Maxim Jago, Director, maximjago.com
Max Votolato, Director / Producer / Editor / Researcher, Freeway City Films
Richard Wright, Photographer, Winter Quarters Production
Griffin Hammond, Documentary Filmmaker, www.hey.film
Chris Sobchack, Co-head, Wraptastic Productions
Michael Horton, Co-Producer, Supermeet
Dan Berube, Co-Producer, Supermeet
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are talking financing, distribution and making money on your film. We start with Maxim Jago, a producer director who is currently financing two films. Tonight, he shares his experiences on how to get the money to enable production to start.
Larry Jordan: Griffin Hammond is a documentary filmmaker who completed his film three years ago. Today it is still turning a profit and he explains why he decided to self distribute his film and what he did that worked.
Larry Jordan: Richard Wright and his partner create short historical documentaries. He explains how he’s making money on his projects, and his plans for distribution.
Larry Jordan: Chris Sobchack and his wife created Please Tell Me I’m Adopted, a short form comedy series designed for the web. Chris also decided to self distribute, but took a different path than Griffin. Chris explains what he did, and how it worked.
Larry Jordan: Max Votolato is the producer director of Freeway City, a film which he completed a couple of years ago. Unlike other guests, Max decided to release his film for free. Tonight, we find out why he did it and whether he got the results he expected.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus Mike Horton and Dan Berube with a preview on the upcoming SuperMeet at NAB in April and James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. This week, as you’ll hear shortly from James DeRuvo, we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Adobe Premiere Pro, the program first released in 1992. Back in 1992 we were still deeply involved in shooting standard definition images, and recording them on video tape. Technical specs for HD were still two years away from being finalized. All our video was interlaced, and the industry leading camera was Sony’s Digi Betacam which created uncompressed video at 30 megabytes a second.
Larry Jordan: Most hard disks in those days were FireWire 400, which wasn’t fast enough to support Digi Betacam playback and for those of us with money, we started experimenting with RAIDS. Storage was expensive, and measured in gigabytes. I personally remember spending $15,000 for 20 gigabytes of storage, spread across four five gigabyte drives, attached via FireWire 800. That formed the core network storage for a 20 person production company.
Larry Jordan: When it came to computers, Apple had not yet made the switch to Intel processors. Most of us were working with either Macintosh Quadras or Performas, with CPUs that maxed out at 33 megahertz running on a Motorola 68030 chip. 1992 also saw the first release of Macintosh System 7 and Windows 3.1.
Larry Jordan: Times, technology and media have all changed, and so has Premiere. Adobe is celebrating with a brand new contest called Make the Cut, and here with the details of Adobe’s contest, along with a wrap up of industry news, is James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: So what have we got that’s news this week?
James DeRuvo: FiLMiC Pro is about to release their new version 6. It’s completely redesigned with an interface that includes these really cool arc sliders that come in from either side, you just slide in. It’s very intuitive, and it gives you minute control over zoom, focus, shutter and exposure. You also have control over focus peaking, Zebras, and false color control, and you’ll be able to shoot in log in 4K. So FiLMiC Pro is already the standard for mobile filmmaking, but this latest update, I think it ensures it stays at the top of the pyramid for some time to come.
Larry Jordan: James, what’s FiLMiC Pro?
James DeRuvo: FiLMiC Pro is an app designed specifically for the iPhone, but recently they also relaunched it for the Android platform, and it gives you access to all those manual controls that you have on a cinema camera, but only for the mobile platform.
Larry Jordan: What else we got?
James DeRuvo: Vimeo has finally joined the 360 and virtual reality party with Vimeo 360. It will enable you to upload 360 video at up to 8K resolution with 4K streaming options, two pass transcoding and monoscopic and stereoscopic support. They’re going to have a curated special channel which will have staff pics and open global market place with which to sell your downloads, and for those just beginning in shooting 360 video, they are going to have a 360 film school which will have tips and tricks. They’ll review all the latest 360 degree cameras and just help you to make a better film in the round. With its coming late to the party, there’s no denying that Vimeo is the filmmaker’s streaming site, but if you’re serious about shooting 360 video and you’re not really interested in just getting something up there to get the views, Vimeo 360 may be the best professional choice.
Larry Jordan: This early in the career of VR, I’m not sure late to the party actually applies. I’m curious to see what Vimeo comes up with.
James DeRuvo: I’ve always considered Vimeo to be that niche marketed streaming service where you put your very best video quality because they tend to have a better streaming video than YouTube, even though YouTube gets most of the eyeballs. It’s going to be interesting to see what they bring. Right now, I really like what they’re doing.
Larry Jordan: I understand we’re celebrating a party?
James DeRuvo: Yes, we’re celebrating Adobe Premiere Pro’s 25th anniversary. Can you believe it’s been 25 years that we’ve been cutting on Adobe?
Larry Jordan: Oh my goodness.
