In our consultations with filmmakers, at our strategic summits, in our workshops and residencies, and during informal conversations at film festivals we are always trying to hammer home for filmmakers the importance of forming solid, ongoing, mutually-beneficial partnerships with organizations working on the issues featured in their films. From the start of our work ten years ago, we found strategic partnerships – finding the right NGOs, funders, and even brands – to be the one key component for successful film campaigns. If we identified the right partners, the rest came easy. Built into these partnerships were mutually beneficial outcomes: You bring them CONTENT – the compelling narrative of your film, and they bring you INTENT – embedding your film into their reach and long term commitment, taking your film to crucial audiences, their members and constituents. Some NGOs have brilliant strategies for policy shifts or for new models for providing social services. Your film can be the catalyst that’s needed for a final push to make these things happen. A collaborative campaign maximizes resources and together you and the NGOs create IMPACT.
By now, most filmmakers “get it” – they know partnerships between NGOs, advocates, on-the-ground activists, and policy strategists are the most likely means to build a robust audience engagement and alternative distribution campaign for their film, but often they tackle the problem from the wrong direction. We tell filmmakers: The question to your potential partners is not “How can you help my movie?” but “How can my movie help the movement?”
A Filmmaker Who Knocked It Out Of the Park
Filmmaker Dan Habib has done an incredible job of collaborating with organizations working for full inclusion – a movement that has had a profound impact on how educators and others think about services for children and people with disabilities. Habib’s Including Samuel chronicles his family’s efforts to ensure their son Samuel – who has Cerebral Palsy – is included in all facets of his school and community. The film features four other families with varied inclusion experiences, plus interviews with dozens of teachers, young people, parents and disability rights experts. Through a strategy summit with Working Films, Dan created a collaborative campaign with key partners in the inclusion movement including the Council of Administrators of Special Education, Girls Scouts of the USA, Kids Included Together, National Education Association, National Inclusion Project, TASH, United Cerebral Palsy, VSA arts, and many others. This is a mutually beneficial effort using the film for the long haul; not just lip service or a one-off one time screening. Among other forms of collaboration, Dan solicited input from many of these partners when putting together his screening toolkits and all of them have used Including Samuel in conferences, trainings, and other special events. In return they have gotten word out about the film’s PBS broadcast and screenings to their membership.
“OK, OK,” you say, “but I am not a member of this movement, how do I even start to talk to NGOs about my movie?” There are some key lessons in starting these relationships:
Do your homework. Identify the organizations that are doing leading work on the issue featured in the film. Look for a mix of large membership organizations that could bring you potential audiences and small scrappy strategists who will ensure your film is embedded in cutting edge activism by NGOs focused on policy and change. We’re not talking 20 or 30 organizations, but maybe 5 to 7. What are their current programs and priorities? How might your film fit into these existing efforts? ASK THEM; don’t guess. Authentic partnerships start with your allies identifying for you how and when your film might be useful and even crucial to their efforts.
Start Early. Begin forming relationships with organizations while you are still in production. Of course, one obvious place to start is the organizations either featured in your film or otherwise already connected to your production. They can help you navigate what may be unknown territory, and they can help you identify other partners and how your film could fit into and advance their work. They are also likely to have great ideas for DVD extras, online tools, and other resources that could both serve the film and the movement.
“How can I help you?” Not, “How can you help me?” Again, this is the most important piece of advice when approaching new potential partner organizations. Non-profits often tell us they get approached by filmmakers who want them to help get their film out, but don’t understand that while they may be connected to the issue in the film, they don’t have the time or resources to act as a distributor. It is important that right off the bat the non-profit knows that you have ideas about how to work collaboratively, including, shockingly enough, even sharing revenues with them in co-hosted screenings. We call it calculus for change: Strategic reach to audiences + strategic shared resources + strategic multi-year direction = strategic outcomes.
Perhaps most importantly partners bring you audiences and IMPACT: Their co-hosted screenings with you will range from large “town hall” public screenings to house parties hosted by their members, to closed door screening with decision makers. Your Take Action steps for audiences should be linked to their ongoing efforts. And in the end your audience is fully engaged and your movie is making a difference.
OK, you’re invested in partnerships with a NGO, now what? In the next blog in this series, we’ll share a key methodology that has successfully created ongoing strategic partnerships with NGOs and funders: strategy summits. Stay tuned!