Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.

 

In this final excerpt from our upcoming edition of Selling Your Film Outside the U.S., Wendy Bernfeld of Amsterdam-based consultancy Rights Stuff talks about the current situation in Europe for independent film in the digital on demand landscape.

There have been many European platforms operating in the digital VOD space for the last 8 years or so, but recent changes to their consumer pricing structures and offerings that now include smaller foreign films, genre films and special interest fare as well as episodic content have contributed to robust growth. European consumers are now embracing transactional and subscription services , and in some cases ad-supported services, in addition to free TV, DVD and theatrical films. Many new services are being added to traditional broadcasters’ offerings and completely new companies  have sprung up to take advantage of burgeoning consumer appetite for entertainment viewable anywhere, anytime and through any device they choose.

From Wendy Bernfeld’s chapter in the forthcoming Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.:

Snapshot

For the first decade or so of the dozen years that I’ve been working an agent, buyer, and seller in the international digital pay and VOD sector, few of the players, whether rights holders or platforms, actually made any serious money from VOD, and over the years, many platforms came and went.

However, the tables have turned significantly, and particularly for certain types of films such as mainstream theatrical features, TV shows and kids programming, VOD has been strengthening, first in English-language mainstream markets such as the United States, then in the United Kingdom, and now more recently across Europe and other foreign language international territories. While traditional revenues (eg DVD,) have dropped generally as much as 20% – 30%, VOD revenues—from cable, telecom, IPTV, etc.—have been growing, and, depending on the film and the circumstances, have sometimes not only filled that revenue gap, but exceeded it. 

For smaller art house, festival, niche, or indie films, particularly overseas, though, VOD has not yet become as remunerative. This is gradually improving now in 2014 in Europe, but for these special gems, more effort for relatively less money is still required, particularly when the films do not have a recognizable/strong cast, major festival acclaim, or other wide exposure or marketing. 

What type of film works and why?

Generally speaking, the telecoms and larger mainstream platforms prioritize mainstream films in English or in their local language. In Nordic and Benelux countries, and sometimes in France, platforms will accept subtitled versions, while others (like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Brazil) require local language dubs. However, some platforms, like Viewster, will accept films in English without dubbed or subtitled localized versions, and that becomes part of the deal-making process as well. This is the case, particularly for art house and festival films, where audiences are not surprised to see films in English without the availability of a localized version. 

Of course, when approaching platforms in specific regions that buy indie, art house, and festival films, it is important to remember that they do tend to prioritize films in their own local language and by local filmmakers first. However, where there is no theatrical, TV exposure, or stars, but significant international festival acclaim, such as SXSW, IDFA, Berlinale, Sundance, or Tribeca, there is more appetite. We’ve also found that selling a thematic package or branded bundle under the brand of a festival, like IDFA, with whom we have worked (such as “Best of IDFA”) makes it more recognizable to consumers than the individual one-off films. 

What does well: Younger (i.e., hip), drama, satire, action, futuristic, family and sci-fi themes tend to travel well, along with strong, universal, human-interest-themed docs that are faster-paced in style (like Occupy Wall Street, economic crisis, and environmental themes), rather than traditionally educational docs or those with a very local slant. 

What does less well: World cinema or art house that is a bit too slow-moving or obscure, which usually finds more of a home in festival cinema environments or public TV than on commercial paid VOD services, as well as language/culture-specific humor, will not travel as well to VOD platforms. 

Keep in mind that docs are widely represented in European free television, so it’s trickier to monetize one-offs in that sector, particularly on a pay-per-view basis. While SVOD or AVOD offerings (such as the European equivalents of Snagfilm.com in the US) do have some appetite, monetization is trickier, especially in the smaller, non-English regions. Very niche films such as horror, LGBTQ, etc. have their fan-based niche sites, and will be prominently positioned instead of buried there, but monetization is also more challenging for these niche films than for films whose topics are more generic, such as conspiracy, rom-com, thrillers, kids and sci-fi, which travel more easily, even in the art house sector. 

However, platforms evolve, as do genres and trends in buying. Things go in waves. For example, some online platforms that were heavily active in buying indie and art house film have, at least for now, stocked up on feature films and docs. They are turning their sights to TV series in order to attract return audiences (hooked on sequential storytelling), justify continued monthly SVOD fees, and /or increase AVOD returns. 

Attitude Shifts

One plus these days is that conventional film platform buyers can no longer sit back with the same historic attitudes to buying or pricing as before, as they’re no longer the “only game in town” and have to be more open in their programming and buying practices. But not only the platforms have to shift their attitude. 

To really see the growth in audiences and revenues in the coming year or two, filmmakers (if dealing direct) and/or their representatives (sales agents, distributors, agents) must act quickly, and start to work together where possible, to seize timing opportunities, particularly around certain countries where VOD activities are heating up. Moreover, since non-exclusive VOD revenues are cumulative and incremental, they should also take the time to balance their strategies with traditional media buys, to build relationships, construct a longer-term pipeline, and maintain realistic revenue expectations. 

This may require new approaches and initiatives, drawing on DIY and shared hybrid distribution, for example, when the traditional sales agent or distributor is not as well-versed in all the digital sector, but very strong in the other media—and vice versa. Joining forces, sharing rights, or at least activities and commissions is a great route to maximize potential for all concerned. One of our mantras here at Rights Stuff is “100% of nothing is nothing.” Rights holders sitting on the rights and not exploiting them fully do not put money in your pockets or theirs, or new audiences in front of your films. 

Thus, new filmmaker roles are increasingly important. Instead of sitting back or abdicating to third parties, we find the more successful filmmakers and sales reps in VOD have to be quite active in social media marketing, audience engagement, and helping fans find their films once deals are done.

To learn more about the all the new service offerings available in Europe to the savvy producer or sales agent, read Wendy’s entire chapter in the new edition of Selling Your Film Outside the US when it is released later this month.  If you haven’t read our previous edition of Selling Your Film, you can find it HERE.

May 15th, 2014

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

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This week’s member story focuses on how TFC helps filmmakers who request our consultation on their release. Director John Chi will also write a further guest post that goes into more detail about how his first feature film Tentacle 8 was released, but today he talks about how he discovered our organization and, through consultation with us, changed what he thought about distribution success.

At what stage in the production process was TFC consulted?

JC: “Three months after we wrapped production, we had a very solid cut of the film and we were ready to start showing it to people. Casey Poh, one of our producers, immediately suggested we reach out to TFC and get their thoughts. Casey had previously met Orly Ravid when he was working at Outfest, and later approached her to serve as a consultant for his Stark Producing Graduate Thesis Project at USC.

We contacted TFC and Co-Executive Director, Jeffrey Winter, was kind enough to watch our film, and give us his thoughts. He flatly stated that we weren’t a festival film, that our subject matter wasn’t mainstream enough to be programmed, and beyond that, it was going to be a very challenging film to market. This wasn’t the reaction we expected. We heard and respected Jeffrey’s comments, but we also wanted to proceed as planned. So we signed with Glen Reynolds at Circus Road Films to act as our sales representative, and began submitting to all the major film festivals.”

Did the premiere lead to any sales interest? Did you have a plan for distributing the film?

JC: “TENTACLE 8 submitted to all the major acquisition festivals (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, SXSW, and Tribeca) and many of the other premier festivals (Slamdance, LAFF, and Seattle International), but we didn’t get into any of them. After nearly a year of futility, we accepted that Jeffrey Winter was right, and that we weren’t a good fit for festivals. We decided to go directly to distributors via our sales agent, and two months later, we received a few offers for domestic DVD and VOD/Digital Distribution.”

What advice was sought from TFC and what ultimately happened with the release of the film?

JC: “When we realized we weren’t going to get into a major festival, we contacted TFC again to explore our distribution options. The first thing we did was scour the TFC archives to read everything we could on traditional distribution, DIY distribution, and compared the pros and cons of the two approaches, incorporating any processes that were relevant to us.

I then had a thirty minute conversation with TFC founder Orly Ravid about our prospects. She very succinctly explained that our film wasn’t mainstream enough for any distributor to really go out on a limb for us. We could bypass traditional distribution and go with a DIY approach, but we’d need to put in a lot of additional time, energy, and money with no guarantees of success; OR we could sign on with one of the traditional distributors and manage/lower our expectations. She cautioned, however, that no distributor was going to spend a lot of money or energy marketing the movie. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the importance of that warning; I just wanted to move forward.

The final decision to sign with Grand Entertainment Group, was based mainly on their long history and experience in the home entertainment business. We determined that there was just no way to get a cable tv deal or get our DVDs onto store shelves at Walmart and Best Buy without their help and prior relationships.”

Where can the film be seen now?

JC: “Our DVD was released on March 18, 2014 and sold out our initial shipments at Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon within the first 8 days of release. 8 is our lucky number!

IMDB also put us on a list of Most Popular Independent Feature Films released in 2014, based on their movie meter rankings. Pretty incredible considering we had very little press and publicity prior to our DVD release. It was based almost entirely on our small, but very loyal and dedicated base that we grew completely organically. While we are very grateful to be on any list of success stories, there are probably thousands of independents released each year that never see the light of day, which is incredibly unjust and unfair because we might have been one of those films had the ball bounced a little differently.

Our VOD/Digital release will be sometime in April or May, and we’re partnering with Tugg, Inc. to have some promotional theatrical events in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and possibly San Francisco. I ultimately realized that no one was more responsible and obligated to market and promote the film than me, the producer/director/writer of the movie. I don’t think I would have truly understood that, if someone else had been doing it for us. We never could have harnessed and cultivated the same level of ownership our audience has with the film, if we didn’t do it the old fashioned way, by personally reaching out one person at a time. It’s really hard work, but I know we’re much stronger because of it.”

To find out more about Tentacle 8, visit these websites:

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2048875/

Tugg:  http://www.tugg.com/titles/tentacle-8

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/tentacle8

Webpage:  www.tentacle8.com

Twitter:  www.twitter.com/tentacle8

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Tentacle-8-Brett-Rickaby/dp/B00H7LRY5E

April 9th, 2014

Posted In: Best Buy, case studies, Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals

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This article first appeared on the Sundance Artist Services blog on August 13, 2012

written by  Bryan Glick with assistance from Sheri Candler and Orly Ravid

Indie Game: The Movie has quickly developed a name not just as a must-see documentary but also as a film pioneer in the world of distribution. Recently, I had a Skype chat with Co-directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot . The documentary darlings talked about their indie film and its truly indie journey to audiences.

