Tag: Self Distribution

Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Give Up the Gold Pt 2

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Wednesday’s post looked at Neil Berkeley and Judy Chaikin as two filmmakers who wanted to create a theatrical release for their films to boost visibility, increase ancillary value and learn for themselves how to operate in the new hybrid model of distribution and marketing. Today we will look at Paco de Onís the company Skylight he runs with with creative director Pamela Yates and editorial director Peter Kinoy and their film/media project Granito

 

Paco de Onís, Skylight & Granito

 

According to de Onís, Skylight is “as much a filmmaking organization, as a human rights organization.” Hence their goals are not about monetary gain – but about social change specifically in the realm of social justice. To do this according to de Onís “we’ve had to develop a model where we can work without a distributor,” he explains. “A distributor is looking for financial dividends, but we’re out looking for social dividends.”

 

In this quest for change and larger audience, they often give their films away for free. They gave their film Granito, about genocide in Guatemala, away to a major Guatemalan bootlegger who then spread it across the country in a way they never would have been able to. “There’s no better distributor in Guatemala. We don’t make any money from that but our film gets seen everywhere.”

 

In addition when the film screened on PBS, they persuaded the broadcaster to take off geo-blocking from the PBS streaming feed so that anyone in the world would be able to see the film. Skylight also creates indigenous language versions of many of their films which are given directly to that community.

 

Skylight also makes its films available for free to groups that want to screen them. Whether it’s a community group or a local human rights organization, you simply have to fill out a form on their website explaining why you want to show it, and they’ll provide you with a copy. They also ask that you let them know how the screening went after it’s over, but Paco says this often doesn’t happen.

 

It is very hard to track eyeballs and impact – but here are some of the statistics they have collected for Granito:

  • 1 million PBS viewers.
  • For ancillaries – 65K views in English, 8K views in Spanish.
  • 35,000 Unique visitors on the Granito Website
  • 78,000 Uniques for the PBS companion site.

 

They have also collected 8000 email addresses from their website over the years including 5000 email addresses garnered from 300 screenings and festivals.

 

Much of the money that Skylight earns from their films comes from broadcast and educational sales. For educational they sell their own films working with the New Day Film Co-Op. Here are some of their monetary figures:

  • $410K from ITVS and LPB for the broadcast of Granito
  • $90K from NatGeo for State of Fear
  • $50K from POV for The Reckoning
  • $80K in Educational Sales for Granito
  • $80K-$100K on educational sales for all of their titles each year.

Their transactional VOD sales are not that significant partly because it was released on iTunes several years after release – after being available on free streaming for all of that time. Total iTunes revenue: $4K.

 

Skylight’s unique business model makes it extremely clear as to why it’s crucial to determine the goals for your project before you decide on a path of distribution and how you will execute that path. Of note:   One year after the release of Granito, the dictator of the title was charged with genocide and put on trial in Guatemala. Footage from the documentary was used as evidence in court.

 

Jon Betz, Collective Eye Films

 

Like Skylight, Jon Betz, Director of Collective Eye Films, also had a social goal in mind for the film Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us? which he produced with director Taggart Siegel. The film is a profound, alternative look at the bee crisis, and from the beginning, Betz and Siegel’s goal was to bring awareness to this issue. Siegel’s previous film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, was nationally broadcast on PBS Independent Lens, but Siegel felt that his theatrical distributor didn’t effectively engage grass-roots audiences for a theatrical campaign. Siegel felt that through Collective Eye Films, he and Betz could do a better job pursuing a hybrid grass-roots distribution approach on Queen.

 

Collective Eye Films booked their own event theatrical release, including traditional open-ended bookings, one night & community screenings. Betz: “We couldn’t find a theatrical deal that would make financial sense for us as filmmakers. So we chose to grow our own business and non-profit reach by booking and conducting outreach for theaters on our own.” By doing this, instead of paying someone else for their institutional intelligence, they used the release of Queen to build their own institutional intelligence.

