Tag: “Indie film”

Five Reasons Why “Whose Streets” is Essential Viewing

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While at the Sundance Film Festival this past week I had the fortune to to see the premiere of “Whose Streets” by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis – produced by Jennifer MacArthur.   It was even more fortunate because I was able to view this powerful film on inauguration day and it provided wonderful counterprogramming. I was struck by a number of things in the film that still resonate with me almost a week later.

1. The film shows how far we still have to go as a nation to confront a legacy of slavery that is still with us.  The film wisely starts with a reference to the Dred Scott decision in 1846 and compares it to contemporary St. Louis and Ferguson. (In the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court in one of its most notorious decisions, declared that since Dred Scott was a slave he was not a citizen. As such he did not have a right to sue for his freedom even though he lived in a non-slave state.)  This initial juxtaposition, along with the quotes from prominent black leaders that served as chapter breaks, was all the contextualization the audience needs.   Very soon we see the largely white police using overwhelming force to intimidate and control the primarily black citizens of Ferguson.  The dogs used for “crowd control” is enough to throw you back to the 60s and beyond.

2. The film does an incredible job of constructing the story of people living through the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death focusing on four activists:  Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed. Weaving a narrative from a wide range of filmed and archival/cell phone material the filmmakers provide a visceral experience where you feel that you are there on the streets with the mourners and protesters. You live the events with them, and see how truth unfolds through their eyes.  

3. I believe it might have been the LAPD under Daryl Gates that spearheaded the militarization of local police with armored battering rams being used in the early 1980s. (http://www.laweekly.com/news/the-militarization-of-police-started-in-los-angeles-5010287). The film Do Not Resist (http://www.donotresistfilm.com/) which came out last year, uses Ferguson as a backdrop to examine the increase in militarization of police forces across the country. But Whose Streets is the first film that I have seen that gives a sense of what it is like for American citizens conducting peaceful protests to come face to face with police in full combat gear flanked by armored personnel carriers.  Our founding fathers would be aghast.

4. I like to feel that I am a savvy media viewer – but the contrast presented by this film between the stories of the people on the ground and traditional news media was stunning.  As shown in Do Not Resist, the events of Ferguson have been used as a justification to increase the militarization of police forces in the US.  But Whose Streets deftly shows the distortion of the mainstream by constructing the reality of events as witnessed by those on the receiving end of force.  There is much talk about media bias these days and real stories not being told.  Somehow my bet is that most of the untold stories and media bias is of and against the marginalized.

  5. On the bus after the screening a white women commented on how she felt that there should have been many more interviews with white people to broaden the appeal of the film. But why does a film about black experience in America need to be mediated by white people?   I think she perhaps missed one of the key points of the film:  having a lived experience of how racism in American society has stayed embedded in our society.

I was inspired by the bravery of the activists in the film and their families in the face of such intense opposition. The film shows through the lives of Brittany Farrel, David Whitt, Tef Poe and Kayla Reed how difficult the struggle for human rights can be.   Coming at a time when our country is facing an attempt to push back gains made across the board in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, etc., the film is a much needed inspiration for activism and the need for continued struggle.

 

 

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”

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

 

Richmond_Christian

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.

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Guest Post: Top 5 Webseries Tips

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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”.

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.

 

Creating a Unique Strategy For Your Film

Posted on by Jon Reiss

Today’s video concerns the fundamental principle of how every film is different and needs a unique marketing and distribution plan.  To create this plan, filmmakers need to examine:

1. Their Goals

2.  Their Film

3.  Their Audience

4. Their resources.

I spend a little extra time on goals again talking about “Ride the Divide” and how right before distribution, the producer and director didn’t realize that they had disparate goals.  The director, Hunter Weeks, wanted the film to help launch a new film, the producer, Mike Dion, wanted to recoup.  They ultimately decided to pursue monetization first.  However in doing so they were actually able to meet the goals of launching new projects – but they realized without setting one goal first – they would have had trouble achieving either one.

 

Future posts will cover the other topics of your film, your audience, your resources.

 

 

Distribs, theaters take on new media

Check out this interesting new article in Variety on the ever-changing world of film distribution. Yours truly was one of Gregg’s sources.

Firstrun screenings have become events by Gregg Goldstein

Can kung-fu fighting monks, cave screenings and feral, caged Santa Clauses save the movie biz?

Exhibitors sure hope so. Around the globe, theaters and distribs are fighting competition from new media by turning firstrun screenings into the kind of events one expects at a theme park or state fair.

London’s Future Cinema, set to hit New York and Paris next year, draws up to 17,000 people for its surprise Secret Cinema screenings, with a troupe of actors mingling with the audience in environments staged to match the film. Alamo Drafthouse flew a real-life “Iron Man” with a custom jet pack above one of its theaters on the film’s opening weekend. Microdistrib Variance Films enlisted local comedians for 10-minute warmup sets and post-screening Q&As for its comic doc “American: The Bill Hicks Story.”

Though indie films can often make their biggest profits via one-night or weekend event screenings, one stumbling block to this approach, notes filmmaker and “Think Outside the Box Office” author Jon Reiss, is that news outlets usually won’t give crucial reviews for films booking less than a weeklong run. Another is that box office for these runs usually isn’t tallied by Rentrak or other tracking services, which can handicap filmmakers looking for ancillary deals.

Read the rest of the article at variety.com.

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 →

DIY Days Workshop

I will be at DIY Days on Friday, October 28th, presenting my Artistic Entrepreneurship workshop from 3:45 to 4:25 pm.  I will be speaking about how to create long term relationships with fans through engagement, live events, merchandise and digital releases. Half the time will be allotted for presentation, and half the time will be devoted to workshopping audience projects/artistic brands.

Some of the other great speakers at DIY Days include Joel Arquillos, Hunter Weeks, Henry Jenkins, Jim Babb, Yomi Ayeni, Adam Chapnick and Christy Dena, among others. At 5:30 pm I will be at UCLA’s Young Research Library for the L.A. launch party of my new book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul cowritten with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler. Hope to see you there.

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:

PUTTING CHILEAN FILM ON THE MAP

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.


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