Since I will be speaking on Monday, April 29 at the Sync Up Cinema Conference, I thought I would share some details about that free event and give you a taste of a few things I will talk about.
Sync Up Cinema will be presented by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) in conjunction with The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) and held at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is a conference focused on Louisiana film production and the emerging opportunities in the film industry.
My conversation with Clint Bowie of the New Orleans Film Society will start at 5:30pm and we’ll be talking about all things independent film marketing, film festivals and film distribution in the digital era. As this won’t be a panel discussion, I have created some notes of case studies, statistics and other information that you won’t want to miss. How can a filmmaker brand herself using the internet? How to formulate a film festival strategy? What is an impact festival? How to decide which distribution route to take based on the film you have? What are typical advances being paid and for what kinds of films? How much to budget if you plan to have a self release of your film? Do you need a theatrical release in order to have a successful ancillary release? Why social media cannot be the only tool you use to market a film?
I don’t know if the session will be recorded and uploaded online later for those who are not in New Orleans, but I will keep you posted if that happens. The hashtag for the event is #SyncUpCinema if you want to start following it this weekend. I hope to see many New Orleans filmmakers at this event!
Sync Up Cinema is free and open to the public. Major sponsors of Sync Up Cinema include National Endowment for the Arts, Cineworks Louisiana and Entertainment Partners.
For more information about the conference and the up to the minute schedule of Sync Up Cinema events visit novacvideo.org/syncupcinema
I just returned from Park City, fresh from jury deliberation on the Slamdance short films and conducting video press interviews with some of the Sundance/Slamdance microbudget directors as well as indie microbudget god Edward Burns and Tugg CEO Nicolas Gonda. Those videos will hopefully be edited and uploaded in the next few days. I will post them on this site when they are ready.
My first day on the ground (January 18) started at the Blackhouse Foundation where I participated in the Digital Distribution Panel. We talked about the myths, truths, rules and multiple paths to monetize premium content online for those in front of and behind the camera. The discussion featured representatives from Grab Media and Netflix. Basically, it seems that short, episodic content is the name of the game in the online space if you are going to work with the bigger onlinenetworks. Netflix does not take short form content (short films) and Grab Media helps content producers access sites in the AOL network on an advertising revenue share or as licensed, branded content for large corporations. They essentially give your webseries or ongoing content (news shows, how-to videos) access to thousands of websites that want to host video, but do not produce their own. These sites are presumably highly trafficked so your view count will soar and your revenue share from advertising either you place inside of the video or Grab places inside of it will be much higher than if you just posted it to a Youtube channel. The range on how much you can earn from this is quite broad really. Some producers only earn enough for the light bill, some for a vacation, and some for a mortgage.
Largely, I was there to talk about knowing who you are trying to reach with your work. While I often use the analogy of needing to have a spark (or strong, core audience) before it can spread to a forest fire, another visual that came up during the discussion was a pebble and the ripples. If you don’t have a pebble to start things off, it will never ripple out. I did hear on other panels some contrary advice, but I stand by this analogy. For the emerging filmmaker who does not have an audience, who does not a have a film with notable names, who does not have an acceptance at one of the big 4-5 festivals in the world, and does not have millions of dollars to spend on advertising to a broad and undefined audience, she MUST have a place to start with an audience. Does it have to stay small? NO, but it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is much more difficult when she doesn’t have name or industry attention to aid her. Believe me, if she starts gathering a small but strong core audience, suddenly the industry pays attention and offers help. Start very small, but enthusiastic and build from there.
I was also a short film juror at Slamdance and what a great slate of films. As with any deliberation, compromise between gut feelings and personal tastes have to be navigated, but ultimately I think we chose strong talents in the prize winners. Full list of this year’s winners HERE. I can say that there were many talented filmmakers in that pile of shorts and I wish the best to all of them.
