The Self-Distribution Methods of TRANSCENDENT MAN

For an interesting read on the distribution journey of TRANSCENDENT MAN and how a combination of disruptive technologies and traditional marketing techniques can result in successful distribution, check out this case study at Sundance.org. Having a fascination for Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, I watched the documentary film on Netflix streaming last summer. In reading the case study, I learned a few lessons, logged a few distribution techniques in my toolkit, and came to appreciate how the film managed to find it’s way to my MacBook Pro.

After completing the film in 2009, the filmmakers had no luck securing distribution. So they began to distribute themselves, starting with a special event tour where they arranged screenings and live Q and A’s with Ray and Barry, using Eventbrite for ticketing and Square for credit card purchases.

The tour generated press headed by publicist Celia Black. Anyone remember seeing the Singularity inspired cover of Time Magazine on February, 21 2011? Yep, that was because of the film. Press was all over the place by then, and this wouldn’t have happened for just any documentary… Ray Kurzweil’s views are larger-than-life, and his genius knows no bounds. It’s Ray that makes this documentary interesting, press worthy, and current.

In tandem with the tour, the film was distributed on March 1, 2011 on Movies-on-demand (VOD), iTunes, direct-to-consumer on the film’s website using Dynamo Player, and through DVD sales on the film’s web-site. The film jumped to the top 20 of all films on iTunes in its first week and remained the number 2 documentary for 13 weeks.

Not too shabby.

In the next phase (starting on May 24, 2011), Barry and team partnered with New Video to create a retail DVD and distribute it to Wal-Mart.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Target, and Best Buy. Press was churning by then, and with Ray’s appearances on late night TV talk shows, DVD sales increased. At the same time, the film was available for viewing online on Amazon, Netflix, Wal-Mart, YouTube, and Hulu, which also helped increase DVD sales. 100,000 people rated the film on Netflix in the first 90 days that it was available.

Whoa.

Other avenues of distribution included an app for the iPhone and iPad created by MoPix. The app includes the full-length movie and special features. The filmmakers also sought the help of Fathom Events to produce and broadcast a live event from Lincoln Center New York to over 500 theaters in 49 states. The event included appearances by Ray and Barry, Steve Wozniak, Deepak Chopra, Quincy Jones, and more. Other techniques noted in the article are four-walling, using Google Analytics, partnering with an agency (WME, in this case), bundling the DVD with t-shirts and books, and maintaining a Facebook page.

Lots to chew on here and lots of questions – like who negotiated all of these distribution channels and how much did they cost? I think you can point to the star of the film as a main driver for its popularity. Not just any film will be able to follow these exact methods of distribution, and see this kind of popularity, but the case study certainly provides several methods distribution; and even a few tools for those with a micro-budget.

I realize that many of us are not going to have a publicist that went to Harvard (Cellia Black did) and representation from WME, but the methods used to self-distribute TRANSCENDENT MAN are, for me, inspiring. Read the full article over at Sundance.org to learn more. And feel free to share your thoughts on self-distribution below.

Advertisements

Thoughts on the Long Work Hours of Film Production

So I got an email from one of my friends yesterday. He had to cancel an evening meeting with me because he was working on a music video. They had already been shooting for 12 hours. He half-jokingly said they’d be there until sunrise. It was 8pm. Do the math. That’s a 22-hour day.

While this is rare, the average production day for a film/television crew is 13 hours+. On student/indie sets, it can be really bad. I’ve heard of students pulling three 18-hour days back to back.

In 2006, Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler made a documentary called “Who Needs Sleep” that shows how sleep deprivation and long work hours in Hollywood are a lethal combination. Wexler recently wrote this article for the Huffington Post that talks about the health and safety dangers of “Sleepless Hollywood”. The article marks the 15th anniversary of the tragic event that led Wexler to make the documentary – after working a 19-hour day on “Pleasantville”, assistant cameraman Brent Hershman fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car. He was killed.

On the short films that I’ve directed, I’ve tried to keep the days as short as possible (12 hours maximum), and give the cast and crew at least 12 hours of rest.  These decisions were partly driven by budget (the SAG contracts I used required overtime pay for work in excess of 10 hours in any day excluding time spent for meals, and rest period charges if performer is not given at least 12 hours of rest), but mostly driven with the well being of the cast and crew in mind. I, like Wexler, am an advocate of the 12 On 12 Off campaign. The campaign has “three basic rules of humane and responsible filmmaking”: 1) No more the 12 hours of work; 2) No less than 12 hours of turnaround; and 3) No more then 6 hours between meals. (Perhaps an exception would be shooting French hours on an 8 to 10 hour day.)

Not everyone in film and television has long hour production days inflicted on them. According to this article, Clint Eastwood is known for working 9-hour days. On top of that, Eastwood has a history of finishing a product early and under budget, and, in my opinion, his films are stellar. Talk about efficiency and excellence.

Thankfully, my friend mentioned above only had to work a 14 hour day. As filmmakers we are a committed bunch and we love what we do. We’ll work as hard and as long as it takes to get the job done. But to what end? Time with family, mental and physical health, and public safety are all sacrificed. Hopefully, it won’t take another tragedy or broken family to wake us up.

To close, here’s a comment from Sidney Lumet on long hour days in Hollywood – “Now I know that great movies have been done that way, and I know great performances have been achieved that way, but in my view they have been great movies or performances despite the hours, not because of them.” (From “Directors Speak Out” clip by Haskell Wexler, 12 On 12 Off Blog, posted January 29, 2010.)

Do you have any stories about working long hours (or short hours) on set?

A Tip for Moonlighting Filmmakers

The starting line

If you’re at the beginning of your career as a filmmaker like me, and especially if you have a family to support, you’ll likely find yourself needing to do your creative work at the end of an already busy day. It is HARD to get going when your tank is already on E. Adam Pash over at Lifehacker writes about those critical moments between giving up and wasting your night, and deciding to get up and get creating.

The key, according to Pash, is just getting started. He makes a deal with himself that if he logs just 10 minutes on his project, he can go back to wasting his night away, guilt free. More often than not he finds himself getting caught up in a burst of productivity—always a welcome event in a moonlighter’s life. If you find yourself in the same boat, hop on over to Lifehacker to read the full article. I know I need all the help I can get.

Andrew Stanton on Story @ TED

Andrew Stanton of Pixar fame (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares about writing compelling stories that people connect with. Some great takeaways:

“Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” – William Archer

“Stories affirm who we are.” – Andrew Stanton

“If things go static, stories die, because life is never static.” – Andrew Stanton

Watch the full video here: