MovieMaker Magazine recently featured an article by Smarthouse Launchpad grant winner Eli Cane (producer) and Jeremy Williams (director), all about the process behind creating their indie documentary ON A KNIFE EDGE. Jeremy describes what he learned during the seven years it took to make the film and the moment that he realized he'd found his film's ending.
Jeremy shares helpful tips throughout the article such as, "Sometimes not filming something is more valuable than filming everything," and "true meaning only emerges in the edit." Read the article to learn more about the project, the Dull Knife family at Pine Ridge Reservation and tips for indie filmmakers.
View a clip from the project below.
Big news from our friends at Seattle's Northwest Film Forum:
"Northwest Film Forum announces the milestone 20th annual edition of Seattle’s only festival dedicated to Pacific Northwest films and filmmakers. Complete with premieres, parties, industry events, and the best in local emerging film talent. Opening weekend will be filmed by the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck.
The complete lineup for Local Sightings 2017 will be released online on Tuesday, August 22. A press event will be held on August 31 at 2pm, announcing the full festival schedule and trailer premiere; screener links will be available for features.
Read the full press release here.
Smarthouse client Big Sky Film Institute just announced a brand new Native Filmmaker Initiative!
The NFI aims to:
- support and engage the American Indian media arts community
-expand youth outreach and film education in Indian Country
-bring more American Indigenous stories to the 2018 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Funded in part by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the
Native Filmmaker Initiative will include special festival programming,
educational outreach & resources, and a Native Filmmaker Fellowship
program at the 2018 Big Sky Doc Film Fest.
OPEN CALL for Native-made Documentary Films - No Entry Fee!
While Big Sky has a long tradition of celebrating Indigenous documentary
film, this year we will select films for a special strand composed solely of
films directed or produced by Native filmmakers. Submissions are open NOW!
As part of the NFI, Big Sky will give four filmmakers the opportunity
to attend the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, DocShop filmmakers forum
and a private seminar with leaders in the Indigenous filmmaker community.
Fellows will receive a cash stipend, five nights of accommodations during
the festival, an all-access festival pass, and round trip airfare to and from
Missoula. More here: bigskyfilmfest.org/education/native_filmmaker_initiative.
You’ve made a documentary and now you’re looking to find your audience. Maybe you’re hoping to partner with an organization that could help you connect with viewers. But where to start?
Luckily, a recent webinar featuring Caitlin Boyle from Film Sprout and Keith Ochwat from Filmmaker.MBA explained how your film’s message can propel your direct distribution campaign and build a revenue stream.
In case you’re not familiar with Film Sprout, it’s a boutique distribution firm that helps social-issue filmmakers create robust community and campus screening initiatives for their documentaries. Film Sprout’s work runs the gamut from targeted screening initiatives to vast, high-intensity screening campaigns—and everything in between. Films they’ve worked on include: The Hunting Ground, The Invisible War, Trapped, and Frame by Frame.
Filmmaker.MBA was developed by independent filmmakers Ochwat and Christopher Rufo with the goal of teaching others how to market, distribute, and monetize their films. They speak from experience given that their last film, Age of Champions, grossed more than $1.5 million through direct distribution, corporate partnerships, and digital sales.
Here are the Top 5 Takeaways from the Webinar:
1. Differentiate your film.
Ask yourself: how is your film unique? And who is most likely to care about your film? It’s often a cause, an underlying message, or a call-to-action that can engage audiences, build impact, and generate revenue. To figure out what your film’s message is, you might need a focus group or a screening with friends. Think about what institutions are most likely to care about your message and how you can connect with your niche fans. What radio shows do they listen to? What blogs do they read? What conferences do they attend?
2. Create value for your fans.
Your social impact message is an opportunity to add value. Leverage your social impact message by creating a community screening kit or educational materials. You might consider creating a turnkey screening kit with a pitch deck that explains how to use the kit and what impact you can expect from hosting a screening.
3. Leverage your message.
- For grassroots audience outreach, forge relationships with organizers who are the standard bearers for whatever the issue is. Make a strategic effort to find points of intersection between your film’s message and your distribution goals.
4. Remember partnerships are relationships.
Too often, filmmakers think of partnerships in terms of what a organization or agency can do for them. Partnerships should be treated like a friendship and not like a transaction. A true partnership takes a ton of work! As you’re identifying prospective partners, make sure that you’re giving the full picture of what your long-game goals are. You also want to understand what your partner’s goals are.
5. Before approaching a partner, consider the following questions:
What is your connection with your potential partner?
What is the value of your film to your partner?
What is the value of your partner to your film’s campaign?
What activities might you want to do with your partner?
Finally, as with any good relationship, listening is key. Don’t go into your first meeting with a specific list of requests. Take it slowly and get to know each other before asking for anything. You don’t want to come on too strong! It’s a bit like dating – first you need to get a feel for each other and decide if it’s a good match before taking the plunge.
Happy Summer, Smarties!
Men’s Journal recently featured an article on the subjects of Smarthouse client Leah Warshawski’s in-development project (under her Inflatable Film banner). Leah and her husband, Todd Soliday, have been traveling with and documenting Todd Bradley and his son, Christian, both Hawaii natives, for the past three years. Now, the team is ready to begin editing their footage!
If you have an email address, you're probably very familiar with enewsletters. And, as we all know, familiarity can breed contempt, which is why so many of your email marketing missives are routed directly to the spam folder. Audiences are tired of seeing the same old thing presented in the same old way. Which is why we pivoted away from the traditional "two column" format to a more accessible and easily digestible "links only" newsletter.
We initially launched our email marketing effort with a very traditional newsletter in the two-column format that allowed us to tell a few client stories, offer a content marketing resource, and include one of our popular blog posts, space permitting. After about six months of decidedly lackluster results, we radically overhauled our format, moving away from our traditional design to what could best be described as a "links only" format.
This revamped newsletter gave us much more flexibility, allowing for a short intro paragraph from our team followed by relevant and timely links organized by theme. For example, our most recent newsletter included the following link categories: "Filmmaking & Entertainment News," "Smarthouse Clients in the News," "Various & Sundry," and a "Parting Glance."
We saw an almost immediate bump in our key performance indicators, which continued to climb with each subsequent email. In fact, when we compare a typical, "pre-link" newsletter with our most recent newsletter (example), the metrics clearly show a dramatic improvement:
October 2016 (list averages to date)
Open rate: 15.6%
Click rate: 0.6%
April 2017 (list averages to date)
Open rate: 30.2% (2x increase)
Click rate: 1.8% (2x+ increase)
In addition to the metrics, we also received an outpouring of emails from clients, supporters, and peers that our new format was super useful and something they actually looked forward to receiving each month. We heard similar unsolicited praise from others in passing or during meetings. In fact, we're now considering increasing our newsletter production to two per month because we feel our audience is hungry for more. It also gives us an opportunity to display our effectiveness as industry influencers by curating the best of the best content out there. Of course, we also pepper our own blog posts and content marketing products throughout, but never "hard sell" anyone on our services.
Overall, we couldn't be happier with this newsletter pivot and we hope it will continue to generate similar results in the months to come. And if you're still doing email marketing with a traditional format and layout, we highly encourage you to give a "links only" version a test run, which is easy enough to do in most, if not all, email marketing platforms. We think you'll be quite pleased with the results!
If you'd like to learn more about making the transition to a "links only" newsletter, or have Smarthouse Creative produce one (or more) for you, please get in touch: http://www.smarthousecreative.com/free-quote.
We are delighted to announce the first recipient of our Launchpad grant for documentary filmmakers!
We will provide services free-of-charge to the forthcoming documentary film, "On a Knife Edge." From director Jeremy Williams and producer Eli Kane, "On a Knife Edge" is a film five years in the making about Guy Dull Knife and his son, George, that unfolds as George comes of age on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation.
The first ever Smarthouse Launchpad Grant will provide the "On a Knife Edge" filmmaking team with the resources they need to run a wide-reaching marketing campaign in support of their upcoming summer festival and community screenings. More information about the project is available at onaknifeedge.com.
"We received so many submissions from exciting projects--it was a truly difficult decision. We chose "On a Knife Edge" for the unparalleled access it gave into the live of George Dull Knife and his family, and the skillful storytelling displayed by the filmmakers. We are excited to help the project gain exposure and build the audience it deserves!" says Ryan Davis, Co-founder & Principal of Smarthouse Creative.
"We are elated to be the recipients of the inaugural Smarthouse Launchpad Grant! The Smarthouse team is creating an ambitious and adventurous platform for filmmakers to push boundaries and explore new ways to engage with audiences. On behalf of Jeremy Williams and the entire team at Normal Life Pictures, I'd like to express our gratitude and excitement at working with Smarthouse to design a campaign which will extend the reach of our film within many communities," adds Eli Cane, Producer of "On a Knife Edge".
Stay tuned for more updates about our work on the project over at our Facebook page!
About the film
"On a Knife Edge" is a father-son story about Guy and George Dull Knife that unfolds over the course of George’s coming-of-age journey. Under his father’s guidance, George becomes an activist and organizer, and begins identifying with the role of traditional Lakota warrior, which he views as his family legacy. He commits himself to the fight for social justice, but struggles with adapting the old ways and his father’s expectations to the modern-day realities of growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Told largely through George’s eyes, the film offers a privileged glimpse into the youngest generation of the American Indian Movement, as well as George’s own evolving notions of Native identity, manhood, and duty. His story is interwoven with animated sequences that depict five generations of family history, narrated by his father and based on paintings he has created to explore the continuum of their fight through the generations.
About the filmmakers
Jeremy Williams (Director) is a BAFTA Award-winning director who has worked in television for twenty years and made more than 40 documentary films as a producer and director. He is currently a lecturer in Film and Television practice at the University of Falmouth in the UK in their Department of Film and Television. Jeremy has been a long‐time collaborator with October Films, producing a number of television documentaries and two feature-length docs: London and Ghosts of the 7th Cavalry, the latter nominated for a One World Media Award for Best Documentary in 2008. Recently he produced and directed Restless Flights, which profiled Nobel Literature Prize winner JMG Le Clezio, and Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone, for Channel 4 in the UK which was shown in WNET’s Wide Angle series as Eyes of the Storm. Orphans recently won the Rory Peck Award in London as well as the Childrens’ Rights Award at the 2010 One World Media Awards. Jeremy made Jack with Normal Life Pictures, a short film about a Lakota Vietnam veteran, which won first prize at the National Museum of the American Indian’s Veteran’s Day Film Contest in 2010.
Eli Cane (Producer) runs Normal Life Pictures, a New York-based production company. Most recently, he produced the ground-breaking videos for Solange’s Grammy-winning song “Cranes in the Sky” and “Don’t Touch My Hair.” He was producer and music supervisor for The Market Maker, which aired nationally on PBS as a Wide Angle in 2009 and was selected for the Good Pitch at Silverdocs. He also produced a feature-length documentary for the Why Poverty? series entitled Land Rush, about agricultural land grabs in Mali and the future of food sovereignty. The film was featured at the Good Pitch London in 2011 and at IDFA in 2012, and has been screened in both the UK Parliament and the US Capital Building. In addition, the film became a center-piece of Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign, and aired in dozens of cities around the US in honor of World Food Day in 2013. The film was instrumental in achieving the campaign’s primary goal of convincing PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé, and Illovo to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards land grabs. The Why Poverty? series was a co-production between ITVS and the BBC and over a dozen other broadcasters, and when it aired in December 2012 it was seen by over 800 million viewers worldwide. The films in the Why Poverty? series won a Peabody Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2013.
Smarthouse co-founder and principal, Brad Wilke, presented our hybrid film marketing, audience engagement and personal branding workshop, Bridging the Indie Gap, to a full house of filmmakers and industry members at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Check out this video of the full 60-minute workshop we've developed to help indie filmmakers leap across what Brad has coined “The Indie Gap” – the divide between filmmaking as a hobby and filmmaking as a sustainable career. And if you want to follow along from home, here's a PDF of our "Bridging the Indie Gap" Filmmaker Worksheet!
Smarthouse client Aurelia Productions is releasing their documentary OCEAN DRIVEN in partnership with The Orchard on March 28. The movie will be available via Vimeo on Demand, iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, and Amazon (available for pre-order here).
The documentary comes at a great time: it's subject, surfer Chris Bertish, just completed the first solo stand-up paddle board crossing of the Atlantic Ocean!