Thanks so much to Docs In Progress for organizing the Crowdsourcing Theatrical Distribution talk. They do amazing work helping people from all walks of life to fulfill their desire of creating documentary productions. Since video transcription is often an essential part of making a documentary, it is only natural that WW is a proud corporate sponsor of DIP. We were delighted to have the opportunity to cover their lecture in our Blog.
Introducing, Crowd Marketing
The crowd marketing discussion featured Jan Selby, founder of Quiet Island Films. After twenty five years as a successful marketing and advertising executive, she decided to follow her dream of becoming a documentary producer. She has produced several docs including Beyond the Divide a film about a Vietnam Veteran and a peace advocate healing wounds while in search
of common ground. She applied the same organized business principles to film making, and decided to do marketing through crowd sourcing.
While Kickstarter or Indiegogo can help filmmakers get the money to film and produce their movie, Tugg and Gathr focus more on connecting the resulting films to the fans. A filmmaker works with Tugg or Gathr to make their movie available to screen, at which point fans will work to promote a local screening on a particular date, essentially marketing the film themselves. Gathr and Tugg set a specific threshold for each screening, meaning a minimum number of tickets which must be reserved in order to cover costs such as the filmmaker’s fee. If that threshold is reached before the screening request expires, the event will proceed, and filmmakers will receive a percentage of all profits above the threshold.
Tugg helps market films by funneling traffic to independent websites. Tugg also offers detailed information about earnings and percentages on their website. Although Gathr may require direct contact to find out percentages, they do offer filmmakers a chance to receive funding by purchasing the theatrical rights only.
The global possibilities of this type of crowd marketing is staggering. Jan reported that one documentary, “Awake – The Life of Yogananda” has gone viral through crowd marketing on Gathr. It’s about the life of Paramhansa Yogananda, born Mukunda Lal Ghosh, who was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. To date 35,000 tickets have been reserved in 68 screenings in the US for the “Awake” doc. Many more have been purchased worldwide. The popularity of yoga and the Gathr platform rewarded the two filmmakers by allowing yoga enthusiasts worldwide to do the marketing for them. So if you have a topic for a documentary with wide popular appeal, this might be the way forward to distribute your film to the world.
The annual DC Peer Awards is always a special event, celebrating the best artists in the DC production community and bringing them together to reward their hard work. Word Wizards Inc. has been a proud sponsor for many years because we believe they honor the absolute best in the field and encourage aspiring professionals to continue their quest for excellence. This year however, the ceremony has a new award thanks to Word Wizards, with the inclusion of a unique Docs In Progress category that focuses on documentary works that have been produced with the assistance of Docs In Progress. The category, proudly sponsored by Word Wizards Inc., gives the winner a $500 cash reward. This new prize is meant to help promote organizations that help filmmakers who want to make their vision a reality but don’t know where to start. For almost a decade, Docs In Progress and it’s founder Erica Ginsberg have been a huge part of the DC film community has and helped dozens of filmmakers, both experienced veterans and fresh novices, tell meaningful stories and reach audiences.
The time was way back in 2004 and two DC area filmmakers, Erica Ginsberg and Adele Schmidt, were sharing a dinner and talking about their craft. They talked about their desire to create a space where artists and filmmakers could come together to give each other valuable feedback on their works in progress and thus the seeds of Docs In Progress were planted. The first DIP screening took place at the Warehouse Theater on 7th Street in May of that year. The first films to be screened were Swing Legends and Up to the Mountain, Down to the Village. It wasn’t long before these screenings started attracting artists from all over the DC film community who came to critique each other’s work. Over the next nine years, the organization has grown to not only include screenings of under construction films but also production workshops to educate others, peer pitch programs which allows artists in the early stages of their films to receive peer feedback, a youth summer camp and even the first Silver Spring Stories Film Festival.
