The good people at the Binger Filmab in Amsterdam have kindly asked me to present a one day workshop on audience identification and audience building. This won’t be purely a lecture course on theory and tools, nor is it one big presentation for myself as a consultant. We are really going to zero on audience targets for each project that signs up, dig into what tools can be used to identify influencers and engage with them and talk about other tools such as publicity, advertising and what kind of budgets will be needed to carry out an audience building plan. Also what elements will be needed as far as web sites, social content, ecommerce and merchandising. It isn’t enough to only make a good film (but you DO need that!), you also must know who you are creating it for, how you will get in touch with them, and how you will stay in touch with them throughout your career. No more waste in starting over again for each new project!
My hope is that all projects will walk out of the room with an action plan based on what we figured out together. There will be ample time for hands on work and guidance from myself and from my Dutch counterpart Heleen Rouw who will talk about Dutch specific tools.
Production teams have until this FRIDAY MAY 17 to sign up.
I am looking forward to meeting Dutch filmmakers and visiting Amsterdam again.
Immediately after this workshop, I will be headed to Sheffield DocFest to be part of the MeetMarket. If you would like to schedule time with me there to figure out your audience identification and engagement plan, please shoot me an email.
It is that time of year again when short form filmmakers start heralding the fact that their film is “playing in Cannes.” To the outsider, this seems like a monumental accomplishment because Cannes Film Festival is known the world over. But to those on the inside, there is a huge difference between being an official selection in the festival proper and participating in the Court Métrage (Short Film Corner or SFC).
This year, only 9 short films out of the 3,200 submitted will be in Official Competition. None are from native English speaking countries. However, close to 2,000 short films have been accepted into the Métrage. Registration costs €95, but is reimbursed if your film is not accepted. With acceptance, filmmakers have access to the festival hall, the Marché du Film(the official film market) as well as a multitude of panels with industry executives. One may also register for accreditation as an industry professional and not have any film participating in the event.
With all of that competition, what is the benefit of applying to Cannes (besides access) and what should short form filmmakers who are attending do to maximize on their effort? I spoke with several filmmakers who have been to the Short Film Corner with their films to find out if their Cannes experience offered value (besides visiting the French Riviera in May!) and what they advise for those attending this year.
“The Short Film Corner basically accepts everything, as long as it’s not pornography,” says John Trigonis, who attended in 2011 with his short film Cerise which was an early project that used Indiegogo to fund its production. “The year I went to Cannes with Cerise, there were over 1,900 other short films in the SFC. So it’s really, in my humble opinion, a way for the Cannes Film Festival to bring in ‘easy money’ from hopeful short filmmakers like myself, and they pay us back in free Stellas and no Wi-Fi and a hope and dream that our film may attract a big name who’ll somehow see your short film on a tiny computer screen. First, that’s a myth –– no celebrities or big-time producers even look down in the basement of the Palais, and second, if our shorts were really that good, they’d have made it into Cannes proper as an ‘Official Selection.’” Trigonis chronicled his trip on the Film Courage site upon his return.
Chris Jones, a British filmmaker and entrepreneur who participated with his Oscar shortlisted film Gone Fishing agrees. “The Short Film Corner is the best and cheapest way to get your pass for Cannes. And it’s also one of the silliest places to hang out. The reality is that your film will only be viewed by fellow short filmmakers in the short film corner, and if you are going to Cannes for a pat on the back from other filmmakers, you are in many ways, wasting money you could spend on making another short film.”
Ok, so if most projects can be accepted, regardless of merit, why go? What can be gained from the experience? “For me, the main advantage of attending the Cannes Short Film Corner was networking and meeting people who generally I would never meet face to face in my part of the world. For the 3 times I have attended, I made it a goal to listen, look and learn as much as I could about how people work at such a huge event,” said Ronnie Goodwin, filmmaker of Replay Revenge , Shooter and Fly, a Legacy. “Many people I have spoken to tell me they have gained nothing from going to Cannes, but if you don’t make the opportunity work for you, then nothing will happen.”
“Head over to the market [Marché du Film] and see how feature films, narrative and docs are represented and sold in the traditional way (with a sales agent). This trip to the market is worth its weight in gold. You will learn that films are bought and sold on genre, cast, poster, promo and little else. I personally sat in on a screening of one of my feature films where the buyer watched the film from start to finish, IN FAST FORWARD! He later bought the film too! It’s remarkably humbling, but it’s also empowering – there’s a lot of crap being sold really badly,” says Jones.
Roberta Munroe, a short film producer and noted author of How NOT to Make a Short Film says there are advantages to attending a world renowned festival like Cannes. She will be attending this year with a short she produced. “I think it provides filmmakers with the opportunity to be at a *real* film festival where business acumen is key. Primarily, I would say that filmmakers who have a feature script ready to go stand the most to gain from the experience. Though, those with or without a feature, who are interested in meeting the prime European programming staff from other top tier festivals as well as broadcast buyers would also fare well. Alongside meeting key programmers and buyers are the copious number of events that happen all day, every day for filmmakers to learn, chat and fatten up their community of peers, colleagues and admirers.”
“These benefits are greatest for those who truly want a filmmaking capital C, Career. I’ve found Cannes to be the one festival where no one seems to gives a fuck who you are or what you’ve done, they seem to most care about how to make a good film. So regardless of your past laurels, having a pristine script, a well crafted business plan, and the ability to have a conversation where you sound the least like an entitled western filmmaker are the only attributes that will get you anywhere in Cannes.”
Many times, filmmakers feel the pressure to print up posters and postcards, hire a publicist or sales agent to help represent their films, believing that it will lead to future opportunities or sales. While this may be true for films in competition at Cannes or other such prestigious fests, is it true for films in the Short Film Corner? “Because the Corner is a self contained and REALLY well organized space, my feeling is that a filmmaker could be their own publicist *unless* you’re a wall flower and *unless* you already have some financing (or producer, or cast, etc.) in place for your next film and your sole goal is to find European co-production monies or producers or both. It never hurts to bring a friend to such a huge event…so if that ‘friend’ happens to be your paid publicist, then good for you,” says Munroe.
“I don’t know what a sales rep would charge, but even at a low end, for a short film I don’t think it’s worth it at all. A short is either a calling card piece or something that you can self-distribute through online channels. There’s no real money to be made in shorts, and this is speaking as someone who got a distribution deal for one of my prior short films. I saw one check, and it didn’t even cover the coffee runs during the shoot ! So any money that’s put into a short film beyond basic marketing materials (postcards and posters) is essentially money ill-spent. We actually did have postcards made for Cerise when we were there, but posters, postcards and other standard promotional materials don’t really make a difference. You have to stand out. We actually gave out cherries with our postcards, and that, I’m sure, is what got us the bulk of our 17 views at the Short Film Corner,” said Trigonis.
“It was my job to get people to view the film at the short film corner where they have a database of all the films submitted, and as you can imagine, there are a lot of films. So with every opportunity, I would invite people to look at the film, and with only a week to do it, that was a pretty tall order. On returning from the festival, I received an invitation to screen Shooter at the Palm Springs Short Film Festival,” said Goodwin. Getting your film in front of festival programmers is definitely a benefit if you are looking for more festival circuit play.
How about reaching buyers and selling your short, will an appearance at the Cannes Short Film Corner help with that? Peter Gerard, co-founder of online streaming player Distrify, has some thoughts and some experience with it. “There are very few buyers for shorts in the entire world. I have sold shorts (my best deal was with Short Film Sales who’ve made several sales for me), and the way I got the films noticed and attracted buyers was by winning prizes at film festivals.”
“As at any market, there are hundreds of films in the videotheque library [a digital library of all the short films, accessible to buyers even after the festival is over]. I would doubt that having a short in the library at Cannes makes much difference to the buyers, but I cannot speak from direct experience since I’m not a buyer! The only time I’ve made a sale with a film in a videotheque was at Sunnyside of the Doc , where I had an hour-long graffiti documentary in the library and there was a buyer putting together a season of urban films for French TV so he selected it based on subject matter. If you have a topic-based film that could be used for a specific slot or season, then maybe a videotheque could be useful (though less so for shorts), but otherwise there has to be a reason the buyer already wants to see the film, typically a prize, great reviews, or festival buzz.”
Top takeaways for those heading to the Cote d’Azur next week?
“During the festival there are lots of things to do, and it is very easy to get yourself into a position where you want to do everything, see everyone and attend every party. My advice to anyone going to Cannes, focus on your objective, try not to deviate, and try to use the trip to move you further with your career. Get people to see your work.” says Goodwin.
“My feeling is that the skills necessary to make the SFC work for you (great networking skills, persistence, salesmanship, etc.) could be applied whether your short is in the videotheque or not. You are basically out meeting people and convincing them to be interested in you and your work. It’s far easier to send them a screener after the market than to convince them to sit down and watch it in the videotheque during a frenetic event like Cannes,” says Gerard.
“I do much better on Twitter in a day than I did [networking] in a week at Cannes,” says Trigonis
“Watching short films in Cannes is a waste of time that you should spend hunting down producers, scoping out sales agents (the good and the bad) and crashing the parties where the deals are being made,” said Jones
“If you get into Cannes (or another top tier festival), you can parlay that (with few exceptions) into being able to get your film in front of other programmers. Also, in my not so humble opinion, unless you have the funds and simply feel like spending a year traveling our great country [US], once you’ve screened your film at maybe 4-5 festivals domestically – what would be the purpose of spending money to submit to more? If someone said, ‘Roberta, I’ll give you $2000 to shop yourself and your short at Cannes Short Film Corner OR I’ll give it to you to spend on festival submissions…’ I would absolutely, without question, choose the former,” says Munroe.
