Silverdocs, the premiere documentary festival in the Washington DC area, as well as a huge boon to the Silver Spring area, is getting some major changes. Its new iteration, which was announced just last week, will be known as AFI Docs Film Festival and will be backed by car manufacturer Audi instead of Discovery Communications. The new festival, running from June 19–23, will have an expanded presence as well as panels with greater focus on politics and other D.C.-centric issues. The festival will no longer take place solely in its home base of Silver Spring but will be presenting films at DC venues such as the Newseum, The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American History.
The change is a consequence of the festival’s rising prominence on the national documentary circuit, as well as Discovery Communication’s change in corporate focus that has seen it move away from documentary storytelling, according to festival director Sky Sitney. Sitney sees the change in sponsors as positive and thinks it will help the festival to grow and gain an even more vibrant topical focus as it moves further into the heart of DC. She also said that, rather of thinking of it as scattered, instead think of it as incorporating two compact campuses.
The festival was started in 2003 as a joint venture between Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute. It should be noted that both of these organizations were major catalysts in the rejuvenation of the Silver Spring Area.
The Silver Spring Community Reacts
While it’s being stressed that the festival will still have important events and screenings in Silver Spring with no plans to leave it behind, the reaction locally has been mixed. Many locals as well as those in the production and documentary community feel that something is being lost with the expansion and name change. For years, the fact that the festival took place entirely in this one area has made it an important part of the community. The festival, which has grown to be the pride of Silver Spring, helps shine the spotlight on independent filmmakers and the important stories they have to tell. Smaller companies such as Word Wizards Inc., which thrives on transcription footage and the talking heads footage that are the meat of most documentaries, think it important these festivals go on, even if they’re in new forms.
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.