 

Here are the numbers from the total and event theatrical release:

  • Total cost of release including theatrical, and all DVD, VOD, Broadcast deliverables, staff and expenses for the last four years: $338K
  • Total gross revenue from release: $473K
  • Total net income: $135K
  • Total Box Office Gross for traditional theatrical: $245K
  • Net Revenue to Filmmakers from traditional theatrical $108K
  • Net Revenue from community screenings: $82K
  • Total number of screenings: 400

Note that their expenses not only include a staff to release the film but also a salary for Betz who also functioned as the Producer of Marketing and Distribution on the film. They not only broke even but actually made money from both their theatrical and their non-theatrical release. Part of this has to do with their audience cultivation which I will address below.

 

Betz: “We started where we knew we could draw audiences, in Portland, in the NW and in areas in the West and NE where our audience demographic was strong. The Hollywood Theater in Portland had a great opening that ran for 10 weeks, and grossed over $30K. After Portland, we did a filmmaker tour in the NE to understand first-hand how our outreach efforts would work promoting both one-day events and week long runs. Then we staffed up and led a very interesting “reverse” roll-out where we booked over 100 cities in North America in the course of 2011. We ended in NY/LA and made the connection with Music Box after our Cinema Village screening in NYC.”  Collective Eye opted not to have a tight focus of release in all theaters over just 1 or 2 months as they knew they couldn’t do the proper outreach city-by-city with that volume and a small staff. They conducted all of the outreach and PR, with the exception of working with a publicist in CHICAGO, SF, NY/LA.

 

Music Box handled the DVD and VOD of the film, but Collective Eye carved out direct to fan rights. Here are the numbers from the ancillary sales:

  • Total gross distributor DVD sales: $100K
  • Net revenue from distributor DVD sales: $50K
  • Direct to fan DVDs sold: 5,800
  • Direct to fan net revenue from DVDs: $96K
  • Educational sales: $38K.
  • Total gross distributor VOD sales including Netflix: $74K.
  • Netflix sale: $60K
  • Net revenue from distributor VOD sales: $52K

Note the much higher net revenue for direct to fan DVD sales over what the distributor sold.

 

So let’s talk about audience. Collective Eye is working to transfer their audience from film to film – including carrying it over to their new film Seed: The Untold Story.

 

Email list progression:

2005-2008: Real Dirt on Farmer John

  • Audience grew to 3,500 over 2-3 years.
  • Sources: sign-ups, screenings, handing out clipboards.

2008-2013: Queen of the Sun

  • Started with 3,500 from Real Dirt
  • List grew to 9,000+
  • Sources: website signups, screenings, website, purchases across all direct distribution methods, additions of key organizations and partners.

2012-current: SEED

  • Started at 8,175 (Queen list lost names due to unsubscribes/old e-mails)
  • Grows to 12,376. Kickstarter campaigns in 2012 and December 2013 for Seed brought in 2,534 new e-mails.
  • Note: at this point the amount of audience still intact from the original 3,500 from Real Dirt is in the realm of 1,227.  Note the importance of updating and growing your email list.

Facebook

  • Queen created a Facebook page after festival launch in summer/fall 2010..
    • July 2011 – 6,000 likes
    • April 2015 – 25,000 likes
  • Seed During first Kickstarter in 2012 – 300 likes
    • Start of second Kickstarter in late 2013 – 1,200 likes
    • After cross-promotion with QOTS – 20,000 likes in just over one year.

 

Collective Eye is a great example of filmmakers making a connection with an audience and working hard to carry it from film to film. Instead of relying on an all rights distributor who owns the connection to their audience – they decided to create their own distribution business so that they would own that relationship and could cultivate it as they saw fit. Betz: “The hybrid method of release was key for us making a profit in the long run, and we had to do much less work to get those DVD and VOD sales through existing platforms.  However we wouldn’t have made that money had it not been for our grassroots approach to theatrical and community screenings. By raising the profile of the film our aggregator was able to do what they do best (sell to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and other wholesalers).”   This also allows them to use the revenue from their films not only to pay themselves a salary but to also invest in their next project as they have done with Seed. Betz: “You really have to focus on how you build on each film and discover what works. This comes from listening to your previous films and their impact, the side effects of what happened that was unexpected, and then harnessing that on your next film and pushing it out in a really strategic way.”

