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DIY filmmaking, marketing and distribution w/ Filmmaker Ava DuVernay

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The good part about still being unemployed is being able to attend networking lunches without worrying about being out of the office too long. Last week Reelblack, in conjunction with PIFVA and Scribe Video Center invited industry PR maven, turned indie filmmaker, Ava DuVernay to discuss "Do It Yourself" promotion, film distribution, her new feature length film I Will Follow and a new initiative aimed at giving black films a wide release in commercial theaters, called AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement).

(pictured: me and Ava DuVernay)

DuVernay is still the president and founder of a successful LA based media and marketing firm called DVA, which promoted such films as Invictus, Dream Girls, Shrek, Collateral and more; however in 2006 she became less interested in hyping other people's films and more interested in making her own. She set about making This is the Life a documentary about the LA alternative hip hop scene and My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women in Hip Hop. Her narrative, I Will Follow, staring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and featuring Blair Underwood is about a woman who's grieving after the recent loss of a close relative and the interactions she has with a series of people on the day of her move. DuVernay says the film is not edgy or avant-garde, just very much from the heart.

(pictured: Producer, Gala P. Goodwin and Ava DuVernay)

Which brings us back to AFFRM. When she wanted her documentary to be shown in a theater, she four walled it. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, DuVernay explains it thus, "If you say Hello Mr. Theater can you book me in? Mr. Theater responds, No, of co
urse not black filmmaker go away". But four walling is just buying out the theater for a block of time. You do the self promotion to get bodies in seats, but your film will be on the theater's listings of movies and showtimes.

But for this feature film, she wanted to reach a wider audience, giving her the idea to approach 5 Black Film Organization around the country - "What if we all released a film on the same day? Wouldn't that be a national release? Isn't that what the studios do? Can't we just do this? Not just a screening, or a tour, but a national theatrical release." And so on F
riday, March 11th Urbanworld Film Festival in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the ReelBlack Film Series in Philadelphia, the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta and the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival in Seattle will open I Will Follow at AMC theaters for 2 weeks with several screening times. If successful, AFFRM plans to have two films released a year, one in March and another in August.

(pictured: filmmaker, Joey B Ellis and Executive at SBE Entertainment)

What are the AFFRM Guidl
ines? Films will be chosen by a panel made up from the 5 black film organizations, all of which, except for Philly, produce a black film festival each year; so only films that have played at one of the festivals will be considered.

How concerned will AFFRM be about choosing films based on making money?
"Our threshold for success is different than say, Paramount Pictures threshold, we're not interested in having to recoup a certain amount of money or triple our investment. We're interested in presenting black film, so for us, making enough just to be able to present the next one is what we're looking for; that will allow us to be much more flexible in what we're choosing. The way the model is put together is gonna allow us to be free of the constraints of what's good and what works, it's about what moves us and what we want to present. That's the goal in theory, so hopefully we can stay true to ourselves and stick to that."

(pictured:Actor/Producer, Nakia Dillard)

Also discussed during this very well attended brown bag lunch (my lunch consisted of a really plump and juicy super sized hot dog from 7 Eleven, better than I remembered, haven't had one in years!) financing, monetizing, promoting and distributing your film. Ava wants to encourage filmmakers to take advantage of the fact that new technology has given us the tools to do a lot on our own. "It's still not easy, but so much more possible. It's about not being intimated and doing the hard work and research."

For instance, she was offered a DVD distribution deal for the rights in perpetuity for This is the Life, $15,000 which was attractive as the whole film cost $15 grand to make. But she didn't like the word "perpetuity". "Who says that word? It's crazy, are you saying forever to me? Never again will I be able to own my film?" She suggests a filmmaker not even go for a 10 year deal, 2 -5 year maximum. She, however, decided to go the entrepreneur route and replicate the DVDs herself. A contact from the same company that burns and packages for studio films: shrink wrap, cover art, barcode, all completely professional, and all for 95 cents each. She sells them on her website for $19.99 and also distributes through other wholesale online outlets (Blockbuster, Walmart). "So many outlets now, compared to 10 years ago when the only option was to wait for someone to buy the rights and distribute for you. Now you can be on Amazon in a week, be streaming on Netflix (indie flix) in 10 days. In the first year we sold 5000 DVDs, that was just the first year, by holding out and doing the hard work, I tripled my investment and got the satisfaction of keeping my material, which I feel is really important."

I asked Ava how is she able to do all of this while also running her PR firm, she said, yes, she's a little busy, but she has a hybrid staff of really amazing people who work with her on both ends, and she's now super selective about the projects she takes on in terms of media and marketing; her current selection being the film The Help with Viola Davis. "I take on projects I'm passionate about now."

(pictured left to right: filmmakers Tiona M (black.womyn), Aishah Shahidah Simmons (No! The Rape Documentary) below Nisa Ra (Black Love Lives)

From distribution the talk turned to promotion. "You used to have to go through a publicist like me, now your film's facebook page can garner 80,000 facebook friends. Even shorts can now make money through YouTube and facebook films." In terms of raising money, there's Indie GoGo, Kickstarter,, people all over the country who patronize film can read about your project and make a donation online. You can set it up with incentives like - $5 send them a poster, $100 gets you a conversation with the director, $1000 attend the opening. She advises not to set large goals like $100,000, instead do pledges little by little, $10,000 pre-production, then come back in a few months and ask for another $5000 for casting or $3000 to attend Sundance...

"People are playing with everything right now, all the traditional models have collapsed. Even Sony and Paramount don't know what to do at this point. It's a brand new world, go and figure it out."

I hope my readers will go and support this film and the AFFRM initiative on March 11th at AMC Cherry Hill - See you there!

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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