“How to create a documentary from start to finish... A great book for filmmakers who want to create change.” — Tom Farr, blogger: A Journey of Faith and Creativity “Like a powerful documentary film, I have no doubt Filmmaking for Change will expand the world of documentary filmmaking — as well as narrative films based on critical issues of our time.” — Don Schwartz, CineSource magazine “It’s hard to say exactly how to make a documentary, due to their unpredictable nature, but Filmmaking for Change manages to give useful tips, as well as touch on the most important aspects that should be focused on from day one.” — Erin Corrado, onemoviefivereviews.com

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction How to Use This Book

viii xi



1. THE POWER OF FILM The Hero’s Journey – A Path with Purpose The Open Road – Calling all Storytellers The Shift is On – Time for Transformation

3 3 5 9

2. DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE The History – Tales of Truth The Call to Action – Real to Reel The Finances – Green to Green

13 13 17 21

3. NARRATIVE STORY STRUCTURE The History of Cause Pictures – Movies with a Message The Stories – From Facts to Fiction The Finances – Shaking the Money Tree

31 31 37 41

Case Studies - Development Part Time Fabulous Moving On Project Happiness Forks Over Knives Bully

44 44 49 52 55 58

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals




1. PRE-PRODUCTION The Final Budgeting – On Your Marks! The Crew – Get Set! The Final Prep - Go!

65 65 74 80


2. PRODUCTION The Artist Palette – Painting with Pictures The Non-Fiction Film – Documenting Reality The Narrative – Filming Fiction

87 87 89 94

3. POST-PRODUCTION The Post Team – An Editorial Collaboration The Work Flow – Sculpting the Work The Final Package – Delivering the Elements

99 99 100 109

Case Studies – Production Part Time Fabulous Moving On Project Happiness Forks Over Knives Bully

111 111 113 116 118 119

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals




1. MARKETING The Strategies – Marketing 101 The Sales Tools – Adding the Polish The Internet – Window to the World

125 126 130 134

2. PLAYING THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT The Landscape – Learning the Ropes The Submission Strategy – How to Join the Party The Process – Get Your Dance On

141 141 143 150

3. DISTRIBUTION The Platforms – Many Avenues to Explore The Internet – The New Frontier The Hybrid Strategy – A Paradigm Shift

157 157 168 170

. vi .

Case Studies – Marketing & Distribution Part Time Fabulous Moving On Project Happiness Forks Over Knives Bully

175 175 178 180 181 182

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals In Conclusion

184 187

RESOURCES Glossary of Terms Sample Budget Finishing Funds Campaign – Front the Back Nine Fundraising Sample – The Back Nine Keynote Sample Survey Sample Press Kit – The Highest Pass 10 Keys to Playing the Festival Circuit Host Your Own Screening Sample Delivery Requirements – Digital Platform Delivery Requirements – International Sales Delivery Requirements – U.S.Theatrical & Ancillary Rights

189 190 193 195 196 205 208 216 220 232 233 235

About the Author


. vii .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald



hink back to your earliest experience watching movies. Do you remember the first movie that really affected you, made you think about something? Can you recall the first movie that excited you enough to tell somebody about it, to share the ideas with friends and family? Then think about the movie that first inspired you to take action. The first movie I can remember seeing was Tom Sawyer (1973). At the ripe old age of 7, I can’t say I was able to fully appreciate the underlying issues of the movie; but I certainly connected with Tom, and it was fun going on a journey with this enterprising young lad. Playing hooky, fishing, and I think I may have even had a crush on Becky Thatcher (Jodie Foster). I was in grade school by the time I got my first real taste of a “message” movie, when I saw To Kill a Mockingbird with my class. This was heavy, dealing with issues of rape, racial inequality, and gender roles. As evidenced by the fact that this movie, and of course the book from which it is based, is taught in classes all over the world, there must be something substantial between the lines. Then in college, the year I declared my major in Film Studies, I saw The Thin Blue Line (1988). There’s no denying that director Errol Morris’ acclaimed documentary The Thin Blue Line made a difference, if only in the life of one man — Randall Dale Adams, who was incorrectly sentenced to death for the murder of a Dallas police officer. Using extensive research and a number of stylized reenactments, Morris used his film to illustrate that eyewitness testimonies of the crime were unreliable, and that a number of other witnesses in the trial had committed perjury. As a result of the publicity that . viii .

