Tag: documentary film

10 Key Points on How to Move Forward With Outreach and Impact for Documentary Film

A Report from the IFP Filmmaker Lab

by Jon Reiss

With all the trauma of this past week, I at least had the good fortune of spending it at the IFP Filmmaker Lab in NYC.   We all showed up Wednesday morning stunned/tired from watching returns all night/depressed.   Some stayed home but by the middle of the morning nearly all the filmmaking teams had turned up. I say that I was fortunate because one of the things that I love about the labs is that we become a community of support for each other. Even though my morning presentation was on something as banal (for last week) as budgeting and timing a release – we were all reminded about how important stories and art can be to inspire, motivate, create community and express our humanity.  (Though, helping artists get their work out to an audience will never stop being relevant – especially now.)

For the second session the documentary filmmakers were scheduled to have a panel about “Impact” while the narrative filmmakers were to go to a session about agents and managers. Not surprisingly most of the narrative filmmakers stayed to discuss impact.

Joining me was my dear friend Jennifer MacArthur from Borderline Media and Emma Alpert from Just Vision.   Jennifer is one of the most profound thought leaders in this field.   Emma and Just Vision do incredible work focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Here are ten key points for films seeking to have impact on the world that came out of that session.

1. Films seeking to have impact need to have a strong story that moves people and should not just be a PowerPoints of facts.

Think about how are you going to connect beyond the core audience – through story. Everyone making a film for impact wants to get beyond the choir (although now it is also important to charge up the choir). What many filmmakers forget is that this takes an emotionally engaging story that can keep an audience involved for ninety minutes. Often filmmakers get so caught up in the message of the film that they lose site of the fact is that people respond to emotions. We unfortunately keep relearning this in politics as well.

1B: Don’t underestimate the power of humor in your film to help connect with audiences.

2. Do test screenings with your film with people you want to reach outside of your choir. What are their feelings about the film? Is it moving them?   Consider focus groups of specific target audiences.

3. Since many (if not most) times documentaries are made in the editing room – it might be best to wait to start engaging outreach until you have a rough cut so that you know what your film actually is going to be and what audiences it will appeal to.  Sometimes though, you may want to engage with stakeholders earlier if you want to interview their principals, which might increase their motivation to help the film’s release.

4. Research what you are trying to change in the world. Is that possible for your film? Will it have that affect?

4A: Brainstorm what is the big idea that you are trying to accomplish – and then create a specific action item that will work toward that larger goal.

5.Identify stakeholders in your space. Determine their reach. But more importantly understand how your film can help them! Convey this to them. It needs to be a win win relationship

6. Don’t overstate what impact can you make to funders and stakeholders. What can you do and measure realistically?

7. It is a conventional wisdom to go after stakeholders that have the greatest reach. Makes sense. But perhaps consider trying a specific goal or action plan with that stakeholder – and if the relationship works – great – if not consider pivoting to another perhaps smaller stakeholder.

8.Embrace modeling. Try one tactic or goal first and see how that is working – if it isn’t working, pivot to another.

9.Because of the political earthquake last week, it will be nearly impossible to effect legislative change on the national level in the United States for the next few years. Think locally. The US Council on Mayors is a much more liberal group and one where you can meet politicians who are excited about change and want to engage in programs for their communities.

10. Funding for outreach had been difficult to come by before last Tuesday – and probably now will be more difficult to obtain. However there are people of means who support social causes – but will that money now go into grassroots community building or into media? How might those two work hand in hand? Are feature films the best platform for impact – or are there other forms of media (shorter/serialized) that might have more success?

I would love your thoughts on this. Agree – disagree? What would you add?   How can film and story affect change as we approach the age of Trump?

 

 

 

 

Heading to IDFA

IDFA logo

 

I’m excited to be heading to the IDFA festival and market in Amsterdam today! I’ll be attending BritDocs Global Impact Producers Assembly on Saturday – then doing three presentations over the next 5 days:

First on Sunday November 22nd 10am – 11:45 I will be doing a Distribution Crash Course for the newly launched Impact Academy in the Netherlands. I’ll be covering event theatrical, educational, broadcast and VOD and how to make those releases work in relationship with each other. Location Meetberlage (Oudebrugsteeg 9, 1012 JN Amsterdam).

