Tag: Jon Reiss

Top 5 Misunderstandings About Self Distribution

In the US many filmmakers are starting to get that they need to be responsible for distributing and marketing their films. We’ve been in this new paradigm since 2007 at least. But here in Europe – the mythology of white knights rescuing your film and you and carrying your film into the limelight is still very much alive. Most likely because there are still remnants of broadcast deals, co-production and government support even though those are declining precipitously. So Chris Jones asked me to write a blog post to address the top 5 misunderstandings of self distribution. Here it is – would love to know your thoughts.

1. “I don’t need to worry about distribution – a company will buy my film and do that for me.”

Unfortunately the world has changed. Estimates range that 35,000-50,000 new feature films made every year. Only 600 get on the international festival circuit. 200 get into Sundance. Of those, last year only 20 made deals starting in the low six figures. Multiply that by 5 sales markets worldwide. In a great year 100 films out of 50,000 are making deals starting in the low 6 figures. All rights distribution deals don’t exist anymore except for the lucky few. Part of the reason the Sundance Institute started Sundance Artist Services was to help all of the films who had been in the Sundance Film Festival but never received distribution. Around the world broadcast licenses are decreasing and film fund revenues are shrinking. However the world rewards entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy.

2. “Distribution and Marketing is something I can worry about later – right now I need to focus on making my film.”

Filmmaking used to be only about making films. Now filmmaking has 2 parts – making a film – and connecting that film to an audience. It is what I call the new 50/50. But this is not a sequential process any longer. The earlier you start engaging your audience the more successful you will be in achieving your goals. Full stop. The process will also be more organic – since you will involve your audience in the process of making the film and as a result they will be invested with you and your project. A very good example of this is Iron Sky.

3. “If I think about my audience I am selling out.”

A better way to think of this is: You are not changing your film for the market (that usually results in failure anyway), instead you are connecting with the audience that already exists for your film.

However by thinking of the audience in advance perhaps there are elements that you might include that will aid in financing or marketing. For instance the documentary Ride the Divide received sponsorship from some of the manufacturers that supplied clothing to the endurance bikers featured in the film. This way the film benefited from considering the larger audience with no sacrifice to the creative spirit of the film.

Taking this one step further, it is better to know in advance that your film might have a very small audience – since then it would be best to keep your expenses low in creating the film (if you need to be concerned about recouping your financial investment). Better to make a film for less than be saddled with a mound of debt later. Even further if you have $100,000 to make a film, better to spend $50,000 on making the film and $50,000 on connecting that film to an audience. You will be far ahead of 95% of other filmmakers.

4. “I can’t imagine doing all that work by myself.”

Self distribution is not self distribution. It is not DIY. I am known as the “DIY guy” because I wrote a manual to help filmmakers distribute their films. However in that book I stress that distribution and marketing is about collaboration and partnerships. I prefer the term Hybrid Distribution. You as the filmmaker manage the process but you engage various entities to do much of the actual distribution: digital aggregators, DVD companies, shopping carts, fulfillment companies, television broadcasters, bookers, publicists. It still involves work – but not as much as doing everything yourself, which I only recommend as a fallback. Partnering with companies extends your reach tremendously and there are more and more companies forming every month for you to help you. American: The Bill Hicks Story is a wonderful UK example of this.

5. “I am not a salesperson, I am an artist.”

Well that may or may not be true. Many great filmmakers are also salespeople. It takes sales skills to sell your film to actors, financiers or anyone else to believe in your film and get involved. Most successful directors in the traditional Hollywood world are “good in a room.”

In the new model of artistic entrepreneurship (which musicians have been engaging with for a number of years now) artists need to think more and more creatively about making a living. Look at the products on OK Go’s website.

