Filmmaking the Hard Way

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Filmmaking the Hard Way

If you’ve been visiting filmmaking stuff for any length of time, you know that I am rather bullish on the ways new methods in film distribution is shaping our industry. Never before have audiences been so fragmented. And never before have filmmakers had the vast array of distribution tools available.

There is no doubt that distribution is confusing. But as an entrepreneurial filmmaker, it is equally important that you learn everything you can about growing an audience. Below you will find an excerpt from Josh Folan’s new book, titled: Filmmaking, the Hard Way – Where he shares his experience with distribution (Or the Pursuit of It)

Film Distribution Checklist

✓ Marketing Materials  ✓ Publicity   ✓ Niche Marketing  ✓ Event Marketing  ✓ Festival Strategy  ✓ Seeking Distribution & Approaching Film Markets  ✓ Distributor Negotiation & Delivery  ✓ Self-Distribution  ✓ Indie Distribution Legal Checklist

The order of the above steps isn’t in any sort of chronological order, as the process of securing and conducting distribution is a convoluted one in most micro-budget scenarios.  We started working on assembling our marketing materials, reaching out to reviewers and tapping into target niches long before we were in a position to profit from any interest we created.

Filmmaking The Hard WayThere are pros and cons to the creation of buzz prior to the monetization phase; a stockpiled audience (email list subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, etc.) can easily be accessed once the film is ready and that existing audience can be an interest beacon for traditional distributors, as well as a bargaining tool in your negotiations with them. On the other hand, an individual’s interest in your film could very well never be as incentivized to buy as it is when they first become aware of it, so to not have the film available for sale at the brief moment you have someone’s attention could result in lost sales.

Given we endured the anguish of not really formulating one in advance, I strongly recommend you devise a well planned and advantageously timed marketing strategy that will allow you to make informed decisions… Instead of the blind stabs we were taking for over a year prior to securing a distributor.

Unsure of our traditional distribution prospects, we decided to engage in some self-distribution around the time of our festival premier at the Hoboken International Film Festival in June of 2011 – which amounted to having a small run of DVDs printed up and sold from the website, as well as placing the film on the online VOD platform IndieFlix.

Some distribution personnel would argue this course of action diminishes a title’s attractiveness to a distributor, as they want to be able to direct the initial release of the film to their liking and hate the idea of having already missed sales when acquiring a title, but it ultimately did not prevent us from securing a deal.  Osiris Entertainment did ask that we pull the DVD offer from the website and remove the film from any and all VOD platforms, but that was the extent of the “backlash.”

Based on that experience, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a reason to recommend against this type of “soft self-release” if you are in an open-ended distribution search with no potential A-list festival premieres on the horizon.  With that distribution and marketing climate stated, I’ll cover how we tackled each of these categories.

Marketing Materials

You’ll have an endless need for content – teasers, trailers, promo videos, stills, etc. – so start stacking it all in a neat, organized little pile that you can quickly sift through when the need arises.  Some critical tools will be covered here, but you should tirelessly be cooking up new, unique ways to spin the content you are able to compile in ways to help market the film.

Key Art.  I originally took some conceptual drafts we kicked around as key art possibilities and just went off on my own with Adobe Fireworks to put together the poster we would use until securing distribution, after which it was retooled by Osiris into the image currently in circulation.  I used stills from John Harris, tracked down a cool font on the interwebs, and did what I could with my limited design proficiency.

We were ever-so-proud of keying the word “LOVE” in red into the title of the film itself, as well as a few other little hidden messages in the production company text at the top.  With our second feature, What Would Bear Do, I turned to Craigslist and sought out a young artist, James Eads, to put together an illustration based off stills we had from the shoot – again, for his first feature film credit and a nominal stipend.

Press Kit.  You should already have the groundwork laid for this by the distribution stage, so you’ll just be updating and rounding out the existing document here.  Update the bios of key cast and crew, include a page about the bands you’ve involved the music of, include a thoughtful note from the key filmmakers about what the film means to them, update the full cast and crew credit listing with post-production personnel.

After that, write a short background paragraph explaining all the trials and tributes that were weathered to make the film a reality, include any press coverage you were able to drum up during the shoot, and be sure to highlight anything else that makes your film unique/interesting/cool.  Ultimately, the purpose of the document is to sell the film, so sell the film!  You can pull up the press kit for All God’s Creatures here as well as the press release for What Would Bear Do here.

Videos.  This is where you have to really get creative.  The effectiveness of the promotional video content you create to market the film will hinge on whether you are able to encapsulate the best aspects of your film and convey them to a viewer in the short attention span you are likely to be afforded.  That means you need to pinpoint what is unique, interesting, captivating – whatever the selling point of your product is – and be able to fire it at the speed of light into the potential consumer’s psyche in a fashion that leaves them hankering for more.

In the case of All God’s Creatures, we catered to the love story theme by creating 30-second matching his and hers teasers that touched on the troubled individual lives of the lovers.  We were very aware of the micro-budget filmmaking aspect of our work, and didn’t hesitate to highlight it in a short documentary interview series we shot with Tym Moss, one of the day player actors in the film, while talking with him for his internet radio show.  We ended up naming the series Shoot to Kill: The Making of All God’s Creatures – you can watch the full series on YouTube.

On What Would Bear Do, with the comedic subject matter in mind, I’ve cut similarly styled his and hers teasers that were of course a smattering of the funny moments between the guy and girl pairings in the lead foursome.  I’ve also been using some of the better outtakes as short teasers.

You’ll definitely need a full two to three minute traditional trailer, though I’d try to keep it much closer to the former.  You’ll likely have a natural inclination to try to tell the story here, as we struggled to defy with both films, but you have to resist that urge and keep in mind that this is a sales tool – your goal is to sell the film, not tell the story told in it.  What accomplishes that best is project-specific, but understand you don’t need to follow any rules.

If it’s more interesting to put the something from the end of the film as the opening image of the trailer, where you should be setting up the characters and plot, then by all means put it there.  Making two minutes of awesome that leaves the viewer telling his or her friend to google the trailer is the sole purpose here.

The one counter to this theory is if you full-on mislead the consumer about what the film is about, you risk them reacting negatively when they watch the movie itself and trashing the film in their social circles because it wasn’t their cup of tea – I’ve seen that happen a lot lately with art films being portrayed as something they’re not, simply to get butts in theater seats – Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are examples of this.  Things have worked out alright for both filmmakers in those cases, but then again they had Ryan Gosling and James Franco at their disposal.

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Filmmaking the Hard Way

In the new book, Filmmaking, the Hard Way puts low budget filmmaking under the microscope by analyzing the process of making a film from top to bottom with an honesty and transparency rarely found in writings of its kind.

“Josh has spent months processing and organizing everything he learned along the way and turned it into a book that can help you do the same. This is EXACTLY what indie filmmaking is all about. You would be hard-pressed to find another book as detailed and direct about the costs associated with getting this process right, the pitfalls, the tiny windows of opportunity that you must recognize and act upon immediately…” – Ryan Gielen,

The book is available in both digital and paperback formats on Amazon and Smashwords, as well a number of other digital download platforms – Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo.

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Josh Folan is a producer, writer, director and actor with professional credits dating back to 2005. His first feature-length film venture, the romantic thriller All God’s Creatures, was released through Osiris Entertainment in May of 2012. Folan’s second feature, a slacker buddy comedy titled What Would Bear Do? You can follow Josh @joshfolan and his production company, NYEH Entertainment.

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