 

Some takeaways from these four case studies: Even though there has been quite a number of changes in platforms and companies over the last several years – it is surprising how many basic tenets of the hybrid distribution route have stayed constant over the past few years:

  • Knowing your goals is essential to creating a release strategy.
  • Know your audience and target your release to where they are, offer your audience products (event, digital or merchandise) that are interesting to them.
  • Split rights have a greater advantage of control and profit for filmmakers over all rights deals.
  • Work with distribution partners to get films on major platforms.
  • Engaging in distribution and marketing is very hard work and generally involves a staff or at least someone full time managing the process.
  • Email lists are gold – develop them constantly.
  • Events motivate people to go to theaters.
  • Events are excellent ways to connect with audience.
  • Event theatrical is a good/great way to promote ancillary sales.
  • It is possible to break even or even make a little money from an event theatrical release.
  • If you can, carve out direct to fan sales since this will give you the following advantages:
  • Higher profit margin per purchase.
  • Audience data for future projects
  • Ability to package the film with merchandise and extra content for higher price points, or to make purchasing direct to fan more attractive.
  • Most importantly – focus on long term audience development since it is possible to transition audiences from one project to another if you reward them for their continued interest and keep them engaged.

I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.  Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.

 

Reach me at Twitter or on Facebook and if you are in LA come to my IDA Masterclass on Distribution and Marketing May 9th.

Distribution Transparency: Four Filmmakers Reveal Their Distribution Numbers, Part One

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Alternative distribution models are no longer the experiment, but are now the norm for the vast majority of filmmakers. However because of a variety of reasons, including not least contract obligations and a fear that exposing numbers may not show the filmmaker in the best light, many filmmakers have been reticent to give out the real numbers from their film’s releases.

 

As a result, for last October’s Getting Real Documentary Conference, held by the International Documentary Association, I wanted to create a panel where the participants were required to reveal the data about the releases of their films. I wanted to see how these filmmakers might be working within new models to not only release one film, but how they are starting to use these individual releases to create a long term career path. I always intended to publish the data and since I will be presenting a Distribution and Marketing Masterclass with the IDA this Saturday May 9th and I will be heading to NY to participate in the documentary section of the IFP Filmmaker Lab on May 11th, I thought this would be a good time to get this information out into the world.

 

The filmmaker panelists were Neil Berkeley (Director of Beauty Is Embarrassing & Harmontown), Judy Chaikin (Director of The Girls in the Band), Jon Betz (Producer of Queen of the Sun), and Paco de Onís (Executive Director of Skylight Films). My intention was to not only get the real data from their films, but also discuss why they chose to release their films in the manner that they did (eg what were their goals and how did their goals affect their choices). I tried to expand the data beyond gross monetary amounts and include numbers about their audience base –specifically how they tried to carry this audience from one film to the other and whether this could become a sustainable model. Before starting – I really want to thank the filmmakers for sharing the information with me – and agreeing to share it with the world wide public, you. Note – occasionally some of the numbers below are a range because of a possible restrictions on revealing exact numbers. Also you will notice that I use the term “event theatrical” instead of theatrical or non theatrical. As I wrote in Think Outside The Box Office, I believe that filmmakers need to reclaim the concept of theatrical to include traditional theatrical, one night and community screenings – eg any public screening where an audience is present. In the book I called this “Live Event Theatrical” but I have since started shortening it to “Event Theatrical” to emphasize the importance of creating an event with your screenings.

 

Neil Berkeley Beauty is Embarrassing

Neil Berkeley’s film Beauty is Embarrassing premiered at SXSW in 2012, but no one came forth to give them an event/theatrical release, which Neil wanted for the film and felt was appropriate. His goals were to get the film out into the world, and try to recoup while building a fan base for the future. So Neil and his team ran a $55k Kickstarter campaign and hired a booker to get the film into theatres across the country – they ended up in 60 theaters, spending between $90K and $110K but earning enough revenue to break even.

 

Regarding the theatrical Berkeley noted: “My goal was to break even. And that’s what everyone said: ‘good luck if you break even.’ But for me, I did it just to learn how to do it because I want to keep making movies and I believe in this model. So if I get to do it again on my own, I’ll be much more versed in how to go about it.”

 

Most effective were the 15 screening events they did with the film’s subject, artist Wayne White. He not only spoke, but conducted workshops and art installations. This not only drew a larger crowd, but also created the opportunity to sell merchandise and collect emails. Email lists and Facebook became two of the biggest tools for building their audience. Berkeley: “Email lists are gold.” They grew their email list from 0 to 5,000 and their Facebook likes from 0 to 11,000. Some other marketing notes:

  • They sent students to cities with the large LBJ heads as promotion.
  • Facebook and Twitter ads were the most effective.
  • Don’t buy print ads if you can avoid it. But if you have to, buy the cheapest ones since they aren’t effective.
  • They had 10-12 super fans who helped evangelize the film.

 

Here are the essentials of their digital/broadcast/merchandise distribution:

  • Digital Aggregator was Cinedigm/New Video
  • Netflix deal was between $40-$60K.
  • Other VOD sources: $30-40K including cable and broadband VOD.
  • PBS Independent Lens $70-$90K
  • They set up direct to fan sales through VHX
  • Digital sales through VHX: $30-$40K
  • Merchandise sales through VHX: 80-100K (note that much of this were higher priced items such as art by Wayne White. They split this revenue with Wayne 50/50)
  • Of these merchandise sales 15% were DVDs – still a healthy $12K-$15K
  • Books were another 15% of merchandise sales $12K-$15K

 

An important note about the effects of their broadcast on PBS: While many people feel that forms of “free” such as broadcast and other free streaming or peer to peer sharing adversely affect transactional sales (DVD sales, broadband rentals and downloads to own), in this case that was definitely not true. After the film aired, their website was bombarded with traffic, and they earned a spike in revenue through direct to fan sales.

 

Neil took what he learned on Beauty is Embarrassing to his next project Harmontown which follows Dan Harmon (comedian/creator of Community) on a 20-city tour. Neil’s investors secured a more traditional distribution deal with The Orchard. However he made sure to keep all of the direct to fan rights, and paid The Orchard a percentage of these sales to reward the distributor’s publicity efforts. To make sales on their website more attractive, they created over 50 hours of bonus content including every live show they filmed on the tour with Dan Harmon, this deluxe edition is available for $9.99 to rent and $24.95 to purchase. Also for even more content they sell monthly memberships for $5 a month that gives access to exclusive blog posts to additional videos every month. The deluxe edition includes a free 3 month membership.

 

In sum – even though Neil has utilized both traditional and hybrid distribution models, he is working hard to provide extra value for his fans in order to grow that audience and carry them into his future as a filmmaker. Berkeley: “The thing about making a film on your own, is that on day one you have a dollar – and every day after that you’re just trying to hold onto as much of that dollar as possible. And now, we have options to do that. We can hang on to digital, we can hang on to our website, we can hang on to merchandise.”

 

Judy Chaikin The Girls in the Band

 

Judy Chaikin has worked in the industry since the 80s, but she was tired of watching each of her films live a short life with traditional distributors and then disappear from view. “One of the things you learn as a filmmaker is that you constantly have to keep changing,” Chaikin said. She had always been very interested in DIY distribution and after reading several books (including Think Outside the Box Office), she decided to try it for herself.

 

Her goal was to have a theatrical release that would help her negotiate higher sales figures on her ancillary release and to try out a new model to take control of the process.

 

Here are the numbers:

  • Total cost of the release: $100K including creating marketing materials, DCPs, screeners, publicity, staff, festivals etc.
  • Total cost of theatrical release $40K of the $100K above.
  • 22 week traditional theatrical release (week long runs):
  • Total revenue traditional theatrical: $67K
  • Total revenue from 47 one night screenings in theaters $8.7K
  • $25K “Non theatrical” revenue from museums, film festivals, jazz festivals, etc.
  • $15K in direct merchandise (t-shirts, posters, tote bags) sold at screenings and from their website.

