Working with Tugg for your theatrical release

February 11, 2013
posted by sheric

tugg-logoWhile I was in Park City this year, I had a chance to sit down with Tugg.com CEO Nicolas Gonda to talk about how Tugg is helping independent filmmakers, as well as studios, screen their films in cinemas all over the country.  Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Q: Tell me about how the idea for Tugg came about?

NG: “It came through realization at the time, and still today, that it is difficult for audiences to engage with filmmakers on a very local level to determine what movies come to their town. We launched Tugg as a reaction to a very evident need where audiences are interacting with filmmakers on the social channels more and more and the theme around Sundance this year is community and engagement with the audience.

We want to create a user interface for every movie theater in the country so that audiences in those communities could determine what movies come there.”

To read the full interview, head on over to Microfilmmaker Magazine

On July 1, I have an article coming out in Microfilmmaker Magazine that takes a look at 3 digital streaming players now available to filmmakers; Dynamo Player, Distrify and Flicklaunch. I talked to the founders of each company to bring you the lowdown on how each works, their pricing and how you, as the content owner, get paid. Here’s an excerpt:

Ed Burns is using Dynamo Player for his film Nice Guy Johnny

Anyone who reads my blog or follows my Facebook page knows I am dedicated to encouraging filmmakers to take control of their own work and bring it to audiences in the most direct way possible. I especially feel this way when it comes to online digital distribution. Why give the rights (and fees and percentages) away to a distributor when you can easily use tools to distribute your work directly and in the most expedient manner?

Lately, several companies have emerged to help filmmakers do just that.  Instead of looking for outside distribution companies to buy your work’s rights, hope they treat you fairly, and wait for them to bring it out for sale, consider these tools to go direct. When you can cut out as many of the layers separating your work from its audience, you’ll profit more….

Rob Millis, co founder of Dynamo, explained that was the aim of the product from the start. “Dynamo is as easy to access as any online video platform, with no restrictions or qualifications. It is available for any legal content you own the rights to, except pornography… The player allows you to upload your film, set a price for streaming it on a website or on Facebook, and publish it with no upfront costs or monthly fees. Fans, bloggers, online publications and organizations can host the player on their sites too in order to share their love of your film with their audience…

Two filmmakers from Scotland, Andy Green and Peter Gerard, founded Distrify. I spoke with them to find out what led them to create this tool to help filmmakers. “We wanted a better business model ourselves so we worked out a technical solution where we’d actually get some of the money from the films we produced by making it easy for fans to buy our films directly,” said Gerard. Distrify’s player adapts to support your film’s marketing at every stage of the value chain. If you’re crowd-funding for example, the Distrify player helps drive viewers to your crowd-funding campaign. If your film is at a festival, you can list all the screenings directly in the trailer, with links to ticketing sites. If you’re doing an indie screenings campaign, Distrify lets your fans sign up to your mailing list, giving you a location-based map of where the demand is for your film. Whenever you add new screenings or products to your film, every player that’s embedded around the web is automatically updated to ensure your fans will always be able to engage with or purchase your film”…

Founded as the first global indie movie distribution platform built on Facebook, I spoke with CEO Craig Tanner about what makes Flicklaunch different as a way to distribute films. The site is in beta. “Flicklaunch was built around the ‘Like’ button. A filmmaker can give away a predetermined amount of free views in exchange for a ‘Like’ to the film page. For example, a filmmaker can give away 1,000 free views and with the average Facebook user having 140 friends, it creates awareness for that film of 140,000 people. Since Facebook is global, Flicklaunch is available to audiences and filmmakers everywhere.”  The rental period for streaming the film is 7 days and audience can choose how they want to view it (through any web enabled device connecting to Facebook). Soon FlickLaunch will offer badges and perks for film fans that drive the most traffic to the film.

In addition, I wrote a chapter on film festivals and how to use them in a book entitled The Modern MovieMaking Movement which will be available from July 1. It is a free ebook that will be available on this site in exchange for email signup if you leave your email address when you click Subscribe to the Newsletter and you’ll get an automated download link. The book was written by 10 of the most outspoken and knowledgeable indie film thought leaders (well, 9 and me ;) ) in the world today and it will cover topics such as successful screenwriting, ways to finance a feature film, fundraising, the director’s role, the PMD and making microbudget features.  Well worth the price of an email address! Plus I don’t send many email blasts personally so you won’t have your inbox bombarded from here on out by me.

I also have 2 other books coming out very soon. One is an anthology of Ted Hope’s Hope For Film blog and the other is Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by PreScreen. I guess I have been doing a lot of writing lately! More news on these 2 works coming soon.

Pitching Journalists

March 2, 2011
posted by sheric

I am going to take off my publicist’s hat today and put on my writer’s hat instead. You probably know that I write for Microfilmmaker Magazine on a regular basis. Almost every month, I write an article for that publication specific to the microbudget filmmaking world. Microbudget being under $50K in the case of that publication. The type of story pitch to interest me would involved productions that fall under that budget restriction. You know what I dislike? Being sent a press release for a film that doesn’t meet that criteria. It is a total waste of my inbox space, my time to read and it annoys me that the person who sent it did not take an ounce of time to check what types of stories I cover.

You know who is the WORST about spamming me with press releases? Big name publicity firms representing films at festivals. In fact, most of their pitch is “look at all the films we are representing at ___ festival. If you want to talk to any of these people or see their films let us know” and a synopsis of each film. For some publications, the draw of a celebrity name mentioned will lead to coverage. Otherwise, no explanation is given to why a publication should cover the film. THAT is a pitch and obviously more work is involved.

There is a good article on the IndieGoGo blog about pitching media. Mostly it addresses pitching publications to get coverage for your crowdfunding initiative, but the tips they give could be applied to any type of story. If you aren’t hiring a PR firm to arrange publicity for your film, you would do well to check out the IndieGoGo post. Key to attracting coverage? WIIFM (what’s in it for me). The writer will always consider what advantage their publication will receive from covering your story. You should consider it too when you write a pitch letter. If you can’t think of anything, don’t send a generic release. Generic releases are ok to put on wire services. No doubt, article farm sites just pick up releases and publish them verbatim and you get Google rankings on them, but don’t send these to your targeted publications. If you want a feature story written (and you should aim for that), really craft a unique letter that tells the writer or publication why you think your story merits coverage and how it fits into their audience interests.

We could all do with a little less noise and spam in the world. When you send generic eblast press releases, it might look like you are accomplishing something, but really you are just adding to overcrowded world of spam. Practice providing value in all the work that you do and for all the people you encounter. The results will be far better.

PS: I want to add that festivals always ask journalists during the press credential application to list what kinds of stories they will be covering. It would be super awesome if festivals included that information on the press list circulated to the publicists so that spammy mass mailings don’t happen.

Insights from a crowdfunding campaign-Between Us

December 29, 2010
posted by sheric

Obviously, crowdfunding has become a very hot topic in the indie film world as a way to raise money for projects. I have seen more campaigns fail than succeed so I am always on the lookout for secrets to success. Who else can share that information but the ones who have done it? Director Dan Mirvish (Omaha-The Movie, Open House and co founder of the Slamdance Film Festival) generously agreed to share some secrets with me about his campaign. Dan has some great tips on what makes a campaign successful and he was able to raise over $14K for his film Between Us.

The film is based on the hit Off-Broadway play of the same name that premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2004 with a screenplay adapted by original playwright Joe Hortua and Dan. He spent some time talking to other filmmakers who had run campaigns both on Kickstarter and on Indiegogo and he chose to use Kickstarter because he was impressed by the amount of publicity they were getting, most notably from Time Magazine where they were named one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2010 and he thought more people outside of the independent film community might be familiar with Kickstarter which  might help with getting financial backing from investors too.

