IFH 218

IFH 218: Using Algorithms to Help Sell Your Indie Film with Sundance’s Liz and Jess


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Sundance is back on the show. I had the pleasure of having returning champion Liz Manashil (listen to her interview here) and Jess Fuselier from the Sundance Institute. We discuss the very cool things they are up to at the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship and how they are using data and algorithms to help indie filmmakers find an audience and sell their films.

Thanks again to Media Circus PR who co-produced these podcasts episodes with me. Enjoy my interview with Liz and Jess.

Alex Ferrari 1:58
So today on the show, we are going to talk about algorithms and data to help you sell your movie with two warriors that are going to war for you guys every day trying to find ways to help you make money with your movies. Liz Manashil and Jess Fuselier from the Sundance creative distribution fellowship are hard at work trying to figure out how to use data to help filmmakers sell their movie. So at Sundance, I sat down with them and talked a little bit about data gathering what they are doing with their fellowship program as well. And what they're learning from filmmakers that are going through the program and hopefully going to be releasing and are releasing this information to the to the public to other indie filmmakers to help them get a better understanding of what it really takes to get their movie out there. And I also want to thank my partner media circus PR for co producing the series of Sundance podcast. So without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Liz and Jess from the Sundance Institute. I'd like to welcome to the show

Liz Manashil 3:11
Liz Manashil

Jess Fuselier 3:12
And Jess Fuselier

Alex Ferrari 3:13
Thank you guys for coming in. Liz is a returning champion to our show three Pete, you actually are one of the first three people to the show. That is and you're the first back to back guest Yeah, ever in history. I'm really great. And her humble. Humble as well. So everyone who's listened to the podcast before knows Liz works for Sundance, and others after the last podcast what kind of reaction I warned you. Yeah, I did warn you just like No, just give my email out. It'll be fine. I'm like, Liz, are you sure not so good. What happened?

Liz Manashil 3:48
I got a lot of emails. So basically, I went on your podcast to publicize our fellowship, the creative distribution fellowship at Sundance. And I think at the time, we had like 30 applications, and now we have 120 I think and those aren't, don't even count the draft. So we probably have around 200. So thank you, you're welcome. I still want people to email me I'm like a glutton for punishment. I really like email. So I'll put

Alex Ferrari 4:10
I'll put your email in the show notes, as well. I just sent a lowly Good, good. So we brought some success and hopefully gonna help something get out. Yeah. And we'll talk a little more about that what you do as well and not just what do you do at the all powerful Sunday.

Jess Fuselier 4:27
Um, so I am with Liz and the creative distribution initiative. And I manage education and research, which is which is kind of a really interesting hybrid right now, especially with where the market is at and the different trends that are going on a distribution. But basically what I do is I work with data, all the data we can get access to and figure out ways we can craft educational resources for filmmakers that help them find more sustainable avenues, specifically within the distribution space.

Alex Ferrari 4:55
And I think that's something that's so under parked about is sustainability as a Career, you know, it's filmmaking and you know, you're a filmmaker, all filmmakers we've all made, you know, films and stuff and, and, you know, you push everything out to that one movie. And that's the thing. And if it doesn't pop and make you a millionaire, then what? And I think that's the model is like this kind of lottery ticket model that's horribly unhealthy. It's extremely unhealthy. And you can't sustain a career doing it. But I think what you guys are trying to do is maintain like, Look, guys, you can't look at this as one project, you know, look at this as a career next 510 15 years. So we talked a little bit about what you were doing in regards to data collection. And then that's really interesting. What are you doing with data collection to help filmmakers?

Jess Fuselier 5:40
Sure. So we're starting with these really robust case studies of our two inaugural fellows that are going through the creative distribution fellowship right now. That's Columbus and unrest. And we've followed them throughout their entire process, right. And part of this stipulations of the fellowship is that our fellows are completely open with us and honest and willing to share their information. And so we've been on weekly calls from with them since day one. And that's very much like that's our first those are going to be the first big pieces coming out of our department that are very data driven. So talking about how much they spent on PMA and how that was divided, was it majority PR was a majority digital marketing, and certain things like that. And then even breaking out within those spaces, where did the money go to? And then also just the returns that they're seeing on the different revenue streams? So theatrical and T VOD, and what was their strategy? What was their windowing strategy. So really breaking it down to all of the granular details. So filmmakers can glean insights from that, and, you know, pick and choose what they want to take from that as far as what helps them the most. And then from there, we're also working on something called the transparency project. So the transparency project started a couple years ago, and it was a very ambitious tool, where we were basically trying to get information on the performance of films to feed this tool, and then filmmakers would be able to use it to get sample projections on their future work. Yes, that would be incredible. That would be that would be fantastic. We're not what I will say this, um, I have a tech background, I was a coder for about four years. Um, and that's a really ambitious thing to do. And there are a lot of companies out there right now who are starting to do that work. And doing it well, you know, and finding the sources. And so, you know, I think as an institute in our department specifically really felt that the best way we could transform the transparency project would be finding ways to craft educational resources that aren't just driven by anecdotal information, but are driven in concrete facts, you know, the data that we have access to you as an institute, we're very fortunate, right? We support a lot of incredible filmmakers. We see a lot of different models come in and out of the Institute. So how can we use that information, to really open the doors up for filmmakers and help them figure out what's going to be the best avenue for their project? So the transparency Project 2.0 is going to be a collection of resources, you know, case studies, you know, kind of like, where the market is that the trends that we're seeing those types of things on a daily basis. So it's going to be like your data feed coming out of Sundance.

