Models for funding documentaries

January 21, 2014
posted by sheric

During the 2013 Sheffield Doc Festival, an international panel of documentary producers spoke about the different methods they use to find funding for their work. While 3 of the panelists were fortunate enough to come from countries that provide tax payer funded initiatives for filmmakers, producer Julie Goldman of Motto Pictures was the representative from the US. We do have some government funded programs for documentaries, but only for films that meet a certain criteria (ie, largely social good topics). I summarized some of the points Goldman brought up during the panel, a video of which has been posted on Youtube and runs about an hour and a half (link below if you have time to watch all of it).

-Goldman’s company, Motto Pictures, has helped produce a wide range of award winning documentaries such as A Place at the Table, Buck, Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry and God Loves Uganda. The company was founded in 2009.

-Every film has a different funding model; from cobbling together multiple grants over years to commissions from major broadcasters. Buck was already fully financed from private investors when it came to the company. This is a rare occurrence.

-One of her biggest pieces of advice is about striking at the right funding moment. You have to be ready, agile and go for opportunities when they open up. If there is suddenly a new channel buying documentaries for their new programming initiative, you have to be there from day one because in a short time, they could be out of business, but you will have gotten some presale money at least. Be on the lookout for new funds opening up all the time.

documentaries

-The projects she spoke most about were God Loves Uganda and Buck. God Loves Uganda was a labor of love project which took 3 years to piece together full financing. First, they applied and received money from Sundance Documentary Fund, Tribeca Gucci Documentary Fund, Tribeca All Access, Open Society (George Soros), tons of little bits of money,  but still had a huge gap in the budget. They proceeded production in stages with the small tranches of money and everyone was deferring and thinking they were never going to get paid. Finally, the project received money from ITVS Open Call, but it was complicated. ITVS is the funding body for independent films for public television in the US and they go to different strands such as POV and Independent Lens. They can become an equity investor and license the TV rights for 4 years. Because they are funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, there are some things they are intransigent about and others where you can find flexibility. They take an equity position in the project and they have that going forward from any means of income the film has, not money from festival prizes, but any sales the film gets. While the God Loves Uganda made it through to the final round of the vetting process, they didn’t end up getting the money at first. But at that time, one of the strands, Independent Lens, had discretionary funding for projects they were interested in and they gave some funding. It was still an ITVS project, but Independent Lens had an option for it, a first look. But Goldman thinks now that funding isn’t available anymore. Again, look for those funding moments and be ready to strike. The final funding piece  came from the Ford Foundation.  They fund projects and you do not have to be a US citizen to apply for them. They have an incredibly helpful website and an initiative called Just Films which funds $10mil for films of a social justice nature each year for the next 5 years. It may or may not be renewed in future.

-In all grant inquiry letters, don’t just explain how your film fits into a broad funding initiative. If it is a big organization, chances are they have branches that are concerned with specific issues and if your film touches on more than one of those (say, LGBT AND freedom of expression or minority rights), it helps the organization fulfill more than one mission and is more likely to receive funding because those divisions can work together and often share the funding resources. It could even result in getting more money.

-God Loves Uganda was an example of the miserable-while-you’re-doing-it-but-happy-in-the-end funding model. The model for Buck was much happier. The film centers around Buck Brannaman who is the original horse whisperer. He runs well regarded training sessions and he is a really popular and loved figure in the horse owning world.  People wanted to give money to have this film made about him when the director decided she was going to do it so the film was funded by all private money by the time it came to Motto Pictures. Buck was released theatrically in the US in 2011 with revenue of over $4 million, which is a big hit for a documentary. But the exhibitors took 65% of that. Out of the 35% that goes back to the distributor, IFC Films, they took 25% out of that plus their costs for marketing and prints. And then the sales agent takes their cut. Basically, the film was in the red for a long time even though over 200,000 DVDs were sold. While DVDs rarely sell in this volume, the audience for the film was older and it was a really good DVD audience. It is only now (2013) that money is starting to come in to the producer.

