The State of the Single Doc Economy. 5 Takeaways from IFP’s Independent Film Week

IFP’s Independent Film Week is a 32-year-old annual conference that brings together selected feature film and documentary projects with national and international producers, funders, broadcasters, distributors and agents.

  • In the documentary section, 70 works in progress and features were in rotation. 

Ann Rose is an experienced producer and program development exec. We asked Ann to share her IFP Takeaways.

By Ann Rose

 Many questions were raised about the state of the doc economy.

1. “No room, no room!”  says The March Hare

  • The demand by broadcasters for single docs has shrunk.
  • The number of single docs being made has increased exponentially.  Words like ‘glut’ and even ‘plague’ were thrown around in the panels.
  • The solutions?  According to panelists: make fewer, know when to give up, only make the good ones, and ask yourself “Is a feature the right format?”  And “Is TV an appropriate home for my film?”

2. Why aren’t most linear broadcasters interested in single docs?

  •  Singles require too many resources to promote. They are inefficient!
  • Channels are in fierce competition for eyeballs; all are trying to broaden their audience and grow their numbers, and singles generally appeal to niche audiences.

3. Broadcast slots where singles seem to be doing the best:

  •  PBS
    • The critically-acclaimed curated singles series POV and Independent Lens.
    • Because they are known series brands.  Viewers know what to expect from these strands.
  •  HBO Docs
    • Because of HBO’s brand cache.
    • But even HBO is concerned about the resources that go into promoting each doc separately, which is the only way to guarantee viewer attention.
    • Is a non-fiction series strategy on HBO’s horizon?
  •  OWN – Oprah’s Doc Club
    • Because it has the stamp of O – but given the trouble at the channel, how long will this prestige strand survive?

4. For broadcasters who do want singles: what are they looking for?

  • Unprecedented access to a noteworthy character or event.
  • A special to air around an event, like the 9/11 anniversary.
  • No “one notes” – programmers want multi-layered stories.
  • Mass audience appeal (dolphins apply here!)
  • Drama and characters with high stakes.
  • Emotion over information!

5. The big question of the week was: Is documentary filmmaking a hobby?

  •  Is there a sustainable industry?
  • Was there ever?
  • Do you now need a trust fund or second mortgage to make a feature doc?
  • My answers: No, Yes, Yes

And the Good News!

The good news for indie doc-makers is that as linear programming options dwindle, a la carte streaming and VOD distribution models like Netflix, Hulu and IFC Films On Demand are exploding, offering a new cornucopia of programming slots.

About Ann Rose
Until April 2011, Ann was EP original programming at Sundance Channel, where for 7 years she shepherded award winning, critically acclaimed and crowd-pleasing documentaries and docu-series. She is now producing under her banner Let’s Make Things and has a number of films and series in development with multiple U.S. and international partners.

!!THE SWEET SPOTS!!

‘Sweet Spots’ Study: What Do U.S. Networks Pay for Programs?

Production Cost Benchmarks: Signature / High / Sweet Spot / Low
Pipelines. Target Demos.
Key Programming Contacts, and More!
25+ U.S. Cable Channels
Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, ID, Science, Planet Green, Military, Velocity, OWN, Discovery Fit & Health, History, History International, A&E, Bio, Nat Geo Channel, Nat Geo Wild, truTV, mtv, Spike, WE tv,
Bravo, SyFy, Oxygen, Sundance Channel, Style, Ovation, Documentary Channel, and more
Docs & Reality
Proprietary, interview-based research
Don’t make a pitch – or attend a job interview – without it!

Learn More …

———————-

“Webumentary” Takeaways for Doc Makers

Our friend and colleague David Rosen also reported on the IFP conference.

by David Rosen

“Webumentary:  Online Releasing and Transmedia Extensions” was an engaging and insightful panel that focused on the indie doc scene.

The panelists included:

  • Ryan Davis, the senior media director for at the New York offices of Blue State Digital, a marketing agency that works on advocacy and fundraising efforts for nonprofits, educational and cultural institutions, political campaigns and corporations.
  • Wendy Levy, a senior strategist with Tomorrow Partners, a creative services agency based in Berkeley CA.
  • Amy Slotnick, an indie marketing & distribution consultant who assist filmmakers build, manage and optimize digital and traditional marketing and distribution efforts.
  • Jason Spingarn-Koff, video producer, The New York Times.

