Tag: Filmmaking

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

Distribution Case Study – “Finding Hillywood”

Posted on by admin
Written by Leah Warshawski (Producer/Director) / Introduction by Jon Reiss



I recently wrote a two part article featuring four documentary filmmakers who pursued hybrid releases with their films and who were generous enough to share the real data from their films’ releases – Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt1 and Pt 2. Upon reading these, filmmaker Leah Warshawski wanted to write something similar for the self release of her film, Finding Hillywood. This first post about the film chronicles the story of her release, finishing up with a list of 10 tips for filmmakers. When all of the data is in – about a year from now – she will write a follow up detailing all of the real data from the release. I encourage more filmmakers to tell their stories – not just the how, but also the results. A great way to do this is to participate in the Sundance Transparency Project. This information helps all of us learn from each other’s triumphs and disappointments so that our knowledge base continues to expand. I am already speaking with a number of other filmmakers willing to share their stories – if you wish to contact me, my information is at the bottom of this post.

Continue reading →

Guest Post: Top 5 Webseries Tips

Posted on by admin

I’ve been talking about serialized content for some time now – and how filmmakers need to look at this as a way to engage with new methods of distribution and marketing for their work. This can take many forms – but the most obvious are episodic television and web series. I asked Carrie Cutforth the creator of Spy Whores and the Executive Director of The Independent Web Series Creators of Canada to write a post about webseries in honor of her new TO Web Fest that happened in Toronto May 9-11th. Here is her post:

Don’t Overlook these 5 Top Essentials in Making a Web Series
by Carrie Cutforth

TO WebFest, Toronto’s screening/conference festival dedicated to web series, took place May 9-11th. Regan Latimer, the program director and myself are no stranger to web series, being both founding board members of then Independent Web Series Creators of Canada. We are very pleased that a highlight of the festival, beyond three days of free screenings, and a two-day conference track, which included a special presentation into an economic profile of web series creators in Ontario, the first of its kind in the world (made possible with the support of the OMDC).

Have you ever thought of making a web series? Here are things you need to know to make the transition from indie film or Television production. This list covers web series (as defined here), which is different than the digital series that broadcasters or portals such as Netflix produce.

1) Your Audience is Not Trapped in a Room full of Strangers
How many films have you walked out of in your life? I think I’ve walked out of one that was “too adult” for me as a young kid, although I did fall asleep once…during Joe Versus the Volcano. What is the psychology of sticking out a bad film to the end in a theatre? Getting one’s money worth?
Online, however, your content is up against a fierce competition of eyeballs, with something “else” waiting to be discovered just a mouse click away. You got 15 seconds to get your audience engaged, and then you need to keep them engaged. You need to be succinct. You need to be haiku.
That means dropping some of the common conventions of film intros, including credits and theme songs. You don’t NEED a theme song. You don’t NEED intro credits. You can shunt that “boring” stuff for the audience to the info section below the player. Boast to the world you are the creator in savvier ways.
That also means things dropping opening conventions like city skyline orgies at the outset of your narrative. Jump into the story with both feet landing right away. Then run.

2) Web Series is not TV Online
Web series is to TV what blogging is to the Six O’clock news: they might seem familiar in content, but there are a lot of nuances between the two simply based on differing distribution methods. For example, unless you are on a portal that behaves more like a broadcaster with requisite running times, the story itself can dictate how long an episode is or even what an episode is. You can have one episode run ten minutes, and another only three. There are many other examples of the nuances besides. Don’t let the confinements of the TV format limit your thinking.
The sooner you think in terms of what works on the web than trying to translate a TV show or a film into a web series, the further ahead you are in the game. This works for both content and format. TV shows require mass appeal to be sustainable, while web series are often nurtured by hardcore fandoms that aren’t getting the content they want anywhere else. Don’t try to be TV of film online.

3) Sound
Audiences online can be pretty forgiving of production values for online content, particularly niche die hard fandoms that are underserved. They don’t expect a Hollywood budget, especially when Hollywood hasn’t had a legacy of producing content that speaks particularly to them – the talking heads of popular vloggers testify to this. But the one area you CANNOT skimp out on is sound.
Your sound budget has to be top notch particularly since you are not in control of the playback situation – is it on mobile? With shitty earbuds? While on a bus competing against the din of the crowd? Any sound issues that seem minimized in optimal conditions will be exasperated the way many people consume video content: in hand and on the go.

4) Alliances
As filmmakers know how to package films to attract attention and audiences, web series add value to their production through strategic alliances. This can take shape in many forms, the most popular being cross-overs and cross-promotional strategies with other web series, and casting in a smart way – instead of “named” actors, those who have developed hard core passionate audiences that share a fan base YOU want to target. Get connected with key influences and advocates who have a reputation for activating audiences: this includes online communities, bloggers, and even platforms. This is how some powerful MCN’s (Multi-channel networks) got their start to be the powerhouses they are today.

Think in terms of collaboration not competition. Share your audiences, don’t try to divide and conquer. Partner, partner, and partner.

5) Community Management
And on the topic of social: I had a good friend whose series exploded with popularity that brought an unexpected outcome: hate mail. When the fans didn’t like a turn in the story, they let him know, and they let him know hard. (“We should all have such problems,” I told him while stringing an imaginary violin).
Web Series is social. It allows a direct connection between creators and fans. This can be a mixed blessing, particularly in a cultural climate where fans feel an ownership over their fandoms, and territory fights can break out: even between fans and creators. Connectivity can be a blessing or a curse, but the great thing is you can be in control with how much you want to engage. Some web series creators engage in ongoing dialog with fans daily and others are standoffish. There is no single right way to engage.
However, it is wise to have a community management plan or strategy in place before problems arise. Never be reactionary. There are many great guides online for community management, social media policies, so use these to build your own template and guidelines. Being consistent is key.

And remember: fan hate means people are watching.
One final tip: if you are submitting to WebFests, remember what you might be able to get away with under the radar online you can’t get away with at a Fest. I’m talking particularly about rights management. You might elude the copyright cops by ripping a Top 40 song just through lack of discovery, but WebFests operate like any other Film Fest: they won’t take a risk on shows that may appear to have compromised E&O issues. So make sure you have managed rights properly from the get-go, and don’t take on a permissive attitude cause “everyone else is doing it”.

10 reasons why you should get your s–t together and apply to the IFP Filmmaker Lab

Posted on by admin

I have had the pleasure of being one of the lab leaders at the IFP Filmmaker Lab for the past 5 or so years (as you can imagine I help run the distribution and marketing component of the labs).  Each year the four times I travel to New York for the labs are some of the highlights of my calendar.  Yet I am continually amazed by the number of first time filmmakers that I talk to that didn’t apply to the lab (and many had not heard of it!).   So as the deadline for the Documentary Lab looms (March 7th! Narrative App due April 4), I thought I would take a little time to encourage filmmakers to apply – you never know what might happen!

1. It’s the first of its kind post production, distribution and marketing lab that helps shepherd first time filmmakers through the difficult aspects of not only creating the best film possible but also the often arcane post production and delivery process.

2.  It is not a one-time lab – it takes place over -6-7 months and meets three times– each session building on your progress and what you learned the last time.   The first session is focused on editing and postproduction, the second on marketing and the third on distribution.  Your film is assigned a mentor who is with you during these months.  You also get continued support from the amazing team at IFP: Amy, Milton, Rose, Dan, Chantel and more.

3. You get new eyes on your film: During the post production session, you get feedback on your edit not only from a super experienced editor but also from the aforementioned folks at IFP and your peers in the lab.

4.  Speaking of peers – each lab creates a close knit group of friends who then proceed to help each other out not only through the post process but through the arduous and at times elating and at times discouraging process of distribution and marketing.

5.  It is the only lab that helps you develop a distribution and marketing strategy for your film.  Many of the films in the lab receive some form of traditional distribution deal – but many – like most films – create some form of hybrid release – combining unique theatrical, broadcast, merch and digital opportunities.  We bring in industry experts to discuss the latest trends and workshop what might be the best distribution strategy for your film.

6.  We help you identify the audience for your film, figure out ways to connect to that audience and bring in a panel of industry experts to review and hone your marketing strategy and materials.

7.  Your project is elevated within the independent film community.  Of the 50,000 films made every year – yours are one of 20 selected by one of the premiere film organizations in the world.  People pay attention.

8.  You are automatically included in IFP’s Independent Film Week either in the Spotlight on Docs or Emerging Narrative.  This is an amazing program designed for films that are just about to hit the marketplace – you are teamed up with top notch film festivals, distributors, aggregators, broadcasters, service providers who are all interested in your film.  The marketing lab is timed to help you hone your materials and pitch right before you go out and present your film to the industry.