On January 19, I attended the Sundance Creative Distribution (#creativedistro) panel with director Ava DuVernay (interview with her coming soon to this blog) and Topspin Media‘s Bob Moz. It was a standing room only crowd to hear how last year’s Sundance films Middle of Nowhere and Bones Brigade fared with their hybrid distribution strategies. Moz has uploaded his case study presentation on the Topspin Tumblr site, but let me show one tremendous screenshot. When the panel basically said social media just doesn’t “put butts in seat” or result in sales, Moz clicked this up on the overhead (BOOM) and told the panel they needed to up their analytics software…Topspin anyone?
It is a pretty powerful reminder that more and more filmmakers who are willing to engage with their audiences (and in cases like director Stacy Peralta, find them again from previous films) by using social channels will be able to cost effectively penetrate the noise of the internet and make immediate revenue (rather than waiting 6 months to a year, if ever) on the road to repayment. As Peralta has said, while receiving some advances from distributors for his past films, he has never received a single royalty check. Sustainability will come from being savvy about building and maintaining an audience.
The rest of my time on the ground in Park City revolved around interviewing several NEXT directors (Shaka King, Eliza Hittman and Andrew Bujalski); a Slamdance director (J.R. Hughto) and Sundance US Dramatic juror, Edward Burns. All are working in the microbudget filmmaking arena, which suits the publication I was representing, Microfilmmaker Magazine. The thing I liked about these interviews was the honesty all participants brought on camera. While other Sundance talent might have looked to position themselves as bigger than they are or perpetuate this other-worldly mythology, all of my interviewees were very humbled by their inclusion in the media circus that is Sundance. In the case of Burns, he offered a different perspective on what it takes to be a sustainable filmmaker in the 21st century. I also interviewed Nicolas Gonda, CEO of Tugg.com, to talk about how filmmakers can empower their audiences to pull films they would like to see in a theater in their cities. Instead of being dependent on a corporation to decide whether a film will play in a city, Tugg enables the crowd to decide and put their money where their mouth is in terms of needing to reach a minimum ticket buying threshold before a booking can be made. Minimizing risk for the filmmaker or distributor and the cinema owners can only be a good thing.
On my last night in Park City, I was lucky enough to have caught a Press and Industry screening of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Since I arrived very late to the line, it was not at all assured that I would get in and I did have to view it from the front row of the Holiday Village Cinema. I am not going to review the film, but I am a fan of the series and was not disappointed in this installment.
Mainly what I felt on the ground this time versus previous times was the dawning of realization that now there are tools in place for filmmakers to use to reach audiences and release films even if the 6-7 figure deal wasn’t offered. While of course those deals were offered to some already, I was heartened to see Sound City and Upstream Color use Sundance as their springboard into the market. They are taking advantage of the media opportunities and recognizing that they may not have films that are mass audience, which is fine. They won’t be taking the chance that their niche film will be ignored in a slate of other more commercial fare. I look forward to seeing this increase as the years roll on at Sundance.
No amount of marketing will save a film that needs improvement. Many times I am sent films that need a few more editorial passes or maybe some reshoots to get it at the level it needs to be in order to release successfully. Mostly these rough cuts are accompanied by a caveat from the filmmaker that this is a temp sound mix or color grade, but that isn’t really what I am looking for. I want to know that the story doesn’t have structural problems, that the pacing isn’t flabby, that the acting is strong. Coloring and music can be easily fixed, but poor acting will make the film hard to save and no amount of clever marketing is going to work for a film that isn’t strong. It isn’t worth spending significant time and money on marketing a title for a film that really won’t find an audience, not even on the torrent sites.
Test screening the film while in post production is a good way to gauge what an audience will think of your film. While Hollywood studios do this on a regular basis, they usually select a cross-section of the population because they want their film to appeal to a mass audience. They also can use it as a way to badger a director to change endings that fit their point of view, change a story to fit better into a certain, more lucrative demographic or figure out how best to market a title that needs to appeal to a very diverse audience. I am not advocating using your test screenings like this though. You NEED to make sure that the film stands up to audience scrutiny by your core audience, those for whom you made the film. These people are not your friends, the cast, or your family because those people generally offer enthusiasm, not unbiased opinion. What you are looking for is real feedback from people who should like the film you have made, but have no vested interest in sparing your feelings.
I recommend the director and editor view the film with the audience to gauge the feeling in the room. Did the jokes work? Did the tension build? Was there whispered confusion among the audience members at a certain point in the film? What parts seem to need work and what parts already work? Was there a restlessness that indicated the audience was growing disinterested? Hiding at the local bar while the film is screened means you are hiding from the people most likely to love your work. Don’t do this. You have made the film for them and you should want to know if your vision came through. This can also bring clarity to both the director and the editor who can sometimes find the editing suite combative.
Besides watching with an audience and taking your own notes on what you felt they reacted to (good and bad), you also want to give them a questionnaire to fill out so you can analyze their feedback. A few of your questions will concern pacing (were there places that lagged?), confusion over the plot, and perhaps most importantly, would they recommend this film to their friends? If the bulk of your marketing effort is going to focus on using social media, having people recommend the film is going to be crucial to the success of that effort. Ideally, they will want to sign up to your email list so they can keep up with the news of the film so make sure you ask for this information. You may also want to engage in a post screening discussion because more issues may be clarified for you in conversation rather than only on paper.
For indie filmmakers, employing an agency to handle the test screening process will be financially wasteful. For the purpose of making your film stronger, chances are you can handle organizing these small screenings on your own. You’ll need about 15-20 people in your core audience, NOT a diverse group. Your limited resources are going to be spent on connecting only to this audience while your distribution partners later will help you to expand beyond it. Therefore, it is very important that the film resonates with these people specifically.
This will probably mean overbooking the screening because there will always be those who don’t show. You may find potential test screening audiences on Meetup.com, craigslist, churches, community centers etc. Wherever you have pinpointed in your marketing plan that your audience is likely to be reached (this also helps you test the soundness of your marketing plan!) I don’t really recommend online test screenings because you can’t gauge the room for those screenings. After months of sitting alone with your film, it is time to venture out and see how it plays to a live audience. I am betting your perceptions of your film really will change once you are sitting in the room with strangers.
If you can, test screen again after making changes and hopefully you will find problems solved or gain different perspectives on the story. These can help you in figuring out the stance to take when presenting the film to industry people as well as your own marketing. Ultimately I am suggesting that you not attempt to distribute the film in any way until it has seen a test screening or two to insure that your story reaches its greatest potential.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/5248345830/”>cavale</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>
I am scheduled to virtually appear at an event in LA on Thursday December 15 to talk about online distribution of independent films. I know what you’re thinking…you’re confused enough about all this talk. You just want to make your movie and let someone take it from there. Boy, are you on the wrong site!
This event is going to be for those entrepreneurial filmmakers who understand that making the film is less than half the war. The first battle started with the idea and the funding, continued through to the making of the film, but now how to get it into the market so people will see it? And what about festivals, are they the way to go? And putting your film online? And say you do get a distributor interested, then what? How about working with a publicist, a web designer, a trailer editor, a social media guru? Do you really need all of that? We’re going to talk about it all and more in this short 2 hours. I am going to try and convince you to be thinking about all of it before you even pick up a camera!
I’ll be joining my friend Rob Millis from Dynamo Player which is a great online distribution tool you control so that your film can be streamed on your website or Facebook in exchange for money (which is better than streamed via Youtube or BitTorrent for free, yeah?) and Jerome Courshon who regularly speaks on the secrets of distribution. The name of this great event is
And it is presented by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes who, along with my friend Chris Jones, co wrote the Guerilla Filmmaker Handbook series. I’ll specifically be talking about low and micro budget films and the things you can do yourself to ensure there is an audience for your work and you can reach them. The new hope is you don’t have to depend on finding outside distribution deals to get your film to its audience, but you will need skills that you probably haven’t needed before and we’re all here to help you get them.
