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CEO & Cofounder, FilmDooby Orly Ravid.

I was introduced to indie film platform FilmDoo.com and decided to share it with you all here by asking FilmDoo some questions. I spoke to Weerada Sucharitkul, CEO & Co-Founder and most of what is below are Weerada’s own words in response to my questions.

What is FilmDoo’s Mission?

We help people to discover and watch great films from around the world, including documentaries and shorts. Essentially, we help people discover non-Hollywood films, which include independent films from the US and UK, as well as mainstream blockbuster films from China and Japan, for example. We not only help people to discover films but languages and regions, and are very much a ‘TripAdvisor for Films.’ On FilmDoo, you can discover films from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, many of which we are the first to show internationally outside of film festivals. Furthermore, we also have a very engaged global film community (users can have an active social profile and leave reviews, comments as well as engage with other community members) and are an extensive international film database source, which is increasingly becoming an alternative to IMDB for foreign language films. As such, we are not only a VOD platform, we are more than that—a global database of foreign films as well as rapidly growing international community of film fans.

How does the platform work? What is FilmDoo’s Business Model?

FilmDoo’s current model is TVOD (pay-per-view) for feature films on the main FilmDoo site. We are a global online streaming platform and have the ability to sell and show films anywhere in the world. We are at over 500,000 visitors a month, with users from 194 countries. As we are increasingly getting a lot of traffic from emerging countries (e.g. Indonesia is now our second biggest traffic country, and countries like Turkey, India, Malaysia and Philippines make our Top 10 list), we are now looking at more ways to further monetize from these parts of the world and could be looking to do an AVOD model in these countries in the near future. We are able to geo-block for any country combination, and only require one month notice from filmmakers or content owners if they would like to change the geo-block country combination. We are able to accept transactions in UK Pound, US Dollar, Australian Dollar and Euro, as well as Paypal and AliPay (for Chinese-based users).

Which types of films do best on your platform?

Search ’gay movies’ and ’lesbian movies,’ and you will see we rank very high on Google from a SEO perspective. At the moment, their best selling category is LGBT films. FilmDoo claims to already have one of the biggest LGBT online film collections in the world. In terms of typical demographics, the audience base is a lot younger than typical ‘world cinema’ audience. They tend to be globally mobile, active on social media, speak many languages and/or learning languages, and come from an international or expatriate background (such as second generation French or Italian). Human rights documentaries have also tended to do well. As such, we see strong appeal for films that fit our current demographics: average age 22-39, young, learning languages, loves travelling and enjoys watching coming-of-age movies, first love movies, thriller movies, road movies, LGBT movies and human rights and social issues.

Where do most of your consumers live? Explain which countries.

Our current Top 10 countries by traffic, in order, include: 1. US, 2. Indonesia, 3. Turkey, 4. UK, 5. Turkey, 6. Malaysia, 7. Philippines, 8. Egypt, 9. Germany, and 10. Saudi Arabia. However, in terms of sales, our top selling countries include: US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands and India. As you can appreciate, given the global nature of our traffic, for many in emerging countries in Asia and Africa, for example, the current TVOD price point is either too high for them, they do not have credit card or they are more used to an AVOD or free viewing model and not used to making transactions online. Hence why we are now exploring AVOD as an option to do more in the rest of the world.

What is the revenue split? Are there any costs recouped?

Revenue share is 70/30, same as iTunes. There are no costs to put the films on the FilmDoo platform, no further additional transcoding or ingestion costs. There are no marketing costs recouped either. The mission is to make it as easily and as flexible as possible for film makers to be able to put their films online at no additional costs and with maximum ease to be able to maximize their full global potential.

Some of their top selling content partners are LGBT content partners who have a collection of films with us and are able to make a decent sum month (I was asked not to share the exact sum publicly).” They note doing increasingly better for other film genres and collections. Launched in 2015, FilmDoo claims to be growing rapidly and expects to grow its catalog and audience.

Please speak to the simplicity, ease, and flexibility of the platform as far as geo-blocking, limiting territories, and the simple delivery, non-exclusivity…

Simplicity, ease and flexibility are absolutely at the heart of what we do at FilmDoo. Our goal is to reduce current barriers to international distribution in the film industry and most of all, to help films, especially films that have had their festival runs and may have already sold in a few territories, to continue to be able to monetize and reach their full global potential. That’s why we want to make it as easy as possible for them.

This includes:

  • Ability to geo-block to any country combination requirement, with only one month notice required if you need to make changes to this. We will be able to sell your film in any country.
  • We will try our best to work with your material—we can take both HD and SD files (where HD is not available), AppleProRes and H.264. We can accept the digital files via our FTP, WeTransfer, Aspera as well as any other way.
  • We can also accept film files sent to us in hard drives by post.
  • Where the films are not available digitally, we will also accept DVD/ Blurays and will digitize these at no additional costs to the film makers.
  • We do require that all films have English subtitles. If available, it would also help to have native language caption files as separate files (e.g. English captions for English language films, French caption for French language films, etc), although this is not required.
  • Our preference is for clean film files with separate subtitle files in .SRT or .WebDTT format.
  • However, if separate subtitles are not available, we can also accept film files with burnt in English subtitles.

What is FilmDoo’s Term?

Our terms are 2 years non-exclusive.

As you will see, we are much more flexible and easier to work with than most other global platforms, because our number one goal is to make it as easy as possible for film makers and content owners to put their films online and reach their global audience.

Are filmmakers able to see the data of where their audiences live (country) and how many transactions per each country? Is there a dashboard?

Yes, we have an online reporting dashboard. Film makers or content owners will be able to log in any time to see their total sales in real time. They will be able to see where the sales are coming from, the countries their films are getting the most interest in, and where available, the demographics breakdown of people interested in their films such as gender and age.

Can filmmakers contract with you directly?

Absolutely, please feel free to email me directly at wps@filmdoo.com. In addition, we can also be contacted at our general email: info@filmdoo.com. Please also feel free to follow our news, film releases and reach out to us on our social media: FacebookTwitterYouTube.

What is FilmDoo doing to increase its consumer/audience reach?

Through our proprietary marketing technology, we are doing very well on SEO, where we are able to reach global audience interested in Lesbian and Gay movies as well as films by language collection. Furthermore, our proprietary technology include our personalized film recommendation engine.

At the same time, we also have a very strong Editorial and Curation team, where we continuously help to promote our films via our Blog, YouTube channel, social media and newsletters. We are also able to interview directors and film makers at no additional costs to help create promotional and editorial content. We also have community user-generated content, such as film playlists and film reviews, which are growing rapidly.

Most importantly, what is unique about FilmDoo, is our “DooVOTE” concept, whereby we are empowering users to discover films not yet available in their country and to express a demand in seeing that film. Consequently, we are using this data to try to go after the films we know there is interest from our community:

filmdoo.com/doovote. To increase our audience reach, we often do a lot of on the ground marketing, including partnerships with film festivals and giving presentations and talks at film workshops and events.

Please share anything else you think is relevant — including that you may turn into an SVOD or AVOD

I think it’s important to note that unlike other players in this space, we are not going after the already hardcore indie or world cinema film fans. We are identifying and converting new film audiences, many of which are traditional mainstream audiences, who may be increasingly interested in exploring new and refreshing content, whether from a cultural and language perspective or from an awareness of gender or human rights topics. Effectively, our audience is an increasingly growing group of people who are becoming more interested in travel, studying or traveling abroad, as well as forming multi-cultural families. FilmDoo is all about providing a truly global platform to traditionally underrepresented voice, such as emerging film makers and female and LGBT film makers from around the world. Their films deserve to be discovered and seen legally and FilmDoo is building a community and global platform to help them achieve that.

Sydney Levine has written an article on FilmDoo as well. Please read it here.

Please note: I did not publish information about revenue per FilmDoo’s request as that is proprietary information, but I am told I can discuss it privately/confidentially with filmmakers.

October 18th, 2017

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, International Sales

Tags: , , , ,

by Orly Ravid, Founder, The Film Collaborative

Orly Ravid is an entertainment attorney at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp (MSK) and the founder of The Film Collaborative with 15-years of film industry experience in acquisitions, festival programming, sales, distribution/business affairs, and blogging and advising. She also contributed to the Sundance Artist Services initiative.

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Filmmakers usually think selling their film to distributors means that they will handle the whole release including theatrical, home video, and of course now digital/VOD. One category of distribution that is often overlooked, or not fully understood, however, is educational distribution. It can be a critical class of distribution for certain films, both in terms of reaching wider audiences and making additional revenue. For a certain type of film, educational distribution can be the biggest source of distribution revenue.

What is it?