surrounded the release of The Thin Blue Line, Adams was eventually given a chance at a retrial, acquitted of the murder charge, and given back his freedom. Cut to 2006 and the movie that took the Cause movie to another level: An Inconvenient Truth. Whether or not you agree with his premise, there’s no denying that former Vice President Al Gore’s film about the possible dangers of global warming became a cultural phenomenon. In addition to being the fourth highest-grossing documentary in U.S. history, An Inconvenient Truth is credited with raising awareness of the issue around the world and helping to make climate change a major subject of debate in subsequent political campaigns. What Participant Media did with this film, and many others, was to really connect the dots between the issues and the causes they support, while creating opportunities to take action. And from an industry perspective, the film proved these projects could do more than just raise awareness — they could make money. Given the remarkable evolution of film as a storytelling device, the current state of the world’s affairs, and our access to information, we can expect that a new generation of filmmakers will emerge feeling the call to create more meaningful, transformational and entertaining stories. We will see fewer movies in the theaters, and more in our living room, or on our iPad, but these stories can and should have purpose and inspire audiences not only to reflect, but to take action. It’s clear there is an audience waiting. It’s also clear that film and media is our greatest form of mass communication, our most powerful tool to affect social change. As Eckhart Tolle says, “The time is now. The shift is happening.” Filmmakers, industry leaders, and educators are coming to recognize that the old model is broken. A new paradigm is taking shape, and a new Cause genre is being defined. Audiences want to be enlightened through entertainment. More than welcome this, we need to nurture it. It may take some longer than others — for . ix .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

aspiring filmmakers to see movies as much more than a form of entertainment or a way to get rich and famous. This next generation of independent filmmakers should see the Cause film as a road to opportunity, but they will have to learn to wear many hats. They will have to be more than visual artists, more than documentarians. They have to become entrepreneurs in their own right, and help in redefining the business model. Our filmmakers of tomorrow have a new calling — Filmmaking for Change. And the audiences they educate and inspire will ensure profitability to the industry, while engaging in positive change for all of humanity.



THE POWER OF FILM The Hero’s Journey ~ A Path with Purpose


hroughout human history people have shared stories. Whether around a campfire, at a theater, or in a living room, storytelling has always been more than just a form of entertainment. It has been a vehicle to pass on important information about the human experience, trigger imagination, and, at its best, provide inspiration for future generations. We have always pondered our place in the world, with a few timeless questions. Why are we here? Where are we going? What is our purpose? The early tales eventually became myths, and as presented by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a deeper, metaphorical context to human storytelling evolved. Campbell applied significance to the connection between myth and the cultures of the world. The quest, a symbolic yearning for inner transformation that all heroes seem to share, became the anchor for his revered text, The Hero’s Journey. People identify with heroes, living through them, participating in their journey and finding ways to integrate these stories into their own lives. From the dramatic excitement of the Nickelodeons of the late 1900s to the event pictures of today, audiences have always had a thirst for seeing stories on screen, for the “spectacle.” And yet, while the “escape” factor has always been a key part of the draw, and the psychological effects of the communal theater experience is significant, motion pictures have demonstrated their ability to transcend pure entertainment. Many studio and independent pictures


FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

have inspired us to take a closer look at ourselves, the issues, and other cultures in the world around us. Motion pictures produced in the early 20th century were primarily about real people dealing with real issues. We didn’t have special effects as we know them today. Fiction or not, audiences connected with the stories on a tangible, personal level. For the narratives to be compelling, they had to have engaging characters doing things that members of the target audience could connect with. They had to share emotions we could relate to in our own lives. One of the early film pioneers, D.W. Griffith, created The Birth of a Nation (1915), demonstrating a remarkable emotional power. “It was the first film to be taken seriously as a political statement and it has never failed to be regarded seriously as a sociological document. People who had previously dismissed the movies as nothing more than crude entertainment suddenly realized that they had become the century’s most potent and provocative medium of expression… mass communication, mass entertainment and also the possibility of mass indoctrination,” said historian Harry Geduld. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, considered by many to be the late 1920s to the early 1960s, motion picture studios churned out thousands of films, in numerous genres. They built a very profitable industry, with commerce winning out over art. Studio executives didn’t openly embrace the idea of producing movies with any social relevance, stories with purpose. Studio pioneer Sam Goldwyn once said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” It is clear, however, that a number of movies presented audiences with important issues of their day, sharing relatable themes and often a taste of their history. Whether this was a primary intention, or they refused to admit it, studios did give audiences a fair share of meaningful pictures. As you will see in the pages that follow, in the Golden Age of Hollywood, many of the most successful films at the box office .4.




few years after D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the simultaneous development of the Hollywood studios, a genre dubbed the “narrative documentary” was taking shape. By their very nature, these non-fiction films provided a glimpse into other cultures and issues of the world. Robert Flaherty, for example, became interested in the harsh lives of the Eskimos of Northern Quebec. After living with an Eskimo family for fifteen months, filming their daily lives, he edited the footage into a feature documentary entitled Nanook of the North (1922). The film achieved great critical and commercial success. Another documentary, Grass (1925), highlighted the extreme hardships faced by nomadic peoples, as well as the bravery and ingenuity of the Bakhtiari. At the same time, the film is also a reflection of the context out of which it emerged, that of Hollywood in the 1920s. The central concern of Grass is to present primordial human struggle with harsh environments, as in Nanook of the North. Like Nanook, the filmmakers attempt to document “timeless” and “ancient” human struggles. Both of these documentaries were deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry. These, however, were exceptions to the rule. While a few filmmakers sprinkled documentary works into the mix over the years, most struggled to find movie screens. Studio movies, driven by narrative storytelling, made with recognizable talent, dominated theaters. . 13 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

Over the years, it continued to be a struggle for documentaries to find screen time in theaters, but with the advent of television, they would find an audience at home. A few movies really stood out in this period. Michael Apted kicked off the Up series in 1964 with a simple hook: Fourteen British schoolchildren would be interviewed every seven years, well into adulthood. Seven installments later, this series continues to provide powerful insight into the cycles of life. More rock doc than Cause picture was D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967). Tracing Bob Dylan’s tour of England in 1965, the film became a landmark in both film and rock history. High School (1968) was Frederick Wiseman’s exploration of a Philadelphia school, deftly weaving in a social critique, as the authority figures feeding kids hollow values takes on a new level of significance. Not only did this project strike a nerve with general audiences, it was one of the first to be presented in schools across the country, and an example of using film as a tool for discussion on the issues at hand. The Thin Blue Line (1988) took the true story to another level, even for a documentary. Errol Morris introduced narrative techniques and a Rashomon-like style into a true crime tale of a murdered police officer. Not only a hit with critics and audiences, but the film ultimately exonerated an innocent man. A truly remarkable demonstration of the direct power of film as a storytelling device. Documentary took another big step forward with Roger & Me in 1989, a film that was given a fairly wide theatrical release for a non-fiction title. The film also presented the controversial Michael Moore to the world, who would go on to make a number of successful films, including Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Capitalism: A Love Story. Love him or hate him, he really helped to establish the documentary as a commercially viable medium. In 1994, one of the best films of the decade took the festival circuit by storm: Hoop Dreams. In fact, Roger Ebert picked it as his number one film of the year, and later of the decade! The project tracks two young African America youths and their quest to play . 14 .


NARRATIVE STORY STRUCTURE The History of Cause Pictures — Movies with a Message


n developing new material, you can expand your palate and knowledge base by re-tracing film history. Not only is it important to see what’s been done in your category, see what worked and what didn’t, but seeing other work can trigger inspirations for you to filter your idea through. Sure, times have changed, as have our means for production resources and technology. Call it research, call it inspiration, or call it creative modeling. All great filmmakers can site movies and directors that influenced them, just as in any other great art form. As a frame of reference, for the purposes of defining the Cause genre, I thought it would be valuable to contextualize the concept of social and cultural relevancy over time. Just as with the documentary, the key driver for any successful narrative is the story itself. And heroes play a more consistent role, regardless of the genre or sub-genre. People identify with heroes, living through them, participating in their journey and finding ways to integrate their stories into their own lives. Oftentimes, subjects for motion pictures came from famous texts, true stories or the Bible, numerous sources audiences found a way to connect with the heroes. With their own personal styles in varying genres, the early pioneers understood these basic characteristics of storytelling, from D.W. Griffith to Charlie Chaplin, William Wyler to Cecil B. DeMille. Some filmmakers produced films with more social impact than others but many of these early works certainly retained a cultural relevance, while succeeding at the box office.

