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Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 17 of 18

Grassroots Film Distribution


Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Lesson 17 of 18

Grassroots Film Distribution


Lesson Info

Grassroots Film Distribution

Grassroots film distribution now distribution is completely I mean, the starting places like distribution is on you you own this part of the process, not anybody else don't give up your your power unless it don't give up what you just worked on uh unless that is the that meets the goals that you have with your film um the math is against you partnering with a traditional distributor and traditional distributors these days especially for artie. Artie, your films they're not necessarily making those companies aren't necessarily making money anymore because they're competing with like I said so many other things that are giving you things to pay attention to tv or the internet or whatever you know, for example, a lot of traditional distributors take you through theatrical run the theatrical run is usually a loss leader for these companies they lose money on the theatrical because they have to use a lot of marketing. They spend a lot of marketing money to get this film out there and people...

paying attention to it in the theatrical. But you know, movies don't make their money until there until they're in their vo dee phase at least in our net don t o d sorry digital phase at least digital and rentals um so that's just a sort of illustration of how the game the old game their plane is sort of like a remnant of something that makes sense you know, I mean, I mean, they still make money because either they're tied to other studios that do make a lot more money than them or they, you know, they have output deals that ensure income from all over the world, but, you know, it's, like, if you let's say, you just spent a couple of years working on a film and then you give it to a distributor and then they're probably going toe spend a lot of money to put it out there and that money money that the amount of money that they spend to put out there could be mohr in the amount of money that comes in through the theatrical and so they need to recoup anything that they spend on your film, right? So any marketing money let's say they spend forty thousand dollars are marking your film and get it into a few theaters? They need to recoup that forty thousand dollars from ah, the movie's business. Um, either at the theater or on dvd in order for you to see anything, right? So why not just control the marketing yourself? Why not? Just like, you know, maybe they're spending money in places where they really don't need to a lot of this. The a lot of the role of a distributor is tied up in having controlling the assets of a film but if you control the assets than why do you need a distributor if I have the d c p for my film if I have a poster for it if I have the dialogue list I can put it in any theater I want and I can control how much money is spent on it so why do I need to give it to somebody else to spend more money than they need to if I can and I don't even know if they're going to spend it on getting it to the right audience you know so like why why do that? Um anyway this is all to say that that's just one option sometimes with a film you know, with a film like beasts fox searchlight has an amazing publicity mechanism that couldn't make sure and and suddenly craft the way that an audience was receiving that film get it into the right hands get the right people's eyes on it I mean, you know, the film is good and everything but I've got to say without fox searchlight a doubt that we would have like, you know, how did you know we had like a thing at the white house with michelle obama and we had uh uh I don't know we got a lot of people I just totally blank tongue I got overwhelmed by the image of the white house know about like the film made it to all these crazy corners of the country and that wouldn't have happened without them now the film is good and everything but you need a you need with that kind of film we needed a distributor to say a respected distributor to say no seriously this is worth checking out like you should check it out did you know to help us put it all out there um so I think I went through this a little bit but you know theatrical is like like in politics there's there's all these mo you know momentum builder days there's early vote day right today is the day to sign up to vote early then there's the primary were all coming out and caucusing for iowa then there's the register to vote day all of these were the same thing is like then there's actually the election day right all of these air the same is like the little mo mentum moments of momentum you want to have in a film's life starts with fundraising then hey, we're going into production then hey, we finished the film we wrapped the film all these things you know like you want to make him feel important and interesting and and use them as it has moments to collect interest uh, all right. Common challenges. More films are being produced that ever there are fewer distribution outlets that so, yeah, that's, that I haven't talked about that side. But the other side of the fact that there's fewer traditional places for films to go is that more people are making them than ever that's a good thing, but it makes it gives what's the it's, like there's mohr movies being made than there are people to say which ones are good or not, you know, I mean, that's what boils down to there's fewer entities out there, like it's crazy to me, with a number of of movies being made that the new york times review still matters as much as it does. I mean, it speaks to the power of the new york times, which I'm as an old, old school person. I sort of like that, but that's, you know, like we live in a plural ized, democratic, uh, society of people consuming media. Like the fact that that times review can make or break films. Life seems bizarre to me, you know? So there should be multiple ways of receiving films and talking about them. And right now, the amount of film there is vastly outnumbers thie amount of people putting stamps of approval on them, um now more than ever I'd say uh traditional is the exception to the rule the traditional distribution route is the exception to the rule, not the rule at all um distribution now falls on filmmakers in a serious way it's it's it's distribution is development and development is distribution I mean, it's the beginning of your film is the end of your film and the end of your films the beginning you know, I mean everything is lateral not a traditional, you know, ladder or chain of events um okay. So next offline tactics in my ideal world like if I had a film and I had money left over then I would not get a distributor and I would hire ah handful of people across the country to basically do grassroots campaigning for my film so that when I put it in little rock arkansas there is somebody there who's going to advocate for the film and get a bunch of people there and talking about it that's what I would do I'm just like that idea. You know, I will I because I do think seeing a movie in a theater is a valuable thing you know, it's arguably becoming obsolete, but I like the idea of people seen films that I worked on in the theatre and I want to give them that experience and I want people across the country to have