James DeRuvo: It was launched in 1994, the groundbreaking non-linear editor was the first offer broadcast quality video editing on a personal computer. And by 1996, they were actually editing 4K film frame sizes. Crazy. The early 2000s though found Premiere to be a bit bloated and difficult to use and it was crashing a lot. But by 2009, Adobe had completely rebuilt the app and relaunched it as Adobe Premiere Pro and now with Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud, it really has become the gold standard for PC editing.
James DeRuvo: Adobe is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Premiere Pro by launching a $25,000 video editing contest called Make the Cut. Working in partnership with the rock band Imagine Dragons, budding editors will be able to download unedited footage and cut together their own music video, and they have a chance to win a part of that $25,000 prize, year long subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud and a host of other really great prizes.
James DeRuvo: It’s hard to believe we’ve been cutting on Premiere for 25 years Larry, but with Creative Cloud’s groundbreaking features driving the industry now, I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years is going to have in store.
Larry Jordan: James, where can we go to keep up with the latest in the industry?
James DeRuvo: All these and other stories can be found at Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for DoddleNEWS and joins us every week to provide the DoddleNEWS update. James, thanks for joining us today.
James DeRuvo: OK Larry, thanks.
Larry Jordan: Thinking about making news, Mike Horton and Dan Berube are co-producers of the legendary SuperMeet at the NAB show in Las Vegas. This is their 16th year producing this event, and I want to learn more about what they’re planning. Hello Dan, Hello Mike.
Dan Berube: Hello Larry.
Mike Horton: Hello Larry.
Larry Jordan: So Dan, when and where is the event?
Dan Berube: The event is once again at the Rio Hotel on Tuesday April 25th, inside the wonderful Pavilion Ballroom.
Larry Jordan: Michael, what you got on tap?
Mike Horton: So far this year, we have Blackmagic Design who has been with us for all of 16 years by the way, and we can’t do these things without them. Then of course Adobe will be there. We have OWC, and for the first time, we have Final Cut Pro X Works, FCP Works, HP and NVIDIA is also going to be there, and we’re working on a keynote. We won’t be able to announce that for a little but until that’s cemented, but we’re going to have a real good diverse group of companies. Of course, they’ll be user driven and it won’t be so much about the tools, but about using the tools.
Larry Jordan: So Dan, what’s got you most excited about this year’s event?
Dan Berube: Larry, the fact that we are doing this once again, it takes an incredible amount of energy, passion, community oriented resources and that we’re doing it in our 16th year, still in Vegas, and still having a great time bringing people together, that’s what excites me most about this.
Larry Jordan: Mike, same question.
Mike Horton: Yes, it is. Dan put it really well, it does bring people together, and that’s our home mission ever since the beginning is to first and foremost make this a networking event. That’s what it is, especially that part before the show actually starts, and during the break. That’s when everybody comes together and those people who have the courage to come up and meet some stranger and shake their hands, and say, “Hi, my name is…” you never know as we always say, if that person might change your life. But you got to have the courage to shake their hands.
Larry Jordan: Mike, getting back to you, when are you going to have the courage to release the agenda?
Mike Horton: It’s always a difficult thing to put together and it’s also a difficult thing to get the people that we have signed on to send us a paragraph so we can put it on the website and tell everybody. So that’s one of the reasons, but as always it’s going to be a great show, and more importantly it’s that chance to get together with other like minded people who can hopefully solve any problems that you might have.
Dan Berube: I got to say Larry that I wouldn’t want to be doing it with anyone else but Michael. Michael, you’re the best. I know we’ve been through a lot over these 16 years, but we’re going to make this happen.
Mike Horton: We’ll make this happen, that’s for sure.
Larry Jordan: Dan, where can people go on the web to learn more?
Dan Berube: The best place to go is at supermeet.com.
Larry Jordan: How much is a ticket?
Dan Berube: Right now, we have our early bird tickets on through March 27th. $10 for general admission, and $7 for students and teachers.
Mike Horton: It behooves you to get your tickets now.
Larry Jordan: Well I have already got my ticket because I would not think of missing the SuperMeet. Dan Berube, and Mike Horton, co-producers of the SuperMeet, gentlemen, thanks for joining us.
Dan Berube: Thanks for having us on Larry.
Mike Horton: Thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Enter the new digital eco system of media, entertainment, and technology, where behavior and business have merged to redefine content, workflow and revenue streams. It’s the M.E.T Effect, a cultural phenomenon fuelled by hybrid solutions and boundless connectivity that’s changing the very nature of how we live, work and play.
Larry Jordan: Join more than 100,000 attendees from 160 countries at the NAB show. Conferences are April 22nd to the 27th and exhibits are April 24th through the 27th, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Let’s thrive and I’ll see you there.
Larry Jordan: Maxim Jago is a film director, a screenwriter, an author who splits his time between filmmaking and speaking as a futurist, especially at events celebrating creativity. He’s also the chief innovation officer at filmdoo.com and a mentor for new filmmakers. Hello Maxim, welcome.
Maxim Jago: Hi there Larry. It’s great to speak to you.
