How do you attract sponsors to your film project?

October 14, 2011
posted by sheric

As stated in the last post, Jon Reiss and I (and Orly Ravid joined us for a bit) were recently part of a weeklong discussion on the D Word site about marketing and distributing documentaries. One of the questions came from a woman who asked about attracting sponsorship to a film project. She asked, “would you talk about some of the particulars of sponsorship in your case [with our book], and what process you went through to develop those sponsors?” I was also prompted to write about this after receiving a message via Linkedin from a connection who wanted me to send him my contact list of sponsors so he could use it for his project. I’m not too prone to turning over my list of contacts, but anyone can find them online. Just look at our list of sponsors in the free pdf copy, Google their websites and hit the Contact button.

So, about attracting sponsors. First you have to determine what are you really offering a sponsor. I don’t mean logo space on your website or key art, inclusion in your credit roll, or pre or post roll ad space. If you don’t have a large amount of web traffic, there is no pre sale in place guaranteeing your film is going to be widely distributed and you can’t demonstrate that a lot of publicity that is beneficial to the sponsor will be generated by your film’s release, it is going to be very difficult to get money out of a sponsor. They can buy targeted media space on well established outlets with a better guarantee of their brand being seen. So really think about this before you send out proposals to sponsors offering logo space on your website as something worthy of spending thousands of dollars of their marketing budget on.

Regarding how we did it for our book , first The Film Collaborative‘s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter are well known in the industry, especially among distributors and festivals so we knew we would have some support with spreading the word about the book through Sundance, AFI Fest, Palm Springs International, Los Angeles Film Festival, some European festivals like Sheffield Docfest, some LGBT festivals like Frameline and Outfest and we all have contacts at bigger print media like IndieWire, Screen International, Variety (who wouldn’t cover us it turns out), Filmmaker Magazine plus well known indie film bloggers like No Film School, Filmmaking Stuff and Film Directing Tips .  Then we have Jon Reiss who is a teacher, a filmmaker, an author and has many personal connections, his own fan base as well as industry connections at CalArts and IFP that he can call on to spread the word. And then there’s me and some people know me and when I ask them to help me, they do. Those people are all over the world and mostly on Twitter and Facebook so that helps. We all also do a lot of public speaking on panels, workshops, keynote addresses. The more visibly we are promoting the book, the more attention it gets.

We took these media contact names and their website traffic stats and festival names that are our connections and combined them with the well known (in indie film circles) brands of all of the authors and put them in a sponsorship deck that outlined what the book was going to be, who exactly it was written for, how we planned to reach those people, how the book would be distributed and how much coverage we were likely to get through our efforts and we chose sponsorship levels of support and the benefits associated with each level. We knew how much we needed to raise in basic development costs (because initially the book would only be digital) and later printing costs when we decided to print. We didn’t take into account our own fees for writing, that was gravy if we raised more than the development costs (we did end up with money for writing fees).

But what one needs to make off of sponsorship is beside the point to potential sponsors. They want to know how their objectives are going to be reached through sponsoring your project. When we sent out the deck to the sponsors, we crafted a letter that addressed why we thought their involvement would be beneficial to them. Knowing we were going to be launching at a large, annual event targeted at independent filmmakers helped our efforts because it wasn’t just a book launch into the market, it was coupled with a larger event with more media coverage which is valuable to a sponsor.

Next, we made lists of what companies we knew, who knew us and what we stood for and how we are known, and we sent them the sponsorship proposals. We also sent proposals to any company looking to reach the audience we would be targeting. At the end of the day, only the companies we had direct relationships with actually supported us. Even though many others showed interest, ultimately those companies didn’t pony up.

Since the book has been widely distributed for free and self published (so we hold all the rights and can do whatever we want with the book), we have had inquiries after we released about wanting to sponsor it and we will follow up to see where the fit is. We can’t put their ad in the printed copy for this printing obviously and we won’t be taking down the digital editions on Amazon or iTunes any time soon because it is a bit of a pain in the head process, but we have a website that can be sponsored, we have an active blog, we have a newsletter, we appear in person where we give shoutouts to our sponsors (by the way they are Prescreen, Area23a Movie Events, Dynamo Player, Gravitas Ventures, Topspin Media, SnagFilms, EggUp and other media sponsors listed on our website and in the copies of the book) so there are other opportunities for sponsors if they want to become involved.

It was also important to us and to our sponsors, that a version be available for free. Why? Free makes downloading the book a no brainer and the more downloads we have, the more the sponsors’ messages spread. Also, TFC is a non profit (on purpose!) entity and part of their mandate is devoted to education. This book is an educational resource and we wanted all filmmakers to be able to have the knowledge. We also wanted to get as much attention for the filmmakers who participated in the book as we could. Wins for all involved!

In my chapter of the book, I take a look at people distributing their work for free in order to serve a goal. It might be name recognition, building a following for subsequent work, raising funding (crowdfunding) or in the case of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, distributing her film for free and making money with other things.

You don’t use free to keep working for free. You use free to serve a purpose to something else that will get you paid and there needs to be a plan in place for getting that. In our case, we had sponsorship that allowed us to make money before even one copy of the book was sold. Free served the purpose of getting more eyeballs for the sponsors, more attention for the authors, building up a bigger base of  loyal filmmaker fans, those fans turn to us when they need to hire someone to help. Free is a means to another revenue stream. Those in the film business do A LOT of work for free but it has to have a defined purpose, a way to make money somewhere. There is no strategy to throwing up a film on Youtube for free. One has to determine what the strategy behind free is, what purpose is it ultimately going to serve? There has to be more revenue streams set up besides just making money selling copies of your film.

There must be other filmmakers out there who have successfully found sponsors. I welcome anyone who wants to share that information with us.

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