. 31 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

Religious Spectacle, in particular, was often the subject of critical and commercial success. We are all familiar with the story of The Ten Commandments (1923), presented by Cecil B. DeMille. This was the highest grossing film of the year. And then Ben Hur was another smash hit in 1925. Two years later, in The Jazz Singer (1927), a young performer struggles to walk away from his family’s Orthodox Jewish heritage in favor of the flash and glamour of show business. Deep subject matter, yet the audiences responded. Social constructs were evident in Comedy as well. Our favorite little tramp, Charlie Chaplin, falls in love in The Gold Rush (1925), explores the cause of the poor against the rich in City Lights (1931), and plays on industrialization and inequity of the period in Modern Times (1936). Through the laughter, we find ourselves stirred by the stories, and filled with compassion for our pathetic little hero. Ridiculous gags and all, he grows on us as someone real. Even more dramatically, the War genre has provided engaging subject matter. In All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), we see German soldiers endure physical and mental stress during the war, and a detachment from civilian life felt by many of these soldiers upon returning home from the front. From Here To Eternity (1953) presents the troubles of soldiers stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And a few years later, David Lean gave us an epic masterpiece in The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957), yet another film set during a war that shook audiences to their core. As potent as they may have been in terms of entertainment value, these films connected with audiences who had faced the global, national, and, in some cases, personal issue of war. They may not be considered message movies, but they certainly presented socially relevant themes that inspired refection or at the very least caused an emotional response in their audiences. These were not anomalies. Similarities ran deep. They were all based on books, presenting real human situations. And not only did they succeed at the box office . 32 .


and win Oscars for Best Picture of the year, all three were selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry. Hollywood classicism gradually declined with a shift in the studio system, the advent of television, the growing popularity of auteurism among directors, and the increasing influence of independent filmmaking. Indie pioneer John Cassevetes gave us over a dozen “realistic” films, shooting many of his movies in an improvisational style, or cinéma vérité as it would come to be known. In Shadows (1959), he tackled a subject matter that the Hollywood of the time wouldn’t touch, the tensions within a black family arising when a young woman starts dating white men. Similarly, in To Sir, With Love (1967), a black teacher comes to a London school and tries to teach kids some self-respect. In the 1960s, there was a rush of smaller films making statements, one way or another. The Apartment (1960) considered sex and morality in big business. To Kill a Mockingbird (1963) dealt with issues of racial inequality and gender roles. Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) satirized the nuclear scare, playing on the widespread fear of survival during the Cold War. Again, even with a small sampling of films from this decade, it’s clear that movies with powerful themes were able to thrive, as all of these titles scored with critics and were successful at the box office. Even musicals were no exception, particularly in the 1960s. Consider these spectacular Best Picture winners. West Side Story (1961) portrays the obstacles that surround not only love, but also generational and racial divides. My Fair Lady (1964) takes on the class system. “What distinguishes My Fair Lady above all is that it actually says something,” notes Roger Ebert. “It says it in a film of pointed words, unforgettable music, and glorious images, but it says it. Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was a socialist attack on the British class system, and on the truth (as true when the film was made as when . 33 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

Shaw wrote his play) that an Englishman’s destiny was largely determined by his accent. It allowed others to place him, and to keep him, in his place.” In The Sound Of Music (1965), positive messages abound: find your own place in life and live it to the fullest; kindness, not strict discipline, brings out the best in children; we all need the courage to stand up for what we believe in. In the 1970s, film culture and the shifting demographics of filmgoers presented quite the paradox. Some of our greatest visionaries burst onto the scene, but the film business would be forever changed as a result. There were powerful dark dramas. Francis Ford Coppola scored with The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979). William Friedkin made audiences squirm with The Exorcist (1972) and The French Connection (1973). Martin Scorsese hit hard with Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976). Roman Polanski created a film masterpiece with Chinatown (1974). In the charged climate of the Vietnam War and Watergate eras, an anti-establishment undercurrent arose, with movies continuing to place greater emphasis on gritty realism. Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973) was based on the true story of New York City policeman Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose the corruption of his fellow officers. Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) celebrated a sense of non-conformity, with a darker message underneath about the system and how it smothers those who wish to be different. Audiences saw the underdog stand up for her rights in Norma Rae (1979), where Sally Field’s character joined the effort to unionize a factory. And more social justice followed in Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), a truly special documentary by Barbara Kopple. With a Kentucky coalmine strike at the heart of the story, audiences were reminded of the virtues of openly facing harsh realities, and without judgment. . 34 .


how the story is told. How can you do this in a unique way, yet serve the story?

... With The Highest Pass, again, we had a set schedule, but we knew we were going to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Himalayas of India. We knew the region would be a character of sorts, with mystic beauty and changing landscapes. We also brought GoPro cameras to mount on helmets and handlebars, to add some bumpy action elements. We had a feeling this juxtaposition would work for us. And the idea of riders talking to the audiences in black and white interview format, periodically, would have a journal affect to share their thoughts and emotions over the course of the journey. There is no question that the style of documentary, by its very nature, will involve the use of interview. Whether the expert or subject is commenting on a piece of history, an issue or another person, they have to deliver that information. It’s up to you to decide if they are standing, sitting, driving, or you just hear in voice over while the visuals on the screen support the words. It is interesting to note that over the past decade, along with the growing acceptance of documentary as a genre that appeals to a wider audience than in years past, that the storyline and styles have shifted away from “talking heads” formats as a primary means of delivering information. Sure, the interview scene is part of the documentary genre, but there is a greater sense of narrative flow and movement than ever before; and the percentage of talking heads is less. There has been a groundswell of amazing documentaries that push the envelope with their style, and when you marry that with substance, it’s very inspiring. The Non-Fiction Film ~ Documenting Reality As mentioned above, the two key elements of the documentary production team are the (1) sound and (2) camera. And in many cases, . 89 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

you don’t have the luxury of the sound person. It’s not too difficult to learn to connect a Lavalier Microphone into the camera. We’ve done without a soundman for several interviews. But if there is a problem with sound, it’s hard for the person with the eyes in the camera to monitor completely. After all, their focus should be the person or object on camera, within the frame. Do your best to have a sound person and package. With regard to scheduling, it’s always best to bundle your interviews as much as possible. If you are tackling a specific issue, think about the experts you want to interview. Where are they based? Will you have a budget to fly to see them? And if so, what else can you film while you are in their community to make the most of the trip. Think about visuals, B-roll, and other shots that could be used. If you have a key subject or hero, they may be with you during travels to cover other subjects or experts. Think about other footage you can get with him/her. It doesn’t matter, most of the time, where certain interviews with your subject take place. You are looking for specific info to move the story forward and can prompt interview questions accordingly. Oftentimes, an expert will be asked about your key topic or subject and your hero may want to comment on this. Again, it’s important to do your homework. What exactly will this expert be covering, or what exactly can your hero contribute in this particular time and space? Sometimes you will know how to lead your subject towards the topic or issue you want covered. Other times, you may be surprised by his/her answers and have to adjust. More often than not, the person on camera delivers a surprise and you have to know how to milk that idea. Knowing your subject and topic as much as possible will give you that toolset, that recall to be able to roll with the shifting landscape of the interview. Sometimes the best moments in a documentary are the pure surprises that come from the interviews. But the filmmaker has to know how to use that, make the most of the new idea or direction. . 90 .


This can lead to new ideas, new candidates to interview, and new subjects to explore. That’s the beauty of documentary. These are real people in real situations and, much of the time, you will find new gems that can add a whole new layer to the film.

... When we were shooting The Back Nine, we had every intention of going to play golf at St. Andrews in Scotland. This was considered the home of golf — to many, the birthplace of golf. And since we were going to be so close to Ireland, home to the Fitzgerald ancestry, we decided to look into the most interesting way to film that. We found that the Carton House was the birthplace of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and where they shot much of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. And, for good measure, there were two golf courses on the hotel property, where we got more golf footage. We had many new opportunities to explore. Most importantly, before we actually made it to Scotland, but well after the trip had been planned, my wife Cindy gave birth to a baby boy. Now we had another layer of the father/son theme to pursue in a deeper way. But when we started shooting the film, Cindy had not even been pregnant. Amazing things happen in life, and in documentary, you have the opportunity to capture it. Another thing to consider is timing and crew management. It’s very easy to get caught up in the production and lose sight of the time, overlooking meal and travel issues. While most documentaries have much more flexible schedules and you won’t generally have to deal with meal penalties, you still want to feed your team. They need their fuel. And you won’t have a caterer ringing a bell. If you have the luxury of a coordinator, have them look into meal options and schedule them into your day. If you have agreed to pay per diem, they can cover themselves, but need the information and opportunity to do so. If you are not, the company should just pick up the tab. Much of the time, lunch is the only meal, but occasionally if it’s an early morning call time, coffee and light breakfast is nice. And if you work five or six hours past lunch, dinner should be offered. . 91 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

Street Team There are a number of companies out there providing “Street Teams” who deliver marketing support to events and film releases. They literally hit the streets and disseminate information and materials. They can hand cards out, put posters up in strategic locations, and personally hand out promotional info to consumers. This is a reasonably priced solution to getting the word out to a large number of people, in highly concentrated areas.

... When we had our golf movie, The Back Nine, playing in Santa Monica in June, we had postcards distributed to area golf courses. Some were handed out to golfers. Others were put on car windshields. I actually asked the audience, with a show of hands, to tell me who came as a result of a postcard. I was pleasantly surprised when more than a handful of folks raised their hands. And again, if those receiving the postcard did not attend the screening, they were at least made aware of the film. The Sales Tools ~ Adding the Polish

A photo taken for The Back Nine promo purposes. As you will see in the next image, it was manipulated with the addition of text and other graphics to make the final poster and DVD cover.

Key Art This is the fancy industry term that simply means the artwork you will use to promote your film. Most movies have a title treatment, a creative presentation of the name of their movie. It will also be important to pull a few of the best stills. Sometimes, if you are planning ahead in pre-production, you have a still photographer taking pictures during the shoot. Oftentimes filmmakers pull shots directly from the video images during post. Either way, these will be helpful in creating all of your materials. You may . 130 .


use a beautiful money shot for the poster, or use a combination of more than one image. All festivals require at least one still for their website and program, and media will ask for stills and artwork to support articles. Think of your film as a company in and of itself. If you were branding your company, you would need to develop a logo, and a look, maybe even a tagline. This combination of materials becomes part of the marketing plan, as you brand your film, from your poster to your website. There needs to be a consistency and these materials will give you a professional look, and a sense of production value. Yes, it’s ultimately your content, the movie, that counts; but I believe presentation means a great deal. Website We covered the basics of the website earlier in the book. This is just a reminder, from a marketing standpoint, that once the movie is nearing release, it’s time to turn it up a notch. Your website up to now has been primarily informational. Now it must become an active marketing vehicle. Blog. Facebook. Tweet. Share, share, and share, and then share some more. And if you can get creative with rewards programs, prizes, collecting emails for future marketing, explore all of the above. Two . 131 .

The final poster and DVD jacket for the movie, using the photo above.

This was used as the DVD cover and postcards for festival screenings prior to the film being acquired by Magnolia Pictures.


