The documentary film “Babies” is so damned cute it’s going to gather the force of a marketing perfect storm.
is teaming up with Johnson’s Baby, Kodak, the March of Dimes Foundation, the Medela hospital network, Stonyfield Farm’s YoBaby Yogurt, MacLaren, Parents Network, Pampers, Tasty Baby snacks and Safety 1st car products. In addition, the studio is working with Buzz Agent for a social-media ambassador program to entice mommy bloggers and other moviegoers to promote the film on their blogs for a chance to win prizes and other incentives.
Be ready for a baby shower of hurricane proportions. And as many of us who once had babies can attest, the next phase is utter fatigue.
A documemtary film about a Down-syndrome couple preparing for married life has won the best documentary award at Tribeca.
Tribeca announced that ‘Monica & David,” directed by Alexandra Codina, was awarded the best doc prize. Codina, a Minami-based filmmaker, is a cousin of the film’s Monica.
Tolstoy said in “Anna Karenina” the every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but I’ll steal that and say every successful film is successful in its own way.
We love posting here about small projects that find their audiences, usually through combination of two things: A good product and a good plan.
One that is especially impressive is the film “Food Matters,” by the Sydney, Australia, team of James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch.
“Food Matters” is about healthy food as a route to healthy healing, and with a small budget, a passion for the topic and some real marketing savvy, James and Laurentine have thus far sold 100,000 units of the film, and still counting, on something that represents something of a career change for the both of them.
My time-zone count was off by one when I called James last week; it was late in America and early in Sydney, and James was as sunny as I imagined the day to be down there. He was once a ship’s officer, sailing around the world on tankers and container ships; Laurentine is a Dutch-born former shipping company official. The story of how they came to work on the film began with James’s father’s health difficulties.
We wanted to create a film.
We didn’t come from a film and television background. Laurentine and I had a strong interest in nutrition, and my father was quite ill at the time. His perceptions about health were not being positively impacted through books, but we knew film was a very powerful medium, and there were documentaries that had impacted us a lot. We felt that within the genre of nutrition and natural healing, there remained a need for a good high-level production covering the aspects of what we had been studying ourselves.
They met at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania. Toward the end of that tenure, they were based in Europe and they enrolled in the distance-learning program in the Global College of Natural Medicine in Santa Cruz, California.
We had saved a lot of money working in our previous careers. We thought we should put our money into the film, instead of a down payment on a house – don’t ask me what gave us that idea at the time! We really wanted to make this documentary, so we took all of our savings, did the shooting, got back to Sydney and into the postproduction room. Post always takes longer than you think it will, and costs more than you anticipate – as my general understanding and short tenure in the industry has taught me – so we just made it happen.
Upon deciding they wanted to press ahead, they headed off around the world interviewing the experts that they’d had been studying. They teamed up with Enzo Tedeschi, who is editor and co-producer of the fim. James notes,
In working with Enzo, who had come from a very traditional television and drama background, there are a lot of dogmas about how television and traditional films should be distributed. Because we were coming from more of a social-change position, and to raise awareness, we very much had a different approach to how we wanted to see the film to market. We really knew that the internet would be our primary driving mechanism to get the film to an audience. It was exciting that we could follow our passion with ideas we thought could work.
The “Food Matters” site lists its participants not as “cast” but as “teachers.” They include Dr Gert Schuitemaker, Founder of the Ortho Europe Institute; Jerome Burne, a British medical health journalist; Charlotte Gerson, founder of the Gerson Institute in San Diego, and others. James said the shooting took them around the globe.
We were based out of Europe at the time. Through the teachers we had shortlisted to appear in the film, they were based in Europe, the United Kingdom, the East and West Coast of the United States, and Australia. We started in Europe. We had equipment and lighting of our own, and in places where we were doing two and three interviews at one time – in Greater London, or the New York area – then we’d have some local film crew come and film as well, so we’d have two camera angles and be collecting the best possible footage. When we got to post, we’d have a few options to play with.
The film was shot in 1080p high definition, and the emphasis was on simplicity.
There were times when, being on a lower budget, Laurentine and I would have to film it ourselves and keep it professional, so we’d concentrate on doing an off-camera interview, talking head-style, just to make sure that the capturing of our footage was as simple as possible so it didn’t confuse things or compromise how the delivery of the product was going to be.
In the end, finishing funds were provided by the man who inspired the film. “We got a little extra money from Bank of Roy,” James says, “which is my father, just to cover some last things.”
The film’s content was half the challenge, but making the distribution plan was something they thought through carefully, rejecting the conventional wisdom in the same way the film itself challenges traditional health beliefs. Understanding who they were competing with, and not competing with, was an important bit of wisdom.
We both had a really keen interest in nutrition. We could have gone out and worked as nutritional consultants, working with clients, but Laurentine and I felt that was quite limiting. We could have a small community of people to help, but we really felt the message needed a much larger audience.
There were many books out there in the diet and nutrition field, as evidenced any time you go to a Borders or Barnes & Noble, so that wasn’t really an option for us. But we’d seen a few documentaries at the time, but as we tried to research all the health documentaries at the time, we found there were very few. They were hard to find, and the production value wasn’t generally good.
The plan, James says, had several key components.
We really then tried to get a bit of a buzz online. We wanted to build some name and email-address lists to have before the film came out, and that helped really get a little cash up front, which helped to pay out Bank of Roy and some of the other money we’d put up. As an independent filmmaker, you need to recoup your investment on the film reasonably quickly. Most independent filmmakers are in a fragile financial state.
They recovered all of their initial investment within about the first four to six months, James says.
Cinema was pretty quickly not a cool focus. We knew the internet was going to be the backbone of our distribution strategy. There are many people on line looking for answers to chronic illness. We quickly identified that our core audience was online, and already hungry for this information; outside of that realm there were health-food stores, co-ops, and farmer’s markets. We simply went about trying to get in front of them online.
From the beginning, they bypassed festivals and traditional distributors.
The idea of going to film festivals and waiting for a distribute to pick up the film didn’t make sense for reaching our core audience, because their idea of distribution way to go mainstream. And by the time you sign with the distributor, there are holdbacks and all that.
Also part of that was the notion of community screenings and allowing people to screen the films.
Many artists want to sell public screening rights to their films; we even shied away from that. We really felt that with our film, and with many films, if the content stands up, and ends up motivating them towards action, or harboring a new belief system around the film’s concept, then community screenings are the best marketing an independent filmmaker can ever have. Any community screening creates word of mouth, and we feel if 50 people come to a screening at a community center, 10 of them might buy the DVD there. We ask the person screening the film to hold some on consignment, or to give a coupon code to the person to buy it. But the people who attend may know someone else – a sick uncle or friend – and they might buy a copy for them. It’s that community growth and word of mouth you can’t pay for. We really wanted to have no restrictions on community screenings. We feel if someone goes out of the way to screen our film, that’s the marketing we can ever ask for.
He notes that most people who hold the screenings do so because it builds awareness for them – health-food stores, organic farmers, nutritionists – because they see a benefit.
We can provide discussion questions or consignment copies to help. We’ve also listed the film on bravenewtheaters.com, and people can go ahead and do that. In independent distribution, once you’ve made the film, the work begins. We have our film playing in waiting rooms of chiropractic clinics all across North America. We’ve had community screenings with these backpackers in Cambodia. We sell to companies that might want to include it with an order for a colon-cleanse product. We know with those they’re not reselling but offering it as a free bonus product, so we draw up contracts on that. And we just signed a deal for in-flight screenings with Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand through a traditional agent. Or being shown on TV in Israel. We have a Flash-based video player held in a secure zone on our website. People pay $4.95 to access it for a three-day period.
What was notable is that while they have successfully sold the film, they have not gotten worried about the traditional filmmaker worries.
The range of possibilities can be so dynamic, but so many people have this attitude of “Sell to TV, then sell the DVDs.” But this experience has proven to us that there are so many interesting places to get a film in front of people.
That includes rips and piracy. James notes,
When anyone puts our film online for free, we have a little celebration in our office. Because that means our content is good enough that people want to share it.
The New York Times has a post today about Chevron’s efforts to seize “hundreds of hours” of footage he shot documenting pollution in the rain forests of Ecuador.
Joe Berlinger, whose documentaries include “Paradise Lost” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” said he had been served with a request from Chevron for more than 600 hours of unused footage for his 2009 documentary “Crude.” The movie, seen in a scene above, chronicles Ecuadoreans who sued Texaco, which is now owned by Chevron, saying the companies’ practices at the Lago Agrio oil field resulted in the contamination of their drinking and bathing water.
Chevron says it “simply seeks here outtakes relating to the access this filmmaker was given to film the plaintiffs and their lawyers, government officials and supposedly independent experts’ meetings with the plaintiffs and their lawyers.”
Get those signed releases, filmmakers!
Shining Technologies’ CitiDisk CFR has a Firewire connection but not SDI, but can record onto CF cards. The price of $569 is attractive to anyone looking to get away from tapes (or use the card recorder as a redundant system). It would make a nice upgrade for prosumer cameras such as the Canon HV40.
• Industry Standard Hot-Swappable Interface Fits One Affordable, Widely Available CompactFlash Card
• Built-In LCD Screen With Scrolling Menu
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• Supports Widely-Used Digital Video Formats (DV, DVCPro50, DVCProHD* and HDV)
• The CompactFlash card is not included in the package.
Note: Must use 533X or higher speed CF card for DVCProHD.
• Archives DV Tape Footage
• Pre-Scene Loop Recording
• Supports Native NLE File Formats
• Instant Playback
• Instant DV/HDV Editing Via USB Or FireWire Port
• QuickErase And Utility Program
• Extended Recording Port (XREC)
• Standard RS232 Port
Note: RS232 modules and extended recording cable sold separately.
• No Moving Parts
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• Eco-Friendly – Consumes 60% Less Power Than Conventional Hard Drive
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Note: See side panel regarding inclusion of professional CompactFlash card in this package.
System And Camcorder Requirements:
• Camcorder with iLink (4-pin) or FireWire (6-pin) port
• Macintosh OS 10.x and IBM PC Compatibles 98SE, ME, 2K, XP, Vista
• Compatible Non-Linear Editing (NLE) Software (see shining.com)
• One CitiDISK CFR Unit
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The unfinished, as-yet-untitled Alex Gibney documentary on Eliot Spitzer screened at Tribeca, and the most curious note was that the prostitute involved in Spitzer’s fall as governor of New York wasn’t in it, because, according to Gibney, she had demanded editorial control.
According to the Associated Press, call girl Ashley Dupre turned down the interview request,
Dupre said in an e-mail that she didn’t want to grant an interview without “approval over the edit.”
“I didn’t think it was smart to participate after what I’ve seen with editing,” said Dupre. “I think everyone is trying to move on with their lives and by me participating in their project would only open old wounds.”
Dupre, by the way, is working to move on from these trying events by posing for Playboy and becoming a sex columnist for the New York Post. It’s good to see her trying to get back to basic values.
But it begs the question of whether such edit approval should ever be granted.
There’s a long and complicated history to such approvals, and the main question is always, “How badly do I need this person in my film,” and “how compromised will it be if I gave it?” For example, it would seem unlikely (and foolish) if Gibney gave Spitzer himself control – Spitzer sat for interviews, undoubtedly, as a ritual cleansing before he attempts to re-enter politics; Gibney has too much of a reputation at stake to allow that. But lesser-known filmmakers sometimes can’t get their subject without some control by the subject, which can be negotiated on many levels. Is the subject allowed to see his own clips? Is the subject allowed to view the interviews done of others? Can the subject reserve the right to withdraw?
One landmark documentary, PBS’s 1973 series “An American Family,” was shown to the subjects prior to completion. Amazingly, the subjects, the Loud family, were happy with it. In a study by Dartmouth College film historian Jeffrey Rouff,
The Louds themselves eventually became reviewers and critics of the series, influencing its reception, an uncommon occurrence for a documentary and a seeming impossibility for a fictional work. During the editing, the Louds viewed and gave their approval, both tacitly and explicitly, of the twelve episodes (Loud, 1974, p. 124). Before the broadcast, their responses to An American Family were positive. Pat Loud told Vogue that ”Divorce happens to so many people that I really don’t mind having it televised” (Brown, 1973). Bill Loud mentioned to a journalist from Newsweek that ‘he thought the series would make them look like the ‘West Coast Kennedys” (1973a). Shocked by the hostility of so many of the reviews, the Louds entered the debate shortly after the broadcast of the first episodes. They took exception to the advertising campaign for the series, arguing that it sensationalized their lives for entertainment purposes. When Pat Loud complained to Craig Gilbert about the publicity for An American Family, he remarked that these aspects of promotion were out of his control and not normally the responsibility of a producer at WNET (Loud, 1974, p. 142). The family members felt antagonized by the publicity for the series and were scandalized by the critical reception of the documentary. Throughout the controversy, the Louds tried to direct attention towards the point of view of the series, especially the editing.
The irony for Gibney, of course, is that Spitzer, long known as an iron-fisted politician, chose to prostrate himself before the filmmaker while the (literal and figurative) fame whore, Dupre, decided she wanted to control her image. The most likely types to generally demand approval are the people used to controlling other people – CEOs, police chiefs, politicans, college presidents.
Editorial control can include not only approval of what goes in, but also what can’t be cut. If a subject says, “I’ll say what you want if you promise me you’ll leave in what I feel I want to have said,” is that fair?
Approval might also be not only for content, but for appearance. In the still-photo world, one of the most famous examples of image manipulation was Arnold Newman’s 1963 image of German industrialist Alfried Krupp, who had during World War II used slave labor to man his factories as they supplied the Nazi war effort. Krupp, who consented to the story and photo in LIFE magazine as an image-restoring effort, posed politely for Newman, who set up the lights in a way that showed Krupp as a face of evil.
Newman, of course, felt fully justified in this. In the New York Times obituary of Newman said of the photo,
The impression it leaves was no accident: Mr. Newman knew that Krupp had used slave labor in his factories during the Nazi reign and that he had been imprisoned after World War II for his central role in Hitler’s war machine.
“When he saw the photos, he said he would have me declared persona non grata in Germany,” Mr. Newman said of Krupp.
Ultimately, filmmakers and journalists should as themselves what motivates someone to ever sit for an interview. It’s rarely a selfless choice. It might be to feel important, to express a view one feels is important, or to be associated with an important cause, message or even production. The degree to which they will accede often has much to do with the degree of control they think they might have. It also has to do with whether they’ve been burned before. All it takes is one journalist twisting your words or misquoting you to make you feel very leery about letting that happen again.
Gibney’s film “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” did quite well without the top Enron guys, Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay, being in it. That’s because no one would have ever expected them to be in it. But when you can’t land an interview with Ashley Dupre as she does everything she can otherwise to get in front of cameras, that’s a plot twist.
For filmmakers, the basic question is: How badly do I want this interview, and how badly will granting approval of any kind compromise the real or perceived integrity of the work? Because at Tribeca, Alex Gibney was having to explain why one of the key players in the Spitzer scandal was not in his film.