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Book Review: Think Outside the Box Office by Jon Reiss

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Let me save a few of you some time. If you are at all considering creating or producing an independent film, stop reading right now and just go ahead and buy this book. Jon Reiss's Think Outside the Box Office is not only well-researched but well lived in, as Reiss himself has used many of these techniques with his graffiti documentary Bomb It. It's an invaluable resource for strategizing what to do with your film once you've made it. Though not always uber-detailed, it does provide a fairly exhaustive layout for how to market yourself and your film in this age of ever-evolving digital media landscape. It also has plenty of references for further information and a website that is a frequently updated resource for more advanced research.

The book's central thesis is that the landscape of film distribution is changing rapidly, and filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, can no longer rely on the older systems. Even if one's film did manage to land one of the big boons of the past, like a showing in a prestigious film festival or a pick-up from a distribution company, that doesn't necessarily mean what it once did. Reiss underlines the modern necessity of planning for and budgeting out your marketing and distribution at the same time that you plan and budget your production itself in order to take into account these shifts in the market.

The book breaks down into eight sections, including preparation, distribution, marketing, merchandise, digital rights and foreign sales. Within each section Reiss breaks down the topic for different levels of filmmaking, basically between higher level independents who can outsource a healthy amount of their workload, completely Do It Yourself level, and the grey area in-between. He also takes into account the differences in approaching narrative films, documentaries and, although not nearly as thoroughly, smaller, more Internet-centric material like webisodes.

Reiss does an exceptional job of relaying the sheer magnitude and breadth of work necessary to get your work noticed this day in age, but also manages to make it seem entirely possible. Consistently throughout the book he reminds the reader to take an earnest, objective look at both their means and their goals, and to evaluate and re-evaluate what they can accomplish and where they should be placing their focus.

Outside of such broad practical advice, Reiss does get down into some nitty gritty that even someone experienced within the realms of film marketing may not know. This is particularly true within the realm of digital distribution. Reiss has done some pretty unconventional work releasing his films through digital distribution. He investigates not only the different philosophies regarding online and digital distribution, but gives concrete examples and resources for each.

Reiss's dedication to the new media models is so intoxicating because of the level to which he practices what he preaches. Even with the book itself, it's gone through various iterations through online distribution well before it just recently hit shelves in brick and mortar stores, and continues to grow and expand as its sister website, www.ultimatefilmguides.com, is a frequently updated pseudo-wiki of film distribution information.

My guess is that Reiss's book and website are going to become an extraordinarily popular go-to resource for burgeoning filmmakers looking to take advantage of the emerging technological moment. Filled with theory, philosophy, data, resources and personal anecdotes, it covers a wide swath of material for a comparatively slim volume. If you work in film and want to be at the front of what's happening now, you can't afford not to pick up this book.

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About Jake Thomas

  • Congrats on being BC’s “Writer of the Day” !!
    I’ve forwarded this review link to a friend that is into indy films. He will enjoy it I’m sure.

  • Congrats Jon! You deserve it. Proud of you and the great book and proud to be in it. So honored to be recommending both your and Roberta’s great books. We’re changing the world one deal at a time!

  • Having read the book cover-to-cover I agree that Jon has created a template for filmmakers to take their work out into the world with a plan for success!
    Great job Jon.
    Roberta Munroe
    Author – How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer

  • such a thoughtful review. Thanks so much for writing it. I have posted the review on the Facebook page for the book so that all can read it.