Rachel Gordon on "Streaming Educational Media"

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see more about the program by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Gordon on "Tapping into Educational Distribution"

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

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

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

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

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

Technical preparation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books Not Bombs


Nicholas Kristof had another great piece in the NY Times yesterday, this one on Greg Mortenson's efforts to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Kristof writes regarding Mortenson:

Still, he notes that the Taliban recruits the poor and illiterate, and he also argues that when women are educated they are more likely to restrain their sons. Five of his teachers are former Taliban, and he says it was their mothers who persuaded them to leave the Taliban; that is one reason he is passionate about educating girls.

So I have this fantasy: Suppose that the United States focused less on blowing things up in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more on working through local aid groups to build schools, simultaneously cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan manufactured exports. There would be no immediate payback, but a better-educated and more economically vibrant Pakistan would probably be more resistant to extremism.

“Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country,” says Mr. Mortenson, who is an Army veteran.

Each Tomahawk missile that the United States fires in Afghanistan costs at least $500,000. That’s enough for local aid groups to build more than 20 schools, and in the long run those schools probably do more to destroy the Taliban.

Mortenson has written a book "Three Cups Of Tea", which I haven't read, but is a best seller.  If only we had an administration that understood what a good idea education is, both home and abroad.