Larry Jordan: It is wonderful to have you back with us. I just realized the last time we spoke was September last year. So at that point you were working on two films, what’s the status of them?
Maxim Jago: Well it’s been fascinating. We’re developing a project in direction, so we’ve actually got three films and a short now and some technology projects. What we’re finding is that the distribution landscape has pretty much finished changing now, but we’ve been talking about it changing for a long time, and talking about the way it’s been watered down, that we’ve got all these metrics now, we’ve got all these modes of tracking audience behaviors. But you’ve still got this fundamental problem of how do you convince the public that they want to engage with a story? What we’re finding is that actually it really comes down to cast, and that’s very much our focus at the moment.
Larry Jordan: It really comes down to what?
Maxim Jago: Casting.
Larry Jordan: Really?
Maxim Jago: The names, the international names. If you are part of the studio system, where you’ve got a reasonable budget for a film, and that incorporates a budget for your talent, for your casting, then it’s no problem. But if you’re working on projects, then really who is in the project is absolutely critical.
Larry Jordan: So if casting is the most important, how can you cast without knowing what your budget is?
Maxim Jago: Well you do have a budget. It’s one of those funny things about production. You could make it for nothing or you could make it for whatever it is now, a million dollars. But, ultimately, you’re going to name a number and you’re going to come up with a budget for that number, within which you know you can produce the film. But of course, it’s critical that you have casting in place, or at least some aspirations for casting, because without that you can’t estimate your revenues, and without the revenues you can’t estimate how much you can get to make the film. So it’s a sort of a chicken and egg thing.
Larry Jordan: I would say absolutely. Well let’s pretend, just for the conversation, that we have a film and you’ve cast it. How are you going to finance it? Where does the money come from today?
Maxim Jago: Well, I’m speaking very much as an independent film director here, but the route would be to begin discussions with sales agent, distributors. These are the people that can look at your approximate budget, the genre for the film, the territories that they’re looking at distributing in, and importantly, the names that you have attached to the project. Based on that information, they can forecast some revenues, and that’s really the next stage. Once you’ve got those from somebody credible, you can go to potential sources of finance and show them that you think you’re going to make tons of money.
Maxim Jago: But I think that there’s an ethical dilemma for filmmakers, because if you were producing the equivalent to this, which would be a business plan for a new company, you’d have very simple metrics to use to look at how you’re going to make money for the investors of the company. How long investment needs to be in the company, whatever it is. But with a film, there are just so many variables, and as far as I can tell now, if you produce your reasonable budget, in a reasonable time scale, and you distribute worldwide in all media, it’s very likely indeed that you will double your original investors money. If the music sounds OK and the story is alright, you’ll make back the investors’ money. Of course, if you do have a famous name in the film, you’ll have some better metrics. People will be more attracted to the film, you’ll get a better distribution, and you’ll probably make more money.
Maxim Jago: But you do have this challenge if you don’t have names to convince people to see the film. And I’m reliably told that if you … investor that you will just double their money, but you’re confident you’ll do that, and you have the potential to make ten, 20, 30, 40 times their investment, it … good enough. Investors in high risk investments, generally want to know that they’re going to get five or ten times their investment back, or it’s not worth it. So you have another Catch 22 trying to raise the finance for your film.
Maxim Jago: Ultimately, I think the solution is, if you’ve got a cause that people care about, if you have people that care about you that want to invest in your career as a filmmaker, that can help. But the alternative is that you begin to estimate revenues based on the cast you hope you will get if you get the money, so that you can then have a deal memo with your investors. For example, let’s say I’m trying to get Johnny Depp for a film. You never know, it could happen. I can say to investors, “If we cast Johnny Depp, you’ll commit the money, and here’s the revenues that we’re expecting.” With that deal memo in place, you can probably begin to have discussions with agents.
Larry Jordan: Well where does Kickstarter and Indiegogo factor into this, because you’ve been talking with traditional funding sources, not crowdsourcing?
Maxim Jago: That’s right and I looked into things like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, in fact we really researched and explored running a Kickstarter for one of the projects I’m working on. What I found is that ultimately, what’s going to get people engaged with a crowdfunding campaign, is a prior commitment, a prior connection to something to do with the project. Now an obvious one is going to be, once again, having a star involved. That means that there’s a significant number of people who have a prior connection with one of the characters or one of the cast. Another connection would be, again, a serious issue. There are some big social issues that we need to raise awareness of, and if you have a social issue and a new way of approaching it, then you may find that you can get a big commitment from people for your crowdfunding campaign.
Maxim Jago: Another option is if there’s a story or a narrative, a book adaption for example, that many people have read. One of the projects I’m working on now and developing, is Illusions, the book Illusions by the American author Richard Bach, and we’re looking to try to put together a film project based on that book. 40 million copies of this book were sold, and it’s a real life changing story for many people, so we’re optimistic that there’s an audience, and certainly a new generation waiting for the story.
