I was bummed that I missed the Sundance panel on the New World of Indie Distribution.
I am particularly excited about Sundance this year. Beyond the films, there is a whole series of events that I will be participating in, and I look forward to all the people I will meet and good ideas that I will get to hear. Please come ready to share some thoughts; my ears are open.
I am now the Closing Key Note speaker at the Art House Convergence (which is actually in Salt Lake City) on Thursday January 15th prior to the festival itself. I do feel we are on the verge of a new collaboration between filmmakers and exhibitors and am eager to share this vision.
I will also be participating in what looks to be a great panel at Sundance "The Panic Button: Push or Ponder?" at 1130A at Prospector Square on Monday, January 19th. The assorted old guys like myself include Mark Gill (The Film Department), James Schamus (Focus Features), Michael Barker (Sony Pictures Classics), Jonathan Sehring (IFC Entertainment), Marcus Hu (Strand Releasing) and Peter Broderick (Paradigm Consulting). It's moderated by no less than Sundance Film Festival Director Geoffrey Gilmore.
I have always considered myself a man of action -- i.e. not one to sit and ponder -- but also never believing there should even be a button to push. I promise to make this a fun and lively event. If there is anything you would like me to be sure to discuss, please let me know as soon as possible.
2009 can already be marked as the year that filmmakers and distributors launched trailers prior to Sundance and Slamdance. We won't yet have the majority of filmmakers being truly prepared, but new ones seems to debut daily.
As mentioned a few days back, our Film Festival Strategy brainstorm continues...
A very necessary expense in your publicity campaign are postcards and posters. These can be expensive but fortunately there are a number of on-line printers that are relatively inexpensive (eg 4000-5000 postcards for $100). One hidden cost when it comes to printing is shipping so I do recommend using a printer near you - so before you buy - make sure you include shipping in your cost estimate. I actually send an assistant or intern to pick up my printing from "Next Day Flyers" since the shipping almost costs as much as the printing. Sometimes your local printer will even match an on-line printers prices - or come close enough to make it worth your while. But they won't cut their prices unless you have a comparison price.
Regarding Postcards - they are cheap enough online that you could print them for each festival or theatrical screening even if you only print 500 at a time. The old way of doing this was to order a ton and then use stickers for your specific screening time. Unless you have some slave labor around - buying new postcards for $50 is going to be cheaper than paying someone to print and apply stickers to each post card - you have better things to do with your time.
Three important notes about posters:
1. Most on-line printers will not print one sheet size posters.
2. Printing standard film size posters - 27"x41" - is very expensive (for film festivals you only need one or two which will cost about $50 each - but for a theatrical release you will need more than that). The reason that these posters are so expensive to print is that they are too large for standard offset printing (the cheapest kind of bulk printing). However nearly all theaters (all the ones that I dealt with) will accept posters that are 24.5"x37.5" which is the largest size that you can have printed offset. This will save you thousands. (Although the best price I found was $1200 for 2000 posters - a pretty good price).
3. You can get a lot of mileage from 11x17 posters. Most storefronts won't put up a standard or near standard one sheet when you are promoting in a town. But they will put up a 11x17 poster. And these are much cheaper. You can get a 1000 for around $300. They are also good for wildposting/wheatpasting as they fit on most electrical boxes. (18x24s are also a good size for this) But be careful with wildposting - you can be fined thousands of dollars for illegal posting if there is anything on the poster that will track back to you or the theater!)
Next Day Flyers based in Compton California
Got Print based in Burbank California
Back when I started this blog in October (oh so long ago, eh?), my short term goal was to help filmmakers not be misguided as to what a festival, even Sundance, could do for their film. We posted a bunch about film festival strategy and it is all collected here.
18.A feature film is no longer defined as a singular linear narrative told in under two hours. Filmmakers are recognizing the need to extend the filmic world beyond the traditional confines. Whether this is in Judd Apatow’s YouTube shorts for KNOCKED UP or in Wes Anderson’s prologue short for THE DARJEELING EXPRESS, the beginning of new models have emerged helping filmmakers continue the conversation forward with their audiences.
19.New models for production are being utilized. The most widely noted in this regard is “crowdsourced” work. Massify has recently brought together the horror film Perkins 14. This year brought us Matt Hanson’s and A Swarm Of Angels open sourced / free culture start-up THE UNFOLD; the trailer is mysterious (see below) and I am looking forward to the feature. These massive collaborative works are the ultimate union between audience and creator.
20. Grassroots has come to distribution. The Living Room Theater model advanced by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Theaters empowers audience members and filmmakers alike bringing them together and invested in each others success. Filmmakers give the audience more power and control, and audiences recognize that they have to fight to preserve the culture they want. The Micro Cinema Movement's been at it longer and is still going strong.
21. The independent art house theaters are organizing. Sundance is hosting the first Art House Convergence this year prior to the festival, helping to build the knowledge base of these theaters and enhance their collaboration. This platform will be key to preserving the theaterical experience for films outside the domain of the major media corporations.
How come it is the film festivals that pull together the theater operators? I am very excited about the upcoming Sundance-organized Art House Convergence in SLC prior to Sundance and the potential it offers to weave together a group of sympathetic exhibitors. We have so much great work in this country that currently goes under-screened. There is fabulous international work too that we never get see or even learn about. Don't even get me started about shorts.
