The theatrical market for independent documentaries is pretty tough these days (though I’m looking forward to escaping the heat and catching the just-opened Winnebago Man at the next possible opportunity). No one knows this better than Pixar CTO and independent film producer Oren Jacob, who has turned to social media — and food banks! — to get the word out about Ready, Set, Bag!, the independent film that explores the high-stakes world of competitive grocery bagging.
Ready, Set, Bag! is beginning to hit theaters nationwide starting August 6 in Seattle, thanks to Jacob and filmmakers Alex D. da Silva and Justine Jacob taking on the task of distributing it themselves. This means that in order to reach their goal of playing in 50 cities this year, Jacob is calling individual theaters in over a hundred cities across the country to find venues to play the film. What he brings is a unique marketing campaign with a strategy for engaging the local community as well as strong social media engagement on a national level.
Ready, Set, Bag!‘s Blip.tv channel has been gaining momentum over the past few months. As we wrote last March, the film has partnered with online video stars like mash-up artist Mike Relm, Auto-Tune the News creators the Gregory Brothers and Pop17 founder Sarah Austin to create promotional content. “They all have different kinds of audiences with not a lot of overlap,” Jacob said, “Which offers much wider reach than we have on our own.”
Austin’s contribution will consist of man-on-the-street interviews about going to the grocery store. Originally, the plan had been for Austin to interview grocery store employees at work, but while the filming of Ready, Set, Bag! didn’t experience many problems using those locations, “Grocery stores responded more positively to a film than they did to web video.”
All the ad revenue from the Blip.tv content is being donated to national food bank network Feeding America, which Ready, Set, Bag! is also working with to help identify local food banks near their screenings.
That’s where the local angle comes in — a portion of all Ready, Set, Bag! profits from screenings will go to a food bank in the area. “Typically, for every ticket sold we donate one dollar to the food bank, which for a $
910 ticket would mean 1510 percent of the gross,” Jacob said via phone. “We have to negotiate it individually with each theater, but so far we’ve gotten 100 percent of people on board.” This means that not only is the theater doing something for the community, but those food banks contribute to the film’s local promotion by reaching out to their networks.
On the Twitter side, when the film’s trailer premiered on iTunes a few weeks ago (which according to Jacob “really opens up things for you”), buzz about the film began to grow. “We were seeing sixty, eighty, a hundred Tweets from around the world talking about our film,” he said. So @readysetbag began actively replying to them, always asking where an interested filmgoer was located so that Jacob could look into maybe booking the film there.
Jacob also challenges “trashtalkers” who watched the trailer and felt they could bag groceries better to post videos of themselves bagging — no one’s taken his dare yet (though he got “a few nibbles” last week), but more people (including prior competitors in the bagging championship depicted by Ready, Set, Bag!) are discovering the film, thanks to the trailer as well as Relm’s remix.
That, plus using the Facebook pages of small independent theaters to engage with those followers, has helped Jacob identify venues that might be open to playing the film. He also wants to encourage fans to create their own video content — crowd reactions, waiting in line, interviews with theater owners, and even their own visits to local Safeways or Ralph’s. “We’re hoping to have a community conversation about grocery stores,” Jacob said. “Everyone goes to them, but it’s not a thing we’re talking about.”
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Shattering the Fourth Wall To Find Web Audiences