Rethinking Facebook

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

It’s too crowded

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

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

Overcoming the Facebook algorithm

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

Be platform neutral

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Our partnership with Devolver Digital and Humble Bundle

You may remember that I profiled a new digital distributor last year called Devolver Digital who was adding independent films to their existing line up of video games. Yesterday, Devolver announced a new initiative with the folks at Humble Bundle and VHX to release the “Devolver Digital Double Debut” Bundle, a package that includes five games both classic and new and the new documentary Good Game profiling the professional gaming lives of the world-renown Evil Geniuses clan as well as other films on the VHX platform. Proceeds from the bundle benefit the Brandon Boyer Cancer Treatment Relief Fund as well as The Film Collaborative.

You may remember, we are a registered 501c3 non profit dedicated to helping creators preserve their rights in order to be the main beneficiary of their work. We plan to use our portion of the proceeds to fund the new edition of our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul which will be given away totally free upon its publication. If you’ve ever benefited from our advice, our speaking or our written posts, now is the opportunity to give us support in expanding even more of your knowledge as well as help Brandon Boyer, chairman of the Independent Games Festival (IGF), to help with his astronomical medical bills for cancer treatment.

Devolver Digital Double Debut bundle titles

You can find the Bundle here https://www.humblebundle.com/devolver  It is available only until March 16, 2014.

It is just this kind of out of the box thinking we love and we couldn’t wait to be involved.

As a follow up to last year’s piece, I asked Devolver Digital founder, Mike Wilson, to fill me in on how the company has ramped up and what this initiative means to gamers, to filmmakers and to the non profits involved.

In the year since Devolver Digital started, how has your games audience transitioned into an audience for the films you handle?

 MW: “When we announced the start the Films branch of Devolver Digital last SXSW, we did so for a few reasons.  The first was seeing an opening to create a more publishing-like digital distributor for micro-indies.  Curation, promotion, transparency, versus what we perceived as the status quo in the VOD distribution space where films were uploaded in bulk and they hope for the best.

One of the biggest reasons, though, was the knowledge that the biggest games platforms that we do 95% of our (very healthy) digital distribution business with on the games side were going to be moving to start delivering films this year.  Those platforms are still not very active in the film space, aside from Games/Movies bundle with Humble Bundle that just kicked off.  But they are coming, so we’ll know more about how much we are able to turn the indie game-loving audience onto indie films from the fest circuit a little later this year.  Our hopes remain high, as these are people who consume an inordinate amount of digital media, are very comfortable with digital distribution and watching films on their computers, and they have a community around independent content from small teams around the world like nothing we’ve seen on the film side.  It’s more akin to music fans, turning friends on to great bands they’ve never heard of, and gaining their own cred for unearthing these gems.  THIS is what we hope to finally bring to the independent film space, along with these much more sophisticated platforms in terms of merchandising digital content.”

Devolver Digital Double Debut Bundle

Where are you seeing the greatest revenues from? Cable VOD, online digital, theatrical? Even if one is a considered a loss leader, such as theatrical typically, does it make sense to keep that window?

MW: “We just started releasing films on cable VOD in the Fall, and most of that content didn’t hit digital until recently, so the jury is still a bit out.  We are now able to do day-and-date releasing on all platforms as well.  We have done limited theatrical, purely as a PR spend on a couple of our strongest releases, and that has been very successful in terms of getting press the films never would have gotten otherwise, but of course it does cost some money and it’s just an investment in the VOD future of the films. There is still no hope of breaking even on a theatrical run for indies as far as we can tell… but at least the cost to entry has gone down and will hopefully continue to do so.  For now, we still expect cable and iTunes to be our best performers, until the games platforms start delivering.”

What lead to this recent initiative through Humble Bundle and VHX? Have you partnered with them before? 

MW: “Humble Bundle has been a miraculous success on the indie games side.  We do bundles with them as often as possible.  The key was getting them and VHX to work together, as we needed a high-quality, low-cost streaming solution to deliver what we expect to be hundreds of thousands of ‘keys’ purchased in these bundles.

VHX is pretty forward thinking on this front, again watching the games platforms carefully, and has come up with an elegant solution that works. We have been asking Humble to let us do a movies bundle for at least six months now, since we’ve had such success with them on the games side.  They decided that this games+movies bundle would make for a stronger segue.  They have delivered other types of media before such as music, soundtracks, audio books, and comedy records, none of which has had anywhere near the attach rate of their games bundles, but are still quite successful when compared to other digital options for those businesses.  We expect films to do better than any of these other ancillary avenues they’ve tried.”

What is the split for all involved? There are several entities sharing in this Pay What You Want scenario, so is this mainly to bring awareness and publicity for all involved or is revenue typically significant?

MW: “In this particular bundle, since all the games and films are roughly $10 values, we’ve split it equally.  So you have 10 artists splitting what will probably average out at $5 or $6 bucks a ‘bundle.’  But the volume will be so high, we still expect each of these filmmakers to make more money in these 10 days than they will likely make on their entire iTunes run.

And, TONS of new people watching their movies who would never have found it otherwise, which as a filmmaker, I know counts for as much as the money.  I’d personally much rather have my film (and one of the films in the bundle is the last one I produced) in a bundle like this than shoveled onto subscription based VOD, and I know it’ll make more money and get more views.” [editor's note: Those purchasing the bundle get to choose how the contribution is split between Devolver, Humble Bundle and the charitable contributions.]

Why did you decide to include a donation aspect to the Bundle? Is that an incentive to pay a higher price for the bundle?

MW: “Humble is committed to supporting charities with their platform.  It’s part of the magic (other than the tremendous value) that makes their 4 million + regular customers feel really good about taking their chances on games (and other media) they’ve never heard of.

From Devolver’s standpoint, our last weekly games bundle on Humble resulted in nearly $150k for charity in addition to our developers all making a nice payday.  It’s a miracle of a win-win-win.  In this case, hopefully a lot of filmmakers will feel compelled to try this method out since it’s new, an incredible value, and will support TFC, who have helped so many filmmakers learn to navigate these murky waters.  And there’s a very local, very specific cause on the games side, helping a champion of Indie Games like Brandon Boyer overcome his devastating personal situation of fighting cancer while battling mounting medical bills. It just feels good, and this is a big reason Devolver is such a fan of Humble Bundle.”

We can’t think of a better situation than contributing money to receive fantastic games and films while helping those who enable the creators to reach new audiences, keep rights control of their work and celebrate their creativity. Check out the Devolver Digital Double Debut on the Humble Bundle site. We thank Devolver, Humble Bundle and VHX for allowing us to partner with them on this initiative.

 

 

 

 

Incentives make your film an attractive buy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

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

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

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

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

Creating “live” films can be artistically and financially fulfilling

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

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

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

What draws you to your subjects?

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

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

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

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

 

Sam Green Buckminster Fuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you do these bookings yourself or through an agent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sheri Candler

Sundance wrap up-Why give up revenue?

Sundance has come and gone and already Berlinale is a week away and SXSW announced the bulk of their slate today! We’ve now had a few days to reflect on the chaos that is arguably America’s most important film festival for indie film and here’s what we think.

Last year’s fest included a number of smaller foreign doc deals early on which is sorely lacking from this year. Only three docs have sold so far though all were decent sized deals and for films in the US Doc section. Interestingly, none of them won awards, but a number of other docs had TV deals arranged before the festival.

6 of the 16 US Dramatic films and 2 of the NEXT films sold. Sony/SPC, A24, Lionsgate/Roadside, Radius-TWC, Fox Searchlight, IFC, Magnolia all snapped up multiple films. However, previous players absent thus far are Anchor Bay, The Weinstein Company, CBS Films, Relativity Media, Sundance Selects, and Magnet. New distribution companies like Amplify did not make a single Sundance Deal nor did formally expanded ones such as Gravitas Ventures. This is probably the most alarming thing as every year a new distributor typically makes a big push for a film right out of the festival.

Before I get to the list of sales deals, I would like to talk about what I saw as a HUGE mistake! Consistently while attending documentary screenings at the festival, the filmmakers would say during the Q&A that they already had a team in place to arrange for special screenings or planning a self financed distribution scenario. NOT ONCE did this come up with the narrative filmmakers! One of the things TFC does is handle festival distribution for films, and most especially our service is applicable for films that premiered at a world class festival like Sundance. It is incredibly foolish not to capitalize on the publicity received at a world class festival by not planning for at least further festival screening revenue that will come right away. Should your film be in the lucky position of receiving a seven figure deal upfront, you might be able to afford to pull it from the festival circuit and forego further revenue, but with very FEW receiving those offers, why not plan for scooping up that immediate revenue potential?

I am not saying you have to go with TFC for festival distribution (though even traditional distributors turn to us to handle their films on the festival circuit and they take their cut of the screening fees), but I am saying you should have some sort of team in place to take advantage of those opportunities right away. By the time SXSW is finished in March, your film could already have booked $5k in festival screening fees on the circuit. Blood Brother had a dozen festivals under its belt by that point last year and many of the films at this year’s festival could do the same. Why aren’t they?

Sundance filmmaker Q&A

Now…on to the deals.