A division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), Film Circuit provides filmgoers in under-served communities, transformative experiences through access to Canadian and international independent films they would otherwise not have the opportunity to see. With over 190 groups in 169 communities across Canada, Film Circuit is essential in helping TIFFG lead the world in building markets and audiences for Canadian Cinema.Film Circuit promotes Canadian and international cinema through grassroots distribution, marketing, and exhibition. While providing filmgoers an opportunity to see films that may not otherwise be available, Film Circuit also provides distributors with an opportunity to extend the theatrical run of their films.Recognizing that it is important that each individual community curates its own screening events to maximize community commitment and capitalize on knowledge of local demand, Film Circuit encourages collaborative programming between Film Circuit staff and individual Film Circuit Groups. Release schedules are issued throughout the year, and each group selects films according to local demand with the goal of enhancing awareness of and increasing exposure for independent cinema. The Film Circuit office then books films based on availability as determined by the distributor. Film Circuit staff arrange print traffic, provide development support, research and prepares film titles and availability lists, offer programming consulting, book guests and ensure cross-Circuit communication.
Films screened on Film Circuit are event based and generally classified as 'limited releases'; they require local marketing support to reach audiences. Some methods groups use to generate local interest in the programme include:
Word of mouth
Membership and subscriptions
Local press (ie. Newspaper articles, radio/television interviews)
If only I had more hands. And more time. And less things that really got me excited -- like movies I want to make.
In order for a Truly Free Film Culture to take hold, independent theaters have to organize and work together. Well, guess what? Good news! It's already happening.
John Cooper, Director of Programming, Sundance Film Festival, explains "Our organizing principle is to increase the market for film exhibition by expanding the number and effectiveness of community-based, mission-driven theatres in local communities, large and small, nationwide.”
So who are these theaters? Mark them down, and then add to the list!
Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, TN, www.belcourt.org
Broadway Centre Cinemas, Salt Lake City, UT, www.saltlakefilmsociety.org
Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline, MA, www.coolidge.org
Enzian Theater, Orlando, FL, www.enzian.org
Hollywood Theatre, Portland, OR, www.hollywoodtheatre.org
International Film Series, Boulder, CO, www.internationalfilmseries.com
Jacob Burns Film Center, Pleasantville, NY, www.burnsfilmscenter.org
The Loft, Tucson, AZ, www.loftcinema.com
Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI, www.michtheater.org
The Music Box, Chicago, IL, www.musicboxtheatre.com
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OK, www.okcmoa.org
The Palm, San Luis Obispo, CA, www.thepalmtheatre.com
Pickford Cinema, Bellingham, WA, www.pickfordcinema.org
Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, CA, www.cafilm.org
Ragtag Cinema, Columbia, MO, www.ragtagfilm.com
Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville, ME, www.railroadsquarecinema.com
The Screen, Santa Fe, NM, www.thescreen.csf.edu
The conference will include a keynote address by John Cooper, Director of Programming for the Sundance Film Festival, as well as panel sessions on:
- How to use the not-for-profit business model to grow audiences for Art House films
- An exploration of new film distribution paradigms (participating in these panels will be Bob Berney, formerly of Picturehouse and Peter Broderick, Paradigm Consulting, Ted Hope, This Is That Productions -- that's me!)
- Innovative marketing and showmanship techniques
- Tutorials on emerging film exhibition and Art House theatre operations technology
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.
The LA Times and NY Times have each run their requisite articles on DIY Distribution. Now Screen International is speaking up on the need to bring the films to the audiences (vs. bringing audiences to the films).
The trick now is to mobilise audiences, market and increasingly distribute to the places they want to watch the film. And, of course, set the budget accordingly.
But it's also vital to ignore the orthodox - surely the mission of independent film. It is, for example, snobbish and self-defeating to suggest that no one outside an educated elite wants film that challenges. If that's true, then why make films? Music and books don't seem to share that view. And the big film franchises from Batman to Bond have done their very best to apply as much shade as possible.
The indie film-maker needs to take on the fight. This is the time for a little less "we're doomed" and a little more "yes we can".
I am really curious if we will see this "yes we can" spirit invade Sundance this year, or will filmmakers keep believing in angels and demons.
Festivals are a great place to sell DVDs of your film, but will the Festival let you? It's probably a good idea to inquire in advance. Will you be able to set up a table outside the theater? Will you need to have a website in order to sell them? Will you need to have some one do the fulfillment? Figure this out before you show up.
Major Festivals are great for media exposure, but they reach a really limited audience. Sundance is predominately film industry professionals and wannabes; what about the real ticket buying people? If someone hears about your film and they can't attend the festival, how will they get to see it?
Corporate Sponsorship of a film, in any way, is a tricky thing. A viewer who becomes aware of multiple agendas in a film, generally is no longer going to be "with" the film. They become suspect. But sponsorship is not the same as turning your art into a commercial. There are many methods and many benefits to consider when considering corporate sponsorship (I will try to cover the negative side in another post in the future).
When I first started going to Sundance, it was just a bunch of filmmakers and a bunch of filmlovers. Filmmakers had no entourage. No one told them what to do or what they thought was right; instead they shared information and secrets. But that was then.
For years, I have recommended filmmakers do all they could to bond with the other filmmakers they met at festivals, for as the films travelled festival to festival, these other filmmakers would become their support group, their friends, perhaps even more.