Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Steven Beer
January 30, 2012 9:00 AM
21 Comments
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Life After Sundance: Distribution and Marketing for the 99 Percent

Sundance selected 110 features from 4,042 submissions for its 2012 U.S. and World Dramatic and Documentary Competition lineups. Based on the festival's history, it's fair to say that less than 40 of those films will be acquired by established, full-service film distributors. At best, this translates to a 1% success rate for aspiring Sundance filmmakers.

Given this sobering reality, producers -- members of the 99% -- are embracing a post-distributor marketplace. But understanding how to navigate this alternate landscape is essential.  

This means recognizing the sound of a reshuffling deck. In the old game, producers relied on key factors beyond their control: top-tier film festival invites, prestigious jury prizes, audience awards and, all too frequently, the particular tastes and needs of distribution executives.  

From this new shuffle, producers will deal their own cards, managing risk and seeking out rewards that include some combination of maximum exposure, return on investment and recognition.

Of course, traditional distributors will continue to service independent films. However, I believe most producers will market and distribute their projects on their own by incorporating old and new media, within and outside the traditional marketplace. Benefits include greater control, reduced costs, increased financial rewards and transparent accounting. However, this also means assuming full responsibility from the onset and taking all measures required to achieve their objectives.

With that in mind, here's seven key practices producers must embrace to succeed in the post-distributor marketplace.


Embrace the Role of Entrepreneur.
Understand the odds: Whether by design or default, you probably won't have a conventional distributor. Research best practices; collaborate with other successful producers and industry professionals. Create and adhere to success plans grounded in hard numbers.
 
Mix Old and New Distribution.
Assume responsibility for building an integrated media platform; successful marketing and distribution plans are a mix of old and new media. While you may sidestep turnkey arrangements, you'll still leverage traditional platforms where appropriate. Specialty theatrical releases, DVD, VOD, television broadcasts, digital streaming and downloads, whether for sale or subscription, all figure in. Like recording artists who release content through their own labels, producers can establish their own branded distribution companies. Thanks to an emerging class of service providers and content aggregators, there's a number of distribution options that act as facilitators rather than gatekeepers and render essential delivery services (digital encoding, quality control) for relatively modest fees.

Create Key Marketing Elements, and Then Create Some More.
Constantly create content. Take an abundance of photographs and videos that capture each step of production, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes; they will be vital for marketing. Images are the connective tissue between the production and its fanbase.  

Integrate Social Media.
Your project’s success depends on your ability to incorporate social media as an essential marketing platform. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are indispensable for developing an audience and generating a robust and substantive dialogue with their fans.

Forge Partnerships with Friends, Family and Fans.
Musicians have understood this for years: Success depends on establishing a personal relationship with fans. Create a network of digital hubs (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, your own websites) to share project-related content; partner with support groups that will mobilize for both fundraising and distribution. Over the past year, we've witnessed a slew of producers who cultivated and partnered with rabid fanbases to achieve their goals.

David Dinerstein, now president of LD Entertainment, helped manage Kevin Smith’s “Red State” marketing strategy. “Every project comes with its own brand of drama," he says. "With entertaining and informative posts, empowered producers can create positive value even from production setbacks." While following the production’s own dramatic narrative, audiences vest in the film’s outcome and can become a service for financial and marketing support.
 
Collaborate with Experts.
You will need a team of specialists to replace the people who manage publicity, marketing and distribution in the traditional model. Key is a digital marketer to design and manage unique strategies; author and industry consultant Jonathan Reiss says these individuals are important enough to deserve producer status -- Producers of Marketing and Distribution, aka PMDs.

Incorporate Crowdfunding.
It's not just production money; crowdfunding is an invaluable tool for financing marketing and distribution. It also increases audience awareness and can motivate an army of loyal supporters.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a powerful blueprint: Members of the 99 percent hold the power to change the course of independent film.

 

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig's New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies. Follow him @StevenBeer.

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21 Comments

  • Gillian | February 3, 2012 1:32 PMReply

    What if you had a company that delivers your content directly to the audience? All you had to do was upload your content for free, encourage your crew and cast to tell everyone they know about the movie. You own all the rights to your content, it is socially integrated with all the usual suspects, Facebook, Twitter, etc. What if there were cross marketing? What if there was profit sharing involved? Totally transparent accounting. No schmoozing involved. Would that interest you? It's already in the works. If you are interested in learning more email me gillianfelix23@gmail.com.

  • Ted Hope | February 2, 2012 12:19 PMReply

    I love all you are saying Steven, but... None of this works if the community/audience don't both walk the talk/talk the walk & vote with their dollars. The river flows both ways. As creators and entrepreneurs we have to curate each other's work. We have to promote each other's work. We need to define ourselves by what we love. We have to mentor each successive generation. We have to share our failures as well as we promote our successes. Anyone that receives crowdfunding should give to twenty more campaigns. For each video we receive from a friend we should reinvest $10-25 in crowdfunding campaign. We need to attend movies and buy things on line. We have to help those who need it the most. We have to lead if we want others to follow in our path.

  • Mike Anderson | February 2, 2012 3:11 PM

    Stay connected and contribute. Will do.
    There is at least one constant that spans all eras of the entertainment business - content is king. When we make good products that reflect the lives and minds of the public, participants are on it like white on rice. If we make stuff that does not vibrate with people, it falls flat like a dead tree in a lonely forest. Manufacture and distribution are democratizing, but it will still be the good storyteller that reigns. "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. high-school-kid-with-an-iPhone."

  • Steven Beer | February 2, 2012 12:59 PM

    Agreed. Especially during this crossroads moment, the community is a critical resource as we prepare for the opportunities (and challenges) ahead. Seeking engaged participants, not passive spectators.

  • Bill | February 1, 2012 1:14 AMReply

    Filmmakers and content owners can network with and screen their films to over 150 companies actively looking for films to distribute here:

    http://private.goscreening.com/oplist.aspx

    Great place to start

  • Elizabeth Karr | February 2, 2012 4:49 PM

    Distribution is becoming as creative - and challenging - as filmmaking and for those contemplating production now, needs to be integral part of the plan, as Jon Reiss preaches. Excellent overview by you, Steven and agree wholeheartedly with Ted Hope's comments that it's up to the whole indie film community to share resources, experiences and support one another.

  • Danny Fisher | January 31, 2012 9:15 PMReply

    Great article, Steven, and I wholeheartedly agree with your advice. I wanted to let producers know that my new distribution company, Fisher Klingenstein Films (www.fisherklingenstein.com) works with producers as either a turnkey distributor in all media - but also in a hybrid scenario in which we partner with producers on all aspects of the marketing and distribution. We are releasing select films theatrically, on DVD - both online sales such as Amazon, with whom we have a favorable "studio" deal, as well as unique programs we have with "big box" retailers including Walmart, KMart and Target for films that have mainstream appeal. On the digital front, we are working with Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming, iTunes, Hulu and others. We offer advances on some films and on others we work on straight distribution - it depends on the film. Please feel free to contact me at danny@fisherbrothersmedia.com.

  • ek | January 31, 2012 8:54 PMReply

    The most important element in today's marketing and distribution world is open mindedness. That is to say be flexible and find the formula that works best for each film. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all plan and the landscape is constantly changing. As noted in the piece, a mix of old and new methodology is the way to go but the blend will vary from film to film depending on its marketable elements and what profile it can sensibly be expected to achieve. Relationships with exhibition, media and the various distribution platforms need to be cultivated and windows opened that don't rely on festivals, markets and similar over-rated venues. Learn from the experts but do your own thinking as well and be sure you have the money to back your play. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Develop a workable strategy and implement it and don't meander all over the place. Then GO FOR IT!

  • Ashlie Atkinson | January 31, 2012 5:53 PMReply

    Good article. But it's important to note that as of this year, all Sundance films -- past and present -- have a guaranteed means of distribution. Check it out.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/movies/sundance-offer-new-video-streaming-for-films.html?pagewanted=all

  • Steven Beer | January 31, 2012 7:41 PM

    Duly noted. That said, the producer who decides on the Sundance streaming option must still do most of the leg work required to raise awareness for the film and secure other deals to cover the remaining bundle of rights. As a member of the 99%, the Sundance streaming producer should strongly consider embracing the key practices discussed here.

  • ISAW | January 31, 2012 10:42 AMReply

    Hi I have a really important question....What if you are an introvert? Seriously don't laugh, what if you are a great filmmaker get into Sundance and just aren't the type of person to do everything listed in this article. What if all your friends and family are actually jealous you're filmmaking is being validated, they aren't going to work against you but they don't really want to help you. I understand hiring a publicist is basically paying someone to believe in you and honestly that is money well spent. But what if you shy away from all the grand standing and stripping naked to jump in the hot tube....Does anyone have any advice?
    Sincerely,
    Introverted Sundance Award-Winner

  • Roger M | March 26, 2012 2:13 PM

    ISAW could you email me directly at Roger.Moran@mindviewfilms.com . I would love to hear more about your film and what's next for you. Thanks in advance.

  • Dave | January 31, 2012 9:01 PM

    I'm going to piggyback on this comment. I'm not a director or a producer; I'm a composer. A quiet type who likes to hibernate and work on stuff and work closely with the filmmaking team. I really struggle to get out there and connect with people who I can join forces with. I'm not into schmoozing. But I want to find quality projects and quality people. Where to go??

  • Steven Beer | January 31, 2012 2:28 PM

    Best advice is to be yourself -- wear the shoe that fits your foot. Define success in your vision then create a success plan to achieve your personal priorities.

  • Steven Beer | January 31, 2012 7:53 AMReply

    Good comments. One of the best aspects of our independent film community is the candid and robust exchange of practical information. There are many reasons for optimism, so lets keep talking.

  • the 45th WorldFest | January 30, 2012 7:10 PMReply

    40 films getting distrib deals out of more than 4,000 entries is pretty scary! Of course, less than 400 were actually selected for screening but those are still poor odds. Entries are still open for the upcoming 45th Annual WorldFest - that gave first honors to Spielberg, Lucas, Ang Lee, Ridley Scott, the Coen Brothers, John Lee Hancock and hundreds more! Far better odds at WorldFest, lots of smaller Indie Distribs attend and buy films, like Panorama Films in New York! Get Your Kicks With Indie Flicks at the 45th WorldFest - www.worldfest.org

  • Sawyer | January 30, 2012 4:53 PMReply

    Joe Swanberg is experimenting with limited subscriptions to DVD collections mentioned in this article on Joe Swanberg: Collected Films 2011 http://www.goovertherainbow.com/from-the-editor/item/queering-film-distribution-joe-swanberg-the-collected-films-of-2011

  • Michael Rome, Esq. | January 30, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    Some films are appropriate for self-distribution, while others may still want a one-stop shop distributer who specializes in working with the independent filmmaker. Either way, you can still make some critical mistakes. Order of release is one of several issues.
    We had a film that the cable-sattelite aggregator wanted to put on their delivery platform to many millions of homes, but the filmmaker had earlier allowed the film to be posted on a couple of VOD websites (iTunes, Google Movies) which killed the cable deal.

  • Linda Nelson | January 30, 2012 6:43 PM

    Why do you need a cable deal when companies like SNAG and Vudu can put your film on TV with an app and you share the revenue with them from dollar one?

  • Miles Maker | January 30, 2012 2:38 PMReply

    Loveitdotcom!

    Thanks for this Steven. You make my job so much easier--I'm hoping to spend 2012 spending less time selling the need while applying more focus to executing client objectives.

  • Himyo | January 30, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    I would like to thank you and indie wire for stepping up and supporting the empowerment of the masses. Far to long have media outlets prescribed to the fostering of,following suit with the propaganda machine, instituted by a select few in power who say the only model for getting this done is OURS. Informing and encouraging the 99% to step outside the pre packaged box being delivered to them; giving hope to those brave enough to build there own Packaging so that they have multiple ways to have their goods delivered.