TFC reached out to Film Independent/Los Angeles Film Festival’s Director of Publicity and Communications, Elise Freimuth, to discuss to the “Do’s and Don’ts” of working with Publicists on the Film Festival circuit. The following are her “insider” thoughts on the subject…

Festivals reach audiences

With so many independent filmmakers going the DIY route, more and more of you are taking on publicity and marketing responsibilities.  As a result, you need to educate yourselves on the essentials of the trade.  Even if you do end up hiring a publicist, it’s important to understand some basics so you can be empowered and know the right kind of questions to ask when selecting a publicist or putting together a PR strategy with them.

Many indie filmmakers make the mistake of thinking about publicity when they get accepted into a film festival, but in truth, you need to start thinking about PR when you’re putting your budget together.  Costs need to be factored in early on for possibly hiring a unit photographer, hiring a publicist once you do get accepted to a festival, paying for room and board for talent to attend a festival and creating press materials.

Create your press materials early!  So many filmmakers put these off and then have to scramble to pull assets together when they get accepted into a film festival.  A publicist is usually hired about 1-2 months before a festival, so it doesn’t give them much time to work on your film.  Give them as much time as possible to pitch your work by giving them a package of nice materials.  They may have suggestions to spice things up a bit, but at least they’re not having to start from scratch.

We’re in the moving pictures business for a reason– we like telling stories with images.  And images are incredibly important when you’re promoting your film.  Creating high-quality still images from your film will go a long way in helping you promote your work and save you from a huge headache down the road.  If you can’t afford a unit photographer to come in for a few days during the shoot, then have a photographer friend or someone from your camera department (so many video cameras can create beautiful stills) take high-quality still photos for you.  If you have name talent, you should schedule a photographer on the days you’ll be shooting key scenes with them. Your photos should properly convey the tone (comedy vs drama) and reveal something about the character or story.  A generic close-up of a character reveals nothing—it could be from any film.

Journalists want photos that are going to help them tell the story about your film and they’re going to want to grab their readers/viewers.  Photos should be high resolution (at least 300 dpi), and most news outlets prefer horizontal.  When selecting images, keep in mind that you may need to get key talent to sign off on these, so go through their representatives and have them do their “photo kills” early so you’re not chasing them down 3 weeks before a festival.  Also, you really only need 2 or 3 great still images.  When audiences start to see the same photo running online and in magazines and newspapers, it’s easier for them to recognize your film.  And given the time constraints journalists have nowadays, the last thing they want to do is troll through 20 pictures.  They want to look at a few and pick one.

Following these guidelines will also help film festivals.  Their marketing departments need to put together program books, ads and build their website, and it’s really hard when filmmakers submit low resolution photos in non-traditional formats.  You’ll also want to consider holding back a few photos for exclusives down the road when you get a theatrical or digital release.  Some publications like USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Entertainment Weekly like to use exclusive photos for their movie previews and articles.  Plus, it’s a great way to do an extra push and leak out exclusive content when you’re releasing your film.

Gone are the days of putting your clips and trailers on bulky and expensive beta tapes.  Most festivals and broadcast/online outlets just require a digital file, preferably in HD that you can e-mail, post on your website or share via file transfer websites.  Just like with photos, a couple clips of key scenes that convey your story and tone are all you really need.  Clips should only be about 30-45 seconds long.  Trailers are nice, but they’re not terribly necessary at this point.  If your film gets acquired, they’re just going to cut a new trailer and the process can be rather pricey.  Usually broadcast outlets aren’t going to show festival film trailers, unless there are huge stars involved.  There are some online outlets that may run your trailer, but again, don’t break your back over this.  If you do decide to do a trailer, just make sure it’s no longer than a minute and a half and it should be well-edited and tell your story without giving everything away.

Production notes are really handy for journalists to refer to when prepping for interviews with you or your talent, or to fact check when they’re writing reviews or stories on your film.  These notes do not need to be 35 pages long.  Keep them sweet, short and simple.  Include a log-line (1 line), short synopsis (2-3 lines), long synopsis (2-3 paragraphs)—these also help the festival staff when they’re putting together their materials.  You’ll want to include short bios (1-2 paragraphs) on yourself, key crew and cast.  A director’s statement is always nice, but not necessary.  This should be 1-3 paragraphs and can explain your reason for making your film, explain controversial elements behind the film, the style you chose, etc.  Don’t include reviews and interviews from other publications in your production notes because journalists don’t need to see other people’s work in your notes.  A full list of credits is also essential as film critics need to include this information when they file their review.  If they don’t have the full credits, this sometimes prevents them from actually filing a review of your film!

Posters are lovely to have as a souvenir, but not necessary for publicizing your film at a festival.  The festival will ask you for these because they’ll sometimes display them for a day or two at the theater venue or in their filmmaker lounge, but that’s about all they use them for.  Posters are expensive to make, so if you’re on a budget, this is the thing to cut.  Maybe opt for some creative hand-out material with your screening schedule on it if you’re on a budget and are really keen on printed material.  A small postcard is easy to hand out to people you meet.  Some filmmakers get even more creative and hand out matchbooks, coasters, buttons and more to go along with the theme of their film.  But again, all of these things are just fun add-ons if you’ve got the money for them.

If you start getting interview requests and screener requests (see paragraph about screeners) before the festival begins, hold off on setting these up until you’ve hired a publicist or put a PR strategy in place.  The last thing a publicist wants is to come on board a film and find out you’ve set up a bunch of interviews without them.  Or egads!  Set it with someone they know could potentially attack your film or not fit in line with the strategy.

Don’t hire a publicist if you haven’t gotten into a film festival or have a theatrical/digital release.  They’re more than happy to take your money, but you won’t get a return on their services if you’re not actually screening your film anywhere.  So many filmmakers think they need to hire a publicist as soon as the film is done, but you’ll just be spending dollars that can be used more effectively once you secure that festival slot.  You should aim to hire your publicist within 1-2 months of your festival screening, but start asking your sales agent, friends and fellow filmmakers for recommendations and put together your wish list early.  Once you find out you’re in a festival, you can start making the calls to these publicists and set up meetings.  These meetings are kind of like a first date or a dance—you need to find out if you like each other, can work together and they can execute the proper strategy for your film.  They should obviously like your movie, but they should also have a strategy and be able to openly talk with you about potential negative reactions that could result from the press and industry, weaknesses in your film and how to navigate those, and be able to work closely with your sales agent (their strategies need to align).  In some cases, the publicist is really there to support the sales agent, and having one who understands distributors is also helpful.  Having a cheerleader isn’t enough—that’s what your parents are for. Your publicist should have a plan, know the press attending and be able to strategically execute that plan.  For festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Cannes and SXSW, the price you pay will be higher because it needs to cover room and board for the publicist. Expect to pay anywhere from $7-12K.  Believe it or not, the costs for sending a team of publicists to these festivals ends up breaking even for them.  They’re working on your film because they’re passionate about you and your work.  For festivals like the Los Angeles Film Fest, AFI, New York Film Fest and Tribeca, there are tons of locally based publicists in entertainment, so you have a wealth of people to choose from.  If you’re playing in LA, select a LA-based publicist and in New York, New York.  Why?  So you don’t have to pay more for their travel.  PLUS, they’re going to be a lot more familiar with the local press attending that festival.  Expect to pay $3-7K for these festivals.