Next same day Sunday at 13:00-15:00 I will be doing a Distribution and Marketing Masterclass for the IDFA Academy about creating an overall strategy for a film’s release in a hybrid model focusing on goals, audience engagement, and working within resources with a little taste of event theatrical and VOD. From the IDFA Academy program: “During the workshop, you will learn how to set goals for your release, the essentials of audience engagement, how to release your films digitally and timing factors in a release. In addition, you are encouraged to consider how your work fits into your entire career so that you can keep your audiences with you in the future.” (Kloveniersburgwal 50, 1012 CX Amsterdam)

Lastly with all the excitement about Impact Producers at this IDFA, on Wednesday November 25th at 11:30am I will be doing a presentation at the Industry Office about the Producer of Marketing and Distribution what that role is, how is it similar and different from an impact producer, what the responsibilities are, and how to pay one. (Vijzelstraat 4, 1017 HD Amsterdam)

If you are at IDFA would love to meet you.

This is me!

Jon headshot 11.16

New Selling Your Film Book Released– and it’s FREE

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I’m really excited about this brand new book, Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. (click here to download the book for free) that I wrote with Sheri Candler, The Film Collaborative co-executive directors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter and Wendy Bernfeld, managing director of the European content curation and licensing company Rights Stuff BV edited and published by The Film Collaborative. Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. is the second volume in the “Selling Your Film” case study book series. While our first book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, focused on U.S releases and case studies, this volume takes a deep dive into digital distribution (and distribution generally) in Europe and provides several case studies of films released there.

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Within the pages of this book, you will find marketing and crowdfunding strategies, real distribution budgets, community building activities and detailed ancillary and digital distribution revenues for independently produced films.

My chapter is a case study of the Scottish film I Am Breathing and how the release was run by Ben Kempas, the Producer of Marketing and Distribution hired by The Scottish Documentary Institute for all of their films. The chapter not only discusses their outreach and release strategies, but also the Portable Fundraiser technology they developed with Distrify. It finishes with an evaluation of the effectiveness of the PMD, not only for films, but for film organizations to have on staff.

Click here to get your free copy.

The BOMB IT 2 DVD is here!

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This week marks the official release of the BOMB IT 2 DVD. To purchase, visit our BOMB IT 2 website. Don’t forget to check out this exclusive webisode with BOMB IT 2 artist Darbotz, where he explains his artistic process and the story behind the Squid Monster character featured in his work. Thank you for all of your support!

 

Two New Documentary Film Funds

Here are two new cool opportunities for filmmakers.

The Bertha BRITDOC Documentary Journalism Fund – for filmmakers from around the world working at the intersection of film and investigative journalism — films that break the important stories of our time, exposing injustice, bringing attention to unreported issues and cameras into regions previously unseen. £250,000 a year for 3 years is available to filmmakers as a mixture of grants and investments. Soniya Kirpalani’s We The People, about a miscarriage of justice against migrant workers in Dubai, is announced as the first production grant. Jess Search said, “This fund is urgently needed. Documentary is becoming an increasingly important medium for breaking stories which require long term investigation and the commitment to gather evidence and amplify voices. ‘We The People’ is just such a film and we are proud to be supporting it.”

The Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund – the first outreach and engagement fund in Europe, is open to filmmakers from around the world with smart, strategic outreach campaigns that have the ability to achieve real change on a local, regional or global level. £250,0000 a year for 3 years is available in grants. Steve James’s The Interrupters is the first grantee. Rebecca Lichtenfeld said, “‘The Interrupters’ represents the best of contemporary social justice filmmaking. We believe that this film can inform and improve the lives of individuals and communities and we want to help that happen.”

“25 to Life” Campaign Launch

25 to Life is a feature documentary about William Brawner, a young man who contracted HIV at the age of two, and kept his HIV status a secret for over twenty-five years. Now he seeks redemption from his promiscuous past, and embarks on a new phase of life with his wife, who is HIV Negative. This film paints a riveting picture of an average American community that is upturned by one man’s HIV diagnosis.

