The US government gives filmmakers a great gift at the end of 2015 in the recently signed budget
by Carole Dean
Just before Congress dashed out for their end of year holiday vacation, Section 181 of the tax code of 2004 was reinstated. For a filmmaker, this is going to be an important tool to attract investors.
Entertainment Attorney and Section 181 Expert Corky Kessler
Enacted originally in 2004, Section 181 allows you to eliminate your investor’s tax bill by what they’ve invested in your film. It permits a 100% write-off for the first $15 million of the cost of producing a film in the U.S. It had expired at the end of 2014, but Congress instead extended it to the end of 2016 and made it retroactive to the beginning of 2015.
Entertainment lawyer, Corky Kessler, is one of our best film attorneys, an expert on Section 181, and one of its biggest advocates. He has used Section 181 seventy-four times to help filmmakers. He revealed more highlights and new benefits of Section 181 during my interview with him on my Art of Film Funding Podcast.
Section 181 is for shorts, documentaries and features up to $15 million and some up to $20 million dollars.
It covers all films started or finished in 2015, if you know how to apply for it. Section 181 also can cover films that finish in 2016.
How it works. For example, if $500K is spent on your film in 2016 and your investor is active in the production or made active, they can write it off as an expense against their taxes. If that investor is in a 30% tax bracket, they will save $150K from that $500K investment.
That is because you can create 100% of a tax loss when you invest under Section 181.
Depending on what state you decide to film in, you can minimize your investors risk considerably.
For example, let’s say you are shooting in a state with 40% state rebate your investor is using Section 181. If that investor is in the 35% tax bracket, then they could have an assurance that 75% of the money is returned to them.
States like Georgia, Louisiana, California and NY all have great incentives. To protect your investor Corky, recommends finding a state to shoot in with a good incentive. Some states like Louisiana allow you to bring people in to work on your film from out of state and you still get 30% benefits.
Section 181 is fairly simple if you have a good lawyer and accountant who can advise you on how to use it.
If your accountant is not well versed in Section 181, you can lose this benefit. For example, if the accountant capitalizes the production expenses you can lose this. Also, if your accountant does not file in the first year that you intend to use the 181, you cannot use it. Knowledge is the key to using this.
Also, for the first time, Section 181 includes theatre. Certain rules about theatre are still to be revealed. The good news is that you have until the end of 2016 to get your projects grandfathered in case this is not extended again.
Get started before you do your taxes.
“If you want to use 181 for an upcoming film you need to complete a form this year when you do your taxes.” Corky explained. “This form tells the IRS that you intend to use it for your film to shoot in 2016. That’s the most important thing to know now before you do your taxes.”
You also need to have your paperwork completed for the film. Your lawyer will know what papers are required. Put aside a week to get these done so that you can file that extension and be eligible for this great tax incentive offer for your investors.
You can contact Corky via email at and or call him at 312 853 8448 For an accountant, he recommends Todd Hein with Crowe Horwath who knows how to do the election and file properly.
When 16 year old Chris Strachwitz left Germany and came to the US in 1960, he played his radio every day because he was so impressed with the music in America. He loved it all!
He listened to Mexican music, soul, and blues, jazz and accordion music. Chris developed a very good “ear” for music. He knew how to discern talented people. But, many of the artists he liked were older musicians whose work would be lost when they went away.
He decided to dedicate his life to record them to save their music.
In the documentary “This Ain’t No Mouse Music”, we follow Chris from teenage music lover to a restless archivist who discovered and preserved the work of many great songs and artists.
He started on a shoestring. He began to record music exactly where he found it. In front yards, restaurants, bars, by the lake. Wherever the musicians played, that’s where Chris recorded them.
Chris never had a studio. He never wanted one. He wanted to record the music just where he found it. This brilliant idea really worked, you can hear it in the recordings. It’s natural and the outside or surrounding sounds belong.
Music was the life blood in the heart of these deep rooted communities. People loved their music and loved their musicians.
Chris started his own record label Arhoolie Records. Arhoolie is the word for a field hand in the south. He became a folk, blues and soul music detective combing Texas, Louisiana & Mississippi for musicians and also for local records.
During his search for music, he found folklorist Mac McCormick who became a brilliant partner to help Chris in his quest. Chris & Mac were not afraid to ask anyone for the names of musicians. Once they had a name, they used their detective skills and went to work to find them.
This desire to find folk music in the South would cause him to find some of the greats. He found Fred McDowell, Aakka White, and Big Mama Thornton, who sang Hound Dog and I Smell a Rat.
He found Richard Thompson, John Jackson, Mance Lipscomb, Charlie Musclewhite and Big Joe Williams whose great song is Sloppy Drunk!
Chris took many of these people to the folk festivals and on tour to either create or resurrect their careers. He took Big Mama Thornton overseas where she recorded on of her best-selling record Big Momma Thornton – In Europe.
He recorded Country Joe and the Fish singing their anti-Vietnam War song I Feel Like I’m Fixingto Die Rag. Chris recorded this in his home and when they were leaving they said, “What do we owe you for the recording?”
“Well, you don’t have a publisher,” Chris replied “So, let me be the publisher.”
They signed a contract which brought Chris a lot of money. Chris used this income to cross the country and find us these marvelous musicians. Years later, when they next met, Chris gave the publishing rights back to the artist.
Chris is a one-man-band by finding the talent, producing, recording, editing, marketing, selling and promoting. He even shows you how to wash your records!
If you love music, musicians and good bio pics, this is a wonderful film for you.
Songs truly are the poetry of the people…
The podcast Dissecting Docs with Carole Dean and Don Schwartz is dedicated to our most precious and beloved filmmakers, the documentary filmmaker. Each week, the show honors these brilliant creatives who give of their time, energy, and sometimes their freedom to bring us the truth. They are our last vestige of sincere, unbiased reporters who put their heart into their films.
Documentary Exposes International Underworld of Sex Trafficking
Oxnard, CA Oct 30th, 2015 – The Summer Roy W. Dean Grant has been awarded to director Chelo Alvarez-Stehle for her feature length documentary “Sands of Silence”. Overseen by the non-profit From the Heart Productions, the film grant is the second of three awarded each year to a filmmaker with a unique project that contributes to society.
“Chelo’s dedication to the production of her film, ‘Sands of Silence’ is exemplary” said Carole Dean, president of From the Heart Productions. “This film will change lives, open conversations and raise the consciousness on many hidden issues. We are honored to support Chelo in getting this film made”.
The Roy W. Dean Grant is open to all types of film projects including documentaries, short films, features, and web series in any stage of production. Submissions were received from from across U.S. as well as internationally from United Kingdom, Australia, and Nigeria. Winner receives cash and donated film services to help complete their film.
In “Sands of Silence”, Chelo records a 15-year quest to expose the underworld of sex trafficking from Asia to the Americas back to the windswept beach where her childhood ended and family secrets began. Documenting the transformation of young women in Mexico and Nepal from powerless victims” to resilient survivors and passionate advocates, the filmmaker undertakes a parallel journey toward personal healing and family reconciliation.
“I still remember the thought-provoking Documentary Trailblazer course I took with Carole Dean over 10 years ago.” said director Alvarez-Stehle upon learning she had won the grant. “The course spanned over 12 weeks and it was a stepping stone in my path towards documentary filmmaking.”
From the Heart Productions has also served as a fiscal sponsor for the grant winning documentary.
“Carole was there for me through good and bad times and has always been a beacon and an inspiration. So now that my film is finally about to see the light after all these years, receiving the Roy W Dean Grant feels like coming around full circle, a feeling of completion, as if the positive energy that she encouraged me to pour in my film, had manifested. I could not be more grateful”.
Director Chelo Alvarez-Stehle
Journalist, documentary and new media producer Chelo Alvarez-Stehle has worked for over 15 years exposing stories of human trafficking through her creative and outreach work. She worked on documentaries for NHK and became Spain’s El Mundo daily correspondent first in Tokyo, then in Los Angeles. Canal+ Spain turned one of her print reportages on trafficking in the Himalayas into TIN GIRLS feature documentary film.
