Category Archives: SXSW

Distributing Your Indie Film

In the past six years, I’ve helped with the distribution of two indie docs and one indie feature. Over the years, we’ve developed a set of practices and resources that might help other indie filmmakers. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing what I know to help other indie filmmakers!

Here is my point of view:

In the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, there were 4,057 feature films submitted for consideration and 8,161 short films. Of those 12,217 submissions, there were only 119 features and 66 shorts that were actually accepted. Of the accepted 119 features, 45 were eventually picked up for distribution. So, if you are one of the 2.9% chosen for Sundance, you have a 38% chance for successful distribution. (Entertainment Media Partners and Cultural Weekly)

Other film festivals have their own set of statistics. some are easier to get into, some have lower distribution success. Overall, for the indie filmmaker, a RESPECTED film festival is still the best route (use WITHOUTABOX.COM and Chris Gore’s film festival guide book to maximize your chance of success. If you are unsuccessful on the festival route, we’ll be covering these other avenues.

Theatrical Distribution
Producer’s Rep
IMDb Pro
Film Festival Exhibition and Sale
Without A Box
Press Kit
Promo Reel

International Distribution
http://www.americanfilmmarket.com/
IMDb Pro
Original deal is all you will get

Video on Demand (VOD)
Aggregators
Muso for Torrent Takedowns

Theater on Demand (TOD)
Gathr, Tugg, Eventful, OpenIndie, Four-walling

Direct to DVD/BluRay
VES for production
PreSales
Post Sales
Merchandise Incentive Sales
Shirts, Beanies, Hats, Swag

Ancillary Products
Soundtracks, Alternate Versions
TuneCore for Soundtrack Production

Social Media Marketing
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit
Wordpress Film Site
Promotional Items and Freebies
Wallpapers Stills

Financial Essentials
Authorize.Net for Order Processing and Banking
Formsite for Secure Ordering and Forms

Wish I Were Going SXSW

sxsw07.gifBY CYNDI GREENING, ARIZONA, USA — I attended the SXSW Film Festival for the first time last year. I had never been to Austin, Texas (and if I ever spoke of going to Texas, I generally had something fairly disparaging to say about the state) so I was totally shocked at how much I liked the city. Since I’m such a Sundance aficionado, I was even more surprised about how much I loved the festival. Of course I love the films at festivals but there TWO other things that make ache to attend them. First, I adore the panel discussions. The latest trends and current production methods are discussed by industry professionals. These discussions create the second incredibly valuable thing about festivals — access. All filmmaking is about getting connected to the “right” people, the people who can fund your film, star in your film, distribute your film. At the festivals, these normally well-insulated, virtually invisible people become very approachable. There are hundreds of film success stories that start at one festival or another.

SXSW has the MOST extensive panel discussion schedule I’ve ever seen. For the four days of the film festival, they host 17 panels PER DAY. Most panels are comprised of four or five panelists so the depth of knowledge and experience in the room can be quite substantial. (Although, there certainly are exceptions. Last year, I was on a panel about film blogging. It was a whole bunch of fun but, hey, it was me.) Even if you can’t attend SXSW, you can check the Panel Schedule find out who the movers and shakers are in the industry. On Sunday, there was a panel on finding the narrative thread in documentary. I would have loved to catch it.

Critical Documentary Links from SXSW

Mirko Whitfield from TvFormats LTD. graciously emailed the presentation slides from SXSW. During the last 15 years, he has organized conferences and trade shows in Austin, Bali, Berlin, Cannes, Cologne, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Miami, New York, Seoul, Singapore, and Vancouver. Between 1994-2001, Mirko worked for Reed MIDEM Organisation (RMO) as a Director of Sales and Marketing working out of their Paris, Hong Kong and New York offices. Here then are a number of valuable links for documentary filmmakers:

Information on Documentaries

Important International Documentary Festivals

(Note: Visit C21 or RealScreen for a complete listing)

N. American & European Funding Bodies

Asia Pacific Region Funding Bodies

Eve & The Firehorse in Phoenix!

I’m writing to request that you alert Phoenix area residents of a film that will be screening at the Phoenix Film Festival. We saw EVE AND THE FIREHORSE at SUNDANCE 2006. It was really terrific!! It does not have distribution in place so it’s important to catch it when it screens here.

It only screens once — March 28th @ 7:10 pm — so you only have ONE CHANCE to catch it. It’s worth the effort to get there!

Watch the E&TF Trailer and decide for yourself.

The synopsis: Eve, a precocious nine year old with an overactive imagination, was born in the year of the Fire Horse, notorious among Chinese families for producingthe most troublesome children. Caught between her 11-year-old authoritative sister’s fantasies of sainthood and cultural confusion and her own sense of right and wrong, Eve faces the challenges of childhood with fanciful humour and wide-eyed wonder. Sometimes the most troublesome children are the ones that touch our hearts most deeply.

(NOTE: I recorded a podcast with director Julia Kwan and producer Erik Paulsson at the SXSW festival that will be posted this weekend. In the interview, Julia shares that the film is based on her own childhood. After her grandmother’s death, she was told that her grandmother had been reincarnated as a goldfish (pictured below). Later, in her Catholic grade school, she found out that, as a Buddhist, her grandmother was destined for hell. The film shows how a young girl wrestles with those two conflicting messages about her grandmother’s ultimate fate.

More SXSW Stories and Bits

I’ve been back for a couple of days, now, but there are still a bundle of things I’m hoping to blog about. When it comes to festivals, there’s so much that happens in a short period of time, it’s tough to fit it all in. I’m going jot several things into this post so you can explore on your own (until I have time to do these items some justice).