Whether you hire a publicist or not, don’t blow your wad at the very beginning.  It’s incredibly exciting for you now that you’re playing in a film festival.  You want to see a ton of press breaks and have everyone interviewing you and your talent, but you need to reign it in.  You want people to discover your film and if you go hog wild with interviews, then no one will want to interview you or your talent when the film finally gets that theatrical/digital release.  It’s like turning the heat on to boil a pot of water.  You want that water bubbling for your festival PR campaign—you don’t want it boiling over.  Work on getting included in some festival curtain raisers—i.e. previews that mention films to catch or look out for.  A handful of interviews are all you really need with some key outlets that cater to the audience you’re trying to target.

Decide whether it’s the industry you want to focus on, or raise awareness about a certain issue, or reach out to a certain fan base.  BE TARGETED.  If you’re a small documentary or narrative with no stars, then Access Hollywood will not want to cover you.  They only want the A-list talent.  Be REALISTIC and SMART about the type of press you can get.

Communicate with the festival PR staff.  If you’re doing DIY, then reach out to them personally.  If you have a publicist, make sure they get in touch with the staff so they can be notified of press opportunities that might fit your film, or get some leads.  If you’re on your own, the festival PR staff is there to help you.  They have tons of films they need to publicize and are mostly focusing on publicizing the festival as a whole, not individual films.  They can’t play favorites because all the filmmakers are their children here, but they can give you advice on putting together a PR strategy, point you towards journalists they think might be interested in your film and how to reach out to them.  They’ll appreciate that you’re thinking about PR in a smart way and not just asking for their press list so you can blast out multiple e-mails and invites.

A note on screeners.  BE CAREFUL WITH THESE.  The festival PR staff may ask you for copies of screeners, but you don’t have to provide these.  It should be an option.  The risk in providing these to the festival is that any accredited journalist can walk in and watch your film on a laptop, small TV or check it out, and you won’t know who it is.  They can always pass along screener requests from the journalist directly to you or your publicist so you have more control over who is seeing your film early (the same goes for acquisitions execs!  Let your sales agent send these out!!)  It’s really best to protect your screeners and only give them to journalists if it works with your PR strategy.  Some journalists may need to see the film early for a curtain raiser or feature and are nice about only including films they like.  There are other journalists who could potentially badmouth your film before the festival screening.  Make sure you or your publicist knows the intent of the journalist.  Some films just play better on the big screen with an engaged crowd and some films play better on your laptop with a box of Kleenex at your side.  Figure out how your film plays and let that help guide you on whether you want to share screeners.

May 31st, 2012

Posted In: DIY, Film Festivals, Publicity

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By Sheri Candler

Now that there is some form of distribution available to every project made, whether it is working with a service company to theatrically release or uploading the project online for free and enabling perpetual viewing, it is time to acknowledge that new mindsets and skills are needed not just for filmmakers, but also for film promotion.

Traditionally, a publicist’s role  was to leverage the relationships she had formed with editors and journalists (the media) to ensure story placement in publications and she strived to convey a cohesive message about a film. She endeavored to control the message and those who were allowed to carry it. The prominence of social channels has torn this process apart. Now, the media aren’t the only ones talking about a film and it is getting increasingly difficult to control the message. It is becoming more prevalent to create the dialog instead.

Publicists need to be comfortable speaking to journalists and audience

Whether you choose to take on the promotional role yourself as a microbudget filmmaker or you are looking to start working in film promotion, the skills now needed go well beyond writing a good press release and having a good database of personal contacts ( but you still need those too). Here is a look at some emerging skills needed by today’s publicists with the knowledge that it is nearly impossible to find strong abilities for all of these in one person.

Storytelling and curation. Writing skills still play a vital role in film publicity, but there’s more writing now than ever. As social tools enable a production to reach an audience directly and wherever they congregate online, something besides a “message” must be written. Stories that are memorable, relatable and “sticky” will pull people to you and keep them coming back and the stories aren’t only written by a journalist; not when one has a blog, a newsletter, a Tumblr page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Pinterest boards and possibly participating in forums. We’re now talking to the audience, not through third party media. Many more tools, many more skills needed to understand how each one works and how to get the most from them. A visual sense of storytelling is needed as well because many of the social posts that get the most interactions and shared are photos/videos/infographics. In order to develop stories that resonate, one must spend much more time getting to know the audience as people with definite tastes and interests, not as faceless, broad demographics. Also, time must be spent finding great information and sharing it which is just as important (perhaps MORE important) as creating it. Tools that help aggregate useful information and inspire self published content will need to be found and this has become a standard duty in the work day.

Technical skills. The ability to code, photo, audio and video edit and format, graphic design, link building and SEO,  as well as keeping up with every little trick Facebook settings can throw at you will become increasingly useful. In order to use the new tools effectively and keep to a modest budget, personal training should be undertaken to develop a good understanding and at least a basic level of performance.

Observation and monitoring. Learning to listen first is without a doubt a very useful skill in the online world. Too many times we are pushed to “sell” “convert” “promote” with no real understanding of who we are talking to and what they care about. Indeed, previously it was difficult to know what “they” care about because “we” didn’t really talk to “them”, but this isn’t the case anymore. Sharing opinions, recommendations, emotions, interests, locations, and personal details abound on the internet and there is no longer an excuse to guess about the needs and wishes of the audience. They are talking online every day, so listen. Monitoring conversations, picking out trending topics, predicting what is likely to spark interest, and THEN actively participating in those communities in an authentic way is how to get the information and interest flowing.

Measurement. This is now the world of big data and making sense of everything that can be tracked (because lots can be accurately tracked) is increasingly needed. Analytical skills to evaluate trends, outcomes,  and correctly interpret and apply data are skills that enable communicators to turn data into actionable work and measure return on investment. Also, turning data into visual interpretations for management (charts, graphs, statistics) helps show the impact of your work or where things need to be adjusted.

Fundraising and organizational outreach. Not a week passes that I am not asked about advice on a crowdfunding initiative. Crowdfunding is not only about raising money, but also raising a profile, creating attention, building mutually beneficial partnerships and gathering an audience for a project that may just be starting. Understanding the needs and motivations of a particular group of people sounds quite psychological and it is. Communicators have always needed to be aware of psychological triggers that cause people to care about the message, but in the online space where one isn’t face to face and many decisions hinge on long earned trust, it takes a different mindset and skillset than writing out a good prospectus or pitch letter.   Continual research and outreach to influencers and organizations helps to build up the long term trust that can enable one to call on help when it is needed, whether it is financial help, spreading the word on a project or collaborating together by submitting material (crowdsourcing) in order to give the project a richer life than one the production could create on their own.

