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.
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.
As stated in the last post, Jon Reiss and I (and Orly Ravid joined us for a bit) were recently part of a weeklong discussion on the D Word site about marketing and distributing documentaries. One of the questions came from a woman who asked about attracting sponsorship to a film project. She asked, “would you talk about some of the particulars of sponsorship in your case [with our book], and what process you went through to develop those sponsors?” I was also prompted to write about this after receiving a message via Linkedin from a connection who wanted me to send him my contact list of sponsors so he could use it for his project. I’m not too prone to turning over my list of contacts, but anyone can find them online. Just look at our list of sponsors in the free pdf copy, Google their websites and hit the Contact button.
So, about attracting sponsors. First you have to determine what are you really offering a sponsor. I don’t mean logo space on your website or key art, inclusion in your credit roll, or pre or post roll ad space. If you don’t have a large amount of web traffic, there is no pre sale in place guaranteeing your film is going to be widely distributed and you can’t demonstrate that a lot of publicity that is beneficial to the sponsor will be generated by your film’s release, it is going to be very difficult to get money out of a sponsor. They can buy targeted media space on well established outlets with a better guarantee of their brand being seen. So really think about this before you send out proposals to sponsors offering logo space on your website as something worthy of spending thousands of dollars of their marketing budget on.
Regarding how we did it for our book , first The Film Collaborative‘s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter are well known in the industry, especially among distributors and festivals so we knew we would have some support with spreading the word about the book through Sundance, AFI Fest, Palm Springs International, Los Angeles Film Festival, some European festivals like Sheffield Docfest, some LGBT festivals like Frameline and Outfest and we all have contacts at bigger print media like IndieWire, Screen International, Variety (who wouldn’t cover us it turns out), Filmmaker Magazine plus well known indie film bloggers like No Film School, Filmmaking Stuff and Film Directing Tips . Then we have Jon Reiss who is a teacher, a filmmaker, an author and has many personal connections, his own fan base as well as industry connections at CalArts and IFP that he can call on to spread the word. And then there’s me and some people know me and when I ask them to help me, they do. Those people are all over the world and mostly on Twitter and Facebook so that helps. We all also do a lot of public speaking on panels, workshops, keynote addresses. The more visibly we are promoting the book, the more attention it gets.
We took these media contact names and their website traffic stats and festival names that are our connections and combined them with the well known (in indie film circles) brands of all of the authors and put them in a sponsorship deck that outlined what the book was going to be, who exactly it was written for, how we planned to reach those people, how the book would be distributed and how much coverage we were likely to get through our efforts and we chose sponsorship levels of support and the benefits associated with each level. We knew how much we needed to raise in basic development costs (because initially the book would only be digital) and later printing costs when we decided to print. We didn’t take into account our own fees for writing, that was gravy if we raised more than the development costs (we did end up with money for writing fees).
But what one needs to make off of sponsorship is beside the point to potential sponsors. They want to know how their objectives are going to be reached through sponsoring your project. When we sent out the deck to the sponsors, we crafted a letter that addressed why we thought their involvement would be beneficial to them. Knowing we were going to be launching at a large, annual event targeted at independent filmmakers helped our efforts because it wasn’t just a book launch into the market, it was coupled with a larger event with more media coverage which is valuable to a sponsor.
Next, we made lists of what companies we knew, who knew us and what we stood for and how we are known, and we sent them the sponsorship proposals. We also sent proposals to any company looking to reach the audience we would be targeting. At the end of the day, only the companies we had direct relationships with actually supported us. Even though many others showed interest, ultimately those companies didn’t pony up.
Since the book has been widely distributed for free and self published (so we hold all the rights and can do whatever we want with the book), we have had inquiries after we released about wanting to sponsor it and we will follow up to see where the fit is. We can’t put their ad in the printed copy for this printing obviously and we won’t be taking down the digital editions on Amazon or iTunes any time soon because it is a bit of a pain in the head process, but we have a website that can be sponsored, we have an active blog, we have a newsletter, we appear in person where we give shoutouts to our sponsors (by the way they are Prescreen, Area23a Movie Events, Dynamo Player, Gravitas Ventures, Topspin Media, SnagFilms, EggUp and other media sponsors listed on our website and in the copies of the book) so there are other opportunities for sponsors if they want to become involved.
