Tag: IFP Filmmaker Lab

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?





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

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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?

Top 10 Things Learned in the IFP PMD LAB


Jon talking Merchandise at the IFP PMD Lab

Top 10 Things Learned in the IFP PMD LAB

By Jon Reiss

I have had the good fortune to be involved in IFP’s Independent Filmmaker Labs for the past several years now and I have seen innumerable benefits to the films and filmmakers who participate.  The Labs provide an opportunity for first-time filmmakers to not only receive feedback on their films from their peers and experienced filmmakers but it is the first lab to prepare filmmakers for the essential work of distribution and marketing.

This year we launched the IFP PMD LAB (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) the first of its kind.  This year, the PMD Lab worked in conjunction with the Filmmaker Labs, with all the participating PMDs attached to a film in the Filmmaker Labs.

Since the end of the year if full of 10 best lists – I thought I would compile the 10 best results of the inaugural year of the PMD Lab.

1.  Defining What A PMD Is. I think this is of critical importance as this nascent crew position develops.   A PMD is not just a social media manager.  To be a PMD a person must be involved in all aspects of a film’s distribution and marketing, including audience identification and engagement, creating a distribution and marketing plan, budgeting that plan, creating marketing elements, creating and managing other assets to help promote the film, etc. All of this in concert with the filmmakers.    See this post for more.     I think the PMD trainees were amazed and excited about the scope of this position.

2.  Learning how to identify audience.  After understanding the goals of the team, the first assignment for the trainees was to identify the audience for their film.  Many of the films had already started this process in the spring Filmmaker Labs sessions.  But rarely do first-time filmmakers fully understand their audiences in the first go round.  It also takes time for the notion of niche vs. core audience to sink in – and how to view how audiences can expand from a core. See this clip from one of my workshops for reference. 

3.  Learning how to engage that audience.    This is a career-long process and can be daunting at first.   It is important again that it is not just about social media – we stress that it is crucial to know how each particular audience learns about films and then to target that source – influencers, social media, organizations, traditional media – whatever works.

4.  Develop marketing tools for the film (after understanding who the audience is).   We have the PMD trainees (and in fact all Lab films) create initial marketing materials most of which are essentials for a press kit: logline, one line synopsis, short synopsis, key art, website and, if possible and appropriate, trailer and social media sites.

5.  Workshop those marketing tools.   One my favorite parts of the Filmmaker Labs and PMD Labs are the Marketing Labs held right before IFPs Independent Film Week.  Each team presents the marketing plan for the film and it is workshopped with a panel of professionals.  Some heated discussions result.  The process either helps crystallize the beginnings of a plan for the team – or makes them realize they have a ways to go.  Either way I find that they are so much further along than most filmmakers by starting this process in post.

6.  Writing a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  The last assignment for the PMDs was to write a distribution and marketing plan for their films.  I am a broken record on this: every film is different and needs a unique plan.  It is essential that PMDs learn not only how to write these plans – but to understand all of the aspects contained within.  It is hard to teach this in a crash course (which we had in September and December).  But what I found most instructive was:

7.  Evaluating different distribution options.   In the December Distribution Labs, we had the opportunity to see each of the 20 filmmaking teams present their distribution plan, and to have that discussed by incredible experts in emerging distribution models. It became very apparent what types of distribution options are available to filmmakers and how those can be crafted for each individual film.

8. Learning how to budget that plan.   In order to execute a plan you have to figure out how much money you need to execute the plan.   Going through an extensive distribution and marketing budget can be daunting – but it is also important to know what you need to pay for in order to achieve that film’s goals.

9.  Creating a community of PMDs.  The trainees told me that one of the best outcomes of the PMD Lab was the community that they created amongst themselves.  While we had monthly phone sessions and 2 separate Lab meetings, the trainees would contact each other on a regular basis, which has continued even after the Lab’s completion.  They are even supporting other films from the Labs that did not have PMD trainees.   Several of the trainees have been so excited by the concept that they will be participating in the PMD website that we intend to put on the IFP site next year and to determine a way that PMDs around the world can find community (stay tuned!).

10.  Learning how to develop a career as a PMD.  This was a strong interest for the trainees – naturally.  What I stressed is that the PMD is just like any other film position.  You have to start small to build your way up – finding any way to gain experience.  Little by little filmmakers are realizing that they need to budget for this crew position.   One of the goals of the above mentioned site is to provide a centralized place that filmmakers can find PMDs for their projects.

If you think you can be a PMD please feel free to contact me so that I can keep you abreast of these developments.


PMDs In Action

As you know, Sheri Candlerand I have been reaching out to working Producer’s of Marketing and Distribution (PMDs) and a few have contacted me with some festival and awards news:

Stephen Dypiangco who is currently working as a PMD on “How to Live Forever” by Mark Wexler is also working as a PMD on a short film  “God of Love” which was just nominated for an Oscar.   Pretty exciting for Stephen and his team – and the first Oscar nom for a film with a PMD.   Perhaps next year there will be a feature nominated with a PMD!

Sally Hogsdon who is based in England is working as a PMD for “Sound It Out” was just announced as part of the SXSW lineup.  She is working with James Collie of “Beyond Biba” fame who is working as the distribution consultant on the film.    I had the pleasure of meeting when I was in London last spring for the first TOTBO workshop.

Kinyarwanda which was one of the IFP Filmmaker Lab films in 2010 won the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic at Sundance.  Tommy Oliver started off on Kinyarwanda as the PMD but then got so involved in the film he now has full producer credit (and I am hoping he still claims PMD credit as well).

Congrats to all.  If you are a PMD and have some exciting news and/or want to be in the loop for a PMD tips, news etc – drop me an email through this blog!