 

By the end of the theatrical release they had amassed 3000 on their email list: 300 from their website, 500 from screenings, 2200 from other sources. Of these they count about 25 super fans who are active champions of their film.

 

Their distribution process isn’t over yet, and they have just signed on with Virgil Films for domestic distribution and PBS Foreign for overseas television. Judy doesn’t see herself going back to traditional distribution models any time soon. She says that this direct-to-fan method gives her a sense of control over her own projects – something any filmmaker knows is irreplaceable.

 

Building her audience online has also given Judy the motivation to regain the rights and begin re-releasing her older projects that had previously fallen out of release. She is beginning to see some success in this by using her email list, and releasing the films direct to fan on DVD. This “new model,” she explained, “gives you so such more control over what you do, and it gives you a sense that you really are guiding the direction of your film. It’s important to recognize that this way of working is very labor intensive, but in the end it’s worth it.”

 

On Friday we will continue with the results from Paco de Onís from Skylight & Granito and Jon Betz from Collective Eye Films.   I would love to hear from any filmmaker who would like to talk at length about their release – especially how they are using their work to create a career.   Even more importantly – if you are a filmmaker and have released film in the past – please participate in the Sundance Transparency Project – the more filmmakers that participate, the more robust the results will be.   If you would like to have a copy of the PowerPoint from the “From Distribution to Sustainability” Panel that these posts are based on click here.

 

Reach me at Twitter or on Facebook and if you are in LA come to my IDA Masterclass on Distribution and Marketing May 9th.

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.

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

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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10 Ways in Which I Would Release Bomb It Today

Posted on by Emy

Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:

In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
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Guest Post: Joke and Biagio on Self Distribution for Dying to Do Letterman

Posted on by Emy

Joke and Biagio (right to left)

Today’s guest post is from Joke and Biagio who are doing an amazing job with their Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the distribution of their film Dying to do Lettermen. Check out their kickstarter page – they’re already raised $47,000.   In it they talk about why they are releasing their film themselves (plan B is the new Plan A).  And no – I didn’t pay them for all the nice things they say about me and TOTBO :)!

The Number One Reason We Look At Self-Distribution First

The Distributor Was Very Nice…

Truly. We genuinely liked this person. Why? The distributor:

  • Came to a screening of the movie (instead of passively requesting a DVD.)
  • Wrote a cell number down during the credits and said “call me ASAP.”
  • Offered to distribute the movie.

Sounds like a dream come true, right?

The Distributor Was Also Very Honest…

“There won’t be any money up-front. When all is said and done, after a few years, you can hope to make between $15,000 and $50,000.”

Huh?

We spent more than that making the movie.

A film we worked on for six years.
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Guest Post: PMD Training at Break Neck Speed

Today’s guest post is from Producer of Marketing and Distribution who lives and works Joe Jestus. Joe introduced himself to me on Twitter as a PMD living and working in the “next film capital of the United States”: Oklahoma. Joe actually changed his title to PMD when he discovered what it was. I asked him to write about his experiences and he has a lot of great information to share! Special thanks to Sheri Candler for helping facilitate this post. Sheri and I are starting to meet a lot of PMDs around the world and we are asking them to share their experiences with us – so look for more of these great posts.

PMD Training at Break Neck Speed
3 Things I Wish I Knew 12 Months Ago as a PMD
by Joe Jestus, PMD – Trost Moving Pictures

Sitting down to write this article and looking back it’s hard to believe that just a year ago the independent studio I work for (Trost Moving Pictures) had just one feature film, “Find Me” that was starting to appear in small retail stores and sporadically at that. Fast forward to present day, where we just wrapped principle photography on our third feature film, “The Lamp” a few weeks ago and our second feature film, ”A Christmas Snow” is now in 2,500 Walmart stores around the country and in numerous other stores as well. The last 12 months have been nothing short of a whirlwind and I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned as a PMD (which I didn’t even know existed 12 months ago).

