Advice for documentary films from John Battsek

April 16, 2014
posted by sheric

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].

Passion pictures documentaries

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.

 

Film distribution case study: Indie Game

August 17, 2012
posted by sheric

I edited this piece and it was published on the Sundance Artist Services blog and The Film Collaborative blog. I am reposting it here because I think this film is the first and only one so far to eschew the typical Sundance offers, have the courage to know what distribution path is best for it and launch into the market straight after the festival. Also, I hope it serves as informative and inspirational to all who read this blog. My great respect goes to truly empowered filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot.

written by Bryan Glick, with assistance from Orly Ravid and Sheri Candler

Indie Game: The Movie has quickly developed a name not just as a must-see documentary, but also as a film pioneer in the world of distribution. Recently, I had a Skype chat with Co-directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot . The documentary darlings talked about their indie film and its truly indie journey to audiences.

film distribution, indie game documentarySwirsky and Pajot did corporate commercial work together for five years and that eventually blossomed into doing their first feature. “We thought it would take one year, but it ended up taking two. I can’t imagine working another way, we have a wonderful overlapping and complimentary skill set, ” said Pajot. “We both edited this film, we both shot this film. It creates this really fluid organic way of working. It’s kind of the result of 5 or 6 years of working together. I don’t think you could get a two person team doing an independent film working like we did on day one. It’s stressful at times but the benefits are absolutely fantastic, ” said Swirsky.

According to Swirsky, Kickstarter covered 40% of the budget. “We used it to ‘kickstart’, we asked for $15000 on our first campaign which we knew would not make the film, but it really got things going. The rest of the budget was us, personal savings.”  The team used Kickstarter twice; the first in 2010 asking for $15,000 and ended up with $23,341 with 297 backers. On the second campaign in 2011, they asked for $35,000 and raised $71,335 with 1,559 backers.

The hard work, dedication, and talent paid off. Indie Game: The Movie was selected to premiere in the World Documentary Competition section at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival winning Pajot and Swirsky the World Cinema Documentary Film Editing Award . “[Sundance] speaks to the independent spirit. It’s kind of the best fit, the dream fit for the film. Just being a filmmaker you want to premiere your film at Sundance. That’s where you hear about your heroes,” noted Swirsky. “Never before in our entire careers have we felt so incredibly supported…They know how to treat you right and not just logistics, it’s more ‘we want to help you with this project and help you next time.’ It was overwhelming because we’ve never had that. We’ve just never been exposed that,” interjected Pajot

They hired a sales agent upon their acceptance into Sundance and the film generated tons of buzz before it arrived at the festival resulting in a sales frenzy. The filmmakers wanted a simultaneous worldwide digital release,  but theatrical distributors weren’t willing to give up digital rights so they opted for a self release. “There were a lot of offers, they approached us to purchase various rights. We felt we needed to get it out fairly quickly and in the digital way. A lot of the deals we turned down were in a little more of the traditional route. None of them ended up being a great fit,” said Pajot.

Several people were stunned when this indie doc about indie videogame developers opted to sell their film for remake rights to Scott Rudin and HBO. Pajot explained, “He saw the trailer and reached out a week or so before Sundance. That was sort of out of left field because it wasn’t something we were pursuing.” Swirsky added, “They optioned to potentially turn the concept into a TV show about game development…As a person who watches stuff on TV, I want this to exist. I want to see what these guys do with it.” The deal still left the door open for a more typical theatrical release. However that was only the start of their plan.

“We had spoken to Gary Hustwit (Helvetica). We sort of have an understanding of how he organized his own tours. We had to make our decision whether that was something we wanted to utilize. Five days after Sundance, we decided we would and were on the road 2 weeks after… Before Sundance this was how we envisioned rolling out…[We looked at] Kevin Smith and Louis C.K. and what they’re doing. We are not those guys and we don’t have that audience, but knowing core audience is out there, doing this made sense,” said Swirsky.

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

They proceeded to go on a multi-city promotional tour starting with seven dates and so far they have had 15 special events screenings of which 13 were sold out! This is separate from 37 theaters across Canada doing a one night only event. They also settled on a small theatrical release in NYC and LA.  When talking about the theaters and booking, they said theaters saw the sellout screenings and that prompted interest despite the fact that the film was in digital release. They accomplish all of this with a thrifty mindset. “P&A was not a budgetary item we put aside and if an investment was required, we would dip into pre orders. We didn’t put aside a marketing budget for it,” said Swirsky. Regarding the pre order revenue, they sold a cool $150,000 in DVD pre-orders in the lead up to release of the film. From this money, they funded their theatrical tour.

