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January 26 at 8:30am

“A Tree Falls In The Forest” and other ruminations on social/community-based marketing…

by Jeffrey Winter, Sheri Candler, and Orly Ravid.

The old philosophical thought experiment “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” has never been truer for film distribution. With the incredible number of films available for consumption on innumerable platforms, getting some form of distribution for your film is no longer the core problem. The central issue now is: how will anyone know about it? How will you find your audience? And how will you communicate enough to them to drive them to the point of actually seeing it?

Before we plunge into that question, let’s take one step back and discuss the term “distribution.” In today’s convergence universe, where anyone with technical savvy can be surfing the Internet and watching it on their television, every single person with a high speed internet connection is in some way a “distributor.” Anyone can put content onto their website and their Facebook and de facto make it available to anyone else in the world. Anyone can use DIY distribution services to distribute off their site(s), and get onto larger and / or smaller platforms.

Even getting your film onto some combination of the biggest digital platforms – i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and Cable VOD – is not insurmountable for most films. We’re not saying it is easy…there are a myriad of steps to go through and rigorous specs at times and varying degree of gatekeepers you’ll have to interface with and get approval from. But with some good guidance (for example, we at the Film Collaborative can help you with that), some cash, and a little persistence…these distribution goals can usually be achieved.

But in a certain way, none of that matters. If you have your film available, say, on iTunes…. how is anyone going to know that? Chances are you aren’t going to get front- page promo placement, so people will have to know how and why to search for it. This is why the flat fee services to get onto iTunes (which we now offer too) do not necessarily mean you will net a profit. Films rarely sell themselves. You are going to have to find the ways to connect to an audience who will actively engage with your film, and create awareness around it, or you will certainly fall into the paradox of the “tree falls in the forest” phenomenon… which many independent filmmakers can relate to.

So we arrive at the current conundrum, how do we drive awareness of our films? The following are the basic “points of light” everyone seems to agree with.

• Use the film festival circuit to create initial buzz.

• If you can, get the film into a break-even theatrical, hybrid theatrical, non-theatrical window that spreads word of mouth on the film.

• Engage the press, both traditional press and blogosphere, to write about the film.

• Build a robust social media campaign, starting as early as possible (ideally during production and post), creating a “community” around your film.

• Build grassroots outreach campaign around any and all like-minded organizations and web-communities (i.e. fan bases, niche audiences, social issue constituencies, lifestyle communities, etc.)

• Launch your film into ancillaries, like DVD and digital distro, and make sure everyone who has heard of the film through the previous five bullet points now knows that they can see the film via ancillary distribution, and feels like a “friend” of the effort to get the word out to the public-at-large.
• Be very creative and specific in your outreaches to all these potential partners, engaging them in very targeted marketing messages and media to cut through the glut of information that the average consumer is already barraged with in everyday life. This, above all, means being diligent in finding your true “fans,” i.e. the core audience who will be passionate about your subject matter and help you spread the word.

Our book SELLING YOUR FILM WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL and its companion blog on www.SellingYourFilm.com already highlights a good number of filmmakers who have used some combination of the above tactics to successful effect in finding a “fanbase” of audiences most likely to consume the film. Here, in this posting, we illustrate some additional recent films and tactics useful to filmmakers moving forward with these techniques.

WE WERE HERE, by David Weissman
Selected for the U.S. Documentary Competition by the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, WE WERE HERE tells the emotionally gripping story of the onset of AIDS in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The Film Collaborative handled festival release for this film, as well as international sales and grassroots marketing support on behalf of the theatrical and VOD (and US sales in conjunction with Jonathan Dana). Theatrical distribution, press, and awards campaigning is being handled by Red Flag Releasing.

On the face of it, WE WERE HERE is a documentary about a depressing topic like AIDS, and therefore doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world. However, it also happens to be an excellent film that was selected for Sundance and Berlin, as well as a film that has fairly obvious niche audiences that can be identified and targeted. As soon as The Film Collaborative came onboard, about a month prior to the Sundance 2011 premiere, we set about creating a list of more than 300 AIDS organizations in the United States, and reached out to each of them to ask them to get to know us on Facebook and our website, and also offered to send them screeners, in case they wanted to host a special screening down the road etc. Needless to say, we got an enthusiastic response from these groups (since we were doing work they would obviously believe in), but the goal here was not to make any kind of immediate money…we simply wanted them onboard as a community to tap into down the line.

Simultaneously, we created a targeted list of 160 film festivals we thought were best for the film — mixing major international fests, doc fests, and LGBT fests – and sent each of them a personalized email telling them about the film and asking them if they would like to preview it. The film (to date, is still booking internationally) was ultimately selected by over 100 film festivals (many not on our original target list of course).

As the screenings began, we reminded the filmmaker over and over to follow every introduction and every Q&A with a reminder about “liking” the Facebook page, and completely to his credit, filmmaker Weissman was always active in all aspects of Facebook marketing…always posting relevant information about the film and replying to many “fan” posts personally. Not surprisingly, a film this powerful and personal generated many deeply affecting fan posts from people who had survived the epidemic etc…, or were just deeply moved by the film. As a result, the Facebook page became a powerful hub for the film, which we strongly recommend you check out for a taste of what real fan interaction can look like ( http://www.facebook.com/wewerehere). Warning….a lot of the postings are extremely emotional! One quick note – some of the most active subject members of the doc were made administrators as well, and also respond to the posts…a clever idea as it surely makes the FB fans feel even closer to the film, since they can talk with the cast as well. This would be an interesting thing to try with a narrative film as well…having the cast reply on Facebook (FB)… which is something we haven’t seen much of yet.

With the basics of community built – between the AIDS organizations, the Festivals, and the FB fans, we now had a pool to go back to…. both on theatrical release as well as upon VOD release (which just recently happened on December 9, 2011). For each major theatrical market, and for the VOD release, we went back to these people, and asked them to spread the word. We asked for email blasts, FB posts, tweets…whatever they could do to help spread the word. And without a doubt the film has gotten out there beyond anyone’s wildest initial dreams…although with VOD release only last month and DVD release still to come, final release numbers won’t be known to us for some time now…

But you can be assured we’ll be hitting up our community when the DVD comes out as well! Also please note that these techniques and efforts apply to any niche. For example, on a panel at Idyllwild Film Festival a filmmaker talked about his documentary about his father playing for the Chicago Cubs and how he sold 90,000 DVDs himself (and he also did event theatrical screenings via Emerging Pictures). He simply went after the niche, hard.

HENRY’S CRIME directed by Malcolm Veneville
Starring Keanu Reeves, Vera Farmiga, and James Cannes, world premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Released in limited theatrical run in April 2011, and available on DVD and digital platforms as of August 2011. Although a film with “A-level” cast, the film was produced independently and distributed independently by Moving Pictures Film and Television. The film tells the story of a wrongly accused man (Reeves) who winds up behind bars for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. After befriending a charismatic lifer (Caan) in prison, Henry finds his purpose — having done the time, he decides he may as well do the crime. Ancillaries for the film are handled by Fox Studios. The Film Collaborative’s sister for-profit company, New American Vision, was brought aboard to handle special word-of-mouth screenings for the film, as well as social media marketing, working in conjunction with several top publicists and social marketing campaign companies in the business.

On the face of it, this film couldn’t possibly be any more different than WE WERE HERE. A narrative, heist/rom-com with major names sounds a lot easier to sell than an AIDS doc with no names. And yet, the process of reaching out to the public was surprisingly similar….both in terms of what we did and what other professional consultants on the project did as well.

First, we targeted major film festivals and major film society organizations around the country for special “word-of-mouth” (WOM) screenings of the film – seeking to create a buzz amongst likely audiences. Since the film was to be theatrically released in major markets, we targeted the festivals/film societies in these markets. This result was successful, and we got major WOM screenings in NY, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, as well as Buffalo…which was important only because the film was shot and set in Buffalo and used significant Buffalo-based crew and resources, making it a perfect market for the film.

Next, we broke the film down into logical first constituencies for the film, which we identified as follows: 1) fans of Keanu Reeves and fans of his prior movies, 2) fans of Vera Farmiga and fans of her prior movies, 3) fans of James Caan and fans of his prior movies, 4) twitter accounts that mentioned any of the cast as well as those dedicated to independent film etc., 5) web communities dedicated to anything related to the playwright Anton Checkov (because the film features significant and lengthy scenes dedicated to Reeves and Farmiga performing Checkov’s Cherry Orchard), 6) key websites dedicated to romantic comedies, 7) key recommenders of independent film, etc. Over the course of approximately six weeks prior to release, we reached out to these sites regularly, in an effort to build excitement for the film.

While this grassroots work was taking place, our colleagues in publicity organized press junkets around the film, and of course solicited reviews. In addition, marketing professionals from both Ginsberg Libby and Moving Pictures were constantly feeding marketing assets for the film as well as exclusive clips both to the major press, key film sites, as well as to the official Facebook and twitter for the movie….all with the same goal in mind…i.e. to create awareness for a film that, although it had the feeling of a traditional Hollywood film in many ways, was actually thoroughly independent and lacking the resources for major TV buys, billboards, print ads, and other traditional marketing techniques.

Unfortunately, in the end, HENRY’S CRIME did not truly take hold, and the theatrical release was far less than stellar. The reviews for the film were not complimentary (it is a good film, but not a great film), and the word-of-mouth was also not sufficient to drive the performance of the film.

This of course often happens with independent film releases, and in this case the lessons learned were particularly instructive. It was apparent while working on the film that the community-building aspects of the marketing campaign started far too late to truly engage an audience large enough to support the release (it only began in earnest about six weeks before the film’s release…even though the film had had its festival world premiere nearly SIX MONTHS before). In addition, HENRY’S CRIME proves the old adage that, sometimes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink…meaning that the word of mouth audiences and press reviews didn’t particularly spark interest in the film in the wider community because they weren’t particularly excited by the film.

This is a lesson sometimes we all need to learn the hard way…that in today’s glutted market, it isn’t always enough to put out a decent movie….in fact in today’s competition, you really need to put out a independent movie that is actually great…or at least connects so deeply with your audience that they are compelled to see it.

Of course, one endless question rages on here. What are the long-tail effects of the outreach? Just because people didn’t turn out in droves to see a film in the theater, does that mean they won’t tune in on a later date in the digital platform of their choice. Certainly many people who have HEARD of Henry’s Crime who didn’t see it in the theater may one day rent it on an available digital platform, and that is why the grassroots work is so critical. We are setting up today what we can’t possibly know until tomorrow….or maybe several years from now.

TAKE-AWAY LESSONS from this post

By comparing these experiences, there are several take-aways that filmmakers should be encouraged to keep in mind when thinking about marketing their independent film. Here are some of them….

1) Build a list, both in the real world and online, of every organization and cross-promotional partner you can think of (or google), that might be interested in your film.
Reach out to them about your film, and ask for their support. This is arduous work, but it has to be done. From Sheri Candler: “Initially you will take part in the community before you tell them why you are there. For example, I started researching where online the ballet community hangs out and who they listen to. I also endeavored to meet these people offline when I could. If I was going to be in their city, I asked to meet for coffee. Real life interface when you can. I then started following those online communities and influencers quietly to start with and interjecting comments and posts only when appropriate. They were then curious about me and wanted to hear about the film. If I had gone on to the platforms or contacted the influencers immediately telling them I was working on a film, chances are they would shun me and ruin my chances to form relationships. This is why you have to start so early. When you’re in a hurry, you can’t spend the necessary time to develop relationships that will last, you can’t build the trust you need. It helps to deeply care about the film. I think the biggest takeaway I have learned when it comes to outreach is the very personal nature of it. If you don’t personally care, they can tell. They can tell you are there to use them and people are on their guard not to be used. The ideal situation is they WANT to help, they ASK to help, you don’t have to cajole them into it.”

2) Offer your potential partners something back in return.
With a film like WE WERE HERE, this wasn’t difficult…because the film naturally supported their work. But, for most films, you’ll need to offer them something back… like ticket-giveways, promotional emails, branding, opportunities for fundraising around the cause, merchandising give-aways, groups discounts, etc. Be creative in your thinking as to why YOU should get their attention amongst the many other films out there.

3) Community-building is an organic, long-term process…
Just like making friends in the real world, the process of making “friends” in community marketing and online takes time and real connection. With WE WERE HERE, we had a year to build connections amongst AIDS orgs, film festivals, and attendees at numerous screenings. The opposite was true with HENRY’S CRIME….six weeks just doesn’t work. Ask yourself…how many “friends” could you make in six weeks?

4) Community-building only really works with films that truly “touch” their audience.
In today’s glutted marketplace, you need to make a film that really speaks profoundly to your audience and excites them ….unless of course you have a huge enough marketing budget to simply bludgeon them with numerous impressions (this, of course, is usually reserved to the studios, who can obviously launch mediocre films with great success through brute force). You, probably, cannot do this.

5) You need to be very specific and targeted in your outreach to likeminded organizations etc.
Don’t rely on organizations to give you “generalized support.” Provide them with very specific instructions on how and when they should outreach about your film. For example….make sample tweets, sample FB posts, and draft their email blasts for them. Give them as close to a ready-to-go marketing outreach tool as possible…with a specific “call to action” clearly identified.

6) You’ll need warm bodies and some technical know-how on you side to accomplish this.
There’s absolutely NOTHING mentioned in this post that an individual filmmaker with a talented team of helpers cannot accomplish. But whether its using HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Facebook analytics, or a compelling set of marketing assets and the time and energy to get them out there….you’ll need a team to help you. Remember, all DIY (do it yourself) marketing is really DIWO (do it with others), and you’ll need to build your team accordingly. If you are short on cash…you’ll likely need to be long on interns and other converts to the cause. But if you are seeking a professional team that’s long on experience and expertise, you can find many of them on The Film Collaborative’s new Resource Place page. There are many services out there to help you who have done this before….you are not alone! Sheri wonders: “how many people are reasonable”? Of course it varies, but I think 4 is safe. A traditional publicist with a big contact list for your target publications who handles press inquiries and placements; an outreach/social media person who is a great fit for your audience to regularly post and answer questions/comments from the audience not the journalists; a distribution/booker who figures out how the film will be distributed and all of the tech specs, shopping carts, contracts, festivals, community screenings that are appropriate; and the graphic designer/web designer who figures out the technical and aesthetic elements needed to make the online impact you will need.
It is still a big job for only 4 people but it would be completely overwhelming for just one person to do or a person who doesn’t know what they are doing and a bunch of interns to handle.

7) A final take home: You may not see immediate results of each outreach and we know how dispiriting that can be. A lot of times early in the process, you will fail to connect, fail to get a response, but keep plugging away and you will very often come to enjoy the fruits of your distribution / marketing labor whether by emboldening a cause, generating more revenue, or enhancing your career, or all of the above.

Happy Distributing!!!!

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema. Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

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January 25 at 8:30am

“Like Crazy” Co-writing On A Project Without A Script

By Ben York Jones

It’s hard to describe to someone what your role was as co-writer, on a movie they read in the New York Times, “Was Filmed Without a Script.” There’s no succinct answer. I couldn’t Tweet a properly inclusive explanation. Well, I tried. This was after I received a Tweet that seemed to accuse me and by association, my co-writer (the film’s very talented director, Drake Doremus) of self-aggrandizing – for awarding ourselves writing credit on a reportedly script-less film. I remember feeling dismissed. Frustrated. Worse yet, I began seriously doubting my abilities when I read the offending Tweet:

“Is it true the dialogue was all improvised on Like Crazy? That’s the word on the street…”

Alright, so it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Actually, they’d heard correct. But when it’s late, and you just lost that one seminal gig, and the Times chose the sub-heading, “What Writer?” to describe a film you poured so much into… you start to question your value. I had to publish my own headline. I had to describe to this stranger, in 140 characters or less, exactly what it meant to write an improvised film. And I would make those 140 characters (or less) shine! If it took all night! I replied 5 minutes later:

“The actors worked from a very detailed “scriptment” written in prose. On set, they were asked to put things in their own words.”

Well… Not exactly dazzling as far as headlines go, and no points for a lack of alliteration, but at least it was a little more accurate.

I vividly remember seeing Christopher Guest’s film Waiting For Guffman for the first time in junior high. Noted for being improvised, there was something so organic and honest about that film. It was unlike any comedy I had seen. The characters were so complete, and at the same time completely unaware of themselves, as was the camera. Intimate, but objective – Guest trusted an expression, an inflection, or silence to do the talking. Around this time, because the guys on the VHS jacket looked so weird, I rented and watched American Movie. To this day, it is my favorite film. I didn’t think I was interested in documentaries at that time, but what struck me like no narrative film had before, was the pencil-line it danced between it’s highs and lows. It was at once the funniest film I’d ever seen, and one of the more tragic. This is real, I thought. This is visceral. This is the human condition. I knew then, documentary or not, this was the affect a film should have. Finding a parallel in Guffman was kind of a personal mini-revelation. Things clicked. This is how it translates to a narrative.

After establishing the specifics were going to be improvised, writing Like Crazy was like giving driving directions to someone by landmark (it’s by this one tree… you’ll know it when you see it) rather than street names. As it was to be a movie largely built on moments between moments, we decided what would be important to communicate was not what the characters should say, but what they should withhold. This lead to the good stuff – back-story and inner monologue found it’s way onto the page to accompany the action. We also included music cues; most didn’t end up in the film, but I think helped set the tone. And every once in a while we suggested some dialogue, but it was only ever suggested. It was always Drake’s intention to provide the cast with plenty of space to discover on set. To capture them truly listening and responding. It was for this reason he wisely made certain they fell just short of finding the scenes in rehearsal. At a very dense 50-pages, the script read more like a short story with scene headings. And like any screenplay it had required many drafts and jam sessions with our producers, right up to production in order to get it there. Actually the revisions never stop. They just sort of peter-out for one person, then change hands – now it’s up to the cast… now it’s up to the editor. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s editor, Jonathan Alberts.

As it turns out, when you ask your cast to improvise, you’re also asking the crew to adjust accordingly. A focus-puller’s task, for example, becomes a lot more demanding when the actors have no marks to hit. Several of us in key roles had had some experience with this improvised process on our previous film, a lo-fi comedy called Douchebag. But it’s fair to say we approached that far more casually. Almost as an experiment, the result of which was a great deal of trial and error, and re-shoots, and pick-ups that included adding scenes to fill gaps. The stakes were higher on Like Crazy. It had to pack some serious punch and deliver across the boards, first time out. Fortunately, the synergy was right, the phenomenal cast was brave and trusting of their director, and it came together.

It’s widely acknowledged, a film is written three times: On the page, on set, and in the cutting room. This adage is never more appropriate than in reference to an improvised film. And as I’ve branched out to develop more traditional screenplays with new collaborators, I find them pleasantly surprised by my eagerness to work with fitting ideas thrown my way. Provided everyone’s going the same direction, the improvisers mantra: “Yes, and…” applies here too.

Ultimately, writing film’s that are to be improvised has taught me to see the pages of a screenplay for what they are: a work-in-progress. I don’t aim to negate the artistry and impact of well-written dialogue. I just mean to say, embracing this idea reminds me that as a screenwriter, my method of delivery is not a bound tome, but a living, breathing cast and crew.

An improvised film has many writers. And if there is trust, it’s amazing to see how they may bring your concepts to life – often in surprising and wonderful ways.

Ben York Jones was born in Englewood, New Jersey, but grew up primarily in Southern California. Both of his parents were New York stage actors, exposing him to a variety of art forms from an early age. After studying screenwriting and directing at Chapman University, Jones worked as a video artist, notably directing music videos and creating branded content. Having maintaining a passion for performance based arts, Jones has appeared in a numerous theatrical productions and is an avid fan of improvisation and sketch comedy. Douchebag marked his first leading role in a feature film, and reunited Jones with childhood friend and collaborator, Drake Doremus. In January 2010, Douchebag premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the US Dramatic Competition. The Hollywood Reporter and New York Magazine praised Jones’ performance, and the film was released theatrically in October 2010.
Having shifted his primary focus to writing, Jones has recently co-written the 2011 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Like Crazy. The film hits theaters in the fall of 2011. Jones is currently underway on several projects including the screen adaptation of a soon to be released novel, and his third collaboration with Doremus and producer Jonathan Schwartz in as many years.

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January 24 at 8:30am

Just The Start — Microbudget filmmaking in the UK

by Tristan Goligher

In the UK micro budget films are often sneered at, often derided, and often rightly so. It is a fair criticism that many of these films can be high in over indulgence, and low in technical execution. But increasingly, over recent years, micro budget film makers are proving to be amongst the most exciting and innovative of emerging talent. In the states this grass roots creative movement has been evident for some time, giving birth to film makers like Kelly Reichardt, Andrew Bujalski, and Joe Swanberg, to mention just a few. Now it seems that we, the British, are catching on too. Change is in the air, and momentum is gathering. 


0 2 17 small  Just The Start — Microbudget filmmaking in the UK


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January 20 at 10:49am

This Is A Future Of Film (And My Fave Film Of 2010)

Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut from Casey Pugh on Vimeo.

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January 20 at 8:30am

A Case for Truly Free Short Films

By Matt Morris

We all love a success story.  We’d hear more of them if we realigned our definition of success.  For most emerging filmmakers, success will come from discovery.  Movies need to be seen and certain practices limit that.

I don’t recall how I met Matt Morris.  I believe it was through social media online.  He thought I would like his short film, and he was right.  He had a good sense on how to engage me without wasting my time or taking advantage of my availability.  I have really enjoyed seeing how he has gotten his work done and seen.  Today he shares some of what he’s learned with everyone; sharing seems to be in his DNA.  If only that happened more…

In April 2008, my short documentary Pickin’ & Trimmin’ premiered at Aspen Shortsfest. It was my first festival. Before my first screening, I was lucky enough to meet someone representing a short film distribution company who expressed interest in my film. Over the next few years, I had multiple offers from various new distribution companies, but I opted instead to put my film online for free. 

Many of the short filmmakers I met over the festival run of the film thought of a contract with a short film distributor as the end game. If you’ve made a film that will, most likely, never make its money back, the idea of making some money and the “cool factor” of being on iTunes was really appealing. But who was going to be doing the marketing for my film? Did I really have to sign away the rights to my film for years?

I kept waiting for a perfect offer that never came. Not only that, but after talking to dozens of filmmakers, I realized that no one was happy with their short film distributor. One friend of mine took this as a positive (if they’re all bad, then it doesn’t matter which one I pick!). At the end of the day, I just wanted my work to be seen by as many people as possible. 

I met Casimir Nowzkowski when Pickin’ & Trimmin’ screened at the Woodstock Film Festival. His film Bodega was the only film in the doc shorts screening that was available to view online. I think we all thought that he was crazy for limiting his festival potential (the vast majority of film festivals won’t screen a film that is available online), and he thought we were crazy for limiting our audience to the festival circuit. Casimir viewed his strategy in simple terms- when he finished a film, he wanted it seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible. This has worked out very well for him, given his films have been watched millions of times on You-Tube.  (Note: I’ve since caught up with Casimir and it appears we’ve both adjusted our strategies- he held off putting his new short doc “Andrew Sarris – Critic in Focus” online and as a result it premiered at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival. He still plans on making it available for free online viewing in a few months.)

