I have just returned from Europe where I participated in the Meetmarket at Sheffield DocFest and the Binger Filmlab’s Digital Filmmaking Week. It was great to get back out and meet filmmakers and industry people face to face instead of only online (yes, I did just say that!). I also got to sneak in a few plugs for the new book.
Since most of you could not attend these events, I have posted my Binger presentation on Slideshare and below. Notes are included as well. I hope you find it helpful.
I sent out some advance copies of the book last week in order to get a little feedback on the content. This comment came back to me and I thought it would be useful to share with everyone. Irish filmmaker Trish McAdam had this to say:
Selling Your Film reads like a kind of ”rough guide” to film distribution. You’ve got to bring your own individual energy and innovation to the journey, but it is really helpful to have reliable, current, on the ground info on the lay of the land before you plan just how adventurous a route you want to take.I don’t know if the opportunities that are available now, because of new digital media, will change the industry in the long run. Perhaps the new order will eventually become as restrictive as the old, but right now there seems to be a chance to break new ground and this book describes some of the inspiring ways people have succeeded.
The Emperor’s New Clothes was my favourite childhood story and there are certainly some naked truths in Selling Your Film.
Just finished my first whizz through your Papadopoulos & Sons case study. What a great story, very real, very fresh take on the weird “norms” in the European industry. What is even sadder is that that attitude starts at the script stage. I have been told many times my ideas are too ambitious, too commercial or, at the same time, not commercial enough. Even if that was meant as an insult to my talent, there still was no offer on the table to buy the idea.
European film so wants to be Hollywood, but won’t take a gamble. Tries to play safe except when the cronyism kicks in and then money goes into the strangest of projects. The competition in European film is still commercially and culturally tribal.
The American way of doing things seems so tough, Hollywood or Indie, so much about the survival of the few, super fit. But there is something very interesting always about an American eye on things, the eye on the dream and how to get there, and also something attractive about the European mess, the wrangling over meaning and process. Something very attractive also about the possibility of global humanism outweighing all that.I love that last paragraph [in the Papadopoulos and Sons case study section]….
Surely, this is the pioneering spirit of the film business that we all want to believe in. Dare to dream. That’s what so many of the heroes do in the films we make. They dare to dream, dare to change things, dare to be heroes. And so if we take the lead of the characters we put up there on the screen, we should do the same in real life. Not just in our stories.
I am emotional reading it, the way one is when you read something you have always known, but just couldn’t put the words to. What I always come away from your words with is a sense of empowerment and wish to have you onside someday on a project.
My thanks to Trish for sharing her comments with me and allowing me to share them here.
As of TODAY the entire ebook is available for FREE via iBooks, Amazon and PDF copies on a global basis. Any filmmaker anywhere can have their own copy and become more knowledgeable about the current state of independent film distribution.
I would be happy to hear your feedback and questions.
Volume 2 in the Selling Your Film series
Selling Your Film Outside the U.S. is the second volume in the “Selling Your Film” case study book series. While our first book, Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, focused on U.S releases and case studies, this volume takes a deep dive into digital distribution (and distribution generally) in Europe and provides several case studies of films released there.
The series began in 2011 as an attempt to encourage transparency in an industry that has always been quite reluctant to do so. Three years later, we are proud to have led the charge towards this goal, and we are encouraged that others are embarking on other projects that attempt to do the same.
Within the pages of this book, you will find marketing and crowdsourcing strategies, real distribution budgets, community building activities and detailed ancillary and digital distribution revenues for independently produced films.
By stripping away the mythology surrounding independent film distribution, we aim to present a more realistic picture regarding how filmmakers can earn revenue—and when they cannot—from a variety of release strategies. While there is no one model that will work for a particular film, the books in this series highlight a multitude of new techniques filmmakers are using to directly connect their films with audiences, effectively reach them through the power of the global Internet, and build a sustainable fan base to last throughout a career.
