Part 3 of How to Make Money in the Age of Abundance
By Jon Reiss
Theatrical is Dead Long Live Theatrical. The holy grail of a theatrical release still rings as a delusion for many. Fighting words still for untold thousands of filmmakers. Who doesn’t want their name in lights – long lines around the block – a packed theater of adoring fans. I believe this live engagement with fans is crucial for artists. But traditional theatrical is probably not the way you are going to do it.
In the first post in this series, I indicated that filmmakers need to create scarce resources in order to compete with the abundance of digital. Today’s post will focus on events – or what I have termed Live Event/Theatrical. The essence of this renaming is for filmmakers to reformulate and to reclaim what the industry calls theatrical – for more on that see Think Outside the Box Office. (PS – I first said this was a two part series – then I said three parts – well I lied again and now it will be four parts – with Part 4 tomorrow).
When films were only available in a movie theater – that was a scarce resource that could be charged for – it was the only way to see films. As technology developed new ways to see films, content creators/studios created release windows to control the monetization process of their film products attempting to keep the theatrical release as providing the highest per viewer fee per view fee.
But besides competition from other platforms, a traditional theatrical release is not a scarce resource: multiple screenings per day in multiple theaters with no end date is essentially an infinite supply. The release window is still the only way that traditional distributors create artificially scarcity and for most films this is not enough for audiences to sacrifice any of their other myriad of entertainment options. Unless you have created a rabid fan base who has to see the film at its first opportunity – which happens for a few films, but not many – traditional theatrical does not offer the consumer anything unique. Quite the contrary:
Traditional theatrical gives consumers an excuse not to see a film when the filmmaker wants their audience to engage with it. Why spend the time, effort (which are often more valuable than the $12 ticket price) to see something that will be available much cheaper and more conveniently soon enough?
Creating scarcity is an independent filmmaker’s way of creating demand for their Live Event/Theatrical “products”. The essence of scarcity is: people want what they fear they might not be able to have. Scarcity also creates something will be unique to them and a few others. The scarcer something is, the more demand you can create for it. Simply put: by decreasing supply with stable demand you increase value.
The essential consumer value of Live Event/Theatrical must be a live communal experience, unavailable anywhere else. I will write about the importance of community and the extra value that this creates to screenings at another time. It is important to keep in mind that this post is not just about monetizing through events – but is about creating ways to keep that important experience of watching films communally with other people – especially strangers. Hence the event creates something new – never created before and even beyond the elements that you provide. This communal added value experience is quite different than the consumer value of Digital Products, which is one of convenience. Live Event Theatrical can never compete with digital on the level of convenience and must create its own value to succeed.
How to Create Unique Live Experiences Unavailable Anywhere Else (AKA scarcity for Live Event/Theatrical:
1. Time Scarcity: Embrace the One Night Screening – All things being equal, for small films with limited budgets, one night screenings are much easier to book and will in general be more successful in terms of audience and money. By only offering a communal experience once in a particular geographical location, is an immediate way to make it scarce (only that number of seats are available) and immediately more. The more you promote sales of tickets being sold, the more urgency you can create for the event. When you sell out you can add more screenings “by popular demand”, creating demand where perhaps none existed before.
I have experienced this over and over again for my own films and my clients’ films. For our recent US premiere of Bomb It 2 in Miami, the film sold out several days before the event.
One of the benefits of Live Event/Theatrical for filmmakers is publicity and awareness (events by their nature do this) – but the more you add value and uniqueness to an event – the more it will create awareness. (As a caveat – four years ago it was hard to get the press to cover one night film screenings – but now that is changing more and more – and especially if you as the filmmaker add uniqueness to the event).
2. Time Scarcity – Part 2 National and/or International One Night Screenings.
This takes time, effort, coordination but can be extremely successful. Going through satellite service providers such as Fathom, Screenvision and Cinedigm can be expensive (although the latter has started releasing films that they acquire in this manner). But savvy filmmakers can do this without the traditional $75,000-$125,000 satellite fee.
Two notable cases are The Age of Stupid from Franny Armstrong and Lizzie Gillet of Spanner Films (who used Fathom in the US), which still has the record for number of screenings (500) and number of countries (40) for an independent film in a 2 day period. (Can anyone beat this?) For Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Sheri Candler and I worked with Ira Deutchman and his Emerging Pictures to create a 45 city one day event which was also the world premiere screening of the film. The total cost of this was $1000 (Emerging’s Fee), which we was deducted from the box office. In both of these cases the filmmakers added unique elements besides the limited time to further enhance the event.
3. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Topical Celebrities
For the Joffrey film we netcast a q&a with Joffrey Ballet alumni which our research indicated was what our audience valued the most for live events (not live ballet that I had originally thought). We also enabled audience from around the country to participate in the Q&A via Twitter. Video documentation here. For Age of Stupid Franny and Lizzie had a numerous celebrities participate both live and via Skype.
For the Connected New York theatrical Tiffany Shlain arranged a different notable guest speaker for every screening turning each one into a unique event and selling out nearly all of her screenings in the process.
4. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music
Examples abound from Anvil: Story of Anvil, DJ Spooky, Braden King’s Here, Corey Mcabee whose own band The Billy Nayer Show plays live with his films and again Ride the Divide who still take the cake by selecting bands for their soundtrack proactively who would perform in the cities they knew were geographical targets for their audience.
5. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Music Remix.
I am finally putting my money where my mouth is – our Austin premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse for Bomb It 2 with be remixed live by DJ Chorizo Funk. To do this I created a D&E (dialogue and effects) mix of the film on a separate screener – and then provided all the tracks to the DJ and theater on a separate CD/download. Other event attributes of this screening: live graffiti painting in front of the theater before the event, local featured artist Sloke appearing after the screening (note the importance of using a local artist with his own audience base) and skype Q&A by yours truly (although this may convert into a pre-recorded pre-screening intro). I also timed this event to coincide with the conclusion of the Bomb It 2 Kickstarter campaign to have a special event to cap off our fundraising.
6. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Live Film Editing
A difficult undertaking, and only for particular films and filmmakers – but check out what Peter Greenaway did for Tulse Luper Suitcases. He had a customized VJ board created and reedited the film live for select event screenings like this one in Krakow, Poland. A technological update to this is Mark Harris’s The Lost Children which based on audience reaction “alters itself, hiding and revealing different aspects with each screening.”
7. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Audience Participation.
Rocky Horror Picture show is the most famous example, but indies such as Best Worst Movie have had their fans dressing up and participating as well. Corey McAbee recounted that in Melbourne Australia people would dress up as the characters in American Astronaut and sing along – for years of midnight screenings.
8. Create Unique Live Qualities Unavailable Anywhere Else – Actors Performing With the Film, Text Messaging, Immersive Experiences.
Each of these techniques can be done separately, but so far the filmmakers experimenting with this such as Lance Weiler with Head Trauma and more recently Mark Harris with The Lost Children are combining multiple aspects to create immersive experiences for their audiences.
9. Beyond Live Event Theatrical: Experiences
This needs its own blog post – but again crowdfunding has pushed filmmakers to think expansively about creating unique scarce experiences that can be offered to fans such as dinners, set experiences, live chats, backstage access etc. What you offer depends on your audience. Since my audience is mostly comprised of independent filmmakers, for my Kickstarter I have offered a variety of experiences that are based on my consulting brand: a monthly group conference call/presentation with twitter q&a, one time conversations, monthly workshops and individual intensive consultations. What value can you provide to your audience? What does your audience want from you?
10. Creating Unique Live Events – What Am I Missing?
I would love to get examples from you as to what unique screenings and events you have created or experienced?
On Tuesday I will conclude this series with a look at creating scarcity with merchandise. I am currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so you can see how I am utilizing scarcity, membership, and digital exclusivity to raise funds for my latest film, Bomb It 2, here: bombit2Kickstarter.com http://www.bombit2kickstarter.com
We have met our goal – but have added a stretch goal of $20K to help cover all of our expenses. More important than the stretch goal, though, is our goal to create a community of 300 backers for BOMB IT 2. As of this moment, as I am writing this for you, I have 280 dedicated backers who have not only pledged money but most of whom has dedicated time and effort toward spreading the word about the campaign. Yes, I’ll give them the movie and other perks, such as consultations, posters, original art, etc. in exchange for their contribution, but they’re giving me much more.
Please check it out, contribute if you’re moved, and – no matter what – stay tuned for the final part of this series on “How to Make Money in a Time of Abundance.”
Jon Reiss is filmmaker (Bomb It, Better Living Through Circuitry), author (Think Outside the Box Office) and media strategist who works with filmmakers, companies and organizations to help them utilize the most recent techniques of direct film distribution and audience engagement.
BOMB IT 2 Artist Victor Ash just might embody artistic evolution. Bursting onto the graffiti scene in the early 1980s, he went by Ash2 and Saho, and ran with the popular Parisian crew, BBC. He has since expanded his style, focusing on large- scale murals involving themes of human nature and perception. We caught up with Ash amidst his busy schedule, where he briefed us on his latest projects, his artistic transition, and themes that inspire his work.