As producer/director she did her first short documentaries WISDOM IN SMOKE and THE POWER OF 2 distributed to 30 countries, in Cuba. She then directed and co-produced the SOLD IN AMERICA: A Modern-Day Tale of Sex-Slavery (Montreal Human Rights Film Festival.) She is currently producing/directing a transmedia project that encompasses the feature-length documentary SANDS OF SILENCE: Journey into Trafficking, the SOS_SLAVES social impact videogame and a micro-documentary series on sexual exploitation. She has just produced the short documentary THROUGH THE WALL, about a family divided by the US/Mexico border.
Now in its 23rd year, the Roy W. Dean Grant has awarded over $2,000,000 in cash and donated film services to films that without its help may never have been made. Films submitted to the grant can be short films, documentaries or features from early stages of pre-production to those needing help in post.
The grant has been integral in fostering award winning films. Past winners of the grant that have been completed include the award winning “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream”, emmy winning “Mia: A Dancer’s Journey” and “The Winding Stream: An Oral History of the Carter and Cash Family” which is now showing in film festivals around North America.
About From The Heart Productions
From The Heart Productions is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to helping filmmakers get their projects made. Besides providing funding through the grant, they are also a fiscal sponsor which allows donations made to films they sponsor to be tax deductible. From The Heart has raised over $1.9 million for crowdfunding films as a partner with Indiegogo. President Carole Dean is the best-selling author of “The Art of Film Funding” which is now in its second edition.
Life and Work of Pioneer Independent Filmmaker Nell Shipman is Focus of Winning Documentary
Oxnard, CA Sept. 9th, 2015 – From The Heart Productions, the 501(c)3 non-profit that oversees the Roy W. Dean Grant, has awarded the first Roy W. Dean Grant of 2015 to director Karen Day for her feature length documentary “Girl from God’s Country” about silent film director Nell Shipman. Karen will receive nearly $30,000 in a combination of film services and cash to help her with her project.
“Applause and recognition,” Nell Shipman once wrote, “are the handmaidens of creativity.”
Virtually unknown today, Nell Shipman wrote, produced, and starred in over 70 silent films. In 1915, at the age of 21, she directed and was featured in “God’s Country and the Woman”. She was one of the first directors to shoot a film almost entirely on location. Nell was known for creating films about strong adventurous women. The sequel, “Back to God’s Country” was an international hit and the most successful silent film in Canadian history. It also included one of cinema’s first nude scenes.
“With the increased focus on the struggle women filmmakers still face in getting jobs and getting recognized, it’s time Nell’s story was told.” said Carole Dean, president of From the Heart Productions. “She was an amazing women who was not afraid to take risks for her art. There is even a scene in one of her films where she embraces a bear!”
The Roy W. Dean Grant is awarded to a film that is unique and makes a contribution to society. Over 300 filmmakers applied to the grant. Submissions were received from Canada, Iran, Mexico, Sweden, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Honduras.
Narrated by actress Geena Davis, the documentary “focuses on the unorthodox genius and gutsy “sourdough” spirit that fueled Nell’s creativity and infused her work with unmistakable passion” states Karen and the producers about their project. The documentary will help define the major contributions made by Nell as well as highlight “an ignored chapter in our cultural history—how and why a generation of women, once a powerful force in all aspects of the silent film industry, were silenced to this day by monopolistic major studios”.
Filmmaker Karen Day
Director Karen Day is a filmmaker, writer, and journalist. She has reported on Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, for Newsweek , ELLE, and the Los Angeles Times. She has hosted and produced more than 50 feature stories and has appeared on NBC Nightly News, BBC, and CNN. Her PLUM TV series “Women earned the 2009 Idaho Press Club Award for Best Independent Environmental Series and an EMMY for Best Independent Television Series.
Her documentaries focus on humanitarian issues and include the award-winning, “Conversations for Peace with the Dalai Lama: Ethics for the New Millenium” and “Learning to Be Different”, about the extraordinary work of the Lee Pesky Learning Center, empowering children with learning disabilities.
Now in its 23rd year, the Roy W. Dean Grant is awarded 3 times each year. Films submitted to the grant can be short films, documentaries or features from early stages of pre-production to those needing help in post.
The grant has been integral in fostering award winning films. Past winners include the award winning “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream” and “The Winding Stream: An Oral History of the Carter and Cash Family” which is now showing in film festivals around North America.
