was after those first Filmmaker articles I wrote in Fall ‘08 about my experiences distributing my graffiti doc Bomb It, many filmmakers contacted me to help them with their films. However they were all broke, as most filmmakers are. The book started as a brain dump so that I could share my experiences with others. I figured people could at least afford $20-$25. (After many requests the book is now available as a PDF from my site for $14.95)

But filmmakers still need individual advice; how to apply the new distribution and marketing models and landscape to their specific films. And unfortunately since filmmakers in general are not saving money for distribution and marketing, they are still broke.

So I wanted to do some kind of community consulting “event” at Park City this year. I thought about sitting in a coffee shop for 2 hours a day and having online sign ups for 20 minute sessions (I still might do this if enough people request it).

However, Lance Weiler asked me to do a live consulting session at the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit (Saturday January 23rd) with two filmmaking teams one narrative/one doc. Anyone in Park City can attend and it can also be live streamed (along with the rest of the Summit that I recommend you all check out).

I’ve decided to expand this to 10 more feature filmmakers from either Sundance or Slamdance. I will provide 45 minutes of consultation by phone or Skype before the festival begins and 45 minutes during the festival. This can be used in any way the filmmakers want, from helping to devise a complete DIY scenario, to getting my opinion on any deals being offered.

For selection any interested film should email me by Thursday January 14th by noon at reiss.jon@gmail.com. Send me what you have eg synopsis, trailer, website, plans you have in mind etc.

I will pick the films and announce them by Friday January 15th.

For any other Sundance/Slamdance filmmaker not chosen I will be reducing my consulting rate before and during the festival from $75 an hour to $50 an hour. This rate will apply even for the chosen films if they want to go beyond the first hour and a half.

Microcinema Reviews Think Outside the Box Office

Think Outside the Box Office was just reviewed in Microfilmmaker Magazine.

Here a few nice pulls;
“The premiere book on film distribution in the modern digital era. . . . Because Jon’s writing style is both engaging and informative, even the “candy” chapters are packed with useful information that will get you motivated and even excited about putting these ideas into practice.”

The full review:

If you ask filmmakers to describe the things that they’re passionate about, two things will almost never be mentioned: legal concerns and marketing/distribution of their films. Instead, most filmmakers have a blind belief that these two things will magically resolve themselves if they just follow a utopian “Field of Dreams”- mentality which states that if “they make it, people will come” and it will be distributed, audiences will see it, and there will be no legal difficulties to ensnare them. (Hey, I know where they’re coming from, because when I made my first film, Commissioned, I was riding that same cloud of euphoria-inducing optimism.)

However, the real world is a bit of a ball-breaker and it has a tendency to attack and torture filmmakers who didn’t plan for the future. It often does this by sidetracking films due to lack of proper paperwork or drying up any possibility of compensatory distribution because necessary marketing decisions were simply not chosen early enough. While Think OUTSIDE the BOX Office isn’t a comprehensive book on legal advice for filmmakers (for that you should read Kari Ann’s review of The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide), it is the premiere book on film distribution in the modern digital era.

With that said, let’s break down what makes it so.

Comprehension
Jon’s writing style is quite easy to understand. (Especially if you follow his start-up reading plan for the book, which I discuss in more detail in the Interest Level.) Even complicated topics were pretty simple to get the gist of, although some of the less immediate and more detailed topics will make more sense when you’re actually in a situation that necessitates you having the information.

The only thing that distracted from comprehension is the fact that the book has a decent number of typos, which can throw you in certain situations. Fortunately, 90% of these are quite minor. (And the reader is pretty inclined to overlook these issues because Jon is very up front in saying that this book is a work in progress with regular updates, not unlike software. For buyers who pick up a copy of the book from Jon’s site, they get the next upgrade at a deep discount.)

Depth of Information
This book is absolutely jam-packed with information. Everything from how to separate artistic and commercial tendencies, to understanding what Digital Rights are, to how to create merchandise that can engage your audience in the way that Trent Reznor has managed to engage NIN fans, to how to launch your film from a film festival in order to build maximum buzz is covered in this book. In addition to general concepts, he talks specifically about companies out there that will help you in your pursuits and what recent costs or percentages have been for their use. (And because this book is to be updated more regularly than normal books, information on these companies will change in a more timely manner than in most books.)