If you like what you see, head over to our Bomb It 2 Kickstarter campaign to learn more about this project and ways you can contribute!
BOMB IT: What have you been up to since we filmed you in Bomb IT 2?
Victor Ash: Loads of things happened, new murals in several cities across the world, meeting new exciting people and new directions in my work.
BI: Can you talk about your recent works? What kinds of themes are you exploring with them?
VA: Since last year I have been working mostly with the theme of “animals faces,” playing with the idea of the animals looking at the viewer and the viewer looking back, I try to symbolize the human interactions we have with nature and nature with humans.
BI: There’s a lot of incrimination of graffiti and street artists in the news. As you’ve matured as an artist, do you feel your stance on graffiti and public space has changed? Why or why not?
VA: I started to paint outside when I was a teen. Looking for an identity, I liked the thrill the revolt and the energy I found there. Also, I like to be in direct contact with the public, it creates a communication that you wouldn’t get by staying in a studio. Now I’m not active illegally in the streets because what I do is too big and takes too long to do but I still paint in the streets, just not illegally.. I understand why others keep on doing it, but personally I find challenges elsewhere and getting responsibilities like having children and family forces you to work and think in other ways.
BI: What recent or current events have inspired your work?
VA: Many things happening are worth commenting on. I get most of my inspiration from the information I received about the current state of the world, my work has to reflect the time we are living, and getting informed about the world is important for my themes.
BI: What inspired the change in your work?
VA: In the 80’s I was a teen, focusing in the aesthetics of graffiti, it was great, but after some years I realized that it was not enough just doing letters and characters for me to keep interested in painting and I had to look further in my development to keep it exciting.
BI: What have been some public responses to your current street art and murals?
VA: In general the response is positive, if it was always negative I would do something else with my life.
BI: What advice or insight would you give to emerging street and graffiti artists?
VA: Keep on doing it as long as it matters for you and others.
***In celebration of our upcoming release of BOMB IT 2, we’re featuring this exclusive interview with BOMB IT artist Lady Pink. The interview was conducted by our social media manager and emerging writer/filmmaker, Nijla Mu’min. ***
Graffiti/ Fine Artist Lady Pink knows her stuff. With a career spanning over 30 years, hundreds of canvasses, and walls, her knowledge of the art form is expansive, but also grounded in its tough realities. I caught up with the New York -based artist over Skype where she candidly discussed the first women of graffiti, the dangers of public work, and the current threat of the Vandal Squad (the Graffiti Police) on her life.
I’ve shot in a number of crazy situations throughout the world shooting Bomb It 1&2, Better Living Through Circuitry and Survival Research Labs – but this expedition in Bangkok for Bomb It 2 stands out in my mind because I can still feel those red ants biting my legs – and because my humorously clumsy ways of dealing with the situation was filmed by one of the writers I was with. It also led to an incredible view of Bangkok in this oddly beautiful plein air building. I hope you enjoy it!
For more, visit our BOMB IT 2 Kickstarter and help us reach 20k! We’ve got 9 more days to make it happen for the August release.
By Jon Reiss
I just arrived in South Africa on my way from filming in Tanzania to speak at the Durban Film Festival. I know it’s crazy to do this while running a Kickstarter for Bomb It 2 – and prepping the release of Bomb It 2 on August 6th – but I ultimately realized that if I waited for the right month where I wasn’t doing anything – I would never find the right time. I think it’s the case for most filmmakers who are trying to finish their films or approaching release and running Kickstarter – but perhaps shooting in Africa might be a bit more extreme. Two tips: Assemble a great team and get no sleep.
The projects I have been shooting are pretty incredible. First is a primary school called Africa Schoolhouse (which is also the name of the umbrella organization). They are involved in 2 schools in remote village of Ntulya, Tanzania near Mwanza. There was one solar powered outlet to charge my batteries and an intermittent AirTell Cell Card to get out at dial up speeds. While there I was also filming for the Go Campaign which works with grassroots projects throughout the developing world focused on helping women and children at risk – helping them develop healthier, safer and sustainable lives. Go Campaign partnered with Africa Schoolhouse to build a well and a clinic providing clean water and health care to the surrounding villages that formally had to travel many extra kilometers by foot or if lucky by bicycle for water or health care. In addition I filmed my son set up another X-Change the World program at a different nearby high school run by Africa Schoolhouse.