The Fall Roy W. Dean Grant is accepting applications. Deadline is Sept 30th.
About From The Heart Productions
From The Heart Productions is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to helping filmmakers get their projects funded. In addition to the grant, they are also a fiscal sponsor which allows donations to films they sponsor to be tax deductible. From The Heart has raised over $1.8 million for crowdfunding films as a partner with Indiegogo. President Carole Dean is the best-selling author of “The Art of Film Funding” which is now in its second edition.
Creating a Marketing Plan Early Can Increase Donations and Help Target Audience
by Carole Dean
In the Intentional Filmmaking Class on film funding that I teach, I usually start with marketing. It’s something filmmakers often overlook until the film is finished.
I know from working as a fiscal sponsor how marketing your film early brings you money for donations, major discounts, and in-kind donations.
“Filmmakers must realize they are not making a movie just for themselves”
But, I believe if I was on a stage and my class was sitting in front of me, they would be throwing things at me (well, it’s an online class so maybe they are throwing things at their computer screen!). Filmmakers don’t want to hear the fact you need to market your film while you make it.
Sheri explains how and why you need to identify your film’s market during the early stages of production.
Why You Need to Start Focusing on Marketing in Development
“I understand this seems like a business thing that they don’t really want to get involved in,” Sheri says referring to the block creative people put up when dealing with business matters.
“But what I normally say to them is, if you are planning on having a career beyond this project, you need to pay attention to marketing because part of show business is not just the show, it’s also the business.
“You want to get money to make your projects, you want people to see your projects and you want to be able to make other projects, so you have to face the marketing and distribution questions that go with your project.”
Why You Need a Marketing Plan to Create a Strong Budget
Sheri asks that filmmakers need to realize that they are not just making a movie for themselves. If that were the case, it would be a hobby or something to put on shelf to look at.
If people are making it for people to see, you need to know who those people are. Who are you making your story for?
“Because you won’t be able to reach them if you don’t know who they are, and that is really the basis of what marketing plan is.
“It identifies the audience that you need to reach, and explains how will you reach them and what’s the budget you need to do that. You want to connect your work with the audience that you hope will watch it and enjoy it, and spend money to see it and tell other people about it.”
How Working on Marketing Early Will Help Film Reach its Audience
As Sheri explains, “there is just so much competition these days for the audience of the film.” Filmmaking has gotten cheaper, the equipment has gotten cheaper and the ability to edit and even to distribute your film is cheaper too.”
“But it also means so many more people are doing it, so we have this glut of content where there is just tons of it in the world and it’s very difficult to just release a film and hope it does something for you.”
“It isn’t enough to target men or women or even an age group like 18 to 35. You need to know exactly who your story is going to appeal to and describe these people.
“There’s got to be something at the heart of and at the emotional core of your film and you need to start from there.”
Marketing Questions You Need to Ask Yourself about Your Film
Sheri provided a list of essential questions filmmakers need to ask as they embark on marketing their film.
What is it about your film that is attractive, not just genre wise, but attractive to the kind of people who like this story?
Why are you attracted to this story?
What is about you that wants to tell it? Start really identifying those things in yourself like:
Where do I like to hang out?
What do I like to read?
Where would I go on vacation?
What would I wear to the premier of the film if it wasn’t mine?
With these answers you can start to find those communities where you would go online and it would be much easier for you to join them because you are like them.
“It is very authentic and human rather than the advertising base model that we had for so many years which is: I make a film in secret, and then I throw it out into the world and try to advertise my way into an audience.
“Hollywood still does that, very much so, but a low budget independent film cannot do that, will not have the funds to do that, so they can’t even approach their filmmaking from that perspective.”
Is the music in your film incidental or non-incidental?
If a documentary filmmaker is shooting a film and a song is playing in the background of the location is it possible to claim fair use and if so for how many seconds?
“That answer has a couple of questions, “responded Lisa “depending on how the music was captured”
Incidental vs. Non-Incidental
The first example she gave is of a filmmaker shooting in a bowling alley and music happens to be playing in the background.
“If you capture it completely incidentally and you don’t edit the scene to the music, it’s just there, the filmmaker, as a director didn’t make any creative choices about the music, it probably is going to be fair use under our incidental tests.”
But, if is not incidental?
“If the filmmaker had any creative decision to what music was being played or how long it was being played, how loud it was, then it wouldn’t be fair use. It’s a little different, it’s a lot different than our three step test, it’s really isn’t incidental use, purely incidental or not.”
Incidental vs. non-incidental is a very important part of the fair use doctrine.
Michael and Lisa just worked on a fictional film by a very famous director which was shot outside a music festival. A lot of the music from the festival bled through during the shoot into the dialogue scenes. There was no way to separate it out.
“We said it was fair use as long as it was contained only as background.” Michael answered. “as they were talking not used as any kind of underscore which was what Lisa was talking about earlier. Using somebody else’s stuff as underscore is never fair use in the US.”
What about using news clips in films?
Another question filmmakers in my class ask is about using news clips in their films. Can they claim fair use or should they buy them?
“The test is exactly the same.” responded Michael referring to the incidental as opposed to non-incidental qualifier. “That test isn’t just for feature films or just for photographs or just for sculptures, it’s for anything you use in your film and documentaries often use news footage.”
He pointed out that a filmmaker needs to avoid the temptation of using news footage to tell or advance a story. That would not be allowed under fair use. The news footage needs to illustrate the story.
“You can’t get lazy and say, I will just stick in the ABC story that night that says: So and so got killed. You have to make that point by some interviewee or someway, and if it is appropriate, you can tell it straight from the news footage. A lot of the docs we work on use news footage, it always has to illustrate or support a point you are already making.”
Is it possible to film a theatre play and claim fair use?
Yes, if the use of the play is to illustrate your point you are making.
A documentary they were assisting was about a local theater that showed how the creation of one of their productions. It started with casting of local talent, building sets, rehearsals, etc. Songs were used all the through. Then, they go to opening night which, of course, is an actual production of the play.
But, it turned out that was ok to use.
“If you have to make a documentary what it’s like for a local theatre to put on a musical, you can’t tell that story without showing something of opening night.” Michael explained.
“You just have to make sure that you don’t overdo it. You are not substituting footage for entertainment value, but rather to show what it is like, when local people, non-professional decide to put on a major Musical.
“We did a wonderful thing for Michael Yuri, he runs a contests in Texas… where high school students read scenes from famous plays. Obviously, if you are making a documentary about this phenomenon in Texas, you show them reading the scenes.
“There is a lot of circumstances with excerpts from plays, but the rules are exactly the same: Plays, music, film, broadcast television, cable shows, architecture, photos, the rule is:
“Are you using it to illustrate the point you are making, the use is reasonably appropriate and is that connection clear?”
3 Questions To Ask When Using Material From Other Sources in Your Film
by Carole Dean
Entertainment attorneys Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif are the leading authorities on fair use. Michael, in fact, is often referred to as the “fair use Guru”. His “Clearance and Copyright” is used in over 50 film schools and has become the standard reference book for the industry.
“The Fair Use Guru” – Entertainment Attorney Michael Donaldson
I interviewed them recently on my podcast The Art of Film Funding and Michael provided me with insights and questions that a filmmaker should ask about fair use as it relates to their film. Once you have the answers, you can use fair use comfortably in your film.
Michael says you need to ask these three questions:
Are you using somebody else’s material to illustrate a point you are already making in your documentary, pretty simple- yes or no.
Did you only use what’s reasonably appropriate? That’s got a lot of elasticity in it and that’s good.
Is the connection between the point you are making and the material that you are using illustrated clearly to the average viewer?
“If you get a yes to all three questions,” Donaldson says, “you land up in what we call a Safe Harbor. It’s unassailable. There is no way anybody is going to successfully argue that it’s not fair use.
“There is still a lot of fair uses: You know if the connection isn’t all that clear but when you explain it, it’s there, if you have a little bit of wobble room in the length that still might be a fair use, but it is not that solid safe harbor where nobody can get you.”
You may remember there was a lot of publicity lately about the film, “Los Angeles Plays Itself” saying that no one thought it could be released on DVD. The documentary was made up of clips from other movies showing how Los Angeles was portrayed in each one.
