Guest Post: Eyad Zahra: WHAT INDIE FILMMAKERS CAN LEARN FROM THE REVOLUTIONS IN THE MIDDLE-EAST

Art and revolution both allow us to recognize that tomorrow does not have to replicate today. They offer us hope for change. Both art and revolution begin with the same word: "no". And each is always a model for what may next be offered. The revolutions occurring in the Middle East and Africa will be inspiring in many different ways. I've been eager to find how they filter down and influence indie & truly free filmmaking. Eyad Zahra has stepped forward to get this conversation started, providing us a guest post on what effect all this social & political change has meant to his process. What do these changing times mean to you?

The recent events in the Middle-East have inspired me to readdress the way I do things, and reexamine my own uses of various social media networks. If Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube can aid in overthrowing tyrant dictators, then they can truly be used for any nobel cause the world my have. The brave civilians in the Middle-East are showing us all how robust our social networking tools really are. The ability to share information and connect people on a mass scale has exponentially grown in the past few years, more then we could have ever imagined.

It’s about time we indie filmmakers pick-up on this. We need to go beyond simply acknowledging our social media campaign tools... we need to really start using them aggressively and creatively. They must become a top priority.

No matter what size of a production, studio or ultra-indie, social media campaigns are climbing high up in the ranks of any film's long-term marketing strategy. There is a true democracy at hand here, as these tools are available for anyone and everyone, at the cost of nothing.

For the longest time, I (along with many other filmmakers) thought that using social media wouldn’t have that big of an effect. It was an afterthought to the main focus at hand, the film itself. We found it awkward to be our own cheerleader, and ask friends, and friends of friends, to join our fan pages and twitters. We found every excuse imaginable to not take on social media as serious as we should have, and we would delay using it until we absolutely had to.

It’s time to think past those kind of self-imposed barriers. Developing a social media campaign should be about, more then anything, a filmmakers' sincere interest in connecting with their fan base. That's who you are making the film for anyway, right? If you focus on that with your social media campaign, all the bonuses of having one will come about naturally.

With all that said, here are a few points that I have written down to remind myself for the next time around:

1) I need to start my social media campaign, as soon as I possibly can. As it may take years to make my next film, why not build my social campaign during this process? When it's time to launch my film, I won't have to scramble to connect with my audience, and educate them on my project.

2) A strong Facebook presence is a must. Everybody is on Facebook, and it's not going anywhere. Facebook truly is becoming a virtual replica of the real world. A Facebook fan page is one of the the strongest, if not the strongest way, for me to mutually connect with a wide-scale audience.

Unlike email lists and the the older Facebook groups, the new Facebook fan pages are incredibly accurate in presenting forth what kind of fan base I actually have. All those annoying changes Facebook made were for the better. For people to like my film means something. It means they are willing to put my film's logo on their profile, share information about themselves to me, and in most cases, it means they are willing to stay tuned to the film's news feed. That's a huge deal, and that kind of fan dedication will most likely amount to those people supporting the film down the line.

Facebook fan page analytics are special numbers to have. The fact that I can track down my fans by city, countries, and language is incredible. What might have cost me thousands of dollars in survey studies before, I can now get for free from my Facebook fan page. Who knows what kind of information I will have access to in the future

Distributors and movie theaters are taking Facebook fan page numbers very seriously (as seen with Mooz-lum). Having a high Facebook fan page count is very attractive to these businesses. It's a tangible asset to have thousands of fans already in my support.

3) My social media campaign is an extension of my film, and should be considered an art in and of itself. Tweeting should not be a chore, but rather it should be a fun and creative process that gives people a taste of what the experience of my film will be like. Twitter and Facebook don't have to be boring, we can transform them into artistic expressions that make us excited to use them.

4) Social Media Campaigns tap into the golden ticket to a film’s success : word-of-mouth promotion. When people are taking initiative and reposting and re-tweeting my film’s posts, that's genuine word-of-mouth, the most valuable kind of publicity you can ever get. When a friend posts something in their news feed about my film, it means more to others then if a mass-scale aggregator like the Huffington Post does.

5) My social media outreach will last for as long as I want it to. As my audience grows overtime, I will always be in touch with them. When I need to inform them about special screenings, or inform them about the dvd releases of my film, my social media campaign will play a crucial role in distributing important information. Even when my film is in a dormant phase, I can turn my Facebook fan page into a forum of discussion by posting trending news items that pertain to the issues or themes of my film. By doing this, I will keep my fans engaged about my film in a genuine and sincere manner.

6) If I plan to self-distribute my next feature film, a strong social media campaign might play the biggest role in how I connect to an audience. Self-distribution becomes a viable possibility only if I actually have an audience to deliver the film too, and I know who they are.

All in all, I’m really not saying anything new here, but rather, simply trying to reaffirm things for myself, and others. We filmmakers need to gain more confidence with our social medial tools, and we need to become masters of them, just as much as we need to become masters of filmmaking.

The next time around, I am going to learn from my mistakes and do things better. I'm going to think about my social media campaign from the get go. As soon as I am ready to go on my next project, I will step back and think what kind of social media strategy will suit it best.

Those are my thoughts, and I hope they can help. Long live the indie-film revolution.

-- Eyad Zahra

Eyad Zahra worked with Visit Films and Strand Releasing to release his first feature film The Taqwacores last Fall. The Taqwacores will be available on DVD on April 5th, 2011 in the USA. Eyad is an advocate of DIY cinema, and has given workshops on the subject at University of Southern California and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Believe In DIY: Believing in The Taqwcores

Guest post from filmmaker Eyad Zahra,  discussing his DIY experience with his first feature film “The Taqwacores.” “The Taqwacores” world premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and it will be opening in New York City at the East Village Cinema on October 22nd. To learn more, visit www.punkislam.com. My first feature film, The Taqwacores, opens in New York City tomorrow (Oct 22nd) at the Village East Cinema. It’s been one heck of a grind to get it to this point, with so many people helping along the way, at nearly every stage of the process. This was a true DIY film, made with the help of Cleveland’s punk community, and produced out of the basement of my parents house with the help of my filmschool friends.

Let me pause a second to give a big shout-out to the key players of my team: Allison Carter (Co-Producer/Line Producer), Michael Muhammad Knight (Co-Producer, Co-Writer), Nahal Ameri (Associate Producer/Production Legal), Joshua Rosenfield (Editor/Post-Supervisor/Trailer Editor), and JP Perry (Director of Photography, Colorist).

Let our film be a sign of hope to other filmmakers. If our ultra low budget movie about a subculture, of a subculture (punk Muslims) can play in thirty international film festival and land solid distribution deals in the US, France, and UK, that means anything can happen. Don’t get bogged down by the negative stuff out there, this really is an incredible time to be an indie filmmaker.

I remember back in September of 2007, I was hanging out with my Florida State University film school alumni pals, which included Adele Romasnki and Justin Barber. Over hummus and carrots, we were discussing the kinds of movies we wanted to make, and how we were gonna pull them off. All three of us, eventually went out and made our films, and all three films were able to get distribution deals. Justin produced Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melencholy (IFC), Adele produced David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of The American Sleepover (IFC), and I produced and directed The Taqwacores (Strand Releasing).

What our films had going for them was the fact that they were all very original, and all were made at a very high quality level. I think we all preferred making our films in this DIY manner, as we were all in control of our visions, and we didn’t have any sort of studio-like executives telling how to do things. In a way, we actually were at a place where it takes some filmmakers years in their careers to arrive at. We were making personal films that had great commercial value, and we had final cut rights.

What more could a filmmaker want?

We need to do a better job of educating filmmakers on this DIY style of making films, film schools especially. Every major film school should be teaching how to make these kinds of films. Today, filmmakers can easily be coming out of film schools with features, and not just shorts. The technology has become beyond affordable for curriculums to support that.

Thankfully Ted’s blog is also an incredible resource for DIY filmmaking. I gotta take a second to thank Ted for sharing his life-long knowledge on the craft, and his willingness to constantly explore fresh, new ideas of the filmmaking frontiers. We need more blogs like Ted’s out there.