When a film screens in a classroom, for campus instruction, or for any educational purpose in schools (K-university), for organizations (civic, religious, etc.), at museums or science centers or other institutions which are usually non-profits but they can be corporations too.

This is different from streaming a film via Netflix or Amazon or renting or buying a commercial DVD. Any film used for classes / campus instruction / educational purposes is a part of educational distribution and must be licensed legally. Simply exhibiting an entire film off of a consumer DVD or streaming it all from a Netflix or Amazon account to a class or group is not lawful without the licensor’s permission unless it meets certain criteria under the Copyright Act.

Initially, this was done via 16mm films, then various forms of video, and now streaming. These days, it can be selling the DVD (physical copy) to the institution/organization to keep in its library/collection, selling the streaming in perpetuity, renting out the film via DVD or streaming for a one-time screening, or exposing the content to view and at some point (certain number of views) it is deemed purchased (a/k/a the “Patron Acquisition Model”).

What type of films do well on the educational market?

In general, best selling films for educational distribution cover topics most relevant to contemporary campus life or evergreen issues such as: multiculturalism, black history, Hispanic studies, race issues, LGBTQ, World War II, women’s studies, sexual assault, and gun violence; in general films that cover social and political issues (international and national); health and disability (e.g. autism); and cinema and the arts. A great title with strong community appeal and solid perception of need in the academic community will do best (and the academic needs are different from typical consumer/commercial tastes).

At The Film Collaborative, we often notice that the films that do the best in this space sometimes do less well via commercial DVD and VOD. This is true of films with a more historic and academic and less commercial bent. Of course, sometimes films break out and do great across the board. Overall, the more exposure via film festivals, theatrical, and/or social media, the better potential for educational bookings though a film speaking directly to particular issues may also do very well in fulfilling academic needs.

Sourcing content

Across the board the companies doing educational distribution get their content from film festivals but also simply direct from the producers. Passion River and Kanopy, for example, note that film festival exhibition, awards, and theatrical help raise awareness of the film so films doing well on that front will generally perform better and faster but that does not mean that films that do not have a good festival run won’t perform well over time. Services such as Kanopy, Alexander Press, and Films Media Group collect libraries and get their films from all rights distributors and those with more of an educational distribution focus as well as direct from producers. These services have created their own platforms allowing librarians etc. to access content directly.

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Windowing & Revenue

There are about 4,000 colleges in the US and about 132,000 schools, just to give you a sense of the breadth of outlets but one is also competing with huge libraries of films. Educational distributors such as ro*co films has a database of 30,000 buyers that have acquired at least one film and ro*co reached beyond its 30,000 base for organizations, institutions, and professors that might be aligned with a film. All rights distributors often take these rights and handle them either directly, through certain educational distribution services such as Alexander Press (publisher and distributor of multimedia content to the libraries worldwide), Films Media Group / Info Base (academic streaming service), or Kanopy (a global on-demand streaming video service for educational institutions), or a combination of both. There are also companies that focus on and are particularly known for educational distribution (even if they in some cases also handle other distribution) such as: Bullfrog Films (with focus on environmental), California Newsreel (African American / Social Justice), Frameline Distribution (LGBTQ), New Day Films (a filmmaker collective), Passion River (range of independent film/documentaries and it also handles consumer VOD and some DVD), roc*co films (educational distributor of several Sundance / high profile documentaries), Third World Newsreel (people of color / social justice), Women Make Movies (cinema by and about women and also covers consumer distribution), and Swank (doing educational/non-theatrical distribution for studios and other larger film distributors). Cinema Guild, First Run Features, Kino Lober, Strand, and Zeitgeist are a few all rights distributors who also focus on educational distribution.

Not every film has the same revenue potential from the same classes of distribution (i.e. some films are bound to do better on Cable VOD (documentaries usually do not do great that way). Some films are likely to do more consumer business via sales than rentals. Some do well theatrically and some not. So it is no surprise that distributors’ windowing decisions are based on where the film’s strongest revenue potential per distribution categories. Sometimes an educational distribution window becomes long and sales in that division will determine the film’s course of marketing. But if a film has a theatrical release, distributors have certain time restrictions relative to digital opportunities, so that often determines the windowing strategy, including how soon the film goes to home video.

The film being commercially available will limit the potential for educational distribution, and at the same time, the SVOD services may pay less for those rights if too much time goes by since the premiere. Hence it is critical to properly evaluate a film’s potential for each rights category.

Revenue ranges widely. On the one hand, some films may make just $1,000 a year or just $10,000 total from the services such as Kanopy and Alexander Street. On the other hand, Kanopy notes that a good film with a lot of awareness and relevance would be offered to stream to over 1,500 institutions in the US alone (totaling over 2,500 globally), retailing at $150/year per institution, over a 3-year period, and that film should be triggering about 25% – 50% of the 1,500 institutions. Licensors get 55% of that revenue. On average, a documentary with a smaller profile and more niche would trigger about 5-10% of the institutions over 3 years.

More extreme in the range, ro*co notes that its highest grossing film reached $1,000,000, but on average ro*co aims to sell about 500 educational licenses.

If the film has global appeal then it will do additional business outside the U.S. All rights and educational distributors comment that on average, good revenue is in the 5-figures range and tops out at $100,000 +/- over the life of the film for the most successful titles. The Film Collaborative, for example, can generate lower to mid 5-figures of revenue through universities as well (not including film festival or theatrical distribution). Bullfrog notes that these days $35,000 in royalties to licensors is the higher end, going down to $10,000 and as low as $3,000. For those with volume content, Alexander Street noted that a library of 100-125 titles could earn $750,000 in 3 years with most of the revenue being attributable to 20% of the content in that library. Tugg (non-theatrical (single screenings) & educational distribution) estimates $0-$10,000 on the low end, $10,000 – $75,000 in the mid-range, and $75,000 and above (can reach and exceed $100,000) on the high end. Factors that help get to the higher end include current topicality, mounting public awareness of the film or its subject(s), and speaking to already existing academic questions and interest. Tugg emphasizes the need for windowing noting the need for at least a 6-month window if exclusivity before the digital / home video release. First Run Features (an all-rights distributor that also handles educational distribution both directly and by licensing to services) had similar revenue estimates with low at below $5,000, mid-range being $25,000 – $50,000, and high also above $75,000.

Back to windowing and its impact on revenue—Bullfrog notes it used to not worry so much about Netflix and iTunes because they “didn’t think that conscientious librarians would consider Netflix a substitute for collection building, or that instructors would require their students to buy Netflix subscriptions, but [they] have been proved wrong. Some films are just so popular that they can withstand that kind of competition, but for many others it can kill the educational market pretty much stone dead.” Yet, theatrical release is usually not a problem, rather a benefit because of the publicity and awareness it generates.

Passion River explains that filmmakers should not be blinded by the sex appeal of VOD / digital distribution—those platforms (Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix) can and will wait for hotter films on their radar. An example Passion River offers is Race to Nowhere which sold to over 6,000 educational institutions by staying out of the consumer market for at least 3 years. This type of success in the educational space requires having the right contacts lists and doing the marketing. But I would say, consider the film, its revenue potential per rights category, the offers on-hand, and then decide accordingly.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3, which will go into the nitty gritty details of educational distribution.

The legal information provided in this publication is general in nature and should not be construed as advice applicable to any particular individual, entity or situation. Except as otherwise noted, the views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). This alert may be considered a solicitation for certain purposes.

February 18th, 2016

Posted In: Distribution, education, Legal

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Written by Orly Ravid and Guest co-Author Jessica Rosner, who has been a booker in the educational, nontheatrical and theatrical markets since the days of 16mm. Recent projects include Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film and John Boorman’s Queen and Country.

fair_userecent blog by Orly Ravid covered just a little bit about educational rights and distribution. This blog is intended to develop that in response to a comment about the “Face-to-Face” teaching exception. This exception defines what films can be shown for no license or permission by the producers or rights holders.

The Copyright Act provides for an exception to needing a copyright holder’s permission to exhibit a copyrighted such as a film. That exception, however, is only for “face-to-face teaching” activities of a nonprofit educational institution, in a classroom. That’s why it’s called the “face-to-face” exemption.

I emphasized the key words to clarify that this exception does NOT apply to social club or recreational screenings of films or any exhibition that is not in “classroom” or “similar space devoted to instruction” where there is face-to-face instruction between teacher and student and where the exhibition relates to the educational instruction. Second, not all institutions or places of learning are non-profits. All this to say, the “face-to-face” exemption is not a carte blanche free-for-all to show any copyrighted work in any context as long as there are books around within a mile radius. This is important because educators and distributors are often unclear about what can and cannot be done under this exception to proper permission to distribute or exhibit a film without permission (which often includes a fee).