While the theatrical release was small, it generated solid enough numbers to get held over in multiple cities and provided for vital word of mouth that will ultimately make the film profitable. The grosses were only reported for their opening weekend, but they continued to pack the houses in later weeks.”I don’t look back at the box office. The tour was more profitable than the theatrical…They both have the benefits, having theatrical it gets a broader audience. It was more a commercial thing than box office,” said Swirsky. “We are still getting inquiries from theaters. They still want to book it despite the fact it’s out there digitally,” said Pajot. ”We had this sort of hype machine happening. We didn’t put out advertising. Everything was through our mailing that started with the 300 on our first Kickstarter and through Twitter,” said Swirsky. Now the team has over 20,000 people on their mailing list and over 10,000 Twitter followers.  In order to keep this word of mouth and enthusiasm going, the filmmakers released 88 minutes of exclusive content – most of which didn’t make the final cut – to their funders, took creative suggestions from their online forum and sent out updates on the games the subjects of their film were developing over the course of the two years the film was in production.

Following the success the film has enjoyed in various settings, Indie Game: The Movie premiered on three different digital distribution platforms. If you were to try and guess what they were though, you would most likely only get one right. While, it is available on the standard iTunes, the other two means of access are much more experimental and particularly appropriate for this doc.

It is only the second film to be distributed by VHX as a direct DRM-free download courtesy of their,‘VHX For Artists‘ platform. Finally, this film is reaching gamers directly through Steam which is a video game distribution platform run by Valve. This sterling doc is also only the second film to be sold through the video game service, where it was able to be pre-ordered for $8.99 as opposed to the $9.99 it costs across all platforms. This is perhaps the perfect example of the changing landscape of independent film distribution. Every film has a potential niche and most of these can arguably be reached more effectively through means outside the standard distribution model. Why should a fan of couponing have to go through hundreds of films on Netflix before even finding out a documentary about couponing exists, when it could be promoted on a couponing website?

As they are going into uncharted territory, both Pajot and Swirsky avoided making any bold predictions.”It’s just wait and see. It’s an experiment because we’re the first movie on Steam. We’re really interested to look at and talk about in the future. I don’t want to make predictions…I do think documentary lends itself to that kind of marketing though. We’re trying to not just be niche but there is power in that core audience. They are very easy to find online,” said Swirsky.

Just because they are pursuing a bold strategy doesn’t mean they were any less cost conscious. “The VHX stuff, it was a collaboration, so there were no huge costs. Basically subtitles, a little publicity costs from Von Murphy PR and Strategy PR who helped us with theatrical. Those guys made sense to bring on,” said Pajot. “A lot of our costs were taken up by volunteers. If they help us do subtitles, they can have a ticket event, a screening in their country,” added Swirsky.

They also note that a large amount of their profit has been in pre-orders. 10,000 people have pre-ordered one of their three DVD options priced at $9.99, $24.99 and a special edition DVD for $69.99 tied with digital. While the film focused on a select few indie game developers, they interviewed 20 different developers and the additional footage is part of the Special Edition DVD/Blu-Ray. That might explain why it’s their highest seller.

All this doesn’t mean that any of the dozens of other options are no longer usable. Quite the contrary,  they have also taken advantage of the Sundance Artist Services affiliations to go on a number of more traditional digital sites. Increased views of a film even if on non traditional platforms can mean increased web searches and awareness and could be used to drive up sales on mainstay platforms.

The real winner though is ultimately the audience. For the majority of the world that doesn’t go to Sundance or Cannes each year, this is how they can discover small films that were made with them in mind. The HBO deal aside, this is bound to be one incredibly profitable documentary that introduces a whole new crowd to quality art-house cinema. “We are still booking community screenings. If people want to book, they can contact us…We are thinking maybe we might do another shorter tour at some point,” said Pajot.

Here’s to the independent film spirit, alive and well.

Moving beyond the super core fans of your film

July 5, 2012
posted by sheric

This is the final post of a series dedicated to explaining the marketing of the documentary film, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance. Previous posts can be found here, here and here 

Now that we gained the support of many people who make up our super core fans (Joffrey alumni) of our film, we didn’t ignore that there were other core audiences to target for a film essentially about American ballet history. One such core were the fans of the Joffrey Ballet who never danced with the company, but attend performances today or have seen them in their younger days. Another core were writers and groups who are interested in the topic of ballet, dance education and dance history. Even within those groups, there are fans of the Joffrey Ballet who never danced with the company. Notice that the target audience circle is progressively growing bigger, we aren’t going after “dance fans” which would include every type of dance and everywhere in the world. Primarily we are staying in the ballet genre and within the US, though the internet is global so anyone may see our promotional efforts.

Google searches turned up  posts written by Joffrey fans, following keywords on Twitter also helped to uncover these fans and many times lead to 140 character conversations. They especially wanted to know when the film would play their cities. This is when it is advisable to have a distribution plan in place so those questions can be answered and to have that plan be flexible so one can add screenings (or allow for fan hosted screenings). I would find out from them which cities, tell them where and when we had booked and solicit recommendations on venues.  The same thing happened on Facebook. This also lead to an uptick in email signups as those fans wanted more news on the film and an eventual uptick in sales in our estore.

Some Joffrey fans are writers too which has been great for publicity in Dance Magazine (editor in chief Wendy Perron used to take class with Mr. Joffrey) , Huffington PostEasyReader, The Faster Times and  Dance Channel TV and on blogs such as 4Dancers, Elite Dance Network, Dance Advantage (we participated in a giveaway contest with them), Tendus Under a Palm Tree and My Son Can Dance.

I also researched US based dance schools, University dance departments and arts societies in cities where I knew the film would be playing (again using Google) and notify them of the upcoming screening. I would look for any instructors who may have trained with the Joffrey or with a Joffrey alum or another choreographer associated with the Joffrey by reading each website’s About page or Staff bio page. These are usually located in the navigation at the top of a website or at the bottom and when I made contact with them, I pointed out this association so they would see what relevance our film had to their lives. Note that I did not send the same email blast message to everyone. This was tedious, labor intensive work and usually not the kind of thing your distributor or publicist is going to do for you. To be honest, it is better that way because they usually do not have in depth knowledge of the interests of your audience so their communication tends to be very self promotional and could potentially come off as spam.

Since we are still making interview podcasts with alumni, I am contacting dance historians at societies and universities to make sure they know we have this repository of Joffrey history that they may listen to for free. This communication helps to bring those people to our website where they not only may listen to the podcasts, but see that we have the DVD for sale and we still have screenings going on.

In addition to this micro level outreach, we also used a publicity firm for reviews and coverage in mainstream media (widening out awareness to the broader, but more diffuse circle);  invested in Facebook advertising with very laser targeted keywords and some newsletter advertising with sites such as Eventful and SeeChicagoDance.com for our screenings; and used a booking agency to help us book venues. This has been a multi pronged approach with a small team of dedicated people who have devoted many hours specifically to this film so that it would succeed. I don’t want to give readers the impression that we only used one form of audience building and that this can/should be done with no budget. It can’t and it shouldn’t.

Now that the film is available on Amazon, iTunes and will have its US broadcast premiere on PBS American Masters in December 2012, all of this outreach and publicity helps to drive more awareness and sales revenue. It has been a lot of effort and at times quite tedious, but as the long tail of sales continue, I know it will continue to pay off.

Sheri on Google+

Finding your audience even when you have a niche

May 14, 2012
posted by sheric

Much is said about the need to find your audience and present your project to them, but how does one go about it? I think the first thing that must be done is boil down the exact characteristics of the people who will be the MOST engaged, or what my friend Jon Reiss would call the Super Core and find them and start communicating with them. I want to share the information about how we accomplished this for my most recent project, a documentary film about the Joffrey Ballet entitled Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance that I am working on with Jon Reiss’ Hybrid Cinema. We started work in October 2011 for our premiere as the opening night film of the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center in January 2012.

Obviously, this film is for ballet fans, right? We could even go wider and say those interested in dance, or performing arts, or fine arts, or classical music and theater. Maybe even a gay niche, or luxury products or wine aficionados. It is typical thinking for most filmmakers I encounter and definitely it is for distributors, let’s go for the widest audience possible! But we are dealing with a modest marketing and distribution budget, a very sparse crew (4-6 people)and reaching a wider audience was not realistically going to happen out of the gate. We needed to get more targeted, laser targeted, and then spread from there slowly.

It is my firm belief that if you are working with limited resources, you must “catch fire” with some small group first. Your “fire” will not be able to spread if there is no passionate group helping you do it. There is simply too much competition for an audience’s time and attention and trying to reach wide from the start usually results in not much traction. Your few sparks will fizzle.

I could have started with the “ballet audience.” But even that is fairly wide. Every city and town in America has a ballet school, maybe even a company. There are patrons of these ballet companies who attend performances. Many are former dancers or had dance training at some point in their lives. How can I reduce the target even further without being so narrow that the super core would only result in  2 people or so wide that I can’t easily reach them?

The laser targeted group I settled on was the alumni of the Joffrey Ballet. They are numerous (at least several hundred),  they are spread out all over the country, many are in high level positions at other dance companies, and they have a deep, vested interest in seeing this film.  Every Joffrey alumnus that I have forged a relationship with is a very passionate supporter of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the founders of the company and the main subjects of the film, and they want to see this film succeed. After all, it is also their story; a story about a very sacred and special time in their lives. Who can be more passionate than that? Now, who are they and where to find them? 20 or so of them are in the film, but what about the rest?

Luckily, a book was written by Sasha Anawaltin 1997 that had been meticulously researched. It included many names of dancers in the company as well as other associates. I read this book from cover to cover, underlining names, dates, footnotes about side stories etc. Also, the Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation had a list of names of alumni and some contact details. I also read 2 other books written by and about Joffrey dancers and made more notes. I started with these, making lists of years, who was in the company when, what happened to them if it was known and then got started on Google for more research.

With some names, I came up empty and some alumni are no longer with us, but in the end I did get a nice contact list together. It was also important to research who was connected to whom so I could plan for my circle to widen. Some Joffrey alumni went on to work with other choreographers, other dance companies and those connections could be useful to know for later help as we went into theatrical release in cities across America.

Next post: Preparing for contact.

Readying a crowdfunding campaign

December 9, 2011
posted by sheric

I’m doing research to help someone start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. We have a few months of planning before we launch which gives us a good amount of time to figure out all of the strategy and logistics involved. I have said many times that a successful campaign starts with proper research on what has worked for others, assessing your advantages in this now crowded donation centric landscape and figuring out how to motivate people to choose your project to back.

My friend asked me if Kickstarter was the best platform to choose and I have to say that I’ve seen many more successful film related campaigns succeed there than on Indiegogo. I love all of the people who run Indiegogo and I think their service is sound, but the all or nothing makes a difference for donors in particular. It encourages motivation and momentum because if you don’t hit your goal, you lose it all. Those who pledge to you don’t want to see that happen. It also lessens risk for the donor because the goal you have chosen is what is needed for the project to move forward. If you only raise some of the money, but less than you really need, where does the money go? With Indiegogo, you can keep whatever you raise, but if you need $5,000 and only raised $500, what will be done with that money? The risk is further lessened because if you don’t make the goal, no money is taken for the pledge if the project is on Kickstarter.

We are trying to determine what to ask for, budget wise. Should we try and raise the whole amount we really need or should we raise in stages and complete different sections of the project one at a time? I am sure this is a question that comes up a lot in the planning stages. Here are things I am considering in order to determine this.

1)Full budget breakdown of minimally what we need. No one is going to put us in business. What people don’t want to hear in a pitch is “I need equipment, actors, crew, locations, post production services, festival fees, marketing and distribution costs.” What the hell have you done so far? With no resources at your disposal, you don’t look very professional and no one wants to put you in business. We have to say what we have already accomplished, what resources we have and what else we need to move forward. Transparency goes a long way in getting people to invest in your work.

2)Analysis of the kind of help we will have. We must make up a list of our ardent supporters. The shorter and weaker this list is, the less we will be able to raise. Since most crowdfunding initiatives depend on the internet to reach donors, your list of online supporters must be full of active social media users who are connected to you. If you don’t use social media very often and you don’t have a strong base of support, the amount you can realistically raise is going to be small. Are there those who have managed it somehow, becoming much more proficient at online relationship building  while in the middle of a campaign? Maybe, but who needs the extra burden of getting up to speed on technology and building relationships while under the gun of a funding deadline. Not exactly the best of circumstances to be in for raising money.

3)Analysis of our organizational ties. We have made some organizational ties during the course of development on this project, which is a documentary. Now, we must bear in mind that most organizations are perpetually looking for funding so we won’t be asking them to pledge funds. But we would like  to encourage them to tell their members about the campaign. The easier we can make this for them to do, the more likely they will. It could be in an email blast, a post for their website on what the project is and why they would be interested in it, a link of our Kickstarter page on their Facebook wall and Twitter account, maybe a quote from their Executive Director about why they endorse the project or find it worthwhile. Something that is minimally taxing to them but could help us in a big way.

4)Listing our assets and perk levels. What will we be able to create as far as content and as far as perks to attract donors and give them to pass around? Ideas that spread win, so says Seth Godin. I think the idea behind the film is very powerful and will resonate with people as long as they 1)become aware of it  2)feel motivated to share it. So we need some good video to explain what we are doing and how someone can help us. But not just ONE piece, many pieces because often you have to touch someone many times with your message before it sinks in, before you can entice them to put in that card number and email address, before they decide “yes, I think I would like to become invested in this.”  We have evolved beyond just one pitch video where you look someone in the eye and ask for money, now we have to regularly keep them up to date on how the campaign going, both in email and in video. It’s like having a Youtube channel, you can’t only have your trailer on it. Once someone has seen it, why go back?

Also, some people are motivated by perks. What perks will we offer that won’t cost us money from the budget we need to do the thing we are raising the money for and still satisfy the modern human need for “transaction”? And the levels of transaction? Personally I am not motivated by the perks in a crowdfunding effort, but I understand some people are and offering prized tokens to our audience is a consideration.

5)Listing the strangers. This one will come last but is quite important. I know all of you reading this have been hit up on a near daily basis by crowdfunding campaigns from your filmmaker friends…and their friends. We have to move out of the immediate circle of friends and family and organizations that know us and into the uncharted territory of strangers. About how many targeted strangers can we reach? This is where knowing your audience characteristics comes in because if you don’t have a clue, where in the world (literally!) will you start? Remember that crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money, it is equally about building an audience for our work. Backers provide encouragement, support, and public validation too. The first impression we are making to strangers is going to be this campaign and starting relationships by asking for money is really not cool. We must present differently to this group, we can’t have the same message used for friends and acquaintances. It may also be that this group is mainly reached through the core supporters so we need to arm them with the knowledge on how to help us widen the circle.

6)Time frame of the campaign. I wanted to make this a list of 5, but this is an important consideration that didn’t fit anywhere else. When should we launch and for how long should we run? I think Christmas and tax time are not good times to launch a fundraising effort. So now that leaves January (when those holiday bills start rolling in? maybe not), February and March for us. I need to see if there are any “events” or days of special significance we might tie the campaign to in order to make it particularly relevant during this time. We might not find anything. Also, I do subscribe to the idea the shorter the campaign, the more successful because momentum and enthusiasm slows down the longer it goes on. I’ve seen it on long campaigns and I know this about human nature.  We will run a short campaign.

All of these factors determine what is realistic to ask for. There is no exact science on this, no tool (yet) you can run your numbers through and come up with the ideal funding goal. We’re still working through these so ideas and experience that would help us is appreciated.

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.

Just because a documentary doesn’t get a theatrical distribution deal doesn’t mean it can’t be considered for an Academy Award. Since many great docs don’t get distributed theatrically, many filmmakers choose to qualify the film themselves. But it’s not cheap. The least expensive option is the IDA’s DOCUWEEKS program (www.documentary.org), or you can four-wall the film yourself. It needs to run at least two times a day, for a week in New York City AND Los Angeles. Theaters that regularly cater to this kind of Academy-qualifying runs include the Laemmle’s in LA, and the IFC Center in NYC. Know in advance that you should expect to pay at least $30,000 to qualify this way. If you are considering this kind of run….TFC can help.

Are you a documentary filmmaker who has worked with a distributor for theatrical exhibition? Tell us about it on our Distributor Report Card.