We need to empower, encourage, and excite tomorrows filmmakers. We can’t be stuck in the rut of saying things are not the same as they used to be. I can only see things getting better.

Eyad gives an in-depth presentation about the do and don’ts of DIY indie filmmaking through a workshop he has created called “DIY NOW”. He has presented “DIY NOW” at USC and most recently at the ABU DHABI FILM FESTIVAL. To learn more about DIY NOW, contact EYAD at info@rumanni.com

Committing To Hybrid Distribution: "The Taqwacores" Story (Pt. 2 of 2)

Guest post by filmmaker Eyad Zahra.   His first feature film “The Taqwacores.” -- a DIY production -- world premiered at Sundance earlier this year, and opens in New York City at the East Village Cinema today, October 22nd. To learn more, visit www.punkislam.com.  Check out the 1st part of this post here.

Make no mistake.  The indie film world is pretty topsy-turvy right now.  As anybody who reads Ted’s blog knows, there are fewer buyers out there, all the while the digital revolution has allowed for movies to be made then ever.  The market is flipped upside down, and who knows when or where it will every land back on its feet.

As the producer and director of The Taqwacores, my first feature length film, I have had the highest of highs, and lowest of lows in my first filmmaking adventure.  I want to be honest here, and not sugar coat the experience whatsoever.  It has been a wild roller coaster to make this independent feature film, a roller coaster ride that has been going on for nearly 3.5 years (and counting).

As a first time feature length filmmaker, I had thought the biggest hump was production.  I figured, all we had to do was get through those 3 weeks of shooting, and everything else would be down hill.

The reality is that it never gets downhill.  It only gets uphill, and it gets steeper and steeper the more you go forward.

That said, I would do this all over again in a heartbeat. That’s how much I love the story I have chosen to tell, and the life-long friendships I have made because of this production.  To any filmmaker out there, you better make sure you love (not just “like”) the people you are working with, and that your narrative is something you can dedicate years of your life too.

To learn more about how we made the film, check out the production notes here.

Today we release the film in New York City at the East Village Cinema.

At this juncture, we are releasing the film domestically through Strand Releasing (Marcus Hu, Jon Gerrans, and David Bowlds), and these guys have been nothing short of incredible.  They have allowed me to be part of the entire release process, and I deal directly with the heads of the company, and my concerns are always answered by them in an immediate manner.   I have been even given an open invitation to swing by their offices any time.

What I love about our release strategy is that we are using a hybrid method towards launching this film.  We are doing a standard limited theatrical launch in NYC and LA, while along stressing an intense grassroots campaign effort.  It’s a bit of the old and new wrapped in one, which allows me to be involved as much as I want to be.  I have been involved in every major decision for the film.  I also manage our online media (website, facebook fan page, twitter) personally.

We originally launched the film at the Sundance Film Festival, which we were incredibly fortunate to get into.  You can read about how that happened here.

At Sundance is where the seeds of our distribution deal were planted.   Our sales team Visit Films (Ryan Kampe, Aida LiPera), were quite remarkable in helping us setup to sell at Sundance in a matter of weeks.  Visit Films is a global sales representative with a business model designed to help first-time filmmakers maximize their audiences on a global scale.  They are really the only people who do what they do in the United States.  By having only one sales agent to deal with all of our distribution deals, and our global film festival outreach, a huge weight had been lifted off our backs.

We were quite lucky to find ourselves working with both Visit Films and Strand Releasing, and for us, working with these companies has been an incredible fit.  I know there is now a movement for filmmakers to remove themselves from sales reps and distributers, but I urge caution to all filmmakers on this point.  Make sure the route you choose is best for your film.  Research as many case studies as you can, and always think of what’s best in the long run.

Eyad gives an in-depth presentation about the do and don’ts of DIY indie filmmaking through a workshop he has created called “DIY NOW”.  He has presented “DIY NOW” at USC and most recently at the ABU DHABI FILM FESTIVAL.  To learn more about DIY NOW, contact EYAD at info@rumanni.com