Michael Donaldson got involved and cleared it. I asked him about this film how he was able to clear it.
“It’s funny because this was far from the most difficult film that we have had by a long shot. It was a good example of the three questions.
“Thom Anderson (the writer/director), from start to finish talked about how Los Angeles plays itself in movies and he would mention specific films. And as he mentioned the films, clips of those films played over his voice.
“You never see his face the entire film. What you see is clips from all these movies and they just keep rolling for 90 minutes. Clips from other films, but each one separately, individually, is an illustration of what Tom Anderson is talking about so it’s a classic case for safe harbor fair use for each and every clip in that film.”
I asked Donaldson if this was a good film for us to watch to visually see what is Safe Harbor for fair use.
“It’s a very good film to watch for very safe fair use. Another one is “Room 237”, where 1/3 of the film is clips from the “Shining”, but each clips illustrates exactly what the interview subject is talking about. Very safe.”
Michael Donaldson’s “Clearance & Copyright” is available as an ebook with film clips to support his simple as 1-2-3 questions. It also comes with many downloads of contracts and agreements you need for your film. http://www.donaldsoncallif.com/books
How do we see our future and then meditate it into being?
by Carole Dean
Back in the 70’s I was a big fan of Rajneesh, an Indian mystic who taught the importance of self-awareness, meditation, and creativity. (That was before he moved to the US and became addicted to Rolls Royce’s.)
One of his saying that stayed with me the most is:
Sitting silently, Doing nothing
Spring comes and the grass grows by its self
Luke 12:27: “Consider the lilies of the valley, they toil not nor do they spin, yet even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Wait a minute! What about working to till the soil, plant and water the seeds? You mean that you can sit and think about the grass growing and it does? Or, are you saying that your mind can control things? Are you saying that we have the power to imagine something and actually cause it to happen? Could this be true?
This is as good as a Koan. (a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment)
Then, there is the great Bible saying,
Luke 12:27: “Consider the lilies of the valley, they toil not nor do they spin, yet even Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
What does this mean? That we can have what we want by just being? Or is it because the plant knows who it is or what it is, it just becomes its self? Is it possible that we are much more than we realize? Do we have powers that we are not using? Can we sit and meditate on something we want and bring that into our future?
Jack Canfield, author of the inspirational book “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, held a funding party at his home for a filmmaker we sponsor at From the Heart. During a break at the event, I ended up in the kitchen alone with him and he told me that when he moved into this multi-million dollar home he had no furniture at all.
He and his wife took a leap of faith. They bought the house and knew they could furnish it properly with future income. Now, they had so many works of art that they have to store half of them and rotate them in and out of the house.
He is also the same author who “decided” to sell a million copies of the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. The story goes that he began to meditate on selling a million copies. He saw himself incredibly rich and successful from the sale of this book. Fast forward to one day when he was speaking at a book signing and a saleswoman for the National Enquirer said, “Why not run an ad with us?” That did it. That took him to the sale of the million books.
So, how do we do this? How do we see our future and then meditate it into being? How can we use our minds to create our future? We know the possibility is there because you hear it at every Academy Award ceremony,” I envisioned myself receiving this award when I was 5 years old and now, here I am.”
Is it an inner knowing that you can do this that makes it work? What if all of us could do this? What if we had the power to intend something and actually make it happen? Then we could fund our art, have a great time with our family and make an excellent living. Actually, there are a lot of people in the film industry who do just that. So where do I sign up? What’s the first thing I need to do?
Perhaps it’s as simple as believing that you can do it. Perhaps the grass grew by its self because it knew it was grass and knew intuitively how to grow. Perhaps the lilies knew what lay ahead for them; they saw themselves in their full glory and just became their full selves.
Jack Canfield owes his success to not just a great idea, but his belief in that idea and believing it would bring him success.
What is it that you can do to bring yourself to your full potential?
Think on this: what is the right action for you to take to become your true self, with all of your talents in full bloom. Can you do less and think more and achieve even more success than you imagined? Just who do you think you are?
It’s a common question that we ask of independent filmmakers submitting their documentary, feature, or short film to the Roy W. Dean Film Grant. We find that 80% of our applications do not answer this important question.
Do you know your audience?