Date: Thursday, 15th December, 2011.
Where: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 North Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90004. Free parking in lot next to theater.
Tel: (310) 281-8337
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm.
Price: $35 (seating is limited. Discount code is SHERI for $15 discount which makes the night only $20. Just click Enter Discount Code and put it in).
First, filmmakers should start by knowing for whom their story is. NO, it isn’t for everyone. You can’t reach “everyone” so really narrow it down, even beyond demographic characteristics, to interest levels. What would this person wear to your screening? Really get down into that kind of detail. Start with yourself: why do you like this story, what draws you to tell it? From there you will know where to find people similar to yourself and how to speak to them.
Social media is about authentic voice and speaking to real people, not faceless masses. If you only have a vague idea of who your audience is at the beginning, it will stay vague and you won’t effectively be able to reach them or anyone. This work cannot be done from the outside; you can’t just hire a marketing company to tweet for your film. They have no idea what to say to someone who actually starts a dialog. This work needs to be done by someone embedded both within the production and within the audience community of your film. This doesn’t mean you as a director or producer are totally off the hook to connect with people, and you shouldn’t want that anyway, but having what Jon Reiss would call a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) to help alleviate the total burden of connecting with an audience [burden in the context of generating content that keeps them engaged] and determining the most lucrative and efficient method to release the film is a smart idea.
This work cannot wait until the film is in post because social relationships take time to build and only giving it a month or two of attention isn’t going to result in much awareness. It also takes time to prepare for distribution outlets whether you are going to use the festival circuit as your theatrical or book community screenings, or book traditional theaters. Whether you will release online at the same time, or soon after and which outlets will you use? How much will you charge? What publications do you need to develop relationships with to get great coverage, what is the website going to look like and how will it change during the production process (yes, it will change)? There will be a need for extra content, more than one trailer or a series of clips, sourcing other content or creating it. These are all jobs that cannot be done in a hurry and someone needs to be on it. What about sponsorship? Who will handle the sponsorship proposals and logistics?
These are not the skills of typical film producers but someone now needs to be overseeing it and not involved with the filmmaking process. It isn’t work that falls within the realm of traditional publicist, unit publicist or the average distribution company, so someone needs to be handling this from very early on and that someone is a member of the film team. Also, taking on the responsibility gives you more leverage. You know who your audience is, how they will consume what you make, you are in contact with them every day and you don’t need to give up rights or revenue in order to sell to them, so why would you sign away your rights to do this? It doesn’t make sense.
To read the entire piece, click here.
We released the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul 2 days ago. Not counting those who bought from the Amazon site or from Apple, we have had 1800 downloads so far. Not bad since this is a very niche interest book. I want to emphasize this book is FREE until October 1 on our site. After which it goes to $4.99 for all premium digital copies (Kindle, Nook, iBook) but there will always be a free pdf (text only, no URLs, pictures, charts, video) for those who just want the facts.
Also, today is the last day to RSVP for our book launch party in New York on September 19 from 6-8pm. We have about 50 places left at last count so if you’re in town, join us.
An interview I did with Cheap Fast Movie Thoughts was just published. Here’s an excerpt:
What’s the biggest misconception that filmmakers have about distribution?
SHERI: That there is some kind of magic distributor fairy waiting to give them a fat check and make their dreams come true. I hear many, many times filmmakers say ‘we’re artists, making films is supposed to be fun’ and I am sure thinking about the business of art isn’t fun to them. But it is imperative. As my filmmaker friend Greg Bayne says, “You may not be interested in the business, but you probably like to eat.”
It is your responsibility to your investors, your crew, yourself to take charge of this and have a solid plan from the outset that isn’t solely dependent on a distributor coming along and making your film whole, which is to say paying a minimum guarantee that recoups your production budget with interest. VERY few of those deals exist now, no matter what producer’s agents and distributors like to say.
