Response To Responses To All The Bad Things In Indie Film

It's nice to get people talking and thinking.  Even better when you get them acting.  My post this morning has been doing a bit of it all.  Thanks for spreading.  And joining in. I like this thread that started by Lindy Boustedt on Facebook.  I like their ideas and energy and want to help.

I like Ann Rutledge's response to it too, and look forward to taking her up on her offer to help solve the capital problem.

I got this email from Sheri Candler and am responding with the color text below.  Sheri's numbering are hers, and don't apply directly to my points.

Ted,

I am writing this to you when I really should be working on other things. Some of those other things I get paid to do, and some I do because I hope in the future it will lead to getting paid or getting paid more money. This is kind of the way I see “opportunity,” it is something you make or something you grab, not something you are waiting to be given. We all have to work for our opportunities, but they don't exist equally for everyone.  I have benefited greatly by being white, male, middle class, english-speaking, and having had a good education.  I was also fortunate to arrive in New York when I did.  True, we can't wait; we must act.  But it will never improve unless we accept that we also have to work towards justice and equal access.

Whatever “success” I have had in the last 3 years since I started really forging into this space, it is only the result of work I have taken upon myself to do. No one gave me opportunity to start. I started with a blank sheet of paper and an internet connection. I suspect that is the case with anyone in this space who has real commitment to stick around. There is no “job” here, the job is what you make it.  I almost agree with this.  I know the story as very true -- but there also COULD be many jobs here, and I am confident there will be once we recognize the value of the add.

I read your post today on the Really Bad Things in the Indie Film Biz and it isn’t the first time you have raised these concerns in some way. I was at the exclusive meeting during IFP Week where you complained about the lack of the investor class (I would not characterize it as "complaining" and actually the focus that day was the inability for filmmakers to earn a living and how that SHOULD be everyone's concern who wants both a thriving business and culture) and I was dismayed that those in attendance mainly seemed to represent the old guard of people who are interested in figuring out how they can keep doing what they are doing, even praise it, rather than constructively sit down and think way outside of their comfort zones that have sustained them over the last 15-20 years (for some). They are, as most people are, not concerned about leading a true change for other people. They are concerned mostly for what  is happening only for themselves and their companies. It is understandable of course. This is why more of them do not exist in the non profit space. They don’t really want to change, they certainly don’t want to lead it! You are a different breed and I commend you for that, even when your posts are tinged with wanting to keep doing what you were doing (I love telling stories, getting them made, and impacting the world -- and I think it is my greatest talent, but also that I could improve things for everyone if I shifted my focus to infrastructure).. You can’t anymore, you can only do something different. (I could, I think.  I would need to lower my overhead substantially and not live in NYC or SF -- and still have access to a creative community and capital.  It's what I am still planning for the next chapter.)

I will take on most of your points with my thoughts. You can throw this away if you want. Or not read it because it is rather lengthy. (I am choosing to print them!)

1)Earning a living simply by making movies is not reality now. More revenue streams will be needed. Teaching, blogging and selling advertising space on that blog, creating more products around your visual work, partnering with organizations to distribute that work and partnering as an affiliate for other businesses will be your way forward. It will be a hell of a lot more work. So? That is a path that is available to some.  It is not for all.  I think people can earn a living solely by creating media, whether they distribute it directly or license it to larger corporate powers, but it is still a shift from a single product produced again and again to one where we engage in a much wider conversation and via a wider variety of form.

2)People break ranks on accepting sub par (or not what they envisioned) distribution offers every day. You just don’t hear about these projects because they aren’t being feted at awards ceremonies (which incidentally costs tons more money to politic/curry favor) or pulled up as glamorous examples by the media who only want to show the illusion of massive success. Those who break ranks trade that in for modest success that grows from spending very conservatively and locking in on an audience that isn’t mainstream, in fact so far from mainstream that if you aren’t part of that audience, you wouldn’t know the work. This isn’t a bad thing, it just isn’t glamorous. The time involved in building just that audience is so much that most in this space wouldn’t touch it, but once built it can flourish far longer than these “massive success” stories.  I am really excited by this model. It is essentially what I meant by Truly Free Film.  We are not dependent on the mass market anymore.  We can get hyper-specific.  The missing piece however is community.  Building a Facebook page or a Twitter feed is not community.  We need to build community around specific themes and genres.  HOWEVER: the point I was trying to make is that 10% of negative cost is not worth turning over your film to another for an extended term.  You can use that film to build an audience/community that is yours and not surrender it to 3rd parties.  At 10% what should be being offered is a partnership at the very least.

3)I am not sure art films are dead, they just aren’t mainstream and they will take far more effort to actually connect with an audience personally than most artists/sales agents/distributors are willing to do.  Very true.  But we can all work together to build a community, can't we?  My whole post is a plea to abandon the everyone for themselves mode that infects the indie world and culture in general.  We can build it better TOGETHER.

4)Which is it? Reviews don’t mean much or we should have reviewers covering releases other than theatrical? I can’t understand your point. Mass media reviewers make it easier to reach the mass, but individual people reviews actually make people want to see the films. For myself, I must hear good things about a film from many different sources and it still needs to be on a platform that I can access immediately, usually that is online and not films in a theater. It's not one vs. the other.  Both are true and more.  The point here is that we all lack trusted sources for discoveries now.   Going to an individual we are close to for a recommendation is a complicated process that doesn't promise the response one wants. Different platforms have different attributes and deliver different experiences, too.  We have yet to design a recommendation engine that truly works for this connected world of media abundance; we are stuck in an old world model.

5)Women directors need to get up and do it for themselves. Women in general have had to do this for everything we’ve ever received and, while I find it admirable that you raise this issue, it needs to come from within our own ranks. I feel like most women directors do not champion other women. Indeed, look at how many other female producers/directs even both to write a blog as you do to examine this issue. They are too focused on trying to steer their own careers.  We need to stop focusing on pleasing outside entities, do more to make our own opportunities and push ourselves to work with other women. Same for minorities. I respectfully disagree.  It is all our issue.  Rape is not a women's issue.  Same Sex Marriage is not a gay issue.  Racism is not an issue for non-whites.  The price of education in America is not a youth or class issue.  These are all issues for us all.  They destroy society and we all suffer for it.

6)I can’t speak from a position of authority on tax credits, but the articles I did recently read raise legitimate concerns on the usefulness of such programs on a state level. Filmmakers of course look myopically at how those incentives help their own productions, but should that come at the expense of spending state workers’ pension funds? Those are people too you know and maybe they don’t want their retirement money spent to help the film industry make bazillions while leaving their state with few of the promised jobs, and most of those just temporary work. It is not an understatement to say that the film industry is ego centric, arrogant enough to only see the benefit for themselves with little concern over where that money comes from. I found those articles insightful and worth investigating what tax incentives REALLY do for industry, every industry not just the film industry. I agree we all need better understanding of this.  It is a complicated issue.  Yet as a producer I know that particularly these days we need to make our decisions based on cost.  I also know that  the money I spend for my production is a small fraction of the money my productions cause to get spend.  And I know that the film industry will always travel to where the best deal is.  Granted, we don't want a race to the bottom and it is not easy to determine the best method, but I do know that attracting regular and consistent motion picture work to a region will bring in predictable revenue beyond what comes from the production.

7)If we are agreed that people are going to the cinema less and less, then why are filmmakers still being encouraged to keep making cinematic films? The organization you work for seems to insist on this by even holding a festival, every film school or lab program persists teaching filmmaking this way. The VPF will be moot when few cinemas even exist anymore. More work will be needed to break away from this mold. It will ultimately be done when the data more than overwhelmingly supports that the cinematic viewing of film is dead.  I am not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I love the cinema experience.  I don't think it will ever leave us.  But it could lose it's pop status and fall into an elite pastime like other cultural strands.  Further, festivals (most of them) are community events that the community supports.  Not every festival is a market or industry event.  I look forward bringing the SFFS to fully embrace the broadest definition of cinema regardless of form, delivery, subject, style, presentation or any other aspect.

8)I agree that harvesting data will be our best shot at survival and The Film Collaborative has been tracking as much data as we can legally get to look at the real winners (apart from the seemingly winning) films from last year’s Sundance. Sundance is our barometer because it is still widely accepted as the premiere place to find indie talent. It has not been easy to gather this data and we have so much of it that it isn’t even easy to figure out how to present it in a coherent way. Why do we do this? No one paid us to do it? We do it because we do want survival for as many as possible and that can’t happen if we don’t pull together and share. The effort will ultimately be worth it even if the data doesn’t support long held beliefs.  Here, here!  More power to you and the Film Collaborative.  How do we all work together????

