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

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

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

How long has Video Pixie been around?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Videopixie editors

Choose from a community of editors

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

March 20th, 2014

Posted In: Trailers, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

photo credit Flickr Stock Monkeys

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

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

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

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

February 26th, 2014

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

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

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

What draws you to your subjects?

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

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

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

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

 

Sam Green Buckminster Fuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you do these bookings yourself or through an agent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sheri Candler

February 12th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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It’s a new year, Oscar Campaigning is in full swing and that must mean one thing….Sundance is upon us!

There is no doubt that Sundance is the best launching pad for documentaries in the US if not the world. 10 of the 15 Oscar Shortlisted Docs premiered at Sundance, including the highest grossing doc of the year, 20 Feet from Stardom. Furthermore almost 90% of all docs had some form of domestic distribution secured.

There has been a lot of chatter about the recent New York Times article talking about too many films entering into a shrinking marketplace. I am usually quite the pessimist and cynic, but in this instance it is one of the best things that could have happened for film. THERE IS NO EXCUSE NOT TO HAVE DISTRIBUTION.

I REPEAT…

THERE IS NO EXCUSE NOT TO HAVE DISTRIBUTION. Looking at the films from last year’s festival, it becomes clear that the options are endless. And many films have combined approaches for their DIY. Netflix is distributing the audience award winner, The Square starting January 17. The film had a small DIY theatrical with the help of Participant Media, but that’s not the end of it. When it debuts on Netflix, it will also be available on GATHR only expanding the film’s reach.

With all this said, every filmmaker should be making distribution plans from the beginning. Put money aside to cover a festival premiere (publicist, lodging, travel, prints, etc) and for the strong possibility of a self financed release. Perhaps you’ll never have to use it. But it is better to be prepared.

Now with my rant out of the way, here’s a look at how the film’s from last year’s festival fared in distribution.

EVERY SINGLE US DOCUMENTARY and DOCUMENTARY PREMIERE selection had some form of domestic distribution, but multiple world doc films have yet to line something up in the States.

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DOCUMENTARY WINNERS

TV DOCS  (HBO, SHOWTIME, CNN):

HBO acquired TV rights to or produced 7 documentaries from last year’s festival.

Gideon’s Army, Life According to Sam (whose subject passed away this week), Manhunt, and Valentine Road all world premiered in the US Documentary Competition. The Crash Reel and Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington screened as documentary premieres and the network acquired world doc entry Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer for $1,000,000.

Not only does the network connect these films with far more viewers than they could reasonably expect in a theatrical release, but these films are also some of the critical favorites. Four of the seven films are on the Oscar shortlist for documentaries and a fifth won an Emmy.

HBO is not the only TV player in town.

Showtime aired History of the Eagles Part One and The World According To Dick Cheney which were both in the Documentary Premieres section. The Eagles Doc was also an Emmy Award Winner.

CNN Films partnered with Magnolia on Blackfish. The film has been seen by over 20,000,000 people worldwide and grossed north of $2,000,000 in the US. It made the Oscar Shortlist and has been cited as a key reason Sea World’s revenue is down over 30% this year. The acquisition was for $1,000,000, split between the network and Magnolia and certainly profitable for the latter. The company also had Pandora’s Promise which grossed $66k theatrically, but got hundreds of thousands more views on the TV screen via the broadcaster.

sundance docs 2013

MUSIC DOCS 

Three of the five highest grossing Sundance docs from last year were about singers/musicians (3 of the top 5 were also sold by Submarine and 4 of the top 5 were distributed by Radius-TWC or Magnolia) Clearly, they are resonating with a larger audience and the top players in documentaries recognize this. What’s truly impressive though is two of these films were day and date releases.

Sound City was a self financed release and dominated iTunes while also grossing over $400,000 in the care of Variance Releasing. While Variance handled the theatrical release of Sound City and Dave Grohl and his team did their own direct distribution through VHXGravitas Ventures handled the traditional VOD release of the film both in North America and internationally, including on iTunes.  The film has grossed north of 7 figures on VOD since Gravitas Ventures launched it almost a year ago. Muscle Shoals has managed just under $700,000 with Magnolia at the helm, but theirs is a traditional distribution situation and the acquisition amount was not stated. Twenty Feet From Stardom also had a traditional release and has grossed just under $5 million and is RADIUS-TWC highest grossing film to date. The film, acquired for just over a $1 million, is also a top performer digitally and has been selling well internationally.

SELF FINANCED IS POPULAR

Over 25% of Sundance 2013 docs pursued some form of self-distribution.

Running From Crazy, Blood Brother, The Square, God Loves Uganda, American Promise, Linsanity, When I Walk, Sound City, Pandora’s Promise and the yet to be released Citizen Koch all went for self financed theatricals.

Linsanity and Citizen Koch both raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter for their theatrical releases.  Linsanity has made $299,408 in cinemas. This more than justifies the DIY campaign and assuming they didn’t pour extra money into the release would net them just over $100,000 before digital and other ancillary are factored in.

The Square, which is the first Netflix Documentary pick up, had a small Oscar Qualifying run that turned into a little bit more and helped the film make the shortlist. It has grossed over $50,000 to date. That threshold was also exceeded by fellow shortlist film God Loves Uganda. Variance is releasing God Loves Uganda and should either film make the final Oscar cut you can expect additional revenue. That said, neither release appears to be profitable on its own. Variance said a few years ago they wouldn’t do a release for under $20,000 and cinemas do take a large chunk of revenues. Add the cost of Oscar Campaigning and the absence of the Netflix deal and God Loves Uganda clearly needs the Oscar nomination to boost its bottom line for digital (It will air on PBS later this year).

