Today’s guest post was written by Gabriel Diani in response to my post asking filmmakers if Facebook is still worth their time? Gabe thinks it is for his work, but for reasons that pertain specifically to his audience demographic, which may not be the case for everyone. Ultimately, this is a decision that everyone who uses Facebook for business reasons must confront and evaluate.
Let’s be clear: I have no love for Facebook.
The changes to their sharing algorithm since they took the company public nearly torpedoed the Kickstarter campaign for my movie “Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse.” Much has been written about it since then but in case you don’t know, here are the basics:
-Facebook now only shows a small portion of your posts to your friends unless you pay to boost your post;
-Facebook only shows a small portion of your page posts to the people who have liked it unless you pay to promote your post;
-Even if you pay to promote or boost your post and more of your friends and followers see your posts, they are not paying to have their posts boosted so any LIKES and SHARES can’t go viral as easily as they used to.
There’s certainly more Facebook is guilty of, but these were the main changes responsible for Facebook dropping from our number one referrer for our previous successful Kickstarter campaigns to number three behind our personal email list and Kickstarter itself.
So, yeah, I’m not the biggest Facebook fan and was delighted by Eat24.com’s fantastic open Facebook break-up letter to the world. Sadly, though, we can’t afford to break up with them ourselves yet. Why, you may ask, dear reader? Well, I’ll tell you in an easily digestible numbered list.
1) WE HAVE AN OLDER DEMOGRAPHIC. A lot of the audience we’ve built up over the years tend to be more in the 30 years old and up range…sometimes way up. These aren’t the people constantly seeking out the next social media platform. Some of them are on Twitter, fewer on Vine, and they have no idea what Tumblr, Instagram, or Snapchat are. We have no way of migrating these people to another platform…at least not until the Facebook backlash gets strong enough to affect this group.
2) WE’RE STILL GETTING INTERACTION. It’s not like it used to be and we can’t reach a lot of our audience, but we still get interaction from them that we’re not getting elsewhere. I posted our first behind the scenes production still the other day on my personal page and got 43 LIKES and 2 SHARES. Pics on our DDMTA Facebook page and from cast and crew timelines are pulling in 16-40 LIKES as well. Is that enough for us to tell the world about our movie? Absolutely not. But in the world of micro-budget producing it’s something we can’t afford to lose.
3) FACEBOOK WAS STILL NUMBER 3 IN OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. Despite it’s nefarious fall from grace, Facebook still was a bigger referrer than Tumblr, Reddit, Google+ or any of the growing platforms. This is partly because we haven’t spent years building up our audience base on these platforms. We created a video for our campaign with Janet Varney from the hit anime show “The Legend of Korra” that was reblogged and shared on Reddit and Tumblr thousands of times, but it didn’t translate into very many pledges.
4) WE DON’T HAVE EAT24.COM’S AUDIENCE. Eat24.com got a lot of great press off their leaving Facebook and probably got a lot of followers on Twitter and whatever other platforms they’re on, but they also undoubtedly lost some followers/fans who aren’t on those other platforms. They were starting with a much larger audience than we have so they can afford to lose some.
It would be lovely to be able to follow Eat24.com’s lead and break up with Facebook in protest, but unfortunately we’re stuck with it for the moment. We will definitely be focusing our audience building efforts on other platforms in the hopes of being able to cut the cord some day…and who knows? Maybe Facebook will start treating us like it did when we first started going out.
What about you? Have you seen a decline in your Facebook reach and interactions or is your page still holding steady or growing? Let me know in the comments along with any advice you want to share.
I will be attending this year’s Sheffield DocFect, one of the biggest documentary festivals in Europe, to meet with documentary producers and generally get a feel for what is happening with independent films in Europe. I went last year as well and I attended this great masterclass with producer John Battsek of Passion Pictures (Searching for Sugarman, The Imposter, Manhunt). Luckily, Sheffield DocFest has uploaded the class to their Youtube channel [link below].
I pulled out a few nuggets of advice for the documentarians because you may not have over an hour to devote to this video.
On what makes a documentary “theatrical”:
“Lots of archive, lots of music, all of it is expensive, but makes a difference…We bring cinematic ambition to the way we shoot, the way we cut, the music we put on the films. We gravitate toward projects that feel cinematic in scope….In doc making the editor is as important as anyone. You need an editor that can really realize a cinematic vision.” During the session, Joe Bini is singled out for editing praise, The Mill for graphics and Philip Sheppard for composing.
On finding the story that will have large audience appeal:
“The core story needs to be universal, something people can connect with, but ultimately it has to transcend that. It needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. Something people can identify with on many levels. Sugarman is about a failed musician, but not really. It is about love, family, ambition and lack of ambition, honesty and a philosophy on life that is admirable. It moves people in so many different ways. Fire in Babylon is about cricket, but it’s not. It’s about a culture rising up against their masters. It transcends the sporting story and becomes about guts, defiance, facing adversity and all sorts of things.”
On Sundance being the key marketplace launch for documentaries:
“Sundance is the key festival for launching feature documentaries. They offer great programming, but also it is the first major festival of the year and American buyers, in particular, go there aggressively wanting to outdo their rivals. Also, I think the high altitude messes with their heads! 5 years ago we had 3 films at Sundance; Crossing the Line, My Kid Could Paint That, In the Shadow of the Moon. We screened them and everyone went berserk. It was just before the bottom fell out of the world. We got into a bidding war, the kind you read about in the trades. The prices just kept going higher… For years, people blamed us for making the bottom drop out of the prices paid for docs because ultimately none of them performed as well as they should have.