-However, director Cindy Meehl had another source of revenue planned and it is VERY important to consider this. She planned these 3 camera shoots on beautiful Montana ranches of the horse clinics Brannaman holds annually to be used as footage in the film. It was very professionally captured footage. She then released extra footage as a 7 part DVD (at $30 a pop) for people who can’t go to the clinics or want an introduction before they go. Those DVDs that she produced are selling like CRAZY and she is making a lot of money on them. It was very smart and her investors are getting their money back more quickly that way. If you have a subject matter that could have ancillary value to a lucrative niche market, it is very clever to plan for monetizing it outside of the feature film during development and while in production.  Said Goldman, “At the time, we shrugged and thought, whatever. We weren’t horse people so we didn’t understand or have faith in it. She had total faith in it and she was right.”

-The final model, if you’re lucky enough to win it, is commissioning. A big entity like HBO or Participant Media will pay you a fee to make a film for them and they own the film.  You will never see another penny other than your fee and you had better not go over budget. This model is almost exclusively for the well established documentary filmmaker.

-The panel only briefly touched on a new model, crowdfunding. Only the producers from Canada and the US had any experience with it and felt that the amount of work involved in running a campaign is grossly underestimated. But the point was raised that funding and distribution are moving from the institutional to the social and increasingly audiences are taking their recommendations from friends and those they trust.  It stands to reason they will also pay, either to create or to see films that are made by filmmakers they like and trust. For now, crowdfunding of documentary is mainly working for those who don’t have big production budgets, but do have either name recognition or issue recognition to tap into an existing audience.

Other funding bodies that documentary makers should be aware of include:

Influence Film Foundation

Cinereach

Hartley Film Foundation

Worldview

 

For the full Sheffield DocFest panel including explanations from producers from Canada, UK and Netherlands, watch the video

YouTube Preview Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are one night event screenings successful for a film?

January 14, 2014
posted by sheric

One night event screenings can be organized directly with a theater, but the newest way to go about setting up a tour in the US is through sites like Tugg and Gathr. If there is enough demand in a city to warrant a screening, these sites help to facilitate it through their network of cinemas. Filmmakers may request cities they would like to screen in or a local promoter can request a screening. Either way, a certain number of tickets needs to be presold in order to make a screening happen. This financially protects the exhibitor as they won’t be giving up a screen to accommodate a very small audience and it protects a filmmaker against having to pay thousands of dollars upfront to 4 wall the screening. But how successful is this method of screening your film? As with most things self financed, it all depends on how much work you have put into gathering an audience.

In a recent podcast, Stacey Parks of Film Specific talked with Kimberly Dilts and JT Arbogast about using Tugg for a screening tour of their film Angel’s Perch. Here is some advice they offered.

-Their initial plan of going to festivals and receiving distribution offers did not work out. They realized that Tugg would offer the chance to have their own screenings and make money, rather than spend money attending festivals and receiving no revenue.

-Since the production had run a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2011, they did have supporters that they could call on to help set up and promote screenings. This is CRUCIAL in order to tip presales of tickets. Remember, if a minimum ticket threshold isn’t met, the screening won’t happen.

-The narrative film’s story was centered around a grandson who returns to his hometown to care for his last living relative suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. The story is set in Cass, West Virginia.   Knowing that their MOST CORE audience was in West Virginia, that is where the film started its screening tour (not New York, not LA, West Virginia!). The production also looked at where their Kickstarter supporters were in order to map out other cities where they would have an enthusiastic reception. They also partnered early on with the Alzheimer’s Association as technical advisors on their script and as fiscal sponsors so were able to solicit their help in  reaching local chapters to either host screenings or encourage members to attend screenings. NOTE: if your film does not have a core audience AND organizations committed to helping you, you will find filling screenings to be extremely challenging. This film is not a documentary (which naturally lend themselves to organizations) and it did not have name actors. The producers admitted if they did not have this Alzheimer’s angle, they could not have pulled off this screening tour. Think hard about that when creating your film. In fact, if you are working with a low budget and you will not have a clear niche audience for your story, don’t make that film. I’m serious.

