A Need to Think Outside the Box (Office)

Jon Reiss July 20, 2010

A new world order exists in which filmmakers and other media content creators can no longer rely on old distribution institutions to take their films off their hands and pay them mightily for the privilege. Fortunately the digital revolution has helped to democratize much of the distribution and marketing apparatus just as it has the production process over the past decade and a half.

It is not that difficult, relatively speaking, to distribute a film in some manner, but to get people to watch it and pay for it, that is the most pressing matter and the core issue that faces most filmmakers today.

However, the thought of distributing and marketing their films is anathema to a significant majority of filmmakers. Many filmmakers feel that if they think about the marketing of their film while making it, that they will be “selling out”or corrupting their artistic vision. In the words of drum-and-bass master Roni Size, “I hope I’m selling out—if I see CDs left in the racks, I must be doing something wrong.”

Mindset Shift 1: Change Your Attitude Toward the Process
Filmmakers must view marketing as the way to connect with the audience of your film that either already exists, or should exist.

Most filmmakers, if they are truly honest, want as many people to watch their films as possible. Marketing is the way it is done. Filmmakers can also retain their artistic vision through this process and certain new storytelling methods such as transmedia can be used to expand the creative process in new and exciting ways and help market your films in the process.

Mindset Shift 2: The New 50/50
Almost everyone I spoke to and interviewed for the book agreed that in the new world order, 50 percent of your time and money should be devoted to making your film. The other 50 percent must be dedicated to helping your film find an audience. This might change as economics and technology improve. It is also not a hard-and-fast rule for every film. But it is a good guideline when embarking on a project.

Money for distribution and marketing should be raised at inception and put into escrow.

We must create new crew positions to be responsible for these tasks.

Only if we take this work seriously will it get done.

Mindset Shift 3: Start the Process at Inception
With minimal resources (even with a lot of resources), it can take a long time to engage your audience. This does not just concern individual audience members, but more importantly, organizations that you can partner with. These organizations can serve as bridges to much wider audiences.

This audience engagement (i.e., marketing) will be much more organic if you integrate it into the life of the film, 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 the film. This in turn invests them in the success of your film. This can happen through crowd-sourcing of various creative aspects of the film or through the crowd-funding of the budget for the film. These engaged audience members will be active promoters of your film because they will feel a connection to the film.

Even if you are picked up by a distributor, any marketing work you do in advance will not only help you during your release, but might actually help you get stronger distribution deals than you would have otherwise. Having a robust email list, active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts with many friends and followers is value.

Jon Reiss, named one of 10 Digital Directors to Watch by Daily Variety, has produced and directed three feature films, most recently Bomb It about graffiti, street art and the battle over visual public space throughout the world. His experience releasing Bomb It with a hybrid strategy was the inspiration for writing Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution in the Digital Era. Reiss is now working with numerous film organizations, film schools and festivals to bring a variety of distribution labs and workshops around the world. For more information go to: www.thinkoutsidetheboxoffice.com; www.jonreiss.com/blog; (email) reiss.jon@gmail.com; www.facebook.com/thinkoutsidetheboxoffice; www.twitter.com/Jon_Reiss; and www.bombit-themovie.com/blog.

Jon Reiss teaches the two-day course Think Outside the Doc Box at San Francisco Film Society July 31-August 1. Sign up at SFFS.

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