by Dan Habib

Dan Habib is the creator of the award-winning documentary films Including Samuel (2008), Who Cares About Kelsey? (2012), Mr. Connolly Has ALS (2017), and many other films on disability-related topics. Habib’s films have been broadcast nationally on public television, and he does extensive public speaking around the country and internationally. Habib’s upcoming documentary Intelligent Lives (2018) features three pioneering young adults with disabilities who navigate high school, college, and the workforce—and undermine our nation’s sordid history of intelligence testing. The film includes narration from Academy award-winning actor Chris Cooper and is executive produced by Amy Brenneman. Habib, who was a photojournalist from 1988-2008, is a filmmaker at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.

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About 14 years ago, I sat at my son Samuel’s bedside in the ICU as he lay in a medically induced coma. He had developed pneumonia from complications following surgery. Samuel’s neurologist encouraged me to use my skills as a photojournalist in the midst of my fear. “You should document this,” he said. Samuel, who has cerebral palsy, recovered from this emergency, and I took the doctor’s advice. Four years later, I released my first documentary, Including Samuel, which includes a scene from that hospital room. The film aired nationally on public TV in 2009, and we created a DVD with 17 language translations.

Along with the film’s launch, I started discussing my experiences as a parent of a child with a disability at film screenings, which led to a 2013 TEDx talk called Disabling Segregation.

I am now directing/filming/producing my third feature length documentary and am honored that The Film Collaborative asked me to share a few things I’ve learned along the way about DIY fundraising, distribution and outreach.

  1. Diversify your funding streams.
    Although I made Including Samuel on a shoestring while I was still working fulltime as a newspaper photography editor, I’ve been able to raise about $1 million for each of my last two films—a budget which covers my salary and benefits, as well as all production costs. I’ve received essential support from The Fledgling Fund, but the vast majority of my funding comes from sources that don’t typically fund films:
    • NH-based foundations that are interested in supporting the advancement of the issues I cover in my films (disability/mental health/education).
    • National and regional foundations and organizations that focus on tangible outcomes. The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is the lead $200,000 supporter of my current project. MEAF funds efforts to increase the employment rates for young people with disabilities.
    • Each year I typically take on one outside contract (around $75,000) from a non-profit to create a documentary film short (18-25 min.) on specific disability or education issues. These films have focused on areas like the restraint and seclusion of students or inclusive education , and help me meet my overall budget needs.
    • For the last ten years, the most stable source of income has been my speaking fees, which average about $75,000/year and go back into my project budget at UNH. I do about 15 paid speaking gigs per year, and charge $5000 per 24-hours away from home (plus travel expenses). We don’t do any paid advertising—the gigs almost always come from word of mouth (see #5 below).
      dan_chris_cooper
  2. Build buzz from the get-go
    For some docs, secrecy is essential for editorial reasons, or the filmmaker may just prefer to keep it close to the vest. I’ve never gone that route, because I’ve felt a pragmatic need to build up an audience and donor base early in the project. For each of my films, I’ve cut a 10-14 minute ‘preview’ early in the project’s production (about 2 years before completion), which has been critical for fundraising pitches, generating buzz in social media, and for use in my public speaking presentations.On the temporary website for my Intelligent Lives project, the 14-minute preview is accessible only after completing a name/email sign in form (I also have an unlisted YouTube link to share with VIPs and funders). I’m sure some people have been turned off by this, but more than 6000 people have provided their name and email—which will be a huge asset when we launch a crowdfunding campaign in the fall to complete (I hope!) our production fundraising.Facebook has been the most active and successful platform for reaching our largest audience—educators and families—with Twitter a distant second. For the current project, we have plans to dive into Instagram and other platforms more deeply—primarily with video clips. We also see LinkedIn as a platform that can help us achieve one of the outreach goals for the new film—connecting young adults with disabilities with potential employers through virtual career fairs.
  3. Partner up early
    I’ve spent hundreds of hours initiating and developing strong partnerships with national organizations that focus on the issues that my films address. For all three of my documentaries, I’ve held national strategy summits in Washington, DC, to bring together dozens of these National Outreach Partners (NOPs) to help develop a national outreach and engagement campaign to accompany each film (campaigns include I am Norm for Including Samuel and I Care By for Who Cares About Kelsey?) We are currently developing the campaign for the Intelligent Lives film.The NOPs also typically show my docs at their national conferences and blast the word out about key developments in the film’s release (like community screening opportunities). Our relationships with NOPs are reciprocal. We discuss how the films will shine a bright light on their issues; how they can fundraise off of screenings; and how they can use the entire film—or shorter clips that we can provide—to support their advocacy.I plan to continue to explore the vast topic areas of disability and education, and continually build on the partnerships, funders and audiences we have established (while also working hard to make films that are engaging to the general public).
  4. Establish your DIY distribution goals early and stay the course
    When I started work on Who Cares About Kelsey?, my documentary about a high school student with ADHD who had a history of homelessness and family substance abuse, I knew I wasn’t going to try for theatrical release, but instead would focus on broadcast, an educational DVD kit and a national community screening campaign. We presented all of our would-be funders and NOPs with a specific set of outreach strategies for the film’s release that were mostly under our control—not reliant on the buzz and opportunities that would come only by getting into a major film festival. For the Intelligent Lives project, my outreach coordinator Lisa Smithline and I have been working towards a broadcast, festivals, an event theatrical and community screening campaign, VOD, online events and other distribution plans.
  5. Speaking of festivals…do college and conference screenings provide more bang for the buck?
    I submit my films to the major fests (no luck so far), as well as mid-level and smaller film festivals, and we’ve had dozens of FF screenings (including Woodstock, Sedona, Thessaloniki, Cleveland). I always have a blast when I can be there. But I also start booking and promoting major events around the country at national conferences and colleges early in a film’s life. Although I know these events might jeopardize admission to some prominent film festivals, my experience has been that these conferences and university screenings usually have a significant, lasting impact: high volumes of DVD sales, tremendous word-of-mouth and social media upticks, and more invitations to do paid public speaking (see above). We also try to collect names and email addresses from attendees at every event, so our e-blast list (21,000+) has become a powerful outreach tool for all of my docs.
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    click on the above image to watch a video that serves as an example of how one can work with notable people to help further credibility with the target audience.
  6. Jam-pack the educational DVD and website
    In addition to the feature length documentary, I typically create a range of short, freestanding “companion” films that I distribute both on the educational DVD kit and also for free (linked through the film’s website but hosted on YouTube and/or Vimeo). I went a bit overboard for Who Cares About Kelsey?, creating 11 mini-films on related topics. But the benefits were multifold: funders loved (and supported) these free resources, the shorter length (10-14 minutes) made them highly useful educational tools, and the free films bring traffic to the website.I also work with national experts in the topic areas covered in the feature length film and mini-films to develop extensive educational material that is packaged with the educational DVD kit. Combined with reasonable price points ($95-$195, depending on the intended audience), we have generated gross sales in the high six-figures for my last two films combined. We also produce an individual DVD, and have been selling VOD through Amazon (very low revenue compared to DVD sales, but given how much the VOD world has changed since I made “Kelsey,” we are looking at different models of online distribution for Intelligent Lives). We primarily self-distribute these products through the UNH Institute on Disability bookstore, which keeps the profits close to home.
  7. Seek professional help
    I maintain a small field production crew (just me and an audio engineer), but my production and distribution budgets are still tight. So I’m grateful for people like Chris Cooper, Amy Brenneman and the musician Matisyahu who are donating their time and creative talents to my latest project. But there is still plenty of specialized talent I need to hire—whether it’s for editing, music scoring, fundraising, graphic art, website design and outreach consulting. And for Intelligent Lives, I’m planning to work with a distribution consultant and sales agent(s).I look for collaborators who share my values and vision that films can be a catalyst for advancing human rights…but they’ve still got to get paid!Return to strategy #1.

Dan Habib can be contacted at dan.habib@unh.edu, @_danhabib, facebook.com/dan.habib, and on Instagram at danhabibfilms.

June 28th, 2017

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, education, Uncategorized

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By Mark Hiraide, who is a partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP. He defends directors and officers in securities litigation and counsels companies in corporate financing transactions.

The final tremor of a monumental shift in federal securities laws took place in May 2016, and when the shaking stopped, entrepreneurs had gained unprecedented access to capital. For the first time in the history of federal securities regulation in the United States, emerging businesses may raise capital from the general public without registering a securities offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This expansion of the funding universe is the heart and soul of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2012. The JOBS Act removed restrictions making it easier for entrepreneurial clients to fund their ventures using OPM (other people’s money).

The JOBS Act legalized equity crowdfunding, fostered private peer-to-peer lending, created a new regime for regulating “mini-IPOs,” and paved the way for the SEC to create new sources of liquidity for early-stage investors through secondary “venture markets.” The law already has spawned new and innovative financial intermediaries dispensing capital to startup and growing businesses. It has been heralded as “democratizing” access to capital by “disintermediating” Wall Street from the process of selling securities. Many hail the JOBS Act, in particular its provisions for equity crowdfunding, as allowing everyday people to invest in an asset class previously reserved for venture capitalists—crowds of small investors now may directly fund startup businesses that pique their interest. Yet others are skeptical. There is concern that the new regime for raising capital from unsophisticated investors lacks sufficient investor protections.

Prior to the JOBS Act, companies could not publicly solicit any investor unless they registered and subjected the offering to scrutiny by the SEC and/or state securities regulators. The JOBS Act’s elimination of the regulatory burdens on private offerings, and the associated reduction in cost, will make public capital markets attractive to many. No longer will early-stage financing be reserved for those few with the resources to attract and engage Wall Street investment bankers and lawyers. This “uberization” of capital markets will make capital more readily accessible to every budding entrepreneur.

The strict federal securities laws that regulate raising investment capital—well-intentioned in the aftermath of The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression—made the ambition of successfully raising capital for startups unattainable for most people. It relegated entrepreneurs to raising seed capital from friends and family and others with whom the entrepreneur had the requisite relationship.

The term “crowdfunding” generally describes campaigns that accept relatively small amounts of money from large numbers of people. Modern crowdfunding started with campaigns soliciting donations for social causes or new business ventures; in exchange for a donation, individuals typically received a token of appreciation for their donation, a t-shirt, a first opportunity to purchase a product, or a movie-production credit. A stark example of the difference between non-equity and equity crowdfunding is illustrated by the crowdfunding campaign of virtual-reality pioneer Oculus VR. Many of the 9,522 people who contributed to Oculus’s non-equity crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter may have been surprised to learn that they would not share in Oculus’ gains two years later when Facebook announced in March 2014 that it was acquiring Oculus for $2 billion.

Promulgated under Title III of the JOBS Act is the new Regulation CF, commonly known as the “equity crowdfunding” exemption. Effective last May 26, this regulation enables entrepreneurs to raise up to $1 million during any 12-month period from anyone who wants to invest, subject to certain dollar limits on the amount of the individual investment. There is no requirement that the investor be accredited or sophisticated. If the investor’s net worth or income is below $100,000, he or she is subject to an investment cap of the greater of $2,000 or 5 percent of the lesser of the investor’s annual income or net worth. If both net worth and annual income are at least $100,000, the investment cap is 10 percent of the lesser of the investor’s annual income or net worth, not to exceed an amount sold of $100,000. These caps reflect the aggregate amount an investor may invest in all offerings under Regulation CF in a 12-month period across all issuers.

An offering statement is required, which must include general information about the issuer, officers and directors and significant shareholders, the intended use of proceeds, the company’s ownership and capital structure and financial statements for the two most recently completed fiscal years. If the offering amount is greater than $100,000 but less than $500,000, the financial statements must be reviewed by an independent accountant. If the offering amount is greater than $500,000, the financial statements must be audited, unless the company is conducting its first Regulation CF offering, in which case the financial statements need only be reviewed. For offerings less than $100,000, the financial statements need only be certified by the issuer’s principal officer. The offering statement must be filed with the SEC, but it is not reviewed by the agency. Once the offering statement is filed with the SEC, the offering may immediately commence and the company may accept investor subscriptions. The issuer is required to set forth a minimum or target offering amount, and proceeds must be deposited in a third-party escrow account until the minimum is reached.

A significant limitation under Regulation CF is that all offerings must be conducted through a single Internet portal, which must either be registered with the SEC as a broker-dealer or as a new form of regulated entity, a “financing portal.” There are limits to advertising an offering and, given the potential liabilities, consultation with good legal counsel is a must.
In theory, Regulation CF enables anyone to reach out to capital sources and raise seed levels of money. No doubt, without the benefit of professional financial intermediaries, such as investment bankers, entrepreneurs on their own will face challenges raising capital. What the JOBS Act offers, however, is a pathway for companies to access capital previously available only to the most privileged few. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

February 2nd, 2017

Posted In: crowdfunding, Legal, Uncategorized

Sheri Candler is a digital marketing strategist and TFC’s social media advisor.

social_media

The question I hear the most out of filmmakers and others in the film community has to do with social media success. What is the point of posting to social media? What is reasonable to expect out of these daily efforts?

Though much of the guesswork is disappearing from social media when it comes to marketing, most filmmaking teams are not collecting and analyzing their own social media data in order to evaluate what is making an impact, why it is working and what they can stop doing either for the immediate future or stop all together. Without data or feedback on what’s happening on your social channels, you’re in the dark about what is and isn’t working in the day to day and whether your business goals will be successful in the long term.

We’ve never had this much access to information about what your audience is interested in, how they are responding to your work and what other media they are consuming. This data can help you make your work more relevant and interesting to the audience you are trying to reach and to instill stronger loyalty and engagement for the long term—rather than short-term “awareness” building and pushing for sales. Unfortunately, most in the film industry ignore this and prefer to run short term, expensive campaigns meant to build up a large looking following that will be abandoned once the next project comes along. Often what they do on social media does not even accomplish the sales goal, the main reason they are even running an account. What a waste of money and effort!

But how do you know if your social media efforts are working? You won’t if you don’t have a set of goals you are working toward and aren’t measuring the data that indicates whether you are on target to that goal on a weekly and monthly basis. Making data-driven decisions doesn’t replace creativity, but it can provide a direction and a way to know if your creativity is of interest to anyone.

There are many stages that your social media efforts will go through when you are using it to build an audience for your work. I don’t really like to think of social media as a campaign effort because campaigns usually have a beginning and an end, but social media is 24-7-365 for years. It is really a business function that needs to be performed daily; just as sending email, making phone calls and having meetings are part of your daily, professional routine.

One of the first and ongoing goals is growth of your audience, or building a progressively bigger audience for your work. The purpose of setting this as a goal is to help you see how big of an audience you able to reach through social media. The follower number is usually public so it also lets sales agents, distributors, broadcasters and other potential audience know how much impact your film is making through social media.

Building up an authentic following is a slow process and requires patience, but it can be sped up by the use of a steady budget for paid promotion. On a weekly basis, you should be auditing each of your social media accounts to see how much your account has grown and match that to your efforts (how often you are posting, how much money has been spent to grow the audience, how many unfollows your account might experience). In Facebook, you will find this information under the INSIGHTS tab–>Likes. On Twitter, you will find this under the ANALYTICS tab–>Audiences. On Instagram, you will find this on your business profile page>symbol that looks like a bar graph.

To help you keep track, set up a Google Sheet or Excel sheet with columns that show New Followers, Old Followers, Change in Followers (use the Autosum function that subtracts new followers from the old ones), number of posts that week, amount of money spent on any follower growth campaign that you have conducted that week for each of your social media accounts. On another tab, enter in rows for each account (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and columns for each week in the year and fill in information on rate of growth and spend.

The next important goal to track is the Engagement on your accounts. These include Likes (or Reactions), Comments and Shares, and if applicable, video views, of the content you are posting. Twitter metrics would include favorites (hearts), @mentions and retweets. Instagram would include likes and comments. Pinterest will include repins and likes. Most of this information is available through the insights provided for free with your social media account. Some social media platforms have very limited insights, but this can change as more and more businesses demand analytics in order to continue using a platform for marketing. You should do a weekly report of the average number of likes, comments, shares per post your account is achieving and keep track of this on the same sheet as your follower numbers. Ideally, you want to see these numbers to slowly increase over time.

For a sample idea of what your spreadsheet could look like, see this link.

See this post about accessing analytics on the main social media platforms and what each metric means.

Since I post up to 20 times a day on the accounts I run, I do not compile and compute weekly and monthly reports manually because there is too much data to collect, calculate and analyze. I have been using this tool to keep track: https://www.truesocialmetrics.com/ In addition to telling me my Engagement metrics, it also helps guide when my best posting times are, which types of posts are my best and worst so I have guidance on what to continue to do and what needs to be changed, and who my most engaged followers are. For $30 per month, you can track up to 3 different accounts per platform so it is very affordable and this one tool brings in insights from all major social media platforms so I don’t have to visit each one individually in order to compile management reports.

Typically, a publicity firm or social media agency will present their metric reports by leading with impression numbers on social media posts and media hits (for example, on a news story in a publication). These numbers are usually very high and thus, impressive to their client. But be aware, these numbers mainly deal with possibility, not actual success. I think of them largely as “squishy” metrics because they do not show real impact like a comment, a share or a “like” which means that a person actually saw and engaged with your post in some way. An impression number denotes the number of times a post from your account was displayed in the newsfeed of the social media platform, whether it is actually seen by your audience at that time or not. It shows that your content had the possibility of being seen. Reach, on the other, hand speaks to the number of people who actually viewed your content. A reach number is typically smaller than an impression number. Both of these stats provide a sense of how wide your posting is spreading, they just don’t give feedback on whether anyone cares.

