Since Fred Gelard registration on OKAST a few months ago we see a strong activity of his medium-length “Free Party”. Fred was among the first to consider the digital as a real tool for film distribution. Today his movie has been sold thousands of times in VOD and he has a facebook page with more than 30 000 fans. We thought it would be inspiring to get an overview of his life and career, and get from his experience 7 useful tips for filmmakers who wants to sell online.

Can you tell us about your background? How did you start to make films?

I started making arts in Rennes in France, and theatre at the same time. I’ve always been an artist: I was trying everything : painting, music (I had a rock band) and cinema (already in high school I was shooting a few things in Super 8 with my friends). I’ve always had a doer approach, we go and learn while trying.

The theatre has allowed me to meet Philippe Alard, who made me play in his first film: “Villa Beausoleil”. This first experience has then allowed me to meet the film’s Director Christian Vincent, who hired me in his second feature film “looking good” in 1994.

This period also corresponds to the years where I arrived in Paris. Here, I was surrounded by arts and immersed in the cultural community: I joined Artmedia (an famous Cinema agency), I lived with my friends in a artist squat in the 18th suburb. We started an association to organize parties, exhibitions… I decided to refocus toward what I knew really: Cinema. We decided, via this association, to make a film. I wrote a screenplay, which gave birth very quickly to my first film “Where you’re going” in 1996, a 30 minutes short film. We A film shot with what we have to hand: a great camera 16 rented for a month, a photography director who was a friend and actors who was for most of them amateurs, except a few, like Karin Viard.

My background in art started to make all its sense since I was able to bring together a number of acquaintances who worked for this project. The film having some financial difficulties to complete I contacted a former producer who I worked with in the past, Dante Desarthe. Thanks to him we were able to sell the film at the famous Germano-French channel “Arte” in 1997, and we did a number of festivals.

After this first experience I met young directors who asked me to work on a sreenplay for their comedy “active life”, on which I also did some actors direction!

A few months later, I met the production company “Les films au long cours” which ask me for a writing work. It was a much more complete and less spontaneous than I had done so far. I was also in charge of finding funds. The project resulted in the short film “in my island“, turned in Brittany, which was sold to the channel “France 3” and selected in many french and international festivals.

The collaboration with “Les films au long cours”  was great, so they ask me to look into a new project, this time for a feature film. After several months of reflection, I made a trip to Cameroon with my wife (from there) which gave me the idea of a film about the world of hip-hop in Cameroon. We worked on the screenplay of the film for several years, but unfortunately the film never made concrete.

It’s when  you get the idea of the movie “Free Party”?

I worked a little bit in events organization and discovered through my wife, who works in Music, the world of free parties and Travellers. For an event, they needed help on the organization. While I was discovering this environment I’ve started to think over a movie idea…  So I thought about a screenplay about this environment for several years, and I wrote finally one in few weeks in late 2011.

How have you approached the production of this new project?

I was preparing to make this film like my first film with modest means and personal funds. But I met Dante Desarthe and tell him about my project. He offered me to produce it with traditional funding: research grants and broadcasters coproduction. End of 2012 we got approval from the CNC for a grant, then we decided to start production early summer 2013 even without completing all funding (we were still waiting for responses from broadcasters and public funds).

We started with a team of 20 people in wild nature, without a lot of electricity. It was a little bit “root” but it allowed me to find themes that followed me in my journey: freedom, family, living on oneself, the marginality… In this sense, what attracted me was the contradictory side of the characters: they are looking for freedom, but gather with family or trying to re-create a family… These themes really inspired me.

Then we had to convince partners there: I needed the décor, trucks, caravans, camps of Travellers. It was necessary to discuss with the community, I’ve met them several times to explain the screenplay. I involved them early in the project, to make it a common project. Some have even played their own role in the film. My goal was to give a lot of reality in fiction, have somewhat a documentary aspect.

How did you include the digital in your project?

Funding struggling to come, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to supplement the budget of 6000€. At that moment I was seeing only the financial aspect, and did not necessarily think about the Community and audience building aspects which can lead such a campaign. Unfortunately we failed in getting the requested amount.

Then we launched a facebook page just before the shooting in which we put pictures, information on film making process… Then during the summer this page reached quickly 1500 people.

At the end of filming, we realized that it would be difficult to finish the project with the original budget. We decided to start again a crowdfunding campaign for post-production. This time we had the Facebook page with more than 1,500 fans and especially some material to showcase. We decided to do a cut with some scenes without audio mixing, just to have a first video we could post on Facebook… The reaction was immediate, we went from 1500 to 10,000 likes organically, in just a few weeks… Second campaign of crowdfunding was this time a success.

Did you at this point understand there was a revolution coming though Internet for filmmakers?

All excitement around the project (positive and negative reviews, lot of engagements with some posts that were commented more than 150 times) gave me food for thoughts. Meanwhile I was starting to get interested in new way of distribution allowed by Internet. I created a Twitter account, but also a mail box where I offered people to contact me. I got a lot of requests, that’s where I realized the power of starting a direct contact with our own audience… I’m not at all expert in marketing but I discovered the potential to find and get prospects with these new digital “toys”… I discovered in my own way as an artist. Like a creator who likes to play with the elements.

Of course this didn’t prevent us to continue to exploit the film in a “traditional” way by submitting to some festivals (we attended more than 20 festivals worldwide, including some awards in Los Angeles, in Kosovo, in Korea South etc…). I did also very quickly created subtitles for the film in several languages, because today the web is global!

The Internet allowed me to expose the film anywhere in the world, as it was not possible to do a few years ago. The subject of the film, around an international Community of Travellers seemed legitimate and mandatory.

What would be your advices for Filmmakers wishing to release their film online? What tools they could use to promote the movie and build an audience?

1 / Facebook of course. Creating a page for the film, has been extremely important. I recommend to create a page for the project to start aggregating an audience. Facebook also allows to follow pages related to the topic/themes of your movie.

2 / Video format is a great trigger. I worked the film as a feature film with a trailer, a teaser. I put it on all media: youtube, facebook, vimeo, dailymotion.

3 / Consistency in posting news and contents on all platforms: I did a Google page + for SEO. I’ve created a Twitter account. In hindsight I could have gone on Instagram, which is a very interesting channel for content around a specific theme or niche. Then I posted a lot on Facebook and Google, + on a regular basis. So much that when someone types “Free Party” on Google or social networks I think it ends up falling on one of my links!

4 / Professional press lever has a little less market because I think that the film ran a large festival (especially in France). But it is not to be overlooked. I was able to get an interview on Trax Mag.

Some foreign journalists were able to see my work through festivals or VOD and I contacted me. A Nigerian journalist who works in New York has done an interview which was published on indie activity

5 / Involve all the team in the communication and promotion. Maybe think about an easy process allowing the team (Machinist, Director, make-up etc…) to post pictures easily on a cloud server for example. On the shooting we should have written some signs “Do not forget to make your post today”. Caution: do not necessarily seek to find customers, but rather try first to develop a reliable, loyal audience who will be there whatever happens. And be king and generous with her.

6 / Social networks can be violent, you have to put your artist ego aside. People are volatile and can be agressive behind a computer. Take a step back, I would say that, insofar as possible, it is certainly easier to do repeatedly, with a person who is less in the creation and more in moderation, to buffer, comment, share, do react… On the other hand the power of community is very strong, because I saw also people defend the film. That was awesome !

7 / Do not forget your professional network which can open doors. I have posted a lot on Linkedin, which is an extremely powerful tool. Through this film I had the chance to meet producers and some are interested in making a feature film based on my short. Because actually the format I choose didn’t allowed me to cover all aspects. There would be material to do a longer project.

For a producer, a project that has already aggregated more than 30,000 fans, offers a very interesting potential for a movie! The Facebook page, my film on VOD and my various online activities really allowed me to enhance my work.

What did you learn from all this? What are the plans for the future?

Digital is a real revolution. I found it very enjoyable and pleasant to play with these tools. There is a creative prism in promoting and publishing information, it forces you to stay in touch with your content.

This experience completely changed my view of how we can work an artistic object: content is king but promotion is a real deal. We can today defend more personal visions, see more political, through an artistic object as a movie and ultimately expose him to the world with all this new technologies! Even if our project is not in the traditional scheme of broadcast or the “classic” network, we can still succeed in exposing it.

I’m so convinced of this revolution that the next film I do, I start by thinking how to integrate the Web into creation and dissemination strategy. Having live feedback from its audience, helps you feel that people are interested. Knowing there is an emulsion around it is very positive in the creation process.

Finally I would add that with digital we must even think differently screenplays. It is essential to integrate a strong theme and a communication angle to the project. If we feel that there are strong communities around certain themes, we can altogether towards the screenplay or promoting it to reach a wider audience in the most effective way possible.

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