Ask many questions of anyone currently working in film today and if you can get them to admit it, there aren’t big upfront deals going on, there aren’t a lot of presales going on and the likelihood of most independent films recouping is slim. Don’t base your estimations on box office returns either. Until there is a number revealed that shows how much was spent to get those returns, you don’t have a clear picture of profit. A film that has a $10 million box office may have spent $15 or $20 million to get that.
Setting aside the goal of recoupment though, it is more than possible to start building a career off of the attention you can get from a release. That’s where having a prestige festival premiere comes in. Say what you like about the films that play Sundance or how difficult it is to get in, that festival has the cache to change the life of your film and your career simply because of the amount of press coverage it receives and that is why it is so coveted and competitive.
For the rest of the interview, head on over to Cheap Fast Movie Thoughts.
Many times when independent filmmakers send a request for help to me, they attach a link to their film trailer. This is the video they have on Youtube and on their website as a representation of their film, a reason to see it or buy it. Often, they are terrible. They are too long, they are too slow, there is no sense of what the film is about or why I would want to see it. A trailer should not be a 3 minute cut down version of your film. It is an advertisement meant to pique the interest of prospective viewers and there is a talent to making them work. This isn’t a job for your intern.
I asked professional trailer editor Bill Woolery if he would share his knowledge about what makes a good trailer, what are common mistakes he sees so many filmmakers (and distributors and studios) making, how to use trailers if you are trying to fundraise and what techniques are commonly used to ensure action is taken. Your trailer should make people say “I’ve got to see this film!” or “I want to donate money to help it reach its goal.”
For over 2 decades, Bill worked as a trailer editor for major studios and production companies on their theatrical and TV campaigns. He has since moved into editing trailers for documentaries and non profit humanitarian projects for use in fund raising. He has established himself as the go-to trailer expert for documentary and independent film producers and is often asked to speak and critique trailers in seminars hosted by Carole Dean and other high-profile members in the documentary community. His regularly scheduled “Trailer Clinics” help give filmmakers the tips and tools to improve their fundraising trailers.
An example of Bill’s past work is the trailer for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. “My boss tossed me the project saying, ‘We don’t know what to do with this, so come up with something.’ It turned out to be one of my most satisfying challenges. Janácek’s chamber music set the tone for the editing. The film tanked at the box office, but AFI now includes it on their 100 best American films list. A young Daniel Day-Lewis stars with Juliette Binoche.”
How does editing a trailer differ from editing an entire film?
“These are not only two different styles of editing, they’re two distinctly different realties. A trailer incorporates the same scenes as the full-length piece but uses a totally different “language” to express them. When filmmakers come to me, it’s often because they tried cutting their own trailers. After much labor in the edit room, they were never able to achieve a sequence that felt like a trailer. There is a characteristic pace and flow to a trailer you don’t find in narrative editing. It’s the same material but presented with an urgency and immediacy that’s very different from your whole film.
A feature documentary has emotional moments, but a trailer is basically one emotional moment from beginning to end. It takes you immediately into an emotional reality and holds you there until it drops you at the end. During that span, it must also convey specific information: who the characters are, what the story is about, why the characters are doing what they’re doing. Most importantly, it must answer the questions: Why is this doc (or feature) something you should see? And why is it important to see it now?
These are a few of the many elements that make a good trailer and constructing it is more complicated than most narrative filmmakers realize. A well-edited trailer is a very busy ‘world.’ At every moment you’re moving through multiple arcs: characters’ arc, the main story arc, the emotional arcs. They’re all intertwined. It’s a lot to keep track of. And over-arching all that is ‘the build.’
The ‘build’ is probably the element that most clearly defines the difference between trailer editing and feature editing. A trailer must maintain a continuous forward momentum. This momentum usually picks up in speed and urgency in the second half of the trailer.”
