Be Careful What You Wish For: Prepping for Sundance

Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson's film American Promise is set to screen at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Below is part 1 of 3 of an interview with them discussing what it was like to get the confirmation call and their next steps in preparing the film for Sundance, among other things. Stay tuned for the following parts in the days to come.

Joe: When we received the phone call from Sundance, we were in the editing room agonizing over how we should end our film.  When the phone rang and we noticed the call was from the Sundance institute, I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up so I handed the phone over to Michèle.  For a moment, it was as if time stood still.  I could hear Michèle say “Hey Shari,” after that, even the sound in my head had been drowned down. I had anticipated this moment for years and the thought of hearing no was now impossible for me to come to terms with, only because of my temporary brain fix.  Suddenly, Michèle went airborne, jumping up and down, pumping her fist in the air.  Then the sound in my mind came back on.  She was screaming the word, “YES!”

Michèle: Perhaps there was some fist pumping and jumping up and down, I don’t know, I think I was numb with elation.  I called my mother in Quebec to share the good news, she asked, “What film did you get in with?”  She was surprised that a festival as important as Sundance would accept a home movie.  Once all the phone calls to crew members were made the daunting nature of what we had to accomplish by January began to sink in.  Be careful what you wish for.

Joe: Preparing for Sundance has felt like running a marathon every day for thirty days.  We have day jobs and on top of a busy post-production schedule, we are creating a short for NYT Op-Docs and preparing for the Television Critics Association press conference in Pasadena, which just happens to be the same week as the Open of the Sundance Film Festival. We’ve also put preparations for our community engagement campaign into high gear.  The campaign is huge and we are so excited about its potential for change.  So, this means we’re now working on adrenaline and less than 5 hours of sleep a day until February.

Michèle: We are set on taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself for the film and our campaign.  And in this day and age of new technologies, that means loads of blogging and social media opportunities to develop a following.   Our engagement campaign is a part of that build up to our premiere screening.  One small piece of that campaign will begin during our film festival tour. It’s unusual to organize a dedicated campaign for a film festival run, so we’re hoping we set a precedent for future documentary films. We came up with this idea because we wanted to harvest any good intention resulting from the screening of the film. Since film festivals draw a general audience, we needed something that anyone could do.

Joe: So, as we travel the festival circuit, we’re going to ask our audiences to help us raise $100,000 and 100 mentors for Big Brothers Big Sister’s Mentoring Brothers in Action program. The goal of this program is to recruit mentors, particularly men of color, and expand the organization’s capacity to serve more African American boys. We launched the campaign the week after Sundance announced our acceptance.

Michèle: Idris and Seun are very excited for Sundance; they are eager to represent the film at such a prestigious event – and are certainly more relaxed about it than we are. Although Seun was initially a bit apprehensive about everything, he is getting more and more excited everyday.

Joe: We decided to prepare the boys for press and interviews, our thought was that we did not want them to became overwhelmed in front of the camera.  That’s when both boys said almost in unison,  “we’ve been in front of a camera for 13 years. What’s another week.”  –  I guess the pressure is really on us.

 

A Thought for Sundance: Will Your Films Still Be Watched in the Future?

By Reid Rosefelt

Many of you are at Sundance now with a new movie.  Congratulations and I wish you the best of luck.  I know you’re overwhelmed with the experience and it might seem a ridiculous time to ask: “Will your film still be watched in 2043?”

With the advent of digital streaming, movies available for round-the-clock viewing have already become needles in haystacks as high as Everest.  Netflix claims to have 90,000 DVD titles and 12,000 streaming ones.  Add to that, movies from other streaming sites like iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, CinemaNow, Mubi, Fandor, Snagfilms, Crackle, YouTube, Indiepix, Crunchyroll, and apps like HBO to Go, that even allowing for overlaps, it becomes numbing for most people to pick a particular movie out of the pile.  In 2043 there will undoubtedly be hundreds of thousands of films and TV show episodes available instantly, but all current indications suggest it won’t be a comprehensive list or include the best films.  The lack of selection isn’t an issue today, but I believe that future cultural and technological trends will lead the mass public to select among what is most convenient and instant, and only the most discerning viewers will seek the best of cinema history on plastic discs.

You’re at Sundance now with a film--and in the future, many films-- that audiences love and critics do too. (You can stop reading this if that’s not true.)  Moving forward you should know that it’s rare to find a career that doesn’t have its ups and downs, and some people fall so far off the radar that when they return to the public eye we call it a comeback even if that person worked steadily while they were “away.”   Don’t let that be you. Here are some things to think about.

Keep at it.  Woody Allen makes a film every year. People don’t like some of them? They go crazy for “Midnight in Paris”?  It doesn’t matter what happens; he’s always on to the next one.

You have to learn media skills.  Here’s some basic advice you can use today.  First, when you speak to a journalist it’s not a chat, it’s an opportunity.  Imagine that you weren’t you, but someone else trying to persuade somebody to see it.  What points would you want to make?  Don’t force things, but do try to say things that help and avoid things that don’t help.  Never do anything that doesn’t take you towards your goal, which is to find the reasons why people should see your movie.   Second, just as you study the art of the great filmmakers, scrutinize carefully the skills and technique of the most brilliant marketers. Third, be willing to devote some time.  Ang Lee takes nearly a year after every movie traveling the globe to promote it.  If you meet with a potential distributor during the festival, they will be very receptive to you throwing out how much energy and time you are willing to put into selling your movie.  (There’s so much more I can say here, and I will write about it later.)

Branching out.  The more things you do, the more you will stay in the public eye.  Actors become directors, directors become actors, and both actors and directors become producers. Some filmmakers also work in theatre and TV as well as pursue causes and politics.  The ultimate multi-tasker is Robert Redford, who in addition to his never-ending initiatives to expand the mission of the Sundance institute, and his career as an actor/producer/director, has devoted much of his time to environmental activism.  Wanting to branch out is a personal thing, but there’s no harm in stopping to think now and then about things you always wanted to do… and whether it’s time to start doing it.

Change and reinvention.  As artists move through their careers, sometimes they face the riddle: “If I keep making films like I did before then people say I’m in a rut, but if I make different kinds of films they say they liked the old ones better.”  There’s no safe choice to this, so if you do have the inclination to change course, I say go for it.  I don’t think change is ever wrong, as that’s how you grow.  If your experiment leads you towards taboo subjects, you might get a lot of attention, and there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re doing it only for the publicity.  You can take that to the extreme and never stop the process of reinvention.

Let me talk about your legacy now.

If all goes well you will spend a lifetime making good films and working hard to get your films seen and make your presence felt in the world.  If you reach a certain level, it won’t be an issue for you to be remembered, but if your work is wonderful but less celebrated?   What happens to your legacy after you retire or die and your movies fall into the morass of too many streaming movies?

Not to be dramatic, but I have been amazed and disheartened with the fickleness of the public and how quickly they can forget the films of the past.  Here is what I have discovered from my decades as a publicist.

There has to be at least one person or an organization willing to carry the torch.

These caretakers will endeavor to get all your films online and have copies available that can be screened in theatres. So often the films that a writer and director is best known for fall out of circulation for one reason or another.

They will strive to set up theatrical retrospectives.   There must be events where the films are shown as a group, so that the totality of your work can be appreciated.  This creates a news peg for the media to cover.  Every time there is a retrospective, your work will become new again.  People who read about it will seek your films out on home video.

Often the reason that an artist’s work is sent to oblivion is not because nobody wants to memorialize it, but because the authorized person impedes or blocks it.  There are many stories of a widow or widower asking an unreasonable price for a film with a limited audience with the result that nobody sees it.

Thinking about who’s going to look after your work when you’re not around is important, like making a will.  If God forbid, anything happens to you, who would it be?

Social media is essential.  Extending a legacy is what social media does best. I’ve written about how this works here.   If you haven’t done so, build a Facebook page when you get home and learn how to get the most out of it.  If you sell your film to a distributor, ask if you can be in charge of social media.  Unless they’re Focus Features with their dedicated social media staff, it’s unlikely they will have as much time or motivation to lavish on a Facebook page as you will, and they certainly can’t do it with your voice, which is the most important thing.