25 to Life, a documentary film by Mike Brown, is celebrating its campaign launch on World AIDS Day on December 1st from 7:00 – 9:30 pm at BOFFO NY, located at 57 Walker Street between Church and Broadway in New York City. The launch will feature a screening of the extended trailer, music by live footage and drinks. RSVP at RSVP@25TOLIFEFILMSITE.COM.

How to Self-distribute Online: Using E-junkie to Create an Automated Business Part 2

Here is part 2 of PMD  J.X. Carrera’s  post on how he uses E-Junkie to distribute a film that he made while doing the actual fulfillment himself.

3:  Advertising using Google Ads

Making my tutorial would be useless if no one knew that it existed, so I launched an ambitious advertising campaign that utilized first-tier ad services like Google Adsense and Yahoo SM, as well as several second-tier ad services that most people never hear about.  Everything except Google Ads was a waste of my time and money.  Maybe 97% of my sales came from Google Ads, 3% came from Yahoo SM, and I never got a single sale through the lesser known second-tier services.  (Yahoo SM is supposed to be a quality service, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me. )

I focused all of my efforts on Google Ads and dumped the rest.  On Google Ads, I created several different ads, experimented with dozens of keywords, analyzed the results, and tweaked continuously over the course of a couple of weeks.  I soon settled on the best performing ad and keyword combination that was bringing in a decent 1-2% click-thru-rate.  On average, I pay about 40-60 cents every time someone does a google search and clicks on my text ad, which links them to my website. Purchase rate after click through hovers around 6%, and about a quarter to a third of the revenue generated from Google Ads is circled back into advertising on Google Ads.

4: Amazon as a Supplemental Revenue Stream

Many writers, such as Jed Riffe, have already done a great job articulating the how-to’s for listing a product on Amazon, so there’s not much need for me to dive into it. But it is worth mentioning that the revenue generated from my DVD listing on Amazon is a fraction of the revenue generated from the sales on my website.  All the Google Ads link to my website, not Amazon.

5: Retail Outlets Can Diminish Your Revenue Stream

Although I began focused on creating an automated business, I also desired to have my video tutorial stocked in a retail outlet, thinking that it would help me generate hoards of cash.  Perhaps this desire also stemmed from a subconscious need to prove that my video tutorial was good enough to exist in an established brick-and-mortar outlet — not the best motivation.  I approached one of the buyers for a large retail outlet based in New York City, and sure enough they bought a box load of DVDs from me at $19.50 each.  At the time, I found this to be extremely gratifying.

Then I noticed an odd occurrence, which was the sales generated from my website took an unexplained dip.  Upon investigating, I found that this retail outlet was selling my tutorial through their own online website at a discounted price.  People who had discovered Crash Course: Final Cut Pro were now buying it cheaper elsewhere, which means I was being undercut and making less money than before.  After that, I significantly decreased my tutorial’s retail presence.  Sometimes, there’s value in being the exclusive or semi-exclusive seller of a niche product.

4:  Self-distribution Overview

For clarity, here’s a quick rundown of all the steps for this automated business:

An aspiring editor or filmmaker google searches the phrase “final cut pro tutorial,” they see my text ad, click it, and go to my website. If they buy the tutorial as a download, the money gets deposited in my Paypal account and E-junkie sends the buyer a link to download the Quicktime file.  If they buy a DVD instead, Paypal sends me a notice that I have to package and mail out a DVD.  My Google Adsense account is linked to my Paypal account, so revenue made from the tutorial pays for the advertising.  Whenever Google Ads runs low on money, it just charges my Paypal account automatically.

