How Big Brand Sponsorship Saved Our Indie Film (pt 2 of 2)

Guest Post by Amy Lo.  Yesterday Amy started the tale of Planet B-boy's march into brand sponsorship and how they teamed up with Samsung.  Today she concludes with how it was a win/win and some thoughts towards the future. Taking the long view We were relieved that our immediate need for post production funds was met, but our proposal also kept the door open for a much bigger fish to fry: distribution. Our initial strategy was the typical indie film non-strategy of keeping the film under wraps, doing a big premiere at a festival and waiting for any offers to come along. With Samsung unexpectedly involved at an early stage, we started thinking about how we could partner with them to bring the film out, either with or without a traditional distributor. We came up with a plan for live dance events combined with the film screenings, a 25-city tour presented by Samsung.

In the meantime, we finished the film and got it into competition at the Tribeca Film Festival. We had a magical outdoor premiere on the riverfront with Fab 5 Freddy as emcee, live performances, and breakdancing lessons before the movie. More than eight thousand people turned out. We’d made it an event. We knew we could be on to something.

We pushed Samsung and came so close – with no less than the Chief Marketing Officer for North America behind us – but internal politics and timing ultimately thwarted further P&A support. Planet B-boy still had a great run with distributor Elephant Eye Films, held over in NY theaters for 10 weeks and spreading to about 50 other cities. We threw some fantastic events, too.

Working towards the future I’m convinced there’s a still lot further to go with sponsorship and indie film, particularly for distribution and the hard work of getting finished films to audiences. Folks like Rooftop Films , Alamo Drafthouse , and Range Life are making movies more of a communal event. Film festivals, too. Brands get behind those curators without dictating programming, so if a filmmaker’s vision is clear and resonates with audiences, why not experiment with individual film releases, too? Or theaters? Kind of like the old days of TV – Wild Kingdom never had anything to do with insurance but the show’s always been presented by Mutual of Omaha. Sponsorship’s coming back for indie music , why not indie film, too?

Samsung didn’t take any ownership or approvals of the film, and our deal with them paradoxically, became our best guarantee of creative freedom, no strings attached. Sponsorship wasn’t our plan at the outset, but by focusing on the film first, by preserving its quality and originality, we had something for others, both audiences and sponsors, to get excited about.

It most likely won’t happen the same way for me again on another film, and on each project, we as producers have to be more resourceful and more imaginative than ever, looking at every option. I’m telling you this story because the lesson learned is: You never know who might save you. When some doors close, just find new ones to knock down.

Amy Lo is a 2010-2011 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow. Through her production banner Mental Pictures , she develops and produces feature films, documentaries, and new media, focusing on director-driven original stories. She can also be found on twitter @amy_lo .

For more on this subject check out: "Can Brands & Indie Films Collaborate Without Sacrificing Integrity Or Goals?"

How Big Brand Sponsorship Saved Our Indie Film (pt. 1 of 2)

Guest Post by Amy Lo

Behind every finished film, there are 1,001 war stories.

This is just one small part of how we willed into being a film called Planet B-boy , and maybe it’s a rare, lucky case. But when it mattered most, it was a big-time brand that 1) came to our rescue with cold, hard cash; 2) allowed us to keep complete creative control; and 3) gave us greater ownership of our own film to boot. They didn’t even realize how crucial it was to us, but the truth is, Samsung saved our indie film.

Starting on our own
I met a filmmaker named Benson Lee who had a great character-driven story structured around the vibrant resurgence of breakdancing around the world. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to produce it. Industry broadcasters and production companies loved the idea but said essentially the same thing – go and shoot it, show us a rough cut. Fair enough. We turned to equity investors and scraped together enough to buy plane tickets and cameras….Fast forward through production highs and lows, and three months later, we had 300 hours of footage to log in four different languages. We also had a negative bank balance. So what next?

Rallying our cohorts
Between going back to investors and trying to raise money, we didn’t wait around. We posted a clip on YouTube, rehauled our website, and started reaching out to b-boys and folks online for feedback. While Benson went through footage, I spent days seeking out those who would become our most ardent supporters. Our video racked up tens, then hundreds of thousands of views, netting us our first featured spot on the YouTube front page. As the momentum grew, we did our part to keep it going.

One of our first videos showed main characters dancing in distinctive settings, like the Eiffel Tower and a Buddhist temple. We started getting messages from all over the world “Come film here!” and “What about our town?”, so we figured why not open it up through a video contest? Anyone could send us footage of their own choreography in front of their own city landmarks, and selected shots would form an epilogue to the movie during the end credits. With the community involved, our film ended up covering dancers from every continent – except Antarctica (though we did get b-boys from the Arctic Circle in there!).

It was a simple way for people to connect with the film, and individual participation naturally fit with the film’s themes about self-expression – how each dancer interpreted the art form and made it their own, feeding their own culture back into it. Early on, I had also gotten the idea from Four Eyed Monsters to collect email addresses and zip codes as “screening requests” – and we got 500 subscribers from Poland in a single day – a fan in Warsaw had built their own mini-movement around the film.