DOMESTIC/NORTH AMERICAN

Dead Snow Red vs. Dead: Well Go USA picked up US rights. The film will be released in an all English version.
Love is Strange: Sony Picture Classics (SPC) snagged Ira Sach’s follow up to Keep the Lights On
The One I Love: Radius-TWC paid about $2 Mil
Fed Up: Radius-TWC paid under  $2 Mil for worldwide rights. This is bigger than what any documentary sold for at last year’s Sundance.
The Babadook; IFC Midnight
Cold in July: IFC took North American rights for $2 Mil
God’s Pocket: IFC has US rights
Calvary: Fox Searchlight signed on for the US and a few other territories for $2.5 mil
Obvious Child: A24 signed for low 7 figures for North America
I Origins: Fox Searchlight took worldwide rights for $3mil to Mike Cahill’s follow up for the splendid and under appreciated Another Earth
The Skeleton Twins: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions/SPW joined together for $3.5 mil
Land Ho!: SPC took worldwide rights to the film that should travel well in European territories.
Frank: Magnolia saw through the fake head and bought it for North America for  low 7 figures
Life After Beth: A24/DirectTV joined up for $3.5 Mil for US rights
Cooties: Lionsgate will spread the infection throughout North America.
Whiplash: SPC felt the beat for just under $3 Mil and Sony Worldwide has most international territories
Wish I was Here: the newly rebooted Focus Features took for $2.75 Mil (Film was partially financed on Kickstarter)
Laggies: A24 acquired domestic rights for roughly $2 Mil
Cesar’s Last Fast: Participant Media/Univision sold TV rights for Mid 6 figures
Dinosaur 13: Lionsgate/CNN went in for about $1 Mil
Happy Christmas: Magnolia/Paramount couldn’t say no to Swanberg. Magnolia also distributed his film Drinking Buddies.

PRE BUYS

Mitt: Netflix will release it in a week
Wetlands: Strand
The Raid 2: SPC
Love Child: HBO
Private Violence: HBO
The Case Against 8: HBO
Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart: HBO
Ivory Tower: CNN Films
Life Itself: CNN Films
Remembering the Artist: HBO
The Trip to Italy: IFC
The Signal: Focus

FOREIGN

Love is Strange: Pretty Pictures made a six figure deal for French distribution
The Green Prince: Curzon and Madman Entertainment brokered for UK, Australia, and New Zealand

A look at Slamdance ’13 winner Bible Quiz

Sheri Candler

All this month, we will be sharing advice geared toward filmmakers heading to the festivals in Park City in January. Notorious for brisk weather and brisk sales, the festivals offer unparalleled access to close to 1000 members of the press as well as film buyers looking for the next big acquisition. Preparation is key as is an alternative plan in case that big sales opportunity doesn’t present itself. Today’s post will examine the outcome of documentary jury winner from Slamdance 2013, Nicole Teeny’s Bible Quiz.

SC: Did you go into the festival with sales representation or a publicist? What kind of press coverage resulted from Slamdance? From the rest of the festival run?

NT: “Most features and a handful of shorts that went into Slamdance had a publicist. It was too expensive for me so I did my own publicity. It ended up being a lot of work juggling the premiere and press, but I enjoyed the process and  learned more about my audience. I was also happy with the range of publications that covered BIBLE QUIZ.

We were lucky that my feature documentary BIBLE QUIZ struck a chord with and intrigued a lot of people. We’ve received reviews and articles in Hollywood Reporter, the BBC, The Christian Post, IndieWire, San Francisco Guardian amongst others which can be seen here: www.biblequizmovie.com/press.

When we initially heard BIBLE QUIZ was selected to screen at Slamdance, I got varied advice whether it was necessary to have a sales agent, and if so, whether to wait until after the screening to sign with someone. Since this was my first film and I was learning, I ultimately decided having a sales partner would be helpful to me. I have been working with Steven Beer for domestic distribution and he’s been fantastic. He is also an entertainment lawyer so that works out well when it comes to contracts. I think that if a filmmaker decides to go with an agent, they should try to do so before their premiere.

For international sales, everyone I have talked to says you must have an international sales agent. I’ve been working with Forward Entertainment and they have been great.”

SC: What happened after Bible Quiz won the jury prize at Slamdance? Did distribution offers materialize? What lead to continuing on the circuit?

NT: “It’s hard to say exactly what caused what, but it’s a fair guess that screening and winning the jury prize at Slamdance led to a lot of interest in the film. Many distributors asked to see the film, many film reviews happened, and many other film festivals asked me to submit the film to them as well. It was great to have this kind of momentum.

Ultimately, though, each festival and distributor decides for itself whether a film is right for their audience. I think the main reason for success has been that Mikayla’s coming of age and identity story in BIBLE QUIZ is relatable to people of all ages regardless of creed, so the film connects to a lot of people, and as a result, many different festivals have screened the film.”

bible quiz key art

SC: What marketing assets did you already have in place by Slamdance? Website? Email database? Social media presence? Organizational partners? Or did those start after the festival?

NT: “Prior to screening at Slamdance, I had a website, Facebook page, Twitter account and newsletter list. I’ve found promoting the film comes way before the first film festival.

SC: In continuing to show the film at festivals, what did you learn or gain from the experience?

NT: ”Timing is everything. It’s important to strike when the iron is hot. When you have something newsworthy like partnerships, press, festival acceptance, distribution etc. it’s important to use that leverage to your advantage. For instance, I found it really helpful to use festival acceptance as a way to have a reason to connect with press and get them interested in writing about the film. It’s also great to post news (articles, festivals, awards, etc.) on your film’s social media sites to engage and build your audience.

