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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
admin June 28th, 2017
Tags: American independent film, Amy Brenneman, Dan Habib, DIY film distribution, documentary films, documentary outreach, DVD distribution, educational distribution for films, film distribution, Fledgling Fund, Lisa Smithline, The Film Collaborative
This piece was researched, compiled and written by TFC associate Bryan Glick.
Back in March we looked at the films that were bought out of Sundance and since then the deals have kept coming, including some from major players like Sony Pictures Classics (SPC) and IFC.
Among the companies making fresh acquisitions, Tribeca Films nabbed North American rights to two US Dramatic competition entries, “The Comedy” and “For Ellen”. In fact every film in the US Dramatic Competition now has a US Distributor. SPC secured worldwide rights to “Smashed” for $1,000,000 and Sony Worldwide opened their eyes to US Rights and Canada Ancillary for “The First Time”. Music Box bought “Keep The Lights On” for North America, in what is certainly a change of pace from their typical fare. Meanwhile “Filly Brown” became the fourth film to get bought by Indomina who is making it clear that they are presence in the indie world. They have worldwide rights for the film. The Late Adam Yauch’s Oscilloscope got the North American rights to the opening night film “Hello I Must Be Going” and IFC showed they could acquire the entire festival if they wanted to by adding North American rights for “Save the Date” to their packed slate, and finally Wrekin Hill took a chance on “The End of Love” for which they now hold North American rights.
On the World Dramatic side “Teddy Bear” which won the directing prize became only the second film to get US Distribution from this competition section. While in the World Documentary section “China Heavyweight” was acquired for the US by premiere documentary distributor Zeitgeist.
Oscilloscope embraced their music roots and will do a special release for “Shut Up and Play The Hits” in North America, while IFC Midnight had to snatch up “Grabbers” for North America, leaving “John Dies at the End” as the only Midnight film to not sell this year. In the Next section, IFC got North American rights to yet another film with the audience award winner “Sleepwalk With Me” and Phase 4 got into the game with US and Canadian rights to “That’s What She Said”. This brings the total sale of Next films to five, with another four still looking for a buyer. While that might seem bleak, this is better than its first two years and slowly this section is showing that it can play with the big dogs in the US Dramatic Competition Section.
In the premiere section Strand is in for the long haul with US Rights for “California Solo” and “Red Hook Summer” is being distributed by Spike Lee’s own company in partnership with Variance and Image Entertainment. Only “Price Check” has yet to find a distributor.
In the US Documentary section, Film Arcarde & Lionsgate got a slam dunk with North American rights to “The Other Dream Team”, which reportedly sold for mid six figures Oscilloscope secured US, non-TV rights to “Chasing Ice” and Bravo got in on the action with “The Queen of Versailles”. Finally, “Detropia” just started a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a DIY release. Meanwhile , the Doc Premiere film “Under African Skies” saw a small theatrical run courtesy of A&E (who will also be premiering it on TV) and was bought by Snag Films for all digital platforms.
FINAL THOUGHTS. This year was yet again dominated by the power of the IFC brand. IFC/IFC Midnight acquired a whopping 8 films and their sister division Sundance Selects got 2! Magnolia/Magnet was a not even close second with 6 films. Oscilloscope, Indomina, and SPC all showed prominence with four films a piece. Other companies acquiring multiple films include Music Box, Zeitgeist, Tribeca Films, The Weinstein Company, Kino Lorber, and Fox Searchlight. A full list of sales is viewable below.
Box office grosses are current as of June 10th.
|Film||Company||Deal Amount||Terrtitories||Sales Company||Box Office/|
|2 Days in New York||Magnolia||N/A||North America||CAA||August 10th|
|28 Hotel Rooms||Oscilloscope||N/A||US||Preferred Content|
|5 Broken Cameras||Kino Lorber||N/A||US||CAT&Docs||$22,787|
|About Face||HBO Doc||N/A||TV||Pre-Fest||July 30th|
|Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry||Sundance Selects||N/A||North America||Cinetic Media, Victoria Cook||July 27th|
|Arbitrage||Roadside||Over $3,000,000||North America||WME|
|Bachelorette||TWC||Over $2,000,000||North America||CAA|
|Beasts of the Southern Wild||Fox Searchlight||Almost $1,000,000||US||WME||June 27th|
|Black Rock||LD||Over $1,000,000||North America||Submarine|
|California Solo||Strand||N/A||US||Visit Films|
|Celeste and Jesse Forever||SPC||Almost $2,000,000||North And Latin America, Eastern Europe||UTA||August 3rd|
|Chasing Ice||Oscilloscope||N/A||US (Non TV)||Submarine|
|Chasing Ice||National Geographic||N/A||TV||Submarine|
|China Heavyweight||Zeitgeist||N/A||US||EyeSteelFilms||July 6th|
|Compliance||Magnolia||N/A||North America||Cinetic||June 20th|
|Escape Fire||Roadside||N/A||US||CAA||October 5th|
|Excision||Anchor Bay||N/A||North America||Preferred Content|
|For a Good Time Call||Focus||$3,000,000||Worldwide||Cinetic||August 31st|
|For Ellen||Tribeca||N/A||North America||CAA||Sept 5th|
|GOATS||Image||Almsot $1,000,000||US||WME and Cinetic Media|
|Grabbers||IFC Midnight||N/A||North & Latin America||Gersh|
|Hello, I Must Be Going||Oscilloscope||N/A||North America||WME|
|How To Survive a Plague||Sundance Selects||High Six Figures||North America||Submarine||September 21st|
|Indie Game: The Movie||HBO And Scott Rudin||N/A||TV||Film Sales Company||B.O. Gross not|
|Keep the Lights On||Music Box||N/A||North America||Preferred Content|
|Lay the Favorite||TWC||Over $2,000,000||US||CAA|
|Liberal Arts||IFC||Over $1,000,000||North America||Gersh|
|Luv||Indomina/BET||Over $1,000,000||North America/TV||ICM/Cinetic|
|Marina Abramovic||HBO Doc||TV||Pre-Fest||July 2nd|
|Marina Abramovic||Music Box||N/A||US||Submarine||June 13th|
|Me @ The Zoo||HBO Doc||Mid Six Figures||TV||Submarine||June 25th|
|Middle of Nowhere||Participant and AAFFRM||Mid Six Figures||US||Paradigm|
|Mosquita Y Mari||Wolfe||Low Six Figures||North America||The Film Collaborative||August 3rd|
|Nobody Walks||Magnolia||Mid-high Six Figures||North America||Submarine|
|Predisposed||IFC||N/A||North America||ICM and UTA||August 17th|
|Putin’s Kiss||Kino Lorber||N/A||North America||N/A||$3,872|
|Red Hook Summer||DIY/Variance/Image||N/A||North America||N/A|
|Red Lights||Millennium Entertainment||Under $4,000,000||US||UTA||July 13th|
|Robot & Frank||Sony & Samuel Goldwyn||Over $2,000,000||North America and||ICM, CAA|
|Room 237||IFC Midnight||N/A||North America||Betsy Rodgers|
|Safety Not Guaranteed||Film District||Over $1,000,000||US||ICM||$97,762|
|Save the Date||IFC||N/A||North America||CAA|
|Searching for Sugar Man||SPC||Mid Six Figures||North America||Submarine||July 27th|
|Shadow Dancer||ATO||$1,000,000||North America||CAA|
|Shut Up and Play the Hits||Oscilloscope||N/A||North America||WME|
|Simon Killer||IFC Films||N/A||North America||UTA, Caa|
|Sleepwalk With Me||IFC||N/A||North America||UTA||August 24th|
|Smashed||SPC||$1,000,000||Worldwide||UTA and CAA|
|Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap||Indomina||Over $1,000,000||Worldwide||UTA|
|Teddy Bear||Film Movement||N/A||North America||Visit Films||August 22nd|
|That’s what she said||Phase 4||N/A||US and Canada||Submarine|
|The Comedy||Tribeca||N/A||North America||Submarine|
|The D Word||HBO Doc||N/A||TV||Pre-Fest|
|The End Of Love||Wreckin Hill||N/A||North America||Preferred Content|
|The First Time||Sony Worldwide||N/A||US/Canada Ancillary||N/A|
|The Imposter||Indomina||N/A||North America||A&E Films||July 13th|
|The Invisble War||Cinedigm and New Video||N/A||North America||The Film Collaborative||June 22nd|
|The Other Dream Team||Film Arcade & Lionsgate||Mid Six Figures||North America||WME|
|The Pact||IFC Midnight||High Six Figures||North America||Preferred Content|
|The Queen of Versailles||Bravo||N/A||TV||Submarine||2013|
|The Queen of Versailles||Magnolia||Mid Six Figures||North America||Submarine||July 20th|
|The Surrogate||Fox Searchlight||$6,000,000 +||Worldwide||CAA|
|The Words||CBS||$2,000,000||US||CAA||September 7th|
|Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie||Magnet||N/A||World||Pre Fest||$201,406|
|Under African Skies||A&E Films||N/A||TV/Theatrical||A&E Films|
|Under African Skies||Snag Films||N/A||Exclusive Digital||A&E Films|
|V/H/S||Magnolia (magnet)||Over $1,000,000||North America||WME|
|West of Memphis||SPC||N/A||Worldwide||Peter Jackson and Ken Kamins|
|Wish You Were Here||Entertainment One||N/A||North America||LevelK|
Orly Ravid June 13th, 2012