John Reiss, filmmaker turned author of the new book THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE recently gave a speech at the CPH:DOX forum in Copenhagen. In that speech he outlines a manifesto of sorts derived from the work he researched for his book and his own experience:
I have taken portions of Jon's manifesto and reposted them here. I urge you to go and read the more detailed aspects in the original post on IndieWire.
"But just as a way of introducing myself – I will give you a brief introduction to my own horror story.
In 2007, I was at the Tribeca film festival where I was trying to sell my documentary “Bomb It.” We did everything by the old school book, kept the screeners a secret, we spent $20,000 launching the film at the festival, with the result of packed houses and hundreds of people turned away. After all the excitement, what we had were a few $10,000 all rights deals that we rejected. A week after Tribeca, our film was available for sale on Canal Street — as a bootleg.
A number of lucky films each year will still get overall deals that make some kind of financial sense for them. However these deals are not available to the vast majority of filmmakers at this time. We are in the midst of a new world order or crisis."
1. KNOW YOUR FILM/KNOW YOURSELF. EVERY FILM IS DIFFERENT AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH
The studio model of distribution was created because it made sense for large mass market films, and for a time it worked for some independent films as well.
However each film is different, and many independent films did not fair well within the studio machine – because they were not marketed to their unique audience.
2. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD MARKETING
As an iconoclastic, ex punk rock anarchist neo Marxist who most recently made a documentary about graffiti and the battle over visual public space, I feel that I have come about as far as anyone could come in this embrace of marketing.
I would argue that the biggest problem facing independent film is not one of distribution – it is one of marketing. It is one thing to put your film out into the world, it is another to get people to know about it, and want to watch it.
It is not a matter of changing your work to meet a supposed market. But to consider what kinds of audiences might be interested in your work and seek to cultivate them.
The artificial divide between art and commerce must be eliminated.
3. DETERMINE YOUR AUDIENCES AND HOW TO REACH THEM FROM INCEPTION
Many independent filmmakers for many years have made films without thinking about who the audiences for their films might be. Or their ideas about audiences are much too general. Alternatively the studios have erred on the other side and catered to a mass audience and left any form of specialty taste behind.
START THE PROCESS AT INCEPTION
It can take a long time to engage your audience. As important as developing individual audience members are connections you can make with organizations that will help you expand your reach.
This audience engagement (aka marketing) will be much more organic if you integrate it into the whole life cycle of a film.
By starting during prep and production, you are allowing your audience to be involved in the creation of your work. This in turn invests them with the success of your film. This can happen through crowdsourcing of various creative aspects of the film or through crowdfunding the budget for the film. These engaged audience members will be active core promoters because they will feel a connection with your film.
4. WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR FILM, YOU ARE HALF DONE
Distribution and marketing can take as long and cost as much, or more than you spent on your film. The new 50/50 is not a revenue split but the mental shift that filmmakers must make about the filmmaking process.
Too many filmmakers have no resources for the second half of the process once they finish their films. It is a shame. Why make a brilliant wonderful film if you do not have the resources to get it to its audience.
This is not a hard and fast rule, remember all films are unique. But it is a good guideline when embarking on a project.
- Money for distribution and marketing should be budgeted for, raised and put into escrow. It is far better to have $50,000 to release a $50,000 film than to make a $100,000 film with no way of getting it to an audience.
- We must create new crew positions to be responsible for these tasks.
5. WE MUST TAKE BACK THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE AND REDEFINE IT AS LIVE EVENT/ THEATRICAL
Many people feel that the theatrical release is dead. It is too expensive and time consuming for independent filmmakers to engage. I believe it should be reborn.
Theatrical has come to mean a paid screening in conventional theaters with built in sound and visual projection that start on Friday – end Thursday with a review Friday in venuses that all sell popcorn.
Any booking of a film into a projected environment that does not meet the conventions outlined above falls into a category of “non-theatrical” or “semi-theatrical”. Given that these screenings are defined primarily in negative terms (non-, semi-,) it is not surprising that they receive a second-class status.This classification of theatrical markets wasn’t always the case. In the earliest days of motion picture films, screenings occurred in a variety of spaces: storefronts, tents, public parks, churches. Films often toured with vaudeville acts or circuses or on their own.
6. CREATE PRODUCTS PEOPLE WANT TO BUY
Is it a wonder that in the digital era people have stopped buying DVDs? For what is a DVD but a package of 0s and 1s in a crap plastic case.
We should look to musicians who have struggled with this conundrum for longer than we. Just as they are touring, many of them understand the difference between a physical product and a digital product and not only price them accordingly, but create added value to their physical products that cannot be replicated digitally.
Consider items that your fans and audience will want to purchase, it will be different for every film. Consider books of photographs that contain the DVD. Video games, Toys that can be printed on demand with new three dimensional printers.
8. ENTERTAINMENT COMPANIES MUST MOVE BEYOND OLD WAYS OF DOING BUSINESS
Just as filmmakers must think out side the box in terms of the way they make and distribute and market films, companies need to do this as well.
Everyone is hurting in the birth of this new paradigm, so more than ever it is necessary to work together.
