How Big Brand Sponsorship Saved Our Indie Film (pt 2 of 2)

Guest Post by Amy Lo.  Yesterday Amy started the tale of Planet B-boy's march into brand sponsorship and how they teamed up with Samsung.  Today she concludes with how it was a win/win and some thoughts towards the future. Taking the long view We were relieved that our immediate need for post production funds was met, but our proposal also kept the door open for a much bigger fish to fry: distribution. Our initial strategy was the typical indie film non-strategy of keeping the film under wraps, doing a big premiere at a festival and waiting for any offers to come along. With Samsung unexpectedly involved at an early stage, we started thinking about how we could partner with them to bring the film out, either with or without a traditional distributor. We came up with a plan for live dance events combined with the film screenings, a 25-city tour presented by Samsung.

In the meantime, we finished the film and got it into competition at the Tribeca Film Festival. We had a magical outdoor premiere on the riverfront with Fab 5 Freddy as emcee, live performances, and breakdancing lessons before the movie. More than eight thousand people turned out. We’d made it an event. We knew we could be on to something.

We pushed Samsung and came so close – with no less than the Chief Marketing Officer for North America behind us – but internal politics and timing ultimately thwarted further P&A support. Planet B-boy still had a great run with distributor Elephant Eye Films, held over in NY theaters for 10 weeks and spreading to about 50 other cities. We threw some fantastic events, too.

Working towards the future I’m convinced there’s a still lot further to go with sponsorship and indie film, particularly for distribution and the hard work of getting finished films to audiences. Folks like Rooftop Films , Alamo Drafthouse , and Range Life are making movies more of a communal event. Film festivals, too. Brands get behind those curators without dictating programming, so if a filmmaker’s vision is clear and resonates with audiences, why not experiment with individual film releases, too? Or theaters? Kind of like the old days of TV – Wild Kingdom never had anything to do with insurance but the show’s always been presented by Mutual of Omaha. Sponsorship’s coming back for indie music , why not indie film, too?

Samsung didn’t take any ownership or approvals of the film, and our deal with them paradoxically, became our best guarantee of creative freedom, no strings attached. Sponsorship wasn’t our plan at the outset, but by focusing on the film first, by preserving its quality and originality, we had something for others, both audiences and sponsors, to get excited about.

It most likely won’t happen the same way for me again on another film, and on each project, we as producers have to be more resourceful and more imaginative than ever, looking at every option. I’m telling you this story because the lesson learned is: You never know who might save you. When some doors close, just find new ones to knock down.

Amy Lo is a 2010-2011 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow. Through her production banner Mental Pictures , she develops and produces feature films, documentaries, and new media, focusing on director-driven original stories. She can also be found on twitter @amy_lo .

For more on this subject check out: "Can Brands & Indie Films Collaborate Without Sacrificing Integrity Or Goals?"

How Big Brand Sponsorship Saved Our Indie Film (pt. 1 of 2)

Guest Post by Amy Lo

Behind every finished film, there are 1,001 war stories.

This is just one small part of how we willed into being a film called Planet B-boy , and maybe it’s a rare, lucky case. But when it mattered most, it was a big-time brand that 1) came to our rescue with cold, hard cash; 2) allowed us to keep complete creative control; and 3) gave us greater ownership of our own film to boot. They didn’t even realize how crucial it was to us, but the truth is, Samsung saved our indie film.

Starting on our own
I met a filmmaker named Benson Lee who had a great character-driven story structured around the vibrant resurgence of breakdancing around the world. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to produce it. Industry broadcasters and production companies loved the idea but said essentially the same thing – go and shoot it, show us a rough cut. Fair enough. We turned to equity investors and scraped together enough to buy plane tickets and cameras….Fast forward through production highs and lows, and three months later, we had 300 hours of footage to log in four different languages. We also had a negative bank balance. So what next?

