Anyone who reads this blog, sees me in person or in videos online will know that I am a huge advocate of direct distribution. If an artist has put in the hard work and time to reach and cultivate an audience for her work, why give all rights away and a cut of that potential revenue to a third party?

But there are situations where the best option might be to take the deal.

Handshake and money

Most artists are either avoiding the work of connecting with an audience or still haven’t caught on to the fact that they should be doing it and for those people, a distribution deal is their only option. In order to successfully direct distribute, 3 things have to be in place:

1) a clearly identifiable audience that the artist/production can easily reach;

2) enough resources, both labor and financial, to release the work into the market;

3) the expertise to navigate the best distribution route with several revenue sources.

The trouble with most independent filmmakers who want to go the direct distribution route (or need to) is they do not have these 3 things in place. They may not be happy with the distribution offers they are receiving (or haven’t received), but they can’t realistically turn them down if there is nothing else in place.

I ask you to consider a couple of things when trying to decide which route to take. Of the distribution offers you have received, are you receiving an advance (MG/minimum guarantee)?  If the answer is yes, is it more than what you put into producing the work or is it more than you can conceive of earning on your own without putting in even more of your own money to promote the film? Note that you will almost definitely not receive any further revenue (back end) from your distribution deal. If it is higher than the production budget, take the deal. If it isn’t, realize that in order to come out ahead of what is being offered, you will have to not only earn more than the advance if you distribute directly, you will have to earn MORE in order to recoup the cost of promoting the film on your own which could realistically run between $50K-$100K in domestic marketing costs. Do  you think that is possible, based on what you know to be the audience potential of your film? If you don’t know or have serious doubts, you may want to take the deal. While you probably will never see any more money from the deal, you won’t be spending even more of your own. Remember, any money spent by the distributor to promote the film will have to be recouped by them before there is any further revenue to disperse to your sales agent and to you, so you are paying for these costs either way.

Next, is the distributor offering the type of release you had envisioned for your film? If the answer is no, and it often is, will you be happy knowing that you have full control and the ability to release the film in the way you envisioned even if you don’t earn the money back? This question is very crucial because in indie film it is likely that you will have a more significant release if you do it on your own. But if you can’t financially afford all of the components needed to release the film, you will be better off to hand it to a company that could at least help you accomplish reaching a wider audience and insist they put in writing how they plan to release it and what efforts they will do to promote it.

It is very possible that you will not financially recoup either way, so the decision really rests on which way the film will get a release. This is a hard truth to swallow, but someone needs to make you aware of this.

I will be talking about this in depth on July 27 in Atlanta for a very intensive 4 hour session hosted by Atlanta Film Festival 365 on identifying and connecting with the audience for your film and the distribution options that are now available to get the work into the market. I gave this talk in Europe late last year and the response was enthusiastic with much furious notetaking! Do bring your laptops or notebooks with lots of paper because I will be sharing very useful information on the ever changing landscape of indie film distribution.

Early bird tickets are now on sale and the price is intentionally affordable for the independent artist. If you are near Atlanta, join us.

TICKETS

 

Sheri Candler

 

Paradigm Shift for Creators

June 25, 2013
posted by sheric

I recently gave a presentation to the Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam. It is European centric according to the audience to whom I was presenting, but creators from anywhere will understand it.

Most of my sessions start with some form of this one because I think it is imperative that creators understand WHY using social tools is beneficial to them for more than just “self promotion.”  In fact, self promotion is really NOT the best use of these tools. While the title says paradigm shift, this is also about a mindset shift that creators must embrace. The internet is based on connection, abundance, generosity and earning trust. It isn’t based on greed, scarcity and secrecy. Creators aren’t the only ones who have to change their approach when using these tools. I see very few labs, schools or other workshops teaching from this fundamental principle and that is why I think it is important to cover before launching into marketing strategy, what tools are available and how to conduct audience outreach. The mind and heart have to be in the right place first.

All creators (writers, filmmakers, musicians) I know do not like the idea of self promotion and avoid using social channels, or use them incorrectly, to connect directly with an audience believing that they will turn into raving a**holes constantly talking about themselves. Believe me, no one wants that! But the audience is growing used to having direct contact with artists and, in order to take advantage of new developments in funding (crowdfunding) and distribution, an artist MUST have a network of supporters for their work. But no one wants to connect with someone who is just taking all the time or sees their efforts as short term or views the audience as disposable.

The REAL power of the internet and social media is its ability to connect like minded people. Reaching an audience used to entail going through centralized and guarded entities (mass media), but now the tools are available to everyone. Using them just to blast messages about yourself means you have misunderstood its true power and, frankly, you come off as rude and out of touch.

In addition to seeing the slides here, you can see my notes for each slide on the Slideshare site. So far, this presentation has reached over 2800 people and I’m pretty happy about that. If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or on the Slideshare site.

 



Sync Up Cinema in New Orleans

April 25, 2013
posted by sheric

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-2013

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 

 

Reflections from Sundance 2013

January 28, 2013
posted by sheric
montage 2

clockwise: Julia Stiles Q&A, Slamdance HQ, Dan Mirvish and Paul Rachman at the Between Us screening, on the red carpet for Bujalski’s Computer Chess, Egyptian Theatre on Main, barbershop at the Slamdance opening night party, me with Tiffany Shlain at the Blackhouse Music Room

 

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.

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

 

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?

 

bones brigade topspin data

 

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.

 

The value of test screening your indie film

December 10, 2012
posted by sheric

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>

 

 

Calling all Los Angeles based independent filmmakers

December 13, 2011
posted by sheric

Event this Thursday December 15 in LA

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

Online Distribution: A new hope for filmmakers

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.

Join us!

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).

I recently answered a few questions for the kind folks over at Fanbridge for their blog. Below is an excerpt from that post…more to come.

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.