9.  IFP will be your partner in crime after the labs are finished.  They make calls on your behalf, they help you give birth to your film through festivals, screenings etc.  Nearly every film that has come through the lab in the last few years has received some form of distribution from the incredible DIY approach of John Henry Summerour’s Sahkanaga to Dee Rees’ Pariah.

10.  All of the above for the low low price of 0!   Its Free – you just have to get yourself to NYC three times a year. And really – how bad is that?

Bonus Reason:  Best of all, you become a part of the IFP family.  (This has actually been one of the most gratifying parts of the lab for me as well – that even though I live in LA – I consider the people at IFP my second family).  They want to help you with your next films, cheerlead you, and push you in new directions.  It is truly a magical group that any filmmaker would be lucky to be a part of.

Unlike many other labs – this is a one time opportunity – only open to first time filmmakers – so if that’s not you – sorry, share it with a friend.  If it is you – why not take the plunge?

Creating Innovative Merchandise

Its the IFP Film Week in NYC where I just was for the IFP Lab and the new IFP PMD Lab – so with that in mind – I am posting my new clip about merchandise and an intro to innovative merchandise.


Launching New TOTBO Workshop Webclips

Posted on by admin

I am kicking off a series of excerpts from my Think Outside the Box Office Master Classes today on my new YouTube Channel TheJonReiss. I am rebooting my YouTube channel because even though I had some decent views on YouTube.com/jfilm1 – it didn’t feel like that accurate or searchable. Since I am going to start releasing regular content not only from my workshops, but also interviews with filmmakers, artists and people on the cutting edge of audience engagement, I thought it was time to start fresh. On the channel you can also see excerpts from my film and music video work as well. I look forward to your thoughts on the clips as they roll out.

This week’s post concerns setting the goals for your release. I am a firm believer that it is essential for filmmakers to have a clear idea of what their goals are for their film’s release and to prioritize one or perhaps 2 specific goals because a film team will use different release strategies to achieve different goals. I see 4 main goals that most filmmakers strive for in their releases:

1. Money (Fortune)

2. A career launch, helping get another film made. (Fame – for a traditional career based on the previous film career paradigm that only exists for a small percentage of filmmakers these days).

3. Audience (some people just want their film to be seen by an audience as wide as possible.

4. Change the World – especially for documentary.

However I encourage most (if not all) filmmakers to consider a fifth goal:

5. A long-term relationship with a potentially sustainable audience/fan base. This is an essential component of any modern media release – yet most filmmakers still do not consider this a primary goal. This goal is different in objective than the old school fame based career launch (Number 2 above). It is not about press, “heat”, ego. Its about connection, engagement and a bringing your fans with you from project to project. This goal is not achievable if you sell your film outright in an all-rights scenario. In that case your distributor has access to your audience data – not you (although most don’t cultivate this data – yet).

Next week’s clip will talk about the importance of prioritizing your goals. In other words you are better off pursuing one goal. If you don’t, you are at the risk of not achieving any of your goals. Upcoming posts will concern identifying and engaging audience, creating events, merchandise, digital rights, timing as well as interviews with artists and filmmakers such as Timo Vuorensola, Molly Crabapple, Corey McAbee and many more.

I’m launching the channel today as part of my Spring Workshop Kickoff. Yesterday I gave a “Strategic Distribution Workshop 202” at Hot Docs Toronto. I will be helping lead the IFP Filmmaker Labs in NYC in May and June. I will also be giving a mini-workshop at Sheffield Doc Fest in June 15th and then in London on June 23, 24th for a newly revamped two day TOTBO Distribution Master Class.

I’ve also created some Hot Docs Specials on my store where you can get a PDF of TOTBO for $4.95 and a hard copy for $9.95.

Follow on Twitter
Like on Facebook

Five Question Q+A with Jon Reiss for NAMAC

I recently did a short Q+A for Rachel Allen with the National Alliance for Media Art + Culture (NAMAC). NAMAC is an invaluable resource of independent film, video and multimedia organizations, and I recommend everyone checks them out.

