There are so many ways that Hollywood could be reinvented to better adapt to the 21st Century. I recently joined Reinventors Network and Fandor in a virtual roundtable exploring the role of The Audience in the film business and how independent creators are using the tools of the internet to circumvent traditional avenues in funding, distribution and promotion not only to reach The Audience, but invite them in to the creation process.
Does this mean The Audience is now in control? In some ways, yes, but storytelling is a talent most people do not possess, that is why your skills are still very much needed. But you are no longer creating in a vacuum and the sooner you can make peace with that, the better off your career will be.
The session included a smart crew of participants and some insightful ideas were put forward. Check out the short video of highlights from the roundtable.
The whole session was much longer, about 97 minutes long. If you have that kind of time, sit back and take it in here
I have just returned from Europe where I participated in the Meetmarket at Sheffield DocFest and the Binger Filmlab’s Digital Filmmaking Week. It was great to get back out and meet filmmakers and industry people face to face instead of only online (yes, I did just say that!). I also got to sneak in a few plugs for the new book.
Since most of you could not attend these events, I have posted my Binger presentation on Slideshare and below. Notes are included as well. I hope you find it helpful.
I am preparing to head to Sheffield DocFest this weekend where I will be meeting with various documentary producers to discuss their projects that are between development and post production. In attending these session for the past 2 years as well as several other film conferences, it never ceases to puzzle me at the disparity of what I think is going to happen in these meetings and what the filmmaker hopes will happen. Most are looking for funding, but few are really well prepared to pitch their projects. They are under the impression that a cheque book will appear at some point in the 15 minute session without really understanding what the executive across the table is looking for. In order to clarify the purpose of a pitching session, I offer words of wisdom from Stephanie Palmer. Her blog Good in a Room is a must read for all creatives who are faced with a pitch session. She gives these tips on preparing to pitch.
1) What version of my pitch makes the project more likely to sell?
Stephanie says: “You shouldn’t expect to sell anything in this context. You wouldn’t buy a car or a house in a five-minute meeting, and no one is going to shell out serious cash and risk their reputations when meeting you for the first time.” Your main objective in this meeting is to set up a line of communication in the future.
For myself, I am merely an emissary from the company and my job is to hear a bit more detail than what has been given to me prior to the meeting. I will then take down notes of my thoughts about how the project fits into the company’s goals, what the filmmaker is trying to achieve, my observations about the filmmaker personally and how challenging the project will be in the market. I send all of this information back to my colleagues who may or may not choose to have us follow up.
2) Should I use a “leave-behind” in a pitch meeting? Like a one-sheet, outline, summary, or poster?
Stephanie says: ”In a pitchfest kind of situation, I wouldn’t leave anything behind except your business card which just needs to have your name, phone, and email. My experience is that I have never seen someone get interested based on something from a leave-behind, but it makes it easier to say No.”
I don’t want any physical material because I am traveling and I don’t have space to keep up with it. Simply an online link to material (press kit, film link, bio) is enough for me to include in my notes. Please do have a business card. It is shocking how overlooked this is, especially when everyone knows they are going to pitch. It is just unprofessional to show up at a planned meeting and not have a card.
3) I know it’s important to build rapport. But how do I do that when I only have 5 minutes to pitch?
Stephanie says: “Research the people with whom you’ll be meeting and design a comment that demonstrates your respect for them. That builds rapport quickly.”
Good gosh this is so easy to do on me as it just takes one Google search of my name and information on the company am I working with to find out what we’re about. It is very surprising how few people actually do this and need me to spend our very limited time together explaining what The Film Collaborative does, the kinds of projects we have worked with and what we did with them. You can guarantee I’m looking you up ahead of time and finding out what you have done before and how you are presenting this current project to an audience, especially if it is in post production. If I don’t find anything in the search engines, it is a worrying sign for me because you are neglecting your professional skills. Every professional person now needs to have some kind of information available online and make sure that information is something you are happy to have others find.
4) My pitch is set and I’m not changing anything. Is there any other advice you can give me?
Stephanie says: “Speak slowly and take notes on what the decision maker says. The act of taking notes shows respect, will help you maintain your composure, and will allow you to look for patterns in the feedback you get so that after the conference is over you can decide how to improve your pitch, project, or both.”
I tend to prepare some notes and questions ahead of time that I may cover during our talk. It will be helpful for you to write these things down. Most of my questions will be about audience and I am particularly interested in whether you have done deep research on this for the project you are pitching. Believe me, most executives are thinking this same thing even if they don’t ask you. We are less concerned with the story structure and more concerned about how well the film will do in the market. Take this into consideration before the meeting.
I look forward to the gathering in Sheffield during the coming week and if you are in town, come up and say hi.
