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!!!

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.

If I were a filmmaker going to Sundance….

Today's guest post is by Orly Ravid of The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit, full service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Orly was featured as one of HFF's Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010.

* This is part 1 of 3 parts to this Sundance focused blog.

* Part 2 will be written during the festival.

* Part 3 will be written in the aftermath of the glow of the fest.

If I were a filmmaker going to Sundance, and let’s say that I had a film with no recognizable press-generating cast that would be attractive to a distribution company for a large MG… What would I do? Seriously, I asked myself that question. And I realized how tempted I would be, even I, to find some sexy publicists and rockstar agents or sales company so that I could get the hot sexy sale at Sundance and make all my dreams come true.

What can a distributor do for you that you cannot do yourself with just a little bit of money, not even a lot, and some low fee consultation? And above all, what are you giving up by not building community for your film before and during the fest, instead letting other people run your show, potentially losing out on the momentum of the festival?

Let’s look at some films from Sundance last year that were in this position and the routes they took and what they may have netted. These are films that cut distribution deals of some kind and got less than wide releases from their distributors:

A Small Act (Doc): Distributed by HBO, I don’t know exact sale price but suspect it was less than $150,000 and they did not need a sales agent to do that.  They are also a TFC client for festival distribution. TFC handled film festivals for the filmmaker though by the time we got involved HBO had aired the film and that hurt our festival bookings and hence diminished potential revenues to the filmmaker. The director, Jennifer Arnold, is presently closing a DVD deal as well that she got herself.

*Gasland (Doc): Distributed by HBO, TFC consulted at Sundance along with their lawyer Michael Donaldson, and they did not need anyone to help them get a good HBO deal though they did have help handling offers and pursuing interest. The deal came to them directly and would have come to them regardless.  They did some self-distribution for theatrical (Box office $30,846) and festivals. The film is now available for DVD.  Zipline did PR and the film got its good rightful share of it.  The filmmakers received a deal that has worked out very well, with some great PR and it played lots of fests. It’s shortlisted for the Oscars too.

*Extenuating circumstances: Debra Winger executive produced this film and she definitely helped a lot. Josh Fox is a very committed activist and spokesperson of the film’s critical message so he is very embedded in the community that would be most interested in this film. It’s a great example of a film that got a lot out of being at Sundance and the filmmakers got a deal they are happy with and they probably recouped as a result given the low budget of the film.

A Film Unfinished:  Distributed by Oscilloscope. I will say that $320,000 theatrical box office is very very good (I have no idea what they spent though to release the film but it’s likely some money was made on the theatrical). The film had a sales agent (CINEPHIL from Israel) and I am almost positive the MG was less than 6-figures. My judgment is that the filmmakers could have done just as well releasing on their own with just some money set aside for a booking agent and a publicist, especially for this niche.  It is a doc that hits a niche audience that works consistently and is lucrative and I can’t say that the filmmakers needed a sales agent and a distributor to be in between the film and its audience. I doubt the filmmakers will make as much money as they would have handling the film on their own with just some low fee consultation.

The Dry Land - reported budget from imdb $1mil, box office  $11,777

Most likely a service deal since it was theatrically released by Freestyle Releasing. Freestyle service deals are not cheap; most of their releases involve budgets of $200,000 + (though sometimes less) and most for-profit service deals involve fees of tens of thousands of dollars). Clearly not a good result here, but we assume hoping to recoup in home video.

Douchebag -Paladin is distributor and so that generally means it was a service deal paid for by the filmmakers. However the filmmaker Drake Doremus told us: "douchebag was not a service deal paid for by the Filmmakers. Paladin bought the film from us for an amount way above the budget of the film." Bravo! Box office return however was $20,615. Also, not a good return.

Bhutto - Distributed by First Run Features. Just released December 3, to day box office $16,216, only playing 2 theaters. A large advance was not paid and most of what was accomplished could have been done by the filmmakers themselves without large percentages paid.

Taqwacores: Distributed by Strand , most likely a very small advance was given. The box office was $9,347 on 2 screens. Another example of a film that could have done this much better and faired better overall without a distributor involved. With just some low fee consultation, time and money set aside, the filmmaker would still be in control of their film and able to work up the audience.

I am not knocking these deals, simply noting that if one is to do them, one should at least cut out excess middle men and do them smartly, reserve some rights, negotiate carefully on the back end, monitor expenses, maybe even have been better off not doing these deals.  It would have helped all of these films to build community around the film leading up to the festival and exit the festival with a bang, ready to reach audiences immediately. I think a lot can get lost during the time it takes for distributors to bring films to market, especially for the smaller films.

I think the decision to cut a deal with a distributor, no matter what, is emotional because even when I put myself in the filmmakers’ shoes I realized the emotional power of having an offer made to just take care of this for me. It signals that what has been made must have value and was done well. It also allows for one to not have to get hands dirty with the money stuff and the business stuff.