Below is some key information about the state of educational distribution in 2015 and can be done lawfully without the licensor’s permission (under the Copyright Act):

Viable options for educational distribution that involves either selling physical copies, download, or licensing streaming rights or other rights and type of rights or sales, including price points, terms, limitations, etc.

It’s important to understand that “educational sales & use” is not legal term and that educational institutions have the right to purchase any film that is available from a lawful source and use it in an actual physical class under the “face-to-face” teaching section of copyright law (discussed above). Also okay is for them to keep a copy in the library and circulate as they choose.

However, if as increasingly the case, they wish to make films available via streaming or to exhibit them outside of a class they must purchase those rights. A filmmaker or distributor can charge a higher price to an institution to purchase a DVD if they control all sales but that would be a contract situation and mean the film basically has no sales to individuals. This is done but mostly with non-feature films or ones whose market is intended to be only institutions and libraries.

Streaming rights offer a real opportunity for income for filmmaker provided they are willing to sell rights to institutions in “perpetuity” (meaning, forever). They will make more money and the institution is far more willing to purchase. Many if not most universities now want to have streaming rights on films that are going to be used in classes.

Exhibition of film at universities or educational institutions that is NOT paid for (not licensed or bought from copyright holder) – when is it legitimate (lawful) and when is it not so?

It is legal to show the film in the classroom provided it is legal copy (not duped, bought from pirate site, or taped off television). Any public showings outside the classroom are illegal. Streaming entire feature films is also illegal but streaming clips of films is not.

What is the reason or rationale for the non-lawful use?

If it is a public showing (exhibition) they (and this is usually either a student group or professor, not administration) claim “they are not charging admission” and/or that “it being on a campus” makes it “educational and in extreme cases they claim that it actually IS a class. Illegal streaming is far more insidious and involves everything from claiming streaming a 2-hour film is “fair use,” (which would justify showing it without permission) or, that somehow a dorm room or the local Starbucks is really a classroom. Bottom line: not all use of film can be defended as “fair use.” Exhibiting not just clips but a whole film is usually not lawful unless the “face-to-face” teaching exemption requirements (discussed above) are met.

There is a disconnect for these educational institutions between how they treat literature vs. cinema:

All the parties involved in streaming (legal and illegal) librarians, instructors, tech people, administrators know that if they scanned an entire copyrighted book and posted on campus system for students to access it would be illegal but some of the same people claim it is “fair use” to do with a film. I actually point blank asked one of the leading proponents of this at the annual American Library Association Conference if it was legal to stream CITIZEN KANE without getting permission or license and he said yes it was “fair use” when I followed up and asked if a school could scan and post CATCHER IN THE RYE for a class he replied “that is an interesting question.” It is important to note that “fair use” has never been accepted as a justification for using an entire unaltered work of any significant length and recent cases involving printed material and universities state unequivocally that streaming an entire copyrighted book was illegal.

Remedies to unlawful exhibition of copyrighted works for distributors or licensors:

Independent filmmakers need to make their voices heard. When Ambrose Media a small educational company found out that UCLA was streaming their collection of BBC Shakespeare plays and took UCLA to court supported by many, other educational film companies, academics reacted with fury and threatened to boycott those companies (sadly the case was dismissed on technical grounds involving standing & sovereign immunity and to this day UCLA is steaming films including many independent ones without payment to filmmakers). For decades the educational community were strong supporters of independent films but financial pressures and changing technology have made this less so. (Jessica Rosner’s personal suggestion is that when instructors protest that they should not have to pay to stream a film for a class, they should be told that their class will be filmed and next year that will be streamed so their services will no longer be needed). Orly Ravid gives this a ‘thumbs up’.

Of course remedies in the courts are costly and even policing any of this is burdensome and difficult. Some films have so much educational distribution potential that a distribution plan that at first only makes a more costly copy of the film/work available would prevent any unauthorized use of a less expensive copy or getting a screener for free etc. But not all films have a big enough educational market potential that merits putting everything else on hold. And once the DVD or digital copies are out there, the use of that home entertainment copy in a more public / group audience setting arises. As discussed above, sometimes it’s lawful, and sometimes, it’s not but rationalized anyway. It is NEVER legal to show a film to a public group without rights holder’s permission. Another viable option for certain works, for example documentaries, is to offer an enhanced educational copy that comes with commentary, extra content, or just offer the filmmaker or subject to speak as a companion piece to the exhibition. This is added value that inspires purchase. Some documentary filmmakers succeed this way. It is extremely important to make sure your films are available for streaming at a reasonable price.

Parting thoughts about educational distribution and revenue:

Overall, we believe most schools do want to do the right thing but they are often stymied when they either can’t find the rights or they are not available so get the word out.

Streaming rights should be a good source of income for independent filmmakers but they need to get actively involved in challenging illegal streaming while at the same time making sure that their works are easily available at a reasonable price. It can range from $100 to allow a school to stream a film for a semester to $500 to stream in “perpetuity” (forever) (all schools use password protected systems and no downloading is allowed). TFC rents films for a range of prices but often for $300. You may choose to vary prices by the size of the institution but this can get messy. Be flexible and work with a school on their specific needs and draw up an agreement that protects your rights without being too burdensome.

Happy distribution!

Orly & Jessica

August 20th, 2015

Posted In: Distribution, education, Legal

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Some of you may have heard that about a week ago the European Film Commission announced the Digital Single Market Plan (which may also apply to TV licensing). Variety covered the story HERE and HERE.

You can read for yourself what the fuss is all about but essentially, the EU Film Commission’s plan is to combine the 28 European territories into a common market for digital goods, which would eliminate “geo-blocking,” which currently bars viewers from accessing content across borders – and yet purportedly, the plan would preserve the territory by territory sales model. Filmmakers, distributors, the guilds, et al argue that this proposal would only help global players / platforms such Netflix, Amazon and Google, which would benefit from a simpler way to distribute content across Europe.

The IFTA (International Film and Television Alliance) expressed concerns that this would enable only a few multinational companies to control film/tv financing.  Variety noted that although politicians insist the idea of multi-territory licenses won’t be part of the plan, those in the content industry remain concerned about passive sales and portability and the impact on windows and marketing.

In the US, digital distribution is just hitting its stride and is also finally getting anchored properly in Europe.  Now this idea would be one step closer to one-stop-digital shopping, or selling.  Though allegedly that’s not in the plan – but it would sure be a step in that direction.

Cannes Marche du Film

photo credit: movantia

Some are railing against it and warning against eliminating territory sales and windowing, hurting financing, and truncating important local marketing. Well, maybe and maybe not.  I think it depends on the type of film or film industry player involved.  A blockbuster studio hit or indie wide release sensation with international appeal may very likely be big enough to sell many territories, be big enough to warrant spending significant marketing money in each territory’s release, and be culturally malleable enough to lend itself to new marketing vision, materials, and strategies per market. On a related note, I remember hits such as Clueless being translated into different languages not just literally, but also culturally – modified for local appeal.  That’s great, and possible, for some films.

But for most of the films we distribute at TFC and for the great majority on the festival circuit, they’ll be lucky to sell even 10 territories and many won’t sell even half that.  Some sales in Europe are no minimum guarantee or a tiny minimum guarantee, just like it is State-side. Some films are financed per EU territory (government funding often) but that’s on the decline too.

The dilemma here about a digital single market in the  EU recalls another common dilemma about whether to hold out for a worldwide Netflix sale or try to sell European TV or just EU period, one territory at a time. I’m not forgetting Asia or Africa but focusing on the more regular sales for American art house (not that selling Europe is an easy task for most American indies in any case).  Sure, if you can sell the main Western European countries and a few Eastern ones that’s worthwhile taking into account. However, so often one does not sell those territories, or if one does, it’s for a pittance.  Some sales can be for less than 5,000 Euros, or half that, or zero up front and not much more later. It’s not like the release then is career building either or a loss leader.  It’s just buried or a drop in a big bucket.

In cases such as these, it makes little sense to hold off for a day that never comes or a day that really won’t do much for you.  All this to say, I don’t think this proposal is one-size-fits all but I do think it’s worth trying on especially if you are in the petite section of the cinema aisle.  If you are not sure how you measure up, ask around, comparison shop – see what films like yours (genre, style, topic, cast, festival premiere, budget, other names involved and other aspects) have done lately.  Sometimes a worldwide Netflix deal may be the best thing that ever happened and I reckon that similarly, sometimes a plug and play EU digital deal (if this vision comes into fruition) will give you all that you could get in terms of accessing European audiences, while saving you money (in delivery and fees etc.). And then, get this, you can focus on direct-to-audience marketing – something few agents or distributors do much of anyway.

