My friend and founder of Techdirt and Floor64, Mike Masnick, has started a new venture called Step 2, a community brainstorming platform for asking about, suggesting, creating, and building models for success meant to be a place for sharing ideas, knowledge and real results of experiments from artists in the digital landscape. According to their website, “it’s not just about the ‘business’ model, but the overall ‘success’ model. How do you create that connection with the marketplace? How do you offer something worth buying? Step2 is here to help.”

I’m really proud and inspired by what he is trying to do with this. Rather than spending time focusing on what went wrong, more legislation, tighter controls, and whining, Mike and his team want to show and hear about what is going right, what experiments are happening and their outcomes (good and bad), and provide a forum where questions can be asked, ideas can be shared, and knowledge based on fact (instead of speculation and theory) can be found.

In order to spur the conversation, Step 2 is running a contest for the next 15 days for a chance to win $1,000 ($10,000 to be given away total). Here is what they are looking for according to Techdirt:

We’re looking for case studies from content creators in music, movies, books and video games and will award $1,000 to each of the top two vote getters who qualify in each of those categories. Separately, we’re also looking for fan case studies of how artists in any of those fields connected with you. Again, the top two vote getters will get $1,000 each.

The kinds of case studies we’d love to see:

  • Done an interesting/different/unique promotion? Tell us about it and share the results in as much detail as possible
  • Tried an email marketing campaign? What worked and what didn’t? Any key metrics?
  • Attempted crowdfunding? How did you set the rewards? What did people like/not like?
  • Used new or different platforms or technologies? What kind of results did you see? What could be improved?
  • Attempted something different — like a house concert tour? ebook-only release? letting fans take part? releasing unfinished works? What worked, what didn’t, what did you learn?
  • Experimented with “name your own price?” How did it work? What prices worked well? What efforts did you make to trigger certain price points?
  • Set up a tiered pricing model? How did you choose the tiers? What worked? What did you learn?
  • How are you connecting with fans? Facebook, Twitter, Podcasts? Google Plus? What works, what doesn’t? What really seems to energize fans? What doesn’t? Any empirical data that shows how your fans reacted?
  • Surprise us!

If you’re a content creator in any of the qualifying categories, please consider taking part. Some creators are always afraid to share too many details of their “secret sauce,” but many who have done so have found that the transparency itself leads to greater connection with fans and — perhaps more importantly — getting detailed info out there will help inspire others to do cool things too. Step2 is about learning and helping each other succeed in a rapidly changing world.

We are thinking about submitting a case study on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, if for no other reason but to share what we’ve learned through self publishing, sponsorship, giving away free copies etc. Of course, we won’t turn down an additional grand! :)

Even if you don’t submit, keep an eye on the site and add to the discussions. I would like to see people who have constructive things to say contribute, but there is quite a lot of fear in the film community and the most fearful are unfortunately the ones who just want to criticize and ridicule with comments on these sites. Prove me wrong, guys.

How do you attract sponsors to your film project?

October 14, 2011
posted by sheric

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.

Collecting email addresses from fans of your film

October 7, 2011
posted by sheric

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.

Last few days for FREE downloads plus other updates

September 28, 2011
posted by sheric

In case you didn’t know, we have at long last released our book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul and had a launch party last week in New York City. Thanks to all who turned out to wish us well and buy a physical copy (even though they could have a free one digitally, who knew?).

There are only a few days left to get your free digital download for whatever reading device you have and mostly for anywhere in the world. The text only pdf will always be free so there will be NO excuse to not have the helpful information inside no matter where you live. Unfortunately, iTunes sales will only work in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, France and Germany.  Amazon sales will only work in the US, UK and Germany for now. We have a book distributor who is sorting out the printed edition for bookstores and he should be getting the book out in other countries IF iTunes allows digital books on those sites. Spain, for example, does not have digital books in the iTunes store much to the disappointment of my boys from The Cosmonaut :(

The .mobi and ePub files on our own site will work on these devices so you can manually download them from the site and upload to the device. These will be coming off of the site when the free period is over, so if you planned on getting a copy for free and from anywhere in the world, hurry up.

Here are a few quotes from filmmakers who have read the book:

“The book dispels misinformation that has been circulating with regards to actual income that can be derived by utilizing various types of deals involving and/or combining VOD, digital rights, theatrical releases and DVD sales and offers real life case studies that talk about the creative campaigns filmmakers have devised that are working.”-Scriptshark.com

“So far I’m up to page 52 and I can assure you that this is absolutely essential reading for independent filmmakers. Indie producers, myself included, are usually quite coy about the financial side of filmmaking…Well, this book bares it all! I am shocked and delighted by the transparency of the filmmakers involved.”-Playitsafemovie.com

“It’s a gold mine of information from a group of people that have gone out and done what someone like me, a person with a non-mainstream film, wants/needs to do.”-Jeff Barry Films

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We are discussing plans for a Los Angeles launch party to coincide with DIY Days at UCLA on October 28 so our LA friends can celebrate with us. Stay tuned for details. Also regarding DIY Days, that is a FREE event (we LOVE free right?) and should be packed with filmmakers, gamers, hackers and all kinds of transmedia peeps in the LA area. Major networking going on there so make your plan to skip work that day and spend it on the UCLA campus.

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I have been asked to participate in the International Women in Digital Media Summit (iWDMS) in Stratford, Ontario, Canada on October 25. The keynote speaker for the summit is Arianna Huffington which is awesome! Registration closes October 12. My panel is on  Distributing Digital Projects, Case Study: ‘Moderation Town’ and I will talk about connecting with audiences when distributing work digitally. If you are in Stratford, come say hi.