Maxim Jago: Now if you’re on a funding campaign and you can show that prior commitment, you can get that connection and you can get a lot of people to contribute to it. But at the risk of sounding a bit depressing and on a downer about this, I think that if you have no stars, no social issues, no book adaption that people are already passionate about, then from what I can see, and I’ve spoken to quite a few people working projects in the same way, although you will get the outliers, like the … film for example was an amazing example of an outlier. No significant names in it but it was just an awesome project that did incredibly well. If you remove those outliers from your assessment, realistically, you’re probably going to raise somewhere between five and … that you can use to produce your film. Now you can step the process, so some people will raise finance for development, then for pre-production, then production, then for post production, and then for distribution. And each one of those is a separate crowdfunding campaign. But if you wanted to raise $100,000 or $200,000, I don’t think that’s completely realistic without that prior connection …
Larry Jordan: Let’s shift gears, because this show is talking both about financing and distribution, do you need to worry about distribution this early in your process? And if so, what questions are you wrestling with?
Maxim Jago: That’s a fantastic question. I think that most of life works better if you plan backwards and so absolutely. You want to be basing it on your distribution, and there’s some great news in this territory. We’ve now seen really good adoption of what people call OTT, let’s say multiple mediums for distribution for films and television and episodic content.
Larry Jordan: OTT, which stands for ‘Over The Top’ would be Amazon or Netflix or Hulu or something of that sort?
Maxim Jago: Right. I never liked the name, it just means a box next to your TV I suppose, but people don’t care if they’re watching a film now on a laptop, on an iPad, on a phone, on a TV or a projector. It doesn’t matter. This is great for indies, because the big challenge of course traditionally is if your distribution outlet was broadcast, TV, cable or theatres, you’ve got a problem because those distribution mediums are very carefully controlled by large organizations who have a flow of content that they are in control of. But now we’re starting to see a much more open landscape for distribution where the key challenge of course … you’ve still got to have people discover you, but the discoverability is improving.
Maxim Jago: At FilmDoo for example, we’re getting three or 400,000 visitors … We’ve focused on particular … but we’ve got a great search system. iTunes of course, people used to search, and it’s easier now than it was historically for you to get a film onto iTunes, and they’ve got 800 million plus users. Vimeo Pro … content. There’s YouTube where in some situations you can charge for content, and we’re beginning to see this opening up of the online landscape. Not just in terms of filmmakers being able to put their content out there, which is great, but also in audience acceptance.
Maxim Jago: I think this is very interesting for the smaller budget productions where you put together something that you’re passionate about, you want to create, and you want to monetize that so that you can move at least towards what a friend of mine, Kevin Flowers is an experienced filmmaker. He describes sustainable filmmaking. You don’t need millions of dollars, you just need to earn enough money to make the next one and to pay the rent, so it becomes a reasonable replacement to your day job.
Larry Jordan: So to sum up, for someone that’s just getting started with their project, assuming they have a good story, assuming they have the technical skills to pull this off, what advice do you have for them to make money on their project? What are the top three things they need to keep in mind?
Maxim Jago: Oh my goodness. First of all, remember that this is a visual medium, and so begin with getting drawings, getting art work. If you possibly can, shoot a scene, make sure there’s something that conveys the mood and the atmosphere of the project, because that will convince people more than anything else. Secondly, I would say, it’s critical that you get represented by somebody reputable in the industry. The bottom line is it’s not cool for you to tell people that you’re cool, but it is cool for somebody to say it and so you need someone who can big you up and who is respected, to make those introductions and get you those opportunities. Ask around, ask your mentors for recommendations.
Maxim Jago: I suppose the third thing I would say is that realism is beautiful, and it’s great to have imagination and dreams and aspirations. Try to couch those aspirations in a meaningful road map from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow, and just begin crossing those stepping stones. If you don’t have a reputation, you can build a reputation for free, by getting your friends together and producing low budget content that’s high quality. The tools are so accessible now, you can do it. And once you’ve built those smaller pieces, and built up your reputation, you can begin to cover the ground and to work on bigger projects.
Larry Jordan: Maxim, for people that want to keep track of the ground that you’re covering, where can they go on the web?
Maxim Jago: Well I have a strange name of course, so just Google Maxim Jago, or my website is maximjago.com. I’m always happy to answer questions and …
Larry Jordan: That website is maximjago.com and Maxim Jago himself is the voice you’ve been listening to. Maxim, thanks for joining us today. This has been fascinating, thank you very much.
Maxim Jago: Such a pleasure Larry, and looking forward to the next one.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Griffin Hammond is a documentary filmmaker based in New York City who’s known for producing do-it-yourself filmmaking tutorials for indie filmmakers and his award winning documentary, ‘Sriracha.’ He’s worked for Bloomberg TV and MSNBC and is the brand ambassador for the new Panasonic GH5 camera. Hello Griffin, and welcome.
Griffin Hammond: Hello Larry, thanks for having me.
Larry Jordan: You know, we are talking about marketing and distribution in today’s show and you’ve written a lot about this. But before we jump into that, tell me what ‘Sriracha’ is about.