  • Indie HD Training DVD — One of the MOST exciting things that happened was that I met Mike Curtis from HDforIndies. Although we’ve had numerous email exchanges, podcasts and corresponding site referrals, we had never met in person. After a recording session for SW Studio, we were able to discuss the a project that has been near and dear to my (professor) heart for quite some time. Mike tells me that he’s going to put all of the precise, money-saving information in his head into a DVD and/or web application for independent filmmakers. As a teacher, this excites me terribly. For all of the people who don’t make it to Austin (which is, of course, most of the world), there’s an easy way for people to make good decisions about equipment, save money AND ensure the optimal production workflow for their projects. AWESOME! I’ll keep you posted on his progress.
  • BSIDE — is a new approach to independent film marketing. As I understand it, BSIDE goes to film festivals and creates a giant P2P environment that allows the filmmakers to communicate about their films (in a blog type format), allows audience members to rate films and post comments, allowing festival attendees to find the films with the strongest audience appeal. They also distribute films in conventional ways (e.g. IFC) AND use very tight-target niche marketing to connect avid audiences with films on their preferred topics. Their business model dovetails with the Documentary Panelists who indicated that the path to profitability for many independents is this sort of web-based niche marketing.
  • Julia Kwan, Erik Paulsson Podcast — One of the best films I saw at Sundance 2006 was EVE AND THE FIREHORSE. I found out that the film will be screening at Phoenix Film Festival next week, so I’m going to encourage EVERYONE in Phoenix to get to the film. While at SXSW, I recorded an interview with the film’s talented director and gifted producer. I’m going to rush that PODCAST to “press”.
  • IndieWIRE — I finally caught up with Eugene Hernandez from IndieWIRE. I had met him years earlier at Telluride and had been following both his “serious” reporting and his blog. He always seemed to be covering the stories that I would have liked, breaking independent film stories that I loved reading. I also met the two Brians … just to make it confusing for the rest of the world. They came to our panel discussion on Blogging About Film. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t on it, as well. Regardless, one of the highlights of my festival was meeting up with them.
  • Screeners — After the panel discussion, a few independent filmmakers gave me “screeners” of their films. All were documentaries and, in each case, the filmmaker requested feedback and coverage if his/her film was good. So, I’ve got a few films to watch yet. One is about a young pilot who explores Australia with her father as a co-pilot. Another is about what happens after one dies. It covers everything from burial to being shot into space. I described it to a friend who LOVES documentaries and she said it sounded interesting to her. See, there is an audience for every film! I’ll blog more after I view the films.
  • SXSW Interactive — earlier in the week, I started to write about how valuable I thought SXSW was ideal for faculty professional growth for college, university and secondary school teachers. Next year, I’m going to make more of an effort to catch several of the Interactive Panels. I met some of the interactive attendees and ended up talking about building better websites for film projects, web standardization and CSS. A lot of the information was directly applicable to MCC classes. I’m going to encourage more Maricopa faculty to attend SXSW.

No doubt I’ll be blogging more about these topics in the near future. I just wanted to get the rest of the topics out because no one likes to read old news. It’s even less fun to write it.

SXSW Blogging About Film Panel

Today, I participated on the SXSW Blogging About Film Panel. As I had written earlier, I was definitely the small dog on the block. There were some real heavy hitters on the panel. It was, however, great to finally meet some of the people I’ve been reading and following for all these years. Normally, I would have taken a zillion notes and posted them for your reading pleasure but I was otherwise occupied. The panel included:

ME! Cyndi Greening, Senior Editor of Independent Film for Cinema Minima and Karina Longworth Editor, Cinematical. Dressed in a bright red-orange dress with matching sunglasses, Karina was fun to listen to. She’s the quintessential blogging success story. She worked in a pasta factory for “real” money so she could type her blog entries in her spare time (and her pajamas). Part of the WeblogsInc consortium that was acquired by AOL, Karina is rumored to be moving beyond Cinematical to manage a new web adventure. She’s so young but she breezes into the room with an air of authority and confidence that is decades beyond her years. After the panel, the crowd rushed her … a common occurrence for her, I believe.

Another of the panelists that was mobbed at the end of the panel was David Poland Publisher/Editor, Movie City News. He said he’d been blogging for over 13 years (or some such number) as a web journalist. Everything he said pointed to his deep, lifelong commitment to film. Years ago, he was the alternative film journalist but now has become a member of the mainstream media. Like Cinematical, Cinema Minima and indieWIRE, Movie City News features a whole stable of reporters and writers covering more topics than I could cover in a year. It’s good reading. Read Poland’s The Hot Button.

I was really looking forward to meeting David Hudson Editor, GreenCine. I’d emailed Dave in years past to compliment him on his site. I was surprised to hear that lives in Berlin (for some reason I’d always thought he was in the San Francisco Bay area). He explained that in years past he would search for things to write about BUT with the advent of RSS, he now is inundated with stories and must cull together the choice bits. Unlike Poland and Longworth, Hudson uses his blog as an advertising vehicle to support his video rental (and, soon, video streaming business).

Likewise, panel moderator Scott Kirsner Editor, CinemaTech does not use his blog to generate revenue. Before the panel, we were talking about how his blog serves a niche market that other publications and periodicals do not have the time or inclination to cover. No one addresses his topic in the detail to which he enjoys covering it. I’ve linked to CinemaTECH quite a few times in the past. While it may not be much of a money making adventure, I sure am glad that he’s out there.

Two directors were included on the panel. It was great to have their perspective on blogging. It also made me want to see both of their films. Joe Swanberg Director of LOL shared that he’d made his film for $3000 and that he had been posting all of his production secrets from the beginning on his blog. He’s got a robust film site.

Doug Block Director of 51 Birch Street talked about how he had used feedback from people (via his weblog) to shape his film. Readers posted comments that inspired him to continue his film and make it more personal. It’s a method I couldn’t imagine but one that worked very well for him. Dave Hudson had good things to say about his film so I’m hoping to catch it, too. I think it’s funny how making a personal connection with a filmmaker makes one want to connect with his/her film. I want to see them both.