Rallying our cohorts
Between going back to investors and trying to raise money, we didn’t wait around. We posted a clip on YouTube, rehauled our website, and started reaching out to b-boys and folks online for feedback. While Benson went through footage, I spent days seeking out those who would become our most ardent supporters. Our video racked up tens, then hundreds of thousands of views, netting us our first featured spot on the YouTube front page. As the momentum grew, we did our part to keep it going.

One of our first videos showed main characters dancing in distinctive settings, like the Eiffel Tower and a Buddhist temple. We started getting messages from all over the world “Come film here!” and “What about our town?”, so we figured why not open it up through a video contest? Anyone could send us footage of their own choreography in front of their own city landmarks, and selected shots would form an epilogue to the movie during the end credits. With the community involved, our film ended up covering dancers from every continent – except Antarctica (though we did get b-boys from the Arctic Circle in there!).

It was a simple way for people to connect with the film, and individual participation naturally fit with the film’s themes about self-expression – how each dancer interpreted the art form and made it their own, feeding their own culture back into it. Early on, I had also gotten the idea from Four Eyed Monsters to collect email addresses and zip codes as “screening requests” – and we got 500 subscribers from Poland in a single day – a fan in Warsaw had built their own mini-movement around the film.

Sticking to our story
Meanwhile, we had been shaking the money tree and editing the film simultaneously but were running out of equity investor options. We didn’t have a rough cut yet to show distributors or production companies who might put up finishing funds – and if we were able to get that far on our own, would we necessarily want to give up creative control and rights to our film?

When we explored the idea of sponsorship, we were clear on our parameters. Our first priority was being able to make the film our own way. That was never in doubt and wasn’t negotiable. One key difference between commissioned work versus independent work looking for support: We were the ones who could set the terms. Any sponsors would have to be on board with our creative independence, and we made that authenticity itself an integral part of our proposal.

Figuring out our strengths
Once we established what we wouldn’t do for sponsors, we still had to think carefully about what we could offer them. There weren’t many indie film examples we could turn to. We weren’t cult filmmakers like David Lynch, Spike Jonze, or Wong Kar-wai. We had no guarantee of distribution or a film festival premiere – we didn’t even have a film yet.

But we did have footage – 300 hours of amazing dancing and stunning back stories that wouldn’t all fit into our feature-length film. We had plenty of “content” to lend to a willing partner. Going back to our initial YouTube clips, we also had a growing following and the potential to transcend a niche audience once we had a finished film. The creative goal for the feature was to show b-boy culture in the truest light possible, and through our characters, also make it a relatable story about identity and self-expression. It was a story we were passionate about, and it seemed like something a sponsor could get behind.

Doing our homework
Where to start? We connected to Samsung after much due diligence and research. We asked around for help and suggestions within the b-boy community, and we drew up lists of target companies. We found as much information as we could about each: decision makers, past projects, other forays into sponsorship, and what their mandates might be. Some companies supported the arts through non-profit arms, while others fielded proposals through their in-house marketing departments or ad agencies.

Samsung seemed our best match as an electronics company. They had empty hardware; we had content to fill it. I built a sponsorship proposal tailored to them around this idea. We promised to give them a series of five trailers as exclusive content – for embedding into new Samsung cell phones, mp3 players, and other portable media devices, and in retail displays and product road shows. The videos wouldn’t be commercials for Samsung product; they would strictly promote the film – and identify Samsung as our supporter. And for this, they were willing to put substantial money towards us finishing our movie, a mid-six-figure sum that meant all the difference for us, and was less than the cost of a traditional 30-second ad for them.

Tomorrow, Amy concludes with some thoughts on "Taking The Long View" of brand sponsorship of indie film.

For more on this subject check out: "Can Brands & Indie Films Collaborate Without Sacrificing Integrity Or Goals?"

Amy Lo is a 2010-2011 Sundance Institute Creative Producing Fellow. Through her production banner Mental Pictures , she develops and produces feature films, documentaries, and new media, focusing on director-driven original stories. She can also be found on twitter @amy_lo .

Old Problems, New Solutions: Film Fest Rock & Blues

Today's guest post is by director Allison Anders (Mi Vida Loca, Grace Of My Heart), co-founder of the "Don't Knock The Rock" Film Festival" Seven years ago I was given one of the greatest opportunities of my opportunity-rich life -- a tenured post at UCSB as a distinguished professor in the Film And Media Department at UC Santa Barbara, where I remain on faculty, teaching one quarter each year. My first quarter I created a class on rock 'n' roll films since this had long been my private passion, and called the course "Don't Knock The Rock", named for the 1956 Alan Freed, Sam Arkoff, Columbia film of the same name. I loved the experience of sharing these music rich movies so much I didn't want it to end.

With the help of producer Elizabeth Stanley who was at that time at the DGA, and who connected me to festival producer Gianna Chacere (now with The Hamptons Film Festival) , I began to lay out plans for a festival in Los Angeles showcasing rock 'n' roll movies. My musician daughter Tiffany Anders was returning to Los Angeles, after living in Brooklyn for a good chunk of her 20s, so I immediately welcomed her home and enlisted her to curate live music for my hair-brained idea. The first year she delivered Sonic Youth, J Mascis, The Tyde, Dead Meadow, Wayne Kramer, and Ariel Pink before I even knew he had been born!

We are now launching our 6th annual (we took one year off) DKTR Fest July 8th and will run every Thursday of July and August at The Silent Movie Theater, Los Angeles. From our first Don't Knock The Rock Film And Music Festival, our agenda was, and remains, the same: to showcase music films and live music performances for die-hard fans and music nerds and to get the word out to them. We are dedicated to that agenda, even though the struggles of the niche film festival like ours are many, well actually, money; the struggle is always money.

We are blessed to have returning sponsors who have been supporting us every year since our beginning, BMI Music, Criterion Collection, Globe Shoes and more. But we are finding it harder to survive, and have watched well-heeled festivals disappear while we remain the little festival that could. This year, just when we wondered if we could go on, we discovered community funding as an option. In particular, Kickstarter! We weren't sure if we qualified since we have already been established but our project was accepted and we launched our pledge drive on Kickstarter to raise additional funds to bring filmmakers to us so they can see their film with a live audience (which for many filmmakers these days is becoming a rare experience) and to be able to compensate our musicians, who perform live for far below their quote, with a token of our appreciation for giving our audience a one-of-a kind experience.

The model for Kickstarter is brilliantly simple and effective: if everyone kicks in a donation to projects they'd like to support, these films, events, books, music, art will all see the light of day. And the even more beautiful part of it is that by donating to each other, we can help bring to life a culture we want to share. For every pledge to donate money to a Kickstarter project, you will get something tangible in return. We are loving our Kickstarter project and urge everyone to check it out cause we think we have some of the very coolest rewards ever from our awesome sponsors!

And we are very excited about our line-up this summer! Whenever possible we try to open our festival with a film which exemplifies an artist band or genre of music born right here in So Cal. "The Wrecking Crew", "Chicano Rock", "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel" and "Ghost On The Highway: A Portrait Of Jeffrey Lee Pierce" have been a few of our LA-centric openers. This year we are so happy to launch DKTR 2010 with a beautiful film by Italian filmmaker/musician Cosimo Messeri, "The One Man Beatles: Something About Emitt Rhodes" Hawthorne's own son. In 1967 upon hearing and falling in love with the first 2 singles ("Live" and "You're A Very Lovely Woman") of Emitt's band The Merry-Go-Round, I ached for more till his long lost solo records were rediscovered in the late 80s and distributed on a collection by Rhino. These are melancholic yet accessible pop melodies that will stay with you, and a story that will move you as much as the music. Emitt Rhodes himself will be in attendance and we are thrilled to be able to celebrate his work in person with him. A tribute concert will follow the screening! Merry-Go Round/Emitt Rhodes expert Rhino's own Andrew Sandoval will DJ a brilliant set including never before heard Emitt Rhodes material.

