With the increasing interest in my friend Jon Reiss’ term PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) as a vital role in the indie filmmaking team, Jon and I want to highlight people who are actively working as PMDs and have them explain their responsibilities to a film’s  production. These people are integrated into the process early on and they become part of the overall support on a production, hopefully forming long term relationships with the filmmaker on all of his/her work. A PMD doesn’t just handle social networking pages or design a film’s key art or handle festival publicity. They develop the entire marketing strategy for the film and carry out the implementation of it as well as chart a distribution path to release the film.

Today’s guest post is from Joseph Jestus of Trost Moving Pictures.  He is a full member of Trost’s production company who figures out all aspects of marketing and distribution of the projects they produce.

Sitting down to write this article and looking back it’s hard to believe that just a year ago the independent studio I work for (Trost Moving Pictures) had just one feature film, “Find Me” that was starting to appear in small retail stores and sporadically at that. Fast forward to present day, where we just wrapped principle photography on our third feature film, “The Lamp” a few weeks ago and our second feature film, ”A Christmas Snow” is now in 2,500 Walmart stores around the country and in numerous other stores as well. The last 12 months have been nothing short of a whirlwind and I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned as a PMD (which I didn’t even know existed 12 months ago).

Lesson 1: Placement and Sell Through

Last year when we began looking for a way to get “Find Me” into stores we checked out traditional distributors and kept getting the traditional response: their money goes in last and comes out first and besides a small advance we get an even smaller portion of DVD sales. We thought we could do better, so we hired a consultant/product placement person to work on getting our film into stores and we used a fulfillment house that already had supply chain connections with the stores we were trying to get our DVD placed in.

When thinking about marketing, we all know you have to get people in seats at theaters and people at shelves in stores or having your film in theaters or on shelves is not only pointless but expensive. But what you might not know is that before you can get your film on a store shelf you have to market to the stores and then more often than not, pay for that spot on the shelf through one of two ways and that is what’s known as your placement cost.

Stores aren’t just in the business of selling things, they are in the real estate business and they want to be paid for their space. That end cap, front of store spot, custom display, special doorbuster promotion, even the difference between having your film spine out or face out will cost you. You can pay for this with an upfront placement cost, which can run from hundreds of dollars to millions of dollars depending on if you have ancillary products that go with your film and also how many stores you want your film in. Another option is to give a greater discount to the store on your film to either get the placement cost discounted or reduced. But because it is an independent film, more than likely you’ll have to pay some sort of placement cost, because the store is not sure if it will sell enough product to make up for in margin what they lose in placement fees.

So in order to get into stores, there will be a cost and you’ll need to know who is paying for this and how much are they paying. With “Find Me” we didn’t have a lot of money (surprise, surprise) so we opted to just get it in stores wherever, whereas with “A Christmas Snow” our distributor has paid for better placement and it’s helped with walk in sales. In fact, over this last Black Friday weekend, one chain of stores did a special doorbuster promotion with “A Christmas Snow” and moved 6 times the amount of DVDs another similar chain did, but those sales do come at a cost. This is where the ability to test, learn, and refine your marketing and distribution comes into play. Is it better to move thousands of copies at a lower margin or less copies at a higher margin? Another good point to include in any contract with a distributor is to make sure you get final approval on any major discounts given to a specific retailer. Yes, Walmart may want 20,000 DVDs but at what percentage discount? Does it make sense? This all depends on the goals you have set for your film, as Jon Reiss said in his book, “Think Outside the Box Office” These are all questions that I’ve had to consider on a daily basis as a PMD.

As important as it is being on store shelves (there are some people who still would rather walk into their local store than buy online, not to mention those who still think it’s not a real movie until it’s in a theater or major store – like your relatives and friends), it’s really no better than being in a theater without marketing. Marketing to the consumer to get them to the store to buy you film is called sell through marketing. Without this second type of marketing, placement can become a money pit.

