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.

Using Social Currency to Market Your Film

How Sharing Something Remarkable and Unique About Your Film Can Bring Attention…And Money

By Carole Dean

What we talk about influences how others see us.  When we talk about cool things, others want to repeat what we’ve told them to their friends. 

That is called Social Currency and you can use it to get people to notice your film. 

Get People Talking About Your Film to Get it Attention and Funding

What is Social Currency?   

People want to share compelling, exclusive content that makes them look smart and in on a secret.   That type of content is social currency.   

Wharton professor Jonah Berger, author of the brilliant book “Contagious” explains how, by using social currency, you can get more people talking about your product or idea.

Here’s an Example

Crif Dogs, a NYC Hot Dog restaurant, has a vintage phone booth in the corner.  When you enter and dial the ancient rotary phone, a voice answers and asks if you have a reservation.  If you are lucky enough to have one, a hidden door opens and you find you are in a posh 45 seat exclusive restaurant no one knows about.

The name?  Please Don’t Tell.  It makes you feel like you found a great secret.  There is no sign on the street or ads for it.  It takes bookings only for each day and only at 3pm.  By 3:30, all spots are gone. 

The restaurant does not publish its number.   It’s all word of mouth; the most powerful way to market. 

Rules of Social Currency:

  1. People share things that make them look good to others.
  2. People share things that make them seem entertaining and clever.
  3. People use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among friends & family.

How to Mint Social Currency for Your Film

Find your film’s inner remarkability.   Give me some astonishing facts or an incredible statement I can repeat.

The Key to finding inner remark ability is to think about what makes something interesting surprising or novel. What is interesting about your film or your cast?  What is remarkable about your characters?  What is remarkable about the subject of the film?  

How about is it fiscally sponsored? 

You want to create social currency so people talk about your film and your crowdfunding campaign.  You want them to say I donated to a film and I got a tax deduction.  Or I donated to a film that raises awareness of Veterans suicide. 

That may be what gets people to talk about your film.  Then, they donate too because it’s cool to support your film and it’s cool to get a tax deduction.

By finding your film’s inner remarkability, you can use it to go viral and create social currency.

Do it right and you will end up with a different currency to use to make your film!

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

Start Your Film Marketing Plan Before You Start Shooting

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.

Marketing Plan

“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.

On my Art of Film Funding Podcast we interviewed Sheri Candler, a film marketing genius, who shared her brilliant, clearly outlined concepts.

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.”

Carole Dean is the president and founder of From the Heart Productions and author of The Art of Film Funding, 2nd edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  Her unique, innovative Intentional Filmmaking Class teaches filmmakers how to get their films funded.  New classes begin September.  Discount for early enrollment. 

 

 

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