For documentary filmmakers, whenever possible, I highly recommend bringing the subject of the documentary to screenings. Mikayla,the star of BIBLE QUIZ, was great to have at Q&A’s. We have a good dynamic on stage sharing stories together plus after she endeared the screening audiences, they liked seeing where she is today. On that note, I’ve learned that audiences like to have a personable Q&A. I try to swallow my nervousness, let my personality come through and talk to the audience as though we’re at coffee together and whenever I can, use stories to answer questions.

bible quiz 2

I also try to do as much of the press before the festival so when I get to the festival I can primarily network and meet other filmmakers. It goes without saying that it’s great to have an audience and share your film. But, one of my other favorite things about festivals is hanging out with other filmmakers, festival staff and industry. Many are inspiring, fun to hang out with and end up becoming friends outside of the circuit.

I also try to see as many other filmmakers’ movies at festivals as I can because it’s important to be supportive and it is a great way connect to what’s happening in film now and find inspiration. Also, I just love movies.”

SC: Did you guide and manager the festival distribution yourself or did you have someone help you? 

NT: “I managed the festival circuit mainly by myself although my associate producer, Katheryn Warzak, accompanied me to a of couple festivals. But I feel fortunate to have had many kind people give me great advice. My dear friend and mentor filmmaker, Marco Williams, was my professor at NYU and he guided me during the filmmaking and after the release in understanding which festivals to apply to. (As a side note, I think many film students do not take advantage of getting to know their professors—they are incredible resources and have vast amounts of knowledge and experience).

Festival programmers were also helpful in knowing other festivals that might be good fits for my film. I am particularly grateful to Paul Rachman and Peter Baxter at Slamdance who helped answer questions, gave me great advice and recommendations. Slamdance is truly a film festival for filmmakers and kind of like a big filmmaking family. I could not have asked for a more awesome festival at which to premiere.

Michael Feldman was our MVP when it came to the logistics of finishing the film. He was our online editor, colorist, helped me incorporate tweaks from screenings, make discs and so much more. He and I have co-directed projects together in the past so it was awesome to work with someone I trusted and knew my style.”

SC: Has any revenue been generated on the festival circuit?

NT: “Not really—if you have suggestions I’d love to hear how! I have generated some from various screenings outside the circuit though.”

SC: Has the film had the release you envisioned? Do you feel satisfied with what the screenings have accomplished?

NT: “I had no idea what to expect with the release of the film. A couple of people told me a film’s life doesn’t start until after your premiere. I disagree. I think a film’s life starts the moment a germ of an idea pops into your head, but manifests itself in two phases: The first [phase is creating the story and the second phase is sharing it.

There’s a whole caboodle that goes into getting your film to the audience: press, festivals, awards, distribution, social media/online presence, outreach partners, etc…. Managing it is almost an entirely different skill set. I personally found it thrilling and useful to learn about. The audience is always on my mind when I’m making a movie or writing something and I found this process to be another way to understand how audiences think.

I am very satisfied with where the film is now. We are planning for an early 2014 release and I can’t wait to share the film with an even broader audience. Stories and movies are moving and they connect us to one another. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences to have someone share with you that they felt touched and connected to your characters through film.”

 

Thanks to Nicole for sharing her film’s journey beyond its Slamdance win and good luck to those attending the upcoming Slamdance Film Festival with their films.

Be Well Prepared Before Crowdfunding

In our final guest post highlighting crowdfunding, Radio Free Albemuth producer Elizabeth Karr explains why success all comes down to preparation. We hope you have enjoyed our month devoted to crowdfunding advice and we plan to release a white paper roundup of the best crowdfunding tips in this series in a few weeks.

People donate to Crowdfunding campaigns for three reasons:

1.         The People.

2.         The Project.

3.         The Premiums.

But maximizing your chance of success depends on the fourth P – Preparation.  This is crucial and will be the focus of this article.

It’s incumbent on any of us doing a Crowdfunding campaign to make it an enticing, exciting, and well-thought out project that will attract backers. That’s a given. But having a terrific project isn’t a guarantee of success. You need to get the word out and get your campaign in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Particularly if you are trying to raise a substantial sum like writer/director/producer John Alan Simon and I did with Radio Free Albemuth Theatrical Release Kickstarter.

I’ve seen great projects fail because of a lack of organization and so-so projects succeed because there was a targeted effort to reach out beyond family and friends to people who have an interest in their subject matter.  Like Blanche DuBois, crowd-funders depend on the kindness – and interest – of strangers.

So when do you start to prepare? Right now. If you are even thinking about crowdfunding in the future, take the time to do the following steps NOW. You’ll be too busy during your campaign to tackle these tasks. Get a jump on them with the added bonus that up-to-date contact lists put you in good standing for marketing and promoting, in general.

1. Clean up your personal email lists.  Make sure contacts are up to date. Organize them by category: Family, Close Friend, Acquaintance, Business, Cast, Crew, Science Fiction, Philip K. Dick, etc.  Choose categories that make sense to you and your project. During your campaign, this allows you to tailor pitch emails to the recipient.

2. Use Bulk Email Programs. Sign up for and/or build your subscription list on one of the many mass mail programs. We use Constant Contact. There are a lot of bells and whistles to this and other programs. Take the time to familiarize yourself with them now. Create templates for future use. Organize the contacts by category as above. Add a sign-up button to your website for new subscribers. These contacts are invaluable as they are people who have chosen to be kept abreast of what you are doing.

3. Research bloggers and news outlets that cover your subject. Create a contact list (Email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest) so you are ready to go pre-launch and on Day One when you announce your campaign.  And don’t wait for the campaign to contact them.  Engage with them now.  Become part of their community by commenting and sharing information.  Presumably, you are already interested in the topics they are writing about, so you’ll increase your knowledge.  Plus you are expanding your circle of friends and acquaintances, and possible backers.  Crowdfunding is all about community building.

4. Contribute to other’s campaigns.  It’s good karma and you get to see how campaigns work from the donor’s side.  It also gives you an idea of how much to charge for premiums and you can pick up tips watching others’ pitch videos.  Before launching our Kickstarter for Radio Free Albemuth distribution, John Alan Simon and I contributed to over 100 campaigns.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m more likely to donate to a campaign when I see the person has backed others. What goes around comes around…

5. Write a press release.  The old-fashioned 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When, Why – that you will send out to bloggers and media outlets two weeks before launch, and again on Day One.  Be sure the contact person (probably you) is someone who responds quickly to each and every request for photos, interviews, additional information, etc.  News outlets move fast.  You need to be ready when they are.

Radio Free Albemuth still image

Phil (Shea Whigham) and Nick Brady (Jonathan Scarfe) interrogation at FAP Headquarters. Radio Free Albemuth

6. Build your team and designate ambassadors.  Crowd-funding is a full-time job and you will need help. Enlist members of your outreach effort now.  Make it easy for them to help you by giving them clear assignments. For example, we engaged the Philip K. Dick community to share with their friends and followers.  Our friend Franceska Lynne, researched sites that were interested in Alanis Morissette, Shea Whigham, Kathryn Winnick and Ashley Greene, who are actors in Radio Free Albemuth.  Create a list of tasks to do during the campaign that you can delegate amongst your team and ambassadors.  Your cast and crew are likely candidates to help you.  Don’t assume they will be there.  Chat them up.  Get them involved.

7. Create email templates that friends, and family,  – and people you meet through social media – will send out to their contacts about your project.  Again, make it easy for people to help you.  Give them the template and they can tailor it/personalize it.

8. Prepare videos, clips and articles for Updates in advance.  In the whirlwind of a campaign, you don’t want to be editing clips from your movie.  Have them ready to go.  The more prep work you can do ahead of time, the more time you have to focus on building concentric circles of connectivity when your campaign is up and running.

9. Build your social media presence.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably already on Twitter and Facebook.  If you’re not, do so immediately –- both for you and your project.  Be social. Engage.  Comment.  Share. Retweet.  Don’t just jump on the scene with a megaphone for your campaign.  Your message is more likely to get across if you’ve proven to be a good listener.

10. Face to Face and telephone conversations are still very valuable.  There’s nothing like IRL (In Real Life) interaction.  Tell people in advance what you are thinking of doing.  Not everyone is on social media or makes decisions by email.  Friends and relatives who already believe in you are your most likely early supporters and contributors.   For many of us, crowdfunding is not a natural fit, and we have to get used to asking people to support with us with donations and/or time.  The more comfortable you get with your role as a Crowdfunder, the more effective you will be as an advocate for your project.

11. Ask for Day One support. Now that you’ve organized your contacts by categories, target 50 that you will send a pre-launch email and ensure their support on day one.  Follow that up with an email when your campaign goes live.  That way, when you announce your campaign to the world, those clicking on your link will see that you already have backers.  It’s a reassuring sign to potential backers that others support the project.

12. Never lose sight that Crowdfunding is as much about building community as raising money. Equally important to the funds raised on our successful Kickstarter is the community of 827 supporters, who are now part of Team RFA.   Many of them are actively taking part in the film’s journey beyond their financial contribution.   John Alan Simon and I agree that this is the best part of the Crowdfunding experience – the people.

Is this Crowdfunding Prep list exhaustive?  No, but it’s a good start.  Did John Alan Simon and I do each and every one of these to perfection before we launched?  No.  Will we next time?  Yes.

A few parting words.  We continued to get queries from people who wanted to back our project after Kickstarter ended, so we created a Slacker Backer site on our website powered by PayPal that will be live for the next few months.  Donations and sharers welcome!  All rewards will be delivered the same time as the Kickstarter rewards.  All funds go towards Radio Free Albemuth’s theatrical release. To reiterate what I said about Crowdfunding being an important builder of community and resources; this site was created by Kickstarter backer Victor Grippi, who we are proud to have as a new Associate Producer.

 

Follow Elizabeth Karr on Twitter @elizabethkarr and Radio Free Albemuth @rfamovie. Visit the film’s website for more information http://www.radiofreealbemuth.com

 

Bringing ’90s fundraising skills to a Kickstarter campaign

A guest post from director Leslie Harris. I asked Leslie to participate in this series because to me she represents what the older generation of film directors is facing. The way things are being done now is VERY different to the early and mid ’90s when film financing and large distribution deals were plentiful. A time when her Sundance winning film had a full and celebrated release on the Miramax label. New developments like social media, digital self distribution, and the idea that a creator has to gather an audience and build a personal brand have left some of the older generation shaking their heads. Leslie is diving right in and running a Kickstarter campaign for a new film and I applaud her willingness to experiment and adapt her previous experience to this new world of film finance and distribution.