If you’re at Sundance, think about this when you get home.  If you’re not at Sundance, then what are you waiting for?  Facebook is a magical tool that never existed before so why not use it?   You’ve put your heart and soul into your movies and I’m sure you want them to live on.  More than anything, I do too.

Reid Rosefelt coaches filmmakers in how to market their films using Facebook, and lectures frequently on the topic.  His credits as a film publicist include “Stranger Than Paradise,”  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Precious.”

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Film Festivals Offer The Life Lessons For Longevity

By Kellie Ann Benz

Okay, I’ll admit it. I think ‘Jersey Shore’ offered some of the best life lessons. I’m not too cool to reveal that I gleaned much from the leg-humping silverbacks who F-bombed their way into obscurity on that cautionary tale of a show.

Replace, if you will, their onenightstandpad with a film festival party, and you can see how they offered all of us a first rate how-NOT-to for which should be grateful. 

I cite their example as a sobering reminder for everyone packing for their first film festival.

First, the good news. Film festivals are wicked wild fun.  Truly.

Festival attendees are some of the most electric creatives you’ll ever meet – and when actors or actresses are in attendance, some of the most beautiful humans you’ll ever see with your own eyeballs - film festivals offer a throwback to Dominick Dunne-esque invitation only cocktail parties.  At the best international festivals, the ribald wits congregate as safe harbour from a cruel, cruel world that only understands their stories when told in a linear three act structure.  At the discovery-zone of regional indie festivals, you can feel welcomed into an exclusive club where only the cinematic smarty-pants go.

For the chosen ones with films competing, a film festival is the blue ribbon approval after the drudge of production, the maxed out expense of post, and the ‘pick me’ panic of festival submissions. Depending on where you’re chosen, you could very well Duplass your way into a career.

Ask any one of the indie hopefuls whose films have received the golden handshake at Sundance, Cannes, Rotterdam, Venice, Palm Springs, Toronto and you’ll get an exhausted ‘phew’ – a true sign that they had no way of seeing that life changing moment coming. 

Here’s the rub, anticipating that your life will change or that your film will sell or that you’ll leave a film festival wealthy is guaranteeing that you won’t.  Murphy and his nasty little laws.

However, anticipating that you will meet people who you will work with in the future is Lena Dunham smart and precisely the way to use a festival to benefit your career.

Since the social make-up of a film festival often mirrors the social make-up of any community, I offer these quick glance personalities-types to find and/or avoid at any film festival:

FIND:

THE MOVIE WATCHERS – Not the ones ‘screening’ films, the ones watching them. Native to the film festival circuit, this tribe’s natural habitat consists of dark theatres and festival line ups. Easily identified by their traditional garb; hoodie/vest/toque* ensemble, un-environmentally friend coffee cup, dog-eared program and OCD attachment to their smartphone. If you make movies because you love movies, these are your future collaborators, industry pals and trusted confidantes. Make friends with these people.

*Toque is Canadian for knitted ski hat. Toque is also way cooler than knitted ski hat.

THE PRODUCED PRODUCERS – Good Producers are a rare breed. Find the ones who made the new movies you loved and introduce yourself. Exchanging a business card isn’t betraying any Producer relationship you already have; it’s ensuring that you diversify. Foolish are the writer/directors who put all their eggs in one basket, so save the I-don’t-mingle hooey for the E raves*, and exchange twitter handles.

*Unless you’re a starlet or undiscovered hunka hunka movie star, don’t take the E at E raves. Note to Starlets and Hunka Hunkas – no one casts messy druggies, but they WILL sleep with you. You decide what you want.

THE COORDINATORS – Film festival staff are often a mysterious bunch. First, there are a lot of them, second it’s questionable what they all do. Here’s a hint, the people who coordinated the parties you’re attending (mostly running around making sure you’re having a great time) are the money people to know. Naturally, Festival Directors, Artistic Directors or any other variation thereof, you must thank and be gracious to.  But the Coordinators are often the ones with extra comps, free passes, late night exclusive invitations, and other unexpected goodies. Here’s the secret though – you don’t know this and you must NEVER expect them to share. They loathe people who expect perks. Best way to get the inside track from the Coordinators is to be kind, polite, talkative and genuinely interested in who they are. Besides, today’s festival coordinator is tomorrow’s Development Executive or award winning filmmaker. These might turn out to be long relationships. Pay attention. Be real.

WRITERS – Screenwriters do actually Charlie Kaufman their way through most parties, that’s their job. No one takes a gregarious screenwriter seriously. So getting screenwriters to release the death-clutch of their single malt scotch long enough to open up, could mean a future collaborator for you.  Like Coordinators, pay attention, be genuine, exchange emails. 

AVOID:

THE UN-PRODUCED PRODUCER – If the Producer you just met doesn’t have a credit on the film they say they produced at the festival, it’s not a titling mistake. Politely back away and keep mingling.

THE OVER-MARKETERS – We all want to market our films, find our audiences and feed our niche. Film Festival parties, however, are not always the best place to do that (your audience is much bigger than fellow filmmakers) If you run into someone who can’t stop giving you all the crap they’ve invested in to promote their film – worse yet, that’s not even in the festival – walk away.

NOTE ASKERS - if any filmmaker asks you for feedback or ‘notes’, don’t walk away, run!

THE DRIVERS – Don’t have an inside track to anything. Be polite, move on.

REPORTERS – This is a dicey one, because getting quoted seems like the goal.  Your publicity, however, needs to be leveraged in unison with the marketing of your film. So tread carefully. This means keep a professional distance until you’ve seen the same reporter enough times for a natural friendship to develop. 

The best thing you can do for yourself before you arrive at a festival is scan the delegates list and know who you want to meet, then stay open to who you might meet along the way.  Take cards, keep notes, assess after your home who you want to follow up with.

A festival invitation should mark the beginning of a long run for your film and herald the spark of a career for you. In the film industry, longevity is the only goal worth pursuing.

Overall, I’ll end with this; the age old manners your mother shamed you into for family dinners, also apply to film festivals – and your life in the film industry – be kind, pay attention, listen more than talk and most importantly, just like ‘Jersey Shore’ taught us all, keep your pants on.

KELLIE ANN BENZ’s four woefully inappropriate short films, have competed at 175-ish international film festivals.  A columnist for Canada’s National Screen Institute, she just wrapped her first feature film.

How To Get Ready For That FIlm Festival

You are in, and now you have all sorts of wonderful problems -- the kind most filmmakers wish they could enjoy.  You know, you have to do all the things you have to do for a film festival.  I have tried to collect the various blog posts I have written or have found written by others that will really prepare you.  There's a lot more to be written.  But this is a good start:

Distribution:

Preparation:

Producers' Rep (aka Sales Rep):

Publicists:

Q&A:

Sales:

Social Media:

IF YOU KNOW OF OTHER REALLY GOOD POSTS TO HELP PEOPLE PREP FOR FESTIVALS, Please share them here!!!

The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

Last year I wrote out 15 really good things about the indie film biz (2011). My first instincts at looking at the list, are that the 15 from last year are still in process this year. Maybe I was a bit ahead of the curve.  Maybe I should hold this post until 2013.  But I don't think so -- we have much to celebrate this year too.

So what are the new developments that are now taking hold?  Unfortunately, my mind hasn't found the answers as quickly as others have (and here too) even if I do consider myself quite the optimist.  Okay, make that a pessmistic optimist, but an optimist nonetheless.  I have struggled to hit the same number as last year, but I did it, and even exceeded it -- and hopefully you'll continue to fill in the list with what I forgot.

