On November 17, 2021 Picture Motion attended a day long workshop at DocNYC – AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT AND DISTRIBUTION DAY. Featuring a range of audience engagement experts and independent filmmakers, the programming produced four diverse panels targeted at filmmakers and producers who want to better understand the importance of building community beyond just one film, examples of how to navigate and unpack the elusive nature of success within the landscape of distribution post-COVID & what considerations to make when vetting partnerships for their non-fiction films.
During these four panels, attendees were able to ask questions and essentially receive advice on their own work from some of the best experts in the business. One filmmaker in particular, Nattalyee Randall, co-directed the documentary The Race Against Race which made its world premiere at DOC NYC. This film illustrates one woman’s story of how she transformed “Running while Black” into an act of protest in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Ms. Randall did not miss a beat throughout these four panels, amplifying her work while also setting the pace for the day by asking vital questions that helped create a narrative that resonates with Picture Motion: Finding your film’s “tribe” and pathways to engage those audiences across multiple films.
Nattalyee Randall is a filmmaker who is not just trying to make a film, but create a movement using the medium of non fiction filmmaking. She inspired us that day. Her questions inspired other filmmakers to do the same. So in an effort to highlight The Race Against Race here are some tips and tactics gained from these four panels. specifically in response to Ms. Randall’s questions.
Q1: Nattalyee Randall asked how to maintain the audience built from The Race Against Race across other film projects that she has in the works — especially when subject matter and story defer.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR AUDIENCE FROM SCRATCH
Jim Hu, EVP of Audience at leading media company Participant Media shared some vital and necessary tips on what audience means and specially to answer Nattalyee’s question of continued engagement. Two words really seemed to stand out from Jim’s response: community engagement. Who are you targeting? How can you reach the people that are impacted the most by the subject matter of your film? Especially to maintain your audience across several projects, Jim made it very clear that you need to do the following:
- Inspire audiences to support whatever project or movement you’re building.
- Should have a thesis of who you are trying to reach
- Even during the production of your film without a finished product, you can still start to build a community. A CTA to sign up for your newsletter around a special milestone is a great example of where you can start without a finished film.
- You’re not only building an audience to watch a film, but engage beyond the film, a call to action, future films, etc.
- Social Media engagement is one tactic – that has worked especially well with Participant’s recent impact campaign on social media for Judas and the Black Messiah; check out their IG live videos.
- You need to provide pathways for audiences to take action through social media.
- Ensure your community engagement campaigns has a brand voice i.e. Participant’s audience engagement is their brand voice. #ParticipantsWanted
- In a 3-step approach, you start with your “tribe” or committed core audience, find your voice and then expand your audience
- Unintended audience – discovering new types of communities through outreach and engagement efforts. Those should be a focus as well. Who else would be interested in this type of social impact content?
- Last words: There is no right way. Reframe what you think you need / no template. Ultimately know your north star/purpose.
Q2: Nattalyee Randall asked which distribution choices / avenues should she be thinking about following The Race Against Race‘s world premiere?
NUTS & BOLTS OF DISTRIBUTION
Feat. expert distribution consultants: Mia Bruno (Fourth Act Film) and Alece Oxendine (Film Distribution Consultant and Director of Industry Outreach at Columbia University)
- There is no formula
- Distribution = Pathways in which the film gets out in the world // Marketing = how people see your film
- Film festivals are a marketing strategy, NOT a distribution strategy.
- Partners are your “distributors” of sorts i.e. impact partners can help create pathways for your film to be seen!
- Keep your non-theatrical rights – this can be the key to powering your impact campaign!
- Combatting pitfalls for filmmakers = EDUCATION
- Regardless of streaming deals, stay true to your audience/tribe
- Build community with people — network, grab cocktails! This is how you’ll meet a Mia or an Alece.
- It’s not “who” you know. Make your network work for you!
- Support the work that you want to make — engage with distributors or studios that you want to work with! Watch their films, support their mission, go to their events, join their mailing lists, etc.
- When making deals or partnering with platforms, always ask about marketing. Always advocate for yourself – nothing to lose. Cheaper to get a lawyer!
- Distributors are becoming studios – production + distribution
- Everyone’s distribution journeys are different.
- Be very clear of your film’s vision so you can advocate, make decisions on the spot. Self knowledge of your value is key.
Written by Eden Sapir, Campaign & Grassroots Partnerships Manager