Griffin Hammond: It’s a film about the hot sauce that is very popular in the US. I love sriracha and so I decided to make a film about where it comes from and the story behind it.
Larry Jordan: Sorry my mind just exploded. A film about hot sauce? Alright. Cool. How did you decide, once it was done, to market it?
Griffin Hammond: I was making it to go to film festivals, that was the point, but it became pretty clear that I had an audience for this film, and so it just seemed silly not to try to release it on my own. So I self distributed it, and just tried to see how many people I could get the film to.
Larry Jordan: Now what does self distribution mean?
Griffin Hammond: There are several platforms where you can publish the film yourself and receive revenue directly from consumers like Vimeo and iTunes and Amazon. You can publish through a middle man, called an aggregator. So really, I’m just putting my film on these commerce platforms, and they each have different revenue shares. Vimeo is the best one, they give you 90 percent to the filmmaker. So I just have the film on several of these places and people can buy the film and I get most of the money.
Larry Jordan: So rather than looking to put it in theatres, or sell it as a DVD, you’re posting it online at these three sites? With Amazon and iTunes and Vimeo?
Griffin Hammond: Yes. It did play in a few theatres and film festivals and I did sell some DVDs and blu-rays, but the majority of my audience for this film, it looks like it’s been around 700,000 people so far have watched the film, it’s almost entirely online in these self distribution systems.
Larry Jordan: So what did you learn doing self distribution? What worked, what didn’t?
Griffin Hammond: Well I made one mistake that turned out to be really good. Because of my limitation as my own distributor and marketer, I could only release on one platform at a time. It was too much bandwidth to try to release it everywhere. But it turned out that was really smart. That’s a strategy called windowing, where you release it on one platform, you have a big premiere there, and then a little while later you release it somewhere else, and it gets more excitement around that premiere as well. So I released on Vimeo first, then I think eight months later, I put it on iTunes and Amazon and it got new press, and a new audience when that happened. Even sales on Vimeo went up when I released it on another platform. All the platforms benefit from a new release on another platform.
Larry Jordan: Is it possible to make money on a documentary? I mean, traditionally documentaries are labors of love that nobody ever makes their money back, but can you make money on a doc?
Griffin Hammond: I did and I wasn’t expecting to and maybe I only did because I was never planning to make money. I mean I feel like indie documentaries are not supposed to make money, and I was doing it as a passion project. I just wanted this film to exist. But somehow I found an audience for it, and I was able to sell it through these platforms, and it’s actually made a pretty significant amount.
Larry Jordan: I know you’ve shared both expense and revenue numbers on your website. Can you share them here?
Griffin Hammond: Yes. So the film cost me about $12,000 to make, and that was mostly travel expenses. In the end, after three years since the film was released, it’s earned about $136,000 in revenue, and around $30,000 of that I’ve never seen. That’s money that goes straight to the platforms that I’m selling it on. But in the end after my expenses and the cut that they take, the profit for the film has been $78,000 in three years.
Larry Jordan: That’s pretty incredible when you think about it?
Griffin Hammond: Yes, I definitely was not expecting this, and it’s been nice. I can’t believe that people are still buying it three years later and it’s still making a little bit of revenue every month.
Larry Jordan: If you were to do self distribution again, what would you do differently?
Griffin Hammond: Maybe I would do more of the self distribution myself. I have two distributors. One has done a great job, and one of the things they did is they put it on Hulu which turns out is a platform I could have put it onto. So, I guess if I had spent more of my own time and energy I could have distributed it there myself, and I wouldn’t be losing a cut for that distributor. And then I have another distributor that actually has kept money from me. So, maybe self distribution would be the way to go entirely.
Larry Jordan: Which gets me to my last question. For somebody that’s thinking about distribution for the first time, what should they consider?
Griffin Hammond: That your job on this film doesn’t end when the film is over. You still have a lot of work to do, and it’s still a full time job just marketing your own film and figuring out all these different platforms. And just staying with the film, you have to maintain it and be customer service for it. So, either find someone or just recognize that you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours yourself.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to keep track of you and your films, and upcoming projects, where can they go on the web?
Griffin Hammond: If people go to griffinhammond.com they’ll find the film ‘Srirarcha,’ they’ll find this blog post where I share all the revenue numbers, and they’ll also find my podcast which is about filmmaking.
Larry Jordan: Griffin Hammond is the voice you’re listening to, documentary filmmaker and the producer of do-it-yourself filmmaking tutorials for indie filmmakers. Griffin, thanks for joining us today.
Griffin Hammond: Thank you so much Larry.
Larry Jordan: Richard Wright is both a still photographer and a filmmaker. On the film side, Richard creates short films about the North American Gold Rush and the people who came together in that social, cultural cauldron. It’s called the Bonepicker Project. Hello Richard, welcome.
Richard Wright: Hello Larry, how are you doing?
Larry Jordan: I am delighted to be chatting with you. I’ve heard about the Bonepicker Project. Tell me a little bit more about it.
