continuation of the previous posts about marketing the documentary film, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

Social

Social media accounts were started on nearly the first day (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and later Flickr and Pinterest) and daily posts have been made on them ever since. Google alerts were set up at this time so I could monitor keywords and find stories of interest to my audience. Any time the word Joffrey Ballet is mentioned, I get an alert and I have other keywords set up as well. I joined a few Linkedin groups devoted to dance writers and ballet teachers. I have found Joffrey alumni through these groups as well as journalists and those interested in Joffrey history. I also monitor Twitter through columns on Tweetdeck and through a tool called Twilerts and I know when anyone comments on our Facebook page by using Hyper Alerts. We also have  an account on DanceMedia.

The key to building up our following has been consistent posts and watching what people are interacting with. On our Facebook page, old photos of the company always get the thumbs up and the comments rolling in. On Pinterest, I have a mixture of Boards devoted to topics ranging from alumni photos, history of the company, ballets of the Joffrey, ballets commissioned by the Joffrey (choreographed by others), and general ballet related photos. On Twitter, I found getting involved in hashtag conversations has resulted in gaining followers.

Getting it all set up is the easy part, keeping up with it, generating content for these channels, and getting traffic onto the sites is the difficulty and probably the most underestimated aspect of this kind of marketing. I set up a content calendar format to keep track of blog posts, advertising campaigns, promotions we are running with other sites,  screening dates, podcasts I am releasing, digital photobooks I am having designed and releasing, press releases we have sent out or will be sending out, scheduled email newsletters, deadlines for designing/printing/mailing collateral (posters, postcards, flyers) etc. As you can see, there a lot of moving parts to this and we have been generating this kind of effort now for 9 months. I am convinced that it has paid off in the distribution opportunities presented, the amount of screening bookings the film has had and the sales from our website.

Content

Content may be written (blogs and articles), audio (podcasts), photo, video (short clips, more than just a trailer) or links and we utilize all of it. For blog inspiration, I have used a combination of excerpts from Anawalt’s book, interview transcripts from the film, photos we have from the Joffrey archives, and Youtube videos of performances that are already on YT to illustrate the posts when I can. As my guide, I use my own curiosity about this story. What would I want to know more about if I were a fan?  Then I research what we have in assets to put together the stories. Journalistic skills are needed in doing this work. There are some posts that are more housekeeping like highlighting city premieres or the release of the DVD, but mostly I try to expand the story of the Joffrey company through the blog so fans will want to come back and find out more. Too many times filmmakers publish blogs that are one sided (here’s my film, here are photos of my film, here’s my film poster, here’s how we are doing in post) and offer little to no value to the audience. If the conversation is only about YOU, I get bored, so I see no reason to visit again or share your news after a while.

Whenever anyone signs up to our email list, they receive a series of Joffrey Mavericks Moments digital photobooks as a free pdf download. Each installment covers a different theme and showcases rarely seen photos and quotes from Robert Joffrey, Gerald Arpino, company dancers and associates to contextualize the photos and we have released 4 of these. Again, it expands the history of the company and the story of the film while providing an incentive to sign up to our list. List building is highly useful when it comes time to drive traffic to screenings and to your Store page on the website.

Earlier, I said I was trying to find a way to involve those alumni who were not included in the film. I decided that rather than only writing up interviews to run on the blog, I would allow the alumni to tell their own story using their own voices. It is much more impactful and authentic that way. Weekly, I release a podcast audio interview with alumni from all different eras and mostly they aren’t the ones included in the film itself. Some were principal dancers, some were only in the company a short time, some were not principals, but had a good career with the Joffrey, all have stories to tell. I have also gathered stories from choreographers, costume designers and administrative staff. The Joffrey Ballet is 56 years old, it would be impossible to tell the whole story in a 90 minute film. Luckily with the internet, we don’t have to cut out and discard great stories. We just have to find another outlet and, for this, it is the podcast series.  Email list members get a new one delivered to their inbox every week, but anyone can find them on our site and on Soundcloud. I record the telephone interviews and download them to mp3 then I work out the best parts of the interview and write up paper edits, record a voice over for the podcast and work with an audio editor, the incomparable Cameron Ahern, to get them down to around 20 minutes.