Interest Level
Jon Reiss is a bloody genius. He wisely realized that there was no way to present all the information he intended to share without causing people’s eyes to glaze over. So, acknowledging this fact, he provides a streamlined “crib” sheet at the beginning of the book. Essentially, he gives you a map of seven essential chapters that he suggests you read entirely and then encourages you to skim the other chapter intros during the initial read. This causes you to be able to get a massive amount of this book’s content in only about two to three hours of steady reading, which is amazing. Of course, because you’re checking the intros of different chapters, you’ll invariably stumble across ones that’ll pique your interest enough to read through in their entirety before moving on.

Essentially, this methodology creates a trail of mental “candy” for you to munch through, returning to the heavier “foods” (like the specific negotiating points for Digital Rights) only when you’re in a situation where you need to really understand them. And because Jon’s writing style is both engaging and informative, even the “candy” chapters are packed with useful information that will get you motivated and even excited about putting these ideas into practice.

Reusability
This book is extremely reusable, as it works to inspire you to get out there and start marketing your film way into preproduction, but then has lots of more in-depth chapters for sticky points that might arise as you proceed. (And, as I mentioned before, if you purchase the book from Jon’s site, you get a free update when the new version of the book is released.)

Value vs. Cost
For all that you get, $24.95 is an amazingly good price, especially if you purchase it from Jon’s site, especially since, as I found out recently, some completely new chapters that won’t be available anyplace else will be available for free if you do so. Plus, as a New Year special, Jon is offering MFM readers a 12% discount, making it an even better deal. (And, as we mentioned before, you get a big discount on future versions of the book, so it will make it much easier to have the most up-to-date copy of the book!)

Overall Comment
I first found out about Jon Reiss and this book when our marketing and publicity writer, Sheri Candler, touched base with me after an overall underwhelming experience at AFM (American Film Market). The market was full of people who were fervently installed in the old mindset of distribution that absolutely required films with substantial budgets, stars, and a slew of other old Hollywood carryovers. However, like a ray of sunshine for low-budget filmmakers, Jon Reiss showed up at one of the panels Sheri attended, waging verbal war on the status quo. His argument essentially promoted the power of the low-budget filmmaker who makes films at a stripped down budget, while staying actively involved in the marketing and promotions of their film. In one of these, he actually suggested that, if you had to choose, it would be a better idea to fire your DP (or, at least, your AD) and get a marketing director, as marketing was literally THAT crucial.

I was impressed by what I heard, but I really wanted to read Jon’s own words. After reading through his book, I was shocked. Even though I have always believed that marketing, promotion, and distribution are necessary, I had never thought of it with any sort of enthusiasm. However, as I finished the book, I found myself thinking to a future film that I’ve been toying with in an entirely new light. Rather than dreading the concepts of social media, market research, and even merchandising, I began to allow these sorts of questions to feed into my own creativity. I began to realize that figuring out your market (and thinking of how to get them excited about your film) actually can help channel the creativity necessary to write the script and carry it through to completion. (Most of us want a muse. A specific type of person that will really enjoy our film is far more compelling than the faceless masses we too often imagine.) Crazy as it may sound, with this sort of mindset, filmmaking is not as exhausting from a psychological perspective, because when you understand that the entire filmmaking process is literally only half of the overall “film” process, the human mind adjusts to compensate to this world view. (I know; the human mind is a strange thing.)

If you want to build an audience for your short films, then this book is a smart read. However, if you want to create a feature film and have something to show for it when you’re done, then this book is a must read! And with the limited-time 12% off discount for MFM readers, the extra exclusive content, and discounted future editions, you might as well make the purchasing and reading of this book part of your New Year’s resolution!

Comprehension
9.0
Depth of Information
10.0
Interest Level
9.0
Reusability
10.0
Value vs. Cost
9.5
Overall Score
9.5

Think Outside the Box Office one of Brian Newman’s Recommended Reads

Recommended Reads

from Brian Newman’s Blog Springboard Media
There’s been a lot of great writing both in print and online (and at times, both) for filmmakers this year. It’s late in the year, but I thought I’d give my quick summary of some great titles that I think are required reading for any filmmaker – or any person in the film business, really – and most are good for other artists as well. These are in no particular order, and while I know some of the authors and am quoted in some of these, I tried to be unbiased and stand to make no financial gain. Most were written this year, but some came out earlier (even much earlier) but I just got around to reading them, and near the end are a few that aren’t even film/media books but that I still highly recommend.