Swirsky and Pajot did corporate commercial work together for five years and that eventually blossomed into doing their first feature. “We thought it would take one year, but it ended up taking two. I can’t imagine working another way, we have a wonderful overlapping and complimentary skill set, ” said Pajot. “We both edited this film, we both shot this film. It creates this really fluid organic way of working. It’s kind of the result of 5 or 6 years of working together. I don’t think you could get a two person team doing an independent film working like we did on day one. It’s stressful at times but the benefits are absolutely fantastic, ” said Swirsky.

According to Swirsky, Kickstarter covered 40% of the budget. “We used it to ‘kickstart’, we asked for $15000 on our first campaign which we knew would not make the film, but it really got things going. The rest of the budget was us, personal savings.”  The team used Kickstarter twice; the first in 2010 asking for $15,000 and ended up with $23,341 with 297 backers. On the second campaign in 2011, they asked for $35,000 and raised $71,335 with 1,559 backers.

The hard work, dedication, and talent paid off. Indie Game: The Movie was selected to premiere in the World Documentary Competition section at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival winning Pajot and Swirsky the World Cinema Documentary Film Editing Award . “[Sundance] speaks to the independent spirit. It’s kind of the best fit, the dream fit for the film. Just being a filmmaker you want to premiere your film at Sundance. That’s where you hear about your heroes,” noted Swirsky. “Never before in our entire careers have we felt so incredibly supported…They know how to treat you right and not just logistics, it’s more ‘we want to help you with this project and help you next time.’ It was overwhelming because we’ve never had that. We’ve just never been exposed that,” interjected Pajot

They hired a sales agent upon their acceptance into Sundance and the film generated tons of buzz before it arrived at the festival resulting in a sales frenzy. The filmmakers wanted a simultaneous worldwide digital release,  but theatrical distributors weren’t willing to give up digital rights so they opted for a self release. “There were a lot of offers, they approached us to purchase various rights. We felt we needed to get it out fairly quickly and in the digital way. A lot of the deals we turned down were in a little more of the traditional route. None of them ended up being a great fit,” said Pajot.

Several people were stunned when this indie doc about indie videogame developers opted to sell their film for remake rights to Scott Rudin and HBO. Pajot explained, “He saw the trailer and reached out a week or so before Sundance. That was sort of out of left field because it wasn’t something we were pursuing.” Swirsky added, “They optioned to potentially turn the concept into a TV show about game development…As a person who watches stuff on TV, I want this to exist. I want to see what these guys do with it.” The deal still left the door open for a more typical theatrical release. However that was only the start of their plan.

“We had spoken to Gary Hustwit (Helvetica). We sort of have an understanding of how he organized his own tours. We had to make our decision whether that was something we wanted to utilize. Five days after Sundance, we decided we would and were on the road 2 weeks after… Before Sundance this was how we envisioned rolling out…[We looked at] Kevin Smith and Louis C.K. and what they’re doing. We are not those guys and we don’t have that audience, but knowing core audience is out there, doing this made sense,” said Swirsky.

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

They proceeded to go on a multi-city promotional tour starting with seven dates and so far they have had 15 special events screenings of which 13 were sold out! This is separate from 37 theaters across Canada doing a one night only event. They also settled on a small theatrical release in NYC and LA.  When talking about the theaters and booking, they said theaters saw the sellout screenings and that prompted interest despite the fact that the film was in digital release. They accomplish all of this with a thrifty mindset. “P&A was not a budgetary item we put aside and if an investment was required, we would dip into pre orders. We didn’t put aside a marketing budget for it,” said Swirsky. Regarding the pre order revenue, they sold a cool $150,000 in DVD pre-orders in the lead up to release of the film. From this money, they funded their theatrical tour.

While the theatrical release was small, it generated solid enough numbers to get held over in multiple cities and provided for vital word of mouth that will ultimately make the film profitable. The grosses were only reported for their opening weekend, but they continued to pack the houses in later weeks.”I don’t look back at the box office. The tour was more profitable than the theatrical…They both have the benefits, having theatrical it gets a broader audience. It was more a commercial thing than box office,” said Swirsky. “We are still getting inquiries from theaters. They still want to book it despite the fact it’s out there digitally,” said Pajot. “We had this sort of hype machine happening. We didn’t put out advertising. Everything was through our mailing that started with the 300 on our first Kickstarter and through Twitter,” said Swirsky. Now the team has over 20,000 people on their mailing list and over 10,000 Twitter followers.  In order to keep this word of mouth and enthusiasm going, the filmmakers released 88 minutes of exclusive content – most of which didn’t make the final cut – to their funders, took creative suggestions from their online forum and sent out updates on the games the subjects of their film were developing over the course of the two years the film was in production.

Following the success the film has enjoyed in various settings, Indie Game: The Movie premiered on three different digital distribution platforms. If you were to try and guess what they were though, you would most likely only get one right. While, it is available on the standard iTunes, the other two means of access are much more experimental and particularly appropriate for this doc.