Joffrey Maverick Memories podcast series is a living account of the history of the Joffrey Ballet from the people who were there. I took it as a real compliment when one alum said, “You know, our lives as dancers before the internet were so fleeting. Few performances were truly captured, critics reviews only lived for a short time in the newspaper or magazine, photos were taken and put in archives somewhere. There is almost no evidence of what I did when I was young. I’m really glad someone is gathering this together and putting it out there for all of us to see again.” Win win!

Also, when I know an alumni run company or school is having an event or performance, I list those on our social accounts and in our newsletter. We should all benefit by being associated with the film, not treat these people like an unpaid film promotional team. That is what truly partnering with your audience means. Something in it for them, maybe even more than something in it for you. You’ll get something believe me.

Next post: moving from the supercore, to the core within the audience niche of “ballet”

Finding your audience even when you have a niche

May 14, 2012
posted by sheric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next post: Preparing for contact.

Top 10 posts of 2011

December 31, 2011
posted by sheric

I know this is a  cop out post,  but I’m feeling totally guilty (and totally overwhelmed at the moment with the upcoming world premiere of Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance in a few weeks) that I haven’t posted anything new in a while. So, I started looking back over the posts from this year that received the most response, the ones that I hope were helpful to you, and thought I would recap them.

How do I know they received a good response? I use PostRank to help me gauge what kind of interest the posts received.  These posts all have a score of 7 or higher (scale of 1-10). The number to me doesn’t matter so much as knowing what you respond to so I can speak more about it. I also view blogging as an experiment, trying out new topics. Some work, some don’t and that is ok. If I waited until I knew the perfect topic and made the perfect post to address it…well, the blog would probably only have 12 posts a year. Without further adieu..

10) The importance of a good trailer-This is part one of my interview with trailer editor Bill Woolery on creating a good trailer, working with a trailer editor, and the types of trailers there are. Frankly, I am surprised it ranks so low as a trailer is probably the MOST important element in the promotional efforts for your film. Hopefully if you didn’t catch this 2 part interview, you can read it now.

9)Crowdsourcing as exploitation-This one got a few responses from other sites such as DocumentaryTech and The Chutry Experiment. Basically, I gave my take on the film Life in a Day and how they were using the crowd throughout the filmmaking process into the distribution process, but offering very little in return for the free labor.

8) The ugly truth about social media- A post about feeling overwhelmed with all of the startups devoted to “social media” and how they purport to make life easier, but really there is no easy work around for building up relationships. It is slow, painstaking and never ending work if you use the tool correctly.

7)Readying a crowdfunding campaign-This year saw the donation numbers for independent film projects on crowdfunding site really soar. Whereas a year ago, $10K was the norm, this year it became $20K, $50K, $100K. That’s a significant jump in just a year! But those successes didn’t come from throwing up a page on Kickstarter and watching the money roll in. This post talks about being prepared long before you actually go live with your campaign.

6)The internet expanded consumption but destroyed the industry- A Seth Godin inspired post (of course!) which talks about the redefinition of what it means to be a distributor of content. Bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry are being diminished and what will take its place is being capable of grabbing (and keeping!) attention and building an ongoing fanbase.

5)Marketing a documentary with a limited budget-The title pretty much says it all really. I took you through the starting stages of my promotional work for the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance; tools I’m using, finding the audience and getting their interest, how we will be distributing it. If you have a documentary project, you might find it interesting. If you have a narrative project with clearly defined audience, you will get something from it too.

4)Building your brand with no budget-As I say many times in interviews and in workshops, the key to building a sustainable fanbase is having an artist brand that people identify with. In this way, you won’t be starting from the ground every time you have a new project to build an audience for, you will simply transition the one you already have. This is work you can start doing right now, before you have another project going and this post is full of tips on how to start.