Background

Internet Video is changing the movie and television businesses, fueling online distribution wars:

  • A growing number of the major content streaming providers (e.g., Amazon, Apple and Netflix) are going head-to-head with establishment players (e.g., Hulu, Joost and Blip.TV) for control of mainstream online content distribution.
  • A host of smaller indie startups are offering independent and/or documentary films. Examples are SnagFilms, Jaman, MovieFlix, FilmOn, Documentary Log and Fandor.

The panelists focused on many here-and-now issues confronting feature doc makers, but their insights are applicable to shorter-form works.

Transmedia

They drew from their own work experience to assess the new – and rapidly changing — “Transmedia” environment.

Transmedia is one of those buzz words that has captures people’s attention because it has no fixed definition.

  • It includes the array of full-motion display environments from movie theatres to home systems to handheld devices … and everything in between.
  • It also includes a mix of content formats ranging from linear movies to interactive games to text commentary to social networking exchanges, and every combination imaginable.

Welcome to 21st century “Transmedia” world of documentary making, marketing, distribution and display.

Takeaways

1. Introducing “video-torials”

Jason Spingarn-Koff announced a soon-to-be-launched video addition to the Opinion section of The New York Times.  The Times has traditionally offered Opinions as editorials, op-eds and regular columns.  It now plans to introduce a new 3-5 minute “video-torial” feature within the online Opinion section.  Jason insisted that they must be opinion pieces and are not advocacy or pitch videos.  Stay tuned for announcements from the Times.

2. Be bold

Wendy Levy offered the most original insights. She illuminated how the new media of nonfiction docs, social networking and – yes! – videogames can be effectively used to engage and expand the film’s audience while keeping in tune with the film’s integrity.

3. Tie outlet to audience

Amy Slotnick argued that doc makers must do more than simply recognize the different display platforms. They must plan to attract different audiences – and tie the appropriate platform to the targeted audience.  She discussed the need to take advantage of every outreach tool, including websites, promotional articles, Facebook, Meet-Ups and nonprofit support groups.  She says “Today’s doc maker is a juggler, an artist as well as a promoter.”

4. Advocacy matters

Ryan Davis noted that at the end of the day, doc makers want to tell a story that makes a difference.  He encouraged makers to tie their works to CTA’s or “call-to-action” campaigns.  Panelists noted that doc makers need to combine passion with the vision to effectively tell their stories and reach their target audiences.

David Rosen is the author of the indie film classic Off-Hollywood:  The Making & Marketing Independent Films. He is a consultant who writes the monthly column, “Media Current” for Filmmaker online.  David can be reached here.

————————

Speaking Engagement                      

New York State Bar Association
Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Section

“Anatomy Of A Hit Reality TV Series: The Pawn Stars Case Study”
This remarkable panel is comprised of the Executive Producer, Agent and Network Programming Executive of Pawn Stars.
The panel will discuss the key decisions made in the process of creating, producing and launching cable television’s #1 reality series.

Panelists
Brent Montgomery, Executive Producer, Leftfield Pictures
Mary Donahue, Executive Producer, A&E Television
Rob Miller, Agent, Peleton Entertainment
Moderator
Peter Hamilton, DocumentaryTelevision.com

Wednesday October 19, 2011
9:10 – 10:50AM
Concierge Conference Center
780 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Click here for more information

And to better prepare for the panel, read our Pawn Stars Case Study: The Rise and Rise of Leftfield Pictures and Pawn Stars

  1. Leftfield’s hard slog to the big idea in Vegas (1/4)
  2. Pawn Stars: Sizzle, Pitch, Green Light and Hit (2/4)
  3. Leftfield Pictures after Pawn Stars: A Structure, Doors Open, Renewals, Pitches, Green Lights. What Next? (3/4)
  4. Pawn Stars: Leftfield Puts Casting Under a Microscope (4/4)
  5. Plus: ’Ten Negotiation Secrets from the Pawn Stars’ by management consultant Gary Greene