By Julian Steinforth, Expedition PR
Last Friday the Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day took place at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York City. For the very first time film production companies pitched their projects to the investment and entertainment community, taking a page from the tech industry playbook.
Inspired by the TechStars model, eight production teams presented 13 films, 3 marketing and distribution platforms, 2 multi channel networks, and ancillary streams of revenue including graphic novels, video games as well as a fashion line to more than 200 investors and media representatives at the Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day. The first cohort of the Dogfish Accelerator program was selected from 440 applications.
Dogfish Accelerator was founded by James Belfer and Michelle Soffen to help indie film producers think like startups. Belfer, who worked on several film productions with his company Dogfish Pictures, realized that the film industry needs to change.
“I experienced firsthand the many challenges the independent film industry faces,” stated Belfer in his opening remarks. “The real issue isn’t that the times are tough, it’s that you can’t be disruptive without knocking down a few walls. Or without trying new investment and business models, testing new marketing and monetization strategies, or utilizing distribution opportunities across multiple platforms.”
The Dogfish Accelerator program offers seed financing, office space and access to resources to nurture companies that are willing to take the leap with a new model and change the industry. More than 20 industry mentors, from financing to marketing, support the teams throughout the program and beyond.
Nick DeMartino, one of the program’s mentors, said on his blog: “All of these companies had deeply absorbed the new paradigm for successful indie content – which is to know, find and connect with audiences long before the release date.”
While the projects were all unique, they had one common denominator: film and media content production starts with targeting and engaging with the right audience. The companies are all using data analytics to market to their audience the right way and keep them engaged across multiple platforms.
Young Gunner Films, a film development and production company following a lean startup model, is using emails marketing to engage audiences early on, offering access to behind the scenes material and a steady stream of fresh content. The team continuously analyzes their target audience and engagement data to refine their marketing campaigns on platforms like Facebook and Gumroad. The team suggests methods like crowdsourcing of subtitles to increase audience engagement.
Auralnauts creates content that consists of new narratives created by dubbing over existing films with new dialogue and music, turning straight- faced films into comedies. Auralnauts are already YouTube superstars. Their content has gone viral by creating entertaining content for their audiences. The Auralnauts YouTube channel currently has more than 25, 000 subscribers and close to 9 million views.
Instead of broadly targeting 15 -30 year-olds, like most Hollywood blockbusters do, Guagua Production is using community building around the specific themes of their slate of documentaries. For their documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero” the team engaged with the online baseball community to discuss the film project. By talking about the film early on, Guagua Production succeeded to create excitement among baseball fans prior to its release. Wheelhouse Pictures, a production company that is creating high quality content with a focus on character- driven stories and unseen communities, is following a similar approach. The production team is marketing the film projects to communities that relate to the movie characters and topics, such as autism and immigration. Section II , which can be loosely defined as “Netflix for lesbian”, created a platform for curated, high-quality lesbian content that caters to the large, while underserved, LGTB community.
The new class of film producers takes audience engagement beyond social media engagement. The production becomes part of their audience’s lifestyle.
Like Me producer Jessalyn Abbott is working on a fashion line to match the film’s protagonist Kiya, a fame-obsessed young woman who documents a string of robberies through social media. “The film explores the cultural addiction to social media and how many young people measure their self- worth based on the number of “likes” or “followers” they have. “It’s like Bonnie and Clyde except that Clyde is a cell phone” explained Abbott in her pitch. The movie is made by Millennials for Millennials. The production team even plans for a matching fashion line. Creating lifestyle articles beyond the film is also the goal of Exit Strategy. One of their project, Max and Charlie, tells the story of a young boy’s adventure through a surreal day of New York City’s chaos. Being made into a stereoscopic 3D graphic novel, a 3D feature film, a 3D video game and additional merchandise articles, the production team has various ways and channels to engage with their audience.
Range Life Entertainment, a privately- held film marketing company that specializes in campus tours, event screening, and guerrilla marketing, are masters of audience engagement with college students. The team packages movie screenings into experiences, going beyond the screen with parties, guerilla marketing, and other perks.
Dogfish Accelerator laid the cornerstone for a more successful and more entrepreneurial approach to indie film and new media production. By focusing on early audience identification and engagement as part of the business strategy, the production teams can execute more profitable projects. Moreover, having a solid business plan in place gives them more bandwidth and head way for the overall creative process, which is the essence of every indie film.