One of the chapters in this book employs the phrase “Carpe Diem.” In the context of digital distribution, this has dual meaning. First, in a harsh world that can tire of one thing and move onto the next in the blink of an eye, we encourage filmmakers to jump into action and formulate a viable and expedient distribution strategy as their films move from the festival circuit onto a larger arena. Second, the digital distribution space is a constantly changing one, where platforms come and go at an astonishing rate. Therefore, it is important that filmmakers not only empower themselves by learning how to navigate the landscape of digital distribution, but by keeping this knowledge up to date as well.
To that aim, we offer Selling Your Film Outside the U.S.—containing chapters by The Film Collaborative co-executive directors Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter; marketing strategist and social media expert Sheri Candler; documentary filmmaker and independent film consultant Jon Reiss; and Wendy Bernfeld, managing director of the European content curation and licensing company Rights Stuff BV—as the starting point for any filmmaker (whether they are U.S.-based or not) who wishes to explore distributing their film in Europe.
Today’s guest post was written by Gabriel Diani in response to my post asking filmmakers if Facebook is still worth their time? Gabe thinks it is for his work, but for reasons that pertain specifically to his audience demographic, which may not be the case for everyone. Ultimately, this is a decision that everyone who uses Facebook for business reasons must confront and evaluate.
Let’s be clear: I have no love for Facebook.
The changes to their sharing algorithm since they took the company public nearly torpedoed the Kickstarter campaign for my movie “Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse.” Much has been written about it since then but in case you don’t know, here are the basics:
-Facebook now only shows a small portion of your posts to your friends unless you pay to boost your post;
-Facebook only shows a small portion of your page posts to the people who have liked it unless you pay to promote your post;
-Even if you pay to promote or boost your post and more of your friends and followers see your posts, they are not paying to have their posts boosted so any LIKES and SHARES can’t go viral as easily as they used to.
There’s certainly more Facebook is guilty of, but these were the main changes responsible for Facebook dropping from our number one referrer for our previous successful Kickstarter campaigns to number three behind our personal email list and Kickstarter itself.
So, yeah, I’m not the biggest Facebook fan and was delighted by Eat24.com’s fantastic open Facebook break-up letter to the world. Sadly, though, we can’t afford to break up with them ourselves yet. Why, you may ask, dear reader? Well, I’ll tell you in an easily digestible numbered list.
1) WE HAVE AN OLDER DEMOGRAPHIC. A lot of the audience we’ve built up over the years tend to be more in the 30 years old and up range…sometimes way up. These aren’t the people constantly seeking out the next social media platform. Some of them are on Twitter, fewer on Vine, and they have no idea what Tumblr, Instagram, or Snapchat are. We have no way of migrating these people to another platform…at least not until the Facebook backlash gets strong enough to affect this group.
2) WE’RE STILL GETTING INTERACTION. It’s not like it used to be and we can’t reach a lot of our audience, but we still get interaction from them that we’re not getting elsewhere. I posted our first behind the scenes production still the other day on my personal page and got 43 LIKES and 2 SHARES. Pics on our DDMTA Facebook page and from cast and crew timelines are pulling in 16-40 LIKES as well. Is that enough for us to tell the world about our movie? Absolutely not. But in the world of micro-budget producing it’s something we can’t afford to lose.
3) FACEBOOK WAS STILL NUMBER 3 IN OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. Despite it’s nefarious fall from grace, Facebook still was a bigger referrer than Tumblr, Reddit, Google+ or any of the growing platforms. This is partly because we haven’t spent years building up our audience base on these platforms. We created a video for our campaign with Janet Varney from the hit anime show “The Legend of Korra” that was reblogged and shared on Reddit and Tumblr thousands of times, but it didn’t translate into very many pledges.
4) WE DON’T HAVE EAT24.COM’S AUDIENCE. Eat24.com got a lot of great press off their leaving Facebook and probably got a lot of followers on Twitter and whatever other platforms they’re on, but they also undoubtedly lost some followers/fans who aren’t on those other platforms. They were starting with a much larger audience than we have so they can afford to lose some.
It would be lovely to be able to follow Eat24.com’s lead and break up with Facebook in protest, but unfortunately we’re stuck with it for the moment. We will definitely be focusing our audience building efforts on other platforms in the hopes of being able to cut the cord some day…and who knows? Maybe Facebook will start treating us like it did when we first started going out.