Yes, you have walk in sales and some stores will market your product to their lists and in their catalogs, but once again you probably had to pay for that spot. There are some independent stores that come together under an organization for marketing and you can get in their catalogs as well, but you need to be sure to ask two things from these groups: 1) What does it cost? (then figure out how many DVDs you have to move to break even or make a 20% profit at least) and 2) Are the stores required to carry the products in the catalog? Some organizations require the stores to carry the products and others don’t. So you might spend $2,000 to get into a catalog and then when someone walks into that store asking for your film, they walk out empty handed because the store didn’t carry it.

With “Find Me,” we learned some tough lessons and one of the most important was that stores work on relationships. They have certain fulfillment centers they can use and others they won’t use. Certain distributors they like and others they don’t like – ask around and find someone that is well respected. Our consultant was well respected and a great guy, but because we didn’t have the capital to garner better placement or drive customers into stores we weren’t profitable due to production, replication, and brokering costs. Something had to change for our next film.

For “A Christmas Snow,” we partnered with a publishing house that was looking to get into films. In addition to the film, we created two books. One is a novel of the film written by best-selling author Jim Stovall and the other is a companion teaching book written by the director Tracy J Trost. The companion book, called “Restored” is a journal of one of the main characters and follows them from before the film right through to the end of the movie. With these extra products, we could make a higher margin on the DVDs while our distributor made a higher percentage on the books. We also had a wider reach with placement into larger store chains. That said, we have turned down some well known stores simply because the placement costs were too steep and it didn’t make financial sense, again this is why it’s important you have some say in your distribution.

Lesson 2: Get Help

In addition to continuing work on “A Christmas Snow,” I am transitioning to “The Lamp” and on both films we’ve had the pleasure of finding other talented people to add to our team, both salaried and temporary. Everyday, I’m communicating with our contacts at the distributor and our publicist as well. Publicity is another relationship based industry contacts and having a publicist who knows publishing people is key. We’ve learned a lot in regards to publicity including a 6 week tour that I took with my family, my business partner/film director Tracy J Trost and his family – but that’s a story for another day – thousands of miles, 7 kids, and 2 RVs, it sounds like a Disney film.

Most recently, we’ve brought on a Special Events Manager to begin building relationships with charities, churches, and other family based organizations so that we can team up with them for charitable screenings of our films. She’s also taking over some of the daily social networking updates, newsletter, and blogging from me as well so that I can focus more on big picture planning and relationship building. It’s important to find people who are good at what they do and let them do it. In all honesty, the list of what a PMD doesn’t do would probably be much shorter and quicker to write and that’s why it’s imperative you find people who can help out with certain tasks or projects or you’ll quickly fall behind and you won’t catch up. Whether its planning your premiere, updating your site, social networks, getting versions of your film for International distribution and TV broadcast made/shipped, or getting the word out to the press – these things all take time and the more you can empower talented people around you to accomplish these tasks while you oversee the process, the better. After all, what’s the benefit of doing what you love if you’re so worn out at the end you can’t do it again?

Even if you don’t have the capital to hire salaried employees, you need to “start thinking like a studio” as Sheri Candler says. With each project you’ll find people you want to work with again and others that you’re pretty sure you won’t be sending a Christmas card to this year. Either way though you need to get help… or I guess you could move back in with your parents, not have a spouse, kids, or pet and that might work too.

Lesson 3: Adapt and Respond

Another important lesson we learned was in the casting process of “A Christmas Snow,” we had this idea to do an open casting call in December 2009 for every part in the film. Actors and actresses could upload a video of themselves to our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/AChristmasSnow as an audition, not only would it possibly help us find a cast for our film but we thought it would be a great way to get the word out about our film. The director, Tracy J Trost, recorded a video for each part with his vision for the character and his direction for the lines they would need to read. We had hundreds if not thousands of submissions and most people loved the entire process. However, one thing we hadn’t thought of was some actors/actresses didn’t want to put their auditions up publicly for all the world to see, in addition to that, one of the parts was for a 10 year old girl and a few parents were uneasy about uploading their daughters’ audition to our facebook page as well. We hadn’t figured anyone wanting to be a movie star would have an issue with being seen publicly, but we found out they did.

This was one of the many times we found out you will always need to be ready to adapt and respond as you begin to deploy your plans. Some plans will work almost exactly as you had planned and others will look nothing like what you thought and there is one common reason for this: PEOPLE. You can never guarantee what they are going to do, or more importantly, how they are going to see things.

What you thought was a great idea might be a terrible idea to the audience you are trying to reach so you need to be ready to adapt and respond. What you think is a great deal, might seem like a ripoff to your audience and you need to adapt accordingly, all the while keeping the goals you have set for your film in mind.

Look Mom No Hands

These are just three of the many important lessons I’ve learned over the last year as a PMD and quite honestly I wouldn’t change a thing, except for maybe a few more DVD sales :-) But the truth, is if you want to be an experienced PMD, then start getting some experience. There is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as it gets you where you want to go.

So find out where you want to go, take off the training wheels, get out there and start trying something – anything, all the while learning from those along side you who are trying as well. Follow other PMD’s on twitter and befriend them on facebook, when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I look forward to hearing of your successes and soon to be successes (formerly known as failure) and please above all else, enjoy the ride!

About Joe Jestus: Joe Jestus is currently the PMD at Trost Moving Pictures an independent film studio based in Tulsa, OK and according to his Twitter Bio he’s also a husband, father, and BFF. You can reach him at: Twitter orFacebook but please don’t interrupt his daily epic ping pong match.

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?

PMD FAQ 2: What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

September 16, 2010
posted by sheric

Part 2 of a 10 part series sees filmmaker/author Jon Reiss giving us answers to the most asked about questions regarding the new role on a film production, the PMD or Producer of Marketing and Distribution, that he coined in his book Think Outside the Box Office.

What are the responsibilities of a PMD?

The responsibilities of a PMD are wide and varied. Not all films will utilize all of these elements (since every film is different and will have a unique approach to distribution and marketing), but each should be considered when strategizing and planning for the film’s release.

1. Identify, research and engage with the audience for the film.

2. Develop a distribution and marketing strategy and plan for the film in conjunction with the key principles of the filmmaking team. Integrate this plan into the business plan for the film.

3. Create a budget for the M&D plan.

4. As needed and appropriate strategize and implement fundraising from the audience of the film in conjunction with or in replace of traditional financing which would include: crowdfunding, organizational partnerships, sponsorships and even modified versions of traditional fundraising.

5. Assemble and supervise the necessary team/crew elements to carry out the plan which can include social media, publicity, M&D production crew for extra diagetic material, key artists, editors, bookers etc.

6. Audience outreach through organizations, blogs, social media (including email collection), traditional publicity etc.

7. Supervise the creation of promotional and (if necessary due to the lack of a separate transmedia coordinator) trans media elements: script and concept for transmedia, the films website and social media sites, production stills, video assets – both behind the scenes and trans media, promotional copy and art/key art.

8. Outreach to potential distribution and marketing partners including film festivals, theatrical service companies, community theatrical bookers, DVD distributors, Digital and VOD aggregators, TV sales agents, foreign sales agents as well as sponsors and promotional partners.

Just FYI – nearly all of the above and much of 9 happen before the film is finished.

9. Supervise the creation of traditional deliverables in addition to creation of all media needed for the execution of the release as needed including:
• Live event/theatrical: Prints either 35 or Disk or Drive. Any other physical prep for event screenings.
• Merchandise: All hard good physical products including DVDs and any special packaging (authoring and replication) and all other forms of merchandise: books, apparel, toys, reproductions of props etc, and hard versions of games.
• Digital products: encoding of digital products, iphone/Android apps etc.

10. Modify and adjust the distribution and marketing plan as the film progresses as information about audience, market, new opportunities, partnerships arise.

11. When appropriate, engage the distribution process, which includes the release of:
• Live Event Theatrical – Booking, delivery, of all forms of public exhibition of the film including all elements that make the screenings special events (appearances, live performance etc.)
• Merchandise – Distribution of all hard good physical products created for the film.
• Digitally – oversee all sales of the film in the form of 0s and 1s: TV/Cable/VOD/Mobile/Broadband/Video games etc.
• This not just in the home territory – but also internationally.
• Some of these activities may be handled in conjunction with a distribution partner in which case the PMD would be supervising the execution in conjunction with that partner.

12. Ramp up the marketing of the film to coincide with the release, which includes:
• Social Media
• Publicity
• Organizational Relationships
• Sponsorship Relationships
• Affiliate and Email Marketing
• Promotions
• Media Buys (as warranted)
• Pushing Trailers and other video content
• Any specific marketing especially tailored to the film.
• Promoting and releasing trailers and other forms of video material
• Transmedia campaigns

This list should indicate how it would be difficult, if not impossible to expect existing traditional crew categories to accomplish or even coordinate the work outlined above. In addition while some of the work above is “quantifiable”, much of it is not – just like much of what a producer or even director does is not “quantifiable”.

To the New and Future PMDs

July 24, 2010
posted by sheric

I am so excited to see that the crew position my friend Jon Reiss coined in his book Think Outside the Box Office is being embraced by people all over the globe. There seems to be a lot of interest in this kind of work that is mostly forgotten about or avoided by the average indie filmmaker in the hopes that a distributor will come, give them a big check and take that baby off their hands. I was always a huge champion of the position when I was given Jon’s book as a draft copy and I am glad to see that he is now inspiring so many people to take up this work. But I do have some concerns and advice to share.

I always saw this as a position for a person trained in marketing or sales. It isn’t enough, in fact isn’t even needed, for a person aspiring to be a PMD to be a filmmaker. This work requires a different mindset and a different set of skills and knowledge that are not acquired in film school or behind a camera. While Jon has often maintained that this is knowledge filmmakers need to have, I have always thought it would be easier to teach a trained marketing person about the business of film than it would be to train a filmmaker to be a business person. The workload of trying to be both is just too overwhelming for each endeavor to be done well. Filmmakers have asked where they can find someone to do this work and potential PMDs have asked how they can  find filmmakers to work with? Both are very warranted questions and I am going to share a few thoughts on that coming from the perspective of having done this work.

I have never claimed the title of PMD because I have yet to be involved in a production from the beginning and I am being very careful about the project I pick to work with from conception. Usually projects come to me in the middle of production or more commonly after post, so the work I would have been doing from the start has to be sped up in order to launch properly. Generally this is the work of a publicist, not a PMD. The worst is when a filmmaker comes to me after the film has failed to find an audience or a traditional distributor and now wants me to work miracles. With no money. I do not take those projects because that is unrealistic work, a fool’s errand. Take note of this PMDs! The filmmaker will not have the patience to wait until an audience is built and you will be blamed because you are working with extremely limited financial resources and they will expect sales immediately.

I also don’t think that it is possible for one PMD to take on the work of more than about 2 projects at a time and do them successfully. More than this and the time devoted is too stretched and can’t be done effectively for the amount of time and attention that has to be spent. As a producer, how many films can be produced at one time and do all things necessary to make them successful?

To say you are hanging out a shingle to solicit clients is really the wrong way to look at this job. You aren’t going for volume unless you have an agency with a staff to handle each film. Perhaps in the future there will be PMD agencies, with a staff member to handle the duties of each film project. It is going to take that kind of one on one attention to do this well. My opinion is there are already marketing companies that say they can do this, but this work shouldn’t be outsourced to a company with no connections to a film’s audience. So, they shout at them with messages instead and hope to make enough noise to get some sales. These connections cannot be bought with money, the attention is acquired through spending time with the communities where the audiences live and I don’t know any outside company that can accomplish this because they have to be embedded in the community and it doesn’t scale with a large business. A PMD is part of the filmmaking team just like all of the other crew, maybe more so as their work starts at the beginning and ends long after the tech crew and actors go home.

During a recent interview, I was asked what I thought were good skills and characteristics for a PMD. Here is what I came up with:

-Some kind of marketing and/or sales training. This would be a background in the fundamentals of marketing, advertising, public relations. One of the most important duties of a PMD is being able to draft a marketing plan and budget as well as know distribution pathways for film. Distribution can be figured out relatively easily, negotiating contracts and terms will be done with an attorney if an outside distributor is used and there are those whose work is solely devoted to distribution to help navigate this path. A certain amount of information gathering never hurt though.