Years had passed since I made Pickin’ & Trimmin’. It screened at dozens of festivals, aired on PBS affiliates around the country, OutsideTV, and earned a Midsouth Emmy nomination. The film achieved more success than I ever hoped it would, but at the end of the day it was just sitting there on my shelf. Maybe there was a bigger audience for the film. What about the bluegrass fans who might not attend a film festival? Not only that, but the subject of my film, The Barbershop in Drexel, NC, was in disrepair and I was trying to help raise money to fix it up. I needed to raise more awareness of The Barbershop for people to want to help save it. So, a few months ago, I decided to put the film online.

For me, Vimeo was the easy choice. Everything about it is filmmaker friendly. You have so much control over how your film is seen, and the community on the site is made up of other creative people who are more likely to have an interest in and share your film. I uploaded the film and blasted it out to all of my Facebook friends, as well shared the link with all the festivals I’d screened at, encouraging them to share on their Facebook pages. I’d made my big push.

In the first month, the film had 722 views.

Obviously, I was doing something wrong. At first, I tried to justify the underperformance- at 20 minutes, it’s the anti-viral video. But it kept nagging at me- I can do better. It was around then that I read this infinitely helpful blog post.

It reinforced what I’d read on Hope for Film before but not truly taken to heart- you have to treat the marketing and release of your film like it’s a full time job. In early December, I set aside a week to promote the film online. I sent out more than 150 emails. I embraced the Vimeo community, sought out Bluegrass blogs, video blogs, and anyone else who might enjoy the film. 

So how is it working out?

As of this writing, the film has 77,564 views. It was chosen as a Vimeo Staff Pick, featured on Boing Boing, Esquire.com, Devour, The Art of Manliness, various Bluegrass blogs, and dozens of personal blogs. To put those numbers into perspective, more than ten times the amount of people watched the film online in a month than watched it over 3 years on the festival circuit. Considering I didn’t have to pay any submission fees and it’s revitalized DVD sales (where the profits are much higher than an iTunes sale) instead of cannibalized them, I’d say there’s a strong argument for all short filmmakers to put their film online for free and easy viewing and sharing. 

If you’ve made a good film, the audience is there, but it’s your job to lead them to it. It’s important to have a plan. If you don’t have the time to implement it, find a friend who does. The only thing I’d add to the Short of The Week article on how to launch your film is to be willing to adapt your strategy based on who is embracing the film. At first I was focusing most of my energy on Bluegrass blogs. When looking at embeds, I noticed a handful of smaller men’s style blogs had featured the film. I adjusted my strategy, researching men’s style blogs with larger audiences and contacting them about the film. As a result, many of them featured Pickin’ & Trimmin’ and thousands of people saw the film who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Once your festival circuit is over, make your films available online. There are lots of people out there, like me, who love short films and want to watch and share your work.

The Vimeo Awards are currently accepting submissions and will be held in New York City in June.

Matt Morris is an award-winning director living in Winter Park, FL. His documentary short films Pickin’ & Trimmin’, Watermelon Man, and Mr. Happy Man have been staples of the film festival circuit over the last three years. He is currently filming Mark & Lorna, a documentary short film about a lounge singing couple, as well as planning a leap into narrative filmmaking. www.MattMorrisFilms.com

Twitter: @MattMorrisFilms

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January 19 at 8:30am

Two Great Films Need You

There are two great films in need of completion funds screening as abbreviated Works-In-Progress. Come with your checkbooks out and know that you can save the world.

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January 18 at 8:30am

Why Filmmakers Must Stop SOPA

By Rob Mills

Update: For more about SOPA please visit these links:

Uk Guardian: Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only internet

William Gibson Calls SOPA ‘Draconian’

Techdirt: Why All Filmmakers Should Speak Out Against SOPA

Clay Shirky: Why SOPA is a bad idea

For the past three months a couple of dangerous bills have been making their way through meetings on Capital Hill. The Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) have become famous for their dangerously reckless approach to combating online piracy. Worse yet, this legislation will do almost nothing to actually stop piracy but could cripple or crush online distribution.