  1. Direct distribution is really working.  We did it on DARK HORSE.  They are also doing it on I AM NOT A HIPSTER (opening January 15 nationwide). The list on the doc side is pretty huge: Stacy Perata and team did it on BONES BRIGADE.  Jeff Orlowski is doing it on CHASING ICE. As INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE: THE CASE STUDY ( http://bit.ly/105pigj) shows, they did it there too.  Add Eugene Jarecki and THE HOUSE I LIVE IN team to the list too.
  2. Hollywood is taking more creative risks.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/movies/films-dispense-with-storytelling-conventions.html  As Ben Affleck noted about this year in film, ", “movies that involve taking risks by the filmmakers and the financiers have been successful."
  3. The film industry is moving towards proportional gender representation in front of and behind the camera.  The NY Times did a good job of pointing the work women are doing done in front of the camera, and that Hollywood is doing producing tales of female heroines.  Additionally, Indieland -- the traditional leader of the cultural space -- has for the first time, shown some balance behind the camera too.  Sundance has an equal number of female directors as men in the narrative competition.  That shouldn't be a surprise, but it has taken us a long time to get here, and we do need to address why there are not more women in power in the entertainment business.
  4. There is an appetite for acquisition from the distributors.  73 titles were acquired at Sundance in 2012. The question of whether they were acquired for a fair price may not unfortunately be part of the general discussion, but at least there was the option of licensing your work again this year.  And I will bring up the lack of a fair price in my upcoming "The Things That Really Sucked In The Indie Film Biz 2012".  Stay tuned...
  5. Worldwide, the industry is asking questions if there is a better way.  Just recently I was invited to Paris and Austin to discuss different perspectives on how we can serve audiences better and improve the business.  This is not the same as launching initiatives, but it is a start.  Last year, I mentioned that the conversation on the Future Of Film took off, but this year it seems to be on a global basis.
  6. Technology is confronting the problem of our transition from an entertainment economy based on scarcity and control of content, to one recognizing the abundance of, total access to, and full distraction from that content.  We have launched an app that does this well.  And we have a good number of competitors in the space.  Readers of this blog have been following the weekly peek into the start-up KinoNation that Roger Jackson has been chronicling -- another example of technology coming to the rescue (hopefully).  And we have media innovation incubator/accelerators starting to blossom.
  7. There has never been a better time to both preserve and advance the film culture I dearly love.  That's why I chose to change my life and focus not on project producing but on producing infrastructure and change.  I am not going to be able to do it alone, but working with the support of the organization that launched the oldest running film festival, should hopefully prove far more fruitful than from proclaiming on high from my private soap box.
  8. New financing options are both here and on the horizon for independent & documentary film.  We've witnessed the launch of Slated and seen films get funded as a result.  Britdoc's impressive GoodPitch funding forum has funneled and support to doc projects and inspired many in the process.  How awesome is that?  Further, we now are seeing other evidence of a second generation of funding mechanisms, as entities like Seed & Spark are combining crowdfunding elements with distribution, marketing, and audience aggregation aspects.  If that was not enough for you, additionally the JOBS Act was passed in the USA, allowing for equity-based crowdfunding for films of under $1M.  We now can give people backend on the films they fund.  There remains a lot to work out on the legal side, but here's hoping that it is used both well and for good.
  9. Transactional VOD Players hit the flashpoint.  VHX.tv, Vimeo PPV, Dynamo player, and many more.  Whether you want an aggregator or prefer to sell on your own, it is easy and painless to do now.  Just ask Louis C.K.
  10. We have our first VOD Superstar. You want big numbers on VOD?  Just cast Kirsten Dunst.  Bachelorette.  Melancholia.  All Good Things.  She's beautiful.  She's a good actor.  She's fascinating to watch.  She's funny.  She's scary.  And she doesn't have too many letters in her name, but just enough to stand out.  Hell, if Elizabethtown premiered on Ultra VOD today, it would set records.  Okay, this isn't really the GOOD thing but just an aspect of a Good Thing.  The Good Thing is that VOD is becoming more marketable and people are not treating as a lesser product.  Once all media outlets start covering VOD premieres that will be an Awesome thing.
  11. Tech and film are talking to each other.  Soon they may even speak the same language.  Film Independent held a hackathon.  Marc Schiller did on the same day on the opposite coast. BAVC Producer University put filmmakers together with tech folks, and in less than a week new apps were born. And not only are they talking, they are getting in bed together -- okay maybe not film yet but media & tech are sleeping together.
  12. The dominance of the feature film form is starting to wain.  Whether it is great webisodes, a tremendous number of wonderful shorts, transmedia experiments, or just cross-platform experiments,  cinema is evolving beyond it's historic constraints.Okay, I did say this one last year, but I still feel it starting to happen.  I can put things on this list two years in a row can't I?  And then I will put it on the negative on the 3rd year, if it hasn't happened yet.
  13. The two films that I helped produce this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got great reviews in the New York Times.  They also got great reviews many other places too. I can only state this here as a personal positive though.  Stay tuned, as this exact same fact will also be on my "What sucked in 2012" list too.
  14. While I am on that double list tip, here's another that will repeat on tomorrows list of the big and the bad.  To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance."  From the point of view of the audience, right now this is a beautiful thing.  Conceptually speaking, we should be able to match audiences with the film that is most right for them.  Audiences don't have to compromise.  There are more better movies than ever before.  Unfortunately, we have to build an infrastructure to support this, but that is a rant for another day (like tomorrow).
  15. There is a lot of real & meaningful support for indie writers, directors, and producers working in the genres & realms traditionally supported by indie film support organizations.  When I look at the various labs that are run by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, & Tribeca, or the the financial & other support provided by the San Francisco Film Society (ahem...), Cinereach, Austin Film Society and other entities I am very impressed.  Granted there is a specific type of movie that seems to most appeal to this sort of thing, but I am impressed at how many programs they are and the good work that they do.  It ain't easy and our culture -- at least a very specific part of it -- really depends on it.  I hope all of you support the organizations that support the culture you love.  Vote with your dollars for the culture you want.
  16. The online community that supports the effort to advance a sustainable culture where the artist & their supportors benefit by the work they create, works to both preserve and advance the vibrant & diverse work that ambitiously reaches further, is committed to transparency, openness, opportunity, & our communal well-being, and knows that it is a team that builds the future and thus gives back in so many ways including posting, commenting, pointing, liking, and financial contributions.  I know this as I am experiencing it daily.  Thank you.

Stay tuned for next week: The Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2012

Addition: I added to this list with a subsequent post.  If you want more reasons to celebrate, check this out.

Five Reasons I Have NEW Hope For Film

The last seven days have done a good job convincing me we can build this world a whole lot better and that we have the passion and know-how to keep an ambitious and diverse film culture from falling into ruin.  I have been doing some meetings, going to events, meeting folks -- the days are long, but the inspiration has been great.  It does so much good to observe things done well and I gathered quite of few as of late. The documentary world has knit together a series of alliances, models, forums, and structures that the fiction film world should really take note of.  When the sun was setting today, and I was recognizing that it was such a inspiration-filled last few days, a dark shadow past over when I realized much of that uplift was from another form.  That's not a bad thing really.  It's nice to have role models.  Indie filmmakers the world over should thank their documentary siblings for all they have given us.

What inspired me (and in no particular order)?

Good Pitch.  Make that Jess Search and Good Pitch.  If you haven't been, you must.  Whether you are a funder or a filmmaker, an activist or an artist, you have to attend.  The whole forum is a virtually a perfectly produced event with the best of goals and the craft to achieve them.  Well curated both in terms of films and filmmakers and the potential organizational and funding partners they pair them with, it's the bomb.  Sitting in the room, witnessing new alliances being formed, you feel the world is made a better place before your eyes.  Films are lifted up and given more hope at making a significant impact.  Anyone I was next to, I felt they were my friend.  Ecstacy might have been in the water, because it certainly was in the air.  And as great as all the films and people that were there, there's Jess in the center, looking sharp in a white suit, advancing the proceedings. Total rock star.  I don't know an event that has a better suited  master of ceremonies.  Too many marvels for one day.  They both raise the bar high and make us want to reach higher.  Hearing the pitches, seeing the action, I feel that we are just seeing the tip of the change that films can accomplish.