-Someone with great communication skills who can speak with knowledge and purpose. By communicate, I don’t just mean someone who likes to talk. There is a lot of listening in this line of work in order to find great communities to connect with, collaborate with, mutually respect. Someone who only knows how to advertise will not make a good PMD. Someone who only knows hard sell techniques will not make a good PMD. This kind of communication is subtle, careful and respectful. Not everyone will love your project and that is ok.

-Someone familiar with online tools and how they are used best. It isn’t enough to be a prolific blogger or have thousands of personal friends on Facebook and Twitter. If one uses these tools as free advertising platforms only, they will yield very limited success. These are tools that demand a strategy behind how they are used. They may not even be useful depending on the audience for the project. They certainly won’t be the only tool to use so don’t be overly dependent on them because they are free.

-Someone with research skills. This is definitely important and strangely the job often given to the most inexperienced intern. Not only must online and offline communities be researched and evaluated, they also have to be contacted and, through the research, a determination will be made as to what motivates these groups, who is the most influential in the circle to convince so that the contact will be done in a respectful and genuine way. No one likes to be contacted out of the blue. The first instinct is trepidation about the motivation. How can communication be genuine if you haven’t done the research yourself? The key to this research is narrowing down the scope of the audience, to really get to the core of the interest in your film. Without a significant media budget, a wide audience cannot be reached and time and effort will be wasted to try. Start small, grow wider as you go. Better still, research niche groups of a special interest where there is a need for content and make that content for them. Again, if you can’t genuinely connect with that audience, do not try this method or it will fail.

Another note about research. You will be researching to find interesting topics to provide for your audience. As I said, your communication cannot only be about your project. It gets boring to hear about you, you, you all the time. You will also need to be a resource for your film’s community. This means constant surveillance on topics of interest, the latest news stories appropriate to both the audience and the film, interesting video content that is not footage of the film. You will populate your site and networking pages with this information and it has to be relevant.

-Someone who can write. There is a ton of writing in this work. Blog posts, feature articles, web content, press releases, synopsis, biographies, social networking content, email blasts, advertising copy. A PMD must be a great writer and have mastery of the basics of grammar and spelling.

-Someone with technical skills like web or widget design is a bonus but that mentality very rarely mixes with the other attributes and it is too easy to find people who are experts at just this. Use them, don’t try to learn these skills too. You’ll have plenty to do on the project.

First and foremost think of yourself as the ambassador of the film. You will be providing the voice the audience hears for the project, figuratively as it will be most likely be online but perhaps it will be off as well at events, meetups, screenings, festivals etc. If a project is presented to you, really evaluate the fit. If you can’t stand zombie films, for example, you will not be effective in presenting that film. Pass and find a more suitable project. This goes for filmmakers as well. Look at the personal interests of the PMD you are considering because they are going to represent the voice of the film in all the work to be done. If they have no discernible interest in your topic, if they aren’t a member of any target audience groups for the film or able to connect with them on some level, find someone who is.

Notice I didn’t say they should have lots of experience. In looking through these skills and attributes, this isn’t a role many people have worked in previously. I can’t think of many publicists, distribution execs, or sales agents that can claim that they were ambassadors for one film, solely. They have worked on some aspect, usually after the film was finished but they didn’t do the end to end job of marketing a film by themselves. Not to worry, most of all this job is about passion, connection building and the ability to learn new things. Most filmmakers who come to me are new too and I don’t judge them because of their inexperience, but if I can’t connect with the project or I see the outcome of the film and decide it won’t be successful no matter how much marketing is done, I will pass.

Most of all a PMD is NOT a consultant. A consultant only provides advice and tells someone else what to do. A PMD actually does the work. I hope to connect with all of you at some point to see what you are working on and if ever you need someone to talk to, I am here.