YEO: There’s No Money For Africa

Yesterday, I attended the SXSW Panel discussion on more expansive funding and world distribution of documentary films. Galen Yeo, creative director of Singapore-based The Moving Visuals Co. talked about global funding possibilities. He talked about the European documentary market (which is much larger and more diverse than the U.S. market) and funding partners in the European and Asian communities.

Given that I’m working on the first Zambian dramatic narrative feature, I was very interested in hearing about global funding and distribution. Galen offered the names of a number of African funding companies and entities. In a very casual way, at one point, Galen said, “Unfortunately, there is virtually no money for Africa. They just get too much bad press.”

Of course, I’m thinking, “That’s so unfair!” But, last night, I came home to the evening news to hear about how the armed horsemen (Janjaweed) in the Darfur region of Sudan are decimating neighboring Chad. I recall Walt Wussow, my college history professor, talking about how poverty and a lack of economic opportunity drive politics.

While all of this was disheartening I was surprised to notice that it only makes me more committed to helping develop the film industry in Zambia. Economic development is so critical. We can even see that in Iraq. The delay in developing industry, ensuring the delivery of power and water, and returning to normalcy is pushing the country to the brink of civil war. So many African nations are struggling to come UP to the Iraqi level of living. In my opinion, this is why it’s so important that their stories enter the world cinema.

Austin City Limits

On Saturday, I was horrified to be heading to Texas (a few people have commented that I probably irked quite a few Texans with my initial blog on how much I was dreading my impending visit). Austin has changed my views! I’ve discovered that not all Texans are like George Bush. There are liberal Texans who love film and art and culture (NOT just “sanctioned” films, ALL films … films with an independent voice). There are honest, fun, forward-thinking folks here in the Lone Star State. I’m having to eat heaps of humble pie.

If you want to get a look at a part of Texas that I’ve come to really enjoy you can take a look at Austin 360. I’ve wandered the streets extensively and discovered some wonderful galleries and shops. TESORO is one of my favorites. I’ve enjoyed the breezy climate and easy camaradarie of the community.

On top of that, you’ve got to love the city that is home to Bat Conservation International. Unbeknownst to me, I was booked into the hotel that is right next to one of the largest bat conservancies in the nation. I’ve learned that over half of the 47 species of bats in the United States have been documented to use highway structures as roosts, including the approximately 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats utilizing the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. The Austin American-Statesman created the Statesman Bat Observation Center adjacent to the Congress Bridge, giving visitors a dedicated area to view the nightly emergence. It’s quite a sight to see clouds of bats emerge from beneath the bridge at sunset.

SXSW Party at Latitude 30

It’s late Sunday afternoon. I’ve diligently blogged three panels on documentary filmmaking and I’m ready for some FUN! I’m beat from typing for the last six hours. So, I’m hanging out at LATITUDE 30 waiting for the APPLE and PANASONIC and OMEGA BROADCAST Party to begin. I’m watching the fellows put this shindig together. They’ve got some pretty amazing Panasonic flat panels set up. It’s taken about five minutes to put them together. The hardest part was carrying them through the door. The monitors slipped right onto the stands. They’re remarkably light, stable and well-balanced.

Now, they’re working on the Panasonic camera and APPLE G5 tower setup. I’m guessing that there is some sort of digital program that’s been prepared for display on the Panasonic. The event starts in less than half an hour. No one is upset or panicked. Clearly, they assume everything will come together with ease. Why am I spending time writing about this? Because I watch all of my PC counterparts when they’re trying to get things set up for a big show. If it’s on their home turf and someone has had A LOT of time to troubleshoot the issues, the program will probably run smoothly. I find that my Mac will travel easily and set up in a snap.

It’s the iPodification of technology. It should be maximally portable and work, with ease, no matter where you go. Bob Lewis, the Apple Education Rep for our area (and a fine Adjunct Faculty member in the Media Arts area at Mesa Community College), is always talking about how the iPod is making PC users look at the Apple brand differently. They think, heck, this works so well, maybe the computer will be easy, too.

Now, PANASONIC, that’s another story. I’d love to shoot a dramatic narrative with a new Panasonic. I’ve just never had the budget for it. They’re great tools and I’m envious of anyone who has them. The reports on their newest high definition digital cameras are amazing. While I certainly love my Sonys for school, I’d sure love to have the budget for the big boy toys.

The only thing I don’t know too much about is the OMEGA BROADCAST group. I’ll have to wait for the party to kick in to know who they are and what they’re all about. I don’t know if it’s a local Austin business or something more national in nature. I think it was the Omega Rep who allowed me to sit in here and blog instead of sweating it out on the street.

EEEEEK. They just turned on that dang Panasonic camera and I’m on the gorgeous flat panel in all my hunched over glory. I’m sitting here pecking away on this little laptop for the viewing pleasure of anyone in the joint. Clearly, I did not pick a very good spot to blog in anonymity. I’m going to have to pack it up and move to a different spot.

Later … Well, I just got the chance to talk to the Omega folks. I found out a whole bunch about who they are and what they’re up to. As it turns out, they’re one of the leading distributors of Panasonic HVX200 high-definition cameras in the United States (or as nearly as I can understand over the din of the music and the crowd). They tell me that they’re a local Panasonic dealership but national reseller of used equipment as well. Rental business is strong, too.

