Jon Reiss: 20, No 25, Points To Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere

Today we have a guest post. Jon Reiss returns!

20 25 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere: Part 2

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

The first part of this article concerned how to approach festivals if you want to still pursue a more conventional sales oriented strategy within the new landscape of distribution for independent film.

This second part will address what you should consider if you are going to use your premiere festival (or one of your festivals) to launch the actual

distribution and marketing of your film. Linas Phillips, Thomas Woodrow and company are doing this for Bass Ackwards at Sundance in conjunction with New Video. Sundance just announced today that three more films will at least be releasing their VODs day and date with this year’s festival. While these three films are being released by the Sundance Select series on Rainbow, it is actually run by IFC who has been pioneering festival/VOD day and date (this and more about revising filmmaker’s approach to festivals is covered extensively in Chapter 14 of Think Outside the Box Office.)

I am writing this piece for 2 reasons: 1. To aid any filmmaker who is considering launching the release of their film at their premiere festival aka Sundance/Slamdance (even though I lay out a lot of challenges to this strategy, I am still a huge fan of this approach) and 2. To assuage the guilt of many filmmakers who have been kicking themselves for not utilizing this strategy in previous years. I spoke to a number of filmmakers who were mad at themselves because they saw the amount of exposure their festival premiere generated, and they never reclaimed that exposure with the theatrical release of their film. Hence they reasoned, “if only I had released my film day and date with my _______ festival premiere”. They realized, smartly, that it is best to have all guns blazing in your release to penetrate the media landscape and that top festivals are very good at creating audience awareness. Hence why not monetize that audience awareness with the release.

However it does take a fair amount of advance work and planning in order to enact this strategy. So this year you should not kick yourself for not doing it. (Later this year or next year when filmmakers should know better – they should kick themselves!) If you are premiering at Park City and aren’t ready for this strategy now, I have a suggestion at the end of this piece about how to engage this strategy at a later date.

So here are some points to consider for a festival launch of your film’s release.

1. You should create a thought out distribution and marketing strategy that will guide you and your team through this release. Have you analyzed your goals for your film, your potential audience, and your resources? (I know this was the first point to consider for the last post – it is that important)

2. Very important in this strategy is what rights are you releasing and when. What is your sequence of rights release? Is everything day and date with the fest or only VOD or DVD? If all rights are not day and date, when are the other rights being released and how will those rights be promoted?

3. Of particular concern is theatrical. Are you launching what I term a live event/theatrical release at the festival (Section 3 of the book)? Conventional theatrical usually requires at least 3 months. But perhaps you will have alternative theatrical after the festival and then ramp up conventional theatrical. How long is your theatrical window? How does this integrate with your other rights?

4. Consider if your film is the kind of film that will generate a lot of interest and press at Park City? Perhaps do some research into the types of films (particularly those that reviewers and film writers will respond to) and see if that makes sense for your film. Even though Park City shines a great spotlight on films, it does not do so for all films, and many films get lost in the shuffle.

Perhaps there is an alternative time of the year that might shine a brighter light on your film – e.g. if there is a national month or date dealing with your film’s subject.

5. Do you have all of your materials ready to go for a release whether DIY or through a distribution partner? Are all your deliverables ready to go? Have you authored your DVD? Do you have key art? Have you printed your key art?

6. Is there a distribution partner who is interested in your film who will help you launch your film at the festival? Note that all of the films mentioned above are partnering with a larger company to help enable the release. You don’t need one company, perhaps it is a group of companies. Perhaps you have one company for DVDs and another for VOD. Many distributors need a long lead time to prepare a film for release, so chances are that this option will be difficult unless you already have it in play. However you can begin discussions with potential partners at Park City or after for such a release later down the line. More on this later.

7. If you don’t have a distribution partner in any particular rights category, do you have a DIY approach to monetizing said rights category? Do you have replication and a fulfillment company lined up? Do you have digital distribution in place for download to own, download to rent?

8. Do you have a marketing and publicity campaign that you have been developing for a couple of months? Do you have a publicist who has been talking to journalists to lay the ground work for your release?

9. Many filmmakers at Park City will just have been finishing their films to get them ready to screen. Many or most will have been so absorbed with the completion of their films that they will not be ready to release their films at Park City. In that case it is probably wise to hold off on your release for when you are more prepared. Use Park City to lay the groundwork for that later release. Don’t just think about the overall deal, actively court distribution partners who will work with you on a split rights or hybrid scenario. Find out what press is a fan of your film so that you can book live events/theatrical releases in those cities. (Have them hold the review!)

10. If you are at Park City – chances are you will be invited to other fests. Use one of those festivals (or a combination of festivals) to launch your release when you are ready. Weather Girl premiered at Slamdance last year, didn’t sell, regrouped and then launched their theatrical at LA Film Fest 6 months later. Two of the IFC releases premiered last year at Berlin and Cannes.

If you are following both posts of this two-parter, you will see that there are actually 25 total points to consider instead of the promised 20. My apologies. BTW – I am preparing a distribution and marketing tools website which is approaching its beta launch – keep posted.

Also – I will be doing a live consultation session at the Filmmaker Summit at Slamdance this year Saturday January 23rd. Projects are being submitted on line if you want to be considered. Go to: http://slamdance.com/summit/