Even though Docs In Progress has grown by leaps and bounds in it’s almost decade long history, the organization still strives every day to remain true to its founding mission and values. This mission includes programs that help nurture a vibrant documentary community as well as discussion groups and screenings to help grow public appreciation for the documentary art form. The DIP values are also important and are composed of cultivating community partnerships, building a supportive artistic environment and connecting the public with documentary filmmakers. It’s these values that made Word Wizards Inc, want to honor Docs In Progress with this special category at the Peer Awards. DIP helps people tell compelling real life stories and works tirelessly to bring these important stories to the forefront of people’s minds. Ever more impressive is their desire to help any filmmaker who is driven enough whether they are brand new to the biz or seasoned film veterans.
A Bright Future
With 2014 almost upon us, Docs In Progress is set to reach a milestone as the organization celebrates 10 years. As Erica puts it “In 2014, we celebrate 10 years of Docs in Progress in the DC-area film community. In that time hundreds of aspiring, emerging, and established documentary filmmakers from Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and beyond have found purpose, professional development, and community through our offerings. We look forward to continuing to support films and filmmakers who have opened our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the world around us.” Erica is an accomplished documentary filmmaker herself who’s work includes Taking Threats about international student reaction to 9/11 as well as the in progress American’s Park which looks at changes in American society and urban development specifically DC’s Meridian Hill Park and the surrounding neighborhood.
I recently ran across an interesting little article, written by Kathy A. McDonald, which was all about prepping your documentary for the market place and some basic tips to follow. Each year the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and Fund holds a number of labs or discussions, one of which is the Sundance Institute Creative Documentary Lab. This past summer they held a week’s worth of discussions, bringing together seven documentary producers to talk about their respective films and other related issues. One of the main talking points was the all too real challenge of fundraising and securing additional money to finish your project. Since transcription and talking heads footage, the meat of most documentaries, is Word Wizards, Inc. area of expertise we know how challenging it can be to get them off the ground. This helped inspire us to offer a cash prize to the winner of the Docs in Progress category in the 2013 Peer Awards.
Some of the participants of the lab were director/producer Elizabeth “Chai” Vasarhelyi, co-directors and producers Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick, director/producer Carola Fuentes, director/producer Hillevi Loven, producer Chris Talbott and producer Sarah Archambault.One of the first topics covered was equity financing and where to take risks when trying to build capital for your project. As producer Boni Cohen pointed out, you should always be careful about bringing in outside financiers. While the money they bring will help the project move forward towards the market, it also means you may have to deal with issues of creative control. Crowd funding is also something producers should be weary of since it can be a double edged sword. While many campaigns offer donors goodies and some swag depending on how much is given, the man power and expenses needed to make good on these offers is something to be mindful of. A good bit of advice is to study what has worked previously with other projects that were similar to yours and see how they did crowd funding.
Another important aspect of your film that you always need to be aware of is exactly how to deal with the subject at the heart of the film. If you have an especially vulnerable subject, you need to make sure that they are prepped for what they might encounter at a screening or Q&A. Additionally all producers needs to make sure that the subject is aware that the film is not an economic lifeline and that they don’t have those types of expectations. If you think your subject could be the source of any controversy, make sure you have a tight grip on any social media and be cautious before the world premiere. Many films and projects have been damaged before their release because someone close to the production sent information out via twitter and Facebook that was then picked up.
Selling and the Importance of Festivals
When you do finally have something to sell, make sure that you, your agent, distribution partners and publicist are all on the same page working as one cohesive unit. As Josh Braun, co-president of Submarine Entertainment, stressed “You have to dream and think big and understand limitations at the same time.” While producers may have lofty expectations for their films, it often falls to the sales agents to peacefully combine those expectations with the very real financial obligations. Everyone agreed that festivals still play a key role since a films successful festival run is seen as a reassuring signs to many potential buyers. While they may not all be accepted into Sundance, a series of screenings and well placed publicity can still be a major draw. To read the rest of the article in more detail, head on over to its site here.
Honors in the DC video production community don’t get much bigger than the annual TIVA Peer Awards. These awards, which have been around since 1997, pay tribute to excellence in local media and are one of the most sought-after awards in the area. Every November the TIVA community comes together at the National Press Club to give out this honor in a variety of different categories. Some of the categories include best independent short, best music video, best documentary and best children’s program. This year brings the addition of a few new categories, such as government production, foreign language and for one year only, a special Docs in Progress category, proudly sponsored by Word Wizards Inc. The winner will receive a $500 cash prize.