I kept this blog entry short as I stand by for more information out of Cannes and beyond and also await our TFC resident EU digital distribution guru Wendy Bernfeld (Advisory Board Member and co-author of the Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. case study book) to weigh in. In the meantime, I think it would be swell if one Cannes do digital in the EU all at once.

Please email me your thoughts to contactus [at] thefilmcollaborative.org or post them on our Facebook page so we can update this blog. We turned off comments here only because of the amount of spam we received in the past.

May 14th, 2015

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution

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I’m back to blogging after a long (2 years!) hiatus in law school and the first thing I want to discuss is something that frustrates us about the filmmaker consultations we give. At The Film Collaborative (TFC), it is shocking how much of what we said 5 years ago when we first started the company and what we continue to say over and over again has not trickled down and stuck to filmmakers.

While we like to think that we are changing minds and getting filmmakers to be more proactive about making their own decisions regarding distribution of their films, sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case in the majority. The same issues keep coming up (no you probably won’t be getting a 7 figure deal for distribution…no your film is not a fit for Sundance…no you shouldn’t just sign any deal that slides across the table).

Maybe you’re afraid of letting go of the notion that your job is only to make a good film and someone will buy it for big sums and you can move on fast to your next film.

Maybe you’re worried that if you cannot look an investor in the eye and say that the odds of selling and making all the film’s money back within a year or two are good, you won’t be able to make films.

Maybe you aren’t actually following any of the information currently coming out of every festival panel and industry publication about how the distribution world stands today.

But that doesn’t mean new information isn’t available and the independent film world still works like it did in 2008.

This is information we analyze daily at TFC. Clinging to the old mythology just makes it easier for distributors to cling to non-transparency in how money is made in distribution and it’s all a vicious and unsustainable cycle. You need to know the real story on how deals are structured now, what kinds of revenue is being recouped and why, and what role audience data plays in the continuation of your filmmaking career. This is not some 90’s pipe dream of make a film, reap immediate millions.

In law, they call that “willful blindness” where a person seeks to avoid liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting his or herself in a position where he or she will be unaware of facts that would render him or her liable. It’s not pretty to see, especially after all this time of talking about properly laying ground-work for self financed distribution. It has to stop and it will eventually because someone who is willfully blind won’t be working as a filmmaker for much longer.

Of course it’s not all about money, it’s also about building your audience and having your film seen and developing your career.  These are actually all quite connected, much more often than not.

Here’s a list of things we have been saying for years and keep saying. Please let this stuff stick, it’s good for you! And the more people practice it, the healthier this will be for artists and for the business in general.

Top 15 mistakes made by filmmakers that shouldn’t keep happening are:

Making a horror film and only start thinking in August about how to release it by October of the same year. If you are planning a digital release, you need about a 4-6 month lead time.

Not building community around your film until after you premiered it at a festival (or worse, completed the circuit) such that then you squandered opportunities to build buzz, demonstrate and test audience appeal, and build awareness and marketing or organizational partnerships for future release before your buzz is gone.

Not clearing music rights believing that your distributor will be happy to pay for clearance. Profit margins are already slim for distributors, so they aren’t going to outlay for this expense. Plus, it makes you look unprofessional and extremely misinformed if you don’t have all of your clearances. Plan to work with a music supervisor.

Stealing money from your marketing and distribution budget to feed your production budget even though both are needed. In fact, if you can’t market and distribute your film, you probably shouldn’t even make it. Stop with assuming you won’t need to market and distribute your film. You will at least need to build up some kind of audience awareness and it will be smart for you to start getting immediate revenue from direct distribution.

Making your first documentary largely out of stock footage, which is probably the most expensive kind of documentary you can make. Stock footage is expensive to clear and if you have no track record of success in filmmaking, it is better to steer clear of making an expensive film as your first attempt.

Making a film with no notable names, no clearly identifiable audience, and no plan for how to distribute or market the title. This is an especially bad idea if you were planning to have someone else buy it and distribute it because it has virtually no market value.

Relying on box office gross as an indicator of the commercial success of a film, and using those numbers for the business plan of your film. Box office revenue is only top line revenue, not net revenue and certainly not an indicator of profit.

Believing that MGs in the 6-7 figure range are common for films without A-list talent. Read the trades after a major festival or film market and see what MGs are paid and for what level of talent in the film. If you don’t have this level, you aren’t getting that MG.

Skipping taking good photography on set and thinking frame grabs of the cast and crew will cut it when formulating key art and meeting deliverable requirements from buyers. Here is our post on what is needed for making key art. Still images are absolutely imperative to film sales and film promotion, but also to populate social media channels. Don’t skimp on photography.

Having a 4-minute trailer.  Really? Please don’t. Also related, letting your intern or the editor of your film cut your trailer. Please hire a professional trailer editor because it is that important to gaining audience interest in seeing your film.

Forgetting that artwork on digital platforms is small, not theatrical poster size. It demands clear imagery with no extra text (laurels, URLs, credit block, rating etc).

Conflating “distributor” with “aggregator” and even with “platform” – they are different, the deals will be different, your expectations should be different, etc.  This leads filmmakers to make bad or incomplete decisions. See our post on distribution terms.

Many filmmakers drastically “overthink” their festival strategy, and hold back from festival invitations for fear that actions taken now will overexpose the film and hurt its chances with press and distributors later. The truth is that INACTION is the far greater danger. By all means, you should obsess about the right world and international premieres …after that, just identify the best festival opportunities in each local market and let it fly, making sure to also address the festivals that cater to your niche along the way.

Hiring a lawyer who does not know the film business to handle your film deals. Okay, that’s a shameless plug since I’m an attorney now. But truly, as much as knowing the law matters, knowledge of what can be negotiated in a film distribution deal matters so much when it comes to monetizing rights and protecting your work.

Conducting screenings of your film (test screening as well as festivals) and not having a system for collecting email contact details so you can keep in touch about the progression of the release. When will you have another chance to contact these people again? Maximize your ability to keep in contact. There are now some text to subscribe services you can use rather than pass the clipboard.

A lot of film consultants, industry bloggers, film festival panelists, and others all saying the same thing so it’s time to realize what they are telling you is true.  Can you hear me? Is this mic still on? It’s time not just to hear, but to listen and follow the advice people are freely telling you. You should no longer continue to make these mistakes.

 

Wishing you all the good things in your filmmaking career.

 

Orly

September 24th, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, Marketing

Tags: , , , , , ,

By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

In the past 3 posts, we have covered knowing the market BEFORE making your film, how to incorporate the festival circuit into your marketing and distribution efforts and understanding terms, the foreign market and release patterns.  In this post, we will discuss the items that will be required by sales agents, distributors (primarily digital distributors) and even digital platforms (if you are thinking of selling directly to your audience with less middlemen) before a deal can be signed and the film can be distributed.

photo credit Vancouver Film School

photo credit Vancouver Film School

Know your deliverables

Distribution is an expensive and complicated process and all distribution contracts contain a list of required delivery items (often attached at the end of the document as an exhibit) in order to complete the agreement. Without the proper items, sales agents and distributors will not be interested in making a deal. Your film must have all proper paperwork, music licenses, and technical specifications in order and these delivery items will incur additional costs to your production. Make sure to include a separate budget for deliverables within the cost of your production.

US sales agents and distributors will require insurance covering errors and omissions (E&O) at minimum levels of $1,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 in the aggregate with a deductible of $10,000, in force for three years. E&O insurance protects the producer and distributor (usually for the distributor’s catalog of films)  against the impact of lawsuits arising from accusations of libel, slander, invasion of privacy, infringement of copyright etc and can cost the producer in the range of $3,000 to $5,000. E&O insurance is required BEFORE any deal is signed, not after, and can take 3-5 days to obtain if all rights and releases, a title report and music clearances can be supplied.

Digital aggregators in general do not require E&O insurance unless it is for cable VOD and Netflix (these do). However, they do require closed captioning (around $900), subtitling (if you intend to distribute in non English speaking territories, usually costs around $3 per minute) and a ratings certificate (if distributing in some foreign territories, prices vary according to run time and ratings board).

The production will need to supply a Quality Control (QC) report, preferably from a reputable encoding house. If you film fails QC for iTunes and other digital platforms, it can be costly to fix the problems with the file and it will lead to a delay of the film’s release. MANY problems can be found in the QC process so whatever you think you are saving by encoding yourself or via a less reputable company, you will more than make up for in having to redo it. The most common problems arise from duplicate frames or merged frames as a result of changing frame rates; audio dropouts or other audio problems; sync problems from closed caption or subtitling files.

