Tag: Ride the Divide

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.

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.




I am super excited to announce the publication of a new book written by myself, Sheri Candler and The Film Collaborative titled Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul!

I am also super excited to tell you that you can download the PDFor ePub version for free or by tomorrow you can order the paperback for $9.99 ($10 off the regular retail price of $19.99) by clicking here.
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Ride The Divide Part 2: A Profitable Live Event Strategy

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

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

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

Here is some of what they found:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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