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’m working on the audience building post, I promise!)
In the next few hours and continuing throughout the week, both festivals will be making their public announcements about the lucky chosen for this year. If you are one of those people, listen up.
You should be ready to press send on a press release right after they announce. DON’T SEND ANYTHING out ahead of their announcement. No need to piss them off or get disqualified. But be ready with at least a release. Then you need to find a publicist if this person isn’t already on board.
You should also have a website up, even you short form filmmakers. When people hear about your film, they look you up online. I know you think this is common knowledge, but even last year some of the Sundance features did not have a website up before the festival. Tsk, tsk.
Next, you should be making a hit list not only of the major publications, but the publications that actually reach your target audience (which is NOT everyone). Getting coverage is one of the main reasons this fest means anything to you. Get your story to them as soon as possible, the earlier the better. I would advise against sending screeners if this is your world premiere. In the case of Slamdance, this may not be your premiere and you may already have some coverage and reviews. Put it all together in your press kit, online. Ditch the notion of having a paper press kit, I don’t care what the Sundance/Slamdance press office tells you. But do have all your elements together. Plenty of hi res, good quality production stills of the action, director’s statement, bios for all the major people, synopsis (both long and short), reviews if you have them, laurels from other fests if you have them. You’ll also want to remember to get a copy of the laurels as official selection.
Also, you should be devising a steady stream of content to release at intervals during the lead up. Make several trailers or release small clips. Customize them to the publication that is doing the coverage. What does this mean? In the case of a horror flick, there are lots of different horror sites. Some bloody, some scary, some monster-centric. The audiences who read those sites are all looking for something different from their horror movie so don’t release the same content to all of them. Know what I mean? Find something that is customized to their audience, it also gets people talking about all the different content out there for your film. You may even pick a publication to whom you only give exclusive content. But make every piece of content kick ass! Good god hire a professional trailer editor! If you are ever going to do that, it is now when you will have benefit of the most coverage. Think up lots of different angles to your film’s story because after a few have covered the fact that you are an official selection, there really isn’t that much more to talk about if you don’t have other story angles to pitch. This all happens in the lead up to the fest. During the festival, you’ll be doing work on the ground too.
The next 7 weeks or so are non stop promotion. If you aren’t ready, you need to get on the stick. Don’t waste this opportunity. It might be the biggest push your film ever gets. Also, have your distribution plan in place. I know you think this will just happen automatically since you’ve been accepted. Don’t count on that. Go into it like that isn’t going to happen and then be pleasantly surprised if it does. Everything you can do to get attention for your film will only help your distribution chances no matter how the film gets distributed.
Congratulations on your acceptance and make the very most of it.
Today on Twitter a discussion erupted between Film Threat’s Mark Bell, Atlanta Film Festival Communications Director Charles Judson and myself about why panel discussions at independent film festivals and film events rarely break new ground or feature new voices, just the same old legacy people talking the same old stuff. So I think I suggested that we start our own discussion on new ideas and feature new voices and host it on Twitter. #filmin140 was born.
Starting September 29 9-10pmET we will do a bimonthly discussion on prearranged topics with guests representing various views but with participation from anyone wanting to participate, ask questions, offer solutions and case studies etc. The first topic under discussion is Film Piracy-Does it help or hurt? We think it will be a lively discussion.
We are open to suggestions from participants for future topics of interest. It is our goal that this forum will forward innovative thinking, champion voices we aren’t hearing who are experimenting and finding success and allow those who do not live in major urban centers or can’t regularly travel to them a place where they can learn and participate. We look forward to hearing from you on Wednesday.
Plant your marketing and distribution seeds at pre-production / production stage. Think about your audience in advance of making your film and think about your title carefully from a marketing point of view too. Do a little research to see if the title has been used recently and might cause confusion with another film currently in the market.
Buy up all related and possibly desired urls and start on the site, draw in traffic and collect names and contact info. Make sure your set photography is top-notch from a marketing and publicity point-of-view. Start building community around your brand as a filmmaker and the film itself, and possibly even sharing parts of the content with your future audience.
TFC has a marketing services menu that includes options for access to a DIY Marketing Toolkit to guide microbudget filmmakers in their own marketing initiatives.
The quick answer is YES….well, maybe. It depends how sought after your film is, and who is representing your film. If you have a world premiere at one of the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, then Festival programmers will request to see your film.
The general rule is if a programmer REQUESTS to see your film and then accepts the film, you can ask for a rental fee (usually between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you SUBMIT to a Festival, then generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. ALSO….niche festivals such as Latino Fests, Jewish Fests, LGBT Fests, Asian fests etc. are much MORE likely to pay you fees to screen your film, because there is less product for them to choose from, so they are more likely to NEED your film in their Festival.
My friend and emerging indie filmmaker Zak Forsman writes posts for the Workbook Project site called NEW BREED. Zak has also made 2 films in the last year called Heart of Now and White Knuckles. He shared his film festival strategy on the New Breed site and I asked if I could reprint it here in case you missed it. You can also follow him on Twitter @zakforsman. If you like what you read, please leave a comment on his site.
The SABI Festival Strategy
STEP ZERO: ASK YOURSELF WHY
Be honest with yourself and ask why you want to do this. It will be a financial, emotional and physical drain to be sure. So you must define your goals and the reason why they are goals. For us, we have solidified our plans to release HEART OF NOW and WHITE KNUCKLES through our own distribution company, CINEFIST. So we are not seeking traditional distribution. And by “traditional” I mean selling the domestic rights for 25 years, for less than $100,000 in advance and a tiny cut of the profit. Instead, we ARE seeking some rather important things to support a direct-to-audience distribution effort:
- To meet new friends, filmmakers, fans and partners
- To garner laurels, prestige, press and reviews
- To announce a platform release to a larger audience
- To make a little $$$ on DVD, soundtrack and merch sales at each screening
- To get additional feedback from audiences
So, what does a modern, forward-thinking festival strategy look like? From the outside, it looks like a bucket full of submission packets amounting to $1500 in fees for 40 festivals. I’ve come to define our festival strategy by working backwards from our direct-to-audience distribution plan. We know we want to begin the latter in July 2010 so the focus had to go toward festivals that would play between now and the end of June. The intent being that if we are accepted, we can incorporate that opportunity into the distribution road map, without relying on it “for direction”.
So how did I decide which festivals to submit to?
STEP ONE: MAKE LISTS
I researched other films and the festivals they played. I zeroed in on two films that I felt shared enough similarities with HEART OF NOW and WHITE KNUCKLES that they could attract the same appreciation for content and form. They were THE NEW YEAR PARADE and MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY.
Festivals that accepted The New Year Parade:
- Indie Memphis
- Lone Star Int’l
- IFF Boston
- Temecula Valley
- Vancouver Int’l
- Starz Denver
Festivals that accepted Medicine for Melancholy:
- IFF Boston
- San Francisco Int’l
- Toronto Int’l
- Los Angeles
And I also took a good look at the festivals suggested by Chris Gore as being essential to any festival effort:
- AFI Fest
- CineVegas (on hiatus)
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Francisco
I sought to make one final list of festivals that offered profit participation with the box office grosses, allowing filmmakers the opportunity to make some money off their own content. That list had no entries.
I entered all of this info in a GoogleWave and crunched through the data, noting their deadlines, doing searches on the Without-A-Box message board for filmmaker feedback and reading about each of them on FILM FESTIVAL WORLD as well as visiting each of their official sites.
STEP TWO: SEEK GUIDANCE FROM INTELLIGENT PEOPLE
Guidance came in two forms: from experienced people I’ve met in the last year and from books. My signed copy of THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE by Jon Reiss has been a great resource for defining our upcoming distribution endeavor, allowing us to work backwards and plan a complimentary festival strategy. For festival-specific guidance, I picked up the 4th edition of CHRIS GORE’S ULTIMATE FILM FESTIVAL SURVIVAL GUIDE.
