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.

Your Content Strategy

March 9, 2011
posted by sheric

You’ve heard me (and many other inbound marketing strategists) say that marketing is more about providing value to your audience; giving them information and knowledge they can use in exchange for keeping their attention; than it is about blasting out one way messages. The value you offer should not be all about you and your project. So, how in the heck to do you find other things to talk/write about? I’m reading a very useful book at the moment called Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum and there is a chapter devoted to this question. For those working as PMDs, this book will really help in implementing a content strategy.

Your Content Strategy

While you may not see yourself or your projects as a form of curation, the key to creating a community is taking a leadership role and you do it by being a guide. You and your team should become a resource for interesting content that surrounds your project without overwhelming people with self centered information. These are the steps to setting up a good content strategy.

1) Pick a blog platform-Rosenbaum recommends WordPress, Movable Type and Blogger (I recommend with your own URL). Or if you are more of a micro blogger, Tumblr.

2)Find your keywords- He recommends doing keyword searches if you are looking for strong SEO on your posts. Tools he suggested for this are SEMRush (which costs $49.95 per month), (there are free and paid options), Rank Tracker (free version up to $249 for enterprise version) and Word Tracker (free version and $69 per month version). You can also use Google Keyword Tool for free.

3)Using RSS feeds-Really Simple Syndication for newbies. These tools search the internet for content that is of interest to your audience and send it directly to you rather than having to search the internet manually. A tool I didn’t know about is called FastFlip, a kind of customized magazine of topics you have chosen. Just put in a keyword you want to find info on and it brings up a page of posts in graphical form. You can do essentially the same things using Google Alerts and Google Reader. It depends on how you process information really. You can use these stories to populate your Facebook feed, your Twitter feed, your Tumblr account or as inspiration to write a blog post. This system is really the heart of your content calendar. Once you decide on what topics to cover for the month, you can start searching for posts that will provide information or inspiration to riff on in your writing. I also use Diigo to bookmark links that I think will be useful to me later, you can even highlight text on the page and save it to your library and tag it with words to help you remember what you have collected on certain topics.

4)Using Twitter-Rosenbaum says consider Twitter your uber-aggregator. It will help you find links to stories AND the people who are sending these around so you can be sure to follow them and strike up a conversation. He recommends TweetAlarm to monitor your keywords, your project mentions, your @mentions. I use TweetDeck, but whatever.

5)Provide a mix-You don’t have to create every piece of content yourself. It can come from guest bloggers, your audience, videos someone else has made, a Flickr feed of photos etc. You and your team will set the tone based on your personality and the characteristics of your project. Is it casual and fun, serious and mission oriented, informative and technical? This tone will serve as guidance to others on what to expect from their experience on your site.

Ideally, you will have someone devoted to doing this work (hence the PMD reference above) because I understand you don’t have time to do this every day or even a few times a week. Having new content is imperative if you plan on keeping your audience interested in your projects over the long term and getting in the habit of servicing that interest by using tools to make it easier will pay off in not having to start over again every time you have new work to release.

TOTBO Tip of the Day-Tip 10

April 30, 2010
posted by sheric


Blogging helps in two ways: First, it drives traffic to your site as you link to new and interesting stories that are related to the subject of your film (For Bomb It, we post news about graffiti around the world.) And second, your blogging activity will help your site’s SEO (search engine optimization). This will result in higher search rankings for your film in relevant categories. What to blog about? Of course you should blog about your film, your filmmaking experiences and your screenings, but you should also consider blogging about subjects that relate to your film and your film’s audience. This will make your project relevant to them on a broader level and keep them coming back to your site. One simple way to come up with information to blog about is to use Google Alerts. We received a weekly Google Alert about “graffiti” and “street art” and select a few top articles to blog about.

I want to know what you think!  Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book here.  I look forward to hearing from you.

TOTBO Tip of the Day-Tip 9

April 29, 2010
posted by sheric

Create a Dynamic Website

Create a dynamic web site and do it long before your film is done. Old-style film web sites are out — blogging and a constant flow of information are in. Blogging and tagging are what the little bots out in cyberspace will recognize and bring you up in the rankings. Thanks to my wonderful friend and web site savior Michael Medaglia and a lot of great blogging by producer Tracy Wares, we were near the top of Google search on “graffiti documentary” even before our world premiere at Tribeca. A great web site also helps you cultivate your niche audience and further allows the theatrical to fuel your DVD release.

I want to know what you think!  Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page. Check out the book here.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Blogging For Your Film

September 16, 2009
posted by sheric

bloggingI’ve mentioned before about the importance of building an audience for your film starting at the script stage. The reason I say to start marketing your film early is that I am assuming  as an independent filmmaker you do not have access to the millions of marketing dollars studios have to advertise their films. Without these millions, it will take more time and effort to raise awareness of your film in the public’s mind and you can’t start thinking about this once the film is completed. You must start early.

One way to start gathering an audience is through blogging. You can even start to do this before your script is finished. Actually, starting to gather input and feedback from your core audience (typically your friends and family) gets them invested in your project from the early stage and when they feel a part of the process, they will see it through to the end, as long as you continue to solicit feedback. You might find that you can improve your script by feeling out the audience response and making tweaks along the way. It is a lot better to find script problems in development rather than in unsuccessful distribution. Loads cheaper too!

You can make your blog page a web page. Many platforms enable you to customize a site so that it looks like a website and they are far easier to maintain if you are not technically inclined (like me!). Just be sure to pick a blog platform that enables you to have your own URL. For example, you do not want to have your site called rather make sure it says or whatever you want to call it. Most, if not all, blog platforms allow you to post photos, videos, and audio clips so when time and money is low, consider just starting a blog. You can always upgrade later if you think it is needed.

Don’t just offer a sales approach to your blogging. Think of how much you would read some one’s posts if he only talked about himself or he was hard selling you. Be sure that you are blogging to have a conversation with your audience. Ask for input and comments. Offer insights into the process, interviews with other collaborators, commentary on the industry in general. Really think about the audience you want to capture and what they would be interested in reading. You can talk about other films or filmmakers who inspire you, what you like or dislike about using certain types of equipment or software, ask which film festivals people attend or filmmakers recommend. If your film is genre like horror or sci fi, incorporate those kinds of subjects in your posts. The choices are really endless but pick topics that would be of interest to your audience.

A blog is work though, make no mistake. If you want readers to stay engaged with you and your film, you must post regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day, but at least weekly so that you don’t go too long without communicating with your audience. Once production and post production starts, this is going to get tougher to do but it is important not to abandon the readers. Share your on-the-set stories and your post production progress. Release a little clip now and then to keep the interest alive.

As part of your promotional work, you will want to publicize the blog to bring in new members of your tribe of followers. Be sure to use a share bar that will enable readers to RSS or post to Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc. Some blog platforms have this as a plug in to install or you can install an AddThis bar. If you have an email list started, send out a little note when you have a new post to remind your followers to keep in touch. This can replace your newsletter.

If your blog is serving as your website, be sure to incorporate all of your other online platforms too. If you have a Twitter account or a Facebook page for your film, include the icons that link back to those accounts. You should integrate everything you are doing online to one central base, be it your blog or website. If your blog is separate from your website, be sure it is tied to that central site.

It is possible to make extra money by writing a blog. Personally, I don’t know anyone making enough to pay the rent. Think of this activity as sowing seeds that reap rewards later on when you self distribute or find a distributor for your film because you have such a committed group of followers.