It is only the second film to be distributed by VHX as a direct DRM-free download courtesy of their, ‘VHX For Artists‘ platform. Finally, this film is reaching gamers directly through Steam which is a video game distribution platform run by Valve. This sterling doc is also only the second film to be sold through the video game service, where it was able to be pre-ordered for $8.99 as opposed to the $9.99 it costs across all platforms. This is perhaps the perfect example of the changing landscape of independent film distribution. Every film has a potential niche and most of these can arguably be reached more effectively through means outside the standard distribution model. Why should a fan of couponing have to go through hundreds of films on Netflix before even finding out a documentary about couponing exists, when it could be promoted on a couponing website?

As they are going into uncharted territory, both Pajot and Swirsky avoided making any bold predictions.”It’s just wait and see. It’s an experiment because we’re the first movie on Steam. We’re really interested to look at and talk about in the future. I don’t want to make predictions…I do think documentary lends itself to that kind of marketing though. We’re trying to not just be niche but there is power in that core audience. They are very easy to find online,” said Swirsky.

Just because they are pursuing a bold strategy doesn’t mean they were any less cost conscious. “The VHX stuff, it was a collaboration, so there were no huge costs. Basically subtitles, a little publicity costs from Von Murphy PR and Strategy PR who helped us with theatrical. Those guys made sense to bring on,” said Pajot. “A lot of our costs were taken up by volunteers. If they help us do subtitles, they can have a ticket event, a screening in their country,” added Swirsky.

They also note that a large amount of their profit has been in pre-orders. 10,000 people have pre-ordered one of their three DVD options priced at $9.99, $24.99 and a special edition DVD for $69.99 tied with digital. While the film focused on a select few indie game developers, they interviewed 20 different developers and the additional footage is part of the Special Edition DVD/Blu-Ray. That might explain why it’s their highest seller.

All this doesn’t mean that any of the dozens of other options are no longer usable. Quite the contrary,  they have also taken advantage of the Sundance Artist Services affiliations to go on a number of more traditional digital sites. Increased views of a film even if on non traditional platforms can mean increased web searches and awareness and could be used to drive up sales on mainstay platforms.

The real winner though is ultimately the audience. For the majority of the world that doesn’t go to Sundance or Cannes each year, this is how they can discover small films that were made with them in mind. The HBO deal aside, this is bound to be one incredibly profitable documentary that introduces a whole new crowd to quality art-house cinema. “We are still booking community screenings. If people want to book, they can contact us…We are thinking maybe we might do another shorter tour at some point,” said Pajot.

Here’s to the independent film spirit, alive and well.

Update Feb 2013: The creators of Indie Game have written their own case study discussing the many tools and techniques they used. Head over to their website for the full study. 

August 16th, 2012

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Film Festivals, iTunes, Marketing, Publicity, Theatrical

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*This is Part III of  “If I Were a Filmmaker Going Sundance…”

Post Sundance what I have to say is this:  there were more deals done since I started tracking them along with the rest of the industry so for more deal counting and analysis please refer to that blog post.

But thank you Fox Searchlight, TWC and Oprah for injecting the biz with just the right amount of adrenaline to keep it dreaming big; we hope you’re buying big next year. What else is new? Focus has an emerging digital distribution initiative, Amazon is giving Netflix a run for its money (or not, depends on who you talk to)…. everyone is waiting on Wal-Mart to see how much voodoo VUDU can conjure up and SEARS and KMART are in the digital space just in case you though big retail was dead.  Blockbuster is still for sale. Google’s stock price is high as ever and Apple is not going down any time soon judging from its 130,000,000 credit cards on file (and that was just the last time I checked) even though some speculate it will meet its match.

So now that there are almost as many digital plays as they are films (hahahaha of course not literally) how can we distinguish them? TERMS and MARKETING. I have made much fuss about terms before (how long, how many rights, fees and above all, what are the splits between platform/ service and aggregator/distributors).

We hope that filmmakers and their team build community and buzz around their films and start engaging audiences and potential audiences well before and leading up to and following the first public exhibition of their films.  But after a distributor or aggregator comes on board, then what? What do they do for the fees, other than the selling and servicing of the film and its assets to the platforms / services.

Here is an overview of what a few companies do to market films for home entertainment release, either DVD & DIGITAL or just DIGITAL, and mostly in their own words:

FILMBUFF

“FilmBuff is an established leader in the development of innovative release strategies, digital merchandising and promotions.  Our strong retail relationships allow us to emphasize merchandising and promotional placement on all platforms and video portals.  Our internal marketing builds custom outreach programs to build audience awareness and activate the online communities that are ideal for each film.  Custom promos and features on FilmBuff’s social media networks across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of online video portals work in concert to ensure that films reach the widest possible audience.”

Our dedicated programming and marketing teams will:

• Design a custom release strategy for each film across all digital platforms
• Work directly with online stores on a weekly basis to gain featured digital merchandising.  Some examples of recent featured merchandising and promotions below:

Exit Through the Gift Shop on iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collapse on XBox

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Too Many Mornings on Hulu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cemetery Junction on Charter

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Build a public relations program to drive audience awareness through national & international press and blog coverage.

 

Nice Guy Johnny on AOL Video

 

• Execute custom outreach programs to activate and engage the online communities that are ideal for each film.
• Implement online promotional campaigns and features leveraging FilmBuff’s expanding social media community of movie lovers on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and others.  The community now includes 25K+ engaged fans, followers & subscribers.

 

Savage County on Veoh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• Feature the film in various areas on our website (www.filmbuffondemand.com) which drives users and fans to digital transactions.  The site features video clips, industry content, guest blogs, film extras  and links to all portals where the film is available.  The site currently receives an average of over 20K+ page views per month.

