Equation for Independent Film Financial Success

October 30, 2010
posted by sheric

photo credit Berkeley Repertory Theater

This is your new formula for financial success: Awareness+Engagement+Acquisition=Monetization.

You cannot skip any of these steps if you hope to make money from your films. This point was made crystal clear by a person who knows about making money from independently made art, Bob Moczydlowsky of Topspin Media. I interviewed Bob for the upcoming November issue of Microfilmmaker Magazine about how Topspin is being used by musicians and now filmmakers to build awareness of their art, engaging in conversations online, acquiring a relationship status with fans and using all of it to make money from their work using the software the company developed. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“Filmmakers should be asking themselves: 1) What am I doing to make my audience aware of my work? 2) What have I provided to that audience that engages them, or inspires them to pay attention and then take action? 3) How am I acquiring direct connections with my audience? This generally means email addresses, mobile numbers, Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, MySpace Friends… etc. Connections that allow you to communicate with the audience directly. 4) What are my plans for monetizing this audience that is connected to me directly? What amazing, non-commodity product can I offer these fans who have gone on this journey with me?” said Moczydlowsky. The article goes on to point out that only offering DVDs as product on your site is NOT going to sustain you in future. Check it out on November 1.

I wanted to make more of a point about this because increasingly I am being asked about how to build “buzz” as if that is all that will be needed to make money from a film. Buzz is indeed needed, but it is only the first step. You can’t skip from awareness to money as the studios do. Hollywood studios do this effectively because they spend millions of dollars on spraying their message to the masses, mobilizing their press network to write about it everywhere and hoping for the best. They do not engage with that audience in conversation and they do nothing to acquire them for further releases of their films. Their process immediately starts over again for the next release. An independent production cannot afford to take this route; building an audience will take lots of time and lots of work but the idea is that you want to keep that audience loyal to you and your work so that you do not have to start over again when a new project comes out. The earlier you recognize this and can start on this work, the more likely you will have a sustainable career devoted to doing what you want to do, make films. I am not going to go into the need for producing superior work, that goes without saying (well, it is said many times in film courses so I think that point has been discussed repeatedly). No amount of marketing and advertising will save a poorly produced product or a film that has little to no audience.

Awareness is the part everyone gets; bringing the news of your film into the minds and hearts of its potential audience. It is the part that outside companies are hired to do and the thing that is always requested from a film’s creator. In the online world with its overabundance of noise, it is much more difficult to achieve without some big money to spend both on staff resources and media buys. Engagement and acquisition are much more labor intensive and it is not the work outside companies do best. Who besides yourself or the team involved in making your film will know the project intimately enough to accomplish engaging personally with its audience? If you are using social media and grassroots screenings as your marketing tools of choice, that is what you will have to do. Having written out advice for a filmmaker on how he could be doing this better and all of the work that will be involved, it turned out to be a 5 page document! Do you really want to do that every time you have a new project? Wouldn’t it be better to build an audience for all of your work over time?

Acquisition in this equation means collecting a way to communicate directly with your audience because they have given you permission to do it. You won’t be relying solely on a third party, like Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, to communicate with them and deliver your work to them. Why not? Because technically they own the permission to talk to your fans. When you speak through a platform, that site could change its rules, go offline, shut you out and you have no way of reconnecting with the base of supporters you built. In the case of iTunes or any third party distributor, they collect the personal details of your buyers and can use it to sell future products. That information isn’t available to you though. Really think through whether you want your buyers to go to outside services to buy your products especially when you have put in all the work of awareness and engagement.

Besides creating a dialog with your fans and connecting them with other like minded people, social media pages should really be used to drive them to your website where you collect information and sell to them directly. Both tools are very needed, but they function differently. A big Twitter or Facebook count looks good, but few of those people will actually buy; be mindful of that. Psychologically, those high counts do motivate people to join your page. Think about it, everyone wants to be in on something that looks popular, it is a human desire. Just don’t be fooled into thinking those are your sales numbers. Far more reliable numbers come from your monthly web traffic and the size of your email list so you must focus on growing those numbers too.

I go into how to do this in depth during the workshop I do with Jon Reiss for Think Outside the Box Office. We have another one coming up November 13-14 in Atlanta, Georgia hosted by PushPush Theater and Atlanta Film Festival. If you’re a filmmaker in the South, consider spending the weekend with us. This opportunity doesn’t come up often outside of the major cities and I assure you it is money well spent. Why make a film if you have no idea how to tell people about it and get it out into the market?

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