From Australia we have a restored print of 1984's "Dogs In Space" with Inxs singer Michael Hutchence, a film not screened in LA in ages, along with the LA premiere of "We're Living On Dog Food" by director Richard Lowenstein on the vibrant Aussie punk and post punk scene of the early 80s, co-sponsored by "Part Time Punks" with DJ Michael Stock spinning tunes. We also have an amazing film of one man's quest to reunite the not-on-speaking-terms band The Kinks, in the film "Do It Again", and will follow up with a unique live Charles Beardlsey Kinks clips-mix from his private collection. And speaking of private collections of clips, Target Video pulls together a unique mix of Joe Rees video live performances late 70s early 80s "So Cal Uber Alles".

And following in a tradition of honoring our electronic music pioneers, to kick off the month of August we have the LA premiere of "Deconstructing Dad", a film by Stan Warnow about his father Raymond Scott with a special tribute to Scott's varied career followed by an incredible feast of WB Looney Tunes bearing the music of Raymond Scott curated by Jerry Beck, animation historian! Scott pal Skip Heller DJs! On Saturday afternoon Aug. 7, we will host as we do each year our ever popular BMI Music Roundtable Chat with pros in the music and film businesses discussing how to get your music into films, and for filmmakers how to find affordable music for projects. Aug 12, we have a full night Lee Hazlewood blow-out with 2 ultra rare titles "Cowboy In Sweden", "Nancy And Lee In Las Vegas" coming from the estate of Swedish filmmaker Tor Axelman.

And Also in August, an evening with legendary LA filmmaker and LA cultural historian Thom Andersen (LA Plays Itself) premiering his new film "Get Out Of The Car" and 2 rare music-filled LA pieces "--- -------" and "Olivia's Place" as well as other music-related films curated by Andersen who will be present for Q&A's and hangs! And closing night we will premiere a film by songwriter Mark Sebastian and filmmaker Todd Kwait "Vagabondo" a film about legendary Greenwich Village folk singer Vince Martin. Martin will also be present for a lively Q&A, and a tribute concert to his beautiful songs will follow the film.

In a world in flux in terms of film financing and distribution, festivals have changed too. Sales agents have become far more powerful and their budgets smaller. Unless you're a major festival where they can sell their movie, and recoup for the investors, they cannot be bothered to even answer an inquiry from a smaller niche festival (this happened to us repeatedly this year). It's a shame cause this means that the very audience who would care don't get to see the film, it means the filmmakers don't get to experience their film with as many audiences, and it means that when the film comes out, if ever, no one goes to see it, cause no one knows about it, and it perpetuates this idea that music films don't make money, so less of them get made. When in fact, people would come, if they knew about it and if they were targeted as the viable audience that they are.

This is clearly a dead model. I'm looking forward to new models. And community-based funding and supporting local venues for niche festivals are a step in the right direction ahead!

For the DKTR Kickstarter page go here: http://kck.st/cmuBAi

For the complete DKTR 2010 line-up and to buy tickets go here: http://cinefamily.org/calendar/thursday.html#july

Make Your Microbudget Film An Event: The Waiting List

Today's guest post is from Mike Vogel. I recently premiered my first microbudget feature The Waiting List in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I've read a lot of blogs and tweets about how important it is to turn your screening into an event. There are many well thought-out reasons for this, but the only true reason is that no one wants to see your crappy indie film. Or my crappy indie film. I'm not saying yours--or mine--is actually a crappy film, but since it didn't get into Sundance and doesn't have any recognizable stars from Entertainment Weekly, it must be plotless, poorly acted and guaranteed to be boring. Like a foreign movie or something. I assume that's the mindset of 95% of the people I'm trying to convince to watch my movie--let alone pay to watch it. So the amazing opportunity to see my movie at an out-of-the-way theater on a weekday evening has got to be pretty compelling. Here are a few small things I did to make it interesting for someone who has never heard of me or my movie. 1. "I want to promote your thing at my screening"

I realized quickly that many of the people who might consider attending my premiere (aside from friends, relatives and neighbors) were people who support the local creative scene. And most of those people probably have their own creative thing going on as well. I created a form on my website where anyone could upload a 1024 x 768 image that I would show on-screen before the movie for free. Instead of shilling soda or a wireless provider, I would promote "your thing." I've posted all of the slides as a PDF here or a webpage here. The free creative promotions included everything from local blogs, podcasts, movies, telepathic pet communicators and an adult toy store. A good portion of them also came to the screening so I got to meet them in the real world instead of just being Facebook friends or Twitter followers. 2. Q&A

Okay, I have to admit I'm in the camp of people who think Q&A sessions walk a fine line between informative, inspirational talks and self-congratulatory, narcissistic blab-a-thons. But I know if I were attending a screening by a local director with a local cast, I would expect to see them on stage awkwardly answering questions. As an audience member, there's always that incentive that someday the director or the actors will be famous and you can brag about how you saw them at a Q&A once. That would be the incentive for me, at least. I was fortunate enough to have three actors from the film (Amanda Englund, Audrey Walker and Mercedes Rose) join me for the Q&A. 3. Speed Raffle

Yeah, a raffle. Everyone got a raffle ticket when they walked in the door. Prizes included gift certificates to Voodoo Doughnuts (their maple bacon donut was featured in the movie), DVD copies of The Waiting List, and--since it's an honest movie about parenting--an adult "bath toy." I'm not usually the biggest fan of raffles but when I attended the Filmed By Bike festival last year, their speed raffle won me over and it was a huge crowd-pleaser.

I created a slide that played before the screening that said "Raffle! Win stuff!! Or watch other people win stuff!!!" The key here was giving away prizes that tied into the movie's theme. So if a Q&A with the director and cast wasn't incentive enough to stick around after the movie, you were holding a ticket in your hand that gave you a chance to win stuff.

4. Walk-in Music

So you're sitting in the theater waiting for movie to start. You're watching slides on the big screen featuring local creative projects: movies, blogs, webisodes, podcasts, pet psychics, sex toy shops. What else do you need? Music! My movie appeals to disillusioned parents, so naturally I thought of setting the mood with children's music. A good mix of Mother Goose Rocks (where Eminem and No Doubt soundalikes re-interpret traditional children's songs), nostalgic PBS themes (like 3-2-1 Contact and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood), and hilarious songs with parenting themes, including one I found on YouTube called Pregnant Women are Smug.

5. Online-ify the Location

It's a physical event, but it's obvious from going to movies that everyone's screwing around on their phones before the movie starts. I wanted to take advantage of this idle mobile time. In addition to promoting other people's things on slides, I snuck in a few of my own. "Check into the theater on Foursquare to see who else is at the movie (or just looking around you the old-fashioned way)." "Include our official hashtag #TWLPDX with any tweets or twitpics."

And to remind people earlier in the week that my movie was playing for one night only, I went to the well of overused internet memes and posted "Hitler Finds Out The Waiting List only Plays One Night" to Twitter and Facebook, which had 300+ views prior to the show. I made this a video response to a new trailer for my movie on YouTube so anyone who saw the Hitler spoof could easily click through to the movie's trailer. All of this was in addition to the mandatory blog post, Facebook Event invite, Google Calendar invite and lots of tweets.

These are just a few of the things I did to give people a reason to show up and watch my movie in a theater. Watching a movie in a theater gives a sense of community that plopping down in front of a 67" LCD in your man-cave simply does not. I'm interested to hear things other microbudget filmmakers have done to turn their screenings into events.

Mike Vogel is a writer-director based in Portland, Oregon.  His first movie The Waiting List, is a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, back-stabbing comedy about preschool enrollment, and is now available on DVD from IndieFlix.  He is currently at work on the second part of a Domestic Trilogy, a comedy about marriage called Did You Kiss Anyone? http://www.mikevogel.com

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.