3 Nuggets of Gold: Indie Marketing and Distribution Expert Jon Reiss

Digital Media Strategist

Digital Media Strategist

by Elizabeth England

What’s a PMD?  Something every indie film budget needs, a Producer of Marketing and Distribution.  Carole Dean’s interview with Jon Reiss was astounding in its torrent of knowledge and ideas, giving us a glimpse of the raw curiosity that drives Jon’s filmmaking.  Daily Variety named him as a ‘digital director to watch.’ (Jon in Wikipedia.)

Check out his imdb.com!–fascinating films and subjects–Robotic Mayhem from Survival Research Laboratories; Bomb It featuring rave influencers Crystal Method and Moby; and Bomb It 2 exploring global graffiti leaders. His current project is producer and PMD (a dual role he doesn’t recommend) for a breast cancer awareness doc following the treatment choices, decision-making and post-treatment stories of several women.

This interview is so chockfull of smart info and brilliant ideas—I’ll share a few of the nuggets.  (Listen to the interview for so much more!)

Nugget 1 –  Every indie film budget needs a PMD, a Producer of Marketing and Distribution.  The PMD develops and implements a marketing and distribution strategy at the start of the project.  The PMD ensures early and ongoing engagement of the target audience through a storytelling platform, develops niche-influencer partnerships, and defines a festival, live event and digital strategy including merchandise and delivery.  The PMD starts with a low percentage of budget and high time investment and inversely ramps up over the life of the project.

At the project’s start the PMD’s focus will be audience and partnership strategy and development, a big investment of the PMD’s time.  As the project matures, the PMD’s budget will increase with live event, digital and merchandise strategy rollouts leading up to the ‘premiere’ event.  Once the film is released, 100% of the budget becomes marketing and distribution related expenses.

Basically, it’s a key job that needs to be baked into today’s indie film budget if you want to “dent the media landscape,” as Jon put it.  Makes sense, huh?

Nugget 2 – To engage, build and maintain your audience relationships, have a storytelling platform that lives alongside the film project.  The storytelling platform will build your audience community and create a win-win relationship, nurturing partnerships with like-minded influencers and organizations in your story niche.

Jon’s example: His current breast cancer project examines the controversial questions about over-screening and overtreatment, trends in lumpectomies and mastectomies, and issues of reconstructive surgery.  The breast cancer film’s storytelling platform is partnered with a like-minded charitable organization, sharing their audiences and publicity campaigns during the project.  His tip for filmmakers with controversial subjects—engage influencers early and hold off on social media promotion of your topic until there are strong strategic partners with buy-in to share in diffusing controversy. A win-win for both, the breast cancer charity will ‘inherit’ the film’s storytelling platform after the film reaches distribution–a real motivator for charity buy-in.

Nugget 3 – Think about ways to engage your audience both episodically and for your one off film premiere. There was so much good advice here I’ll just touch on it so make sure you listen to Jon’s interview for more info. Powerhouses like Netflix and HBO are tapped into consumer preferences for series, gaining the advantage of repeating promo and recurring royalties for replays—but they have the ad money for series promo.  Taking a cue from the series concept, Jon uses production and post-production to deliver a series of live events with film previews to elicit feedback, engage audience discussion and make adjustments for the desired impact.  His idea: release discreet film clips with fanfare as a series to build fan base and excitement for the final product. Using this model, the live events format could range from mini-screening parties with interactive discussions, to publicity events…whatever suits your topic…or a mix of both during post-production.  Post release, additional content not in the final cut makes great series content for ongoing audience engagement and film promotion on the storytelling platform. You can take any of this and run with it to suit your project. (This idea applies during the filmmaking and between projects, too, engaging your loyal fans until your next film is released.)

Audience development tips.

  • Make the media match the audience: know who your audience is and develop content that engages them directly as early as possible in the project.
  • Marshall geographic/regional support: If you can link your film subject to a community or region, you’ll interest local press and publicity for your project.
  • Strategic relationships: develop win-win relationships with both influencers and organizations in your niche subject.  Having the support of celebrities, bloggers, charities, civic groups or even government agencies to develop your audience should be a win-win. To develop these relationships, just introduce yourself and connect, and be prepared to answer should they ask what you have to offer and what you want from them, such as screening outreach, dvd promotion, profit sharing, co-publicity events, etc.  Jon’s breast cancer strategy started with the influencers and organizations in the breast cancer niche, then expanded to embrace influencers in women’s health.

Some last few tidbits to chew on:

  • One off films are easier to produce events around than a series because a filmmaker has more opportunity to dent the media landscape—but take advantage of series elements in your marketing.
  • Your final film doesn’t have to have a 90-minute format!  45 minutes more or less is an optimum length for a live event with publicity or a screening party with interactive discussion.
  • Check out the interesting events other indie filmmakers are doing like This American Life and HitRECord.

Jon wants to talk to you.  He made it clear in this interview that he is very curious about what you are up to – he just loves talking to filmmakers. Once again, thanks go to From the Heart’s Carole Dean for her extensive reach into the world of independent filmmaking to deliver this great interview.  Here’s more info from Jon, including how to get him on the phone for a chat:  www.jonreiss.com; Jon in Wikipedia; Think Outside the Box Office; and Jon’s Free Consultation.

 

What’s Your Hook? Brilliant Strategies for Developing An Audience That Follows You, Not Just Your Film

By Elizabeth England

Carole Dean’s The Art of Film Funding on Blogtalkradio interview of Sheri Candler is another nugget of solid gold for independent filmmakers seeking to crowdfund or distribute their films.  Sheri is on the emerging edge of marketing independent features and documentaries in the internet era.  A digital marketing strategist, Sheri consults with filmmakers to develop an identifiable brand and audience that follows them from project to project.

As Director of Digital Marketing for The Film Collaborative,  she helps filmmakers find strategies for retaining the rights to their work, and much more.  She has co-authored two books on film marketing and distribution: Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul reveals strategies for US distribution of Indies; Selling your Film Outside the US tells the compelling stories of two case studies of film distribution in Europe.

Sheri CandlerSheri’s Message to Filmmakers:  

  • If your only way you to connect to an audience is through the filter of the funder, you are in a weak position and dependent on someone else’s audience to see your work.
  • The way of the past was to make a name for yourself and then you would be ‘picked’ to do more work for a studio (or a producer.)  It’s time to use new strategies to create your own audience and retain the rights to your products.
  • The studio/producer model is always subjective in its choice of projects – there is always a hot new thing to draw their interest!   A mindset change is required for filmmakers to achieve success now, not just for a film but for their creative work to be recognized and generate sustainable career options.
  • You don’t have to measure your success by the mainstream box office.  Most filmmakers want to express their passion, change the world or connect with an audience that loves their work.
  • You can build an audience around you, as an artist, and make the films you want because you have developed a fan base for your work.  You can make what you want as long as you are reconciled to this and can be happy with niche success rather than mass success.

Finding an Audience

Rick Dean Crop

A “name” attached to your film doesn’t need to be mainstream star. It could be a YouTube celebrity or a blogger with a large following.

How you will find your audience is key to getting your film seen, distributed and profitable.  Indy dramas will attract marketing dollars and distribution offers when they have big names attached unless the content is edgy enough to attract a major film festival or distribution offers. Or you can develop your own audience during the project that supports successful release and distribution.

A big name has a big following, but don’t limit yourself to the mainstream entertainment world. What about YouTube celebrities or blogger with a million followers? Or a film tied into an iconic figure with millions of fans.

These have an audience that wants to see their work and it’s likely you won’t have to pay top dollar for their name. A big name in mainstream entertainment may attract the marketing dollars needed to find the audience, but a huge audience isn’t required to make a film a success. Check out the case studies for examples of that.

What’s Your Hook?

Without a big name or festival, having a hook to connect with a target audience creates an audience that will show up to see the film.  When the big name and marketing dollars aren’t there to attract the audience, Sheri’s two European case studies prove that focused effort finds the target audience by getting the word out to them through social media, community, and news channels. In each case, the filmmaker developed warm, substantive relationships with their target audience and surprising success followed.

Each had one or more ‘hooks’ to defined audiences they developed with great success—one over years and the other rapidly (in the year after the film was completed!)  Both films were dramas with defined target audiences: a UK-based filmmaker with an ethnic, low budget, coming of age drama; and an India-based filmmaker with a drama released in a regional Indian dialog, with lots of interest from Europe, especially the UK.

So what’s your hook and how are you connecting with the community that will care about your story?  Does the community trust you and know your work? If they do, they will want to help when you make your ask for funds or support during release!

Connecting with this audience from the start of your project and asking your audience to be part of the process engages and invests them in buying and sharing the final release.  Sheri gives some great examples on how to engage your audience during the process.  YouTube is a way to connect with your audience but she warns that people understand social media for relationship building and usually find it a turnoff when used for marketing so use it wisely.  It is valuable for some topics…like sharing about a project on an iconic star or engaging fans for their feedback on the direction you’re taking in your story or soundtrack.

Don’t Worry About Distribution If You Have Your Audience

With all the digital distribution platforms now available, distribution is no longer a challenge.  But who’s going to watch it?  Marketing to your audience must be your focus from the start. Filmmakers can plan audience development and marketing at the beginning of the film.

With the speed of change on the internet, distribution agents simply aren’t able to keep up with the new digital distribution strategies. Online film review publications are now incentivized (The Guardian, The Times of India) using strategies like Distrify to earn royalties on the film reviews that result in click-throughs to view a film.

When you have a hook and plan audience development into your project, magic happens.  In one case study, the audience was so invested during the process that, when the filmmaker offered an affiliate program at release, 130 affiliates signed up immediately to help market the film and earn royalties on distribution.

He used Distrify to offer and host the film for streaming, providing affiliates with unique affiliate embed codes. Affiliates ‘prebought’ the film at buyin levels that increased their royalty with higher prebuy values – even up to 75% royalty.  WOW.  Affiliates made thousands and so did he.

There are Hundreds of Digital Platforms for European DistributionSelling_Your_Film_Outside_the_US

European distribution requirements are similar to US – they are looking for celebrity names (that are known in Europe), or films shown in a large festival, or films that have a record of large domestic distribution. Some genres attract distribution regardless of names or festivals because they have large demand, i.e. horror, thematic, sci-fi and family films. Straight drama and comedy don’t always travel well to foreign markets.

The sheer number of Video on Demand services in Europe is staggering – 447 – so many more than in the US.  That means that with some acclaim, your film can reach many viewers.  However, these revenue streams are paying less for a title so you’ll have several deals for distribution in Europe rather than one big deal as in the US market. European catalogs are looking at buying slates so these may only pay a license fee, not a transactional fee.  Collaborating with other producers to present a slate increases your film’s chance of being sold in bulk this way.

US Distribution

The Film Collaborative has a great program for US distribution.  TFC is an ‘aggregator’ for premium platforms like Amazon and ITunes.  For a flat fee, your film will be encoded and uploaded to premium platforms and you’ll receive royalties directly from TFC as a direct pass-through – no transactional fees are charged.  This is a great way to get your film into domestic digital distribution.

Be sure to listen to this great show 5 Creative Ways to Sell Your Film and check out the links below.

8 Tips from Film Funding Masters Marc Hofstatter and Carole Dean

By Elizabeth England

Did you know that 89% of IndieGoGo campaigns that reach their goal will overfund by 30% or more?

Or that 1/3 of IndieGoGo’s donors are international contributors from 70 countries?

These are just a few of the juicy tidbits I picked up listening to Carole Dean’s interview of IndieGoGo’s Marc Hoffstatter, Head of Film (@theoriginalhoff) on The Art of Film Funding on Blogtalkradio.

From The Heart Productions has been a partner with Indiegogo since 1991

Partnered with Indiegogo, From The Heart Productions has helped independent filmmakers raise over $1 million for their films

From the Heart has a unique partnership with IndieGoGo.  As a 501(c)3 non-profit, From The Heart provides filmmakers with fiscal sponsorship which allows donors to get tax deductions.   Filmmakers also get flexible funding.  That means they get paid even if they don’t reach their goal.  As an Indiegogo partner, From The Heart has helped filmmakers raise over $1 million to date.

I was delighted to pick up these expert insights and master tips, and give you an overview of the road map they shared.

Build Your Film Contact Database:  90% of your crowd funding comes from your list and their friends.  During pre-launch, leverage your database to create excitement and get commitments for 20% of your campaign goal from funders.  Then have a plan to get your committed funders to donate in the first two days of your campaign.  Reaching 20% of your goal in the first 72 hours will get you noticed beyond your list by IndieGoGo fans and create momentum to fund to 100% of your goal ahead of schedule.

Aim Low – Fund High: Marc and Carole recommend being conservative in selecting your

Marc Hofstatter - Head of   Film at Indiegogo

Marc Hofstatter – Head of Film at Indiegogo

goal to fund faster and stronger.  Hitting that 20% in the first few days is crucial.   It shows you’ve got support and creates momentum which attracts more donors.   So, even if you want to fund your entire feature at once, it’s best to start by funding just part of it.  Besides, 89% of the campaigns that hit their goal overfund by 30%.

Plan to Go Beyond Your Goal.  Carole pointed out that many filmmakers reach their goal early and are at a loss as to what to do for the rest of the campaign.  Marc suggested creating pre-planning stretch goals to keep the momentum going.  For example, imagine telling your fans how stoked you are that you’ve reached 100% of your goal early and now you can do what you had only dreamed of…shoot that scene in 3D with another $2,000 (or whatever your first stretch goal is.) That early success is the juice keeping your fans engaged and your campaign exciting.

Don’t Forget The Pictures:  Marc recommends that you make your Indiegogo campaign page a strong visual representation of who you are, what you are doing and your unique style and talent.   It should not be a page filled with words.   Potential donors must be visually drawn in by your campaign page.  They want to see your style and get a taste of what your filmmaking will achieve with their help!

No Time for Trailers.  Carole and Marc agree that at the start of a campaign a Pitch Video is more important than a trailer.  You need to show donors why you are making the project and why it needs to get made.   Don’t forget to have an “ask” and a call to action to ask them to donate.  But even your pitch video MUST represent your filmmaking vision and style AND give them a reason to click ‘Donate NOW.’  Chances are, they aren’t coming back, so close them NOW.

My own two cents? Consider this – Make a pitch video with two endings:  One for pre-launch promotion and the second for the campaign ask and close.  Another key element on your campaign page is your team: who is on board with you and what are their roles?  Your team inspires confidence in your ability to get the job done with their money, so let your funders know you have quality business and creative talent on board to finish the project.

Pre-planning is Critical: Marc suggests to plan what you are going to do to maintain momentum and excitement at 5, 10, 17, even 22 days into your campaign.  Work out predefined benchmarks for stretch goals, pre-written social media content for both during and beyond your campaign, and new and exciting perks that stimulate new funders.

Out With the Old Perks. Plan to introduce exciting new perks during your campaign that stimulate funding.    Some funders may prefer a credit over a premiere ticket so changing up the perks will attract new funders.  Choosing smart perks like digital downloads and experiences are easier to fulfill and have less impact on your budget than a perk you have to pay for and ship.

Your Crew is Your Team.  Mark recommends having a team on your campaign of at least four.  1- outreach to those organizations and individuals aligned with your project to get their support; 2- provide regular updates, responses and new perks on your campaign page; 3- email campaign management and response; and 4- social media content and interaction.  Carole and Mark emphasize that you are marketing your film already at this early stage–building a fan base, and hopefully attracting the attention of sales agents, distributors and advocates so treat it that way.

Other key points covered:

  • Campaign sophistication will jump in the near future with the entry of major players into the crowdfunding arena as seen in the recent campaigns for Sharknado and Rooster Teeth—this is great for getting your project noticed now by serious film fans and funders.
  • Crowdfunding blogs and thought leaders are interested in your campaign and your project—so add PR outreach to your planning.
  • Your success at funding your campaign is directly proportionate to retaining creative control of your project.  Crowdfunding averages 10% to 35% of a film’s total budget funding, with the balance from grants, equity financing, foreign sales agreements.
  • Crowdfunding is still relatively unknown and is poised for tremendous growth as market awareness explodes and the impact of recent Title II and Title III rulings make room for crowdfunding equity financing with both accredited and unaccredited investors.

The bottom line is that crowdfunding is far from maturity and is the best tool available for filmmakers to simultaneously get exposure for their talents while marketing and funding their projects.

From the Heart’s unique partnership with IndieGoGo gives you a powerful advantage:  a flexible and continuous funding platform combined with decades of experience mentoring filmmakers. Take advantage of this priceless access to this winning combination now.

Here are some cool links I found researching this article that I’d like to share with you:

June 24th Google Hangout with Marc Hofstatter:  http://www.indiewire.com/article/attention-filmmakers-learn-how-to-crowdfund-successfully-in-upcoming-google-hangout-with-indiegogo-kickstarter-and-seed-spark-20140619#.U6SBOREN9Ec.twitter

IndieGoGo’s Essential Tips:  http://go.indiegogo.com/blog/2014/06/essential-tips-for-running-an-indiegogo-campaign-part-ii.html

Title II and IndieGoGo: https://go.indiegogo.com/blog/2013/09/update-on-the-jobs-act-title-ii-and-crowdfunding.html

Rick Dean Crowd 2Don’t get lost in the crowd

Stand out and get funded with From The Heart and Indiegogo.

No penalty if you don’t reach goal, tax deductions for donors, personal mentoring and support. 

Just apply at the From The Heart Indiegogo Partner Page