New services and new thinking finally are starting to take hold at major festivals and in the independent film world in general. Productions that can bring donation money, matching funds and/or strong promotional partners to the negotiating table have an advantage when it comes to landing significant distribution.

-At Sundance, the BFI offered up to $51k in matching funds to help market the US distribution of their 3 funded films in the festival.

-At Toronto (TIFF), Vimeo offered a $10k advance for world premiere films that gave them a 30 day exclusive streaming VOD window. 13 films accepted the offer and have started to  premiere on the service.

Linsanity, Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, Love and Air Sex (AKA The Bounceback), Before You Know It, Citizen Koch have all raised distribution funds on Kickstarter and are using those funds for risk free theatrical releases.

While sales deals lagged at Sundance this year, all 3 BFI funded films secured distribution. Those films are the only World Dramatic and World Doc titles that have sold since the festival. The clear advantage of offering marketing dollars coupled with the ease of selling English dialogue to an American cinema audience attracted 3 smaller distributors to make early buys they may not have otherwise and guaranteed US distribution for films that may not have found it. It’s hard to argue with free marketing money and support from the country of origin. Though $51k is unlikely to make much of a difference to sway a major studio interested in wide release films,  DISTRIBUTION INCENTIVES certainly won’t hurt the chances of a deal because everybody wins in that scenario.

Also coming out of Sundance, Strand Releasing snagged Lilting, the newly formed Amplify made their first acquisition ever with God Help the Girl and Drafthouse Films caved in to 20,000 Days on Earth.  Let’s take a closer look at these three distributors.

Strand Releasing put 11 films into theaters last year and only 1 grossed over $50k.

Amplify is new to the game, but not really. Variance has been putting DIY/service releases into theaters for a while. Half their films last year grossed under $60k.

Drafthouse Films released 6 movies last year. Of those, 2/3 did not gross over $50k

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

Obviously, some of the films make much more in the digital marketplace after their theatrical release (or in some of these cases, during the release as many are day and date), but the point can’t be lost. Incentives really do attract distribution attention. They are like coupons for distributors and help to reduce risk.

I can bet you right now that there are dozens of filmmakers who are kicking themselves for turning down Vimeo’s offer at TIFF. Especially since the offer didn’t interfere with distribution offers for a film like Cinemanovels, that made an agreement for a traditional US distribution deal on top of their $10k advance from Vimeo.

Looking at the filmmakers who have used Kickstarter to secure funds for distribution, there is a wide range in how the films performed and a few have yet to be released, but they effectively created a risk free theatrical model. Their distribution funding was donated, there is no investor to repay so they can keep the revenue. I feel comfortable saying that in almost every case, each film will make more money than they would have in a traditional theatrical distribution arrangement. Very smart!

As I get ready for the “spam on steroids” that is SXSW, I encourage filmmakers to think of what they can offer that will make their films an attractive buy. There are so many events and screenings at any given time, it’s impossible for an organization like ours to cover them all, but if I know a film has incentives in place, it makes a huge difference when I prioritize my schedule. The film market is no different than any other business. Your film is a commodity and making a good product isn’t enough. You have to come to the table with something else to offer. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t risk having a premiere with no incentives in place.  Strategize now! Get partners on board, build relationships with an audience, raise extra funding through crowdfunding (this brings money AND an audience to the table) and show you know the market for and business of your art.

February 26th, 2014

Posted In: crowdfunding, Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical, Vimeo

Tags: , , , , , ,

My friend Charles Judson wrote a recent post chastising filmmakers about their marketing materials. In a post entitled “Your Film’s Marketing Materials SUCK at Helping Audiences Find You,” he explains why filmmakers have a poor understanding of how films are found in online search results and why it doesn’t bode well for their chances at festival inclusion, distribution offers, further career opportunities and, ultimately, audience sales.With his permission, we are reprinting some of his points.

“A film no one has heard of may not exactly be burning news for the average person searching the web. However, no matter what hat I wear [festival programmer, blogger, critic], this is information relevant to me. It’s likely going to be the same for the Georgia film critics and bloggers covering film. Festival directors who track news on festivals they love – and often share programming philosophy with– would be interested. Filmmakers who have their trailer, website, Facebook page and Twitter account ready to go before they begin submitting their film to festivals are light-years ahead of their peers. But having just those materials is not enough. The vast majority of filmmakers overlook the crucial step of crafting language that can improve their chances to be discovered online, as well as differentiate their films from others.”  Takeaway: Lots of different audiences are looking for information on your work, not only the viewing audience. Waiting to build up awareness of your work until right before premiere or release is a very outdated idea. There is no time like the present to start connecting with people online.

“Increasing the specificity and variation of the words chosen should be a priority for every bit of marketing material you create. Carefully thinking about how your potential audience interacts, talks and searches online shouldn’t be skipped or undervalued. First, scrutinize your film’s story, theme and genre. Who are the core fans of your film? What is your film’s niche? Then move out from there.” Takeaway: In my workshop sessions, I talk a lot about this too. If you don’t have a clear picture of who your potential audience is, that problem will plague your efforts in the marketplace. If anything, start with analyzing yourself as the model audience member because something drew you to the story you are telling.You can move wider once you are well connected with a certain audience. Don’t try to hit a wide, vague audience all at once.

photo credit M Car

photo credit M Car

“Begin generating a Language List for your film. The words and phrases you’re adding are the ones that would catch the attention of the audience you’re going after. I’m using the term “Language List” as opposed to keywords to reinforce that this is about creating a conversation. This should be an extension of how you will share and talk about your work offline, as well as online. With that goal in mind, the places to use this “Language List” will go beyond your website’s metadata. Examples of list headings would be Emotions and Emotional Words; Movies similar to this film; Genre and Genre related words/phrases; Character traits; Character actions; Character motivations; Character types; Character relationships; Character names; Themes; Setting; Influences (directors, films, etc); Film Title(s); People Connected to the film; Cast; Crew; Shooting locations; Cast and Crew’s past film credits; Production companies.

As you build your list, Google is the one-click away buddy you should rely on when you’re stumped for language. Searching the term “emotions”, I found a page on Sonoma.edu with 265 words. Wikipedia’s List of Genres includes descriptions and their subgenres. Don’t use I-couldn’t-think-of-anything as an excuse. Research films, novels and TV shows similar to your movie. Go to the sites your audience frequents and look for words that stand out, that show up repeatedly. Note how your audience identifies itself.

These questions should be in your mind as your list grows:

Who is my primary target audience?

Who are the different audiences that would be interested in my film?

What makes this movie different?

Who would spend money to see this movie?

Who would come see this movie opening weekend (pretend you scored that distribution deal)?

Where does my audience get its information?

As you build your list, it may begin to look like this example:

Emotions: devastated, insecure, distracted, temperamental

Movies similar to this film:* Fargo, In Bruges, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Character motivations: greed, fame, love

Character archetypes: tortured artist, comic mentor, shapeshifter, the judge

Settings:  Minneapolis, car dealership, Fargo, North Dakota

Influences (directors, films, etc.): Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, screwball comedy, film noir

Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare. Jerry Lundegaard

Crew: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Roger Deakins

Shooting locations: Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Chanhassen, Minnesota, USA

Past Film Credits: Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing

* Use your list of Similar Movies judiciously. Comparing your film to a well known film can turn off people. It can raise expectations to a level you will never meet. So, inside metadata, in the about section of a website, and after the plot synopsis, are good places to use those titles. Placed up front, before you’ve allowed your audience to make up their own mind about your film, is dangerous. Until an audience has seen your film, they may not always peg what kind of movie they are reading up on. Compared to a well-known film or two, your audience may get a bead on the tone and feel of your movie. That’s okay.”   Takeaway: By actually sitting down and writing out a list of words your audience might be looking for online, you will get a better understanding of your audience’s intent to see the film you are making. As Charles said, these words are not only used in the online space, but also in your publicity efforts and in helping you frame that language you use when speaking about your film in the offline space (such as festivals or pitch meetings). You can also use these terms in Google Keyword Planner to get an estimate of how much online traffic they could attract to your website and alternate words to use. The keyword planner is also used for PPC advertising campaigns which is helpful in your film’s release phase.

Ultimately, anything you can do to make it easy to find your film online will help you in the long run. Don’t just think of marketing materials as poster and trailer, there are many different audiences looking for your film besides viewers (journalists, festival programmers, cinema programmers, agents, grant making organizations, financiers etc) so be sure to include as many potential keywords as you can think of that will fulfill the search needs of all kinds of audiences.

 

 

February 20th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, education, Film Festivals, Marketing, Publicity, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , , ,

There is a lot of talk in independent film circles about the need to “eventize” the cinematic experience. The thought is that audiences are increasingly satisfied with viewing films and other video material on their private devices whenever their schedule permits and the need to leave the house to go to a separate place to watch is becoming an outdated notion, especially for younger audiences. But making your work an event that can only be experienced in a live setting is something few creators are exploring at the moment. Sure, some filmmakers and distributors are adding live Q&As with the director or cast, sometimes in person and sometimes via Skype; discussion panels with local organizations are often included with documentary screenings; and sometimes live musical performances are included featuring the musicians on the film’s soundtrack, but what about work that can ONLY be enjoyed as a live experience? Work that will never appear on DVD or digital outlets? Not only is there an artistic reason for creating such work, but there can be a business reason as well.

In reading a New York Times piece entitled “The one filmmaker who doesn’t want a distribution deal” about the Sundance premiere of Sam Green’s live documentary The Measure of All Things, I was curious to find out why a filmmaker would say he never plans for this work to show on streaming outlets like Netflix, only as a live event piece. I contacted Sam Green and he was kind enough to share his thoughts about why he likes creating for and participating with the audience of his work and why the economics of this form could be much more lucrative for documentary filmmakers.

The Measure of All Things  is a live documentary experience to be screened with in-person narration and a live soundtrack provided by the chamber group yMusic. It is loosely inspired by the Guinness Book of Records and weaves together a series of portraits of record-holding people, places, and things, including the tallest man (7 feet 9 inches), the oldest living thing (a 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pine in Southern California), the man struck by lightning the most times (seven!), the oldest living person (116), and the woman with the world’s longest name, among others. This is the third such work Green has made to be viewed in this way; 2012’s The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller featured live music from Yo La Tengo and 2010’s Utopia in Four Movements  with musical accompaniment by Dave Cerf were his previous works.

What draws you to your subjects?

SG: “I guess all of them have come out of curiosity. Ever since I was a kid I have been curious about things almost to the point of becoming obsessed. I am still the same, but now I’m making movies out of it. I obsessively research and look into things and sometimes that just goes nowhere, but occasionally it has turned into a movie and that is where they all have come from.

I don’t look at this in a strategic way. I don’t sit and think about what kind of project I could raise a lot of money for, or what would make a successful film. In some ways, I wish I did do that, but really I just make films that I would want to see.”

How do you tell if it will be a live performance piece or just a screen based piece? Does it have anything to do with being a performer?

SG: “I do both, but I am most inspired by the live stuff at the moment. For political and aesthetic and economic reasons, that form inspires me a lot these days so when I am making longer things, I work to make it a live cinematic event. I kind of backed into this form. It is an odd form. I’d never heard of people doing live documentaries. I stumbled into it and learned that I liked it, but it is a huge challenge for me. I am not a performer. Like most documentary filmmakers, I am a shy person and much more comfortable behind the camera. Part of why I like it is it is scary…scary as hell! But I’m learning a lot. I don’t want to keep making the same kind of movie over and over again.”

 

Sam Green Buckminster Fuller

How do you usually collaborate with musicians for these works? How do you find them and what is the process of how you work?

SG: “To find people to work with, I just look at people whose work I love a lot. I have always been a big fan of Yo La Tengo, and I saw them do a night of music to a work by a French filmmaker called Jean Painlevé [Science is Fiction] and it was one of the best film viewing experiences I ever had. I was in the audience at one of the shows. I loved their sense of cinematic music so I asked if they would work with me on the Buckminster Fuller piece.

It is the same with yMusic, I saw them at Carnegie Hall and they have such a fantastic, huge, epic sound and I really wanted something like that for this piece. I got in touch and we worked something out.

The way I work with the musicians is like any film/music collaboration. A lot of back and forth, I shoot some video and they make some music and I adjust the video and write some voice over. It is just cobbling the whole thing together in an organic way.”

What are the challenges to taking your film on the road and performing night after night? It is like touring with a band.

SG: “The first live performance movie I made was Utopia in Four Movements. I was very pleasantly surprised how much we screened it. We screened it all over the world for several years after it was released. The challenge is you have to go to every screening and do the performance and it is a lot of work and time, but I actually love that. I am a filmmaker who likes to be around when the audience is watching and talking to them afterwards. Some filmmakers don’t, they want to go off and make another movie. But I like the distribution process, the challenge of distribution. I was never in a band as a teenager, so this is probably as close as I will get.

People often ask me at screenings, ‘Why not put this online and hundreds of thousands of people would see it? When you’re touring, maybe only a few thousand people will see it.’ And that’s true, but if you look at the most viewed clips on Youtube, most of them are super dumb. People view things online in a totally throw away manner. I am more interested in smaller numbers of people actually having a more meaningful experience through my work. It is a trade off I don’t mind, actually.”

Is it fair to say that these are more art pieces than films that have revenue potential?

SG: “No, and this is why I am happy to talk to you about the distribution part of my work. The film distribution business is in total flux. Everyone is trying to figure out how to survive, how to make money, in the new paradigm we are in. The truth is most people don’t. I know many documentary filmmakers whose films are out there, they have distribution deals, and they make no money whatsoever.

Although this was not my reason for creating my documentaries like this, I found that I make way more money on these live performances than I would make if these were traditional movies. The performance world still has an intact economy. If you go see a dance performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or the RedCat in LA, those performers get a performance fee that is pretty significant. They can get $10,000 to do a show. That is pretty standard performance fee.

The film distribution world has imploded largely because of the digital world.  Everything is online, consumers are getting used to seeing things for free or very low cost. The bottom has really fallen out of the revenue. But that hasn’t happened to the performance world because there is no real digital equivalent to seeing a live performance. It is possible for a filmmaker to access this performance world. A lot of the shows I do are in the performance world; in museums and performing arts centers. The fees they pay are significant.  I soon realized this is a much more viable way for me to distribute work.

I am guided by art and not primarily by financial considerations, but I also think filmmakers and artists should put their work out in a way in which they get something back from that. Artists should be compensated for their work and I am pained by the fact that many filmmakers make no money off of their films. Their films may get out there, but they don’t make any money from that. I am happy to have figured out a way to get my work out there and make money from it.

The film world is a few years behind the music world in terms of changes. The music world has already gone through all of this. Unless you are Miley Cyrus, you have to tour to make money as a musician. Not much is going to be made from downloads. I think the film world is also heading that direction and for me, this is a solution.”

How do your screening fees usually work? Is it a flat fee or a cut of revenue?

SG: “I screen these pieces in 3 different contexts. One is in the film context. I screen them at film festivals and we work out some screening fee amount. Festivals are strapped and so I negotiate on the fee.

The second is in a performance context. Say it is in a museum, they pay a flat fee and that has nothing to do with tickets sold. But I do work hard with the venue to sell tickets. I like to promote the screenings and I want them to do ok with the event.