The Reel Truth: Everything you didn’t know you need to know about making an independent film. By Reed Martin. Like the title, this book is long, and probably could have benefited from a better editor, but it’s definitely a book every filmmaker should read. Reed does a great job of covering everything from first-timer mistakes to new paths in distribution. He gets some really great advice from leading producers, distributors, writers – pretty much everyone.

Shaking the Money Tree: The art of getting grants and donations for film and video projects. By Morrie Warshawski. (link is to all of his books) Morrie has been the leading expert on this subject, and this book isn’t new, but it is a new (3rd) edition now, and he’s added lots of great new material. But even the old material was great – Morrie tells you everything you need to know to raise grants and donations – an especially useful skill for doc makers. His other books are great too, and I recommend everyone read his book on throwing a fundraising house party – more filmmakers should use this strategy.

Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an audience and a creative career in the digital age. By Scott Kirsner. Scott writes a great blog and lectures all over, and this book is a great summation of the new ways artists are using the new tools available through digital to build a fan base that can support their career. He’s packed lots of interviews into this book, not just with filmmakers, but with authors, musicians and other artists who are doing creative things to build and audience and make a living. Read the book and the blog.

Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era. By Jon Reiss. Jon is the filmmaker who made Bomb It! (among other films), and he learned a lot about releasing a film from his own experience building a hybrid distribution plan for that film. He combines that real-world knowledge with great advice from others in the industry. What’s great about this book is that he doesn’t advocate for just one way of doing things. He presents the arguments for multiple ways of thinking about distribution and then gives his experience and his suggestions for how to combine these ideas into something that works. He provides lots of case studies, a great breakdown of different budgets for distribution and goes into every step, in detail, for distribution and marketing your film. Detailed, and long, but worth reading, and worth making everyone on your film’s team read it as well.

Film Festival Secrets: A handbook for independent filmmakers. By Christopher Holland. Ok, this may be my favorite book of the year, no offense to the others, because I used to run a film fest. Chris lays out, in simple language, everything you need to know about your film fest experience as a filmmaker. From devising a strategy to getting people to show up for your film and what to do when you’re done. He doesn’t go far into the realm of new models, but doesn’t ignore these. What he does is teach filmmakers the little do’s and don’ts that every festival director wishes they had time to tell filmmakers. Literally, to send a film to a fest or to attend one without reading this book is the dumbest thing you could possibly do. It won’t arm you for everything, but combine this with Reel Truth, Fans… and Think Outside the Box Office and you’ll pretty much know everything you need to know about the life of your film after production. You can get the book here, and also some cool podcasts.

Truly Free Film. A blog by Ted Hope. Prolific producer, blogger (of multiple blogs), tweeter, indie film community builder, speaker….the list doesn’t end there, Ted Hope has been on a roll this year. He blogs every second, while producing cool films, and every post is a gem. Disclaimer: Ted has said some nice things about me in his blog so I may be biased, but that’s the other thing I love – he posts nearly nothing that is negative. All positive thoughts for the future of real (truly free) indie film.

TechDirt. A blog by Mike Masnick (and others). Mike has been doing some excellent writing on new business models. My favorite is his post “The Grand Unified Theory on the Economics of Free.” That’s something I talk a lot about, and Mike has done some great thinking on the subject. Check out his blog and learn why CwF + RtB = $$$ (which is also a great presentation).

Declaration of Independence: The ten principles of hybrid distribution. A manifesto of sorts by Peter Broderick. Peter’s writings are always good, and this particular article was great. The title says it all. Read it at IndieWire (another great resource) and read his own blog for more.

The Workbook Project. A website by Lance Weiler and other filmmakers. The Workbook Project is essentially a great bet that filmmaker Lance Weiler made with himself – that he could make more money by giving away advice to filmmakers online than an advance he was offered to write such a book. According to Lance, it has worked. The site is a collaborative effort, and has great advice on everything from making your film to working in transmedia, often (if not always) from working filmmakers. I could explain more, but go there and read, listen and watch because it’s not just writing, but podcasts, videos, etc.