9)I don’t view the digital transition period as a disaster. It is only disasterous for those who can’t change. Many will perish in this space (as they always do whenever evolution happens), but many more will rise up to take their place.  It is simply change, not disaster.  I think you are confusing my points here -- or did I make confusing points?  My point #14 was about preservation of digital media.

10) I firmly believe the investor class will be in microfinancing, not investment funds. It will come from crowdfunding basically. I personally have trouble believing that the motivations that come from arts donors we have previously found to support crowdfunding will be compatible with the mindset of an investor intent on a financial return, but we’ll see. Perhaps they will mix nicely just as people donate to the arts AND have personal stock investments. We should have more conferences for those who are interested in learning more about micro investment instead of only focusing on big money investment. The key though is emotional connection to those investors which we haven’t seen before in the investment sector.  I can’t think of any investment company mindset that started from really knowing what their investors deeply care about and steering projects their way. It has always been the money and that’s all. I think people in this space want to show their support and care with their money, not just make some more. I think it will be more diversified than just 

crowd financing.    I think there are always those with large capital that want to do both good and well.  I hope that the threat that art film is under will mobilize some of that capital.  Organizations like SFFS are supported heavily by folks with high net worth, yet they too want film culture to be accessible for all.  We will have more diversified film culture when we all work to make sure that both creators and their supporters benefit directly from the work they create.  We need more money to flow in both directions, instead of just into the buckets that established themselves decades ago.

 

Is this a long enough comment for you? Thank you!

Sheri

Let me know if you know of any other responses I should link to.

 

 

“A Tree Falls In The Forest” and other ruminations on social/community-based marketing…

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid.

The old philosophical thought experiment "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at the Film Collaborative can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it. This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit. Films rarely sell themselves. You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

• Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz.
• If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.
• Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.
• Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.
• Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)
• Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large. • Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and its companion blog on www.SellingYourFilm.com already highlights a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.



On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film -- mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc..., or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like ( http://www.facebook.com/wewerehere). Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well! Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche. For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures). He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Cannes, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.



On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby and Moving Pictures were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

1) Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film. Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there. For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

2) Offer your potential partners something back in return. With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

3) Community-building is an organic, long-term process… Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

4) Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience. In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

5) You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc. Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

6) You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this. There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements; an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need. It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

7) A final take home: You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

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.

Sheri Candler on "New Online Distribution Service: Prescreen"

Don't you love it when you see something new and it all makes sense. I had the opportunity to view the new distribution platform PRESCREEN and I dug it. I was all set to tell you all about it when I learned they sponsored the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul , and as a result Sheri Candler spoke to them and quizzed them on what they were up to. How sweet is that: all the info you need, clear and simple, and I don't have to write anything. Love it. Check it out. Prescreen is just one of many new exciting new tools and partners coming for indie filmmakers who want to step into Direct Distribution.

The following post first appeared on the Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul blog to spotlight Prescreen as the Presenting Sponsor of that soon to be published book.

Prescreen was recently launched and is now taking film submissions to be considered for their service. Thus far, if you visited their web page, you were asked to submit an email address to be kept informed of their activities. Prescreen curates films and distributes them via a daily email to an opt-in audience. While they have started accepting applications for films to be showcased on their site, but they will not accept every film. “Unlike some of the other services that currently exist, we will not be a sea of titles. We will do our best to try and create signal out of noise,” said founder and CEO Shawn Bercuson.

What will PreScreen mean for the indie filmmaker?

“For the indie filmmaker, Prescreen means you now have a viable alternative to distribution. That said, we do not intend to replace any of the existing channels, we are merely a tool to help make the marketing and distribution efforts much easier. Being featured on Prescreen means revenue instead of marketing spend, analyzing demographics of *your* audience instead of looking at the audience of comparable titles, and increasing the potential to go ‘viral.’ We give the filmmaker and distributor relevant information that they can use to maximize the success of each title.”

“We believe there is a lot of great content that exists that never finds a home or has a hard time reaching the right audience. As we all know, movie distribution has historically been a very arduous and risky endeavor for filmmakers, distributors, or studios alike; however, we now live in a world with exciting technology that enables us to communicate in real time with...everyone. If you use these tools correctly, the supply vs. demand curve can be shifted. Whereas, before content was created, money was spent, and hours of work were completed prior to the release of a film trying to create demand for a title; we can now gauge demand at the beginning of the process such that the entire endeavor is more efficient.”

Will the service cost anything, either for filmmakers or for audience? If so, what?

“For moviegoers, it is free to signup to receive the Prescreen daily email. If a movie catches your eye, you have the opportunity to ‘rent’ the movie to stream. Each movie we feature lives on Prescreen for 60 days. On Day 1, the movie costs $4 and you'll have up to 60 days to view the film; while on Days 2 - 60, the movie costs $8 and you'll have 60 - (x days) to complete the film. Though a moviegoer has up to 60 days to complete the film, ‘renting’ on Prescreen is similar to that of any other the other mainstream steaming services and you'll have 48 hours to complete the film once you start the stream.”

“Why only 60 days? Movies live on Prescreen for 60 days for many reasons. First, to allow a film to capture (and capitalize on) the word-of-mouth exposure that organically ensues throughout the social graph. Movies are inherently social. If all my friends are talking about a specific title, I don't like to be left out of the conversation and I'll want to partake. 60 days allows people to join the conversation. The second reason is piracy. As iTunes has successfully proven with the music industry, people are happy to pay for content as long as they have access to it. For example, if a movie is screening in 6 cities not named Omaha, Nebraska and I live in Omaha, my only option is to illegally download that title. 60 days allows access to content that people might otherwise be forced to get through illegal means.”

“For filmmakers and distributors, there is no out of pocket charge at any point throughout the entire Prescreen process. Prescreen is only successful if the movie is successful. Prescreen will send the filmmaker a check for 50% of the revenue generated from the sales on Prescreen along with a 'Prescreen Performance Report' that details all of the relevant information a filmmaker or distributor would need to continue to reach the targeted audience including: a Prescreen performance summary, detailed demographic information, the size of the addressable market, and suggested continued marketing plan.”

*NOTE*: Prescreen has a strict privacy policy that protects all of the personal information of its subscribers. All information shared with the filmmaker or distributor is aggregated and does not compromise any personal or contact information that could lead to any unwanted use or abuse.

“At any given point in time, Prescreen has up to 60 films featured on the site: 1 featured film and the 59 previous featured films. As one movie enters our library through their feature, another one leaves. After 60 days, the filmmaker should have enough data points and insight to continue to market their film effectively and reach the right audience.”

How does one sign up for an account?

“For filmmakers and distributors, visit prescreen.com/submit. Here, you can submit your film to Prescreen to be the 'Featured Film.' The featured film is the highlight of our daily email that goes out to all of our subscribers and will also be the only film on our homepage for 24 hours.”

On what devices is the service geared toward viewing?

“We believe that movies should live where moviegoers want to see them. Because of this, Prescreen plans to be platform agnostic and live on the web, mobile, and other connected devices like streaming TV's, gaming consoles, and set top boxes. However, as any Prescreen engineer will tell you: ‘Rome wasn't built in a day’ so we'll start on the web and prioritize platforms based on where our audience is telling us to go.”

If you are interested in having your film considered for the service, please submit it here before August 12. For more information regarding Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, please visit the website, Like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter stream #syfnotsys.

Tonight! Wednesday! Come Tweet With Me About Producing on #FilmIn140

My producing partner on SUPER, Miranda Bailey, and my former Sundance Creative Producing Mentoree -- and an innovative producer in his own right -- Thomas Woodrow will be joining Sheri Candler and the good folks at Film Threat, and hopefully hordes of others -- like you, and you, and you -- for a discussion on the role of the producer. This is just one of the many new ways a truly free film community is joining forces to emphasize access, collaboration, and demystification. Wanna be part of it? It's easy. All you have to do is...

Read this as FilmThreat explains how to join the #FilmIn140 discussion clearly for you.

Building The Community Web-Those Already Doing This

Today's guest post is Pt 2 of 2 from 2010 Brave Thinker Of Indie Film Sheri Candler. I have investigated some artists already building their communities (and sustaining themselves) and thought you should use them as examples to follow.

Examples of artists who have built a community web

In addition to the Grateful Dead, a group most all of you are aware of, there are  examples of artists from many areas who have successfully built up a community around themselves and their work.

Kevin Smith is a great example. Smith says he can spend up to 9 hours a day online and started this back in 1995. He has never put his career only in filmmaking, saying he never expected THAT to last. Instead, his community has been introduced to a variety of his activities; a SModcast, comic books, stand up comedy, regular writing contributions to various magazines. Smith isn’t tied to only one avenue of revenue and in fact can make a living off many things outside of making films. He was able to pinpoint exactly what his fans liked about him early on and he reaches out to them continually. If I had to suggest something, I would ask him to allow a community aspect on his site so that fellow fans can contact each other.

