Sheri Candler and Jon Reiss always have great advice for DIY filmmakers working to get their project to its audience, especially when it’s a film that will be appreciated by a focused group of viewers who might not be found through the traditional film channels. With an estimated 35,000 films a year on the festival circuit, that’s a lot of content; if you’ve done your film well, having small but enthused viewership can still be thoroughly fulfilling, and a bit profitable.
and discuss decisions that made for a successful run. Not everybody lives the Sundance/PBS/national release dream, but “Joffrey” has found its happy audience.
The advice that Jon and Sheri give is testament to the technology that has turned documentary filmmaking into something democratic, grassroots, energetic. From the ever cheaper gear to shoot with to laptop editing, the task of making a film has changed immensely.
But so has the task of distributing.
Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance.
Two major elements are huge: The ability for digital projection at theaters, auditoriums, universities and libraries, to name a few. And the use of social media to get the word out.
In their piece, they say this.
Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences. You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend. Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.
The event can be something that creates larger word of mouth, and the social media came in strongly.
Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.
The work in launching one’s film cannot be overlooked, but the methods of doing so now often work around the standard benchmarks.
In the documentary world, filmmakers rarely know what they’re making when they start making it. Instead, they move through time, chronicling changing situations, in the hopes that something great might happen. But the best filmmakers are adept, knowing when to raise, when to fold and when to exchange cards, when the game allows it.
All In: The Poker Movie, which begins a theatrical run this month, is one of those documentaries that started one way and ended up a wholly different story.
Directed by Douglas Tirola of 4th Row Films and produced by collaborators Susan Bedusa and Robert Greene, All In started out with a gamble.
The project started in 2008 when poker was in the midst of a boom. “We started making the film so many years ago, it’s hard to remember,” said Bedusa. “But I think we made with the goal of having a profitable film. And Doug had a soft spot for poker — He used to play with his father and grandfather.”
4th Row Films has had a series of documentaries find success recently, including those directed not only by Tirola (An Omar Broadway Film) but by the editor of All In, Robert Greene (Kati With An I, Fake It So Real). The company uses its documentary chops to bring in commercial work, which fuels the business and occasionally leads to a story idea.
“We have the other side of our company that does marketing work for brands,” said Bedusa. “And through that we were covering this big New York City poker tournament. It was run by a Wall Street guy who put on a huge poker tournament every year for his clients, and his celebrity friends. We would go and film it with 10 cameras. We realized how cinematic it was.”
Not only was it cinematic, but the filmmaking team also connected the visual potential to a potential in the online video marketplace. “This was just at the time when people were starting to download stuff to watch,” said Bedusa. “Our feeling was that there are so many poker players out there, and the audience is worldwide. And so many of them playing online that they were already used to signing in, and putting down their credit card number and spending money that way, which is an unusual trait.”
The film is interview-driven, ranging from top poker players, such as the aptly named Chris Moneymaker, to such poker-playing celebrities as former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, basketball coach Denny Crum, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, journalist Ira Glass and actor Matt Damon. Most speak in the film of poker as a piece of Americana, but poker fans will also remember Damon as the star of Rounders, a film that’s iconic in that world.
“It’s more of an essay film,” Bedusa says. “It’s not so character-driven. Doug really wanted to explore the why.” Through these revolving interviews and a thread of Moneymaker’s rise to, well, moneymaking, the film tells the story of the rise and fall and rise and fall of poker. The film was scheduled for release in July 2011, after it had won top laurels at Cinevegas in 2009, but then the FBI moved to shut down online poker, which had been fueling the poker movement in the United States, and the game changed.
“We decided not to release it, which was a tough decision,” said Bedusa. “The film had already won awards and been in festivals, so it was already out there, in some sense. Then Black Friday happened.”
The film was re-conceived around the headlines, with the ban on online poker as its frame, and in the time it ultimately took to make All In, 4th Row Films released three other films. A look at the film’s credits highlight its evolving nature. Nine people are listed as cinematographers.
“The number of people who did some work on the film is huge,” said Bedusa. “We shot in 14 states, and while Doug was involved in it all, we didn’t have one director of photography… We have our L.A. guy and our Nashville guy, people we’ve worked with on the marketing side, so they kind of all shot the film.” So, three years after it could have been released, All In is going into theaters this month a different, and better, film. Which makes the point that in documentary, going all in can be a good bet.
The release of the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III has HDSLR filmmakers poring over specs, trying to decide if this release is something incredible, or something disappointing. For $3,500, is it worth the leap from the Mark II? (It should be noted that the Mark II remains in the Canon line and the price of a body has dropped to about $2,000.)
It harkens back to a piece I saw a while back about the “four-times-better rule.”
In a Creative Planet post, Stefan Sargent argued quite convincingly that in this era of new technology hitting the market almost daily, the wise time to upgrade is when the new piece of equipment is four times better than what it’s replacing. As he emphatically puts it, “An upgrade can’t be just twice as good; it’s got to be four times better.”
One example he gives is the question of whether to replace his Sony V1s with Sony EX1s.
I needed to upgrade from SD to HD. Buying the two HVR-V1s was a no brainer. And yes, they were four times better than the PD150/PDX10 combo.
What happens? After a year, Sony brings out the PMW-EX1. I’m very pissed. At least with Apple, you know that next year there’s going to be a new iPhone, but that it’s not an $8,000 upgrade.
I look at the EX-1 specs. The data rate is up to 35Mb/s compared to my V1s’ 25Mb/s. That’s not four times! The chip is bigger, but not four times bigger. Nowhere is anything four times better. I contact my camera guru, Adam Wilt. He says, “In most real-world situations they’re very hard to tell apart.
One of the primary reasons to exercise caution is the fact that the business of filmmaking is based on two factors: cost and revenue. When it comes to cost, the entry level for documentary filmmaking has been lowering. Does spending more cash on equipment create a commensurate rise in the quality of the film? Then, does that measurable rise in video quality have a measurable effect on your story? Or is the audience really not as worried about that as you?
Who noticed that the Ross Brothers’ breakout success 45365 was made on SD, the Danfung Dennis-directed Academy Award nominee Hell And Back Again used a 5D Mark II, or that the 2010 Oscar nominee Restrepo was HDV?
Back in the day, I worked at newspapers where pros looked at equipment very pragmatically. The best photographers often had cameras seemingly held together with duct tape, while the interns came in with the latest gear. I remember going on an assignment with Bob Jackson, the photographer who won a Pulitzer for his photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot, and of asking him what kind of camera he’d used for the picture.
“A Nikon,” he said.
“Where do you keep it?” I said.
“In my camera bag,” he said, as if I was an idiot. It was a 40-year-old Nikon S2 rangefinder. “It still works fine.” To him, it was simply a tool.
Digital technology may not allow for a camera to have the longevity of Bob’s Nikon. Be careful about chasing technological tail unless it’s a substantial improvement over what you already have.