I am divine poster
The Film Collaborative is a non profit member organization devoted to helping independent filmmakers become better educated about their marketing and distribution alternatives. Filmmakers may choose between various levels of membership that entitle them to incremental levels of service from a free level that allows for access to our monthly newsletter, blog and Digital Distribution Guide, to levels that include hours of customized consultation about their projects from our team of festival, digital distribution, online and social media marketing and graphic design specialists.

But we also take on a select group of films to actively participate in their self financed distribution from festivals to ancillary sales facilitation to handling limited theatrical releases. As always, we never take rights away from the filmmakers and they are active participants in their release.

Over the next few weeks, I will share details and testimonials from some of the films we’ve handled over the last 3 years in effort to clarify how we service independent films when we take them on as clients.

Today will feature director Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary film I Am Divine which saw its VOD debut on April 1. With TFC’s help, Divine played in a whopping 160 festivals around the world, garnering 6 figures in screening fees. TFC also handled the film’s limited theatrical release, securing over 50 cinemas in the US and Canada, with the film held over for 3 weeks at the Roxy Theater in San Francisco, 6 weeks at Cinema Village in NYC, 4 weeks at the Downtown Independent in LA and 3 weeks at Bloor Hot Doc Cinema in Toronto.

At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted? 

JS: “I had worked with TFC on my previous film VITO so I knew they would be able to help position the film properly. TFC helped secure our festival world premiere at SXSW 2013 and guided us through the process of our international debut at BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in London and the many, many festivals that followed.”

What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film? Basically what results were achieved with TFC’s help?

JS: “Aside from facilitating the festival screenings around the world, TFC also helped us secure international distribution in several territories. For busy filmmakers, knowing that a group of dedicated and knowledgable allies are working in your best interest is a godsend. TFC also booked the film in theaters around the country for our limited theatrical release. I AM DIVINE played in all the major American cities with great success.”

TFC colleague, Bryan Glick, was responsible for booking the theatrical release and had this to say

BG: “We never took out a single print ad in any city for the theatrical and still grossed over $80,000 theatrically. Since the launch of the theatrical release, the film’s Facebook page went from over 26,000 fans to more than 44,000.

We were able to book a lot of cities because of strong festival performance. There were a few smaller markets that were not an option, but in those cities the festival fees were far greater than anything the filmmmaker would have pocketed from a theatrical run.

Yes, you cannot play Landmark Theatres if you screen at too many festivals, but we didn’t even bother worrying about them. Instead we focused on venues with favorable terms who saw clearly the built in audience for the movie. We were able to get to over 50 engagements almost solely through booking independent art houses.

By not having to waste money on print ads, the theatrical was profitable for the filmmaker and it is still one of the highest grossing films from SXSW last year. Currently, Divine is in the top 10 docs on iTunes and the DVD pre order is in the top 20 docs on Amazon. This film could ultimately reach 300 festival and theatrical engagements.”

Where can the film be seen now?

JS: “I AM DIVINE had its VOD premiere on April 1st. The various international territories are gearing up for their releases as well.”

Check out this great documentary on iTunes, Amazon, and via its home video distributor Wolfe Releasing.

April 3rd, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Facebook, Film Festivals, iTunes, Theatrical

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Recently, I made a post on my personal blog about why I am advising filmmakers to reconsider their use of Facebook to connect with an audience. There are lots of changes going on and it is important to understand that Facebook is a public company with shareholders to appease and a very large user base to exploit. A Facebook page is increasingly pay to play, so if you aren’t budgeting money to spend on growing your page and reaching your fans on a regular basis, you should find another way to reach them.

It’s too crowded

You may not believe it, but only 4 years ago it was not commonplace for businesses to use Facebook. Studios didn’t really get the point (most still don’t) and large corporations thought the whole social media thing was a fad that would fade. Small business pages used them to constantly talk about themselves and their products, but at least they were in the under utilized position of reaching consumers for free via a channel few put much stock into.

Now there are more than 25 million small business pages on Facebook! It isn’t easy to stand out in that crowd and only those with the most creativity, time and money can hope to compete. Sure, it feels safe now to say you have a Facebook page and you can still open a new one for free for every new project you start. But are you really going to put in the time, effort and money on a regular basis to make the page work? If the answer is no, don’t even start one.

Overcoming the Facebook algorithm

Some have said that Facebook perpetrated the biggest practical joke of the internet age by convincing brands and advertising agencies to spend money building up a large following only to restrict the ability to reach that following unless further payment is made. Others have said without the restriction, a user’s newsfeed would be inundated with useless promotional crap from companies who have no other interest than to use Facebook as a free advertising tool, ruining the ability to connect meaningfully with things users care about. However you see it, it is no secret that Facebook does indeed throttle the reach of your posts through the use of their complex and ever changing algorithms. Assume a day will come when the organic (ie, free) reach is zero.

Be platform neutral

Realize that social media channels are only tools in the long game toward building a base of support. Sure, people peruse your Facebook and Twitter follower numbers and make quick decisions about how “successful” your work is, but ultimately it is how interested, engaged and loyal your audience is that will make the biggest difference to your sustainability. None of these tools will last forever. One will eventually be usurped in popularity and the users will move on. The central idea behind all of them is the connections, the trust and the loyalty you are building and to bring that audience to the channel you do control–your own site.

Choose a social channel that you actually enjoy using, one that allows you to express your creativity on a daily basis, and where you can find like minded individuals to truly connect with. If that channel is still Facebook, then just be prepared to pay to participate.






March 26th, 2014

Posted In: Facebook, Social Network Marketing

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In the last post, I talked about the mindset change that artists have to go through in order to successfully use social networking. In this post, I want to dispel some myths that people have about how social networking works so that you won’t fall into unrealistic expectations. Other posts include Mindset Change, FacebookTwitterYoutube

social media myth

Myth #1 Social networking is FREE

While it is possible to set up accounts on social channels for free, the expense of time and money to maintain them is not.  To accomplish goals on social channels takes planning, creating compelling content, optimizing it for search engines, and publishing it on a consistent basis. If you plan to have a person dedicated to handling all of this for you, they should be paid. If you plan to have Facebook as your main channel for audience engagement, you’ll need a budget just for promoted posts and advertising to help build up the page and keep in contact with the fans you attract (more on EdgeRank when I cover the Facebook platform). Running social media “campaigns”  of any kind will take money as they are essentially an advertising function (Campaigns are short term efforts meant to have maximum impact. More on this below.)

Myth #2 It works FAST

As anyone who has been active on social channels will tell you, building up a significant following takes time. Lots of time. Everyone starts with zero. If you were planning to use social channels as your main tool for gathering attention for your work, I hope you have already started giving to a community well before you will ask favors of them like spreading the word on your work, attending screenings, buying merchandise, etc. This isn’t a 10 minutes a day kind of activity (contrary to what some social media authors would have you believe), it is an activity that should be ingrained into your creative life starting now.

Myth #3 You won’t need a website, just use Facebook

It is extremely unwise to be completely dependent on a 3rd party site to keep you in touch with an audience. What if that site gets shut down? What if they close your account? What if they change the rules about what you can do with your page/take away functionality? That direct connection to an audience is in jeopardy when you allow a 3rd party to have control over your account. Your website is YOUR online real estate on which you are building your creative empire and you must have control over it. You will want to control how it looks and how it functions as well as collecting data on your online efforts and on your supporters (email, location, interests etc). While you will use certain social tools, first and foremost you must have a site that is under your control and from which you can make money.

Myth #4 An intern is fine to handle it

Would you let an intern speak for your production on Entertainment Tonight or in the New York Times? Social media channels have a global reach and are cataloged in search engines to be found at any time in the future.  Anything published from your social accounts represents YOU and your work. Letting just anyone speak for your brand is not a good idea. The best person to let loose with that kind of responsibility is not your 23 year old intern just because she is “good at Facebooking.” That isn’t a knock on 23 year old marketing professionals because, if they have business training and marketing skills, they are definitely a great member for your team. Social media is really many things wrapped into one: marketing, customer relations, media relations, crisis management, and branding. It will probably take a small team of professional people working from inside of the production (as opposed to hiring an outside firm) to find long term success using these tools. If you entrust a member of the production, intern or otherwise, with this responsibility, make sure your social accounts use your company’s email and everyone has access to the passwords. Otherwise, you could wind up with no access to these accounts if and when that person leaves.

Myth #5 Social media works like advertising

Unknowingly, you may be using your social channels like advertising. Advertising puts out one way messages designed to interrupt the widest audience as possible usually to sell something. It is a paid tactic where the receiver has little choice but to be interrupted from what they are trying to do (watch a TV show, listen to music, read an article, drive in traffic etc). Advertising is about pushing a message with little regard for those who hear it.

Social media is a pull tactic. Rather than interrupting people with messages they don’t want to receive, social channels enable people to give their permission to speak to them by following your page or your account. They expect not only to hear from you, but to speak back to you and they expect you will listen and respond. A dialog, not a monologue. Also, they follow you based on things you share that are valuable to THEM, not just to you. Advertising doesn’t listen, or require any dialog. It is a one marketing tactic of several you can use, but don’t confuse it with what people expect on social channels.

You may use the term “campaign” to speak about using social channels to advertise your work, but social networking is not a campaign. Social networking is a long term, ingrained activity that professionals now have to incorporate into their lives. A campaign is a short term effort meant to drive toward one specific goal and definitely involves spending money to make sure that campaign is heard.

In actuality, any place online where information can be published, commented upon or shared is considered social media. That pretty much encompasses the internet. Now that I have outlined over the last 2 posts how to approach your efforts on social channels, the next few posts will dig into the main 3 sites commonly referred to as social media being used by most people; Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.






June 5th, 2013

Posted In: Facebook, Social Network Marketing

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By Sheri Candler

Here is the second part in a series on European distribution tools. I met OnlineFilm AG CEO Cay Wesnigk, based in Germany, while attending the FERA General Assembly in Copenhagen. Like most people in attendance, he is trying to understand the repercussions and opportunities of the online space to the film industry. His response was to come up with a solution that allows filmmakers themselves to profit and to spread their work to territories outside of their home country by using the internet.

SC: What does OnlineFilm hope to accomplish for European filmmakers and film audiences?

CW: The Onlinefilm.org System is a multilingual marketplace for films and an application service provider for digital distribution and marketing services, owned by a collective of independent producers/ filmmakers. Any rights owner from all over the world can use its technology to offer films as download to own and stream to rent or both.

To reach these goals, we want to strengthen and enlarge our network of national partners that are running the Onlinefilm.org system in their territories and run national websites that use the same technology to develop local markets. Together with our partners we want to develop new tailored ways of marketing by using social media and viral campaigning in their languages and territories and then learn from each other and teach our best practice examples to the film makers to empower them to use the onlinefilm.org system in the best possible way to market their films.

Our motto is “Films are made to be seen” and we want to make it possible for the international audience to access the films they are interested in and find those they did not know existed, helping the makers to find and access their audience.

SC: Do you think the audience is ready to start watching full length films online or on mobile devices?

It should be added to the question, “legally aquired”  films. I think it is a proven fact that our audience is watching films on those devices, just go through a train in Europe and you will notice how many people are watching films on laptops and tablets, some even on smart phones. In catalogues of supermarkets, hard disks are offered that have a connection to regular TV and a remote control as well as Network access that make it easy to bring downloaded films to the TV screens. For us, the question is not if there is an audience out there for our films, the question is, is there an audience willing to pay for them?

But there is another angle to your question,  a topic for online watching of films is the deceleration of the audience. It is difficult to watch 90 minutes linear programming with no interaction expected on a computer or tablet when the IM Messenger pops up, the Skype rings and your email program reminds you that a new mail has arrived in your mailbox…  For that we need to find ways to decelerate our audience. One is the easy connection of the device with the TV set as mentioned above. Leaning back in front of the TV with the mouse out of reach is half of the trick. The other half still has to be developed.

SC: There are already many online streaming platforms for films, many of them are free streaming and ad supported streaming. What is the plan for driving audience interest to OnlineFilm?

CW: A film is a little bit of celluloid and a lot of marketing…

We have experienced that many film-makers do not promote their films once they have upload them in to the system by using the tools and strategies actively that we supplied for them. Some of them do not even link to the films from their own homepages, let alone think about how to promote their films through other channels that would generate audiences for them.  Even a good Google ranking for film titles searches that we can supply does not bring the revenue, since for that, the customer has to know that a film exists and must actively search for it. So we have drawn the conclusion that we must act more on the filmmakers behalf to create more sales and such make the option to offer films through the Onlinefilm.org system more attractive.  One measure we took was the cooperation with other outlets and websites by offering them tailored Mediatheks for their visitors, creating more outlets and chances that audiences will find a film by chance.

The next step will be to create best practice examples through social media campaigns that will lead to more sales of the promoted example films.

We offer tools to the filmmakers to help them create their own audiences.  We offer at the same time a Platform for curators, for the hunters and collectors. They can use the search tools the site offers them to find the raw diamonds. They can browse through the categories, use our full text search in German and English or search for directors or film titles they might already be aware of.

Film of the week on the OnlineFilm homepage

The film of the week section on the landing page of www.onlinefilm.org can change its focus on three different film categorie; Docs, Short- or Feature films, or offer a mixture of all of them (default). With this preselection we want to promote films to people who just drop by our platform with no special film or interest in mind. We often change the selection and try to keep the offer interesting and diverse so every visitor should find something of interest to him and, if not, might be motivated to dig deeper into the catalogue, to find out more about its wealth of topics and genres.

In the second line “the featured films”, the recommendations also changes accordingly once a customer selects where his point of interest lies (docs, short, feature). If someone tells us he is interested in shorts, the site will offer him different shorts. If he tells us he likes docs, he will be offered mainly docs. This is how we try to keep our first time visitors on the site and offer them selected films out of our large catalogue that might be of interest for them. The more we get to know from a visitor on the site, the more we want to tailor the offers made to his interests. 

Our national portal Strategy – many different editorial lines 

If a visitor decides to “explore the Network” he will be guided to the overview map with all national sites that are active so far. He can then select one of them, where our national Partners have the editorial control, offer national content or content they consider interesting for their fellow country man. Their editorial line is subjective. They will offer the films from their country and others they have found in the system and deem interesting for their audience. We plan to extend the editorial possibilities of the partner pages so the partners will also have their own film of the week and other editorial possibilities to promote certain films on their sites.

By creating sub portals with a special focus, it is also always possible to follow a new editorial line if enough films to justify that are in the system..

Our Greek partners www.greece.onlinefilm.org  are the most advanced, they have been with us right from the very beginning of the project in 2007 and they also have made the most out of the technology that onlinefilm.org  has offered them so far. As an example, on their editors page,  they made their own sub categorisation and such made it possible to browse through the films via topics they have selected on their own.

Greek director Roviros Manthoulis’ collection page

They also have published the Roviros Manthoulis collection  and make it possible to browse through the films of this renowned Greek filmmaker. Both serve as an example for an individual editorial line of a partner portal.

Another example is Ireland.onlinefilm.org. Our Irish partner has chosen quite a ew titles from the system and publishes them on his  site. Among them a French/Greek film called IRLANDE: LA MEMOIRE D’ UN PEUPLE  about Ireland and its music in the 70s.  This film has become quite popular on the Irish website and no one in Ireland would ever have known about this document of Irish folk music if it would not have been uploaded by our Greek partner and found  and published by our Irish partner.  Also interesting to note is that our Irish partner translated the site into Gaelic language, another way to make the site something special. We use a multi language editor that makes it possible to translate any of our sites in as many languages as necessary.

Since it is always also possible for any rights owner to upload any film from anywhere, we have many films from countries where we do not have a partner installed yet. The more films we get from one country the more active our search for a partner there becomes. We always offer anyone who uploads at least 30 films to get his own Macro shop. This would entitle him also to get a promoter percentage of 8% for any customer that enters the System through his shop. If the relationship develops well and we see the person is active and well connected, he can apply to become a national partner and will then be able to also add other films he has not uploaded into his shop. If he is willing to invest into the cooperation, he can apply for full partner status that would also guarantee him part of the revenues any film uploaded from his territory might generate as a partner percentage. An example of a tailored Macro shop of a German distributor is here: www.filmgalerie451.onlinefilm.org 

This is how we slowly built our Network of national partners and built more and more local outlets with their own editorial line.

Some more examples you will find here

www.kurzfilmtage.de/videothek the Videothek of the Oberhausen Shortfilmfestibval, run with onlinefilm technology and with Onlinefilm films

www.freitag.onlinefilm.org  A videothel of a German Newspapers Website, run on onlinefilm technolog and with Onlinefilm films

SC: Is this platform mainly for German films or is the focus on all foreign language films?

CW: Any one can upload a film no matter where he or she comes from. We encourage people to upload the film in its original language version and in English. Subtitles are sufficient. More language versions can be uploaded and offered for different self chosen conditions.  We even offer a tool ( in Beta) with which one can create subtitles to a film which is uploaded into our system and save and offer them. Subtitles can also be imported into the tool and exported into many formats if produced with the tool. The subtitle tool is designed in a way that a filmmaker could ask a professional or friend in another country to create the subtitles of a film he has uploaded. We are also planning to create a system to allow a person who has created subtitles to opt in and get a piece of the revenue as remuneration for his work, any time the film is watched with his subtitles.

SC: What prices are being asked of the audience to pay?

CW: The price per download or stream is defined by the rights owner who offers the film via the onlinefilm.org system. Over the last 2 year,s the average download price per title has increased from € 2,50 (2008) to € 5,00 in 2010  and to € 6,00  in June 2011 (from a range between € 0.99  and € 16,00).  Our bestseller right now costs € 8,50 per download (around $10 USD).

SC:  How do you handle payments on the system for all different currencies? Can those not on the Euro still use the OnlineFilm system? How about those who don’t have credit cards?

CW: Right now you pay via Paypal in Euro, that works also with a credi card via Paypal guest status, then you can stream or download the film direct when redirected by Paypal after the payment is done on their server. We are looking into possibilities to offer films in different currencies viaPpaypal right now and hope to offer that kind of service in the near future!

As an alternative, we already offer payment through international bank transfer via IBAN and BIC to our account in Germany. Once the money is sent to our onlinefilm account, the buyer sends us a pdf with the view of the online money order ( screen shot or what the online banking software offers) and we sent him or her the download links via e mail or put the film for streaming into his or her account at onlinfilms under “my films” This sometimes takes a few hours to fulfill but it is better than nothing. So far it has been used mainly by Paypal haters.

SC: What is the revenue split for filmmakers? Are there any fees that have to be paid for the films to use OnlineFilm?

CW: No fees are asked just to offer the film on onlinefilm.org. If you just use the system to host trailers/teasers and use our promotion tool to send free downloads and streams to selected people, but you do not offer the film for payment to a general audience, we would ask you to pay for used bandwith and storage. But there is a free amount of traffic per month, sufficient for trailer hosting of average films, that anyone can use before that happens.

The revenue is split as follows. 51% of the turnover always goes to the producer/ rightsowner. If the rightsowner buys 1.000 shares of the Onlinefilm AG and such becomes co-owner of the system  ( option) he can get 5% more which then ads up to 56% . If he sells the film via an embedded shop or Macro shop from his own page and opts in for the affiliate percentage, he will get an extra 8% which then makes his or her revenue climb up to 64% of the sales price (the Affiiliate system still has to be implemented).

SC: What kinds of films are doing well at the moment? documentary, horror, drama? What might these successes all have in common? Do they have notable names, festival accolades, strong coproduction deals that have given lots of promotion, great mainstream media reviews?

CW: We mainly have quite old films on the platform so far, this has many reasons in copyright issues unclear, release windows and power play of the old gatekeepers trying to hinder the films going online all together. Only very few of the films could profit directly from any marketing campaigns.

The films that are successful right now have a campaign behind them or at least some promotion mostly done by the filmmaker via personal website or mailing list. The others are just occasional sales by active seekers for exactly that title. They live on their past time fame.

One very successful 15 year old film Deckname Dennis  is a first part of a film called Die Mondverschwörung presenting the same character and using the same technique, that has been released theatrically recently. Through the press the new film received and by creating a social media campaign for the new film that clearly stated its predecessor was available online (Facebook, Youtube, a website, Twitter) we made that film popular again. You might say it went viral and made quite an impressive turnover  for its rightsowner. To download the film, the price is 8,50 Euro. We were extremely happy that through a good text the director posted in the blog of a pirate site where the film was also available, we got them to link to our legal offer and take down the illegal offer. Through our link statistics, we can see that many people come from there to us.

SC: I know that the German film industry is particularly concerned about online piracy, how does a site like OnlineFilm help alleviate this concern?

CW: We do not use DRM systems simply because we do not believe in them and we do not want to make it difficult for the customers. Also we do not want to greet our customers as criminals that we do not trust. We follow the principle of “digital rights fair trade” in short “do not bullshit your audience and your audience won’t bullshit you”.  Our download is DRM free, whoever buys it will also be able to download the film again, when he needs to. He just needs to log in with his username and it will be in the “my films” section.  Since our streaming technology is “dedicated flash streaming” it is not quite as easy to save the stream as with other techniques. The stream is rented for 48 hours and usually cheaper than the download, but it can also be offered solely if people want to better protect their work and do not want it downloaded.

SC: Is there a geoblocking mechanism on OnlineFilm so that if a filmmaker has sold a online sales territory or has a sales agent looking to sell a territory, that territory is blocked? I know that many sales agents ask for a hold back timeframe on titles so they can sell those territories around the world. Is the site mainly to exploit titles that are no longer active in the marketplace? In effect, taking films out of the “library” mode and putting them back out into the marketplace?

CW: At the moment we do not offer geoblocking. Anyone half clever seems to be able to enter any system with a false IP and ridicule these mechanisms. Secondly, we think if a customer wants to legally purchase a film we should sell it to him and not tell him to go elsewhere (namely the pirate sites). We will nevertheless implement an IP scan and geolocation tools in the near future. We have to since the industry seems not to change its ways as fast as it should. We hope to be able to serve the customer by offering a revenue share with the person or distributor who has the rights in the territory where the customer comes from. But this might still take while to program and implement.

SC: Does OnlineFilm do any marketing on the part of the titles? Or is the filmmaker expected to conduct their own marketing strategy to drive traffic to the site?

CW: Onlinefilm does marketing for the site and through the many partner sites also tries to drive more traffic towards the films. We also market some titles that we select via our onlinefilm Facebook page and via the film of the week and the recommendations on the landing page. We have a space on the Kulturserver Network where we can promote individual titles.

When our staff has time left, we also try to encourage links to topic driven films from topic driven websites.  We offer marketing support for filmmakers that are open for it, but we ask for a fee if they want a campaign run by us. Then we try to build a social web campaign with them and show them how to, or do the job for them depending on their skills and time or money they want to invest.

This is something we definitely need to put more energy in because far too many filmmakers here do not know how to self promote their films and rather invest their time in making a new one.  The revenue made online with many of the films is so far not big enough to encourage distributors or filmmakers to invest a lot of time or money in extra marketing. But since we see that the turnover with  films is growing constantly, we hope that this will change and lead to an exponential growth of sales once people will be willing to invest more in marketing once they see the potential.

We are preparing a social media campaigning and online marketing handbook. At the same time we are trying to connect with people who specialize in the craft of online film marketing. We want to develop business models with them that will work for them and the rights owners possibly also on a revenue share basis.

My thanks to Cay Wesnigk for taking the time to talk with us and explain how his company is helping European filmmakers make the shift from a primarily cinema driven distribution model to an online one.















July 25th, 2012

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

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

By Sheri Candler

As a result of my recent trip to Europe to participate in the annual FERA General Assembly and Sheffield DocFest, I found some great new independent film resources I would like to share. Sometimes we get too focused on North American resources so it is good to pull in useful information from all over the world. This will be a series of posts over the next few weeks that highlight these new services. First up, Assemble

Assemble (formerly MovieSparx) is a tool for filmmakers and distributors who want to ease the headache of building audiences and selling films on the web. It  is clever software that creates and manages your web-presence, gathers and tracks your audience and provides a sales mechanisms to sell your film and related products. I spoke with Founder James Franklin about how the software works.

What made you want to build this? What need did you see in the industry that wasn’t being fulfilled properly?

JF: Simply put – we felt that the vital online presence for a film was almost always a hit and miss affair. Film websites are too often rubbish and do the film a disservice.
About 8 years ago I founded a London based design studio working just for indie film projects. We ran a lot of promotional campaigns for films around the world and learnt an enormous amount over some very high profile projects. Whilst doing this, and when I would speak at festivals about what we learnt, the same questions and problems would come up from filmmakers over and over again.

The main problem was that although everyone agreed that promoting a film and finding an audience online was important and a great opportunity, the reality was that it was very time consuming, had a steep learning curve and was a prohibitively difficult and painful struggle. Just to make matters worse, the budgets were always too small for creating the necessary marketing assets and the tools available at the time had to be hacked by techies to work for an indie film. Generally the assets for each film project – website, widgets, mailing list, shop etc – would be about 70% the same as every other project and about 30% unique. But each time everyone would have to work hard to just get that 70% out the door – we and the filmmakers felt like we were constantly re-inventing the wheel. And so we decided about 3 years ago to create a web-tool that would power these elements out of the box – film  website, online shop, widgets etc. It was going to be easy, efficient, flexible and beautiful. We would also pour our knowledge and experience into the system so that best practice was baked into it from the beginning. The very first release was at SXSW in 2010.

There are a few guiding principles we’ve stuck to. Firstly, that it’s always in the filmmakers interests to help promote the film direct rather than promote yet another platform – it’s all about the film project not us. Secondly, that the production team are always the most committed and passionate of advocates and with the right tools and experience can do the best job of promoting and selling the film. Lastly, we understand the importance of the film’s marketing materials /key art / branding – this is what really sells the film and is very important online. Anything we make has to work with the branding and be both functional and well designed.

What does Assemble do for productions? Walk me through the steps all along the way of a production using Assemble from conception of a film to distributing it. Are there some example films at different stages? Describe what they are doing.

JF: We provide the best possible web presence that adapts to each stage of a film. That web presence includes the film website, branded trailers & embeddable widgets, facebook apps, a shop and other important modules. Each Module is made just for film so it works exactly as you would expect out of the box. For instance, adding an award adds a laurel to the website. Each module works with the others, so the shop can appear in Facebook and the trailer for instance. Each of those modules adapts depending the stage the project is at – so in development, it makes the most of the one photo and short synopsis you often start out with. Then the modules adapt for fund-raising or crowd funding, production, festivals and finally distribution.  Lastly each module adapts by country so that it can properly support different territories being at different stages – ready for download in the USA but in theatrical in Australia – without interfering with each other.

Currently the modules are:
– Website
– Blog
– Shop
– Widget / Branded Trailer
– Facebook page app
– Screenings
– Mailing List
– Sign-up for media
– Crowd-Funding support
– Gallery
– Awards and Laurels
– Reviews

There are too many features and options to go through everything in detail. But to give an example about how this this works just for film and is designed to be more efficient, take a look at the screenings module. This handles events and screenings either as part of a theatrical release or at festivals. Usually screening dates and times end up on a single page which has to be constantly updated and is hard to find or a film relies on a potential audience remembering at a later date.

With Assemble, once the production team have entered an event or screening’s details into the back end it appears automatically, in chronological order across all assets – on the website, the trailer, in Facebook and so on. It can be automatically added to the Facebook page as an event for people to share with others. People can even send it to a friend as an invite, or share it to social networks. It can even set up a reminder for you so you’ll get an email the day of the screening. If there’s a screening near you it will flag up on the website home page. When a screening date has passed it’s automatically added to the past screenings. We can even supply a feed of data for partners.

Of course, if there isn’t a screening near you, you can demand one with a simple form or if available, you can set up semi-theatrical or community screenings and sell screening licenses. All of this works straight of the box.

We’ve also worked hard to never lose a potential customer. For instance, if someone in Canada wants to watch the film but it’s not available on DVD or for download yet, rather than giving the unhelpful message ‘this is not available in your region,’ the system will automatically work out an alternative (it may be on at a festival near them, or available from a distributor, or on Amazon – we can route them through to wherever is best). At the very worst, if it’s not available at all to them we can get them to sign up to the mailing list or demand it.

Some example sites at each stage are:

How Far Is Heavena simple film website
The Spirit Level – integrating with IndieGoGo
 Planeat – shop with downloads and merchandise
Just Do It – powering the shop only alongside a VODO release
Black Gold – long tail of distribution (the film is from 2006)
Europe Loves Cinema – a site with a slate of films
Tigerlily Films-a production company site with many films

As the above all geo-detect, the design changes depending on where you are visiting from.

Is the software mainly built for one title at a time or for a production company in the long term?

JF: It works well for both. The system really comes into it’s own when you run a production company or distribution website and your slate of titles off the system. They all integrate together and save a lot of time and work as well as collecting all the valuable data across the whole lot. That is key, if production companies are to thrive in the
future they must take ownership of their audience data and take it with them to the next project. That way it gets easier every time. Only Assemble can make that part happen.

What advantage would it be for a filmmaker to use a distributor to access this since your site says it is for distributors as well?

JF: It’s a flexible system and so will work for both individually. Ideally, the production team should be on the system from development and running even a basic web presence from the beginning, that way they can start to take control online. And the big advantage for a production team is that our tools work with even the most complicated rights and distributor structure.

When Assemble says it builds websites, is that on the production’s own URL or is it through your platform as a 3rd party?

JF: We power websites for films, much like wordpress powers blogs. You can use your own URLs with the system. The design for each site can be done either through us as a customised project or by a third party designer. The idea is that it’s as flexible and beautiful as possible whilst still being easy.

The description says it builds an embeddable trailer. Do you mean it makes a trailer built by the production embeddable? Why wouldn’t we want this on Youtube instead where we can track views and where they come from? Does Assemble do that too?

JF: We’ve made a very flexible widget that acts as a branded trailer. We think it’s very important to use Vimeo and You Tube as part of a campaign and so we use these to provide the trailer video – You Tube and Assemble play well together. The widget then ‘wraps’ around the Youtube video to create a branded trailer which also can hold extra modules like the shop, a watch the film page, twitter feed, blog, screenings and so on. And you still get your view count up and can track who’s watching it with You Tube.

Does Assemble provide training on how to use the system? For many indie productions, this whole process of building an audience and selling directly is completely unknown so how does Assemble help demystify the process?

JF: Yes, we provide training. We’re also adding a series of how-to videos to help things. We also hope to add more general videos on how to make a success of the project using Assemble.

Does Assemble help market the projects or is it only a tool to use by film productions themselves? Would the audience ever come to Assemble or are you more a B2B?

JF: We are not another platform. We are a B2B business, we don’t want to build a relationship with a project’s audience, rather we provide the tools to enable the production team to do that. However, we do help market projects in various ways and we can advise on how to do this as we’ve many years experience at this. One of the key ways a film can market itself online is firstly through social media sharing and secondly affiliate networks.

Assemble heavily supports sharing with social media and building an affiliate network. We help advise people if needed on how to make both of these work hard for a film project. For example, we have by far the most flexible and innovative affiliate tracking system, you’re not tied to one rate and can offer different percentage kick-backs. We find discount codes can work just as well and sometimes better. In addition, we are constantly innovating and testing, then putting what we learn back into the system.

When you say you sell downloads, what makes those downloads disabled to be reuploaded on the internet? Is there a mechanism for hampering that activity?

JF: If a project sells DVDs then these can be easily ripped too. We do review for Youtube and download links. Our own download mechanism can alert us if there are excessive downloads on a single link. We think the pricing of downloads should mean that for a potential customer, it’s easier to just buy the download rather than have the hassle of finding the torrent or download link. People who would pay generally prefer to pay honestly, thats the best way to stop piracy eating revenue.

July 10th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, DIY, Facebook, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

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

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid

The old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at The Film Collaborative can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it.  This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit.  Films rarely sell themselves.  You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

  • Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz. If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.
  • Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.
  • Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.
  • Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)
  • Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large.
  • Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and its companion blog www.sellingyourfilm.com/blog  already highlight a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman

Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film — mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc…, or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like. Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well!  Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche.  For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker, Jeff Sable, talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures).  He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville

Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Caan, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby (http://ginsberglibby.com/) and Moving Pictures (http://www.movingpicturesfilmandtv.com/) were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

  1. Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film.

    Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there.  For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

  2. Offer your potential partners something back in return.

    With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

  3. Community-building is an organic, long-term process…

    Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

  4. Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience.

    In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

  5. You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc.

    Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

  6. You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this.

    There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page, located at http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/resourceplace/. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements;  an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need.

    It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

  7. A final take home:

    You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

January 18th, 2012

Posted In: DIY, Facebook, Film Festivals, Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Theatrical

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Chances are that whatever your subject matter/theme/niche audience for your film, there have been other films in recent years that targeted the same audiences. Most filmmakers feel some camaraderie with each other and many may offer you advice on how they reached their audiences.

Connect to fellow filmmakers and don’t be shy about asking them to at least mention your film on FB to their folks, or tweet about your film. We can’t emphasize enough how many filmmakers find themselves building lists of organizations and emails from scratch when someone else probably has already created a similar list. Consider the community spirit of DIY filmmaking and ask for a little help, or offer to compensate a filmmaker for their efforts on your behalf.

This is the idea behind TFC’s The Film Collaborators site, a place where filmmakers can share resources.

August 3rd, 2010

Posted In: DIY, Facebook, Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

It is no longer enough to just make a film, you have to create community and anticipation for your film as well. And social media and viral outreach takes a long time to reach critical mass, so build your social media presence into your production schedule.

Just this week a filmmaker asked us…”I’m in post-production, should I wait for a distributor or start thinking about marketing now?”  The answer? — do not wait for anyone! By the time you exhibit your film at a film festival you should already have built a community so that you can make the most of your public exhibition and be best positioned to distribute your film effectively and as directly as possible…  And it also so happens that distributors these days are looking at your number of facebook friends and your twitter followers to help them make acquisition decisions….as it helps them gauge interest in your film.

But even more pointedly, one’s ability to get onto Cable VOD will be impacted by perception of marketing and audience interest and that’s still the lions share of revenue stream in digital and very competitive, and for when your film is available on DVD and digitally, you’ll have a community to distributed to.    Think of your film as a cross-platform story, and allow your community to access it from whatever medium they choose…that way when the film is finally finished they’ll be primed to see it. So don’t procrastinate….start letting people know about your film NOW.

July 26th, 2010

Posted In: Facebook, Film Festivals, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , , ,

Hello again. It’s been a while since my last post. Been traveling to festivals after SXSW–we did Palm Beach International Film Festival, then TriBeCa. Next up is Cannes where I am invited to speak to the Producer’s Network. Will post about it all after Cannes.

Some Distribution TidBits:

MovieGallery is closing its doors, a further signaling of the decline of DVD in some way, and yet Netflix and Redbox keep it going on the rental side and Blu Ray sales are up. THE STATS ARE: According to US sales figures for the home entertainment industry released April 15, 2010 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, “Blu-ray Disc software sales continued to rise in the first quarter of 2010, up 74% compared to the same period last year. BD Rental was up 36%. Hardware sales experienced remarkable growth, with set-top players up an “astounding” 125% versus first quarter 2009.

Household penetration of all Blu-ray Disc compatible devices, including set-top players, PC drives and PS3 consoles has now reached 18 million US homes. Some 34 million Blu-ray Discs shipped to retail in North America, up 72% over the same period last year. Consumer spending for the first quarter in the home entertainment window for pre-recorded entertainment, which includes DVD, Blu-ray Disc and digital distribution, was $4.8 billion, down 8% compared to the same period last year. Total rental was down 14% in the first quarter, largely as a result of brick and mortar store closures, according to Rentrak Corporation’s Home Video Essentials.” (SOURCE: DEG 1Q Home Entertainment Report).

Of course, one wonders how much of this relates to indie / art-house cinema. How long is long tail and how long and how many can it hold-up? That’s a rhetorical question. On the purely DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION side: Digital delivery rose 27% in the first quarter of 2010 from the year-ago quarter, growing to $617 million. 60% of adult Americans have Broadband but the FCC is committed to getting into every home while Verizon and Google are also are in progress on plans to provide faster connectivity and greater bandwidth to American homes. (see our Twitter Distribution TidBits for regular stats like these).

I wanted to remind you of the SXSW INTERACTIVE section. There were so many good panels and I covered some topics in the last blog but here’s a link so you can peruse yourself. I also caution ever relying on information from any one source or panel and in fact that is what today’s blog is all about. We encourage one to contextualize information. Filmmakers benefit from guidance on how to evaluate VOD vs Broadband opportunities and timing (and distribution options); VOD branded channels such as IFC vs going through non-branded aggregators to get to the Cable MSOs and TVN vs. building their own brands and platforms. These are questions of direct revenues (when one can even go direct) and garnering audiences and transactions, input vs output.

More to consider: MGs vs better back-end — and — how many layers of people handling sales are advisable? Is it the same for every film? When is it best to just go with one big deal vs when it’s best to split rights as much as possible? It is critical to know how to identify rights and classes when it comes to revenue terms and best distribution options? When and why to do Theatrical / Hybrid-Theatrical? And how to resolve timing of Theatrical and VOD and all windowing. To window, or not to window? With all the new online platforms, and expanding VOD and mobile distribution, and also now the intersection with PCs (e.g. iPad) there’s a lot to keep track of and decide on.

What about the festivals’ distribution offerings now thanks courtesy of Sundance and TriBeCa and others sure to follow…and of course the SXSW films on IFC etc. How to vet those opportunities or even get them. Do more DIY oriented digital platforms generate revenue? How much are filmmakers generating on their own sites, converting their own sites into platforms? Should you have an iPhone or iPad App for your film? The Film Collaborative will, but should each film individually? We touch more on mobile below. How to conceive of the best marketing plan for one’s dollar? How much can one rely on social networking and how best to work it? When is piracy good marketing vs. cannibalistic?

I won’t be answering all this today in this blog post but we will be covering all this and then some in blogs to come and also in our upcoming case-studies. Not all films are alike and it concerns me to see filmmakers reading books or attending panels and applying what they hear to their film when it may not be remotely applicable. Case in point: a documentary about a popular topic that can be serialized has different options than a narrative feature with no cast. A narrative feature with name cast has different options than a feature length documentary about a relatively obscure topic. We’ll cover the above one topic at a time as we continue to blog and post our Distribution TidBits on Twitter, Facebook and beyond. Of course if you have any questions before we get to the topics at hand, please feel free to contact us any time.

EXIT THROUGH A GIFT SHOP: DIY vs. MG / TRADITIONAL DISTRIBUTION: It interests me greatly that Exit Through A Gift Shop chose to not accept big offers by anyone’s standards and go the DIY route. Hiring good people to do the theatrical and marketing and of course John Sloss does not need help on the digital side. All this makes perfect sense because they are getting as close to the revenue as possible (CRM is at least) and they have a film that has built in marketing potential, plus Sundance buzz and of course a cult following and money to support the release. They, like anyone are dealing with Internet piracy (Torrents, YouTube) but that we believe is good marketing to some extent and in any case, cannot be avoided completely.

 “There are currently 39,000 movie screens in the U.S., of which 8,700 are equipped for digital projection so theatrical gets cheaper and more accessible, as more theatres are booking with filmmakers directly as well (AMC announced its indie initiative; and Quad in NY announced its, and of course there are many more). And of course now YOU TUBE is offering its new self-service rental plan will be the first opportunity YouTube users have to make money off of their content though it remains to be seen how many users (who is considered an “industry professional” and how well the content finds its audience and vice versa.

We cover YouTube on our Digital Distribution Guide and in past blogs etc and we’re curious to see if it can ever become a competitive platform to the leading revenue generators (Cable VOD / MSOs, iTunes, Netflix, Amazon VOD — usually in that order, and sometimes though so far rarely, Hulu (and time will likely change that one way or another). (Note: The Hulu-will-charge-you-money rumor is back and not going away and making many angry and accusing Hulu of greed. More on Hulu a tad further below).

But back to YOU TUBE — keep in mind: YouTube is the SECOND LARGEST search engine in the world with 100MM videos. YouTube streams/day is over 1.2 billion/day worldwide. Almost a day’s worth of video is uploaded to YouTube each minute. Every 2 hours, more video minutes are uploaded to YouTube than those broadcast across the big three networks since the dawn of television (1948). YouTube’s rental store now has hundreds of videos. We await the growth in revenue to filmmakers.

ON THE MARKETING SIDE TO HELP SUPPORT A YOU TUBE RENTAL MODEL and OTHER DIY DIRECT DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION: Social Networking developments: Facebook as of March 13 enjoyed more US traffic than Google (as of February they claimed 400,000,000 users; 50% of which log on any given day). 4 out of 5 Internet users visit a social networking site on a monthly basis with Facebook having over 400 million users Twitter has 105,779,710 users. 300,000 new users sign up per day and approximately 60% are from outside the U.S. Twitter receives 180 million unique visitors per month. 75% of Twitter traffic comes from third-party applications. 60% of all tweets come from third-party Apps. There are 600 million search queries on Twitter per day. Studios and corporate brands are using Twitter as a way to infer and define trends and popular interest, BUT, can relying on it to market be reliable enough? We’re doing case studies and would love feedback if you, gentle reader, have any.

RE: FACEBOOK as the POTENTIAL NEW INTERNET & POTENTIAL PENDING MOBILE OPERATING SYSTEM (OS): From Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and cofounder of HDNet (and also owner of Magnolia& Magnet (the distribution companies) and Landmark Cinemas (leading art house theatre chain) asks the question if Facebook is the new Internet and if Microsoft will soon try to buy it: “Facebook is now where we kill time at work, on our mobile devices or while at home with the TV on.

Everything that the net was 5 or more years ago, Facebook is today…Slowly but surely they are extending their tentacles into traditional websites, mobile apps (android/iPhone/iPad) and soon your HDTV. It started with Facebook Connect. It extended with search from inside the Facebook Platform. Now they are accelerating their extensions through Virtual Currency (a future goldmine as it extends to business), allowing websites to add a Like button with user pictures through a simple widget and much much more. In other words, your favorite website doesn’t know it yet, but Facebook is in the process of annexing it…The only thing FB has not done is create a mobile operating system ala Android/iPhone as a platform for applications.

Why would Facebook create a mobile operating system? For the same reason Google (NSDQ: GOOG) did. For the same reason that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) banned Flash and other meta platforms from the iPhone. The mobile operating system is the ultimate trojan horse for billions of devices. If you can create a mobile operating system that phone manufacturers adopt and that becomes a popular platform for application development, you have hope of controlling your own destiny. If you are just an application on someone else’s operating system and perceived as a threat you can be “Flashed.”

Does Facebook have a choice but to create a mobile operating system? It wont be long, if it hasn’t already happened that Google and Apple will see Facebook as a unique threat to their future. Apple has some level of connection to its customer/users, Google has minimal if any connection to their users. Facebook knows more than all of us like to admit about its users. They have our personal information, our pictures, our friends, our family members, our employers and business associates all in a database and they are extending that information base to what we like on sites outside the Facebook platform. Plus they are creating their own currency.

Just as important is the fact that we are progressively spending more time on Facebook than we are sites and applications that Apple and Google can control. That is a threat to Apple and Google. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is already a shareholder. Already with a mobile and desktop operating system /development platform. Most importantly, already with billions in cash and the capacity to pay 15 or 20 Billion dollars or more to acquire Facebook,” which is what Cuban predicts will happen and how Facebook will then undermine Google and Apple.

BACK TO MORE ON YOU TUBE & HULU… While we wait on seeing if the YOU TUBE rental model has any traction (Sundance films did not fare well)…what if Hulu does initiate a subscription model like Netflix has? According to James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research: “currently online people watch video on 2.6 video devices a week. Young adults aged 18-34 have already expanded that number, watching video on 3.3 devices a week — usually a TV, a PC, a portable device like a phone or an MP3 player or both. We estimate that by 2015 people will watch video on four to five devices each week, including new platforms like netbooks and tablets. That’s a business that Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) has already shown the world you can profit from by effortlessly serving up video on whatever device the consumer happens to be in front of. Hulu wants a piece of that action.

You as a consumer should want Hulu to get in that game so you can download a Hulu widget to your Samsung connected TV, pull up the Hulu experience in your Wii, and, yes, even get a Hulu app on your iPad.” In this multi-platform world, Hulu will necessarily have to offer more control – playlists, bookmarks, TiVo-like search, even auto-assembled recommendations that consider your entire viewing history, not just what you’re viewing right now. This is one of the secrets to Netflix’s success, with its back catalog of Watch Instantly content that you didn’t know you wanted to watch until Netflix identified it for you.” And soon services like this will compete with Cable VOD which is why the MSOs are taking on more content and banding together to market that to consumers.

MOBILE & APPS: This is a quickly growing distribution category and it’s just a matter of a few years at most before the US catches up to Asia in consuming feature content on a mobile device. And now that the PC and the mobile device are merging that trend will catch on even faster. Check out the Open Mobile Media Summit in London May 26 & 27 and we’ll be updating you… TFC is developing its own iPhone and iPad Apps and also works with its Mobile partner Babelgum as well as telecom licensing as part of VOD aggregation. Filmmakers are increasingly creating their own mobile phone Apps which is one way of having a film available through iTunes and of course the Apps can be a platform and a platform driver. 300,000 iPads sold within the first 24-hours they went on sale. Stay tuned.

My parting thoughts: Films are all different so in making decisions about yours try to compare like-to-like… and in evaluating distribution options, consider where the audience is most likely coming from.. to what extent your film can find it and the audience find your film via your various options and above all things, start thinking, researching analyzing and comparing notes BEFORE your first festival showing.

Collaboratively yours,

—Orly Ravid

May 10th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, DIY, Facebook, Film Festivals, Hulu, Long Tail & Glut of Content, Mobile / Wireless, Netflix, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

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