Are one night event screenings successful for a film?

January 14, 2014
posted by sheric

One night event screenings can be organized directly with a theater, but the newest way to go about setting up a tour in the US is through sites like Tugg and Gathr. If there is enough demand in a city to warrant a screening, these sites help to facilitate it through their network of cinemas. Filmmakers may request cities they would like to screen in or a local promoter can request a screening. Either way, a certain number of tickets needs to be presold in order to make a screening happen. This financially protects the exhibitor as they won’t be giving up a screen to accommodate a very small audience and it protects a filmmaker against having to pay thousands of dollars upfront to 4 wall the screening. But how successful is this method of screening your film? As with most things self financed, it all depends on how much work you have put into gathering an audience.

In a recent podcast, Stacey Parks of Film Specific talked with Kimberly Dilts and JT Arbogast about using Tugg for a screening tour of their film Angel’s Perch. Here is some advice they offered.

-Their initial plan of going to festivals and receiving distribution offers did not work out. They realized that Tugg would offer the chance to have their own screenings and make money, rather than spend money attending festivals and receiving no revenue.

-Since the production had run a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2011, they did have supporters that they could call on to help set up and promote screenings. This is CRUCIAL in order to tip presales of tickets. Remember, if a minimum ticket threshold isn’t met, the screening won’t happen.

-The narrative film’s story was centered around a grandson who returns to his hometown to care for his last living relative suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. The story is set in Cass, West Virginia.   Knowing that their MOST CORE audience was in West Virginia, that is where the film started its screening tour (not New York, not LA, West Virginia!). The production also looked at where their Kickstarter supporters were in order to map out other cities where they would have an enthusiastic reception. They also partnered early on with the Alzheimer’s Association as technical advisors on their script and as fiscal sponsors so were able to solicit their help in  reaching local chapters to either host screenings or encourage members to attend screenings. NOTE: if your film does not have a core audience AND organizations committed to helping you, you will find filling screenings to be extremely challenging. This film is not a documentary (which naturally lend themselves to organizations) and it did not have name actors. The producers admitted if they did not have this Alzheimer’s angle, they could not have pulled off this screening tour. Think hard about that when creating your film. In fact, if you are working with a low budget and you will not have a clear niche audience for your story, don’t make that film. I’m serious.

Tugg Gathr screenings

-The producers had budgeted $38,000 to promote and arrange this screening tour. They spent all of it and more. One big area for spending was travel because they needed to be at the screenings in order to sell merchandise and collect email addresses for later digital/DVD release communication. It is terrific that they included merchandise as an extra revenue stream! But some cinema chains (*cough AMC cough*) did not allow any merchandise sales to be conducted in the theater. Also, $11,000 was used to pay for Kimberly to run this tour full time. It is an incredible amount of work to set up, organize and promote a screening tour. No one should be asked to do it for free, especially not for 10 months of their life (yes, that’s how long they’ve been preparing and running this tour). The rest of the money was spent on manufacturing the merch (DVDs & tshirts), printing and shipping posters/flyers, and Facebook ads (which they did not think helped with sales).

-The producers did have screenings scheduled that did not meet the minimum ticket threshold. Consumers are not completely clear on how this system works because they are used to showing up to the box office and paying for a ticket right before the screening time. On a Tugg or Gathr screening, they MUST preorder or the screening won’t happen. A bit of education for the consumer will be needed when using this method.

-Also, when some screenings had sold tickets, but not enough to meet the minimum, the production did spend to buy out the rest of the tickets in order to make the screening happen.

-Even if others are hosting screenings of your film, you still have to support their promotional efforts. They will need images, press releases, posters, postcards and maybe support their media efforts by being available for interviews or actually traveling to the screenings. Don’t think this is on autopilot or that promoters necessarily have the skills to publicize a local screening.

-Press for one night event screenings is difficult to obtain. While they received press attention in West Virginia because the film is set there and it is very relevant to the local media, they did not receive a lot of press attention for screenings elsewhere. Most newspapers have a policy to only review films that play for a week or longer. The biggest outlets only want to cover nationwide theatrical releases. While you can certainly try sending out press releases to local and national press on your own, you may find they go unanswered. Also, Kimberly said she didn’t see a direct correlation between the amount of press coverage and the number of ticket sales. This means word of mouth played a much bigger role in the success of the tour than any press coverage. Caveat to this, distribution partners definitely search for press coverage on a film to decide whether to pick it up. You will need press coverage even if it doesn’t put butts in seats. Also, regarding reviews–reviews that result in low Rotten Tomatoes scores can hurt your digital film sales because those scores are highlighted on many digital platforms like iTunes, Vudu etc. It is better to have no critical reviews, but great audience reviews, than to have poor critical reviews.

-Don’t let the time lag between the theatrical tour and the ancillary sales. While momentum is going- people are talking about the film and attending screenings- is the best time to arrange for your ancillary deals early in the lead up to the screenings or after a little momentum has started. VOD transactional and DVD distributors will see the promotion and want to launch off of it so don’t let all of the attention fall to the ground again by waiting too long to solicit ancillary deals.

-Between the merchandise sales and the independent theater bookings the production made on their own (aside from the Tugg screenings), the revenue they saw was $18,500. With the 50 Tugg screenings, they are due an additional $6500. At the time of the podcast, they had another 25 screenings scheduled through Tugg. They are hoping that the screening tour will put the film in a better position to see more revenue in the home video phase of the release.

All useful information when considering a one night event screening tour as the way to have a theatrical release. If you want to catch the whole podcast (55 minutes), jump on over to the Film Specific site.

 

Sheri Candler

 

Working with Tugg for your theatrical release

February 11, 2013
posted by sheric

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections from Sundance 2013

January 28, 2013
posted by sheric
montage 2

clockwise: Julia Stiles Q&A, Slamdance HQ, Dan Mirvish and Paul Rachman at the Between Us screening, on the red carpet for Bujalski’s Computer Chess, Egyptian Theatre on Main, barbershop at the Slamdance opening night party, me with Tiffany Shlain at the Blackhouse Music Room

 

I just returned from Park City, fresh from jury deliberation on the Slamdance short films and conducting video press interviews with some of the Sundance/Slamdance microbudget directors as well as indie microbudget god Edward Burns and Tugg CEO Nicolas Gonda. Those videos will hopefully be edited and uploaded in the next few days. I will post them on this site when they are ready.

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

photo courtesy of Roberta Munroe

 

My first day on the ground (January 18) started  at the Blackhouse Foundation where I participated in the Digital Distribution Panel. We talked about the myths, truths, rules and multiple paths to monetize premium content online for those in front of and behind the camera. The discussion featured representatives from Grab Media and Netflix. Basically, it seems that short, episodic content is the name of the game in the online space if you are going to work with the bigger onlinenetworks. Netflix does not take short form content (short films) and Grab Media helps content producers access sites in the AOL network on an advertising revenue share or as licensed, branded content for large corporations. They essentially give your webseries  or ongoing content (news shows, how-to videos) access to thousands of websites that want to host video, but do not produce their own. These sites are presumably highly trafficked so your view count will soar and your revenue share from advertising either you place inside of the video or Grab places inside of it will be much higher than if you just posted it to a Youtube channel. The range on how much you can earn from this is quite broad really. Some producers only earn enough for the light bill, some for a vacation, and some for a mortgage.

Largely, I was there to talk about knowing who you are trying to reach with your work. While I often use the analogy of needing to have a spark (or strong, core audience) before it can spread to a forest fire, another visual that came up during the discussion was a pebble and the ripples. If you don’t have a pebble to start things off, it will never ripple out. I did hear on other panels some contrary advice, but I stand by this analogy. For the emerging filmmaker who does not have an audience, who does not a have a film with notable names, who does not have an acceptance at one of the big 4-5 festivals in the world, and does not have millions of dollars to spend on advertising to a broad and undefined audience, she MUST have a place to start with an audience. Does it have to stay small? NO, but it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is much more difficult when she doesn’t have name or industry attention to aid her. Believe me, if she starts gathering a small but strong core audience, suddenly the industry pays attention and offers help. Start very small, but enthusiastic and build from there.

 

I was also a short film juror at Slamdance and what a great slate of films. As with any deliberation, compromise between gut feelings and personal tastes have to be navigated, but ultimately I think we chose strong talents in the prize winners. Full list of this year’s winners HERE. I can say that there were many talented filmmakers in that pile of shorts and I wish the best to all of them.

On January 19, I attended the Sundance Creative Distribution (#creativedistro) panel with director Ava DuVernay (interview with her coming soon to this blog)  and Topspin Media‘s Bob Moz. It was a standing room only crowd to hear how last year’s Sundance films Middle of Nowhere and Bones Brigade fared with their hybrid distribution strategies. Moz has uploaded his case study presentation on the Topspin Tumblr site, but let me show one tremendous screenshot. When the panel basically said social media just doesn’t “put butts in seat” or result in sales, Moz clicked this up on the overhead (BOOM) and told the panel they needed to up their analytics software…Topspin anyone?