The campaign lasted only 30 days. It seemed just long enough to raise the money he needed, the goal was $10K, without completely nagging all of his supporters. One thing he does regret is not having a pitch video at the start of the campaign. Dan and I spoke often during the run of the campaign and I urged him to get a video up when I saw there wasn’t one in the early days.“Thirty days is not a lot of time if you only think to post a video in the second week. We really only had two weeks where we had a strong video up.  I don’t know if it ultimately it would have made a huge difference early on, but it did make a difference in the latter part,“ Dan said.

He gave some thought into what the video should show. “It was a real challenge in making the video because it wasn’t  a film we had any footage of , there wasn’t a short film it was based on, and I don’t act very well on camera or come across sincerely because most of my other projects have been very wacky and this is a departure from that. It is really important that the video is compatible with the tone of the film. For me, I had to make a video where you hear my voice, but you don’t see me talking. There were still pictures of me, much more sincere (laughs). So it had to be creative and show my talents at filmmaking. If you are selling yourself as a filmmaker and the first thing people see is this Kickstarter video, that video had better be good. I looked at a lot of videos before I made mine and I thought ‘oh my god if I have to look at one more pasty faced filmmaker asking for money, I’m going to throw up!’  Some are done well, but a lot are not and I was thinking ‘wait, this is a filmmaker and he can’t even shoot a good promo video?’  A good piece of advice, that I did not do and struggled with, is try to come up with the video BEFORE you start the campaign.”

The whole of this interview will be available starting Jan 1 in Microfilmmaker Magazine. Here are a few highlights:

-a tip for using Facebook; “set [the campaign] up as an event, invite friends to the ‘event,’ and then it is possible to send updates to everyone invited, even if they don’t initially respond.”

-a tip for choosing perks; “I offered an imdb credit at the $25 level.  For those in the industry, having an imdb credit, even a thank you, is valuable.” Plus, it costs nothing but time to fulfill.

-a tip on how to look at the campaign; ” The campaign wasn’t just about raising the money on Kickstarter, it was about the momentum. It wasn’t  just the individual amounts we raised, but leveraging that into much bigger investments.”

-a tip about the timing for the Kickstarter launch; “I knew that I wanted the campaign to be finished about the time that other filmmakers would start hearing about being accepted to the major festivals [Sundance, Slamdance and Berlin] and many of them would be using Kickstarter to raise funds to travel to the festivals. I wanted to be out before that rush hit.”

-a tip on continuing to raise money after the campaign is finished; ““About 2 minutes before the end of the deadline, I edited the text proposal on my Kickstarter page and told people that if they missed the deadline, there are still ways you can contribute financially. After the campaign ends, you can’t edit the page anymore even though the page stays up.”

Check out the whole of the article next Saturday.

Equation for Independent Film Financial Success

October 30, 2010
posted by sheric

photo credit Berkeley Repertory Theater

This is your new formula for financial success: Awareness+Engagement+Acquisition=Monetization.

You cannot skip any of these steps if you hope to make money from your films. This point was made crystal clear by a person who knows about making money from independently made art, Bob Moczydlowsky of Topspin Media. I interviewed Bob for the upcoming November issue of Microfilmmaker Magazine about how Topspin is being used by musicians and now filmmakers to build awareness of their art, engaging in conversations online, acquiring a relationship status with fans and using all of it to make money from their work using the software the company developed. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“Filmmakers should be asking themselves: 1) What am I doing to make my audience aware of my work? 2) What have I provided to that audience that engages them, or inspires them to pay attention and then take action? 3) How am I acquiring direct connections with my audience? This generally means email addresses, mobile numbers, Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, MySpace Friends… etc. Connections that allow you to communicate with the audience directly. 4) What are my plans for monetizing this audience that is connected to me directly? What amazing, non-commodity product can I offer these fans who have gone on this journey with me?” said Moczydlowsky. The article goes on to point out that only offering DVDs as product on your site is NOT going to sustain you in future. Check it out on November 1.