In addition, the heads of programming at SUNDANCE and SLAMDANCE both sent unofficial rejection notices that offered personal words of admiration for WHITE KNUCKLES, with the latter making suggestions for festivals that might also be receptive to it. It’s encouraging to know how closely we were considered for those two.
Next, Scott Macaulay of FILMMAKER MAGAZINE was gracious enough to lend his creative feedback and insight as we shaped the edit of HEART OF NOW. When I posted a plea on Facebook and Twitter for east coast festival recommendations, he offered a list for that film specifically.
In addition, festivals that programmed my short film, I F*CKING HATE YOU, fell into heavy consideration due to the existing relationships and friendships we had there. And finally, we’ve received direct invitations to screen HEART OF NOW from some smaller festivals who have been following SABI via Facebook and Twitter.
From those lists I shared above and the cumulative guidance of several people, I was able to identify which festivals would be our primary targets and which would be our second choices, submitting to both sets simultaneously. We made note of the premiere status requirements and the possible conflicts that could arise. A third list of smaller, more regional festivals lies in wait, to coincide with our direct-to-audience theatrical tour and home video releases. Those submissions will be made in the Spring of 2010.
STEP THREE: WHAT TO SEND, WHAT TO EXPECT
I set a full day aside to burn and test each DVD screener and to build out each submission. I use a stack of pre-printed blank DVD-Rs from ARCHETYPE DVD with whitespace for tracking numbers, contact info, running time and other notes. Each packet included the number of DVD screeners they asked for, labelled in the manner they requested, a brief and concise personal letter drafted by me to give the submission a little personality, the Without-A-Box printout, and nothing else. Be prepared for the clerk at your local post office to look at you like your an asshole when you ask for dozens of packages of varying weights to be sent first class.
As for expectations, I’m committed to the idea that a festival run is ancillary to the real objective – to get these arthouse films in front of a paying audience through multiple platforms. So my expectations are tempered. I was about as heartbroken over rejections from SUNDANCE and SLAMDANCE as I would be over not winning the lottery. Which is to say, not much at all really. I’ll save the heartache should we face low theater turn-out, bad reviews, dvd manufacturing delays, getting rejected from itunes, struggles to find a way into cable vod, etc. And I’ll find solace in the knowledge that if rejection or failure didn’t hit in some form, it meant we failed to take the inevitable risk, we failed to experiment as we do with all things and we failed in our attempt to innovate with an evolving model of sustainability – all part of the distribution journey.
Having just participated in an interview on Film Festival Radio that was meant to cover how to “work” a film festival, I realized that a lot of what I prepared to say didn’t get covered. Time ran short, other questions were asked. Anyway, I thought I would share with you the other points I meant to cover in case you are about to embark on the festival circuit. There is a lot to prepare for and here are the questions and answers I wanted to cover.
So why participate in a film festival?
Film festivals are a low cost alternative to booking a screening in a cinema. It may be the only time your film will see a cinema screening unless you find a distributor willing to do this for you. Use a festival as your theatrical release to gear up your DVD sales. I know that most people think that if someone sees your film, why would they buy it on DVD? But it happens all the time, think of how many DVD’s you own that you bought after seeing the film. People who have already seen it and liked it are more likely to buy it. Studios rely on theatrical release to sell their DVD, so can you.
Festivals give you access to your core audience by piggybacking on the marketing of the event in a community. You still have to market your film so that your screening is filled, but you don’t have the total expense of marketing and advertising the event like you would in a self funded screening.
Film festivals allow you to participate in the filmmaker community by meeting other like minded individuals and important people in the industry. You should do as much networking as possible while you are there. It is a time of being celebrated as a legitimate filmmaker. While you may have other jobs to pay the bills, at a film festival, you are known as a filmmaker. They give you legitimacy.
They should be part of your overall distribution strategy. The more audience you gather for your work (and awards too), the better your chances of selling your film through self distribution or finding a distributor who is willing to do a deal with you because you have a provable audience. Even if you don’t win awards, just being an official selection means someone thought your film was watchable. They are a great marketing tool too. More on that in a later section.