that experience so what do you need to do that you don't necessarily need not a money you need some manpower on the ground to get people excited about this film hey you're in our teacher in little rock this room is about our teachers come and see it you like it? Um going door to door it's sort of the most bare bones or most breast tactics way of doing that hosting special screenings again like like with the pastor example let's host a special screening with a couple of church leaders or something and see if see if they take to the film and if they can localize your be advocates for community organizing around the release that's election day it's time to pull the lever time to get out the vote time to get all the advocates tio bring everybody theater um now it's about online tactics um you have to again when you get to talk to your audience like their advocates if it's a social issue film than they really are advocates of something much bigger than a film um this is the our website for beast of the southern well now this is this happened a little bit towards the end when you know there was academy award nominations everything but this this kind of it's a simple is this stuff like before all this and own it now on or whatever we had something that should get involved um or be a beast right? The language says you can be a part of this like and what that would mean if you if you entered your information there we would follow up with you where we had people at center reach our partners on the film who would follow up with you and say cool thanks for agreeing to do this thanks for being a part of this film what do you want to do with it? Do you want us to screening? We'll make that happen for you we'll give you like a beast party pack well, you know to like give out to people like will will host the screening or do you wantto do you have five friends that you can talk to about this film? You know, can you bring them to your the film when it comes out? Um all manner of things that people could do, you know and we would sort of gently suggest things or would say, what do you want to do? You know, it could be a simple is just taking pictures of a bunch of people at the theatre like really pumped about beasts and then putting them on this on this on this web sites this is the same thing we didn't with obama in ohio is like give people a forum to express their interest and I don't want to say crowd source it but basically like a source that's not really exactly the word I mean but like give them the reins and say this is a safe place for you guys to express your interest online in something and we're giving you that platform do it up go for it you have a question I love the idea of a beast party pack what would be in a what would be in it or what was in it you will you have to sign up to be oh I'm not gonna tell you that the baby spill it mr no no no I can't I can't you have to set up a darn well what kind of sorry? Well, so specifically not what's in that but what would you tell us? What what's a good suggestion for the kinds of things that we should play in something like undeliverable for people sure, like you could come up with special it's sort of like a version of what you would get from a kickstarter campaign you know, like a prize like maybe it's a special edition postcard or maybe it's a recipe for a food that's cooked in the film that you create you know um it's ah, you know, if it could even be a step by step process of how to host the party and, you know, like where you can download cool stuff from the film um I don't know little favor little party favorite type stuff I don't know is not my you know, this is kind of my wheelhouse, ok? Like all the stupid stuff to give people that relates to your movie open source that's what I meant to say we'll give you the sort of open source of this sort of stuff and I would give you the reins in this sort of open source forum teo, you know, to put make your own beasts party pack that is kind of speaks tio even the idea of, you know, thinking about who your audience is in the first place of letting your audience do the heavy lifting let them get the word out there, let them be the advocates, let them be the, you know, the people that are hosting the screenings let them go out to their communities and I think it's something that, you know, a lot of not just and film makers, but a lot of businesses can do is you give the people the power and let them do all the work on dh, let them want, you know, you make them want to do the work because if anything, it is fun for them they could to be a part of it it's giving them the ownership um and you know it's, just a way of working in this new dynamic where it is this online community it is you know it's not just the satellite communities that may have seen your movie in the theater it's the people that are already invested before they even know before they've even got a chance to see it right exactly yeah I think so um along those lines I want to share a funny little story so this is about a film called four eyed monsters sometimes the best way to succeed is to feel that sweden fails to succeed so they tried to these were two filmmakers who made a movie about uh they were sort of on a digital blind date they had never met each other in person and they were sort of like sparked open online relationship for a long time before they started dating actually and they made a film about the whole thing right they tried and tried to get the film into festivals they couldn't do it it's just no one would take it they started not you know, not knowing like what else to do they continue to film their process of trying to get their film into festivals and what was going on with their personal dynamic and everything and it ended and they would just put it out up there they ended up gathering a following of people who are interested in the day to day the like episodes of them trying to get their film made to the point where they gathered such an audience that they realized like way now have gathered our audience for our film and so they said forget the film festival circuit let's use this online mechanism I can't remember the exact site where they had a mass this audience in this list serve and then they just said to their list of go here and vote to have the film in your town and we will take the film in your town so it was all these people watching a show about a movie and they hadn't seen the movie so when it came when the opportunity to see the movie happened, then everybody was ready to say ok, I'm in I'm in iowa and I want to see the movie and every vote or whatever you know everything raised hand that said yes here they could then you know they could then assess ok, we have like fifty people want to see this movie in des moines, iowa I think that's worth doing a screening right? And so then they they made some health that online partnership they made a little bit of money because it was provided I think what people had to do in order to vote to say I want to see four eyed monsters is they had to sign up for some website and so the website compensated the filmmakers forgetting that audience there in there and so they were able to make enough money to basically go toe all these places to show the film on dh so it's just a crazy example of how you never you know you can you can create an audience in a bunch of different unexpected ways. You know, in my fellowship we talked to somebody who they was