Premiering at Sundance and Slamdance provides a film with one of the biggest world stages to launch a film. Savvy filmmakers might consider using the festival to launch a national release of their film.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Linas Phillips, Thomas Woodrow and company are using the fest to launch the release of their film "Bass Ackwards" in conjunction with New Video. Last week three more films announced that they will at least be releasing their VODs day and date at Sundance. While these three films are being released by the Sundance Select series on Rainbow, it is actually run by IFC, which has been pioneering festival/vod day and date.
Even though I am a fan of a festival launch, I want to provide a bit of caution to filmmakers who might consider this path without being prepared. I do not recommend attempting to initiate the actual release of your film if you are just scrambling to get it finished and have not prepared for distribution or marketing.
I am writing this piece for two reasons:
1. To aid any filmmaker who is considering launching the release of their film at their premiere festival aka Sundance/Slamdance and --
2. To assuage the guilt of many filmmakers who have been kicking themselves for not utilizing this strategy in previous years.
In writing my book "Think Outside the Box Office," I spoke to a number of filmmakers who were mad at themselves because they saw the amount of exposure their festival premiere generated, and they never reclaimed that exposure with the theatrical release of their film. Hence they reasoned, “If only I had released my film day and date with my festival premiere!"
They realized, smartly, that it is best to have all guns blazing in your release to penetrate the media landscape and that top festivals are very good at creating audience awareness. Hence why not monetize that audience awareness with the release.
However it does take a fair amount of advance work and planning in order to enact this strategy. If you are premiering at Park City and aren’t ready for this strategy now, I have a suggestion at the end of this piece about how to engage this strategy at a later date.
So here are some points to consider for a festival launch of your film’s release.
1. You should create a thought-out distribution and marketing strategy that will guide you and your team through this release. Have you analyzed your goals for your film, your potential audience, your resources?
2. Very important in this strategy is what rights are you releasing and when. What is your sequence of rights release? Is everything day and date with the fest or only VOD or DVD? If all rights are not day and date, when are the other rights being released and how will those rights be promoted?
3. Of particular concern is theatrical. Are you launching what I term a live event/theatrical release at the festival (section 3 of my book)? Conventional theatrical usually requires at least three months. But perhaps you will have alternative theatrical after the festival and then ramp up conventional theatrical. How long is your theatrical window? How does this integrate with your other rights?
4. Consider if your film is the kind of film that will generate a lot of interest and press at Park City. Perhaps do some research into the types of films (particularly those that reviewers and film writers will respond to) and see if that makes sense for your film. Even though Park City shines a great spotlight on films, it does not do so for all films, and many films get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps there is an alternative time of the year that might shine a brighter light on your film -- e.g. if there is a national month or date dealing with your film’s subject.
5. Do you have all of your materials ready to go for a release, whether DIY or through a distribution partner? Are all your deliverables ready to go? Have you authored your DVD? Do you have key art? Have you printed your key art?
6. Is there a distribution partner who is interested in your film who will help you launch your film at the festival? Note that all of the films mentioned above are partnering with a larger company to help enable the release. You don’t need one company; perhaps it is a group of companies. Perhaps you have one company for DVDs and another for VOD. Many distributors need a long lead-time to prepare a film for release, so chances are that this option will be difficult unless you already have it in play. However you can begin discussions with potential partners at Park City or after for such a release later down the line. More on this later.
7. If you don’t have a distribution partner in any particular rights category, do you have a DIY approach to monetizing said rights category? Do you have replication and a fulfillment company lined up? Do you have digital distribution in place for download to own, download to rent?
8. Do you have a marketing and publicity campaign that you have been developing for a couple of months? Do you have a publicist who has been talking to journalists to lay the groundwork for your release?
9. Many filmmakers at Park City will just have been finishing their films to get them ready to screen. Many or most will have been so absorbed with the completion of their films that they will not be ready to release their films at Park City. In that case it is probably wise to hold off on your release for when you are more prepared. Use Park City to lay the groundwork for that later release. Don’t just think about the overall deal, actively court distribution partners who will work with you on a split rights or hybrid scenario. Find out what press is a fan of your film so that you can book live events/theatrical releases in those cities. (Have them hold the review!)
10. If you are at Park City – chances are you will be invited to other fests. Use one of those festivals (or a combination of festivals) to launch your release when you are ready. "Weather Girl" premiered at Slamdance last year, didn’t sell, regrouped and then launched its theatrical at LA Film Fest six months later. Two of the IFC releases premiered last year at Berlin and Cannes.
OK – so you are one of the many filmmakers not considering using Park City to launch the release of your film (and if you were on the fence before perhaps these points above just talked you down – which is a good thing if you were not ready for your release). So how to approach a premiere festival if you are not utilizing that festival as part of your release.
Here are 15 more points to consider:
1. You need to develop a distribution and marketing strategy for your film. This does not mean “sell my film for $5 million to Fox Searchlight." That is not a strategy. Your strategy should takes into consideration Your Film, Your Needs, Your Resources, Your Audience. Note that this is item one for both approaches – it is that important.
2. In evaluating your film: How likely is it that you will garner an all rights deal at Park City? (There were approximately four of these out of Toronto.)
3. Have you created an alternate plan of action for your film in case a magical overall deal does not happen for your film? You should have a sense of what your alternatives might be before arriving at Park City so you know how to evaluate offers.
4. Very important: How will you use Park City to help enact that strategy? Perhaps the best opportunity at Park City is to lay the groundwork for a split rights arrangement. You should have a sense of what those pieces are and how they might fit together before you get to Park City.
5. What team will you assemble for Park City? The old school approach is a sales rep/lawyer and publicist. Concerning sales reps, Peter Broderick recommends (and I agree) that you should create your strategy before you engage a sales rep so you have a basis with which to evaluate what they are telling you (and so that you can use this mind set to evaluate who will be the best sales rep for your specific film). In fact in the new split rights world, strategists/consultants can be a big help. I will publish a list of some consultants who I have either worked with or know on my blog in the coming days – and I’ll announce the list on @Jon_Reiss.
6. Concerning a publicist – some publicists have also started to move into the distribution strategy realm – such as 42 West. Have you discussed with your publicist the desire to hold your press for release? Few publications will give you more than one review. As publicist Kathleen McInnis recs: You have to balance buzz building with having material to release upon release. Fest roundup coverage is great. But publicists can be expensive which brings up another issue:
7. How much money do you want to spend on “opening” your film at your festival. Sure you want hype – but I would strongly recommend keeping as much of your resources as possible for the proper release of your film. With the sales climate such as it is – does it make sense to spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 on Park City if you don’t even have that much reserved for the release of your film. Resources are limited – use them wisely. Resources also include the time you can request of your cast and of yourself and your team as well.
8. What do you want from your deals? How might you fit various offers into various split rights scenarios? Is your rep prepared to work with you on setting up split rights scenarios if there is no overall deal. Are you prepared to walk away from low ball offers. How do you choose various distribution partner(s) for monetizing different rights?
9. Are you prepared to engage the audience for your film that the festival will generate so that you can retain them in your fan base? This includes the following:
10. Do you have a website that invites engagement? Do you offer something to viewers to collect their email list. Check out onetoomanymornings.com (who sent me their website, as they were probably spamming it around – and I recommend this ... if you send me your site and I like it, I’ll tweat it). Onetoomanymornings offers a mix “tape” for your email address (but it is well below the “fold." I recommend that they and you give people all a number of options of connecting with you “above the fold” eg in the top of the section of a website. This includes email list sign up in exchange for some kind of digital swag. Facebook, Twitter and Rss links. (The latter presumes you have a blog – which you should.) Not everyone will want to give you an email address, some people prefer Facebook (tip from Cynthia Swartz of 42 West), others Twitter. Onetoomanymornings already has a robust Facebook fan page of over 1200.
11. Collect email addresses at every screening. Pass around several pads and pens and announce before the screening that you want people to sign up. Have pads ready outside of the screening for people who don’t want to wait for the pad in the theater. Keep a folder for each festival so you know where the email addresses came from originally. You want Name, Email Address, Zip, Country. (Another tip pounded into my head by Broderick)
12. Do you have a trailer? Many films at Park City last year did not have trailers in advance of the festival that could be viewed on line. The sooner you have one the better. But it should be good. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Do you have more than a trailer? Might you video blog from the festival or partner with your cast? Something unique that shows your imagination.
13. Key Art is important. A central compelling image speaks volumes for your film. See if you can get a someone with marketing experience to work on your “copy” eg the text of the poster. Get a good graphic designer to do the art. You can crowdsource this through crowdspring.com. On-line postcards are very cheap these days but you should balance price vs. shipping cost. Business cards are also cheap, making new ones with some graphical branding of your film is a good idea. Have all of the ways people can connect with you and your film on your card: email address, facebook page for film, Twitter, blog.
14. Especially if you are doing your publicity DIY, or making a deal with a publicist so that you have to do more of the work: Consider putting your press kit, photos, compressed trailer etc in a drop.io account so that you don’t have to constantly attach those items to your emails. Set up an auto signature with the drop io link and you will be able to handle those multitudes of press requests with ease.
15. Are you going to sell DVDs? It doesn’t take much to author a festival edition and replicate 1000 for $1000. (You’ll need at least 200-300 for press and other festival submissions anyway). Say you are in five biggish festivals (which by virtue of being in Park City most likely you will be in at least that many). Say you sell 100 at each festival – a conservative amount – live sales are some of your best sales (especially if you make it a collector’s edition). That’s 500 dvds at $20. That’s $10,000 which should just cover your Park City publicist.
Peter Broderick has been advocating this for years. We held back the sales of the DVD for "Bomb It" at our premiere at Tribeca and yet it was still available as a bootleg on Canal St. one week after the festival. If you have a film that might be very popular on pirate sites – you should think through selling your DVD and what your strategy to deal with piracy is going to be.
I don’t feel that any DVD company worth their salt is going to worry about this level of sales from you. If they are worried – how many are they going to sell on their own for you.
Named one of “10 Digital Directors to Watch” by Daily Variety, Jon Reiss is a critically acclaimed filmmaker who has produced and directed three feature films -- most recently "Bomb It" (Tribeca 2007), about graffiti, street art and the battle over visual public space throughout the world. He just published "Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution in the Digital Era," the first step-by-step guide for filmmakers to distribute and market their films. He also consults and speaks about distribution and marketing for film at festivals and forums throughout the world. He has just launched a distribution and marketing tools website for independent filmmakers.