Some say my audience is “everyone” which I encourage you not to do. Judges will drop your proposal like a hot potato!
Some say “men and women from 18 to 48.” That’s too broad. We want to know everything possible about this audience. If you had a description for your typical audience member like a “soccer mom in Indiana”, we would love it.
Why should you get so up-close-and-personal with your audience? Your money for your film is now in their hands. You will need to get dollars from them for research, for production, and again for post. Plus, they will pay to download your film and probably help you put people in seats for theatrical on demand.
Ok, Carole, then how do I find my audience for my upcoming project? Start by knowing more about your present audience. These are fans of your other projects (hopefully you’ve got their names and emails or kept in touch with them on social media)
On a recent episode of my podcast The Art of Film Funding, Erica Anderson of Seed & Spark suggested to “get the names of 10 or more of your current fans and ask them questions.” Mine your audience.
You want people in your database from different walks of life, who are not filmmakers, and who love the subject of your upcoming film.
Here are some questions to ask:
What social media platforms do you hang-out on?
Where do you engage with people online?
What kind of news do you pay attention to?
What kind of music do you listen to?
What blogs you follow?
What organizations do you belong to?
How do you spend your free time?
When you watch movies, how do you watch them?
Do you go to the theatre?
Do you primarily stream movies to your TV from some device?
Do you watch movies only on your laptop or your mobile phone?
With the answers to these questions, you begin to understand where you will reach others for your new audience.
Now you know where they hang-out online, how to speak to them based on what news they read and what blogs they pay attention to. You get a sense of how they pay attention to things.
Erica said “a headline from New York Times for instance is very different than a headline from BuzzFeed.” Now you have a better way to communicate with your potential audience.
Knowing what organizations they belong to gives you an idea of what organizations you can join. You can begin to chat about your film because the content of this organization should be concerned about the same issues.
This same info can give you names of nonprofits to contact for strategic alliances if you are making a documentary and possibly for a feature.
Erica also says that “The last piece really is where does your audience see their movies? If it’s primarily on their laptop, that could change the way you are going to shoot the film, that could change the camera you choose, and how big your production value needs to be. So, it can ultimately change the budget of your film.”
This mining effort can pay off with valuable information, donations, or investments. Now you know what to put under audience on your grants and now you know what to do for marketing your film, tweeting it and how to write your posts on social media.
You are talking to your audience, so give them a name. I want you to know them like a character in a film.
Creating Ideal Audience Profile is Essential in Marketing Your Film
Jason Brubaker is an expert in independent film distribution. He has put together a new educational site, howtosellyourmovie.com, which offers a step by step distribution system for marketing your film. He’s also a donor to the Roy Dean Film Grants.
In his interview with Carole Dean on The Art of Film Funding podcast, he showed a unique way of how to create an avatar to represent your film’s potential audience. An avatar will represent the likes, characteristics, and demographics of the audience or donors you are trying to reach. He explained how if, for example, your film involved frozen yogurt.
“Once you figured out that, hey, I am going to go after college age women who love frozen yogurt” Jason explained,” that’s even still pretty broad, but once you start to drill down a little bit more, then you start to find these communities, then you can create as you said a database of influencers.”
The next step would be getting out a spreadsheet and finding the top 50 blogs that are geared towards college age women who love frozen yogurt. But, he points out, that it’s better to be as detailed and specific when creating an avatar.
“Ok, I want college age women who love frozen yogurt, who have a preference for chocolate yogurt, and then I would go down even more and say, okay, and they have a sister. All of that kind of stuff factors into the thought process.”
“Once you create an avatar, the next step is to give it a name, okay, like Jo. I am marketing for Jo because Jo loves chocolate frozen yogurt, she is college age and she has a sister. So, how many Jo’s are in this world? Well there is a lot of Jo’s. “
“So, how do I find the Jo’s, and those factors all feed into refining exactly who you are talking to. Because this is what marketing really is. It’s just a conversation where you are connecting with people who have similar interests.”
You can check out the entire podcast below. Jason and Carole Dean also cover:
How to Build Buzz around Your Film
The Importance of Film Festivals in Marketing
Distributing Your Film to Schools, Cruises, and Oil Rigs