Chris Jones made a video about his journey to Cannes with Gone Fishing in 2008. It is still pretty relevant today and I encourage you to watch it if you don’t know what to expect on the ground in Cannes.
You can reach the participants in this article via Twitter (Chris Jones @livingspiritpix, Ronnie Goodwin @ronniebgoodwin, Peter Gerard @accme, John Trigonis @trigonis, Roberta Munroe @robertamunroe)
As you know from last week’s post, I took part in the Sync Up Cinema event hosted by NOVAC at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I saw a video camera in the audience and was told a video of my conversation with Clint Bowie, Program Director for the New Orleans Film Society, would be uploaded online. I will post that when it happens, BUT there were many things I was prepared to talk about and didn’t get a chance to say. I made notes to prepare for the night, so I thought I would share those notes with you here on the blog. I was given an idea of the questions we would cover ahead of time, so I have included those with the notes.
How can filmmakers change their mindset to one of building and engaging their own audience and how does digital technology play into this?
SC: “The digital mindset has to be acquired now. This is no longer a world of the closed off artist. The new developments of crowdfunding, career sustainability by becoming an artist entrepreneur instead of being dependent on industry choosing you, and media interactivity/cross platform storytelling are all contingent on being open and connected to an audience. Filmmakers must understand and use digital tools in their professional life to truly have a relationship with their audience. Anyone who can’t deal with that is going to be left behind in this world. That really goes for any professional, not just artists. I think we are now just in a transition period where we have to talk about this ‘mindset’ change because, believe me, young filmmakers are already doing this. It is natural to most of them and even more natural to 13-14-15 year olds! This will become a moot point very soon for everyone.”
How do you help filmmakers brand themselves rather than simply branding their projects so that they can move seamlessly from project to project without reupping every time? Is this something that is for “name directors only”.
SC: “Name directors would have an easier time connecting to an audience because their names are already recognizable, but the majority don’t do it and that is detrimental for their continuing careers. They think the world where you can be removed and other people will just take care of audience attention for you will continue to exist. It won’t. Indeed, it is rude and selfish now to not be available.
Branding yourself simply means figuring out what you stand for, what your identity is. It isn’t a logo, it isn’t an image or a persona. It is who you really are as an artist. That identity does not radically change for most people. Independent artists in particular have a unique perspective. If they didn’t have a somewhat unique vision, they would be selling insurance or working in a bank. Working in some nondescript job. They yearn to share their unique perspective with the world and they do it through images, stories. Social media, really the web in general, should be a place where they can thrive because it is full of stories and images!
Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman speak about artists being like dandelions. Instead of “giving birth” to only a few “babies” in a lifetime, artists should be creating all the time and putting their “seeds” out into the world. Some work will thrive and gather attention. Some work will die quickly, not be prosperous. Dandelions don’t care about their offspring, they just create. Sometimes their offspring live and sometimes they don’t. The internet is a place to create lots of little experiments and some will work wonderfully and some will not. Keep creating and try to make great work. That’s how you build your brand. That’s how you build a sustainable audience. Not by hoping to be picked up by the industry for a few of your offspring. It’s an audience for that one film, then you have to start over again. Your seeds can be blog posts or tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram photos. Something small every day.
This is the most basic thing to understand about brand building. All the digital tools and the metrics and the sales numbers, those are all byproducts of this basic understanding.
Be open, create great work, connect it with people. If you don’t do those 3 things, the rest of this doesn’t work.
What I do is encourage the filmmaker to figure out what their artistic identity is and how to share it with the world that can be reached online. It is hard work for me because few are embracing it as they should, but I know they are listening. They find me because I live what I am saying, I don’t spout out theory. I am not a publicist or a marketing consultant or a distributor who doesn’t even have their own website, or any social channels that they use regularly. I have to live it to help anyone with it.”
How do you work with filmmakers in terms of festival strategy?
SC: “Here is my strategy. If your film gets its premiere in a life changing festival, of which there are only a handful in the world, then that affects your distribution strategy. My colleague, Jeffrey Winter who handles all festival distribution for The Film Collaborative would call these IMPACT FESTIVALS. He says an impact festival must offer at least 2 of these 3 things.
-Industry exposure which is what leads to a sale or a career launch.
-Press exposure to multiple major publications/media.
-Exposure to other festival programmers who will then invite your film to their festivals.
If a festival you are considering isn’t offering those things, then it is not an impact festival. There are also impact festivals within a niche like women’s film festivals, environmental festivals, Jewish festivals etc. If you cannot get into an impact festival, then the marketing and distribution strategy stays as it was in the M&D plan. Which means you have to have one from the start. If an impact festival premiere doesn’t happen, you need to plan your own impact premiere.
