Tag: film distribution

10 Ways in Which I Would Release Bomb It Today

Posted on by Emy

Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:

In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
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Exciting Times in Park City

I just returned from Park City where I had the pleasure to judge the Slamdance Documentary Competition. I saw some compelling and inspiring work. Being a judge forced me to actually see films at a film festival for the first time in two years since embarking on the TOTBO project (usually I am lucky to see one film). In addition, I got to catch nearly all of “Gandu Asshole” – a stunning visual and narrative feast by first time Indian filmmaker Q that is headed to the Berlinale. Last but not least, I got the opportunity to see the finished version of the moving and brilliantly structured Kinyarwanda, a film I mentored in the IFP Filmmaker Labs.

It was a very exciting time at Park City. First off, more films have sold at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than in recent memory and that is good news for independent film as Ted Hope points out in his blog it “should give investors more confidence that you no longer have to rely just on foreign; the US acquisition climate seems quite robust again.”

However, I am concerned that filmmakers see these sales and think they can revert back to depending on the festival acquisition system to handle the distribution and marketing of any and all of their films. I hope all will analyze the elements that were most attractive to the buyers (name cast, compelling documentary subjects, past success with a similar film) before assuming that the old days are back.

I got the sense there is a growing awareness that while sales happen for some films, filmmakers understand that the system cannot and does not handle all films. In fact, these sales make up a small percentage of films on the festival circuit each year, much less than the films produced every year. More and more filmmakers are understanding the need to engage audiences on their own – or with partners – and craft unique distribution and marketing strategies for their films.
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Atlanta TOTBO Workshop with Sheri Candler!

I’m heading to Atlanta, GA to do a Think Outside the Box Office Workshop presented by the Atlanta Film Festival 365 and Push Push Theater November 12, 13th and 14th. Sheri Candler will be coming out to give presentations on personal branding, social media and crowdfunding!

This will be the first TOTBO workshop in the South and I’m looking forward to meeting new filmmakers as well as potential Producer’s of Marketing and Distribution (PMDs). Lots of networking opportunities for attendees – the weekend starts Friday night with a cocktail reception and on Saturday night there will be a networking happy hour. For more information about the workshops go to the TOTBO website.

In addition – I’ll be doing presentations Georgia State University on Friday and on Monday I travel to Western Kentucky University.

Ride The Divide Part 3: Digital Rights and Merchandise

In Part 2 of this 3 part series on Ride the Divide, I examined the strategic, well executed, and successful event strategy that Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion engaged. In this third and final part, I will take a look at their merchandise and digital strategies and execution. Finally, I will touch on some of the key points that they have learned so far on this journey.

Merchandise
They began selling “plain vanilla” versions of their DVDs at their live events. They started selling from their online store in April just after their world premiere at Vail Film Festival (DVD, Poster, Soundtrack). To date they have grossed $55,000 from all merchandise in the on-line store (this includes around $13,000 for the screening boxes). They’ve sold 1300 DVDs and Blu-Ray through their store.

But they are not just selling from their online store – they partnered with Video Action Sports and Rep Net who buy them at between 40% and 50% of the retail price for each DVD sold – about $10.00 per DVD. They researched each of these wholesalers to make sure they were 1) getting a good deal that made financial sense and 2) that the wholesalers had good reputations for paying independent filmmakers. These distributors get the Ride the Divide DVDs into larger chains and into major on-line retailers. They’ve sold another 600 DVDs through these wholesale accounts.
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Ride The Divide Part 2: A Profitable Live Event Strategy

In Part 1 of this 3 part series on Ride the Divide I looked at the overall strategy that Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion devised for the release of their film. In this post I want to examine how they created an effective and profitable Live Event/Theatrical release for their film. One of their key takeaways from the entire release is how important an event-based strategy is to generate interest in a film and help dent the media landscape with your audience (this is one of my personal mantras).

In keeping with the intelligent audience engagement strategy, Hunter and Mike wanted not only to seek components of a traditional theatrical release for their film, but a robust release incorporating all forms of public exhibition, traditional or not. To date, Ride the Divide has had 101 screening engagements in 68 cities! That’s a 68 city theatrical release – extremely impressive given the fact that they booked the film themselves (and with their audience). In fact 50% of the bookings were done by them, 50% by their audience hosting screenings.

For their bookings: 75% were conventional theaters, 25% were alternative venues. For the audience hosted bookings – this split was 50/50.

Here is some of what they found:

The partnerships paid off: For them it was key to not only have national organizations for awareness – but most importantly for local turnout – they had the support of local groups and commercial entities – e.g. bike shops. In Dallas Tx, for instance Villy Customs brought bikes to the screenings to enhance the experience. They also had bike valets at several locations.

Create an event: As much as they could Hunter and Mike created a sense of an event around their film. In addition to bike themed events, they also enlisted musicians. One of the bigger risks they took was to Four Wall their premiere at the Boulder Theater (who wouldn’t give them a percentage deal) for their opening night May 22nd. I’m not usually in favor of four walls for most films – but at times it can make sense and even make a profit. Hunter and Mike were very nervous about pulling the trigger on this event because of the nut ($4500 see below). But they realized that this was the best-case scenario for their premiere – Boulder being not only a Rocky Mountain community – but also a strong bike community. But it payed off for them. They charged $18 a ticket – making it a premium event by providing a film and a musical event with Gregory Alan Isakov. With 600 people in attendance – that’s a $10,800 one night gross. They paid $3000 to rent the theater plus $1500 for the musician fees and other costs. That’s a $6300 theatrical profit for one night (not including the sweat equity to arrange and market the show). They did other event screenings with musician Dominique Fraissard.

Program on alternative nights.- Echoing the experience of Todd Sklar and his Range Life tours – Hunter and Mike found that the best nights to screen were Wednesday and Thursday with Monday and Tuesday being fine as well. Most of their screenings were 1-3 nights except Denver where the film ran for 3 weeks. They strongly recommend staying away from Friday and Saturday nights because there is too much competition and Sundays “are the worst”.

For their audience hosted screening, they had a 2 prong strategy:

Initially they charged $295 for screening licenses that included the DVD or Blu-ray, posters, postcards – a screening pack. Through this they grossed $13,350 (selling 20 through their online store, 7 through email and phone, and over 30 through a couple of avid evangelists who became bookers in essence).

Then they created a wonderful wood box screening kit for $99 – which 50 % of the proceeds went to Livestrong. The box did not only contain the DVD but a T-shirt by Mighty Karma, a Smartwool Beanie, a book by Tony Hsieh, Livestrong bands, stickers and the DVD or Blu-ray. Note the win win partner relationship – because a large percentage went to charity – other charities donated products which then in turn made the package more valuable. They credit fatcyclist.com’s promotion of the boxes key in their success. In addition, not only did they provide a value – they provided scarcity – numbering the boxes and limiting them to 500. They have sold 200 of these packages so far raising $6500 for Livestrong (and $6500 for themselves).

All together for their theatrical they figured they grossed $65,000 with a 22,000 profit.

In Hollywood terms – its not Avatar – but in independent terms – to be able to make a decent profit on theatrical while engaging partners and creating awareness for the film – is a huge win.

I want to thank and credit Hunter and Mike for being so transparent about their figures – this should provide real help to filmmakers and hopefully encourage others also to be so open . As a community, we should be helping each other strategize new paths.

Guest Posts Start This Week

I am very happy to announce that this week I will start a guest posting program on this blog. We will hear from a variety of people that deal with audience connection and engagement of all types. More and more I am viewing film distribution and marketing as the 2nd necessary component of creating a film: The first component is the production of the film (conception, production, post). The second component is connecting that film with an audience (distribution and marketing). I used to refer to these as steps – but that implies that they would be sequential – eg first step: make the film, second step connect with audience. But you know I believe these “steps” should run as simultaneously as possible.

These posts will run a wide gamut of topics from social media to trans media and everything in between (from sources around the world!) First up on the guest post is Tyler Weaver on how busy media content creators can fit social media into their lives – in very practical steps. Upcoming Kim Garland from Scriptchat – using Twitter to create conversation around scriptwriting. Simon Pullman from Transmythology on transmedia etc. My goal is to have these run every Thursday – so stay tuned!

Ride the Divide Part 1: Set Your Goals, Identify and Partner With Your Audience

Tonight at midnight Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion launch a 2711 minute free access to their film “Ride the Divide” on You Tube to coincide with LiveStrong Day on October 2nd. The film is about three riders as they traverse the 2711 miles of the continental divide from Banff Canada to the Mexican border. I wanted to write about this film because of the smart use of free online content – the limited access actually creates an online event around which the filmmakers can generate publicity (this will actually be the subject of a later post.

In addition, I have a personal interest in the film because as Hunter told me, their strategy was kickstarted when I live workshopped the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit this past January. In that workshop I walked them through developing a distribution and marketing strategy (with the participation of the audience) based on the system that I developed for filmmakers in Think Outside the Box Office. I enjoyed that workshop so much, I then incorporated it into nearly all the workshops that I have done since then.