PLAYING THE FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT The Landscape ~ Learning the Ropes


or film buffs, film festivals are a dream come true, a chance to celebrate cinema. To see wonderful movies from all over the world, and, in many cases, experience quality films that most likely will not be given a theatrical release. Filmmakers appreciate film festivals for much of the same reasons, from the other side of the table. For them, they get a chance to present their films to audiences, and festival venues may be their only shot at the silver screen. Film Festivals have been around a long time. The first event was the Venice Film Festival in 1932, with other major fests launching within a few years after WWII, including in Locarno (1946), Edinburgh (1947), Cannes (1947), Melbourne (1951), and Berlin (1951). They have always provided opportunities to celebrate cinema over a set number of days, on multiple screens, with many filmmakers present to participate in Q&A sessions following each film. And all of the top-tier fests offer prestigious awards, which can be a nice bonus when it comes to marketing the films. There are now hundreds of international film festivals. Every town seems to have one, and some larger cities have several. At the end of the day, it comes back to your goals for the film, which ultimately drives your film festival strategy. Are you looking to play in theaters, and believe your movie could do some business on the silver screen? When mapping out your festival strategy, consider the industry festivals, where acquisition . 141 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

executives are prevalent. Are you considering a straight-to-video or VOD release, but looking for the extra publicity a festival can provide? Many of the more established and credible festivals have relationships with local media. Perhaps you are looking to travel the world, on the shoulders of your film. Many a filmmaker, especially those yet to start a family, play dozens of festivals all over the world. They may never get a review, or secure distribution; but they got to travel on someone else’s dime. There is no question that film festivals serve many purposes, from networking and “festive” parties, to a chance for audiences to engage with filmmakers, and of course the sales opportunities; but what has become more evident is recent years is their place as a form of distribution for filmmakers. For many, this will be the closest they get to theatrical distribution. Of the 10,000+ independent films made annually, there are not enough art house theaters to support them. The truth is, less than 10% of indie films are strong enough to justify the cost of a theatrical release. And more truth: unless a filmmaker wants to essentially “rent” a screen, what industry refers to as a Four-wall, you can’t just call up Pacific Theatres or AMC and ask them to show your movie. This is the role of distributors. And distributors look to film festivals as a filter. If distribution in theaters is the primary goal, it’s important you know how the game is played. The first roadblock is that most distributors are difficult to reach. They have a lot on their plates, with the films they have on their release schedule, and the higher profile films they are tracking with established directors and/or actors. There are not that many distributors worth their salt, and they know the cream always rises to the top. Which little gem will emerge from Sundance, or Telluride, that’s not already on the radar? Which films are winning the awards in some of the regional festivals? The fact is, companies looking to acquire and release independent films use the film festival circuit as a filter and barometer. . 142 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

Netflix, Hulu). Whether it’s this company or hiring one of the consultants in the space, there are many opportunities out there to consider. The Hybrid Strategy ~ A Paradigm Shift The Hybrid strategy is the most exciting model of our time. Simply put, this is a new paradigm where filmmakers incorporate the right combination of distribution strategies that make the most sense for their project, anchored by the concept of finding a core audience. This term was practically coined by industry veteran Peter Broderick, who has helped countless filmmakers develop the ideal distribution strategy for their particular film. Traditionally, if a film played theatrically, it was the same company who handled the DVD, and in many cases the international sales and ancillary rights. It was typical for a studio to finance their own movies and therefore wanted the insurance of the various distribution platforms to realize their investment. The same holds true for studio or distributor acquisitions. They often didn’t make much money in theatrical, but would see revenues roll in from other markets and eventually make their profit. The game has changed, particularly for indies, and with the explosion of the Internet. Acquisition executives are buying less films, and when they do, they are not paying the same minimum guarantees as the Sundance heyday. Sure, there are the occasional seven-figure buys, and even a few smaller acquisitions, but the numbers of films being sold in these past few years has greatly diminished. This may seem like bad news, and there are certainly some high-profile studio folks who would like the indie filmmaker to believe it’s a really bad time for independents. I disagree. Yes, it’s tough for indie films to make money in theaters. But as we all now know, it’s even a challenge for studio movies to make money at the box office! Most fail. And they spend an average of . 170 .


thirty million dollars on marketing in doing so. One of the ideas filmmakers now get is that if a company doesn’t want to give them an advance, and wants to take a big piece of the pie, it doesn’t make sense to give them everything. There is a way to find the right distributor for a certain market. Find the right cable partner for your niche. Find the international sales agent who can sell your kind of movie to your audience in the targeted regions. Filmmakers now can sell their own DVDs on their own websites. As mentioned above, with the right campaign and a core audience, you can make money here. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to secure a cable partner, or consider an event release, or use your social networking campaign to drive a “host your own screening” campaign. This idea has become very popular, and can really drive awareness of the movie and ultimately drive other markets. Bside was a terrific company who pioneered a version of this campaign several years back. They offered their movie Super High Me (yes, playing off of Super Size Me) for free to clubs, venues, and households who wanted to present the film. They had a list of suggestions and minimal requirements, and the user had to pay the shipping fee. The film ended up playing to over 100,000 people over a period of a few months and the title shipped over a million units on DVD. Many filmmakers have adopted this method. Most are not profit-making initiatives, but if done properly, they can really drive word of mouth. They seed the audience. A recent example is the film Happy. They created a campaign around what they billed as “World Happy Day.” They mounted a charge with a team of ambassadors to actually secure screenings in over 600 theaters and communities in more than sixty countries. They created a form where communities could request a screening and worked out the best delivery method. This generated PR and awareness, and now the film is available on iTunes. Taking this model a step further, with another great film on the subject of happiness, the filmmakers behind Project Happiness (see Case . 171 .


to discover that happiness is not something that we have to search for — it lives inside and we can all learn how to access greater happiness. A combination of a distributor, social media, and word of mouth have helped spread the word and we expect it will continue to do so. Final thoughts or recommendations? Find your passion, gather some like-minded individuals, and go for it. With the changes in technology and crowd-sourcing, so much is possible. My hope is that more people use their inspirations to make films that can bring out the best in all of us. It’s such a powerful medium and it really can change the world. Forks Over Knives


Q&A with Executive Producer Brian Wendel: What were your goals for distribution? And has it evolved, knowing you are one of the few fortunate films to secure a theatrical distributor? Brian Wendel: We knew we would skip film fests. Not all great movies doing well there find distribution. We did advance screenings at big theaters. Partnered with Whole Foods, promoting in stores. ALL screens sold out. Our social media marketing and Whole Foods drove it. After getting rejected from the initial theaters of choice and their bookers, we decided to four-wall the Regal in Portland five times per day. We knew that with good grosses, the other good theaters would want it. We out-grossed Food, Inc. in Portland. And the theater kept the run going on with traditional revenue split and it stayed for five weeks. We then went back to theaters and booked 90 theaters in 70 cities, moving our 35 film prints across the country. How much did you spend on this theatrical release? Under a million, including film prints. Major chains want prints still. We did digital and print adds to support the release. This raised . 181 .

FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE . . . Jon Fitzgerald

our profile and moved on to a more traditional service deal, paying a flat fee for the booker and he collected receipts from theaters. We then got a nice cash advance from Netflix, as a result of our successful theatrical run. What about selling your DVDs? We are selling for $14.99 on Amazon but selling for $19.99 on our site, where most of the DVDs are sold. Our newsletter helps drive it. And our Multipaks do very well. People want to share with friends because they are so affected by the film. Any tips or lessons you want to share? Theater owners don’t care about your movie. You have to have proof it will perform. We needed to prove they could bring people in the door. We are also selling more books than DVDs, and spent 25 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. And understand it may take a while to make money back on the film. But with good content, the DVD sales and books, they will eventually make money back. We’re also proud to have built a brand that will live on, with content on site continuing to grow. Bully


Q&A with director/co-writer Lee Hirsch: Once you settled on the storyline, what were your original goals for the film, in terms of “message” and distribution? Did that evolve throughout the process? Lee Hirsch: The movement evolved. Was going to be a piece for advocacy, and knew it could spark social change, but didn’t have the bigger vision yet. It evolved. Many filmmakers see the social change you want to create, then find your movie, then find the movement. We have 13+ people helping with campaign and they are still evolving and finding new partners. I had foundations and financial support all the way along. . 182 .


Partners and investors helped get it made. Weinstein bought it out of Tribeca, which was a surprise. We had hoped for Theatrical, but didn’t know for sure until they bought it. We had another plan if Theatrical didn’t happen. We also have more than 25 marketing partners, helping to promote the release of the film. We will open in L.A. and NY and then expand to at least 20 cities. We have set a goal, with a creative campaign behind us, to get a million kids to see the movie.

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