Constant adaptation. Most of the above skills are a catalog of communication demands that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. Nothing is constant in life but change, right? You can be sure that as new technology and platforms emerge and information gets even thicker and faster, the ability to learn something that wasn’t around even last year will serve you well. Spend time every day learning, reading, and practicing for improvement. A Google search engine is a wonderful thing and nearly everything can be researched and learned for nearly free online. Failing to understand when the shiny new tool becomes THE necessary tool in the box could marginalize you. Keep up with the trends and adapt accordingly.

May 22nd, 2012

Posted In: Marketing, Publicity, Social Network Marketing

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This post was originally published on the Sundance Artists Services blog on April 23, 2012. This is an interview between Rights Stuff’s Wendy Bernfeld and The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid on the state of digital in Europe

In the past, many new media and VOD platforms – whether based on pay-per-transaction (TVOD), subscription (SVOD), free to user/ad supported (ADVOD) or download to own (DTO) — came and went, to the disillusionment of those brave souls trying to explore and develop the new sector and audiences.

Some filmmakers, sales agents, distributors who dared to license were wonderfully pleased with surprisingly good results for particular films (and not always the same ones that were mainstream successes in traditional media), but on balance, let’s face it, most were underwhelmed with the lackluster performance or transience of the various sites, and eventually became jaded about the whole sector. But it’s no longer a viable option just to sit back.

Over the past 18 months particularly the digital/VOD sector (including internationally) has finally begun paying off well for filmmakers, producers, distributors, and sales agents… at least for those who are willing to take the time to navigate (alone or partnered with others) the complexities of the sector, play with creative ”windowing’’ while balancing opportunities from traditional media, and accept initially more modest revenues from multiple smaller deals across various platforms and regions (yielding cumulative revenues in a largely non exclusive sector).

In addition to traditional media deals and VOD deal potential with IPTV, telecom, and cable offerings, and larger American sites (e.g. Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes), your film may well find interested audiences and homes on EU/international platforms…even if not picked up in the USA.

HOW IS INTERNATIONAL DIGITAL DIFFERENT FROM THAT IN THE USA?

The EU (beyond UK) deals with multiple languages, different tastes and appetites, different windows (vs consistent release patterns/dates per country), different platforms to navigate and balance against multiple different traditional media buyers, and, to be honest in general more work for smaller potential revenues from each deal/window.

But on the plus side, films can find homes overseas in many markets and windows, even if not ending up in the mainstream or major US/UK platforms.

The UK is at the moment probably the more stable and lucrative for English (the VOD market is already very competitive, with large platforms like Netflix, Lovefilm, BSkyB, FilmFlex, iTunes, and Blinkbox) but as soon as you ripple out to EU, digital distribution will take more work and art and generate relatively less money, especially if your film is only in original English language, and not already exposed in terms of promo/PR (theatrical, DVD release in the region etc.). However, there is indeed a growing appetite by now for art house, festival, docs, quality indie films, and foreign language films, if well curated, e.g. around festivals/brands/themes rather than as one-offs.

WHO’S OUT THERE in EU and what are some of the key territories where digital is meaningful?

Digital is immediately more meaningful in the UK, France, the Nordic region, and in Benelux, where there are already pc/mobile and tech-savvy customers and a willingness to view films in English with subtitles (vs. the dubbed regions of Germany, Spain, Italy etc., where one has to invest more to get the languages to cross over).

Although publications often refer to figures noting several hundreds of VOD platforms in Europe, in my view there are only probably 100 or so that are worth talking about when discussing licensing—half of which the main revenue generators, and another half of which are still potentially significant buyers(depending on the film of course)

In Europe, as in America, transactional VOD (pay per view) platforms are more established – some regional (per country), and others multi region (e.g. Acetrax, UPC/Chello, Headweb, iTunes, Playstation Network Live, Voddler, Xbox Live). Outside of the UK, one obviously enhances possibilities if addressing customers in their own languages and tailoring content to local preferences such film classification, advertising, and general consumer and cultural tastes.

iTunes has only recently (in autumn 2011) begun to expand its footprint into Europe, including in the following EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Non-English stores include: Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland, and Portugal. They also just recently launched in Brazil / Latin America as well.

NETFLIX, Amazon (via Lovefilm), and Hulu are expanding their international footprint too. Netflix, for example, recently launched in UK/Eire, and is anticipated to roll into other regions such as Spain thereafter, and has already extended its occasionally original production commissioning activities to EU (e.g. Denmark – Lillyhammer deal, and more recently France (Gaumont etc) – Hemlock Grove series funding ). Lovefilm already has a presence beyond the UK (in Germany and Nordic), and is anticipated to expand regions. Hulu has not yet launched in EU but did launch already in Japan. As part of its competition rampup (in the US against Netflix in the SVOD market, it has also began commissioning original programming, (Day in the Life – Morgan Spurlock, for example, which was just picked up by Fremantle for distribution thereafter)….and also continues seeking special films or shows to do stunts around. We understand that they are trying to acquire more Spanish rights for the US…an important strategic move for other US players trying to expand their footprint in EU as well. Meanwhile in early 2012 the UK became a hotbed of activity for SVOD, with deals that would formerly have been nonexclusive (with e.g. Netflix, Lovefilm) being now struck on a lucrative exclusive basis, following the example of the competitive SVOD vs. Pay TV market in the US.

So what are the other key EU platforms? Trends?

Various international platforms are now becoming increasingly interested in licensing more art house, niche and festival films–not just mainstream titles. It is expected that some of the larger brand sites this year (e.g. those in UK like Netflix, Lovefilm, etc.) will expand the indie/art house and festival category further, and also be open to foreign language films (dubbed or subtitled as applicable per country audience as above). Most deals for art house/fest films, where not locally versioned or released in theatres or DVD, are on a non exclusive rev share basis, and in some cases where there is particular acclaim or cast, it can be coupled with a modest upfront, while if on an SVOD basis, flat fee deals apply (similar to non-exclusive Pay TV licensing deal parameters).

But in countries where the Pay TV incumbent is competing against a new web player, such as a traditional Pay TV player “vs.” SVOD (like Netflix “vs.” HBO in the US, or Lovefilm/Amazon “vs.” BSkyB in UK), as above, the fees can be more lucrative, in the form of true flat license fees in the Pay TV range. – whether on exclusive or non exclusive basis, and thus matching or exceeding the normal price ranges before the competition. As well, when competition heats up over one category of title, it’s also not unusual to have the competitors round out, extend, or diversify their consumer offer and move into other genres, to try to distinguish themselves from the competition. This is happening in more and more countries– for example the Netherlands, where HBO /Ziggo just launched in February and the local incumbent, Film1, responded by adding a branded art house/indie thematic channel (Sundance Channel).

Key note: Deals are generally non-exclusive and thus if carefully staggered, one can license the film sequentially through various windows (TVOD, SVOD, AVOD, and if applicable, DTO) and in multiple regions.

An example: one can first license a current film for transactional VOD (TVOD) on a rev share basis to cable and telecom VOD platforms (like France Telecom/Orange, UPC, etc) as well as (simultaneously) web based players (e.g. iTunes), then to subscription -based windows (premium Pay TV (e.g. HBO, Viasat) and their corresponding “TV Everywhere” offerings, thematic Pay TV, and/or standalone SVOD services . Thereafter, the film can move to other ad-supported services (free to consumer, web based, e.g. YouTube AVOD). This pattern can apply in multiple countries.