Alex Ferrari 8:32
Why is it so difficult to get information about distribution? We have that conversation? Yeah, you know, you were you were so you know, wonderful to basically be an open book and very transparent

Liz Manashil 8:42
Open though, like you wanted more, you wanted to do more, but the same or the distributor would let you do anything they told they let me share as much as I could. But when you signed a distribution deal, normally that there's that confidentiality clause, and

Alex Ferrari 8:56
Like I don't understand like, I guess it's because

Liz Manashil 8:59
Attract them and protect the filmmaker to I'm not gonna say it's completely self serving. Maybe there was something protective about the distributor, we tend to villainize distributors every now and then in our department. And so every now and then I want to be careful, we're just trying to villainize the really shitty ones. So

Alex Ferrari 9:16
I'm glad you're so candid. So and there are distributors might be very nurturing and may want to protect, if there's, there's, you know, and I've been in the game a while as well. And I've seen I've had my day with distributors, I'm gonna say nine out of 10 are that the shitty model and there is that one every once in a while? That is great. And that's sad. But it's also lay over from like, kind of like a legacy legacy distribution model from the 80s in the, you know, distribution and rural distribution where, you know, this whole new aggregator and self distribution and, and having access to this kind of data that they held behind the walls for so long, and now we have access to that kind of stuff. And I think it's where everything is eventually going to go

Liz Manashil 9:59
Still a pretty shaped culture. And what we're trying to do is, you know, if you do our fellowship, which I like to plug, as often as both of you do our fellowship, you're like justice saying you're required to give us information. And because we are not the distributor, the filmmaker and Sundance can be very open and public about all the data. Whereas if we were taking a distribution fee, or we were a distributor, obviously, we couldn't do such things like that, right? We're nonprofit, so we're motivated to support we're mission based are motivated to support the filmmaker. No, so I've heard so much about the Sundance Institute, over the years, you know, as this kind of like, ivory tower thing for, you know, for filmmakers, and I know you guys laugh because you're inside the ivory tower. But it's like that ivory,

Alex Ferrari 10:43
I know, I know, the reality and the reality of what it is, and the end what the myth is, are two different things. Because if you put the word Sundance in front of anything, filmmakers, independent filmmakers, that's why you got so many emails. Can you get me? Can you get me in? Can you get me to look at what can you do? What can you do? By the way, just so everybody knows, they have no power of getting your movie into Sundance. And we don't whatsoever? We're so sorry. They know, no one can get nothing. Okay, so please, if you email me, I'll have to talk about other things. But that is not one of the things that

Jess Fuselier 11:15
We genuinely love getting emails like that is that is something that we, like, we department enjoy that. I know, people find it very weird how much we ask people to email list. So

Alex Ferrari 11:26
I just have because department three, three, yeah, this is two thirds of the departments that you guys just like, I don't want to talk to you more, I want to read emails. So we're talking about like opening up the data of helping filmmakers. And you know, one thing that Facebook has done extremely well is they've created basically the most powerful marketing tool in the history of man. Yeah, with the love them or hate them. And there's, there's, there's feet on both sides on that the information that they have on people is remarkable. And I think it would be wonderful to be able to have even a scope of that information about the filmmaking process about how distributing your distribution and things like that. Is that something you're kind of going after as well?

Jess Fuselier 12:12
Yeah, we're, we're actively getting trying to get data from multiple different sources, right. So we want to be working with distributors, again, we're, you know, sometimes it might sound like we're villainizing distributors, but we really aren't. And I think the way that we see it right now is that something needs to change within the industry, in order for it to become more sustainable, and for more people to be able to have this sustainable living. So it's, it's about everyone at this point. So we're trying to encourage people to be transparent, the sales agents, the distributors, you know, everybody that's in the game, we want to work with them, we want to help them, you know, we want to find these sustainable avenues. So, and we're also collecting all of the information within the Institute, as far as the projects that are coming in and out of there. And then also training filmmakers on how to use data, how to use that Facebook data. How do audience target

Liz Manashil 13:09
Exactly an audience identify an audience? Yeah, ship is a digital marketing spends, you know, like we give, we're giving digital marketing grants for our fellowship, and we want them to use, you know, use that money towards things like Facebook ads, so that they can better target and figure out the efficient way to reach those.

Alex Ferrari 13:25
And you guys can get that data as well. Well, yeah. Would you agree, though, like you were saying that making it the more sustainable and the industry has to change, I feel that a lot of was, you know, it's kind of like the old school film school model, which is the, you know, let's just pop them out as much as they can. Because even if, or even coding, or you know, video or visual effects, for God's sakes, that they beat up visual effects artists, I'm gonna beat you until you're done. And then there's five other guys waiting, and five other girls waiting to take your spot. And I think that's the mentality with filmmakers in general in this industry. Would you agree with that? Because like, oh, like he's gonna make a movie, or she's gonna make a movie. And that's great. But I got three other guys, you know, there's so much content that there's so many people that they don't care about nurturing a sustainable career, because there's just such a gluttony of product. What do you what do you what you're talking about? Because I make my films outside of this system, right, crowdfund,

Liz Manashil 14:16
I use equity. Sure, and I don't rely on a sort of stablished winners to do a funding, and therefore I am in full control of everything. But there are platforms that are actually really kind to artists. And you know, I think a lot of that is in the digital space. It's those old world stuck in the past distributors of production companies, who may be a little bit more assembly line, like the way you're thinking about, but I don't know if that's

Jess Fuselier 14:41
No, no, I think that's absolutely right. And I put it but I also think that it's not just about using data when you're in the throes of already having created your film and finding your audience that way. But I also think, you know, maybe content creators can also start to use that beforehand, right? And test what they're they're looking to make. Right. I think that that's another thing, a lot of filmmakers and this is just a personal opinion of mine. I think sometimes filmmakers jump in headfirst with an idea and then get it done and then realize that stop it. Sorry, I get a favor of that kind of, I know. One area very late and I have like different viewpoints. I agree that does work with a certain extent with a bunch. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 15:32
You jumping in $100,000. With that mentality, you're done, we jump in with a $5,000 micro $10,000 microwave, confirm, don't do

Liz Manashil 15:39
Or make it will be so hard that sometimes a delusion is necessary. Like how I feel.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
Yeah, I have to be a little bit delusional in this business. As a general statement, just in faith, maybe faith is a bit of a combination number two, to be able to do anything in this business. I feel that there has to be that Yeah, just to go down the arts and arts in general. Like, you know, I still remember telling my dad like, I'm gonna go be a filmmaker. And he's like, what's that? Well, how are you gonna make money? I'm like, Why can be a PA. And that was that was that was my business plan. I tried to be a PA no one wanted me to be. I was a PA. And I learned quickly that it stunk. So I was like, post, I'm gonna sit in that room. That's where I set my boyfriend. I was like, you like post, I sat in a room. I'm like, I'm going to get carpal tunnel, it's going to be air conditioner. It's going to be great. 20 years later, I'm still hostess with the nice people. Depends, I've been around a lot of posts. Again, you are the client, your client lists. Don't forget, when you walked into books.

Liz Manashil 16:48
I trained as an editor in film school, okay. And my partner is in post and like, I was like, you should work in post production because everyone's like, they're on there. They're more kind and more calm. There's like, let's do even

Alex Ferrari 17:00
Less stress. Yeah, but they can be stressful depending on you

Liz Manashil 17:02
I know, like saying these things. If I know I really yeah, it's probably horrible, just like everything else. Horrible.

Alex Ferrari 17:09
Why does anyone even think? Why does anyone even do this? Because we need art. And we need them. We need it more now than ever. Yeah, without question. And you know what? It's a calling. Yeah. But the thing is, and that's one of the missions I I have with any film hustle is I want to show people how to survive and thrive martial artists, how to survive and thrive. Because I'm so tired of getting filmmakers just getting eaten up and spit out by the system so much. I've seen it throughout my career, I've seen people who've tried to do something like, Oh, it's too hard. And like, you're just not I'm sorry, you're not cut out for this. Not at this level, you're gonna have to try to do something else or be another part of the of the cog in the wheel. Yeah. But it's difficult. It's difficult, even as easy as it is now, to make a movie, as they say, much easier than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, it's still extremely difficult. It's I think the challenge is just change. Yeah. Because before it wasn't the entry level entry point. Problem was the cost of the year. Now you can shoot it on your iPhone. Now distribution and marketing. Hey, hey, what do you guys know about that? So what a little bit and so with? So take me through a standard project. If you can with distribution? How do you how do you approach like, let's say I'm a filmmaker, I have $100,000 movie, which I actually literally no five of them right now that have that. But I'm talking to two, yeah, that had a movie that you know, half a million dollars or more. I have one with half million dollars, God bless we're working with. There's like, Okay, what do we do? And they literally told me that, like, I don't think we were we all know that we're not going to make our money back. We just want to make as much back as always, that's a good, that's a good start. It was a great movie. It's a great movie, but they're like, Okay, what can we do? What's our strategy? What, how can we do this? And, and we're working with them on that. But what would your advice be with like, you know, and I know it's case by case, but like, what's the basic things that you need to know, to get your movie out there?

Liz Manashil 19:04
Um, I mean, we're big proponents of people starting to think about marketing and distribution before the film is done. Amen. Because when you can start wrapping your head around that and starting to put, you know, see your film through those lenses. And then it just makes the process easier down the line. And, unfortunately, a lot of the filmmakers that we speak to it's not the case. But I think that this is a change in mentality. I think it will shift.

Alex Ferrari 19:33
So what what is the cause of that? Why is it? Yeah. Or is it just something that's not taught in film school? Is it just something that's not focused on because it isn't taught?

Jess Fuselier 19:43
Well, sure. And that's, you know, I didn't go to film school and that's when Yeah, that's when that's one thing it lays Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 19:50

Liz Manashil 19:50
It's not done. I'm pumped. I'm trying to like create it. Yeah. So that I can teach it us

Alex Ferrari 19:55
Like marketing, distribution. Yeah, social media.

Jess Fuselier 19:58
But the thing is, is that I think so. Many times in film school, it's about, it's about being creative. It's about being the Creator, it's about being the filmmaker. And there's been this separation for so long, where distribution and marketing is very pragmatic, it's very business minded, and that the filmmaker needs to hand their film off at that point. And, you know, put it into somebody else's hands. What we're Yeah, exactly what we're trying to get people to understand is that distribution and marketing is a creative process. It's, it can be fun. It can be it's not, it's it's not a one size fits all, even though so many times. And you know, we have, we have that preconceived notion, because I think that's the, that's the cycle that we see perpetuated so much in the media, and so on and so forth. But it's starting to become a very creative process, there's a lot of different avenues you can take. We're not trying to evangelize self distribution, we're just trying to answer questions with what we're doing and self distribution is for everyone. Ignore it's not a million dollar movie. It's self distributions of beast, you really have to be on your game. Yeah, to make your money back, you know, at a certain business model, it makes sense. Yeah, you even have the half million dollar mark,

Alex Ferrari 21:12
It's off 100 grand, you know, movie to self distribute, like straight up, like, I'm just gonna put it out myself, market it myself, pitch it to Hulu and Netflix myself, you really have to understand what you're doing.

Jess Fuselier 21:25
It's a lot. And it's a tie. It's a, it's a huge resource investment. It's not just a it's not just budgetarily an investment, but it's a huge investment of time, you know, what's something we're trying to spread is that it's not just self distribution, right? Like we use the word self distribution.

Liz Manashil 21:38
It's a team, right? So we're saying, the films that we work with, we encourage them to hire a publicist and digital marketing specialists. And if they want to do a theatrical, theatrical for that entire team, we don't expect the filmmakers we work with to do it all themselves. And it'd be very hard for any filmmaker to do it on themselves. So we understand that at any level,

Jess Fuselier 21:59
I think but I think if if filmmakers can really sit down, like going into the distribution process, like, even if they didn't start from day one, thinking about it, if they could just, you know, have like a really honest conversation with themselves. And I know this sounds cheesy, but do like a pros and cons list of the different options that you have in front of you, you know, and then from there, you can really see, like, you know, okay, do I want to do I want to take a jump and maybe do this myself, because maybe I feel like I'm the only one who really knows this film. I know how, like, I could reach an audience, I say, See how I could potentially market it. Okay, if that's really the option that you want to take, then let's start with budget, you know, how much do you have to put forward towards this? You know, who are you? Who are you trying to reach? And what are the best avenues to reach those people, you know, and then if you decide that you do want to go through the distributor route, one thing that I have a very simple piece of advice that Liz gives all the time, but I love it so much. And it has to do with sales agents and distributors, is if you get an offer, or you you find that there's a distributor that's interested, just do your research, you know, look at their catalog and quality. Exactly, and call this homemaker see what their relationship was like with this distributor. And, you know, maybe they had a great relationship and then maybe it's like, Yeah, exactly. dish, right.

Alex Ferrari 23:14
Yeah, they will dish You're like a sewing circle. are like, also if there's nothing I mean, honestly, a filmmaker that's been screwed over. Last night, Harry Have no fear, like a filmmaker screwed. And they will just from the top of the mountains say is I mean, it's, I mean, true, right? Absolutely. I mean, it's, it's amazing. And I've had people call me about certain producers, raps or certain things because I was under movies. I'm like, don't don't even do it.

Liz Manashil 23:50
I'm gonna say, crew members, we have our own internal core recommendation system where we say I've worked with this person, or I would never want this person to guess the same thing.

Alex Ferrari 23:58
Right! But the stakes are much higher when you're giving away your $100,000 ad. It's all over. Right. So I especially Don't you love the yellers.

Liz Manashil 24:06
Oh, I do actually like to do what I like whenever you say

Alex Ferrari 24:17
Stop yelling dude. We're all professionals here. I mean, come on. Would you like you like you Okay, now we don't we all

Liz Manashil 24:24
I just was like, that are like really, you know, you have a strong presence, you know,

Alex Ferrari 24:29
You do have a strong ad presence.

Liz Manashil 24:30
I don't want them to let me get away with anything. Like I want like the attention and I want to fight for things and I want

Alex Ferrari 24:36
I see your creative process. Like I see your creative process.

Liz Manashil 24:44
This is not their appeal is alright.

Alex Ferrari 24:48
So when you say as a trial,

Liz Manashil 24:52
I wanna go back to something you said about how filmmakers can just start getting involved in marketing distribution, just the beginning stage and you know We talk in these very grand statements about, you know, general things about marketing distribution, but it could start with a Facebook post or a Twitter post. And just little things, we leverage a pole. Like we encourage, you know, say I, or we, instead of the film's title, like, make it personal, make it human, make it authentic. Make as many jokes as you can make, like, just being robotic, and everyone knows something funny. Yeah, funny. It's really funny. Yeah. I mean, memes, memes, they haven't gone away yet. I've been waiting for them. They're still here. And it's crucial for inspirational quotes. Easy resources just to grow audiences at your fingertips. Just if you could just once you identify your audience, you can feed that audience, the content that they're looking for. And it doesn't have to be your content. It could be other people's content. And you start with your network first, you know, if you're scared, start with your friends and family. Just like because I consult on crowdfunding campaigns. You always start with your friends family first, and then you expand beyond, right. So what I mean, same thing here,

Alex Ferrari 26:04
When I launched indie film, hustle, when I had literally nothing, I just launched the website and the podcast, I had the mentality, like in a year and a half, depending on how big my audience is, I'm going to crap on my future. And that's exactly what I did a year and a half later, I was like, you know, I'm going to crap on my little micro budget. film. This is Magen, and it worked out. Because I was that it was a plan was a year and a half plans and not a lot of filmmakers think like that. Not awesome. But think long term. Like, you know what, I'm in the year I'm going to do this, but it's going to take ballbusting work until that year comes around. And it just kind of worked out that way. But they have to start you agree that

Liz Manashil 26:42
This I don't think they don't think long term because I did the same thing as for my first feature, but I don't think long term because that the data is not there to tell them how long it takes to put a film together how long it takes to convert How long does it take to do all these? These? I can't speak? Yeah. So I mean, again, not to bring it to circular and be too self promotional.

Alex Ferrari 27:06
Dance Institute, what

Liz Manashil 27:09
The whole point of these cases, the whole point of what we're doing is to be like, hey, filmmakers, this information has been hidden from you for ever. So let's just tell you how long it takes how much it takes, what how much what financial resources you need, like, how

Alex Ferrari 27:23
much is a real Facebook buy? Yeah, like, what is it? Yeah, well, that's that's a big like, because a lot of people like go onto social media. I'm gonna do some buys. I'm like, how much do we have? I've got $100

Liz Manashil 27:33
That actually will take you far. I did a 40. I did three ads. And it total $40. Right. Yeah. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 27:40
But I think in the scope of what your trip looks like. For people who can't see this, and listening to it, just looked at it. That's no. No, no, but like, no, with $100, depending on the kind of movie it is, like, you know, if you have a half a million dollar movie, $100 ain't gonna do a whole lot of $5,000 it's not going to do a lot, but it can, if you do it correctly, and you're going to spend 100 to 500 just figuring out what works. Yes, exactly. And and that's something that they they can't understand sometimes it's, it's, it's a different language,

Jess Fuselier 28:18
It's absolutely a different language speak the same language. So you and all of us can have a conversation. Yeah, me, not me. But I will try, I will try to get back on not a lot.

It's a it's tough, I completely understand. And this is an example I like to use. Before I started coding, I knew how to turn my computer on and type on it. And that was it. And I took a boot camp, and it was like a crazy 10 weeks of my life. But that just proved to myself that oh, this is accessible. Once you get over a certain hump. It's accessible, you know. And so I we've really encouraged filmmakers to just take a deep breath. And I articles Yeah, read our articles. We actually one of the first ones that I released was basically just breaking down all of digital marketing terms. So like, what is that book?

Liz Manashil 29:07
So please break down a few. So what is a CP something?

Jess Fuselier 29:11
There you go. That is a cost per metric, right? So you're either basing it off of cost per click, which is how literally how much does it cost when every time somebody clicks on it? It is that that was back in the day? That's one way to do it. But now that's still a thing. Yeah, I mean, it's still a thing. It's still a thing in Facebook, you can go for you can go for links, or you can go for impressions, which is cost per impression is basically like 1000 eyeballs, right? Every time your ads reaches a click on Yeah, yeah, exactly. So you know, we've we've taken some time to break these things down and try to help filmmakers understand that this is accessible to them. These are tools that they all have at their fingertips. And it does take a certain amount of testing, but that and you know in the tech world today steam is like the foundation of it. All right. And that is a very creative process, right? It's trial and error. It's figuring out the little tweaks that you need to make in order to hit the right people. And so I think I think filmmakers are missing out when they don't play with these technologies. Because you can get super creative with some of the stuff that you do, right? You you look at the 32nd spots you have, and you're like, Okay, how can I slice this into a 10 second spot that's going to grab somebody's attention like that, and be like, I have to watch this right? And then you have something in the first frame that is your attention. Exactly. Exactly. So it's like playing around with that. It's like, it's like a game, you know, like, how can you continually optimize to, you know, to reach more points, quote, unquote. And

Alex Ferrari 30:45
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Jess Fuselier 30:55
But but it's it's a very creative process, we had a really great example is, you know, one of our fellowship films, the director, got involved in the social media campaign, and made some assets made some quick snippets of behind the scenes footage, and that update investors on their social media campaign on under the phone. But yeah, he knew the phone best and his fans, his fans immediately knew they're like, Oh, yeah, you know, this is like, this is it, you know? And so having those lightbulb moments, I think, are very rewarding. And I think filmmakers need to know that that is, that is very much prevalent in the digital marketing space. You know,

Alex Ferrari 31:33
Did you guys ever hear of a movie called come fury? Yeah. Did Yeah. Short film. Wait. So it was a movie done by I think Swedish film, it was not mistaken. And they made a 80s. Like, almost like such an homage to the 80s. But like, to the nth degree, it was a short film, they raised like, $150,000 for the short. And they knew their audience. That's like, 400, that's four or five features. I mean, for you, it's like, but um, but they made this short, it was visual effects. That was dinosaurs. It was a giant Thor, they went back in time, it was really meant for the audience that they were going after, which was people who really love the 80s, which is a broad stranger thing. Yeah. But and they tapped into that way before Stranger Things into this nostalgia of it. All right. But they were and then they have T shirts, and like leather jacket, that VHS release of it Limited Edition. Yes, it was copied. And pretty much a copy of this, this Swedish theory, yes. LPs. It was amazing. They have they made tons of money, but their social media was just on point. They're just doing constant memes, constant video, stuff like that, but they knew who their audience was. Yeah. And it's a short film.

Liz Manashil 32:54
But also it can reflect your personality. So if you're like a laconic soul, who's just really more poetic, and really sure on to images, and just post a few photos, I mean, like, I think the other thing is that there's a lot of pressure can be built up about, I gotta be clever, I gotta post seven times a day, I have to it gets right, it gets a bit. So you could do it suited to your personality.

Jess Fuselier 33:14
It's about an authentic voice. Yeah, your audience, your audience is going to know when it's not an authentic voice, and you're just trying to fit into a mold. And if you fake it, that they'll smell, they sniff it out a mile away. And

Alex Ferrari 33:28
It may be a 90 something they know now, we're so savvy,

Jess Fuselier 33:33
We're not in a time anymore, where you can just get away with cookie cutter templates. You know, it's not like people have so much content in their face on a daily basis. So what's going to set you apart, it's going to be your voice and you have to make sure that that's your own. You have to be authentic. And I think that's in general with all your marketing.

Alex Ferrari 33:49
If you're 100% what you're trying to be you are, it's gonna do well, at least with the audience that you're trying to reach. Yeah. As opposed to if you're just like, you know, the sleazy madman marketing guy who's just trying to you know, pigeonhole like the people who love Manhattan's and, you know, we made a movie. We made this movie just about how the Manhattan was made. You say, Are you looking for investment? equity? Do we have equity? Yeah, tell us more. But yeah, I think authenticity is such a good and you were saying it's so much fun doing it. I've discovered I mean, I've learned so much about digital marketing with indie film hustle. It's insane. Yeah, how much I've learned doing that all myself. Yeah. And putting all the content out and I think one of the reasons why resonates with people is because I'm, I'm authentic. Yeah, this is my it's in I'm out from I'm not hiding behind a logo, or I'm like, literally screaming with a gun. That looks like a super eight camera.

Liz Manashil 34:49
But also like when I emailed you, you emailed me back within like, two hours, two hours went out. Yes. Really quickly. Yeah. I mean, that's the other thing is like if you're reachable your approach trouble. I mean, that's also part of it, too is like, what I hate about old I level of Hollywood. And I love the old world of distribution to a degree because it's responsible for some of my favorite films. Sure. But what I hate about it is that wall Oh, yeah, between audience and artist. And so all we're trying to do is say, write down that wall as often as possible. So here the one other thing we suggested to like on your website, this is something I learned from my mentor, Peter Broderick is like don't do an info at do Alex at indie film, hustle, you know, whatever it is, so that people know they're reaching you just all of these ways to make yourself at everyone's fingertips. It's a you know, a little bit of pressure, but it's still it's a way that you make new friends, you can make it with your audience directly.

Alex Ferrari 35:44
And you're building community. Now what? What are kind of like some of the, you know, mistakes you see filmmakers make when they come into your arena.

Jess Fuselier 35:56

Liz Manashil 35:57
crickets, there's crickets actually, some times being too precious. Oh, yeah. And I know that that is really I just, I just want to I just want to clarify, and I am not a filmmaker. So I don't want people to think that I am. I don't want to be a poser by any means. What? I know, I am so sorry. film has been in my life in many different capacities in my professional career, and I used to work on film side, so I'm very attuned to it. But I'm not if Donald Trump, you're not afraid. But But, you know, I think that I totally understand this is your baby. Right? This is something that you've been working on for, I don't know, months, years, decades, you know? And, yes, I did evolve with some movies. Yeah, I mean, it's a thing I happen. But I think we're in a space right now, that is so rapidly changing that, yeah, that if you're not willing to put yourself out there and try new things, and figure out what works, that's just going to be a detriment to the future of your career. So I think sometimes filmmakers really hold on to their work and say, I don't want to I don't want to work with us, unless it's unless it's like, exactly 100%. What we think we need to do, you know, rather than saying, let's just throw a little bit out there and see what works, you know, especially with these digital marketing campaigns distribution there, yeah, well, don't share anything. Don't show any. keeps a secret sauce. Now you should part of growing your audience is deep enough information over time. Totally, totally. And it goes back to that authentic voice too. Right. It's like, again, but I think directors also need to be more in the forefront, right? They need people need to know who they are, and you know, what they stand for. And not just through their work, but by the way they represent their film. And by the way, they put their film out there in the world. And so I just encourage filmmakers not to be scared, you know, like, Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 37:58
You got to get out there. And yeah, you know, I mean, he was the master at that. He's the one who started the whole promoting the director. Yeah, on it. He was the first superstar director pretty much. And now I think, I think honestly, after I think, Tarantino when he came out in the 90s, here at Sundance, he became the rock and roll. That kind of rock and roll director, that everybody's like, oh, now it's cool to be a director. Not everybody wants to be a director. But you also do agree that it's not only being precious, but also expectation sometimes.

Jess Fuselier 38:29
Oh, 100%. Yeah, what do you mean my movies not gonna make $10 million and open and 5000 seats

Liz Manashil 38:36
inside of that, right? So I call that filmmaker delusion. And I talk about that, because I have felt made make we all have a little bit of, but uh, you need that to make them look

Alex Ferrari 38:46
good, then you need to stop.

Liz Manashil 38:48
After you get your first rejections. You know what I mean? Because you could make $10 million you get into Sundance, you could be an overnight success. But then once the you know, the evidence starts coming in, then you re evaluate and you re jigger your expectations. We're not dream killers here.

Alex Ferrari 39:06
But yeah, we might not be dream killers, but the industry is it's the marketplace will tell you what it is. And that's the that's the brutality of this industry in this business in general. And I like filmmakers, who are these gentle artists sometimes are not preparing their skin is so thin, that the first time someone knocks them down, they're like, Oh, yeah,

Jess Fuselier 39:24
you need to build up your God. Yeah, it also goes back to like, Why are filmmakers disillusioned and a lot of that has to do because they don't have access to information, you know, they just see these like, you know, record deals being made. And you know, but that's not it's not the reality. No, it's not the reality. Well,

Alex Ferrari 39:43
it's also I think, the delusion that you know, call it the mariachi effect. You know, everyone thinks that I love

Liz Manashil 39:48
the mariachi effect that you give everything for your film, which is wonderful. Yeah, it's great. I'm like the romantic and

Alex Ferrari 39:58
I A big fan of mariachi and we found a Robert and what he did, but I think that was not a model to follow in the sense of weightless calm down wave. I just thought my eggs was working No, no, but like, No, no, but like the Kevin Smith, you know, the clerks, the slacker the whole time in the 90s. Where was these lottery tickets literally being handed out, all you have to do is make a movie get into Sundance, and you know, for lack of a better term at the time, Harvey would walk down with a check, you know, and that at the time was a big thing. You know, and life was good. Did you move up at the Hollywood Hills and you start making millions of dollars? And you're good? That is not a business model? That is that's what I'm trying to say? Yes. Give all to your movie, do everything you can to make your movie happen. But also don't mortgage your house? Right. You know, don't you know, you have three kids at home, don't mortgaged your house, be smart about it, build up to something like that, you know, do a few micro budgets. That's why I'm such in favor of micro budget. Just go out here, go make a $5,000 movie, go to the duplass brothers, you know, do something like that. As opposed to, you know, rolling the dice.

Liz Manashil 41:08
Or, you know, what I do is I make films as a as a hobby. You know, they're No, I say it's a hobby doesn't mean it doesn't take my whole heart. And I'm, you know, obsessively thinking about it every single day. It just means that I have a day job. And you know, in the mornings in the evenings,

Alex Ferrari 41:22
I worked on the film. I think one of our one of our people here working with us, Adam said a wonderful statement is like, when you make a movie, like you know, for $500,000 with private equity, or, you know, someone wrote a check or something like that. It's basically gambling, gambling, but hidden with this guise of art. Mm hmm. Which I think is a great analogy. A great a great statement to say because it is you write a $500,000 check. Oh, it's a massive game. It's you're rolling the dice, you know, and you're not a studio that can handle you know, a hit.

Liz Manashil 41:56
Yeah, but still that person. I mean, that's the other thing. It's like I you know, you you feel indebted to your investors and you want to make investors happy. But the investors are, you know, indulgent, you know, intellectual they're, they're capable of making decisions. Yes. And it's their decision to does. I agree with the kid take on the weight of the world.

Alex Ferrari 42:18
No, you can't. But there's also delusions about there's investor delusion, right. So let them have it and then let them give you money to make my movie.

So I'm, finally I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What is the lesson that took you guys the longest to learn the film industry? Or just if you didn't see this at home, just his eyes just widen. You will run at least another couple hours. Right? We're good. All right. Yeah. So this is really turning into therapy has been really hard. Did you know now if I did, I don't remember? Yes. Okay. If you if you can answer if you can't, we'll move on. But we want to give a right answer. That's the thing we could give an answer, but it's just gonna be online forever. So just please. Yeah, that thing called the internet? Yes. It doesn't forget not joking. Um,

Jess Fuselier 43:34
Gosh, I don't know, there's so many things that I feel like I could say, to the point where I'm like, at a loss for words. And I'm still trying to work through a lot professionally. And I'm probably always will be. But I think a big part is just letting go. It's really hard. I think I very much have this perfectionist mentality to the point where when I feel passionate about something, and somebody doesn't understand that passion, it really gets to me and then like, in an emotional way, like emotional, visceral way. And, and so I think that's been a big thing is that we are all different human beings. And we all have, you know, different philosophies. And if somebody doesn't get why I'm passionate about something, that's okay. You know, it's okay. I don't need to do. I don't need to waste my energy on wondering why they don't understand my passion

Liz Manashil 44:35
For marketing and distribution at Sundance Institute. I like that. I like the back. Great, great, great.

Alex Ferrari 44:44
There's no question.

Liz Manashil 44:44
I mean, I don't think this is the answer, but it's an answer. And it's, as a filmmaker, I think there are a lot of fears and worries that are in our heads and there's expectations and all these things that we talked about today. And I think just saying them out loud or writing them down, as Like banal as that sounds as did I use the word for dollar? I don't know, like my three years.

Jess Fuselier 45:05
We're not convinced. That's right, that's the same

Liz Manashil 45:13
As, as you know, I was gonna say pedestrian this is, you know, as lame as that sounds, it's like just saying out loud reminds you that it's your fears are ridiculous. And that you should just go forth with what you want. I mean, sometimes your paranoia is get like, locked up and start, like creating delusions. And so I'm just saying, like, as a filmmaker, if there's filmmakers out there, like, we were here, we want to support you, email us and all of your fears and anxieties. Just write them all out to us. And we'll see how we can actually either verify, or the entire movie tries

Alex Ferrari 45:50
Or therapy for the so silly, but we love that we'd like to do so. So basically, what you're saying is, life is short go for.

Liz Manashil 45:57
Laughs basically, think of this when it comes to filmmaking. Yes. to other things. I mean, genocide, no, no. Other things. Yes. Wow, this

Alex Ferrari 46:06
interview was quickly. What advice would you give filmmakers just starting out in this lovely form, business, um,

Jess Fuselier 46:18
Explore all options. Like there's, there's so many things out there these days, there's so many different resources at your fingertips, there are so many different ways of putting art out into the world. Don't pigeonhole yourself and to one form of filmmaking, maybe you could find that VR and AR or something that really interests you, if you if you learn the trade, or maybe you find that, you know, you have a skill and photography, or you know, maybe you even love doing branded content, who knows, but I'm just saying, like, as a creator, that is such a rare skill to have. And I think with this as our world becomes more technologically driven, I think that, you know, that is just going to become that much more of an asset. So I think it's important to just explore all options and see what you're good at and figure out what works for you. Just because it works for somebody else doesn't mean that they're going to work for you. Everyone knows about

Liz Manashil 47:23
Yeah, Jess is gonna kill me. Oh, um, okay. So I grew up wanting to make a feature. It was like my number one thing that I wanted to do, and I did, and I genuinely feel like a more complete person after having made it. I know, it sounds absurd, but No, it doesn't. It doesn't I feel do better.

Alex Ferrari 47:40
Did you feel that the feature was a mountain? This monsters? Yeah. You had to climb. And

Liz Manashil 47:45
I climbed it, and it was I got to the summit. And you're good. I yeah, absolutely. And you didn't do

Alex Ferrari 47:52
it? You did it at a fairly high level for a first time feature. You know,I'm very proud of it. Yeah, you did. Because you had, you know, you had recognizable stars. And you had a real budget. You know, so it was very, very cool that you did it that way.

Liz Manashil 48:07
So I think a lot of filmmakers like us have that dream of the future. Sure. And though I want people to diversify, my feeling is a lot of people hide behind other content as a means to avoid making the project they really want to make. So I just want to say, if you want to make the feature, don't hide behind those other projects and just make the feature or vice versa. If you want to be a YouTuber, do episodic see, okay, did

Jess Fuselier 48:32
you want to do episodic, don't hide, don't hide behind the short, you know, it's like shorts, constant shorts. These suits, it's like bread and butter. Like, they really like available now on Hulu. Yeah.

Liz Manashil 48:47
I just did that. Like very often, like all filmmakers come to me, and those have this repertoire of shorts that they make and I'm very pro shorts, filmmaking. Sure, but you know, what they really want to do is the feature sometimes, and I just want to say just, just just just a feature, and I absolutely agree with that. And one thing that you know, Liz, it's just amazing that of encouraging. It's just, you know, the micro budget space is great, right? Because you're you $100,000 that's,

Jess Fuselier 49:16
that's what's incredibly hard to get. Yeah, but, but that's a good amount of money. And you can you can do, you can do a lot. You know,

Alex Ferrari 49:26
it was it was it was a number that I can't say it was a number that I can't say but it was a humble micro budget. It was a it was a humble now, it's a humble micro budget. Yeah. And But yeah, I was able to let's just put it this way with $100,000. I could have done a lot. Yeah, I could have done it. I could probably I could have easily done three or four features that easily comfortably. I don't there's nothing against like some stories take 100,000 some take five. But the duplass brothers are such a great model for that because they literally got 1000 bucks, go make a movie weekend with your friends. Yeah. And it's great. Show it to people. If you don't You learn move on never feel like you have to show everything but they didn't you know, they've made their first feature and then it was horrible. I actually never heard that they went I spent like $100,000 that they had mom give them the money and all this kind of stuff and they raise money and they put it together like this is a piece of crap and they killed it that they were that strong and character of artists to kill their baby because imagine imagine that so and they were so freaked out about that like you know, we're just going to go shoot something and they shot that for a short they got into Sundance oh that the phone the phone message thing leaving the message they shot it and fire like I think they shot him like 30 minutes or something like that in a day on on their their consumer mom's consumer thing and then a Sundance feature Oh yeah.

Liz Manashil 50:47
The first feature write a nonfiction right yeah, I mean, I haven't seen it but like everyone thinks that tiny features are first feature because there was no one there at all. But rare, right? Sherry? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 50:59
Now, this probably the hardest question. So prepare yourself. Maybe favorite films of all time.

Jess Fuselier 51:06
Oh, God.

Alex Ferrari 51:09
For the audience at home, just literally crossed her arms and pounded in the back. Back and out of like, feel like all of your questions are just like just these are. What do we call gotcha questions.

Jess Fuselier 51:22
Yeah. Um,

Alex Ferrari 51:26
what we through that work that

Jess Fuselier 51:28
pop in what we do in the shadows, so is one of my favorite films. Okay. I just think that film is brilliant. Wait, let's talk

Liz Manashil 51:35
to him this okay. And each time I'm Moonstruck because

Alex Ferrari 51:40
because Nicolas Cage and share because it's amazing.

Liz Manashil 51:43
There's nothing else that needs to be said. Sorry, I should take them out. No. I thought I could buy you like 10 seconds. That wasn't enough.

Alex Ferrari 51:50
This is gonna be so this is gonna be a cheesy one. For everything on the show, it's all good.

Jess Fuselier 51:57
On the on Juliet,

Alex Ferrari 52:00
as well. That's amazing.

Jess Fuselier 52:02
I love that it's one of my favorite movies. I love that movie. I think it's a barrier. But you know, we don't have to get into it right now. It's

Alex Ferrari 52:14
okay to be wrong. I've ever been bribed by strictly ballroom Romeo, Juliet, we can have that conversation.

Liz Manashil 52:25
I don't know what I said last time, but I actually love stuck on you by the Farrelly brothers. And it doesn't get enough credit and I tried to bring it up as much as possible because I I really love it. It's a fun movie. And it's like done with love and care and absurdity and other movies that don't sit just go watch this talk on you.

Alex Ferrari 52:44
Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear.

Liz Manashil 52:46
Yeah. And Meryl Streep and Cher I should just share the next one real quick. Yes, yes. It's my obscure and Frankie made race, isn't it? Okay, I've seen this movie a lot.

Jess Fuselier 53:03
And your last one? Ah. I'm gonna have to say elite squad. I'm on the director's aim. He did City of God. That was, yeah. That movie hit me like a Mack truck. I remember sitting in the theater after I saw that. And just, I couldn't even talk to my now husband at the time. And he asked me in the car. What did you think of that movie? And I said, I can't talk right now. I need 10 minutes of silence. Those are great. And that was it just hit me really hard. It was a good day that said, You know, I think that's what they were going for.

Alex Ferrari 53:46
I felt that after Justice League.

Jess Fuselier 53:54
That was for you out. I mean, it's very it's very deep. Somebody's just happy running jump. It's very heavy. subject matter, but it's a brilliant film. And you're

Liz Manashil 54:10
Almost famous.

Jess Fuselier 54:11
Oh god that was a great one. Jerry Maguire for me. Both I think both shoes Why choose? I think you're right. Yeah. Jerry Jerry's up there for me. I love Jerry Maguire as Jerry my fucking wife who's gonna take my fish? My fish who's with you? Yes. You do have insurance. We'll figure it out. And of course anything? Yeah, well, I love that one speech he goes, but I don't want to you know, the best.

Alex Ferrari 54:43
Guys. It's been I we could talk for another hour.

Jess Fuselier 54:45
Can I say one more thing? Yeah, absolutely. And there's one more movie. There's one more movie actually, there's five. So you know, sit down, get a drink. Um, no, I just wanted to say, um, you know, in the creative distribution issue. We completely understand how Sometimes it might feel that filmmakers don't have access to us been in that ivory tower. But you don't want to say Sundance son, I meant to say Sundance, I'm sorry. I just Yeah. Well, obviously, email is open. I was patient at Sundance or create a [email protected]. Yes, don't worry, no. But um, I just want to say, I think we're trying to be a department that says, yes. And in terms of trying to find information for filmmakers. So if we don't have the answers, we do not claim to be the experts and have all of the answers very often not experts. But 99%, we are willing to go out there and find the answers. We are on a mission to find sustainable sources for filmmakers. So please email us with questions or concerns. Or if you want to have a therapy session, we're completely open. Or if you want us to write a piece. Yeah, but we do. Yeah, we write pieces often out of our out of our department. And we're, if you have a really cool story, or if there's something that you learned, we're totally willing to put it out there. So please contact us. So have you met Robert,

Liz Manashil 56:10
Once you walked by me, you walk, and I pretended to type. Like, I was typing, bla bla bla bla, bla. He's wearing jeans.

Alex Ferrari 56:24
I figured that that makes sense. Yeah, guys, it's been an absolute pleasure.

Jess Fuselier 56:32
Thank you so much for having us

Alex Ferrari 56:33
See you guys soon. I hope you guys learned a little bit about how important understanding your audience is, and figuring out how you can get that data to be able to target your audience, especially if you're doing self distribution. And even if you're going through a traditional distributor you got to be hands on when you're working with a traditional distributor without question, the more you understand about your audience, the better chance you have of getting your film out there to that audience, so they can consume your content. As I've said many times before, the creative process does not end at Final Cut. It ends when you are done selling your movie. And that could be a year or longer after you are done with that final cut. So always keep that in mind. And as always, if you want links to anything we talked about in the show, head over to indie film hustle.com, forward slash to one, eight. And if you guys have a movie and have not signed up for the creative distribution, fellowship, you're crazy. It's a free thing that Sundance picks a few films every year, and they distribute your film for free, and help you and give you money and give you data and helps you get it all out there. And you're now inside the Sundance family. So why not do it? So go to the show notes. There's links there if you have a movie, give it a shot, you never know what's going to happen. So and there's not a lot of people signing up for it. That was one of the reasons why Liz reached out to me in the first place. So please check it out. And as always keep that also going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.



  • Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship – Apply Here
  • Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship – Email
  • Liz Manashil – Official Site


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