How do you choose the best ones for your film?
Do thorough research about the kinds of festivals to which you should be submitting. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you need to target and not shotgun because 1)you’ll waste money on submission fees to festivals you won’t get into 2)it is very time consuming to keep up with all the efforts for multiple festivals. For research, you can visit sites like Withoutabox, Filmfestival.com, Britfilms.com or search for genre festivals on Google to find ones that fit your film’s description. Look at the festival’s past lineups to get a sense of the kinds of films they want. You’re searching for a philosophy and a programming style that matches your film and attracts the same kind of target audience you are going for. If the festival you are thinking of applying to does not have an updated website or many press references that cover their previous event, take it as a bad sign. Probably you will not get any promotional activity out of the event for your film either and choose another.
Once you determine your likely contenders, arrange them in order of desirability and time on the calendar. This is going to take a lot of organization on your part as you only have so many copies, especially if they are 35mm prints, and they can’t be everywhere at once. Also, think how much time you have to keep up with what is due when.
Pick the likeliest spot for your world premiere and some alternatives. Pay attention to what the festival rules are for screening, some are picky about premieres or playing their city before the festival. If you are particularly looking for Oscar qualifying festivals for your short film, you can find a list on the AMPAS site here.
What if I don’t get into anything?
You should take a long, hard look at your film. If you have submitted to over 10 festivals with no acceptance, either you are picking the wrong festivals or something is off about your film. It could be too long, need a little re edit. Get as much feedback from outsiders as you can and listen to what they are telling you. DO NOT SEND ROUGH CUTS. It is the rare director that can get into a festival on a rough cut of the film so only submit your best work.
So you submit and get accepted? Then what?
You should have all of your materials together already. Website up, a poster for the lobby, postcards of your film for tables and nearby businesses. Press kits are ok, but most small festivals don’t have a press room so I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on this, nothing fancy and expensive. Use email to communicate with local press. Most festivals will only give you about 3 weeks notice of acceptance so be ready when you get the green light.
Have business cards printed for yourself as a filmmaker and the film. Include all contact details and the film’s website.
You should issue a press release as soon as you are accepted and know the screening time. Further releases should announce any wins, don’t depend on the festival to do this for you.
You should find out who the press officer is and contact them about possible publicity opportunities. Attitudes vary among staff at festivals. Some will bend over backwards to help, others couldn’t care less. If they couldn’t care less, see who their media sponsors are and where the festival is directing their news. Contact the outlets directly by telling them you are participating in the event and want to contribute to any articles they are doing. Have bios and productions stills in jpg form ready for media submission.
You should already have your social media pages in place for your film. Promote your screenings on these for your fans. Add yourself to the event’s social media pages too, if they have them, and post a trailer and info about when your screening is. Really use their pages to interact with the attendees, both other filmmakers and the audience.
Having a trailer is super important. Even if your film is only 4 minutes long, have a 10 second clip or something to send around. Do not load up your entire film on the internet until after it has played the circuit. Some festivals will disqualify for that and Oscar consideration for short films is out if you do that.
Actively seek out potential fans in the community where the festival is playing. You can do a Facebook search or a Linkedin search. Don’t bug people too much, but let them know about the festival and when your screening is and that they are invited. Do not make your pitch too sales-y or like an advertisement. Make it more informational and invitational.
Can I make any money doing this?
It is the extremely rare festival that will pay a screening fee for your film, mostly any screening fees go to a distributor of an already established film just for the prestige of having it. For sure there are festivals that offer cash prizes if you win and offer expensive equipment from sponsors. Some will fly you to the festival and offer hotel rooms.
Also, you can check the policies, but you may be able to sell DVD copies on site while you have that audience in front of you. If not, please direct them to your online sales channels with a special code for discount because they saw you at a fest.
Don’t view festivals as lost revenue because you are playing your film for free. View them as marketing opportunities that are a relatively low cost way for the audience to “try out” your film and for you to connect with your fans.