So Sheri Candler supplied us with a wealth of information, tips and tricks on Day 1 of the Chris Jones-organised marketing and distribution seminar and we all left with our heads ringing with Sheri’s “engage, engage, engage” message.

Little did we know Day 2 was going to bring on even more information to cram into our little heads as fast as we could assimilate it.

Jon Reiss, through the self-distribution of his feature-length documentary BOMB IT, has become a pioneer of the new model for indie filmmakers to get their film out there.  He’s collected his experiences and thoughts into his book, Think Outside the Box Office, and Sunday was spent going over some of his key concepts.  As for Sheri’s day, I’m not about to take you through it line-by-line, but rather highlight the salient points as they stood out to me.

The essence of what Jon was teaching throughout the day – in various different guises – was that self-distribution is both achievable and, potentially, profitable, but that the very best model to adopt is a kind of hybrid model between doing it all yourself and partnering with distributors to help you reach markets you may not be able to tackle on your own.

The biggest thing Jon stressed is something I mentioned in yesterday’s post: budgeting.  Not just having the money to do it, although that’s a key part of it, but also your time.  Getting your picture out there, especially if you’re doing all the work, is at least 12 months of full-time labour.  That’s a lot.  To help us think of it in a clearer way, Jon has introduced the concept of “The New 50/50” whereby you should be spending 50% of your resources on making the film and 50% on marketing and distribution.  And by “resources” we’re talking everything from cash budget to man-power.

There are bound to be arguments (and probably already have been) about a model that proposes that cash-strapped filmmakers should “wave goodbye” to half of their production budget, but that is fast become short-sighted in the extreme.  If independent filmmakers truly want our film to reach an audience and achieve our goals, it’s essential that we learn to embrace this sort of model.

For those who are still shifting uncomfortably at the thought of having to “market” your picture, Jon has another solution – the PMD.  Intended as a team member as vital as the producer, director or DP, the Producer of Marketing and Distribution is a new role who should be brought on board as early as humanly (and budgetarily) possible to start the audience outreach that is crucial for the successful marketing of the film – that early-stage engagement I spoke of yesterday.  Through pre-production, production and post, the PMD connects with and primes the audience so that they can leverage this support and transform it into sales of your movie – whether that be DVD through your own website or a sale to a distributor, the PMD takes care of it all, in close connection with the filmmaker.

It’s undoubtedly going to take time to build this kind of role enough in stature to convince indie filmmakers on a tight budget that it’s necessary, and for them to trust someone else with building this level of engagement, but I believe it’s crucial to the monetization of indie film.

It is also worth noting – and investigating – Jon’s ideas about the re-branding of a “Theatrical” release to his definition of “Live Event/Theatrical” – a concept that is defined as being any screening of a film in the way the filmmaker intended – ie, in controlled conditions with an audience.  That may be in a traditional cinema, or a church, community hall or anywhere you can project your movie in any capacity.

Key to this model for smaller indie pictures who can’t or won’t achieve the traditional theatrical run is making any screening an “event” by adding value beyond just that of the film.  That may be a Q&A with some of the team, it could include raffles, give-aways or similar.  But by embracing the short run and making the most of it, it’s possible for a filmmaker to earn more from a single screening in a town than a week-long run, as Jon himself can attest.

I could write a dozen essays on things we learned this weekend and I’m sure more of Jon and Sheri’s tips are going to be bubbling up and landing in my writings here over the next weeks and months, whether it’s specific to a project or in general discussion.  But I would encourage any filmmaker who wants to make a living from this to check out both Jon and Sheri’s blogs (jonreiss.com/blog and shericandler.com), as well – of course – as keeping up-to-date with what Chris is up to.  His courses are second to none and I have no doubt this one will end up repaying its costs many times over as we all apply these theories to our projects both current and future.

Thanks to all three of the marvellous trio for giving us such insight, help and knowledge.  Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little more about some of the visiting speakers over the weekend.  For now, you’re free to go make tea.

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