By TANZINA VEGA
Published: December 17, 2012
“DOCUMENTARY films are notoriously difficult to finance, with filmmakers often spending more time scrounging up money to make a film than actually producing it. Unlike big Hollywood films, where having the presence of a marquee name can attract dollars, documentary filmmakers often must try to explain how a niche idea can succeed at the box office.
The director and backers of “Girl Rising,” a documentary that is a cornerstone of a media campaign about educating girls around the world, hope to change that. To promote the new film, and demonstrate the impact that documentaries can have on audiences, they will rely on technologies often used by more traditional advertisers, including personalized ads for employees of companies viewing them online.
“If what you are after is engagement and connection to a cause,” said Richard E. Robbins, the director, “how you use the tools that are available to you is very different than if you are trying to market ‘Batman.’ ”
Money donated by consumers seeing the film will be funneled to a nonprofit group, 10×10, which will then distribute the funds to various nonprofits helping to educate girls.
Many documentary filmmakers have trouble quantifying the social and financial impact their films can have, Mr. Robbins said. And many are confronted with “a dearth of evidence to support the idea that documentary films affect change.”
But using highly targeted advertising can help filmmakers learn who is donating, how much they are donating, how much interest there is in a film and whether there is enough interest to warrant a screening in a city, he said. Having that information might also help persuade future investors to support documentaries connected to causes.
“Girl Rising,” which will be released in March, is being financed in part by 10×10, which supports educating girls around the world through film and social media advocacy.
Ads promoting “Girl Rising” will be shown to employees of 57 companies that the filmmakers selected in hopes they will support efforts to educate girls in developing countries. Those companies include Apple, Bank of America, Oracle, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Disney and Procter & Gamble.
“Those companies are deeply invested in vibrant economies overseas, healthy supply chains, diversity, attracting and retaining and identifying new employees, skilled employees,” said Holly Gordon, executive director at 10×10. “We thought that they would be advocates for these issues of gender diversity and global education.”
Employees at the companies will see ads on their computers at work, customized to use the company name. For example, an Oracle employee will see an ad that says “Oracle employees can change the world,” with a link to see a trailer for the film and donate to the cause.
A group of former ABC News journalists, known as the Documentary Group, and Vulcan Productions announced the creation of 10×10 and its media campaign at the United Nation’s first International Day of the Girl in October. Additional funds for organization came from Intel, the Ford Foundation, Google, the Nike Foundation, the Skoll Foundation and the Fledgling Fund.
“Girl Rising,” the first film backed by the group, features stories inspired by nine girls in countries like Haiti, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Afghanistan. Some of the segments are narrated by celebrities like Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez and Kerry Washington.
Well-known writers from each of the countries, including Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American author, and Edwidge Danticat of Haiti helped to write the stories of each of the girls to whom they were paired. Each story will be presented differently; some will be animated while others will be live action.
Chris Golec, the chief executive of Demandbase, the company behind the ads, said technology that aimed at the Internet addresses at the companies would be used to find the right users for each ad.
“Targeting people at work is four times more likely to drive engagement than somebody coming from a residential I.P. address,” said Mr. Golec, referring to the Internet addresses of home viewers. “If you personalize the ad with the company name that they work for you get a three times higher click through rate on the ad.”
Using such digital advertising also helps the filmmakers and producers in another way, said Mr. Robbins. “It’s infinitely more trackable, there’s so much more data,” he said. “We can measure conversion rates, who our audience is — its not just anonymous people buying tickets.”
Distribution of “Girl Rising” will be in phases, beginning in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where one chapter will be shown. It will make its official debut in March for International Women’s Day at an event in New York City, and with a smaller event in Los Angeles. CNN will show the film in June as part of the network’s new film division.
Organizers are also using technology to get viewers to book a screening of the film in the city of their choice. Supporters of 10×10 will receive an e-mail asking them to go to a Web site, Gathr.us, which will keep track of the number of screening requests from various cities.”