So, I asked the folks to explain why I’d rather have the Panasonic over the Sony HVRZ1U. First, they tell me, that Sony’s compression format is seven times as compressed as the format of the Panasonic. The Sony captures 25MB of data and uses MPEG2 and iFrames so it’s quite compromised in terms of quality. The Panasonic, by comparison, is using the HDPro codec which is 100MB and does not use tape. You can edit on standard internal drives on your editing system. So you can use Avid or Final Cut to edit. And, they tell me, most applications are supporting the P2 format (the proprietary Panasonic format). It’s capturing on four of the FLASH cards that you would find in your digital still camera that are in RAID Zero configuration. The P2 cards are reusable holding 4 or 8 GB of data. I’m looking forward to talking with Mike at HD for Indies to clear up all the questions this conversation raised for me. All in all, I got very excited about the new camera. My nephew recently purchased this exact camera to shoot his documentary and he’s rabidly excited about it so now I’ve got to get more info.

SXSW Documentary Distribution

BY CYNDI GREENING, AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA (CINEMA MINIMA) — Here I am at the SXSW Film Festival. I’m getting ready for the third Panel Discussion on Documentary Filmmaking. This one is rumored to be about distribution. I am most excited because it looks like Diane Weyermann of Participant Productions is going to be here. She used to be at Sundance but has made to switch to the more commercially focused Participant. I’ve been wanting to catch up with her for quite a while so this is auspicious. She was tough to get to at Sundance. She’s been impossible at Participant.

Of course, this is one of the key recommendations I make for why you should attend film festivals … ACCESS! There is nothing more fabulous than getting next to the folks you really want to see and speak to and present your projects.

The panelists include:

  • Mirko Whitfield of TvFormats Ltd.
  • Katie Speight of CHANNEL FOUR
  • Diana Holtzberg of Films Transit International
  • Greg Rhem of HBO Documentary Acquistions
  • Diane Weyermann of Participant Productions
  • Allison Bourke of IFC

RHEM: Big numbers are good. Small numbers are bad. Exploitive tend to do better. Autopsy. Taxicab Confessions. Cathouse. Real Sex series. Quality programming with good characters and good stories are important to us. Awards are also good. Fictional stories and large films do not necessarily do as well for us. Looking for something good that will generate some buzz and pick up some awards.

SOPRANOS gets ten times the viewers as documentaries. Easier when you have a piece you can control more. We used to schedule thematically.

WEYERMANN: PARTICIPANT founded by Jeff Skol. Initially set up as dramatic filmmaking entity with social consciousness. He decided last year to get involved with documentaries as well. They funded MURDERBALL and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH. Looking for docs with high level distribution opportunity.

BOURKE: Six documentaries that we full funded and distributed. We have an agreement with Netflix, we’re experimenting with simultaneous release in multiple markets.

HOLTZBERG: We have to love the film and think it has universal appeal. We do little of historical focus. We’re more current affairs, drugs-sex-rock-n-roll. We have one film at SXSW … the Mauthausen film KZ. We release 20 to 25 films per year.

SPEIGHT: Public service mandate in Britain but needed to be self-sustaining and self-funding. Made it difficult to choose most compelling documentaries if they aren’t/weren’t commercially viable. New digital channel named MORE FOUR. We’ve got EFOUR, FILMFour, MOREFour. They’re not all as high-brow as Channel Four. They have funny bits, entertaining bits as well as serious bits. An extension of what Channel Four does in that area. FOURdocs is a documentary channel. Broadband channel that allows people to upload their films. It has an archive and how-to tutorials on editing and that sort of thing. You can download rushes and view them. It’s completely free and captures that talent. It is territory protected. NICK BROOMFIELD’s films are in the archives but they can’t be downloaded. Broadband is becoming what television used to be.

HOLTZBERG: Rights, distribution and protection are all key challenges in the new broadband arena.

BOURKE: All of technology advances make it difficult. It’s all so new that all of the agreements are in flux. And, the way that people “consume” television and media is changing.

QUESTION: WHEN DID MURDERBALL COME TO YOU?

WEYERMANN: That film entered before I joined Participant. They came in quite late so what Participant provided was P&A (Publicity and Advertising) to support distribution. We need a treatment, budget, partners, financing. First, is it a project we can get behind and feel good about it. Second, is it an ACTIONABLE film … something to act on and compel social change. Third, is it COMMERCIALLY VIABLE because Participant is a for-profit company.

QUESTION: Hollywood seems out of step and unable to pick winners. Why is that?

HOLTZBERG: This is an Art not a Science. If it were possible to do enough market research, we’d never have a flop.

RHEM: We didn’t want SPELLBOUND and it was brought to us numerous times. Even after it won some awards, we didn’t think it was going to be doing much. You just never know.

BOURKE: I agree. Monday morning quarterbacking is always quite easy. I recall something David Lynch said once about how a film may seem like it’s right in the zeitgeist of the time yet it was started two years earlier. As it is produced and developed, it may hit a wave that you didn’t know was there.

SPEIGHT: Yes, we just have to look at what sparks our attention and captures our inspiration.

QUESTION: WHAT IF I WANT TO LET PEOPLE DOWNLOAD MY FILM ON GOOGLE VIDEO.

HOLTZBERG: Theatrical distributors see it as competition. While they may not care if you sell a couple hundred on your website, selling 5000 or 10000 is a different story because it compromises their video sales.

RHEM: Well, how did Steven Soderbergh’s film BUBBLE doing with the simultaneous distribution?

HOLTZBERG: There’s another panel going on about that model right now. We heard it did not do too well and they’re thinking they may not pursue that model any longer. We’re working on something like this with IFC right now. Would you care to speak to that?

BOURKE: We’re doing the multiple avenues of simultaneous distribution called BRANDED DISTRIBUTION. It’s a new world and everyone is trying to figure out how to make it work best. Generally, theatrical distribution is a loss-leader for documentary market. More often, more of the earnings will be made with video and DVD sales.

HOLTZBERG: Niche marketing is often part and parcel of documentary film distribution. (As from the earlier panel, every film is it’s own business and distribution panel.)

RHEM: We’ve heard a million pitches. There isn’t much new under the sun.

HOLTZBERG: You can protect your work by copyrighting it but you can still have your ideas stolen. I’ve pitched ideas that have been made later.

BOURKE: It’s common in the business. You have to learn to deal with it.

HOLTZBERG: Try to get the rights to everything you have in your film for perpetuity. If you buy the rights for ten years, in ten years you have to go get the rights again or your film is dead. Sometimes it can take ten years to make your film so you don’t want to be re-securing rights just as it’s ready to be released.

BOURKE:Michael Donaldson is the expert in the field in fair use and usable. It’s very readable. Try to get rights in perpetuity.

HOLTZBERG:And limit yourself to 90 minutes for maximum distribution options. Lock it where you love it because you’ll have to re-tool it for all of the avenues anyway. Anything over 90 minutes is relegated to late at night or the festival circuit.

WEYERMANN: If your documentary isn’t chosen for a film festival, there is almost no chance of theatrical distribution. There are so few theatrical docs anyway. You just have to make it and put it out there and see if anyone is interested.

State of North American Documentary

BY CYNDI GREENING, AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA (CINEMA MINIMA) — I’m attending the State of North American Documentary Filmmaking at SXSW Film Festival this afternoon. The panelists include:

  • Krysanne Katsoolis of GreeneStreet Productions
  • Sean Farnel of HotDocs
  • Michael Burns of Documentary Channel
  • Maryann Thyken of ITVS
  • Heather Wyer of Canadian National Film Board

HEATHER WYER: National Film Board of Canada. International co-productions easier than U.S. coproductions. Produce English and French language films. THE LAST TRAPPER. DIAMETER OF THE BOMB.

MARYANN THYKEN: ITVS; largest funder of non-commissioned work. Social action documentaries. Fund through OPEN CALL which is an long, arduous process. LINKS puts a partnership together with a PBS station and filmmaker. ITVS International looks for international filmmakers and projects. Trying to get more international stories on U.S. television. About 15 projects in the works. DEVELOPMENT FUNDING. Her department has about 90 projects per year. Distribute through variety of sources, primarily INDEPENDENT LENS. Look at about 1000 different projects over the year to choose 90. Acquisition, about 400 examined per year.

We see a lot of politically based films. A lot around hot topics like health care, immigration and so on. Would like to see more of … we do have a sense of humor. A need for wide variety in form and content.

MICHAEL BURNS: Documentary Channel from Canada. Digitally cable and/or satellite delivered content. Interest in feature-length films. Canadian broacasting corporation and National Film Board are partners. They show two new feature-length documentaries every day. We fund, license, buy and show films. Loosely based agreement with Celluloid Dreams and Mongrel Media. Best small distributors in the world. North America is a little ahead in idea that documentary is art-house cinema world. For example: SPELLBOUND is watched because it’s a good film. Commissioned: FOUR WINGS AND A PRAYER (migration of the Monarch butterfly); MY DAD IS 100 YEARS OLD which played at Berlin and will play at Tribeca. About Roberto Rossellina, conceived by Isabella. THE CITADEL, Atom Egoyan’s new documentary about Beruit. MY WINNIPEG, directed by Guy Madden, started filming last week. We see this product as movies with the same attraction as a movie for the audience. Theatrically released and reviewed. If you want to see this, you better get the channel. HBO is U.S. equivalent. DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL is broadcaster for HBO docs.

FARNEL: HotDocs film festival in Toronto that also has a film market component. The come through the Doc Shop. Begins April 28.

KRYSANNE KATSOOLIS: CACTUS SAND develops, funds, produces documentary film products. Three films at SXSW. Some are archival. Some are verite.

QUESTION: WHAT DON’T PEOPLE KNOW?

KATSOOLIS: Most people don’t know the whole process.

THYKEN: Most people don’t understand the whole business model. More options for moving product out into the world but more demands for rights. The playing field is really changing. Very complex for emerging filmmakers.

QUESTION: WHAT NEW THINGS ARE COMING UP?

WYER: Alternative methods of distribution. So many filmmakers committed to theatrical distribution but there may be more successful and viable forms of viable distribution.

BURNS: I don’t think about rights or alternative distribution options. I assume our legal will get as many rights as possible. I don’t think about whether a film will play on a cell phone. But I am concerned with something else. There are some documentary films that are “made for television” films. There’s an incredible need for that product. There’s another group that plays at film festivals. If a film plays at a festival and is not picked up, we think of it as a “Straight to Video” title. For us, it is a flop. No one wanted it.

KATSOOLIS: New marketing can save these “flops” and make them quite successful. They can still have an audience. Online reviews can really propel a film.

THYKEN: We try to work around getting theatrical or broadcast airing first. So many more viewers will watch a broadcast documentary than will attend a theatrical screening. Filmmakers can get bigger in the market, faster.

QUESTIONS: HOW DO WE BETTER DISTRIBUTE AND REACH MARKETS?

KATSOOLIS: Watch out with pre-sale agreements. They can bind up and tie up promotions and distribution.

WYER: You can end up backing into your broadcast airing if agreements are not well-planned and formed. If someone has to have Premiere you can end up hurting other chances.

BURNS: Large broadcasters to not feel it is in their best interest to stretch out marketing and distribution. It may dull the impact of the film.

THYKEN: Market is changing and now documentaries can get a theatrical distribution. There are many successful documentary films. Digital production is also speeding variety of product to the market. This is changing the documentary field and making the major broadcasters (PBS, Discovery, NatGeo) not the only distribution source. There are more options now.

KATSOOLIS: Stacking your team and marketing so that your film stands out in the crowd. About 10 documentaries get theatrical release. Several hundred are broadcast. Thousands are produced each year. You have to work to get your film to stand out.

STRONG: IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAKE YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOU SELF PRODUCE?

KATSOOLIS: There are a number of funding sources to get your film made. If, however, you fund it yourself you own all current revenue streams and all future revenue streams.

FARNEL: Every film is its own business model.

KATSOOLIS: Try to minimize risk and enhance revenues.

QUESTION ON SHORT FILMS:

THYKEN: We love them and feature them.

BURNS: We love them. We get a lot of short features so we can use the shorts to help fit the slot. Viewers love short films. I love seeing a 12-minute or 15-minute film along with your submission and I love it. BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL loves shorts, too. I went this year for the first time and they love shorts. I also think it’s a great way to introduce yourself as a filmmaker and storyteller.

WYER: You can also gather and produce additional material to make a richer DVD that adds marketability.

QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT SHORTS THAT HAVE BEEN POSTED ONLINE ON LIKE IFILM AND UTUBE PRIOR TO DISTRIBUTION.

THYKEN: We’re flexible and find that it helps us reach our market more effectively at times. We’re okay with it.

BURNS: We would NOT like it because we have a premium channel. Why will people buy our station if they can watch the material free on another channel or free online?

QUESTION: SHOULD WE GET INVOLVED WITH BROADCASTERS EARLIER? IN THE PRIOR PANEL THEY INDICATED THAT WE SHOULD?

THYKEN: The earlier the better.

WYER: Yes, it is easier for us.

QUESTION: WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR REALLY EVALUATING FILMS THAT ARE SENT TO THEM IF YOU PITCH US A FILM FOLLOWING THE PANEL?

WYER: After a festival, yes we do look at submissions. We look at potential avenues of distribution and choose the most viable.

THYKEN: We would refer you to the ITVS website to submit. Yes, people are evaluating all the time.

BURNS: We look at everything that comes in. Up until a decision is made, the material is watched.

QUESTION: I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANOTHER FILM ABOUT:

WYER: This year was the year of the Middle East conflict. I’ve seen too many of those, now.

THYKEN: Filmmakers who think topic is important without actually making the film compelling to the viewer. Just because it’s important doesn’t mean you made us feel that way.

BURNS: Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore. That confessional, follow me while I discover this about myself and others.

KATSOOLIS: I was going to say the exact same thing.

FARNEL: Prison films are getting weary. Although we have three prison films at HotDocs this year. They told their stories in fresh, exciting, new and different voices. So, while I’m tired of them, the right story still comes through.

QUESTION: WHAT ABOUT GRADUATE FILM SCHOOL STUDENT PRODUCTIONS?

FARNEL: We’re getting a lot of DVDs of sample work from schools in Eastern Europe and the U.S. and other locales. It’s a great new source.

QUESTION: What is the most exciting new trend or development in documentary filmmaking that you see.

KATSOOLIS: A lot of new filmmakers coming to it. We’re getting a lot of new voices, new filmmakers, new topics.

BURNS: Popularity of documentaries in theaters. This year, the Best Picture made less money than the Best Documentary. With the exception of WALK THE LINE, all made less than MARCH OF THE PENGUINS so the genre is competitive. We are getting things moving.

THYKEN: Technology is helping us. Issues around rights. Book entitled THE BEST PRACTICES IN FAIR USE. Too many people are getting sued and rights are limiting filmmakers. People are leery. It’s getting too risky and you need to know your rights. Come to the panel tomorrow.

International Documentary Co-Production Panel (LIVE)

BY CYNDI GREENING, AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA (CINEMA MINIMA) — I’m attending the International Documentary Co-Production Panel at SXSW Film Festival this morning. It looks to be a great panel. The panelists include:

  • Ralph Holt of Telefilm (Canada)
  • Tom Koch of WGBH/PBS (USA)
  • Andrea Meditch of Discovery Docs (USA)
  • Galen Yeo of Moving Visuals (Singapore)
  • Mirko Whitfield of TV Formats (Germany, UK)

I’m going to blog “live” at the event so you might want to hit refresh every now and then. It could be that it will prove to be uninspiring and or difficult to blog it live … but I thought it was worth a try … to see how much we could have you experience the SXSW Film Festival as though you were right here with me, hearing the same information as I am. As a point of information, the panel is done in about an hour (noon, CST, Sunday March 12) so, after that point, it’s all standard blog reference material.

While I’m waiting for the panel to start, I want to encourage every college, university and secondary school professor/instructor to add SXSW to your CONTINUING EDUCATION options. I’m luck because I teach at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. They’re very good about funding us for professional growth opportunities — even the odd ones like Sundance. I’ve always been encouraged to go to the festival to view motion media and digital video art. SXSW has the added plus of offering more traditional educational experiences that fit more comfortably into educational budgets and requirements.

THE PANEL BEGINS with a Mirko Whitfield’s Powerpoint on documentary elements:

Main Categories of Docs
Adventures
Art and Culture
Current Affairs
DocuDrama
History
Wildlife

Where to find contacts
Realscreen.com
worldscreen.com/tvdocs
c21media.net
edn.dk

Festivals
Real Screen Summit
Berlinale
MIPDoc
Hot Docs
Cannes
(three more I missed)

Why commission a program?

Meditch: Discovery Docs (two years ago, theatrical arm of Discovery). Documentaries with potential to go commercial. Prior, did development for channel. Looking for series that can sustain themselves over time. Costs are tightly controlled. At most, it will take all North American rights for a longer period of time. Brand for Discovery requires more surrender of rights. Commercial, looking for participation on a commissioning level.

Koch: Wearing three hats. Similar to Discovery, PBS is brand-based programming. Difficult for broadcaster to fit greatest film into schedule without preformatted strand. They try to build an audience and a case for that film. PBS strands are a little bit looser in style and format. American Experience is history. Goering wouldn’t work. Nova is the science slot. Heavy science versus experiential science.

Discovery Channel has 13 channels to program (Channel Chum). PBS has one. So, PBS leans to the higher end. Bigger budgets but much, much more competitive. American Experience does 16 films per year. Nova does 20. Funding with the logic that trying to serve the audience.

Whitfield:
How far ahead are you working?

Koch: Already on 2009. WGBH supplies slots for PBS. WETA, WNET, WGBH also cover PBS; in fact, 80% of programming on PBS comes from those three sources. When pitching projects, consider what is your film and who is your audience. Consider who would fund you. Go to PBS.ORG. It’s all spelled out on their site in great detail. WGBH co-produces with Discovery Europe. Why would someone watching Discovery Europe care about this program. Significantly more documentaries produced in France in one year than air in US in several years. Other countries subsidize more product.

Yeo: Singapore is small, only 4 million people BUT the population pays a fee to watch television. So there is government subsidies for programming. Discovery, NatGeo and ESPN have Asian arm in Singapore. Makes it easier for co-productions. Must still remain relevant and know what is hot in the market. Right ideas. Right access. Question yourself, “Why would someone want to give you money?” If you can answer that, so can they.

Koch: Globally, finding money is easier if you can find more partners. The subsidy was designed in many countries to break cultural barriers by creating some content other than mainstream American stories. What was intended to protect the film business in those countries has become a subsidy of the DOCUMENTARY program in the country … to the detriment of American documentary.

Whitfield:
Chickens chasing eggs.

Holt: The strand that Telefilm Canada supports the creation of Canadian content by Canadians. While there is funding for good programming, Telefilm Canada is primarily a Canadian subsidy program. Pre-sales is what supports making other programming. A production team approach broadcaster earlier in the process with a desire to find financial commitment from a variety of sources.

Meditch: Pre-sales at Discovery is different. You have to know who you’re pitching. We all turn down over 90% of what we are pitched. Discovery is now in 170+ countries with 27 different channels. You must pitch on Discovery.Com. People think it’s a general website that no one is watching but that is not true.

Projects that come in with “heavy encumbering” (too many pre-sales) may actual hurt the chances with Discovery. Big projects we’re looking for are ones that have strong international legs. In fact, Discovery has first right of refusal with all BBC. So if a great project is out there, Discovery may coordinate your funding with global sources.

Koch: For funding, find the path of least resistance. Before you go global, take the U.S. trip first. Within about 400 square miles, you can reach 99% of all the documentary producers in the U.S. You need to go meet these people and make yourself known to them.

Meditch: All of these many funding partners is like being nibbled together by ducks. Every one of the funders becomes your boss with a different audience, different slant and different needs. That’s why all this pre-sale funding can be a challenge.

Koch: You may think you’re getting your film made but you’ll spend money on legal, duplicating tapes, prepping materials in PAL and all those sorts of things that consume time and money. PBS, Discovery will try to commission it with control. Only a few big countries in the world that have money for funding. They are U.S., Canada, Germany, UK, Australia, and Japan. If you can’t get the U.S. funders, these are your best bets.

Meditch: Even successful documentaries must be “re-versioned” for different markets. The U.S. broadcast market is not the same as European and so on.

Whitfield: Advice to producers?

Yeo: Just producing two versions of a documentary is tough. You might have a passion project with a clear vision but being pitched to different channels, different nations may impact the project. You have to decide if you want to make the film you want that might only see a small audience or are you willing to re-tool for larger markets and potentially larger rewards. Go to SUNNYSIDE OF THE DOC; one of the best festivals in my opinion. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. They’ll offer advice. They may not buy but they will offer information.

Koch: Have a quiver full of projects that you can pitch. Know who you’re pitching and be ready to share projects. Don’t pitch every project if you’re turned down on one. Timing may be off on your project. You may need to build your luck and conditions for success.

Meditch: Know your broadcasters and know what they’ve already aired. You may be coming with a project that was recently broadcast. All competitors are watching each other’s schedules. Similar projects are in the works and developed. And success breeds similar programming. (MARCH OF THE PENGUINS).

Audience Questions:
I’ve got a Pauline Kael production. Is it dead in the water or is it a possible? Depends.

How to find money?

Koch: There’s money all over the place. Can you find it?

Meditch: Searching for money takes a lot of energy. You have to decide how much you’re willing to do. How much will that sap your creative energy? Should you spend your energy finding a good producer instead of working on finding the money?

Is Acquisition of already completed product preferred over development?

Meditch: Absolutely not. There is sooooo much product out there and nearly all productions require some shaping and development for the specific broadcast market. It needs to fit the audience and the needs of PBS or Discovery.

Koch: If the idea is good, you’ll find the support.

What about a feature documentary? Is it too long for broadcast?
Meditch: A feature documentary is a 90-minute film. It dovetails easily into broadcast.

Koch: Feature documentaries are original point of view. It’s almost a parallel universe to the developed documentaries. The Dutch and French snap these up?

When should you pitch your project? When you have a five-minute short and proposal?

Meditch: I want to see some footage. I know you have access. I know your style. I know what your point of view is. I want it past the “gleam in the eye” phase. Four to six minutes is ideal. Along with deeply researched summary. I want a two-page treatment. Who is the main character and how are you telling the story? I want your budget and your schedule.

Koch: We at PBS prefer the research document. We want the two-page summary with the 40-page documentary backing it up. We want the deep research.

Holt: There are specific pitch times annually. We also want the two-page summary and some footage.

Taking the trip? What if I’m ready to go meet the 99% who do the documentary product?
Meditch: Make an appointment. Shooting at the mother ship is much harder. Look at smaller areas like Discovery History, Discovery Health and so on because, even though they have smaller budgets, they’re a good entry point. Couple weeks before MIPED markets things are much too busy. Set it up ahead of time.

Koch: Cold-calling is tough. You may need a couple visits. The broadcasting schedule and genre is the tougher part. Look around for Frontline World and other smaller strands. They take shorter projects (20 minutes or 30 minutes).

Meditch: Allows you to work with a known producer who can deliver on a reliable track record. You want the audience there and so does PBS or Discovery. So, easier to work with a known production entity. In fact, pitch your project to those production entities. If they like it, you may have an easier entry.

SXSW vs. Sundance

After a day in Austin, I’ve started to do the natural comparison between the SXSW Film, Music and Interactive Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. They are quite distinct and each valuable in a different way.

Sundance takes place in Park City, Utah. It’s a tiny town, barely six blocks long. When the festival rolls in with it’s 48,000 attendees, the industry swallows the community. Everything in the town is centered on the festival. Park City starts to feel like a “company town.”

NOT SO at SXSW. Austin covers about 275 square miles and is home to over 600,000 folks. The second fastest growing city in the United States (according to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau). While a lot of the activity is around the Austin Convention Center (ACC), I was wishing I’d rented a car. Some of the film venues are several miles from the ACC making it difficult to get between screenings. You’d never want a car in Park City because parking is impossible, the shuttles are great and everything is quite close. Next year, I’ll rent a car in Austin.

So, the SXSW festival feels like something occurring in the town rather than something that takes over the town. The other thing that’s quite different is how diverse the offerings are here. I am completely surprised at how many different types of panel discussions there are. There are film panels, interactive panels, mentoring sessions, keynotes, mini-meetings and DIY meetings. I can hardly wait for tomorrow because I’ve already chosen several panels that I’ll be attending. Among them:

  • International Documentary Co-Production
  • State of North American Documentaries
  • Mini-Meeting Doc Filmmaking
  • International
  • Documentary Distribution
  • Serious Games for Learning
  • Theatrical Distribution
  • Latin Filmmaking’s Emerging Talent
  • Convergence & Advertising

Of course, there’s also the Blogging About Film Panel that I’ll be on with CinemaTech’s Scott Kirsner, Cinematical’s Karina Longworth, GreenCine’s David Hudson, Movie City News’ David Poland and directors Joe Swanberg and Doug Block. It should be very exciting. I’m definitely the Chihuahua that’s running with the Blogging Big Dogs but it should be fun.

Lately, there’s all this press about how “yesterday” blogging is and how it may no longer be viable business model. Of course, I’ve never made money with blogging so that isn’t terribly important to me. At the exact same time, there’s all of this press in the New York Times about the power of niche marketing and Slivercasting on the web. There’s a Theatrical Distribution Panel at the same time so I’m hoping there’ll be folks attending. More about that later.

It Takes A Village

We’re winging our way eastward for the SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Everyone tells me that the festival is great but I’m leery because we’re going to TEXAS. I’m not a big fan of Texas. Perhaps it’s the George Bush factor but I find the whole concept of spending time in Texas to be revolting. God forbid that Dick Cheney should be in the state. All liberals will be running for cover.

This is, of course, the conundrum. Austin is the liberal bastion of Texas. A college town, I’m told, with an excellent filmmaking program. Since I teach film and animation for a living, I’d loved to take the time to go by the University and check it out. Who knows what I’ll discover. Given the rough time that ASU has been giving us lately about transfer options for students, it seems wise to locate some other transfer opportunities (although ASU East continues to work well with us).

The Art Department has solidified transfer agreements with Columbus College of Art and Design, already. Laguna Beach is in the works. Why not the film program at Austin? Seems like a good connection.

The other thing that is exciting is that SXSW is rumored to be very technically inclined and receptive to Interactive Media. This could be very cool for me! I’m always looking for more interactive connections (since it seems to have the potential to employ so many more students than the film industry in Arizona). Since I haven’t arrived yet, I don’t really know.

The pilot just announced that it’s 76° in Austin and windy. I don’t think I brought an appropriate jacket for this weather! I think I thought it would be warmer! Oh-oh. I’m on the plane with Ian, a young fellow of about 12 who is en route to meet his Army father. Apparently his father had back surgery. He’s got a few days off so his son is going to visit. We live in such a fragmented society. Ian tells me he has a step-father that he is close to in Phoenix. He’s watching his portable DVD player, now. Earlier, he was listening to his portable CD player while snacking on Beef Jerky and Cheese Popcorn. I helped him stow his backpack and skateboard earlier. He is quite well-equipped.

I was 18 when I took my first airplane flight. I was not nearly as mature nor as well-traveled as this little fellow. I’d barely been out of the state of Wisconsin at his age. I’d certainly never been out of the state alone.

Working on this film with Jabbes, the filmmaker from Zambia, we end up discussing the differences between the American culture and the Zambian culture quite often. Jabbes tells me that he thinks the family values are missing in America. “There is no strong sense of family connection in your country,” he said last week. “Everyone is just on their own.” That certainly seems more true than false to me today. I watched three sets of parents deposit their children on this flight. The youngest is about five.

While there are many orphaned children in Zambia because of HIV/AIDs, the typical Zambian faily keeps their children close and their extended family even closer. They still practice the “village” concept of child rearing.

Heading to Austin

I’ve got an early morning flight to Austin today for the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival. I got up to the sound of rain on the roof which MUST be an auspicious sign for the festival. We were on our 142nd day without rain. Even the New York Times had written an article about the drought in Phoenix. I’m convincing myself this is a sign of good things to come. Life giving moisture on fallow fields.

I’m also working on a fabulous little laptop with airport. I know everyone and their brother has been using wireless for centuries but I blog from home (late in the evening when no one is up), so it’s never been a big issue for me. The more festivals I visit to blog, the more valuable this wireless game becomes. I’m actually on a FREE public wide area LAN at Sky Harbor in Phoenix. How fabulosa to blog with such ease.

I’m anxious to see what SXSW is all about. They’ve got a lot more attention on music and interactive than Sundance. I’m told their film section isn’t as strong (although I have no personal knowledge of that).

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