Lesson 1: Placement and Sell Through

Last year when we began looking for a way to get “Find Me” into stores we checked out traditional distributors and kept getting the traditional response: their money goes in last and comes out first and besides a small advance we get an even smaller portion of DVD sales. We thought we could do better, so we hired a consultant/product placement person to work on getting our film into stores and we used a fulfillment house that already had supply chain connections with the stores we were trying to get our DVD placed in.

When thinking about marketing, we all know you have to get people in seats at theaters and people at shelves in stores or having your film in theaters or on shelves is not only pointless but expensive. But what you might not know is that before you can get your film on a store shelf you have to market to the stores and then more often than not, pay for that spot on the shelf through one of two ways and that is what’s known as your placement cost.

Stores aren’t just in the business of selling things, they are in the real estate business and they want to be paid for their space. That end cap, front of store spot, custom display, special doorbuster promotion, even the difference between having your film spine out or face out will cost you. You can pay for this with an upfront placement cost, which can run from hundreds of dollars to millions of dollars depending on if you have ancillary products that go with your film and also how many stores you want your film in. Another option is to give a greater discount to the store on your film to either get the placement cost discounted or reduced. But because it is an independent film, more than likely you’ll have to pay some sort of placement cost, because the store is not sure if it will sell enough product to make up for in margin what they lose in placement fees.

So in order to get into stores, there will be a cost and you’ll need to know who is paying for this and how much are they paying. With “Find Me” we didn’t have a lot of money (surprise, surprise) so we opted to just get it in stores wherever, whereas with “A Christmas Snow” our distributor has paid for better placement and it’s helped with walk in sales. In fact, over this last Black Friday weekend, one chain of stores did a special doorbuster promotion with “A Christmas Snow” and moved 6 times the amount of DVDs another similar chain did, but those sales do come at a cost. This is where the ability to test, learn, and refine your marketing and distribution comes into play. Is it better to move thousands of copies at a lower margin or less copies at a higher margin? Another good point to include in any contract with a distributor is to make sure you get final approval on any major discounts given to a specific retailer. Yes, Walmart may want 20,000 DVDs but at what percentage discount? Does it make sense? This all depends on the goals you have set for your film, as Jon Reiss said in his book, “Think Outside the Box Office” These are all questions that I’ve had to consider on a daily basis as a PMD.

As important as it is being on store shelves (there are some people who still would rather walk into their local store than buy online, not to mention those who still think it’s not a real movie until it’s in a theater or major store – like your relatives and friends), it’s really no better than being in a theater without marketing. Marketing to the consumer to get them to the store to buy you film is called sell through marketing. Without this second type of marketing, placement can become a money pit.

Yes, you have walk in sales and some stores will market your product to their lists and in their catalogs, but once again you probably had to pay for that spot. There are some independent stores that come together under an organization for marketing and you can get in their catalogs as well, but you need to be sure to ask two things from these groups: 1) What does it cost? (then figure out how many DVDs you have to move to break even or make a 20% profit at least) and 2) Are the stores required to carry the products in the catalog? Some organizations require the stores to carry the products and others don’t. So you might spend $2,000 to get into a catalog and then when someone walks into that store asking for your film, they walk out empty handed because the store didn’t carry it.

With “Find Me,” we learned some tough lessons and one of the most important was that stores work on relationships. They have certain fulfillment centers they can use and others they won’t use. Certain distributors they like and others they don’t like – ask around and find someone that is well respected. Our consultant was well respected and a great guy, but because we didn’t have the capital to garner better placement or drive customers into stores we weren’t profitable due to production, replication, and brokering costs. Something had to change for our next film.

For “A Christmas Snow,” we partnered with a publishing house that was looking to get into films. In addition to the film, we created two books. One is a novel of the film written by best-selling author Jim Stovall and the other is a companion teaching book written by the director Tracy J Trost. The companion book, called “Restored” is a journal of one of the main characters and follows them from before the film right through to the end of the movie. With these extra products, we could make a higher margin on the DVDs while our distributor made a higher percentage on the books. We also had a wider reach with placement into larger store chains. That said, we have turned down some well known stores simply because the placement costs were too steep and it didn’t make financial sense, again this is why it’s important you have some say in your distribution.

Lesson 2: Get Help

In addition to continuing work on “A Christmas Snow,” I am transitioning to “The Lamp” and on both films we’ve had the pleasure of finding other talented people to add to our team, both salaried and temporary. Everyday, I’m communicating with our contacts at the distributor and our publicist as well. Publicity is another relationship based industry contacts and having a publicist who knows publishing people is key. We’ve learned a lot in regards to publicity including a 6 week tour that I took with my family, my business partner/film director Tracy J Trost and his family – but that’s a story for another day – thousands of miles, 7 kids, and 2 RVs, it sounds like a Disney film.

Most recently, we’ve brought on a Special Events Manager to begin building relationships with charities, churches, and other family based organizations so that we can team up with them for charitable screenings of our films. She’s also taking over some of the daily social networking updates, newsletter, and blogging from me as well so that I can focus more on big picture planning and relationship building. It’s important to find people who are good at what they do and let them do it. In all honesty, the list of what a PMD doesn’t do would probably be much shorter and quicker to write and that’s why it’s imperative you find people who can help out with certain tasks or projects or you’ll quickly fall behind and you won’t catch up. Whether its planning your premiere, updating your site, social networks, getting versions of your film for International distribution and TV broadcast made/shipped, or getting the word out to the press – these things all take time and the more you can empower talented people around you to accomplish these tasks while you oversee the process, the better. After all, what’s the benefit of doing what you love if you’re so worn out at the end you can’t do it again?

Even if you don’t have the capital to hire salaried employees, you need to “start thinking like a studio” as Sheri Candler says. With each project you’ll find people you want to work with again and others that you’re pretty sure you won’t be sending a Christmas card to this year. Either way though you need to get help… or I guess you could move back in with your parents, not have a spouse, kids, or pet and that might work too.

Lesson 3: Adapt and Respond

Another important lesson we learned was in the casting process of “A Christmas Snow,” we had this idea to do an open casting call in December 2009 for every part in the film. Actors and actresses could upload a video of themselves to our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AChristmasSnow as an audition, not only would it possibly help us find a cast for our film but we thought it would be a great way to get the word out about our film. The director, Tracy J Trost, recorded a video for each part with his vision for the character and his direction for the lines they would need to read. We had hundreds if not thousands of submissions and most people loved the entire process. However, one thing we hadn’t thought of was some actors/actresses didn’t want to put their auditions up publicly for all the world to see, in addition to that, one of the parts was for a 10 year old girl and a few parents were uneasy about uploading their daughters’ audition to our facebook page as well. We hadn’t figured anyone wanting to be a movie star would have an issue with being seen publicly, but we found out they did.

This was one of the many times we found out you will always need to be ready to adapt and respond as you begin to deploy your plans. Some plans will work almost exactly as you had planned and others will look nothing like what you thought and there is one common reason for this: PEOPLE. You can never guarantee what they are going to do, or more importantly, how they are going to see things.

What you thought was a great idea might be a terrible idea to the audience you are trying to reach so you need to be ready to adapt and respond. What you think is a great deal, might seem like a ripoff to your audience and you need to adapt accordingly, all the while keeping the goals you have set for your film in mind.

Look Mom No Hands

These are just three of the many important lessons I’ve learned over the last year as a PMD and quite honestly I wouldn’t change a thing, except for maybe a few more DVD sales :-) But the truth, is if you want to be an experienced PMD, then start getting some experience. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as it gets you where you want to go.

So find out where you want to go, take off the training wheels, get out there and start trying something – anything, all the while learning from those along side you who are trying as well. Follow other PMD’s on twitter and befriend them on facebook, when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I look forward to hearing of your successes and soon to be successes (formerly known as failure) and please above all else, enjoy the ride!