 

 

NEW VIDEO

“New Video’s suite of marketing services for films released on DVD, Blu-ray, digitally and on-demand includes:

Direct contact with retailers and platforms for developing and supporting in-store placements and point-of-sale promotions. (TFC notes: They have a lot of DVD volume so their relationships are more valuable than a filmmaker can get on their own dealing with the retailer).

A full-time in-house public relations team directing outreach to national and regional print, online and broadcast media for both industry and consumers-

Collaboration with partner organizations to drive grassroots awareness; a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals.

* Best practices to reach existing fan bases online and off with a solid emphasis on social media. * Strategic advertising to maximize ROI. * Promotion at consumer and trade shows.

The mission of New Video is to leverage 20 years of distribution and marketing experience to provide the broadest possible reach across all distribution channels, while raising awareness through major press, grassroots organizations, and everything in between. Titles we’ve distributed and marketed include GasLand, King Corn, Autism: The Musical, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and The Secret of Kells. We collaborate with filmmakers, create custom marketing strategies and share our best practices to build on the momentum they have developed over the life of their project. With expert in-house publicity services, our campaigns cover long lead press, short lead, online, industry, and consumer press outlets (both national and regional, in print, online and broadcast media). Our press releases are media-rich and social media-ready for posting and sharing, and we offer next-gen screener service for press review. We have a proven track record in leveraging talent to maximize press and promotion through marketing opportunities such as podcasts and exclusives. We have a hands-on, strategic approach to grassroots marketing, and we employ social network marketing through our own presence on Facebook and Twitter, and through coordination with supporters’ social networks. We prize our longstanding relationships with store merchandising teams, and add enormous value in our ability to customize and create in-store marketing strategy, such as thematic shelves, customized artwork, and priority placements. We collaborate on selective online, print and radio advertising to strategically improve ROI through targeted buys, and we build opportunities around media events, consumer and trade shows to further press coverage and consumer awareness for a property. We complement these practices with a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals to incent partner organizations online. New Video is committed to building and maintaining buzz organically, through extended campaigns, early editorial pitching, and social outreach. We communicate with consumers through our website and blog, social media, and a newsletter reaching 15,000 subscribers.”

TFC NOTES: New Video is a key iTunes aggregator not only for its own titles but for many traditional distributors and even IndieFlix and Indie Rights and TriBeCa Films (remember filmmakers, always ask the questions that help you know how many middle men there are in any given category of distribution).  I know that on the ‘Social Media Outreach’ front for iTunes releases for example, New Video sends out social-media releases with images & clips to sites such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon and they post release on PR Distribution sites such as ClickPress, i-Newswire, eCommWire, The Open Press.   From past experience we know they do a feed-based announcement made available on Google blog search, Technorati, Yahoo! News, Topix, tagged with keywords for easier discovery. New Video does email marketing to its subscribers as well and Trailer or Clip Tagging Promotional clips tagged with “Now Available on iTunes” and syndicated to top video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube, Yahoo!, MySpace, Google, Revver, Dailymotion, Blip, Veoh). They monitor and post reviews in-store Individual reviews posted about the content.  On the online grassroots outreach front, they connect to digital portals; targeting topical, genre and talent fansites and blogs and service those with press release and special offers (exclusives, clips, contests, review copies). And they work fans and friends via the social networking sites. (TFC notes: on Facebook New Video as a company only has a little over 1,700 people.  The page is largely used to promote titles, not facilitate dialog as Sheri Candler observed.).

WOLFE VIDEO

“25 years developing relationships with national retailers, VOD companies, the press and media, film festival programmers, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Over 25 years building traditional and electronic mailing lists, plus a wide social media presence.  Wolfe believes that the key aspect to being an effective Distributor is marketing.  In the absence of this expertise, a distributor is merely a middleman.  Wolfe is widely known for mainstreaming films with gay content.  The most invaluable asset Wolfe brings to filmmakers is experience. Wolfe has over 25 years developing relationships with VOD companies, DVD retailers, niche and traditional media, film festival programmers, broadcasters, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Wolfe has one of the largest channels in the gay niche market which includes traditional and electronic mailing lists and a wide social media presence.

One of Wolfe’s most notable assets is its direct access to gay consumers; better known as WolfeVideo.com.  The website supports heavy traffic and is widely known as a commerce site for gay feature films.  It should also be noted that Wolfe does not sell adult product, so the website is accessible for many audiences.  WolfeVideo.com is supplemented by the QMovieBlog.com and Wolfe’s social network strategy includes a variety of ongoing campaigns across all major platforms. Wolfe has a particularly substantial and active following on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; for example Wolfe’s work on Were the World Mine generated nearly 100K views on YouTube alone and the famous re-release of Desert Hearts promotion generated over 847,000 views!  Wolfe’s direct to consumer assets also include significant opt-in mailing lists via email and traditional snail mail, which continues to be a strong sales tool for the company and its products. (TFC Notes Wolfe’s Facebook page has 3,368 likes).

