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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 

Grassroots Film Collective- Concluding Idea Series, #2


Grassroots Film Collective- Concluding Idea Series, #2

Michael Gottwald, Carl Kriss & Josh Penn


As we get closer to the end of our fellowship, we are publishing a series of blogs that propose would-be final project ideas related to our research on grassroots film distribution. Although we have decided not to turn these ideas into our final project, we hope the series will spark a conversation about possible grassroots tools that will help independent filmmakers distribute their films.  Part 1 of our series was a site that would serve as a Pandora for movie trailers, offering users the ability to type in their favorite movie and instantly watch trailers that relate to that film.  You can read more about our idea by clicking here. Our second CRI final project idea is a Grassroots Film Distribution Collective.  In our study we have found that many independent filmmakers, especially first time directors, feel overwhelmed when they distribute their films.  One of the many directors who we interviewed that felt this way is Marcia Jarmel who co-directed and self-distributed the documentary, Speaking in Tongues.  Although the film had a successful distribution run, Marcia commented, "I started out thinking I could do everything myself, and made myself pretty nuts for a while. It is much, much easier to have an army of people helping you. I think most filmmakers do not have that.”

This lead to us wondering if a film collective could be formed so that when audiences 'opt-in' to a film project--i.e through a crowdsourcing site like Kickstarter, or if they give their information to a volunteer at a community screening, the information is shared and passed on to a group of filmmakers that later use the data to target their audiences in future campaigns.  The mission of the group would be to build one big audience for a slate of films by sharing distribution information and resources with like minded filmmakers.  This is different than the normal distribution plan to build a big list for one film and then never use it again or wait to use the list for two to three years later when the director makes another film.

Unlike other non-profit consulting, this would be a group of independent filmmakers who pool together resources to distribute their films. The group would focus on developing a volunteer structure similar to the neighborhood team model, in which Jeremy Bird, former Obama National Field Director, discussed in our interview here. In the interview Bird suggested community organizers could help distribute films by connecting with non-profits, recruit volunteers to help set up community screenings and call through consumer data to identify target audiences for certain films.  This is similar to an approach that filmmaker and political activist Sandi DuBowski, who we interviewed in a previous post here, adopted to distribute his film, Trembling Before G-d.  Building a grassroots film distribution collective would take significant time, but overtime, if the films did well the data and grassroots resources pooled together by the collective could become invaluable and possibly compete with the publicity campaigns of major studios.

We look forward to your feedback on our second CRI final project idea in the comment secant below. In Part 3 we will discuss an idea for a website that enables filmmakers to plug in information about their film and find out which campaigns would be most effective to distribute their film.