About Joe Jestus: Joe Jestus is currently the PMD at Trost Moving Pictures an independent film studio based in Tulsa, OK and according to his Twitter Bio he’s also a husband, father, and BFF. You can reach him at: Twitter or Facebook but please don’t interrupt his daily epic ping pong match.

Didn’t Get into Sundance? A World of Opportunity Awaits

by Jon Reiss

The Sundance Film Festival has started announcing its slate for the 2011 festival. This has traditionally been a nerve wracking time for independent filmmakers who, in the past, have put so much stock into premiere film festivals like Sundance. They have traditionally done this because it has been believed that a premiere festival can 1. Sell your film for lots of money (or at least enough to pay back your investors) or 2. Potentially launch your career (but normally only if #1 happened).

But in the new world of distribution, marketing and audience engagement the world is a much better place than it was just five years ago for the thousands of films that do not get into Sundance, or any other premiere festival.

Here are 6 thoughts on the importance of getting into a premiere film festival for you films distribution and marketing strategy.

1. Premiere festivals are not the only gatekeepers to independent film anymore. In fact there are no gatekeepers. The knowledge and the technology exists so that anyone can release their films themselves. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this anymore – right?!?

2. Getting into a premiere film festival is not a distribution and marketing strategy. It is common knowledge now that only a small percentage of films that go to Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, Cannes, Berlin etc end up with traditional all rights deals that make any kind of financial sense. 98% of filmmakers at least still end up being responsible for the distribution and marketing of their film – even if they obtain a distributor partner hear or there for specific rights. The less you mentally rely on what I call the Festival Acquisition Model, the better off you will be. Filmmaker now must have a plan that doesn’t rely on selling all of their rights to a distributor. they need this plan before they go to their first festival (frankly – it is best to be engaging in this plan from inception) so that you can:

3. Incorporate festivals into your larger release strategy. This will vary for every film. But just because you didn’t get into Sundance doesn’t mean that there aren’t other, perhaps more appropriate festivals for your film. These festivals can be worked into a robust Live Event/Theatrical release for your film that you coordinate with your other rights, as well as your audience outreach and engagement. There are a plethora of good festivals that are connected with their community and/or provide great experiences for filmmakers throughout the world.

4. Just because your film didn’t get into Sundance or any festival does not mean that it is not a good film. There are many reasons for this. Festivals and programmers have particular tastes and perhaps your film didn’t suit them. (Did you take a look at what that festival tends to program and see if your film fit?) In addition – they might have loved your film, but didn’t feel that it fit into that year’s program for one reason or another. Finally, some films are just not “festival films” and need to find their audience in different ways.

5. Festivals used to be one of the few ways for independent films and filmmakers to connect and engage with audiences. Now there are not only a myriad of ways to do this – primarily through the web but:
A. Relying on festivals to do this work for you is not reality. In other words they will do some of this work (and are quite good and it and can make great partners)– but you are crazy to rely solely on them (eg it is a partnership.

and

B. You should be doing this work well before you get to your first festival anyway.

6. I would take the time to reevaluate your approach and your film. Many films are submitted to festivals and released into distribution before they are really finished. Have you screened your film to people outside of immediate friends and family? Have you screened your film to a large audience, in a theater (for a private pre lock screening)? What was the reaction? Do you need to do more work on the film – shorten it, make it more understandable, make it funnier, scarier etc.

Are you submitting it to festivals that support the kind of film you have made?

Are you submitting it at the end of the submissions process when programmers are deluged with films? Or are you submitting it earlier in the process when more programmers will have a chance to see your film and perhaps champion it?

In sum – more filmmakers are finding distribution and marketing paths for their films (in other words – connecting with audiences) outside of the Festival Acquisition System than are doing it inside of this system. A wonderful case in point Hunter Weeks and Mike Dion who wanted their film Ride the Divide to play at a premiere festival – it didn’t. But they created a wonderful, inspiring release for their film that all filmmakers can take lessons from. (if you didn’t read them before – there is a three part series on their film in this blog: Part1 Part2 Part3.)