I wanted to make more of a point about this because increasingly I am being asked about how to build “buzz” as if that is all that will be needed to make money from a film. Buzz is indeed needed, but it is only the first step. You can’t skip from awareness to money as the studios do. Hollywood studios do this effectively because they spend millions of dollars on spraying their message to the masses, mobilizing their press network to write about it everywhere and hoping for the best. They do not engage with that audience in conversation and they do nothing to acquire them for further releases of their films. Their process immediately starts over again for the next release. An independent production cannot afford to take this route; building an audience will take lots of time and lots of work but the idea is that you want to keep that audience loyal to you and your work so that you do not have to start over again when a new project comes out. The earlier you recognize this and can start on this work, the more likely you will have a sustainable career devoted to doing what you want to do, make films. I am not going to go into the need for producing superior work, that goes without saying (well, it is said many times in film courses so I think that point has been discussed repeatedly). No amount of marketing and advertising will save a poorly produced product or a film that has little to no audience.

Awareness is the part everyone gets; bringing the news of your film into the minds and hearts of its potential audience. It is the part that outside companies are hired to do and the thing that is always requested from a film’s creator. In the online world with its overabundance of noise, it is much more difficult to achieve without some big money to spend both on staff resources and media buys. Engagement and acquisition are much more labor intensive and it is not the work outside companies do best. Who besides yourself or the team involved in making your film will know the project intimately enough to accomplish engaging personally with its audience? If you are using social media and grassroots screenings as your marketing tools of choice, that is what you will have to do. Having written out advice for a filmmaker on how he could be doing this better and all of the work that will be involved, it turned out to be a 5 page document! Do you really want to do that every time you have a new project? Wouldn’t it be better to build an audience for all of your work over time?

Acquisition in this equation means collecting a way to communicate directly with your audience because they have given you permission to do it. You won’t be relying solely on a third party, like Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, to communicate with them and deliver your work to them. Why not? Because technically they own the permission to talk to your fans. When you speak through a platform, that site could change its rules, go offline, shut you out and you have no way of reconnecting with the base of supporters you built. In the case of iTunes or any third party distributor, they collect the personal details of your buyers and can use it to sell future products. That information isn’t available to you though. Really think through whether you want your buyers to go to outside services to buy your products especially when you have put in all the work of awareness and engagement.

Besides creating a dialog with your fans and connecting them with other like minded people, social media pages should really be used to drive them to your website where you collect information and sell to them directly. Both tools are very needed, but they function differently. A big Twitter or Facebook count looks good, but few of those people will actually buy; be mindful of that. Psychologically, those high counts do motivate people to join your page. Think about it, everyone wants to be in on something that looks popular, it is a human desire. Just don’t be fooled into thinking those are your sales numbers. Far more reliable numbers come from your monthly web traffic and the size of your email list so you must focus on growing those numbers too.

I go into how to do this in depth during the workshop I do with Jon Reiss for Think Outside the Box Office. We have another one coming up November 13-14 in Atlanta, Georgia hosted by PushPush Theater and Atlanta Film Festival. If you’re a filmmaker in the South, consider spending the weekend with us. This opportunity doesn’t come up often outside of the major cities and I assure you it is money well spent. Why make a film if you have no idea how to tell people about it and get it out into the market?

A Few Noteworthy Things

October 1, 2009
posted by sheric

My recent interview with filmmaker Jim Rothman just went live today in Microfilmmaker Magazine. To read it, go here.  In next month’s issue, I will be outlining how to use various low cost marketing methods to attract attention from distributors. I have some interesting case studies of filmmakers who did just that and you will read their stories plus my tips.

I received an interesting link to Arin Crumley’s (director of Four Eyed Monsters) new film funding venture OpenIndie. It is worth checking into if you are a filmmaker looking for funding, and who isn’t! Another site coming online very soon will be using a different method for attracting film funding. It is called Biracy and I am talking to the founder at the moment. I will post a link when their Beta test is live.