The third way is in the context of the rock music world. The last piece I did was in collaboration with Yo La Tengo and we’ve done some rock concerts. When dealing with rock promoters, it is often pegged to how many tickets are sold. Those end up not being as good of a deal. Rock promoters are good at making money for themselves and their split is not very advantageous to the artist.”

Do you do these bookings yourself or through an agent?

SG: “I do book a lot myself. But I also work with Tommy Kriegsmann at ArKtype They book many performance people.”

Since a lot of your documentary performance depends on a written script, how is that different from making the traditional documentary with talking heads and maybe a little narration? Yours has a lot of narration.

SG: “The process is in a lot of ways still like making a film. You have an idea, you shoot a bunch of things, it turns out not to be quite what you thought, so you adjust and you start editing. I kind of edit and write voice over together. I’m a big fan of editing and doing many, many cuts to hone the piece. It is the same process one would do on an essay film.

But one thing about this form of film is you never really know what works until you show it to an audience. Only then can you tell whether people are engaged and when they’re not, you can feel it. So when you feel what works and what doesn’t, you can still make changes. We did our premiere for The Measure of All Things at Sundance a few weeks ago and now I have a million ideas of what I want to tweak. I think where I could change a line or put a pause and I can continue to work on it which is really fun and exciting. It allows me to really hone in on things in a way I couldn’t do with a normal film. You’re kind of done after you edit.”

Does that allow for you to change it from performance to performance for different audiences?

SG: “For the Buckminster Fuller piece, I did change things wherever we did it. Fuller did stuff everywhere so when we had some shows in London…he spoke there many, many times and he inspired some British architects so I worked all that into the piece. I can change it each time and that is part of the fun of it, it is a very fluid form.

The piece is in a Keynote file. I take still images and Quicktime video and put them in Keynote so I can go through and change things, swap out things. It is totally ephemeral.”

How do you fund your work? Do you get grants, investors, I saw that you recently did a campaign on Kickstarter?

SG: “It is a combination. Like any filmmaker, I am hustling. With this I got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. They have a multi-disciplinary grant and this  project is a combination of film and performance. Some foundations have given me grants and some individuals and I did a Kickstarter campaign

How was running that campaign? In one of your backer updates you said you weren’t sure about raising the money this way, which is a sentiment a lot of filmmakers who have been around for a while have expressed. How do you think it worked out and will you ever do that again?

SG: “That experience changed my feeling about Kickstarter and crowdfunding. I had been pretty grumpy about it because as a filmmaker I get TONS of campaign solicitations, you probably get them too. I felt bitter about that. Is this the level we’ve been reduced to as filmmakers, as artists? We are now funding our work by hitting up all of our friends? And the corollary to that is if I did give money to everyone who asks me, I’d be homeless. There was something that depressed me about the whole state of affairs.

One thing I had always heard people say, and I thought this was really just lip service, is there are a lot of people out there who want to be part of your work. For them, it isn’t a burden, they aren’t doing it out of charity or guilt or obligation. They are excited to be part of what you are doing. I had never taken that sentiment seriously. I always thought, ‘Wow I’m besieged by these campaigns and this sucks.’ But there are a lot of people who are not getting hit up by other filmmakers all the time and, for them, it is a way to help you get your work out into the world and be part of what you do.

I was struck during my campaign by the fact that this is TRUE. I was actually very moved by how many people responded and were so generous. It did change the way I think about it.

I would definitely do it again. I might do some things differently, like I wouldn’t do it when I was trying to finish the film. That was hard trying to finish the film and run a Kickstarter campaign at the same time. It just requires a lot of work.”

I noticed you have an ecommerce aspect to your website where you sell DVDs and streams for some of your other work. Do you purposely try to retain the right to distribute on your own?

