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.”
Now that the web is increasingly becoming populated with visual material, photos and short videos, it is especially important to have these elements as part of your ongoing presence online. As many of you are filmmakers, you probably have video and image editing knowledge, but I don’t often see it being utilized or at least not being utilized in a compelling way. The alternative to DIY editing, especially for trailers, teasers and short clips to populate video social channels, has been to take footage to a handful of expensive trailer houses and get them to put something together. Very often, it is well produced and way beyond the skill of the editor who is cutting the film. Not to knock the editing prowess of a feature film editor, but trailer editing is really a different beast for a different purpose. And it is MEGA important to have a great trailer!
While looking around the internet for freelance trailer editors (in order to avoid a five figure cost found at most trailer houses), I came across a site called Videopixie that hopes to serve as the low cost alternative to video editing. Not only is the site a community of freelance video editors who have VFX, motion graphics and animation skills as well, but they bid for your project and your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back.
I conducted an interview with Videopixie cofounder and COO, Thomas Escourrou, to find out more about how the site works, what kinds of work the editors have been doing, and how it would help lower budget filmmakers and film organizations who often shoot lots of video during their workshop and panel events, but fail to get it edited and put online. Check the interview out on The Film Collaborative site. Videopixie is also offering the first 100 TFC readers an incentive of $100 credit to use toward any new project.
If you have raw digital footage that needs some affordable and expert editing, check out what Videopixie is offering.
Today’s guest post is from one of my G+ community members, Scott McMahon of Arrowinn Entertainment. Scott recently released his ultra low budget film THE CUBE by hosting a local cinema release and via Vimeo On Demand. He is sharing some of what he is learning so that other ultra low budget filmmakers will have a better understanding of what it takes to use and make revenue from digital distribution sites. I think his experience is valuable because more and more emerging filmmakers are experimenting with content, form and release strategies. The experimentation is not likely to lead to significant paydays, but it will enable those starting out to gain useful skills for subsequent projects.
So, I made this feature film for $500 with no crew. Yep. No crew. How? Well, you simply set the camera up on a tripod and jump in front of the camera and act. And for the shots where I wasn’t in front of the camera, I took the camera off the tripod and moved it around.
My film is called, THE CUBE. If you’re curious to know what it looks like, click on the image below:
Since this film was made for so little, I decided to forego paying any festival fees and keep the money to be used on any future marketing efforts. With film festivals, you’re never guaranteed that you’ll get in anyway … and it takes forever to know if you’ve even gotten accepted.
Instead, I decided to reach out to some of my pseudo-famous friends and asked them if they would give me a testimonial … much like authors do when they are launching a new book. I figure I would just use these blurbs as my replacement for the laurel leaves we see plastered on every sales poster of other indie films. Instead of slapping a laurel leaf graphic of a no-name festival on my poster, I was able to use these blurbs:
“A short, sweet, and thoughtful indie. Engaging and humorous.” Bryce Fortner, Director of Photography, Portlandia
“A great example of no-budget filmmaking.” Randall Jahnson, Screenwriter of “The Doors” and “The Mask of Zorro”
WHY VIMEO ON DEMAND?
Since I didn’t have any formal crew to make this feature film, I never took any proper production still photos. A super NO-NO, if I was going to seek out a distribution deal. On top of that, it was made for $500! How much extra cash did I have to put into the deliverables and marketing … Nil.
I knew this lil’ movie would end up on some sort of digital distribution platform and I would have to handle the marketing for it all by me-self.
I chose Vimeo On Demand, because:
- Filmmaker earns 90%, Vimeo takes 10%
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have a 5.1 surround mix
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have E&O insurance
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have closed caption or subtitles added
Essentially, Vimeo just accepts your standard HD H264 file and lets you handle the marketing. It’s just a simple video hosting service with some embedded features that allow you to sell your film in your own way.
Now, there is a catch!
Vimeo On Demand requires that you sign up and pay for their PRO plan, which will cost you $199 annually. That was nearly half my budget! Haha. Thank goodness for birthday gifts In addition, I have other plans with the PRO version of Vimeo, so I decided to go for it!
BENEFITS OF DIRECT DISTRIBUTION
Generally, when you sign over your film to a distributor, there are some additional things that you will need to provide (as mentioned above):
- E&O Insurance ($7,000 – $10,000)
- Copyright Fees ($35 – $100)
- Deliverables (Your film mastered with separate M&E Tracks) [ed note: see my sample list here]
- Production Stills
- You will sign away the rights to your film for 15-20 years (generally)
- You will only receive whatever advance the distributor will grant you, forget about any promise of backend profiting … this almost never happens.
- It’s not uncommon to see film advances of only $5,000
Now, imagine if you made a film for $50,000 or $1 million? Will $5,000 advance be enough to satisfy your investors? Probably not.