Tugg Gathr screenings

-The producers had budgeted $38,000 to promote and arrange this screening tour. They spent all of it and more. One big area for spending was travel because they needed to be at the screenings in order to sell merchandise and collect email addresses for later digital/DVD release communication. It is terrific that they included merchandise as an extra revenue stream! But some cinema chains (*cough AMC cough*) did not allow any merchandise sales to be conducted in the theater. Also, $11,000 was used to pay for Kimberly to run this tour full time. It is an incredible amount of work to set up, organize and promote a screening tour. No one should be asked to do it for free, especially not for 10 months of their life (yes, that’s how long they’ve been preparing and running this tour). The rest of the money was spent on manufacturing the merch (DVDs & tshirts), printing and shipping posters/flyers, and Facebook ads (which they did not think helped with sales).

-The producers did have screenings scheduled that did not meet the minimum ticket threshold. Consumers are not completely clear on how this system works because they are used to showing up to the box office and paying for a ticket right before the screening time. On a Tugg or Gathr screening, they MUST preorder or the screening won’t happen. A bit of education for the consumer will be needed when using this method.

-Also, when some screenings had sold tickets, but not enough to meet the minimum, the production did spend to buy out the rest of the tickets in order to make the screening happen.

-Even if others are hosting screenings of your film, you still have to support their promotional efforts. They will need images, press releases, posters, postcards and maybe support their media efforts by being available for interviews or actually traveling to the screenings. Don’t think this is on autopilot or that promoters necessarily have the skills to publicize a local screening.

-Press for one night event screenings is difficult to obtain. While they received press attention in West Virginia because the film is set there and it is very relevant to the local media, they did not receive a lot of press attention for screenings elsewhere. Most newspapers have a policy to only review films that play for a week or longer. The biggest outlets only want to cover nationwide theatrical releases. While you can certainly try sending out press releases to local and national press on your own, you may find they go unanswered. Also, Kimberly said she didn’t see a direct correlation between the amount of press coverage and the number of ticket sales. This means word of mouth played a much bigger role in the success of the tour than any press coverage. Caveat to this, distribution partners definitely search for press coverage on a film to decide whether to pick it up. You will need press coverage even if it doesn’t put butts in seats. Also, regarding reviews–reviews that result in low Rotten Tomatoes scores can hurt your digital film sales because those scores are highlighted on many digital platforms like iTunes, Vudu etc. It is better to have no critical reviews, but great audience reviews, than to have poor critical reviews.

-Don’t let the time lag between the theatrical tour and the ancillary sales. While momentum is going- people are talking about the film and attending screenings- is the best time to arrange for your ancillary deals early in the lead up to the screenings or after a little momentum has started. VOD transactional and DVD distributors will see the promotion and want to launch off of it so don’t let all of the attention fall to the ground again by waiting too long to solicit ancillary deals.

-Between the merchandise sales and the independent theater bookings the production made on their own (aside from the Tugg screenings), the revenue they saw was $18,500. With the 50 Tugg screenings, they are due an additional $6500. At the time of the podcast, they had another 25 screenings scheduled through Tugg. They are hoping that the screening tour will put the film in a better position to see more revenue in the home video phase of the release.

All useful information when considering a one night event screening tour as the way to have a theatrical release. If you want to catch the whole podcast (55 minutes), jump on over to the Film Specific site.

 

Sheri Candler

 

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A self financed film release

January 6, 2014
posted by sheric

It means the production is PAYING to market and release their own film. It doesn’t mean those involved in production are working all by themselves like DIY (Do It Yourself) has come to be understood. And it doesn’t mean DIWO (Do It With Others) because that sounds a bit like everyone is working together for free or back end revenue. Self financing means your production has budgeted money to pay for the marketing and release of the film which could include working with vendors outside of the production or hiring experts to come on board early in the production process to help conceptualize and prepare for the eventual release of the film.

It is the same concept as preparing a production budget to pay all involved in the physical making of the film; the legal help, the post facilities, the equipment rentals, the cast, the crew, permits, location rentals, catering, transportation, accommodation, insurance, music licensing. Most all of these are expected costs to making a film. There is no dispute that these are required line items in a production budget. Making a film is expensive! Even spending $50,000 for production is a lot compared to what most filmmakers have in their personal savings accounts. Please don’t spend your savings account.

self financed budget

It is a costly mistake to think that these are the only line items in a budget for film financing. In fact, there is almost no point in incurring the cost of making a film if there is no budget and concrete plan as to how it will be released. Fewer and fewer films are bought by a distributor for a price that will recoup a higher production budget, even low six figures. This path used to be the tried and true method for release, but it is just not true anymore.  Even if a film does get picked up, it is likely that the marketing costs and fees to distribute the film will eat up any back end revenue due to the production by the series of entities used to release a film (exhibitor, digital platform, online retailer, in store retailer, distributor, sales agent). The whole chain takes their expenses and fees FIRST.

Of course, it should be said that it is especially difficult to fully recoup the cost of making and releasing a film that is self financed. While I have encountered and worked with films that have managed to recoup the cost of their self financed marketing and distribution for a theatrical release (which helped propel their ancillary sales), I have not encountered any that have even come close to recouping the production budget during that phase of distribution, not to mention profited by it. Crowdfunding either the production budget or the marketing and distribution budget, from donors who do not expect recoupment, would go a long way to bringing a production into the black. However, crowdfunding is NOT for everyone.

Let’s dispel the myth that distribution is 1) assumed to be handled by some other entity that will put in their money to do it; 2) assumed to be an endeavor performed with no money by the production on its own; or 3) assumed that “collaborators” will be found who will offer their services, connections and expertise for no money upfront in exchange for back end revenue.

Budget for your self financed film release!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who are you trying to reach with your stellar work?

December 4, 2013
posted by sheric

You’re excited to tell your story. I can definitely identify with that feeling. I think every person can. It could be a story you dreamt up yourself or one that you heard from someone else and, as a filmmaker, you can’t wait to bring it to life visually and you’re sure everyone will be thrilled to see it.

I get it, you want to dive head first into making it. And that’s cool. Nothing wrong with taking the vision in your head, creating a work of art and laying it out for the world to see.

But here’s a wrinkle…

The world is a BUSY place and you aren’t the only one trying show your work to other people. They have work they are trying to show to you and other people too.  How are you going to get yours to the top of the “look at this” pile?

First, it has to be stellar. Stellar is very subjective, by the way, and it is far from a given that most creators will create something stellar. But let’s say that you do. You need to know WHO else will find your work stellar? This helps to narrow down who to go after first in order to gain their attention. You probably know that gaining attention from those predisposed to liking your work will be easier than getting attention from people who will never like it, right?

owl image says who

Narrow down the potential audience and then narrow it down again. Narrow it down until you can actually describe what they would look like standing in front of you. Do you know these people? Do you like these people? I hope so, because you are making work for them.

You’re going to be fighting the urge to widen out from the start, trust me. I have met many a creator who thinks of their audience as a big, amorphous group as well as investors and companies that encourage this thinking. Your stellar work is really just for some people, not for all. And that’s ok. Reaching some and not all, on your own, is waaay easier to do.

Next, try to pull those people to you, rather than only shouting at them. What do I mean by shouting? Advertising is shouting. Self promotion, as in only talking about features and benefits, is shouting. Shouting involves interruption and one way conversation. You need a dialog. How do you do that?