3)Actors don’t need social media…excuse me?- A post inspired by a Twitter discussion I was having with Paul Osborne (@PaulMakesMovies), Nathan Cole (@WaterholeMovie) and Paul Barrett (@producerpaul) about not only hiring actors with talent, but also ones with a strong social following. They largely disagreed because they see the on screen talent as superseding the need for promotion, but I’m telling you when it comes time to building up an audience with a limited budget, you are going to need all of the help you can get.  If there are 2 equally talented actors, pick the one who has a fanbase (duh) and I don’t mean Brad Pitt. There are plenty of actors who are active in social media and can activate a crowd for you. And listen up actors, if you haven’t been doing this, you aren’t an asset, so become one. Even TV casting agents are looking up social footprints of potential hires so stop burying your head. Get a profile up and start interacting.

2)Humanizing your audience-A post inspired by Brian Solis that talks about the shift in communication that the internet, and more specifically social media, has brought to all aspects of our lives. Are there those not communicating online? Sure, its just that they are far from being movers and shakers and they will either come kicking and screaming or they will be completely out of touch with the modern century. But we must never forget that at the heart of social networking is a person, not a pair of eyeballs. Views, likes, and votes are all nice but very fleeting. Don’t boil your online activities just down to boosting these things, not only to the bottom line. Humans are starting to get back to wanting that connection with another human (especially now that the corporate and government trust factor has been disintegrating for the last several years and only gets worse as more transparency is coming to the fore online. Wikileaks anyone?), to feel they matter to you. The bottom line takes care of itself when trust and relationships are built and respected.

1)Facebook is not a good sales platform- This post received a 10! Wow! What more can I say about this subject, huh? I still maintain that people don’t come to social sites to buy, no matter how much those social sites are trying to reconfigure to suit the corporate bottom line. Research has suggested that many people “like” brand pages in order to get coupons though, which makes sense if you think that most corporate brands don’t give a hoot about you so in turn you will go with whichever brand offers the best deal, no loyalty and trust there. I don’t think this mentality is going to work out well for the indie artist so let’s just use Facebook to share interesting content, hold dialog and champion fans as much as we want them to champion us, OK? Let the sales happen on your own site (where you can keep the details, not give over the data to a third party) and offer the best items to your most ardent fans. Let the distributors deal with finding the strangers and giving them the non exclusive stuff. That method is expensive and transitory. Not worth spending your time chasing fickle strangers.

There you have it, the top 10 for this year. I wish all of you the happiest and most productive New Year 2012!

Here's to a great 2012

Marketing a documentary with limited budget

November 28, 2011
posted by sheric

I wanted to share the good news with you about a documentary film I am working on with Jon Reiss’  Hybrid Cinema. We have taken on the role of marketing and navigating the distribution of the feature documentary Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance which chronicles the history of this iconic American ballet company. This film is a great fit for me as I studied ballet and modern dance for over 16 years, even attended the American Dance Festival on scholarship one summer in 19xx :) .  As I always say, it is better to have people working for your film who are embedded or can easily embed themselves in your target audience community. I know what dancers like and how to talk to them and this project is a perfect fit for my interests so finding them and having a dialog with them will make my work exciting and hopefully financially beneficial for the production. I’ve already been connecting to an amazing group of dance journalists and bloggers who are as excited as I am about the film.

Anyway, we’re doing some pretty interesting things with the film. It wouldn’t be a Jon and Sheri endeavor if we weren’t handling things with a view to what is beneficial to the filmmakers. The film will have a live event theatrical release. The world premiere is at Dance on Camera Festival in January, a film festival totally devoted to dance films for an audience that appreciates that kind of film. Makes sense it should be there right? And the festival is at Lincoln Center in New York, which is the dance capital of the US if not the world. Both screenings will feature a panel of Joffrey alumni who are either based in New York or flying in just for the occasion, but the Saturday matinee is something special. Historic even.

We have partnered with Ira Deutchman’s Emerging Pictures to do a live simulcast of the film screening followed by a Q&A session with 3 of the alumni in the film. This means audiences in select cinemas in the Emerging Pictures network of theaters around the US will be able to screen the film at the same time and participate in our live Q&A via a dedicated Twitter stream. They can ask their questions and see the answers in real time as if they are in New York. Pretty cool! I don’t think any festival premiere film has done this before. And rather than having a festival premiere be a financial loss, the producers will have their premiere be a revenue generator. The film will then tour during the Spring and Summer for a series of event based screenings involving Joffrey alumni around the country. We are booking these right now and the alumni are eager to participate. Rather than choosing just the main theatrical cities most indie films screen in, we are letting fan demand, former Joffrey connection cities and alumni participation guide us in choosing our theatrical screening cities. On the film’s website is a place for people to leave their screening requests or offers to host a screening of the film. March so far is shaping up to be pretty busy.