I believe it is important for filmmakers to collaborate with experienced and reputable companies in getting their work seen. Unless you are completely committed to DIY for philosophical reasons, or because you cannot find a company to partner with, I recommend DIY being a last resort. You will still end up doing more work than you can imagine on a release in a company supported split rights scenario.
In turn, companies need to embrace the split rights world we live in and stop being so omnivorous of our rights, if you are not going to provide monetary compensation for those rights or have no plans to you should not demand them.
Companies need to be more transparent about their ways of conducting business.
9. EXPLORE NEW WAYS TO TELL STORIES
We live in a fractured marketplace for media. Audiences have media and consumption preferences. You can’t bend them, you must accommodate them.
We must embrace new forms beyond the short and the feature and recognize that a film can be one part of a larger narrative universe that can be explored in a variety of mediums.
Think of a story that takes place via a feature film, but extends out over mobile devices, gaming consoles, social networks, through websites, text messages, downloadable clips, or iPhone apps. An exciting amount of creative potential awaits adventurous filmmakers.
Further, audiences want to participate with culture. By allowing them to participate, filmmakers open themselves up to a deeper relationship with their audiences.
Don’t be proprietary with your media. Give people assets — footage, sounds, environments. Let them re-edit your scenes.Not all of your audience is going to engage in this way, but a devoted core who will.
10. WE MUST SUPPORT EACH OTHER AS A COMMUNITY
Filmmakers are lovers of film and our best allies. We must support one another’s work. The more generous you are – the more you will receive in return.
Similarly, if there is a film that you love – support it in other ways. Use your newly developed social networking skills to tell your own fans and followers why they should see the film. They are your followers, they are interested in your tastes and opinions, use that power to the good of the film community.
Edit to add: Scott Kirsner has an audio interview with Jon here.
Now - it may interest you to know that the movie that was discussed here (see the video at the bottom of that post) SITA SINGS THE BLUES (which you can watch on YouTube for free) is being released on DVD by Indiepix. From the press release:
"To get any film made is a miracle To conceive of a film like this is a greater miracle. Two Thumbs up!" Captivating, mesmerizing, spellbinding" -- Chicago Reader "An irrefutable argument for classic 2-D animation as a viable, vibrant low-budget arthouse medium for adults" -- Variety THIS DECEMBER, INDIEPIX PRESENTS THE GREATEST BREAK-UP STORY EVER TOLD -- A BEAUTIFULLY ANIMATED MASTERPIECE WHICH HAS PLAYED IN OVER 200 INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS AND CAPTURED 30+ AWARDS Winner of the Prestigious Silver Bear for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008 and numerous other awards, the international festival smash (with 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), SITA SINGS THE BLUES makes its DVD debut this December courtesy of IndiePix Films. Available for $24.95srp
-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
"To get any film made is a miracle To conceive of a film like this is a greater miracle. Two Thumbs up!"
Captivating, mesmerizing, spellbinding"
-- Chicago Reader
"An irrefutable argument for classic 2-D animation as a viable, vibrant low-budget arthouse medium for adults"
THIS DECEMBER, INDIEPIX PRESENTS THE GREATEST BREAK-UP STORY EVER TOLD -- A BEAUTIFULLY ANIMATED MASTERPIECE WHICH HAS PLAYED IN OVER 200 INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS AND CAPTURED 30+ AWARDS
Winner of the Prestigious Silver Bear for Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008 and numerous other awards, the international festival smash (with 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), SITA SINGS THE BLUES makes its DVD debut this December courtesy of IndiePix Films. Available for $24.95srp
Sita is a Hindu goddess, the leading lady ofIndia’s epic the Ramayana and a dutiful wife who follows her husband Rama on a 14 year exile to a forest, only to be kidnapped by an evil king from Sri Lanka. Despite remaining faithful to her husband, Sita is put through many tests. Nina (the filmmaker Nina Paley herself) is an artist who finds parallels in Sita’s life when her husband – in India on a work project - decides to break up their marriage and dump her via email. Three hilarious Indonesian shadow puppets with Indian accents – linking the popularity of the Ramayana from India all the way to the Far East - narrate both the ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the epic.
In her first feature length film, Paley juxtaposes multiple narrative and visual styles to create a highly entertaining yet moving vision of the Ramayana. Musical numbers choreographed to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw feature a cast of hundreds: flying monkeys, evil monsters, gods, goddesses, warriors, sages, and winged eyeballs. A tale of truth, justice and a woman’s cry for equal treatment. SITA SINGS THE BLUES earns its tagline as "The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told."
DVD Extras: Director's commentary and interview, the bonus short "Fetch!" and more
Format : DVD/Single
Run time: 82 mins. + extras
Prebook/Street: November 17/December 15
This is an example of new media in action. Using free social networking tools and legal licensing tools to create a unique film experience that makes money for the producer. It's different, it's new (sort of) and it's about the manifesto that Jon speaks of above. There are companies out there that are understanding this is the new paradigm - free, split-rights deals, unique marketing, designed packaging, merchandising, letting go and allowing the fans their turn "at bat."