Lapham’s Quarterly. The best quarterly ever, by Lewis Lapham. Ok, this isn’t a film book, but you can’t be a good filmmaker unless you remain a good student of the world, and no one is a better guide than the curator/editor Lewis Lapham. Lapham was the editor of Harper’s for years, and is one of the best public intellectuals we have. If you’ve ever read his “Notebook” in Harpers, then you know the singularly distressing feeling of learning that you are completely uneducated. I mean, you thought you were smart before reading him, and by sentence two you’re wondering why you can’t quote Diderot, Descartes, Stanley Fish and Thomas Jefferson to make your point. How did you get an education and not know any of this stuff, you wonder? Well, the LQ does you a favor – after Lewis riffs on a single subject (like Money, Travel or Education) for a few pages, he then curates writings on the subject from an assortment of the best thinkers on the subject. Most of the work is in the public domain (free), but having a curator bring it to your attention really helps. Stretch your brain. Disclaimer – I’ve briefly served on a publisher advisory committee for the LQ.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. By Don Tapscott. Also not technically a film book, but how the “net generation” is different than others is something filmmakers should know about. Most of the insights are things that pretty much anyone spending time online knows now, but it’s great to have real research to back up your hunches, and to get a take on why this matters and how we should approach creative work given these changes.

Intellectual Value – A radical new way of looking at compensation for owners and creators in the Net-based economy. A 1997 article in Wired by Esther Dyson. It was also a longer article in Release 2.0 magazine before that, but all the links I’ve found are to PDFs. Way back when Esther wrote this article that preceeded all the talk about Free this year, and she not only saw it all coming, she nailed what it means precisely.

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. By Bill Ivey. Again, not a strictly film book, but one which I think has many arguments relevant to film. I wrote about it here, but he also makes strong arguments about copyright issues and other issues central to filmmakers.
One last note – I linked to a couple of blogs, but my plan had been to link to my favorite blog posts of the year. Then I realized I have about one per day and this would take forever, so perhaps that is another post, or perhaps I just give up now….not sure yet.

Launch of @skJon Reiss a Twitter Blog interface on Film Distribution and Marketing – This weeks topic – Film Festival Strategies

Ok – so its time for @askJon. I know the title is a little corny – but I don’t think we should take ourselves too seriously in all of this!!

Each week I will be posting questions on a specific topic of film distribution and marketing to the filmmaking community via my twitter account @Jon_Reiss.

These questions and statements are intended to provoke discussion on these issues within our community.

I will try to answer as many questions as I can in the 140 character limit. However I know from past experience this will be very difficult.

So each week on Thursday or Friday I will write a blog post addressing the most pertinent questions and concerns raised by that weeks Twitter discussions on @Jon_Reiss.

Because of the Sundance Film Festival announcements last week and the impending Slamdance announcements it is natural that this week we focus on the changing role of film festivals for independent filmmakers.

To kick off the discussion – I published Chapter 14 of Think Outside the Box Office: “Film Festivals and Your Distribution Strategy” in indieWire on Friday. If you didn’t see it yet I am including it below for your comfort and enjoyment!

The chapter concerns how film festivals are changing from acquisitions markets to launching grounds of what I term Live Event/Theatrical releases. I am a firm believer of integrating film festivals into your actual distribution and marketing release and not merely using them as a sales platform. Many savvy festivals are already realizing this new role and are creating more formal distribution relationships with the films they select. Sundance is doing this by arranging simultaneous screenings across the country for certain select films during the festival. The festival Planet Doc Review in Poland not books many of their films into conventional theatrical in Poland but provides DVD and digital distribution for them as well. I applaud all of these expanded efforts by festivals around the world to connect filmmakers with their audiences.

It is up to us as filmmakers to embrace these new changes and to determine how our films fit into these new opportunities. My goal with Think Outside the Box Office has been to provide one inexpensive resource to filmmakers so that they can take control of their film’s destiny. Whether or not you got into Sundance, there is much you can do (and needs to be done) to ensure your film gets out into the world and starts to recoup.