SG: “Hell yeah, I’ve been doing that for a while. I’m not like a luddite. I love the internet and the way you can reach people all over the world.  I made this movie about Esperanto called The Universal Language. There are people all over the world that still speak it. How would one reach people all over the world to see the movie? Without the internet and streaming, it would be impossible. I have a place on my site where people can pay $4.99 to watch it. That happens all the time and I think being able to use the internet to get work out there is fantastic.

Distribution is a trade off. With my film The Weather Underground, I had a terrific experience with distribution. The theatrical distributor was fantastic. The DVD people we worked with were great. I have nothing but good things to say about that. The truth is you give up money, but someone else is doing the work. So, in that sense, it can be a good deal.

But now, especially with people who want to distribute online, signing with a distributor who is going to tie up your rights, you often won’t make money from that. I am a big believer in either reserving some rights or making companies pay an advance if they are serious about distributing for you online. A lot of companies now are not paying anything up front and that means they don’t have an incentive to do a lot with the work.”

 

Green wanted to make it clear that he is not the only filmmaker creating live experience work. “I never want to give the impression that I am the only person out there doing this. There’s Brent Green, Jem CohenTravis Wilkerson. I was also very inspired by Guy Madden’s Brand upon the BrainIt had an orchestra and live foley and, when I saw it, Isabella Rossellini was narrating it and it was a such a great live cinematic event.”

Perhaps this has inspired some of you to rethink the cinematic form for your work. You have to be open to creating a live experience, putting yourself physically out there and screening in venues that are not specifically dedicated to filmed entertainment. But from an artistic and economic standpoint, these creations could be very fulfilling and lucrative.

The Measure of All Things is now booking screenings for 2014. Love Song for R. Buckminster Fuller is still on tour with upcoming screenings in Miami and Austin, TX. Sign up to Sam Green’s email list to stay updated on the screenings.

Sheri Candler

February 12th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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

Many of you may be aware that we co authored a book in 2011 called Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. It was funded, created and distributed much in the same way we advocate filmmakers approach their work; we attracted sponsors to help pay for the development, creation and the ability to distribute one version of the book as a forever free pdf download; and we self published it because it would be hypocritical to advocate that filmmakers take control of their work while we turned ours over to a publisher. Plus most publishers would bristle at the thought that copies are available for free. We felt that the best way to get our sponsors’ messages seen widely was through free distribution and we need to retain the rights to the work in order to make that happen.

Jon Sheri Orly at the NYC book signing

For all who did download and share that book, we thank you and hope that it inspired and guided you on releasing your next projects.

We are several years on from the original release now and our thoughts are turning to our colleagues outside of the US. Most all of our previous case studies came from American filmmakers, but now more and more filmmakers from outside of the US are either leaving their government funded filmmaking schemes due to shrinking budgets or are choosing not even to try for the funds and turning to crowdfunding and private investment. We think it is time to put the spotlight on non US based filmmakers who are navigating their own paths as well as the outlets that are enabling them to reach outside of their countries’s borders and bring their work to a global audience.

I published a short sneak peek at one of my case study chapters on the Selling Your Film blog yesterday, so hop on over and take a look at what writer/director Marcus Markou did with his narrative film Papadopoulos and Sons. Though a timely, sweet and funny film, UK distributors didn’t know what to do with a film that didn’t have major festival accolades or a big name cast (sound familiar?), so Markou took matters into his own hands. What resulted was a hybrid release that included a 7 week theatrical run in the UK with sell out screenings in London’s Cineworld flagship cinema, Shaftesbury Avenue (right in the heart of the city, for those unfamiliar), a nomination from the London Critics’ Circle for Breakthrough British Filmmaker and distribution deals in Germany, Greece, the US, Australia and on major airlines. It is an inspiring tale and I can’t wait for you to read the chapter in full when it is released in May 2014.

Sneak Peek HERE 

February 6th, 2014

Posted In: book

Tags: , , , , , ,




© 2017 The Film Collaborative. All rights reserved.