Sales and marketing via mainstream outlets is key to the success of Wolfe films.  Wolfe leverages client relationships with VOD, EST and DVD retailers to further market films.  Strategic partnerships bring Wolfe’s films front and center in programs such as the Gay Pride month feature on the home page of iTunes, Internet promotions with Xfinity & dominant presence with DVD retailers such as Amazon.com.  Wolfe has also engaged companies like Sony to develop marketing campaigns.  The Sony Ebridge program was designed to add value to the DVD.  E-bridge gave consumers cool stuff like the chance to win a trip to Australia. It also offered advertisers unique consumer access they would otherwise not reach.

Other clients that partner with Wolfe promotions include hundreds of non-profit organizations nationwide such as LGBT film festivals and political orgs like GLAAD. These organizations work with Wolfe to both screen films for hundreds of consumers and promote the subsequent VOD & DVD releases.  These relationships expand consumer outreach and do the good work of promoting the important work of non-profits.

Publicity is a major focus in every Wolfe campaign.  Wolfe’s publicists (not in-house) facilitate reviews, interviews and other coverage for all Wolfe releases across a wide range of media outlets from national and regional print publications to blogs and websites.  Broadcast networks also work with Wolfe on publicity and marketing.  For example, the Logo Network is presently airing Wolfe PSA’s to educate consumers about the effects of piracy featuring actors from Wolfe films.

Additionally, they not only market films on the Wolfe label, but work extensively with larger labels such as Sony, Universal, Fox, and Showtime to name a few.  Every successful distributor with gay content has hired Wolfe to support their products.  Wolfe has a “soup to nuts” approach to film marketing and they work hard to reach millions of consumers for every release.”

INDEPENDENT LENS

Independent Lens has a strong social media community including nearly 70,000 engaged Facebook fans —the largest of all PBS primetime series, second only to Antiques Roadshow. Independent Lens social networking and online impact: Independent Lens believes social networking is one key component to reaching new, younger and more diverse viewers for our broadcasts, engagement work and online distribution.

Independent Lens is the second most popular PBS series on Facebook. We post daily, and our posts average 55,000 impressions each. We receive an average of 100 interactions (Likes + Comments) on each post. This engagement rate ranks first among PBS series and means that 5 out of 6 of our fans see each post.

(e.g. their The Calling Livestream event from the Chicago Art Institute in December 2010 attracted more than 3,000 viewers on their Livestream channel on their Facebook fan page.).

We have more than 11,000 followers on Twitter.

We post three or more new Blog postings each week, and they feature interviews with the filmmakers, documentary news, dispatches from filmmakers in the field, live chats with filmmakers and the subjects of their films, and more.

In the first quarter of our current season, Independent Lens had 18,000 page views from more than 15,000 unique visitors.”

GRAVITAS

“With there being thousands of films available in the VOD marketplace, here are four ongoing tactics we use to raise the profile of Gravitas films:

1. Traditional PR- As this The Wrap article shows we believe it important to convey to the industry and entertainment enthusiasts that Gravitas continues to innovate in VOD. In this instance, we will be releasing American: The Bill Hicks Story “day and date” in theatres and on VOD in April. This is a film was adored when it screened at SXSW in 2010 and having pre-release PR supporting the film will help us get wide carriage in 100 million North American VOD homes and marketing support from cable and online operators concurrent with the film’s debut.

We have an outside PR firm on retainer and we also do PR/marketing in house.    None of these expenses are charged back to the filmmaker.   We work in house, w/ our PR firm and with our Licensors to ensure appropriate messaging is being conveyed.   Good reviews are crucial, but of paramount importance is letting the Licensor know when and where the film are being played in VOD.   To this end, we communicate with our Licensors every time their film is on a new VOD platform.

Here are a couple recent links to coverage on IFC.com

http://www.ifc.com/news/2010/10/2010-holiday-movie-guide-online-vod.php

http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/01/winter-preview-2011-dvds.php

2. VOD Guide Optimization- As you know, there are over 100 cable, satellite, and telco operators in North America and each operator has their own VOD guide characteristics. As a result, we spend considerable resources internally making sure that our films are mapped so that customers can easily find them. As a result, we have Slingboxes set up in homes all across North America where we can remotely use our office internet connections to peer in to the cable boxes of friends and family to make sure our films are in as many VOD guide folders as possible. The enclosed images shows the layout of 8 different large operators. Our goal is make sure our films show up 4-5 times within each operator VOD storefront in folders frequently called “New Release”, “All Movies A-Z”, “Indy Films”, “2 Day Rentals”, “VOD Premieres”, “In Theatres”, and the appropriate genre categories like “Documentary” or “Comedy.”

Almost each guide (aka UI or User Interface) is a little different and we monitor as many of the UI’s as possible to ensure that we are aware of any guide changes that we should be taking advantage of that would be appropriate for our content so that it is merchandized appropriately.  We do this for all of our licensed content.

3. Online Editorial Outreach: Gravitas’ marketing team has a monthly dialogue  (including sending DVD screeners) with dozens of websites and bloggers that cover independent, genre, and new VOD content including:

IFC.COM

On Demand Weekly

Hammer to Nail

Twitch Film

Film School Rejects

Gordon and the Whale

28 Days Later Analysis

Fangoria

Dread Central

Arrow in the Head

VideoScope Magazine

Horrorphilia

Bloody Disgusting

Here are some recent samples:

http://www.ifc.com/news/2011/01/winter-preview-2011-dvds.php

http://ondemandweekly.com/blog/article/ip_man_-_on_demand/

4. Online and Social Media- Each month we host monthly marketing calls with filmmakers to help implement and grow the online presence of their film prior to and after VOD debut date. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Gravitas Website-We run on ongoing Film Spotlight section off of our home page where we interview writers and directors of Gravitas films currently in VOD release.  http://www.gravitasventures.com/films/

(TFC notes: no info on site traffic and Sheri Candler noted that Gravitas themselves only have a little over 500 people on their own FB page and almost no engagement from fans; few likes, few comments on the material posted there.)