But, if you are a filmmaker, you did choose the most expensive art medium in the world and unless you are rich or your investors don’t care about getting their money back, I want you to at least consider this: You don’t NEED traditional distribution. For MOST of you, without special connections or name cast, MOST traditional distribution will not serve you. Most distributors don’t pay enough or do enough or are fair enough, and many of them have to raise P&A anyway, or hire the same service providers you can, so do the math, think twice, and be careful.  And remember, buyers are happy to buy direct, especially many TV buyers and VOD platforms, and you can get inexpensive help negotiating.

The more you can set up to do on your own the better for you and your investors in the long run. You run a risk doing nothing in terms of building community around your film or not setting up a distribution plan, having several layers of middle-men and waiting for Godot.  When you do the math, the Sundance dream often connects up to cast-driven films and just a few rare gems each year, and there are those to be sure, each year, but just a very few.  Most other deals you could get anyway if you wanted them, with someone on the side advising you in a fair way.

PS: Here is additional info on films from Sundance 2010:

* 3 BACKYARDS: Screen Media all rights, no verifiable release.

*12th AND DELAWARE: HBO Films, premiered on 8/02/10,currently HBO OnDemand.

* ANIMAL KINGDOM: Sony Pictures Classics, Box office $1,008,742 and this is a great example of a film that might otherwise have done no business were it not for Sundance.

* CATFISH: Rogue Pictures / Universal with a box office of $1,315,573 and it is definitely a great release for a doc and if the deal is good for the filmmakers then it’s a dream come true. Of course that’s an ‘If”.

* CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY: Magnolia Pictures, $175,865 – and this is directed by Alex Gibney one of the most famous doc directors but sadly probably lost market share to the feature starring Kevin Spacey.

*EXIT THROUGH A GIFT SHOP: Producer’s Distribution Agency (a distribution company set up by John Sloss specifically to handle this film), Box office $3,291,250. I am in love with that film, and it’s to Banksy’s credit the film did what it did and some in the industry actually think it was a financially weak release given how much was spent, estimates are put at over a million. In any case, most filmmakers cannot imitate a set up that had John Sloss turn down a just over 6-figure advance (as far as I know) because he wanted to handle the release himself and he did with the help of Richard Abramovitz and had the reputation and cult following of Banksy, Shepard Fairey , and Thierry Guetta.

*FAMILY AFFAIR: OWN the Oprah Winfrey Network, air-date:  possibly spring.

* THE FREEBIE: PHASE4, the box office was just  $16,613 the deal was allegedly worth low - mid six figures for US & Canada, all rights.  The film was sold by Visit films.) Now I have inspired Phase4 to buy two films I did not take a commission on.  I am not saying Visit films is not great and I am not saying it’s not great to have guidance at a festival or market especially when there is a bidding war, which there was apparently, I am just saying buyers buy films they want, not because of who is selling them.  We hope the filmmakers of all these films weigh in on their overages and overall bottom line.

* FREEDOM RIDERS: PBS with an outreach campaign by outreach campaign by American Experience...www.pbs.org/freedomriders, film to

be shown in May on 50th anniversary of the original rides. Ok that’s cool.

*GROWN UP MOVIE STAR, NO US or INTL distribution, E1 entertainment is the sales agent, Mongrel Media (distributor in Canada)

* HESHER: NewMarket, reported budget $7mil, no release info

* HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE (DISTRIB: Anchor Bay, release was supposed to be in March but as far as we know it has not happened yet).

* THE IMPERIALISTS ARE STILL ALIVE: no info

*JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: The Radiant Child (Arthouse Films (which also produced the film), Box office was $250,129. A big hit in France, what a great niche and great doc. The producers did handle their film themselves in the US.

*LAST TRAIN HOME, Zeitgeist Films, released: 9/03/10-TOTAL GROSS: $282,092

(Here is a good example of a good doc sales company from what we hear and a good US distributor and a doc that probably sold well relatively speaking).

* LOVERS OF HATE: IFC –which is primarily a VOD play and some very traditional deal terms.

* MY PERESTROIKA: no info

* THE OATH: Zeitgeist, box office $42,273

* OBSELIDIA-reported budget $500K, still with a sales agent it appears

*THE RED CHAPEL, Lorber Films, opens 12/19/10 at IFC Center, Lorber Films plans a theatrical release of the film in the U.S. and Canada, followed by television broadcast and a DVD release.

* RESTREPO (US distribution: National Geographic Entertainment, Box office $1,330,058 –another Sundance success story to be sure, assuming terms are good for the filmmakers, which we have no information about

* SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS: Maya Entertainment (US, media)

* SKATELAND: Freestyle Releasing in March 2011 – and this means most likely it’s a service deal and paid for by the filmmaker. I should note that sometimes Freestyle helps raise the P&A. (though I don’t know what their cut is; one day I will ask).

* TWELVE: DISTRIBUTOR is Hannover House and the box office gross was $183,920 (somewhat shocking given the cast and the director.

*UNDERTOW: (Sundance World Cinema Audience Award Winner) TFC is doing theatrical and worldwide festivals and consulted on the distribution deals. We will be covering this in a case study to be written after the release is completed.

*WASTE LAND, Arthouse Films, released 10/29/10-TOTAL GROSS: $96, 597

Arthouse Films handled the theatrical release later followed by a DVD and digital release on the Arthouse Films label in early 2011...E1 Entertainment holds the international rights and is managing worldwide sales which to date include Australia (Hopscotch), Hagi Film (Poland) and Midas Filmes (Portugal). E1 Entertainment will also distribute the movie in Canada and the UK. Downtown Filmes is the Brazilian distributor.

* WINTER’S BONE: Roadside Attractions, Box office $6,210,516, and this is a great example of a film that would have likely lingered in oblivion were it not for Sundance and the right distributor);

* Other films not listed in detail are Cyrus, The Kids Are Alright, Waiting For Superman, Splice, and The Runaways because they all have big names involved, in a few cases the deals were done before Sundance and not all of them even had great releases in the net analysis.

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema.  Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

DIY Chronicles: THE WAY WE GET BY (Part 3 of 5): Going Local and Maximizing Your Distribution Window

Today's guest post is the third of five from filmmakers Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet concerning their experience making and distributing THE WAY WE GET BY. The students at Harvard Business School realistically saw no way for us to do a theatrical run without a significant investment in film prints and print and advertising. But they noted that by leveraging our POV broadcast with a DVD release, we could feasibly make our first real revenue stream. That coupled with a strong educational and community screening plan showed that there was perhaps some hope of making a living. However, they all agreed, it was going to be A LOT of work.

The one date we knew we couldn’t move was our broadcast. The Way We Get By was going to be a common carriage POV Special on Veterans Day (November 11). We knew we had to come up with a strategy to market and promote the film leading up to the broadcast and direct our audiences towards the DVD.

As we waited to see which film festival we would “world premiere” at, we realized we had a growing audience and strong support in Maine. We knew we had to figure out how to leverage this regional support base to help us nationally. We began fundraising in Maine, in hopes that we could pull off a small theatrical run within the state. Through our networking efforts, we were introduced to our eventual Executive Producer. His son was serving in the Marine Corps and had gone through the Bangor International Airport five times. This hub, where much of our film takes place, held a very emotional place in his heart. Being a Vietnam veteran, he also still had emotions involving his own journey home. In short, he had a personal stake in our film succeeding. He wanted to see it find the largest possible audience. His first significant contribution to the film came in the form of a donation to help with the costs of marketing and outreach. But it was his next contribution—sharing his personal relationships with us, that helped us also secure a critical deal with a local bank in Maine.

We had originally approached Bangor Savings Bank asking for support to help finish The Way We Get By. But since they had never financed a film before, they saw it as too risky a venture. When we went back to them with our finished film, they loved it and wanted to be the exclusive sponsor for a set number of screenings across Maine.

The bank initially wanted to pay us to license and screen the film at around ten locations around Maine—including a speaking fee for each event we were a part of. But we knew if we were going to do something significant in Maine, as well as nationally, we needed to forget about a quick financial gain and leverage it for something long term. We decided to counter offer with a different plan entirely. We told them we would bypass any screening or speaking fees if they were willing to pay for a film negative and film prints (roughly $35,000 in hard costs)—making it much easier to screen in theaters around Maine. Finally, they agreed to spend over $100,000 in marketing the film across the state and purchase a large quantity of DVDs.  This included throwing receptions before screenings in many cities, and using their standing in the community to help get local press. In return, their logo would always be on the screen before the film played, and they would have the option of having a bank representative introduce the film.

We brought on a friend—Ben Fowlie, the founder of the Camden International Film Festival—to act as our theatrical booker in Maine, as he knew almost every theater owner in the state. He quickly helped lock down the theatres for the Bank sponsored screenings as well as several additional theatres. After our world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March, while we were still just getting started on our festival run, we decided we would launch our theatrical run in Maine stretching out through the summer.  This was a gamble because during the summer, theaters were playing the big blockbuster films and audiences would typically choose to see Star Trek over our documentary—or so we thought. With all the press and promotion we were able to secure with the “Made in Maine” angle, we played in over 20 theaters, splitting the box office with each theater. We framed the photo of the neon marquee of a central-Maine theatre touting Star Trek through the week and The Way We Get By on the weekend, and we still have the Rentrak reports, from a western Maine theatre, showing our head to head box-office battle with the latest Harry Potter film—we doubled them in box-office that weekend!

Coming off the high of our success in Maine and with five film prints in hand, we debated on giving the film a national theatrical run. But if we went for it—we could risk losing the money in Maine and even more…..

END PART III.  Part IV continues tomorrow with MINIMIZE YOUR LOSS AND HOPE FOR A GREATER PAYOFF IN THE END

Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet are now working on their next project—a narrative feature, “Go Baby” they plan to shoot early next year. They recently launched SUNNY SIDE UP FILMS, www.sunnysideupfilms.com, which also supports the national distribution of independent films.

 

Tune in to see The Way We Get By for its encore presentation as part of the 2010 season on POV August 3, 2010. For more information, visit: www.thewaywegebymovie.com

Part One: Finding A Spot In The Line-Up Part Two: Timing Is Everything Part Three: Going Local & Maximizing Your Distribution Window Part Four: Minimize Your Loss And Hope For A Greater Payoff In The End Part Five: Going Local Pays Off

Using Social Media Tools To Build A Truly Free Film Community

If only 30% of people's online time is spent viewing content, then there is real hope for indie film.  The other 70% of users' time is spent in search and social.  We know that people not only want to discover stuff (like great stories and films) but even more so, they want to talk about it. One way to define Film is as the transformation of leisure time into intellectual capital and then into social capital.

The question all filmmakers need to ask themselves is what can we do to get the others to talk about film more.  How can we improve the conversation people have about film?  We have the tools.

I loved B-side's Festival Genius and hope it doesn't go away now that the company has. One of major festivals, or indie film support orgs should acquire it (for their own benefit as well as ours).

(UPDATE 4/10 : Okay, I admit I have a crystal ball: the day after I wrote this, IFP announced it was acquiring Festival Genius.)

I was recently hipped to Dan Zeitman's FilmFest from a comment on this blog by Weak Species' Dan Faltz.  FilmFest looks like it is much of the same thing as FestivalGenius.  All festivals should utilize these tools (please!). As they are available, it is safe to say that a festival that does not provide these tools are doing both their audience and their filmmakers a disservice.

Filmmakers should INSIST all festivals to utilize these tools, or refuse participation in them.  Or maybe it's the other approach:  Let's build a list of all the festivals that use these tools and encourage participation in them.

I spoke before about the idea of film festivals using Foursquare to engage audiences, but there are no doubt many more of this sort of ideas.   It might be time to develop a new list!  If only I had wasn't trying to get my movies made, I would have some time to do something really important.  Lend a hand though: we can make it better together.

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.

Free Sundance Hybrid Distribution Consultation w/ Jon Reiss

Today we have a guest post from Jon Reiss announcing his generous offer to do some free consulting for filmmakers with features at Sundance.


As some of you might know, one of the reasons that I wrote Think Outside the Box Office was after those first Filmmaker articles I wrote in Fall ‘08 about my experiences distributing my graffiti doc Bomb It, many filmmakers contacted me to help them with their films. However they were all broke, as most filmmakers are. The book started as a brain dump so that I could share my experiences with others. I figured people could at least afford $20-$25. (After many requests the book is now available as a PDF from my site for $14.95)


But filmmakers still need individual advice; how to apply the new distribution and marketing models and landscape to their specific films. And unfortunately since filmmakers in general are not saving money for distribution and marketing, they are still broke.


So I wanted to do some kind of community consulting “event” at Park City this year. I thought about sitting in a coffee shop for 2 hours a day and having online sign ups for 20 minute sessions (I still might do this if enough people request it).


However, Lance Weiler asked me to do a live consulting session at the Slamdance Filmmaker Summit (Saturday January 23rd) with two filmmaking teams one narrative/one doc. Anyone in Park City can attend and it can also be live streamed (along with the rest of the Summit that I recommend you all check out).


I’ve decided to expand this to 10 more feature filmmakers from either Sundance or Slamdance. I will provide 45 minutes of consultation by phone or Skype before the festival begins and 45 minutes during the festival. This can be used in any way the filmmakers want, from helping to devise a complete DIY scenario, to getting my opinion on any deals being offered.


For selection any interested film should email me by Thursday January 14th by noon at reiss.jon@gmail.com. Send me what you have eg synopsis, trailer, website, plans you have in mind etc.


I will pick the films and announce them by Friday January 15th.


For any other Sundance/Slamdance filmmaker not chosen I will be reducing my consulting rate before and during the festival from $75 an hour to $50 an hour. This rate will apply even for the chosen films if they want to go beyond the first hour and a half.


Hey Sundance Filmmakers! Whachagonnado with your film?

A little more than a year ago, I started this blog partially because I couldn't bare the thought that another group of filmmakers were headed to Park City with false dreams of gold, mistaking the festival for a market, and thus missing out on an important media launch. I am not sure if any filmmaker truly headed into 2009 Sundance though with their "A Plan" to launch out of the fest i some sort of way. Some did adopt DIY or hybrid distribution afterwards, but this year shows a much different picture, with already at least four films declaring the festival as their launch.