The Peer Promise Competition
Since TIVA recognizes that it’s important to help pave the way for the next generation of great film and media makers, it created the Peer Promise Competition. This special category is the high school component of the Peer Awards, where students are invited to enter their individual or class media projects in film and video. These projects are then judged on the basis of their creativity while being compared to other schools in the DC, Virginia and Maryland region. These students may be awarded a certificate of merit for their work, or even be chosen as one of three regional finalists who are invited to the awards with the winner receiving a gold award while the other receive a silver and a bronze. The best thing about the Peer Promise competition is that its absolutely free to enter, so there is absolutely no reason for future filmmakers not to put their best work forward.
Backstory and Details
The awards were started by the former Washington Film and Video Council way back in 1997 before merging with the ITVA-DC Video Festival. The three levels of awards for each category are silver, bronze and gold. The gold winner receives a trophy to take home while silver and bronze winners receive a foil-embossed certificate and the option to order a trophy if they wish. While the early-bird deadline for submission just ended, there’s still plenty of time for film and video makers to get their work in by the regular deadline of June 30th. Entries will still be accepted up to July 31, but a late fee will apply. The full list of entrance prices and fees can be found on the awards Q&A page. Video professionals can register on the online portal. There is a two-year eligibility window for entries: this year the window is between June 30, 2011 and June 30, 2013.
A Community Comes Together
As someone who has volunteered to help at the past two peer award ceremonies, I can honestly say it is a truly memorable evening. It is one of the few times a year that the DC Metro Area production community comes together to really celebrate one another. Everyone is there supporting the impressive body of work on display, and to win of course, in a very sympathetic and celebratory atmosphere. Its a time for people to reconnect with each other and catch up about their lives, as well as past and future projects. Of course the awards themselves are special since its the DC film-and-video community congratulating their best and brightest. The fact that peers and fellow media/production professionals are the ones voting makes these awards incredibly unique and personal.
One of the obvious reasons why Word Wizards, Inc. loves Docs in Progress (DIP) http://docsinprogress.org/ is that they coach for projects with tons of interview footage. We at “The Wiz” thrive on transcribing dozens of hours of talking head interviews per week. Transcription is very important to any documentary film maker, whether they use Word Wizards, some other company or (in most cases for people on a tight budget,) do it themselves. Therefore Word Wizards is proud to sponsor DIP and we attend many of their meetings. Last weeks meeting on marketing to academia was a special treat.
The guest speaker was film marketing Coach Judith Dancoff of New Film Marketing http://www.newfilmmarketing.com/about.php She spoke about distribution of educational Docs using a strategy called “Distribute It Yourself” (or DIY). Her strategy is applied specifically to marketing educational documentaries, but can be used to market and sell any Doc. DIY takes a little bit of extra work but you get to keep all the money as a payoff. Dancoff wants you to think of the documentary producer as a business person marketing and selling a valuable product to people who need it.
She says to plan two marketing campaigns a year, one early in the fall semester and another in early winter but never Xmas or Spring breaks. The easiest way to break down her strategy is into an easy to follow 3 step recipe:
Step 1: Buy lists of potential academic buyers such as librarians and school content providers from private list providers like R.J. Dill. firstname.lastname@example.org or to reach out to the American Library Association: Contact Personal and Organizational Members using http://bit.ly/Z01rBy
Step 2: Put together a simple website to market to these people via email blast followed up by personal phone calls. Academics hate flash so keep your site simple. You can build a very simple Doc site yourself for free using http://www.wix.com. Or, Word Wizards can design the shell and you fill in the text. For those that want customization, Word Wizards can design a template using a content management system such as WordPress. Your budget will drive the bells and whistles of your website. Check out our portfolio page at https://www.wordwizardsinc.com/design/our-work/.
