Friday, August 27, 2010

Ask-an-Expert: Reva Goldberg of Cinereach on Documentary Funding

Each time I attend an event about grant-making for films, I watch the room overflow. There is huge demand for concrete, insider information on how filmmakers can start, sustain or complete their films by applying for grants.

Each time I have the same thought, but have never really voiced it before:

There are way more filmmakers in the audience at one of these events than there are grants to go around, in a given year, from all the existing film foundations.

Am I sharing this thought to dissuade filmmakers from applying for grants (perhaps out of a selfish desire to lesson my own reviewing load)? Hells no!

I encourage you to stay positive. I encourage you to continue to put time, thought and heart into your applications. My colleagues at Cinereach and I love to read and screen them. We’re thrilled and honored that we get to discover your projects and approaches. They surprise, engage, unsettle, transport and transform us in a seemingly infinite number of ways.

On the other hand, your projects have a better chance of survival if you can take a realistic approach to your fundraising strategies. Don’t be in denial about the funding landscape you’re entering each time you embark on a new project.

It is critical that filmmakers not view grants as:

a) a guarantee
b) plentiful
c) large in size
d) the primary way to get a film funded

It is critical that filmmakers do view grant-seeking as:

an art in itself, usually mastered only through practice
highly competitive
slow (in most cases)
only one sliver of the fundraising ‘pie‘

In the panel I’ll moderate at this year’s IFP Filmmaker Conference (Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 12pm) we’ll tackle that ever-popular topic: fundraising for socially relevant documentaries. We’ll definitely discuss the grant-seeking portion of the funding pie, but ideally, we’ll also adapt a more holistic and, I believe, productive approach to the conversation.

I also want to discuss some of the pie pieces that exist in addition to grants—in case they are not on your radar. And, more importantly, I hope our panel will help you gauge which combination of potential pieces and flavors might be right for your pie, based on where you are in your filmmaking career, and where your project is in its own life cycle.

I look forward to our upcoming conversation and invite you to please share your ideas on what we can cover. What have you found lacking in previous funding panels you’ve attended? What roadblocks have you hit in your own work?

Reva Goldberg is Communications & Fellowships Manager at Cinereach (, an NYC not-for-profit film foundation and production company that champions vital stories, artfully told. There she heads up the Reach Film Fellowship program which provides a grant and seven months of mentorship to emerging filmmakers producing socially conscious short films. She also handles all public communications, as well as serving on the grants selection committee. Reva has an extensive background in film production, fundraising and audience building. Before joining Cinereach, she was a producer at Pureland Pictures where she produced the documentary All of Us (which aired on Showtime in 2008) and co-produced Pureland’s Toe to Toe, a narrative feature that premiered at Sundance ‘09. In 2004, Reva was Associate Producer of an Emmy-nominated History Channel documentary on the 9/11 Commission (produced by CBS). She has worked with TLC, UPN, Discovery, The Travel Channel, Washington Square Films/Arts and Cronkite
Productions. Reva likes to tweet about opportunities for independent filmmakers via @RevaGoldberg and @Cinereach.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ask-an-Expert: Liz Ogilvie and Paola Freccero of Crowdstarter on Marketing

We launched our marketing and distribution services company, CrowdStarter, because the rug had been pulled out from under us. The company where we were working, B-Side Entertainment, ran out of funding and had to close. We both had done the corporate thing before, we’d done the traditional distribution thing before, we’d done pretty much every kind of job imaginable in the independent film world before. And all we knew was that we didn’t want to repeat any of it. But that didn’t leave many choices – except to start our own thing, and that’s how (after some beers and some cupcakes) our company was born.

Even though B-Side folded, we both felt like the company was on to something -- what if you really could market and distribute films profitably and effectively by harnessing the promotional power of the audience? What if you could apply the lessons of the music business to film and start going directly to consumers instead of going through middle-men? At B-Side, we were just beginning to explore those ideas and our early results said that there really might be a new successful business model there.

So, what does it mean to do away with the middle-men and go straight to audiences? What does it mean to harness their power? Well, in order to answer that, you have to understand the basic principles of how the independent film industry has traditionally worked.

Filmmakers have to market their film to film festivals and to acquisitions executives. Distributors have to market their films to exhibition chains and theater owners. The only people, in the traditional distribution landscape, who actually deal with real, live movie lovers and movie watchers - for profit - are the theaters. But what if the best, most enthusiastic audience for your film is made up of people who don’t go to movie theaters or at least is made up of MORE than those who go to movie theaters?

When films are served up to the right audience, ideally, a love affair begins. The audiences chatter, they share with each other, they go back to the theater and pay more money and buy DVDs and downloads and generally they push the film forward so that the audience and profits can grow. But, the cost of promoting a film and giving each of the middle-men their cuts means that it takes astronomical momentum for any of those profits to make it back to where it all began – with the filmmaker.

Going directly to the consumer means trying to start that love affair without having anyone take a cut in the middle. Going directly to the consumer means trying to start that love affair without anyone else trying to control the messaging of the film or the manner in which it’s consumed (in a theater, on a big screen, on a small screen, on a hand-held device, etc.). Going directly to the consumer means giving audiences what they want while keeping a bigger piece of the financial pie.

Ok, great. Where do I sign up, right? Well, not quite that simple. Some films perform spectacularly using the traditional system – many Palme D’Or winners (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days anyone?), critical darlings, genre films (Let the Right One In, Pan’s Labyrinth, too many to mention) and well-timed documentaries (inconveniently truthful ones, especially) have been profitable for distributors and filmmakers. They NEED advertising. They NEED critical acclaim. They NEED the right art house. Some films are just bad. And they’re not going to perform no matter what you do to them, where you put them or what you say about them. Sorry, but it’s true and you know it – we all know it.

But then there are those special films. We know them when we see them. They appeal to some incredibly rabid fan base. They feature some unusual performance by some cult hero. They make people laugh or cry or yell regardless of whether any critic has actually ever seen the film. They may not look like they were made by Godard, but they deliver what they promise to an interested and engaged audience. Those films deserve to be seen but they rarely have the chance.

Do you have one of those? If you do, we’re hoping you’ll call / email / tweet / friend / IM us (pcfreccero and ogil1199). Nothing makes us happier than figuring out a creative, exciting way of connecting a really satisfying film to a really eager audience and watching the groundswell begin. Ok, maybe beer and cupcakes make us a little happier, but starting a crowd is a close third!

Editor's note: Liz Ogilvie and Paola Freccero will be speaking further about Marketing at IFP's Independent Filmmaker Conference. Comment now and join the conversation online and in person.

Ask-an-Expert: Basil Tsiokos on Film Festival Strategy

Dear Filmmakers:

When the IFP invited me to be one of their industry bloggers for the next year, I was happy to accept. I believe strongly that dialogue, accessibility, and demystification can only help filmmakers become smarter about filmmaking and navigating this industry. As those of you who follow me on Twitter (@1basil1) know, I try to do what I can to share information and advice on a variety of topics, from funding opportunities to feedback on what vexes programmers. For the purposes of this blog, I've been asked to focus on film festival strategy.

To that end, a good place to start for this blog is where all filmmakers should begin in their festival strategy: before you've made your film. Now, to be absolutely clear, I don't mean that you should try to cater to a particular festival - that generally won't work. People might say that a particular film is a "Sundance film" or a "SXSW film," but the truth is, Sundance and SXSW, and virtually every festival out there, don't look for one specific kind of film - and filmmakers who compromise their vision to try to copy the hit film from the previous year's festival will usually end up with both a film that they don't believe in and one that goes unprogrammed at that festival.

What I do mean by planning your festival strategy before you've made your film is that you, or your producers, should do your research. There are thousands of festivals worldwide, reflecting different genres and audiences. Some are high profile, others are small community affairs - depending on your goals, some will be worth considering and others won't be. You know your film better than anyone, and you should be able to identify specific target audiences that your film should have a better chance of reaching over others. I know - everyone thinks that their film should appeal to ALL audiences, no matter their age, gender, sexuality, politics, religion, etc - and that's a great goal to have. Realistically, however, it's often easier to get specific audiences to connect with your film, if they know it's in some way about them, rather than breaking through to that magical, diverse, all-purpose audience.

I'm not saying you should limit yourself - not at all. If your film is Jewish-themed or LGBT-themed, your Plan A can still be to try to premiere at a high profile general festival like Toronto or Berlin, but it's important to be very aware of other options - the specialized circuit of Jewish film festivals or LGBT film festivals - that can be supportive of your work as either your next stop after the higher profile festival, or as your Plan B.

Identify your film's themes and identify aspects of your film's production that may open up potential festivals to you (for example, if you or significant members of your crew are Latino/a, some Latino festivals will consider your film for programming, even if it's not Latino-themed) and create a database. Research potential festivals to which you can consider applying that match those themes or aspects. Importantly, pay attention to those festivals that DON'T match - don't waste your resources submitting your US feature narrative to a Mexican festival that only screens Mexican documentaries, for example. Be sure to note any festivals that also offer grants - Frameline, for example, offers a completion fund to help LGBT filmmakers finish their projects - and plan to apply for those grants when you are at the appropriate stage. Make note of submission deadlines, and start a calendar so you can keep track when it comes time to start submitting.

Many filmmakers use the submission deadline of a specific festival as their own deadline for getting their films finished. If this helps inspire you and keep you motivated and on track to finish your film, that's great. However, be realistic. The worst thing you can do is to set up an impossible schedule for yourself just to hit the Sundance deadline, submit a project that is absolutely not ready to be viewed by programmers, and kill your chance at being selected. Again, plan ahead. Educate yourself far in advance to the festival deadlines you'd ideally like to meet, and give yourself the proper time to make your film the best it can be before you race to prematurely get it onto the festival circuit.

I'll revisit the issue of using a festival deadline to plan your own production schedule at a later time. This issue and many more will undoubtedly come up during IFP's Independent Film Week, September 19-23. Join me on Wednesday, September 22 at Noon as I moderate the panel "Positioning Your Film for Festivals and Buyers."

Finally, in the interests of the dialogue, accessibility, and demystification I mentioned at the start of this entry, I encourage you to comment below and let me know the kinds of topics related to film festivals you'd like me to address in future posts.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary “The Canal Street Madam.” Follow him on Twitter @1basil1

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Opportunity for Docuheads - IFP, Shooting People, and Sheffield Unite!

IFP is delighted to announce another first in a great year of building partnerships. Along with our friends at Shooting People we are thrilled to offer nonfiction filmmakers the chance to be part of the official US delegation to Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Sheffield Doc/Fest brings the international documentary family together to celebrate the art and business of documentary making for five intense days in November. It is a must-attend festival if you are looking to tap into the European co-production market and discover new innovations in documentary production and distribution.

And it has a roller skating party!

The festival takes place from November 3rd to 7th in Sheffield, UK.

Being part of the U.S. Delegation will give you:

£150 discounted passes for the delegates, which gives access to all the festival screenings, networking drinks and sessions. (Normal rate is £235)

Advice and help with networking and setting up meetings from MeetMarket producer Charlie Phillips

Discounted accommodation

Please note that you will need to arrange your own travel and accommodation.

If you are interested in being part of the US Delegation to Sheffield Doc/Fest please email with SHEFFIELD DELEGATION in the subject header.

You will then be contacted with a special code to sign up and join the Delegation.