Rachel Gordon on "Streaming Educational Media"

Rachel Gordon first posted on this blog about tapping into the educational market, and what we need to do to be in a position to benefit from the opportunity before us. Today, Rachel continues with an update on how that market, like everything else, has evolved during this Age Of Digital Disruption.

Like the rest of the media consumption world, educational uses for films no longer solely occur by watching DVDs. Though non-theatrical forums are still mostly reliant on physical copies to screen, there is a growing trend of streaming media for classes. This is done in multiple ways: using a provided username and password at a designated website, logging into a central institutionally-owned server to watch a film in preparation for an upcoming lecture, or training people in several geographical places at the same time.

Included in this post are collaborative initiatives that benefit both parties – producer and cultural organization – using media. It makes the audience base larger while showcasing progressive agendas and cutting edge ideas. Everyone should think about what kinds of unique projects can be expanded on from even a portion of the films they are creating, or scenes that might have been deleted but still hold value. Admittedly, most of us would prefer to have an entire piece being seen but if a group of people can benefit from isolating a 5-minute clip, this should still be fostered.

Some recent impressive uses of media used by organizations in an online streaming capacity that create social capital and extend human awareness are:

The College of Direct Support began a Film For Thought (FFT) series, utilizing Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy as a tool for training direct support providers, state agencies, and colleges with personalized stories of people with disabilities. Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy is the story of two women with different disabilities – one with Down Syndrome and the other with Cerebral Palsy – who help each other to live independently outside of institutions and lobby Congress for disability rights.

Film for Thought (FFT) Courses are courses built on one film. Their curriculum is designed for learners to connect CDS courses, content, and learning to the main themes and story line of each film chapter. Learners are also asked to integrate this with their work as a Direct Support Professional or Frontline Supervisor. FFT courses will help learners see, hear, and feel how many of the issues are played out in the real lives of people with disabilities. Currently, over 800 individuals have used this course.

You can see more about the program by clicking here.

The Roshan Foundation is a nonprofit organization supporting the preservation, transmission, and instruction of Persian culture. In a pilot project to reach out to new students attending university courses in Asian studies, they decided to use cinema that came directly from the region and collaborated with AsiaPacificFilms.com, a streaming-only service that showcases over 500 films from every Asian and Pacific community worldwide. The foundation took 24 of those films and created a curriculum, with academic introductions, to provide faculty and students located anywhere immediate access to this cultural resource through a designated portal. You can see the creatively multi-layered result by clicking here.

It was a success and now a similar program focusing on Korea is in the works.

Freedom Machines, a film which originally aired on POV, about how assistive technology helps people with a variety of disabilities to actively participate in their communities, was placed on the internal server of Sun Microsystems, in its chaptered sections, for employee education. It was made accessible throughout all of their offices internationally to show how and why disability accommodations in the workplace are necessary. Progress Energy is also utilizing the film as part of its diversity initiative in explaining the complications of barriers in any corporate setting.

The film Monica & David, about a couple with Down Syndrome who gets married which was broadcast on HBO, collaborated with the American Council for the Blind. This unique partnership provided the filmmaker much needed accessibility features for creating their DVD while expanding the audience online to people who were visually-impaired by creating audio description. For the HBO broadcast debut, an audio described version of the film was produced with ACB Radio, who was able to enjoy a free simulcast stream that night. ACB Radio is American Council of the Blind's free online station.

These examples wouldn’t be on the top of anyone’s lists as initial ideas in marketing plans or distribution strategies, but they’ve all increased public awareness of important causes while providing some extra income, technical tools, or exposure for filmmakers. So I highly suggest keeping your eyes and options open for similar opportunities.

Rachel Gordon is a New York based independent filmmaker and consultant who started Energized Films to help other filmmakers, and distributors, expand the audience of their media into receptive homes in academic, non-profit, and other specialty markets. She’s currently developing a comedic feature about feminine fear of commitment, making a documentary about homeopathy, and speaking to film schools about the importance of teaching distribution to students.

Rachel Gordon on "Tapping into Educational Distribution Part 2"

Yesterday, Rachel Gordon shed some light on how you might make your film viable for the Educational Market. Now as much as we all hope to make a living by making films, I don't think that is why most filmmakers enter the field. And as thrilling as self expression is, I often hear filmmakers cite another reason for the creative spark: they want to facilitate change. Today, Rachel provides examples of how the process of preparing for the Educational Market can also precisely do that higher goal of moving us towards a better world.

Adding to the idea of using media in education, this post will provide a broad view of integrating media with community change, as well as concrete examples of success.

If you ever watched a film in high school or college, or went to a screening at a local community center, you’ve already experienced media having an impact on a non-theatrical audience. Here is the short description of how that comes about, as well as specific situations from clients I’ve worked with.

The Collector of Bedford Street centers on a retirement-aged Jewish man with an intellectual disability who spends his days collecting money for a variety of charities that request him to do so. It shows him being an active participant in the community, and the mutual care-giving relationship between himself and his neighborhood – he’s able to continue collecting money for charities, and his well being is sustained through surrounding efforts.

This means that the main non-theatrical markets are (each of which will have subcategories): Disability issues, Aging/Gerontology, Jewish studies, Charities/causes, community activism, social work, and I could continue…

Now take one agency, perhaps one of the ones involved with the care of your subject, and get their perspective on your finished product. Show them a rough cut to get them on board and get ideas about who needs to know about what you’re doing. Be willing to give out preview copies to one or more of these organizations in exchange for feedback. Use their feedback in order to forward it to others who have similar interests.

Have a brief questionnaire with simple questions you can use for future reference and quoting such as:

How do you use the film?
What are some of the reactions you’ve seen?
Who do you think should see this?

To get specific, Collector has been used by Kiwanis International to help teach youth about the importance and joys of community service. Inspired by that, for the past couple of years, Roger Williams University has used Collector’s story, including filmmaker Alice Elliott as a speaker, at their student orientation to help demonstrate the positive change that results from participating in community service activities.

Every time a copy of your film leaves your hands, see who it went to and note what type of organization they are coming from. Write them thanking them for support and seek their feedback to build on, and quote as well.

When your film is showing, contact those in your interest groups to notify them, assuming you can invite others to see it. Or, even if you can’t, send out information about why it’s being shown in that community to those same parties. This would include public libraries, colleges/universities, local non-profit advocacy groups, etc. They may not be able to attend, but the screening provides community respect and they may at least check your website in interest.

Another concrete example was an event I recently coordinated for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Women and Gender Studies Division decided to work with their Student Disability Services Department to host a screening of the film Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy. They wanted the subject, Diana Braun, to speak at the event, but Diana was overseas promoting disability self-advocacy in Uzbekistan through the American Documentary Showcase. In order to make a more powerful event, I connected with the local Arc in Massachusetts – a disability advocacy group – who spoke alongside me at the event. After screening the film a lively discussion ensued about how to help ensure the independence of people with disabilities, and what any individual could do in support of disability rights.

Both of these films are under 1 hour long and both have been making significant impact in a variety of communities, and earning income in the process. If they can do it, any film can do if it you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

In the over-an-hour category is In Good Conscience, about a Catholic nun non-violently fighting for gay rights, with which we’ve managed to create public events at universities and churches. Sister Jeannine speaks with the film, along with filmmaker Barbara Rick, and it gets used as a tool to discuss bias, bullying, LGBT inclusion, and religious integration.

Another film over an hour, which also had a theatrical run, that I’m about to attend the American Library Association in support of is The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The film is screening during the conference, and Daniel Ellsberg is also speaking there in an entirely separate program.

These engagements take some time to plan, as these institutions need to prepare budgets well in advance in order to prepare travel arrangements, technical support, etc. When an event happens at a university, chances are the institution will take an extra step of coordinating multiple activities with different departments to get their monies’ worth – such as the film or journalism department, schools of Social Work, Student Activities, etc.

It’s also worth noting that films can have a long lifespan in the educational environment, where acquisition and usage are based on theme and research areas. So a film isn’t discarded or forgotten because it’s already been out for 2 years, it can find strong validity in the classroom for over a decade. Creating and maintaining an educational and advocacy agenda can build you a worthwhile audience.

Rachel Gordon is a New York based independent filmmaker and consultant who started Energized Films to help other filmmakers, and distributors, expand the audience of their media into receptive homes in academic, non-profit, and other specialty markets. She’s currently developing a comedic feature about feminine fear of commitment, making a documentary about homeopathy, and speaking to film schools about the importance of teaching distribution to students.

Rachel Gordon on "Tapping into Educational Distribution"

For Indie Film to thrive, a producer must consider all revenue streams from the beginning. Of course not every project, is applicable to every opportunity, but nonetheless, you want a box to check for each. The Educational Market is one platform that goes unchecked for many filmmakers. Let's change that!

Filmmaker, and expert on this field, Rachel Gordon graciously offered to share what she knows of this field with you.

I began working with non-theatrical distribution at the National Film Board of Canada over 10 years ago. As a filmmaker, the experience of finding new markets for films that were under an hour, and even animated, was exhilarating as I’d worked on so many films that would never see the inside of a theater.

Educational distribution is broadly defined as any usage of media that is not consumed in a traditional theater, or home video setting. Examples include, but are not limited to: classrooms – both K-12 and colleges, museums, non-profit/advocacy groups, etc. It is not an exact science, and it often takes longer to start seeing returns than people have patience for. If you stick with it long enough, though, you’ll connect directly with an invested audience that will keep up with your projects.

So discussed here is how to make your film an educational tool, no matter what its length or genre, and hopefully pay a few bills in the process. This should not be relied on as your only form of income. Academic environments take longer because people plan courses ahead of time so expect this outreach process to take a minimum of 6 months, up to a year, to hit solidly.

Technical preparation:

1. During DVD creation, provide chapters of your film that are 5-7 minutes long. Don’t randomly pick the timing, use whole thought segments.

2. Disability accessibility features such as closed (or open) captioning and audio description may seem like “extras” but are becoming more necessary as state agencies and educational facilities adopt ADA (American with Disabilities Act) specifications into law.

3. Study guides are highly useful, as your way of helping any audience understand what they are supposed to get out of watching your film. Educators appreciate these as they often lack preparation time and energy.

4. Be prepared to process orders in any way that is convenient for your customers – including check, purchase order, credit card. If you make it hard to buy or use your film, people will lose patience and not ask for help.

5. Be flexible about how the content gets delivered. Current options include DVD, streaming, digital download, closed-circuit/institutional television, and the right for media to be accessed from a central server.

6. Be creative with photos and artwork. DVD covers should include pictures, synopsis, and quotes. If you hand someone a clear case, it’s going to look bland, uninteresting, and less reliable as an educational source.

At the beginning, you want to get some copies out to organizations that have like-minded ideals. Reach out to them and be prepared to send them review copies with such questions as:

How would you use the film? Who do you think should see this? What social action goals does this film serve?

Every time a copy of your film leaves your hands, see who it went to and note what type of organization they are coming from. Write them thanking them for support and seek their feedback to build on.

It’s also important to send review copies to the top educational publications – almost every media librarian in the country subscribes to them – university and public libraries alike – and they also peer-review the materials. Give about 3-6 months time for them to get to it. These publications include (but again, aren’t limited to): Video Librarian, Educational Media Reviews Online, Library Journal.

There are academic studies dedicated to any subject you can think of, and they all use media as a tool with which to engage their students because they realize that students are consuming online video content. The academic world extends beyond the classroom to include conferences, publications, and professional development.

It is, and seems like, a long process, but what you get from all of this work are people who do come back and want to continue to use your media to help with their programming. What is also amazing is how positive and supportive educational environments are. Librarians who use and promote your work respect copyright issues, talk on a variety of listservs about content that they find helpful, and are generally quick to respond and answer questions about what is going on in their worlds.

Rachel Gordon is a New York based independent filmmaker and consultant who started Energized Films to help other filmmakers, and distributors, expand the audience of their media into receptive homes in academic, non-profit, and other specialty markets. She’s currently developing a comedic feature about feminine fear of commitment, making a documentary about homeopathy, and speaking to film schools about the importance of teaching distribution to students.