Eventually, your goal should be Traffic. Traffic deals with sending your follower to another place on the internet where they will find out how to buy something.

In my work now, one of the biggest goals is traffic to our website. If you are in the distribution phase of your production, you should be tracking traffic too. How do you know if your social media is leading to sales if you aren’t tracking traffic? For most of you, the only kind of traffic you can truly track leads back to your own website because you have access to the analytics on your own site (for example, through Google Analytics). You won’t have access to traffic stats on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or theater websites etc., only the sales reports and those will not show you what tactics are driving your sales. So, it is important to have a mechanism for sales from your website. While there are several cool configurations in Google Analytics that can be set up, those who are not proficient in coding and setting up different tags, triggers, variables may just want to stick with using utm codes. To track traffic back to your website, you will have to use a utm code (universal tag manager) on each link you post to social. It is useless for you to put utm tags on URLs that lead to other websites if you don’t have a way to access their analytics to see traffic stats.

An easy to use one can be found here. In the first field, paste in the URL link you are planning to post. In the next field (labeled Source), name the platform you are posting this link to (your Facebook page, your Twitter account, a link in an email you are sending out etc). In the next field (labeled Medium), name the medium (i.e., social, email, banner ad etc). In the final field (labeled Campaign), put in an identifier for WHO is posting this link. Is this link being posted by the production? Then put in a short name that denotes this (for example, I use tfc for links that lead back to The Film Collaborative website if I am posting these links to The Film Collaborative social media accounts. I use sheri as the campaign name if I am posting links that lead back to The Film Collaborative website on my own social media accounts). If the link is being posted by a third party, such as an organization that has agreed to help promote your film, or the stars of your film who are posting this link on their own accounts, put in an identifying name so that you can differentiate between the traffic generated by the production’s efforts and those by third parties. When looking at Google Analytics, under Acquisition>Campaign you will be able to see what traffic to your website was generated by your social media efforts and what traffic came from each third party (provided that they keep the utm coded link intact, so tell them not to change any link that you send for them to post).

If you are particularly interested in knowing more about the basic functions of Google Analytics for your website, this is a good post to read and mostly still accurate.

You can also glean information about the audience you are reaching through your social media insights. Through Facebook Ad Manager, you can see data based on interests, education levels, job titles and industries, other Facebook pages your audience follows, and the spending habits of your audience. This can help determine what kind of content you should be posting and what keyword parameters to use in paid promotion to help expand on the audience you have started to gather.

By now, all of you should be aware that running accounts on the big social media platforms requires promotional spend. On Facebook, organic (unpaid) reach has plummeted to a meager 6%, meaning that for every 100 followers you have, only 6 of them are going to see your content. Also there are more than 3 million links shared every hour on Facebook so the chances of your followers seeing most of your posts in their newsfeed are very low. To make sure you are both growing your targeted audience base and reaching that audience with your updates, it will be important to spend on promoted posts. Since Facebook also owns Instagram, the same advice holds. If you aren’t using the paid promotion tools on Twitter, chances are great that your tweets will be lost in the stream and your following will grow very slowly.

Does this mean you can’t get any organic lift on your posts? No, that is possible on occasion, especially if one of your post gets a lot of shares, but if you are seeking to make an impact on a continued basis, you will have to pay to make sure your posts are reaching your followers in their newsfeed.

In a future post, I will cover the latest developments on the major social media platforms over the last year and what changes are coming soon. I will also discuss what platforms are useful for reaching certain audiences and the kind of content that should be optimized for success on the major platforms.

January 12th, 2017

Posted In: Uncategorized

TFC commissioned this guest blog post by casting director Matthew Lessall, CSA because casting decisions have a big influence on distribution… and that we have never covered the subject before…

Matthew Lessall, CSA is a freelance casting director with credits that include the 2015 Cannes award winning film for best screenplay, “Chronic” (starring Time Roth) and the 2016 film “Miss Stevens” (starring SXSW best actress winner, Lily Rabe). Matthew is Co-President of the Casting Society of America. He is in the final stages of his “how-to guide”: “HOW TO CAST LOW BUDGET INDEPENDENT FILM – A guide for first time producers, directors and film makers.”

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THE CASTING PROCESS

I think what is so unique about what I do, is that every film is different. The bones of what I do, how I do it, the pace, timing, knowledge, it is all part of the experiences I have had on previous work – but every job is different with different circumstances. Saying all of that, there are basic “actions” to tackle when casting.

Being ready to start can mean so many different things, but for the sake of pairing down what I do to basics, let’s assume that a film has a producer, line producer, attorney and director attached. Financing is in place (or at least some of it) and its now time to talk about casting. This is when I come on board.

The most important thing in my mind is that I have a firm grasp on story, characters, plot, tone and a mutual understanding about the direction the film makers want to take the film in. My number one casting philosophy is, “Everyone must be in the same film.” Meaning that all of the actors cast must feel like they are part of this universe being created. But possibly more importantly is that the crew needs to be on the same page. If the producer and director are not communicating well, if the costume designer or set designer, lighting, if everyone is not “on point” then you are going to have troubles.

From the start, what I do is flesh out who could be in the roles of the film. I create lists. I sit down and spend hours on each role trying to think about actors, the obvious ones who are box office draws, to the ones I have seen in theatre or film festivals, or met on a general a year or often years before. What I do is what I like to call, “casting director stalking,” following the careers (or the lack there of – because sometimes that’s where the gems are found) and cobble together the potential of what could make a great cast. This all takes time, because anyone can go on IMDBPro and make a list of actors, but a talented casting director gets into the mind of the writer, thinks about what an actor whom nobody else is thinking of could bring to a film and fights for those actors to illuminate the story in ways not thought of before. This concept may seem to contradict the, “everyone must be in the same film” philosophy, but if done correctly (it’s an art by the way—watch the HBO doc ‘Casting By’ and you will see what I mean) the casting process should elevate the script, enlighten the story, enhance the possibilities, and illuminate where there was no shine.

You have to remember we are talking about actors. Actors, the best ones, are artists, they are practicing a craft. When you watch great acting, you should feel transported. Your very state of being should be “out of body” you should not feel like you are watching, you should just be feeling. I know it sounds hippy-dippy, but that’s what I think I try to bring (under the best circumstances) to the job. I don’t hit it out of the park every time, it doesn’t always happen, but it was I strive to do – when I am given the freedom to do so.

Now that you have my philosophy, the basics are, I read the script, write a breakdown of all of the roles, write my own version of a synopses and log line (see if it matches what the writer has written) and then I consult with the director and producer. I bring the lists, I show my ideas, I send links of actors. I send the breakdown out to agents. I call the agents who I work with, I get the film covered by the agents. I think about who at every top agency has someone who may be right for the film. I discuss the budget with the agents so they know what the deals would look like. In general, I would say any film under $5 million dollars, the representatives have a good idea of what the standard fees and offers are going to look like. I then talk to my team and we start to figure out who we would make a direct offer to, who they would want to meet and I start auditions to introduce the director to actors and to give actors who want the chance to be seen (whom I think could be right for the role), a shot in front of the director.

Auditions are where a lot of creative work is done. It is often the first time the director has heard the words spoken out loud. It gives me a chance to see how the actors are responding to the script and to the director. And it shows me how the director communicates with the actors. I could write more on this topic, because this is a big deal: how the Director communicates – it can sometimes sabotage the casting process. But assuming everything is running smoothly, auditions are also where the characters as written can change from male to female, Caucasian to Latino, where can we see different types of actors who truly populate the world we are creating and/or reflect the world we live in.

I call the agents, set up the offers and deal points and confirm everything in writing, copy the production attorney and wait for an actor to accept the role. Once that happens, there is additional negotiation and additional deal points that need to be hammered out. Depending on various situations, I will do this work or the production attorney will take on closing the deal.

In general, anyone that is considered a scale player with no back-end or a day player, I will close that deal. Once a deal is closed, all of the paperwork is sent to production and they handle travel, housing, call times, etc…

ATTRACTING “NAME” TELENT AND HOW THIS EFFECTS DISTRIBUTION (AND CASTING GODS)

Many times I am asked to try to get a name actor into a film. This mostly has to do with the foreign distributors, because they feel more comfortable selling a film that has someone in it that they recognize. Every distributor is different, they all have different ideas and lists of who means something for their specific territory. In general, my rule is, if my Mother knows who the actor is then the distributor will be happy. It’s that simple and that lame all at the same time.

One thing I have seen time after time is that the more known names you have in your film the better chance you will have with distribution—this is true. This does not always correlate to creating a beautiful film. My second philosophy on casting is this: “Cast the best actor for the role.” You will always be happier doing this, it may mean more work from your producer or sales team to get the film in front of a distributor, but the film will be better for it and at the end of the day, that is what you want right? Not to sell out your integrity as a film maker? But so many do sell out—please travel to AFM, EMF or the Marche—where you will see film titles that make you wonder, “how is that film watchable?”

If you don’t have a ton of money to spend on an actor, then you better have a combination of the following to attract A-list talent: A director with an excellent festival history or some cool quotient like directing A-list music artists in music videos, or winning an Academy Award for a short film, or a writer/director with a script that wins a prestigious awards, like the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. A producer who has a great track record. An attorney who has worked on award winning low budget independent film. You should be able to show how amazing your cinematographer is. The vision of the film should be clear and presented in a look-book, on a website, with examples of how the film is to look. Any crew members with distinguished credits on their resume should be highlighted and touted. If you have an actor attached, who is that actor? Is your director or writer or producer represented by a major agency or manager – this can help a lot.

Try to remember that your film is not the only film that is being cast. You are competing with hundreds of films, television shows, theatre – all of them are trying to get the same 10 actors into their shows and getting an actor to read your script even with an offer (let alone getting the agent to read it) takes time. And if the casting situation is time sensitive, then you must have some combination of the above…or faith in your Casting Director to make a miracle happen.

As an example, last year, I cast a film called A POSTHUMOUS WOMAN. It was shot in Northern California and the budget for the film was under an Ultra-Low Agreement. I loved the script, and we had a well known, successful independent producer with known festival award winning credits to back up the film with a co-director/writing team that had never directed a feature film before. But the script was great, and Lena Olin’s manager liked it, so we made an offer to Lena Olin for the lead role. It took six months from the moment I offered her the role to the time she accepted the role. The only reason she even read the script is that her husband picked it up and read it randomly and told her that this was a role she had to play. I had faith that this material was going to connect with Lena Olin – I just prayed to the Casting Gods to make a miracle happen. And by the way, these are the only Gods I believe in, because let me tell you, they have come through multiple times in my career!

#iknowisoundcrazy – but it’s the truth.

There is a deep faith your casting director must have in the material in order to punch through getting A-list talent onto a low budget film. There is strategic consideration, strategic phone calls, placement of how to pitch the team, I try to make the film the coolest project ever – things like that that go into getting that talent to say yes and into getting the best cast possible.

SOME CASTING DOS & DON’TS

Do research who you want to cast your film. Look at films that you love, films that you think are similar to the one you are making and find out who cast that film. Reach out to that casting director and see if there is interest from them to cast the film. Just like actors, some casting directors will meet with you without an offer, some won’t.

Do trust your casting director: they are usually the ones who won’t bullshit you or sugar coat things. They are the ones who want this cast well too – it’s their name in the main titles – so it is in their best interest to make the best film possible.

Do have a strong opinion about actors. Know actors! If you don’t know actors, don’t poo-poo suggestions because they are not “The Ryans” (Gosling, Reynolds, Phillippe). If Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Rachel McAdams are on your list, you should probably have a back-up.

Do have a strong vision for your film. Answers like “yes” and “no” help us a lot. Casting Directors can work with “yes” and “no”, wishy-washy, not specific answers are not good. My high school acting teacher said it best, “God is in the details!”

Don’t show up late to auditions.

Don’t text during auditions. Pay attention to the actors!

Don’t ever ask how old an actor is while in the audition. You will be breaking State and Federal employment laws. Anything that you need that is personal background information on actors can be found out after the audition via the Casting Director speaking with the actor’s rep. And if you want to get to know an actor more, take them out to coffee after the audition to find out if this is the person you want to spend the next 3,4,5,6 weeks with.

IN CONCLUSION

Casting is about taste. It’s about knowing actors. It’s about connecting the written word to the spoken word by having a deep and meaningful understanding of the acting process and actors. Casting is about relationships. The relationships built with actors, agents, managers, producers, directors, etc… Casting well is about trusting in the process. Successful casting is not done in a vacuum. It takes a leader, a strong director with a vision, a producer who can execute that vision and great communication between all. Most of all, it should be the most rewarding part of the film making process.

April 9th, 2016

Posted In: Uncategorized

This post is part 4 of an ongoing series of posts chronicling how rapid technological change is impacting the exhibition side of independent film, and how this affects filmmakers and their post-production and delivery choices. The prior three can be found at the following links: January 2013August 2013October 2014

DCPs can be proprietary hard drives. Alternatively (not shown), then can look virtually identical to external hard drives

When I started this series back in 2013, a fairly new exhibition format called DCP was starting to significantly impact independent exhibition and distribution, and I was very afraid. I was sure that the higher costs associated with production, the higher encryption threshold, and the higher cost of shipping would significantly impact the independents, and heavily favor the studios.

Flash forward to today, and of course DCP has taken over the world. And thankfully we independents are still here. Don’t get me wrong…I still kinda hate DCP…especially for the increased shipping price and their often bulky complicated cases and how they are so easily confused with other kinds of hard drives…but they are a fact of life that we can adapt to. Prices for initial DCP creation have dropped to more manageable rates in the last two years, and creating additional DCPs off the master are downright cheap. And most importantly, they don’t fail nearly as often as they used to…apparently the technology and our understanding of it has improved to the point where the DCP fail rate is relatively similar to every other format we’ve ever used.

While DCPs rule on the elite level….at all top festivals and all major theatrical chains…filmmakers still need to recognize that a wide array of other formats are being requested by venues and distributors every day. Those include BluRays, ProRes Files on Portable Hard Drives, and, most significantly, more and more requests for downloadable files from the cloud.

To track the evolution of formats over the last two years, please refer to the booking charts of Film Collaborative films below. Of the many things that The Film Collaborative does, one of our core services is booking our clients’ films in public venues all over the world – including everything from film festivals, traditional theatrical venues, universities, art galleries, etc. October is always the busiest month of the year…as it is the month of the year with the most film festivals. By comparing the last three Octobers, we can see quite clearly how venue deliverables have changed over the last two years.

Quick observations of the above include:

  • Bluray use for exhibition has remained relatively constant over the last three years in terms of total Blurays used, although its percentage rate has declined by about 23% from last year.
  • DCP use for exhibition has increased from 6.1 percent in 2013 to 31% in 2014 to 39% in 2015. It should be noted that the vast majority of high-end bookings such as top festivals or top theatrical chains require DCP now, and the vast majority of Bluray bookings are at the smaller venues.
  • Digital tape formats, such as HDCAM and Digibeta, have entirely disappeared to 0. As we said in our last post to this effect….stop making these entirely!
  • Requests for Quicktime files on hard drive format are on the rise…and the only reason their numbers above seem so low is because we resist booking them whenever we can—because they are an additional cost. So the 8 listed for October 2015 means in those cases we determined we had no other choice. We should discuss this further in this post.
  • For the first year ever, our company is now offering downloadable vimeo links to festivals to show the film from electronic files delivered over the internet. This is a radical direction that has much to be discussed, and we shall do so later in this post. To date we are only offering these in extraordinary situations….mostly for emergency purposes.

While DCP is certainly the dominant format at major venues for now and the foreseeable future, I still maintain my caution in advising filmmakers to make them before they are needed. Nowadays, I hear filmmakers talk about making their DCP master as part of their post process, well before they actually know how their film will be received by programmers and venue bookers. Lets face it, a lot of films, even a lot of TFC member films, never play major festivals or theatrical venues, and their real life is on digital platforms. Remember that DCP is a theatrical format, so if your film is never going to have life in theatrical venues, you do not need to spend the money on a DCP.

If and when you do make your DCP(s), know that DCPs still do on occasion fail. Sometimes you send it and the drive gets inexplicably wiped in transit. Sometimes there is a problem with the ingest equipment in the venue, which you can’t control. Film festivals in particular know this the hard way….even just a year ago DCP failure was happening all the time. A lot (most) festivals got spooked, so now they ask for a DCP plus a Bluray backup. That can be a significant problem for distributors such as TFC, since it can mean multiple shipments per booking which is expensive and time-consuming. However for individual filmmakers this should be quite do-able….just make a Bluray and a DVD for each DCP and stick them in the DCP case so they travel with the drive (yes I know they will probably eventually get separated…sigh). And the Golden Rule remains….that is never ever ever travel to a festival without at least a Bluray and a DVD backup on your person. It never ceases to amaze me how many (most) filmmakers will fly to a foreign country for a big screening of their film and simply trust that their film safely arrived and has been tech checked and ready to go. If your DCP fails at a screening that you are not at…well that sucks but you’ll live. If you travel to present your film at a festival and you are standing in a crowded theater and your film doesn’t play and everyone has to go home disappointed, that, in fact, is a disaster.

As mentioned previously, more and more venues that cannot afford to upgrade to DCP projection are choosing to ask for films to be delivered as an Apple ProRes 422 HQ on a hard drive. Since this is not a traditional exhibition format, a lot of filmmakers do not think they need to have this ready and are caught unawares when a venue cannot or will not accept anything else. At The Film Collaborative, we keep a hard drive of each of our films ready to go at our lab…as mentioned we do not prefer to use them because of the extra shipping cost (DCPs are trafficked from festival to festival so at no shipping cost to us, while hard drives are not used often enough to keep them moving like this). However we do find we often need them in a pinch. So do keep one handy and ready to go out. This should not be a big deal for filmmakers, since the Apple ProRes 422 HQ spec is the most important format you’ll need for nearly all types of distribution deliveries, whether it be to distributors or digital aggregators or direct to digital platforms. So, if you plan to have any kind of distribution at all, this is a format you are almost certainly going to need. Make a couple to be safe.

Is the Future in the Cloud?

As I have touched on before, the Holy Grail of independent film distribution would seem to live in the cloud, wherein we could leave physical distribution formats behind and simply make our films available electronically via the internet anywhere in the world. This would change the economics of independent film radically, if we could take the P out of Prints & Advertising and save dramatically on both format creation and format shipping. Unfortunately today’s reality is far more complicated, and is not certain to change any time soon.

I can’t begin to tell you how often…nearly every day…small festivals looking to save on time and shipping will ask me if I can send them the film via Dropbox or WeTransfer or the like. The simple answer is no, not really. So every time they ask me, I ask them back…exactly how do you think I can do that? What spec do you need? What is the exact way you think this can work? And they invariably answer back…“We don’t know…we just hoped you’d be able to.” It is utterly maddening.

Here’s the tech-heavy problem. Anyone can get a professional-sized Dropbox these days…ours is over 5,100 gigs (short for Gigabytes, or GB) and an average 90 minute Apple ProRes 422 HQ is around 150 gigs…so that doesn’t seem like a problem. Clearly our Dropbox can fit multiple films.

The current problem is in the upload/download speed. At current upload speeds, a Apple ProRes 422 HQ is going to take several days to upload, with the computer processing the upload uninterrupted all the time (running day and night). Even this upload time doesn’t seem too daunting, after all you could just upload a film once and then it would be available to download by sending your Dropbox info. However, the real problem is the download…that will also take more than a day on the download side (running day and night) and I have yet to ever come across a festival or venue even close to sophisticated enough to handle this. Not even close. Think of the computing power at current speeds that one would need to handle the many films at each festival that this would require. And to be clear, I am told that WeTransfer is even slower.

To make this (hopefully) a little clearer…I would point out four major specs that one might consider for digital delivery for exhibition.

  1. Uncompressed Quicktime File (90 mins). This would be approx. 500 gigs. Given the upload/download math I’ve given you above, you can see why 500 gigs is a non-starter.
  2. Apple ProRes 422 HQ (90 mins). Approx 150 gigs. Problematic uploaded/download math given above. Doesn’t seem currently viable with today’s technology.
  3. HD Vimeo File made available to download (90 mins). Approx 1.5 – 3 gigs. This format is entirely doable—and we now make all our films available this way if needed. This format looks essentially the same as Bluray on an HD TV, but not as good when projected onto a large screen. This can be instantaneously emailed to venues and they can quickly download and play from a laptop or thumb-drive or even make a disc-based format relatively inexpensively. However, there are two major problems…a) most professional venues that value excellent presentation values and have large screens find this to be sub-par projection quality and b) this is a file that is incredibly easy to pirate and make available online. For these reasons, we currently use these only for emergency purposes…when we get last minute word that a package hasn’t arrived or an exhibition format has failed. It is quite a shame…because this is incredibly easy to do, so if we could find the right balance of quality and security…we would be on this in a heart-beat.
  4. Blu-Ray-Quality File (Made available via Dropbox)(90 mins). This spec would be just around the same quality as a Bluray (which is quality-wise good enough for nearly all venues) and made available via Dropbox or the like. It is estimated that this file would be around 22 – 25 gigs. This would be slow, but potentially doable according to our current upload/download calculations. This is the spec we at TFC are currently looking at…but to be clear we have NOT ever done this yet. Right now it is our pipe dream…and our plan to implement in 2016. I will follow up on this in further posts!

To conclude, where we stand now, we have yet to find a spec that is reasonably made available to venues via the internet, both in terms of quality and safety protocols…but a girl can dream.

It is critical to note that the folks I am talking to recently are saying this may NOT change in the foreseeable future…because internet speeds worldwide might need to quintuple (or so) in speed to make this a more feasible proposition. Nobody that I know is necessarily projecting this right now. And that’s a sobering prospect that might leave us with physical deliverables for quite a while now. And for now, that would be the DCP with Bluray back-up. If this changes, you can be sure we will write about it here.

But hey, maybe that Quantum Computer I’ve heard about will sudden manifest itself? Gosh, that would be cool. In the meantime…how about a long-range battery that runs an affordable electric car and is easy to recharge? That would be super cool too. We can save the world and independent film at the same time.

In the meantime…if you think I am missing the point on any of the nerdy details included in this post, or you know anything about how digital delivery of exhibition materials that I might have missed, please email me. Trust me….we want to hear from you!

November 24th, 2015

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical, Uncategorized

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

After reading this article from the New York Times regarding a change in their film review policy, TFC staff would like to offer their take on the decision and whether it will affect many independent films.

Bryan Glick (Film Submissions & Theatrical Support):

Last year the New York Times reviewed over 900 movies! While the announcement did not say how many films they will/won’t review, it’s reasonable to assume that this will work to deter some of the gluttony of Oscar Qualifying Docs and what otherwise would be straight to digital genre fare.

These films rarely get positive reviews anyway and I would argue there are better ways for them to generate exposure.

The business most impacted by this are companies like Cinemaflix (Formerly Quadflix) that have been profiting immensely from Oscar Qualifying runs, in part, by guaranteeing a NYT review.

Because of the major advertising $$ the NYT still will review the majority of films opening and certainly just about anything from the top festivals.”

Sheri Candler (Social Network & Digital Marketing Advisor) :

I think this has been in the works for a while, starting with this Manohla Dargis Times article in 2014  There ARE too many films being made with no thought to who is going to know about them or view them.

Does a Times review, on its own, help a film’s financial success all that much? Probably not. A good review probably did help with getting other cinema bookings, though. It is also something the industry read and measured the worth of a film by, even if consumer interest in watching independent films in the cinema is waning.

Newspapers themselves are in a waning industry and staff cuts, especially in arts criticism, are inevitable…so I can understand that is just impossible for every film playing in a New York cinema to get a written review from a dwindling newspaper staff.

Ultimately, I believe people go to see a film based on what their friends and colleagues recommend, so it is time to consider how to reach a passionate audience directly, without having to rely on media entities to reach them for you. Word of mouth has always been stronger than a critic’s voice, so concentrate on making something that excites rather than mourning that a New York Times critic won’t help you.”

David Averbach (Creative Director and Director of Digital Distribution Initiatives):

These reviews have always served a dual purpose. On the one hand, they inform New Yorkers as to what is going on in the city in any given week. On the other hand, they are an arbiter of taste that will, for better or worse, live on in digital archives until the end of time.

It’s hard to imagine, however, that the New York Times would divest its influence in either of these arenas, which is why I think that for films that have something to say, things will probably stay the same.

If we see some attrition in the number of films released theatrically because of this, perhaps the NY Times will still be able to remain completely current while at the same time cutting the corners it needs to cut.

Jeffrey Winter (Co-Executive Director):

“Since last week, I’ve already had an actual experience regarding this.

On Thursday (the day the article was published), I met with members who were raising money for the standard DIY four-wall in NYC/LA and who were counting on a NY Times review to help the digital. Then I got home and found that article and showed it to them. They immediately decided they didn’t want to raise the money if they couldn’t get a NY Times review.

Of course we all know that these NYTimes reviews can’t make enough of a difference to make their digital work, but filmmakers have a hard time hearing that absolutely nothing is going to make their digital work because their film is too mediocre that nothing will make it stand out.

So I think this will discourage the admittedly tired DIY standard, and theaters that have come to rely on that revenue will lose some business.

But I agree with the New York Times’ decision. Most of those film had no business being in the NY Times anyway.”

Orly Ravid (Founder and Co-Executive Director):

“On the one hand, this suggests what we already know, which is that media and information dissemination and influence is increasingly decentralized, giving more voice to non-traditional speakers.

But, on the other hand, this puts a lot of pressure on one’s ability to captivate people without a centralized or very widely consumed platform.

A great New York Times review still makes a difference in ticket sales and digital distribution success (DVD, too, of course, for now). It also helps get financing. It’s a stamp of approval—it’s good for ego, yours and your investors’.

Will that ever change?

Only if the folks not relying on NYT because they cannot actually manage to influence audiences en masse some other way. There’s still the issue of stamp of approval—I think many in the industry and many audiences still want to rely on known critics—but it’s true that many of us see a film because someone we know personally and trust told us to.”

The times they are a-changin’.

May 27th, 2015

Posted In: Uncategorized

As 2014 draws to a close TFC reflects on five (5) film distribution lessons from 2014 in anticipation of our 5th Anniversary at Sundance 2015.

1) DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY POSITIVELY IMPACTING FESTIVAL & OTHER PUBLIC EXHIBITION DISTRIBUTION BY REDUCING COST AND HEADACHE:

As we have seen every year for several years now, we are experiencing additional technological revolution that will change our business forever. In 2014, we said adieu to the preview DVD (for festivals, distributors, exhibitors, press etc.) in favor of the online screener link. We said goodbye to the HDCAM and the final nail in the coffin of the Digibeta. We struggled with the problems of the DCP and all its imperfections and inevitability (at least for a few more years). And we are RIGHT ON THE VERGE of the greatest evolution we will experience in recent years, which will be full delivery of films for exhibition via the Internet…whether it turns out to be Vimeo or Drop Box or iCloud or other. If we can remove the SHIPPING part of the independent film business, filmmaker (and distributor) profits may greatly increase without that part of the equation. We are almost there now…

2) THE HARD-TO-ACCEPT REALITY OF MARKETING SMALL FILMS:

As much as all of us at TFC have talked about the need to identify and target niche audiences, the ones who would be the most interested and excited to see a project because it speaks to a belief or lifestyle or cause, most indie filmmakers still aren’t heeding this advice. Of the consultations I had this year, most were with filmmakers who made micro-budget dramas with no notable names and were without prestigious festival accolades. They still believed a distributor would be willing to take on their project and give it a full release. Even those who realized this wasn’t going to happen found the financial burden associated with the kind of release they envisioned too difficult to bear, especially because they were likely to never see that money again (hence why distributors weren’t willing to take on the burden).

If you’re going to work small, you need to think small, but deep. You NEED a small, but highly passionate audience that you can reach given the resources and assets you have. Their enthusiasm will help you if you can harness their attention early on. I won’t say this is easy, but before you embark on a project that could take thousands of dollars and years of your life, first think about how you will approach the audience for your work and how you will maintain it on a consistent basis. If you think someone else is going to take care of that for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.

If you think someone else is going to [attract and maintain a niche audience] for you, you haven’t been paying attention to the shifts in the indie film marketplace.

3) WHEN BROADCASTERS WANT STREAMING RIGHTS – WHAT TO DO?:

Increasingly, broadcasters are seeking streaming rights along with traditional TV broadcast rights and they have holdbacks on streaming and SVOD at a minimum, and often on transactional digital (DTO/DTR) too. For sure they limit / prohibit cable VOD. As a filmmaker, you only have leverage to demand a higher licensing fee if your film is a hot commodity. Otherwise, while online (or in-app) streaming will possibly gut your transactional VOD sales, you can’t beat the reach a broadcaster can give to your film. Think very hard about turning down a broadcast deal that includes online streaming. Will your iTunes/Amazon/Google Play sales really be so much if very few people have heard of your film? iTunes and Amazon are not going to promote your film like a broadcaster would.

Then again, which broadcaster is it? How big is its reach? How much publicity and marketing will you get? How much digital distribution are you barred from and for how long? Not all types of films make the same money on all types of platforms so does your film demand-to-be-owned? or is a renter, at best. Not all platforms will even accept all films (e.g. all Cable VOD, Sony Playstation, Netflix). Is yours one that will digitally succeed broadly or narrowly, or at all? Will Netflix pay 6-figures like in the good ole days or a lot less, or anything? Do you have a direct-to-fan distribution strategy that you can employ in tandem so as to not need to rely on other digital platforms in the first place?

Or if you want to try it all, still, your strategy would privilege the direct sales anyway. Which is better for your goals, a film that gets national broadcast airings or a film that turns down that opportunity only to be buried in the iTunes store? Or would it not be buried? Only you can answer this as not everyone’s goals are the same and not everyone’s opportunities / potentials are the same. As we have always said, knowing your film’s ACTUAL potential and combining that with your HIERARCHY OF GOALS will help you answer these questions and decide your distribution strategy.

And while it may feel like you are giving up revenue by allowing your film to be streamed (hopefully for a limited time!) through a broadcaster’s portal, you may find this is a good career move for your next feature because people will be familiar with your work having had the opportunity to see it.

4) THE HEAVY BURDEN OF THE NARRATIVE WITH NO NAMES:

Several of us opined about the challenges facing narratives with no names.

The emerging mega strength of incredible television series available everywhere threatens narrative film even more than before, and of course, especially the smaller indie fare.

We have seen time and again how narrative dramas or comedies almost always fall flat in sales unless they have very strong names and not just C-list or B-list names. Of course there are exceptions to this rule and Sundance can be part of that, or a hot director, or simply just an exceptional break out film. But too many filmmakers look to those as the model when they are the anomaly. The pattern we, at TFC, see repeated too often is the making of a decent or good but not exceptional narrative with names that are okay but not great and then wasting time trying to make a big or even medium sale. It just does not happen. Money and time are lost and careers often not made. Again, there are exceptions, and of course certain niches such as LGBT may be one of them, but we advise discerning between passionate optimism and sheer folly.

5) TRANSPARENCY—The Kale of Film Distribution:

The big takeaway from 2014 about TRANSPARENCY is that, on the one hand, it has become a sort of new, hip standard—something cool and good, like eating kale—that more honest distributors practice and/or shadier ones pretend to because it’s more expected. On the other hand, however, we were surprised at how many filmmakers still resist it—resist sharing their data, even anonymously. And to that, all we can ask is, what are you afraid of? It’s meant to be good for the filmmaking community as a whole but maybe individually folks are scared about what the truth will bring. And some folks just want to eat bacon. We get it. Still, we encourage sharing the real data for the greater good and we will keep on working to inspire and facilitate more TRANSPARENCY.

We at TFC wish you and yours a delightful new year and we are looking forward to being even more of service to filmmakers in 2015!

December 29th, 2014

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

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

Ed note: TFC colleague Bryan Glick will spend these 2 weeks taking a look at how officially selected films have performed in release since their premieres at the major Spring film festivals SXSW, Tribeca and Cannes 2013. In this first post, he cover the documentaries.

Spring Film Festival collage

TRIBECA IS RULED BY DOCUMENTARIES

The three highest grossing films and 7 of the top 10 grossing films from last year’s Tribeca were documentaries. As you follow the list of films, it should become clear how important Tribeca is to the doc world and how little of a presence Cannes has in documentaries.

IFC/Sundance Selects released the bio-doc Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me which has grossed over $305k in North America. That tops all SXSW docs from last year. IFC Also shined on a light on the cute kids of Dancing in Jaffa, which, despite being a day and date film, has grossed $136k domestically and $297k worldwide at the box office.  Additionally, IFC is releasing TFC film Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia in theaters right now. In only 10 days in NYC, it has grossed $33k and is likely to be one of the top five films from last year’s batch when it’s all said and done.  TFC handled fests for the film placing it in 50+, a healthy reminder that festivals only help your release (and an added reason to use a company like TFC to maximize fest exposure and revenue).

Closing night film Mistaken for Strangers is the only other doc from Tribeca to pass the $100k mark. It had a mix of week long and special engagements via Abramorama in addition to instantly going to the top of ITunes. Never underestimate the power of a music documentary to find a strong audience.

Zeitgeist saw $64k with the all archival footage doc Let the Fire Burn and right behind it Kino Lorber’s release of The Trials of Muhammad Ali  topped out at $59k in a maximum of only 10 theaters, but a long run of 19 weeks. Big Men has grossed $42k in its service theatrical release with Abramorama which, given their advertising buys, has got to be below expectations. Oscilloscope has done well digitally with Teenage and slowly built up to $40k with another couple of venues left in the release.

Aatsinki:The Story of Arctic Cowboys, Flex is Kings, and Lenny Cooke all had small DIY releases. The Motivation opted for a release through GoDigital and multi award winner Oxyana did an exclusive with Vimeo.

Bridegroom is the rare doc to get into Redbox, but the film’s largest audience was on OWN. Showtime took Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic. HBO trumped all networks with Gasland Part II, Inside Out:The People’s Art Project and the acquisitions of Herblock: The Black and the White and I Got Something’ To Tell You.

Circling back to this year, ½ of the acquisitions from April’s Tribeca Film Festival were documentaries including Keep on Keepin’ On which Radius-TWC bought for over $1,000,0000! Radius-TWC also snagged the lego doc Beyond the Brick while Magnolia was entranced by Ballet 422. Another highbrow doc, Dior and I, sold to EOne and opening night hip hop Nas doc Time Is Illmatic went to Tribeca Films. Morgan Spurlock Presents (A new partnership with Spurlock, Virgil Films and Abramorama) will release A Brony Tale this summer and just after the fest, Kevin Spacey released the doc Now in the Wings On a World Stage off of his personal site powered by VHX and in a few theaters. It’s now passed $50k at the box office.

CANNES CANT TALK DOC!

While Cannes may be unrivaled as a launchpad for narrative films, it continues to largely ignore documentaries. Of the four (that’s right…only 4) documentaries that world premiered at Cannes, none could be considered breakout hits.