Your vision about the work you are making, the stories you are telling, started with something. A feeling, an experience you had, your take on the way the world works or the way you would like it to work. These are things you can express in a style and tone all your own and not just in the medium of film (which is perhaps your primary medium), but in micro content like photographs, graphics, text, articles, short videos, comments, and the things you share created by other people you admire. All those things can be conversation starters leading to a back and forth dialog. Slowly pulling people closer to you; closer together. Making them pause to have a look at what you create.

And finally, decide where these kindreds of yours spend their time and where you are comfortable spending yours. There should be an overlap here because if you are pulling people to you with the same sensibilities as you, they won’t be found in places you wouldn’t be comfortable spending time in. Some of these places are now going to be in online spaces and I know there are some storytellers who are not yet comfortable spending time there. If this describes you, then you have a choice. You can hope they will seek out your work on their own, pay a lot of money to shout constantly or choose to become comfortable online and acclimate yourself. This means choosing your hangouts with care, not trying to be present everywhere. You can’t be everywhere effectively and if you don’t like where you’re spending time, you won’t go there enough to gain attention.

Broken down in this way (Who, How and Where), you now have the most basic building blocks of a marketing strategy for gaining attention for your work. That’s all you are trying to do with that icky concept that creators want to avoid. Marketing.

As Seth Godin has said, “Tell a story that spreads, that influences people, that changes actions…that’s marketing.”

The question isn’t online or offline? Facebook or Twitter? Advertising, publicity or social media? Those are only marketing tools of the How. First you have to know WHO? Who are you? Who will like the kind of work you are making? It’s a simple question that takes some effort to find the answer to and then act on it.

This Sunday, December 8, I am going to spend some time talking more about this for films as well as filmmakers during a webinar hosted by the Atlanta Film Festival. If you can’t make it Sunday, we’ll do the same webinar on Wednesday, December 11.

To sign up with an automatic discount, GO HERE.

I’ll also take your individual questions during the session and one additional question via email if you are a participant in the webinar.

Start thinking about your strategy now and I will help you refine it a bit as well as talk through tools you will find helpful in reaching your audience. I hope you can join me.

Sheri Candler

 

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Film producers should seek new business knowledge

December 2, 2013
posted by sheric

In a recent interview I did for the Rebel Seed podcast, I wanted to stress something I am encountering from film producers, especially new ones. For about 4 years now, I have been keeping independent artists informed on developments in film marketing and distribution, mainly through this blog, but also in speaking, teaching, and even co authoring a book. While there are many film marketers and distribution companies in this space, FEW actually share their extensive knowledge or offer resources available for any filmmaker to use. Some don’t feel the need to share what they consider proprietary knowledge and some share only with whom they are directly working.

Still, not a week goes by that  I will consult with a producer who has no idea how to digitally self distribute, little idea of who the audience for their film  is and what tools and money they will need to reach them, and doesn’t participate very much in the social media space. In order to successfully navigate the waters of independent film, you MUST keep informed of the new developments. The greatest asset you can invest in is yourself and gaining new knowledge in order to clarify your thinking, manage your time, remove fear and doubt, and create new habits that will pay off immediately in how you approach your work.

In an effort to help get producers ready for the Spring festival season (including Sundance, Slamdance, Berlin, SXSW etc.), I am partnering with Atlanta Film Festival in conjunction with Slamdance Film Festival to present a 1 hour film marketing webinar. As with the last one we did for distribution, anyone with an internet connection may participate and we have 2 dates to choose from this time, December 8 and December 11.

I’ll cover researching your audience, writing your marketing plan, what items you will need in your marketing budget, feeding the content beast that is the social media channels, using publicity and advertising as part of a well rounded marketing effort, and the importance of an email database. Why would you need this BEFORE your festival premiere? If you can show a potential buyer that you have already started gathering an interested audience for your film, you have web site stats and social media stats to prove it, and you have your own plan in place to release your film IF they can’t come up with an attractive offer, you will be in such a better position to negotiate a great deal than the 95% of other producers that don’t do this. And if you don’t get into the big fests, you will be able to start distributing immediately or use the festival circuit as part of your release to start recouping your production budget. Once you show that your distribution efforts have traction on their own, you’d be surprised at the distribution companies climbing out of the woodwork to get a piece of that action. THAT’S the position you want! Don’t be in the weak position of having nowhere else for your film to go.