According to the MPAA and other supporters of this legislation, SOPA and PIPA target “rogue” web sites and foreign entities, but the liability created in these bills is huge for U.S. companies. YouTube, Dynamo, MUBI — almost any online film distributor could be strangled by this legislation. If SOPA/PIPA were to pass, any online service even suspected of hosting any amount of copyrighted content can be effectively shut down within a week.

Make no mistake. I hate piracy. I hate that deserving artists don’t get paid for their work. I hate that studios and distributors are forced to hopelessly accept and account for theft. I hate that sales of pirated goods — from DVDs to handbags — fund some of the largest criminal networks in the world, and support cottage industries of money laundering and human exploitation.

But the proposed SOPA legislation does far more than attempt to curtail piracy. SOPA and PIPA are completely reckless, sponsored by people with no clear understanding of online commerce, online media or the current generation of media businesses. As a result, these bills are like shotgun blasts aimed at a distant fly. While the scattershot hits everything around the target, that fly will continue to be a nuisance.

Worse yet, the most dangerous impact of this legislation is the ability for major studios to crush competitors. Rather than just creating a mechanism to control copyrighted content or penalize the hosts of illegal content, SOPA gives studios the ability to shut down entire sites and systems hosting any amount of copyrighted content on suspicion alone.

Ironically, for all of the big business and quasi-conservative support behind this legislation, it is a prime example of over-regulation aimed at limiting the free market. Executives at the major studios understand that SOPA/PIPA stifles their competition in the name of defending copyright.

As usual, studio support for legislation like this is largely a consequence of corporate fear and laziness. The television and film studios have spent much of the last decade cautiously sitting on the sidelines while the investors and innovators behind YouTube, Blip, MUBI, Livestream, Dynamo and hundreds of others took on disproportionate risk to build a sustainable online media market. Now that the markets are proven and the risk is manageable, the studios are backing legislation that would change the rules of commerce and cripple their competition.

An open, competitive market has always been the lifeblood of independent film and has always been terrifying to the studios. For 100 years studio executives have consistently been too scared about losing some of their dominance to explore new markets in innovative ways. With every new distribution option that independent filmmakers have launched, studio heads have pushed for legislation to either strangle or control it. And as much as I hate piracy, I also hate to see studio executives consistently hiring lobbyists to try and fix their problems after failing to innovate.

To support these efforts the MPAA, RIAA and major studios have all behaved like scared children for so many decades that it is no longer possible to take their Chicken Little cries seriously. We were told that the VHS was going to destroy the industry, but after they were forced by the market to embrace private rentals that market grew to become the largest and most reliable source of revenue. We heard the same story about audio tapes, DVDs, radio, cable television, pay-per-view — every technology that created a new way to reach the audience.

Piracy is a serious problem that requires serious solutions, but combatting technical innovation with aggressive legal attacks has never done anything but cripple the market. The best way to combat piracy is to make it easy and safe for people to pay for what they want. Piracy will always be a risk, but studies consistently show that a majority of people who pirate film and TV programs illegally will happily pay for them when those titles are available online and easy to pay for.

Independent filmmakers understand better than anyone that successful distribution means giving the audience what they want, whenever, wherever and however they want it. As an example of the real value of online distribution, at Dynamo we see video rentals succeed at price points 2-5x higher than Redbox DVD rentals. Yet this legislation could kill the online market before the studios even begin to take advantage of it.

Perhaps the worst of all this is that many supporters of this legislation likely have no idea just how dangerous this attack on online distribution is to their own future. Fearful studio executives are holding onto SOPA/PIPA like a hand grenade glued to their own fingers, but it’s the independent filmmakers who will suffer most when it blows up.

Find out more and contact your representatives here: www.tumblr.com/protect-the-net

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