Five Question Q+A with Jon Reiss by Rachel Allen

Meet Jon Reiss. Jon is a filmmaker (Bomb It, Better Living Through Circuitry), author (Think Outside the Box Office) and consultant whose most recent book is Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul which he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler. He works with numerous film organizations, film schools and festivals to bring a variety of distribution labs and workshops around the world. His upcoming books concern new models of artistic entrepreneurship and the concept Producer of Marketing and Distribution.

RA: What drew you to your work?

JR: I made a film called Bomb It, which is about graffiti all over the world. We frankly thought that we were going to sell the film in a traditional fashion and we didn’t. There’s a long story behind that. Basically, I ended up distributing the film mainly myself, but I had other distribution partners. I started writing about it and people liked the writing that I did. I realized that I enjoyed talking to filmmakers about this process and I decided to write a book about it. I enjoyed talking to people about new ideas and how filmmaking has changed in terms of engaging with audiences. Continue reading →

Putting Chilean Film on the Map

On Thursday and Friday of this week (Oct 20-21) I will be at the Flyway Film Festival, presenting my two-day Think Outside the Box Office workshop on the ever-changing world of hybrid distribution and marketing. Today, though, I am thrilled to share a guest post from Chilean filmmaker Bernardo Palau whose first feature film ‘Saving You’ had a small theatrical release in Chile in November 2010 and is now available on iTunes.  Here is his post:


By Bernardo Palau

I live in Chile — a long and thin land at the end of the world — at the southernmost point of South America. Chile is a country mainly known for its wines, the variety of its landscapes and its writers and poets like Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda and Vicente Huidobro.

I say “mainly” because every day Chile is getting more and more known for a different kind of poet/storyteller: its filmmakers. Over the last few years many Chilean films have navigated the A-class film festival circuit, which has placed Chile on the map of world cinema in the eyes of the press.

Leaving aside the recently deceased Raoul Ruiz and his prolific filmography, many directors, including Sebastian Silva (‘The Maid’), Matias Bize (‘The life of the fish’), Pablo Larraín (‘Tony Manero’), Gonzalo Justiniano (‘B-Happy’), Sebastian Lelio (‘Christmas’), and others have created a lot of buzz at various international film festivals. But is that all there is to Chilean cinema?

No, actually. There are still a lot of Chilean films out there that the world doesn’t know about yet.

Allow me to explain: In Chile we have two major kind of films, the Public (or State) co-finance films, which have big budgets for our industry (normally between $500,000 and $2,000,000), enabling them to have a great festival presence around the world. On the other hand, we also have micro-budget guerrilla / garage films that work with small budgets, small crews and a lot of good will.

Continue reading →

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!)
Continue reading →

Bomb It 2 on Babelgum To Watch List for Fast Company Magazine

Posted on by Emy

Babelgum Actually — gasps — Pays for Users to Create Videos

So far as I know, Babelgum is the only company paying Web-video creators money up front,” says chief revenue officer Douglas Dicconson. And not for low-brow stuff, but ambitious professional works such as British documentarian Daniel Edelstyn’s Vodka Empire, the unlikely 25-part saga of his discovery that he’s heir to a Ukrainian vodka factory, and his attempt to bring Zorokovich 1917 to the modern spirits world. […]

Dicconson says that he closed more revenue in the first quarter of 2010 than in the past three years combined. And momentum continued this past spring as Babelgum’s traffic spiked to 5.7 million visitors a month, when Vamped Out and Vodka Empire first aired. Na zdorovye!

3 to Watch

Dirty Oil
Babelgum’s first fully financed feature film, helmed by Academy Award-nominee Leslie Iwerks, will get its U.S. debut as an episodic series. Dirty Oil examines the economic and ecological impact of the oil sands in Alberta.

Vamped Out
When we last saw our vampiric out-of-work-actor hero Alowisus Hewson (Jason Antoon) in season one, he was sucking a young Hollywood starlet’s blood while formerly skeptical documentary filmmaker Elliot Finke (series writer and director Kevin Pollak) wigged out. Will the 172-year-old thespian find work in a Twilight world?

Bomb It 2
Babelgum produced the original street art/graffiti documentary, and the sequel will profile artists from locations such as Singapore (third offense is a caning!) and the Middle East. “In Israel, there’s a blossoming street-art culture with percolations of ideas,” says director Jon Reiss, “but in the Palestinian refugee camps, everything is political.”

Read more here or on the September issue of Fast Company magazine.