What about you? Have you seen a decline in your Facebook reach and interactions or is your page still holding steady or growing? Let me know in the comments along with any advice you want to share.
Today’s guest post is from one of my G+ community members, Scott McMahon of Arrowinn Entertainment. Scott recently released his ultra low budget film THE CUBE by hosting a local cinema release and via Vimeo On Demand. He is sharing some of what he is learning so that other ultra low budget filmmakers will have a better understanding of what it takes to use and make revenue from digital distribution sites. I think his experience is valuable because more and more emerging filmmakers are experimenting with content, form and release strategies. The experimentation is not likely to lead to significant paydays, but it will enable those starting out to gain useful skills for subsequent projects.
So, I made this feature film for $500 with no crew. Yep. No crew. How? Well, you simply set the camera up on a tripod and jump in front of the camera and act. And for the shots where I wasn’t in front of the camera, I took the camera off the tripod and moved it around.
My film is called, THE CUBE. If you’re curious to know what it looks like, click on the image below:
Since this film was made for so little, I decided to forego paying any festival fees and keep the money to be used on any future marketing efforts. With film festivals, you’re never guaranteed that you’ll get in anyway … and it takes forever to know if you’ve even gotten accepted.
Instead, I decided to reach out to some of my pseudo-famous friends and asked them if they would give me a testimonial … much like authors do when they are launching a new book. I figure I would just use these blurbs as my replacement for the laurel leaves we see plastered on every sales poster of other indie films. Instead of slapping a laurel leaf graphic of a no-name festival on my poster, I was able to use these blurbs:
“A short, sweet, and thoughtful indie. Engaging and humorous.” Bryce Fortner, Director of Photography, Portlandia
“A great example of no-budget filmmaking.” Randall Jahnson, Screenwriter of “The Doors” and “The Mask of Zorro”
WHY VIMEO ON DEMAND?
Since I didn’t have any formal crew to make this feature film, I never took any proper production still photos. A super NO-NO, if I was going to seek out a distribution deal. On top of that, it was made for $500! How much extra cash did I have to put into the deliverables and marketing … Nil.
I knew this lil’ movie would end up on some sort of digital distribution platform and I would have to handle the marketing for it all by me-self.
I chose Vimeo On Demand, because:
- Filmmaker earns 90%, Vimeo takes 10%
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have a 5.1 surround mix
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have E&O insurance
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have closed caption or subtitles added
Essentially, Vimeo just accepts your standard HD H264 file and lets you handle the marketing. It’s just a simple video hosting service with some embedded features that allow you to sell your film in your own way.
Now, there is a catch!
Vimeo On Demand requires that you sign up and pay for their PRO plan, which will cost you $199 annually. That was nearly half my budget! Haha. Thank goodness for birthday gifts In addition, I have other plans with the PRO version of Vimeo, so I decided to go for it!
BENEFITS OF DIRECT DISTRIBUTION
Generally, when you sign over your film to a distributor, there are some additional things that you will need to provide (as mentioned above):
- E&O Insurance ($7,000 – $10,000)
- Copyright Fees ($35 – $100)
- Deliverables (Your film mastered with separate M&E Tracks) [ed note: see my sample list here]
- Production Stills
- You will sign away the rights to your film for 15-20 years (generally)
- You will only receive whatever advance the distributor will grant you, forget about any promise of backend profiting … this almost never happens.
- It’s not uncommon to see film advances of only $5,000
Now, imagine if you made a film for $50,000 or $1 million? Will $5,000 advance be enough to satisfy your investors? Probably not.
With a $500 feature film, there is almost no risk involved … it’s so damn cheap! Here are some benefits by selling your film on your own through direct distribution:
- No E&O Insurance Required (Just be sure that you have your legal documents in order and of course, consult with a “real” lawyer)
- Use Creative Commons Licensing (Free)
- No Deliverables Required (Just upload your file like you would on YouTube)
- You keep the rights to your film … forever!