How to evaluate a potential trailer editor for your project?
“Beware the editor/producer/filmmaker who has some downtime and says, ‘Sure, I can cut you a trailer. I’ll do it as a favor.’ Also, stay away from anyone who thinks a trailer is basically a cut-down of the feature – because you will get a cut-down of the feature and not a trailer.”
Why should a trailer editor be used instead of just an intern or the editor already working on your film?
“During the past 10 years, the role of the trailer has changed, especially in the funding strategy of documentary and indie production. Traditionally, trailers were edited by the filmmakers themselves because (a) budgets were tight and (b) they had the edit system and media sitting there in their second bedroom. ’Outsourcing’ a trailer didn’t make sense. Over time, with the development of the Internet, people became accustomed to seeing videos (addicted to seeing them, really). Eventually, the pitch, the proposal, the text on your website – all of these took second place to the video trailer. It was as if your project wasn’t real unless your intended audience could ‘see’ something on the screen. Today, some distributors or funders will ask to see your trailer before talking to you. So the trailer has become the most critical element to getting your project funded or distributed. It needs to be really good, really effective. Paying a trailer editor is now considered a sound investment.” (I totally agree!)
What are the different types of trailers? such as theatrical, TV etc
If you check the Doc Trailers page of my website you’ll find this:
Fundraising Trailer – the key element to your project’s success
Work-in-Progress Trailer – to find your finishing funds
Showcase Trailer – specifically pitched to buyers/distributors/broadcasters
Sizzle / Teaser trailers – to generate buzz when you don’t have much to show
Theatrical Trailers – the all-purpose video that establishes your project’s identity
The majority of my editing projects now involve FUNDRAISING trailers. As a trailer category, it’s wide open because it depends on what you have to show, how good your footage is and what you want to accomplish with it. In terms of length, it could be anywhere from 3 to 8 minutes long, possible up to 12 if you’ve got a compelling story and/or extraordinary footage that can sustain it that long. It also has to do with who it’s intended for: a foundation, grant qualification, a private funder. Research your intended viewer and find out what they’re looking for.
Everyone agrees a trailer should not reveal the end of the story. For theatrical-style trailers that is certainly the case. But when you’re putting together a fundraising trailer the purpose is to sell your idea to people who can share your vision and might invest in it. They need to see what they’re buying – all of it. It’s important for them to know you have a satisfying ending so don’t hesitate to show it.
WORK-IN-PROGRESS trailers run longer so the viewer, usually a major funder, can feel confident about the project’s progress, that their investment is worthwhile and in capable hands. In terms of length it’s determined by the funder’s needs and could be anywhere between 4 to 14 minutes.
Every project needs a THEATRICAL-STYLE trailer. This is the one that’s used as the all-purpose “calling card” for your project, the one you post on YouTube and Vimeo and the project’s website. It’s normally made after your doc is finished and mastered – but sometimes there’s need for it before the projects gets to that point. This kind of trailer is short, usually 1.5 to 3 minutes. It’s energetic and dramatic and makes no obvious solicitation for funds and does not reveal the end of story. The cliff-hanger ending that works so well for commercial entertainment trailers is also the most effective “out” for documentary trailers.
Finally, there are TEASER or SIZZLE trailers. These terms are used pretty much interchangeable. Their purpose is generating advanced buzz for the project. In both cases, they’re often put together with rip-o-matic images from the Net with a voice-over telling you how great the project will be once the viewer contributes the funds to realize it. These kinds of trailers might include a “pedigree” montage of the filmmaker’s past projects – if they exist. A teaser is short, 30 seconds to a minute and a half, unless the “past projects” are very prestigious and need screen time to be showcased.”
In part 2, Bill will talk about techniques such as motion graphics, using music to set the tone, using voice overs and the biggest mistakes he sees people make in editing a trailer. Stay tuned!