As mentioned above, there are hundreds of local European platforms —both standalone web-based services and mainstream and/or local telecom and Cable VOD platforms that have online offerings of their own. VIASAT, for example, was historically a premium pay service, but now offers not only conventional Pay TV and ”TV Everywhere” but also standalone thematic offerings to non-subscribers (SVOD to PC). Similarly, BSkyB just announced the upcoming launch of NOW TV – also aimed at non- subscribers (“Cord Nevers, and/or Cord Cutters”) – a thematic SVOD/low pay offering of films.

Opportunities will only increase in 2012 and 2013 as more from USA players, sites, and OTT box offerings beyond Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon gradually cross over to EU/international markets particularly if the new services don’t limit themselves to mainstream offerings and tastes.

Getting to the platform: As in the United States, some of the larger platforms (such as LOVEFILM, BlinkBox, Netflix, itunes) only take larger packages of films with a minimum volume, and are unwilling to deal direct with producers and distributors for “one off” deals. Until recently, most of the larger sites also focused mainly on mainstream films. In general, these services steer filmmakers towards conventional distributors, or aggregators/digital distributors like Movie Partnership (UK); but sometimes will accept dealings direct for certain films, or will go via an agent working on a flat fee basis (like Rights Stuff / Film Collaborative). In the latter scenario, the film IP remains in the filmmaker’s/distributor’s name, the money from deals flows to them directly and they get access and paid advice through third party consultants/agents/advisors.

Up until now, having had a DVD and/or local theatrical release was quite important for enhancing deals. But increasingly now online sites are willing to handle more innovative windows, e.g. premiering films online, or Day & Date with other windows (or shortly thereafter). Lesser-known or library (catalog) films can usually find a home on a non- exclusive and on ad-supported (AVOD) basis, but more current films usually start with transactional (TVOD) basis and/or subscription platforms (SVOD)… If filmmakers have titles already encoded to the expensive iTunes spec, this can be helpful in wider distribution, but it’s not essential; many digital platforms are now willing to take delivery of indie or art house films even via DVD or a hard drive/ digital master.

In terms of deal models, some aggregators (middlemen) take larger %s but then take care of all encoding and delivery fulfillment, while others who are more in an advisory or agent role take a lower share for deal making and platform access but leave you to arrange the encoding separately. In some countries (e.g. Brazil), platforms may not take English versions unless local subtitles or dubs are available, and work with distributors who create versions where necessary. These distributors co-curate packages with filmmakers based on experience of what “moves” best in the region so as not to invest in encoding or language versioning for films that may not generate enough revenue to justify it…

A side note regarding subtitling, by the way: Film Collaborative is looking into software that helps facilitate dubbing in the same voice as the actor/speaker, but meanwhile in any case, subtitling for digital is getting less and less expensive and can be done via relatively inexpensive software or labs. If one has shown a film at a film festival in another country and plans to then distribute the film there, we’d recommend you ask the fest for access to the subtitles (if cleared for other distribution). Traditionally, Nordic, Benelux, and some other regions are fine with and prefer subtitles, while others (such as Germany, Spain, and Italy) require dubbing. However, in the higher-educated arthouse/filmfest world, one can often get away with just subtitled versions even in the dubbing countries.

As indicated above, for better platform access, one may want to pick or join with new media /digital distribution specialists – particularly if your traditional sales agent or distributor, strong in conventional media (theatrical, video etc.) is however not active or savvy in the VOD landscape above (platforms, deal terms, contacts etc). Otherwise it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that you then ”don’t make money in digital’’. It’s a balancing act of cost vs. services, and a lot of work in international!

And filmmakers, whatever you choose to do with respect to your digital distribution, do not forget that one can also reach the whole wide world via one’s own website(s) and social networking pages by utilizing DIY digital distribution services (for more on this topic please refer to numerous past blog posts about digital distribution and DIY platforms and services at www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/blog and/or the Resource Place at www.TheFilmCollaborative.org/ResourcePlace).

As for piracy: in various cases filmmakers can tap into or derive indirect benefit from these online communities. See for e.g. Sheri Candler’s case studies in www.SellingYourFilm.com, Some filmmakers partner with Bit Torrent, Pirate Bay etc to launch their films online, tapping into the audiences already there (e.g. Nasty Old People, The Tunnel, Yes Men Fix the World).

LET’S TALK ABOUT POTENTIAL FUTURE TRENDS:

Diversification, Cross Platform/Transmedia: We believe 2012 will see continued consolidation of platforms and fuller diversification within the genres offered. Also as above, some key platforms (such as Hulu, Netflix, Yahoo, Endemol/AOL, Nokia, Canal+, Orange, ARTE, Channel4, ) are now also selectively commissioning transmedia and/or branded film opportunities (YouTube has not begun funding outside US yet). New funds and educational bodies (including MEDIA, Power to the Pixel) are increasing the emphasis on digital as a 360 proposition from inception of the film production process.

Multi-Layered Business Models: Platforms’ business models are also starting to become more multi-layered to handle different genres, consumer price points, and windows. For example, AVOD platforms such as YOUTUBE and SVOD platforms such as Lovefilm are now adding premium transactional VOD (TVOD) in order to handle current films. And as above, SVOD players are expanding their offerings beyond just library titles, beginning to buy newer and newer films in order to compete against premium PAY TV. This trend is continuing in the newer launching countries, e.g. Holland and Brazil where new PAY TV and localized SVOD and AVOD entrants have launched (e.g. YouTube regional sites). YouTube is also commissioning Made for Web content (MFW), although first in English language countries.

Festivals: Some European festivals have also recently started offering select titles on a TVOD basis. Rights Stuff recently worked with IDFA.tv to put around 100 films online—some on an AVOD basis and some on a TVOD basis—and in future more will follow. Certain other festivals (such as IFFR) have also begun to follow the US festival path of offering limited TVOD around or during the festival. This can open many doors for filmmakers, but also requires careful juggling and balancing when figuring out distribution patterns for conventional vs. online and new media….the balancing act is always key.

Traditional Players add VOD as well: As to the more traditional PAY TV players, last year after EPIX began licensing international festival documentaries it then turned its focus more to co-productions instead of acquisitions. And over 2011/12,As in the US, many traditional PAY TV platforms are going cross-platform and on multiple devices (a la “TV EVERYWHERE”, and similarly the nonlinear online channels are often seeking multiple device rights and/or at least have an App). Thus balancing traditional PAY TV sale vs. digital media requires more attention in rights grants and windows, but offers more opportunity correspondingly. In terms of trends, it still seems like the bigger funds and platforms are still more focused on more mainstream content, however as above this is starting to expand in EU to a wider net of content and genres.

REGIONAL EXAMPLES: VOD LICENSING PLAYERS AND WINDOWS in EU:

For bigger indie titles and mainstream ones, there are usually about 5-8 or so VOD outlets that one can target per country. Most of these will buy TVOD rights and sometimes also SVOD and/or AVOD. Platforms include television-related services (IPTV, Telecom/Cable companies, etc), as well as online and/or mobile sites, OTT box offerings, and consumer electronic (e.g. connected TV) portals.