With a $500 feature film, there is almost no risk involved … it’s so damn cheap! Here are some benefits by selling your film on your own through direct distribution:
- No E&O Insurance Required (Just be sure that you have your legal documents in order and of course, consult with a “real” lawyer)
- Use Creative Commons Licensing (Free)
- No Deliverables Required (Just upload your file like you would on YouTube)
- You keep the rights to your film … forever!
- All profits you earn from direct distribution go directly to YOU!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE …
Okay, so I made this feature film with no crew and the marketing and sales effort is no different. It’s just me. No sales staff, no marketing team … just me.
I threw a local networking event in conjunction with the premiere of THE CUBE and it earned a small profit of $128 after the expense of the theater rental, posters, mugs etc.
You can read more about this theatrical premiere at this LINK.
So, would VOD sales prove any better after a month in release?
Here’s the actual screen grab of my total sales:
THE SALES ARE IN!
$150 Profit for one month of being on Vimeo On Demand. Let’s add that with the total from the theatrical premiere:
- $128 Theatrical
- $150 Vimeo On Demand
- $500 Production Cost of Film
- $0 Marketing Budget (All sweat-equity)
TOTAL REVENUE SO FAR: $278
That’s over half my film’s budget! Haha. Yes, it’s miserable when you think that movies are supposed to be racking up profits of $100,000 or $10 million … the idea that independent film can only earn $278 might sound “sad,” but I am also using these methods to experiment with this film, using it as a test run for different online marketing techniques for use on future projects. There is an important aspect of the “launch” for any product that sees a surge in sales. I plan on using each new revenue outlet as a potential “launch” vehicle. Again, when you’re solo-preneuring it, you don’t have the infrastructure in place to do a mass launch. You have to piecemeal the process.
Look at this screen grab from Box Office Mojo. These are the movies ranked from #37-#46 on the list of theatrical releases for the month of February 2014.
If I compare THE CUBE’s performance to that of #46 DEMI-SOEUR’s performance of only $943 … and that’s only reporting the box office returns. The actual revenue back to the distributor, Rialto Pictures, will only be about 45% of this total. The exhibitor keeps the rest. Then Rialto will take out their fees and expenses and if a sales agent was involved in making the distribution deal, they will take out the same. There is no backend profit to share with the filmmakers yet.
At THE CUBE premiere, I actually brought in $435 Gross, so comparatively … I’m doing okay!
In online marketing and sales, it’s all about the “conversion rate”.
This essentially means, that for every visitor or hit to your website, how many people actually buy your product? If you look at the number of plays THE CUBE trailer, it amounted to 482 plays. From those trailer plays, 26 purchases were made.
- 482 Trailer Plays
- 26 Purchases
- 18.5% Conversion Rate
Believe it or not, if an online marketer were getting a 1-2% conversion rate for their efforts that would be considered a normal return.
I was able to pull in 18.5% conversion rate, so I have to consider this a major success.
FAST, CHEAP, OR GOOD
I’m only a month into this direct distribution campaign. There is a saying in production that we used to tell clients ….
You can have it FAST, CHEAP, or GOOD … Pick Two.
So, I made this movie pretty cheaply, and I hope it’s fairly good … that means my marketing effort cannot be FAST.
Slow and steady as the tortoise taught us when we were kids … And that’s what I plan to do with this film product … go sloooowww.
Are these numbers depressing? Hopefully they’re giving you a reality check.
I should preface that I didn’t build any sort of audience prior to making the film … simply for the reason that I wasn’t sure if I could even make this thing without a crew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a crew, it’s just that I’m an a$$hole! Haha. Just kidding … at least I hope that wasn’t the reason.
Anyway, I’m hoping that other filmmakers can see why building an audience prior to release is so important. If I had sunk even $10,000 into this film, that’s still a lot of cash to lose so make sure when dealing with higher budgets, an audience is going to be in place.
I’m encouraged by all of this, as I’m learning to apply all sorts of different online marketing strategies to drive people to watch the film.
I can see the numbers now. If I’m going to make any sizeable profits, I have to have a larger reach and impressions in order to maximize the conversion rates.
If I hope to make at least $1,000 in profits, I would need to have a reach of over 2,000 impressions, just to get the standard 1-2% conversion rate.
So, if you’re hoping to make $100,000 in revenues from your film, and a 1-2% conversion rate is normal, your film will have to at least reach about 2 million people/impressions.
Remember, we’re peddling on average a $5 online product. This is not some piece of software that can be sold for $100-$200 a pop. It’s gonna take a lot of sales to make up for such a low price point.
If you’re going to venture into making and selling a film directly online, be ready to have a huge infrastructure in place … or keep your budgets so small that it won’t matter if you don’t make your money back.
If you want to get INSPIRED by what can be made for so little … feel free to support indie film and check out: THE CUBE-A SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE MOVIE
Thanks so much!