With their being very little of an acquisition market in The States these days for specialized film, what are the other filmmakers doing? How can they fully consider their options? Hope has risen. There is an answer.
Filmmaker, TFF blogger, author, and distribution consultant Jon Reiss is very generously offering up ten FREE consultations to filmmakers with films in the Sundance selection. This is a fantastic opportunity to figure out what is best for your film. Maybe you already know, but even then how great is it that you get someone to bounce your ideas off of.
Details will follow tomorrow, but let me see it would be very wise for you to give some thought NOW as to why you need to speak to Jon and how your film could benefit.

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

Today we have a guest post. Jon Reiss returns!

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

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere (Part 1)

20 Points to Consider in Approaching Your Festival Premiere Part 1

by Jon Reiss

Author of Think Outside the Box Office

One of the biggest discussions that came out of @Jon_Reiss on twitter a couple of weeks was about filmmaker preparation to launch a film at a film festival. I talk about this in the Film Festival chapter of Think Outside the Box Office I gave out on IndieWire last week. This concept of initiating the release of a film at the film’s festival premiere was spawned by my talks with filmmakers who had had big splashes at premiere festivals, but were never able to generate the same level of promotion or interest eight months later when their film was finally released. Further, there are a couple of companies pursuing this course of action as a strategy – IFC Festival Direct and Snag Films have launched releases of films at film festivals. In fact, specialty divisions have recognized the buzz generating power of festivals and have been using them for many years to launch films.

Premiering at Sundance and Slamdance provides a film with one of the biggest world stages to launch a film. A savvy filmmaker might consider using the festival to launch a national release of their film. Even though I am a fan of this idea (especially for the films that have been developing their marketing and distribution plans for many months) I want to provide a bit of caution to filmmakers who might consider this path without being prepared.

I do not recommend attempting to initiate the actual release of your film if you are just scrambling to get it finished and have not prepared for distribution or marketing.

One alternative if you are not ready at Park City to launch a full release, is to do so at your next big festival 4-6 months down the line. This approach was used by Weather Girl to good effect last year.

I am going to break up this discussion into 2 different posts. The first is what I feel that every filmmaker should consider before going to their premiere festival especially if if they are not ready to launch the full release of their film. (I will refer to Park City below – but it is interchangeable with any premiere festival)

1. You need to develop a distribution and marketing strategy for your film. This does not mean “sell my film for $ 5 million to Fox Searchlight”. That is not a strategy. Your strategy should takes into consideration Your Film, Your Needs, Your Resources, Your Audience.

2. In evaluating your film: how likely is it that you will garner an all rights deal at Park City? (there were approximately four of these out of Toronto).

3. Have you created an alternate plan of action for your film in case a magical overall deal does not happen for your film? You should have a sense of what your alternatives might be before arriving at Park City so you know how to evaluate offers.

4. Very important: How will you use Park City to help enact that strategy? Perhaps the best opportunity at Park City is to lay the groundwork for a split rights arrangement. You should have a sense of what those pieces are and how they might fit together before you get to Park City.

5. What team will you assemble for Park City? The old school approach is a sales rep/lawyer and publicist. Concerning sales reps, Peter Broderick recommends (and I agree) that you should create your strategy before you engage a sales rep so you have a basis with which to evaluate what they are telling you (and so that you can use this mind set to evaluate who will be the best sales rep for your specific film). In fact in the new split rights world, strategists/consultants can be a big help. I will publish a list of some consultants who I have either worked with or know on my blog in the coming days – and I’ll announce the list on @Jon_Reiss.

6. Concerning a publicist – some publicists have also started to move into the distribution strategy realm – such as 42 West. Have you discussed with your publicist the desire to hold your press for release? Few publications will give you more than one review. As publicist Kathleen McInnis recs: You have to balance buzz building with having material to release upon release. Fest roundup coverage is great. But publicists can be expensive which brings up another issue:

7. How much money do you want to spend on “opening” your film at your festival. Sure you want hype – but I would strongly recommend keeping as much of your resources as possible for the proper release of your film. With the sales climate such as it is – does it make sense to spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 on Park City if you don’t even have that much reserved for the release of your film. Resources are limited – use them wisely. Resources also include the time you can request of your cast and of yourself and your team as well.

8. What do you want from your deals? How might you fit various offers into various split rights scenarios? Is your rep prepared to work with you on setting up split rights scenarios if there is no overall deal. Are you prepared to walk away from low ball offers. How do you choose various distribution partner(s) for monetizing different rights?

