27 May 2011

A Visit With Kevin Fox

Maybe because it's I just launched a VOD rental of a film, or maybe it's because VOD was the subject of the recent #filmin140 panel, or maybe it's because it's just a coincidence, but I feel like selling your work has really been the topic of the week. And so it's fitting that I'm writing this from the living room of a filmmaker who's actually having some success selling his work online.

Kind of karmic, if you ask me.

The question then, is how is this filmmaker selling stuff? What are they doing that you can, in turn, do yourself? Let's find out.

Kevin Fox of Kevin Fox Films was on of our more vocal supporters during the Kickstarter campaign, which automatically puts him high on the list of people I want to try and meet. He lives pretty close to San Francisco, so with some time to kill, it seemed like the perfect chance to take him up on his offer to visit.

Kevin lives in "cowboy country", which is an important thing to note.

Every year he makes a short doc related to a rodeo that comes through town. He then sells said rodeo-themed doc to the western audience--a decidedly niche audience, to be sure. He describes the films as "not exactly CITIZEN KANE". So it's easy to disregard his sales as a fluke, but that would be a mistake.

There's a ton of videos in this market that are essentially "how-to" videos about roping or steering or whatever it is that cowboys do, so Kevin knew that he'd have to go an extra step to set his doc apart from those videos. He got on Withoutabox and started searching for a festival that catered to western content. But rather than just scatter-shot all of them, he dug deeper, looking for a festival that was young enough to be easy to work with and close enough that he could easily attend.

He got himself into the Modesto Reel Food Festival, packed the audience, and took home an audience choice award.

From there, he burned some screeners and sent them to people of note. But not who you and I would think of as people of note. People in the rodeo business. Places like Western Horseman magazine. Stuff like that.

Honestly, it's a pretty old-school approach. But think about the audience. I don't imagine cowboys are reading Ted Hope's blog out on the range. They have better things to do (nothing against Ted, of course). So in a way, he's catering his approach to how his audience lives--lots of stuff in print, whenever possible. Not because he isn't active on Twitter or Facebook or whatever (he is), but because his audience maybe isn't so much.

What he is able to do is use all that technology on the back-end. Anything he can teach himself to do at a professional level, he does. Everything else he outsources. He does all the fulfillment himself because his research has shown that he can be cheaper, faster, and more efficient than anyone he'd hire.

I know what you're thinking: that sounds awful. But it doesn't have to be, provided you get it down to something of a science. You also end up being on a first name basis with your mailman.

Kevin's approach is rather deceptively simple: he takes the lo-fi aspects of self-distribution and combines them with a Web 2.0 sensibility. He contacts people on Facebook to get inclusion in their print media. And, more importantly, he's much more likely to quote positive comments by his audience than he is by any critic or any festival or, really, anyone his audience hasn't heard of. But they have heard of each other--fellow fans, people in the rodeo industry--and that's who's opinion they trust. And so he plays to that strength. And he interacts with them not as a company that's putting out DVDs but as a human being, because people would much rather talk to a human being than a company.

He made an interesting point that on Twitter, he's much more likely to follow @lmcnelly than he is to follow @YearWithoutRent (for example), even if the content is really similar.

It's such a simple concept that it's easy to dismiss. But, you know what? Almost every time he goes to his computer, there's a new sale.

So maybe sometimes the old approach isn't such a bad idea.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.