To me, the festival circuit is a theatrical release circuit with no revenue prospects, but far fewer costs than a conventional theatrical release. Unless you can get a screening fee, which is only possible in a few certain circumstances, then use a festival to do one night event screenings along with a service like Tugg or Gathr or community screenings where either a license fee is paid, or you are getting a significant cut of the ticket sales.
If the festival is small, the media coverage is small, no real industry people (ie, buyers or other festival programmers) attend, there is no screening fee and no way to make some revenue, then why go to that festival? It won’t make a difference to the film’s success and may not even make a difference to your career. If you know who your audience is and how to find them online, you don’t need a festival to reach them.”
Discuss festival darlings vs films that will be picked up and how to know what kind of film you have. Is it a festival film at all or something that should go to market or be self distributed.
SC: “A festival darling gets that way from being accepted into an impact festival. Also, festival darlings will go on to play many other festivals, Jeffrey says at least 50 and they should be collecting screening fees with that so it becomes a source of revenue. Those films get picked up first.
If you mean a festival darling because it plays every little regional fest and stays on the circuit for over a year with no other distribution happening, it isn’t really a darling. It really means it doesn’t know what its doing.
There are elements that will help your film be a festival darling though..
-Name connections. I don’t mean name actors necessarily, but it never hurts . Is your producer connected? Is your director connected? Are you working with a sales agent?
-A lab program that is connected to prestige fests. Have you gone through labs with Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, San Francisco Film Society?
-A grant or funding organization like Cinereach on your side. Have you won a grant from a large film fund like Tribeca’s partnership with Ford Foundation? BritDoc Bertha Fund? Chicken and Egg? These organizations are filled with connected people who can pull some strings for your film if they think it is strong.
-A short film that is an alum of an impact festival. Impact fests love to champion their alumni filmmakers.
Festival programmers are tied into these networks and they ask ‘Is there anything out there I should be looking at?’ This is not blind submission territory. Anything they can do to wade through the pile of DVDs or online screeners to find the good stuff is welcome news to them. This is about getting to the upper end of the pile. Your film will be evaluated at a higher level. These connections change what is possible for your film.
If you haven’t got these connections, either GET them or be realistic about your prospects. You will be looking at your direct distribution options a lot more closely than a film with connections.
I still think a film with connections is going to have to build an audience though. Not all Sundance films get a pick up or get picked up and given meaningful release. Sundance didn’t create their Artists Services Program because they think all of their alumni will be given stellar releases. They created it because they know not all will and they can offer help to those willing to work. And while they do what they can to champion those alumni films, most still do not succeed because the filmmaker was ill prepared, budgeted no money for marketing and distribution and truthfully, some simply waited too long after their premiere to take advantage of the gift they were given in having that kind of premiere. That level of media buzz is not often recreated 2 years after the festival.
I am much more interested in seeing people like Shane Carruth, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, Thomas Woodrow, Ava Duvernay, Tiffany Shlain, all leaping out of Sundance with their own path than the ones who are waiting around for their sales agent to work a miracle for them. They prepared their marketing and distribution plans, they went to Sundance with it under their arms and laying the groundwork ahead of time with audience building and they were in a great position to say whether they would take offers or not. They didn’t HAVE to do it.
I will say there is NO SUCH THING as a film that doesn’t have distribution. If a film isn’t being distributed, that is by the choice of the filmmaker. They rolled the dice and lost on the big all rights deal and didn’t prepare for anything else. ALL FILMS have a path to distribution now. It may not be the path they hoped for, but it is easy to distribute a film. Getting people to watch it? Another story.”
Distribution – What are some concerns filmmakers need to have in terms of their distribution strategy and how production budgets are tied into this. How should filmmakers determine if and what sales markets can bear films like theirs.
SC: “For sure you should be working with a legal advisor who is looking out for YOUR interests. This is not necessarily a sales agent whose commission is based on your signing an agreement. On The Film Collaborative site we just published a guest post by a filmmaker who had to take his sales agent to arbitration and what a nightmare it was because of the agreement they signed. Use an entertainment attorney who works with independents, not just studios and distributors and is truly looking out for your interests first.
As far as budgets, marketing and distribution expenses are not part of your production budget, they are a separate section. They are part of your overall business plan budget. In any other business, marketing expenses are just part of doing business, in addition to creating the product. But they haven’t been a concern to filmmakers and investors in the independent film sector, strangely. That has to change.
I recently talked on Film Courage about needing a 10% budget minimum …but really if you desperately want a theatrical release or you are contractually obligated to have one and you may be paying for it yourself, you need about $50K just for that. You’ll most likely need a booker which costs about $10K, you’ll have to 4 wall for a week in NYC, San Francisco and a few other cities first so the booker can make a case for why cinemas should book your film, that will cost about $20K. You’ll need to hire a national publicist to get you the important New York Times review as well as other major publications because without those, why are you showing theatrically at all? That will run about $7K or more. You’ll need someone working online outreach probably on a full time basis and that will run about $7K. You’ll need materials like Blu Rays, DCP, trailer, poster, shipping costs, printing costs and some advertising. That will take you up to about $50K for a very small theatrical run.
