Why a case study book and how we financed it | Prescreen: a new digital platform

Dear Filmmakers,

The book has arrived! Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul can be downloaded for FREE or a purchased, depending on your preference. Check out sellingyourfilm.com/store

syfnotsys-keyart-formats

I wanted to share why we wrote this book and how it came to be and why I think that is applicable for filmmakers.  Below is a section of a letter I wrote in our new collaboratively authored book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul (co-authored with Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler).

“We want for you what you want for yourselves, to have a sustainable filmmaking career, to find your audiences and connect with them, and to thrive creatively, professionally and financially…As the industry and business of film distribution and revenue streams changes in the face of new digital technology’s impact on distribution and changes in audience and consumer access and habits, we collectively encourage you to look at the source of success and then be liberated and empowered to discover that you don’t always need a line of gatekeepers or multiple middlemen to make your dreams come true. And even though there may be cases where to some extent the gatekeepers and middlemen make sense, it’s almost never a useful paradigm on its own anymore.

The more filmmakers try to release films in a more hybrid or even fully DIY fashion, the less of a stigma some may feel about it and the more useful and appealing DIY will be, even as an at- tractive and comforting strategy to future investors and producers, as opposed to the present frequent thinking that privileges the all rights sale even with deleterious terms. DIY or hybrid distribution need not seem like a last resort. It need not seem less sexy. It need not seem less successful. It need not seem like a negative or blemish in any way. What filmmakers need is to access audiences and revenues from all sources, both for one’s present work and one’s future filmmaking…

The point and purpose of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul is to highlight the questions filmmakers can ask, such as: “What is my audience?” “Where is it?” “Is a distributor more capable of reaching it or less so?” “Is there something an all rights distributor can do for my film that I cannot do myself?” and “If so, are the terms worth the difference?” The answers will vary but we believe asking the question(s) is key in every instance. This case study book highlights many of the methods and techniques and practices film- makers can follow now and in the future to distribute one’s work in the most filmmaker-friendly and sustainable way possible. There are lessons about what and who worked well and others not-so-much. The more filmmakers practice this the more powerful and useful and rewarding the filmmaker practice of this will be.”

And I want to note how we financed this book and how I think that is relevant to filmmakers.

Over a year ago I decided I wanted to create a case study book and I invited Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler to participate and I am so glad they did, it’s been awesome working with them.  The traditional model of book publishing is to find a book agent and get a deal with a publisher. There’s usually a lot of rejection and if or when you get a deal, the publisher normally gets the better end of it, especially if you don’t have a name as an author. And often one is frustrated that a publisher has not done this or that and usually the author does a better job marketing the work anyway.

It’s the author’s name and creativity that is selling the book, not the publishing house. The fact of how many publishing houses passed on Harry Potter is a great lesson about how the fat cat corporate gatekeepers don’t always know what time it is.

We did for about 5 seconds consider seeing if we could publish Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul in a traditional way, through a publishing house. Then we thought we would either be turned down since the book is for a very niche interest audience or receive a small advance (most first time authors receive less than $5,000 in advance money. There are 4 authors of this book) and never see another penny. Sound familiar?

Also, if we are going to champion filmmakers who are using some form of self-distribution for their work, It would be pretty hypocritical to go the traditional route with a publisher.

Here is what we did do and why:

We created a production budget that made sense for the scope of the book and the audience it was made for. We could have budgeted more money for it and waited until we scraped that budget together. It could have taken more than a year to do that. We decided to spend a reasonable amount that would ensure the book was available on all key digital platforms and now even in print. BUT, we decided not to do an iPhone App because that would have cost more and put strain on the budget given that this book is very specific and for a very specific audience.

We clearly defined our audience: filmmakers who are interested in DIY or Hybrid or P2P distribution methods. Not everyone and not even every filmmaker.

We set out to find sponsors to help pay for it. With this reasonable budget in mind, a clearly defined audience and a way to reach them ourselves, we knew what kind of sponsors would appreciate this. We also decided that the way to make it worth their while was to make the book FREE at least for a time and at least in one format always. It ensures the likelihood that the book will be shared widely. We also decided the sales price would be low cost in any case so that price was never a barrier to the book finding its audience and its readers seeking it out.