Even though I have made a feature film before, the Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. released by Miramax in 1993, no matter how many films you have made, most filmmakers will tell you making another feature is like starting over from scratch.

Leslie Harris IRT

When my film was released in the 90’s, it was a boom for independent film financing and distribution and somewhat a Renaissance for the indie African-American filmmakers too. Unfortunately, the boom was mainly for the young, hot, male directors not women. Black women both in front of and behind the camera, well… we were practically non-existent except for a few of us.

Fast forward to today, sure there are more Black actresses working, but not in all genres and the recent controversy about the lack of Black Women on Saturday Night Live exemplifies what we’re facing. The numbers are even more embarrassingly low for Black women behind the camera. There’s a lot of work to do to make a change and that’s why I came to crowdfunding. I think crowdfunding works best for filmmakers who have been ignored by traditional film financing sources and have something passionate to say. Projects that artists can take straight to the audience and encourage their support rather than to studios and investors purely looking at the bottom line. My new film, I Love Cinema, is a satirical comedy about sex, race and politics in a ‘so-called’ post-racial world. The story is about Professor Layla Laneaux, sophisticated, educated and African-American. Layla is obsessed with cinema both in the classroom and the bedroom, but the Professor’s film fantasy world is shattered by racial controversy and a media circus all seemingly out to get her.

The same skills that I learned in the go-go 90’s of indie film are still useful to me today. My experience applying and receiving grants from National Endowment for the Arts, American Film Institute and New York State Council on the Arts is helpful because I had to convince people in a concise way that my story is viable and worth funding. Back then, I put together a reel and wrote the grant application. I also approached people like filmmaker Michael Moore and author Terry McMillan, who both supported Just Another Girl on the I.R.T with a check. Now my reel is a pitch video and my written application is the text on my Kickstarter page. In a way, I have already run a sort of Kickstarter, but now I need to reach many more people about my film idea and need to use all of the new tools available to me.

Social media and the internet are basically the heart of a crowdfunding effort…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  I have learned the value of having a great team of people to help with social media, though I found my team mid-way through my campaign…a mistake! You’ll make mistakes, but doing crowdfunding is relatively new so it is a learning process.  I was so happy to find committed young people, especially women, who were internet savvy and happy to volunteer. Search around, it may take a bit of time to find the right person, but there is someone out there to help. My interns are learning new skills that will help them in their careers in film because I think crowdfunding sites for moviemakers is the wave of the future for financing. I couldn’t do this campaign alone. I have learned having your film on a crowdfunding site is similar to making a really small indie film…you have to have a team.

And ya gotta be passionate and tenacious because crowdfunding is a lot of work! I’ve gotten very little sleep, about four hours a night. But my sleep deprivation didn’t just occur during the 30-Days while my project has been live. I’ve been preparing for this campaign for months prior to the launch. First, I did my research about crowdfunding wherever I could find information from blogs, advice from other filmmakers who have done crowdfunding and even You Tube videos to see what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t want to copy what someone else was doing because, in my opinion, every project is unique and your video has to reflect your particular film. I looked at production techniques and editing transitions. For example, it’s effective to use dissolves for this format if you have a one camera set up when one person is talking directly to the potential backers. If you’re not experienced in front of the camera, and most filmmakers aren’t…it’s going to be hard not to flub a line and I flubbed a lot of ‘em! Remember, there are limitations. You can’t use copyrighted material or music in your video unless it is cleared and you have to have permission to use it. So be really creative. Keep your video short 2-3 minutes unless the subject and tone calls for something longer. For example a documentary fundraising video might be 5 minutes or longer because you have a lot of material and it may take a bit longer for the story to unfold with a doc.

Let’s be honest reaching your goal is tough. My advice is to be ultra conservative in determining your goal. Mine is set for $35,000. The style and tone of your pitch video also depends on whether you’re asking for funds in pre-production, production or post. Are you trying to get something new off of the ground or something almost finished into the world?

Remember you have to offer perks and that means you have to produce them and deliver them in a timely manner (don’t forget postage costs!) and make your backers happy. Offer great rewards that are really interesting and valuable, but don’t cost much to produce. For example, I am offering a Production Journal as one of my rewards that will detail my experiences on set during production. It is something I would probably be writing anyway. How much will it cost you to make a T-Shirt? How many do you plan to sell? How much is shipping to India?  I had to use my 9th Grade math skills a lot while deciding what rewards I would offer.

Yes, raising funds this way is a tremendous amount of work.  While I’ve launched, there is still a lot more to do during the campaign. Update! Update and Update!  I keep my page current with photos, links, video and press…Indiewire’s Shadow and Act did a great piece on our film. This experience for me has been exciting. It’s new. Implementing the social media, creating a video that is spread around the world is very cool!  I’m a storyteller. The crowd-funding process is all about telling a story.  Ask yourself…why does my film deserve funding? Put yourself in the role of a backer.

Who knows if I’m going to make my goal…so take what I have written with a grain of salt, it’s just one experience. For me, it’s been rewarding already. I’ve reconnected with many friends and colleagues. Actress, Jennifer Williams, and my production team have been wonderful in making the video.  I couldn’t have done this without my Editor, Jack Haigis. My producer, Erwin Wilson has been at my side all the way. Great people who supported the project… and that’s gold! I’ve met and worked with great women who are savvy in social media. I know I am doing my best. I can always sleep after December 8th the last day of my campaign. So wish me luck and stop by my Kickstarter page. I could really use your support!

3 lessons in crowdfunding the UK short film Patient 39

A guest post from Lizzie Crouch. Back in December 2012, Writer/Director Dan Clifton sat down with producer Roland Holmes and co-producer Lizzie Crouch to talk about how they might approach a crowdfunding campaign for Dan’s short film, Patient 39. In this article, Lizzie explores the lessons learned from their ultimately successful campaign, raising over $8000 for the film on Indiegogo. Also included are excerpts from the diary Dan kept while fundraising.

Lesson #1 It’s not just about the campaign; it’s about the community

From Dan’s diary:

The first thing is to discuss what to do with the short fundraising appeal film I’ve made… My appeal is under 2 mins and involves me dressing in pyjamas and making a slight fool of myself (a good thing, apparently), although hopefully the tone is appropriately sincere.  Thankfully my producers like it.

There’s lot of great advice online about how to build a good crowd funding campaign. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to do thorough research, but don’t be overwhelmed by it either. There is no set way of doing the perfect crowd-funding campaign, each one is unique, so the real trick is working out what’s right for you.

The most important thing is to figure out the target audience for your campaign. For the Patient 39 Indiegogo campaign we identified a number of audiences who might be interested in supporting us, but given the film’s scientific themes, it was a group we called ‘science-y culture-vultures’ – those interested in the crossover between science and art – that we thought had most untapped potential.

Still from Patient 39

Still from Patient 39

 

Despite this, we knew that other groups would play a part and ultimately become the film’s audience, so we were careful to include a broad range of content about the film to build a larger online community. The content at the heart of the campaign was aimed at short film fans and science culture-vultures, but careful curation of online content allowed a diverse range of audiences to engage with us.

Lesson #2 Building an online community is committing to a long-term relationship

From Dan’s diary:

The evidence from successful campaigns suggests that what people value above all is not material goodies, but a chance to feel involved as part of the team.  After much debate we came up with a list of perks that range from Exec Producer credits at the top of the range, to visits to the set and crew T shirts for more modest-level investors. 

As Dan identified in his diary, building a community is about making people feel like they are a part of something – and different audiences will respond to different things. Those who want to donate to the campaign may like thoughtful perks while others may simply want to engage with diverse, inspiring content related to the film or to filmmaking.

In recognition of this we set up a website and social media channels to disseminate articles, carefully balancing new content with our call for donations. Spanning science articles on consciousness and the history of medicine, we built our community around themes that would appeal to them; connected with online ‘influencers’ and key contacts; and kept our campaign fresh by updating the video and making announcements about team members that joined us.

But building an online community is like committing to a long-term relationship. Although most people understand who they’re trying to connect with, many don’t realize the amount of work that goes into maintaining it. Never assume a campaign will run itself – sometimes when we weren’t quite as on top of things are we could have been, we saw the consequences.

From Dan’s diary:

What I am learning is that you definitely have to feed the beast.  What I mean by that is even though it seems foolish in some ways, like shouting without hearing an echo back, all the content and tweeting etc. does make a difference in reaching potential supporters.  I’ve been away for five days on a shoot and consequently not able to be as proactive as I’d have liked, and sure enough we’ve had a noticeable lull in donations.

All this can be hard work, but a well-built community will reward you at every step of the filmmaking process. Don’t assume though that because you’ve finished the film, the community ceases to be – we are still communicating with ours as we build up to an online release in the future!

Lesson #3 Getting to know your community is humbling (and anxiety-inducing)

When you build an online community, you get to know your audience in a whole new way; you learn their names, where they’re from, etc.  This is useful not only when it comes to later stages (marketing and distribution), but also for future projects. But it is also a responsibility that you have to carry on your shoulders!

From Dan’s diary:

Four days to go and we have reached our target, a $500 donation late last night lifting us over the line!  I feel amazed and humbled by the whole experience.  To feel people’s generosity and support in such an immediate way is something I hadn’t expected, but it is wonderful although I feel a great sense of responsibility too.  In the last few days we’ve managed to reach out to funders beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, and it’s great to think that our efforts to widen our base of supporter and followers has had some measure of success.  

I believe that our campaign was successful to due the hard work of the team to build and maintain an engaged online community, and we are very grateful for the support we received during our campaign.

To find out more about Patient 39 please visit our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @Patient39film.