To sign up for the webinar on either Sunday, December 8 or Wednesday December 11, GO HERE The great thing about a webinar rather than only researching on your own is you can ask question about your particular project. The webinar will run one hour with 30 minutes for individual questions. I also offer the ability to send one question to me via email if we don’t get to yours in time. Before the New Year starts, spend some time investing in your knowledge base.

Rebel Seed kindly made an infographic out of my podcast. Have a look

Infographic Best Practices for Film Marketing & Distribution for film producers

 

If you would like to hear the podcast, listen here

podcast link

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My latest post for MovieMaker Magazine covers social media basics for the top 5 social channels. I have written posts regarding social media basics before, but this piece will include Pinterest and Instagram which I did not cover last time. As you may know, I do not view social media as a campaign oriented endeavor. Campaigns are only conducted for a set amount of time (usually for a sales promotion), but I think it is important to understand that social channels are an every day effort; they should be integrated into your creative life indefinitely. The sooner you start using them professionally, the easier it will be to gain benefit from them, especially if you are thinking of self distributing or crowdfunding.

I am not going to republish my article here in its entirety and only the first installment has been published on the MovieMaker site, but here are some highlights:

#1 Facebook 750 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to start and maintain an ongoing relationship with your audience. Ask for feedback, start a discussion, or post your views on a current event.  Try to remember, if you only talk about yourself and your work, it’s a boring conversation for everyone else unless you are a celebrity that they are truly interested in. Champion your followers and other artists.  As opposed to the fleeting nature of Twitter, Facebook pages are meant for deeper discussions and closer relationships with your supporters.

social media page on Facebook

The indie documentary DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a good Facebook example to follow

 

#2 Youtube 450 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Build a video subscriber base.  View counts on videos are great and definitely have a use in securing optimal placement in Youtube search and publicity attention (though it will take many millions of views for it to have an impact on press coverage), but your subscribers are the ones who will see your new videos in their homepage newsfeed and receive an email when you post something new.  Also, encourage Likes, comments and shares of your videos as that impacts how Youtube ranks your channel in its search results. If you aren’t prepared to fill this channel with regular content that is HIGHLY compelling, don’t use this social tool.

 

social media page on Youtube

FreddieW’s Youtube Channel has over 6.5 million subscribers.

 

#3 Twitter 250 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post short (less than 140 character) messages that are funny, informative, or reflect your outlook on life.  Not only will you be connecting with the audience of your work, you will also find Twitter a great industry networking tool (for jobs!) and a place to connect with journalists (for media coverage). Make sure that your Twitter handle is posted on all of your communication including email signature and newsletters, website, other social channels, business cards and any About You section where your name is included.

#4 Pinterest 85 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos found or created online. Pinterest runs on  well made and captivating images. People who use this social channel are looking for visual masterpieces or images that speak to their lives and emotions. Filmmakers may use Pinterest to tell a visual story about how they became the artists they are; influences, professional tools, and the tastes, style and personality behind the work. For individual projects, Pinterest can be used to tell a backstory on characters (individual boards set up to further explain a character), information on the setting of the story, and mood boards that give the audience a sense of what the film is, apart from just a trailer or poster.

 

social media page on Pinterest

Indie film producer Ted Hope uses Pinterest to show the world who he is and what he cares about professionally.

 

#5 Instagram 50 million unique visits per month

What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos taken with a mobile device as your visual representation of every day life rather than a place to post high quality images. Instagram is being used to post on-the-fly photos and short videos taken on the set and making 15 second short trailers and character teaser clips specifically for mobile viewing. Feedback is instantaneous so you will know very quickly if your project is capturing attention and gaining followers.

