SXSW, upcoming film events, book to be in print

August 23, 2011
posted by sheric

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.

Connect with Fans + Reasons to Buy = $$$

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.

Selling Your Film Without Getting F*#ked

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.

moving on….

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.

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

Audience strategy from the start

March 20, 2011
posted by sheric

While attending SXSW conference this year, I met Patricia Aufderheide who introduced me to the Center for Social Media at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC.  I encourage you to check out what they are doing. A post on their blog I was reading today was a highlight of their recent Making Your Media Matter Conference. There is a video accompaniment that lasts about an hour and twenty minutes which covers social impact documentary films Not in Our Town, The Lioness and a film by Conscious Youth Media Crew called Why I Ride: Low and Slow. The CYMC is based in San Francisco and “provides the technology and training necessary for inner city youth to create quality media that represents their experiences, stimulates meaningful dialogue, and promotes social change.” The topic being discussed on the panel was building audience engagement and outreach strategies into the filmmaking process from the start in order to facilitate broader dialogues, reach wider audiences, and create distribution partnerships to be utilized during release.  Main takeaway being this must be decided from the start, not as an afterthought.

All three women (unusual for most film panels) talked about the different ways they went about forming partnerships which they considered key in reaching their target audience. I will synopsize the main points in case you don’t have time to watch the whole video:

-Their editorial decisions were influenced by the strategies. They structured the narrative so that it would be inviting to the multiple audiences they were trying to reach.  In the Lioness example, the filmmakers established early on that the film would not be a biased, agenda film commenting on the Iraq War, but on the women who served in combat which was against policy at the start of the war. To interject political bias would mean alienating certain segments of the audience and limiting its potential appeal. They knew at the start that their super core audience would be active military, military families, veterans, but by framing the film as a gender equality film, they were able to reach beyond the military audience to women’s groups in general (Women in Law, NOW). Had they not decided on a clear audience strategy for the film at the beginning, they may not have made the story editing decisions that would effectively enable them to attract the interest of these larger groups.

-In forming early partnerships with the Center for Women Veterans, Disabled American Veterans and ITVS, they were able to find subjects to interview for the film AND they were able to arrange screenings of the film through those organizations, both at the national and at the local level. Each of these organizations has state branches and without the support of the national group, the filmmakers would not have been able to easily reach the local representatives. Through ITVS, they were able to reach the Senate Armed Services Committee and do a screening on Capitol Hill.

-Lioness Director Megan McLagan also stressed the importance of face to face meetings with leaders and organizations. She brought along some of the female subjects to conferences and summits to speak to the representatives and bring a personal connection to the film’s story. While early connections were made via email or phone calls, it was the in person meetings that made an impact. Utilizing online tools is great, but we must not forget the profound impact of a face to face meeting to really connect with audience.

-Lioness’ partners became their distribution partners as well. The filmmakers sold DVDs and community screening licenses off of their site (licenses ran $195) and those partner organizations were some of their biggest customers. The organizations’ cause was helped by screening the film to their own community and the filmmakers were able to have a revenue stream for their work. The filmmakers also chopped up the film into modules to work with a pilot program in North Carolina to train primary care physicians on how to treat women returning from the Iraq War. They are now working on a structure that will take this program to other states and benefit not only the organization running the training but the filmmakers also. A win win all around.

-McLagan says you must embed yourself within the major organizations that service your target audience and to embed successfully you must establish trust and credibility with them. If you are seen as only exploitive, it won’t work. This work is time consuming and cannot be left until release. She also stressed being flexible in taking up new opportunities as they present themselves. A few times she had to go back to her funders to ask for money to go to speaking engagements that popped up. These were not originally planned in the budget and luckily her funders were able to accommodate. There will always be unforeseen opportunities that could pay really big audience and financial dividends so budget for these kinds of contingencies.

-Debra Koffler, who runs CYMC, said that the core of their audience building effort came from forming partnerships with local community leaders and from casting local talent whenever possible. Accessing a strong community audience first is enabling the film to move wider from there.

-As the script was in development (Why I Ride:Low and Slow is not a documentary, but a narrative feature), the filmmakers went into the community and interviewed many locals to find out what were their experiences, what would they respond to in characters of the film and then weaved those elements into the storyline and into the characters’ back stories. In doing this research work, they built up a strong base of local community support and attention to what they were making.

It cannot be emphasized enough that the task of audience building must start at the beginning of the filmmaking process. This is especially relevant to documentaries but it can also be relevant for narrative films. Filmmakers need to have a clear idea of who they are trying to reach with their stories and research where to find them and how to communicate with them effectively. This work will not go to waste when it comes time to distribute whether you are planning to sell the film to a distributor or sell it yourself.

The Ugly Truth About Social Media

March 10, 2011
posted by sheric

I’m about to head off to my first SXSW and I am currently being bombarded with press releases and news about films, panels, and all things interactive. I am most excited about hearing the interactive speakers as I think they have more to offer about the future than the same people talking the same stuff about the film industry. But I am also overwhelmed at how many start ups are launching in the social media space, especially companies promising to take care of it all for you. Beware of this, social doesn’t work like hands off advertising. If you are going to use it, you have to be there in person.

Last night, I found this post on the Sysomos blog. I think I’m in love with Mark Evans now because he presents everything I have been saying too. Social media work is not free and not easy to maintain and it certainly isn’t just a Facebook page. Here are his five main points:

-”Social media is a game of inches, not miles.” As much as people like to call their social media efforts “campaigns,” it isn’t a campaign. It is long term sustained effort. Calling it a campaign connotes that it will have an end; that it will not be ongoing. If you are building an audience, you are always going to be building and cultivating.

-”Social media is grunt work.” Along the same vein of this work being ongoing, it takes absolute dedication by a person or group of people who are close to the work. This why I can’t see outside agencies doing this work for you. I can see them training you to do it, but they can’t speak with the depth and authenticity that you who are the most passionate can. And it can’ t be automated completely either.

-”There is a never ending need for fresh content.”-This is the part people forget. Keeping attention means you have to feed it every day. Someone on your team, close to you and the production, has to be in charge of  doing this. When there is a blog pause or lack of some kind of update, people wander off to find other interests. Then whatever audience base you have built falls away.

-”Social media can be an expensive proposition.” Yes, the tools are free. The cost is in the labor. You can either commit to doing the work yourself or budgeting for someone on your team to take the job, just like any other job you fill on your crew. The thing to remember is  this isn’t a short term gig. You can’t just bolt it on for a few weeks or months and expect great results. Number churning is not the main thing you are after.

-”ROI can be challenging to measure” because you shouldn’t only be relying on social to gain attention. If you have been consistently building and maintaining it for a long period, your reliance on media buys and earned media will be less. Most filmmakers I know have NOT been doing this for a while (Kevin Smith excluded and even he uses earned media) and will need to use additional methods for gaining attention and sales. It will be exceedingly difficult to point at a certain content post and say “that led to an uptick in box office or streaming sales,”  just as you can’t do that for an ad buy, but your overall efforts, including your day to day interactions with fans, will lead to greater return.

Be very realistic about how long this will take and how much work it will be when you are budgeting for time and money.