 

Crowdfunding in Canada

A guest post from Richard Bishop of Empty Cup Media based in Oshawa, Ontario. Crowdfunding via Kickstarter has only been available in Canada since September 9, 2013. I asked Richard to share what his team learned in being one of the first projects on the platform and some of his comments on their success seem to defy conventional advice. Further proof that there is NO blueprint for success.

As a small company foraying into the independent film making industry for the first time, we based part of our film fundraising strategy around running a successful crowdfunding campaign. We first heard about the idea while attending a few Hot Docs workshops over the past two years. After committing to the idea, we did our due diligence – reading books, articles and blogs about other projects’ successes and failures- and we opted to go with Kickstarter as our platform as it had launched in Canada only a month earlier. We thought it would be possible to cash in on some of the general media press surrounding their launch.

When we launched the campaign, we had already completed the production of Heal Myself and we planned on using the crowdfunding money to cover post-production costs. We set a fundraising target of $25,000. We knew that this was a large number and success would require dedication and hard work. Throughout the production of the film, we had continually built an e-mail contact list for all participants as well as developed a solid social media following on Facebook. In our minds, we initially looked at it as a mathematical equation – with connections to over 2,500 people we only needed each of them to donate $10 and we’d be done! Well, we quickly found out that this notion was unrealistic.

We launched the campaign on Oct. 4th and watched the film become 20% funded in the first few days, then the initial flare burned out and stagnation set in. Every day a few people would donate, slowly driving us closer to the goal, but it wasn’t enough to drive us up the popularity matrix on the Kickstarter website.  By Oct 30th, 4 days before our campaign ended we had climbed to 62% funded, crunch time set in. It was on that day that things started to accelerate and by the end of the campaign we had reached 106% funded. It was time to celebrate with all those who helped us!

There have been a lot of good posts on this blog already about how to build a campaign to maximize your chances at success, but we thought we’d share some of the things that we learned throughout the process (along with some numerical breakdowns) in hopes that it will help some of our Canadian friends who may be new to the concept of crowdfunding.

Here’s what we learned based on our backer reports and analytics:

-80%+ of our pledges came from people who had direct access to the film either by knowing us personally, liking Heal Myself on Facebook, being on our e-mail list etc;

-Posting update videos on Kickstarter and social media outlets is useful, but time consuming. A more effective use of our time was creating posters, such as these for the same purpose;

    • Heal Myself Kickstarter

-Being featured on the Kickstarter documentary homepage isn’t as helpful as one might think. It did increase traffic and Kickstarter video plays (about a 15% increase), but it didn’t generate much in the way of pledges from people who were not connected to the project in any way (less than 1% of funding);

-Our two most successful award tiers were $100 and $200. The reason for this, we believe, is the rewards we offered at these levels were the most engaging for fans of the film. $100 tier included the special features DVD and $200 tier included the special features DVD and a pair of tickets to a private screening. Backers of our project really gravitated to the idea that they could be part of a physical event – we gave away over 88 tickets in this manner!

-Broad spectrum advertising or marketing had very limited success. We had advertisements on a variety of websites (through our personal connections), went on TV and a radio show, but none of these things brought in significant monetary pledges (less than 5% of our goal).

-Niche marketing was highly successful – we posted online on a variety of blogs and websites that were directly related to the subject matter of our film. Theses avenues brought in a fair amount of pledges (more than 15% of our goal).

-There is no substitute for hard work. We were using social media and e-mail all day every day to contact our personal connections. It was these people who spread the word to their contacts, creating a web of support that reached more people than we could have alone. Relying on your friends and family for help is crucial for projects of the size we undertook.

Although running a successful campaign is great in financial terms, after all you now can go ahead with the next stage of your film project. But the community you’ve built around your film is equally important. We are now in the process of thanking the great people who’ve funded our film and shown interest in our project. We believe that they will be our greatest assets when creating a grassroots campaign of screenings and events once Heal Myself is completed. Finding  ways to demonstrate our gratitude and keeping these people informed as the project develops is an ongoing process, something we are continuing to experiment with and learn about. We are open to hearing any suggestions about how to keep our backers engaged going forward. If you have suggestions, please email (info @ emptycupmedia.ca) us.

Best of luck with future campaigns, we hope that some of our experiences can be put to good use!

A quick note to Canadians who are using crowdfunding:

As of early October 2013, the Canadian Government has ruled that all money received through crowdfunding is counted as business revenue. This is the case even if you are an individual raising money for a film without any company ties. This is a big deal as it really alters the amount of money you will receive in the end from your campaign as well as create some more paperwork in order to correctly deal with the tax implications.

The money the crowdfunding source takes as their cut is deductable as business expenses. Also the money that you use to fulfill rewards is deductable. I am not fully sure of all the tax implications and I am sure that this will be an evolving issue as time goes on.  These tax rules will certainly inflate the initial fundraising goals for projects making successful projects that much harder to run – especially if you are private sector and don’t have non-profit ties so that you can offer tax receipts for donations!

Empty Cup Media is a video/photo company serving clients in and around the Greater Toronto Area. You may follow the progress of Heal Myself by connecting on Twitter, Facebook or joining their email list