As I write this post, everything sounds a bit too easy. The truth is, setting up things like Amazon, E-junkie, and Google Adsense may be time consuming, but not actually difficult in terms of brain power needed. Creating good content, however, is usually both time consuming and mentally intensive.  By far the hardest part of my automated business was the actual creation of the tutorial.  Curating information and trying to figure out how to best teach an idea simply and effectively is painstaking.  It makes me think of the quote by Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  But I wanted a hard-hitting tutorial that editors would recommend to their friends and that I could be proud of creating.  I also took the time to make sure the copy, design, and functionality of my website portrayed a sense of professionalism that would allow customers to feel safe and secure when purchasing from me.  In the end, all the hard work paid off: I’ve sold hundreds of DVDs and downloads, and have received incredibly positive feedback from customers.

5: Wrap up

I started Crash Course: Final Cut Pro with two humble goals: 1) that I would be able to wake up every morning, walk over to my computer, and see money deposited in my Paypal account because someone had purchased a tutorial while I slept, and  2) that I would add genuine value to the filmmaking community by helping to train aspiring editors, giving them a learning tool that I wish I had while first learning Final Cut Pro.

What really makes Crash Course: Final Cut Pro unique, however, isn’t just the content, but its immediate availability as a DRM free download.

Creating and selling a Quicktime file is a lot easier than creating and selling a DVD, yet many filmmakers seem to be reluctant to make their movies available as a download.  I believe this stems from an overblown fear of piracy.  As far as the indie world is concerned, I believe you’re losing money by not offering your video as a download.  There have been many times where I would have purchased a movie instantly had it been available as a download, but since it wasn’t, I moved on to viewing something else.  Briefly stated, people want to watch video in the format of their choosing, and with services like E-junkie, it’s now incredibly easy for filmmakers to quench this desire.

Jon Reiss giving Keynotes at IFP Prodcon 2011 and Idaho Cineposium

I will be the keynote speaker at both the IFP Media Arts’ Producers Conference (PRODCON 2011) in Minneapolis on April 16th, and the Idaho Cineposium on April 17th.  If you live in either of those two states–or know anyone who does–I hope to see you there!

Also in Minneapolis I will be on the documentary panel with the incredible  Amy Dotson (Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo), and Jon Garon (author, The Independent Filmmaker’s Low and Business Guide), with Melody Gilbert (Fritz: The Walter Mondale Story, Disconnected: A Documentary) moderating.

Special thanks to Gregory Bayne for hooking this up for me.   Also appearing will be Jerome Courshon, Aaton Cohen Sitt of Jungle Software and Kenny Chaplin from the Production Assistant Training Program.

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.

Calling all Filmmakers: Deadline Nears for IFP Labs

I am proud to be a part of the IFP Filmmaker Labs which are the first ever completion, distribution and marketing lab. The deadlines for this year’s cycle is fast approaching. Documentary films must apply online by March 11th. Narrative films have until April 8th to apply online. Even though IFP and the labs are located in NYC, films from across the United States and the rest of the world are encouraged to apply. The labs are also FREE, but you do have to pay your own way to get to and stay in NYC for the three lab periods (May or June, September, December).

Lab alumni are already showing well this year. Three premiered in Competition at Sundance 2011: Alrick Brown’s Kinyarwanda, Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless City and Dee Rees’ Pariah which was acquired by Focus Features. Victoria Mahoney’s Yelling to the Sky premiered in Competition at the Berlin International Film Festival followed by SXSW. Also premiering at SXSW is Sara Terry’s documentary Fambul Tok. Alumni also showed at DOCNYC, Slamdance, and the upcoming Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Here is the official blurb from IFP:
IFP Independent Filmmaker Labs
Call for Entries: First Feature Directors with Documentary or Narrative Films in Post-Production
Documentary Deadline: March 11 Narrative Deadline: April 8
IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs are a year-long fellowship supporting independent filmmakers when they need it most: through the completion, marketing, and distribution of their first features. Labs provide community, mentorship, and film-specific strategies to help filmmakers reach their artistic goals, support the film’s launch, and maximize exposure in the global marketplace. The program consists of three focused workshops in spring, fall and winter in New York City.

IFP seeks to ensure that at least half of participating projects have an inclusive range of voices in key positions. We especially encourage female and minority directors to apply, as well as filmmakers from outside NY & LA.

Open to all first time documentary and narrative feature directors with films in post-production. Additional information and online application: www.ifp.org/Labs