For e.g. in Holland, a film or TV show can have various TVOD deals, not only with MSO like KPN, Tele2, Ziggo, and UPC, but also with web based services like Cinemalink.nl (for art house), iTunes, and the newly launched service from theatrical distributor Pathé (a Rights Stuff client), pathethuis.nl a bold move by a traditional theatrical exhibitor to also launch and embrace TVOD for a fuller offer to its film-loving audience base.

That would then be then followed by Premium PAY TV and/or SVOD sales (e.g. Film1, Ziggo/HBO, Ximon, Mubi.com), then AVOD (YouTube, IDFA.tv) with various competing players per region. The same film can also attract interest of foreign platforms not yet launched in the region but scaling up behind scenes, poised to launch there (e.g. those seeking to next move after UK into, say, Spain or other Benelux regions/Nordic). And this is on top of the broadcaster based proprietary VOD services (e.g. RTLXL and Veamer (from SBS and public TV catchup sites.

There are also various local equivalents of genre sits like Fandor or IndieFlix in certain EU regions. MUBI (www.Mubi.com) (co-owned by the rights holder to one of the most expansive libraries of art house cinema, Celluloid Dreams) is technically available everywhere, and is sometimes syndicated as an SVOD channel to telecom platforms (as in the case with Belgacom in Belgium). It is also on Sony Playstation. Last we checked, 60% of its audience was the US and most of the rest in Europe. Revenues from it for our films (TFC) have been small to-date, low 3-figures but it’s a good pedigree platform and perhaps revenues will increase.

A few others in EU include e.g. Orange, Canal Plus, (France and, multi region), Telenet, Belgacom, (in Belgium), SF Anytime, Voddler Film2home, Headweb , Viasat etc in Nordic /other regions), Telefonica, … Maxdome (Germany), Sony-related Qriocity, Daily Motion (many countries in EU), Movieeurope, Zattoo. Sales agent Wild Bunch has also recently launched a platform service called FilmoTV.

And as an aside, in Brazil/Latin America, the market has been heating up intensely in late 2011/12, with various TVOD and IPTV platform launches players, as well as competitive new PAY TV and SVOD services (eg Netflix, Netmovies, Terra) springing up or extending VOD. NewPAY TV laws (from fall 2011) are resulting in more potential competition, which is good news for filmmakers seeking new audiences over there. Our recommended approach to filmmakers seeking deals in this region is to partner locally, e.g. with ELO Distribution, with whom we work traditional and non-traditional (new media) players.

These are just a few categorical examples…there are plenty more buyers and platforms emerging internationally, including consumer electronics manufacturers (such as Samsung and tablet and connected TV manufacturers in EU and internationally who are getting into the game either on the licensing front or occasionally even funding/commissioning Transmedia or mfw (Made for Web). However, these usually license fuller sites (like a Lovefilm or Snagfilms) and not individual one –off titles.

Overall, there are a lot of small markets and platforms, and all this takes a lot of work, but if one has built community around a film and awareness then the effort may pay off and add up to a nice revenue stream. Once the first deals are in place with platforms (deal structures, relationships, contacts, contracts) it’s easier to build on that and add new films to the deals with just short amendments or riders, so the effort at the front end makes years of future dealings run smoother.

TRENDS RE: OTHER GENRES:

Aside from art house, festival indie films, and docs, one area that we expect to see more SVOD licensing around is kids’ films. Various smaller sites also have a strong appetite for gay/lesbian, martial arts, and horror programming, graphic novels, and made for web/cross platform/Transmedia original productions…but one has to be selective. As to documentaries, the combination of a large number of doc sites in the EU with the heavy exposure of docs on public and conventional TV in EU means docs can be relatively harder to monetize here, unless well curated and packaged, for e.g. under a larger brand/festival, like IDFA.

WINDOWING:

Typically films follow the sequential windowing described above when moving through the Transactional, Sell Through, Subscription, and ADVOD windows. But for certain films it it can be clever and compelling to have windows intentionally reversed or out of sequence. For example, premiering a film ONLINE or day-and-date with another cross-promoted window ahead of theatrical, and heavily emphasizing social media marketing can allow producers to build (and engage with) the audience before the film is even out. The key is to know your audience and try to tailor the marketing and distribution patterns accordingly…producers can be more active these days to heighten the chances of film success.

More and more platforms are open to this REVERSE WINDOWING (which began successfully in the US, e.g. with Lars von Trier’s Melancholia), . For example, in Holland, the film Claustrophobia launched online first and its success via social networking ultimately brought it a theatrical deal. In another case, Submarine NL’s film ‘’Molotov Alva’’ (a second life documentary released online virally first) later secured a HBO sale on premium pay tv, and in another film we worked with (the documentary Surfing and Sharks), intensive social network/audience engagement before and during the film’s festival exhibitions helped not only to enhance the potential audience for the film ahead of commercial released, but also to attract wider sponsor support. Ultimately, the visible online appetite for the film (including the number of Twitter and Facebook followers amassed in a very short time) helped result in a stronger all-rights distribution deal as well.

There are various new platforms focused on these models that are launching and expanding reach in EU– e.g. EU1 (The Makers Channel), which just launched in the Netherlands and will soon expand to other EU regions. One part of the site is business-to-business (geared towards talent, directors, actors, producers, etc.) providing for online pitches and related crowd sourcing and crowd funding (like Kickstarter). The other component is business to consumer, and allows exhibition of works online, on a rev share VOD basis… which will be coupled for the first time with TVOD exhibitions on UPC/Chello/Ziggo (the Cable TV VOD platform partners) thus giving much wider audience reach than conventional web VOD to PC. In some cases films can also combine a theatrical (conventional or event theatrical local) release for the films “day and date” with or in staggered creative windows. We are working with two English film cases in NL already, and as this site expands to other regions and to wider English crossover, this will open up many more opportunities (in some ways similar to what you see already in the USA on Tribeca/Sundance with exhibitions on cable households (TVOD).

SHOW ME THE MONEY:

Even where indie features have no theatrical or DVD release, if there is some cast and acclaim from festivals, and the film is new/current, TVOD is possible . This is usually on a rev share basis (with %s ranging from 50-50 to 70-30, with various deductions to negotiate). In SVOD/PAY TV, flat fees are normally paid instead of rev share, usually, along lines of comparable non-exclusive PAY TV license fees for indies. For example, in medium sized, non-English language EU countries, we’ve seen SVOD flat fee prices range from 5K-50K per title where it’s been theatrically or DVD released, etc, while with less exposure or more niche, sometimes the flat fees can be lower and more aligned with AVOD. In AVOD, deals are usually rev-share, (50-50 to 70-30) with sometimes a small upfront fee. In a medium-sized EU region, MG’s (Minimum Guarantees), when given at all for indie film, can range from a few hundred dollars (plus rev share) to 1-2K for higher end material. The very largest platforms may get away with no upfront fees at all due to their scale and reach, but smaller EU sites may well, depending on the film, offer something modest. When you do multiple nonexclusive deals, these can add up and help defray some costs of versioning, digitization, deliveries, etc.

As to revenues generated from VOD once the license is done: again it is platform and film specific, and one cannot generalize. We’ve seen certain cases where niche foreign language art house films yielded 40K in 2 months of non-exclusive TVOD revenues across a few platforms, , while other titles from the same distributor yielded only 1-2K in the same deals/time period. Things are similar with SVOD – fees can range in one small non-English EU country from 5k to 40k for a single SVOD window license fee (non exclusive) – so the key is still in our view still to engage in a reasonable number of deals in each country across various windows, platforms and business models.

IN SUM: SOME TIPS FOR GOOD RESULTS IN DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION:

  1. We strongly advise building audience for the film before release, even while the film is still being made. Engage in social media marketing around the themes of your film and the cast: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube (promos) etc. This not only enhances the audience and reach of your film, when it is released, but potentially your distribution and/or digital deal making as well.
  2. Once a deal is done and even after the film is sold, it still helps for the producer or distributor to take an active role in social media marketing, e.g. to direct attention (via social media etc.) to scheduled exhibitions of the films on various platforms licensed. Many platforms in EU are still showing viewers EPG’s with clumsy alphabetical “listings’’(as opposed to the type of creative Netflix/Lovefilm recommendation engines and suggestions), so helping viewers find the film will in turn increase returns.
  3. As for digital deals: We’d also recommend that individual producers who cannot afford tailored individual advice consider combining forces via producer groups to collectively fund some serious upfront advice – help each other curate more attractive packages of their better material, so easier to sell on to platforms directly or indirectly – and grouped in many different ways (theme, genre, category, audience etc.).
  4. If necessary, try to have “split rights’’ deals. If the person to whom you are entrusting the film in an “all rights” deal is less strong in digital and likely to “sit on” new media rights, you can explore splitting these rights /sharing them non exclusively with the distributor and another specialized digital distributor, case by case. Rights Stuff has often done this working with sales agents and distributors and producers directly to maximize digital distribution.
  5. Work with festivals (both traditional and online), who can play an increasing role in EU as they cross over to the digital space and VOD offerings. But be careful about the scope and duration of rights granted vs. other traditional and digital media, to maximize potential in all areas.
  6. Don’t abdicate completely, ie don’t’wash your hands of the film once you put it in someone else’s hands (the conventional sales approach) – keep involved along the way, gain as much learning as possible, split revenues, resources, knowledge base, contacts … and lever the outcomes to your next and future films.

Final notes: Pricing of films on the transactional side is relatively commensurate with that in the US, however non USA SVOD and AVOD markets are smaller with lower revenue per deal. . We did not include VIEWSTER in this article but feel free to check them out. They are a consumer-facing platform that also supplies other platforms (i.e. functions like an aggregator). They seem to favor films with cast, more commercial films and those with a bigger profile. www.Viewster.com

 

May 15th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, Hulu, International Sales, iTunes, Netflix

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This post by Orly Ravid was published originally on the Sundance Artists Services blog April 15, 2012

1.  CARVE OUT DIY DIGITAL:

Distributors and Foreign Sales companies alike often want ALL RIGHTS and including ALL DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION RIGHTS.

No matter what, at least CARVE OUT the ability to do DIY Digital Distribution yourself with services such as: EggUp, Distrify,  Dynamo Player, and/or TopSpin, off your own site, off your Facebook page, and also directly to platforms that you can access.  Platforms and services can almost always Geo-Filter thereby eliminating conflict with any territories where the film has been sold to a traditional distributor and often times a distributor will not mind that a filmmaker sells directly to his/her fans as well in any case.

2.   PLATFORMS ≠ AGGREGATORS ≠ DISTRIBUTORS:

Platforms are places people go to watch or buy films. Aggregators are conduits between filmmakers/distributors and platforms. Aggregators usually focus more on converting files for and supplying metadata to platforms and that’s about it.  Marketing is rarely a strong suit or focus for them but it should be for a distributor, otherwise what’s the point? Aggregators usually don’t need rights for a long term and only take limited rights they need to do the job.  Distributors usually take more rights for longer terms.  Sometimes distributors are DIRECT to PLATFORMS and sometimes they go through AGGREGATORS.  It makes a difference because FEES are taken out every time there is a middleman.  Filmmakers should want to know the FEE that the PLATFORM is taking (because it’s not always the same for all content providers though usually it is other than for Cable VOD, for example) and know if a distributor is direct with platforms or goes through an aggregator.  Also, filmmakers should have an understanding what each middleman is doing to justify the fee.  On the aggregator/distributor side, we think 15% is a better fee than 50%, so have an understanding of what services are included in the fee. If a distributor is not devoting any time or money to marketing and simply dumping films onto platforms, then one should be aware of that. Ask for a description in writing of what activities will be performed.

3. THINK OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS AS STORES AND CUSTOMIZE A PLAN THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR FILM:

A film should try to be available everywhere however sometimes that is too costly or not possible and when that is the case one should prioritize according to where the film’s audience consumes media. Think of digital platforms as retail stores. Back in the DVD days (which are almost gone), one would want a DVD of an indie film in big US chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video but especially a cool, award winning indie would do well in a 20/20 or Kim’s Video store because those outlets were targeting a core audience. With digital, it’s the same. While many filmmakers want to see their films on Cable VOD, some films just don’t work well there and delivery is expensive. Some films make most of their money via Netflix these days and won’t do a lick of business on Comcast.  Other films do well on iTunes and some die there whereas they might actually bring in some business via Hulu or SNAG. Docs are different from narrative and niches vary. Know your film, its audience’s habits and resolve a digital strategy that makes sense. If money or access is an issue, then be strategic in picking your “stores” and make your film available where it’s most likely to perform. It may not be in Walmart’s digital store or Best Buy’s. Above all, if you dear filmmaker have a community around you (followers, a brand), your site(s) and networks may be your best platform stores of all.  Though there is something to be said for viewing habits so I do recommend always picking at least a couple other key digital storefronts that are known and trusted by your audience.

4. TIP FOR CABLE VOD LISTINGS:

By now many of you may have heard that it’s hard to get films marketed well on Cable VOD platforms. Often the metadata either isn’t entered or entered incorrectly and it’s nearly impossible to fix after it goes live. Hence, oversee the metatags submitted for your film and check immediately upon release. Also, since genre/category folders and trailer promotion are not always an option for every film, it is the case that films with names starting in early letters of the alphabet (A-G) or numbers can perform better. Then again, there’s a glut of folks trying that now so the cable operators are getting wise to this and not falling for it. All the more reason to focus on marketing, marketing, marketing your title, so audiences are looking for it and not just stumbling upon your film in the VOD menu. There are only going to be more films to choose from in the future, not fewer.

5. ART for SMALL:

Filmmakers, if there is one thing I must impart to you once and for all it’s this:  TAKE GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY!!!  Take it when making your film. Remember, most marketing imagery if not all for digital distribution (which will be all of “home entertainment”) must work SMALL so create key art and publicity images that also work well small and in concert with the rest of your campaign. Look at your key art as a thumbnail image and make sure it is still clearly identifiable.