TOTBO Tip of the Day-Tip 25

May 21, 2010
posted by sheric


To conclude two weeks of crew tips – a reminder that it is best to be able to pay these crew people.  While sales agents should work on commission, lawyers, web designers, PMDs etc most likely will not.  You should create a budget that is as detailed as a production budget.  In Think Outside the Box Office I created such a budget with detailed explanation, using my budget and several others as examples.  Raising the money at inception will help avoid potentially costly P&A finance rates and last in- first out requirements.   If you have a tax rebate due you, don’t bank it, use it as a large portion (or all) of your distribution and marketing budget.    Here’s a list of what you will need to include in your budget:

-Distribution Crew including those who I have discussed and whoever else you need for your specific release: bookers, publicists, community engagement consultants, social media strategists, graphic designers;

-Marketing creative and materials: including trailer, poster/key art, press kit;

-Print and other delivery materials: Various masters, authoring, replication, digital cinema files etc.;

-Media buys from print to google;

-Travel expenses;

-General office supplies – especially shipping;

And anything else your release needs – the above is a very quick summary.

Let me know what you think!  Follow me  @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page.  Check out the book and workshops here.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Jon Reiss’ TOTBO Tip of the Day

April 19, 2010
posted by sheric

I would be remiss if I didn’t include these on my blog as he and I work together. These will run for about 8 weeks and cover bits of advice on film marketing and distribution. Here is the first one making its rounds on the blogosphere today.

Day 1 – The Next Chapter

Many of you might know me from the book that I have written recently, Think Outside the Box Office (TOTBO for short).  The primary reason that I wrote it was to share what I had learned while distributing my film Bomb It with other filmmakers so they could learn from my successes and mistakes.  In the continuation of that mission I am launching two more initiatives – both in support of how people want to interact with this information.  The first is a series of workshops around the world.  It seems that the live experience is as important as the written word in imparting this information for many people.   We are starting  with London on May 8/9, Amsterdam on May 12/13, New York on June 5, Vancouver on June 12/13, San Francisco July 31/Aug1 with more being lined up.

The second initiative is the launching of a TOTBO Tip of the Day.   This will soon be joined by Resource of the Day.   In these tips, I will give not only a sense of what’s in the book and workshop, but they will be a forum to convey new tips to you as I learn them.

I want to know what you think!  Comment here or on my blog, or @Jon_Reiss on twitter, or on the TOTBO Facebook page.   I look forward to hearing from you.

A Film Festival/Distribution Strategy To Study

January 3, 2010
posted by sheric

My friend and emerging indie filmmaker Zak Forsman writes posts for the Workbook Project  site called NEW BREED. Zak has also made 2 films in the last year called Heart of Now and White Knuckles. He shared his film festival strategy on the New Breed site and I asked if I could reprint it here in case you missed it. You can also follow him on Twitter @zakforsman. If you like what you read, please leave a comment on his site.

The SABI Festival Strategy


Be honest with yourself and ask why you want to do this. It will be a financial, emotional and physical drain to be sure. So you must define your goals and the reason why they are goals. For us, we have solidified our plans to release HEART OF NOW and WHITE KNUCKLES through our own distribution company, CINEFIST. So we are not seeking traditional distribution. And by “traditional” I mean selling the domestic rights for 25 years, for less than $100,000 in advance and a tiny cut of the profit. Instead, we ARE seeking some rather important things to support a direct-to-audience distribution effort:

  • To meet new friends, filmmakers, fans and partners
  • To garner laurels, prestige, press and reviews
  • To announce a platform release to a larger audience
  • To make a little $$$ on DVD, soundtrack and merch sales at each screening
  • To get additional feedback from audiences

So, what does a modern, forward-thinking festival strategy look like? From the outside, it looks like a bucket full of submission packets amounting to $1500 in fees for 40 festivals. I’ve come to define our festival strategy by working backwards from our direct-to-audience distribution plan. We know we want to begin the latter in July 2010 so the focus had to go toward festivals that would play between now and the end of June. The intent being that if we are accepted, we can incorporate that opportunity into the distribution road map, without relying on it “for direction”.

So how did I decide which festivals to submit to?


I researched other films and the festivals they played. I zeroed in on two films that I felt shared enough similarities with HEART OF NOW and WHITE KNUCKLES that they could attract the same appreciation for content and form. They were THE NEW YEAR PARADE and MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY.

Festivals that accepted The New Year Parade:

  • SXSW
  • Slamdance
  • Ashland
  • Philadelphia
  • deadCENTER
  • BendFilm
  • Indie Memphis
  • Lone Star Int’l
  • IFF Boston
  • Cucalorus
  • Temecula Valley
  • Vancouver Int’l
  • Tofino
  • Torino
  • Woodstck
  • Starz Denver

Festivals that accepted Medicine for Melancholy:

  • SXSW
  • Philadelphia
  • IFF Boston
  • Viennale
  • San Francisco Int’l
  • Toronto Int’l
  • London
  • Sarasota
  • Maryland
  • Los Angeles

And I also took a good look at the festivals suggested by Chris Gore as being essential to any festival effort:

  • AFI Fest
  • Dallas
  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Chicago
  • CineVegas (on hiatus)
  • Denver
  • Florida
  • Los Angeles
  • Phoenix
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Sidewalk
  • Wisconsin
  • Woodstock

I sought to make one final list of festivals that offered profit participation with the box office grosses, allowing filmmakers the opportunity to make some money off their own content. That list had no entries.

I entered all of this info in a GoogleWave and crunched through the data, noting their deadlines, doing searches on the Without-A-Box message board for filmmaker feedback and reading about each of them on FILM FESTIVAL WORLD as well as visiting each of their official sites.


Guidance came in two forms: from experienced people I’ve met in the last year and from books. My signed copy of THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE by Jon Reiss has been a great resource for defining our upcoming distribution endeavor, allowing us to work backwards and plan a complimentary festival strategy. For festival-specific guidance, I picked up the 4th edition of CHRIS GORE’S ULTIMATE FILM FESTIVAL SURVIVAL GUIDE.

In addition, the heads of programming at SUNDANCE and SLAMDANCE both sent unofficial rejection notices that offered personal words of admiration for WHITE KNUCKLES, with the latter making suggestions for festivals that might also be receptive to it. It’s encouraging to know how closely we were considered for those two.

Next, Scott Macaulay of FILMMAKER MAGAZINE was gracious enough to lend his creative feedback and insight as we shaped the edit of HEART OF NOW. When I posted a plea on Facebook and Twitter for east coast festival recommendations, he offered a list for that film specifically.

In addition, festivals that programmed my short film, I F*CKING HATE YOU, fell into heavy consideration due to the existing relationships and friendships we had there. And finally, we’ve received direct invitations to screen HEART OF NOW from some smaller festivals who have been following SABI via Facebook and Twitter.

From those lists I shared above and the cumulative guidance of several people, I was able to identify which festivals would be our primary targets and which would be our second choices, submitting to both sets simultaneously. We made note of the premiere status requirements and the possible conflicts that could arise. A third list of smaller, more regional festivals lies in wait, to coincide with our direct-to-audience theatrical tour and home video releases. Those submissions will be made in the Spring of 2010.


I set a full day aside to burn and test each DVD screener and to build out each submission. I use a stack of pre-printed blank DVD-Rs from ARCHETYPE DVD with whitespace for tracking numbers, contact info, running time and other notes. Each packet included the number of DVD screeners they asked for, labelled in the manner they requested, a brief and concise personal letter drafted by me to give the submission a little personality, the Without-A-Box printout, and nothing else. Be prepared for the clerk at your local post office to look at you like your an asshole when you ask for dozens of packages of varying weights to be sent first class.

As for expectations, I’m committed to the idea that a festival run is ancillary to the real objective – to get these arthouse films in front of a paying audience through multiple platforms. So my expectations are tempered. I was about as heartbroken over rejections from SUNDANCE and SLAMDANCE as I would be over not winning the lottery. Which is to say, not much at all really. I’ll save the heartache should we face low theater turn-out, bad reviews, dvd manufacturing delays, getting rejected from itunes, struggles to find a way into cable vod, etc. And I’ll find solace in the knowledge that if rejection or failure didn’t hit in some form, it meant we failed to take the inevitable risk, we failed to experiment as we do with all things and we failed in our attempt to innovate with an evolving model of sustainability – all part of the distribution journey.