Sticking to our story
Meanwhile, we had been shaking the money tree and editing the film simultaneously but were running out of equity investor options. We didn’t have a rough cut yet to show distributors or production companies who might put up finishing funds – and if we were able to get that far on our own, would we necessarily want to give up creative control and rights to our film?

When we explored the idea of sponsorship, we were clear on our parameters. Our first priority was being able to make the film our own way. That was never in doubt and wasn’t negotiable. One key difference between commissioned work versus independent work looking for support: We were the ones who could set the terms. Any sponsors would have to be on board with our creative independence, and we made that authenticity itself an integral part of our proposal.

Figuring out our strengths
Once we established what we wouldn’t do for sponsors, we still had to think carefully about what we could offer them. There weren’t many indie film examples we could turn to. We weren’t cult filmmakers like David Lynch, Spike Jonze, or Wong Kar-wai. We had no guarantee of distribution or a film festival premiere – we didn’t even have a film yet.

But we did have footage – 300 hours of amazing dancing and stunning back stories that wouldn’t all fit into our feature-length film. We had plenty of “content” to lend to a willing partner. Going back to our initial YouTube clips, we also had a growing following and the potential to transcend a niche audience once we had a finished film. The creative goal for the feature was to show b-boy culture in the truest light possible, and through our characters, also make it a relatable story about identity and self-expression. It was a story we were passionate about, and it seemed like something a sponsor could get behind.

Doing our homework
Where to start? We connected to Samsung after much due diligence and research. We asked around for help and suggestions within the b-boy community, and we drew up lists of target companies. We found as much information as we could about each: decision makers, past projects, other forays into sponsorship, and what their mandates might be. Some companies supported the arts through non-profit arms, while others fielded proposals through their in-house marketing departments or ad agencies.

Samsung seemed our best match as an electronics company. They had empty hardware; we had content to fill it. I built a sponsorship proposal tailored to them around this idea. We promised to give them a series of five trailers as exclusive content – for embedding into new Samsung cell phones, mp3 players, and other portable media devices, and in retail displays and product road shows. The videos wouldn’t be commercials for Samsung product; they would strictly promote the film – and identify Samsung as our supporter. And for this, they were willing to put substantial money towards us finishing our movie, a mid-six-figure sum that meant all the difference for us, and was less than the cost of a traditional 30-second ad for them.

Tomorrow, Amy concludes with some thoughts on "Taking The Long View" of brand sponsorship of indie film.

For more on this subject check out: "Can Brands & Indie Films Collaborate Without Sacrificing Integrity Or Goals?"

Amy Lo is a 2010-2011 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow. Through her production banner Mental Pictures , she develops and produces feature films, documentaries, and new media, focusing on director-driven original stories. She can also be found on twitter @amy_lo .

Transmedia, Brand Sponsorship, & Crowdfunding: New Methods For A Long Gestating Project

Guest post by Zeke Zelker.

Ted: We are trying to find new ways these days.  New ways to tell our stories.  New ways to build community around our work.  New ways to bring audiences out to support our work.  And new ways to fund our work.  As we take these steps down these bumpy paths, it is our communication with one another that will bring forth the best practices.  Zeke had been speaking about some of these such steps that he was employing, and kindly has chosen to share them with all of us. Below Zeke outlines his new film, and then reveals what has made the process unique for him.

I’ve been working on this project for over ten years. Generally I let ideas percolate in my mind, on paper and screen before I set out to embark on bringing the movie to life, my ten year gestation period, is one hell of a pregnancy. I’ll pitch the project to various people within the industry, observe their reaction then go back to rewrite, rebuild, rethink. This project is different, sure we ALL say that, but this one is on two fronts, how we’re funding the project and how we’re telling the story.

Brief Synopsis: Why would four people give up everything to live in a tent, thirty feet in the air, on a catwalk, eight feet wide by forty-eight feet long? To win a mobile home and “ninety-sixty hundred” dollars? Desperation? Greed? Attention? Escape? No matter what their reasons, Clarence Lindeweiler is trying to capitalize on them to save his struggling alternative rock radio station WTYT 960.

At first a laughing stock of the community, Clarence’s hair brained scheme to drum up listeners garners national attention, pulling his radio station from the ratings basement to number two. As the contest wears on, the novelty wears off and ratings start to dip. Clarence takes the do-anything approach to right his sinking ship however his shenanigans backfire. The community and media turn on him, calls ring out to end the contest but success has gone to Clarence’s head. Who will become the lucky contestants? Who wins the grand prize? Tune into WTYT 960 to find out.

The story for Billboard, an Uncommon Contest for Common People! was inspired by true events from my childhood. I recall driving by a billboard, in the early eighties, on our way to the mall, where three men lived, to win a mobile home. Times were tough then; high unemployment, people couldn’t afford housing, high fuel prices, does this sound familiar? Seeing those men waving at us, as we drove by them, has stayed with me.

Within the framework of the project we’ll be exploring many things about the human condition using the platform of transmedia to help engage the audience and interact with them much like the real contest did close to thirty years ago. This is a challenging project and we need a lot of help in its creation.

