20 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere (Part 1)

20 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere Part 1

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

One of the biggest discussions that came out of @Jon_Reiss on twitter a couple of weeks was about filmmaker preparation to launch a film at a film festival. I talk about this in the Film Festival chapter of Think Outside the Box Office I gave out on IndieWire last week. This concept of initiating the release of a film at the film’s festival premiere was spawned by my talks with filmmakers who had had big splashes at premiere festivals, but were never able to generate the same level of promotion or interest eight months later when their film was finally released. Further, there are a couple of companies pursuing this course of action as a strategy – IFC Festival Direct and Snag Films have launched releases of films at film festivals. In fact, specialty divisions have recognized the buzz generating power of festivals and have been using them for many years to launch films.

Premiering at Sundance and Slamdance provides a film with one of the biggest world stages to launch a film. A savvy filmmaker might consider using the festival to launch a national release of their film. Even though I am a fan of this idea (especially for the films that have been developing their marketing and distribution plans for many months) I want to provide a bit of caution to filmmakers who might consider this path without being prepared.

I do not recommend attempting to initiate the actual release of your film if you are just scrambling to get it finished and have not prepared for distribution or marketing.

One alternative if you are not ready at Park City to launch a full release, is to do so at your next big festival 4-6 months down the line. This approach was used by Weather Girl to good effect last year.

I am going to break up this discussion into 2 different posts. The first is what I feel that every filmmaker should consider before going to their premiere festival especially if if they are not ready to launch the full release of their film. (I will refer to Park City below – but it is interchangeable with any premiere festival)

1. You need to develop a distribution and marketing strategy for your film. This does not mean “sell my film for $ 5 million to Fox Searchlight”. That is not a strategy. Your strategy should takes into consideration Your Film, Your Needs, Your Resources, Your Audience.

2. In evaluating your film: how likely is it that you will garner an all rights deal at Park City? (there were approximately four of these out of Toronto).

3. Have you created an alternate plan of action for your film in case a magical overall deal does not happen for your film? You should have a sense of what your alternatives might be before arriving at Park City so you know how to evaluate offers.

4. Very important: How will you use Park City to help enact that strategy? Perhaps the best opportunity at Park City is to lay the groundwork for a split rights arrangement. You should have a sense of what those pieces are and how they might fit together before you get to Park City.

5. What team will you assemble for Park City? The old school approach is a sales rep/lawyer and publicist. Concerning sales reps, Peter Broderick recommends (and I agree) that you should create your strategy before you engage a sales rep so you have a basis with which to evaluate what they are telling you (and so that you can use this mind set to evaluate who will be the best sales rep for your specific film). In fact in the new split rights world, strategists/consultants can be a big help. I will publish a list of some consultants who I have either worked with or know on my blog in the coming days – and I’ll announce the list on @Jon_Reiss.

6. Concerning a publicist – some publicists have also started to move into the distribution strategy realm – such as 42 West. Have you discussed with your publicist the desire to hold your press for release? Few publications will give you more than one review. As publicist Kathleen McInnis recs: You have to balance buzz building with having material to release upon release. Fest roundup coverage is great. But publicists can be expensive which brings up another issue:

7. How much money do you want to spend on “opening” your film at your festival. Sure you want hype – but I would strongly recommend keeping as much of your resources as possible for the proper release of your film. With the sales climate such as it is – does it make sense to spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 on Park City if you don’t even have that much reserved for the release of your film. Resources are limited – use them wisely. Resources also include the time you can request of your cast and of yourself and your team as well.

8. What do you want from your deals? How might you fit various offers into various split rights scenarios? Is your rep prepared to work with you on setting up split rights scenarios if there is no overall deal. Are you prepared to walk away from low ball offers. How do you choose various distribution partner(s) for monetizing different rights?

9. Are you prepared to engage the audience for your film that the festival will generate so that you can retain them in your fan base? This includes the following:

10. Do you have a website that invites engagement? Do you offer something to viewers to collect their email list. Check out onetoomanymornings.com (who sent me their website – as they were probably spamming it around – I recommend this – if you send me your site and I like it – I’ll tweat it). One Too Many Mornings offer a mix “tape” for your email address (but it is well below the “fold”. I recommend that they and you give people all a number of options of connecting with you “above the fold” eg in the top of the section of a website. This includes email list sign up in exchange for some kind of digital swag. Facebook, Twitter and Rss links. (the latter presumes you have a blog – which you should) Not everyone will want to give you an email address, some people prefer Facebook (tip from Cynthia Swartz of 42 West), others Twitter. Onetoomanymornings already has a robust Facebook fan page of over 1200.

11. Collect email addresses at every screening. Pass around several pads and pens and announce before the screening that you want people to sign up. Have pads ready outside of the screening for people who don’t want to wait for the pad in the theater. Keep a folder for each festival so you know where the email addresses came from originally. You want Name, Email Address, Zip, Country. (Another tip pounded into my head by Broderick)

12. Do you have a trailer? Many films at Park City last year did not have trailers in advance of the festival that could be viewed on line. The sooner you have one the better. But it should be good. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Do you have more than a trailer? Might you video blog from the festival or partner with your cast? Something unique that shows your imagination.

13. Key Art is important. A central compelling image speaks volumes for your film. See if you can get a someone with marketing experience to work on your “copy” eg the text of the poster. Get a good graphic designer to do the art. You can crowdsource this through crowdspring.com On-line postcards are very cheap these days but you should balance price vs shipping cost. Business cards are also cheap, making new ones with some graphical branding of your film is a good idea. Have all of the ways people can connect with you and your film on your card: email address, facebook page for film, Twitter, Blog.

14. Especially if you are doing your publicity DIY, or making a deal with a publicist so that you have to do more of the work: Consider putting your press kit, photos, compressed trailer etc in a drop.io account so that you don’t have to constantly attach those items to your emails. Set up an auto signature with the drop io link and you will be able to handle those multitudes of press requests with ease.

15. Are you going to sell DVDs? It doesn’t take much to author a festival edition and replicate 1000 for $1000. (You’ll need at least 200-300 for press and other festival submissions anyway). Say you are in 5 biggish festivals (which by virtue of being in Park City most likely you will be in at least that many). Say you sell 100 at each festival – a conservative amount – live sales are some of your best sales (especially if you make it a collector’s edition). That’s 500 dvds at $20. That’s $10,000 which should just cover your Park City publicist. Peter Broderick has been advocating this for years. We held back the sales of the DVD for Bomb It at our premiere at Tribeca and yet it was still available as a bootleg on Canal St. one week after the festival. If you have a film that might be very popular on pirate sites – you should think through selling your DVD and what your strategy to deal with piracy is going to be. I don’t feel that any DVD company worth their salt is going to worry about this level of sales from you (if they are worried – how many are they going to sell on their own for you.)

So that’s Part One.

I would love to hear what you think at www.twitter.com/Jon_Reiss

All of the above points are covered more extensively in my book Think Oustide the Box Office. Come visit the brand new site at: www.thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.com