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Back to NYC: OVC and Raindance

Headed back to NY today – after a few days back in LA. First up tomorrow I will be at the Open Video Conference on a panel: “Future of Exhibition: Opening the Box Office” Friday, 3-3:45PM. This panel will look at how producers are bypassing traditional gatekeepers to reach out to their audience while exploring the tools that are shaping this process.

Then on Sunday October 3rd I’ll be speaking at Raindance NYC giving a quick class: “Real World Survival Skills for Independent Filmmakers” Sunday, 4-6PM. This workshop will be a survey and introduction to a fresh approach at film distribution and marketing. I will walk you through his modern, practical and unique game plan for efficiently connecting you and your film with the audience it deserves.

Hope to see you there!!

Am I a Filmmaker or a Brand? Why not be both?

A year ago, I brought the preview copies of Think Outside the Box Office to sell at Independent Film Week, straight off the press. This week in addition to being a lab leader and mentor of the new IFP Filmmaker Labs, I have the honor of being paired in a Cage Match on Thursday against Michael Tully from Hammer to Nail, moderated/refereed by Michelle Satter from the Sundance Labs on the subject: “Am I A Filmmaker or Brand”. I thought I would down some thoughts on the subject.

I don’t think that “filmmaker” and “brand” are exclusive of one another. I think that all filmmakers, in fact all creative artists, have the opportunity to be both. For many filmmakers, the sooner they realize this potential, the happier they will be.

I can understand the knee jerk reaction to the concept of “filmmaker as brand”. For years filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, have resisted being pigeonholed. “We’re artists with a broad eclectic taste. I can’t be pinned down to any one type of film.” I can also see how “brand” runs smack against the concept of “independent” which has always had some synonymous relationship to “freedom”. “I can’t be a free artist to express myself, if I tether myself to some concept of who I am imposed by others”.

In addition filmmakers and many other artists are uncomfortable with the concept of “branding” because it is a concept that corporate America uses in their never ending quest for consumer “mindshare”. As a ex punk rock neo Marxist anarchist who made a film about the global explosion of street art and graffiti culture and the resultant battle over visual public space, I understand this point of view. Ironically it is a battle over public space because graff writers and street artists are trying to convey their brand as much as the corporations in their own never ending desire to get up.

Filmmakers need to get over the art vs. commerce false opposition fast. Marketing is about audience connection. I make films because I want to express myself creatively and communicate my ideas to as many people as possible – and continue doing that. Marketing is what aids me in this process.

Many filmmakers whom I admire are brands by the consistency of their work both thematically and artistically: Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino, The Darden Brothers, Jane Campion, Woody Allen, David Cronenberg, the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Polanski (from history: Hitchcock, Lang, Anthony Mann, Orson Welles). I know the kind of cinematic experience I am going to get from seeing one of their films. It compels me to see films of these directors even if I don’t know what the film is about. This branding helps enable these filmmakers to garner financing for their films (in the same way that actors names work as brand names and attract financing and distribution). It does because there is a strong identifiable quality and style (brand identity) associated with that director.

These directors didn’t set out to create themselves as a brand – they just created the work. However, instead of allowing the process to happen haphazardly, or to have others define you, I feel that it is best for directors to develop their own voice (outside of their films) and define themselves and in so doing engage, connect with and grow their audiences.

Ultimately, besides making an excellent film, the name of the game is connecting that film to an audience (if you have an interest in an audience – if not this is all moot). Audience connection is at least half the battle for filmmakers.

Think of the power (and freedom) that the artists listed above (or more importantly future artists) could achieve with a direct relationship with their fans. I’d love to see Tarantino crowd fund a film.

Kevin Smith is an incredible example. His audience wants to see, hear and engage with Kevin Smith. He communicates directly with his audience and considers products that they will want to consume in the form of Live Events (Kevin Smith Live), Merchandise (Kevin Smith toys), and Digital Content (Kevin Smith podcasts and iPhone apps).

Branding is a way to create an on-going relationship with an audience. Audience development and connection is hard work. Why reinvent the wheel each time you make a film, why not cultivate those fans who like your work into a core group who can sustain you? Tools exist now like never before to help you do this. Plus talking to like minded people should be a fun thing, feeding off of each other’s ideas, contributing to a community of artists, hearing positive feedback on work you have created that means something to someone, touched them in some way. A more consistent dialogue with your audience can sustain you psychically when times get tough in film (as they always do).

Ultimately you still must create media that people want to see, share, and refer. If you don’t produce good/excellent work – none of this matters. Corey McAbee was quick to point out to me that his “brand” as an artist derived from his films. Even though he collaborates with a partner Bobby Lurie, they created the Corey McAbee site because Corey’s name was the brand, the glue, that linked all of the work together into a coherent whole. It was the one constant that was recognized by their audience.

