Rethinking the Film Distribution Paradigm: Content Bundles, Price Points and the Never-Ending Rollout
In a September 13th, 2013 piece for realscreen, Kevin Ritchie recapped a September 11th, 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Doc Conference panel that featured marketing and distribution experts Marc Schiller and Peter Broderick.
Marc Schiller was the marketing guru behind Banksy’s hugely successful documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop.
And Peter Broderick is a lawyer and consultant with hundreds of microbudget filmmaking clients. (It was Peter Broderick who coined the "Old World and New World" metaphor for how film marketing has evolved. I've just appropriated it.)
So what did Marc Schiller and Peter Broderick say at TIFF that was groundbreaking or noteworthy?
Although it doesn't sound very groundbreaking, Marc Schiller and Peter Broderick both talked about the importance of a filmmaker's mailing list - "a built-in audience of fans [that filmmakers] can leverage with each new project."
I know, keeping a mailing list sounds boring. But here's the noteworthy part: Marc Schiller and Peter Broderick both talked about how leveraging a mailing list could help a filmmaker "to bundle content at dynamic price points aimed at a variety of viewers, from hardcore fans (who buy pricey DVDs packaged with extra features and collectible merch) to general audiences (who just buy or rent the film)."
Perhaps if I give an example of a movie that failed to use an email list and data about the fanbase properly (i.e., to fully exploit the sales that were potentially out there), this second point will become clearer.
For example, in Toronto March Schiller talked about how he blew it with Exit Through the Gift Shop.
Didn't I just say that Exit Through the Gift Shop was "hugely successful?"
I did. And it was. But Marc Schiller thinks the film could have done much better - after the initial theatrical run.
Even though Exit Through the Gift Shop stands as an example of a great New World initial release (first targeting a core audience - "Banksy fans and people interested street art" - who then acted as advocates for the film on social media, "build[ing] buzz that attracted general audience moviegoers"), Marc Schiller now thinks he missed a huge opportunity with the Banksy film.
As Marc Schiller confessed to the Toronto gathering: “What typically happens is we front-load all our dollars so the spend ends after one week... Because the movie will have no sequel, there is no incentive to do anything else.” So that's basically all he did. But Exit Through the Gift Shop continues to have new fans on Facebook and Marc Schiller thinks the filmmakers could still be releasing new versions of the film - bundling the content in new ways and driving sales at various price points (new collector edition, cheap online download, etc.).
Not every filmmaker (or film) will want to pursue this (endless?) release strategy... But if you've got a good film, and a robust email list and a marketing person (PMD?) who can help you... And you're willing to do the work of re-bundling your footage and your merchandise... And you're willing to think through the re-packaging and dynamic pricing to keep offering new versions... Then, instead of forgetting about your film's audience after its debut, why not treat your film as the rallying point for a community that is growing and interested in an ongoing relationship with you - an engaged group of fans that can continue to earn you revenue? Well, at least it's something to consider.
This approach is already working for some indie filmmakers.
As Kevin Ritchie explains:
"One of the most successful films to capitalize on dynamic pricing is the 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie [so that's why their trailer is at the top of this post]. Entertainment marketers are closely watching how directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky continue to release new versions of the film that drive sales at mid-range price points. In July [2013, a year after their initial release], they released Indie Game: The Movie Special Edition, which comes with 300 minutes of new material is available at prices ranging from $14.99 to $89.99. “Every distribution innovation is coming from Indie Game because they are not stopping,” [Marc Schiller] said. To make this model work, filmmakers must lay the groundwork – often as early as pre-production – by building up a robust email list, which... is more important that social media, and by ensuring they retain ownership of both copyright and online data when finalizing deals."
This is the New World of film marketing: A community and an ongoing relationship. And holding on to the right to create and exploit subsequent versions of your film (what the copyright law refers to as "derivative works") and the sole right to exploit the data you've collected about your audience.
It may not be for everyone. But I firmly believe that the future of marketing and distribution that Marc Schiller and Peter Broderick discussed at TIFF should - at the very least - be a part of every film school curriculum. Unfortunately, only a handful of film educators have gotten wind of what's happened in the New World. Most film educators I've met have no idea how films are discovered and circulate online. But their students should be watching the marketing moves of filmmakers like Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. While the history of 20th Century film marketing is (of course) important, film students need to be careful they don't waste too much time trying to fit into a distribution model that has already crumbled. There are new ways.