funny. They created this festival mechanism called decide where he would go to a festival you would use. This is like your way of sort of scheduling your film festival I want to see this film in this film in this film, but in order to do that, you had to of course, like sign up yes, they put in your email address and have a password and everything and it was just a way of basically collecting people's information so that when films that were a part of this consortium wanted tio have an audience they had access to all these people's data because all these people are opting in to say yes, I'm a festival gore I like these kinds of films and I want to use this app to basically create my schedule so it's sort of a diversionary tactic but it's it's any way that you can get an audience primed and ready for your film, you know it is one worth exploring unless it's illegal don't do that um so how would you guys get people interested early in your film? How would you make sure that you're not left with a film and no life tio no life for it at the time to release it when people at home to think about that like what would you do um and how would you make sure that you're not just left with your hands in your pockets after you've worked two to three years on a film um what are you going to do to make sure that that's not that due to address the lottery problem right or did not have that lottery problem well, it occurs to me that you know, these days you know, even in hollywood major studios are are, you know, developing tent poll franchises specifically with foreign markets in mind you know, transformers famously is, you know, have shot in china so on and so forth the fast and furious movies obviously a great example we're not operating on that scale, but you know, I think there's now there's there's an analogy there for us in terms of thinking ahead of time in terms about, you know, the various communities that we can involve in our projects and, you know, you know, for example, the filmmakers that you mentioned sort of stumbled into this process, but I mean, it occurs to me that kind of, you know, syria serializing or developing, you know, maybe even a web series about the pre production process could be away. Tio, you know, promote a film before and creating audience before it's even made I completely agree and, you know, there's a school of thought, though that takes that example to I I always think that making them more stuff sooner, especially if you're operating in a vacuum of like no one knows you are just having just recording at them as much as possible is really key, but there is a school of thought that I disagree with that sort of says like you, khun tweet your way to an audience or you can like facebook your way to an audience is like, if you're just starting out, no one knows no one cares like I don't mean to be brutal, but like I don't think that you can magically manifest in audience just by being out there and being public with yourself and who you are. If you don't have a track record for the way that you get an audience might be a completely different track, then then has anything to do with your film? Has that film proves with a web series you know, or or the ap example? They made an app that people found really, really useful. And then they transformed it into an audience for their films well, dear white people is probably the is probably an example of what you're talking about in terms of tweeting your way to an audience but that's also you know there's if there's a venn diagram you know there's also a lot of ah social issue kind of phenomenon happening there as well but yeah, you know I mean I think the lesson for us all take away from from the siri's though is that this is an amorphous process now more so than ever I mean especially what just the way that the industry is changing with vo dee you know, studios aren't making their money in the same ways that they have in the past and neither are we that's just in a way means more opportunities for us and has creative producers that's really what our jobs are right um an interesting thing that I have been observing sort of in the world of business in general not just film is people making a name for themselves starting from a point of authenticity and adding value and sharing values it's not just about selling something and this is goes back to what we've been talking about all day about like how do you get crew and how to get people to work for you for free it's like, you know you show them here's what you'll get out of this um, and I think that that is, uh, really important in trying to get people interested, you know, as a filmmaker and of you are what really interests me is when filmmakers, they're very transparent about how they're making a film on dh, showing me some glimpse behind the scenes or some, you know, something relating to the film, you know, that draws me and andi, I always find it funny when people like zach braff have a kickstarter, and filmmakers get pissed off like he's taking all the money from their projects, and I think that even if I was in his position, I would probably want to do a kick starter for the sake of building that audience and connecting with people early, I think it's a really fascinating experiment, I would say so it's, not unique at all. I would still start with kickstarter and have that idea of getting people interested early. Inform my strategy for my campaign video and my rewards, it drives me nuts when I see film like kick starters for people that I have no idea who they are, and they're like, you'll get a postcard, you'll get a signed it's like, I don't know where you are, I don't need your autograph, you know, like I would love more information about, like, how like, where does this come from? You know, and like, whenever they offer something a little bit more personal or just outside the box, I think that's awesome.

Class Description

Producing an independent film takes an enormous commitment of time, money, and energy – but there are steps you can follow to make the whole undertaking more productive and less overwhelming. Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up is your guide to reducing friction during every stage of independent feature film production.

In this class, Michael Gottwald, a producer on the OSCAR®-nominated, Beasts of the Southern Wild, will detail the process his team used to bring this sleeper hit to life. By exploring the independent film production process through the lens of Beasts of the Southern Wild you’ll learn how to generate your own independent film success. 

Michael will teach you how to:

  • Find optimal material to produce
  • Engage private and social fundraising resources
  • Craft a production plan suited to your existing resources
  • Distribute and market a finished film

Whether or not you have industry connections, or live in traditional “media centers” (such as New York or Los Angeles), you can still give life to a project that will impact the film industry and artform. You don’t have to blindly navigate the rocky terrain of grassroots film production alone. Michael will offer the insights you need to tackle common challenges during every stage of the producing process.

Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots, Up will show you how to create films that, if positioned properly, rise above the current indie film marketplace "noise."


a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine