Tuesday, September 27, 2011

IFP conference, Day 2

In yesterday's post on IFP's annual filmmaking conference, I neglected to mention that Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman was in the audience. At first I thought maybe he was seeking some wisdom like the rest of us, but of course he was present because his wife Pat Sweeney was a panelist. Sorry for the omission. Yet it seems fitting to bring up Lloyd Kaufman at this point, since the first panel of day 2 had another known genre filmmaker, Larry Fessenden, as a panelist.

DAY 2: September 19

The first panel, featuring Fessenden as well as producer/author Jon Reiss (Think Outside the Box Office), was about producing. Reiss said that you should think about marketing and distribution from the very inception of your project. Don't tailor the film to an audience, but think about who is the audience for your film and what are your goals: To change the world? To find a large audience? To change your career?

Although the panelists had practical talk about producing, they maintained an emphasis on artistic integrity. Reiss stressed the importance of knowing who the audience for your film is and figuring out how to reach it. Panelist Mike Ryan of Greyshack Films said that for his recent female-centric Western, Meek's Cutoff, he had to tell the investors how the movie would make its money back, and he said that “every woman who listens to NPR will see this.” The panelists also cited the recent film Note by Note, about the making of a Steinway piano, which appealed not only to piano fans but furniture makers. Fessenden discussed a film he made about a chef who seeks revenge against a critic, which didn't quite fit the horror genre but was enjoyed by “foodies”.

“Cinema is about communication,” said Fessenden. “Marketing is about supporting that communication. You can't make an alternative-minded film and then market it aggressively without a sensitivity to what that film is about.”

The panelists, particularly Reiss, also stressed the importance of setting aside money and resources for marketing and distribution. “I say half [of the budget] to get people thinking about this,” said Reiss. He also emphasized the importance of commitment: “If you're in this business to make money, I suggest you have better things to do with your week than be here ... You need to be passionate.” He described the long odds of getting into Sundance, where about 3000 feature films are submitted every year, only 200 actually get in, and only about 40 get distribution deals. (“And they're not good deals,” added Ryan.)

Reiss has coined the term “PDM” (producer of distribution and marketing) as a new crew position that low-budget films should have. His view is that filmmakers – who aren't always socially adept – should concentrate on making films, and leave the outreach to a PDM. He also suggested that a film about a particular subject to reach out to fans of that particular subject, not just a filmgoing audience.

The subject of four-walling (renting a theater and collecting all the income yourself) came up. Reiss said that each film has different needs, and that these days you should think beyond movie theaters. Fessenden said he preferred to split the box office with the theater owners rather than rent the theater. Fessenden also referred to reviews, newspaper articles, and the blogosphere as “free advertising.”

The next panel was specifically about self-promotion, and featured publicist Sheri Candler, publicist Adam Kersh, filmmaker Ava Duvernay, and IFC's Ryan Werner. Candler's advice was that “Self promotion is about helping other people ... Many filmmakers are shy and don't want to gladhand. Give your audience things they're interested in ... Be someone they want to talk to. Spend less time talking about yourself and more on what you think they'll be interested in.” Duvernay had similar advice: “Your pitch is for your film, not yourself. You're nothing without your film … Your pitch needs to be less about 'me and my friends made this' but what it's about, who the audience is, why it's important.”

Kersh and Werner recommended hiring a publicist, and to do so as early as possible, although Candler said that at a smaller festival the filmmaker could be his/her own publicist. At this point, visible tension arose between Werner, who stressed the need to debut your film in a major festival like Sundance in order to get noticed; and Candler, who pointed out that not every filmmaker would be able to do so.

Candler's advice was that you need an audience before you get money. Know your goal, whether it's to get industry attention, or to change the world, or get the film seen (which may not mean money). That helps you figure out your audience and how to market/distribute them. At the script stage, bear in mind who will love your film and how to find them. She also warned against selling all of your rights to a distributor, so that you can still sell copies of the movie yourself.

The next panel was by “distribution strategist” Peter Broderick, who repeated themes introduced by Reiss and Candler: Know your goal, whether it's to make money back, to make another film, to entertain, to open a dialogue with others, to build a fanbase, to educate and motivate, etc. and to know which goals are primary, secondary and tertiary. Getting the film seen or getting top-tier premiere are not goals, just means to an end. He defined the three main reasons to make an indie film as: Maximize revenue, maximize career, change the world. He added that there's only one reason to be an indie filmmaker today: “because you can't help yourself.”

Broderick also said that filmmakers should not try to do everything themselves, and should have a distribution team as well as a production team. He discussed crowdfunding, and said that the building of an audience was more important than the fundraising.

Next was a case study about the distribution of Kevin Smith's new film Red State. As you may know, Smith chose to self-distribute the film rather than sell the rights to a distributor; he controversially announced a plan to auction the distribution rights at a Sundance event, only to declare that he would be doing it himself (look on YouTube for video of that event). David Dinerstein, representing the film on this panel, said that if there'd been a distributor who really wanted the movie, they would have heard about it before this event.

The release of Red State began with screenings at 15 venues in the U.S. and another 5 in Canada, each with a ticket price of $60-$100 but hosted by Smith in person. (I almost went to the one in Toronto, and a DVD was to be included in the ticket price.) The film earned $1.1 million from these shows alone. The film was then released on VOD, followed by another screening (40 theaters showing the film simultaneously) where Smith responded to audience questions sent by Twitter. (I attended the Rochester screening on Sunday.)

A panel about music seemed to consist largely of the high-powered panelists (including composer George S. Clinton) telling war stories about the 60s and about famous people they've worked with, but ended with the advice that, to get music for your indie film, you should give a struggling local musician a chance instead of buying music from a library.

The day concluded with a panel featuring Sundance's Keri Putnam and Tribeca Enterprises' Geoffrey Gilmore. They discussed the changing role of film festivals, which Gilmore criticized for having “too many people with this color hair”, pointing to his own graying head. He said the future would be in new narrative forms, such as games. He recommended reading the Future of Film blog on Tribeca's website.

Even by this second day I was noticing certain themes repeating in the panels, but it was useful and informative nonetheless. Later that evening was a book launch for Sheri Candler's book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, which is available as a free download until the end of this month.

NEXT TIME: panels on how to pitch and how to get an agent, plus a crazy movie I saw a preview of.

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