Jodorowsky’s Dune, an admittedly somewhat fringe film to begin with, got the maximum play humanly possible in the hands of Sony Picture Classics. It’s still in theaters and has racked up just under $600,000 domestically. That is more than any documentary out of last year’s SXSW, LAFF or Tribeca.

While scoring a best foreign language film Oscar nomination, French/Cambodian doc The Missing Picture only limped over $50k at the hands of Strand Releasing in its domestic release. It’s international box office revenue doesn’t bring the film’s total to even $100k. Its performance is well below the performance of the other four foreign nominees (or the 5 Best Doc nominees for that matter) despite an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 99%.

With an overwhelming 220 minute run time, The Last of the Unjust maxed out at just over $40k theatrically which is on the low end for the holocaust subject matter, but given the massive length should be considered somewhat impressive. Internationally though it did even worse than The Missing Picture. The one other doc, James Tobak’s Seduced and Abandoned premiered on HBO.

SXSW 2014

Which lands us back at this year’s SXSW 2014. The festival saw a little movement in the doc acquisitions department with Gaiam TV buying TFC repped doc The Immortalists and Netflix nabbing exclusive rights to Print the Legend. Oscilloscope took advantage of BFI marketing matching funds and acquired Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets which will also screen at the upcoming Sheffield DocFest.

TFC was quite active at the festival this year. We arrived with two docs for festival rights (The Dog and The Immortalists) and have since added Song From the Forest and Born To Fly for festival distribution. Born to Fly has already been placed on the programs at Full Frame, SIFF, Sheffield, and Frameline and we will release it theatrically in a hybrid-DIY release. It launches September 10th in NYC at Film Forum and then comes to Los Angeles September 26 before expanding throughout the fall. Programmers may contact us directly about theatrical bookings of this film or message Jeffrey Winter about festival engagements for any of our 4 SXSW Docs.

 

 

June 4th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today’s guest post is from Matthew Helderman, founder and CEO of Buffalo 8 Productions and BondIt, a new service that cash-flows union bond deposits for independent feature films. Having just returned from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, here are his impressions and advice for filmmakers thinking of attending the festival one day.

Cannes 2014 – Introduction

Each year tens of thousands descend upon Cannes in the south of France for the biggest and most exceptional film event of the year. From screenings of competition films, market shopping for completed films looking for additional sales opportunities and more events than one can count — the Cannes Festival is all at once incredibly exhilarating, essential for business and filmmaking endeavors and downright exhausting!

Cannes is the essential market for both new & old content — whether developing new material, finishing up post-production on others or selling international rights for ancillary one off revenues or library generating cash-flow.

Over the past few years as our feature film library has grown in size from a handful of titles to nearly 35+ titles by Cannes 2014 — our approach and experience at the festival has changed. At Buffalo 8 Productions — we represent a library of feature films ranging from micro-budgeted $100k features up to films at the $3M mark — spanning genre’s, cast strength and value.

Buffalo 8 Cannes image harbor night

Cannes 2014 – The Set-Up

Cannes is unique in that it offers four elements:

The most prestigious film festival in the world with in competition films typically ending up in Oscar and international award season contention. Additionally, there are a slew of films that screen out of competition that the festival honors for their efforts and merits — think “All is Lost” in 2013 or “Lost River” in 2014 — strong titles that have commercial value and artistic integrity — the essence of the Cannes appeal.

The biggest film market in the world with over 1,500 new film titles for sale and on display for the international buying community. The “Marche” is often times a difficult pill to swallow — with hundreds upon hundreds of films from across the world — the first visit to the market is hard to comprehend. Selling and buying are both relationship based communities in the film business – requiring pre-established relationships with sales agents (those who represent content internationally) and buyers (distributors in individual territories around the world).

The strongest worldwide representation at the international pavilions with each major country in the world representing their national film programs — from tax incentives, to promotions to rebates and panels — each country seeking to draw in productions offers an all inclusive look and conversation into the dealings of their specific region. Often used as meeting places (since Cannes has very limited seating areas in the Marche and festival), the pavilions serve as a landing base for much of the conversations during the 10+ days of Cannes — which offer the countries with the strongest presence an ability to market their offerings while playing host to the film community.

The most important and constant social & networking events that anyone has ever seen. From panel discussions with big name producers, directors and the like to parties at villas, clubs, beach front and yachts to the invite only exclusive dinners and hotel gatherings — Cannes offers the best opportunity year round for the filmmaking and distribution community to mingle for fun and business.

But there is a catch…

Cannes Opportunity Cost

The most difficult part about attending Cannes is deciding how best to spend your valuable time. The cost of attending is steep both financially, time wise (the travel from Los Angeles is 15+ hours door-to-door) and opportunity wise. If you spend all of your time seeing the great films you’ll miss the networking and sales opportunities. However, if you spend all your time networking and selling, you’ll miss the festival — which is a difficult pill to swallow given the strength of the titles screening at Cannes each year.

Assessing your main objectives months before you attend is crucial — are you looking for financing? If so, pre-sales discussions with sales agents in the Marche is crucial.

Are you seeking tax incentives and interested in discussing with international territories about your options? Then spending your time at the pavilions is the best option.

Regardless — you’re going to need to plan your goals well in advance, schedule your meetings 50+ days out (everyone’s schedules get ridiculously crowded) and be prepared to miss out on events you want to attend (it’s simply not possible to attend everything).

The Buffalo 8 Productions & BondIt Approach to Cannes 2014 

With a library of content for sale, multiple projects gearing up for production and a continued need to expand our social and business networks — we spent our time divided up among our company divisions.

Our film team at Buffalo 8 spent their days selling in the Marche and meeting new buyers to form relationships with companies we’ll be in business with for the rest of the year. An interesting piece of advice here being that if you live in Los Angeles – take meetings with people & companies that live elsewhere (similarly for NYC, Chicago, etc…) — this is your rare chance each year to be face-to-face with buyers from every corner of the world. And even in the current times of easily transferred digital files for streaming and viewing purposes – meeting with financiers, buyers and the like go a long way.

Our production team spent time meeting with financiers who cash-flow tax incentives, pre-sales and those looking for equity investment opportunities. These meetings are more difficult to come by and require advance planning to keep the momentum sustained during the craziness of Cannes.

Our BondIt team (BondIt cash-flows union deposits for independent feature films freeing up cashflow liquidity) split their time between finding companies who actively produce content between $100k – $10M budgets (the sweet spot for the BondIt application) and those looking for equity investments into media technology companies. Note here that all of these meetings — at least a large portion — were pre-planned and scheduled. Again, most of the big hitters in Cannes whether individuals or companies have packed schedules so getting in front of them is only possible if you’ve pre-scheduled.

Cannes Conclusions

Once you’ve attended your first major market (Berlin, Toronto, Cannes), it’s difficult not to go back for another year. The value of attending is so high from a networking, business and relationship stand point. Before attending the major markets, Buffalo 8 was a smaller boutique production entity with limited international presence — but now having attended markets for several years, our database of useful contacts and our business have grown simultaneously.

Weigh out the pro’s & con’s of attending — be self aware in what you’re seeking and who will be attending that could facilitate what you need and may be willing to grant a meeting with you. Recognize that the investments available at Cannes are insanely competitive (Martin Scorsese attended the 2013 Cannes market seeking financing for multiple productions) as the world of financing and distribution continues to get stranger and stranger (a nice way of saying it’s getting overly complicated and competitive).

Pre-plan your meetings and have a goal in mind for each contact you sit down with and leave room for those coincidental meetings that will often happen (but don’t bank on them) that could open new doors.

Cannes is the most important event of year — make the most of it and you’ll never remember why you weren’t there years before.

BondIt was founded by independent film producers Matthew Helderman & Luke Taylor of Beverly Hills based Buffalo 8 Productions. Having produced 30+ feature films, the team recognized a dilemma in the production process union deposits and launched BondIt to resolve the situation to assist producers & union representatives alike. 

Buffalo 8 Productions

 

www.Buffalo8.com

www.BondIt.us 

May 22nd, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, International Sales, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Trailer and short clip video editing is a much needed service in the independent film world, especially by lower budget filmmakers who can’t go to the bigger digital agencies and spend tens of thousands to get a trailer cut. Too often, lower budget filmmakers try to edit trailers themselves, but are too close to the material to understand that a trailer is a sales tool, not a visual synopsis.

In addition, the internet space is becoming dominated by visual material, photos and video clips. It isn’t enough to have just one trailer, multiple video pieces are now needed to enable social sharing, video channel subscription growth and capture and maintain an audience’s attention over a long period of time in the lead up to release.

While searching online for video editors that specialize in short clips and trailers, I came across a new site called Videopixie, a community of video freelancers offering post-production services at fair prices. I immediately contacted the site’s cofounder and COO, Thomas Escourrou, to find out more about how Videopixie might be the solution for independent film marketers who are long on footage, and short on money and skills to create compelling marketing videos.