Running From Crazy quietly earned $33k, When I Walk did not report totals and Blood Brother has grossed over $50,000, but all through TUGG screenings.  Blood Brother’s total is at once impressive and instantly disappointing. The film won the audience and grand jury awards, but failed to generate major buyer interest. ITVS has TV and Cinedigm has digital rights, but the film has become one of the lower grossing performer’s for a major festival award winner. At the same time, it screened at festivals left and right and, while skipping week long engagements, has screened at churches and small towns around the country. It may ultimately reach $100,000 via TUGG.

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DOCUMENTARY UNDERPERFORMERS

While Sundance continues to push for a lot of political docs, they are far from the best performers at the box office. After Tiller is a great film, but hardly a Friday night date movie. Festival revenue has provided a boost for the Oscilloscope release, but with under $70k in theatrical and a solid push for Oscar (it was not shortlisted) feels like a disappointment.  Similarly award winners The Square and Blood Brother also are far from the top of the pack at the box office.

Meanwhile, over 1/3 of the World Doc films have nothing lined up for the States and Fire in the Blood is the lowest grossing Sundance Doc from last year that reported box office totals. It still has made about $20k and much of it from TUGG.

Other underperformers include Cutie and the Boxer, which was not day and date, and The Summit, which was one of the biggest doc deals at low 7 figures from Sundance Selects, but failed to pass $300k theatrically. Compared to films like Dirty Wars (IFC) which pulled in $371, 245 and Inequality for All (Radius-TWC) grossing $1.1 million, the buy was a bust.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how the narrative films from Sundance 2013 fared in release.

January 15th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Theatrical

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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

November 26th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

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Today’s guest blogger, Jan Selby, is in the midst of running her second crowdfunding campaign. Taking the lessons she learned from prior fundraising on Kickstarter, she is using Indiegogo this time. Find out why the switch?

Crowdfunding is not for the faint of heart. It requires months of planning, hard work, and follow-up. It’s worth it if you are prepared and motivated. I’ve launched two campaigns for feature-length documentary films and found them to be powerful strategic tools to help build a community and raise money.

Sheri asked me to summarize what I’ve learned through one successful Kickstarter campaign and a second Indiegogo campaign (currently in progress). I’ve tried to pack as much as I could in this post to share what I’ve learned. I’m not an expert, but I hope my experiences will be helpful to you as you embark on your own crowd-funding journey.

My first bit of advice is to create a team who will work with you for 6 months – 3 months before you launch, then during and after your campaign. I’m a detail-oriented planner by nature.  If you’re not, find someone who is and make him/her part of your team. It’s important to avoid launching your campaign until you are fully prepared. Do all you can to be ready before you launch because you’ll be incredibly busy during your campaign.

How long should your campaign be? Most campaigns do best in the first and last week. As one friend told me, “The longer your campaign, the longer your time of suffering in the middle!”  I like having a week or so to spread the word about the campaign before the 30-day countdown begins. I also plan to use the first few days to work out the kinks that are inevitable, no matter how hard you planned ahead.

Campaign 1: Kickstarter 

My first campaign raised $21,112 to complete my first feature documentary, 9 Pieces of Peace (working title). You can check out the campaign home page at the URL www.9piecesfilm.com/fund.  Notice this URL is not the one we were assigned by Kickstarter. Create your own URL that is easy to remember and that you can use after your campaign ends. Research how to redirect your new URL to the Kickstarter URL and then you can choose what to do with it after the campaign ends. I’ve kept it directed to our Kickstarter page, but you could also redirect it to a “Donate” page on your film website.

There are three core elements of a crowdfunding campaign home page. Before you launch, you will need:

1. A pitch video/film trailer

Having both a pitch and film trailer is important if you can swing it. It’s great if the production quality can reflect your capabilities and your vision for the film, but don’t obsess over it if it can’t. Be creative and speak from the heart. Mine weren’t as good as the film will be, but they worked. Consider combining them as I ended up doing in my second campaign.

2. Well-designed rewards

Take the time to research what others have done. Carefully calculate the direct and indirect costs to deliver each reward (including the fees you will pay to the platform and the credit card processor), including shipping and your time. Add 3 to 6 months to when you think you can deliver the reward because everything takes longer than you expect. You can’t change the reward description once someone has given at that level, so be sure to add all the details.  Leave room to add new levels. Be thoughtful about the language you use and be consistent. For our Kickstarter campaign, we chose to use the words “backer” and “supporter” plus “rewards” and “pledges”. (For my second campaign on Indiegogo, we are using “donors” and “perks,” but it’s a very different film and campaign.)

3. Well-written text.

Write text that tells your story, builds trust, and motivates the reader to want to be part of the community that makes your film happen. Use subheads to break up the text and add images/graphics to make it more interesting. Remember that MANY people have no idea about how crowdfunding works, so write text for an audience that doesn’t understand it. You can change the text of your page during the campaign, but not once it’s over, so be sure you are happy with the way it looks at the end of your campaign.

Once you have your home page content defined, you might think you are ready to launch. Not yet. Here’s a partial list of what I recommend you and your team do before you launch your campaign.

Network Build up your community of followers on all your social media channels (if you don’t have them, get them), build an email list, network with organizations whose members would want your film to be made, and create a media list to use during the campaign. Meet with anyone who might be interested before and during the campaign.