Distributors will accept a master in Apple ProRes HQ 422 file on an external hard drive or HD Cam. By far, the digital drive is preferable to tape and unless your distributor specifically requests HD Cam, do not go to the expense of creating this. The master should NOT have pre roll advertising, website URLs, bars/tones/countdowns, ratings information, or release date information. For digital files, content must begin and end with at least one frame of black.

Other delivery items required by sales agents/distributors include: trailer (preferably 2 minutes) in the same aspect ratio as the film with no nudity or profanity; chapter points using the same time code as the master file; key art files as a layered PSD or EPS with minimum 2400 pixels wide at 300 dpi; at least 3-5 still images in high resolution (traditional distributors often require as many as 50 still images) and already approved by talent; DVD screeners; press kit which includes a synopsis, production notes, biographies for key players, director, producer, screenwriter, and credit list of both cast and crew; pdf of the original copyright document for the screenplay and the motion picture; IRS W-9 form or tax forms from governments of the licensor; music cue sheet and music licenses.

There are technical specifications that need to be met as far as the video and audio files. Most post production supervisors are aware of these. It is also not unheard of to be asked to supply 35 mm prints for foreign distribution if a theatrical release is desired or contractually obligated.

Sometimes if your film is considered a hot property, a distributor might be willing to create the delivery items at their expense in exchange for full recoupment and/or a greater cut of the revenues. But do not count on this. We have heard from many filmmakers who didn’t clear music rights for their films, assuming a distributor would take on this expense, and were sorely disappointed to find none would do that. If you can’t supply the delivery list, no agreement will be signed.

July 23rd, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, International Sales

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

In the past 2 posts, we have covered knowing the market BEFORE making your film and how to incorporate the festival circuit into your marketing and distribution efforts. This post will cover terms you need to know; whether a foreign distribution agreement is in your film’s future and what to do if it isn’t; the patterns, or windows, that need to be considered in your release. Just to be clear, we are targeting these posts mainly to filmmakers who seek to self finance and actively control their distribution. If that is not your plan, the usefulness of these posts may vary.

Distributors; platforms; aggregators; self hosting sites; applications

If you are new to the distribution game, here are some terms you now need to be familiar with.

Distributors (ie.  A24, Oscilloscope, Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, The Weinstein Company, Roadside Attractions) take exclusive rights to your film for a negotiated period of time and coordinate its release.  These companies often acquire independent films out of the most prestigious film festivals and pay decent advances for ALL RIGHTS, sometimes even for ALL TERRITORIES. A signed and binding contract takes all responsibility for the film away from its creator and places it with the distributor to decide how to release it into the public. Distribution through these entities entails theatrical, digital, DVD, educational, leisure (airline/hotel/cruiseship).

Platforms (ie. iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Hulu, Netflix, cable VOD) are digital destinations where customers watch or buy films. Viewing happens on a variety of devices and some allow for worldwide distribution. Mainly platforms do not deal directly with creators, but insist on signing deals with representative companies such as distributors or aggregators.

Aggregators (ie. Premiere Digital, Inception Media Group, BitMAX, Kinonation) are conduits between filmmakers/distributors and platforms. Aggregators have direct relationships with digital platforms and often do not take an ownership stake. Aggregators usually focus more on converting files for platforms, supplying metadata, images, trailers to platforms and collecting revenue from platforms to disperse to the rights holder. Sometimes distributors (Cinedigm, FilmBuff) also have direct relationships with digital platforms, helping reduce the number of intermediaries being paid out of the film’s revenue.

Self hosting sites (ie. VHX, Distrify, Vimeo on Demand) are all services that allow filmmakers to upload their films and host them on whatever website they choose. Vimeo on Demand also hosts the video player on its own central website and has just integrated with Apple TV to allow for viewing on in-home TV screens.

Applications for many digital platforms can be found on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets),Over the Top (OTT) internet-enabled devices like Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Playstation and Xbox and on smart TVs. Viewers must add the applications to their devices and then either subscribe or pay per view to the platforms in order to see the film.

What about international?

In the latest edition of our Selling Your Film book series, Amsterdam based consultant Wendy Bernfeld goes into great depth about the digital distribution market in Europe. Many low-budget, independent American films are not good candidates for international sales because various international distributors tend to be attracted to celebrity actors or action, thriller and horror genre fare that translate easily into other languages.

Rather than give all of your film’s rights to a foreign sales agent for years (often 7-10 years duration) just to see what the agent can accomplish, think seriously about selling to global audiences from your own website and from sites such as Vimeo, VHX, Google Play and iTunes. The volume of potential viewers or sales it takes to attract a foreign distributor to your film is often very high. But just because they aren’t interested doesn’t mean there is NO audience interest. It simply means audience interest isn’t  high enough to warrant a distribution deal. However, if you take a look at your own analytics via social media sites and website traffic, you may find that audience interest in foreign territories is certainly high enough to warrant self distributing in those territories. Look at this stats page on the VHX site. There are plenty of foreign audiences willing to buy directly from a film’s website. Why not service that demand yourself and keep most of the money? Plus keep the contact data on the buyers, such as email address?

Often, sales agents who cannot make foreign deals will use aggregators to access digital platforms and cut themselves into the revenue. You can save this commission fee by going through an aggregator yourself. In agreements we make with distributors for our Film Collaborative members, we negotiate for the filmmaker to have the ability to sell worldwide to audiences directly from their website. If you are negotiating agreements directly with distributors, the right to sell directly via your own website can be extremely beneficial to separate and carve out because sales via your website will generate revenue immediately. However, this tactic is now being scrutinized by distributors who are allowing direct to audience sales by filmmakers, but asking in their agreement for a percentage of the revenue generated. It is up to the filmmaker to decide if this is an acceptable term.

If you do happen to sell your film in certain international territories, make sure not to distribute on your site in a way that will conflict with any worldwide release dates and any other distribution holdbacks or windowing that may be required per your distribution contracts. An example: You have signed a broadcast agreement that calls for a digital release holdback of 90 days-6 months-1 year or whatever. You cannot go ahead and start selling via digital in that territory until that holdback is lifted. Instead, use a hosting service that will allow you to geoblock sales in that territory.

Photo credit David Goehring

Know your windows.

If you do decide to release on your own, it’s important to know how release phases or “windows” work within the industry and why windowing was even created.

The release window is an artificial scarcity construct wherein the maximum amount of money is squeezed from each phase of distribution. Each window is opened at different times to keep the revenue streams from competing with each other. The reason it is artificial is the film continues to be the same and could be released to the audience all at one time, but is purposely curbed from that in order to maximize revenue and viewership. The Hollywood legacy window sequence consists of movie theaters (theatrical window), then, after approximately  3-4 months, DVD release (video window). After an additional 3 months or so, a release to Pay TV (subscription cable and cable pay per view) and VOD services (download to own, paid streaming, subscription VOD) and approximately two years after its theatrical release date, it is made available for free-to-air TV.

Now, there is a lot of experimentation with release windows. Each release window is getting shorter and sometimes they are opened out of the traditional sequence. Magnolia Pictures has pioneered experimentation with Ultra VOD release, the practice of releasing a film digitally BEFORE its theatrical window and generally charging a premium price; and with Day and Date, the practice of releasing a film digitally and theatrically at the same time. Many other distributors have followed suit. Radius-TWC just shortened the theatrical only window for Snowpiercer by making it available on digital VOD within only 2 weeks of its US theatrical release. During its first weekend in US multiplatform release, Snowpiercer earned an estimated $1.1 million from VOD, nearly twice as much as the $635,000 it earned in theaters.

So, while there are certainly bends in the rules, you will need to pay attention to which release window you open for your film on what date. For example, it might be enticing to try to negotiate a flat licensing fee from Netflix (Subscription VOD or SVOD window) at the start of release. However, from a filmmaker’s (and also distributor’s) perspective, if the movie has not yet played on any other digital platforms, it would be preferable to wait until after the Transactional VOD (TVOD) window in order to generate more revenue as a percentage of every TVOD purchase, before going live on Netflix. If the transactional release and subscription release happen at the same time, it cannibalizes transactional revenue.

Also, sites like Netflix will likely use numbers from a film’s transactional window purchases to inform their decision on whether to make an offer on a film and how big that offer should be. Subscription sites such as Netflix also pay attention to general buzz, theatrical gross, and a film’s popularity on the film’s website. There is value in gathering web traffic analytics, email database analytics and website sales data in order to demonstrate you have a sizable audience behind your film. This is useful information when talking to any platform where you need their permission to access it. Caution: Netflix is not as interested in licensing independent film content as it once was. If your film is not a strong performer theatrically, or via other transactional VOD sites; does not have a big festival pedigree; or does not have notable actor names in it, it may not achieve a significant Netflix licensing fee or they may refuse to license it for the platform. Netflix is no longer building its brand for subscribers and it has significant data that guides what content it licenses and what it produces.

