3 Steps to Making Money Distributing Your Documentary

Making money theatrically distributing your documentary has been an elusive goal for filmmakers.  Except for one. 

3 Steps to Making Money Distributing Your Documentary

Build Your Audience Before You Finish Your Film

I recently interviewed Christo Brock, writer/director of the documentary Touch the Wall, on my Art of Film Funding Podcast.  He has perfected a 3 part formula to pull it off that resulted in his film being screened 363 times to date. 

First, be determined to build your audience before your film is finished.  Find a champion.  Finally, work with a great distributor like Tugg.com that maximizes the potential of your database. 

As a basis for their film, Christo Brock and his partner Grant Barbado chose to follow two Olympic swimmers as they trained for the London Olympic Games.  One of his swimmers, Missy Franklin, became an international sports star when she won four Gold Medals and broke two world records. 

Christo & Grant, like many other documentary filmmakers, seem to have the Midas touch by choosing people who become famous in their field.  This often makes the years invested by the filmmakers profitable.  That’s what I like to see, filmmakers who make money on documentaries.

Building an Audience Before Your Film is Finished

Christo raised $119,000.00 (see below for bonus crowdfunding tip) through Kickstarter.  He says it was a real blessing because this connected him to his major portion of his audience. 

He discovered more of his audience while creating the documentary.   Each time they filmed a swim event, both he and Grant spent time meeting people, getting names and especially looking for groups and organizations.  Then, they would follow up and connect to them. 

They were constantly adding names to their database and keeping their audience informed about the film.  They also hired people to help with outreach and had them focus on contacting swim clubs and making savvy posts online.  They worked hard to engage people and which would later paid off financially.

Finding a Champion

He then took Peter Broderick’s advice and found a champion in USA Swimming which is the governing body of amateur swimming in the US. 

In the interview, Christo reiterated what producer Tom Malloy and I teach to filmmakers in our Intentional Filmmaking Class. Find an audience to become dedicated champions.  Find groups or people that care about the project early on because they have a stake in it. 

USA Swimming wanted to see the film completed.  They were there to donate, follow the film, and help fill up theaters for screenings.

Tugg.com

Armed with a good database and a champion, Christo had what he needed for distributing his documentary through Tugg.com.

Tugg.com is an on-demand distribution company where you can bring your film to any city in the country.  Tugg facilitates this for you.  In an earlier interview Nick Gonda, founder of Tugg.com, he fully explained their mission.  He discussed how they find theaters near your audience and how they handle the screenings for you. 

Working with Tugg.com allowed Christo and Grant to screen in the cities where they had an audience.  This is opposed to the old form of distribution, i.e., screening in LA, NYC, Chicago and paying for advertising to bring in an audience.   With Tugg, your audience does the work to fill the theatre.  Christo and Grant’s audience brought in swim teams across America.  They had 363 screenings with an average attendance of 153 people per screening.

The names of everyone who attends the screening is given by Tugg to the filmmaker.  This is a key to your success for follow up, DVD and merchandise sales after the screening.  Please be sure whoever you use to distribute your film gives you these names.  Your data base is a major asset for you.

Bonus Crowdfunding Tip

I asked Christo for a good tip on crowdfunding.  He says  for his new film, on every interview he makes sure they take lots of behind-the-scenes footage, both stills and video.  He asks  the interviewee to give him a pitch for his Kickstarter. 

When he runs his campaign, he will have these “asks” from people in the film.  He has them say things like “Hey, I am John Smith and I hope you support this film about craft beer.”  Just that short and it works.

Check out his web site to see how he used shots of Missy Franklin on his web site for funding his swim film. http://www.touchthewall.com/film-clips

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-profit that offers fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcast, The Art of Film Funding, interviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.

 

Increase Your Film’s Market through Game Mechanics

by Carole Dean

What is Game Mechanics? 

Author Jonah Berger explains in his book “Contagious” that they are the elements of a game, application or program including rules and feedback loops that make them fun. 

Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated and wanting more.

Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated and wanting more.  They understand where they are compared to others in the same game.

You can use this to create a larger audience and increase donations to your film.

Game Mechanics Motivate on an Interpersonal Level by Encouraging Social Comparison.

People care about their performance in relation to others. 

You probably belong to an airline loyalty program.   Each time you fly on the airline you’ve selected, you accumulate points related to the miles you’ve traveled.    There are levels to reach where the reward gets greater. 

People care about hierarchy.   You try and reach the top level of your airline program to get that first class ticket to Katmandu.  This is game mechanics. 

Using Game Mechanics to Fund Your Film 

Game mechanics helps us generate social currency.  Social Currency is the info we share that others find cool and want to share as well.   You brag about that first class ticket to your friends.  Post it on social media.  It makes us and those that share it look and feel good.  That is social currency. 

Here’s some great ways to use Game Mechanics to increase donations to your film:

  • If you are crowdfunding, you can give an award at the half way point to the person who referred the most people to your campaign. This keeps everyone working for you to win that prize.    
  • Or, you might have something on your web site like an Icon for how much donors have contributed to your film. You could have platinum, gold and silver classifications on your site and list donor names. 
  • On your Facebook page, create a message board with names of whoever donates $100.00 and over. Make up different colored name tags for different amounts.  If you donate $100.00, you get a yellow tag, $300 is orange, and $500 is red tag.

Create a Simple System That People Understand and Create Social Currency

Example: Burberry let people send in photos of themselves in their coats and put them online.  Everyone who posted shared it with their friends who shared it with people they knew.  It drove their sales up 50%.

Word of mouth is generated through the voting process.  Putting films, actors, or locations up for people to vote for works to build interest.   For documentaries, try putting up questions about how people fell about your subject and letting them vote. Contestants spread the word about the site to get votes. 

This is social currency and game mechanics at work.

Think of ways you can you gamify your film funding watch your donations increase.  

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-profit that offers fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcast, The Art of Film Funding, interviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.

Your Film Can Set Hollywood on Fire…If You Know What You’ve Got

by Patrice Hall

A revolution is occurring in the way films are marketed and distributed.  Direct to Video, Day and Date, Streaming, Self-Distribution are just some of the options popping up and new ones are added seemingly daily.

If you are a filmmaker who can navigate the changes, there are significant rewards.

Does Your Film Have the Necessary Buzzability?

Does Your Film Have the Necessary “Buzzability”

At the same time, savvy investors want a clear understanding of how they can profit from their investment.  As I create the business plan for my documentary, The Shamans of Rock & Roll, it’s crucial that the marketing and distribution section provide background on how to achieve that goal.

To get an idea of what to say to investors, I refer to the great insights provided by Kevin Goetz of Screen Engine at the ITVA’s 15th Annual Production Conference.  Kevin’s company specializes in market research and he believes that “every movie can make money as long as you know what you have.”

In today’s marketplace, Kevin says it’s the Big Idea is the single most important indicator of a film’s success.  More than even the story – it’s the idea of it all – the DNA.

The Big Idea motivates a big audience.

Also, filmmakers should know just who makes up their audience.  Who are they making their film for?  How large is this audience?

It’s important that their film is “comp’d” (using examples of other films that are similar) correctly.  You should not use “aspirational” comps –what they wish it could be.  But, filmmakers should choose films with similar genres and similar budget ranges.

To be successful, a film needs at have at least one the following:

*Capability – the DNA measurement, the gut.

*Playability – the audience’s experience when they sit down and watch the  film.  How well does it “play”?

*Marketability – the ability of a film to attract an audience.

*Buzzability – what critics and social media want to see.

I’ve found that it’s been extremely useful to include a discussion of these ideas in conversations with potential investors – especially those from outside the entertainment industry.

It gives them an understanding of today’s marketplace and just how successful my film can be.

Patrice Hall is the writer and producer of the feature documentary The Shamans of Rock & Roll  that explores the shamanic influences in the early lives and music of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and John Lennon.  You can contact Patrice at hello@shamans-of-rock-and-roll.com

Creating an Avatar With Frozen Yogurt

Creating Ideal Audience Profile is Essential in Marketing Your Film

 

Jason Brubaker 2Jason 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
  • Transactional On-Demand
  • Distributing Your Film to Schools, Cruises, and Oil Rigs

 

Check Out Film Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The Art of Film Funding on BlogTalkRadio

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.