As far as building up a good email contact list and a zip code map for plotting the screening demand, we are releasing a series of exclusive digital photobooks in exchange for contact details. These photos are rarely seen (or never seen) images from the Joffrey archives that true balletomanes will find interesting. The Joffrey gave us a hard drive full of photos and with assets like that, we have to do something really cool and different with them that will draw in attention to the film and to the world of the Joffrey Ballet. The Joffrey Ballet did not produce the film, but they are happily cooperating with our efforts to get the film to ballet fans. If you have a graphic designer on your team, this is a great low cost idea and for email we’re using Mailchimp. They have a great download for email option that allows for the digital photobooks to be delivered right after subscriber confirmation. Leave your email address on our site to have a look at the photobook download.

In addition, I am interviewing every Joffrey alumni who wants to participate and making those into audio podcasts we will be releasing starting in early December on our Fanbridge Facebook widget and throughout the film’s release. Since it isn’t possible to include every person in the film who had a hand in making the company great, I thought we could extend the story line beyond just what is on screen. Every person who was part of the Joffrey legacy contributed to its success and they should be recognized. We will have interviews with Joffrey dancers of course, but also with photographers, ballet masters/mistresses, composers, other choreographers who worked with the company, anyone who spent time inside of the Joffrey company so that fans can get a real glimpse of what it was like to work with Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino. Cost to produce these? Just part of my time.

Also we are really working a Youtube channel with the help of a new tool I found called Tube Toolbox ***see below. If you ever wished you could have a tool that specifically identified who on Youtube would be the most interested in your work and send invitations for you to connect, then Tube Toolbox is it. I am not doing affiliate sales for them just so you know. There are a lot of things Tube Toolbox can do that I don’t condone, like leaving preset messages on people’s youtube videos, but I’ve been using this tool for about a month now and it is great for finding the ballet audience on Youtube and inviting them to be friends and subscribers on the channel. It runs these searches in the background on my computer so I can do other work like populating the channel with videos. It helps to have a little stockpile of videos to release on your channel because once you start building up the subscriber base, you can’t only have your trailer. We have cut several pieces and plan to release them slowly over the coming months. Cost of Tube Toolbox? Lifetime subscription $150, peanuts.

Then there’s the blog I write twice a week. Again, just my time for research and thinking up topic ideas. Since this is a historical documentary, there are many topics to delve into and most can be researched online. I try to tie some of Joffrey’s work into elements included in the film, but sometimes they are just posts that further explain his teaching philosophy or how he viewed dance. There will also be posts that talk about the state of dance today. I try to make it a resource site that balletomanes would appreciate and visit again and again. I’m starting this from scratch so traffic is light right now, but I expect to see it increase over the months as the writing stays consistent and more and more people discover it.

For the special version DVD, we are partnering with New Video to get it into brick and mortar stores as well as on digital and VOD outlets, but have reserved the right to sell from our own site and at screenings. You know I am not a huge fan of DVD, but the packaging is going to be awesome with more rarely seen photos and extra clips, performances and interviews that aren’t in the actual film so the dance enthusiast/collector should have an interest in that.

All in all, we are super busy with this release, but I wanted to share with you how it is possible to work with a limited budget and still come up with interesting content and ways to get your film out to an audience without being solely reliant on a distributor to pick it up. You can bet there will be a case study in the future on how we did.

***due to the new changes over on the Youtube site, hold off on signing up to use Tube Toolbox until they make their adjustments. It seems that Youtube is reconfiguring their site to put less emphasis on social and more on producing and highlighting video content. At present, anyone who has opted in to the new layout (and all will be transferred eventually) will be unable to see who their friends and subscribers are which renders Tube Toolbox in effective. The developers at Tube Toolbox are working on this, but it will take some time to see what all of the changes to Youtube will be.