- All profits you earn from direct distribution go directly to YOU!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE …
Okay, so I made this feature film with no crew and the marketing and sales effort is no different. It’s just me. No sales staff, no marketing team … just me.
I threw a local networking event in conjunction with the premiere of THE CUBE and it earned a small profit of $128 after the expense of the theater rental, posters, mugs etc.
You can read more about this theatrical premiere at this LINK.
So, would VOD sales prove any better after a month in release?
Here’s the actual screen grab of my total sales:
THE SALES ARE IN!
$150 Profit for one month of being on Vimeo On Demand. Let’s add that with the total from the theatrical premiere:
- $128 Theatrical
- $150 Vimeo On Demand
- $500 Production Cost of Film
- $0 Marketing Budget (All sweat-equity)
TOTAL REVENUE SO FAR: $278
That’s over half my film’s budget! Haha. Yes, it’s miserable when you think that movies are supposed to be racking up profits of $100,000 or $10 million … the idea that independent film can only earn $278 might sound “sad,” but I am also using these methods to experiment with this film, using it as a test run for different online marketing techniques for use on future projects. There is an important aspect of the “launch” for any product that sees a surge in sales. I plan on using each new revenue outlet as a potential “launch” vehicle. Again, when you’re solo-preneuring it, you don’t have the infrastructure in place to do a mass launch. You have to piecemeal the process.
Look at this screen grab from Box Office Mojo. These are the movies ranked from #37-#46 on the list of theatrical releases for the month of February 2014.
If I compare THE CUBE’s performance to that of #46 DEMI-SOEUR’s performance of only $943 … and that’s only reporting the box office returns. The actual revenue back to the distributor, Rialto Pictures, will only be about 45% of this total. The exhibitor keeps the rest. Then Rialto will take out their fees and expenses and if a sales agent was involved in making the distribution deal, they will take out the same. There is no backend profit to share with the filmmakers yet.
At THE CUBE premiere, I actually brought in $435 Gross, so comparatively … I’m doing okay!
In online marketing and sales, it’s all about the “conversion rate”.
This essentially means, that for every visitor or hit to your website, how many people actually buy your product? If you look at the number of plays THE CUBE trailer, it amounted to 482 plays. From those trailer plays, 26 purchases were made.
- 482 Trailer Plays
- 26 Purchases
- 18.5% Conversion Rate
Believe it or not, if an online marketer were getting a 1-2% conversion rate for their efforts that would be considered a normal return.
I was able to pull in 18.5% conversion rate, so I have to consider this a major success.
FAST, CHEAP, OR GOOD
I’m only a month into this direct distribution campaign. There is a saying in production that we used to tell clients ….
You can have it FAST, CHEAP, or GOOD … Pick Two.
So, I made this movie pretty cheaply, and I hope it’s fairly good … that means my marketing effort cannot be FAST.
Slow and steady as the tortoise taught us when we were kids … And that’s what I plan to do with this film product … go sloooowww.
Are these numbers depressing? Hopefully they’re giving you a reality check.
I should preface that I didn’t build any sort of audience prior to making the film … simply for the reason that I wasn’t sure if I could even make this thing without a crew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a crew, it’s just that I’m an a$$hole! Haha. Just kidding … at least I hope that wasn’t the reason.
Anyway, I’m hoping that other filmmakers can see why building an audience prior to release is so important. If I had sunk even $10,000 into this film, that’s still a lot of cash to lose so make sure when dealing with higher budgets, an audience is going to be in place.
I’m encouraged by all of this, as I’m learning to apply all sorts of different online marketing strategies to drive people to watch the film.
I can see the numbers now. If I’m going to make any sizeable profits, I have to have a larger reach and impressions in order to maximize the conversion rates.
If I hope to make at least $1,000 in profits, I would need to have a reach of over 2,000 impressions, just to get the standard 1-2% conversion rate.
So, if you’re hoping to make $100,000 in revenues from your film, and a 1-2% conversion rate is normal, your film will have to at least reach about 2 million people/impressions.
