Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How To Build Your Audience

Fellow filmmaker and friend Gary King wrote a great article this past week for New Breed which is a spin-off from Workbook Project where a collective of uber smart and talented filmmakers share insights and experiences from the front lines of independent filmmaking.

It is a site I check in with as often as I can. It is a great way to get a pulse of the latest happenings from those who are in the heat of battle...fighting the same filmmaking fight I am.

Gary's latest entry is entitled "Find Your Audience So They Can Find You." In my mind, there is no tougher hurdle in the world of independent film than finding your audience. We do not have a mega-budget of millions of dollars for Television Advertising, Radio Spots, Full Page Newspaper Ads, Billboards, etc. In Gary's article he is getting a discussion going on what steps an independent filmmaker can take to overcome our greatest challenge.

Screening of Gary King's New York Lately

The truth is that this is no easy task. This dilemma is the one that causes me the most sweat and equity. It is this skyscraper of an obstacle that makes me question myself the most. Whether it be my intellect, my talent, my art, my passion, or my love.

As a storyteller, as a writer, as a filmmaker, as an artist...I can say that it starts with me. I am trying to please myself first. To tell a story, to make a film...that would entertain me. Then beyond that, I want my work to connect with an audience. I seek to be validated. To have another person react to my work. They do not have to love it, they do not have to sing my praises.

Really what I am working towards is for others to discover my work and to have it leave an everlasting imprint. I want my work to affect my audience to their core...where from that moment forward they will come back for more. Whether it is that film, a new film, or an older one.

For years now I have made films and I have worked on building an audience. From firsthand experience, I can say that on most days it just feels insurmountable. All these years, all the time and all the energy and I have built a very modest audience. Please allow me to say that I wouldn't trade you for anything. To those few of you who are loyal readers of this blog I am graciously grateful. To those of you who are champions of my work I owe so much. Thank you. I am hoping you will be there to see my work grow and evolve.

I know why so many various artists ease on their passion towards their art. Why so many filmmakers stop making films. I believe it has less to do with the creation of art, with the actual making of a film. It has to do with finding one's audience. To satisfy that inter-personal connection we crave as humans. It is the fuel we must have to survive as artists.

I believe only in rare circumstances can an artist live a normal healthy life, and be okay with their art never connecting with their fellow people. It is late and maybe I haven't put enough thought into, but I welcome you to contradict this point I am making.

I am trying to imagine the stage performer who is perfectly content playing to an empty house, the athlete who doesn't care about displaying their physical gifts and talents to a jam packed arena, and the happy filmmaker who spends two years meticulously crafting a film just to watch it alone in his/her basement.

This leads me to my personal task at hand. What is the current audience I am trying to build? Is it millions of folks? Maybe someday, but not right now.

Do you want to know how many people I have in my 'dream' audience? 'Dream' referring to the amount of peeps that can help set me free. Maybe not set me free, but I would be ecstatic to reach. I have an exact number. A goal that I am trying to attain. Without putting any judgement on it, I am going to write 7500. This is something I realized on a train ride up to Santa Barbara to see Jamin Winans film INK. As I stared out the window and watched the moving landscape scroll by, contemplating my life as a filmmaker. It hit me that I do not necessarily need millions of people to see my work.

With my film, Night Before the Wedding, my goal is to reach 7500 people. If we can do that, then the film will be a success. Whether or not we can do that, I do not know. This is what I am striving towards. Whether it is achievable or not, I can simply say that I haven't gotten there yet. So I will continue to be creative. I will continue with my passion. I will continue until I surpass 7500. And I hope you will be here as I do.

I have quite a few ideas on building an audience. Some secrets I would love to share with you. Though this information is premature as I do not even have an audience of 7500 people yet. Perhaps one day soon.

Having said that, here is my final thought for you. The only ideas that matter are the ones you execute.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I love the discussion...

It looks like this little blog of mine is gaining in popularity. Though comments may often be scarce, I am seeing signs that quite a few folks come across these words.

So often I have written here without the slightest murmur. It's as if I am talking into a CB radio, sitting back and praying for someone, anyone to answer back. I guess it shows that if you can hold steady with an idea, somehow hold onto one's belief system, that maybe with enough effort you can make an impact. Just maybe you can be heard.

I am grateful to not be alone. There is a certain sense of comfort to know that these words are not wasted. At the same time, as I write these words, I have to block out the fact that you will actually read them. I am really just trying to dive deep into my mind, or maybe my soul, and find a way to have these thoughts pour out in an honest and truthful way. A way that I can learn and benefit from. And in the back of my mind, ideally for you to benefit.

I know I am not always clear in my thinking, in my ideas, and in this blog. With all this in mind, I first want to touch on my last blog entitled 'With Rejection Comes Fuel.'