Also be aware that some TV licensing will call for holding back Subscription VOD (SVOD) releases for a period of time. If your film is strong enough to achieve a broadcast license deal, you will need to wait before making a subscription release deal. On the other hand, holding out too long for a broadcast distribution offer might cause the publicity and interest you’ve generated for your film to dissipate.

If your film is truly a candidate for theatrical release, most cinemas will not screen a film that is already available on TVOD or SVOD services. In fact, most of the chain cinemas will not screen a film that is available in any other form prior to or at the same time as theatrical release.

The way you choose to release your film is a judgment call in order to reach your particular goal. All decisions have consequences and you will have to live with the decisions you make in releasing your film. Like all decisions, you base them on what you know at the time with no guarantee as to how they will turn out.

 

 

July 16th, 2014

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, Distribution Platforms, DIY, International Sales, Theatrical

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

By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

We continue this month’s series covering the practicalities behind successfully marketing and distributing an independent film with limited resources. Please see Part 1 on knowing the market for your film HERE.

Part 2-Temper festival expectations and don’t wait too long to release.

While you may be targeting top-tier festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Berlin, Telluride and SXSW (Austin’s South by Southwest) where acquisition executives attend and search for films to acquire, your film may not be chosen for these festivals. Be prepared for this disappointment and have a backup plan. If your film fails to be selected, your distribution options are likely to change as well. The best acquisition prices are paid by the most reputable companies for films out of these top tier fests. While you may receive offers for distribution even if your film doesn’t have this type of premiere, those offers will be lower in scope and usually from either up and coming companies (ie, start ups with little money) or companies whose reputations are not as prominent.

Should you continue submitting to other festivals and stay on the circuit? TFC colleague Jeffrey Winter has handled festival distribution for countless films, but mainly the films TFC picks up for festival distribution either come from A list festivals or have some kind of specific niche appeal. He advises “For any film that is performing well on the circuit (meaning getting accepted into a significant number of festivals on a more or less regular basis), there is a general rule you can follow. Most films will see their festival bookings continue robustly for 1 year from the date of the world premiere, and then significantly drop off (but still trickle in) in months 12 – 18. After 18 months, festival bookings will nearly cease worldwide. Given that general rule, I am going to go ahead and call that 18 months the ‘Festival Window.’”

“For filmmakers and many small distribution companies, the festival window is invaluable and irreplaceable in terms of the marketing/publicity value it can afford, and the modest revenue that can be generated for certain kinds of films (prestige festival films, films that fit within the programming of specific niche festivals), especially if they can secure European festival placement. When working with a modest budget, any and all revenue the film can bring in is significant. Additionally, the free marketing/publicity that a festival offers is just about the only kind of marketing the film may ever get.”

Assuming you achieve regional festival screenings, will you use it as a form of theatrical tour, gathering press coverage and fans in regional areas in order to fuel your digital sales? If so, how to transition that coverage and word of mouth into the digital rollout, when is that rollout going to happen and who is going to coordinate it? These questions need to be answered.

Leaving too much time between a regional festival premiere and eventual digital and DVD sales is a mistake many independent filmmakers make.  When publicity and good word of mouth recommendations are being generated from your festival screenings, set a firm deadline on when digital distribution will have to start should your distribution savior not appear. Don’t hold out indefinitely for distribution opportunities that may not come. Often, we are contacted by filmmakers who insist on spending a year or more on the festival circuit, without making any revenue and without significant distribution offers in sight. They are wasting revenue potential by continuing to hope a distribution savior will appear and refusing to move ahead with plans for the next phase of release (that will probably be handled on their own) because they didn’t budget for this situation or they have no idea of the options available. Note, it can take up to 4 months to go live on iTunes and other well known digital platforms. If you’re thinking of having a digital self release, plan accordingly.

If chosen for a festival, take full advantage of the screening as a marketing opportunity. It is imperative not only to enjoy face to face compliments at your screenings, but encourage people to use their social media accounts to tell others how great your film is. Many times filmmakers tell us about their sold out screenings at regional fests (or even pre release screenings) and how many people came up to them with kind words to say about the film. But in looking for those kind words online, sometimes we find very little or nothing being said. This is a troubling sign. No bump in Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, trailer views or website traffic? No one using a hashtag or @mention on Twitter or Instagram? No comments or shares of the film’s trailer from Youtube? Kind words in person are great for your personal morale, but in order to have beneficial word of mouth, people have to want to share news of your film and the normal outlet for doing that today is online. It is trackable too! Word of mouth won’t help with digital sales if no one is talking so make sure everyone you meet is aware of the film’s home online, its social media accounts, and where a trailer exists to be shared. You can’t MAKE people speak, you can only encourage it.

photo credit Matt DeTurk

photo credit Matt DeTurk, Dalboz17 via photopincc

If you’re brash during a post screening Q&A, take a selfie à la Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars and tell everyone you will post it to the film’s Twitter or Instagram account and what that account handle is. They are more likely to retweet or share it if you make it super easy and they are more likely to follow your account, visit the film’s website (so make sure the About section includes that URL link), maybe even sign up for your email alerts. Also, think a little differently about your film’s festival catalog description. If you want people to follow you as an artist and your film’s actors (a social media following is important for their career!), add Twitter handles/Instagram handles/FB page name etc to the paragraph you are asked to submit about your film. Technically, ALL festivals should want this kind of information included just as they now post website URLs. If audience members like the film performances, they also might like to follow the humans who gave them and the humans who made the film possible.

Instead of using a clipboard method to collect email addresses from your festival audience, look into using a text-to-subscribe service associated with your email provider. Mailchimp’s MobileChimp (UK, USA, Australia, Spain, France & Netherlands) and Constant Contact (US only) both have this capability. Put the keyword you choose to associate with your account on any printed material and be sure to say it out loud during your Q&A. An email database is worth its weight in gold throughout your release and further into your future work so don’t neglect to grow one while you are touring your film.

Add festival laurels from the most important/recognizable film festivals to your marketing materials. While we know the temptation is to put every laurel from every festival on your website banner, key art, postcards etc. it starts looking cluttered and inconsequential. The festivals with the most impact on your audience are the ones to include because they will have the most impact on purchases. Don’t forget the pull quotes to favorable critical reviews as well.

In going back to the discussion about digital release, is this release going to be worldwide or only in your home country? If your film has played festivals worldwide, it doesn’t make much sense to only release it within your own country, especially if you have all territories still open for sales. If you have signed agreements in some formats or in some territories, then those warrant compliance. But hoping for a foreign deal when you don’t have one even in your home country is unrealistic. Seriously consider releasing digitally worldwide when your launch comes.

In the next part of the series, we’ll take a look at the different players in film distribution and how to work with them.

July 9th, 2014

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

By Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

This month’s series will cover the practicalities behind successfully marketing and distributing a film with limited resources. In this series, we will cover knowing the current distribution situation before developing a new project, the rewards and perils of the festival circuit, become familiar with the different players in film distribution and how to work with them effectively and wrap up with deliverables that will expected once you sign a deal.

This is part 1. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Part 1-Understand the market

Independent film means risk.

A report published this year by Cultural Weekly cited fewer than 2% of the fully-finished, feature-length films submitted to the Sundance Film Festival (arguably the biggest festival for the best of independent film) will get any kind of distribution whatsoever. Of the more than $3 billion invested annually, less than 2% will ever be recouped. This is a reality of independent filmmaking and anyone who engages in it must understand the financial risk of doing so. It is best to evaluate your goals in making a film before starting out. It’s okay to have goals other than recouping a production budget. This is especially true of first or second films from those involved. In our opinion, films can be and should be about art, cultural connection, gaining experience and giving voice to the unheard. All are valid goals right up there with money. Patrons throughout the ages have supported the arts for many emotional reasons beyond making profit.

balance risk

But if the ultimate goal is to fully recoup and be profitable, a realistic plan from the start describing how that is going to happen, and what it will realistically take to make that happen, needs to be in place before anyone sets foot on a set. The distribution marketplace is so fluid and challenging, even the best planning can result in a loss. Be prepared for the risk, with no complaining or blaming.

It’s natural for filmmakers and film investors to have high expectations for the release of their films, including a theatrical release, TV sales, international sales, a Netflix fee, a cable VOD/digital release and maybe DVD for shops that still carry them. At the same time, it’s important to understand how a release like this might be achieved and how many intermediaries are inserted into the money chain before the production will see any revenue to pay back financing. There are legitimate benefits in partnering with strong companies who have the relationships and expertise to achieve a release that the production envisions, but agreements with them may not be forthcoming if the film isn’t perceived to have breakout or mass audience potential. Or you may fall prey to the distributor who annually needs new product to fill the catalog and isn’t willing to give much market support to your film. Distribution companies profit on volume, but your film does not share in their volume profits.

Before starting a new project that has aspirations for a big market release, it is the responsibility of the producer/filmmaker to survey the market. Talk to sales agents who have recently returned from the major film markets (Berlin, Cannes, AFM etc) and find out what they are seeing as far as emerging demand or trends that have finished. Check sites like The Film Catalogue to see what is already in the market or will be soon. You can check by budget level, by genre, by release year or production stage and even dig deeper by seeing who is handling these films and what cast is attached. While this won’t be a comprehensive list because not every film being made has a sales agent attached, it will give a better idea of the competitive landscape for the kind of film you are seeking to make.

Keep up your knowledge of the industry by reading both the trade press and various organizational blogs. There is a lot of free and valuable information online from those working in the industry and from other filmmakers on sites including IndieWire, Filmmaker Magazine and MovieMaker Magazine, as well as blogs from Sundance, IFP, Film Independent and our own blog. You just have to subscribe to them, read religiously and analyze how that information benefits what you are trying to do. Alternatively, you can save yourself time by working with a distribution consultant knowledgeable about current distribution options and revenues. Caution: Always learn about ownership stakes and fees of intermediaries such as sales agents, aggregators and distributors because their fees and associated marketing costs reduce the amount of revenue that flows back to your production.

It is a good idea to confer with other filmmakers. It is our experience that the filmmaking community can be very giving when asked about how they accomplished something, and not just about production, but all aspects of getting their films to market. This is a useful way to learn from others’ experiences (and mistakes). Sharing stories helps you understand the reputations of companies you may be dealing with and especially key contact names within those companies. Many experienced filmmakers are mentors and are willing to make introductions if they can see a fit between your talent and a decision maker who can help.

Not only should you connect with the community online, but make it a point to attend offline events in person where you will pick up timely information, and form ongoing relationships that could help you later in your career. Labs, conferences, festivals and workshops are all regularly offered not just in Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto or London, but in many communities across the world. If you are serious about filmmaking as an occupation, you need to invest financially in your education and network building.

In the next post, we will talk about what can be gained from the festival circuit, how long to stay on the circuit with your film and why staying on it too long can be detrimental.

 

July 2nd, 2014

Posted In: Distribution, DIY

Tags: , , , , , ,

Today’s guest post is from TFC member John Chi whose microbudget film Tentacle 8 was recently released by Grand Entertainment Group. We thank John for sharing his experience with TFC and the knowledge he gained during the distribution phase of his film so that all independent filmmakers might benefit.

Changing The Paradigm

The first thing every filmmaker should ask themselves before considering to make an independent feature film is: how badly do I want to do this?  Are you prepared to do everything it takes, and make the necessary personal and professional sacrifices to ensure your film gets made and seen by an audience?  Often times, filmmakers think the answer is yes, when in fact it’s something less clear.

You can make it easier on yourself by writing a script that’s marketable, fits the sweet spot of what other people think you should be doing, saying, feeling, and thinking.  Then Google “how to win major awards at Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Cannes and start a bidding war” and click, “I’m feeling lucky.”   That’s definitely a path many people take.

But like most independent filmmakers, who aren’t answering to studios or huge investors, it’s against our nature to do what other people tell us to do, especially when it comes to what’s popular or in vogue.  We’ll be the one that breaks the mold; we’ll be the one that changes the paradigm.  That’s exactly what we said as we assembled our team for TENTACLE 8.  We would be the one film that would change the paradigm of what’s possible.  We were going to make a global espionage movie about the NSA, shoot it in 15 days, and do it within the Ultra-Low Budget SAG agreement.  While many saw disaster, we saw opportunity.  It was our chance to stand out from the crowd, and do something either truly brave or astoundingly idiotic.

Just Get Through Production

John Chi Tentacle *

Director John Chi on the set of Tentacle 8

I was determined to make TENTACLE 8, a film that addressed social and political issues that wasn’t being addressed anywhere else.  At least not in narrative features.  My job was to assemble a team of filmmakers that shared my ambition, my optimism, and my foolishness to attempt what appeared on paper to be an impossible task.  If we kept saying that we were going to be the one, and preached it often enough, it would become true.  We would be the film that would change the paradigm of what independent films were capable of.

For most first time feature filmmakers, like I was, I thought Production would be the most difficult part of the journey.  It’s what most filmmakers are pretty good at, and best prepared to do.  I won’t describe at length what it took to get TENTACLE 8 made.  Instead, I’ll just say that it took an incredible amount of ingenuity, effort, and hard work to pull off what we did.  It was an extraordinary synergy of trust, belief, attention to detail, and commitment that made it all possible.  There were many selfless acts of kindness from people who didn’t have any reason to help us, but did anyway.  They were our angels.  Without them, we wouldn’t have finished the movie on our budget.  You can’t plan on those things happening, you just need to make sure you treat other people with respect, be humble, and always act professionally.  Don’t make it easy for other people to turn you away when you ask for help.  You might get lucky.

Making a movie is a labor of love under extremely stressful conditions, which tends to bond people.  By the end of production, we believed that we had accomplished something very special together.  We had done it.  We were on our way to realizing our mantra.  We were going to be the film that changed the paradigm.

High Hopes and First Impressions

Several months later, we were ready for our coming out party.  We had worked really hard to put a solid, but not perfect, festival cut together for people to start looking at.  One of our first calls was to The Film Collaborative.  We thought they would probably put us in touch with all the festival programmers at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, et al, and we could focus on our travel plans for the next year.  Jeffrey Winter, co-executive director of The Film Collaborative, was kind enough to watch our film, and give us some feedback.

I remember reading his comments the first time over, scanning it quickly looking for the words, “great, fantastic, ground breaking, change the paradigm”….but I didn’t see them.  So I read the email again a bit more carefully.  Maybe I missed it.  “Not a festival film.  Difficult to market.  No marketable name talent.  Challenging subject matter and run time will make it difficult to program.  Proceed with modest expectations”.  This had to be a mistake.  Maybe the DVD screener got mixed in with someone else’s packaging.  I read the comments over, and over again.  Maybe if I read them often enough, cursed them loudly enough, they would magically transform into the words I was looking for.  That never happened.

Filmmakers Are Often In Denial

We went ahead anyway and applied to all the major film festivals and some regional ones as well.  A year later, and a folder full of spiritless rejection form letters, we hadn’t been accepted into any film festivals.  Maybe Jeffrey Winter was on to something.

Putting away those dreams of being courted by rabid, hungry distributors, waving seven figure blank checks in the air, was hard.  It was more than a dream, it was almost an expectation.  Make a great film, and the rest will come.  Didn’t anyone know that we were going to be the one?

We asked our sales agent, Glen Reynolds from Circus Road Films, to start reaching out to distributors.  1% of all feature film applicants get into Sundance.  Maybe it’s less.  Out of that 1% maybe half get some distribution opportunity.  A long and painful eight months or so had passed waiting to get into a film festival, with no results.  It was time to roll up our sleeves, and take back some of our own fate.

What happens to films that don’t win the Palm D’Or or the Grand Jury Prize?  What happens to films that aren’t on the other end of Harvey Weinstein’s phone call?  The first thing we needed to understand was that no one was going to do the hard work for us.  There simply is no substitute for grinding it out, and doing the dirty work.  The Film Collaborative, along with other indie film organizations like Film Courage, IFP, Film Independent, San Francisco Film Society, and Hope For Film, to name just a few, all have archives full of useful information written by filmmakers for filmmakers.  We scoured them all, looking for nuggets of truth in every success story, hoping to recognize some shared path to that pot of gold.  The only thing those stories shared in common, was that there was no common path to success.  They were as unique as the films they made. 

Distribution For The 99%

Finding a distributor via our sales agent didn’t take very long.  After maybe two months of sending out screeners (or viewing online screeners), we had a handful of distributors that were interested in distributing our film.  Hallelujah.  Victory!  Time to celebrate and take a much needed sigh of relief.  We reached out to TFC again and sought out their counsel to help us make the best decision.  We explored DIY distribution, and traditional VOD/Digital distribution, making sure we understood all the variables and decisions that went into each approach.  I had a conversation with TFC founder Orly Ravid about our options, and she told us that our film wasn’t mainstream enough for any distributor to really go out on a limb for us.  We could:

1) bypass the traditional distributor and go with a DIY approach, put in a lot of additional time, energy, and money with no guarantees of success; OR

2) sign on with a traditional distributor and manage/lower our expectations.  Orly made it very clear that no distributor was going to spend a lot of money or expend a lot of energy marketing the movie.  Whatever we could get them to commit to, we should try to get in writing.

That bit of honest feedback was an unexpected buzz kill, and didn’t exactly sound like a reason to celebrate.  After going through our options again and really assessing the pros and cons of each approach, we ultimately chose to go with a traditional distributor, Grand Entertainment Group.  Grand is a new distribution company that focuses on championing unique and innovative voices, founded by long time home entertainment executives that had 20+ years of experience distributing independent films for Lionsgate and ThinkFilm, among others.  We felt they could help us reach a much wider audience than we could ever reach on our own.  There was just no way for us to get our DVDs onto store shelves at Walmart or Best Buy, or land a cable TV deal without their help and prior relationships.

Two long years after we finished shooting the film, finally our work was done.  Everything would be clearer, and all of our problems would get solved once we signed with our distributor.  Right?

Our Moment of Truth

It’s at this critical stage, that films either go on to thrive and find success or get completely lost in a giant swamp of never to be seen again films.  No one cares about your film more than you do.  Not your sales agent, your producer’s rep, your distributor, your publicist, no one.  To them, as committed and dedicated as they might be, it’s still a job.  To you, it’s your life.  This goes back to the question you should have asked yourself when you started:

How badly do you want to do this?  Are you prepared to do everything it takes, and make all the necessary sacrifices, personal and professional, to ensure your film will be made and seen by an audience?

My producer, Casey Poh, gave me a statistic from his studies at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC:  It takes a $5M minimum marketing spend to make a dent in DVD sales.  I don’t know how true that is, but for argument sake, let’s say it’s only 10% of that, which is still $500,000.  There are no distributors in the world that will spend that kind of money on your movie if it didn’t win Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, etc., and definitely not for a film like TENTACLE 8.  But we still had some false notions that our work was done, and that our distributor was going to be out there marketing the film 24/7.

Thankfully, like most independent filmmakers, we’re obsessive.  So we plan, and plan, and plan, down to the very last detail.  Website updated, new content on Facebook every day up until the DVD release, maintain and energize the interest of our cast and crew.  Be active on Twitter, start tweeting things that make you an interesting follow.  Share interesting things about other people and other interests.  Repeat and accelerate.  List all the things you want to have happen:  NY Times review, University and College theatrical tour, major launch parties, DVD premiere at the Arclight, Spirit Award Nomination.  Didn’t people remember that WE were the one?

My Moment of Clarity

With only a few weeks to go before our DVD release date, we noticed that our wish lists were still only wish lists.  Our action plans were gathering e-dust, and we weren’t any closer to making them happen than the day we typed them into our laptop.  We had put years into getting the film to this point.  There was no one to blame other than ourselves if it tanked.  As the creator of the material, as the producer/director/writer of the film, there was no one else more responsible for marketing and promoting the movie than me.  No one else was going to come to my rescue.  Not my friends, not my family, not my producers, my sales agent, my distributor, no one.  I had to give them a reason to believe that my film was worth their time, their attention, their money.  Just maybe after I had done all the groundwork, someone might be inspired to help.  As soon as I came to terms with that, it was much easier to move forward.

We did an inventory of the assets we had:

  • We had made a movie about the NSA, which by an incredible stroke of fate, had been splashed across the headlines in the previous months;
  • We had several soap opera actors with very popular and loyal followings from their fans;
  • We had made a completely original and different kind of movie that I could articulate to others with clarity and passion.

We had to mobilize our assets as quickly and as provocatively as we could to all those outside our bubble of cast and crew.  Prior to our DVD release, there were three very influential moments that impacted our awareness:

1) NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden became an international headline;

2) Not so random acts of kindness and generosity from Soap Opera Network, Go Into The Story, and Film Courage;

3) I realized NO ONE WAS COMING TO RESCUE ME if I didn’t fully and actively solicit an audience for my movie.

Our Watergate Moment

Casey had mentioned months ago that we needed a Watergate moment to spark some interest in the movie, in reference to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, a movie that inspired TENTACLE 8.  I laughed off that notion, but as fate would have it, news of NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, splashed across every news headline around the world.  We finally caught a break.  As tragic and as difficult as it was for Mr. Snowden, it was something that we had to capitalize on.  We started branding the movie as the NSA-themed Independent Feature Film.  I used that as the header for every unsolicited email I wrote to every journalist, blogger, activist, and film enthusiast I could find on the internet.  I started making bold and provocative statements on Twitter regarding privacy rights, and the treatment of whistleblowers, always making sure I hashtagged #TENTACLE8 with #NSA.  Slowly but surely, we were building an awareness and interest in both the film, and us as filmmakers.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Soap

We also had several cast members who had a large soap opera following, as current and former stars on some very popular soap operas. Joshua Morrow stars on the very popular “The Young and the Restless”, Matthew Borlenghi had a long and successful run on “All My Children”, as did John Callahan on “All My Children” and “Days of Our Lives”, veteran character actor Bruce Gray was on several popular soaps, and Teri Reeves, who most recently starred in NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” was a one-time “General Hospital” regular.  It would be a huge mistake not to reach out to this fan base.

Two weeks prior to our DVD release, I reached out to the Soap Opera Network, and wrote them an email introducing myself and the movie.  A few days later, Editor in Chief, Errol Lewis and West Coast Editor Kambra Clifford responded.  We had several very enthusiastic email exchanges describing what we were looking to do, and they agreed to publish and promote an article on the film, and our actors.  We’ve continued to discuss ways in which we can cross promote our mutual interests.

Scott Myers and Go Into The Story

I had written close to a hundred unsolicited emails to almost every film journalist, critic, blogger, and movie enthusiast in the indie film world known to Google.  There’s something to be said for a well crafted email to introduce yourself, why you’re writing them, and a little about your film.  It’s probably no accident that influential screenwriter and screenwriting teacher, Scott Myers, was one of the very few people who responded.  His blog, “Go Into The Story” is widely considered to be one of the most influential screenwriting blogs on the internet.  It was a real break for us that Scott offered to do a brief write up on the making of TENTACLE 8, as part of his “Movies You Made” series.  This was exactly the right audience that would appreciate an intricately written, complex, and thought provoking movie like ours.  The feature was posted a day before our DVD release, and links tweeted continuously for about a week.  We continue to use that feature in our marketing efforts.

Film Courage

Lastly, I would say our feature on FilmCourage.com was the single most influential piece of internet marketing that helped our success.  Karen, David, and April were among the most gracious and hospitable collaborators we were lucky enough to work with, during the entire process.  They just inherently understood our situation and wanted to help.  Like The Film Collaborative, their followers are really loyal and dedicated to the independent film cause and help filmmakers educate themselves.  Being featured on their site gave us some much needed credibility and visibility with the community that we wanted our film to be a part of.

Early Exit Poll Results

After eight days of release, our initial DVD allotments sold out at WalMart, Best Buy, and Amazon.com.  IMDB put us on a list (#12 out of 192) of Most Popular Independent Feature Films released in 2014, based on their Movie Meter Rankings.  Considering there are thousands of movies made each year, this was an incredible feat, given we’re such a small film.  It goes to prove that a small, but dedicated following can move mountains, and probably has a greater chance at long term sustainability.

There’s no magic solution, you just have to grind it out and do the work.  Hundreds of tweets, unsolicited emails, creative Facebook posts, introducing yourself, your film, and your purpose.  There’s no fancy diet, no elaborate exercise machine to get around the fact that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and exercise more.  Similarly, if you want to build an audience, there’s no app, or software, or social media guru that’s going to magically build your audience for you.  You do it one follower at a time.

In retrospect, one of the biggest mistakes we made was being a bit too precious about who we followed and didn’t follow on Twitter.  We didn’t quite know how to exploit Twitter at first, but like everything else, we learned on the fly, and were able to course correct in time to build a strong following for the film, and us the filmmakers.

Are we the film that changed the paradigm of what micro-budget independent films are capable of?  We defied the odds in many ways, making a movie without a strong marketing hook, for a niche audience that wasn’t easily identifiable, and we secured DVD and VOD/Digital distribution without getting into one film festival.  We listened and valued all the guidance we got, from TFC and others we sought input from, even though we didn’t always follow their advice.  So did we break the mold?  I’m not sure that matters so much anymore.  We never stopped believing that we could.

April 23rd, 2014

Posted In: case studies, Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

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