How long has Video Pixie been around?

TE: “We launched in June 2013. My cofounder and I have been in the video space for a while, but the site is less than a year old. We are growing quickly with a 700 member community of video freelancers:  from editors, motion designers, animators, FX specialists, to videographers and writers.”

Video material is quickly taking over the internet space. Over 100 hours of video are uploaded just to Youtube every minute and over 6 billion hours of video are watched every month. There is a lot of competition for attention so a video really has to be compelling.  Is Videopixie trying to help companies, non profits and artists who don’t have the skills and expertise to create their own videos do that in an affordable and collaborative way?

TE: “Definitely! Videos are everywhere now. With mobile access and higher bandwidths, video is becoming the medium of the web.  Companies make videos to announce new products.  Inventors and creators make videos to crowdfund their projects. Experts make videos to teach the world. App  developers and filmmakers make trailers to sell more of their apps and films. As video distribution gets easier, the stakes are shifting to video production. How to create quality video content, frequently and affordably? When there was little distribution for a short video, it was an undertaking to invest in making a video and getting it into the world. Now that video can be put out online in a global way by anyone, it is a much more worthwhile investment.”

Video is also a great medium to put a face on a company or artist or non profit. You can demonstrate what they do, bring it to life, and make an emotional connection to an entity.

TE: “Right, basically show the soul of the venture. It isn’t easy to communicate soul through text and ad copy on the web. Video is more like real life. It hits a lot of the senses; sight, hearing, and the ability to have conversations around it. The web is becoming warmer and more human through the use of video.”

There is a nonprofit video clip I saw on your site showing what they do in Africa. It was awareness building for the organization and a fundraising initiative I guess.

TE: “Yes, the Impact Network is a non-profit improving the quality of education in rural Africa through digital tools.  They needed a video for their annual fundraiser, to connect with potential donors.   Their staff on the ground in Zambia shot some every day footage and interviews with their iPhones. They uploaded the footage to Videopixie and had it edited for about ~$250.  The editor arranged the footage to tell a compelling story, and added some simple motion graphics.

It proves that you can get solid videos without spending a fortune.  Of course, higher production value projects aren’t going away!  The video production market is as vibrant as ever.  But with marketplaces like Videopixie, it’s now possible to find great options for a wide range of budgets.

Often times, our users ask for help with their script and storyboard in the pre-production phase and we connect them with writers and directors.  Buying 1 hour of a writer’s time to jazz-up a script is well worth it.

Kickstarter videos require planning and we have freelance directors/writers on the platform who help with pre-production.  Kickstarter videos also benefit from polished post-production. Here is one of our blogs with tips to make great crowdfundng videos.”

How does one get started with Video Pixie for a project?  What would I need to upload? How does the system work in getting an editor interested?

TE: “To get started, just answer a few questions about your video, upload any existing footage, and post the project to the community. Freelancers engage, suggesting ideas and styles.  Some create teasers from the uploaded assets, others link to relevant videos they’ve made.

You receive the first bids within a few hours and hire the freelancer you like best.  Then project delivery starts using collaboration tools (real time chat, easy file transfer, reviewing tools etc). Payment happens at the end when everyone is satisfied.”

 

Videopixie editors

Choose from a community of editors

 

Right, I saw there is a money back guarantee so there is protection on both sides. The editor knows the money is there so they won’t get stiffed for work. And the buyer is protected in that their money isn’t paid until they sign off on the final cut. 

TE: “We play an insurance role for both parties, which brings peace of mind to the users and the freelancers. Users know they’ll only pay when satisfied. And freelancers know they’ll get paid for their work.

We chime in when necessary to make sure projects are budgeted properly, and that quality standards are met.”

If I am an editor looking for extra work, how do I get started with Video Pixie? 

TE: “Signing up is easy, there is a link at the bottom of the home page.  We require reels and a list of skill sets.  Within minutes you can browse available projects and you’ll start receiving email notifications when new projects are posted.

You can ask questions directly to the clients from the real-time chat. You submit bids for projects you are interested in. If you have relevant reels then great – just attach those to your bid – or you have the option to create a teaser (using the project’s footage which we make available in SD for faster download in the bidding phase).”

When you say bid, do you mean you offer to do a project for a certain amount of money? Is it by the hour, by the project?

TE: “It is by the project, not an hourly rate. Editors have access to the database of projects that includes a brief, the asset list, and the budget range. They can quickly scan through and see what is involved in the project and how many others are also interested in bidding. If a lot of people are bidding, it might not be attractive to submit something. “

What is the typical turn around time on an edited piece? 

TE: “It depends on the scope of what needs to be done. It could be just a few hours for very simple, scripted clips. Many of our users make videos every week, so they know exactly what to submit and what they want. For projects that need more creativity and back and forth, it could be one to two weeks.”

In uploading assets, how long can the footage be? A trailer for a feature film would involve uploading a 90 minute film.

TE: “There is no size limit. Uploading 200 GB of footage is no problem on a fast connection. We built an HTML5 resumable uploader called Evaporate JS. It works straight from the browser, no plugin.  It’s free, and takes full advantage of your connection speed.

Uploading is the recommended workflow for most projects.  Shipping hard-drives is also an option, and it is sometimes needed.  For example, if the director wants the trailer cut from TeraBytes of uncompressed footage (eg. DPX , open EXR).  In that case we still recommend to upload at least some footage so that interested editors can make teasers for you in the bidding period.

With the easy upload, you get a notification that it went through. We also have a notification system that alerts you when input is requested from either party. There is also a real time chat feature that gives a better sense of what it would be like to be in the editing suite with the person working on the project. We are also working on in-timeline commenting, so instead of making note of the timestamp to make comments on a certain aspect of the edit (make a hard cut or transition here, or insert a different image, or whatever), you can leave a comment within the timeline edit and the editor can bring those comments right into their editing suite, instead of searching through email or message communication.  This is our next improvement.

It may be that you don’t upload the full hi res footage. Maybe you want to do proxy edits where you upload SD footage and editor works off of that to get the final cut. Then you would take that trailer file into your own editing system and render the high definition trailer on your own system. This is a process for a more advanced person who just needs help formulating a good edit.”

Besides non profit videos, weddings, music videos, what other kinds of videos have been made through Videopixie?

TE: “Hundreds of videos have been made on Videopixie since launch:  Kickstarter videos, animated explainers for start-ups, Udemy course videos, game trailers, movie trailers, sizzle reels for TV shows. Here is a link to recent examples:  www.videopixie.com/happy-new-year

Some projects are straight forward, others involve tons of footage, creative scripts, motion graphics, FX, color grading, animations.

We also have started doing a lot of work with Youtubers. We created a partnership with a multi channel network (MCN) called Fullscreen. Videopixie serves as a post production house for their network of Youtube channels  to get shows edited and make motion graphic logos or intro or bumper pieces to make the videos unique.”

This would be great for independent filmmakers who want to make audience testimonials as people come out of a screening or on set video for crowdfund backers. There are all kinds of things a production shoots, but never finds time to edit. 

TE: “Yes, the goal is to make video production easier and possible for a wide range of budgets.  So people can create quality video content frequently with economics that make sense.

Audience testimonials are a no brainer, they are very compelling and cost very little to make. Just film, upload the footage, and get a finished video back for under $150 a day later to post on your FB page.”

Also, films need more video content than just a trailer. In the months leading up to release, many short clips need to be created and released at regular intervals to keep an audience’s attention and enable them to share these videos on their own channels. Every filmmaker and distributor wants buzz for their films, but they need to enable people to share material with their friends and widen that buzz. 

TE: “We also see this trend in the video game industry. It used to be about one big trailer for the game, but now the most successful games are creating new videos every month in lead up to release and well after. It is important to find a workflow for creating this content that doesn’t become burdensome.”

Videos can be used to bring critical moments in the production of a film to life for its audience, in near real time. Why only shoot on set for the special features when you could share a critical moment on the set from this morning or this week?  This is a great way to keep backers of a crowdfunding campaign up to date on how their donation is working to create a project. Having an on demand editing service that is affordable and quick keeps the production from having a backlog of shot footage that no one is in charge of editing.

Videopixie takes a 10% fee for facilitating the editing project.  If you plan to have a regular schedule of videos that need to be edited, many of the editors will offer a bulk discount for repeat customers.

As already stated, there is a money back guarantee for your satisfaction. If you are unhappy with the work of the editor you chose, Videopixie either will pay to have another editor re edit your piece or release your money from escrow and return it to you.

There is a full FAQ section on the site as well as some sample work. Before you sit down at the editing console and struggle for the right cut, consider spending a little bit to get a professional’s time and experience instead. In fact Videopixie is giving $100 credits to the first 20 readers who start a project. Make the perfect trailer or compelling short video clips for your film with the community on Videopixie.

 

March 20th, 2014

Posted In: Trailers, Uncategorized

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

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