Studios vs. theaters. NATO vs. Netflix. AMC Theaters vs. Universal. The stakes are high and the rhetoric is getting more heated as old economic models give way to new. And while the independents have more flexibility to experiment and challenge the established order, there are Big Guns in the indie world too: iTunes, Amazon, Netflix and Hulu.
Indiewire Influencer Marc Schiller, CEO of BOND360, is taking what he learned about fan engagement online in the early ’90s, when he helped to launch the House of Blues concert business and later launched Electric Artists, to the indie film world. Now all artists are figuring out how to be entrepreneurial and deploy digital tools to reach out to fans and build an online community.
Now applying his DIY music strategies to film, Schiller has learned the digital film marketing ropes on such innovative releases as “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Formula 1 racing doc “Senna,” and VOD hit “Indie Game: The Movie.” “We’re exploring new business models and technologies,” Schiller says on the phone. “We’ve already benefited from that early jump into a new world.”
Going forward, Schiller believes that hanging onto multiple rights is important so that a filmmaker can strategize cohesively over the entire life of a film, in every platform and market. Now Schiller is moving from niche marketing with BOND Strategy & Influence into distribution with BOND360. The first collaboration between BOND360 and custom website builder VHX was the November 2013 release “East Nashville Tonight.” Now Mark Levinson’s festival hit doc “Particle Fever” launched the new distribution model Wednesday. It starts out at New York’s Film Forum before broadening out to key markets. (The NYT’s A.O. Scott calls the science doc “mindblowing.”)
The film tells the story of the six scientists who set out to prove the existence of the “God Particle.” In fact Schiller and Richard Abramowitz’s Abramorama announced that would jointly market and distribute the film on the same day the Nobel Prize was awarded to the physicists who first proposed the Higgs boson particle.
Schiller experimented with making the film available for pre-orders on its VHX website early on, even though there’s still no date for the digital or home entertainment release. “I wanted to see from the data where preorders were coming from,” says Schiller. “And it proved out the hypothesis we had, that preorders would come in cities where we would never release the film– Idaho, Wisconsin–not coming from cities with theater bookings. They’re reading the NY Times review, seeing blog posts, and preordering the movie right away, as opposed to typically waiting 120 days.”
Schiller and Abramowitz also booked the film not only in top markets like Chicago, Toronto, Seattle and San Francisco but also in cities where the scientific community has a big presence, such as Naperville, Illinois, and reaching out to scientific organizations with marketing assets so that they could be supportive with newsletter blasts and social media.
A year ago, the Barnes Brothers attempted to shoot
a documentary about the lives of Todd Snider, Elizabeth Cook and other touring
songwriters residing in the burgeoning East Nashville neighborhood. Well, they
failed. Drugs and booze took over. What they ended up with is the comedy “East Nashville
Tonight.” Earlier this year the film premiered to sold out audiences at the 2013 Nashville Film Festival and will officially debut on November 18 at a one-night only Nashville screening and concert with all-star group Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs, featuring Snider and Cook.
And BOND360 released the film exclusively to fans on November 19 via the film’s website. This was a small-scale pilot test, as Schiller experiments with bypassing the usual big retail outlets to see what can be done by marketing films directly to fans. Why go searching around through google and multiple clicks to find a movie you can stream, when you can go directly to the film’s website and get it there? Why not preorder a film as soon as you hear about it, and agree to pay more for bonus content if you want it? Fans are coming to store that looks like a website. WHich means “the analytics are huge,” says Schiller. “It’s a goldmine, making my data smarter as a market publicist and distributor. I know how many people bought ‘East Nashville Tonight’ from reading the article on The Playlist website, whether or not the PR was good for awareness, and which PR hit made the most revenue for the filmmaker,” Schiller says. “Not only will this be the future, but it has to be the future.”
On films like “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “Senna,” he says, “what we do as marketers is create a community around the film which doesn’t walk away when it is no longer in theaters. It’s still there. They want to stay with your journey throughout the entire life of that film. They grow organically when people see films on Netflix and iTunes. But the marketing and attention to the film ends a few weeks into the digital release. Nobody is marketing a film a year after it’s available on iTunes. Look at ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ as Banksy is working in New York and grabbing media attention, the community still exists around Banksy, it’s only gotten bigger over time. You need to connect back the films into those organic spikes of interest, have a structure acting as a brand manager, to live with a film for years, not as a film in a catalogue. How can you create new revenues for a film every month?”
If filmmakers keep their rights and start websites for their films, they can also create easily searchable hubs for their entire library of work. The old studio DVD model–anniversary packages etc– can be endlessly updated by the filmmaker with fresh bonus features to revitalize long tail archival content, says Schiller. (Navigating the rights is tricky, of course.) Why not add new Formula 1 material to “Senna” packages every year?
“Particle Fever” and “East Nashville Tonight” provide Schiller with “a wonderful opportunity to start to learn what works and doesn’t work,” he says, “and also understand how to maximize the relationship we have with fans and audiences to grow the business.”
See both trailers below.