Then if you are going to go ahead and direct distribute via digital platforms, if you work with a Gravitas, they will charge about $10K for encoding your film and getting it onto Cable VOD services. You will pay about $1500 to encode for iTunes and you need to have closed captioning and maybe subtitling which will run you about $1000 each for that. If you want it on iTunes in Australia, New Zealand and a few European countries, you’ll now need to have the film rated by the ratings board. They charge per minute on the film with an average cost of $2300 for Australia alone.
But if you have an impact festival premiere, great reviews, lots of buzz going on the film, you may not need to 4 wall so you can reduce that theatrical cost significantly. You still won’t make money on it, but it won’t cost too much either.
Sales markets are best handled by sales agents. If you want your film to be available at a market, I am assuming you mean for foreign sales, you are better off having someone whose whole job is devoted to buyers and markets handle your film there.
I think all filmmakers should attend a film market though because if you were ever under the illusion that you were making “art” you will learn very quickly that is about the last things buyers are looking for. They are looking for something that will sell. Sex, violence, stars..those are easy sells. And it is all right there on the poster or in the trailer. Right in your face. Go have a stroll around Cannes Marche du Film or around the Loew’s in Santa Monica at AFM. Visit before you even have a project to sell and it will be very illuminating.”
What is the average in terms of indie distribution. We hear a lot of success stories about foreign markets, but that isn’t necessarily the average.
SC: “First, there is no average for advances. It is totally dependent on what kind of film you have and its pedigree.
Foreign market for the average American independent film is close to zero. I think the successful foreign sales you are hearing about are for the bigger budget, well known actor films. Presales are highly dependent on cast so if you don’t have A list or close to it in your film, you aren’t looking at presales. Yes, plenty of people are still talking about foreign presales, but ask them for examples. You’ll see they are talking about Hollywood level cast.
But say that you do want to see what your prospects are for foreign sales? I do suggest you get a foreign sales agent because they know who the territory distributors are. They deal with them all the time and they can be more effective at collecting money from them than you can. They license films to territory distributors in different countries. Territory distributors acquire rights to exhibit a film, show it on TV, use digital platforms within their territory. These territory distributors find out about films from film markets such as Cannes, Berlin, Asian Film Market and American Film Market and TV markets such as Mip, also in Cannes.
Here is a selection of top grossing American indies in foreign markets for 2012:
Silver Linings Playbook (David O Russell, Oscar nominated) $101mil (Australia and Spain top countries, sold to 46 territories)
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, Oscar nominated) $22mil (uk, France, Australia, Germany & Spain top grossing, but sold in 41 territories)
Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, produced by John Malkovich’s Mr. Mudd , started as a novel) $15mil ( Australia, UK, Italy top countries, sold in 28 territories)
Cast involved in these films (Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Emma Watson, Dylan McDermott) Typical American indie film does not have this cast.
So what is an average advance in terms of domestic indie distribution? Very hard to say. Depends on the buzz coming off of it and what time of year the film sells. There were some strong sales at Sundance this year, Sundance being the beginning of the year. The Way, Way Back sold for $10 mil and will be released in July (fitting for a movie about working a summer job in a water park) and got only a C+ out of Indiewire. It has Toni Collette, Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell in it. Don Juan’s Addiction sold for $4 mil with a $25mil marketing spend guarantee on 2000 screens out of Relativity Media. It will need to gross about $35mil to just recoup. I have no idea if that MG paid for the production budget. It is a Joseph Gordon Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore film.
Some of the smaller films like Fruitvale Station (around $2mil to Weinstein, playing Cannes), Concussion (around $1mil, Radius-TWC), The Spectacular Now (around $1mil, A24) S-VHS (around $1mil, Magnolia), Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (around $1mil, IFC also playing in Cannes). Many of these are already getting screening fee revenue out of other festivals that have programmed them.
Compare this with Toronto purchases, one of the last buyer festivals before the end of the year. The Place Beyond the Pines was picked up for under $3mil by Focus Features, but the production budget was $15mil. It was just released March 29, already hitting $12mil and most of that is foreign. Stars Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. I think they’ll be all right eventually, but Focus recoups and profits first, not the film’s investors.
What Maisie Knew went for $2mil to Millenium Entertainment, which is now for sale. It is set to go into theatrical release tomorrow. Stars Alexander Skarsgard and Julianne Moore.
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions bought a trio of films for a grand total of $5mil. Thanks for Sharing, Imogene and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. I’m thinking the total production budgets for those films were a lot higher!
