How To Navigate The Toronto Film Festival

A few years ago I served as the director of operations at a popular video on demand aggregator called Distribber. At the time, Distribber was owned by Indiegogo. But a few months ago, the company was acquired by new owners.

Since the transition, I have seen a dramatic improvement in both the filmmaker friendly offering and the service. This is why I continually promote the company.

So when the new owners and I discussed the Toronto Film Festival, it just made sense to attend.

. . . And that brings me back to here.

I just arrived in in Canada and I’m in the airport taxi line, waiting for a car back to my hotel. I strike up a conversation with the guy in front of me.

Wearing a trucker hat, this is Elliot Kotek, the current Editor-in-Chief of both Beyond Cinema magazine and, as well as an Entertainment Correspondent for ABC Radio. He recently produced a film called Queen Mimi – A documentary detailing how Zach Galifianakis saved a woman from homelessness.

We start chatting. We realize we know people in common. So we decide to share a cab. During our ride, Elliot gives me some tips on how to navigate the Toronto Film Festival.

Being my first time in Toronto, I’m grateful for any advice. I have no idea where I am, or where to go. All the buildings look familiar, like a city. But nothing makes sense until the cab whips past King Street.

King Street is the hub of the festival. You know you’ve arrived because the entrance is marked by a giant, inflatable tunnel with the words TIFF written at the entrance.

Outside the window of my cab, I see scantly clad women in designer dresses, arm in arm with men wearing sports jackets. It’s the hyper idealized version of Hollywood. Or somewhere awesome.

Back at my Hotel, I quickly exchange texts with my buddy Peter Gerard. You might know Peter from his days at Dystrify. Now he’s the Director of Audience Development and Content Operations at Vimeo. Vimeo is a HUGE sponsor of the Toronto Film Festival.

Anyway, he’s at the opening night party at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Festival Tower. The Bell Tower is the primary Hub of the Toronto Film Festival. And by the time I walk over, King street is jammed with the people I described earlier. I am filled with with a vibrant energy similar to Times Square.

I notice onlookers with cameras, trying to spot somebody. A local drunk yells: “If I don’t see Bill Murray tonight, I’m going to go home!”

It’s that kind of festival…

Toronoto Film Festival | King Street by Doug Taylor

Toronto Film Festival | King Street by Doug Taylor

By this time, it’s late. And the office that presently holds my festival credentials is closed. As a result, I am met at the velvet ropes of the Bell Tower by several TIFF volunteers, marked by hunter orange t-shirts, incredulously questioning my legitimacy.

Them: You don’t have a pass.

Me: I just got here. Where do I get my pass?

Them: The office is closed. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.

My lesson? Arrive early. If you arrive late, you can’t get your pass. And if you don’t get your pass, you can’t pass.

It’s around this time I meet up with Peter. He’s with this guy Paul Sturtz. Paul runs the True/False Film Festival which takes place every year in Columbia, Missouri. Paul’s festival focuses on documentaries.

We sit down at a local pub. And for the next hour or so, the three of us talk festivals, filmmaking and distribution. By this time, it’s pretty late. So we shake hands, say our goodbyes and I take the quiet side streets of Toronto back to my Hotel.

At this point, I’m hungry. The only place open is this Chinese restaurant. So I order something with veggies, and end up with this.


Eating Late at the Toronto Film Festival

DAY 2 – The Toronto Film Festival

The next day, I wake up early and make my way back to the festival. The sky is overcast, which is a welcomed relief to the Los Angeles drought I’ve tolerated for years.

Today the volunteers at the Bell Tower are much more friendly. A quick conversation, and I’m finally pointed towards my pass. All industry passes are at the Hyatt.

When you attend the Toronto Film Festival, you immediately realize the festival is huge. Movies are shown all around town. As a result, I suggest you plan your screening schedule in advance – Or grab an industry pass.

Having an industry pass will garner you access to the large Scotiabank Theatre cinemas. Once there, you’ll go up a ginormous escalator, where you’ll be able to conveniently screen most films without leaving the multiplex.

Toronto Film Festival

Scotiabank Theatre | Toronto Film Festival

The Scotiabank Theatre is also a great place to network and meet people like me. The upstairs is  swarming with distributors and industry types. I take a seat in the food court and spend the rest of the day chatting with filmmakers and other industry professionals.

Talking makes my day fly by. As I exit the theater, my pockets are full of business cards. And I immediately focus on nightlife.

Toronto Film Festival Nightlife

It is no secret that the top film festivals also have the best parties. And in my experience, most business is conducted at night. The challenge is – I am new to TIFF and I don’t really know where the parties are.

Luckily many people post this info online. A quick visit to both Twitter and this website provides most everything I need to keep busy. So I quickly RSVP to a secret email address and hop in a cab.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m in the lobby of some random hotel. I notice two dudes in sports jackets (with industry passes) entering the elevator. So I follow.

Off the elevator, there is a whole row of party workers with computers, asking questions. I approach the most friendly looking of the bunch.

Him: “What’s your name?”

Me: “Jason Brubaker.”

 There is a long pause as the guy types my name.

Him: “What company are you with?”

Me: “I’m with Distribber.”

Another long pause. He types a few more things. And suddenly I’m feeling like that scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke thinks he’s compromised the mission. Then this guy is like:

“No worries. You’re on the list.”

Inside the party is packed. And the acoustics echo so loud you have to yell to be heard – which just adds to the noise. Among the many people wearing sports jackets, I notice quite a few trucker hats.

Toronto Film Festival

OMDC Party | Toronto Film Festival

About this time, a woman shakes my hand. I move in close to hear her. She hands me a postcard, promoting her documentary. She’s produced a few movies. She is looking for distribution.

After her, I bounce from person to person. Chatting. Talking film. Exchanging business cards. There is lots of questions about the current state of film distribution.

For example, you might say something like this: “I’m seeking distribution.”

But what does that does that even mean? Does it mean you’re looking for someone else to put your movie on iTunes? Or are you willing to do it yourself?

As I leave the party, a guy approaches and introduces himself. He’s a subscriber of my filmmaking newsletter. We chat for a bit.

Indie film is a small world.

Outside, the rain is torrential. People stand around asking each other where to go next. Some sports jacket guy in the lobby is talking loud enough so we all hear. He’s too-cool-for-school, bragging about something movie related. I feel annoyed.

One guy introduces himself and offers to help me crash the next party. But I opt instead for a cab ride back to King street.

It’s still pouring. So I run into a pub. This time, I’m seated next to Bill Proctor. He’s the publicity manager for the San Francisco Film Society. And he is in town, helping out with publicity for the Toronto Film Festival.

We chat movies, the festival and people we know in common.

I head back to my hotel, invigorated for tomorrow.

DAY 3 – The Toronto Film Festival

I forgot to eat. That’s the thought running through my mind as I put on my sports jacket.

This is my last day in town, and I want to make sure I meet as many filmmakers as possible.

I decide to start my morning at the Hyatt. For the past two days, I’ve been handing out Distribber schwag as well as my business cards to friendly looking people. Turns out our Distribber “ear bud wraps” are a success.

I can hardly keep up with the demand.


Distribber Ear Bud Wrap | Toronto Film Festival

While offering schwag is one tactic, in my opinion the Hyatt is not the most inviting place to meet people. The upstairs is full of tables and booths. And most people look preoccupied with their new TIFF gift bags.

Explaining this to volunteer, it’s suggested that my best bet is to hang around the filmmaker lounge.

In addition to screening movies, the Toronto Film Festival offers educational filmmaking workshops throughout the week. These take place at the Glenn Gould Studio at CBC.

So that’s where I go.

I spend the next six hours talking to most every person who walks through the lounge. I meet filmmakers, writers, producers and other distributors. Some are newbies. Most are seasoned professionals.

Grabbing a drink of water, I run into the guy who produced the Jackie Robinson biopic, 42. He shares a quick story about Jackie’s stolen home base.

After that, some film finance guy asks me what I do. I tell him I’m a distributor.

“Not with those shoes.”

He’s presently pointing to my Converse.

Him: “Sports jacket and Converse. You’re a director.”

Me: “I specialize in video on demand and internet distribution.”

Him: “Oh. That case, I guess you’re dressed okay for VOD.”

A filmmaker breaks up this conversation. He’s raving about the Oculus Rift demo in the next room. Originally designed for gaming, Oculus Rift is virtual reality technology. And as I quickly learn, the system is far beyond anything I have imagined.

I put on the headset, and for five minutes, I am transported to another world.

Toronto Film Festival

Oculus Rift | Toronto Film Festival

While my experience with Oculus Rift is not directly related to the Toronto Film Festival – Mark my words: Virtual reality will change every aspect of the world as we know it.

As I take off the headset, dozens of TIFF volunteers and caterers set up drinks for a happy hour. And over the next hour, I am shoulder to shoulder, jammed with people.

Once again, I bump into Peter from Vimeo and then I meet this dude Jason from Imax. Then later, a Filmmaking Stuff subscriber shakes my hand. Then an actor, and then a writer, and then a director join us.

Here is our group picture:

Toronto Film Festival

After the happy hour, I join Peter for an evening screening of “Don’t Breathe (La Faille),” directed by Nino Kirtadze.

It’s nice to watch a film. And what makes “Don’t Breathe” interesting is the fact I can’t tell if it’s a documentary or a narrative. I later learn, it’s both.

After the screening, I spend the rest of the evening bouncing from restaurants, to nightclubs to private parties. Each venue is packed with people wearing trucker hats or sports jackets.

By this point, it’s midnight. And I’m once again walking back to my hotel in preparation for my early AM flight. The truth is, I should have stayed longer.

You should stay longer.

The Toronto Film Festival is more than an event. You can’t possibly take it all in, in two days.

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If you’re a filmmaker and you’d like information on how to build an audience, so you can get your movie seen and selling: Join me for my next “sell your movie” webinar. And if you’d like distribution for your movie, check out Distribber.



Secrets of Selling Your Movie Online (Don’t Get Screwed)

Today’s question comes from a filmmaker who is puzzled over how to sell his movie online.

Since the world of video on demand distribution is changing the ways in which movies are seen and sold, having a solid distribution strategy that you can implement is essential for success. And selling your movie online is going to be a big part of your strategy.

Question: When deciding on how to sell your movie, what are the advantages to DVD, On Demand and Video Downloads?

Response: Congratulations on realizing that the world in which movies are seen in selling is changing fast. When you are ready to sell your movie, the first thing you have to decide is whether or not you want to hold out for a dream distribution deal.

Selling Your Movie Online

Selling Your Movie Online

After helping over 100 filmmakers get their movies to market, I can tell you most filmmakers wait for a dream distribution deal. And as a result, the typical time between film festivals and selling your movie online takes 5-7 months!

This is because many distributors and sales agents come out of the woodwork and tell you that your gazillion dollar check is right around the corner – So you better sit around and do nothing!

I don’t agree.

In fact, I personally think this “wait and see” philosophy is hogwash.

And here’s why. After waiting months and months, many of these traditional distributors circle back and with some sort of strategy for selling your movie online… A strategy that you could have executed yourself.

“We are going to get you onto Amazon and iTunes. And we will try to get you special placement.”

Take Your Movie To Market

If you’re ready to take your own movie to market, I have good news. The market is accessible. And in my opinion the easiest market to access is also one of the largest in the world. If you go to CreateSpace (they pay me  to promote) you can get your movie onto Amazon.

Simply sign up for a free account. From there you will decide if you want to sell your movie as a video-on-demand rental, video-on-demand download, DVD, or combination of all three. You will then enter information about your movie and upload artwork.

When complete you will be given a title ID that you will use to label a simple autoplay DVD that you will send to Amazon. In roughly 2 months your movie will be available within the Amazon marketplace.

The only challenge with CreateSpace is – While the service is pretty straight forward, they aren’t set up to deliver high definition. To do this, you will need to go through an aggregator with a direct relationship at Amazon.

Find A Video On Demand Aggregator

In addition to Amazon, there are many other marketplaces for selling your movie online. My bias leans towards iTunes, Hulu, some web based transactional players and possibly cable video on demand.

To access these marketplaces you will you need to utilize a video on demand aggregator. Your aggregator will then send you a list of the appropriate deliverable specifications.

The aggregator typically works with an encoding house. And the encoders are looking for an uncompressed video file, high-resolution artwork and selling points they can utilized to make the pitch to the various platforms.

Depending on the marketplaces you choose, it could take anywhere from three to six months to see your title live.

The reason for this oftentimes has more to do with technical challenges than your content. When it comes to selling your movie online, many of the platforms are very strict about the quality of the viewer’s experience.  And if even one frame does not match specification, the encoding house  will have to pull your content for repairs.

This creates significant delays.

Execute A Movie Marketing Strategy

Assuming you go the distance and get your movie into the various marketplaces as both DVD On Demand and Video Downloads you will still need to implement a marketing strategy. Your goal is to use your movie website as a hub.

You will work both online and offline to drive targeted traffic to your site, and then funnel that traffic towards a desired point-of-sale, such as Amazon, Hulu or iTunes. Additionally, you may choose to also include an embeddable player right on your movie’s website.

At times selling your movie online can seem like a whole bunch of confusion. If that’s how you feel, you may want to download my sell your movie checklist. In it, you’ll get a more detailed overview of modern film distribution.

What You Need To Know About Film Acquisitions

The old model of film acquisitions meant that you would give up your film to a distributor for years at a time, in exchange for a cash advance and a back-end percentage.

You would then move on to your next project, and the distributor would do “all that business stuff” and send you a quarterly statement. This film acquisitions model worked for generations.

Back then, the value of a Film Acquisitions deal revolved around access.

Distributors could get your movie into theaters, video stores and big box retailers like Wal-Mart. And because placement in these marketplaces required significant upfront investment, only a select few movies garnered a distribution deal.

Digital video on demand distribution has forever changed the film acquisitions game. Suddenly access is no longer exclusive. And as a result, filmmakers can get their movies in popular marketplaces without a traditional distributor.

But just because you can access the marketplace doesn’t necessarily mean your movie will sell. But if you take time to plan out your marketing, sales and distribution strategy, you might just make a little money.


Film Acquisitions

It is at this point when filmmakers ask me: “How much money can I make in digital?” While I understand why someone would want to know how much can be made in digital, this is a very misguided question.

Because inexpensive production technology affords aspiring filmmakers with the tools to create technically sound backyard indies, the marketplace is flooded with competing goods. And since video on demand marketplaces have no physical costs, traditional film acquisitions professionals (who once played it safe) now grab anything they can.

So let me be clear…

Film distribution is NOT your problem. In fact, film distribution is a commodity. Virtual shelf space is infinite. And as a result, your movie revenues will be determined by your ability to source an audience.

This means, if you are going to explore a traditional film acquisitions deal – your distributor better have a much better gameplan for reaching a desired target audience. Tweeting and sharing your movie with other filmmakers won’t cut it. Your distributor needs to have a segmented audience list.

Hubris will not sell your movie.

To become a successful filmmaker, stop incorporating the prospect of film acquisitions into your business plan. Instead, think of yourself as an entrepreneurial filmmaker. 

sell your movieThis means you must become fully invested in the promotion of your movie. At the very least, this includes building a strong social media footprint, a robust mailing list, Facebook and Twitter following.

You must take time to think about movie as your business, complete with a marketing strategy. You must think of yourself as an entrepreneurial filmmaker. And if you have a movie you are looking to distribute, check out our sell your movie resource.

The Secret of Pitching to Film Investors (Shhhh. Don’t tell.)

I’m going to reveal some secrets for pitching to film investors. But before I do, I want you to know something. There is NO magic secret for pitching to film investors.

The process of finding and pitching to film investors is not nearly as complicated as many people would like you to believe. Pitching to film investors is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the greater your chances of finding someone willing to invest.

So with that said, it’s important to note that most prospective film investors are business savvy. And they all ask the same question. What is the question?

Inevitability one of the most frequently asked questions film investors ask is:

“How do you plan to make, market and sell this movie and return my investment?”

In the old model of filmmaking, traditional distribution was a lottery. So in response, most filmmakers (especially first time filmmakers) say something like this:

“Filmmaking is risky. If we are lucky, we will get into Sundance and get a distribution deal.”

To that end, most film investors respond like this:

“What? That’s not a business – that’s gambling!”

film investors

Film Investors: The Secret of Pitching

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is total FICTION and should NOT be used in any business plans you create because I am neither a lawyer or an accountant. And I express my right to free speech as I share this imaginary, yet very pragmatic scenario.

Picture this. You enter a room with a bunch of prospective film investors.

Filmmaker: In our business, we hold the rights to an outstanding screenplay that taps into a well targeted, genre specific audience. We have budgeted the movie for $100,000 dollars. And given the genre, we do not need star talent. We are keeping the budget low – most folks have agreed to work for a salary, and all have agreed to residual compensation in the back end.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: At present, our crowdfunding campaign has allowed us to test the concept. And with sixty days left in the campaign, we have already sourced several hundred donations, giving us $8,000 dollars to pay for our website, marketing and PR.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: Upon completion of our movie, the title will available in all the popular marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes. And as we speak, in addition to crowfunding, we have already contacted our audience list of 20,000 people (from our last movie in a similar genre) who have expressed interest in this upcoming title. Combine this with several partner filmmakers which will roughly expand our audience footprint to well over 250,000 targeted viewers.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: So at the time of release, if we project sales at 2% of 250,000 people. This means that 5000 people will download the movie at 9.99… which will be close to 50K minus a 40%  marketplace fee and a 10% commission to our partners – and we should be able to immediately return $25,000.

Prospective Film Investors: Wow! You really did your homework.

Filmmaker: Each subsequent quarter, we would like to continually re-invest 10% of the revenue into further list building efforts. And we would like to keep 30% for the producer and crew compensation. Which should leave you with a 60% cash dividend, to be paid quarterly. Assuming we can bring in $30,000 per year, in 7 years we will have more than $200,000 in revenue for this title. At that time, $20,000 would have been paid to marketing, $60,000 would have been paid to cast and producers and $120,000 would have been paid to investors.

Prospective Investor: Then what?

Filmmaker: As soon as we pay back the initial investment, we would like to split our revenue 60/40. In other words, the producers and crew would get 60% and you would continue to get 40%.

Prospective Investor: I understand what you’re saying here.

Filmmaker: Of course, there is always the small chance that we could get lucky – if we got a 5% return on our initial campaign, and 12,500 people immediately downloaded the movie at $9.99, our revenue will be close to $125,000 – minus expenses. But I need to remind you that this is not likely. And we would still have to pay a commission.

Prospective Investor: Oh. This makes sense.

Fimmaker: Great. Would you like to invest?
– – –

While I have provided a FICTIONAL example  (talk to an attorney and accountant before you ever pitch an idea) of how some filmmakers may decide to navigate this new movie business, my whole point here is this:

It is important to realize that success of a movie is no longer based solely on handing off the movie to some 3rd party distribution company. If you want to make it in this new world of filmmaking, you need to stop waiting for someone else to manage the business aspects of your movie and your career. Instead you now need to take a vested interest in the success of your project.

If you’re helming your movie project, nobody cares about it more than you. But if you aren’t afraid to provide everybody on your team with a bit of ownership too – you’ll soon be surprised to learn that word of mouth spreads a lot quicker when your entire cast and crew has a vested financial interest in the project.

In this regard, when you win, everybody wins!

Getting movie money begins first with making the call and building relationships with good prospective investors. So if you liked this article, you will love this professional film funding resource I created. Check it out by clicking here.

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DISCLAIMER (again) – I’m a filmmaker – not a lawyer or accountant. I’m expressing my freedom of speech for your entertainment. If you’re still reading this, I want to make it very clear that I made most of those figures up as a fictional EXAMPLE. You’ll have to figure out your own numbers and crunch your own data and make your own relationships with prospective investors. And always speak with a qualified professional before you do anything.

Filmmaking Advice For The Modern Filmmaker

Filmmaking Advice For The Modern Filmmaker

Talk to any filmmaker about filmmaking and they will tell you the world has changed.

Gone are the days when you simply made a movie and sold it to the highest bidder.

These days every filmmaker with a camera is making a backyard indie. And as a result, the market is saturated with a never ending supply of mediocre movies. Suffice it to say, as a serious independent filmmaker, it is hard to get noticed.


Filmmaking Advice For The Modern Filmmaker

In today’s article, I am going to provide you with essential filmmaking advice.

Stop Thinking Like An Artist
To become successful, you need to stop crying about all the challenges. Instead you need to reshape your thinking. From now on, think of yourself as an entrepreneurial filmmaker. Adopt the philosophy of a thriving small business owner.

You need to remember that your independent film business lives and dies by word of mouth.  And since your business is your audience, you need to make every effort to amplify your reach.

Make Remarkable Movies
Building your audience starts with engagement. And if you want to engage, you need to focus on making memorable, remarkable movies. A remarkable movie makes people take pause and tell their friends about it. This starts with your log-line – What is your hook? Who is your audience? Why should we care?

Answer these questions BEFORE you do anything else.

Reward Early Adopters
During the social window, you will receive emails from people asking when they can see your movie. And if you’re like most filmmakers, you will tell these eager fans that you’re waiting for a distribution deal. This is a mistake. These people are your most enthusiastic fans. These people will go the distance to become your word of mouth army.

What will you do to help them?

Pay The Price
When I started filmmaking, Hollywood was an impenetrable kingdom. To make a movie, you had to ask permission. But those days are over. With inexpensive cameras, social media, email lists,  and services like Distribber – You now have direct access to your audience.

Are you willing pay the price in terms of time, money, education and experience?

Filmmaking Resources
If you liked this filmmaking advice and you’re ready to take action, you will benefit from the following resources. If you are still writing, you can check out this screenwriting guide. If you have a script and you are seeking investors, you can grab my movie money system. And if you have a feature and you’re looking for ways to sell your movie, you can grab my sell your movie guide.