Step 3: State right at the beginning, both in the subject line of your email blasts; and at the top of your web site what is different, educational and compelling about your film. Why is your film especially relevant to the academic types that you are trying to sell to? Review issues of Public Use Doctrine at http://www.movlic.com/k12/faq.html. Set your price by seeing what other people charge, www.bullfrogfilms.com/
The fascinating thing about Docs in Progress is that professional film makers like Tom Dziedzic use DIP for coaching (see his award winning Redemption Stone at http://www.redemptionstone.net/ ) as well as want-to-be Doc makers from every walk of life. With the upcoming tenth anniversary of DIP coming up next year expect to see a lot more about them in our upcoming blog articles.
The local DC production and video community is responsible for some truly terrific programs that come out of this area. The big question that comes across many people’s minds is how will the next generation of professionals learn vital film making skills? Luckily there are quite a few organizations such as Docs in Progress that are trying to educate y0uth about the production and film business. Docs in Progress, a non-profit organization based in Silver Spring, seeks to cultivate this talent by offering a variety of classes, screenings, workshops and discussion groups to help celebrate talent in the realm of documentary film. The organization, directed by Erica Ginsberg, aims to provide resources for all filmmakers in all areas whether that be in conception, pre-production, filming, and vital post production topics such as editing, logging and transcribing.
One of the more interesting community engagement projects they have going on is called Silver Spring Stories. The suburb known as Silver Spring, HQ of Docs In Progress, has undergone impressive redevelopment in the past few decades and has become home to a unique assortment of institutions, organizations, artists, merchants and residents. Docs in progress is trying to capture these stories by having emerging documentary filmmakers of all ages capture them in short 3 – 5 minute videos. Some of the subjects taped include the Maryland Youth Ballet, Tastee Diner, the Gandhi Brigade and the brand new civic center.
Filmmakers are given a choice of different places and people to profile and are then given free reign to document them utilizing the skills they have learned from various workshops and training. They embark in this film making journey and go through all the main stages from writing the pitches, interviewing subjects to cutting it in post production. This work provides incredibly valuable hands on training and Docs in Progress thinks it’s important because of its two fold nature. Not only is it a great way to educate new film makers but also allows them to document a storied and historic community like Silver Spring.
Yes We Did: The People’s Inauguration is the story of the pandemonium surrounding the inauguration of the first African American President of The United States of America. Next Wednesday, January 16th, our friends at Docs In Progress have teamed up with We Are Takoma to provide a free screening of this insightful documentary film.
The filmmakers will be there next week to answer questions, talk about the making of the film, and explain why they felt compelled to document this historic event. Over five days of shooting, two filmed the events leading up to and surrounding President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The film covers the entire experience; parade prep, overbooked hotels, empowered communities, and long distance journeys.
School of Hard Docs
Docs In Progress provides education, training, and assistance for people who want to learn about documentary film production. Yes We Did participated in a Docs In Progress work-in-progress screening in January 2010. The film has since been completed and polished, and Docs is proud to help put on this screening to show off the work of some very passionate and motivated students.
The Silver Screen
The film will be publicly screened next Wednesday at 7:30 PM in the Takoma Park Community Center Auditorium. If you are interested in going, good news, its free and no tickets will be required. For more information you can visit the Docs In Progress Yes We Did Event Page for all the details.
Last night I had the pleasure of joining Docs In Progress for their Alumni Open House. It was an intimate gathering of some graduates of Docs In Progress courses. Docs In Progress teaches aspiring documentary producers and enthusiasts how to make documentaries the right way, offering a wide variety of courses related to documentary and general film production throughout the year.
Docs Are King
Docs In Progress is located in downtown Silver Spring, right around the corner from Word Wizards HQ. Word Wizards first connected with DIP through our efforts supporting TIVA-DC, and we have since become a proud sponsor of DIP as well. Docs In Progress invited us last night to meet some of their brightest graduates and to present our new service CloudScript to an audience of accomplished and aspiring producers.
The presentation was very well received, and I was happy to get some great feedback about our new service. CloudScript is really a powerful tool for documentary production. Not only does it provide a simple and functional asset management system, but it is priced in a way that everyone can afford it, which is critical in these days of super tight budgets and economic uncertainty.
Watch the presentation video below to see CloudScript in action at Docs in Progress! * Note change the player settings to HD for a better viewing experience.