Marketing a documentary with limited budget

November 28, 2011
posted by sheric

I wanted to share the good news with you about a documentary film I am working on with Jon Reiss’  Hybrid Cinema. We have taken on the role of marketing and navigating the distribution of the feature documentary Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance which chronicles the history of this iconic American ballet company. This film is a great fit for me as I studied ballet and modern dance for over 16 years, even attended the American Dance Festival on scholarship one summer in 19xx :) .  As I always say, it is better to have people working for your film who are embedded or can easily embed themselves in your target audience community. I know what dancers like and how to talk to them and this project is a perfect fit for my interests so finding them and having a dialog with them will make my work exciting and hopefully financially beneficial for the production. I’ve already been connecting to an amazing group of dance journalists and bloggers who are as excited as I am about the film.

Anyway, we’re doing some pretty interesting things with the film. It wouldn’t be a Jon and Sheri endeavor if we weren’t handling things with a view to what is beneficial to the filmmakers. The film will have a live event theatrical release. The world premiere is at Dance on Camera Festival in January, a film festival totally devoted to dance films for an audience that appreciates that kind of film. Makes sense it should be there right? And the festival is at Lincoln Center in New York, which is the dance capital of the US if not the world. Both screenings will feature a panel of Joffrey alumni who are either based in New York or flying in just for the occasion, but the Saturday matinee is something special. Historic even.

We have partnered with Ira Deutchman’s Emerging Pictures to do a live simulcast of the film screening followed by a Q&A session with 3 of the alumni in the film. This means audiences in select cinemas in the Emerging Pictures network of theaters around the US will be able to screen the film at the same time and participate in our live Q&A via a dedicated Twitter stream. They can ask their questions and see the answers in real time as if they are in New York. Pretty cool! I don’t think any festival premiere film has done this before. And rather than having a festival premiere be a financial loss, the producers will have their premiere be a revenue generator. The film will then tour during the Spring and Summer for a series of event based screenings involving Joffrey alumni around the country. We are booking these right now and the alumni are eager to participate. Rather than choosing just the main theatrical cities most indie films screen in, we are letting fan demand, former Joffrey connection cities and alumni participation guide us in choosing our theatrical screening cities. On the film’s website is a place for people to leave their screening requests or offers to host a screening of the film. March so far is shaping up to be pretty busy.

As far as building up a good email contact list and a zip code map for plotting the screening demand, we are releasing a series of exclusive digital photobooks in exchange for contact details. These photos are rarely seen (or never seen) images from the Joffrey archives that true balletomanes will find interesting. The Joffrey gave us a hard drive full of photos and with assets like that, we have to do something really cool and different with them that will draw in attention to the film and to the world of the Joffrey Ballet. The Joffrey Ballet did not produce the film, but they are happily cooperating with our efforts to get the film to ballet fans. If you have a graphic designer on your team, this is a great low cost idea and for email we’re using Mailchimp. They have a great download for email option that allows for the digital photobooks to be delivered right after subscriber confirmation. Leave your email address on our site to have a look at the photobook download.

In addition, I am interviewing every Joffrey alumni who wants to participate and making those into audio podcasts we will be releasing starting in early December on our Fanbridge Facebook widget and throughout the film’s release. Since it isn’t possible to include every person in the film who had a hand in making the company great, I thought we could extend the story line beyond just what is on screen. Every person who was part of the Joffrey legacy contributed to its success and they should be recognized. We will have interviews with Joffrey dancers of course, but also with photographers, ballet masters/mistresses, composers, other choreographers who worked with the company, anyone who spent time inside of the Joffrey company so that fans can get a real glimpse of what it was like to work with Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. Cost to produce these? Just part of my time.

Also we are really working a Youtube channel with the help of a new tool I found called Tube Toolbox ***see below. If you ever wished you could have a tool that specifically identified who on Youtube would be the most interested in your work and send invitations for you to connect, then Tube Toolbox is it. I am not doing affiliate sales for them just so you know. There are a lot of things Tube Toolbox can do that I don’t condone, like leaving preset messages on people’s youtube videos, but I’ve been using this tool for about a month now and it is great for finding the ballet audience on Youtube and inviting them to be friends and subscribers on the channel. It runs these searches in the background on my computer so I can do other work like populating the channel with videos. It helps to have a little stockpile of videos to release on your channel because once you start building up the subscriber base, you can’t only have your trailer. We have cut several pieces and plan to release them slowly over the coming months. Cost of Tube Toolbox? Lifetime subscription $150, peanuts.

Then there’s the blog I write twice a week. Again, just my time for research and thinking up topic ideas. Since this is a historical documentary, there are many topics to delve into and most can be researched online. I try to tie some of Joffrey’s work into elements included in the film, but sometimes they are just posts that further explain his teaching philosophy or how he viewed dance. There will also be posts that talk about the state of dance today. I try to make it a resource site that balletomanes would appreciate and visit again and again. I’m starting this from scratch so traffic is light right now, but I expect to see it increase over the months as the writing stays consistent and more and more people discover it.

For the special version DVD, we are partnering with New Video to get it into brick and mortar stores as well as on digital and VOD outlets, but have reserved the right to sell from our own site and at screenings. You know I am not a huge fan of DVD, but the packaging is going to be awesome with more rarely seen photos and extra clips, performances and interviews that aren’t in the actual film so the dance enthusiast/collector should have an interest in that.

All in all, we are super busy with this release, but I wanted to share with you how it is possible to work with a limited budget and still come up with interesting content and ways to get your film out to an audience without being solely reliant on a distributor to pick it up. You can bet there will be a case study in the future on how we did.

***due to the new changes over on the Youtube site, hold off on signing up to use Tube Toolbox until they make their adjustments. It seems that Youtube is reconfiguring their site to put less emphasis on social and more on producing and highlighting video content. At present, anyone who has opted in to the new layout (and all will be transferred eventually) will be unable to see who their friends and subscribers are which renders Tube Toolbox in effective. The developers at Tube Toolbox are working on this, but it will take some time to see what all of the changes to Youtube will be.

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