In the very first episode of Smart Film Income, I speak with the inspiring film producer Chris Kamen
Chris is part of the new exciting breed of producers who dont go the traditional route when it comes to financing and distribution. These new producers down wait around for traditional funding avenues but instead work directly with their audience to get their film made.
Chris has self financed/crowdfunded his first 3 films outside the traditional funding path, as he deliberately chose not to go after government funding grants. Chris uses audience demanded distribution techniques to get his 3 films into cinemas, bypassing a traditional distributor.
In the episode you will learn:
How to use crowdfunding to raise finance and to connect with your audience
How to create your own email database
How to do a pop up screening
How to get your film on iTunes and much more
On Chris latest film he created his own pop up cinema for a 1 week release in a warehouse thereby creating scarcity and a unique experience for his audience.
In the episode we also talk about whether filmmaking is a sustainable business or a very expensive hobby? Chris most important lessons for other filmmakers is that there are no longer any golden rules. What golden rules do you have for filmmaking?
Listen to this inspiring podcast on another way to do filmmaking.
Chris has written an outstanding case study on the financing and distribution for Small Is Beautiful This case study should be required reading in film schools across the world and for anyone who wants to learn more on crowdfunding, audience demanded distribution, VOD and direct sales to the audience.
I have taken the liberty of showing some great images from the case study but you should really do yourself a favor and read it in full
Let me know your feedback, questions or ideas in the comments below
Do you want to learn more about Crowdfunding and how to work directly with your audience? Watch the free/ donate what you want seminar from Thomas Mai from SmartFilmIncome
Full transcript of interview below
Thomas: So, one, two; one, two; here we go. Yes. Hello Chris Kamen, how are you doing?
Chris Kamen: I’m good; thanks Thomas; how are you? Long time, no speak.
Thomas: Long time, no speak indeed. Thank you so much for being part of this first podcast. What can go wrong probably will go wrong. If we start with that mindsets, then I think we’re going to be good and safe.
Chris Kamen: We’ll figure it out.
Thomas: Yeah. Thank you so much for being part of it –
Chris Kamen: Pleasure to be here.
Thomas: The reason why I want to talk to you is because you have really dwelt in the crowdfunding/self-distribution space. You have crowdfunded three films and you have self-distributed three films.
Chris Kamen: Yeah. For the last few years I’ve been having a lot of fun playing around in this sand pit. Experimenting with new models and seeing how it could work on a bit of a micro budget scale –
Chris Kamen: And now, three films in I’m really trying to take the next step to figure out how we can scale this up now to be more mainstream.
Thomas: When you say mainstream is that because you want to have bigger films that reaches more people or make it more income oriented or –
Chris Kamen: Probably all of the above; I’d love bigger films, bigger budgets, more ambitious stories, and hopefully more income. At the moment the films that I’ve made are generating a small part of my income –
Chris Kamen: And that’s amazing in itself, that a film that you and I worked on four years ago is still generating income today. Not quite enough to live off. The ambition’s still very much to scale it up.
Thomas: Okay, so let’s start with the beginning because you and I met in a film called, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” which is a documentary on refugees, on boat people coming to Australia. That was a big debate about back then four years ago and that debate certainly hasn’t stopped today. Let’s talk about that for a little bit. So, can you tell me what that film is about?
Chris Kamen: Yeah. My friend Dave Schmidt who is a filmmaking friend from a while ago. I was working with a refugee advocate Jessie Taylor and they went off to do a documentary over in Indonesia. Giving people the first look behind the bars of the Indonesian detention centers and interviewing a whole lot of asylum seekers who were looking to come to Australia. Basically the story of the film was a way to tell the human side of –
Chris Kamen: – this big story, because in Australia we get big messages from the media and politicians, and a lot of it dehumanizes boat people. This film was filling in the gaps with a real human story to help people understand what would motivate a person to get on a boat to come to Australia and sadly it’s still relevant today so –
Thomas: It’s extremely relevant today and now we can talk about political directions and where this country’s heading, and Australia in general, but –
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: Right now it’s illegal to interview anyone who’s detain. In turn, you can go to jail for that which is of course a completely wrong turn that Australia has taken somewhere. And even UN just canceled a trip to some of the detention centers this week because they couldn’t guarantee the safety of the workers there. They’re not allowed to speak to UN, not speak to Press, they’re not allowed to speak to anyone, which of course is absurd.
But this is not what this Podcast is about; it’s about looking at the crowdfunding aspect of it and the income. So, on that film where we met – we were trying to raise $60,000. And when you and I met, you already shot the film. So, when I came aboard; we we’re trying to get the films out there so people can actually watch it. And part of the strategy was to raise $60,000 to get the films in front of people; to get them in front of their eyes so that people could talk about it. Because what’s the point of having a film if nobody is watching it.
Chris Kamen: Totally. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s there to see it, then it didn’t happen.
Thomas: Exactly. So, when we started talking; we start going forth and back on how we could make the most impact. And the strategy we came up with was to try to do a distribution tour, a tour across two – thirty cities across Australia. Which sounds incredible ambitious and it was, and incredible naive, which it was, and incredible bold, which it also was.
So, the idea was, let’s try and raise $60,000 to go to thirty cities and puts a team of, from the film into a car and drive from city to city, or fly in-fly out and let’s do a one event screening at each place.
Chris Kamen: That’s right, and the tour culminated at a screening at Parliament House in Cambria; you remember?
Chris Kamen: So, it was kind of like one of those classic road-trip movements from years ago where people drive across the country spreading a message. So, it was very much that kind of vibe.
We really wanted to get the film out of the city. That was the key part of the idea because we knew that, if we had just done the normal thing and played, perhaps its inner city cinemas around the place and spread the film through our own social networks, then we probably wouldn’t have reached anyone other than those who are already sympathetic towards the refugee cause.
The whole strategy was yet to try and get it out there into more rural parts of Australia where we felt that there were probably more people who needed to see the film and start to get an idea that refugees are humans too.
So, thanks to your inspiration of having big vision, we threw ourselves at this crazy challenge and somehow got through it.
Thomas: Somehow did get through it. So, let’s talk briefly about raising $60,000, because it is not a small sum of money to raise.
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: I’m looking at the old site right now and I think we raised it on possible –
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: We raised $60,000 from 416 supporters and if I look at my old numbers which I’m going to share in the show notes, and all the show notes will be found at smartfilmincome.com\1.
So, for episode one, so this is the first episode; so, smartfilmincome.com\1 that’s where we’re going to put all the show notes.
So, we raised $60,000; we were trying to raise $60,000 and we reached $60,594. From 416 backers. And if we take the 416 backers into $60,594, that gives an average summation of 145 bucks; which is quite a lot actually.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, it would be easy to do a scatter plot now, like a scatter plot chart to show the spread of donations, because I think you get a lot of day to day people donating much smaller amounts but then we had a few big backers.
And I think they came from people who had already been supporting the film during production. As you say; this crowdfunding was for distribution, so we had already been – well, Jesse really, she’s a big advocate actually that raised a lot of donations from charities and other people who, like philanthropic sources who wanted this story told, so we started with an audience.
And Thomas, I think if there’s anything I want to say to that, the biggest thing, and it taken me three projects to work this out, is that, if crowdfunding is going to be successful, you really need to go into it with an audience that you can pitch the campaign to.
Chris Kamen: I think we were — that was my first crowdfunding campaign and we just naively went forward, which was great, it was a bit chaotic and stressful, but we got there in the end.
Yeah. I think, that’s the big thing, is if we didn’t have that audience or that small group of dedicated supporters for the project, then we really would have struggled to get the word out about the project or get supporters for it.
Thomas: Exactly, and I like where you say that, because one of the things I’ve learned now having run twenty campaigns, is that you’ve got to go to the choir. Find out where the choir is and ask them to sing a little bit louder.
Because they’re already convinced and they see this film as a movement, they see you, in this case Jesse Taylor, as the ambassador for this movement. And they want to support her, so they can spread the message to other people. They’re already convinced, but they want, they want to support her, so she can help spread the message to people who are not yet convinced. That’s what I think crowdfunding really is.
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: To go out there and find that group of people who are really dedicated to whatever cause that is now.
On a documentary it’s easier to identify a group of people who are into a given niche or orientation, or view, or whatever it might be. It might be a little bit harder on a fiction film or a film that have other subjects or other issues.
But this documentary, we knew there was a group people who certainly were against what was happening in this country. So, we went to them and said, “Hey, we really need your help to take this film on the road.”
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: Let’s talk a little bit about the shooting of the crowdfunding trailer and I want to go a little bit in details with that, because you have sort of deterred a little bit from that on the consequent crowdfunding campaigns and I’m just wondering why? And like, “Chris! Why? Why?”
Chris Kamen: I apologize. Probably we – let me think, I mean, on the other two campaigns I’ve done I haven’t been that much involved in the crowdfunding part –
Chris Kamen: I’ve actually joined as a producer; I’ve jumped on to projects that have already been initiated by filmmakers and then they come to me when they, kind of, in through the process and realize they need a producer to help and sort it out.
Chris Kamen: But yeah, on that first video we did with Jesse for “The Deep Blue Sea,” that was something that you very much coached us about in terms of having a direct message from the filmmaker to the audience, asking for that support.
Thomas: Yes. Because one thing I’ve learned at earning these crowds funding campaigns is to try to make it personal and relatable.
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: And if it’s personable and it’s relatable, people will connect with it. If we just put up a trailer and people see that trailer, then sure people go, “Yeah, that’s nice, I’ll check it out.” The problem is, we live in a world now where 50,000 films are made every year; 50,000 not one-five, but five-zero—
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: 50,000 films are made every year. In order to compete in that world; we have to come across as different; we have to stand out and if we just put up another trailer, then people will say, “Sure. I’ll check it out.” Chris do you have Netflix? Are you on Netflix?
Chris Kamen: I did have it, but I put it on ice for the moment because I’m not that happy with the Australian offering to be honest.
Thomas: Wow, you should go to the U.S. offering. Well, when you were on it, how was your queue? How many films did you have in your queue?
Chris Kamen: Apes. Well, yeah. I’ll share with you; I actually keep my list of movies that I want to watch on my Evernote, and yeah that’s very, very, long indeed.
Thomas: Is very long and we can’t keep up, but we’re dedicated filmmakers who want to keep on top of things.
Chris Kamen: Exactly.
Thomas: And so, just to try to keep up with the stuff that’s already created; that’s already been made, so that’s 50,000 films made every year. There might be 100 films every year you want to check out.
So, just go back 10 years. That’s 1,000 films; when do we have time to watch that? So, if we come along and say, “Hey, we want to crowd fund this; we want to make this film,” people go, “Sure, but I have all these other films that I want to see.”
Chris Kamen: Yeah, why? Why this one?
Chris Kamen: And to have it, it has stand out. I think; to get back to your point before, Thomas, about creating a movement around the film, I think that’s one of the principles that worked really well on the Deep Blue Sea film campaign, because it was really a social issues film.
Chris Kamen: So, that worked really well. And I think, in this space, it’s those films that can generate a movement around them is an incredibly powerful thing not just for the craft component, but for doing cinema on demand at the exact same thing that you’re dealing with trying to get people engaged in that film, more than just a normal piece of entertainment that they might go out and see on a Friday night.
I mean, here we were asking people to really commit to a project for the sake of getting it out; getting, spreading the word.
Thomas: Exactly. I’m just going to play a sound bite from the trailer and again, the show notes on the trailer; everything will be on the website. I’m just going play this, so we can hear the introduction of the crowdfunding trailer.
I just want to point out, in my opinion at least, there’s a huge difference between a cinematic trailer and a TV trailer and a crowdfunding trailer. A cinematic trailer is all about showing what the people, you know, go see this film because explosions; because the issues; because of what it is.
But a crowdfunding trailer is this personable and relatable, in my opinion at least, trailer. So, I’m just going to play this and see if we can hear this.
Trailer: Hi; I’m Jesse Taylor. Since 2009; I’ve been working on a film that Tony and Julia don’t want you to see. It’s a film about boat people. We’ve made this film to give asylum seekers a voice and now that it’s finished we need you to help us take the film on a road trip around Australia, so that we can bring the human stories of the asylum seekers to 30 cities around the country.
Thomas: And now cutting to the actual trailer of the film, but that has that personal introduction from Jesse who looks, generally looks great; who is really passionate about this issue, and I think it’s important that one has that element in the crowdfunding trailer. And by the way, that brings memories back watching this trailer; it’s been a long –
Chris Kamen: Actually, yeah, back to Tony and Julia days.
Thomas: Tony and Julia days are of those people who are not up on Australian politics. I’ve lived here four years in Australia and I can honestly say I’ve had four prime ministers in four years, it is a revolving door issue.
Chris Kamen: It’s crazy. Yes.
Thomas: Someone said, I saw a quote somewhere that, “Australia is the Democratic Coupe Capital of the World.” Five prime ministers in five years and Tony and Julia are no longer in charge from their respective parties, but that’s a different story.
Alright, so let’s talk about overall; I want to get to your new film which you’ve been working on, which is out now and you’re going to share some incredible numbers which is very, very, interesting.
But before we go there; I just want to say, we started by saying in the beginning, you said that, you want to make this more sustainable, so for filmmaking for you now; is that a hobby or is it an incoming and can it become an income? I guess that’s what most filmmakers are struggling with.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, it’s definitely income; it’s not my main income. I’d say, it’s probably about, between, say 10-20 percent of my income.
Chris Kamen: So, it’s still very much in the minority, but if I was to say, I think if I could make ten films and they were of mixed degrees of success, like this three that I’ve done, I think that would be probably enough to live off. And that itself is a pretty tantalizing prospect. To be able to have films that are generating income long into the future, thanks to the long tile and the ability to distribute them online for next to zero cost and being able to do that ourselves without having a distributor take the money and not handed over to us.
Chris Kamen: That’s a pretty revolutionary idea if you think about it, in the history of filmmaking for independence filmmakers to be sustainable in that way. So, that’s definitely a dream. I’m also augmenting that with more traditional filmmaking work like producing freelance jobs.
Chris Kamen: For web content and TV commercials, as well as training to be a lawyer, so that I can work as a media lawyer on other people’s projects and learn from them. So, I got a few things on the boiler and we will see which one comes the outruns.
Thomas: Absolutely. Because the traditional way of doing it and we’re going to get to that little bit; is that, when you make a film, whatever it costs, you go and raise the money from certain sources and then you hand the film off to someone else.
Chris Kamen: That’s right.
Thomas: Then they’d take care of it. Which is nice, they’ll put it in the cinemas; they –
Chris Kamen: Well, they may take care of it, that’s the thing. The idea, as you say, with 50,000 films coming out at the moment, it’s too easy for distributors to receive a film then decide not to do anything with it and you’re on a contract with them and you can’t do anything about the film, so if they decide to dump your film that’s it; you’ve got no other way to get it out there.
So, this is also like a political response to the system in that, I think it is a great way for filmmakers to regain control of their films and take their films to an audience and to be responsible for whether they’re, anyone see their film or not.
Thomas: Exactly. And that’s responsibility – most filmmakers are already stressed because they have to find the money, have to do this and, so—
Chris Kamen: Yeah, it’s tough.
Thomas: they’re trained to believe this, hand off to someone else and they go to work on the next film, but the problem is, your job is not done. That’s just as you’re saying, your job was continued for a long, long, time.
You want to try to make 10 films, so you can get a sustainable income from each of these films having the long tail. I just want to point out what a long tail is; we’ve mentioned that before.
Chris Anderson from Wired Magazine came up with this long tail idea. He actually wrote a book about it. That, in the beginning, your film or your income, your created content will make the most money, but over a given period of time it will make a small income here and there.
It want be a lot, but it will never die; it will not be like there’s a period where it makes absolutely no money. So having a long tail principle of 10 films that each give a little bit of money over a long time will bring income towards you; and that’s what we were talking about.
So, getting back to this idea of being self-distributing, self- producing, and being in charge of it all because – in my opinion and I’m saying this and some of my friends are our distributors, so I have to mark my words here, but distributors are a little bit like the record industry.
Chris Kamen: Meaning what?
Thomas: Oh, yes. Record labels were going out of business left and right. Right? Due to the rise of Napster, due to the rise of [00:18:08 – inaudible] to the delivery of files. And record companies that didn’t make the transition from being just a record company to a promoter, to a concert promoter, did not make the cut.
And we’re a little bit in that situation now where film distribution companies around the world, this is just not Australia, this is in U.S., this is in Europe, is that, they have less and less money because the whole food chain, the whole system of how to make money is breaking down.
Traditionally speaking, you put a film in theaters to highlight it, to make it a premier title, to make people excited about it, but it’s now what’s known as a loss leader. You will lose money putting your film through theaters because it’s just ridiculously expensive.
I mean, we’ll talk about that in a little bit. But, where you would make your money back would be in paid TV; would be in DVD, it would be in free TV because the premier title will then recoup its cost in all these other windows.
The problem is that all these windows are falling apart. Who buys DVD’s these days? Who really has Paid TV? Even HBO. And all the other big paid TV channels are, quote quoting, going from pushing a content out to traditional TV stations, trying to push it out online.
That’s one thing they’ve learned from Netflix, go directly to the consumer. That’s where the money is and that’s where the powers instead of going through these other TV channels.
So, that is going down; free TV is going down. There’s a little bit of a long thing; I just want to say here, but overall we’re in charge in times and we certainly are in times of change.
So, let’s talk about self-distribution. Why do you believe that this is the right road ahead for you and for the films you want to do? Is this what you want to do for the films in the future you want to make?
Chris Kamen: There’s lot to unpack there, but I think, generally speaking, the biggest things for me that I’m seeing in the filmmaking world at the moment is as you said, the breaking down of the old model.
And the old model’s very much focused on creating a film with the broadest possible audience possible. Like say, broadcast TV all the way through to theatrical distribution in multiplex cinemas across the country. All these outlets are designed to attract a mass audience.
But with the internet, we’re seeing fragmentation, we’re seeing the ability for people to get interested in lots of different things that aren’t just have to watch what’s on at the movies that weekend.
So, as consumers, we’ve got so much more choice. That I think is the opportunity, definitely for me, in the films I’m interested in making, documentaries especially, that can be led by general market budget.
So, with a well-targeted film that is aimed at a niche audience, that the mass market or the mass industry can’t be bothered to cater to, is the opportunity for us independent filmmakers to make a film like Deep Blue Sea film or the Jim [00:20:59 – inaudible] film which is a very niche but a very devoted audience, as well as the one I’ve just done now; which is about tiny houses and building and living in tiny houses.
So, for me It’s an opportunity. The Internet’s created this new way of reaching audiences and we’ve got crowdfunding, we’ve got self-distribution, we’ve got cinema on demand; we’ve got all these neat tools that allows us to surgically target a niche audience and it can be a global niche audience as well. Well, it has to be a global niche audience for it to get big enough to make it viable.
And yeah, we’re really excited because on this latest film where we’re really – on my latest project anyway we’re really getting close, we do expect to actually get a profitable project out of this which was done entirely with private fund money and to recoup our production budget through VOD distribution, as well as doing theatrical on demand and other things, so—
Chris Kamen: It’s pretty exciting.
Thomas: Well, I think it’s great what you’ve said. I love your attitude, your positivity about, instead of the, saying, “Oh my God! Everything’s falling apart. What we’re going to do? Everything’s on fire!” You say, “No, no, no. There’s possibilities over here; were one door closes, another one opens. We can do all this ourselves.”
Where many filmmakers are afraid to take on this because it is, yes, that much more job and that much more responsibility, but in the end; who is best for looking out after your on film? And wouldn’t you want to be in charge of your own film? Don’t you want to be in control of your own film?
So, I love you attitude saying, “Let’s go for it! There’s all these amazing possibilities.” Let’s talk about your new film, which is the one that I’ve not been part of; which is “Small is Beautiful?”
Chris Kamen: Yep.
Thomas: So, you could just talk a little bit about the Tiny House movement?
Chris Kamen: Yes, so the Tiny House movement is this burgeoning online movement across the world. It’s principally led out of the United States where people who might not be able to afford or don’t want to pay for a really expensive house and a big mortgage, they can build a miniature house that’s about the size of a caravan or a trailer, but it’s a traditional strict built house with all the traditional construction techniques and it’s just a miniature house on wheels and it’s got a really great cute factor to it, because they look really cute and there’s a great design aspect to it all.
Chris Kamen: But it’s also a big political statement to the system of people figuring out alternate ways to live without having to have a huge mortgage. It’s a real DIY movement. So, people are using the internet to connect up and share ideas, share designs and talk about living in tiny houses.
And I can’t take credit for it, it was actually my collaborator Jeremy who stumbled across this culture, this subculture on the internet. And he himself was looking for a house and thought he might build a house.
Then he thought he might make a film about tiny houses. And then he ended up spending his whole life’s saving in making this film which he probably could have built two – we joked – that he probably could have built two tiny houses for the budget of this film.
But, now he has this, now we’ve got this film, we released it 4-5 months ago. And as I said, it’s on its way to profitability now that we’re kind of tapping into the long tail and it’s, we’re really excited about what we did in terms of producing and releasing it.
And we’re writing a case study at the moment which we’re hoping to release in the coming weeks about how we did it all to try and share our learnings.
Thomas: Oh, great! So, yes, filmmakers; we are incredible creative, we love to create stuff, but we are not the best business people. And I say this with a smile on my face because nobody told us how to make money. We just want to create, and we want to create. And we have this belief that, “Build it and they will come.” You know?
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: Just make it and the lines will be around the block, but—
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: – it is not true any longer because, with 50,000 films being made every year and hundreds of TV channels and all this content being thrilled sports event; we are competing with every other creative industry out there for eyeballs, for people to watch our stuff. So, we really have to talk, we really have to evolve and learn how to become better business people. So the questions is, should he have built two houses or should he have made the film? That’s the question.
Chris Kamen: Well, he had no idea going into it. And that’s all in the story, that Jeremy, as a first time filmmaker who came from a photography background, thought that since he had his own camera he could shoot it quickly and cheaply and get it out on the internet and it would just be a fun little project on the side.
But it ended up becoming a mammoth two year journey and becoming a lot bigger and ended up sucking up all of his life’s savings.
So, his only response was to dig in and figure out a way to make this work. Jeremy, he’s very entrepreneurial and connected up through me thanks to our friends at [00:26:05 – inaudible], actually, and I joined as the producer to start working on this plan of how were we going to release this film and get Jeremy his investment back.
Is actually a great opportunity, the fact that Jeremy didn’t come from a film background because he was free of all those traditional ideas of where you get funding from or [00:26:25 – inaudible] deals or distributors.
So, we were really able to start with a clean slate in coming out with this strategy that, of releasing the film online.
Thomas: Okay. Great! I love that he’s free of that because filmmakers have taught film school: do this, do this, do this. It’s a rigid system and you have to get out of it. That’s really my thing. Stop doing that, getting to a more self-empowering structure. So, can you tell me what the budget is for the film?
Chris Kamen: $60,000; which was pretty much living expenses for a year or two for Jeremy to travel, you know, being a Melbourne base filmmaker in Australia; there was a few trips to do over to Portland in Oregon, in the USA where the film was shot, because that’s kind of the hub of tiny houses were wide.
And, yeah! It was just a pretty small crew. Jeremy and another, kind of, just two person crew organizing interviews, going along and in a way like Grand Designs, going along to film these tiny houses being built through the various stages of construction and then interviewing the residents so, you know, the inhabitants about what the process was like for them and the amazing personal journeys that they went through.
Then there was lots of post-production of course. We had an amazing editor, Florence, who spent a couple of months locked in a room with Jeremy, editing away. And then there was music to be done; there was post-production, like grading and titles.
Then we had publicity in distribution to take care of as well which all kind of had to get rolled in. But thankfully, as we just kept on chipping away with it we gained more momentum and we got help from all sorts of wonderful places. Part of it was crowdfunded, originally, but only a small amount; only about 7,000 of the $60,000 budget.
Thomas: Yes. So, can I ask why did you go for such a low amount? When you did $60,000 on the other film; why did you crowdfund the whole amount?
Chris Kamen: This was as I said before the – I’m not an opportunistic producer I suppose and this project fell in my lap when Jeremy approached me after he had already crowdfunded and shot most of the project.
He did the crowdfunding himself and his thinking behind a small – his actual target was $5,000 on plausible and that was at the very beginning of production before he’d done much at all. He really used the crowdfunding campaign as a litmus test. As a bit of a – he just sent it out into the universe to see whether or not there was actually an audience, or if people liked the idea of him doing a tiny house film.
So, again he was somewhat naive in not understanding how much the film was going to cost so he thought he just needed a few grand to go do some filming but it ended up snowballing. But, yeah, that initial crowdfunding campaign was not so much trying to fully fund the film, it was more as I say to scab it; to gauge interest to see whether not people wanted to see a film on this subject matter. The fact that he extended his target by 25 percent was a clear signal for him to go off and do it. So, he did and then I joined in. Once we did the rest of the filming and we took it from there—
Thomas: And you never talked about coming back for a second crowdfunding campaign?
Chris Kamen: We did; we were seriously considering doing another round of crowdfunding and the lot of films do that. There are a lot of projects out there that go off and they raise their production budget and then they realize that they need more money for distribution and they will go do another round of crowdfunding. I think we were really close to doing that, but we also for one reason or another we decided we wanted to basically try and get the film done and Jeremy luckily had the means and the commitment to do that himself. It was almost like we could spend two months or three months trying to raise another round of crowdfunding or we could just spend that time just finishing a film and then selling it; getting it online and start selling it.
Chris Kamen: We never really decided to do because we just wanted to get the film done and out there and crowdfunding is a lot of work, so.
Thomas: It is a lot of work.
Chris Kamen: If we could get it out there without having to go back to our fan base and ask them again. We felt better about that; we were really reluctant to keep on asking our fans for more, more, we would rather just give them the product. Then sell it and actually have people get something for their money rather than investing in an idea might not turn out. So that worked for us and we were lucky along the way because we could shoot other sources of funding as well. I think a big thing in this ages it’s not just one; crowdfunding is not the golden bullet there’s lots of different ways to do this. So, –
Chris Kamen: we pursued as sponsorship deals with various people including AB&B—
Chris Kamen: and they sponsor our launch which was fantastic. There’s a natural fit with our film and what AB&B is all about. Then off the back of that; things got to a bit momentum and because we were putting together this innovative release strategy; we were able to get a little bit of funding from screen Australia which was fantastic. That really got us over the line with our release and we were off and running.
Thomas: What was the budget for the do it yourself distribution?
Chris Kamen: It was something in the order of $30,000; I think, but that doesn’t include our launch which was – we did this big launch event which was a whole lot of fun which was 10,000 in itself, but that brought in $40,000 in revenue, so that was actually a profitable launch.
Chris Kamen: So, I don’t know whether you want to include that in the over-all distribution budget or not.
Thomas: Well, if it’s part of it I guess it is part of the whole budget to get the film out there,
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: So, you say the film is close to breaking even; it that the close including the distribution budget?
Chris Kamen: No, at the moment we got our eyes on recouping the production budget. So, I’m just looking at my spreadsheet now and we’re going to be publishing all our numbers, for the sake of transparency, so other people can see how we’ve done this.
Chris Kamen: But, yeah, out of the $60,000 the hard costs, we’ve decided to pay ourselves a deferred fee of $20,000 each; director, producer fees. That means, we promised ourselves to pay ourselves when we had the money. So, therefore the total recoupable budget is 100,000 including our deferred fees and right now I’m looking at $94,564. So, we’re really close to getting to that hundred thousand dollar target. That’s gross; however, net is less than that because there’s a whole other fee that gets taken out before we see money like iTunes fees or V-hectic fees or Vimeo fees, so our net at the moment is more like $53,000, but as I say, we feel we’re on a journey towards profitability because the way that we do our modeling with the long tile. Based on the numbers that we’ve received so far we can kind of forecast what we think the revenue’s going to be down the track and we’ve got an idea of breaking even within twelve months of releasing the film.
Thomas: Greats! Greats! So, let’s talk about – you sent some of the case study over to me and I don’t know how much of this stuff I can put up in show notes, but the more I got the better it could be. In there; you said your goal was to have 3,000 e-mail addresses before you launch the film. What’s the thinking behind that?
Chris Kamen: That’s crucial, so the big thing in this paradigm of self-distribution is that you’re really merging the producing and the distribution roles together and by that, I mean, you’re building your audience from day one. So, crowdfunding to raise part of your production budget, or all of your production budget is all about building that audience from the beginning.
Chris Kamen: So, our goal of having three – we just kind of chose 3,000 as a challenging, but felt realistic number of what we could achieve for the day that we launched. So, that when we launched on iTunes and other platforms we want the film to get it into the top ten; at least in documentary category—
Chris Kamen: and our thinking was that if we could get on the front page of iTunes or in the top ten of iTunes then people would – then that would allow more people to discover the film. Then it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy because more people would discover the film on iTunes and then more people would buy and it would stay in top ten for longer. That’s exactly what happened, so that idea worked out really well. So, the whole distribution strategy is about using your time that you’ve got during production and all the way through post-production; using all that time which can for a film can take a year or two you use that time to your advantage by building up the biggest audience possible, so that when you launch you can launch with a big bang—
Chris Kamen: and your long title has a broader after glow.
Thomas: I like that; I like that a lot. I also like the idea that you, so to saying, “hey, we’re just going to release it; closer our eyes and pray and hope something—
Chris Kamen: Well—
Thomas: goes up. You say, Okay; we will not launch until we have 3,000 e-mail addresses. These are the crucial people these are the responders.
Chris Kamen: You need critical mass.
Thomas: Exactly, who’s going to go out there and push the film because we’re going to drown, if we just raise a film. Nobody’s going to see it; nobody’s going to care because there’s so much stuff being created right now; with the noise of Facebook and Twitter and we’re just going to drown. So, we need 3,000. How long did it take to get 3,000 e-mail addresses; which is a significant number if you’re starting from scratch?
Chris Kamen: I’m just looking at our mailchimp account statistics and that’s the other big thing is, is I think that should be the first thing any filmmaker does when they’re starting a project is to start a mailchimp account because that’s your central repository for e-mail address list and that’s where you’re building your audience. So, we started, I think, in early 2014; I’m sorry, my dates are a little bit robbery, but it’s basically, a solid year of building up to having — we actually had 3,209 subscribers when we launched plus 1200 Twitter followers and I think a couple of 1000 on Facebook, but it’s e-mail that’s the most valuable. Twitter is good. Facebook used to be good, but the wonderful people on Facebook are changing their over rhythms. Say, even if you’ve got 1,000s of likes on your Facebook page; when you post your fan don’t necessarily see that. Your Facebook want you to pay for that privilege now.
Thomas: Yeah. Well, they’re big corporations need to make money and there so much of them being pushed at one point 4-5 billion people. So, they have an algorithm that prioritizes paid traffic versus your own traffic and if you have a 1,000 likes; only about 10 percent will see that on their wall that just how it is right now with the leads algorithm. I’m sure it’s going to get worse and worse in the future, so that’s a trend we’re going towards. I love that you say that with their e-mail address you own the people because on Facebook the terms change all the time; on Twitter the terms change all the time, and you don’t know whether they’ll going be there, the more you list.
Chris Kamen: don’t know whether they are going to be there, so the more I list.
Thomas: When you have an email list and you would keep it actively and you keep it hot. What I mean by that? Well, you have to send out e-mails once in a while. If I signed up a year ago and then out of the blue; I get an e-mail from you; then I might have completely forgotten. Chris, I know this, you can’t take this personal, but if I sign up to law stuff; law stuff is happening online and if it takes a year for me to get the next email; I will have completely forgot what this is all about. I’ve got to be hot to be extremely cold. So, I just want to get back a little bit; sorry I kicked you out.
So, mailchimp; for people who don’t know what mailchimp is. Mailchimp.com is, and that is M A I L chimp; like a monkey, mailchimp.com is basically, an online database. It’s basically, setting up a form on your Website. Like say, “Hey, I want to subscribe. Give me emails updates; give me newsletters of what’s going on.” So in the mailchimp you create this form; you put it on your website and people fill it out and when they fill it out they get the automatic response saying, “Okay, can you confirm this is your email. Then they go into this database and then you could push out the e-mails through this database as many times as you want. Sometimes you lose people, sometimes you’ll get more people, depending on how you write heading. That’s a whole other topic I’m going to bring up.
Chris Kamen: Totally. It’s a whole other job.
Thomas: Whole other podcast episode. We’re going to talk to somebody at some point. You said the first thing filmmakers have to do is to start to open with a mailchimp account. I love that.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, because let’s remember that traditional way of doing business like a traditional distributor’s they invest millions of dollars of advertising to get people to come along and see the films, but independent filmmakers, if you don’t have that money so we have to grow tact our audiences and the way to do that is we should take – we should use that; as I said before, that long period of pre-production, production, and post-production. That’s our chance to create an identity for the film online. Start attracting fans and to build that fan-base over a long period of time.
It’s a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a huge amount of work to figure out how to e-mail and how to engage with your audience. To keep building; to keep them sharing your film; to maybe send out two bits of videos, or regular updates, so that they’re along on the journey with you. We discussed before this all goes back to creating a movement around your film. It’s about bringing people into your fold and making them really a much more highly engaged audience than going down to see a movie on the Friday night where it’s just a piece of entertainment.
This is really creating a much more intimate relationship with your audience and treating them specially, so that hopefully one day by the time they get to release the film you’ve got 1,000s of people who are really excited to see your film. They would go out and buy it; they want pirate it. They’ll support you in spreading your film to the next – I call it the audiences and an onion, so spreading the film to the next layer of the onion. Telling all their friends about it and if your films good then word of mouth will catch on and it goes from there. So, that’s the way to release a film with that marketing budget.
Thomas: It’s the only way to release a film I think even with a marketing budget. You need to have people and again that’s another litmus test. Seeing that he used audience for this and that’s what crowdfunding is and I implausibly see you raised $7,370 from 153 supporters. So, those 153 people; you got the e-mail address because when they find up a possible; they are all to sign up; they gave their e-mail address and of course you export that from the possible into the email chimp database. Then you say to yourself, “we will not release this film until we have at least 3,000 people.” So, we can stop the first wave; we can stop this movement that we can be head of; otherwise, we’re going to be that tree that falls in the forest.
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: Over all, filmmaking poppy; sustainable income. It’s a lot of work, as you say so for people who are negative and there are, trust me, still a lot of people in the film community who believes this is a lot of work and they would rather just get a paycheck or do something. It is a lot of work there’s no getting around it.
Chris Kamen: That’s always been filmmaking now hasn’t it?
Chris Kamen: It’s a labor of love.
Thomas: Absolutely a labor of love, but filmmaking itself is a lot of work. I mean making a film is so time consuming and so intense and people who are not the film industry don’t understand how come we take so long to make a film. It just does, but on top of that we have to add all these layers. Is it worth it in the long run?
Chris Kamen: Totally, I get immense satisfaction out of having the control and the responsibility of making this happen because I’ve just met too many film maker along my journey of people who have spent years talking—
Thomas: Party! Party!
Chris Kamen: Well party nothing, but no making as well, films and just in the last couple of years I’ve got some of my cohort of filmmakers in Melbourne. There’s a number of filmmaking who have done a great job at working really had to develop their script and make the film against all odds over multiple years. They finally get that chance and then because of the way the whole finance works they’re forced to sign up to a distributor and the film doesn’t end up turning out as well as the distributor might of hoped or something along those lines. Then the film never really gets released. Then the filmmakers are gutted because they put years of work into this film. The distributor is not willing to put much money into getting it out to an audience, but because the distributor has the rights to the film; the film making kind isn’t right. So, the filmmakers even if they wanted to get off and actually start pushing it; they just can’t because they’ve signed the film over to a distributor.