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My lovely friend Tiffany Shlain has a new documentary releasing now and for the next few months across the United States called Connected. I saw it at Sundance this year and it blew me away. I love the subject matter of course (love of technology and proclaiming our Interdependence!) and she has been making the rounds online and on traditional media outlets to talk about the concepts behind her film. Here’s the trailer:

Join the film’s Facebook page for updates on where the film is playing and go see it.

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Last update, the return of #filmin140 to Twitter. Yes, we took a hiatus for summer, but we plan to be back in October. Emails between Charles Judson, Mark Bell and I have been flying and we think our next session will be on using social media (believe me, the irony of using Twitter to discuss how to use social media with luddites did not escape us!) We have a few ideas for filmmakers who are doing this really well, but if you know someone or you ARE someone doing this, please send me a message @shericandler. No firm date in October yet, but it will be a Wednesday. Stay tuned for that.

Book release at last!

September 16, 2011
posted by sheric

We released the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul 2 days ago. Not counting those who bought from the Amazon site or from Apple, we have had 1800 downloads so far. Not bad since this is a very niche interest book. I want to emphasize this book is FREE until October 1 on our site. After which it goes to $4.99 for all premium digital copies (Kindle, Nook, iBook) but there will always be a free pdf (text only, no URLs, pictures, charts, video) for those who just want the facts.

Also, today is the last day to RSVP for our book launch party in New York on September 19 from 6-8pm. We have about 50 places left at last count so if you’re in town, join us.

An interview I did with Cheap Fast Movie Thoughts was just published.  Here’s an excerpt:

What’s the biggest misconception that filmmakers have about distribution?

SHERI: That there is some kind of magic distributor fairy waiting to give them a fat check and make their dreams come true. I hear many, many times filmmakers say ‘we’re artists, making films is supposed to be fun’ and I am sure thinking about the business of art isn’t fun to them. But it is imperative. As my filmmaker friend Greg Bayne says, “You may not be interested in the business, but you probably like to eat.”

It is your responsibility to your investors, your crew, yourself to take charge of this and have a solid plan from the outset that isn’t solely dependent on a distributor coming along and making your film whole, which is to say paying a minimum guarantee that recoups your production budget with interest. VERY few of those deals exist now, no matter what producer’s agents and distributors like to say.

Ask many questions of anyone currently working in film today and if you can get them to admit it, there aren’t big upfront deals going on, there aren’t a lot of presales going on and the likelihood of most independent films recouping is slim. Don’t base your estimations on box office returns either. Until there is a number revealed that shows how much was spent to get those returns, you don’t have a clear picture of profit. A film that has a $10 million box office may have spent $15 or $20 million to get that.

Setting aside the goal of recoupment though, it is more than possible to start building a career off of the attention you can get from a release. That’s where having a prestige festival premiere comes in. Say what you like about the films that play Sundance or how difficult it is to get in, that festival has the cache to change the life of your film and your career simply because of the amount of press coverage it receives and that is why it is so coveted and competitive.

For the rest of the interview, head on over to Cheap Fast Movie Thoughts.

Launch Party Invites

September 12, 2011
posted by sheric

I especially want anyone connected with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and my blog who lives in NYC to know they are invited to our launch party. Invites go out to a wider list today and we can only accommodate 200. Please RSVP as soon as possible if you want to attend. 3 of the 4 authors will be on hand with printed copies of the book that you can have signed if you want. In person copies will cost $20 and payment is in cash.

Click this link to see the invitation and click the RSVP link to attend.

http://www.thefilmcollaborative.org/collaborative_eblast_41.html

The book drops digitally for free tomorrow on our site. It will stay free until October 1 so hurry and download a copy.

*A word about Amazon Kindle version*–as self publishers, we weren’t able to avoid a download charge for a completely free version from their site, so there is a nominal charge of $1.99 if you want to use that site to get your Kindle version using Whispernet. We do have a work around that is slightly more trouble, but completely free from our site that you can load onto your Kindle. I tested it, it works fine and keeps the integrity of the Kindle version (meaning it is not a text only pdf loaded up to Kindle). Check out our site for a video tutorial that tells you how to download the .mobi file and put it on your Kindle. Sorry we have to do this, but we didn’t anticipate not being able to give the Kindle version for free using Amazon.

I wrote a post for Peter Marshall’s great website Film Directing Tips that was published today. In it, I explain 5 things I learned from co writing our book. These are my personal observations of course and may differ from those of my fellow authors.  Here is a snippet from the post:

1) Myth and secrecy are rampant in the film industry. No wonder no one knows the true state of the industry or what to base their decisions off of! Filmmakers won’t talk (or their investors won’t let them) about how much is spent making their films because they are trying to get a sales agent or distributor interested in buying it and paying as much upfront as possible, but how can anyone possibly know what is achievable and what is fantasy?

Secrecy in the industry is probably not really a revelation to you, but by holding back information in the hope of sales that mostly aren’t materializing, it keeps anyone from really knowing what budget level films should be made at if recoupment is part of the plan. Solid decisions, both by filmmakers and by investors, can’t really be made if no one knows the truth, both about the budgets and about the profit.

ps: for more on this code of secrecy, I came across this great podcast on NPR with author Edward Jay Epstein. You should start the audio at 11:21 and then read his book The Hollywood Economist. He explains why no one tells the truth in the film industry. The book should take away some affinity for those still wanting to be completely dependent on a traditional distribution deal too.

2) A realistic budget level for indie films. In order for an indie film using a hybrid or DIY strategy to see recoupment and possibly more, the production AND marketing and distribution budget must stay low. Based on our case studies, that number is below $200,000. Films that went over this budget level were far less likely to recoup within the first 2 years of release, none of the cases over this amount in the book have recouped in full yet.

For the full post, visit Film Directing Tips.