Develop content and plan promotions Develop your page content, design an e-blast/e-newsletter template, design and print postcards, design a flyer that you and others can post, define your social media messaging calendar and graphics/clips/quotes/images (we used Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+), create a graphic that tracks your fundraising progress and plan to use it to update your Facebook cover image daily, define your online advertising campaign strategy (we created and analyzed Facebook and Google ads), define thank-you surprises for supporter updates, and define incentives that you’ll use to entice prospective supporters (our Kickstarter page highlights the last one we did at the top of it).

Get lots of sleep.

Once you launch your campaign, your priority will be communication. Kickstarter (and other platforms) are designed for social media users. Yet, to maximize your chances of success, you need to reach beyond these boundaries.

I sent private Facebook messages to hundreds of people and this worked incredibly well. I also sent hundreds of email messages out to friends who don’t use Facebook and had never heard of Kickstarter. Each message briefly explained the campaign, the status of it, and a request to either contribute or spread the word. Our team distributed thousands of postcards that directed people to our Kickstarter page and emphasized the purpose of the film and the “all or nothing” aspect of the campaign to create a sense of urgency (which was real!).  I set up coffee/lunch/drink meetings with friends, turning them into evangelists and sending them off with stacks of postcards.

Remember to continually thank your growing list of supporters! Most platforms make it easy to send out updates. Your supporters want to hear from you. They are also your best advocates. They are invested in your campaign in more ways than one. If you can keep them energized, they will continue to share it.

Communication is time consuming, whether it is online, by phone, or in person.  Your team can help in many ways. Together, your goal is to expand your reach as far as possible to people who will care about your project. You never know where your money will come from.  Sure, there will be low hanging fruit, but I was shocked when my largest contribution came in on THE LAST DAY from someone whom I hadn’t seen for a year, but who had been following the campaign the whole time, unbeknownst to me.

Overall, our Kickstarter 9 Pieces of Peace campaign was a resounding success, but I must admit, it was very stressful. It was hard for me to sleep or relax for the entire 39 days (and 936 hours).  I kept thinking: How would I forgive myself if I didn’t reach my goal because I hadn’t worked hard enough? (Yes. Very type A.  Can’t help it. Born that way.)  Was I happy with the results? Definitely! The moment I saw online that I had reached my goal, I unexpectedly burst out crying. I think it was a combination of the joy of reaching my goal and the relief that it was over. It’s important to be honest with yourself about if you and your team are up to the challenge.

Campaign 2: Indiegogo

When it was time to launch my second crowdfunding campaign for a documentary film about the transformative power of Montessori education, Building the Pink Tower (working title), I wanted to try a different approach. To be perfectly honest, I was still burned out on the stress of an all or nothing Kickstarter campaign a year later and didn’t know if I wanted to take on that level of intensity again.   But my co-producer/co-director, Vina Kay, and I chose Indiegogo because we felt it was a better match for our film.

If you conduct more than one crowd funding campaign, you may be able to build upon the community of supporters you establish with each one.   For me, there wasn’t much overlap between the two audiences (except for a few family and friends).

It’s important to think about niche audiences for your film and use this information to create a strategy for your campaign. For this crowd funding campaign, we have the opportunity to tap into an existing group of supporters. There is an established Montessori network – people who love it because they have had a direct experience with it either as a student, parent, or teacher.  Vina and I spent the last two years learning about and connecting with this Montessori infrastructure in the U.S. and beyond. Our fundraising trailer had been viewed more than 15,000 times on You Tube, and a short video we created that reflected the vision for our film had been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Our current goal of $50,000 is high, but we feel we have the potential to reach it with the support of this passionate Montessori community. We had secured challenge grants of $20,000 as an added incentive to help us reach our goal. Most importantly, although we are optimistic, we want to be able to keep the money raised if we fall short of our goal. For these reasons, we felt Indiegogo was the best platform for this campaign.

In addition to what we did for our Kickstarter campaign, here’s a list of a few more tricks we are trying on this campaign:

-We created fewer “perk” levels and designed them to minimize our expenses; we combined our pitch and trailer into one video; we created a digital image that “donors” could use as their Facebook profile photo; we created photo/quote graphics that are popular reposts on Facebook; and we have paid to “boost” posts on Facebook with strong results.

 

Indiegogo Pink Tower sharable Pink Tower Facebook profile pic

-In addition, we have created opportunities to have our campaign mentioned in Montessori media, at national conferences, and in school newsletters.

-We are also grateful to be working with a public relations expert who is donating her time to help us explore how we can attract the attention of the local and national media.

One last topic that is important to consider for any crowd funding campaign is whether a donation is tax-deductible. Both of my films have a fiscal sponsor (IFP MN). This allows donations made through the fiscal sponsor to be tax deductible.  This means that when a donation is made through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it isn’t tax-deductible. Many people won’t care about this, but a few do. We have handled this by having a brief mention on our Indiegogo home page with a link to our fiscal sponsor donation page. Donations made through this page do not count toward our Indiegogo goal. I have since learned that there is at least one fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, who has a relationship with two platforms (Indiegogo and RocketHub) that will allow donations to be tax-deductible. It would be worth looking into whether you can gain fiscal sponsorship. [ed. It can take time to qualify, so do this long before you launch a campaign].

Our Building the Pink Tower Indiegogo campaign ends on December 18th. To follow our progress, visit www.donatepinktower.org.  If you know anyone who has been touched by Montessori education, please share our campaign with him or her.  We are committed to making a film that will change the national education debate. (Thank you!).

I wish you the best of luck in your crowd funding endeavors.  I hope sharing what I’ve learned so far will contribute to your future success!

 

Jan Selby is a multiple regional EMMY© award-winning producer, director, and founder of Quiet Island Films, a full-service video production company with national clients. After 25 years in corporate marketing, Jan followed her heart to become a filmmaker and video producer/director. Follow Building the Pink Tower on FacebookTwitter and add them to your circle on G+ 

 

 

 

November 21st, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

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Today’s guest post is from Gabriel Diani & Etta Devine who are actively campaigning on Kickstarter for their film Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse. They have some sobering news for those looking to wade into crowdfunding. 

We knew it would be tough. We’re not famous, our project wasn’t based on an existing brand, and only seven percent of Kickstarter campaigns over $100,000 make their goal. Seven percent.

We’ve run two successful campaigns in the past. One publishing campaign for $30k and a film campaign for for $27k . Because of that experience, we knew we couldn’t hit $100k with our current social media/audience reach, perhaps $60k or $70k…but $100k might as well be $1m.

We decided to do something big and bold for our latest Kickstarter to fund our movie Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse.  Something to expand our audience and get the attention of press outlets who are becoming weary of crowdfunding stories. With that in mind, we planned a massive 30 plus video Kickstarter campaign featuring our friends and fellow cast members.

We’d start with our main campaign video to introduce ourselves, lay out what the project was about, and give people a hint of what we had in store for the rest of the campaign. We’re not fans of the filmmaker-sitting-in-front-of-the-webcam-crying videos because we believe that if you’re asking people for money to make a movie, you need to show you know how to make a movie.

We stopped cutting our hair or shaving and over the course of four months we went to seven different apocalyptic locations (some up to 3 hours drive away) to shoot the different segments of the video, slowly distressing our costumes until they were dirty rags by the end.

While we were doing that, we also shot thirty mini-shorts called “Apocatips” with the intention of releasing one for every day of the campaign. This would give us new content to post to keep backers engaged and give us new things to talk about. We also put a bunch of our talented friends in them so they would be more enthusiastic about sharing them with their circles when they came out…because we’re sneaky like that.

We also have several famous genre actors with active fan communities and we wanted to target those audiences to pull them into our campaign. We made a video with Armin Shimerman and Harry Groener who are both very well known and respected for their work in “Star Trek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and targeted the video to those audiences.

Barry Bostwick was going to be in Romania while we were prepping the Kickstarter so we gave him a script outline and he shot a bunch of crazy footage while on set for “Scorpion King 4.” We sifted through all that footage and put this together with our editor Chad Meserve.

But our biggest gun was Janet Varney, the voice of the main character in a popular anime show called “The Legend of Korra.” The audience is rabid, active (because the show is on right now), and a younger demographic that is perfect for understanding what crowdfunding is. We shot a funny video with Janet dressed as her character and knew that it had the potential to go viral.

Has it worked? 

We know a lot of people in the crowdfunding world and they have all been very complimentary about not only the quality of the videos, but the quality of our rewards (we believe in giving early adopters to our cause more bang for their buck) and the beauty and clarity of our Kickstarter page (thanks to our designer Lee Thompson).

The Apocatips have done the job of keeping our backers engaged and giving them new things to share and talk about each day, as have the supplementary videos.  We’ve gotten some great press, but the pledging through those outlets is way down from when we did our previous campaigns and most outlets seem unimpressed by the quality and quantity of the videos and usually only mention it as an aside.

The biggest surprise was the Janet Varney/Korra video, which exceeded our wildest expectations in terms of fan response. As of this writing, it is over 42,000 views on Youtube, gifs people made from it have been reblogged multiple thousands of times on Tumblr, and all of the comments on the Youtube page have been overwhelmingly positive.  It’s difficult to tell because the Kickstarter backend tells you the total pledges that came through Youtube or Tumblr, but not which specific video or post. All of those eyes on the video brought us around 13 pledges…maybe 20 if we’re generous…out of over 42,000 people watching. We had planned on a 0.01% conversion rate. We got about 0.0005%. That miscalculation has certainly made things more challenging, but there’s still hope. As of this writing, we’re at 42% with 10 days to go. It’s not where we’d like to be, but we’ve jumped about $15,000 in the past three days so it’s not impossible.

We’re not sure what all of this means for the crowdfunding ecosystem. There’s lots to dissect and many factors at play including diminishing Twitter influence and how the Facebook algorithm for sharing posts has changed drastically to limit the number of friends/followers our posts are shared with since our last campaign. Our first movie has almost 1,000 “Likes” on its fan page. We shared one of our videos on it and Facebook showed it to 38 of those 1,000. This is (of course) to encourage people to pay money to “boost” or “promote” their posts. We’ve been doing this, but our friends and audience who have been sharing aren’t paying to boost their posts so our message isn’t spreading as far or as fast as it could despite the fact that this campaign has been shared more times on Facebook than the last one (136 vs. over 2,000 at the time of this writing).

Our email list is around 2,000 subscribers and we’ve been emailing our backers once or twice a week. All of our previous backers are on that list, but we also sent project updates from those campaigns within Kickstarter in case our email was going to spam. Our number one referrer to our campaign this time is Direct Traffic, which means clickthroughs are coming mostly from this email list. It’s almost twice the traffic from Facebook which is the complete opposite from our last two campaigns.

If you’re thinking of jumping into your first (or next) crowd funding campaign, be more cautious than usual. Ours is an ambitious project to be sure, but we did our homework. We have a track record on both Kickstarter and in the world of independent film and we spent five months writing, shooting, editing, color correcting, and doing VFX on over 30 videos and planning the campaign…and yet we’re still facing a steep uphill climb.

The crowdfunding world is weird and wonderful, but it is constantly changing. It was never easy to raise the type of money we’re aiming for, but as crowdfunding evolves it may be getting harder instead of easier.

Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine are award-winning actors, writers, and comedians who are often compared with classic comedy teams like Nichols and May and Burns and Allen. They have performed at comedy festivals all over the country, raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to replace the “N-word” with “Robot” in Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and garnered over 1.3 million hits on their web series Mary Olson. Gabe wrote, produced, and starred in the horror comedy feature film THE SELLING which played at over 30 film festivals, was in the Top 10 of About.com’s Best Horror Movies of 2012, and received rave reviews from The Huffington PostAin’t It Cool News, and FilmThreat. Co-produced by and co-starring Etta, the film is available on DVD/VOD and just had its television premiere on Fearnet in April. You can see their sizzle reel here.

November 13th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Distribution Platforms

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

A guest post by filmmaker/consultant Jon Reiss who used Kickstarter to raise over $20,000 for his graffiti documentary follow up, Bomb It 2.

Its almost impossible to write a post on crowdfunding these days that would portend to have something new to say.  But I think personal experiences are always helpful and when Sheri asked me to put my thoughts down – how could I say no? I have advised on a number of crowdfunding campaigns so I’m trying to frame this post in terms of what really struck me while running my own campaign – here goes:

BombItPoster_3

1.  The first few days are nerve-racking! It’s hard not to panic –and there are ways to prevent against panic. I presold a number of higher value rewards in advance of the campaign so that these would clock in on the first day, giving us an immediate boost.  This, I feel, was and is essential.  Mobilize your super core audience well in advance, especially those who you think will pony up and do it early.

2. Know your audience.  I cannot say enough about this.  Even though this was a Kickstarter for Bomb It 2, I had a feeling that we would not get that much support from the graffiti/street art niche – for a few reasons:

A. Even though we were working to redevelop that brand, I had let it slack over the previous 7 years.  We did a bit of maintenance – eg our Facebook page in the previous 2 years went from 0-13,000. But the level of engagement was not that high.

B. That audience in the past has not been a big purchasing audience.

So I knew that most of my support would be through my filmmaker as distribution and marketing guy identity. We planned many rewards around this aspect of my brand that I have been developing over the past several years. These are the rewards that sold the best and where most of my support came from – thank you all!

3.  Use your Kickstarter campaign to build your brand beyond the project. I’ve always told people that crowdfunding is as much about audience development as it is fundraising, but I didn’t realize how much that was true until I really saw it in action in my campaign and I felt the results. I actually think that artists should do them once a year as a heightened way to connect with their audience.

4.  Create a membership perk.  As part of my personal brand building, I really wanted to start creating monthly “conversations” with my audience.  My first incarnation was a monthly “Join It” conversations for 10 months.  We’ve done one and are about to do our second.  It’s a bit chaotic – keeping track of the questions on Twitter and trying to fit them all in while keeping the talk focused on a topic.  But it’s fun.  We’re about to switch to a new platform that will let us really see who is participating which goes toward building a long term relationship with an audience as well. It is better to know exactly who I am speaking with than to regard my supporters as a faceless mass.

5.  Keep it Personal.  People want to invest in you – not necessarily your project – so if they don’t see you in your video and don’t see you in the updates, it’s just another film.  I’ve seen projects that should have been successful, fail – just because the filmmakers didn’t put themselves forward.  I don’t understand why the artist wouldn’t really.  Even if you are shy on camera, use that to your advantage. Claim your weaknesses as strengths and your strengths as strengths too. I found it really hard to convey the “script” I had prepared, but I didn’t feel that improvising on camera was focused enough.  So I created a video about my own difficulty in creating a video.

6.  Prepare content in advance.  We had a lot of videos and photos prepared in advance, but that was for the Bomb It brand meant to appeal to the street art audience.  I was always playing catch up writing blog posts for the film sites I wanted to engage for my personal brand as a filmmaker. I feel as if I eventually did enough, but I could have done more. It is advisable to talk to these publishing sites well in advance. The more popular ones have scheduled content and you need get yourself slotted into their publishing schedules.

7.  Be Flexible!  We constantly added and altered awards during the campaign.  We priced items low early for early adoption then, when those sold out, we added more at a higher price point.  Items that weren’t selling (like the artwork, which was surprising), we kept adjusting the price. Some items still never sold. Note: you can’t adjust an item after one has been sold.

8.  Email is still the conversion king.  While Twitter is good for getting people excited and engaged, all of our donation spikes happened after our email blasts. Cultivate an email list and don’t abuse it.

9.  Grab Bag of Confirmed “Crowdfunding Truths”:  All of these have been written about before, but they were all born out as extraordinarily true so ignore them at your peril!

A.  Prep is crucial.  Running a crowdfunding campaign is very similar to making a film. The more you prepare, the more smoothly the shoot/campaign will go.

B.  Have a team.  There is no way I could have done this without the people on my team – King is a Fink, Diana Duran Jones, Nijla Mumin and Yanique Sappleton.  Also, the international team that created the campaign videos:  Bernadette Wegenstein (my Austrian director on the breast cancer doc I am producing); Yevgeniy Vaskevich (Russian) who shot and edited the videos; Leone Fei (Italian) – sound.

C. Set your goal appropriately.  I didn’t want to pound people and I knew that my film audience was one of the most saturated for campaigns – so I set my goal modestly.  However, in retrospect, I should have set it higher because it helps in fundraising when you need to push the last 2 weeks. We hit our mark too early.  Then again, I didn’t want to pound people, so in the end I feel we made the right choice.

D.  Create a range of interesting rewards.  I hate campaigns with DVD, Poster and Download – I’m so bored with those perks.   What is interesting about YOU?!

E.  Perhaps this isn’t a truth, but is related to the last point. What kind of unique experience can you provide that would be of value to your audience?  Sheri Candler got me thinking about this early on and it was great advice. Also you don’t need a fulfillment company or to create merchandise for experiences, one less thing to take money out of your campaign.  However, you do need to schedule them!

10.  Do not do a campaign when mercury is in retrograde.  I thought we did a pretty good job preparing for our campaign and getting people rallied in advance, so I was surprised that after a couple of days our momentum started slacking.  It felt like we were walking through mud.  When communicating with people as a whole, I always check to see if mercury is in retrograde.  (I can see Sheri’s eyes rolling!) [ed: Yes, you can] Sure enough it was, and sure enough when it went out of retrograde in our 2nd week (usually a lull), it seemed that things started to click better. In your timing, don’t just avoid holidays and other known slow periods. Avoid when mercury is in retrograde. This usually happens 1-2x a year. (Also not a good time to pitch projects in general).

Thanks to Jon for contributing his experience crowdfunding for Bomb It 2 on our blog. You can view the entire film on the Bomb It 2 website as well as purchase other merchandise. For more fun and information – follow Jon on FacebookTwitter or Instagram (@jonreiss)

If you have a useful crowdfunding story of your own, we still have some publishing slots left in November. Please send an email to me sheri [@] thefilmcollaborative.org describing what you would like to share.

Sheri Candler

 

November 11th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

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I recently sat down with David Branin of Film Courage to discuss the latest Kickstarter campaign sensation, Veronica Mars.  As of this writing, the campaign has received $4.1 million in pledges backed by over 62,000 people. It is even notable that if one Google’s Veronica Mars Kickstarter, press mentions overshadow the actual campaign page showing its power to generate mainstream press coverage that will not only widen its donation pool, but also further raise the profile of crowdfunding and Kickstarter, in particular.

No, this kind of reception is not to be expected for the unknown indie artist, especially one that has done little to nothing to cultivate an online base of support and who does not have a project that would entice mainstream press coverage. But is crowdfunding really here to stay? Is this type of funding becoming the new default for indie artists? I think it is and will continue to be. Crowdfunding is not a fad that will pass quickly into history. It is on the rise and becoming an acceptable, if not preferable, means to raise money for arts related projects.

In 2011, over $1.5 billion was raised via crowdfunding worldwide. Estimates for 2012, a mere one year later, say this grew to $2.8 billion. The National Endowment for the Arts, the largest annual national funder of the arts in the United States founded in 1965, has an annual budget of $146 million that it distributes to many organizations and individuals every year. They are perpetual targets for funding reductions and if you have ever applied to grantmaking organizations, you know the reams of paperwork it takes just to apply, let alone receive a grant.

Kickstarter, since its inception in 2009, has collected $450 million in donations for arts related projects, over $85 million just for Video and Film projects as of January 1, 2013. Artists still have to submit their campaign proposal and there are 2 main guidelines for acceptance. One MUST submit a project, something that will be completed and produce a result (a film, a game, a performance, a book etc). And the platform is only open to Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater projects. It cannot be used for causes or to sell shares! The well prepared projects can receive an answer of acceptance within a week.

But Kickstarter is not the only game in town..as of April 2012, 452 crowdfunding platforms were operating globally.

render of a crowdfunding concept

If we are all honest with ourselves, earning a living from making art is pretty rare. I see many middlemen making good livings, but the artists themselves…not so much. And a lot of the money used to make the art comes from the artist or from grants and sometimes from investors who are not likely to ever see that money again. Crowdfunding (donation, not investment) offers a far less risky antidote to all of this. From the start, the artist determines a budget based on what she is willing to risk personally and on what she should expect to raise in donations. This is better than taking all of the financial risk personally (credit cards, remortgages, life savings etc) or asking others to do this because with donations, no one expects the money back. Taking investment means she has to make a good faith effort (and ideally show in a business plan how) to repay the investor and, often it means, having to compromise on the work in order to ensure its commercial prospects. Creating with debt hanging over one’s head is probably not as healthy and productive as creating with the knowledge that the pressure to conform to market expectations is lifted. The artist can still make money on the project by selling to those who did not donate. Her profit could start at dollar one!

So what of these donors? What motivates them to support, if not the prospect of making money? It seems that they are drawn to donation, not just because of perks, but because of altruism. Indiegogo reports they recently have seen a rise (33%) of all contributed dollars in excess of perk amount or without any perk requested. This is compared with 23% in 2011. Personally, I believe sites that are trying to mix crowdfunded donation and crowdfunded investment are not going to be successful. The motivations are vastly different.

There are 2 other components of a crowdfunding exercise that aren’t often talked about. One is asset protection. Since digital goods (films, books, music) can be easily reproduced at zero cost, crowdfunding helps insulate against piracy loss. The creator agrees to provide content only if enough people commit themselves to paying for it in advance. This also overcomes the “big talker problem,” whereby people say they are interested in seeing a project created, but then don’t actually purchase. This does put the onus on the creator to put out spectacular projects and would be successful mainly for those with a track record of doing so. As consumers, we like to have an idea of what we are buying into.

The second is market proof. Say that the scope of the project is so large that it is going to be a candidate for investment, but, as with most films, the investors want concrete evidence that the project has interest in the market. Crowdfunding would serve in testing the market for upcoming productions.  If enough people express interest and are willing to pay in advance, even in small amounts, this shows a strong reason to go ahead with the production. The Veronica Mars campaign is an example of this. Warner Bros studio agreed to allow the making of the film and to distribute it, ONLY if Rob Thomas reached a minimum funding goal.

For a producer that has an interesting concept, but needs to entice outside investment, a crowdfunding exercise helps to gauge interest in a way that can be demonstrated to potential partners as well as widening the audience net beyond their personal circles. I have also suggested this as a way for foreign film commissions to decide which producers will receive ever shrinking government arts funding. If audience can be demonstrated through a crowdfunding effort, it shows that the producer (or distributor/sales agent because typically they receive the funds first so they should also prove they can reach an audience) is committed not only to making the work, but making sure it will be seen. In this case, money may not be the primary objective, but audience interest is still shown through the number of backers. That audience can come from anywhere in the world, not just the home country.

With the knowledge that crowdfunding IS here to stay, then we must also agree that creators need to be mindful of their audience and how to cultivate it online. The amount of money one can raise depends on how many supporters one already has and how many potential supporters can be reached with supporters’ help. “Crowdfunding is really about your social-media network. Make sure you have built out your Facebook fans, your LinkedIn connections, your Twitter followers, your email list. All of that is your social currency,” says Geri Stengel of Venturneer. We at TFC are continually consulting with producers about how to get active online and keep their audiences maintained. This is not a skill to use for one project, but an ongoing process to use throughout a professional career. The sooner that is embraced, the more prepared for the future of filmmaking. Film schools the world over should have training in audience building as a requirement to a degree and those who don’t attend film school should be studying how to do it right now. There is an abundance of workshops, seminars, online courses teaching these skills and tools. The longer artists (and their schools) resist, the more they are resigned to falling behind or obscurity.

For information on crowdfunding tips, see here, here and here

For more on my thoughts regarding crowdfunding, view these videos.

 

 

 

 

March 29th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Social Network Marketing

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TFC is stoked to be at SXSW 2013! In preparation of this year’s festival, we’ve taken a good look at how films performed that premiered at the festival last year. Always good to know a few facts.

sxsw-2013

 

This is the only major film festival in the US that is a FOR PROFIT.  As of this writing, it is also the only one that does not provide grant and/or distribution support directly to at least some of their films. In addition, the festival coincides with a tech conference where companies like Twitter were launched and it is the largest music festival in the United States.  All of the above can make it very easy for films to get lost in the shuffle.

With all that said, slightly over 2/3 of films that world premiered at the festival last year secured some form of domestic distribution. While these numbers might seem bleak, they aren’t as bad as they appear.   Noticeably absent from last year’s list are the big indie players like SPC, Focus Features and TWC. These companies often exhaust their funds at Sundance and EFM looking for bigger tent-pole releases. Still the festival is one of the best launching pads for an indie film in North America. IFC, Magnolia, Factory 25, Phase 4, Go Digital, Anchor Bay, Cinedigm, and Snag Films all acquired multiple films. I expect many of these companies to be in play again this year as well as a lot of distributors that were outbid on films during the buying frenzy at Sundance this year.

From last year’s premiere crop that were not studio releases, there have been three films that have grossed over $100,000 in domestic box office (though I expect one more to reach that mark).  Roadside Attractions acquired rights to Blue Like Jazz before the festival and the film has far and away the highest grossing theatrical revenue with $595,018 for 8 weeks on a max screen count of 136 . The film notably raised $345,992 on Kickstarter, almost 3x its stated goal. Adapted from Donald Miller’s memoir, the film came with a large fan-base already attached and was widely supported by the Christian community. Take heed of this fact!

PDA self-released the child chess documentary Brooklyn Castle after raising funds via Kickstarter. The film also sold remake rights for a TV series. To date it has grossed slightly over $200,000 after 11 weeks in theaters with a max screen count of 13 which, while out performing all other documentaries from the festival, makes it the lowest grossing PDA release.

Beware of Mr Baker, meanwhile, has become something of a surprise hit and just passed the century mark at the box office. It is now available on iTunes where it is in the top 100. A little under ½ the film’s tally came from one theater in NYC. So far, it has played 12 weeks in a maximum of 15 theaters. This doc is exactly reflective of the film one expects to see at the festival. It is a music focused film with a young director and edgy subject matter. Snag Films holds all digital rights to the film. This is notably much better than fellow Snag Films doc, Decoding Deepak, which reported opening weekend grosses of $9100 on 3 screens and quickly faded out of the theater. Both have most likely done solid numbers on digital platforms as marquee titles for Snag.

Like Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World was massively successful on Kickstarter raising $158,000 for its theatrical release. Matthew Lillard made his directorial debut with this film based on an award winning book that has many shades of his punk music upbringing. The film’s production budget was reportedly $750K. However, the film only grossed $41,457 in a one week run according to reported theatrical box office numbers. The theatrical consisted of a dozen cities with additional screenings supported by TUGG. It was released in partnership with Arc Entertainment.

Music Box Films has steered Starlet to over $88,000 with the film still playing in theaters, but near the end of the run. So far it played 12 weeks at a max screen count of 10. While not great numbers, the film about a unique friendship between an elderly recluse and a young porn star features real sex, which made it inaccessible to a number of theaters. Also still in theaters is the doc Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters about the notorious photographer. Zeitgeist keeps slowly adding dates and the film has steadily passed the $50k mark after 17 weeks with a max screen count of 3.

Performing on a smaller level were some well received documentaries. Oscilloscope’s Tchoupitoulas with $19,375 after 5 weeks on a max of 6 screens and Samuel Goldwyn’s Waiting for Lightning which got only $21,577 for one week on 11 screens.

