Producer-turned-financier Dan Cogan and I worked together years ago on the classic geriatric swinger doc THE LIFESTYLE. Since the, Dan has built a truly unique financing entity IMPACT PARTNERS, who provide a diverse group of investors committed to social change filmmaking with both regular deal flow and creative and logistic oversight. Impact Partners has consistently placed films in the Sundance Festival, but more importantly is committed to having they both reach an audience and to facilitate change. Their success speaks of Dan's knowledge, and now he's sharing it with you right here. Listen up!
It strikes me that this is a particularly important moment in the indie film calendar for the Truly Free Film movement. Films are being quietly notified about acceptances to Sundance. It's a moment of excitement for filmmakers and financiers alike.
And so right now it's especially important to remember that the great fairy tale sale is only going to happen to a few films. The rest will have to take the great boost of Sundance and turn it into something for themselves.
There has never been a better moment for filmmakers to do this, especially doc filmmakers who do social-issue films, which is mostly what we finance. But they have to know what they're doing, and they have to be passionate and devoted to outreach as much as to filmmaking. When we finance a film, here are some of the things we look for:
1) Once we like a project, we want to know, Does the filmmaker have a plan for outreach to get to the film's natural audience? In the age of DVD, streaming, download-to-own, etc., outreach around social issues related to your film has become deeply intertwined with distribution. Most docs, even great docs, may not be theatrical, but they can have huge potential for direct sales over the web to audiences who are part of a political or social community that the film addresses.
2) Don't worry about preaching to the choir. Yes, it's always nice to reach new audiences. But if Barack Obama's campaign proved anything, it's how powerful you can be if you really inspire your base. If you can turn people who care about an issue into people who will take the time to knock on doors, make calls, donate money, and ACT on their values, you can have a huge impact. The irony is, of course, that this preaching-to-the-choir passion you create can spill over from your core audience to infect completely new communities.
3) Indie filmmakers have to hustle as much after the film is done as they do to get it made. Directors have to get out on the road and do speaking tours, organize screenings in alternative theatrical venues, develop audiences and drive them to the theater or to their web sites, etc. The work is just beginning when the film is done. And you're the one who has to do -- not a distributor.
4) Actually, the work begins while you're still making the film. The more you can work on outreach while you're in production, the better. The goal should be to build partnerships with those in the community you're making a film about during the filmmaking process, so that as soon as the film is done, you have devoted partisans who are invested in your film and want to help make it a success. You are building your audience as you make your film. I've learned a lot about outreach from Diana Barrett at The Fledgling Fund. Check out their site: www.thefledglingfund.org/
5) Make it easy for interested groups to run and publicize their own screenings of the film, and even let them make money off them, or at least break even. The best plan I've seen for this is Robert Bahar's screening kit for MADE IN L.A. Check it our here: http://www.madeinla.com/get/host
6) In the old world, P&A made all the difference. Today, it's about knowledge. Who are the bloggers who can get word out about your film? Where does your audience gather online? Etc. Today, knowledge is more valuable than money.
In this new world, the opportunities for success are in the filmmakers' own hands. But filmmakers have to be willing to take on these challenges and not expect someone else to do the work for them.