Thoughts & Ideas

Funding Independent Media…Distribution and Marketing

In a previous post, Funding Independent Media…Independently, I talk about funding independent media projects through consulting, sharing your knowledge with others.  Last night, I had a long talk with a good friend of mine, an independent filmmaker in Northern California, and we ended up talking about distribution.  That conversation led me to think about the next step of funding independent media:  distribution and marketing, specifically distributing quality media that generates and feeds community, the independent method of marketing.

In order to keep my thoughts simplified, I’m going to be talking about independent media under the label of filmmaking and the distribution and marketing of the film.  As independent media producers and consumers of mass media, we have a good idea of how films are made.  An idea is generated, a script is written, a director decides that they want to make the film, a film studio gives money for production if they think it will be a worthwhile investment, a crew is hired, the cast picked, locations found.  The film is then shot, edited, licensed, marketed, distributed, put on DVD, sold at Wal-Mart and Target, and found on the shelves of our movie collection.  An arduous process.  The money invested in the film is primarily regained through the sale of movie theater tickets and DVD sales.  If the filmmaker is renowned, the movie is an adaptation of a popular book, or a spectacle of breakthrough special effects, then the film will typically generate a significant amount of buzz, and we flock to the theaters.

Looking at the traditional system, it definitely has its benefits, as long as you play the game and follow the rules.  But what about the independent filmmaker and media producer that want to develop their own system of distribution and marketing?

It can be done.  And here is the beginning of how I think it could be done.

Internet Distribution = Getting Your Content to Your Audience

With YouTube, Hulu, iTunes, Vimeo, and a host of other video websites, the ability to upload and watch videos has increased exponentially in this decade.  But how do you use that technology as a spring board to make money with your product?  There are a few ways to approach this:

1.  Allow a low-resolution “YouTube” version for free and then effectively lead them to higher quality paid content.

2.  Sell digital copies for iPods, as well as HD files for high-resolution computer viewing.

3.  Sell DVD/Blu-Ray versions of your content.

4.  Sell merchandise (t-shirts, posters, soundtracks).

5.  Allow people to share, reuse or remix your content through Creative Commons licensing.

Marketing = Generating and Feeding Community

In his book, “How to Speak How to Listen,” Mortimer J. Adler says, “without communication, there can be no community.”  What this means for independent media producers is that if we hope to get the word out to our audience, we need to develop and sustain community.  There are many ways to go about this.  Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, websites, printed materials, networking groups, clubs, and colleges.  Regardless of the method of communication, you want to create a community that will tell others about your content.  As I have read on several blogs online, you essentially want to create a community of evangelists that take your message and content to the masses, bringing followers into the fold.  That is the result of social networking done well.

Does Your Content Stink?

Finally, it doesn’t matter what you do, if your content stinks, then distribution and marketing will not save you.  Community will not be developed.  People will not be interested in what you have to say.  But if your content is unique, fresh, and created with a sense of aesthetics and technique, you will have an opportunity to engage others effectively.

Thoughts & Ideas

Funding Independent Media…Independently

Dr. Normal and Cami Kaos produce a weekly video podcast called “Strange Love Life” and were keynote presenters at WordCamp PDX on September 19, 2009.  During the Q&A portion of their presentation, the inevitable question was asked, “How do you make money doing Strange Love Live?”  The answer surprised me and it sent my mind into overload as I thought about what it meant not just for the open source community, which by certain definitions equates to free, but also for the world of independent media production where accessibility of content and scope of vision may not equal the available budget.

So, what was the answer?  Consulting.  Yes, you read that right.  Not commercials, not ad space, but consulting.   Merriam-Webster defines consulting as “providing professional or expert advice.”  In essence, you are “providing professional or expert advice” in your chosen field in order to provide free and exceptional content.  In the case of Dr. Normal, he has many years of experience in A/V production and podcasting, and he is able to consult others that want to get their podcast off the ground.  That is a great illustration of the power of consulting, but how could it be applied to other areas of independent media production?

Several of my friends are filmmakers.  A couple of them are attempting to break into Hollywood by playing the game, and climbing up the ladder.  As they move up the ladder, they hope to be rewarded with larger budgets, crews, locations, and success.  But what about the independent filmmaker that wants to avoid Hollywood like the bubonic plague?  There are options.  Loans, credit cards, selling your body to medicine (like Robert Rodriguez did in order to make El Mariachi), recruiting financial backers, having a day job, a night job, blood plasma, etc.  The list is long and extensive.  Instead, what if the independent filmmaker went the road of consulting?  Offering their knowledge and technical abilities in exchange for the money to finance their vision?  What do independent filmmakers have to offer the business world?  Technical skills…check.  A unique perspective of life…check.  A passion to accomplish a deep, underlying vision for their lives…check.  There are many positive aspects to this way of funding.

Are there any negatives to consulting in the mindset of an independent filmmaker?  Yes, there are some negatives.  You could be perceived as “selling out” by giving your knowledge to the man in exchange for his money.  You could forget your vision.  You could have your vision clouded by the acquisition of money.  You could be labeled “not an expert” which in turn could make you question everything about yourself.  But,should these negatives stop you from pursuing a unique way of funding your vision?   I think not.

Consulting could perhaps be the best funding system that fits inline with an independent and open source community.  The willingness to openly share your knowledge with others, placing a price on the knowledge, enabling others to pursue their dreams, and to offer the fruit of your life and mind to others.

I will definitely be taking a closer look at how to fit consulting into my available services, and hope to continue sharing thoughts about the successes and failures relating to that journey.  Until then, get out there and write.  Produce.  Create.

The world needs the independent voice.