I understand that some filmmakers still will not want to do the added work of audience connection – and it does take additional time outside of traditional filmmaking. Other’s personalities are not suited for it. In this case, instead of not doing the work, I feel it makes sense to engage someone who wants to this work – e.g. a PMD – or Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or a social media strategist or a brand strategist). However for best results some communication must come authentically from the filmmaker – not all can be done by others.

From my own experience – the time I have spent online communicating with my community has born fruit beyond my expectations not only for my “career”, but more importantly in connections made to interesting, creative people whose friendships I treasure and whose work inspires.

This is not a plea to ask you to abandon your artistic self in favor of a commercialized brand. Creating your identity and connecting with people who really love your work is something you should look forward to doing. Self promotion of your brand is really about helping others, taking part in a community and making connections between yourself and others who should know each other. The lives of all involved will be richer for it.

I look forward to seeing you at Independent Film Week Thursday 4:30pm FIT, NYC.

PMD FAQ 2: What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

PMD FAQ 2: What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

The responsibilities of a PMD are wide and varied. Not all films will utilize all of these elements (since every film is different and will have a unique approach to distribution and marketing), but each should be considered when strategizing and planning for the film’s release.

1. Identify, research and engage with the audience for the film.

2. Develop a distribution and marketing strategy and plan for the film in conjunction with the key principles of the filmmaking team. Integrate this plan into the business plan for the film.

3. Create a budget for the M&D plan.

4. As needed and appropriate: strategize and implement fundraising from the audience of the film in conjunction with or in replace of traditional financing which would include: crowdfunding, organizational partnerships, sponsorships and even modified versions of traditional fundraising.

5. Assemble and supervise the necessary team/crew elements to carry out the plan which can include social media, publicity, M&D production crew for extra diagetic material, key artists, editors, bookers etc.

6. Audience outreach through organizations, blogs, social media (including email collection), traditional publicity etc.

7. Supervise the creation of promotional and (if necessary due to the lack of a separate transmedia producer) trans media elements: script and concept for transmedia, the films website and social media sites, production stills, video assets – both behind the scenes and trans media, promotional copy and art/key art. As with marketing and distribution it is always best to conceptualize any transmedia aspect of a film project from inception.

8. Outreach to potential distribution and marketing partners including film festivals, theatrical service companies, community theatrical bookers, DVD distributors, Digital and VOD aggregators, TV sales agents, foreign sales agents as well as sponsors and promotional partners.

Just FYI – nearly all of the above and much of 9 happen before the film is finished.

9. Supervise the creation of traditional deliverables in addition to creation of all media needed for the execution of the release as needed including:
• Live event/theatrical: Prints either 35 or Disk or Drive. Any other physical prep for event screenings.
• Merchandise: All hard good physical products including DVDs and any special packaging (authoring and replication) and all other forms of merchandise: books, apparel, toys, reproductions of props etc, and hard versions of games.
• Digital products: encoding of digital products, iphone/Android apps etc.

10. Modify and adjust the distribution and marketing plan as the film progresses as information about audience, market, new opportunities, partnerships arise.

11. When appropriate, engage the distribution process, which includes the release of:
• Live Event Theatrical – Booking, delivery, of all forms of public exhibition of the film including all elements that make the screenings special events (appearances, live performance etc.)
• Merchandise – Distribution of all hard good physical products created for the film.
• Digitally – oversee all sales of the film in the form of 0s and 1s: TV/Cable/VOD/Mobile/Broadband/Video games etc.
• This not just in the home territory – but also internationally.
• Some of these activities may be handled in conjunction with a distribution partner in which case the PMD would be supervising the execution in conjunction with that partner.
• This release should integrated into the overall transmedia plan of the film if one exists. Of course the best case scenario is for this integration to occur from inception.

12. Ramp up the marketing of the film to coincide with the release, which includes:
• Social Media
• Publicity
• Organizational Relationships
• Sponsorship Relationships
• Affiliate and Email Marketing
• Promotions
• Media Buys (as warranted)
• Pushing Trailers and other video content
• Any specific marketing especially tailored to the film.
• Promoting and releasing trailers and other forms of video material

This list should indicate how it would be difficult, if not impossible to expect existing traditional crew categories to accomplish or even coordinate the work outlined above. Due to the amount of work, a team would need to be assembled to accomplish all of these tasks, just as a production team is assembled. In addition while some of the work above is “quantifiable”, much of it is not – just like much of what a producer or even director does is not “quantifiable”.