Richard Wright: Well you summed it up quite nicely actually, you did a nice little log line. But we look at it as picking at the bones of history, trying to uncover those stories and the links between people from for instance our area in British Columbia, down to Arizona and even Mexico, California, that kind of thing. And trying to show that a lot of them actually knew each other. They might have known each other up here in Barkerville, and then they ran into each other down in Tombstone or previously in California. What the films try and do is show the importance of place in the stories. I’ve been telling those stories in print for quite a few years but print doesn’t really give you a sense of place the way film does.
Larry Jordan: How many shows are you planning for the series?
Richard Wright: That’s a good question. We figured there was probably six to ten, and we’ve already got eight out, and I’ve a database of stories and people, and I just did a search the other day and saw that I had tagged 375 peoples with stories. There’s no shortage, and once we hit the road, we find more stories as we go which is the fascinating part of it for us.
Larry Jordan: Well having a potential 275 part series is going to require some level of funding. How are you financing this?
Richard Wright: That’s a really good point. Well we were fortunate in that right off the bat, a local historical society kicked in a sizeable amount. They saw that this was helping to fulfill their mandate, that’s the Friends of Barkerville Historical Society, and then we did an Indiegogo campaign and got a bunch of private individuals who think the same thing. And just this last fall, Barkerville Historic Town, it’s a historic site, they decided to come on board as well. So that’s paying the expenses. It’s not paying the time, as we so often find in this business.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got it financed, at least enough to get you started. How are you distributing it? How’s the audience going to see this?
Richard Wright: The main way is through Vimeo and through physical showings of it. In other words, they can click onto the Bonepicker Channel on Vimeo and watch them there, but we also show them in the historic town and we’re now getting some interest to travel with the films to places where we’ve made them, and show the films there. We have a pretty good Facebook following, not nearly as many as we would like, the same old problem. But that’s the main way at this point. There is a little bit of interest from some broadcasters, and that may come to fruition, but I’m not counting on it.
Larry Jordan: Do you have someone helping you with marketing or distribution, or are you doing the whole thing?
Richard Wright: I’m doing the whole thing. My partner gives me as much help as she can, but she’s also a full time actress, so it doesn’t always work out. I’m just the push behind it.
Larry Jordan: Richard, for people that either want to contribute or learn more, where can they go on the web?
Richard Wright: The best place to go is HYPERLINK “http://www.bonepicker.ca” www.bonepicker.ca. We have a Vimeo channel, Bonepicker, and on Facebook Gold Rush Backstories is where you can find us.
Larry Jordan: That’s bonepicker.ca, not .com and Richard Wright is the filmmaker behind the Bonepicker Project. Richard, thanks for joining us today.
Richard Wright: Thanks for talking to me Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Chris Sobchack is the co-founder and executive producer of Wraptastic Productions, the studio that created the web series Please Tell Me I’m Adopted. Hello Chris, welcome.
Chris Sobchack: Hi Larry, it’s great to be here with you today.
Larry Jordan: Chris, we’re talking about distribution today, but before we talk about distribution, describe ‘Please Tell Me I’m Adopted.’ What’s it about?
Chris Sobchack: ‘Please Tell Me I’m Adopted’ is about two sisters, one of whom has her life together and is married to an architect. And her sister, played by my wife, Nicole Sobchack, who is basically that loveable innocent hot mess on fire. We all know that person. She loses her job, her place to live and her boyfriend all in one day, and moves in with her sister, and chaos and comedy ensue.
Larry Jordan: I can just begin to imagine. So, once you’ve got the series complete, what criteria went into deciding how to distribute the series?
Chris Sobchack: Truthfully Larry, we really obviously wanted to make sure we were on a proper streaming service rather than just throwing it up on YouTube, and the fact the quality was what it was, everyone said “You’ve got something here, you can’t just toss it up on the web. No-one will notice.”
Larry Jordan: Well there’s a number of options. Why did you decide to pick Amazon?
Chris Sobchack: Initially we sort of had our eye set on Hulu, but Hulu decided they wanted to change their business model to be a licensing system, similar to Netflix, and in fact they went offline. They were not accepting new content for something like three and a half months. And in that period of time we realized that Amazon was making huge strides. They’ve got Oscar winning movies, the new ‘Grand Tour,’ and their intent is to be in over 200 countries by the end of this year I believe.
Larry Jordan: Did you do this on your own, or did you work with an aggregator?
Chris Sobchack: We actually did use an aggregator, and obviously there’s two business models for that as well, and I think there’s positives to both. We used Kinonation and one of the things with Kinonation that’s really spectacular is, you pay nothing up front. They do take a percentage of your profits, but for me personally, they become a trusted team member. Because of that, we felt much more comfortable that they were going to work hard to get us placed and help us navigate, making sure that our German version and our Japanese version were correct.
Larry Jordan: How much of a percentage were you giving up, both to your aggregator and to Amazon?
Chris Sobchack: Amazon actually give you a flat rate for Prime viewers, based on the number of hours viewed. And then you split the revenue for anybody who just buys the series, like a non-Amazon person can go on and purchase an episode or series. You split the net revenue, and then obviously, the aggregator will take 20 percent, which 20 percent of nothing is nothing as my wife loves to say.
Larry Jordan: If you were to do this again, would you work with an aggregator? Or would you do it yourself?
Chris Sobchack: With everything that we went through, I would go with an aggregator again.
Larry Jordan: Why?
Chris Sobchack: They really helped us and facilitated, making sure that all of the contents for filming, which we did ourselves, was spot on. We knew we didn’t have to worry about QC at Amazon tripping us up. They walked us through every step of the way.
Larry Jordan: Would you work with Amazon again?
Chris Sobchack: Yes. I really think their business model is brilliant heading forward.
Larry Jordan: What are your current plans for distributing the show, are you going to stay with Amazon or move to other distribution outlets or what?
Chris Sobchack: I think at the moment we’re going to stick with Amazon for the moment. Ideally we want to see how we go, and then in theory of course, we’ve already gotten some lovely comments and reviews saying, “Oh my gosh I want more” and “I wish this were a 30 minute episode.” At a certain point, if I can get some financial backing, that may be the way to go. At which point, it really does open up more avenues or even potentially network.
Larry Jordan: So are you personally focusing on distributing this show? Or are you focusing on putting a new project together?
Chris Sobchack: We actually are doing all of it at once. My wife is an amazing screenwriter so we have a paranormal thriller that she is just putting the final touches on, called ‘Lore Harbour.’ We also just optioned a screenplay called ‘Fall Out.’ If done right, it could be a real Oscar winning type of film. It’s basically a cross between ‘Silkwood’ and ‘Erin Brockovich.’
Larry Jordan: Cool stuff. For people that want to keep track of the work that you’re doing, where can they go on the web?
Chris Sobchack: Obviously the easiest thing to do is to go to Amazon and actually watch the show. Type in ‘Please Tell Me I’m Adopted,’ it’ll pop right up. You can Google search us. We have an amazing Facebook page that has all kinds of extra content and we’re like a rash on the web right now. If you just search ‘Please Tell Me I’m Adopted,’ you’ll find all kinds of nuggets.
Larry Jordan: The series is called ‘Please Tell Me I’m Adopted’ and Chris Sobchack and his wife are the co-founders and executive producers of the show. Chris, thanks for joining us today.
Chris Sobchack: Absolutely Larry, it’s been a huge pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Filmmaker Max Votolato has lived in Los Angeles for 14 years with staff jobs at a number of major media companies around town. His latest film, Freeway City, is the story of Gardena, California, the onetime poker capital of the world. Hello Max, welcome.
Max Votolato: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I am talking to you, I’m doing great. You know, I was just thinking, the last time we spoke was December 2015, just after you completed ‘Freeway City,’ so bring us up to speed. What’s the movie about?
Max Votolato: ‘Freeway City’ is the story of Gardena, California, the 85 year history of the town which is very multifaceted and the constituencies of the city that it deals with. One of the themes that’s strongest in the film is the story that Gardena had poker clubs and still does to this day. Almost 80 years of poker clubs and all of the challenges that that’s posed for the city, and benefits too.
Larry Jordan: How did you finance the film? Where did the first money come from?
Max Votolato: I self financed the film. Kind of on a pay as you go basis I would say, and I also raised some money for the film early on after I’d finished shooting it, and I was beginning post production. This was back in 2009 so it pre-dated the Gofundme, Kickstarter era. I set up a GoDaddy website to receive donations online, and I contacted the local news. I wrote to first a newspaper in South Bay called the Daily Breeze, a major Los Angeles newspaper and they were very taken by the fact that someone was doing a story on Gardena because nobody had ever done a film on Gardena before. They interviewed me and lo and behold, it was the front page story one Sunday morning. A big color photo and I was blown away and it really inspired me with their reaction, so I wrote to local NBC TV news affiliate, KNBC and got in touch with a reporter named Cary Berglund and he came down to Gardena and did an interview with me and Brian O’Neal who did the music for the film and talked about our fundraising efforts for the film. And it was on the six o’clock news on Memorial Day 2009. Couldn’t believe it. So that gave us a bit of a jump start but even all of that publicity only garnered a few thousand dollars in the end, so it took a long time, another six years to see the film through to completion in 2015.
Larry Jordan: If you were to do another film, would you self finance again? Or how would you do your financing differently today?
Max Votolato: It’s tricky. I think I would try to raise money again. I have an idea for another film and just like this film, it’s a film that’s attainable, it’s a local Los Angeles subject. I don’t have to travel to do this, I have my own studio and equipment so I can go and find these subjects, and interview them. But there are always costs, and that has a lot to do with why I chose to release Freeway City for free online in the end. I definitely would want to raise money to pay for some of those hidden costs at the end.
Larry Jordan: Let’s flip to the end. The film is done, it’s edited, it’s complete, and now it’s time to distribute. You decided to distribute it for free, rather than try to make any money on it. Why that?
Max Votolato: Yes, it was a tough decision but I took a chance. By the end of my post production process, I still had a number of outstanding expenses, and those were mainly to do with clearances for photo and stock archival footage. This is a documentary film so there were many of those. I was looking into an errors and omissions insurance policy to satisfy distribution requirements for a lot of the distribution avenues I was looking at, and then even the cost of creating a DCP master for festivals was another cost. I stacked all that up and it still seemed to me at the time so out of reach, and without a real guarantee of a return on the project, it prompted me to decide that it was more important to have people see this film than to try to go after at least an immediate return on the film. That was a bold move but I was looking at the DVD market at the time which was really not what it was when I started making the film back in 2007.
Max Votolato: So looking at the landscape of films being put out on the internet and of particular at the time there was another filmmaker named Al Profit who had put his documentary about the history of Detroit out on YouTube and he created a real strong following. I was looking at how he was using multi platforms, YouTube and VHX to market that film and others that he had in his catalog. So I decided rather than try to chase more money to come up with these finishing costs, I’d put a fair use disclaimer on the end of credits of my film to spirit the clearance issue, and I’m putting it out for free, so nothing from nothing is nothing. And I just took a chance and I put it out on Vimeo and through my own website. But that’s where the next story begins, because then I have to distribute it.
Larry Jordan: Well before we move to the next story, was the reason for doing free simply to avoid final expenses, or because you wanted more visibility for yourself or you wanted to just get it out to the audience? There must have been a hidden motive there somewhere.
Max Votolato: Honestly, I had a fear that this film could sit on the shelf for a very long time while I tried to get to the point where I could actually release it, and there was no guarantee that a distributor was going to come along and take it. I had been putting my toe in the water and I’d had a lot of success getting press … but not an immediate bite. There was nobody waiting for the film, I didn’t have anybody lined up. So it was looking like it could … wait, and I just said, “I’ve put so much into this, it’s so important for me to have this seen, that if I can get this out in the way that I’m seeing other filmmakers put their work out online and promote it, that I can get eyeballs on this and really create an audience and it’ll be a calling card for me. Maybe it’ll pay off in some other way.
Larry Jordan: Well let’s talk distribution. How would you distribute it today if you were to do it again?
Max Votolato: The same way.
Larry Jordan: Really?
Max Votolato: Yes, and I’ll tell you why that is. I basically came up with a very grass roots strategy that I devised myself which was to build on the publicity angles that I had during the making of the film. I would write to different magazines online and basically constituencies that related to the topics of my film. For instance I found this website, Poker News, the biggest poker website in the world and I was able to tell them about the film, get them interested in it and they did a big story. When they publish a story like that on a big website, all of the other smaller bloggers and websites around the globe translate that story. They rip it off and rewrite it, and so it generates a lot of news.
Max Votolato: At the time I had a release date. I was out 15 weeks before my release, so they were plugging a release date for this online release. Now this is a Vimeo film going up on a website, so I was starting to build some anticipation. Facebook was a really powerful tool as well. I created a series of Facebook accounts surrounding the film on my own personal account, and started to join different user groups that related to the film like the user groups for Los Angeles and Gardena and surrounding cities and California history. All sorts of subjects, and started to post content that I had from my vault , which is photographs, archival materials, trailers for my film, articles about my film. I’d make little shorts, anything to promote the film and that release date and I started to grow followers and correspond with this audience that was out there. People remembered it from 2009 and said “Oh, we wondered what had happened because we heard a lot of news about it and then it died out. There was nothing out there for a while, so we’re really happy that you’re finally putting the film out.” So it created a lot of excitement and it continued after the online release of the film. In fact it got into LA Magazine and Curb Mag, Curbed LA did a story on it and The Digital Production Buzz had me on, so it all helped and contributed to the promotion effort for the project.
Larry Jordan: So to help with the promotion, where can people go on the web to learn more about the film?
Max Votolato: Freewaycity.org is my website, and I think there’s another piece of this which is that I’ve got a book deal out of all of my promoting of the film, and I have a book coming out on June 19th which is Gardena Poker Clubs: A High Stakes History available at Barnes & Nobles and through the website Historypress.com.
Larry Jordan: Very cool. Max Votolato’s website is freewaycity.org. Max is the filmmaker behind Freeway City and Max, thanks for joining us today.
Max Votolato: Thank you Larry, pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care, and great success. Bye bye.
Max Votolato: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: What’s fascinating to me is the variety of ways that we have all found to fund and distribute our projects, and our guests today have illustrated some of that variety. I want to thank our guests today. Filmmakers Maxim Jago, Griffin Hammond, Richard Wright, Chris Sobchack and Max Votaloto who have covered the range of getting money to start production to figuring out ways to distribute it in a variety of different sources and different destinations.
Larry Jordan: I also want to thank Mike Horton and Dan Berube, co-producers of the SuperMeet, and as always, James DeRuvo with DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. And remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com. Text transcripts are provided by Take1 Transcription. Visit Take1.tv to learn how they can help you.
Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.