Matthew Ebel is another example. Ebel is rock pianist who is now forging a path into the transmedia world on his next project which involves an album, a novel, a graphic novel, and a radio drama. He continually infuses his music with stories and characters which helps to draw in the listener. Ebel regularly blogs and has his own podcast which has grown his community of supporters. He acknowledges that these activities exploded him out of obscurity and credits them with his ability to make a living as an artist. He releases new music through a subscription service on his blog as well as touring the world and he encourages his fans to take his music and create something new from it. I will be exploring Mike Masnick’s CwF+RtB=$$ in  a future post with Ebel as a good example of someone doing this successfully. Ebel regularly engages with his fans on his Facebook page as well as in comments on his blog.

Jonathan Coulton is a musician who left his day job in 2005 to write music full time. When he was first starting, he released a new song a week (Thing a Week) to his site under Creative Commons where anyone can take his music and do whatever with it as long as it is non commercial. This experiment served to self discipline him to stay on track with his writing; he made himself achieve this goal. It also built up his fan base who regularly needed to be fed content and who enjoyed interacting with him. Within 2 years, Coulton said he was making more at songwriting than he had been from computer programming, the job he left to start his musical career. He also found during this time that his community did not just want to buy music from him, they wanted to be his friend.  Community members have drawn artwork for each song, contributed their own versions of his music, given him tips about other revenue streams he could be investigating. Coulton doesn’t see his work as a musician simply to sit around strumming a guitar and thinking up song ideas. He actively engages his community every day. For more on this story see a NYT article on him from 2007.

A roadmap

My friend Ross Pruden has been giving me feedback on this post while I have been writing it and even though I said I am not going to give you 10 steps to guarantee community, he insists that I give you SOME kind of guidance on beginning this process.

Goals-as I mentioned before, start with small steps. If you are starting from zero, try to get your first 500 true fans in the first year or two. It takes a lot of time to find, nurture and consistently maintain this community. You must be committed to doing this work and perhaps have someone help you.

Interaction-Not only do you want your community numbers to go up, but you want the engagement to rise. This is easily seen on the new Facebook analytics if that is a place you have chosen to speak from. It should also be seen on your Google analytics through your site traffic numbers and from the number of comments on your posts. Don’t get TOO caught up in measurement. The goal is building a worthwhile community, not gaming numbers, but it gives you a good idea of what is working and what is not so you can adjust.

Allow for creative connection-Ideally, you want a community involved in your work and to connect with each other. Allow them to riff on your content, remix it to share with others, become part of this “in” crowd. View this spread of your content and ideas as a way to enlarge your community, not as revenue lost. More on this to come.

Connect to others with communities-You aren’t the only artist looking to build an audience. There surely are other similar artists, maybe in another medium, with similar fan interests. I saw this quote on Twitter today from John Maeda “Talent recognizes other talent and shows appreciation for it, instead of envy.” Live this quote, connect yourself and your community to like minded communities in order to widen the circle. Don’t be selfish and egotistical, traits like that will not allow you to have a community. You will be widening your circle incrementally, welcoming in new members who become exposed to your work and ideas through others.

I just need a community and all will be well?

I will acknowledge that while you are beginning to  build your web, you will have to reach out much more using traditional methods. Advertising, publicity, affiliations are all tools in the mix and they can work a bit faster than connecting with people one by one. Be mindful of where you place these, again the goal isn’t everyone, just those most interested in what you have to offer. You are issuing an invitation to connect when you talk about your community, not an invitation to buy something. Refer back to Bob Moczydlowsky’s equation for financial success. DON’T make the film first and hope it finds an audience. Build your web first, then make the film. I will restate that this work is going to take a lot of time and effort. This isn’t “buzz” building, it is a long term strategy to building a sustainable career. One where you can live as an artist free to make whatever content pleases you and delights your community while making a living.

PS added later: another artist building her own community is Amanda Palmer. Palmer has such a following that she now works with other artists. She has fan art, she has her own store, she has a street team called The Reconnaissance with a bootcamp to teach one how to become part of the team, there is a forum on her page where fans can interact with her and with each other. Palmer uses Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Youtube and Flickr to update and talk to her community and she gives away content as well as selling all manner of merch in her store. She famously went on Twitter one Friday evening and started talking with fans when she came up with the idea of selling tshirts about what losers they all were for being home on Twitter on a Friday night. She sold over $11,000 in merch within 2 hours that night! As she said, her record on a label to that point had made her $0. Check the post here.

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Building The Community Web Around an Artist

Today's guest post (part 1 of 2) is by 2010 Brave Thinker Of Indie Film Sheri Candler.

I think I have been promising this post for a while, ever since I wrote the New Independent Filmmaker’s Business Model. If you haven’t read that post, give it a little peruse so you can see what I am on about. The key premise is that all artists should be building a tribe (a Seth Godin term as it relates to marketing) or an engaged audience for their work. One that transitions from one project to the next throughout your career and indeed your life. These supporters will be your friends, your evangelists, your patrons and if you cultivate this relationship, you will not have need to reach a mass in order to make a comfortable living. I have been thinking though that maybe the idea should be compared to a web.

In looking through some other advice on this, I can see why some can be turned off by the idea. It seems most of the advice focuses only on how to lure people in just so you can sell them something, kind of like how the spider spins her web. It’s a strategy I guess, but that isn’t what I am going to tell you to do here. I am a firm believer that self promotion is about helping other people. What I propose is offering value, sharing knowledge and genuinely wanting to connect with people and connect people you know who should know each other. Perhaps it is better described as a web, an interconnected community. One that you lead, but is dependent on everyone’s interactivity. To me that is much more palatable to an artist because it is authentic, no ulterior motive, which is refreshing in today’s society. But reciprocity does happen because it is really human nature to help someone who has helped you, in fact in this scenario, it is expected.

First elements to understand when constructing you community web:

Permission-You must have permission to talk to people. Permission? Yes, you will only be talking to people who have opted in to hear what you have to say. You will NOT be eblasting everyone you ever met once a week. You will NOT be spamming hundreds of strangers who don’t want to hear from you. You will have “the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” (Seth Godin).  How do you get permission? It starts simply by communicating with people on a one to one level. Aren’t you doing that now? You should be, that’s what social media is for. Not automated, canned message, advertising social media but real conversations. So think of what online services you can use, that you feel comfortable using for communicating every day. It doesn’t have to be hours every day, but some amount of time every day.

Trust-We need to trust you. We need to know you are listening, you understand us, you will help us as we will help you and each other. We need NOT to feel that you are using us.

It’s not you, it’s we-Although this post is directed at building the web around yourself, it is really more about taking a leadership role that is missing from a community. There are lots of people in the world with similar interests and outlooks on life. Artists can contribute a lot to bringing these people together around ideas and creativity. Without leadership, they are just a crowd, unconnected to one another. You and your work are the catalysts that bring them together, if you actively step up to that role.

Building it, getting them to come

I have been reading a book this weekend by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan called “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” and it has helped me to think of how you should be looking at building your web. No one can tell you “do these 10 things and you will have a community,” but you can start by setting goals for yourself and thinking through the small steps you can take to achieve them. A goal could be to start building an email list of names so that you can speak directly with your community. This is exactly what The Dead did starting in 1971, long before social media made it easy. They placed a call to action postcard in the album sleeve of the famous “Skull and Roses” asking “Dead Freaks Unite!” by sending in their addresses. The band used this list to communicate directly, gauge where the tours would be booked, offer exclusive content, they even gave priority ticket offers for the live shows to list members. Their list of hundreds of thousands was built over 30 years and continues to this day, despite the fact that the official band no longer exists. The community lives on.

First start with you. What’s your story? What can you share with us that helps us to know if we are kindreds? This clearly means that you will not be attracting everybody. Everybody should not be your goal. Everybody isn’t loyal. Trying to attract everybody is like cat wrangling, way more trouble than it is worth. You want the RIGHT people, those who are most open to wanting to contribute to something greater than themselves. Those are the people who are going to enlarge the web, to help you weave it.

Give us the genuine signals that you care and are passionate about what you do. We can sniff out the disingenuous; those who are only in this for money and fame.  Make us believe in you and that you want to know us as people, not as targets. We won’t join you if you want to manipulate us. We have everything we need. We don’t need yet another commodity, another product.  Make us different people for having known you and your stories.

Then, find us. If you know yourself and what you are interested in, you can figure out where we live. Think about your throughline. Many people say that they are interested in many different things, but if they really analyzed all of those seemingly different areas, they will find a commonality. That’s your throughline and those most likely to connect with you will have the same. When you know what characteristics those are, it will be easier to find your community. Start to embed yourself in the places where we already gather.

I have heard some say that it is difficult to move people from one community to another. I personally have found this isn’t the case once they know you and I have advised people on how to embed themselves and have seen their personal community numbers grow. It takes time  and constant attention, but it will work. Your web will become intertwined in others so the goal isn’t to move people, it is to become an extension.

Build the platform. Give yourself a place to speak from and a place for the community to gather. This may be an interactive website, it may just be a blog, it may start with a Facebook page (though ideally you’ll want your own dedicated platform!). You may grow your community by starting in another one, but eventually you need a place of your own, a little place your community can grow and thrive.

Think of ways to delight us, to keep us coming back. As the propagator of your web, you need that connection to stay strong. Sometimes community members are lazy and forget to check back in. There should be a fresh serving of something noteworthy on your site at regular intervals. I saw a great reminder email the other day from a community with which I am involved. Just a message telling me what was going on over there, new discussions that were happening, new members who had joined and an invitation to check back in. It was very effective in catching my attention and letting me know that they had missed me, like they actually know I have been out for a while. Was it somewhat automated? Probably, but it still made me want to check back in and see what was happening. Someone should be thinking up and executing content that will keep the community engaged and involved.

This PMD person, how is this going to help?

This is the person who can keep the content on track and keep the community interested. I don’t think you should turn your personal identity over to a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution), but a PMD can have access your community while helping to spread the web to other influential individuals and groups and help to figure out the best way to get your film out to them. Ideally, the person you choose to help you is either already in your web or someone you introduce to them as a helper to you. Back to the Grateful Dead example, it was Eileen Law who became the community manager for the Dead’s fans. She was one of the band’s earliest fans. Eileen put together the newsletters, collected and organized the fan list, her voice was the one fans would hear on the message machine when they called for priority tickets. The Dead had a record label, but the label wasn’t talking to the fans and much of the turnout to their shows came by word of mouth from the band. You still must keep engaged, but this person will serve as your liaison while you are in the creative process. All in the community must be kept aware of what is happening, transparency is important here. Believe me, once you start getting a community built up who expect regular interaction, this person will be vital.

Next post: Artists who are doing this and a roadmap…

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Brave Thinkers Of Indie Film, 2010 Edition

We have a bit of a redundancy in the recognition of those that create good work, but that good work does not end with what is up on the screen -- which is the part that everyone seems to want to write about.  I feel however that we must recognize those that focus not just on the development and production of good work, but those that commit themselves to ALL of cinema, including discovery, participation, appreciation, and presentation -- what I consider the other 4 pillars of cinema.

Last year at this time, I put forth a list of inspiring folks, people who by their acts and ideas were giving me the energy to keep striving for a better film culture and infrastructure, one that was accessible to all, and slave to none. We are closer to a truly free film culture this year than we were last year, and I remain optimistic that we can be a hell of a lot closer next year than we are today, thanks in no small part to the 40 I have singled out these two short years.

This list, like last year's, is not meant to be exhaustive. Okay, granted I did not get to the quantity to the 21 Brave Thinkers that I did last year, but the quality is just as deep.  Regarding the lesser amount, I don't blame the people -- I blame the technology (of course).  I wish I had better tools of discovery that would allow me to find more of the good work and efforts that are out there. I know I am overlooking some BTs again this year. But so be it -- one of the great things about blogging is there is no need to be finished or even to be right (although I do hate it when I push publish prematurely -- like I did with this -- when it is still purely a draft).

I know I can depend on you, my dear brave thinkers, to extend and amend this work into the future.  I do find it surprising how damn white & male & middle aged this list is.  And that I only found two directors to include this year.  Again, it must be the tools and not the source, right?  Help me source a fuller list next year; after all, it is as Larry K tweeted to me about regarding who are the most brave these days: "Those whom you don't know but who continue, despite the indifference of all, to create work that is authentic,challenging and real."  How true that is!

Last year I asked and stated: "What is it to be “brave”? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended."

This year, I recognize even more fully that bravery is a generosity of spirit, as well as a generative sort of mind.  It is extending the energy inside ourselves to the rest of the world.   I often get asked why I blog (or why so much), and I have no answer for those folks.  It can't be stopped, for I believe if we love the creative spirit as much as the work it yields, if we believe we create for the community and not for the ego, how can we not extend ourselves and turn our labor into the bonds that keep us moving forward.  In other words, no one can afford to create art and not be public (IMHO).  If you want a diverse and accessible culture of ambitious work, you can not afford to simply hope it will get better -- you have to do something (or get out of the business, please).

So without any further adieu, here's my list of the nineteen folks who have done more on a worldwide basisto start to build it better together, to take what remains of a crumbling and inapplicable film culture & infrastructure, and to try to bring it into the present. They all share a tremendous generosity and open spirit, embracing participation and collaboration.

This is no longer a world of scarcity and control. These nineteen have begun the hard work of designing a new world of film based on surplus and access -- and the resulting community that grows from that --, and their actions and attitude give me hope for what is to come.

  1. Wendy Bernfeld - The transformation from an entertainment economy designed around scarcity & control, to one built for surplus & access requires new business models and new sales models.  Filmmakers struggle with this more than anyone as most of the sales agents still push for the deals that deliver them the highest return for the least amount of effort.  This is not so for Wendy, whom through her company Rights Stuff has started the task of moving towards the short term non-exclusive license world this new world requires.  Furthermore, Wendy has shared her knowledge both on my blog and at speaking engagements the world over.  Her openness and forward thinking is an example for all of us.
  2. Peter Buckingham - Until the UK shuttered the Film Council, Peter ran their innovation fund.  Perhaps it's just that I sit in America, but to think of  a public official who is so committed to moving both the dialogue and the process forward as Peter, is no easy feat.  Peter helped launch the UK's Digital Cinema Initiative.  His insight on the possibilities of meta-datat are always inspiring.  We could use an ample dose of his high energy leadership on our shores if we are going to get some real things done here.
  3. Edward Burns - Although he has more access to the Hollywood machinery than most, for his latest film, Nice Guy Johnny, Eddie not only went the no-stars micro-budget route, but he set out to distribute it himself from the start.  With no marketing or advertising spend, Eddie has enjoyed a revenue return far in excess of his investment.  As much as I admire his courage and commitment, it his openness about the process that I find most inspiring.  In festivals, colleges, and even The Today Show, Eddie has shared his frustration and hope.  He's also consistently looked for new ways to help people discover his work.  His Homage Trailers, where he remakes trailers of classic movies using footage from his own film, are filled with wit and humor and not to be missed.
  4. Efe Cakarel & The Mubi Team Of the folks listed here, Efe may be the one I am most remiss about not listing last year.  The former Auteurs -- now Mubi -- remains the most robust community of film fans on the web, while being a dynamo curator of quality film on a global basis.  Yet, it seems good that I overlooked Efe and his Mubi team last year, as the transformation to Mubi and their extension onto the Playstation platform gives film fans more access than I could have previously imagined.  The challenge of bringing quality work to the community and generating discussion remains large, but these folks are leading the way.
  5. Henning Camre - President of the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy,  former head of both the Danish Film School and UK's National Film and Television School, and the Danish Film Institute, Henning is pushing through the necessary change in the Scandinavian Film Industry -- but it is a ripple that will resonate throughout the world.  I got to participate in the Think Tank as was deeply impressed at the quality and depth of the presentations and organization.  No one ever likes to volunteer for the heavy lifting, but Henning has several times over.  Change only comes when we recognize the pain of the present outweighs the fear of the future, and Henning's clarity of vision towards the new reality has no equal on our shores.  He embraces both the new and the old, the conservative and the radical, subscribing to the reality first, probing beneath the perception to unearth the hard facts about access and practice.
  6. Sheri Candler When you believe in something you want to share it, right?  Sheri embodies this statement like few others.  Her commitment and faith in audience and community building is contagious.  An avid user of social media, it is hard to miss Sheri in the virtual world, as she lends her voice, heart, and hand to filmmakers trying to sort out a way to connect and build the necessary bridges. Added bonus for following Sheri?  Her ideas are good and well thought out!   Last year's Brave Thinker, Jon Reiss attests: "I met Sheri just over a year ago after I had just finished Think Outside the Box Office – where else – but on Twitter. She reached out to me, as she does with countless others, and since our first meeting has been an invaluable partner – passionate, incisive and always on the hunt for new ideas and new people that can help filmmakers (myself included) connect with their tribe and help solve the problems facing us all in this challenging time. Her tireless engagement and generosity sharing her wisdom and discoveries is a constant inspiration to me and should be to all in our community."
  7. Adam Chapnick CEO of Distribber.com, a company that places film and TV content on digital sales platforms such as iTunes, Netflix and Amazon for a flat fee while allowing filmmakers to keep 100% of their revenue.  As Adam said in his HopeForFilm post: "Distribber was created to help rights holders maximize the payback from their work and investment.  More specifically, Distribber was conceived as a solution to several persistent complaints from filmmakers and other creative rights holders about distributors in general and aggregators in particular."  Distribber, and Adam's efforts, are key tools in the building of a middle class of artists who own and profit from the work they create.
  8. CineFamily - When it comes down to email blasts that I love to receive, nothing rivals Cinefamily's.  Bold programming, well presented.  As curators, they expand my knowledge.  As a hardened New Yorker myself, these Losangeleans give me a reason to long for the west coast.  They show us all how to use the web, and use it well.  In an era and city of mass conformity, they show that it is still both set & setting, programming broadly to the narrow, with verve and attitude. Sure this kind of stuff goes over in quirk capital's like Austin, but little did I suspect LA to deliver so much fine weirdness. To quote their own site: "The Cinefamily is an organization of movie lovers devoted to finding and presenting interesting and unusual programs of exceptional, distinctive, weird and wonderful films. The Cinefamily’s goal is to foster a spirit of community and a sense of discovery, while reinvigorating the movie-going experience. Like campfires, sporting events and church services, we believe that movies work best as social experiences. They are more meaningful, funnier and scarier when shared with others. Our home is the Silent Movie Theatre, one of Hollywood’s most beloved and beautiful cultural landmarks. There, The Cinefamily will provide a destination spot for Los Angelenos and others to rediscover the pleasures of cinema."
  9. Dylan Marchetti & Variance Film - I may not have heard more filmmakers praise a distributor this year, than Dylan.  Furthermore, I don't know of a distributor who maintains such an accessible and vocal presence online, thinking aloud, and engaging the community on the search for a new model that could serve the widest definition of film.  Working on a flat fee basis versus a percentage of the gross, committed to a firm code of ethics, committed to 100% transparency in accounting, and 100% control for the filmmakers at all times, Dylan is a true partner in the emerging artist/entrepreneur economy.
  10. Thomas Mai - I have had the first hand pleasure of sitting in the audience as Thomas pitches filmmakers on the power of social media and the new era of truly free film ahead of us.  I have seen the skeptical grow empowered from his presentations.  Thomas, a former sales agent, has taken his rant on the road, sharing his insights with audiences worldwide.  From a base in Brazil, Thomas has used a shaky internet connect to distribute his lectures across the global.  And he has given quite a few public speaking tips along the way, not to mention writing well-shared posts for HopeForFilm. You can check out one of his lectures on his site www.thomasmai.net.
  11. Karol Martesko-Fenster Brian Newman summed it up well, about Karol: "While he is no newcomer to the scene, having either founded or been part of the founding of a great part of the indie scene (Resfest, Filmmaker Magazine, indiewire) he continues to reshape it at Babelgum. Under the direction of Karol, Babelgum has been licensing (i.e. paying real money) work from independents who push boundaries. Whether it's funding the Workbook Project, helping Sally Potter to be the first filmmaker to release a feature on a cellphone (day and date with it's festival premiere) or funding the "prequel" docs leading up to the film "Bombay Detective," Karol is pushing the field forward with the development of new artistic practices and business models."
  12. Thom Powers Founder of Stranger Than Fiction, programmer at TIFF, co-founder ofCinema Eye Honors, this year Thom expanded his base still further as one of the founders of the DOC NYC fest.  Few have done as much to further the community and appreciation of film in NYC.  He has helped to build an energetic and passionate doc community, and never stops thinking about how to extend it further.  A man with a mission if there ever was.
  13. Casey Pugh We need to facilitate collaboration between the tech and filmmaking worlds.  Having been involved in building the Vimeo player and then Boxee, Casey's already done a lot (and I think he is only 26).  An Emmy award joined his list of accomplishments this year, and the cause of this award, is my favorite film of the year, Star Wars Uncut.  I am eager to see his latest project, VHX launch in the months to come, as I am confident it will be another step forward for a truly free film culture.  Casey sees the big picture, the full definition of cinema.  In his work he's building the ramps and bridges connecting the six pillars of cinema: discover, development, production, participation, appreciation, and presentation.
  14. Orly Ravid & The Film Collaborative - A not-for-profit film distributor has long been a dream of mine, but it took Orly and her team to actually do it.  For a truly free film culture to exist, sustainable enterprises must be built that facilitate the connection between unique work and audiences on terms that go beyond profit.  THE FILM COLLABORATIVE is the first non-profit, full-service provider dedicated to the distribution of independent film.  Not much more to be said, but Orly's demystification of the sales and distribution processes, a refreshingly open approach to the numbers and realities of the distribution effort, via her blogging have gone a long way to helping filmmakers across the globe understand the world we are living in.
  15. Michel Reilhac of Arte France I asked Brian Newman about Michel: "Michel has probably embraced the "new paradigms" of the film/media world better than anyone else, and he speaks and writes about it with an eloquence sorely lacking in the field. For just one example, see his "Gamification of Life" speech at the Power to the Pixel forum.  He has helped transform Arte France into a leader in the support of transmedia, even pushing them to think about how this affects their daily work. He is also a mentor and friend to many filmmakers, helping them find and tell their stories in both new and old ways - but always better. But what most endears me to Michel's work was his recent decision to stop funding conferences and training, instead giving more money to filmmakers to push the field forward by experimenting in their craft. Great idea: less talk, more action." Amongst many round-breaking projects are their award-winning documentaries, Gaza-Sderot and Prison Valley -  beautiful examples of new approaches to story-telling using the web and interaction.
  16. Mike Ryan - Perhaps no post on indie film initially infuriated me as much as Mike's Filmmaker Mag piece on the "current preoccupations of the indie film scene".  I strongly disagree with Mike's blame-it-on-the-audience and build-it-and-if-it-is-good-they-will-come approach, but as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to month, the necessity of his central message of needing to be driven by the art and not the business resonated in deeper and deeper ways with me.  It is a brave thing to say, particularly as a producer, that you do not care if something makes money and that the art comes first. Mike leaves no doubt that he is  a man of bold visions and strong opinions; he is not afraid to speak truth to power.  He is both rigorous and playful in his thinking, and he invests it in new projects and filmmakers, not because of the business or opportunity, but because he believes that what they have to say and how they choose to say it is important.  American Indie would not be the fertile ground it is these days without Mike's efforts, but his efforts don't end there: Mike helped to co-found HammerToNail with both Corbin Day, Michael Tully, and myself; Mike helped start an initiative in Memphis to train underprivileged youth in film, and Mike has trained many another up and coming producer.
  17. Yancey Strickler & Perry Chen Of any one on this list, Yancey and Perry are probably the only ones whose creation has moved from an object to a verb.  In certain circles I have heard Kickstarter to stand in for crowdfunding.  Although they are not the only game in town when it comes to mobilizing the community to put worthy projects into being, they've certainly been among the most prominent.  Mark Rosenthal of Rooftop Films makes their commitment clear: "It’s brave to share your creative dreams with the world, to put your faith in people, to seek support from strangers. Everyone who’s putting their films and albums and paintings and gizmos on Kickstarter is taking a chance that people will like what they’re doing. But it takes other brave people—like Yancey and Perry—to spend years of their lives building the site and enabling the community to build. Great job, guys."
  18. Timo Vuorensola PowerToThePixel's Liz Rosenthal said: "Timo Vuorensola is a film director from Finland and an early advocate of crowd-sourcing and social filmmaking. His first feature, the sci-fi comedy Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was several years in the making. He and his team built an active community of 2,500 around the making of the film . The community co-created around 50% of what made it into the final film, They helped with aspects of casting, writing, music, 3D modelling, CGI effects, translating the film into more than 30 languages. It has since achieved cult success, his evangelical community helping spread the word and has been downloaded over 8 million times through official torrents whilst the team sold DVDs and merchandise of the film. Timo launched wreckamovie.com, a new web service that enables filmmakers to build and collaborate with online communities around their films.Timo’s second feature, the sci-fi comedy, Iron Sky, which tells the story of Nazis who come from the Far Side of the Moon, is due to be released in 2011 and has a budget of 6.5 million euros. Fans have already been able to help with ideas in Wreckamovie and helping to fund the movie by buying merchandise, donations and also offering a chance to invest in the movie and share its possible profits."
  19. Rainn Wilson As I stated the other day: "Rainn gives back in a big way. I am a bit in awe in how generative and generous this man is. There's a reason why he has over 2 million twitter followers and it's not just because he's really funny. He cares about things. He cares about people. He cares about process. He's thoughtful."  If you haven't ever checked out Soul Pancake, a site he helped found, nows the time.  I got to know Rainn this year as he both Executive Produced and starred in SUPER (which I produced with Miranda Bailey).  It was Rainn's tweet that he and "James Gunn were going out with a low budget f'd up Watchmen" that drew me to the project.  His commitment to social media definitely played a big role in the financing and sale of the film.  Through Rainn's commitment to a better world, he is inadvertently building a better model both for film and us as individuals.

I recognize that many of these folks have written for HopeForFilm, but it is something that I encourage people whom I admire to do (even some that I don't!).  There are also some on this list that are good friends, but I like to socialize with such types, so what can I say?  Some people on the list are folks I have or have had business with, and some I plan to have business with in the future, but the same holds true for the professional sphere as is in the personal -- when people do good things, I want to get to know them.  Is that at all surprising?

I remain thankful a great deal this year including making one film and selling another.  This list is my thanks to some of those who inspire me.  We can build it better, together.

P.S.  I solicited nominations this year from last year's Brave Thinkers.  David Gertz went as far as to write a whole post on the companies that are doing the work that will allow a new infrastructure to take hold.  Check out his post here.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Not Just a Dickens Novel.

What do Filmmakers want from film markets and what they can realistically get?

Discerning the difference between a film that can actually sell well enough to justify having a third party sales agent and going to markets vs a film that is best served by DIY methods that should be planned and employed BEFORE the film’s first exhibition”

Guest post from Orly Ravid, Founder of The Film Collaborative (TFC)

We get questioned all the time by members and others about which markets should filmmakers attend and which sales agents should they go with. Having unrealistic expectations is dangerous. It sets people up to do nothing on their own but wait for some third party to make their dreams come true.

We’re just coming off of AFM. indieWIRE reports growth attendance at the market. See this article if you want to read the stats. They are however only relative to last year, a real low, and not addressing the question on everyone’s mind, what about the sales themselves.  AFM has always been known more for genre films and cast-driven films. Troma films do well for the genre category and Henry’s Crime starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga is a cast driven narrative was being sold this year, for example.

It was decently busy from my p.o..v and buyers were there a bit more to buy than they were at say Toronto, according to our foreign sales partner, Ariel Veneziano of Re-Creation Media. But, the question is what are they there to buy and at what price?  The shift in the business from the 80’s and 90’s till now is not reversing itself and I don’t think it ever will. Prices have come down, dramatically because ancillary business has shifted so much, retailers have gone under, and supply has grown. That is the case across the board.

Digital services such as Fluent, Gravitas, Distribber, Brainstorm (all of whom we work with) were all at AFM, digital is where the business is now, not in getting big MGs per territory for most films anymore, not for most art house films. Of course there is some of that business still but the people benefiting from it are the Sales Companies with big libraries and the aggregators with the same. The individual sales prices, after expenses are deducted, are more often than not, not making money for the filmmakers,  not given the terms most companies offer, at least not from our vantage point, . Of course we’re not in the business of selling big genre films or cast-driven films so we are not addressing those. Docs do sell best to TV at doc markets such as Hot Docs and IDFA, to name two, and those so far still seem to be worth it and that business still has value.  And of course a lucky few theatrical-potential docs sell at Sundance and TIFF etc.

Why do I bring this up? Because we get questioned all the time by members and others about which markets should filmmakers attend and which sales agents should they go with and the truth is, very often the films are not viable for a sales agent because the sales would be too small and if a sales agent did take the film on, the filmmaker would never see a dime after the sales agents recouped their expenses and fees and after one has paid for Delivery. And then the sales agent  / sales company would have the right to do the DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION DIRECTLY that the FILMMAKER SHOULD BE DOING. That is the point of this blog.  Discerning the difference between a film that can actually sell well enough to justify having a third party sales agent and going to markets vs a film that is best served by DIY methods that should be planned and employed BEFORE the film’s first exhibition.

Stacey Parks recently sent this missive out to her members: “So AFM is coming to a close and the overall good news for everyone out there is that business is picking up from last year. Sales are brisk and even Pre-Sales are brisk for the right projects. I've met with several clients who are here at AFM and all of them are reporting good results in meeting a variety of people and companies as potential financiers for their projects, or sellers, or both.”

That’s exciting and we know Stacey knows her stuff and she’s a friend so all good. But I still want to know the numbers from everyone who sold a film, or didn’t after spending money trying, and ask all of you readers to share the real numbers, as we will of course (you will soon see), so that people can know what expectations are reasonable and what is not reasonable to expect.

Having unrealistic expectations is dangerous. It sets people up to do nothing on their own but wait for some third party to make their dreams come true. And then time goes by, months and even years, and one has done anything to build community around the film or get it out there. Then filmmakers are disappointed and blame others instead of making it happen for themselves.  There is no excuse for that anymore.

We announced a partnership with Palm Springs International Film Festival to help its filmmakers distribute and we will be working with other film festivals to do the same. Filmmakers are embracing Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler’s PMD concept and that can really create success via DIY distribution or get an audience started to give leverage in negotiating a deal.  The options for accessing Cable VOD and digital platform distribution and also having mobile Apps distribute the film are only growing, though of course the space gets only more glutted too.

But solutions are being worked out for that. Companies such as Gravitas are working with Cable operators vigorously to better program and highlight various categories of cinema, making it easier for audiences to find what they might be looking for. Comcast debuted a VOD search feature that imitates Google’s, and this will help in time: http://www.multichannel.com/article/459677-Comcast_Debuts_VOD_Sear

Verizon introduced Flex view to help consumers manage content on all their devices and all the players involved in digital are competing with each other to get as much good content to consumers in the most useful and user-friendly way to grow that market further, so whilst the space gets more glutted, there are more solutions in play to manage the paradox of choice a bit better and that’s why it’s imperative that filmmakers get engaged with their own success more and more, and sooner and sooner.  Lastly, these days, aggregators such as Cinetic and many distributors openly rely on filmmakers to do a lot of their own community building and marketing so if you are already doing the work, you might as well keep your rights.

Again, we do sales ourselves, we know there is still value in that, but we implore you filmmakers to do the research before you give up the rights and before you just forge forward trying to figure out which market to attend or having organizations like us do that for you, for many many films, there is no market you can attend that will be worth your while. Create your own market that will pay off in the long run.

-Orly Ravid

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 www.TheFilmCollaborative.org Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

How To Make Money With The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model

Guest post by Sheri Candler. Yesterday we ran part one highlighting the problem.  Today, Sheri points to how distributors will benefit financially from the new model.

It may be that while you are in audience building mode, you will be spending more than making to develop a truly exceptional experience for your community. If you start this now before your entire business collapses, you will fare better.

-Create an online experience that makes the lives of your community better, easier, richer and be the number 1 site they visit for news, information, resources and community tailored to what interests them.

-Fill the vacuum of the lack of curation. People are confused by where to find things they like and overwhelmed by the choice. In a sea of content, be their favored destination. In this way, you can take on the likes of Netflix, a company that offers a huge range that makes finding content specific to personal interests nearly impossible because they don’t intimately know who their customers are. You will know this.

-Lock in the community by maintaining a dialog that will turn their initial attention into a revenue stream for your brand. A subscription model is what you should aspire to, but you cannot rush to that without first showing what you have to offer and reeling them in. First offer the ability to sample, share and then buy.

-Innovate in the online experiences you build to keep the community engaged and interested in making the circle bigger for you and for them. Incentivize those who are the most active at enlarging the community. Take the money you would have spent on outside marketers and use it to think of interesting incentives for your tribe.

I fear the problem for all of you will be waiting to see if another business model becomes successful before you decide to reinvent your own. This is extremely detrimental because waiting only results in being that much further behind. The first ones to embrace a new model win. It is why Netflix beat out Blockbuster. By the time Blockbuster conceded the model Netflix forged was legitimate, they could never catch up. Entrenched companies usually misjudge the speed with which change happens. Now is the time.

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

The New Independent Film Distributors’ Business Model (Pt. 1 of 2)

Guest post by Sheri Candler. In this second post, I want to focus on how to rehabilitate the film distribution entities so that they may continue to exist. I know what you are thinking “What’s she on about? We’re fine. We survived the latest shake out and are all the stronger for having less competition.” I am here to tell you that is fallacy. The old ways of bringing films to market are fading fast and it is time to reinvent your business. I want to acknowledge my gurus Gerd Leonhard, Seth Godin and Clay Shirky (though he is more my go to guy on all things having to do with immersive storytelling and audience collaboration) for being a constant source of inspiration for me in looking toward the future of media.

When Ted announced on his Facebook page that he would take part in a panel discussion at the upcoming Woodstock Film Festival concerning the new distribution paradigms, I had to look at who would be involved in this discussion. What people and companies would be taking part who are practicing radically changed business models for film distribution? It was as I thought; none. I posted a link on his page (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100326/1452138737.shtml) asking all involved in the discussion to read it and then talk about how they see the new paradigms. I don’t know if anyone did, but I did get a response from Dylan Marchetti from Variance Films explaining to me how his company functions to actively engage audiences for films they’ve booked in the theater. It was a lengthy exchange that resulted in my writing this post. I don’t think he read the article before he spoke because the point of that piece was to inform on how businesses need to form ecosystems around their companies, not continue only to sell copies of the content they distribute. Distribution companies should not be focused on selling copies, either for viewing or for owning. They should be selling access, creating networks of devoted fans around their brand and developing customized experiences instead. In other words, selling things that cannot be copied. This means they must first gather and cultivate a community of engaged followers and then develop, acquire, produce, and source material with only these people in mind.

Of the companies taking part in the Woodstock panel, I would say only Cinetic with their Film Buff organization has started with the potential to do this, but rather than building an engagement platform, they have merely built another online distribution portal (like so many others in existence that consumers have never heard of) to put copies out on the internet. Actually you can’t see any of the films on the site, it just directs you to their existence on VOD channels. Their “community” engagement is only a call for an email address so that they may send marketing messages. What is communal about that? What connection would a consumer have to the company itself besides advertising? None. Cinetic has no idea who these people are, what drives them, motivates them, interests them. It is not fair to pick only on Cinetic, I can’t think of a single distributor currently connecting directly with audience who can answer those questions. Troma comes to mind as a distributor with a very clear brand identity but even they are not directly in dialog with their audience. All current distributors are far too dependent on push marketing, usually hired from outside the company, and sourcing films purely on guesses based on audience reactions at festivals , favorable press or from hottest trends in market research. Every investment prospectus will tell you future earnings are not indicative of past performance, so why is that how decisions are continually being made?

What would I suggest for these companies? First, a total rethink of what business they’re in. Distribution of goods is no longer needed from you. You should not think of yourselves in the film distribution business because distribution has become easy to access by anyone online. (I know Dylan, you’re not online, but art house theater days are numbered too). Attention getting is now your main role. But from whom? If you don’t have a following as a company, a deep relationship with a community, how will you get attention and keep it? By building a tribe around the people in your company and, in turn, the company brand itself. This starts by identifying what kind of group you appeal to or want to appeal to, actively seeking them out and forging those deep connections. At first, this will mean attracting people through outside means, appealing through media and various outside groups to introduce yourself. Eventually the effort to enlarge the circle will be done by the community members, but until you have one, you must do that work.

Often, in a rush to monetize, companies jump right over the relationship building. The dismal failure of paywalls in newspaper circles only serves to prove my point. They did not build up an engaged community first, and then ask for payment. They falsely thought that their paper subscribers would be willing to continue the previous paid relationship even after it was possible to get most of the news stories from aggregators for free online. There is a great video from Jeff Jarvis explaining the new business models for newpapers here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsb9NfJmqPY&) and lots can be gleaned from it for all corporate endeavors.

The reinvention “The future leaders in business will be connectors, not directors”-Gerd Leonhard The new model will be to build and foster a community around the brand as a company and to be in the entertainment fulfillment business. This community will have interests that the company can fulfill and that is the company’s ONLY function. To try and serve a well balanced diet of wide ranging content is to spread too thin and attract no one. Mass is not your target. You will be a resource to your community not only in entertainment but in anything that interests them. This means you MUST know what “that” is. Is it books, is it music, events, clothes, games, causes, other similar tribes? These will be your other revenue sources as you create a network of interconnection with other companies who have their own niches, their own tribes. Also, consider enabling community members to profit in what you have sourced, to be affiliates and to create networks of their own. The network will feed each other spreading the brand even further.

A key part of your site will be to connect your community to each other. Some companies have sites where they connect to the user, but they don’t allow for intraconnection and some networking platforms are merely housed on a company website but members are never engaged by the company, merely left to use the tools as they see fit. Listening and collaboration will be cornerstones for this model to work. This isn’t work to be left to interns, by the way, but by those in power within the company.

You will also partner with other tribes of like minded individuals. Through these interactions, you tribe influence grows. There is no need for shouting out messages, gaining favorable PR placement, buying media for attention or forcing members to spread the word. If you are fulfilling their needs admirably, they will do it. You will however, generously reward those members in your community who do enlarge your circle. Instead of paying large amounts of money to outside companies to get “buzz” and “traffic,” you will invest that money in building experiences tailor made for your community. Development of experiences can only be done from active participation in the community and collaboration with them.

This model is far simpler to run as you won’t be going for masses, you will only cultivate your community. It will be labor intensive work, but not prohibitively expensive. You will need to develop tools so that the tribe members can speak to each other and so that they can spread the word to their friends easily. You should be facilitating sharability at all times, not closing it off and being insular.

The filmmaker/artist whose content you will source (not acquire as creators will have an equal partnership in your tribe) will be encouraged to participate with the community. In fact, if they will not, then their work is not very attractive to your community. Engagement at all times is key, this is no place for egos.

Tomorrow: How To Make Money With The New Model!

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Sales Agents: Are they Distributors or like Real Estate Brokers?

Guest post by Orly Ravid of TheFilmCollaborative.org Our friend and beloved social network marketing guru Sheri Candler posed a question to me today. She noted that filmmakers are often confused by this issue of “what is the difference between a sales agent or distributor selling a license to your film or selling your film outright for 15 – 20 years?”. She posited a real estate metaphor. So here I go: Sales agents are not like Re-Max brokers only having the right to sell your house for you, if you approve. They usually take your land and then resell it and its territorial clones all over the world, or as much as they can. Meaning, they first take the rights and take delivery (at least usually that is the way they do it) and then they license those rights territory by territory for a term, a minimum guarantee, and usually a royalty split. Sometimes all rights deals are done and sometimes rights are split.

I just did a redline to a sales agent’s deal/contract for a documentary we are consulting on. We do our best to protect filmmakers in these deals. We also do foreign sales so we do both the contracts with the filmmakers to handle their sales and we help them do contracts with other companies handling their sales. Here’s how it shakes down usually:

Many foreign sales companies do deals as if they were actual distributors in that they take rights. One is actually licensing them rights full on, in all media usually, for a very long time which is yes, sometimes as much as 15- 20 years. This is very much the old standard and I started in foreign sales twelve (12) years ago and saw it shake down even on napkins in Cannes. The sales company gets the rights to the film for a long time (though to be fair to them, often they pay producers up front for that though less and less these days). The sales companies also spend money shopping the films, but they also recoup expenses against any income that comes in and those expenses are not always actual and even when they are, they are not always sensible to put it mildly. It may be a bunch of films that are all paying for the same expenses, over and over again if you get what I mean. Not all companies are that way of course but we have seen statements from sales companies that will make your hair curl if it’s straight and straighten if it’s curly.

So, those companies like to take ALL your rights for a big fat TERM of 10, 12, 15, 20, 25 years and they will usually just resell those rights to a distributor who takes all rights for a particular territory (e.g. German & German Speaking Europe, or Korea, Japan, Greece.. you get the idea) in a market or via phone / email. They may also use those rights directly let’s say for Broadcast deals or DIGITAL platform deals (for example Mubi, or Content Republic or Love). Once the sales agent or sales company has those rights the rights are THEIRS to do what they want, unless you are contractually resolved otherwise.

The Film Collaborative does foreign sales in house and also with its partner Ariel Veneziano or Recreation Media. We do NOT take rights, our deals are done directly between BUYER and FILMMAKER almost all the time (exceptions only when buyer insists because they only want to work with companies). We are even offering a low fee program to have films positioned for sale at markets, again, no rights taken and filmmaker makes all decisions. TFC also helps filmmakers do deals with other sales companies / sales agents as I said above. Not all companies are quite as transparent and filmmaker friendly but they can still be worth doing business with because they have certain relationships that you don’t and they are going to markets that you aren’t and they have leverage with buyers to get paid because they have a steady stream of ‘product’. So we don’t say not to all those options. We do however say this:

Do not do a deal for such a long term as 15 or 20 years or even 10 for that matter. Put in performance clauses and of course there are loads of other needed protections that should be part of any deal that are beyond the scope of this blog post. You can let them enter into longer deals if necessary and for the right price but there is no reason they should have such a long deal. Also try to let them have buyers pay you directly, though most won’t do that. At least get approval rights for deals and get complete accounting. Approve and CAP expenses. And get references before you get into a deal to see if you have some hope of seeing any revenues. Do not give or license rights to them if you can help it but rather give them the right to enter into deals licensing rights and have you be a party to those deals (if you can do that). Many sales companies won’t play ball this way but we do and we recommend you try hard to do it this way so that you don’t live in regret watching your sales agent travel the world and eating well at film festivals while you get tiny checks, if any at all. I heard an amazing story of a sales agent who called a filmmaker and thanked her for making her (the sales agent) millions, so many that she was now retiring in the South of Spain. The filmmaker never made a dime over the advance. That’s the other thing, if possible, get an advance, always, that may be all you see. Of course that may not be possible so you have got to do your best in negotiating and being protected. In any case, save the direct distribution for yourself if you can unless there’s a great deal your sales agent can get you that you cannot do yourself but have the right at least to approve that. And as technology changes, you will able to do more and more yourself. The pirates manage to do it all, including subtitling and getting film seen around the world so surely, so can we.

TAKE HOME: Do a deal with a sales agent as close to the real estate model as you can, because if you don’t, you may end up as just a part of their library being monetized for their sake, and not yours.

This post was previously posted on TheFilmCollaborative.org.

Orly Ravid is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Film Collaborative www.TheFilmCollaborative.org, the first non-profit devoted to distribution. Having started out in the business doing foreign sales and previously served as a distribution executive at Senator and Wolfe, and worked as a Programming Associate at Sundance and Programming Consultant at PSIFF, she also co-owns New American Vision, a boutique B:B marketing services company whose clients include AFI Fest, LAFF, IDA, and Roadside Attractions.

The NEW Independent Filmmaker

by guest columnist SHERI CANDLER

I will start by giving credit right off the bat to my futurist heroes Gerd Leonhard and Seth Godin who spend way more time than I do contemplating issues on the future of the media business and how to succeed. What I get out of their talks and posts has helped me to formulate this post and bring my thoughts into order on how I see filmmakers sustaining themselves in the very near future.

There is a ton of talk right now on how independent filmmakers can sustain themselves by making their films and how independent film can be “saved.” So much talk, without many answers. I felt maybe I should take a stab at providing one. This is purely my reaction to all of this talk and I fully expect that I will be challenged for what I propose. It isn’t going to be palatable to the vast majority of filmmakers or others who profit from their work in the industry.

First, let’s address why we need a new business model. Gerd Leonhard has said as a filmmaker, it is all about the story and the connection to the audience. Everything in the middle will be redone. That means the way films have been distributed to audiences in the past, through very constricted routes (theaters, tv, physical stores), is now open via online and through mobile devices, and all over the world. The access to those routes is open to anyone, not just through companies who stand in the middle between the filmmaker and the audience. Our problem is no longer distribution, our problem is attention. How to get and keep and convert that attention in order to live as artists? With this open access, there is a glut of content and, as consumers, how to know what to watch and where to find it? It will be through friends or through the tribe and more and more we are finding this work online. There will be a mass of niches, not a mass audience. Who can access the niche?

Going forward, here is what I see. Two roads to take for sustainability.

Filmmaker as Tribe Leader

The selection of the word “tribe” does indeed come from Seth Godin. The word “tribe” – as the anthropologists use it – means a society or organized group largely based on kinship that looks to a leader for guidance. This is not to be confused with a “crowd,” a non-organized group with no leader. There are lots of crowds in indie film, very few leaders. Filmmakers must create and cultivate an identity around themselves as artists. This identity will serve as leadership in forming a tribe of passionate supporters who will sustain their artist in order for this person to live and keep making the art the tribe enjoys.

This route will only serve the entrepreneurial filmmaker. A person who is good at sharing, making connections, mobilizing, contributing and engaging with audience on a regular basis will be the ideal tribe leader. Those who prefer to create without need or concern of anyone’s enjoyment will not prosper here. The tribe leader must constantly stay engaged with his/her audience in addition to creating so that the leadership does not wane and the tribe begins to feel isolated and wander off to find another leader. The advantage to being a leader is that you are the resource on which the tribe depends, they enjoy your leadership and their kinship with you and the other members. This work cannot be given over to outside companies who are not directly involved in the tribe, they will not be trusted and trust is the cornerstone of this model.

Filmmakers who follow this business model will have no need for advertising in or reviews from mass publications. The media is not going to support you financially. The leader has permission to talk to his tribe, he doesn’t shout at them with uninteresting messages. This is what advertising is about, shouting loudly and repeatedly in the hopes that someone will act/buy. This tribe is small and the leader talks directly to the tribe, not through a large intermediary. He will also collaborate with them and bring them into his process. The tribe will expect to be able to produce and contribute as this is what is becoming the norm for storytelling now, the opportunity to interact directly with the story and the story creator.

Tribe members will speak to others outside of the tribe, share their enthusiasm and, through them, membership will grow. The filmmaker /leader may speak to leaders of other tribes in an effort to find a common area of interest and facilitate a connection for members of both communities to enjoy, but the goal with this is to simply connect people with common interests, not push one group’s interests onto another. This is not a one to many dialog but a many to many dialog with the leader serving as moderator.

“If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They want to engage, to interact and to get more involved.”-Seth Godin.

In a future post, I will talk about how you form a tribe and manage it.

This scenario offers the freedom to create content around many different subjects since the tribe is formed around yourself and your vision of art is appreciated. It is also far less stressful because you only have to focus on creating for a small group, not try to conquer the world all at once.

Filmmaker Creating Content for Other Tribes

For filmmakers who are not interested or not capable of creating their own tribe (basically, they CHOOSE not to lead; EVERYONE is capable), they will make content for passionately engaged tribes where they are not the leader or embedded in the community. This will be tricky because to gain the trust of the group, you have to show an affinity for their passion. You will have to win over the leader, gain his/her trust and find out exactly what kind of content you can create for them that they currently cannot get anywhere else. If successful, this tribe becomes your support, a group whose content needs you can fulfill over and over since there is seemingly no end to the want of fresh, interesting content.

This would lock you into the same subject matter over and over. Perhaps you could wander from tribe to tribe in order to change subjects, but the trust gaining process has to be started over each time, a very labor and time consuming process. You are a traveling minstrel going from small empire to small empire to entertain. Again, there is no need for mass advertising or mass interest because you create content only for small niche audiences. Those niches must be highly engaged though, so you will spend your time researching and finding them. But if you can get permission to create for them and your creations delight them, you have the power to make a living that is not dependent on companies, gatekeepers, shouting to the world in hope that someone will buy.

Neither of these scenarios discusses fame, massive fortune or creation just for creation’s sake. Fame is fleeting and if that is why you are interested in filmmaking, it wasn’t going to last (if you achieved it) for long. Fame also depends on creating a very large amount of noise to gain attention in the attention deficit world.

This doesn’t take into account massive fortune because your success will be limited to the size of the tribe. Small, engaged tribes are where the success is, but it won’t make you a billionaire, it doesn’t scale like that. The minute you shift focus to go after people with different interests, your original tribe falls apart. It is the intimacy and trust that holds it together. The auteur who is only interested in their own vision and creativity makes a good audience of one. The auteur who is a tribe leader can sustain, but the obscure, lone wolf with a vision will not.

However, tribes can and do grow through the enthusiasm of the community; that enthusiasm is shared with outsiders who are brought into the tribe. The leader does not need to do this work, in fact it is far more authentic if the tribe does it instead. As long as the leader’s focus remains on the care and feeding of the tribe, the tribe will thrive.

Will there be anomalies, people who are creative and do not connect directly with audiences? Yes, there are always exceptions and I expect that someone will list a few in comments. But I am talking about a sustainable business model, not the rarity or the lucky. If you are willing to step forward to build and lead a group of interested individuals who have not been mobilized or you are willing to identify and connect with already established groups and make quality content only for them, you will sustain.

This post first appeared on Multi-hyphenate and is reprinted here with permission and sincere appreciation.

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, online media publications and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively.

She can be found online at www.shericandler.com, on Twitter @shericandler and on Facebook at Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity.

Jon Reiss on The New Way To Think Of Theatrical

I wasn't at DIY Days. If I had been, perhaps I could have saved some time that I just spent brainstorming and writing it all down. Dang.

Jon puts a lot of good stuff out there. With most of the new crop of Sundance films having gotten their golden tickets this week, their makers would do well to listen up to the words that Mr. Reiss speaks. Is that you?
And if you look at the list of To Dos that I served up on that last post, you would do wise to heed his advice and fire your DP and hire a Producer of Distribution & Marketing. Open your ears:

And here's a nice round up of Jon's talk from Sheri Candler.