 

The full article details how to set up accounts on each social channel and some examples of independent filmmakers to emulate because they excel at building an audience on these channels. The first part (covering Facebook and Youtube) is now live. The second part will be live on November 25.

 

Sheri Candler

 

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Understanding your film’s success trajectory

October 29, 2013
posted by sheric

The idea for this post has been spinning around in my brain for a while and comes up every time I receive a new consultation inquiry. Most filmmakers I encounter are either fairly new to filmmaking or fairly new to the business side of film. They may have been directors for hire in the past so they were only involved in physical production, or they are producers and their last film did not achieve what they had hoped so they are trying again.  In these cases, what they want to happen with their film is often very different than what is likely to happen and it is important to know the difference from the outset. It will save so much energy, time and bitterness to be realistic about your chances of achieving your goal.

What success trajectory is your film on?

There are 2 kinds of trajectories producers will encounter; one is the planned course or direction they would like their film to take to market and the other is the course that their film is actually going to take based on its assets. The worst position to be in is believing your film is on track for your goal and find out that you are nowhere close and it is too late to change it. The best is to know from the start what is possible for the film you are making and accept it or change your assets in order to get on a better trajectory. Since I personally don’t like hearing people hedge their statements with “anything is possible,” I am going to forge ahead with a common example, not examples that somehow managed to beat the odds. No use in trying to replicate lightning in a bottle.

Common scenario:

A low budget film with no notable cast, no clearly identifiable audience and no money to market and distribute on their own is now in post production and looking for advice on how to market the film in order to attract a significant sale. No one involved in the production has connections within the power community of filmmaker labs (and their mentors), top tier festivals, or reputable sales agents, but still believes a significant sale is achievable and will result in a significant release including multi-city theatrical, cable VOD, broadcast and home video.

From a distance, I know some of you can clearly see where this trajectory is sure to end up…but far too many do not even think about it until too late. It is possible to pull back the curtain on almost any indie film that you see as a success and look at the assets they had from the beginning. Their success trajectory existed before they completed the film. Even before their festival premiere, most likely they had some heavy weight help; perhaps some connected producers, several film labs/incubators lending them support and validation, grants and sponsorship from power organizations, personal connections of the director, cast and crew that could be tapped for help. Success is never 100% assured, but the chances are higher when these assets are in place. It is HIGHLY unusual for a film to come completely from nowhere, with no one notable in it or attached to it and go on to have significant success.

I’m not minimizing the talent and effort of these filmmakers, they certainly have to produce a stunning film that their connections feel proud (and safe) about championing. But if you know that your film is not going to have any of this, the success trajectory of your film will not look like these films. That’s ok, as long as you realize this and your goal is aligned. One only has to look at the recent Gotham Award nominees or the list of Oscar qualifying docs vs the short list  and then nominees when it comes out  to see what a successful trajectory looks like. Are there ANY that didn’t have major distributors/connected producers/prestigious labs/major festivals behind them? Are there any that DIDN’T have significant releases?

How to change your trajectory? If you need connections, start making them or choose people to help you who can deliver these. Making an undeniably stunning film will pull powerful people to you, but someone has to make the introduction. If your story is going to need a bigger budget with notable names  in order to succeed in the market (with buyers, with press, with audiences), don’t tell that story without those things. If you can’t attract that kind of financial backing yet (and most first, second and third timefilmmakers cannot), change your story to suit what you already have at hand or what you can realistically raise including marketing and distribution money so you have more options for release on your own. Often, proving your success will attract the attention of those with more financial muscle who can change your trajectory.

Most importantly remember, it is VERY difficult to change your trajectory once your project is in “motion.” Better to give it more thought before starting.

Photo credit Nathan Wells on Flickr
Sheri Candler

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