How do you attract sponsors to your film project?

October 14, 2011
posted by sheric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collecting email addresses from fans of your film

October 7, 2011
posted by sheric

All this week, Jon Reiss and I have been participating in a virtual Q&A panel on the D Word site for documentary filmmakers.  I have to say, I like this virtual panel a ton better than the usual live panels at film events. You can ask very specific questions of the panelists without the need for a moderator controlling the questions and having a bunch of panelists sit up there and basically tout the services of their company or give coy answers. It would be kind of awkward to give short and meaningless answers in this kind of forum. I hope everyone else is enjoying it too. Anyway…one of the questions that came up to day from Richard Phinney of Ontario, Canada asks “there is much talk about getting email addresses from audiences at preview screenings … how exactly do you go about doing that?”

In our book, filmmaker Ari Gold describes how he was able to collect over 12,000 email addresses from the audience of his semi theatrical and theatrical screenings.  Here’s the excerpt:

“Ari attached a short video to the front of the feature at the semi-theatrical and theatrical screenings that included the text-to-join number, whereby one texts their email address to a Google Voice number that he set up…it was (213) 290-DRUM [213.290.3786]…and, at the time of this book’s publication, it still works, even though he has to manually copy and paste the emails into his master list. The video alone was extremely effective, but when Ari was also present at the screenings, or when he did a live Skype Q&A, he was able to get almost all in the audience to sign up. Truly unique and impressive.”

The old fashioned way of doing this is passing out a clipboard and I still think that is fine if the screening is small and controlled by you, but it doesn’t work so well at festival screenings. You aren’t given much time to pass it around the audience before the screening and people leave as the credits roll after, plus you are too busy heading up to do Q&A so even if you started passing it, the clipboard is likely to get mislaid while you are tied up and then you have to keep track of the papers and remember to enter in the email addresses by hand.

Another solution I have seen is using QR codes which can be read with any mobile smartphone that takes the web brower to a special landing page where an email address can be entered. The email address is then sent straight into your email provider’s database. Here is an explanation of how it works with Constant Contact.
Providing incentive to give an email address should yield better results than simply putting a sign up box on your website. Giving away a piece of content like a song, ebook, rare photos or a piece of video not found anywhere else are all incentives to give an email address as “payment” to access this content. Topspin Media calls this E4M (email for media) and it powers their embeddable widgets for websites. There are many more features on Topspin as well so check them out (full disclosure: Topspin is one of the sponsors of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and we are using them to power our store shopping cart).

Another company I have been speaking with recently is Fanbridge who has a similar feature for Facebook pages as well as any website. They have a free basic edition for you to try out and a more feature rich edition that costs $30 a month. They advocate offering content only your fans can see so it entices those to become fans and rewards those who already are. I will be putting their system to work on 3 pages I help manage on Facebook and I’ll let you know how I get on. Also, it seems kinda cool in that it captures the comments people leave on your wall and you can export the positive quotes for use in other places. You can find out more about how it works on this site which was just acquired by the company and will soon be rebranded.

Hopefully these tips give you some ideas on how to boost your email list. Remember, direct connections to an audience are the lifeblood of monetizing your work in the most profitable way. When someone has given you permission to contact them, they want to hear from you and they are way more likely to support you which is more cost effective than chasing complete strangers.