Sundance.  I attended my first Sundance fundraising outreach event ever this past week.  It was in Silicon Valley and geared towards innovators and technology, but 100% artist focused.  After Keri Putnam, Kim Peirce, and Lynn Shelton spoke, I knew why I wanted to run a not for profit and truly support artists at this most crucial of times.  It is truly remarkable what Sundance has accomplished. The love and appreciation that these women communicated to the organization and the process that they have developed was so so so moving.  Cary Fukanaga and Jon Shenk were good to, but they spoke after Keri, Kim, & Lynn, and for me  those women had already overdosed me in inspiration, understanding, and commitment.  The blood was rushing in my head at such a volume all I could hear was the sea of possibility. It is so vast -- even if there is such a gulf to where we are now.  Sundance shows us so clearly from where Indie Film culture has come.  Imagine a world that had been deprived of that support, of those stories, of Sundance?  I don't want that world.  No way! And will give my life and labor to make sure we have all of that  and much much more to keep artists and their supporters truly thriving,  free to pursue their full calling.

Impact Partners.  What a good idea they were and shall ever hopefully remain.  But if only good ideas could be executed so well as they.  And my appreciation doesn't stop there.  Geralyn Dreyfous and Dan Cogan called upon their friends to put on a "Welcome To San Francisco" party for me.  It was at Pier 24, a truly beautiful gallery of fantastic photos to make your jaw drop, but then they filled the room with incredible and impressive people. I was completely and utterly impressed.

The world is not just.  The world is not fair.  People are not generous and very few are kind.  So what?  When you are in a room with a 100 plus people who are just the opposite of that shitty reality I just laid out, people that are generous and kind and have used their resources to make the world more just and fair, how can you not appreciate the power of both strong individuals and committed community deliver.  Impact Partners filled the room with them and have done amazing work with them.  Good people with strong ideas and access to their passion... man!  How can we all stay centered so that we use our labor in service of our ideals, despite the negative influences that swarm around us?  Maybe it just takes good friends.  Seeing what they do, convinces me how important they really are.

BAVC Producers Seminar.  I came to San Francisco because I wanted to see what would happen when you took committed individuals, ambitious artists, introduced them to cutting edge technologists and engagement specialists, and supported them with top institution, personnel, and resources.  I thought it needed to be built, but then I got to witness what BAVC has been doing well and the community they have built, and I felt great that others were leagues ahead of those goals of mine.  I can now compliment them as I stray from the path they have forged.  We are not alone.  Our ideas are not so odd.  People get things done.  We are part of a continuum, always building upon, refining and advancing.  We will get there, but not  on our own.

Vanessa particularly, but also all the other filmmakers I met this week.  I meet so many people.  I generally have, but that process has been accelerated by new responsibilities as the San Francisco Film Society's Executive Director.  Hearing filmmakers speak of their projects, recognizing both their hope and their fear, I know why I became a producer initially and why I am here now at SFFS.  Artists truly inspire me.  Their process can lift me.  My favorite time is when the ideas are jelling and the film is finding it's way and the filmmakers are coming up with new ideas and reaching higher and higher and the impossible is being spotted and it's changing before our eyes into the  very goal we dared not dream of and yet there it is, getting closer and closer, so close you know you will touch it, maybe even surpass it.  My wife, my love, Vanessa came to San Francisco this past weekend.  She's been editing her film with an awesome team and as much as it is a struggle and the resources all too slim, they won't say die and keep pushing pushing pushing and they have taken it further than they ever dreamed.  It is so exciting to be near someone as they create, and every little bit one gets to help, it is a reason to be here.  How fortunate I am!

I have Hope For Film.  What's inspired you lately?

 

Proof How Indie Film Requires So Much Support

If we didn't have the Indie Film support organizations, you wouldn't have indie films in the theater.  Cinereach, IFP, Film Independent, SxSW, Tribeca, Sundance, and yes, my new home, the San Francisco Film Society -- it takes more than a village; it takes a freakin' army.

The proof is in the pudding.  Look at all the films in theaters this week.  All these films were discovered at Sundance and supported by these various organizations.  Where would they be without them?  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  And just the start.  If you don't go see them -- and soon -- our very culture will be threatened!

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD written by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar and directed by Benh Zeitlin

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/beastsofthesouthernwild/

 

HELLO I MUST BE GOING written by Sarah Koskoff and directed by Todd Louiso

http://hello.oscilloscope.net/

 

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias and directed by Ira Sachs

http://keepthelightsonfilm.com/

 

LITTLE BIRDS written and directed by Elgin James

http://littlebirdsmovie.com/

 

SLEEPWALK WITH ME written by Mike Birbiglia, Seth Barrish, and Joe Birbiglia  and directed by Mike Birbiglia and Seth Barrish

http://www.sleepwalkmovie.com/

 

COMPLIANCE written and directed by Craig Zobel

http://www.magpictures.com/compliance/

 

THE WORDS written and directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal

http://www.thewordsmovie.com/

 

2013 Sundance/Sloan Commissioning Grant

Established in 2005 to support the development of screenplays with science or technology themes, Sundance Institute and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provides two different opportunities for screenwriters through a Commissioning Grant or a Fellowship. Both provide a cash award to support further development of a screenplay and to retain science advisors, along with overall creative and strategic feedback throughout development. Only one of each is awarded per year.

Eligibility
Through this commissioning grant we are able to support filmmakers with a wider range of experience than in our Screenwriting and Directing Labs, including writers and directors who have made several features as well as those at an earlier stage in their careers.  For this grant, we are seeking a science or technology related narrative, English-language project that is in early draft stage or full treatment.
 
 

Grant & Support
The Commissioning Grant recipient will receive the following:

  • A cash grant of up to $20,000 to provide support during the writing period
  • A stipend of up to $5,000 for a science advisor and research
  • Creative support during the writing process from a Creative Advisor
  • The possibility of a Fellowship to a Lab
  • Creative and strategic support from the Feature Film Program staff
The Fellowship recipient will receive the following:
  • Attendance as a Fellow at a Screenwriters Lab, Directors Lab, Creative Producing Lab, Creative Producing Summit, or Sundance Film Festival
  • A stipend of up to $5,000 for a science advisor
  • A cash grant of up to $10,000 to provide support during the development of the project
  • Creative and strategic support from the Feature Film Program staff
 
Projects must have science or technology as a major theme or scientists as major characters.  We cannot consider science fiction or projects that stray too far from a base of scientific reality.  We also cannot consider projects that are already being developed within the studio system (including the mini-majors); it is fine, of course, if they are later made at the studios.
  
The deadline for applications for the Sloan Commissioning Grant is September 7, 2012.  Please feel free to pass this information on to anyone you feel might fit the criteria and benefit from this grant.  The online application and further information can be found at: http://www.sundance.org/programs/sloan-grant/
  
Please contact us at sloangrants@sundance.org  with any projects, recommendations or questions.

THE INVISIBLE WAR Proves That Films Can Change The World

Don't you love it when you see a film and want to change the world? Don't you love it even more when you see a film and learn that that film has already changed the world -- and for the better? I sat watching Amy Ziering's & Kirby Dick's THE INVISIBLE WAR with my jaw hanging open, literally; my fury growing by the minute. When I was done, my understanding of the world had expanded, and my confidence in the power of film was confirmed. As informed and engaged as we all are, there are significant acts going on that we may not be cognizant or aware of, but if we -- and our representative institutions -- don't take action we are essentially giving consent to continue. Part of the complete definition of cinema these days is engagement and action, and THE INVISIBLE WAR fulfills this commitment (and more). It has made the world a safer place for those that work to make our world safe.

Ziering & Dick not only deliver an argument but provide all of the intimacy and emotional impact that a direct personal relationship usually brings. When you encounter those who have been the victim of a system that seems to endorse and covers up rape in our military forces, you can't help but be outraged. A female soldier in a combat zone is more likely to be raped by her fellow soldiers than killed by enemy fire.

THE INVISIBLE WAR won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It opens on June 22nd, but thanks to Goldcrest, I am hosting a free screening for those on my list. Hopefully everyone brings a bottle of wine or the beverage of their choice and we discuss it afterwards.