6. KNOW YOUR DIGITAL DISTRO GOALS AND PLAN AHEAD:

I have seen distribution plans wasted because a vision for the film’s path was not resolved in time to actualize it properly. If your film is ripe for NGO or corporate sponsorship and you want to try that, you will need loads of lead time (6-12 months at least!) and a clear distribution plan to present to potential sponsors (who will always need to know that before agreeing).  If making money is a top concern, then know how YOUR FILM’s release is mostly likely to do that and plan accordingly. It may be by collapsing windows or it may be by expanding them. All films are different and that’s why it’s best to look at case studies of films with similar appeal to yours. And if showing the industry that your film is on iTunes matters to you for professional reasons more than financial then know that is your motivator but know that getting a film onto iTunes does not automatically lead to transactions, marketing does.

7. TIMING IS EVERYTHING | WINDOW WATCHING:

Digital distribution often has to be done in a certain order if accessing Cable VOD is part of your plan. That is not the only reason to consider an order and an order is not always needed, but it can be a consideration.  Sometimes Cable VOD is not an option for a film (films often need a strong theatrical run before they can access Cable VOD) and, in this case, the order of digital is more flexible and one can be creative or experiment with timing and different types of digital. However, Cable VOD’s percentage share of digital distribution revenues is still around 70% (it used to be nearer to 80%) so if it’s an option for your film, it’s worth doing, at least for now.

It is very often the case that if your film is in the digital distribution window before Cable VOD (on Netflix for example), that will eliminate or at least dramatically diminish the potential that Cable MSO’s (Multi System Operators) will take the film or even that an intermediate aggregator will accept it.  There is more flexibility with transactional EST (electronic sell through) / DTO (download to own) / DTR (download to rent) services such as iTunes but much less flexibility with YouTube (even a rental channel) or subscription or ad-supported services such as Netflix (subscription) or Hulu (which is both). Films that opted to be part of the YouTube/Sundance rental channel initiative (such as Children of Invention) could not get onto Cable VOD after. The Film Collaborative has to hold off on putting films in its YouTube Rental Channel if cable VOD is part of the plan.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule due to relationships or a film proving itself in the marketplace, but better to plan ahead than be disappointed.

Companies such as Gravitas are also programmers for some of the MSOs so they have greater access to VOD, but they too discourage YouTube rental channel distribution before the Cable VOD window and they do Netflix SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand), distribution after. In general, people often do transactional platforms first and ad-supported last with Netflix being in the middle unless it’s delayed because of a TV deal for example. This is not always the case and some distributors have experienced that one platform can drive sales on another but in my opinion it depends on the film and habits of its audience.  You should know that Broadcasters such as Showtime will pay more if you do your Netflix SVOD after their window rather than before.

WINDOW WATCHING: If you stream or distribute digitally before Cable VOD for example, you will often lose that opportunity so timing is key.  And of course festivals will often not program a film if it’s available digital or at all commercially.  For documentaries, one has to be mindful about the EDUCATIONAL window (though this usually most relates to DVD).  Broadcast and SVOD are competitive with each other so compare options in terms of fees and timing for best distribution results and maximum benefits.  Sometimes VOD is best BEFORE theatrical (it’s called Reverse Windowing and Magnolia does that for example, sometimes).  Sometimes Ad Supported VOD (AVOD or FOD (free VOD)) (e.g. regular HULU) or Broadcast airings are seen as useful for maximum awareness, relatively significantly revenue generating, and/or good for driving transactional VOD.  Whereas sometimes AVOD or FOD is seen as cannibalizing business and is delayed.  So again, know your strategy based on both your audience / consumer and your goals.

8. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DEFINITIONS

DEVIL IS IN THE DEFINITION: Remember that the term VOD means or includes different things to different users.  The terms in the space are becoming more customary but they are not fully standardized so be sure to have ALL terms related to digital rights DEFINED.  And the space keeps changing so be sure to stay current.

There is no standard yet for definitions of digital rights. IFTA (formerly known as AFMA) has its rights definitions and for that organization’s signatories there is therefore a standard. But many distributors use their own contracts with a range of definitions that are not uniform. When analyzing distribution options, be aware that terms such as VOD can mean different things to different people and include more or fewer distribution rights and govern more or fewer platforms.

Consider the term “VOD”. In some contracts, it’s not explicitly defined and hence can mean anything and everything. IFTA is clear to categorize it as a PayPerView Right (Demand View Right) and limit it to: “transmission by means of encoded signal for television reception in homes and similar living spaces where a charge is made to the viewer for the rights to use a decoding device to view the Motion Picture at a time selected by the viewer for each viewing”.

However in some contracts, it’s defined as “Video-on-Demand Rights,” meaning a function or service distributed and/or made available to a viewer by any and all means of transmission, telecommunication, and/or network system(s) whether now known or hereafter devised (including, without limitation, television, cable, satellite, wire, fiber, radio communication signal, internet, intranet, or other means of electronic delivery and whether employing analogue and/or digital technologies and whether encrypted or encoded) whereby the viewer is using information storage, retrieval and management techniques capable of accessing, selecting, downloading (whether temporarily or permanently) and viewing programming whether on a per program/movie basis or as a package of programs/movies) at a time selected by the viewer, in his/her discretion whether or not the transmission is scheduled by the operator(s)/provider(s), and whether or not a fee is paid by the viewer for such function/service to view on the screen of a television receiver, computer, handheld device or other receiving device (fixed or mobile) of any type whether now known or hereafter devised. Video-on-Demand includes without limitation Near VOD (“NVOD”,) Subscription Video-on-Demand (“SVOD”,) “Download to burn”, “Download to Own”, “Electronic Sell Through” and “Electronic Rental,” for example.  This example includes everything and your kitchen sink.

One has to ask if a definition of VOD or another type of digital right includes “SVOD” (Subscription Video on Demand) and includes subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Why does this matter? Well if the fee to the distributor and/or to you is the same either way then it may not matter. If there’s a difference in fees depending on the nature of distribution, then it will.  Recently an issue in a deal came up with respect to distinguishing ad-supported specifically from general “free-streaming”.  Is ad-supported governed by a “free-streaming” rights reference?  Why wonder, Just spell it all out; better to be safe than _____.

Another example, if a contract notes a distributor has purchased “VOD Rights” but does not define them, or defines them broadly, then do they have mobile device distribution rights as well? The words “Video-on-Demand” sometimes are used only to refer to Cable Video on Demand and other times much more generally. In a “TV Everywhere” (and hence film everywhere) multi-platform all-device playable universe, the content creator needs to know.

The devil is in the definition that you must read carefully BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.  Know what you want for and can do for your film in terms of distribution and carve it up and spell it out.

9. PLAN FOR FUTURE: Digital distribution in Europe is not as mature as it is in the US but it’s growing.  The key platforms and categories of VOD now may not be key down the road.  Again, do deals wisely and plan for the future.  One way may be to set revenue thresholds for contract terms to continue.  Or allow for terms to be reviewable and adjustable into the Term.