ORLY asked: “Do you have any plans to expand your social network marketing? Any community engagement you want to speak to? I say this because for example Independent Lens does this very well, but most distribs and aggregators don’t. Since you mention it, if you have anything to say about it please do”.

GRAVITAS answered: “To the extent that our social media sites continue to grow, yes, but it’s equally important and effective to spread best practices with our Licensors.  i.e. If Gravitas licenses a film with a FB page of 10K fans, we want to share best practices with that Licensor as to harness their social network to drive VOD activity”.   Gravitas went on to explain that they don’t see themselves as a consumer-facing brand and they prefer to focus their efforts and resources on working with filmmakers’ Facebook pages etc and leveraging the filmmakers’ brands and outreach efforts, coaching filmmakers on having fans look for the film on the right platforms etc.

Back to the rest of the GRAVITAS info about their marketing ONLINE & via SOCIAL MEDIA:

“b.) Partner Portal Marketing- Hulu is one example of a key partner portal that we collaborate with weekly to raise the profile of Gravitas films. Here is a screen shot of the well-regarded documentary Circus Rosaire that is currently being highlighted in the top carousel off the Main Hulu Movies page.

Recently, we were able to work with the website www.Jesse-Eisenberg.com to have them cross promote one of Jesse’s earlier films The Living Wake right after he was Oscar nominated for his work in The Social Network.

http://www.jesse-eisenberg.com/news/2011/01/29/the-living-wake-now-free-to-watch-on-hulu/

We also frequently collaborate with many of our filmmakers to heighten discussion, interaction and interest in many of our Hulu films.

c.) Social Media- Gravitas and its film partners are active users of Facebook and Twitter. Here is one example where are Documentaries on Demand partner PBS tweeted about the VOD release of The Buddha to its over 500 thousand followers.”

http://www.indiewire.com/article/gravitas_ventures_to_launch_documentaries_on_demand_with_pbs/

BRAINSTORM MEDIA

Brainstorm submitted this campaign plan in answer to our desire to what they do on the marketing front. They work with Eventful.

Eventful

What Would You Give Up to Find True Love?

Submit Your Answer for a Chance to Win!

One lucky winner and three guests will win a trip to NYC, stay at the

luxurious Kimberly Hotel, get a pampering spa day and more!

Campaign overview:

Eventful will execute a social media campaign to engage consumers around the film, My Father’s Will. The campaign will allow fans to submit their answers to win a trip to NYC, see submissions from other fans, and watch the trailer for My Father’s Will.  Eventful will execute digital, email and social media marketing to drive campaign participation.

The goals of the campaign include:

  • • Drive entries for the sweepstakes
  • • Build awareness for My Father’s Will through trailer views
  • • Build awareness for accommodations being provided, i.e. hotel
  • • Generate social media and viral engagement for the film and sweepstakes
  • • Create an engaged social community for direct marketing of VOD rentals of My

Father’s Will with including folder locations for each affiliate

Phase 1: Social media campaign – Win it!

1. Eventful will design, build and host:

  • • Campaign micro-site including movie trailer and hotel branding
  • • Custom widgets and social media apps for distribution across Facebook,

MySpace and other sites, enabling consumers to enter the sweepstakes

2. Eventful will execute a comprehensive targeted marketing and promotional plan to engage existing users from among Eventful’s audience of 16 million consumers:

  • • Demographic targeting by location, age, gender, and entertainment tastes
  • • Eventful will engage consumers via dedicated email, onsite promotions, and one-click social media sharing tools

3. Marketing by Eventful will drive participants to the campaign micro-site which will include:

  • • Campaign artwork branded for My Father’s Will
  • • Primary call-to-action to enter the sweepstakes by submitting an answer
  • • Live stream of entries from fans
  • • Official trailer for My Father’s Will
  • • Campaign details with basic rules
  • • Social media sharing tools for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and email

Phase 2: Drive VOD rentals of My Father’s Will

1. Eventful will promote VOD sales for My Father’s Will through a digital and direct marketing campaign targeting all sweepstakes entrants plus a broader target audience within the Eventful user base.  Campaigns include:

  • • Dedicated email
  • • Onsite promotions
  • • Email newsletter insertions

Proposed Timeline:

  • “Win it!” Sweepstakes: 2/15/11 – 4/15/11

To see the campaign, access it here. http://movies.eventful.com/campaigns/myfatherswill2011

(TFC note: we look forward to hearing the outcome on this campaign)

So, in conclusion, you can see a range of what companies do. In general, some companies are more focused on consumer marketing and publicity and social network marketing than others and some are focused more on marketing to retailers and services and getting best placement and some may do both.  We recommend the latter when you have a choice and of course, no one can market your film better than you can.  In my experience most companies lack on the publicity side, though I will say First Run Features, for example, (since we did not cover them herein) seems to do a great job on that front working with a wonderful publicist, driving Netflix queue action, hiring outreach teams, posting the trailer all over, and take out ads, e-blast loads, as well as work social network sites etc.