Visit the website here: http://invisiblewarmovie.com/ Watch the trailer here: http://youtu.be/ECOqpv45tIo "Like" the film here: http://www.facebook.com/invisiblewarmovie

Sundance and Topspin Bring D2F to Indie Film

By Bob Moczydlowsky

The following post was originally published on TopSpinMedia.com.

 

Sure has been a lot of talk about movies around here lately, huh? ;)

This morning, the Sundance Institute announced an expansion of their incredibly forward-thinking Sundance Artist Services program, and we at Topspin are honored to be included alongside distribution outlets iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, New Video, Netflix and Sundance Now as the provider of Direct-To-Fan Marketing and Distribution tools. We’re humbled to have our first major expansion outside of music to be with such a storied and benevolent institution, and we’re quite literally stoked to start helping Sundance filmmakers connect with fans and create new channels for their amazing work.

This quote from Robert Redford really says it all:

“When I founded the Institute in 1981, it was at a time when a few studios ran the industry and an artist’s biggest concern was whether their film would get made,” Redford said. “Technology has lessened that burden, but the big challenge today is how audiences can see these films. The Artist Services program is a direct response to that need. We’re not in the distribution business; we’re in the business of helping independent voices be heard.”

If you’d like to read the official press release, you can DOWNLOAD HERE.

In addition to the expansion of the Artist Services program today, Sundance also launched an online alumni community containing blog posts and essays from some of the brightest and bravest minds in indie film, like Tim League and Ted Hope. The goal is to provide a place where Sundance artists can share data and advice, and interact with distributors, technology partners and each other. Somehow, I managed to sneak my two cents in there, too. Below is a reprint of my “Direct-To-Fan Keynote” that appears inside the Sundance Artist Services site.

My hope is that all filmmakers find it useful. Please share it liberally.

You can it download it as a VIDEO or as a PDF.

Hello. My name is Bob.

I’m here to talk about Direct-to-Fan Marketing (D2F) and Distribution. I work at a software company called Topspin. We’re honored to be a part of Sundance Artist Services.

Topspin makes software used by 
Kevin Smith, David Lynch, Ed Burns, Trent Reznor, Arcade Fire and thousands of other artists to sell downloads, merchandise, tickets and memberships directly to fans. Our company mission is to create an artistic middle class, and we’re doing it by building a self-serve application you can use to market and distribute your work yourself.

You may think I mean self-release. Or DIY Distro. Or “creative” distribution. But those are not the same as Direct-to-Fan. What I’m talking about is a distribution and marketing strategy that should be a part of every filmmaker’s career. I’m talking about making sure you are directly connected to your core audience. I’m talking about selling premium products to super fans. And I’m hoping to persuade you to treat your audience like your most important asset. It is time to invest in your fans.

Here’s the problem I see: Filmmakers have been taught to be wholesalers, not retailers. Filmmakers make films — so the teaching goes — and then it is the job of distributors to market and distribute films.

There is actually a stigma attached to doing it oneself, as if every direct release was a sign not of true independence and autonomy but instead an indicator of the film’s quality or filmmaker’s professionalism. “Did you hear about XX film? They couldn’t get distribution. They have to self-release.” Sounds familiar, right? The goal is to make films and sell them to distributors. That’s the model.

That shit is broken. Permanently. I mean it. Yes, the “traditional model” still exists as a best-case outcome for a few films. But most likely not for your film. Sorry. Just being honest. It’s time to stop calling the best-case, long-shot, home-run option “the model”. Let’s get realistic about what’s happening:

Everyday, the odds of the traditional indie model working for your film get longer and longer. Even at Sundance, upwards of 80 percent of the films fail to find traditional distribution deals. A ton of interesting and excellent films don’t reach audiences and fail to grow the careers of the artists who made them. That’s sad. And yet, more and more excellent films get made everyday. Because technology makes production easy.

And the Web makes distribution easy, too. My phone will shoot video and upload to YouTube. Production and distribution is in your pocket! But here’s where the trouble starts: Free content, empowered fans and unlimited choice make marketing very, very hard. Fans can watch and share all day, effortlessly. But competing for their attention is really tough. Fans who want to watch a movie used to choose from the 10 films at the theatre on Friday night. Now they choose from the entire historical catalog of filmmaking on their laptops, phones, set-top boxes or VOD services. Or they skip the film altogether and play Words With Friends online. Think about your own habits. Getting fans to pay attention is harder than it has ever been.

“So, how will anyone see my work?” you ask. It’s simple, actually. You need to grow a database of fans, and market to them. Here’s how you do it:

First, make amazing films. I don’t mean pretty-good films, or better-than-average films… I mean INCREDIBLE films. Invest in quality, and invest in new. New sells. But also please make sure to budget appropriately, based on the size of your audience. Don’t have an audience? Then keep the budget LOW.

Second, give away free downloads in exchange for connection via email, Facebook and Twitter. This might mean a soundtrack, or the opening scene of the film, or some killer making-of footage. The point is to get fans excited, connected and sharing. You can’t make dollars until you have fans, and giving away incredible content is the best way to attract new fans.

Third, offer premium products fans actually want to buy, and sell these premium products at a mix of price points FIRST. Many of the folks who will end up with the $2.99 rental on iTunes would be even happier with a great-looking shirt, HD download, photo book and a Skype-call-with-the-lead-actress for $75. Don’t miss the opportunity to convert your core demand into a high-revenue product. Get creative with your products and your prices. You’ll earn more money and create happy fans who spread the word online.

Now, once you’ve grown your database and you can monetize your core fans, it’s time to look around for distribution partners. If you can prove there is demand for your art, you will have traditional distribution opportunities. But long-term success requires reversing the common logic:

Direct-to-Fan is NOT the last resort. Direct-to-Fan is the foundation of your career. Think about this way: Imagine your career is a ladder.

Each rung represents more audience paying attention to your work. Which rung are you on? For the sake of example, let’s say the ladder has 100 rungs. On rung 100 is Steven Spielberg, smiling down from the top. At rung zero is every first-time filmmaker just trying to get a project made. At rung 25 is someone like Miranda July (one of my personal favorites) and at rung 75, someone like Kevin Smith, who has a rabid fan base and relative autonomy.

Everyone starts at the bottom. From rung zero to 25, Direct-to-Fan will likely be 100 percent of your income. You won’t have traditional distribution offers, so you’ll do it all yourself. If you do it well, your audience will grow and you’ll move up the ladder. Once you start climbing, you become much more attractive to potential partners.

In the middle, you’ll mix it up. From rung 25 to 75, the mix of Direct-to-Fan income and other distribution deals will vary depending on the project.

You’ll have to license rights to move much past 25, but you’ll do it in a way that allows you to retain your control of your core audience and monetize them via premium products you control.

At the top, you’re really in control. If you make it to rung 75 or higher, Direct-to-Fan will start trending back toward a larger percentage of your revenues.

You’ll have a dedicated, connected following, and you’ll want as much creative control over your fan experience as possible. Read Kevin Smith’s Red Statements for a perfect example of this return to Direct-to-Fan in action. Sure, he’s done deals, too… but on his terms and with his audience as the top priority. In music, we’re seeing well-run D2F campaigns with top-tier artists earn 15 to 35 percent of gross revenues — and the lion’s share of the profits. There is no reason those numbers can’t be replicated in film. And during this year.

And there are many more practical examples out there, too. The film Broke* is giving away its soundtrack to grow its database. NYC filmmaker and musician Cory McAbee opted to take his serialized film Stingray Sam out exclusively via Direct-to-Fan, and he gets you hooked on the first two episodes before asking for your money.

Ed Burns has killer posters and t-shirts bundled with downloads of his new film Newlyweds, and William Morris and Barry Ptolemy have created a killer Direct-to-Fan experience for the Ray Kurzweil doc Transcendent Man.

 

With a database of fans, you can raise money on Kickstarter, sell premium products and ticket your own event screenings with a director Q&A. Like Kevin Smith is doing RIGHT NOW, TODAY. But most importantly… you’ll be able to RETURN to the same group of core fans for all of your future products. Build an audience. Build a brand. Always compare the money you’re offered to the value of your fan database down the line.

You may find that you’re better off keeping your film under your control than doing that no-advance, all-rights distro deal. Especially if we’re talking about short films!

Now, I know I’m getting long-winded, so I’ll wrap it up.

Here’s the summary: It’s time to make Direct-to-Fan Marketing the foundation of your career. It’s time to assume your films will be marketed by you, not acquired in a Sundance bidding war. It’s time to start building a database of core fans that you own and nurture throughout your career.

Stop calling it Self-Release. Stop calling it DIY Distribution. It’s called Direct-to-Fan Marketing, and it works for filmmakers at every rung on the ladder.

Direct-to-Fan Marketing is:

- Growing your email, Facebook and Twitter database by giving away free downloads and encouraging sharing

- Maintaining a great website that sells merch, downloads, memberships and tickets directly

- Owning your fan marketing data, and using it to raise money and promote your work throughout your career

Good Direct-to-Fan Marketing will make you more attractive to distributors. But you may find yourself telling them “No, thanks.” Your audience is your biggest asset. If you sell it, make sure you get full price.

Questions? I’m accessible. Let’s chat.

Thumbs up for rock ‘n’ roll,

-bob

@bobmoz

VP, Product & Marketing

Bob Moczydlowsky has been kind enough to offer HOPE FOR FILM readers his service for free:

The code HOPEFORFILM entitles you to three free months of Topspin Plus, the most powerful direct-to-fan platform on the planet.

Topspin empowers you to:

- Promote your film across websites, social networks and mobile devices

- Connect with fans and offer free downloads for emails, Likes & Tweets

- Customize your store & sell digital media, physical items, tickets and more

To redeem your free account, go to topspinmedia.com and submit your email. Follow the instructions in the email to create your account, and then click "Upgrade" in your account header. Scroll down and enter this code: HOPEFORFILM

Make A Movie & Get Paid To Go To Sundance

Easy peazy. Simple doing. Just make a short film, submit, win. What could be better? I heard about this contest where Talenthouse is working with Bombay Sapphire and Playboy, long a patron of film, to bring aspiring filmmakers an opportunity not to be missed.

One winner will travel to Sundance Film Festival to watch the premiere of their short film at a Playboy/Bombay Sapphire event. Travel and three nights’ accommodation and $500 for expenses will be provided. The winner will also receive a 30-60 minute mentoring session with key industry insiders in person or via Skype (timing based on each mentor’s production schedule and availability).

The selected short film will also be featured on Playboy.com and BombaySapphire.com and the winner will receive $3,500.

http://www.talenthouse.com/playboy-bombay-sapphire-your-short-film-featured-at-sundance

This competition is only for US residence and 21 + participants. Please take the time to read over the rules and if you have any other questions do not hesitate to email them.

Here are all the dates:

Submission Deadline: October 24, 2011 Voting Starts: November 1, 2011 Voting Ends: November 7, 2011 Semi-Finalists Announcement: November 15, 2011

Final round of voting dates Voting Starts: November 16, 2011 Voting Ends: November 30, 2011 Winner Announcement: December 7, 2011

All the submissions remain property of the filmmakers. All T&C's are found on http://pages.talenthouse.com/xdl_files/ifs-official-rules.pdf

At the moment, I only know that one winner's film will be screened.

The Talenthouse technology engine allows for voting to take place to boil it down to a set number of finalists, then here is the info Playboy and Bombay Sapphire together with a panel of industry insider judges will choose 5 submissions, which together with the 5 highest voted submissions will be named semi-finalists. All 10 semi-finalists will be automatically submitted for the final round of voting where Playboy and Bombay Sapphire together with the panel of judges will select the ultimate winner, with special consideration for the top voted entries.

Guest Post: Eric Mendelsohn on "Have We Forgotten What We Really Need To Talk About?"

We spend so much time trying to find a way to make it this indie film thing work, to get good work seen and appreciated, to have a sustainable working model that might afford one to have a reasonable middle-class existence creating quality work (is that too much to ask?), we sometimes forget about why we are doing it. Today's guest post is courtesy of Eric Mendelsohn, whose Sundance Best Director Award winning 3 BACKYARDS opened this weekend. What have we lost in our effort to survive and build together a better world for truly ambitious work?

Ted Hope was kind enough to ask me to write something for his site to accompany the release of my film, 3 BACKYARDS. I hesitated for a number of reasons. For one, I am uneasy about filmmakers spouting about the state of this or that in print. But more to the point, I actually think I was uncomfortable revealing a truthful representation of my relationship to independent film as well as to the type of conversation that regularly dominates film websites, film festival panels, etc. But, expanding upon and incorporating a piece I had written for the Sundance website, I decided that as long as I wrote honestly and strictly from my own perspective, there might be some validity in doing so.

There is only one part of the term 'independent cinema' that has ever held any interest for me. That is cinema. For years now, I believe the art form I love has been the subject of a highjacking of sorts; the conversation has been-- reductively, tediously, mind-numbingly-- about 'indie-film' when it should have been about film.

I didn't grew up with the term “independent film.” When I was a kid, indiscriminately watching everything that appeared on TV via "The 4:30 Movie", "The MIllion Dollar Movie" and "Chiller Theater", there was no such thing as indie film as we now know it. In fact, like many people my age, I was illiterate about film in a way that isn't even conceivable today. I happily watched pan-and-scan films and thought the camera movements were part of some coherent Hollywood style. When TV stations scrunched up the opening credits of epics to fit television screens, I thought it was a way of telling the audience that an elegant, important film was about to begin. I watched great films and schlock, 1940's melodramas and foreign arthouse classics, all on the same tiny black and white TV, lying on the carpeting in my mother's dining room.

And so, when I began to differentiate those films that had a hand guiding the visuals from those that just seemed to photograph whatever the actors said, I never discriminated against the film's origins. I saw that guiding hand in films like The Magnificent Ambersons and Psycho, for sure, but I also saw it in The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom and the originalSuperman. I saw that the same guiding hand could organize and orchestrate images in the manner of classical music, like in David Lean's Oliver Twist, or fracture and destroy them like in Nicholas Roeg's Performance. Sometimes, I would wait for a film to come on television just because one shot excited me. The Little Foxes had only one moment that caught my attention as a kid—when Bette Davis, foregrounded and unable to move, refuses to help her dying husband, who is staggering through the background trying to get his medication. There is a single shot in a film called The Mummy's Ghost, where the limping Egyptian creature carries a woman up a railroad trestle— in a long-shot, executed in terrible day-for-night—that I find existentially terrifying. I recall lying on my belly, stunned into silence, as Jean Cocteau's Beauty and The Beast opened itself up to me on the TV and it felt like an unreal portal had been revealed in the walls of the house.

I didn't care or even know about the aura that surrounded moviemaking. Instead, I had fallen in love with the silent, persuasive visual strategy called directing.

And so, it was with a sense of real, personal disappointment that, when I began going to festivals with my first half-hour film, Through an Open Window, I found the conversation surrounding filmmaking had been reduced to coy, 'aw shucks' back-stories about how each film got made. The very first question I was asked after my film, Judy Berlin, premiered at Sundance--- while the actors sat in the audience and just after the credit music had stopped- was about the budget. I wanted to talk about shots. I wanted to talk about Fellini, from whom I'd certainly stolen my own little heroine, played by a pre-Sopranos Edie Falco. I wanted to talk about those weird, sometimes-clunky, Frank Perry films that had partially influenced the film. I certainly wanted to talk about Jacques Demy whose films mythologized the coastal towns of France in a way that was to give me license to set my films in the towns of Long Island. But the era of the low-budget indie film had arrived and all anybody wanted to know about was how low the budget was, did I have a great backstory about the film getting made. Though I refused to answer the question in deference to the entire creative team in attendance, I have been guilty since then about playing into the feverish desire for bone-headed, scrappy-fimmaker stories and the vogue for cutesy "Look Ma, no budget!" anecdotes.

The only thing that rivals our society's fetish with the enormous budget of Hollywood movies (when did we start to know or care about Monday morning grosses?) is the independent world's fetishizing of our own low budgets ("made for twelve dollars in green stamps and recycled bottles!.") The insidious danger in having diverted the conversation to either the back-story or the budget is that neither is good for film. The films I love of the Italian Neo-Realists and of the French New Wave were made under enormous financial constraints and deprivations, but that is not eventually where their greatness lies. Instead, it is their uncompromising artistic rigor and the startling inventiveness of their writing and directing that we still celebrate and are in awe of today. I don't think that Ted Hope's "The budget IS the aesthetic" was intended to focus us slavishly upon the budget nor the aura of cool that surrounds NOT having great sets, professional actors or neat-o equipment. It was intended to encourage filmmakers to utilize what was before them as the Neo-Realists had done with real locations and open air shooting. The budget is NOT the aesthetic. The only guiding principle in a work of art is internal to that work of art or artist.

The responsibility for the creation of better films is the filmmaker's. Film is an art form as well as a commercial endeavor but its practitioners must be artists, craftspeople and creators first, before they are multi-platform, social media, soap-box, agenda-laden, guerilla this, viral that, trans media, new model, off-Hollywood, micro, mini, anythings. We have an obligation both to the filmmakers of the past in whose steps we follow and to the filmmakers of the future who are looking for guidance to redirect the conversation to one that is worthy of the art form.

I am a professor of film at Columbia University's graduate film program. I mention this because it is there at Columbia, in the classrooms where student work is gone over shot by shot, in the edit suites where three frames are added and then one removed, and in the hallways where there is always a conversation going on about the plot of a current film that I see the most hopeful expression of where independent film, and film in general, might be going. It is, however, what isn't being said in those rooms where I find the most meaning.

The conversation no longer seems to be enslaved to the kind of shrill, militant, indie-for-indie's sake battle cry. My students are interested in shots, in edits, in stories, in characters. In short, they are interested in movies.

-- Eric Mendelsohn

Breaking the Rules: To Screen or Not to Screen Before the Festival Premiere

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer. Steven's contributed to HFF/TFF before, and was one of the original Brave Thinkers.  With Sundance around the corner, Steven offers some perspective of a question on many filmmakers' minds.

To screen or not to screen for distributors prior to a festival premiere?  This question often plagues producers in the months prior to festival season.  Hypothetical Scenario: Shortly after you receive an invitation to premiere your film at a prestigious film festival, an established distribution executive calls to request a screener.  She congratulates you and says that she has heard wonderful things about the project.  Sadly, the acquisition executive reports that her company may not be able to attend a festival screening due to schedule conflicts.  If you screen the film for her company before the festival, however, the company may be able to make an offer and announce a deal at the festival.  What does a producer do?

In the past, cynical producers and their representatives viewed such requests as a professional seduction and respectfully declined.  Conventional wisdom discouraged filmmakers from screening their film prior to a high profile festival premiere for a variety of reasons.  Nothing compares to the satisfaction derived from screening a well crafted film in a state of the art theater -- the optimum venue for which the film was created.  After pouring vast sums and sweat into producing a film that was created for the big screen experience, who can blame filmmakers for resisting requests to distribute DVDs before their premiere.  Invariably, producers prefer to showcase their projects to acquisition executives in adrenaline-charged premiere screenings brimming with enthusiastic audiences.  Given this scenario, one can appreciate the cardinal rule against pre-festival screenings.

The traditional way of thinking is beginning to give way, however.  Industry colleagues are observing that more and more films are circulating this year in the weeks prior to Sundance 2011.  Why are producers and their representatives reconsidering their stance against pre-festival screenings?  Distributors are acquiring fewer films in general, and even fewer at major film festivals.  In times of cost cutting, the economies of sending an acquisitions team to a film festival are under scrutiny.  Consequently, distribution companies are sending fewer buyers to festivals and covering fewer films.  Given the declining number of indie film distributors and perceived surplus of films seeking distribution, acquisition executives are less motivated to compete with other distributors for a film.

Distributors claim they are ambivalent about film festivals.  While they appreciate seeing how a film screens and an audience reacts to a film, acquisition executives are reluctant to participate in an auction-like atmosphere where they risk overpayment for a title.  Moreover, distribution executives assume that many films will be available after the festival reviews are published and awards are granted.  In support of their DVD request, distributors claim that most consumers will view the film on a television or computer screen so they should not have to attend a screening.  Distributors feel it is more important to evaluate how a film looks on the small screen, outside of the comfy confines of the art house theater.  Without A-List stars or a headlining director, ensuring that the right people even screen your film, with or without interruption, can be very difficult.

The realities of today’s indie film marketplace compel producers to re-consider the cardinal rule against screening films prior to a premiere.  Some producers believe that pre-festival screenings can raise awareness and generate momentum for a film within the marketplace before the cacophony of a major film festival.  Such screenings can serve as a head start on the festival crowd and may contribute to a sale prior to or during the festival.

Other producers, however, remain skeptical of pre-festival screenings.  They advise others to consider the genre of the film when analyzing the options.  Certain film genres, such as comedy and horror, depend upon a crowd to set the atmosphere.  Screening such films without the benefit of an audience to laugh or scream with can lessen the impact and adversely affect the chance the film is acquired.  Some producers caution that distributors that have screened a film prior to a festival are incentivized to talk the film down to other distributors in order to lower the acquisition price for themselves.  Others state that even if a pre-festival screening is wise, the filmmaker or producer must be prepared to position the film for the distributor.  They will need to know and be able to convince the buyer of the story angles that can be pitched to journalists, who the target audience is and how they can be reached, and must also be able to speak on what they can contribute to marketing and positioning the film.  In short, the filmmaker’s team must be prepared to sell the distribution company on the marketability of her film.

The traditional rule against screening a film prior to festival premiere was based upon the premise of a more competitive market in which distribution companies had the time, money and desire to see as many films as possible.  These assumptions may no longer be valid.  Producers should re-evaluate their options in light of established goals and the challenges of the marketplace.  To screen or not to screen?  The answer to this complicated question requires careful consideration.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.

Thoughts on The New Festival Model

I love that the Tribeca Film Festival has facilitated an immediate VOD launch for some of the films premiering there this year.  This is a key step in freeing festivals from their geographic limitations.  With the collapse of print and the firing of local film critics, festivals have become our most vital curatorial voice.  Whether we like this or not, it is the time we are living in, and it requires festivals to aggregate their audiences and expand their base; that is if they really want to help film culture grow and deepen, which I thought was their mandate (maybe that no longer is what it about; maybe it is now, like everything else, primarily financially motivated). Unfortunately though the VOD experiment as currently structured (or at least as I understand it) is not the distribution or marketing solution for filmmakers that is necessary.  I worry that the lack of prior promotion,non-existant window, and filmmaker-led marketing will lead Tribeca's bold step forward to mirror the popular (and negative) wisdom that came from the Sundance YouTube experiment (i.e. Fail!).  This is totally avoidable.  We already have better answers.

It's great that most of the film industry now accepts a festival launch as the media launch and not the market launch for most films (okay, so-called producers' reps may still have motivations to think otherwise...).  But a media launch does not translate into immediate audience want-to-see.  Without want-to-see failure is a forgone conclusion. We still need to manufacture the desire for our films (and for the culture and world we want too while we are at it!).  It's not like the films with their festival slots were creating lines around the block, selling out shows with rapidity.  We need to harvest word-of-mouth, seed it, and corral it.  And that takes time, labor, promotion.

Festivals and Film Organizations need to launch Marketing & Distribution Labs akin to the Screenwriting & Directing Labs currently endorsed worldwide. Sending filmmakers into the distribution world without proper tools is irresponsible.  Granted filmmakers are not helpless creatures, and most are not ignorant of this necessity these days.  Yet, it is rare that filmmakers arrive at the festival having built a full campaign, armed with engaged and aggregated audiences.  The established players, and most certainly the platforms offering the opportunity, need to offer more support and guidance to their filmmaker constituency (or is that not really their constituency after all...).