CHAPTER 14: FILM FESTIVALS AND YOUR DISTRIBUTION STRATEGY

The festival world has exploded and morphed. These days, it is not only a way to screen films to hungry filmgoers or a marketplace for getting a distributor. Festivals are your next opportunity to develop your fan base and usually your first opportunity to engage your fans in a live event/theatrical context.

This chapter is not meant to replace books that have been written about film festivals or film festival strategies, such as Chris Gore’s Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide or Christopher Holland’s Film Festival Secrets, which I suggest you take a look at for traditional festival advice. (I will give my top 11 traditional festival suggestions at the end of the chapter.) The intention of this chapter is to talk about film festivals from a distribution and marketing perspective.

THE HIDDEN POTENTIAL OF FILM FESTIVALS
While a number of people have disparaged the explosion of film festivals around the world in the last 10 years, I think this surge is extremely healthy for independent film and filmmakers.

Festivals love film and gather film lovers. Festivals have spent years gathering audience data from their attendees. This is an invaluable resource for filmmakers. Some festivals are starting to create year-round screening relationships with their audiences. This development allows filmmakers an opportunity to collaborate with the one organization that cares the most about filmmakers in any particular town — the film festival. For all the film festival programmers and directors out there: Please continue this expansion of the concept of film festivals. It will benefit the film community in innumerable ways.

THE OLD MODEL

As outlined briefly in the introduction, the old relationship between festivals and distribution for independent films was for producers to use festivals as a way to sell their films. A few U.S. festivals became de facto independent film markets for the specialized distribution business: Sundance/Slamdance, Tribeca, Los Angeles Film Festival, South by Southwest, and a few others. (This is in addition to the already traditional international film festival/markets Toronto, Berlin, and Cannes.)

If accepted into a major film festival, most filmmakers had been advised to:
o Get a sales rep (often best before acceptance into festivals, so that the rep could help get your film into said prominent festival).
o Keep your film a secret so that distributors would be forced to see it in a theatrical environment with an unbiased audience of film lovers, without interruptions.
o Pack festival screenings to indicate audience potential.
o Spend money on publicists ($8,000 to $15,000 at Sundance and Tribeca alone), parties, promotion, and travel costs for stars to promote the film. All this was to build up hype to aid a potential bidding war. Many films would spend well over $30,000 on their festival premiere.
Since the deals that filmmakers used to occasionally get because of this strategy don’t exist as they once did, doesn’t it make sense to reevaluate this strategy? Of course it does.

RETHINKING THE ROLE OF FESTIVALS

Following this traditional sales path in lock step, without creating a strategy for your film before your festival premiere, can possibly hurt your best route to distribution. Perhaps your film should start its distribution at that world premiere festival. Holding it back for a potential sale might delay it from getting a release at the most propitious time.

One prominent independent director indicated that he wished he had had his theatrical release right after his Sundance debut, because it was nearly impossible to re-create the buzz the film received at Sundance. However, he was still thinking that a distributor would pick up his film.

Festivals are one of the best event generators that independent filmmakers have access to. They are often unprecedented at creating a level of hype and promotion that is difficult for independents to create on their own. Filmmakers need to be aware of this, and utilize this strategically in their distribution plans.
DETERMINING WHETHER OR NOT TO USE YOUR FESTIVAL PREMIERE AS A SALES PLATFORM
How do you take advantage of the buzz and promotion of festivals to help monetize your film? First off, you need to try to determine if you are going to try to be one of the few lucky films in this market that might be able to make a sensible sale to a distributor at a premiere festival.

If you are trying for an acquisition, a good sales rep should be able to help you determine whether your film is right and whether there is a market for it in advance of the festival. If no respectable sales rep feels that a sale of this kind is possible for your film, you should consider this a form of collective advice. However, don’t despair, you are in the same boat as at least 95% of the other films being made that year.

Even if a premiere sales oriented festival accepts you, it might make sense for your film to pre screen for distributors in advance of your premiere festival. Discuss this with your sales rep.

Here are a couple of potential alternative scenarios for most filmmakers:

FESTIVALS AS THE PREMIERE EVENT(S) FOR YOUR THEATRICAL RELEASE

Larger independent distributors have known for some time that festivals are a cost-effective way to premiere a film on the verge of a release. In essence, they use the festival(s) as a premiere screening party.

Utilizing the festival in this manner creates an event for the film to organize publicity around. The relative prestige of the festival gives the film some heat. The stars are out on the red carpet and bring the press to the party (literally and figuratively speaking). The reportage of the party gives another level of press coverage for the film — not just reviews, but coverage on entertainment news shows such as Extra, Access Hollywood, etc.

A side benefit is that it provides a relatively free cast-and-crew event to celebrate the film. For studios, the cast-and-crew party is common practice. But for independents, it has gone out of style over the last 10 years due to the expense, as well as the fact that it takes away from your opening box office.

The festival premiere provides a lot of exposure with much less expense for a distributor or you. Having the party at a festival makes it easier to attract sponsors or to use the festival’s sponsors. Because of the festival, you might get your whole party for free, like we did with our premiere party at Tribeca (we used the festival’s liquor and a bar gave us three hours of free door because we were a Tribeca film). The festival is also, of course, providing the theater, as well as using their PR resources. Ultimately this tremendously helps the theatrical release in a town. Or if it is a national festival, it can help the national release.

This is why an increasingly large proportion of festival slots are taken up with premieres a week before a film’s conventional theatrical release with a conventional distributor.

There is no reason that filmmakers without a conventional distributor cannot use festivals in the same way, but they need to plan accordingly. If your film is prominent enough, or the festival is small enough, or a combination of those two factors, you might be able to get the festival to create an event for you. If not, then this premiere creation needs to be done by you. Although festivals will usually try to support your event, they will generally only take an active part if it is one of their official events.

Some cautions if you are going to transition to a conventional theatrical release in the same city of your festival premiere: you have to coordinate it with the local theater, since many theaters are loathe to share their audiences with a festival. Some theaters, though, will realize the promotional value of the festival and be happy for the rollover audience.

You can negotiate with the festival to reduce the number of times the festival plays your film. You can also restrict the size of the venue. This will give you the promotional benefit of the festival, but will cut down on the number of ticket buyers taken away from your theatrical release.

An alternative is to make the festival be your sole theatrical event in that town (but still function to launch the rest of your nationwide release).

With Bomb It, we went all out promoting our New York premiere at Tribeca (to create buzz to sell the film). It was then hard to re-create that buzz and hype for our actual theatrical opening. Had I known then what I know now, it would have been smart for us to have had the Tribeca Film Festival be our NY theatrical run and let all of the press come out at that time. Perhaps we could have found a small theater to roll into in NYC – although that would have been unlikely. This way we would only have had to “open” NY once, and we would have done it with the most support from all sides.

Note: Doing festival “premieres” in cities doesn’t have to be restricted to your world premiere. You can use festivals in this way at any time in the life of your film’s release.

FESTIVAL PREMIERES TO PROMOTE AN ANCILLARY MARKET RELEASE

For many films that have not been able to obtain a theatrical release, a new phrase has popped up: the festival release is the theatrical release. This may still be the case for filmmakers who don’t have the resources to pull off any other types of live event/theatrical screenings in conjunction with their festival release.

For these filmmakers, just as they would use a theatrical release to promote their ancillaries (DVD and VOD, for instance), they should prepare in advance to use their festival release in this manner.

Thought of in another way: They want to have the buzz of a theatrical release but do not have the time or money to conduct one. Hence, the festival run will be their theatrical release and they will monetize it as such.

FESTIVAL PREMIERES AS A CORNERSTONE TO A LIVE EVENTS/THEATRICAL RELEASE WITH ANCILLARIES
My recommendation would be to use the festival release as a basis for booking other types of live events in order to create a combined live event/theatrical release during your festival run. I believe this is ultimately the future for many independent filmmakers.

This approach still requires planning and strategy. Part of the planning and strategy is to have those ancillary markets set up in advance of your theatrical release.

FESTIVAL DIRECT
IFC is a pioneer in these strategies with their Festival Direct program. With Festival Direct, IFC uses a festival premiere and the festival run of the film to promote the film’s video on demand (VOD) release. The VOD is released at the same time as the festival premiere. This day-and-date release allows the VOD to take advantage of the film festival hype and press. (See Chapter 30 for an explanation of VOD.)

IFC released Joe Swanberg’s film Alexander the Last with Festival Direct at the 2009 South by Southwest film festival. Joe decided to go with IFC in releasing the film in this manner for the following reasons:
o IFC had spent a lot of money on the theatrical release of Swanberg’s film Hannah Takes The Stairs and they are still recouping. He felt they could get similar exposure with Festival Direct without the outlay of money that then must be cross-collateralized against other revenues.
o Swanberg wanted to capitalize on the attention that the festival premiere provides. In his previous releases, Swanberg felt that the six- to nine-month lag time between a festival premiere and a theatrical release killed the promotional momentum of his small films.
o Swanberg and IFC coordinated the festival premiere with a number of other theatrical releases in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland, creating a live event/theatrical release.
o Having a film on VOD day-and-date with the festival premiere allows people from across the country to see the film (as long as they have access to the VOD system releasing the film). This allows people who either missed the local screenings or were not in the cities of the local screenings to see the film in some manner.
o It allowed Swanberg to do one concerted press push for the film, saving him from having to do separate press for the festival, theatrical, and VOD releases.
Because of this last point, Swanberg would have preferred to have done all markets day-and-date with the festival release: VOD, iTunes, DVD, and theatrical. Unfortunately, due to contract obligations, IFC is currently only set up to do VOD day-and-date with their Festival Direct program.

DIY LIVE EVENT/THEATRCIAL DAY AND DATE WITH A FESTIVAL LAUNCH

If you do not want to be part of IFC’s Festival Direct program (or weren’t asked), you can set it up for yourself. You also have the advantage of not being fettered by pre-existing contractual requirements that a distributor might have.

Once you commit to this approach, you need to get as many of your revenue streams established to run concurrently with (or within a creative windowing strategy following) your festival premiere as possible.

Not only does your film need to be finished, but you need deals and materials prepped for any or all of the following releases: live event/theatrical, DVD, VOD, digital, etc.

COUNTERPOINT/CAVEAT

The above approaches require filmmakers to have a distribution and marketing plan in place before their festival premiere. The preparation necessary might be overwhelming for first-time filmmakers, or ones just struggling to get their film to the festival.

Other times, just being in a premiere festival might not be enough ammunition to book the film into theaters, especially if it is a first time filmmaker. Filmmakers with a track record should have an easier time booking theaters without advance press (although it depends on the track record).

In these cases Swartz indicates that filmmakers might be able to participate in a premiere festival to determine if a sale can be made and to gather reviews for use later in a release. If a sale isn’t made, you can then regroup and at least know where the reviews for the film will be positive. You can then use the buzz of the festival to help book your film. McInnis notes that in this scenario, you can still use the festival to build buzz and connections with online press that you can utilize later.

You might get into a second prominent festival and can then launch from that, as was the case with Weather Girl (premiered at Slamdance, launched theatrical at Los Angeles Film Festival five months later.)

In my opinion, this can be a more difficult route. Any time you need to do additional media pushes, it’s more difficult. If you are the beneficiary of a lot of hype, the sooner you can roll out your theatrical, the better.

An alternative is to focus on just a few cities for conventional theatrical following your festival premiere (perhaps just NY and LA) and then flush out the rest of the release with grassroots/community screenings that can be mobilized much more quickly than conventional theatrical. This grassroots approach is especially wise if you have worked with some organizations throughout your production and post. They can help you organize these screenings.

It is still the wild west in utilizing these new distribution strategies. It is important for your team to determine what makes sense for your film.

I would recommend doing a full evaluation of your film and its distribution prospects and creating your strategy for your film’s release well in advance of your festival premiere, so that you can best take advantage of what festivals have to offer you. Having a PMD on board who is preparing for different scenarios will go a long way to helping you tackle this new world.

OTHER WAYS TO MONETIZE FILM FESTIVALS

1. Festival Screening Fees
Just because your film is in a festival doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them for free. No top festival will pay for a film (although I can imagine this changing over time). However, many smaller festivals are accustomed to paying for films, anywhere from $200 to $1,000 (the latter is mostly foreign festivals). In fact, foreign festival fees can be rather lucrative, especially for a popular film. Smaller U.S. festivals will often pay $200 to $300 if they want your film. We’ve made about $1,500 from domestic film festivals on Bomb It.

2. Convert Festival Screenings to Theatrical Screenings
As indicated above, a number of farsighted festivals are using their relationship with their audience to exhibit films year-round. Several, such as the incredible True/False Festival in Missouri and the Denver International Film Festival, actually have theaters that they program. If you are planning and/or booking a theatrical release for your film, you might consider trying to convert a festival screening to a theatrical booking (especially if the festival does not run during the time of your live event/theatrical release). That way, you can also get a share of the box office. You also add another city as part of your release, making your release appear more substantial.

3. Incorporate Festival Screenings Into Your Live Event/Theatrical Release
In the spirit of the new live event/theatrical model, if a festival can’t be converted into a theatrical booking, incorporate that festival into the fabric of your overall release. A screening is a screening. If you are looking for promotion instead of box office, this approach makes more sense since you are likely to get more exposure being in a festival than being out on your own, especially for a smaller film. Not only does having another screening/city as part of your national release give it more gravitas but it also broadens the national appeal of your film.

JON’S CONVENTIONAL TIPS FOR FILM FESTIVALS
Since we are talking about film festivals, I might as well provide my advice on having a successful festival run:

1. Make sure your film is finished before submitting. You normally have one shot. Put your best foot forward. As I mentioned before, use preview screenings, listen to comments, and then filter.

2. Apply strategically to fests that make sense for your film both in terms of genre and quality.

3. Research the festivals you’re applying to, especially if they charge submission fees. Talk to other filmmakers. Read online reviews of the fests. See how many years they have been around and what they have programmed before.

4. If you feel a festival is critically important to you, don’t be afraid to call ahead and talk to the coordinator. You don’t need to talk to the programmer. Just don’t be a pain.

5. Apply simultaneously to top, mid-level, and smaller festivals. Don’t just hold out for top fests and let your film get stale.

6. From Thomas Harris, a film festival programmer and consultant: Submit your film one-third of the way into a festival’s submissions window/cycle (between the opening and closing dates). This gives the programmers time to digest the films they have on their shelf but still gets you in before the crush of submissions during the final submission deadline, which you should avoid at all costs.

7. Follow instructions. If the festival wants information in a certain way, give it to them. Fill out all forms as requested.

8. Keep your cover letter short, direct, and infused with your personality.

9. Always send backup media, either two DVDs or a DVD and a VHS or DV tape. Most fests will reject anything that won’t play without a backup. They simply don’t have time.

10. Go to prominent festivals to meet people, even if you don’t have a film in the festival. Use these relationships for when you have your next film done.

FESTIVALS AS DISTRIBUTORS
A few savvy fests, such as Cinequest, are using their brands as a way to create a distribution label. Sundance also has an iTunes deal for its shorts. It won’t be long before festivals start their own online streaming channels. However, a few people I mentioned this to argued that festivals won’t want to compete with the distributors they need to get their premiere films from.

Perhaps echoing this view, a former prominent festival director confided in me that a number of theatrical chains had approached him, stating that they wanted to program independent films and that they had lots of available slots, but didn’t know outside of the usual suspects how to connect with independent filmmakers. They also didn’t want to be inundated with requests from thousands of filmmakers. They wanted a gatekeeper who already reviewed content and would provide a conduit for them. The theater chains felt that this major festival was a perfect candidate. I was aghast when this former festival director said, “But I don’t think we should be in the distribution business, do you?” I replied that festivals should do anything they can to help their filmmakers and their festivals. Acting as a gatekeeper for unreleased films (much like digital aggregators) seemed like a win-win situation for both. Unfortunately, he was unconvinced.

I feel that because the distribution landscape is changing so rapidly and many people are looking for solutions to help independent films, companies will stop looking at these issues of distribution in a black-and-white, win-or-lose way and instead will start looking at what works and what doesn’t work.

Many festivals are respected, known, qualified gatekeepers of certain kinds of content. Their programming staffs are very similar to a distributor’s acquisition staff. I think it makes total sense for festivals to be in the distribution business. There are plenty of films that festivals champion that won’t receive distribution. Festivals have proven branded curatorial power that can be monetized both for festivals and filmmakers. One problem that might arise is a potential conflict between some festival’s non-profit status and the for-profit business of distribution. However, considering how difficult the independent film distribution business is, perhaps all distributors who handle independent film should be allowed to take on non-profit status. I’m only half kidding.