10. IF YOU CANNOT MAKE PIRACY YOUR FRIEND by lets say monetizing it or using it to drive awareness… then think about shortening the time between your release windows and when you first start handing out DVDs and getting a lot of buzz for your film. Many folks would happily consume your film legitimately if given the opportunity in time.  Some piracy cannot be helped and can either be monetized or just enjoyed.  There are anti-piracy services one can employ as well.  In my experience, DVD is a bigger source of piracy than digital.

11. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS / OTHER WAYS TO PROTECT YOURSELF IN A DEAL: Before giving rights away for longer periods of time think about the future.  For example, the category of DTR (download-to-rent) is growing as is SVOD (Subscription VOD).  So you will want to make sure your splits are strong in your favor, especially for growing categories, and Cable VOD and transactional DTO (download-to-own) or EST (electronic sell through) are strong too and btw, some of these terms include each other.  Instead of merely focusing on rights classes even within the category of VOD one may also want to address gross revenues so that one can get an appropriate share of revenues at certain gross revenue thresholds.  You may want to have terms of a deal be reviewable for contracts with a longer Term.

Access to individual consultations for your film is available to members of The Film Collaborative starting at the Conspirator level. We also offer a menu of low cost festival and digital distribution services, marketing education and services, and graphic design for key art and websites. The Film Collaborative is dedicated to helping independent filmmakers receive the maximum benefit from their dedicated and creative work without the need to own rights. Send us a message to discuss your needs. 

 

 

May 8th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Stacey Parks

This is an excerpt of the interview Stacey Parks did with our own Orly Ravid regarding digital distribution. Stacey’s book is now available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

 

What To Expect From A Distribution Deal: Interview With Orly Ravid from The Film Collaborative 

 Q: What’s it like for filmmakers these days in terms of getting traditional theatrical, broadcast, and DVD distribution deals for their films?

A: I think that film like any business, is affected by market forces.  There’s more supply than there has ever been.  The means of production have become less expensive and more accessible and film has gotten even more and more popular as evidenced by the proliferation of film festivals and film schools and corporate brands who have initiatives relating to film (contests and such).  There are thousands of films for sale in markets such as Cannes & AFM each year and that’s not counting the projects in development, also for sale.

So the bottom line is that there’s simply an excess of supply over demand. And the other factor that has changed is the attrition, if not the collapse, of the middle B2B infrastructure that did emerge and sustain with VHS & DVD, but that does not maintain with digital distribution.  The reason being is that when there were many DVD stores (and VHS before that) the businesses were in competition and they all needed product and weren’t always sure of what would sell or rent well so they actually stocked up, which gave the distributors a huge upside and that potential upside lead to healthy competition, which lead to a healthier business. These days, many video stores are out of business and the ones that still exist (such as Walmart) buy cheap and then return what does not sell (not that that did not happen before, but to a lesser extent), and so the traditional distributors proceed with greater caution when it comes to acquiring new films for the pipeline.

Then there’s the other issue of piracy which leads to less consumption overall and now over 20,000,000 subscribers wait for a film to be available on Netflix which can be healthy business for smaller films that otherwise could not sell well, BUT it’s not great for films that could or would sell otherwise.

The theatrical business is also hurt by both over-supply and by the ‘Netflixing’ of the U.S market.  Digital distribution is there, but again the oversupply makes things competitive and the price points are different so volume is critical, hence the middle man aggregator can do well if it has a breadth of content, but individual producers need to have a film that competes very well in order to be made whole.

And then lastly there’s the Broadcast market. Well, as TV and the Internet become one, TV buying is less of a reliable source of revenue, prices have come down considerably and more rights / revenue streams are impacted when prices are higher such that the net is affected.  Of course, bigger films can be exceptions and studios have their deals. But for the independents and smaller films, Broadcast deals are harder to get and worth less when one gets them.  And nothing but a change in supply can change any of this because technology is certainly not going backwards.

Q: I know you’ve been a champion of ‘newer’ distribution platforms like Video On Demand (VOD), but what’s in it for the filmmakers?

A: I don’t champion them as much as I address that Cable VOD is responsible for 80% of the revenue in the digital space, which is not the same as all VOD. Films that do well in VOD can make 5 and 6 figures in revenue.  By contrast, films that don’t do well make much less and sometimes almost nothing. The truth is VOD is not some magic pill; it’s simply a new delivery mechanism, with some advantages over physical media in terms of accessibility and with some disadvantages in terms of even greater glut and not always great recommendation engines or as easy of time to market (images are smaller, you don’t have as much real estate to market the film).  The proliferation of the iPad is expected to increase the transactional rental business (ex: Netflix) and that interface is also seemingly more filmmaker / film consumption friendly.  In any case, no one in distribution thinks DVD and physical media is going up; it’s only going down so for home entertainment or entertainment on the go (e.g. mobile), digital is here, we have to make the most of it.

Q: In your opinion, do film festivals still play a key role in helping filmmakers find distribution for their films? Or have you seen cases where skipping the festival route and going straight to distribution is OK too? 

A: If your film is festival-worthy or festival-appropriate going that route can never hurt and in fact, often helps. The better the festivals are, the better the film can succeed in terms of sales and also often in terms of audience awareness and interest.  Skipping festivals makes sense for non-festival-type films.  For example, genre films normally don’t need festivals although sometimes they can be helped by a good festival strategy. I think now more than ever festivals play a key role in helping audiences find films and filmmakers find audiences. AND, since at least 5 years ago I have been championing festivals getting involved more in distribution.  I expressed that enthusiastically to the folks at Sundance starting in 2009 and also to other niche festivals too. I truly believe that a more distribution-centric strategy makes sense for both filmmakers and festivals, though only for festivals with a strong brand or niche appeal.

Q: What about foreign distribution? In your experience is this still a major revenue stream for the filmmakers you’re working with?

A: Only for some of our filmmakers – for example, genre filmmakers, niche filmmakers, and some of the more commercial documentaries. For the others, it’s not really a viable option. The money for foreign distribution deals is so small for most films so we end up licensing the films when possible for a good enough deal and otherwise invoke a direct digital distribution and DIY strategy.

Q: What are some things filmmakers need to look out for when making any distribution deal? In other words, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see filmmakers making in regards to negotiating distribution deals?

A: I covered this a bit in my recent blog post and I do encourage filmmakers to read the blog when the topic relates to them because it covers a lot.  Some of the key mistakes in short are:

1. Not getting references and checking on those in order to evaluate the verity of the distributor’s claims.

2. Not knowing enough and analyzing enough the degree of middlemen between the distributor and each key revenue stream.

3. Not having enough protection for material breach.

4. Not defining and also capping recoupable costs properly.

5. Giving up too many rights for too little reason.

6. Having blind faith and being too passive in one’s own responsibility to know the film’s audience and how to reach it.

7. Not having good photography or images to help market the film.

8. On the pro distributor side, sometimes filmmakers think they know better and can do a better trailer for example. They may be right but they can be wrong too and be too close to the film to know how to “sell it”.

 

Stacey Parks is a Producer and film distribution expert 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.

 

May 1st, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Marketing

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