SXSW sales have been slow. Cheap Thrills sold to Drafthouse for low-mid six figures which probably means $200K and a promise of theatrical and VOD/digital. Holy Ghost People sold to XLrator Media for an undisclosed amount. Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies has some high profile actors like Ron Livingston, Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick and was picked up by Magnolia, again no amount disclosed. Doc Good Ol’ Freda just sold to Magnolia and they say it will get a theatrical, again no amount disclosed. Usually Magnolia does Day and Date releases.
These are some of the top festivals for sales, the rest of the festivals are just exhibition exercises that you are hopefully using to launch into digital release. Hey, distributors do this too. Often even if a film will have a limited theatrical, it will still use the festival circuit as an exhibition space. But the difference is, those films will get screening fees.
But then you have films like Euphonia which premiered at SXSW and then went online for free. It was a no budget (or no one is getting paid back) film, 54 minutes long so really not programmable in many places as far as festivals, broadcast, theatrical. It doesn’t have sales prospects and the filmmakers didn’t care. They are newbies, put their film on Vimeo just so people would see it without a money barrier. That isn’t wrong. Their goal is just getting people to see it. They may accomplish that goal.
Numbers, everyone likes to know those and yet, we don’t. I would like to call on industry to start divulging more. Filmmakers start divulging more. We did this in our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and it was difficult to get at them. A few filmmakers dropped out when they heard what info we wanted because they didn’t want to share that info. So you can’t complain about not knowing if you aren’t willing to share. Also, it is contractually agreed not to divulge numbers, keep everything private. We can know box office numbers, we can know DVD sales numbers, but so far there is no public database for digital numbers.
According to Gravitas Ventures’ Nolan Gallagher ‘When an independent film opens in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles—and those four theaters report $10,000 each for box office earnings—that’s a very easy amount of information to compile and publicize. But with VOD, we’re talking about over 100 different operators, each with its own way of compiling and disseminating information.’ Still statements and checks are sent to rights holders so a figure is obtained.
We know, based on self released numbers by Lionsgate/Roadside that Richard Gere’s Arbitrage which had a concurrent theatrical and VOD release took in about $11 million in VOD/digital sales and over $7.5 million in ticket sales. The distribution company paid $2.1 million to acquire domestic rights out of Sundance Film Festival, and Roadside spent about $2.5 million promoting the theatrical debut. Marketing expenses for the VOD were reportedly only a few hundred thousand.
Margin Call with Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons had VOD sales of about $6 million and grossed $5.4 million in theaters. Also released by Lionsgate/Roadside.
Bachelorette grossed $5.5 million on VOD but took in $448,000 theatrically. Released by Radius TWC. Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Rebel Wilson star.
Where did all of those films come from?? Sundance!
But know this. It is nearly impossible to attract significant VOD revenue without a star driven film!! And sometimes stars want a theatrical guarantee, or their agents do.
A couple of more realistic indie film case studies that worked with Gravitas Ventures.
The Truth-made for a reported $500K, starring John Heard, Brendan Sexton III, Daniel Baldwin, Erin Cardillo. Made $ 75K in an advance from Netflix. It is a thriller.
American: The Bill Hicks Story: made for under $1mil, Cable VOD gross at $375K and iTunes gross $55K for both rental and download, though rental accounted for vast majority. A 2 year Netflix and Amazon deal for about $100K license combined.”
Next up for me in June, an Amsterdam workshop with the Binger Lab and Sheffield DocFest in the UK. If you’ll be in either of these places, give me a shout!
Since I will be speaking on Monday, April 29 at the Sync Up Cinema Conference, I thought I would share some details about that free event and give you a taste of a few things I will talk about.
Sync Up Cinema will be presented by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) in conjunction with The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) and held at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is a conference focused on Louisiana film production and the emerging opportunities in the film industry.
My conversation with Clint Bowie of the New Orleans Film Society will start at 5:30pm and we’ll be talking about all things independent film marketing, film festivals and film distribution in the digital era. As this won’t be a panel discussion, I have created some notes of case studies, statistics and other information that you won’t want to miss. How can a filmmaker brand herself using the internet? How to formulate a film festival strategy? What is an impact festival? How to decide which distribution route to take based on the film you have? What are typical advances being paid and for what kinds of films? How much to budget if you plan to have a self release of your film? Do you need a theatrical release in order to have a successful ancillary release? Why social media cannot be the only tool you use to market a film?
I don’t know if the session will be recorded and uploaded online later for those who are not in New Orleans, but I will keep you posted if that happens. The hashtag for the event is #SyncUpCinema if you want to start following it this weekend. I hope to see many New Orleans filmmakers at this event!
Sync Up Cinema is free and open to the public. Major sponsors of Sync Up Cinema include National Endowment for the Arts, Cineworks Louisiana and Entertainment Partners.
For more information about the conference and the up to the minute schedule of Sync Up Cinema events visit novacvideo.org/syncupcinema
This is a question I hear often “About how much should I set aside for marketing and distribution of my film?” It is a tough question to answer precisely because even Hollywood professionals have a difficult time balancing how much marketing spend is just enough to make the film appear successful, but not so much that it results in taking a loss. I’m looking at you John Carter, Battleship and Dark Shadows. One could argue that those films were not good and that’s why they “failed,” but the pressure placed on a studio marketing department to open big the first weekend in order to appear successful necessitates a large marketing spend (usually minimum $50mil).
In this video with Film Courage, I talk about the bare minimum marketing spend one should budget for an indie film when planning out the overall film budget:
But that doesn’t mean you should think “Right, 10% is the amount I should set aside” because you really do need to formulate your entire marketing plan. You need to pinpoint the exact audience you are going to try to attract with your film, figure out how best to communicate with them and work through all of the elements you are going to create or need to buy in order to reach the audience or reach the goal of the production successfully. Remember, the goal for every production is NOT the same. For some filmmakers, just getting industry attention in hopes of a better career will be a success (see David Lowery and Behn Zeitlin as examples). For others, “changing the world” or raising awareness behind an issue in hopes of the audience taking a more active role in solving the problem is a success (see The Invisible War as an example). For others, gathering the support of a core audience that will continue into other work will be the mark of success (see Ava Duvernay and Tiffany Shlain.). Outside of Hollywood, success is not always marked by huge profit numbers.
During the course of your audience identification investigation, you may find that without marketable elements such as star actor names or major festival wins or stellar critical reviews, it will be nearly impossible to reach the broad audience your story will need to reach. This is especially true for dramas (coming of age, tragedy, period etc.) and comedies. Most documentaries inherently have an audience to tap into because there is a cause or a personality being profiled that organizations/clubs form around. There is no quirky comedy or coming of age drama organization to tap. Understand?
Also, you may realize you need the help of a producer of note who can help position your project to a whole set of constituencies (managers, agents. attorneys, the media, distributors, and exhibitors) within their sphere of influence. Being able to tap those resources for help can catalyze the process of getting the film seen to a wider audience or catapulting your career in the industry because they are all gatekeepers for a reason. Can you go around the gatekeepers? YES, but it can be much easier to achieve success with their validation. Producers of that stature like to be paid and, well, they should be. Another expense that could make a difference to your film’s ROI.
Some indie producers have seen this video and told me they are now going to set aside 10% (only) from their production budget. If that overall budget is only $50K, that means they are going to try to achieve an awful lot with only $5k to spend on movie marketing and distribution. You can spend $5K just getting a good website built or having a first rate trailer edited or hiring a publicist for your big festival debut. You’re going to need more than a good website, a trailer or a good publicist to promote your film during one event in order to execute the formidable work of getting audience attention on your project and selling it directly if no distribution deals are presented. I am all about NOT being dependent on the good distribution deal to come and save your film. Too many times that either doesn’t happen, or the distributor drops the ball and doesn’t give the film a meaningful release. You can only know that the film will have a meaningful release if YOU have planned for it.
A few line items that will be on your marketing and distribution budget are professional graphic designer, website designer, copywriter, web hosting, email service provider, search engine optimization service, ecommerce shopping cart and fulfillment, merchandise manufacturing (aside from DVDs), trailer and short video clip editor, advertising/media buys, publicist, on set photographer, DVD authoring/replication. digital encoding for iTunes/other online outlets and possibly VOD services, DCP drive preparation, Vimeo Pro account if appropriate, online measurement tools, printing services (for posters/postcards), theatrical booker, festival consultant (a well connected one), festival submissions and travel expenses, premiere parties or other live event components. This is taking into consideration that the producer or someone on the production will be doing this considerable work for free or for backend. If you want to hire someone to do this work (who will also handle any opportunity/problem that comes up during the course of marketing and distribution and will be a full time community manager for your audience base), that’s another expense. Personally, I don’t work for backend, but you may be able to strike that agreement with someone. Point being, it will be really difficult to obtain all of this for only $5K and I have been as realistic as I can in this listing of needed marketing and distribution expenses. I really can’t see this being done for less than $40K excluding labor cost for a PMD or calling in a lot of favors. The high end can go as high as your ambitions for the film. *AMENDED BELOW*
While it is possible to find marketing budget templates on the internet that are not specific to film or to look at guidelines that some film commissions provide for marketing grants, most are not geared for the indie film world we live in now. They mostly speak to marketing plans that rely on big advertising spends and posters because they are still stuck in the mindset that the goal is to drive cinema attendance. Yep, Hollywood is still relying on that route, but as an indie, you can’t do that. A theatrical release may not be realistic or appropriate for your film’s resources. While these templates/guidelines are useful to look at, you really need to assess what audience your film is specifically trying to reach in order to plan out the expenses that are appropriate. I write these kinds of plans, very tailored to your film. The plans include reading the scripte/watching the film, audience research, best positioning angle to take for the core audience, ideas for content creation and release to online channels, email best practices, publications to pitch for stories with contact details, and a preliminary marketing and distribution budget that includes the resources you will need to implement the plan.
As a producer, it is imperative that you have marketing and distribution expenses included in your overall production budget and you can’t know those expenses if you don’t have a marketing and distribution plan based on the core audience of your film. Otherwise, you are putting your production, your investors and those who agreed to defer their pay in extreme risk of not achieving the production goals.
Amended: In speaking with my colleague, Jeffrey Winter from The Film Collaborative, his advice is budget a minimum of $50K just for the theatrical campaign. This breaks down into about $7K for organizational/online outreach, $20K in theatrical 4 wall fees needed for major markets such as NYC, San Francisco, LA, DC, Chicago (places where you will want major publication reviews, but whose policy stipulates a film must have a week long theatrical and in more than one city so it can be seen as a national release), $7K for a prominent publicist (needed to contact outlets such as NYT, LAT etc who probably won’t review if you called yourself), $500 for Blu Rays, $1000 for DCP, $1500 for poster design and printing (I think he’s giving you a break on this! You’ll probably need to spend more), $500 for shipping, $10K for a reputable booker to help you get screenings in more cities so you won’t have to 4 wall, $3K for a kick ass trailer, the rest you can spend on ads.
Often when thinking about the distribution of projects, filmmakers lock themselves into the old mindset of premiere at a festival/engage a sales agent/hope for lucrative distribution deals including a theatrical release/take off to make another project. In the current marketplace, all too often none of that happens. I interviewed Film Collaborative member, Michelle Mower, to talk about how she broke out of that mindset and saw her film, The Preacher’s Daughter, not only reach millions of people, but set viewing records for Lifetime Movie Network. The full interview is on the TFC site, but here is an excerpt:
Michelle Mower: “I met Orly at the annual Business of Film Conference in Houston that is presented by SWAMP when I was in production and she told me to keep her apprised of what we were doing with it. I joined The Film Collaborative and once I had a rough cut, I sent it to Orly and asked her to give me feedback and guidance. I was thinking about festivals until she came back and said it wasn’t a festival film because it was too mainstream, too commercial in feel. It probably wasn’t going to be programmed by the bigger festivals. She said I needed to think about other options. We had already submitted to some festivals, like SXSW, and it did not get in so it made me rethink what I was doing with the film and look at other options.”
“Orly introduced me to Imagination Worldwide, a sales agency, because they often work in broadcast licensing. I sent them a one sheet and that made them ask to see the film. I sent them my rough cut and they asked to rep it for the cable market. This was November 2011 and they took it to EFM the next February. They always knew that it might be of interest to Lifetime, but I didn’t get my hopes up. I was really still trying to raise more funds to get it absolutely completed.”
It makes sense doesn’t it? Word of mouth doesn’t travel without a personal network of supporters, however small. For some reason, there is a misconception that free money just rolls in when a crowdfunding initiative is launched, despite the fact that there are many, many case studies available online (for FREE) from people who ran successful campaigns and report that it was very difficult work. Widening the audience is one benefit of a campaign, but you have to start from somewhere in order to widen out.
In a short clip I did with Film Courage, I talk about why crowdfunding may not be for everyone and the limitations one will encounter if not very active online.
An aspect of a crowdfunding campaign that isn’t as apparent as money, is building up a sizable contact list of engaged supporters. I can’t tell you how crucial this is not just to the one project, but to ALL of your future as a filmmaker. Developing and maintaining a database of personal contact details is invaluable because they have given permission (and expressed an interest in) for future communication from you. This list should be guarded with your life and not relinquished to any third party! It shows the trust people have put in your talent and in you as a person, a trust difficult to gain that can easily be destroyed. This list should never been taken lightly or sold/given away for short term gain (besides, it goes against CAN SPAM Act regulations unless each recipient has been given clear and conspicuous notice that his or her e-mail address will be shared with third parties for marketing purposes. Who would agree to that?).
While there are certainly companies and individuals asking to be hired to crowdfund for artists, I think skipping over the crucial step of putting in the personal work it takes to gain trust is missing by employing this tactic exclusively. Social media channels are truly a gift and an opportunity we have been given to get closer to our audience, to have a deeper and more personal connection through our work. It breeds loyalty, instead of disposability. Also, the ability to know that our work touches people and matters to people can keep you going when it seems the world is full of rejection or self doubt. Gathering a team to help is advisable (in all aspects of filmmaking), but allowing only the team (or worse, an uninvolved 3rd party) to have contact with your supporters is a mistake.
It is time that artists come to terms with the fact that the age of the bubble (where creation takes place only in private) has come to an end. The audience wants to feel close to the art and its creator. This isn’t new really, fan clubs have existed for decades, but now that closeness comes in Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, podcasts, videos, Pinterest boards etc. and the ability to have a dialog directly. Make an effort personally to reach out to your audience, even get to know them by name, and you will see that effort come back to you in artistically, financially and personally beneficial ways.