If filmmakers are not prepared to exploit the opportunity of VOD or Online Streaming availability of their film, those that offer this opportunity are aiding in the destruction of a new model before it has been given the opportunity to prove itself.  One step forward, two steps back.

It is not as if we are lacking in good films to view.  It is not even as if we are lacking in good films to view instantly.  New films compete against the entire history of filmmaking.  What new films offer that the classic movies don't is the opportunity for an audience to engage with one another in a new and unexpected way all at the same time.  The launch of the conversation is a key component in the launch of a film.  You can't make movies by yourself (okay other than a few folks out there) and you can't start and lead a worldwide conversation by yourself.  Availability on VOD is not a conversation starter.  The big winner in the current model of festival VOD launch will be the content aggregators again.  Yay, right?  Not.

We need to pave the path to make this new model work.  AMPAS currently will deny films award consideration if the films don't first premiere theatrically.  Award consideration has historically been one of the most dramatic and cost effective ways to increase want-to-see; cross that out from your strategy plan.  Or maybe we should organize to get some rules changed...  and organize marketing & distribution labs while we are at it.

It seems to me that a more effective strategy would be to have released a series of transmedia content prior to the festival launch, using that content to create a robust database of engaged fans, tracked geographically.  As the festival approaches, utilize a crowdfunding campaign, not so much to raise $ -- but of course that always helps -- but to further engage the super fans.  In the final weeks leading to the fest, mobilize the audience to demand the film locally via a service like OpenIndie.  All the while feed the hungry with increasingly available updates to a site that offers a wide variety of related products for purchase (audiences do want to support the artists they respect).  With this crowd now identified and engaged, launch a series of regional (and ideally sponsored) screenings following that festival media launch, whereby the audience gets involved to help spread awareness.  And only after all of that, launch the VOD release.

Well, that's my two cents, but I only recently got up, and need my coffee -- and besides, I wasn't charging you for this (not that I do).  You may not agree.  I am sure you have some thoughts of your own and I hope you will share them.  This was all news yesterday.  We shouldn't be so damn slow to respond.  Let's figure out the right way.  I make myself pretty available. I would have liked to discuss this before, but happy to do so after too.  Share your thoughts.  We can make this work if we work together.

P.S.  Since posting this yesterday, there's been a lot of great comments and deep thinking going on.  Please make sure to continue reading below.

ADD 3/5: Tribeca's VOD has grown as an issue over the web.  Filmmaker Magazine and TheHotBlog here.

MIke Fleming addresses the marketing question head on and states:

Gilmore believes the festival's growing momentum creates a high awareness level among specialty film lovers for a dedicated Tribeca VOD channel. That effort will be helped by promotional clout provided by longtime festival sponsor American Express, which signed on to become Founding Partner of Tribeca’s VOD distribution program, as well as a separate online venture that will show short films and broadcast filmmaker panels during the fest's run from April 21-May 2. While it’s not exactly clear yet how much promotional might Amex will bring, one thing is for sure: promotional spends won’t be deducted from the film’s revenues the way traditional P&A costs are.

ADD:  The story is being covered really widely;  the NY Times has joined the fray.  Yet no one seems to be doing any real reporting.  Where's the facts?  How much are they paying for these VOD rights?  What's the filmmaker's split of the revenues? Where's the beef?

Solutions: New Breed's Pt. 3 (and Pt. 2)

Part Two left with my cliffhanger.  Zak & Kevin have come up with several answers to the questions (along with raising the bar for whatever you'd call the quick release group discussion centered around a common event).  Watching this I was very won over by Sultan Sharrief 's efforts.  I sit with so many filmmakers who remain willing to put their trust in the old way of getting stars and expecting them to bring out the fans, finance, and distrib's appetite.  It is very refreshing and inspiring to see folk like Sultan Sharrief accept the world as it really is and not let it stand in the way of their creative efforts.  And thanks to Sabi Pictures for helping to spread that energy and reality.  Check out their whole series if you haven't.  You will be glad you did.

NEW BREED PARK CITY - Exploring The Solutions, Part 3 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

When you think of it, why has it taken twenty years for the filmmaking community to take advantage of a location specific event like Sundance, and gather together people to discuss what it going on in our community at this time?  Zak and Kevin at Sabi do it so well, here's hoping that other festivals recognize how this type of film can launch their festivals to the next level and should employ these guys to make these films regularly!.

Oh, and since I forgot to post Part Two, here it is:

NEW BREED PARK CITY – Exploring the Solutions, Part 2 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

You can also see Part One here, or check out all of Sabi Pictures posts on Vimeo.

Sundance Observation

To me, the filmmaking community (the artists, the business folk, the curators & promoters, the appreciators & fans) have to embrace that we are in a seismic shift to an artist-centric collaboration with the audience and away from the corporate controlled supply & attention. This requires a redefinition of cinema by its creators to embrace the discovery, engagement, presentation, promotion, & appreciation processes as much as we do development & production. We have to erase the lines between between art & commerce and content & marketing. We have to stop thinking of films as singular objects and refocus on how they are bridges for the ongoing conversation we have with audiences. Specifics like VOD numbers are important, but we miss the point if we don't look first at the big picture.


What Defines An Event? 10 Thoughts On Transforming Small to LARGE

Hollywood will survive because of its ability to develop, produce, market, and distribute "Event" pictures. Whereas Hollywood's Event Pictures are defined as being designed for general audiences, Truly Free Film can have its own event pictures too by focusing on specific audiences and understanding what it is that will drive people out of their house to do something in conjunction with others. So what are those qualities of "event"?

  1. A conversation that inevitably will continue after the screening is over. It is an event if you are compelled to discuss it afterwards. Is that a memorable scene? A relationship to the world we live in? Truth? Understanding? Passion? Beauty? Transcendence? What? What is the return the audience gets on their 90 minute investment? It's the after-effect, the conversation.
  2. Content whose impact is enhanced by timely consumption. The audience recognizes that their social and intellectual capital will increase by having been among those whom participated -- and thus are compelled to attend.
  3. A once in a blue moon opportunity. It expires, is used up, & is gone gone gone. If you don't go, you will never get this chance again. It is dated and defined by that date.
  4. There are many pieces that fit together into something much much larger. Maybe it is part of a series or a sequence. Maybe it is the fact that the screening is only part of a bigger activity.
  5. The awareness that a lot of people will be participating somehow. The larger the audience the more it is an event. The wider the audience the more it is an event. The more an audience is spread out, the more it is an event.
  6. The memory, the understanding, and/or the appreciation of the participation changes as time passes. Events aren't static. They grow and transform.
  7. Events have a material aspect to them. We take events home with us somehow, but generally via the merchandise that we barter for with our dollars.
  8. People you will never know are talking about it. When the Velvet Underground or The Sex Pistols first played they were events, perhaps not so much in the moment, but certainly in terms of how they were discussed long afterwards. It is partially the knowledge that we have that others are talking about what we participated in that defines an experience as an event.
  9. Anticipation. What makes us think about doing things in advance? How often do we need to be reminded that something is happening here?
  10. Commitment. If we commit to participating in something, it's importance grows tenfold. If we, by either our own volition, or the badgering or heckering of our friends and acquientances, commit to something, it becomes the event of the moment.
I am up at the Sundance Film Festival now, where every screening feels like an event. People wonder why certain films can pack the house at a festival but no one shows up when booked for an actual run. The context of a festival creates the urgency. Yet even still here, you feel that not enough is done by just putting it up on the screen. Filmmakers need to focus more on the context they create around the film. In this day and age it is irresponsible to simply screen your film. You need to build ramps up to the event, and bridges after the screening -- tools & processes that keep the conversation going. It is surprising how few examples there are of folks who are doing it well.
For me, right now, being here in Park City, perhaps the most perfect practice of this is Banksy and his film Exit Through The Gift Shop. The mystique and craft and philosophy of the street art and artist leads me to the movie and keeps me wanting to see the film even though my schedule does not yet permit.