Those three men became dependent upon the community and business owners to sustain them, much like how we are launching this project. We’re funding the project through crowd funding and offering the opportunity for companies to sponsor billboard space in the movie. The offering of branding space to help fund the film has always been a part of the project from day one, but it has now metamorphosed into being a part of the story. Can you help us? Will you become part of the story?

[http://www.vimeo.com/15513404]

We’ve made a 10% rule for ourselves, we want to raise 10% of the funds required to make the movie from friends and family and from the area where we plan on shooting the movie. This happens to be my hometown where we have already made a number of features, having had a significant impact to our local economy. Will my own community step up and support us or will this become a hurdle that we will have to overcome?

So far we have only raised $700 since our announcement two weeks ago, we have $29,300 to go. We have had some local press, pushed out emails to over 9,000 people, put it out via facebook, etc. which has resulted in over 130,000 impressions for the project thus far, which businesses could have already been capitalizing on, hmmm I guess we’ll have to take the wait and see approach on this.

We feel by having 10% of our budget in place, will also prove to those people who are on the fence of support, that the project has some legs and carry them over to the other side of support. We are offering some great perks: parties, merchandise, a shout out on the radio in the movie, a seven course meal cooked by me, small billboards that appear in the movie, on the website and possibly in the trailer and commercials, and the large billboard that is the backdrop for most of the movie and will appear in ALL key art promoting the film, posters, letterhead, DVD covers, website, anything and everything that you can think of. Oh and we have fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas where donations and sponsorships are tax deductible. I feel this could be a deciding factor for some, that the close of the tax year is upon us.

Those people and companies who donate will have a leg up on others when we release information about the movie, after all we will have their direct contact information. There will be chances to win prizes, be in the film, play games, listen to a new virtual radio station and many, many other things that we’ll be announcing over the course of the two-year project.

I am not discouraged by our dismal performance thus far. I know it takes time for people to warm up to a new idea and I know once things start to unfold, people will become more inclined to help. I believe that. I also believe as we get the project out there, that companies will have that ah-ha! moment and understand what we’re doing, capitalizing on the idea of transmedia and seeing the plethora of branding opportunities to target to our 13 to 35 year old demographic.

I’m kind of glad that it took me ten years to finalize my plans for this project. Waiting so long enabled certain technologies to be developed and opportunities to present themselves. It gave me time to craft a better script and it to develop a very immersive story telling experience where we’re offering the community to get involved and many artists various opportunities to share their work all within the frame work of the Billboard story experience.

This is all very exciting to me, the convergence of story telling, brand involvement and technology to entertain people. After all, if we’re not creating something that is entertaining do we even have the right to be in this space/medium?

I believe that Billboard is not only an entertaining project but also an important one. Billboard examines the root of humanity, that piece in each one of us who struggles to get ahead, to get noticed or to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the type of project where we look at ourselves and those around us, observing that at our core we need human beings to be human, to propel our existence. Sure these are some lofty ideas for a comedy but that’s what the project is truly about. We may even laugh at ourselves in the process.

Stay tuned… I’ll share what is working and what is not over the course of the project. I look forward to hearing people’s comments, helping me learn and understand the new story telling frontier. And yes, I would love your kind financial support, pledges can be made at http://www.indiegogo.com/billboardmovie

Life may just imitate art!

Zeke Zelker is a Lehigh Valley, PA native whose first exposure to the film industry was in John Waters’ film Hairspray, as a dancer in Corny Collins Council. A critically acclaimed, award winning filmmaker with a number of films to his credit: The 2005 Sundance Film Festival favorite Loggerheads, Affairs, Fading, A.K.A.-It’s A Wiley World!, Getting Off, Southern Belles, Just Like the Son, a documentary on the Dalai Lama, A University Prepares, and his most recent film InSearchOf, the sixth most viewed drama on Hulu all time. Zeke has been an early adaptor in using technology to make, promote and market his films.

Brand Sponsorship: The Various New Tools

I got one of my first breaks in the film business over twenty years ago.  I walked into a production office and told them that I could raise over $100K of product placement for their indie film.  No one was doing it in those days and there was no how-to guide.  I told them they did not have to pay me unless I was successful.  I went to the library did some research on companies, and started cold calling.  It was pretty much a piece of cake.

Nowadays there are many product placement agencies that the brands contract with to seek out good placement opportunities.  On a typical indie film, you hire a rights clearance and product placement person to work with you clearing and obtaining trademarked items.  It's a labor intensive field based around relationships and know how.
With the ubiquity of user-generated content, new opportunities have risen not only for the brands, but also for filmmakers.  Although I don't know of any pot-of-gold stories, there are a handful of new services looking to bring efficiencies to the field by helping brands and creators utilize various online tools.  Granted no artist desires to turn their work into a walking advertisement, but brands also have an incentive to bring audiences to a work that they are featured in.  Careful consideration can yield a win-win situation.  
Which of these new services are the best?  What other ones are out there?  How do they differ?  I don't know, but maybe some of you do.  These are the ones that I have found so far: