As an indie filmmaker, it can be exceptionally difficult to raise money for your project -- to say nothing of finding the proper channels for distribution and the most effective means of marketing what is, for all intents and purposes, your baby. Dogfish Accelerator aims to change all this by connecting filmmakers and their films with investors in a new way, taking the tech startup model and applying it to indie film. Last week they held their first Demo Day, where filmmakers got to showcase their films for investors. Here's more about Dogfish, the accelerator model, and what it could do for you and your film!
Last Friday, at the Microsoft Technology Center in New York, filmmakers and investors gathered for the inaugural Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day. NFS has covered the accelerator model before, but this was the first time that films in the Dogfish Accelerator program presented for potential investors.
First, a little background: accelerators started as a means for getting money to tech startups, while being more than so-called "angel investing." In other words, an accelerator program doesn't just invest money, they invest time and mentorship. James Belfer, founder and managing director of Dogfish Accelerator, has an MBA from NYU, he has produced or invested in several films (Like Crazy, Compliance, Prince Avalanche) and, while working at Techstars, a leading startup accelerator, had the idea that the same model could be applied to indie films.
Instead of doing things the old way, working within the festival-driven system and holding little leverage over distributors, he looked to the tech world for inspiration. Dogfish would provide seed money to filmmakers and provide guidance to help them control their own destiny. The project launched at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and eventually 440 submissions were pared down to eight finalists. These teams received $18,000 in seed funding from Dogfish as well as three months of resources and mentorship. According to Belfer, in his introductory speech at demo day:
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. In short, we need to think and act like startups.
The 8 finalist teams represented 13 films, 3 marketing and distribution platforms, 2 Multi Channel Networks, and ancillary streams of revenue including graphic novels, video games, and a fashion line.
Among those presenting was No Film School's founder Ryan Koo, whose company with co-founder Zack Lieberman, EXIT STRATEGY, presented two projects (Ryan previously wrote about being in Dogfish here). One project is MAX & CHARLIE, a family-oriented graphic novel, feature film, and video game; the other is 3RD RAIL, an interactive film which uses a new video game engine to make an Agatha Christie-style mystery that encourages multiple viewings. It's a non-traditional film viewing experience and one that is utilizing cutting-edge technology to tell a multi-tiered narrative. EXIT STRATEGY presented last, wrapping up the day of pitches, but Ryan instructed us not to cover his own company in any great depth or with any special favorability, so as not to seem self-serving. So we'll leave it at that!
Go Infect Films, a team making films "by millennials, for millennials," found Dogfish through social media, getting James's attention through Twitter. Their film, Like Me, is set in the world of social media and the film's main character, Kiya, is going to have an active social media presence that will interact with the audience, and, in an innovative move, her wardrobe will be produced and sold to the audience, creating multiple levels of marketing. The team plans a direct-to-fan platform and special one-off screenings will take precedence over a traditional theatrical rollout.
Guagua Productions have already released two documentaries, Ballplayer: Pelotero, and Schooled: The Price of College Sports. Guagua's strategy involved directly targeting their audience, which in this case meant forging partnerships with HBO Latino and Baseball America, in order to reach a built-in audience. They plan to edit over 1,000 hours of footage into the sequel to Ballplayer: Pelotero, as well as branch out into fiction with the satire How to Catch a Terrorist, utilizing the same marketing strategies to increase exposure and promote word-of-mouth. They are also working on The Miguel Sano Story, the sequel to Ballplayer, and have been releasing extra material on the web throughout production, such as this POV shot of 90 MPH fastballs coming at you:
But not everything presented was a feature film. Brooklyn-based new media YouTube channel Auralnauts construct media by mining through the past, mashing up footage, overdubbing vocals, and creating montages of memorable film moments. Their playful approach to content creation is reminiscent of the machinima of RoosterTeeth, who made a name for themselves posting short videos using the Halo video game engine, courting millions of followers in the process.
Auralnauts would appear to be on the right track. For example, this video, "Freestyle Bane," an overdubbed scene from The Dark Knight Rises, has been viewed over a million times:
In the year following that smash hit, they've produced 20 videos, gained over 30K channel subscribers, and received 9.6 million channel views, capitalizing on their initial attention. But the monetization of such content is still limited, with funds coming through AdSense, viral marketing, music ringtone sales, and merchandise. Auralnauts have a rabid audience right there for the taking, and they hope to garner investment to scale up to making bigger, badder original content.
The biggest takeaway from Dogfish Accelerator Demo Day is probably that, as Belfer told me last week, "the indie film world is due for a revolution." By using capital to connect investors and business smarts with indie filmmakers, the goal of Dogfish Accelerator is to provide not only a new way for films to be financed, but also a whole new model of distribution and paradigm for independent filmmaking.
Belfer believes the "film festival only" model is outmoded, that the days of going to Sundance and walking away with an amazing deal are gone. Today, film festivals are just one facet of independent distribution, and a filmmaker who goes to a festival with pre-sales garnered from targeting their key demographic will be in a much better position than one who goes in blind.
This is one area where the accelerator model aims to help filmmakers. By learning to think like businesses, like startups, by thinking of their audience and targeting a marketing campaign directly to them, an indie filmmaker is going to have leverage with distributors and a higher chance of success.
Dogfish Accelerator is providing a means for independent filmmakers to connect with money and audiences, and that's something the indie film world can be grateful for. Given the demo day was mere days ago, it's too early to tell how many teams received partial or full funding as a result of their presentations, but we'll keep tabs on the program here at NFS (and I'm sure Ryan will have updates of his own as well). Hopefully this model will grow and continue to help indie filmmakers achieve their dream of finding an audience for their films while being able to earn a living doing what they love and turning a profit.
What do you think? Would you participate in an accelerator program like Dogfish Accelerator? What do you think some of the new models for indie film production and distribution are going to be? Let us know in the comments!
[Additional reporting by Tony Sollecito]
[All Demo Day photos by Sean Scanlin, copyright Dogfish Accelerator 2013]
Link: Dogfish Accelerator