9. Are you prepared to engage the audience for your film that the festival will generate so that you can retain them in your fan base? This includes the following:

10. Do you have a website that invites engagement? Do you offer something to viewers to collect their email list. Check out onetoomanymornings.com (who sent me their website – as they were probably spamming it around – I recommend this – if you send me your site and I like it – I’ll tweat it). One Too Many Mornings offer a mix “tape” for your email address (but it is well below the “fold”. I recommend that they and you give people all a number of options of connecting with you “above the fold” eg in the top of the section of a website. This includes email list sign up in exchange for some kind of digital swag. Facebook, Twitter and Rss links. (the latter presumes you have a blog – which you should) Not everyone will want to give you an email address, some people prefer Facebook (tip from Cynthia Swartz of 42 West), others Twitter. Onetoomanymornings already has a robust Facebook fan page of over 1200.

11. Collect email addresses at every screening. Pass around several pads and pens and announce before the screening that you want people to sign up. Have pads ready outside of the screening for people who don’t want to wait for the pad in the theater. Keep a folder for each festival so you know where the email addresses came from originally. You want Name, Email Address, Zip, Country. (Another tip pounded into my head by Broderick)

12. Do you have a trailer? Many films at Park City last year did not have trailers in advance of the festival that could be viewed on line. The sooner you have one the better. But it should be good. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Do you have more than a trailer? Might you video blog from the festival or partner with your cast? Something unique that shows your imagination.

13. Key Art is important. A central compelling image speaks volumes for your film. See if you can get a someone with marketing experience to work on your “copy” eg the text of the poster. Get a good graphic designer to do the art. You can crowdsource this through crowdspring.com On-line postcards are very cheap these days but you should balance price vs shipping cost. Business cards are also cheap, making new ones with some graphical branding of your film is a good idea. Have all of the ways people can connect with you and your film on your card: email address, facebook page for film, Twitter, Blog.

14. Especially if you are doing your publicity DIY, or making a deal with a publicist so that you have to do more of the work: Consider putting your press kit, photos, compressed trailer etc in a drop.io account so that you don’t have to constantly attach those items to your emails. Set up an auto signature with the drop io link and you will be able to handle those multitudes of press requests with ease.

15. Are you going to sell DVDs? It doesn’t take much to author a festival edition and replicate 1000 for $1000. (You’ll need at least 200-300 for press and other festival submissions anyway). Say you are in 5 biggish festivals (which by virtue of being in Park City most likely you will be in at least that many). Say you sell 100 at each festival – a conservative amount – live sales are some of your best sales (especially if you make it a collector’s edition). That’s 500 dvds at $20. That’s $10,000 which should just cover your Park City publicist. Peter Broderick has been advocating this for years. We held back the sales of the DVD for Bomb It at our premiere at Tribeca and yet it was still available as a bootleg on Canal St. one week after the festival. If you have a film that might be very popular on pirate sites – you should think through selling your DVD and what your strategy to deal with piracy is going to be. I don’t feel that any DVD company worth their salt is going to worry about this level of sales from you (if they are worried – how many are they going to sell on their own for you.)

So that’s Part One.

I would love to hear what you think at www.twitter.com/Jon_Reiss

All of the above points are covered more extensively in my book Think Oustide the Box Office. Come visit the brand new site at: www.thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.com

Cheat Sheet #3: Profit From Festival Play

Today's post is again brought to you courtesy of Jon Dieringer, and is part of continuing series of cheat sheets from prior TFF posts.

Other ways to profit from festival play (from Jon Reiss)
(http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2008/11/film-festival-plan-having-film.html)
1. Some festivals will pay you
2. Maybe they can do a PAL dub for you
3. Foreign fests could supply you with translation that you can use later on DVD
4. Connection to local theaters

-With five united filmmakers you have a booking block, a touring film festival of your own making. (http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2008/10/film-festival-plan-beyond-bonding.html)

-What about using a festival to launch direct DVD sales/promote self-distributed film rather than looking for distribution (see links to other “post-festival” posts: http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-fest-era.html

(will festivals let you sell there? Check in advance)

-Festival Secrets book, download full pdf: http://www.filmfestivalsecrets.com/book/issuu/

Cheat Sheet #2: TFF Film Festival Preparation

Today's post is again brought to you courtesy of Jon Dieringer, and is part of continuing series of cheat sheets from prior TFF posts.

Preparing for a Film Festival
  1. make trailer and post on web
  2. post clips on the web;
  3. have ongoing blog… start during pre-production?
  4. maintain blog through and after festival play
  5. have website
  6. form simple way to collect email addresses for fans
  7. set up a way for fans to subscribe to updates about the film
  8. join multiple social networks, both as an individual and as the film
  9. create a press kit with press notes for the film;
  10. identify the blogs and critics you think will help promote your film
  11. build a study guide for the film for film clubs
  12. map out a festival strategy that builds to local releases
  13. make several versions of a poster, and have enough to sell & give away
  14. make additional promotional items for your film;
  15. manufacture the dvd, and make great packaging for it

Cheat Sheet #1: TFF Festival Goals

Jon Dieringer, my former assistant on ADVENTURELAND -- and who was a lot of fun, did good work and you should hire --, recently did a "cheat sheet" distilling a lot of the information from this blog.   I think he did a very nice job and I will be funneling his work to you over the next few days.  Feel free to provide any suggestions on how to enhance it further.

