Crowdsourcing as exploitation

July 22, 2011
posted by sheric

I have been reading some of the articles about the film project that premiered at Sundance this year, Life in a Day, and is now being released theatrically by National Geographic Entertainment, YouTube and Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp. For anyone who doesn’t know, producer Ridley Scott and  director Kevin MacDonald requested anyone to send in footage from the day July 24, 2010; for most a typical day in their life. The team received over 81,000 submissions of over 4,500 hours of footage from which to cut together a 95 minute documentary.

I did not take part in this “experimental” form of filmmaking so anyone who did please correct me. I suppose there was a form to sign that said you agree not to demand any form of compensation or ownership over this work. You agreed that your footage would become the property of the production and they could do whatever they want with it, including copyright it and profit from it. Fine, that was your choice. I think the thing that gauls me is they produced a film from your footage and expect you to sign up for the privilege now of becoming part of the “marketing SWAT team” to promote it and pay to go see it. You’ve received a co director end credit (no credit on imdb that I can see, but there is a large cast list), but are left out of any decision making and do not enjoy any benefits of working closely with some pretty powerful industry insiders. In my book, this is an exercise in exploitation.

This experiment isn’t fan building or relationship building that benefits both sides. You were used to create a profit making vehicle for large corporations and now they want you to help them promote it so they can make more money. If you aren’t considered a close member of the team, you have no decision making power, you aren’t profit sharing in any way, the film premiered on Youtube during Sundance but is no longer available online for you to view a film you helped to create while they take it out to theaters and make money from it, then this isn’t true collaboration. Outside of a credit on a theatrical film end credit roll, there is nothing in this relationship for you.

The point I am making to my indie filmmaker friends is this. Don’t exploit your audience. True collaboration means there is something in the relationship for all parties. Don’t build up a following with the sole intention of using them for ideas, a workforce and profit that benefits only you.

PR tips continued

June 2, 2011
posted by sheric

Moving on…finding an angle. What’s an angle? A story idea that is unique. You should be able to come up with at least 5 story angles around your film. Are you distributing in an unique way? Did you use unusual or new equipment? Did you use established equipment in a totally new way? During the SXSW Festival, I pitched a story to Sony for their blog because Trevor Anderson used a Sony Webbie to shoot his film, a film that played Sundance, Toronto, AFI Fest and SXSW festivals. It’s a good testimonial piece for their camera and Sony covered it. You might think “well who cares if Sony enthusiasts read about his film,” but all the coverage counts toward overall interest. Sony equipment enthusiasts are more likely to care about art, photography, films and Trevor’s work encompasses all of that.

Other angles we used were 1)he’s from Edmonton, Canada so local and national publications covered his film’s appearance at Sundance; 2)the film covered a delicate topic sensitive to many Edmontonians and this sparked a  small media debate; 3)his film received a broadcast distribution offer in the lead up to Sundance which is a little bit unusual for short films; 4)Trevor took part in many Canadian film professional labs and courses so we followed up with those organizations to tell them of his Sundance selection and of course they wanted to champion an alum; 5)when Moving Pictures put out a call for filmmakers taking part in Sundance to write about their inspirations, their experiences, their views on filmmaking, we took up the opportunity for more exposure for the film. Trevor wrote an inspirational piece on artist perseverance. It is about keeping your eyes open for story ideas where your film or your work can fit in, but isn’t for purely promotional purposes. Think like a journalist, not a sales person. You will still get what you want (exposure and sales), but the writer will also get what she wants (a good story).

Other story angle ideas:

-Is someone on your cast or crew doing something notable?

-Is there a current event, trending story or popular web meme somehow relevant to your film?

-Is the origin of your film’s story unique? Perhaps based on legend or a historical event.

-Is the topic or style of your film closely related to a better publicized Hollywood film and could you piggyback on those efforts?

It is also a good idea to use real time marketing when crafting any kind of content, whether it is for your own site or for a publication. Setting up Google Alerts helps you keep up with what is being covered so you can find new angles. Is there a court case getting a lot of media attention, has a natural disaster just happened, is there a new law being passed? Could any of this be tied to some part of the story of your film? Contact journalists covering those events and try to get interviewed about it. In this way, you are seen as a trusted source of information and they will mention your film within the context of the story. In the case of a documentary, this could be done years after the film’s release to bring attention back to your work. My friend Dawn Mikkelson had this happen years after her documentary Green, Green Water came out because the issue highlighted in her film came back up again in the media and a journalist contacted her for a quote. You can also use these events for your own blog content.

When you have identified 5 story angles, think of 5 bullet points of material that support that story and then craft your pitch to the journalist. Herold also advised pitching directly to the writer, not the editor and using the telephone to pitch rather than email. For bigger publications, I can see why he recommends that and often there is a listing of telephone numbers on their website, but for online only publications and smaller bloggers, you won’t find these contact details. Since email inboxes can be overflowing for journalists, the chances of your pitch being overlooked is high. This is why he recommended calling instead.

Next post.. understanding how journalists find stories and helping them decide to cover yours

For the Sundance/Slamdance Chosen

December 1, 2010
posted by sheric

(I’m working on the audience building post, I promise!)

In the next few hours and continuing throughout the week, both festivals will be making their public announcements about the lucky chosen for this year. If you are one of those people, listen up.

You should be ready to press send on a press release right after they announce. DON’T SEND ANYTHING out ahead of their announcement. No need to piss them off or get disqualified. But be ready with at least a release. Then you need to find a publicist if this person isn’t already on board.

You should also have a website up, even you short form filmmakers. When people hear about your film, they look you up online. I know you think this is common knowledge, but even last year some of the Sundance features did not have a website up before the festival. Tsk, tsk.

Next, you should be making a hit list not only of the major publications, but the publications that actually reach your target audience (which is NOT everyone). Getting coverage is one of the main reasons this fest means anything to you. Get your story to them as soon as possible, the earlier the better. I would advise against sending screeners if this is your world premiere. In the case of Slamdance, this may not be your premiere and you may already have some coverage and reviews. Put it all together in your press kit, online. Ditch the notion of having a paper press kit, I don’t care what the Sundance/Slamdance press office tells you. But do have all your elements together. Plenty of hi res, good quality production stills of the action, director’s statement, bios for all the major people, synopsis (both long and short), reviews if you have them, laurels from other fests if you have them. You’ll also want to remember to get a copy of the laurels as official selection.

Also, you should be devising a steady stream of content to release at intervals during the lead up. Make several trailers or release small clips. Customize them to the publication that is doing the coverage. What does this mean? In the case of a horror flick, there are lots of different horror sites. Some bloody, some scary, some monster-centric. The audiences who read those sites are all looking for something different from their horror movie so don’t release the same content to all of them. Know what I mean? Find something that is customized to their audience, it also gets people talking about all the different content out there for your film. You may even pick a publication to whom you only give exclusive content. But make every piece of content kick ass! Good god hire a professional trailer editor! If you are ever going to do that, it is now when you will have benefit of the most coverage. Think up lots of different angles to your film’s story because after a few have covered the fact that you are an official selection, there really isn’t that much more to talk about if you don’t have other story angles to pitch. This all happens in the lead up to the fest. During the festival, you’ll be doing work on the ground too.

The next 7 weeks or so are non stop promotion. If you aren’t ready, you need to get on the stick. Don’t waste this opportunity. It might be the biggest push your film ever gets. Also, have your distribution plan in place. I know you think this will just happen automatically since you’ve been accepted. Don’t count on that. Go into it like that isn’t going to happen and then be pleasantly surprised if it does. Everything you can do to get attention for your film will only help your distribution chances no matter how the film gets distributed.

Congratulations on your acceptance and make the very most of it.


The quick answer is YES….well, maybe. It depends how sought after your film is, and who is representing your film. If you have a world premiere at one of the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, then Festival programmers will request to see your film.

The general rule is if a programmer REQUESTS to see your film and then accepts the film, you can ask for a rental fee (usually between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you SUBMIT to a Festival, then generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. ALSO….niche festivals such as Latino Fests, Jewish Fests, LGBT Fests, Asian fests etc. are much MORE likely to pay you fees to screen your film, because there is less product for them to choose from, so they are more likely to NEED your film in their Festival.

While I am in the middle of organizing the filmmaker troops and taking advantage of any promotional opportunity that arises to publicize LA Shorts Fest 09, I wanted to share some interesting video I found today thanks to Orly Ravid’s site New American Vision. It is a panel discussion with many heavy hitters, and up and coming ones, regarding the digital distribution landscape for filmmakers. If you have 30 minutes or so for each, give them a look.