 

bones brigade topspin data

 

It is a pretty powerful reminder that more and more filmmakers who are willing to engage with their audiences (and in cases like director Stacy Peralta, find them again from previous films) by using social channels will be able to cost effectively penetrate the noise of the internet and make immediate revenue (rather than waiting 6 months to a year, if ever) on the road to repayment. As Peralta has said, while receiving some advances from distributors for his past films, he has never received a single royalty check. Sustainability will come from being savvy about building and maintaining an audience.

The rest of my time on the ground in Park City revolved around interviewing several NEXT directors (Shaka King, Eliza Hittman and Andrew Bujalski); a Slamdance director (J.R. Hughto) and Sundance US Dramatic juror, Edward Burns. All are working in the microbudget filmmaking arena, which suits the publication I was representing, Microfilmmaker Magazine. The thing I liked about these interviews was the honesty all participants brought on camera. While other Sundance talent might have looked to position themselves as bigger than they are or perpetuate this other-worldly mythology, all of my interviewees were very humbled by their inclusion in the media circus that is Sundance. In the case of Burns, he offered a different perspective on what it takes to be a sustainable filmmaker in the 21st century. I also interviewed Nicolas Gonda, CEO of Tugg.com, to talk about how filmmakers can empower their audiences to pull films they would like to see in a theater in their cities. Instead of being dependent on a corporation to decide whether a film will play in a city, Tugg enables the crowd to decide and put their money where their mouth is in terms of needing to reach a minimum ticket buying threshold before a booking can be made. Minimizing risk for the filmmaker or distributor and the cinema owners can only be a good thing.

On my last night in Park City, I was lucky enough to have caught a Press and Industry screening of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Since I arrived very late to the line, it was not at all assured that I would get in and I did have to view it from the front row of the Holiday Village Cinema. I am not going to review the film, but I am a fan of the series and was not disappointed in this installment.

Mainly what I felt on the ground this time versus previous times was the dawning of realization that now there are tools in place for filmmakers to use to reach audiences and release films even if the 6-7 figure deal wasn’t offered. While of course those deals were offered to some already, I was heartened to see Sound City and Upstream Color use Sundance as their springboard into the market. They are taking advantage of the media opportunities and recognizing that they may not have films that are mass audience, which is fine. They won’t be taking the chance that their niche film will be ignored in a slate of other more commercial fare. I look forward to seeing this increase as the years roll on at Sundance.

 

There is no audience for this film

September 28, 2012
posted by sheric

Many indie filmmakers, especially documentary filmmakers, hear this phrase from potential sales agents and distributors as a reason the film isn’t picked up for distribution. Let’s dissect what they are really saying.

It will take us too much time, effort, and money to reach this audience.

You may know, through spending many years making the film, that there IS an audience for it, but is that audience big enough to rake in the revenue needed by these facilitators? Distribution companies deal with a catalog of films for many years and each one needs some sort of attention if the title is to sell. Many times they use the same methods for every title because those processes and staff have been in place for a long time. They aren’t going to hire new staff and formulate new processes just to deal with one title.

The less time, effort and money they can spend on getting an audience or a subdistributor interested in buying, the better for them. They also have normal business overhead to pay like their employees, their office space, legal costs, utilities etc, which you,  the filmmaker, may not have, to the same financial degree, on a daily basis. So the revenue from each film they need to sustain themselves in business, not to mention your cut of this, needs to add up with minimal outlay. Challenging films or films with a limited audience are not attractive for this reason because too much effort will be involved to reach those people for the small amount of revenue that audience represents.

Often, I read news stories of films that are raising money and heading into direct distribution because mainstream distributors passed on the title and the stories are usually tinged with indignance, “they didn’t believe in our film” kind of sentiment. It is simply a business decision that the film doesn’t make financial sense for the distributor. It may make great financial sense for the filmmaker to self distribute though.

With this knowledge, filmmakers who have prepared their distribution strategy, allocated a budget/staff and do have a clearly defined core audience will be in a better position to incorporate direct distribution because they know exactly who supports their work, how to reach them and the outlets they should use for sales. Those outlets may be organizational/educational screenings and merchandise sales, specialist websites for affiliate sales, their own website, digital outlets that can be accessed either directly or through an aggregator on a non exclusive basis, and incorporating tools like Tugg or Gathr to book conventional theatrical screenings. These will all generate revenue that goes to the filmmaker without excessive percentages taken and waiting months (or years) for a check. Planning and preparation is needed for this during the preproduction/production phase at least.

Most films of quality do have an audience, but they may not have the masses required by a distribution company. There is no longer a need or an excuse to put a film on the shelf because a company didn’t acquire it.