I am starting if off with what started off the blog: Film Festival Strategy
Festival Goals
  1. Plan A has got to be that you will need to be the leading force in the distribution of your film. This is the DIY model.
  2. Plan B is that various experts will all want to work with you on Co-Distributing your film, albeit for a fee.
  3. Plan C is that buyers for different media will want your film and you need to be able to evaluate how to mix and match these offers -- or even accept those offers at all.
  4. Plan D is that someone will make an offer of such an amount that it is worth considering giving up all your rights to your film for the next twenty years.

http://trulyfreefilm.blogspot.com/2008/10/preparing-for-film-festivals.html

Is There A "Too Many" (When It Comes To Film Festivals)?

I moderated a panel at New York Women In Film two weeks back on "prepping for film festivals".  One of the panelists, Ryan Werner of IFC Films, said something that resonated with me.  Ryan said that there are films that play so many festivals that they diminish his company's appetite for acquisition.

That raises the question then: Can an undistributed film play too many film festivals?
Ryan's answer is essentially yes -- that is if the filmmakers are looking for acquisition.  The bigger question is whether anyone should be looking for acquisition these days, and if so, are film festivals still the best way to do it?
It sounds like it should be obvious, but I think it's worth asking what is so appealing about acquisition by a distributor these days.  Until very recently, the money you received for licensing film was the dominant factor.  We all have to recoup our budgets (and our marketing costs), right? But in this day and age, less than a handful of a films are receiving advances of seven figures or more.  Unless you are making your films for very low budgets, how do you expect to get your investment back?  If you don't get your investment back, why should anyone give you money for your next film?  If you don't get your money back, why should others invest in similarly themed films?  
Maybe it's no longer about theatrical, but we have yet to hear the success stories of films that receive significant amounts on the back end of VOD or increased video sales due to ad-supported free streaming either; that may come, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.  Sure, if you make your film cheap enough it may seem tempting to surrender your rights across all media for twenty long years for $75K and significant cut of future revenue, if any.  But without a theatrical release stateside, will there be any foreign value to it?  I have been getting reports that foreign acquisition prices have dropped 40% in recent times -- so where does that leave average foreign value for a US Indie?  36% of costs (that is assuming, foreign value was only at 60% of costs, which is pretty conservative on what hand, but probably generous for most indie filmmakers)?  Eek!
The problem is that most filmmakers still think of festivals as a step towards acquisition.  As Ryan's comment points out, that is only true for your first two or three festivals.  After those, if you haven't secured distribution, your chances of acquisition are diminishing with each festival play.
Festivals have an increasingly vital role to play in independent film.  They are one of the critical steps in delivering a Truly Free Film Culture.  As has been said here many times before (and I anticipate saying many more times in the future), festivals must be looked at as the launch in audience-building, marketing, and distribution.  
If you do not have distribution, you are not ready to play film festivals if:
  • you do not have your trailer made and up on the web;
  • you do not have clips selected and up on the web;
  • you have not been writing a blog regarding the film for a significant length of time;
  • you do not have a plan on how to keep that blog interesting for the next year;
  • you do not have a website for the film up on the web;
  • you do not have a simple way to collect email addresses for fans;
  • you have not set up a way for fans to subscribe to updates about the film;
  • you have not joined multiple social networks, both as an individual and as the film;
  • you have not created a press kit with press notes for the film;
  • you have not identified the blogs and critics you think will help promote your film;
  • you have not built a study guide for the film for film clubs;
  • you have not mapped out a festival strategy that builds to local releases;
  • you have not made several versions of a poster, and have enough to sell & give away;
  • you have not made additional promotional items for your film;
  • you have not manufactured the dvd, and made great packaging for it;
and there are probably more to add this list, but....
I look forward to a time when film festivals actually make such things a requirement.  I would love to see a film festival that was only about films that were prepared for self-distribution if necessary.  Film festivals are currently selling the dream and not confronting the reality.  Filmmakers keep buying that dream.  It is all a downward cycle as the business side of it is being neglected.  Distributors, both corporate and personal, need festivals to launch the film to their core audiences.  If filmmakers aren't prepped to do that, they squander that opportunity and diminish their chances of reaching that audience.  Sure there are other methods out there, but why not use your best tools in the way they have been most proven to work?

Hope For The Future pt. 9: The List #'s 35 -38

35. Film schools are waking up to the need to educate students on how to survive – it is not enough to know how to direct or produce, graduates must have real world skills too. Jon Reiss is developing a specific curriculum on this, and I have heard from others who are looking to do the same.

36. Filmmakers are recognizing that film festivals are more of a launch platform than a marketplace. More films have trailers available prior to Sundance than ever before. Some wise filmmakers even come to their festival premieres armed with DVDs to sell. Will this be happening at Sundance? Are there any filmmakers reading this who plan to? Let us know.

37. Cultural institutions are stepping into to fill the void left by mainstream media’s abandonment of the art film space. MOMA in NYC now schedules films for regular runs. If we want to see art, why not go to a museum? We need shrines to see beautiful projection and I hope there are many other institutions picking us MOMA’s lead. It could become an actual circuit.

38. The fight to restore integrity of the producer credit continues. The PGA continues to lead the charge here and looks poised to step it up. The recognition of the need to a specific financier credit is becoming part of the conversation – namely that the Executive Producer credit should not be used for line producers but preserved for those who help finance. There is so little dignity left in the role of producer, one hopes that the rest of the industry recognizes how they are all vested in restoring integrity to the credit. Granted there are times when more than three individuals truly are producers on a project, but twelve? Wouldn’t it be a great world if even the distributors committed to stopping over-inflated credits? If an organization like the PGA actually went after the individuals and companies who push for such false credits? Real producers are always in a vulnerable position when looking for cast and financing and a soft position will not get this done. Why does a distributor or sales agent seek such credits anyway?

Sundance Trailers

2009 can already be marked as the year that filmmakers and distributors launched trailers prior to Sundance and Slamdance. We won't yet have the majority of filmmakers being truly prepared, but new ones seems to debut daily.

I imagine next year the festival catalogue might link to the trailers. Hopefully at least the online version. Maybe they will link to clips too. For now though, we have to be content to find them ourselves.
A few weeks back we posted about Cinematical's growing list. We can now add six more to it:
Dead Snow; dir by Tommy Wirkola (hat tip: TrailerSpy)
Disturbing The Universe: William Kunstler; directed by Sarah & Emily Kunstler
Manure (teaser); directed by The Polish Brothers (hat tip: /Film)
Roseancrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead (slamdance); directed by Jordan Galland

Taking Chance; directed by Ross Katz (hat tip: /Film)

We Live In Public; directed by Ondi Timor (hat tip: Thompson On Hollywood)
Once again though it should be noted that The Workbook Project is on it for you.  For those of you that are thinking of next Sundance already, Zak Forsman has a post on how to cut an effective indie trailer.  Check it out.

Printing: Posters & Postcards

As mentioned a few days back, our Film Festival Strategy brainstorm continues...

Jon Reiss offers this up:

A very necessary expense in your publicity campaign are postcards and posters. These can be expensive but fortunately there are a number of on-line printers that are relatively inexpensive (eg 4000-5000 postcards for $100). One hidden cost when it comes to printing is shipping so I do recommend using a printer near you - so before you buy - make sure you include shipping in your cost estimate. I actually send an assistant or intern to pick up my printing from "Next Day Flyers" since the shipping almost costs as much as the printing. Sometimes your local printer will even match an on-line printers prices - or come close enough to make it worth your while. But they won't cut their prices unless you have a comparison price.

Regarding Postcards - they are cheap enough online that you could print them for each festival or theatrical screening even if you only print 500 at a time. The old way of doing this was to order a ton and then use stickers for your specific screening time. Unless you have some slave labor around - buying new postcards for $50 is going to be cheaper than paying someone to print and apply stickers to each post card - you have better things to do with your time.

Three important notes about posters:

1. Most on-line printers will not print one sheet size posters.

2. Printing standard film size posters - 27"x41" - is very expensive (for film festivals you only need one or two which will cost about $50 each - but for a theatrical release you will need more than that). The reason that these posters are so expensive to print is that they are too large for standard offset printing (the cheapest kind of bulk printing). However nearly all theaters (all the ones that I dealt with) will accept posters that are 24.5"x37.5" which is the largest size that you can have printed offset. This will save you thousands. (Although the best price I found was $1200 for 2000 posters - a pretty good price).

3. You can get a lot of mileage from 11x17 posters. Most storefronts won't put up a standard or near standard one sheet when you are promoting in a town. But they will put up a 11x17 poster. And these are much cheaper. You can get a 1000 for around $300. They are also good for wildposting/wheatpasting as they fit on most electrical boxes. (18x24s are also a good size for this) But be careful with wildposting - you can be fined thousands of dollars for illegal posting if there is anything on the poster that will track back to you or the theater!)

Printers:

Next Day Flyers based in Compton California

Got Print based in Burbank California

jon@jonreiss.com

Film Festival Strategy Round-Up

Back when I started this blog in October (oh so long ago, eh?), my short term goal was to help filmmakers not be misguided as to what a festival, even Sundance, could do for their film.  We posted a bunch about film festival strategy and it is all collected here.

There is still a lot to say on the subject and we are open suggestion as to the topics.