So I just love, as I said at the beginning, developing this up; it’s a small beakies at the moment. This model works best for marketer budget films, but my ambition is to try and figure out how we can scale this up, so that it can become a better way to do, say, fiction films which are more expensive than documentaries.
Chris Kamen: I had something else to say, but I forgotten. I was going to say that all this work that might seem daunting is not only trying to make your film, but to distributor as well. Yeah it is, like growing and audience is an incredible amount of work. There’s a couple of ways you can go around that. One is to bring another person on to the team, like a cohort impact producer and I hope that you’re going to speak to someone like Hattie; who’s probably a fantastic impact producer in Australia. They can take care of a lot of this work for you, so to leave you as a filmmaker able to focus on making the film itself.
Thomas: I should speak to Hedy Archibald. That I should get hold of and have her on one of the…Yeah, I see that. That’s very good. I’ll definitely put her on an episode and talk to her about what she does. That’s a great idea. So overall, when do you think this film will start making profits for you and Jeremy?
Chris Kamen: Our target is to break even in the first twelve months. And we think we’re on track for that, so check in with us. We’re going to be releasing our numbers in the interest of transparency online and we’re going to do a spreadsheet that we are going to keep updated as we go, so…
Thomas: Great. I love that you want to share that. Can you say that…So you–
Chris Kamen: Well, we have to share. I mean, I think everyone…Like we…Everyone needs to share…There’s a great kind of movement towards transparency that the Sundance is doing. They’re doing a Transparency Initiative where…Because we all know that the money that you receive at the box office like the traditionally published books obviously is just not representative of a film’s performance anymore. So we’re kind of, you know, wanting to be an early forerunner in opening up a little bit more and being open with our numbers and, yeah, we’re honest. Like these numbers aren’t yet at the stage of what traditional industry expects, but it’s a different way of doing things where we feel like we’re in a sand pit and we can build it up from here.
Thomas: Okay, that sounds great. Can you speak about some numbers? Some VOD numbers and how you got it out? Or you got a run now?
Chris Kamen: No. I mean, we can. I just…It’s probably better just to get a case study out there and let people see it for themselves. As I said when we’re almost about to hit 100 thousand in terms of gross. Yeah. Interestingly…I mean we…What we’re fascinated by seeing the different places where the money comes, we’ve kind of subscribe to the fury of ubiquity where rather than just having a film available in one exclusive outlet, we’ve made the film available on all sorts of different platforms on a non-exclusive basis. And we allowing our audience to decide how they want to watch the film.
Thomas: So the film is available on your website, available…You mentioned iTunes. Where else is the film available?
Chris Kamen: So it’s our own website which is powered by VHX which we love. It’s on Vimeo as well, it’s on iTunes. It’s one iTunes in USA, Canada, and Australia. It’s in…It’s on Google Play in USA, Canada, and Australia and it’s also on Amazon On demand in the USA. And whilst I say that we subscribe to a principle of ubiquity, we have thus far limited ourselves to transactional VOD platforms, so they’re the platforms where someone pays once for that film. Rather than a subscription service like Netflix or Stan or the various others.
Thomas: Have you been approached by those?
Chris Kamen: No, that’s kind of next on the agenda along with other kind of ancillary sales like–
Thomas: Because they typically pay a one-time upfront fee.
Chris Kamen: That’s right.
Thomas: And they exploit as much they can within typically a one year period.
Chris Kamen: That’s right. And for small kind of indie players like us have heard some mixed reports about whether that’s actually a good thing to do. So we’ve decided to hold off. And again like we feel like our audience is small but they’re engaged, and they’ll support us. They’ll go out of their way to watch our film and therefore we can go on platforms that are more profitable for us. That when we want to kind of go to a broader audience Netflix could be great but we’re not expecting Netflix to give us, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s probably going to be more like, I don’t know, 5,000 dollars. As a once-off license fee, which may cannibalize that transactional VOD audience. So — I don’t know what you’ve heard.
Thomas: I’ve heard it was a little bit higher than 5,000.
Christ Kamen: Alright, cool. Well, there you go. I hope I haven’t labeled myself…
Thomas: …25 to 50 thousand dollars that they will pay, but depending on…You have this algorithm and these three test criteria that we have to pass through before it even pops up on their radar.
Thomas: Yes, that’s a whole another talk at some point. We need to have someone who is an expert and give you a fill on Netflix and we talk to them about that. But yeah, this is really good.
Chris Kamen: So yeah we get we’re getting there. About a quarter of their revenue coming through our own website. So then we’re getting lot on iTunes. But it’s funny iTunes is where most people have seen the film. However it still doesn’t…Like our website is still actually making more money for us because we get a high profitability through our own website. So that’s something that filmmakers really need to think about is looking at the different platforms and figuring out what cut those platforms take before the filmmakers see some money. So iTunes is about thirty percent, and then I had to go through our aggregator who takes another ten percent. So we probably only see about 60 percent of the money. Plus like you just got to weed other things like tax. In America they withhold ten percent, and I don’t quite understand why. And just got these…So you kind of, I don’t know, everyone takes their cut before you see the money. Whereas platforms like Vimeo or VHX are more transparent and–
Thomas: And you own the data and you own the costs–
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: On Vimeo, do you get the email address? Somebody buys a film on Vimeo do you get the email of the customer? No you don’t, do you?
Chris Kamen: I don’t think so. So that’s why we kind of like VHX. VHX hasn’t really arrived in Australia or they haven’t really pushed it much here but it’s kind of mainstream in the US for a lot of films. But in Australia it’s just emerging. We found…We chose VHX because it’s got a great, much more powerful backend and you’ve got a lot more features you can do in terms of, like, coupons or packaging up lots of videos into a high value package which is actually a really important way to boost your revenue. And you’ve got…Yes, so I could go on and on, but we like VHX and, you know, that the platform that we chose to facilitate out our film cells. On other projects I’ve actually also…Sorry, I’m just kind of jumping around a bit but with VHX and Vimeo, they both take 10 percent, VHX takes 50 cents plus ten percent, whereas Vimeo is 10% but you got to have like a 200 hundred dollar pro membership. So there are costs there. They’re in the minority. There’s other platforms emerging like Gumroad which I think they’re competing to take less, like five percent.
Thomas: Yeah, Gumroad. I’m a big fan of Gumroad. I have a number of my courses with Gumroad. And I set the price to free! Donate what you want. And I’ve had 30 sales in one week the first week of put it up. And the average person actually pays 12 dollars. And even though it’s free because people want to give, people want to feel like that they’re the grateful. I mean, of course, yes there are some people who just pay zero, but others…The highest people pay is 25 dollars.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, so…Yeah, for sure. And again it kind of goes back to the movement again; if you’re going to movement around your film then people want to support you. So the other way to do it though is, you know, if you’re kind of savvy enough and you willing to put the effort in, you can set up your own economist or own your own website and have no one taking a cut. And that’s actually what we did with [inaudible 00:51:52] film, is we’re selling that directly on our website with no third party facilitating the transaction.
Chris Kamen: And it was a fair bit more work. But it means that we keep, I think, 97% of the revenue? And I think our credit card processing facility takes three percent or something that that. So…It’s…You know that profit margin is really important to keep an eye on because on the other end of the scale these platforms like Amazon and Google, who take half of the revenue, which I think is huge. And so–
Thomas: It’s still better than boxoffice.
Chris Kamen: It is and…Yes, it is and…But you know when you’re looking to push your film out there it’s really good to think about which platforms you want to master. Because they all got their own quirks and their own tricks. We decided to try to master iTunes because it’s kind of got the biggest audience and the most…And we tried to kind of hack it, for one of the better word, to get our film on the front page.
Thomas: With your 3000 email addresses.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, with their critical mass audience to get everyone to buy it on iTunes on that first day said that it popped up in the top ten immediately and it worked really well for us. So we tried to focus on one platform but we also…You know, we are still making available everywhere else so that our customers can decide for themselves how they want to get film.
Thomas: Yes. Going back again you said something early on and didn’t catch it then and I want to talk about that. You said…You mentioned the word aggregator. So an aggregator is just the fancy technical term for, I guess, digital sales agent or digital company that can make…take your file and put it onto a company like iTunes. I mean you can’t call iTunes a film…And you can’t email them. Nobody responds, there’s two people who are working in [inaudible 00:53:46] for filmmakers and two people in London. And that’s about basically it for the whole world so it’s very hard to get in. They only deal with someone they already know so you have to go through someone else. And the trick is to go through someone else who do not exclusive rights, who do not charge 50%. And I saw in your notes that you are…You teamed up with a company called juiceworldwide.com.
Chris Kamen: Yeah Juice is a Canadian based company. They have offices around the world but the people we’re dealing with are in Toronto. Which is kind of annoying from Australia, because of the time thing. You get one email a day, it kind of takes ages to get anything done, but yeah they just operate on a model where you pay them, I don’t know. I think the bait we start off with 500 dollars and then you add another 150 dollars per platform that you want to be on. So we chose to be on iTunes, Google, and Amazon. And we just send them our master. And then they do all the encoding and get get our film onto those platforms on the date and for the price that we specify. And then for doing that they also take 10% of all the revenue that they collect on our behalf and then they send it to us every couple of months.
Thomas: Okay, so let me repeat that: So Juice [inaudible 00:54:47] 500 dollars just to get started, 500 U.S. dollars. And then they take 150 per platform. So 150 iTunes, 500 Amazon.
Chris Kamen: Once you convert it to Australian, I think we end up spending about 900 dollars or something like that just to get it up.
Thomas: Yep. And then they…And then they report every quarter?
Chris Kamen: They’ve got an ongoing reporting dashboard that you can check at any time but they’re also kind of stuck with Amazon and other platforms who take a while to report. So I think Amazon takes two months before they actually tell you how much…how many you’ve sold, whereas iTunes is pretty much instantaneous. So there’s a bit of…It’s a bit messy and you kind of-just-being-bugging Juice every now and then to send us some money and they do. So okay. It’s kind of, it’s kind of like that I thought it’d be a little more ordered but it’s not.
In actual fact like the automated systems like Vimeo and VHX are much more transparent because, you know, it’s all computerized and all the money is collected and it gets sent to your regularly once a month and you can see exactly where every cent is gone. So yeah. The other thing to keep in mind with, you know using an aggregator like Juice: Takes a long time because there is a fair bit of work involved in preparing your film for iTunes that have very high or a very rigid technical standards, so…We had to…Like if you have weird little technical errors with our toggles and black video frames and weird things like that that we had to sort out before we could launch. You need to allow a good few months to go through that process. It’s just kind of the way it is as opposed to, you know, VHX where we can upload and be live that day. And then the other thing with Juice…Or getting on today’s big platform like iTunes is that every country has its own kind of compliance issues so in Australia if you want to put your film under iTunes you have to get it classified, which for our film was another 700 dollars. Then to it get it in the U.S. you have to have closed captions, so we had to pay someone to do closed captions. Or if you want to go into New Zealand their classification cost 1200 dollars and U.K….Anyway goes on and on. So every platform or every place you want to make it available kind of cost a little bit more than you had to do the value judgment as to what’s worth it.
Thomas: 1200 dollars versus the Kiwis. Yep, I can see that.
Chris Kamen: Again like the great thing about these new platforms like the VHX and Vimeo is you can you can choose to make that available worldwide, which we have. So for our major markets which we thought would be USA, Canada, and Australia we put the money into putting it on iTunes and Google and whatnot. But for the rest the world they can access it on VHX just as easily.
Thomas: Yes. This approach where you view the world per territory or per country. It’s so antiquated and so old. I mean it’s a dot com, it’s a website. Anybody should be able to go from around the world and watch a film–
Chris Kamen: The Internet doesn’t have–
Thomas: This whole system. But that’s because it’s built upon rights, and it’s built upon distributors, and it’s built upon the old model where so and so disturbed had the film for Scandinavia, the other one had it for Germany and somebody had it for Argentina and somebody had it for Australia.
Chris Kamen: But that had to be [inaudible 00:57:59], isn’t it a Thomas?
Thomas: And they have to have separate court orders to make sure that everything was complying with each country, make sure your income was spread out the way it should be. And so iTunes, when it was created that was the model. But now we’re in a world where it’s up it’s up. It doesn’t matter whether it’s available in the U.S. or in Canada. People want to find they can find it. They should be able to find its. And if they can’t find it legal, they certainly will find it there on a pirate site if you don’t make the film available. I mean you’re just giving the pirates another excuse to go and steal it.
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: Totally. Alright, Chris. I promised that you have to go, so I promise to wrap it up around now. So before we want to go I…Tell me three things you learned that you wish someone had told you before you started. I mean based upon the three films. All the stuff you’ve done, all the incredible things you’ve done. What are the three things you wish somebody had told you before you started that you can tell someone else.
Chris Kamen: I think the big one I mentioned at the beginning of this discussion was don’t attend crowdfunding until you’ve actually got audience that you know you can rely upon. And do your maths and figure out how much each person would donate on average. Figure out how much you’re trying to raise and actually go into a crowdfunding strategy or like a crowdfunding project with a bit of an informed strategy so that you’re not just completely scrambling and you don’t know what you’re doing. The other thing is, I think a lot of filmmakers want to self-distribute but they actually can’t. They kind of get themselves locked into a corner where they have to sign across to a distributor. And so the big thing I think is when people are in production, so many filmmakers are so desperate to get the film made that they just focus on the production budget but I think for me and my projects now I’m always going to make sure that there’s enough money for distribution as well as production so that self-distribution is always part of the plan.
Thomas: What’s the split between the budget and a distribution because of our market…Because I know the U.S. and its the studios go: Hundred million dollars for the film, hundred million dollars for the marketing that’s sort of the scale. One to one ratio that we’re using in Hollywood. I don’t know what the latest numbers are. But what do you think? Is that fair to have that in mind?
Chris Kamen: Pretty much the same…I mean for this…Maybe it was a bit less on distribution because we rather than spending money on advertising we kind did growth hacking a little bit more. And figured out ways to grow an audience without money. But yeah, I mean, for “Small is Beautiful” the hard budget was 60, 000 and we spent about like, I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to decide what’s in or out of each budget but we spent about 30 to 40, 000 dollars distributing it. Even though, you’re not spending money on advertising like the old model you still, you know, there’s still a lot of money involved in…If you do want to do it properly, you know, setting up a website and getting it onto iTunes, you know getting your film classified, and paying people along the way to help with the workload because it’s a lot of work, So you know you become a mini distributor yourself, but at least you’re in charge of the money and what get what it gets spent on rather than parties with caviar in Cannes… And you know it was it gets taken out of everyone’s share.
Thomas: I spent fifteen years in Cannes. Nothing wrong with a little bit of caviar in Cannes for those hungry hungry poor poor sales agents, poor poor distributors.
Chris Kamen: What was the third lesson? There’s so many lessons. I think, you know, what was it? Building your audience from day one, making sure you got enough money for distribution. I don’t know. Make a good stuff. That’s not a very good month, sorry. I don’t know, keep smiling. We’ll get back to you on the third one. Actually to be serious, one of the things that was really interesting in releasing “Small is Beautiful,” to kind of trying to wrap things up, is the fascinating thing about the release, your know, and as a person who accesses films on the Internet and wants films to be released this day and date worldwide, we kind of turn on our idea a bit because we actually did a one month release, we know, from when we launched at our world premiere to when we made the film available online. But it was very much part of building up that email list and that critical mass before we launched online so we really.
Thomas: So you had one month…so once you launched at a physical location, because you did the cinema on demand which we haven’t even talked about yet.
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: When you did the cinema on demand, meaning you get people to pay tickets in advance and you arrange screenings based upon that. You took a thirty day window from having it, from the physical screening to the —
Chris Kamen: That gave us time to do a theatrical tug, which is another whole conversation in itself.
Thomas: Because on “Deep Blue Sea,” the first film we worked on together, we actually did the opposite. We actually let the film be the ambassador for the film. We gave it away for free, right?
Chris Kamen: We did. And we still gave it away for ‘name your own price’ so people can still get it for free if they want. So I think actually Thomas that’s the big final thought of the day is that in this new world there are no golden rules. You really need to kind of…We’ve got all these tools at our disposal, there’s all these different options and different ways to do things. And I think you really got to put together and bespoke plan for the film that you are working on, depending on what type of film it is, what’s the kind of audience, how easy it is for you to get an audience, how much money you can…Because, you know, if you do have money, it does allow you to do more things. So there’s like all these kind of…Yeah. So there’s no golden rules anymore and I think…
Thomas: No golden rules anymore. I like that.
Chris Kamen: Well you know…And that’s something that we have to embrace because distributors again they’re kind of locked into this one method of releasing films and when it doesn’t work they kind of throw up their arms and say they don’t know how to do anything differently. So again–
Thomas: In 95% of the cases it doesn’t work from the usual distribution point. We just look at the box office numbers. Because even if they do make a lot of money box office they might actually lose money because of the way the whole box office waterfall…And don’t get me started…That a whole other conversation as well take up another episode, But if you start breaking down how the money comes in, the last person to get any money if there’s any money, is the filmmaker. There’s no rights/splits to begin with this. There’s so many costs and so many deductions before you even see another dime.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, all the people handling the money. They make sure they get it first.
Thomas: Because on “Deep Blue Sea” and because it was a rights issue, and because we wanted to advocate and get as many people to watch the film, we did put up for free and said “Hey, if you like this watch this, but come to the actual screening.” And what…Many people saw it online first, but then still came to the screening because with it: Q. and A. With it introduced a film there was a whole gathering which is also what you tried to do on “Small is Beautiful.” You would try a tiny house film where you…It’s not…We call it event based screening, right? Instead of just having somebody going to cinema “Oh, I like to watch that film. Aw, it’s sold out. I’ll choose that one, I’ll choose that one.” It’s just this flicking on a Netflix account where it doesn’t matter whether see this one or that one, I’ll just be entertained, and I’ll forget about it. Where this becomes more event based marketing so that people come to have a glass of wine or they munch on some chips, meet fellow minded people. And the film is sort of an excuse to get together but it’s the actual social connectedness about the whole issue that brings people together.
Chris Kamen: Totally.
And we should probably talk about that another days. That whole, you know, that was a whole release strategies. Rather than just doing a regular screening at a regular cinema we hired a warehouse and we put on a big party, we put up our own pop up cinema, we had a tiny house, we had a bar, we had a DJ. So we did this big shebang and, yeah, it was all about creating a special event for people to come down to one weekend only…And off the back of that, and then kind of galvanizes the media to give us some attention as well because they know there were any around for long weekends, so we got we got a lots of publicity based of the back of that too but yeah event screenings everyone’s loving it at the moment. I mean even the traditional side of the town it really focusing on that as well everyone is kind of getting on the whole event screening bandwagon at the moment because it’s…For some reason people aren’t excited to go to the cinema regularly, but if it’s a special event then it’s exciting.
Thomas: We live in a world where everything is so digitally copied or everything, I mean, no matter where you go on the world you have Ikea, you have McDonald’s, you have…
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
It’s the same brand, the clothes, the same thing everywhere. There’s nothing unique. Of course there is still a lot of unique things about every country but it’s this replica world. And if you go on Netflix…No matter what you watch it’s just another content piece but people want to be part of something that’s unique so they can tell other people, “Oh, I went to this thing last night.”
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: People love that, and we have to play into that and that’s something that we have to learn from the record industry and we started talking about it earlier so… Just want to sum that up and bring that back so [inaudible 01:07:03]. The traditional way of making money in the record industry was to make money on each album sold. And so the business model for any record company was to push a band out on tour and the tour will then promote the album. The money lay in the sales of the actual physical album. Along came Napster, along came iTunes, and all these other new great weights to consume music.
And now we have Beats, and we now have Spotify, and we have…I mean, music is everywhere. If someone told you twenty years ago you can listen to any song you want anytime by pressing a button you can just have a load of people go, “Sign me up” and yet it costs eight dollars a month or 10 dollars a month. So record industries who did not survive that just went out of business but record industries who did survive it had to rethink their strategy. So now the reverse of [inaudible 01:07:52] model, as the money was no longer in the streaming or in the sales of the album. The money certainly lay in the value of the concert. So music is everywhere. That’s the promotional part. And then people would go and buy spend a lot more money on a ticket because becomes a night out. “Because that band is only going to be in town one night I have to get a ticket.”
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: And that’s the event space marketing and that’s what we really have to learn how to adapt to in the film industry in the many ways we are about 10 years behind the record industry because the piracy should hit them first. Because movie files are that much bigger. Now it’s certainly everywhere, rampant. So we have to learn a lot from the record industry. What they right and certainly what they did wrong.
Chris Kamen: So, totally. But did you think that we would be able to get, like, event screenings to a stage where people would pay to same amount that they do for concerts to make them more viable?
Chris Kamen: Like, do people pay a hundred bucks to see a show when it’s a special event?
Thomas: That’s a very good question. I think if the filmmakers in attendance, maybe. If the whole cast is there, maybe. I mean you look at the biggest film festival in the world in terms of ticket sales, that’s Toronto Film Festival. I mean Cannes might be big and prestigious but no normal human being is buying a ticket and is going to watch any of the films. But in Toronto they can and every screening is sold out. And they the charge 25…30…40 dollars because they know that the filmmakers going to be there. They make a lot of money selling these tickets. And by the way as a filmmaker you don’t get any of that. That’s a whole another story.
Chris Kamen: The conventional film industry is kind of struggling but film festivals are doing better than they’ve ever done.
Thomas: But the whole thing about being live and having a band and, you know, somebody might fall off the stage or somebody might say something…It’s unique whereas a film is a replayed experience. But if you tie that in with the [inaudible 01:09:38] and tie it in with something that becomes bigger than just a film. And it’s dinner or a movie or, I don’t know, I think you could do something around that where becomes this whole experience. I think you should really look into at that that–
Chris Kamen: Yeah I mean that that’s what we’re trying to do with our launch and it works really well.
Thomas: And of course in a cinema they’ll kick you out because you only have that slot. And then in the next film comes in and becomes very [inaudible 01:09:57] but if you can…Like you said, you rented a warehouse, you can do something. I think you could charge more. I think people would be willing to pay more because it’s a different event. It’s a great thing for a first date, it’s great thing for a regular date because it’s different. And it stands out. And people…I mean you look at the movements in the U.K. in the popup cinema? People pay…I don’t know how much money they pay a month to to be invited to film they have no idea what the film is going to be, they have no idea where…They have no idea what the film is called, they have no idea what the film’s about, about they have no idea where it’s going to happen but they will receive an email or text message that it’s going to happen this place…But people go out there because it’s different.
Chris Kamen: Yeah, for sure. And we misestimated, we underestimated that power because when we launched to get sales for out a premiere, the tickets sold out within 24 hours and we were getting e-mails and calls from friends and strangers alike who were frustrated about not be able to get any tickets. So we think we probably could have charged a lot more. Maybe whether we wanted to or not is the question, but that’s definitely something we learned is the power of exclusivity of people wanting to see it first. And so that’s why we did indulge in the end in the one month window to try and make the most of that.
Thomas: How much money did you charge for a ticket to the warehouse for this, and for the drinks and all that stuff that was surrounding the release for small house…tiny house film, “Small is Beautiful.”
Chris Kamen: It was a 25 dollars ticket. And then we had a bar where we were selling drinks as well. And so we saw invited food trucks to come down and sell food. So yeah for the opening night, for the red carpet premiere, you can only launch a film once. It’s like the very first time the film’s going to see the world.
Chris Kamen: Pretty special. And we thought 25 bucks was a fair beaten…Fact we were worried that it would be too much for some some our friends but, yeah, the tickets sold within 24 hours so–
Thomas: How many tickets were sale for that night?
Chris Kamen: We had capacity for, I think, 100…Warehouse…Our warehouse popup cinema and, I think, could have have about 160 or 180 capacity. So we sold out…we did six screenings over four days and we sold out four of them. So that kind of…I don’t know how many could quickly do the maths but yeah we saw about 500 people or so in the first few screenings saw the film. And it was a great kind of, you know, exclusive word of mouth. [inaudible 01:12:21]
Thomas: Great. I like that.
Chris Kamen: And they got to see a ton. And they got to, you know, hang out in a bar which we made–
Thomas: And then there was Q. and A. with filmmakers. And so it became this other experience. I mean it’s it’s kind of…You have Netflix and you have thousand of titles on there.
Chris Kamen: Netlfix is always there.
Thomas: It’s always there and I’m a big fan and I love it. I just saw their new Nako [SP] show which was brilliant and all that stuff but it’s just it’s just me and my wife sitting there watching, right? But there’s something about going out and being social with other people, that experience will not go away and it’s beautiful. If you look at…There’s another business model online for VOD, the site called Mubi, m-u-b-i.com.
Chris Kamen: I’ll check it out.
Thomas: In the beginning they were chart…They were trying, and I love how they do it…In the beginning trying to compete with iTunes and with Netflix and you can’t because they’re just big volume. So they said, “We will premier films every night every night and it will only be available for seven days. And at any given time that we thirty films on, and they’ll only be available for thirty days. Will premier one every night. I can’t remember if it was seven days…But basically you have very very limited choice and people love that because it’s curated. That’s a new word: being ‘curated.’ It’s different, it stands out, because in a world with 50, 000 films on your fingertips in a world where 10 million songs are available any time you can listen to…Where do you start? In a world of 1.32 billion websites, where do you start? I mean, where do you start? So this idea of curated which is a little bit like the rock concert with a little bit like what movies are doing, which is what you were trying to do with the with the warehouse screenings I love that because it brings the social event together. And I…I mean. Possibly we spoke talked about that the whole issue of crap from the platforms and shoes, but one of the first big success stories that they had was a bunch of geeks. I can say that without insulting anyone who wanted to do a live zombie experience. And why they rented a warehouse and you paid money to come down and shoot zombies and it was this live interaction, but they raised 160 thousand dollars which was people pre-paid in advance to go down and shoot zombies. And we can laugh about this, we can joke about this, we can talk about whether it’s right or wrong or where we are in the world, but the idea is that people want to have a unique experience. So it’s sort of…There are 10, 000 games at home you can sit and blow up zombies if you want to, but come down and experience it for real. So that was something. Some people are craving these unique experiences and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from what you’re trying to do and hopefully, you know, from this whole…Maybe take away from this podcast you can takeaway, is that you need to create these unique experiences. If not you’re just going to drown. Nobody is going to care and you can move on because you just filmed number 50…50, 001.
Chris Kamen: Totally.
Thomas: So yeah I think there’s a lot to be said and that’s what we’re exploring and we can crack that.
Chris Kamen: Yes.
Thomas: I think that’s going to be…I mean, let’s say I’m a big fan of Michael Moore. His just came out the new film or it’s coming out where to invade next I can’t wait to watch this film I know it’s going to be making fun of all the generals and Pentagon and all the right wing people. And all that stuff. I’m a fan of his, I know a lot of people are not. But if he came to a screening near me and he came to talk and the whole Q. and A. and people from various organizations…I would pay a lot to go see him. Does that makes sense?
Chris Kamen: Yeah.
Thomas: You know because I want to hear his words when I ask him some questions. Maybe I wouldn’t have one on one time with him but maybe I could pave a one on one time with him. Maybe I could have a drink with them. And kinds of obstacles you could do so rounding and [inaudible 01:15:52], right? You have some people pay more, some people pay less. You just get to sit there…All the people can bring home a signed DVD, some people get a poster signed, some people get to have drinks afterward, some people get part of the dinner before. I think you can work in many different price points instead of just having one that’s 25 bucks. I think that’s where you have to explore and so some people…Yeah, you want to have a picture taken with him well that’s going to cost a little bit extra. So it’s…And people try to understand, you know, trying to exploit anything commercially but it’s about getting an experience that you need to tailor for your budget. You can still come along for the ride but also all the stuff you can do if you want to. You don’t have to do it but I think that’s how you can increase and that’s how you can get prices that are much bigger. At a concert the venues cost a lot to rent, they had to bring a lot of equipment, it’s very expensive to fly people in and out. They certainly don’t fly economy class like you and me that’s for sure. So yeah there are different costs, but I think you can scale it and I think that’s a challenge, and I think that that we’re still in this shift at this moment where we can learn all these things and I think that’s the…That’s that’s the big challenge.
Chris Kamen: With an upwards.
Thomas: Upwards and onwards. The best is yet to come. Chris, I want to round this up. It was absolutely great talking to you, I’m so glad you want to part the first episode. I think people can learn [inaudible 01:17:05]
Thomas:…Into this as possible you can approve that before it goes life. I know you are about to become a lawyer soon, which is good and also you about become a father so yeah it’s very exciting
Chris Kamen: I can’t wait.
Thomas: Is it a boy or a girl?
Chris Kamen: We don’t know yet. If it’s human, we will be happy. But if it is a giraffe, maybe not.
Thomas: Or a kangaroo, since we’re in Australia. That’s really exciting.
Chris Kamen: Fun summer. Fun summer down at the pools.
Thomas: Yeah. We can talk about that I have a nine month old and, yeah, it’s amazing. But time is no longer yours, let me put it that way.
Chris Kamen: Yeah exactly. Yeah we’re going to jam is much in to the day is possible. And, I mean, Thomas we can speak so much about this whole world of film. It’s a real ecosystem and there’s no golden rules. Just so much to think about and I’ve been thinking about this for years and I’m still just kind of getting into it. I feel so–
Thomas: I think the biggest lesson is trying not and not being afraid of failing and just trying. And just going out there and [inaudible 01:18:17] with it the first graph that I painted. And I love being naïve I don’t mind that yes I’m blonde and we can talk about that all that stuff but I think there’s a power in being naïve I think there is a refreshment in being naive and trying to not…People not telling you what you can’t do but [inaudible 01:18:30] we will do we will find a way, we will overcome. Somehow we will figure this out. And we did. [inaudible 01:18:36] So, I think there’s something powerful about that and I think that you don’t have to be afraid to fail I think that’s really what this new times are all about and answer. This is so exciting.
Chris Kamen: Yeah I tried to embrace the idea that failing is not about falling down it’s about not getting up.
Chris Kamen: Or another quote I saw yesterday was ‘The opposite of success is not failure it’s apathy.’
Thomas: Yeah. That’s pretty good. Or, Failing is learning. If you do it again and again you’re stupid. If you’re failing the same things. But if you will learn from your mistakes and you adapt that to the next thing, you going to do is the following things. Like you said, you want to get to 10 films, 10 films which would hopefully give you an income. If you can apply all the experiences for every film and they get stronger and stronger in the whole interaction with your audience. And that’s just something I want to finish up. We keep talking about want to finish, but we keep talking top it. But this whole mindset that we are business to business. We’re training in film school. We’re trained in everything we learned lore that we just deal with the film, we hand it to someone else in our business. And our business, our money making is getting grants from someone, getting money from government subsidy, getting money from private investor. And then we just move on where we have to learn to become business consumers, we have to learn how to embrace and understand our audience. And if you look at it from a business perspective you want to from a commercial point of view. That’s what all businesses have to learn: How to listen to the audience and. And it’s finally hitting filmmakers that we can’t just build it and they’ll come. They…Nobody is going to show up because we’re so busy…We’re so. So we have to learn, as a mindset, as filmmakers to go from business to business to business to consumers. And I hate those terms because they’re so business oriented.
Chris Kaman: I hate consumers.
Thomas: But it’s the right mindset that we have to learn how to learn how to speak to them, to listen to them, so that we’re talking about the MailChimp building the database. How to talk to them about the setting up these screenings, how to sell online. It’s being interactive. And filmmakers…Many filmmaker talk…Especially established filmmakers, big names…They’re terrified of this because they don’t mind standing up for an interview. They loved to get into you to talk about what they’re doing but having this interaction with people–
Chris Kaman: Getting their hands dirty.
Thomas: Oh, yeah
Chris Kaman: I totally agree and we do have to wrap this up, but one of the things that I really believe in is an advantage for filmmakers, independent filmmakers. The advantage we have over the big end of town is that we can actually have an intimate kind of one on one almost relationship with our audience.
Chris Kaman: Whereas you know these big blockbuster films…There is just no way for those filmmakers who make it to get to do that nearly as well as we can so that’s actually a real advantage that we need to take advantage of.
Thomas: Exactly. Finally you. The film you did was about refugees, the second film…What was that? We didn’t even talk about it.
Chris Kaman: Is it about…Oh yeah. That was about Jim Lauderdale.
Chris Kaman: And I think you need a big lesson on that one is that we just went to a niche. And so you know that didn’t go as well as we hoped financially because it’s an incredibly small nation. And that was another lesson, I had so lessons. You got to go niche, but not too niche.
Thomas: Okay so here’s a lesson I’m going to tell you now or at least ask the question here is that: So you build up an audience for the refugee rights movements and then bring in all the audience for the Jim LawnsBree? Whatever the guy’s name is? Sorry. And then you build an audience for “Small is Beautiful.”
Chris Kaman: I know, so much work.
Thomas: The problem is…I’m saying this [inaudible 01:22:01] but you start all over each and every time.
Chris Kaman: Yep.
Thomas: In the music industry they don’t start over. Yes they might have a new album but it’s still the same guys or girls. And the still the same audience and it’s still the same brand. Where we go: “Great! We just had a great success with this film, we will made some money. Alright let’s just cut everything down, shut everything off, and start completely from scratch.” And I think that we have to learn how to bring audience in so that they become a career. So we can live off of them and it sounds wrong when I say we should live off of them, but we could keep giving them the films that they want obviously people aren’t just interested in the refugee films. Some of them might be interested in the tiny houses, but not all of them. Certainly not all those interested in tiny house are interested in refugees but I think what we have…A filmmaker has to learn how to make a film…Not that we have to make the same films over and over again, but we certainly have to cater to the same audience because otherwise we’re just going to start all over. And I totally get that sad because we had so much time now…You probably have an e-mail list of 3500…4000 by the end of the year. At the end of next year you might have 10,000 names in that e-mail address. And then you going to go out at do another film. And then you’re going to start all over again.
Chris Kaman: I totally agree and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and developing up your own brand to be able to take your audience with you like Mike Moore does or Alex Gibney or–
Thomas: Michael Moore doesn’t take his own audience with him because he also starts from from scratch every time yes obviously had some fans, myself being one of them, who would love to go see his new film. But basically he starts over. He doesn’t have a database. He doesn’t. Yes he’s pretty strong in social media, he did a periscope, and he does certain things but you can’t…Now that I’m aware, I got to be careful of what I’m saying but I can’t subscribe to his newsletter. I don’t think I can, maybe I can, I mean look into that. But if you can subscribe to a newsletter, you can sign up. And this is what we’re making, this is what we’re doing because it does take a while from making a film so it comes out. And it typically takes two or three or four years unless you’re Steven Soderbergh who for a period of 20 years has make one film every year, was extremely productive. But the average filmmaker takes three to four years to make a film. So we have to learn how to to use that database in the meantime maybe embrace other films and say much I’m maybe do something for other filmmakers or something for the audience. I don’t know it’s just a wasted effort building these databases and then we just “See you! Move on!”
Chris Kaman: Yeah. For sure. It’s…You’re right, I’ve got nothing to add.
Thomas: All right.
Chris Kaman: We’ve been wrapping this up for about an hour, half an hour. We should let their lovely people go.
Thomas: Hopefully these lovely people will learn something from this but it’s just great talking to you Chris and…
Chris Kaman: Thanks Thomas you’ve been great–
Thomas: I wish you the best of luck certain with the baby and the next couple films. And if I keep doing these podcasts I’ll invite you back on and we can learn more lessons. Why don’t we agree on that?
Chris Kaman: For sure. We got a few films that we’re kind of developing now. So I’ll…let’s check back in another year.
Thomas: Let’s do that. Thanks my friend, take care.
Chris Kaman: Cheers, mate. See you soon.
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