I am sure other companies will want to chime in here about what they do and filmmakers too about their experiences, good or not-so-much. We want to hear from you so weigh in! Please offer specific examples, not just marketing speak. In the meantime, our resident social network marketing guru, Sheri Candler, has offered her take on what the above distributors have described.

Sheri Candler says: I am happy to see distributors explaining what they do to market titles under their control. Often, the text on their websites sounds like a generalization of typical activities conducted by any marketing department in any corporation. I urge filmmakers to press for a customized, detailed plan of EXACTLY what will be done on their films and how much it will cost. Ultimately, that cost will be deducted from your backend, so it is important to understand what you can expect from your distributor before you sign up with them. It also gives you an idea of what you will still need to do yourselves. This isn’t fix it, forget it and the money just rolls in.

As noted above, I think social networking activities by most distributors is minimal at best. If you already have 10K fans on your Facebook page and the distributor offering to perform social networking activities for your film only has 500, they really can’t offer much. Especially look at how they handle their pages. Is it mostly shill? Is there any engagement going on? Evaluate them on what they can bring you that you can’t do yourselves. I strongly disagree that distributors shouldn’t consider themselves consumer facing companies. All companies are consumer facing in this age of digital ubiquity. But if it is true, they aren’t consumer facing,  most likely those distributors shouldn’t be using social media as a company at all. SOCIAL media is all about facing the customer and conversing with them.

The only impressive distributor in the above list with regard to social networking and utilizing it effectively is Independent Lens. Look at their page and see how they are using it. Very impressive. No wonder they have almost 70K fans. Ask if your distributor has a social media team (not 2 interns!) and ask to speak with those people to get a sense of what they will do with your title or how you can combine efforts effectively. Just getting a large entity to tweet about your title once is not going to do much; it is not a Twitter strategy.

Retail DVD placement (for the next few years anyway), iTunes, Netflix, and VOD marquee placement, relationships with major publications for reviews and feature stories, these are things a typical filmmaker cannot get on their own and are worth utilizing with a distributor. Sending out eblasts and unsolicited screeners to journalists is really spam; so if that is the extent of your distributor’s publicity efforts, it isn’t worth paying for. Be sure to ask EXACTLY which publications will be approached and evaluate whether those outlets reach your target audience. You should also be consulted on what story angles will be developed for the publications. This is especially necessary if you do not have notable stars or notable accolades from festivals attached to your film as publications will be more reluctant to cover it.

Since grassroots relationships were mentioned, press your distributor to name which organizations they work with. Are they just affiliate sales relationships? Are they just a member of the distributor eblast list? Real communication should be happening and for a relationship really to be fruitful, it has to be 2 way. Of the above mentioned distributors, only Wolfe strikes me as having actual relationships with target organizations. Their content is of value to the organizations they are affiliated with and I would venture a guess that Wolfe strongly champions the orgs cause and mission too. THAT is a relationship.

Advertising placement makes sense, but find out what the spend will be and what publications/sites. While I understand that distributors get better rates going with a media broker, the spend is wasted if the placements are in publications or on sites that do not reach your target audience.

My view on this is a distributor is a marketing partner. The bulk of what they should be bringing you is marketing prowess. Really dig into what their plans are for your film and ask to see examples of work on similar films. When deciding on which distributor to sign with, don’t just sign with someone offering you access to 15 million homes. It sounds great, but if few of those homes know your film exists, there won’t be many sales.

March 2nd, 2011

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

Tags: , ,

For as long as it lasts, DVD is a key example of where a hybrid approach (mixture of self and distributor distribution) can be critical.  Sometimes the filmmaker’s traffic on his/her own site is significant (and that is the goal after all). At times, direct sales can match sales to retailers via a distributor so reserve the right to sell direct off your site or at least have a good AFFILIATE FEE (where you get an extra commission for referring your direct customers to your distributor or Amazon).  Certain films may get into WalMart or Blockbuster (while it’s still around) and that level of sale needs to happen via a distributor, but the direct sales can be very significant.

TFC negotiates contracts for clients through DVD distributors, we don’t distribute DVD’s ourselves. We have facilitated hybrid deals for clients and know of other filmmakers employing this strategy. We will get numbers for our forthcoming case-studies. One negotiation deal we did was for “Prodigal Sons” with First Run Features. That film is a perfect example of a film that employed hybrid distribution(some DIY & and some licensing)… and Kim Reed got on Oprah!

August 26th, 2010

Posted In: DIY, Marketing, Theatrical

Tags: , , , ,

Some platforms can be accessed via Self Distribution (e.g. Youreeeka or Maxcast) while others can only be accessed via an aggregator (e.g. Netflix, and iTunes, which at the moment is by far the greatest revenue generating platform in the digital distribution space). Some aggregators are better than others and some distributors and aggregators take lower fees than others. Choosing the best platform/portal for your film must be done with care and must also take into account the type of film it is and its overall release plan.

Much of this information can be found within our Digital Distribution Guide, available to our members. For this week, you can gain access to the full Guide by contributing $35 to our IndieGoGo campaign.

June 30th, 2010

Posted In: Digital Distribution, Distribution Platforms

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