My Bomb It 2 training prepared me for shooting all of these programs and one more in 2 days – quickly survey the scene and what is happening, identify important characters and don’t stop shooting. I used essentially the same package as Bomb It 2 except instead of my trusty HV40 – I got my hands on a Canon XA10 – I chose a more traditional video camera for the depth of field – when I’m moving as fast as I am, with my eyes, the depth of field on a DSLR is too critical. But I have to say on these types of shoots I really miss tape. I spent a decent amount of time transferring footage and triple backing up instead of sleeping. Besides the camera and extra batteries – I pretty much only use a lavalier microphone, zoom mic and monopod.
After Ntulya we travelled to Moshi at the base of Mount Kilamanjaro – which because of cloud cover and shooting – I only got to see on the flight out of Moshi! My favorite project in Moshi was the Gabriella’s Children Rehabilitaition Centre which was established by a physical therapist to treat children with autism and physical and learning disabilities who normally fall through the cracks in Tanzania which struggles to educate children without these challenges. The teachers were incredible and I loved the chicken and goat house they had just built in their garden as ways to not only be sustainable, but to teach practical vocational and entrepreneurial skills for the children to not just survive, but thrive as adults.
But I’m here at the Durban International Film Festival where I am giving a talk on Artistic Entrepreneurship and Transmedia as well as mentoring individual film projects.
Here is a link to the Kickstarter campaign for Bomb It 2: www.bombit2kickstarter.com
The explosion of DSLR filmmaking in recent years has allowed independent filmmakers to create high resolution content with a shallow depth of field. In many ways the technology has done a lot to level the playing field between the independents and major studios. One of the better known examples of this leveling was the news that the 2010 season finale of House was shot entirely with a Canon 5d Mark II.
Anyone with DSLR experience knows that this high resolution imagery can be compromised by stability issues, however. Digital camcorders like the Panasonic HVX 200 had a sizable camera body that counterbalanced the weight of the lens and allowed for relatively stable hand-held shooting. DSLRs do not possess the same intrinsic balance. As a result, the run-and-gun style of many independent filmmakers yields shaky footage if attempted without stabilization gear. Now there are a number of solutions currently on the market that address DSLR stability, but the majority of them are often too complicated or expensive for my taste, which is why I was so excited to learn about the Pstik!
Developed by long-time DP and camera op Stephen J. Payne, the Pstik sells for $60 and utilizes a monopod and a few small lead weights to create a simple counterweight system, enabling filmmakers to run-and-gun with remarkably smooth and stable results. Here is how Stephen Payne explains it:
Stephen started a kickstarter campaign for the Pstik, where you can get more information on the product, ask questions or stake your claim for one of these cool gizmos today.
Bomb It 1 + 2 director Jon Reiss speaks with the filmmakers behind “Between the Lines” about street art and graffiti, freedom of speech and democracy. “Between the Lines” is a documentary about a group of Toronto street artists who find new meaning in their work as they defend it against Mayor Rob Ford’s War on Graffiti.
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.
Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.
SOUND IT OUT (75 mins) is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England. A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local community that keeps it alive.
The film is directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up three miles from the shop, and represents a distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives. Sally Hodgson is the PMD on the project who I have written about before.
What is also distinctive about SOUND IT OUT is the innovative merchandise that they are offering. Check out their store. One of the key things you want to try to do with merchandise – if offer scarce goods – limited editions that will be valued by fans. In addition to selling a classic DVD, they have produced an ultra limited edition 7″ gate-fold version of the DVD (only 350 copies are available for sale). The DVD, which was printed with grooves like a vinyl record, is mounted on sleeve notes with credits for supporters of the film on IndieGoGo and thank yous by the director. The limited edition DVD also includes artwork by Amy Blackwell as well a hand numbered, 4 track baby blue vinyl soundtrack EP. The EP features Saint Saviour “When you smile,” The Chapman Family “Sound of the Radio,” Detective Instinct “Witches Birdies,” and Das Wanderlust “Pyrmintro.”
SOUND IT OUT also offers some more traditional fare including stickers, pin badges, and posters to go with more unique items like a pair of vinyl earrings custom designed by the wonderful people at Tatty Devine.
I am a firm believer that in providing customers a way to engage your film at various price points – so that they can choose a level that feels right for them. This is common for crowdfund campaigns, but is only starting to be adopted by independents in their stores. Sound It Out are selling various combinations of their merchandise. You can buy the ltd edition boutique vinyl DVD together with the classic DVD. There is also the “whole shebang” combo deal, which bundles together the Boutique DVD, A2 poster (paper), stickers and badges.
Through their clever merchandising SOUND IT OUT shows that a little ingenuity goes a long way. By offering limited edition items in addition and combination with more traditional fare, SOUND IT OUT widens their net, creating unique value for unique consumers to ensure that no dollar is left on the table.