We did not pursue random sponsors, but rather carefully considered the ones that made sense given the defined audience target. This made sponsorship success much smoother and easier.  We could persuasively communicate that our audience was their target audience and how we would reach them (through our many media and personal contacts) and when (launch during IFP Week) and where (New York and all over the world via the internet). We gave them clear information that they could feel good about and see as a perfect fit for their brand.

We published the book ourselves and it’s available today on all key digital platforms where eBooks are sold. It is about one year to the day from when I first conceived the idea to having it out for all to read. The print edition will also soon be in retail stores via an aggregator, much like going through an aggregator to get onto Netflix, Hulu and iTunes (though we managed our own iBookstore inclusion).
So if you are making a film, there is a strong likelihood you can follow this model but you need to prepare for it well:

1. Who is your audience?

2. How will you reach them? Specifically as we did, targeting certain press, certain blogs, certain podcasts whose readers and listeners match those for the book.

3. What is a reasonable budget for your film that is fundable, recoupable and profitable via these methods of self-financing and self-distribution and/or financing via sponsorship?

4. If you want to try the sponsorship route, you will need to create a presentation deck and go out to companies a minimum of 6 months in advance of your release, but more likely more. Big companies make decisions a year in advance often.

5. For sponsorship to be attractive to a brand, they will need to know a specific distribution plan in order to see how being involved with your film achieves their marketing objectives. It takes planning and advanced thinking that doesn’t rely on hoping a gatekeeper “buys” your film.

This is how we did it for a book and some films can be done this way too, even if they cost 5 or 6 figures or even 7. It’s really just a question of the right pairing between content and audience and brands and above all things, advance planning and TIME and EFFORT that can and will pay off.

I am proud that we did not have to adjust our content for anyone, that we did not have to rely on anyone to give us access to our readers, that we have full control of the book we wrote and above all, that we are in the black before we have even released the book. How many artists can say that?

I would not have done it any other way.

The book’s site has a BLOG too www.SellingYourFilm.com/blog

and here is a link to an interview with Prescreen to explain their new platform.  And you may want to read other blog posts there about case studies that are in the book and ones that are not.

Here’s a link to the Prescreen interview: http://www.sellingyourfilm.com/blog/2011/07/19/sponsor-spotlight-prescreen/

TFC is thrilled that HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY (TIFF 2010, Directed by Jody Shapiro who incidentally is also a producer for one of our faves, Guy Maddin) is NOW AVAILABLE via PRESCREEN (presenting sponsor for Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul).

I want to give Prescreen a little shout out since they’re just launching and we’re excited to be working with this new platform from launch stage.  Prescreen, an innovative movie marketing and distribution platform, that officially launches today to give filmmakers an alternative to traditional advertising and distribution channels – through the mass marketing of curated content that is then shared by users through social media.  Prescreen offers users the ability to subscribe to a daily email alert, view trailers and rent movies to stream on demand, as well as earn rewards and discounts for sharing movie information on their social networks. Their daily email service highlights one movie per day, enabling their featured films to reach a wide audience.

Prescreen also delivers a Prescreen Performance Report to each filmmaker and distributor whose movie is featured on Prescreen. The report offers aggregated analytics and demographics about the audience for each featured film.

How it Works:

  • Consumer subscribers receive an email alert featuring one new movie each day.
  • Users watch the movie trailer for free and can purchase a rental to view the entire movie to stream on demand for up to 60 days.
  • Users can earn discounts and rewards by sharing the film through their social networks using Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Prescreen aggregates the purchasing data, protecting the privacy of each user, and delivers valuable demographic and analytic information back to filmmakers and distributors for future marketing and distribution efforts.

To see their featured the film HOW TO START YOUR OWN COUNTRY go to:

https://prescreen.com/movie/How-To-Start-Your-Own-Country and sign up!

For more info about the fascinating documentary that we all love here at TFC go to:

www.HOWTOSTARTYOUROWNCOUNTRY.com or use this link http://www.howtostartyourowncountry.com/Country/Enter.html

or visit the TFC site: http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/films/howtostartyourowncountry.html

To see a video about Prescreen works go to: YOUTUBE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjh3F9ZbHYo OR – FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150285053926517

Today’s featured film is THE ROBBER.

Prescreen is now accepting full-length feature film applications on a variety of topics and genres. To submit, visit: prescreen.com/submit.  To sign up for the daily email service, visit: prescreen.com

Bye for now. We hope you like the book and if you have any questions feel free to contact us at contactus@thefilmcollaborative.org