It is certainly true that this latest rejection (referenced in the previous blog) stung. I just want to point out that by no means am I putting all my eggs in the festival basket. My stance is that the
festivals are nice and they can be a tremendous asset to filmmakers. They can help us with credibility and raising our reputations. Though, through my own due diligence and conversations with one filmmaker after another, I have learned just how political the festival landscape is right now. I am not going to wait around for anyone's approval. I came to that conclusion many months ago. Me and my crew are going to organize our own screenings. (If you want to help coordinate a screening with me, please do not hesitate to contact me) I am not going to chase the festival circuit. If anything, I am going to make them chase me. It is my responsibility to build the audience for my films. If there are festivals out there who want to ally with us, then we will kindly promote them with all of our might. We may see that happen a few times in the upcoming months. If it doesn't happen, it will not break us.

Here was the response from Double Edge Films to my last blog which I agree with one hundred percent.

We could go on for days and days about festivals but you have to remember that the quality of your film is not measured by the number of festivals you get into. This is a huge area where filmmakers fall down and feel bad about their projects - don't give into it. You are exactly right in that likely a good deal of films don't even get watched and it's often a "I know someone" game.

We're in a new time where you can pretty much bypass the festival circuit all together if you're willing to put in the hard work to get your own theatrical screenings. If there are some festivals out there that want to show your film, then of course you send it in because the end goal is having the film get watched. Just keep in mind that it is possible to bypass all of the "gatekeepers" in this business and go direct to the audience. Emerging film clubs like the Annapolis Pretentious Film Society and others are also coming onto the scene. My point is - there are so many other options out there these days so don't spend two minutes feeling bad about festivals!

It was then great to see CFalls piggyback those words

Getting into the festivals and getting a distributor is not our goal, it's getting people to watch the movie via theatre, DVD or download.Also, It's not so good to be a festival-type film. Look at any Sundance schedule and tell me how many movies you've heard of. There are two main benefits to festivals--getting audience feedback (and it's really tough to get honest feedback vs polite comments), and having a fun ego boost. Both are nice but don't serve the ultimate goal.Didn't get into bigger ones? Fine. Screen at smaller ones, get your quotable comments, awards if you're lucky, then move on and get to your audience.

Producer Paul J. Alessi with Karen and I outside the Film Courage Studio

And I love this comment from David (@indiemoviemaker) from my recent Film Courage Radio Show interview with Producer Paul J. Alessi on the subject of 'Deliverables'


Love the show but the deliverables spot frustrated me. I have 2 features to my credit now. Sure, "Deliverbales" are so important if you are selling to a distributor. The route I took with my first film required all that and it was in the budget, but 99% of filmmakers get shafted by distributors these days, so the new diy approach is the no brainer route now.

Sure, you still need to make sure you have contracts, clearances, watch what you are doing when you are making the film, but in most cases now you are not delivering to a distributor in the diy route. No, sorry, you should not being going that route as its not smart unless you have the next "blair witch"

My point. I got put off so many times with my second film because partner says we cant go ahead without film unless we get another 100k for all this other stuff. So I lost three years of my life trying to raise more money.
I done my own thing, shot the movie with nothing, I am doing diy, and the movie is heading for profit direct to an audience without any distributors.
And most important of all, I am getting noticed by the industry for the next projects. Point is, "Action" is the most important thing in this business, and anything that stops that is a negative force.

The worst that can happen is your left with a movie you cant sell, but you can show to the industry what you can do, as long as you make it cheap enough without investors.

There is enough reasons in this biz for people not to "move". This interview could stop others that are new to the biz from moving.

I get his point, if you are doing a film for distributors, but at the start, it should be just get the movie made with diy in mind

@indiemoviemaker (on Twitter)

I wholeheartedly agree with what David is saying here. I believe all independent filmmakers should begin with the strategy of self-distribution. Though I must say that I believe it is crucial for filmmakers to make themselves fully aware of 'Deliverables.' It's something so many of us are in the dark about and it was something Karen and I wanted to shed light on.

Once again, I hope you benefit from these words. And just as importantly, I want you to know that I benefit greatly when you participate in this dialogue. I love the discussion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

With Rejection Comes Fuel

I probably shouldn't write this latest blog. I have been advised against writing about any more film festival rejections. And you know what? In this instance, I do not care. This blog is an opportunity for me to get my feelings out and at the same time provide you a glimpse into my world.

This latest rejection stings a little too much for me not to write about it. And if you are reading this and you begin to believe that my film must not be any good, then so be it.

This latest rejection causes my thoughts to race in various directions. My first thoughts are to question my talents and my film. Maybe it just isn't that good. That is despite it's sold-out world premiere and enthusiastic audience. Maybe those around me prefer to lie to me rather than tell me the truth?

I could be delusional.

My thoughts then drift to whether my film is a film festival film? This I am not so sure of. Whether it is or it isn't, I believe it is worthy. I expect acceptances, not rejections.

Then I begin to remind myself of why I am not actively pursuing the festival route. Getting into a few more festivals would be a wonderful bonus, but it is not a top priority for me. Though I suspect that NBTW will play its share of festivals before it is all said and done.

I would like to be higher on the festival circuit, but as I talk with more and more filmmakers I learn that it is not a battle I really am going to invest in. So far, the festivals have shown that they do not need me. So I must show that I can move forward without them. Eventually our worlds may merge or I may just discover a brighter path on my own.

I am not bitter about this. I have just come to learn about the realities of film festivals. There are certain facts that we filmmakers must face when it comes to festivals. One is that your film may never even get put in a DVD player. This is a more common occurrence than you may think. Another fact is that those connected to festivals are the ones being accepted. I can tell you almost every filmmaker I speak to about their festival premiere tells me that they knew the festival organizers. By the way, I am no exception, it is true in my case as well. The bottom line is the percentage of 'cold' feature submissions that get into festivals, especially the larger ones, is extremely tiny and in many cases, 5 percent or less. If you disagree with me, I would love to hear your argument.

Other thoughts that go through my mind have to do with marketing and promotion. Anytime a festival rejects me, I think about all the promotion I would have done to push the screening and the festival. I view it as a loss for the festival. Though, as I mentioned, these festivals are doing fine without me.

Believe it or not, buried underneath this rejection is great news. The wonderful news actually came before the rejection. For those of you who follow NBTW on Facebook, you are already aware that very soon we will be announcing details of our first screening outside of Los Angeles. The film will screen in Ohio in October. I send a big thank you to Angie Palmer of Skye Public Relations for arranging this upcoming screening.

Also I am gearing up for my second feature film entitled Goodbye Promise. So I will not be pushing one film, I will be pushing two. My hope is that the two films will feed off of one another and together they will help me expand my fan base.

Lastly I just want to give a quick shout out to Filmmaker Jamin Winans who I had the great privilege to hook up with on his visit to Los Angeles this past Friday night. He was in town, in celebration of his film INK receiving a theatrical run in LA courtesy of the Sunset Laemmle 5. Congrats Jamin and Kiowa and your whole team behind INK. You have certainly earned it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fans Taking INK to the Next Level

There is an extraordinary thing happening in the world of independent film right now. A new model for independent film distribution is emerging. Of course this has been evolving for some time now. Yet there is one story that hits very close to home for me.

As I am trying to figure out what to do with my first feature, Night Before the Wedding. I have had my eyes on the developments of Jamin Winans, Kiowa Winans, and the cast/crew of the indie phenomenon INK. I believe this passionate and courageous filmmaking couple and their team is at the forefront of where indie film is going.

I have gotten to know Jamin and Kiowa fairly well, as they have gotten to know Karen and I. This synergy has carried over to the casts of our respective films. INK cast members had a strong presence at our NBTW World Premiere last month. That love has been reciprocated by my NBTW cast members, many of whom have seen INK twice.

It's hard for me to understand why in the collaborative world of filmmaking that so many involved in independent film are so selfish. Most are out for themselves. You see few examples of independent artists championing and curating the works of others in the same shoes. The reality is that making it in indie filmmaking is so difficult, so strenuous, and so back-breaking. You would think that we independent filmmakers would know better when it came to marketing and promotion. You would think that we would know that we cannot make it alone.

That is something I have come to realize and that is why you have witnessed me reach out and connect with filmmakers like Jamin and Kiowa. Like Gary King, Paul J. Alessi, A.J. Rickert-Epstein, Jeff Grace, Steve Nguyen, Laura Russo, Rich Mbariket and a slew of others. Learning from them has been invaluable to me as I attempt to seek out the best path for my film career.

Having said that, if you are a filmmaker, I encourage you to not only promote your work, but promote the work of other independent filmmakers who's work you love and admire. Make connections with other filmmakers. On a very small scale, I have seen the results of my efforts in promoting INK. Some people have even gotten confused and thought the film was mine. (Jamin and Kiowa would probably argue with you that I am being too modest with the impact I have had. : )

What is that you say? You have no time? Well, if you have time to promote your own work, you can easily take a few moments and promote the work of another. Retweet a message on Twitter. Post a trailer on your Facebook page. Email a link to some friends. Encourage others to see the film in the theater or on dvd.

And if you are afraid that you will just be wasting your time. Please know that I have experienced an amazing return on 'investment' from my effort in promoting the work of others. I am often amazed by the generosity, as well as the lengths other filmmakers have put in for me during these early stages of promoting NBTW.

It is so easy for me to get a little off-track. This blog began because I wanted to highlight the current path of INK. It is one that I encourage you to learn more about and study. Fortunately, Jamin just wrote an amazing blog where he recaps his distribution strategies and why he has made some of the choices he has made. I believe this is a must-read, especially if you are a frequent reader of this blog. So, without further delay...

PS - Their blog is one of the best ones out there. Subscribe today.
PPS - And even bigger news, INK earns a theatrical run in Los Angeles beginning Friday September 11th. Jamin will be on hand for a Q&A that same night at the 10:15pm showing. I cannot recommend the film any higher. I truly hope you have the opportunity to see it in a movie theater.