Remember, we’re peddling on average a $5 online product. This is not some piece of software that can be sold for $100-$200 a pop. It’s gonna take a lot of sales to make up for such a low price point.
If you’re going to venture into making and selling a film directly online, be ready to have a huge infrastructure in place … or keep your budgets so small that it won’t matter if you don’t make your money back.
If you want to get INSPIRED by what can be made for so little … feel free to support indie film and check out: THE CUBE-A SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE MOVIE
Thanks so much!
You say you want transparency in the entertainment industry? Many of us say we do, from Ted Hope to John Sloss to Liesl Copeland. But you know who is REALLY serving up some transparency in the way his company operates? Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRecord!
I must admit, I was intrigued when Gordon-Levitt launched HitRecord at Sundance 2010 and I had dropped in on the site a few times since then to see what was happening. I just didn’t get it. It seemed to be a site for collaboration much like Wreck a Movie or Talenthouse. A fine concept for those who want to do projects with like minded people for fun, but not a place where anyone would get a project out in the world and certainly not be paid to do it. To my knowledge, most are built on donating talent with no compensation promised. But now that HitRecord has a TV show on Pivot, I went back to have a look at what that entails and how an open, collaborative community could pull it off without devolving into one big “he’s stealing our work and making money off of it” fiasco.
The show itself revolves around one main theme each episode. For its inaugural episode, also on Youtube, the theme was ONE. 426 contributing artists were part of the first episode. Pretty amazing to think of the complicated process that went into choosing from thousands of submissions and keeping track of how much each artist contributed. Now, why does it matter how much they contributed? Because that is how they get paid. There is no flat fee system with HitRecord.
Their payment terms and conditions can be read in entirety HERE, but this is a synopsis:
-If you have contributed a RECord and it is selected by the Operating Committee as a Production to be commercialized in accordance with the rights granted in the TOS, you will be deemed a “Contributing Artist” for such Production;
-Each Contributing Artist to a Production shall share in an applicable Contributing Artists Profit Pool;
-The Contributing Artists Profit Pool is 50% of the Profits from a Production and any pre-determined amount allocated for productions sold or licensed to third parties for distribution on any form of linear or on-demand television or amounts negotiated by hitRECord.org for allocation to Contributing Artists as part of a line item in an approved budget for any programming incorporating the Production;
-Profit allocation is at the discretion of The Operating Committee and based on feedback from the hitRECord.org community of users through the use of a comment system.
In other words, the company publishes a FULL profit statement online for everyone to see with preliminary allocations to each contributing artist of the project. These are called profit proposals drawn up by the community director, the software engineer and the financial comptroller and they can be changed based on feedback from the HitRecord community. Have you ever heard of such a business model in the entertainment industry?? If you know of an open, collaborative community for artists that is actually paying the artists, please speak up because we need to hear WAY more about this than any lip service about reporting on VOD numbers! Business models that take into account how to deal with intellectual property and revenues need a lot more coverage than they are currently getting in the industry press. That could be because of the lack of real researching journalists in the current media landscape. Apparently, it is so much more attractive to report on the glamorous actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt rather than his complicated business model for HitRecord.
The other thing I find extremely refreshing in this approach is the truth he tells on revenue in his model. Right upfront on the home page, he explains that HitRecord is primarily not about making money. It is a for profit company, but that doesn’t mean it is making millions nor does it exist for that purpose. This is a good thing to acknowledge because far too many independent filmmakers and film investors have unrealistic expectations of what working in the arts really means. As is mentioned on the site, you make money to make more movies, not the other way around.
Anyone with a modicum of business knowledge will know it is extremely rare for a company to show much profit in its early years. The trick is to make enough to get to the next year, and the next, until finally (or never) sustainability is found. In 2010, HitRecord paid out $39, 651 to contributors. In 2011, that amount had climbed to $109, 695. In 2012, they paid out $399, 289. It is a remarkable year over year jump! Then comes the process of calculating the pay outs and I don’t know of ANY company that would go to this kind of tedious work. They go frame by frame in each episode and breakdown the contributions and decide amongst themselves on the percentage allocations first, then send it out to the community to give feedback as to its fairness.
If you would like to know more on how the payment process for HitRecord on TV works, check out this video
Big props to the whole team at HitRecord and I hope they get a lot more worldwide attention for the work they are doing and compensating contributing artists. Getting artists paid fairly should be paramount!
You’re excited to tell your story. I can definitely identify with that feeling. I think every person can. It could be a story you dreamt up yourself or one that you heard from someone else and, as a filmmaker, you can’t wait to bring it to life visually and you’re sure everyone will be thrilled to see it.
I get it, you want to dive head first into making it. And that’s cool. Nothing wrong with taking the vision in your head, creating a work of art and laying it out for the world to see.
But here’s a wrinkle…
The world is a BUSY place and you aren’t the only one trying show your work to other people. They have work they are trying to show to you and other people too. How are you going to get yours to the top of the “look at this” pile?
First, it has to be stellar. Stellar is very subjective, by the way, and it is far from a given that most creators will create something stellar. But let’s say that you do. You need to know WHO else will find your work stellar? This helps to narrow down who to go after first in order to gain their attention. You probably know that gaining attention from those predisposed to liking your work will be easier than getting attention from people who will never like it, right?
Narrow down the potential audience and then narrow it down again. Narrow it down until you can actually describe what they would look like standing in front of you. Do you know these people? Do you like these people? I hope so, because you are making work for them.
You’re going to be fighting the urge to widen out from the start, trust me. I have met many a creator who thinks of their audience as a big, amorphous group as well as investors and companies that encourage this thinking. Your stellar work is really just for some people, not for all. And that’s ok. Reaching some and not all, on your own, is waaay easier to do.
Next, try to pull those people to you, rather than only shouting at them. What do I mean by shouting? Advertising is shouting. Self promotion, as in only talking about features and benefits, is shouting. Shouting involves interruption and one way conversation. You need a dialog. How do you do that?
Your vision about the work you are making, the stories you are telling, started with something. A feeling, an experience you had, your take on the way the world works or the way you would like it to work. These are things you can express in a style and tone all your own and not just in the medium of film (which is perhaps your primary medium), but in micro content like photographs, graphics, text, articles, short videos, comments, and the things you share created by other people you admire. All those things can be conversation starters leading to a back and forth dialog. Slowly pulling people closer to you; closer together. Making them pause to have a look at what you create.
And finally, decide where these kindreds of yours spend their time and where you are comfortable spending yours. There should be an overlap here because if you are pulling people to you with the same sensibilities as you, they won’t be found in places you wouldn’t be comfortable spending time in. Some of these places are now going to be in online spaces and I know there are some storytellers who are not yet comfortable spending time there. If this describes you, then you have a choice. You can hope they will seek out your work on their own, pay a lot of money to shout constantly or choose to become comfortable online and acclimate yourself. This means choosing your hangouts with care, not trying to be present everywhere. You can’t be everywhere effectively and if you don’t like where you’re spending time, you won’t go there enough to gain attention.
Broken down in this way (Who, How and Where), you now have the most basic building blocks of a marketing strategy for gaining attention for your work. That’s all you are trying to do with that icky concept that creators want to avoid. Marketing.
As Seth Godin has said, “Tell a story that spreads, that influences people, that changes actions…that’s marketing.”
The question isn’t online or offline? Facebook or Twitter? Advertising, publicity or social media? Those are only marketing tools of the How. First you have to know WHO? Who are you? Who will like the kind of work you are making? It’s a simple question that takes some effort to find the answer to and then act on it.
This Sunday, December 8, I am going to spend some time talking more about this for films as well as filmmakers during a webinar hosted by the Atlanta Film Festival. If you can’t make it Sunday, we’ll do the same webinar on Wednesday, December 11.
To sign up with an automatic discount, GO HERE.
I’ll also take your individual questions during the session and one additional question via email if you are a participant in the webinar.
Start thinking about your strategy now and I will help you refine it a bit as well as talk through tools you will find helpful in reaching your audience. I hope you can join me.