This week at Silverdocs I had the chance to sit in on two fantastic doc distribution panels. The first was with experienced industry professionals: Letting Go of Your "Baby" … or Not. Distribution in 2010, What is a Filmmaker to do?
Byron Hurt, director, producer, writer
Diana Holtzberg, vice president/USA Operations, Films Transit
Louise Rosen, managing director, Louise Rosen, Ltd.
Elizabeth Sheldon, vice president, Kino Lorber, Inc.
Cynthia Fenneman, President, American Public Television
The second was a case study presented by the intrepid filmmakers of "The Way We Get By," a must see doc about the troop greeters of Bangor, Maine.
Aron Gaudet, director, The Way We Get By
Gita Pullapilly, producer, The Way We Get By
Though the first session was was much broader in scope, the takeaways were very much aligned. In a nutshell, the message is do your homework. Here is just a sampling of the ideas shared.
Diana Holtzenberg and Louise Rosen both expressed to the audience that a festival roadmap is essential. Certain festivals tend to have expectations about hosting U.S. or North American premieres, so be strategic. That being said, Sundance isn't going to be the launching pad for every single film, so find the festivals that are the best match for your film.
If you think your film has good potential internationally, take into consideration the IDFA catalogue -- but don't forget that an excellent image (not just still frame) and description are essential to stand out.
Gaudet and Pullapilly had a unique experience in festivals in their self-distribution strategy. The Way We Get By already had theatrical release in Maine while it was being shopped to festivals. Which brings us to another major theme. …
The Way We Get By had an excellent ready made audience: Maine. The filmmakers went to the Bangor Savings Bank, who initially did not provide funding for production, but who was thrilled to use their marketing budget to pay for film prints as the official sponsor for Maine screenings. The theatrical release throughout the state of Maine developed a core audience almost immediately.
Gaudet and Pullapilly stressed the need to create a model for your specific film. And their attitude about funding was equally strategic -- they chose not to go into debt, instead working full time and funding the film only as the money came in. This provided them with added flexibility once production was over and distribution began.
While budgeting was conservative, the one place they did choose to spend money was developing a website. They were careful to do research about what does and doesn't work before creating a design, and this was a tremendous asset for distribution on their own terms.
Cynthia Fenneman of APT would agree. She reminded the audience that developing a new media strategy early on is essential.
Gita Pullapilly provided an excellent analogy for independent distribution strategy: think like a small business owner. She also emphasized not to underestimate the amount of work involved. Louise Rosen echoed these sentiments during "Letting Go;" if you're going to go it on your own, develop best practices and be willing to make it your life.
And one last tip: sign up for Peter Broderick's "Distribution Bulletin" for a regular dose of new ideas and discussion.