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Guest Post: Rachel Gordon "Tapping into Educational Distribution Part 2"

By Ted Hope | Hope for Film July 8, 2011 at 3:00AM

Yesterday, Rachel Gordon shed some light on how you might make your film viable for the Educational Market. Now as much as we all hope to make a living by making films, I don't think that is why most filmmakers enter the field. And as thrilling as self expression is, I often hear filmmakers cite another reason for the creative spark: they want to facilitate change. Today, Rachel provides examples of how the process of preparing for the Educational Market can also precisely do that higher goal of moving us towards a better world.
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Yesterday, Rachel Gordon shed some light on how you might make your film viable for the Educational Market. Now as much as we all hope to make a living by making films, I don't think that is why most filmmakers enter the field. And as thrilling as self expression is, I often hear filmmakers cite another reason for the creative spark: they want to facilitate change. Today, Rachel provides examples of how the process of preparing for the Educational Market can also precisely do that higher goal of moving us towards a better world.

Adding to the idea of using media in education, this post will provide a broad view of integrating media with community change, as well as concrete examples of success.

If you ever watched a film in high school or college, or went to a screening at a local community center, you’ve already experienced media having an impact on a non-theatrical audience. Here is the short description of how that comes about, as well as specific situations from clients I’ve worked with.

The Collector of Bedford Street centers on a retirement-aged Jewish man with an intellectual disability who spends his days collecting money for a variety of charities that request him to do so. It shows him being an active participant in the community, and the mutual care-giving relationship between himself and his neighborhood – he’s able to continue collecting money for charities, and his well being is sustained through surrounding efforts.

This means that the main non-theatrical markets are (each of which will have subcategories): Disability issues, Aging/Gerontology, Jewish studies, Charities/causes, community activism, social work, and I could continue…

Now take one agency, perhaps one of the ones involved with the care of your subject, and get their perspective on your finished product. Show them a rough cut to get them on board and get ideas about who needs to know about what you’re doing. Be willing to give out preview copies to one or more of these organizations in exchange for feedback. Use their feedback in order to forward it to others who have similar interests.

Have a brief questionnaire with simple questions you can use for future reference and quoting such as:

How do you use the film?

What are some of the reactions you’ve seen?

Who do you think should see this?

To get specific, Collector has been used by Kiwanis International to help teach youth about the importance and joys of community service. Inspired by that, for the past couple of years, Roger Williams University has used Collector’s story, including filmmaker Alice Elliott as a speaker, at their student orientation to help demonstrate the positive change that results from participating in community service activities.

Every time a copy of your film leaves your hands, see who it went to and note what type of organization they are coming from. Write them thanking them for support and seek their feedback to build on, and quote as well.

When your film is showing, contact those in your interest groups to notify them, assuming you can invite others to see it. Or, even if you can’t, send out information about why it’s being shown in that community to those same parties. This would include public libraries, colleges/universities, local non-profit advocacy groups, etc. They may not be able to attend, but the screening provides community respect and they may at least check your website in interest.

Another concrete example was an event I recently coordinated for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Women and Gender Studies Division decided to work with their Student Disability Services Department to host a screening of the film Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy. They wanted the subject, Diana Braun, to speak at the event, but Diana was overseas promoting disability self-advocacy in Uzbekistan through the American Documentary Showcase. In order to make a more powerful event, I connected with the local Arc in Massachusetts – a disability advocacy group – who spoke alongside me at the event. After screening the film a lively discussion ensued about how to help ensure the independence of people with disabilities, and what any individual could do in support of disability rights.

Both of these films are under 1 hour long and both have been making significant impact in a variety of communities, and earning income in the process. If they can do it, any film can do if it you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

In the over-an-hour category is In Good Conscience, about a Catholic nun non-violently fighting for gay rights, with which we’ve managed to create public events at universities and churches. Sister Jeannine speaks with the film, along with filmmaker Barbara Rick, and it gets used as a tool to discuss bias, bullying, LGBT inclusion, and religious integration.

Another film over an hour, which also had a theatrical run, that I’m about to attend the American Library Association in support of is The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. The film is screening during the conference, and Daniel Ellsberg is also speaking there in an entirely separate program.

These engagements take some time to plan, as these institutions need to prepare budgets well in advance in order to prepare travel arrangements, technical support, etc. When an event happens at a university, chances are the institution will take an extra step of coordinating multiple activities with different departments to get their monies’ worth – such as the film or journalism department, schools of Social Work, Student Activities, etc.

It’s also worth noting that films can have a long lifespan in the educational environment, where acquisition and usage are based on theme and research areas. So a film isn’t discarded or forgotten because it’s already been out for 2 years, it can find strong validity in the classroom for over a decade. Creating and maintaining an educational and advocacy agenda can build you a worthwhile audience.


Rachel Gordon is a New York based independent filmmaker and consultant who started Energized Films to help other filmmakers, and distributors, expand the audience of their media into receptive homes in academic, non-profit, and other specialty markets. She’s currently developing a comedic feature about feminine fear of commitment, making a documentary about homeopathy, and speaking to film schools about the importance of teaching distribution to students.

This article is related to: Audience, Platforms