It was also important to us and to our sponsors, that a version be available for free. Why? Free makes downloading the book a no brainer and the more downloads we have, the more the sponsors’ messages spread. Also, TFC is a non profit (on purpose!) entity and part of their mandate is devoted to education. This book is an educational resource and we wanted all filmmakers to be able to have the knowledge. We also wanted to get as much attention for the filmmakers who participated in the book as we could. Wins for all involved!
In my chapter of the book, I take a look at people distributing their work for free in order to serve a goal. It might be name recognition, building a following for subsequent work, raising funding (crowdfunding) or in the case of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, distributing her film for free and making money with other things.
You don’t use free to keep working for free. You use free to serve a purpose to something else that will get you paid and there needs to be a plan in place for getting that. In our case, we had sponsorship that allowed us to make money before even one copy of the book was sold. Free served the purpose of getting more eyeballs for the sponsors, more attention for the authors, building up a bigger base of loyal filmmaker fans, those fans turn to us when they need to hire someone to help. Free is a means to another revenue stream. Those in the film business do A LOT of work for free but it has to have a defined purpose, a way to make money somewhere. There is no strategy to throwing up a film on Youtube for free. One has to determine what the strategy behind free is, what purpose is it ultimately going to serve? There has to be more revenue streams set up besides just making money selling copies of your film.
There must be other filmmakers out there who have successfully found sponsors. I welcome anyone who wants to share that information with us.
All this week, Jon Reiss and I have been participating in a virtual Q&A panel on the D Word site for documentary filmmakers. I have to say, I like this virtual panel a ton better than the usual live panels at film events. You can ask very specific questions of the panelists without the need for a moderator controlling the questions and having a bunch of panelists sit up there and basically tout the services of their company or give coy answers. It would be kind of awkward to give short and meaningless answers in this kind of forum. I hope everyone else is enjoying it too. Anyway…one of the questions that came up to day from Richard Phinney of Ontario, Canada asks “there is much talk about getting email addresses from audiences at preview screenings … how exactly do you go about doing that?”
In our book, filmmaker Ari Gold describes how he was able to collect over 12,000 email addresses from the audience of his semi theatrical and theatrical screenings. Here’s the excerpt:
“Ari attached a short video to the front of the feature at the semi-theatrical and theatrical screenings that included the text-to-join number, whereby one texts their email address to a Google Voice number that he set up…it was (213) 290-DRUM [213.290.3786]…and, at the time of this book’s publication, it still works, even though he has to manually copy and paste the emails into his master list. The video alone was extremely effective, but when Ari was also present at the screenings, or when he did a live Skype Q&A, he was able to get almost all in the audience to sign up. Truly unique and impressive.”
The old fashioned way of doing this is passing out a clipboard and I still think that is fine if the screening is small and controlled by you, but it doesn’t work so well at festival screenings. You aren’t given much time to pass it around the audience before the screening and people leave as the credits roll after, plus you are too busy heading up to do Q&A so even if you started passing it, the clipboard is likely to get mislaid while you are tied up and then you have to keep track of the papers and remember to enter in the email addresses by hand.
Another solution I have seen is using QR codes which can be read with any mobile smartphone that takes the web brower to a special landing page where an email address can be entered. The email address is then sent straight into your email provider’s database. Here is an explanation of how it works with Constant Contact.
Providing incentive to give an email address should yield better results than simply putting a sign up box on your website. Giving away a piece of content like a song, ebook, rare photos or a piece of video not found anywhere else are all incentives to give an email address as “payment” to access this content. Topspin Media calls this E4M (email for media) and it powers their embeddable widgets for websites. There are many more features on Topspin as well so check them out (full disclosure: Topspin is one of the sponsors of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and we are using them to power our store shopping cart).
Another company I have been speaking with recently is Fanbridge who has a similar feature for Facebook pages as well as any website. They have a free basic edition for you to try out and a more feature rich edition that costs $30 a month. They advocate offering content only your fans can see so it entices those to become fans and rewards those who already are. I will be putting their system to work on 3 pages I help manage on Facebook and I’ll let you know how I get on. Also, it seems kinda cool in that it captures the comments people leave on your wall and you can export the positive quotes for use in other places. You can find out more about how it works on this site which was just acquired by the company and will soon be rebranded.
Hopefully these tips give you some ideas on how to boost your email list. Remember, direct connections to an audience are the lifeblood of monetizing your work in the most profitable way. When someone has given you permission to contact them, they want to hear from you and they are way more likely to support you which is more cost effective than chasing complete strangers.
Just a little update for all the readers here.
I am involved in 2 SXSW panel proposals for the 2012 festival. Both contain some pretty awesome people and information that I think you will all find valuable.
This is a workshop/speed brainstorm type of event moderated by Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt , an online blog focused on analyzing and offering insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow.
My fellow panelists are Ross Pruden, founder of the Twitter discussion panel #infdist among other things and Jon Reiss, I think most of you are familiar with him. We will be taking film project examples from participants in the room and dreaming up alternative revenue streams to help maximize your ROI. Gone are the days where you can be completely dependent on making money from selling copies of your film. When copies can be obtained for free online, you could try and sue, issue take down notices OR you could build in other ways to make money so that your revenue isn’t completely dependent on selling copies. New business models are emerging every day in other sectors, why not in film?
I envision a very high energy session with ideas flying out from everywhere so bring a recording device to catch them all. If you think this would be a much more useful session than just listening to the same industry folks sitting at a table talking about how bad everything has become, VOTE! We want to shake things up at SXSW.
Yes the title is a little racy, but we were told that’s what gets attention when people look through the event catalog to choose sessions they want to attend. Besides, you’re INDIE so you can take it.
This is a panel I am moderating and it will include several independent filmmakers who have traveled the distribution path less taken. All have retained some rights over their work and received attention and revenue for their films be it organizing their own theatrical tours, using festivals as a source of revenue by charging screening fees, or enlisting the help of high power industry people to champion their films. Some have even managed to do equitable deals with distributors! Our panelists are Ava DuVernay, Casper Andreas, Thomas Woodrow and our very own co author of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, Orly Ravid who is also the founder and co executive director of The Film Collaborative, a non profit (on purpose!) organization dedicated to brokering equitable deals mainly with the filmmaker in mind. If you would like to hear from real people in the trenches of the business of independent film who can offer you good and usable advice, VOTE for this panel.
I will be traveling to 2 important independent film events in September. The first is the Business of Film Conference held at Rice University in Houston, Texas on September 10. I’m going to be speaking on DIY marketing, some of the tools you can use right now and how best to use them. I will also be on a panel with my friend Orly to talk a little about why we wrote SYFWSYS, key takeaways we learned through talking to all of our filmmaker participants in the book, and how The Film Collaborative helps filmmakers who are trying to negotiate the best distribution deals for themselves, not for the distributor.
Next will be our book launch at IFP Week in New York City. I am scheduled to be a panelist on Monday September 19 for Walking the Line: The Fine Art of Self Promoting Your Film so if you are attending that talk, come up and say hi after. Our launch cocktail party hosted by SnagFilms will be in the evening from 6-8pm and if you want to be invited, leave your email address on the SYFWSYS site under the Get tab. All of the authors will be in attendance and we will be selling printed copy books that you can have autographed if you want or just stare at us in disbelief! There will be wine and I will be having some.
Speaking of printed copies of the book, yeah there will be that option. I know what you’re thinking, this was supposed to just be a digital book with all the lovely bells and whistles currently available such as video, url links, social media sharing. It still will be that and for the month of September, right after launch on September 13, it will be completely FREE on ALL platforms thanks to the sponsors who have helped us make the development of the book possible. Starting in October, that price climbs to a whopping $4.99. But now, due to a multitude of feedback that says to me filmmakers aren’t the early adopters I thought they were, we will have physical copies of the book too just so you can highlight, dog ear and not worry about the battery life of your reading device when reading it. Gigantic thanks to our sponsors, Prescreen who upped their sponsorship commitment for this and Area23a Movie Events, for enabling us to go to print without any personal outlay of money. We are planning to have the physical copies in by our launch party on September 19 and you can leave a presale request on our site. I think a Topspin shopping cart is going to be implemented within days to allow for that. The retail price on the paperback is $19.95
Ok folks, we’re in countdown to launch mode. We have a tips series going on indieWire over the next few weeks. You can find our advice about things to know before you embark on the festival circuit here and audience building tips from me and some of the participants in the book here.
Once again my friend Jon Reiss will be heading to the UK for 2 events. The first is early this week at the Edinburgh Film Festival where he is giving the keynote at Short Sighted on June 22, an event that will educate you on getting your short film distributed. He also will be doing one on one consultations with filmmakers through Creative Scotland the next day.
He will then bring his 2 day film marketing and distribution workshop to the London Film School June 25-26. The workshop is a live step by step guide into to new world of hybrid distribution and marketing including how to create a release strategy that is unique for your film, the various markets that are available for your film, how and why to engage your audience as early as possible and how to think beyond the feature film to create new forms of content and/or to market and distribute your film. He will be joined by many special guest speakers including:
Terry Stevens from Dogwoof- Using a fresh approach, Dogwoof partners with filmmakers to help themselves giving them direct access to professional film distribution services, while letting them retain the rights to their film, controlling costs, and actually having the chance of seeing revenues and profits. The film experience is changing and they intend to help filmmakers set the new rules. Terry will speak about a new theatrical initiative that Dogwoof is launching.
Peter Gerard and Andy Green from Distrify- Via Skype: Peter and Andy will discuss DIY digital distribution. They created Distrify which is a revolutionary toolset for social-media marketing with sales and distribution built in. Share and embed your movie trailer with Distrify. With built-in VOD, downloads, merchandise sales, and audience engagement tools including an affiliate revenue program, Distrify makes every view of your trailer a potential transaction. Sell anything, anywhere.
Chris Jones- Chris Jones is a filmmaker and author of the The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook series and he will talk about the ever confusing world of deliverables that trips up so many filmmakers.
I will skype in to talk about creating your filmmaking brand – and promoting yourself to the world as an artist. If you have no audience around your work, you have no future. I want you to have a sustainable career.
Gregory Bayne- Gregory Bayne is a filmmaker who has run three successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund and distribute his films. Greg will talk about the dos and don’t for a successful crowdfunding campaign.
When we were there last year, all the participants raved about the quality and quantity of information they received. I am personally in touch with many of these people to this day! It was a very inspiring workshop for me as it was the first time that I really saw people get what I was trying to say and feel excited about it and determined to undertake this work. I think there is still a lot of resistance to having to undertake both the production of film as well as the marketing and distribution of work. I will never tell you that it is easy work or that you will hear the magic piece of advice that will work for every film. Anyone who promises that is a fool. But the days of artists moaning about how there isn’t a level playing field, that studios have all the power to reach audiences are over. ANYONE can use the tools available to make their work a success. It doesn’t “just happen,” there will be blood, sweat and tears so accept that. But if you are truly looking to take advantage of the tools available to help you and gain the knowledge of how to do it, then you shouldn’t miss this workshop.
To follow all of the workshop speakers on Twitter, here are their handles
@jon_reiss @shericandler @dogwoof @gregorybayne @distrify @livingspiritpix (Chris Jones)
I may have bothered a few of you with this on Facebook to help narrow down the choices (thanks for taking the time!), but now we are asking all of our filmmaker friends to help us choose a title. This will be a digital book (to start with, other formats to follow but will be less cool) to take advantage of all the great ways to layer in content, context, additional resources and social media capabilities (c’mon how can we NOT?). It is due for release during IFP Week in September. I am co authoring it with The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter as well as Jon Reiss so you know it will be the real story, no sugar coating, real numbers. It will be a collection of case studies with practical advice from those in the hybrid distribution/DIY distribution trenches and I think it is going to be epic!!
We’ve got a good cross section of subject matter; documentaries, narratives and my chapter even includes a web series (as well as films) using P2P networks to distribute. I’m going to be taking a look at the piracy debate and creators who have chosen to use the internet as their primary distribution method. In the coming months, you will be hearing more about this, but we need your help to give it a name. Promotion ALL starts with a name. The choices are a mix of the academic to the subversive so we’ll see what wins out.
We will probably test more things like cover art too, but for now, please help us with this most basic element. You can take the survey right here
Update: we did arrive at a title. “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul” will be released in September 2011. Thanks to all those who helped us choose!