On the narrative side, Cinedigm took horror film and midnight audience award winner Citadel to $13,377 in theaters for 9 weeks on a max of 7 screens and Red Flag Releasing handled the theatrical for the long delayed Duplass brothers film The Do-Decca Pentathlon. That film grossed $10,000 in its opening weekend on 8 screens and Fox Searchlight handled all other aspects of distribution.

TFC client Gayby was acquired for six figures out of the festival by Wolfe Releasing. The film grossed $14,062 from four screens and was the highest grossing gay comedy of the year. It played two weeks in Manhattan where it out-grossed all other films screening at The Cinema Village combined and later had a bonus run in Brooklyn. It also included a number of unique approaches. Most notably instead of a week-long theatrical in San Francisco, we held two special screenings at the Castro Theater. The gross for those screenings was higher than that of the entire run in the LA market. Though only out on DVD/Digital a few months, the film has already been profitable for Wolfe Releasing.

A lot of SXSW films embraced the youthful component of the festival and eschewed theatrical distribution entirely.

Documentaries: The Announcement, The Central Park Effect (Music Box has DVD rights), Uprising: Hip Hop & The LA Riots, and Seeking Asian Female premiered on ESPN, HBO, VH1, and PBS respectively.

Booster is available for download on iTunes/Amazon. Daylight Savings did a DIY digital, Extracted was released on digital platforms courtesy of Go Digital and Anchor Bay acquired The Aggression Scale, but opted to go straight to DVD.

Factory 25 just put Pavilion into release. They released The Sheik and I at the end of 2012, but did not report grosses. It played in four theaters with only Seattle lasting more than a week.

3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom (Phase 4),The Tall Man (Image), $ellebrity (DIY), King Kelly (Go Digital) and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (IFC Midnight) also opted not to release grosses and all were out of theaters in a week (except for King Kelly which lasted 2) with a tally of under $10,000 likely for each. A few of these are in Amazon Instant Video’s top 25 list though.

Funeral Kings (Freestyle) and Beauty Is Embarrassing (DIY) did not release grosses, but played in far more theaters. The latter likely finished comfortably over $25,000. Kings is in the top 100 list on iTunes.

Meanwhile, several films failed to break $10k. Notably, they are all non-competition narrative films. All except for The Last Fall had rotten ratings on rottentomatoes.com, many below 10%. Perhaps they fared much better on digital and VOD for which numbers are not available.

These films included Crazy Eyes, bought pre fest by Strand Releasing and grossed $6,106 on 5 screens in 3 weeks. Cinedigm’s In Our Nature, a family drama starring Zach Gilford, Jena Malone, John Slattery, and Gabrielle Union grossed $6,543 in 2 weeks on 1 screen. The critically panned Magnolia comedy Nature Calls grossed a paltry $646 on 2 screens in its entire run. The Last Fall, a life-after-football drama, only reported its opening weekend gross of $6,100 on 1 screen.  Of these films, it came the closest to covering basic costs of a theatrical run.

Millenium Entertainment dumped comedy The Babymakers into the marketplace on 11 screens where even with the help of TUGG it only amassed $7,889. Anchor Bay’s generic horror film, Girls Against Boys, grossed $7,529 and went right to digital and VOD after 1 week in theaters. However, it is one of the top 100 horror films in DVD and Amazon instant video. They acquired the film for seven figures! Rec 3: Genesis, the third film in this successful horror series, was pre bought by Magnolia and lasted 4 weeks in theaters, but never had a PSA over $1k and bowed out at $9,600.

In the yet to be released category– IFC’s jury winning narrative film Gimme the Loot will be released March 22.  Phase 4 is sitting pretty on the audience award winning Eden and See Girl Run. Tribeca has Somebody Up There Likes Me queued for VOD release on March 12. Magnolia just bought Big Star which screened as a work in progress at the fest. Small Apartments bought by Sony Pictures Worldwide is also waiting in the wings for release sometime in 2013. Factory 25 has Sun Don’t Shine geared up for April 29 release.

BONUS TIDBIT: KICKSTARTER

At least 20 films at SXSW this year raised funds on Kickstarter. That is slightly more than 15% of the films playing at the festival. 22 features from last year’s festival used Kickstarter with a number of those campaigns held post fest. I anticipate this year’s fest to ultimately have over 30 feature films using the crowdfunding platform. Obviously crowd-funding is a huge boost for indie filmmakers as it provides the luxury of not having to worry about paying back investors. And this list does not include films that have used other sites like Indiegogo…In no particular order…

Mr. Angel 12 O Clock Boys, Improvement Club, Continental, Linsanity, Swim Little Fish Swim, Big Joy (x2), Our Nixon, Good Ol’ Freda, I Am Divine, Good Night, Fall and Winter, Medora, Maidentrip, White Reindeer, Bayou Maharajah (x3), All the Labor, This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, The Punk Singer, Finding the Funk

From last year’s festival, the list of Kickstarter funded films include ½ of the competition titles: Gayby, Gimme The Loot, Booster, The Taiwan Oyster (x2), Bay of All Saints, Seeking Asian Female, Welcome to the Machine, and The Jeffrey Dahmer Files,  and also Girl Walk/All Day, Brooklyn Castle (x2), Pavilion, The Last Fall, Blue Like Jazz, Fat Kid Rules The World, Beauty is Embarrassing, Code of the West, Tchoupitoulas, Leave Me Like You Found Me, La Camioneta, Electrick Children, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroes (x2), Trash Dance (x2)

March 8th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Digital Distribution, Distribution, Film Festivals

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