Jonathan Brun

How to market your indie film or documentary

I have no experience in the movie industry, have never made a movie, and probably couldn’t make one either. But, I recently had an interesting email exchange with the creators of the documentary Buck. I contacted them to outline my frustration at trying to watch the movie in Canada. The movie had been on the festival circuit for many months, and was available on DVD in the United States, but it was not available in Canada. On their website, they mention a number of screenings in Canada, none of which were in Montréal.

Due to my frustration, I ended up illegally downloading the film to watch it. In this blog post, I plan to lay out my thoughts on how film makers can more effectively market their documentary or small indie film.

Let’s face it, the industry’s distribution model is completely broken – it is based in a world where the Internet does not exist. Film makers must fix their marketing strategy so that they can increase revenues and facilitate financing for future films.

1. Don’t waste 80% of your marketing budget!

Movies spend most of their advertising budget in the run up to the theatrical release. But ,by the time the film is ready for distribution on iTunes, NetFlix, and other large scale platforms – the public has forgotten your ads.

Time your advertising with easy access to your film. Since the best way to distribute your movie today is through online systems, not theatres, your marketing budget for online and theatrical release should be adjusted accordingly. Obviously leverage social media for promotion – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

You could also release the film online from the start to maximize exposure from reviews and critical acclaim.

2. Don’t release your film by country, eh!

With the internet, it’s insane to try and stagger your releases by country. When someone in Canada has to wait months to see your US movie, they will inevitably turn to a pirated copy, I did.

Most of your marketing will and should be done online. Because online marketing can easily link to a purchase or rental of your film, it seems wise to ensure it is available everywhere simultaneously. Because the producers of the Matrix 2 knew their audience was tech savvy and would pirate the film; they decided to release it globally at the same time. It worked.

3. Theatres no longer guarantee a better viewing experience

The traditional argument for releasing to theatres has been that the theatre provides the most authentic experience of the film as intended by the creators. In 2011, millions of homes have amazing HD TVs, surround sound and great seating: the theatre -quality argument seems weaker by the day.

As a side note, the move to 3D films in theatres has clearly been to keep consumers coming out to theatres, theatre companies are very aware of this HD TV issue. For traditional 2D movies and especially films that play in smaller artistic theatres, the home often provides a higher quality experience than the theatre.

It all boils down to this: someone has to break the control theatres and distributors have on movie creators. I understand the prestige of releasing your film in theatres, but if your goal is to have as many people as possible pay to see it; theatres are no longer the best approach.

Film production costs have been dramatically reduced thanks to HD cameras and high power computers. Filmmakers have un-rivalled distribution channels to millions of people; yet, they still seem set on the old model of festivals and theatres.

Your goal as a movie creator should be to earn a healthy living and have your film enjoyed by as many people see it as possible, not to get awards and help movie theatres. Simply stated, I think movie creaters should bypass the existing distribution traps, market your film directly to your audience, and retain ownership of the entire process.

It took the music industry a decade and billions of dollars to learn this lesson, how long will it take the film industry?

If you have not read the Long Tail by Marc Anderson of Wired magazine, please do.

Published on October 23, 2011

Gasland and Shale Gas Fracking

I just watched the documentary GasLand (trailer below), which tells the horrifying tale of the shale fracking natural gas industry in the US. Luckily, activists in Québec managed to stop the industry from moving forward with its plans to start fracking the the lower St. Lawrence valley.

Here is a good rundown of what Shale Gas Fracking is.

However, the stoppage is simply a moratorium and will likely be lifted eventually. In the states, natural gas exploration is advancing at breakneck speeds (though New York has also imposed a moratorium). Having been promised the technology was secure, many down on their luck farmers and property owners could not resist the easy money of selling off some of their land for shale gas exploration. By any reasonable measure, the decision to pollute water ways and the air for a few tens of thousands of dollars seems short sighted at best, but when faced with outsized credit card debt and mortgages – cash is hard to resist.

Of all the scary stories outlined in Gasland, the most dangerous is this: Shale gas fracking is done on hundreds of thousands of small platforms, not large centralized rigs. The distributed nature of the extraction makes it very difficult for the environmental protection agencies and communities to identify, monitor and control the source of pollution and danger. For example, in Canada we have the National Pollutant Release Information (NPRI) that requires sites who emit over a certain threshold to report their air emissions. The US has a similar program called TRI. Because each individual gas extraction platform is considered a site they typically fall under the threshold and do not need to report. This is very troubling. With hundreds of thousands of sites spread over vast territories, the potential impact is massive.

The distributed nature of the exploration also makes it nearly impossible to monitor – how many thousands of rivers, marshes, wells and air emissions can underfunded environmental protection agencies reasonably monitor?

I encourage everyone to watch Gasland and ensure your governments properly control the Shale Gas fracking industry. France just banned shale gas fracking, why can’t we?

Rundown of the situation in Québec (français)

Comité de vigilence sur les gaz de schiste

Published on October 10, 2011

On Steve Jobs

In 2003 my friend Louis introduced me to Apple, it’s been a one way trip. It’s sometimes hard to explain to people what makes Apple’s products different; how do you explain the nuance of serif and sans-serif font, the click of a keyboard or the lightness of a Macbook Air. Of course, it’s not one of these innovations that makes Apple stand out, but rather the uncomprimising combination of them.

Yes, Apple makes consumer products for relatively wealthy people. Yes, there are bigger problems and greater issues in the world. But, Apple and its undying devotion to perfection inspired and empowered many of us to do what we do today.

It is hard to imagine I’ve much to add to what will be said. Yet, it is however as simple as this; to honour Steve Jobs and his legacy, ask yourself: What would you do with your time on earth if it were limited to 56 years.

Do that, and nothing else, and the world will be a better place.

Published on October 5, 2011

The human touch

TED talks are always good, sometimes they’re great. The talk below by doctor Abraham Verghese outlines the importance of the human relationship in medicine. In many fields, we are increasingly relying on analytics, statistics, reports and metrics – but we forget that behind the numbers lie people, patients, customers, clients, friends. Take 20 minutes to watch this talk, it’s definitely worth it.

Personally, I’m continually trying to find ways to be more personal – going to events, participating in the community and caring about other peoples’ stories. Pay attention to details and lean into conversations.


Published on October 3, 2011