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DIY filmmaking, marketing and distribution with filmmaker, Ava DuVernay

The good part about still being unemployed is being able to attend networking lunches without worrying about being out of the office too long. Last week Reelblack, in conjunction with PIFVA and Scribe Video Center invited industry PR maven, turned indie filmmaker, Ava DuVernay to discuss "Do It Yourself" promotion, film distribution, her new feature length film I Will Follow and a new initiative aimed at giving black films a wide release in commercial theaters, called AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement).

(pictured: me and Ava DuVernay)

DuVernay is still the president and founder of a successful LA based media and marketing firm called DVA, which promoted such films as Invictus, Dream Girls, Shrek, Collateral and more; however in 2006 she became less interested in hyping other people's films and more interested in making her own. She set about making This is the Life a documentary about the LA alternative hip hop scene and My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women in Hip Hop. Her narrative, I Will Follow, staring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and featuring Blair Underwood
is about a woman who's grieving after the recent loss of a close
relative and the interactions she has with a series of people on the day
of her move. DuVernay says the film is not edgy or avant-garde, just
very much from the heart.

(pictured: Producer, Gala P. Goodwin and Ava DuVernay)

Which
brings us back to AFFRM. When she wanted her documentary to be shown
in a theater, she four walled it. For anyone unfamiliar with the term,
DuVernay explains it thus, "If you say Hello Mr. Theater can you book me
in? Mr. Theater responds, No, of co
urse
not black filmmaker go away". But four walling is just buying out the
theater for a block of time. You do the self promotion to get bodies in
seats, but your film will be on the theater's listings of movies and
showtimes.

But for this feature film, she wanted to reach a wider
audience, giving her the idea to approach 5 Black Film Organization
around the country - "What if we all released a film on the same day?
Wouldn't that be a national release? Isn't that what the studios do?
Can't we just do this? Not just a screening, or a tour, but a national
theatrical release." And so on Friday, March 11th Urbanworld Film Festival in New York, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the ReelBlack Film Series in Philadelphia, the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta and the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival in Seattle will open I Will Follow
at AMC theaters for 2 weeks with several screening times. If
successful, AFFRM plans to have two films released a year, one in March
and another in August.

(pictured: filmmaker, Joey B Ellis and Executive at SBE Entertainment)

What are the AFFRM Guidl
ines?
Films will be chosen by a panel made up from the 5 black film
organizations, all of which, except for Philly, produce a black film
festival each year; so only films that have played at one of the
festival
s will be considered.

How concerned will AFFRM be about choosing films based on making money? "Our
threshold for success is different than say, Paramount Pictures
threshold, we're not interested in having to recoup a certain amount of
money or triple our investment. We're interested in presenting black
film, so for us, making enough just to be able to present the next one
is what we're looking for; that will allow us to be much more flexible
in what we're choosing. The way the model is put together is gonna allow
us to be free of the constraints of what's good and what works, it's
about what moves us and what we want to present. That's the goal in
theory, so hopefully we can stay true to ourselves and stick to that."


(pictured:Actor/Producer, Nakia Dillard)

Also discussed during this very well attended brown bag lunch (my
lunch consisted of a really plump and juicy super sized hot dog from 7
Eleven, better than I remembered, haven't had one in years!)

financing, monetizing, promoting and distributing your film. Ava wants
to encourage filmmakers to take advantage of the fact that new
technology has given us the tools to do a lot on our own. "It's still
not easy, but so much more possible. It's about not being intimated and
doing the hard work and research."

For instance, she was offered a DVD distribution deal for the rights in perpetuity for This is the Life,
$15,000 which was attractive as the whole film cost $15 grand to make.
But she didn't like the word "perpetuity". "Who says that word? It's
crazy, are you saying forever to me? Never again will I be able to own
my film?" She suggests a filmmaker not even go for a 10 year deal, 2 -5
year maximum. She, however, decided to go the entrepreneur route and
replicate the DVDs herself. A contact from the same company that burns
and packages for studio films: shrink wrap, cover art, barcode, all
completely professional, and all for 95 cents each. She sells them on
her website for $19.99 and also distributes through other wholesale
online outlets (Blockbuster, Walmart). "So many outlets now, compared
to 10
years ago when the only
option was to wait for someone to buy the rights and distribute for
you. Now you can be on Amazon in a week, be streaming on Netflix (indie
flix) in 10 days. In the first year we sold 5000 DVDs, that was just
the first year, by holding out and doing the hard work, I tripled my
investment and got the satisfaction of keeping my material, which I feel
is really important."

I asked Ava how is she able to do all of this while also
running her PR firm, she said, yes, she's a little busy, but she has a
hybrid staff of really amazing people who work with her on both ends,
and she's now super selective about the projects she takes on in terms
of media and marketing; her current selection being the film The Help with Viola Davis. "I take on projects I'm passionate about now."


(pictured left to right: filmmakers Tiona M (black.womyn), Aishah Shahidah Simmons (No! The Rape Documentary) below Nisa Ra (Black Love Lives)

From distribution
the talk turned to promotion. "You used to have to go through a
publicist like me, now your film's facebook page can garner 80,000
facebook friends. Even shorts can now make money through YouTube and
facebook films." In terms of raising money, there's Indie GoGo, Kickstarter, Ifundie.com,
people all over the country who patronize film can read about your
project and make a donation online. You can set it up with incentives
like - $5 send them a poster, $100 gets you a conversation with the
director, $1000 attend the opening. She advises not to set large goals
like $100,000, instead do pledges little by little, $10,000
pre-production, then come back in a few months and ask for another $5000
for casting or $3000 to attend Sundance...

"People
are playing with everything right now, all the traditional models have
collapsed. Even Sony and Paramount don't know what to do at this point.
It's a brand new world, go and figure it out."

I hope my readers will go and support this film and the AFFRM initiative on March 11th at AMC Cherry Hill - See you there!

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