I sent out some advance copies of the book last week in order to get a little feedback on the content. This comment came back to me and I thought it would be useful to share with everyone. Irish filmmaker Trish McAdam had this to say:
Selling Your Film reads like a kind of ”rough guide” to film distribution. You’ve got to bring your own individual energy and innovation to the journey, but it is really helpful to have reliable, current, on the ground info on the lay of the land before you plan just how adventurous a route you want to take.I don’t know if the opportunities that are available now, because of new digital media, will change the industry in the long run. Perhaps the new order will eventually become as restrictive as the old, but right now there seems to be a chance to break new ground and this book describes some of the inspiring ways people have succeeded.
The Emperor’s New Clothes was my favourite childhood story and there are certainly some naked truths in Selling Your Film.
Just finished my first whizz through your Papadopoulos & Sons case study. What a great story, very real, very fresh take on the weird “norms” in the European industry. What is even sadder is that that attitude starts at the script stage. I have been told many times my ideas are too ambitious, too commercial or, at the same time, not commercial enough. Even if that was meant as an insult to my talent, there still was no offer on the table to buy the idea.
European film so wants to be Hollywood, but won’t take a gamble. Tries to play safe except when the cronyism kicks in and then money goes into the strangest of projects. The competition in European film is still commercially and culturally tribal.
The American way of doing things seems so tough, Hollywood or Indie, so much about the survival of the few, super fit. But there is something very interesting always about an American eye on things, the eye on the dream and how to get there, and also something attractive about the European mess, the wrangling over meaning and process. Something very attractive also about the possibility of global humanism outweighing all that.I love that last paragraph [in the Papadopoulos and Sons case study section]….
Surely, this is the pioneering spirit of the film business that we all want to believe in. Dare to dream. That’s what so many of the heroes do in the films we make. They dare to dream, dare to change things, dare to be heroes. And so if we take the lead of the characters we put up there on the screen, we should do the same in real life. Not just in our stories.
I am emotional reading it, the way one is when you read something you have always known, but just couldn’t put the words to. What I always come away from your words with is a sense of empowerment and wish to have you onside someday on a project.
My thanks to Trish for sharing her comments with me and allowing me to share them here.
As of TODAY the entire ebook is available for FREE via iBooks, Amazon and PDF copies on a global basis. Any filmmaker anywhere can have their own copy and become more knowledgeable about the current state of independent film distribution.
I would be happy to hear your feedback and questions.
Volume 2 in the Selling Your Film series
Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. is the second volume in the “Selling Your Film” case study book series. While our first book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, focused on U.S releases and case studies, this volume takes a deep dive into digital distribution (and distribution generally) in Europe and provides several case studies of films released there.
The series began in 2011 as an attempt to encourage transparency in an industry that has always been quite reluctant to do so. Three years later, we are proud to have led the charge towards this goal, and we are encouraged that others are embarking on other projects that attempt to do the same.
Within the pages of this book, you will find marketing and crowdsourcing strategies, real distribution budgets, community building activities and detailed ancillary and digital distribution revenues for independently produced films.
By stripping away the mythology surrounding independent film distribution, we aim to present a more realistic picture regarding how filmmakers can earn revenue—and when they cannot—from a variety of release strategies. While there is no one model that will work for a particular film, the books in this series highlight a multitude of new techniques filmmakers are using to directly connect their films with audiences, effectively reach them through the power of the global Internet, and build a sustainable fan base to last throughout a career.
One of the chapters in this book employs the phrase “Carpe Diem.” In the context of digital distribution, this has dual meaning. First, in a harsh world that can tire of one thing and move onto the next in the blink of an eye, we encourage filmmakers to jump into action and formulate a viable and expedient distribution strategy as their films move from the festival circuit onto a larger arena. Second, the digital distribution space is a constantly changing one, where platforms come and go at an astonishing rate. Therefore, it is important that filmmakers not only empower themselves by learning how to navigate the landscape of digital distribution, but by keeping this knowledge up to date as well.
To that aim, we offer Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.—containing chapters by The Film Collaborative co-executive directors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter; marketing strategist and social media expert Sheri Candler; documentary filmmaker and independent film consultant Jon Reiss; and Wendy Bernfeld, managing director of the European content curation and licensing company Rights Stuff BV—as the starting point for any filmmaker (whether they are U.S.-based or not) who wishes to explore distributing their film in Europe.
Today’s guest post was written by Gabriel Diani in response to my post asking filmmakers if Facebook is still worth their time? Gabe thinks it is for his work, but for reasons that pertain specifically to his audience demographic, which may not be the case for everyone. Ultimately, this is a decision that everyone who uses Facebook for business reasons must confront and evaluate.
Let’s be clear: I have no love for Facebook.
The changes to their sharing algorithm since they took the company public nearly torpedoed the Kickstarter campaign for my movie “Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse.” Much has been written about it since then but in case you don’t know, here are the basics:
-Facebook now only shows a small portion of your posts to your friends unless you pay to boost your post;
-Facebook only shows a small portion of your page posts to the people who have liked it unless you pay to promote your post;
-Even if you pay to promote or boost your post and more of your friends and followers see your posts, they are not paying to have their posts boosted so any LIKES and SHARES can’t go viral as easily as they used to.
There’s certainly more Facebook is guilty of, but these were the main changes responsible for Facebook dropping from our number one referrer for our previous successful Kickstarter campaigns to number three behind our personal email list and Kickstarter itself.
So, yeah, I’m not the biggest Facebook fan and was delighted by Eat24.com’s fantastic open Facebook break-up letter to the world. Sadly, though, we can’t afford to break up with them ourselves yet. Why, you may ask, dear reader? Well, I’ll tell you in an easily digestible numbered list.
1) WE HAVE AN OLDER DEMOGRAPHIC. A lot of the audience we’ve built up over the years tend to be more in the 30 years old and up range…sometimes way up. These aren’t the people constantly seeking out the next social media platform. Some of them are on Twitter, fewer on Vine, and they have no idea what Tumblr, Instagram, or Snapchat are. We have no way of migrating these people to another platform…at least not until the Facebook backlash gets strong enough to affect this group.
2) WE’RE STILL GETTING INTERACTION. It’s not like it used to be and we can’t reach a lot of our audience, but we still get interaction from them that we’re not getting elsewhere. I posted our first behind the scenes production still the other day on my personal page and got 43 LIKES and 2 SHARES. Pics on our DDMTA Facebook page and from cast and crew timelines are pulling in 16-40 LIKES as well. Is that enough for us to tell the world about our movie? Absolutely not. But in the world of micro-budget producing it’s something we can’t afford to lose.
3) FACEBOOK WAS STILL NUMBER 3 IN OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. Despite it’s nefarious fall from grace, Facebook still was a bigger referrer than Tumblr, Reddit, Google+ or any of the growing platforms. This is partly because we haven’t spent years building up our audience base on these platforms. We created a video for our campaign with Janet Varney from the hit anime show “The Legend of Korra” that was reblogged and shared on Reddit and Tumblr thousands of times, but it didn’t translate into very many pledges.
4) WE DON’T HAVE EAT24.COM’S AUDIENCE. Eat24.com got a lot of great press off their leaving Facebook and probably got a lot of followers on Twitter and whatever other platforms they’re on, but they also undoubtedly lost some followers/fans who aren’t on those other platforms. They were starting with a much larger audience than we have so they can afford to lose some.
It would be lovely to be able to follow Eat24.com’s lead and break up with Facebook in protest, but unfortunately we’re stuck with it for the moment. We will definitely be focusing our audience building efforts on other platforms in the hopes of being able to cut the cord some day…and who knows? Maybe Facebook will start treating us like it did when we first started going out.
What about you? Have you seen a decline in your Facebook reach and interactions or is your page still holding steady or growing? Let me know in the comments along with any advice you want to share.
I will be attending this year’s Sheffield DocFect, one of the biggest documentary festivals in Europe, to meet with documentary producers and generally get a feel for what is happening with independent films in Europe. I went last year as well and I attended this great masterclass with producer John Battsek of Passion Pictures (Searching for Sugarman, The Imposter, Manhunt). Luckily, Sheffield DocFest has uploaded the class to their Youtube channel [link below].
I pulled out a few nuggets of advice for the documentarians because you may not have over an hour to devote to this video.
On what makes a documentary “theatrical”:
“Lots of archive, lots of music, all of it is expensive, but makes a difference…We bring cinematic ambition to the way we shoot, the way we cut, the music we put on the films. We gravitate toward projects that feel cinematic in scope….In doc making the editor is as important as anyone. You need an editor that can really realize a cinematic vision.” During the session, Joe Bini is singled out for editing praise, The Mill for graphics and Philip Sheppard for composing.
On finding the story that will have large audience appeal:
“The core story needs to be universal, something people can connect with, but ultimately it has to transcend that. It needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. Something people can identify with on many levels. Sugarman is about a failed musician, but not really. It is about love, family, ambition and lack of ambition, honesty and a philosophy on life that is admirable. It moves people in so many different ways. Fire in Babylon is about cricket, but it’s not. It’s about a culture rising up against their masters. It transcends the sporting story and becomes about guts, defiance, facing adversity and all sorts of things.”
On Sundance being the key marketplace launch for documentaries:
“Sundance is the key festival for launching feature documentaries. They offer great programming, but also it is the first major festival of the year and American buyers, in particular, go there aggressively wanting to outdo their rivals. Also, I think the high altitude messes with their heads! 5 years ago we had 3 films at Sundance; Crossing the Line, My Kid Could Paint That, In the Shadow of the Moon. We screened them and everyone went berserk. It was just before the bottom fell out of the world. We got into a bidding war, the kind you read about in the trades. The prices just kept going higher… For years, people blamed us for making the bottom drop out of the prices paid for docs because ultimately none of them performed as well as they should have.
In terms of getting into the festival, not sure what to say except that we’ve been incredibly lucky. We’ve been there for 7 consecutive years. I know the programmers really well, I get on with them, it is definitely a festival that looks out for its alumni. Not that producers are alumni, only directors are. If you are trying to get into Sundance and you can work through someone they are familiar with and trust, it is very helpful.”