In the spirit of collaboration (see #4 above) I recommend that films have what I have termed a Producer of Marketing and Distribution (or PMD) on their team to be the person on their team to spearhead audience engagement (which is what I call distribution and marketing). Since nearly half of the work of filmmaking (if not more) is distribution and marketing and since distribution companies cannot in any way handle the glut of films that are made every year, filmmakers need a PMD as much as a DP, Editor, AD, Line Producer etc. The earlier filmmakers recognize this, the more they will achieve their goals and the happier they will be. This concept has already been embraced in the UK: Sally Hodgson is the PMD for Sound It Out, Ben Kempas is the PMD for The Scottish Documentary Institute and Dogwoof has started being a PMD for select films.

Don’t be one of those filmmakers that I constantly encounter who say “I made a film, I’m in a mound of debt, I’ve been in a ton of film festivals, and no one has bought my film and I don’t have any money or energy to do it myself and I don’t have anyone to help me.”

Start early, plan for it, engage and embrace the new world.

All of these concepts and more I will be covering in my 2 Day Distribution Master Class this weekend in London June 23, 24.

The Importance of Events in Your Career Toolkit

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This week’s TOTBO video concerns the importance of redefining the nature of theatrical. In this clip I speak about how creating a “live event” for your film can be an essential aspect of your film’s release. As I’ve said before I feel that theatrical must be redefined as live event/theatrical. Eventually I feel the term theatrical will be dropped and people will only refer to events. I emphasize live and event because I feel that those are truly the essential nature of screening your film in public – that it is a unique communal experience unavailable anywhere else. That is what is going to motivate people to see the film live – not just the fact that it is in a theater playing Fri-Thur.

Events have a multitude of benefits – they let you engage directly with your audience, they provide a way to organize publicity, they enable you to put your work out in the form it was intended (for me the form initially was a book – the workshops are now an adjunct to that – but all part of the same concept) and they are an additional revenue stream.

I feel that all artists can benefit from creating events for their work – musicians have concerts, artists have gallery openings, authors have readings and book signings etc. But there are new and exciting forms emerging such as last years theater/dance/immersive hybrid “Sleep No More”.

I’m releasing this particular clip as I prepare to go out on my own live event tour this month – hitting New York, Sheffield, Nottingham, London and Berlin (if you are in any of those cities in June – check out the dates below and I hope to see you there).

June 11-13 I’ll be one of the lab leaders again for IFP’s Narrative Filmmaking Lab in New York City.

June 14-17 The Sheffield Documentary Festival in the United Kingdom to speak about Artistic Entrepreneurship for Documentary Filmmakers.

June 20-21 Nottingham, England TOTBO 2 Day Master Class as part of Second Light Producer’s Lab in association with the Producers’ Forum.

June 23-24 A Two Day Distribution Master Class hosted at Regent’s College London which is again being organized by Chris Jones who organized my first ever workshop 2 years ago.

June 25-28 After London, I fly to Berlin, Germany to speak on Strategic Distribution at the Trans Atlantic Partners Conference.

Your Audience: Niche vs Core

Posted on by Jon Reiss

This weeks TOTBO workshop clip continues the process of audience identification and differentiates between the concepts niche versus core. They are not the same thing. The core are the most engaged members of any niche – the most likely to engage with you and potentially spread the word about your work. I use Bomb It as an example but in the new workshops will be talking Joffrey and other films. For Joffrey the core of the ballet niche was of course people who loved the joffrey and within that the supercore are the former members of the Joffrey and of course the current Joffrey Ballet. They have been incredibly supportive of the film, have spread the word, participated in events and much more.

Identifying Your Audience

Posted on by Jon Reiss

This weeks TOTBO Episode concerns the first steps of audience engagement. To do that you must evaluate your audience – which I propose in three steps:

1. Who is your audience (s)?
2. Where do they receive information and recommendations?
3. How do they consume media?

In the episode I then talk about the importance of niche audiences and distinguish them from core audiences. For independent films, and all independent artists, it is important to identify your audience as specifically as possible. You can’t compete with marketing budgets of corporations (the studios) to reach large mass audiences, so you must start small. Fortunately the internet gives you the tools to reach out to niche audiences. But within each niche are cores who are the people I recommend starting with – who are the most active within each reach and are more liable to engage with you.

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.

 

 

Launching New TOTBO Workshop Webclips

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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.

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Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

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Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (2nd Edition, Focal Press) by Stacey Parks. Available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

Interview With Filmmaker Jon Reiss On Target Audience

Q: Tell us about Target Audience and what will happen if a filmmaker doesn’t identify this early on in the process?

A: To me a target audience is one of the niches that exist in the world that would be interested in your film (or anything that you do).   A niche is a group of people focused on a particular interest.  They are accessible.  You can afford to market to them.

For instance in the case of my film “Bomb It”, one of the niche audiences is graffiti writers and street artists.  Another niche audience is people who love graffiti and street art.  A third audience for Bomb It is underground hip hop (specifically people who argue over how many “elements” there are in hip hop – graffiti often being called one of the “4 elements of hip hop” (some people feel that there are 5, others 9, etc).  While you may think that people who love hip hop is also an audience – that is too broad of an audience for us to tackle with limited means. It is best to drill down as deep as possible to the narrowest niche, or core within a niche, in order to begin engagement.

This process takes time and the earlier you start it, the better.  Your release will be much more successful (assuming connection with audience is one of your goals) if you have started to engage your audience (or at least the core of your audience) prior to your release.  If you don’t, you will be struggling to gain audience during your release. By not laying this foundation, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.

Q: Once you identify your Target Audience, what’s next? Any tips on aggregating?

For me there are 3 TOTBO (Think Outside the Box Office) Steps of Audience Engagement:

1.  Who?  You must identify your audience – discussed in #1 above.  And within each niche you should identify the core audience(s) within each niche.

2.  Where?  You must determine where and how this audience(s) receives information – and it will be different for every audience.  Some audiences don’t use social networks – even today.  Others are on Facebook or Ning more than Twitter.   Each niche will have certain blogs that are important to it.  You determine this via research.

3.  How?  Does this audience consume media?  In other words – how might they watch or interact with the story of your film?   Will they go see a live event, do they still buy DVDs.  What other kinds of merchandise might they buy?  On what platforms do they watch digital content?   You need to know this in order to connect your final film (or any product) with your audience(s).

Q: I hear filmmakers say all the time how difficult it is to start any type of campaign for their film during Pre-Production because nothing is really ‘happening’ yet. In your opinion, how can filmmakers create an initial campaign for their films during Pre-Pro?

I think “campaign” is the wrong way to think about it.  I recommend that people/filmmakers think in terms of connection.  You have fans out in the world (they may not know you exist) – you need to connect with them.

Topics could include: What are you interested in?  Why are you making this film?  What are your struggles?  How might you need help? How can your audience contribute to your film, not just financially (crowd funding), but also creatively (crowdsourcing)?  Ask them questions about different concepts, techniques you are considering etc.   Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are as important for audience connection as it is for money or creative contributions.

But more importantly – don’t just talk about yourself and your film. In fact no more than 20% of what you talk about or put out through your various channels should be about your film and yourself. 80% (at least) should information valuable (or entertaining) to your audience.   Go out and listen to your community and then become an authority within that community. Talk about the film once in a while – and then when you are in release, your audience will gladly support, promote, and refer you.

Q: All this can be so overwhelming to think about doing on your own — what kind of team should filmmakers be building during Pre-Pro to facilitate the marketing of their film?

I believe that filmmaking is a two-part process.  The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience.   I think the most important team member to bring on in Pre-Production is the person I call the Producer of Marketing and Distribution – or PMD.   This person is the point person for all aspects of audience engagement as outlined above.   If you recognize that it is important to connect with audiences, then you absolutely need to devote resources to this process.  Everyone with traditional film positions already has their plate full making the film.  Filmmakers need to realize that unless they themselves will take on this work, they must get someone on their crew who will, just like they have someone line produce or edit.   That is why I created the position of the PMD in Think Outside the Box Office, because unless there is a clearly defined role for these tasks, they will not get done.

Q: Tell us about “Bomb-It” – what did you if anything during Pre-Pro that set you up for a successful release of the film later?

For “Bomb It” we started shooting right away,  so our pre-production and production happened simultaneously – for about 2 years.  But all during this time we were actively engaging our audience:

1.  We set up a website and a blog.  We posted regularly to this blog, very rarely about our film.  We posted almost exclusively about our subject – graffiti and street art.  Specifically, we posted items that interested us and we felt would be interesting to our audience.  We featured artists that we interviewed as well as bloggers, journalists and influencers within our community – see #6 below.

2. On our website we incentivized people to join our email list by offering to mail them stickers (yes via snail mail). This is an early example of an Email for Media campaign.  It cost a few hundred dollars to execute but 1).  It was directed at our specific audience.  2). It gave people something in exchange for what they were giving us (their email address).   We had 1000 people on our list by our premiere.

3.  We set up a Myspace page.  Remember this is 2004/2005 when we started (Facebook wasn’t the force it is now – and our audience was not on Facebook at that time. Our audiences were on Myspace – see research above).  By the time we premiered at Tribeca Film Festival we had nearly 5000 fans on Myspace.

4.   We cut trailers as soon as we had enough footage and posted them to YouTube – and directed our audience to them.  We were on our 2nd trailer by the time we premiered.

5.  We reached out to key bloggers, journalists, galleries and influencers within the community.   We created friendships with these people that lasted beyond the release.

Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt 1

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Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules’s new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,about the history of the Joffrey ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. Future posts will go more in depth on certain aspects of this release.

With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, by some estimates, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals.   When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film.   We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape.   Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event.   Festivals are great partners for these types of events – even if you don’t get into a top 10 festival – because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences.

In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1.  A premiere that will reach your audience.  Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey:  Mavericks of American Dance.   Sure, there are other audiences for a film like this – but it is essential to go after who will be the most passionate about seeing the film.   For this reason, we targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival which not only is one of the premiere dance film festivals in the world, it is based in New York City – the birthplace of the Joffrey ballet and the center of the dance world in the United States.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film.   Festivals have many films to care for and promote as well as promoting the brand of the festival in general and often they have a small staff to accomplish all of this.  There is a lot for the media to choose from for coverage.  What will make your film unique and interesting to cover?  We decided early on to partner with Emerging Pictures to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press to pay attention to. Emerging was a natural choice because they screen live ballet performances from Europe through a digital network of cinemas throughout the US, so their cinemas already have an audience for this type of programming. They also have the technology in place at Lincoln Center that enables a netcast to happen so the venue and the festival wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics of the simulcast.

Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always  enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences.   You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend.  Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.    Having this panel discussion netcast live to theaters around the country allowed audiences in to ask questions of this panel as well as interact with each other via Twitter using the hashtag  #joffreymovie – creating a unique event not only in the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, but in 44 other cities around the country at the same time. This is also a unique event for media coverage because so few films take advantage of the technology today that enables something like this to happen and having such a concentration of iconic dancers in one place makes this newsworthy.

3. The budget you have to work with.  We have a modest budget for the release of Joffrey so we had to do a lot with limited means.  We have a small staff handling publicity, audience outreach, booking screenings and organizing merchandise sales. Bearing this in mind, we needed the most bang for the effort because we launched the film into the market during our festival premiere. We won’t have separate budgets for festival publicity and then release publicity in order to start selling.

Utilizing the Emerging network only costs at most $1000 (which can be taken off the top).  Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time.

In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time – it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets – thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

In another post, we will talk at length about the need for additional media assets to promote your film and all of the ways we have done this.   One way that you can garner additional assets during release is by filming and documenting your events.

You want to film the event itself – outside the theater, crowd shots, audience arriving at seats, applause, the audience watching the film during the screening and the entire Q&A. Very important to capture audience expectation before and reaction after the screening.  I recommend having two cameras so that one can be filming the Q&A and the other filming the crowd reaction outside.  You also want a photographer shooting the event if possible.

What you film can be utilized in a number of ways:

  • Short promotional videos that you can release on your Youtube channel to promote the film.  For the premiere we created two videos.  The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction.

The second piece which we are now premiering with this article concerns the simulcast of the film and the audience participation.

  • Still photography of the people and personalities at the event (especially those that are interesting to your core audience and some that may be interesting to society pages and other publications).
  • Longer pieces of the Q&A panel discussion or even of just the filmmakers in conversation.  You can use these on your extra features.  Since our extra features have already been locked and since we have received numerous requests from people around the country to see these panels, we are going to put the full-length panel discussions up on the web on Distrify and charge a dollar or two for the viewing as an additional revenue stream.

5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. Where will all of this publicity attention go? In the past, they hoped it led to a distribution deal, but that cannot be relied upon now. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. In the lead up and following our premiere, we have booked over 20 other screenings and we continue to set up screenings. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise. Don’t let the efforts and the financial resources you put into the premiere stall out from waiting. In a future post, we will talk about how we prepared for sales by setting up the web store and creating the merchandise.

The Results

We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film.   A number of these screenings actually sold out.  We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once).    Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie  reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.   Some of the comments we received through twitter:

#JoffreyMovie Santa Fe, NM – our audience loved it, thank you so much! congrats on premiering a new, high tech way of running a Q&A!”

@JoffreyMovie #joffreymovie It’s insightful, performance history is fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tBeFP9IN.”

“The excellent #joffreymovie & panel yesterday @danceoncamera made me wistful for @joffreyballet of old. I loved taking class w Mr. Joffrey.”

The release continues and we will provide some in depth posts on this site of the different methods we have used to reach audiences and generate awareness and sales for the film.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs.  He will be at SXSW this weekend participating in the panel “Tough Love: Why You’re Still Not Festival Ready” on Saturday, March 10, 2012 He will also be signing the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler.   Next week he will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for the Digital Capital Symposium March 13-14, speaking on Artistic Entrepreneurship.  If you’re in the Austin or Baltimore areas, please drop in and introduce yourself. Follow Like

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist for independent films. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers. Currently, she is working with Hybrid Cinema to release the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a history of the Joffrey Ballet. She can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter  and on Google Plus.

An Innovative Launch for Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

An Innovative Launch for Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance
By Jon Reiss

For the past four months, my company Hybrid Cinema has been working on the release of the new film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance directed by Bob Hercules about the history of the Joffrey ballet. I will be writing a number of posts outlining the unique path that I and my partner on this release, Sheri Candler have taken to release this documentary about the history of the groundbreaking dance company The Joffrey Ballet.

In my book Think Outside the Box Office and in subsequent posts, I have written about the advantages and challenges of launching a film after its world– premiere festival. Many filmmakers have complained that they can never recapture the exposure they gain with their first festival. As a result there have been a number of attempts to launch a film in some fashion out of a premiere festival. Orly Ravid writes in Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, about BassAckwards which launched via YouTube Rentals during Sundance 2009.

IFC has been running its Festival Direct program to provide a promotional lift to its VOD releases for several years. For instance IFC will premieres films at SXSW and follows it up with screenings in a few cities while it premieres day and date on VOD with the festival. Tribeca has started using their festival as a launch for a number of films that they distribute on VOD.

The chief advantage of using a world premiere to launch a film’s release is to condense all of the publicity into one window – thereby conserving precious resources and taking full advantage of press garnered via the premiere. It also utilizes the promotional muscle that many festivals can muster to promote the release. The principal challenge is being prepared – having all of the necessary tools and distribution and marketing channels lined up to take advantage of the promotion. In general this has been beyond the abilities of most independent filmmakers who are just scrambling to get their films finished in time for their first festival. Another challenge is the short window of time that films have to get everything lined up after they receive acceptance to a film festival.

One of the first things we did for Joffrey was to target the Dance On Camera (DOC) film festival as a perfect launch for the film. It is not only one of the premiere dance film festivals in the United States (if not the world), it is also based in NYC – where the Joffrey Ballet got its start. It is based at Lincoln Center through the Film Society of Lincoln Center, one of the epicenters for culture in the US and the world.

Simultaneously I started speaking to Ira Deutchman of Emerging Pictures because I felt that Joffrey would be a perfect match for his network of theaters across the United States. For the past number of years Emerging Pictures has been simulcasting culturally oriented films, many of which feature live Q&As.

The Emerging deal is very filmmaker friendly with 30% of the box office going to the filmmaker if you pay $1000 for encoding, or 25% of the box office going to the filmmaker without any money upfront. Emerging takes care of all deliveries and collections from the theaters. Because of their ongoing relationship with theaters, Emerging is able to collect from theaters and in turn is able to pay the filmmakers.

I proposed to Deirdre Towers and Joanna Ney of Dance on Camera that through Emerging, we could be the first film to launch its release out of its world premiere, simulcasting to cities across the US. The partnership is also beneficial for Dance on Camera as it gets their name out in these theaters where ballet and dance fans will watch the simulcast and interact with the festival. It’s a winning situation for all which is what a partnership should be.

Emerging does not actually “simulcast” the screening of the film, the theaters download it in advance (hence no print costs), but the theaters carry the Q&A event after the screening via netcast. As important, people at the theaters around the country can tweet questions to the post screening panel in NY – so that they are actually participating in the Q&A – making it a national event. Once the film is on Emerging’s server they can book screenings of the film at a later date at no additional cost.

Currently we are screening in 42 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film. We will start selling 6 panel Digipak DVDs of the film at the premiere and off the website February 1st – in addition to posters, 50th Anniversary photo books of the Joffrey Ballet and an eBook reprint of Sasha Anawalt’s book The Joffrey Ballet: Robert Joffrey and the Making of an American Dance Company (out of print for over a decade until this January 27th – she is launching her eBook to coincide with the launch of the film). We will roll out other merchandise over the course of the release. We will follow this up very quickly with digital DIY via Distrify in order to capitalize on the international attention we will receive from the publicity via the worldwide web. The biggest challenge has been to get the project ready to release in the short window since we found out we were selected for Dance on Camera.

We have also been planning events throughout the United States that will run through the spring and potentially throughout the summer. Most of these events have similar Q&As with former notable Joffrey dancers – many of whom head established dance organizations in cities throughout the US and are actually also coordinating the screenings in their cities. To start the process of the Los Angeles screening, I met with former Joffrey dancer Carole Valleskey who runs the nonprofit California Dance Institute. We then sought the involvement of Leslie Carothers-Aromaa another Joffrey dancer who teaches at the Colburn School and helped secure the 430 seat Zipper Hall. We’re selling tickets for $20 a piece and are 1/3 sold out as this goes to press. These screenings will lead up to a day and date DVD and digital release by New Video (more on the timing of this in a later post) in June. To book and coordinate the rest of the events in the US, we brought on Liz Ogilvie and Paola Freccero of Crowdstarter.

The other type of event that we have wanted to set up from the beginning is to have a live ballet component to the screenings. This has turned out to be very difficult to set up due to either expense or theatres not being equipped with an appropriate, safe stage for the dancers. However the screening being set up by former Joffrey dancer Trinette Singleton in Allentown, Pennsylvania will have this feature and we are pushing for more.

A final note – one aspect of what attracted me to Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance was the fact that Bob Joffrey and his partner Gerald Arpino were early artist entrepreneurs. They came to NY with no connections to the established dance world, set up a dance studio to train young dancers and then toured the US in a borrowed station wagon like so many indie bands and filmmakers.

Sheri and I will be writing a number of other posts about the various aspects of the release and marketing in the coming months – we look forward to your feedback.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance premieres January 27th at the Dance on Camera Film Festival at Lincoln Center, NYC. Check the website for the cities where the January 28 live simulcast is taking place. The film was directed by Bob Hercules (A Good Man, Forgiving Dr. Mengele), produced by Una Jackman and Erica Mann Ramis and executive produced by Harold Ramis and Jay Alix.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and co-authored Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler. He will be appearing at a number of panels at Park City this week and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs. Follow Like

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.”