In terms of getting into the festival, not sure what to say except that we’ve been incredibly lucky. We’ve been there for 7 consecutive years. I know the programmers really well, I get on with them, it is definitely a festival that looks out for its alumni. Not that producers are alumni, only directors are. If you are trying to get into Sundance and you can work through someone they are familiar with and trust, it is very helpful.”
Now that the web is increasingly becoming populated with visual material, photos and short videos, it is especially important to have these elements as part of your ongoing presence online. As many of you are filmmakers, you probably have video and image editing knowledge, but I don’t often see it being utilized or at least not being utilized in a compelling way. The alternative to DIY editing, especially for trailers, teasers and short clips to populate video social channels, has been to take footage to a handful of expensive trailer houses and get them to put something together. Very often, it is well produced and way beyond the skill of the editor who is cutting the film. Not to knock the editing prowess of a feature film editor, but trailer editing is really a different beast for a different purpose. And it is MEGA important to have a great trailer!
While looking around the internet for freelance trailer editors (in order to avoid a five figure cost found at most trailer houses), I came across a site called Videopixie that hopes to serve as the low cost alternative to video editing. Not only is the site a community of freelance video editors who have VFX, motion graphics and animation skills as well, but they bid for your project and your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back.
I conducted an interview with Videopixie cofounder and COO, Thomas Escourrou, to find out more about how the site works, what kinds of work the editors have been doing, and how it would help lower budget filmmakers and film organizations who often shoot lots of video during their workshop and panel events, but fail to get it edited and put online. Check the interview out on The Film Collaborative site. Videopixie is also offering the first 100 TFC readers an incentive of $100 credit to use toward any new project.
If you have raw digital footage that needs some affordable and expert editing, check out what Videopixie is offering.
Today’s guest post is from one of my G+ community members, Scott McMahon of Arrowinn Entertainment. Scott recently released his ultra low budget film THE CUBE by hosting a local cinema release and via Vimeo On Demand. He is sharing some of what he is learning so that other ultra low budget filmmakers will have a better understanding of what it takes to use and make revenue from digital distribution sites. I think his experience is valuable because more and more emerging filmmakers are experimenting with content, form and release strategies. The experimentation is not likely to lead to significant paydays, but it will enable those starting out to gain useful skills for subsequent projects.
So, I made this feature film for $500 with no crew. Yep. No crew. How? Well, you simply set the camera up on a tripod and jump in front of the camera and act. And for the shots where I wasn’t in front of the camera, I took the camera off the tripod and moved it around.
My film is called, THE CUBE. If you’re curious to know what it looks like, click on the image below:
Since this film was made for so little, I decided to forego paying any festival fees and keep the money to be used on any future marketing efforts. With film festivals, you’re never guaranteed that you’ll get in anyway … and it takes forever to know if you’ve even gotten accepted.
Instead, I decided to reach out to some of my pseudo-famous friends and asked them if they would give me a testimonial … much like authors do when they are launching a new book. I figure I would just use these blurbs as my replacement for the laurel leaves we see plastered on every sales poster of other indie films. Instead of slapping a laurel leaf graphic of a no-name festival on my poster, I was able to use these blurbs:
“A short, sweet, and thoughtful indie. Engaging and humorous.” Bryce Fortner, Director of Photography, Portlandia
“A great example of no-budget filmmaking.” Randall Jahnson, Screenwriter of “The Doors” and “The Mask of Zorro”
WHY VIMEO ON DEMAND?
Since I didn’t have any formal crew to make this feature film, I never took any proper production still photos. A super NO-NO, if I was going to seek out a distribution deal. On top of that, it was made for $500! How much extra cash did I have to put into the deliverables and marketing … Nil.
I knew this lil’ movie would end up on some sort of digital distribution platform and I would have to handle the marketing for it all by me-self.
I chose Vimeo On Demand, because:
- Filmmaker earns 90%, Vimeo takes 10%
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have a 5.1 surround mix
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have E&O insurance
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have closed caption or subtitles added
Essentially, Vimeo just accepts your standard HD H264 file and lets you handle the marketing. It’s just a simple video hosting service with some embedded features that allow you to sell your film in your own way.
Now, there is a catch!
Vimeo On Demand requires that you sign up and pay for their PRO plan, which will cost you $199 annually. That was nearly half my budget! Haha. Thank goodness for birthday gifts In addition, I have other plans with the PRO version of Vimeo, so I decided to go for it!
BENEFITS OF DIRECT DISTRIBUTION
Generally, when you sign over your film to a distributor, there are some additional things that you will need to provide (as mentioned above):
- E&O Insurance ($7,000 – $10,000)
- Copyright Fees ($35 – $100)
- Deliverables (Your film mastered with separate M&E Tracks) [ed note: see my sample list here]
- Production Stills
- You will sign away the rights to your film for 15-20 years (generally)
- You will only receive whatever advance the distributor will grant you, forget about any promise of backend profiting … this almost never happens.
- It’s not uncommon to see film advances of only $5,000
Now, imagine if you made a film for $50,000 or $1 million? Will $5,000 advance be enough to satisfy your investors? Probably not.
With a $500 feature film, there is almost no risk involved … it’s so damn cheap! Here are some benefits by selling your film on your own through direct distribution:
- No E&O Insurance Required (Just be sure that you have your legal documents in order and of course, consult with a “real” lawyer)
- Use Creative Commons Licensing (Free)
- No Deliverables Required (Just upload your file like you would on YouTube)
- You keep the rights to your film … forever!
- All profits you earn from direct distribution go directly to YOU!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE …
Okay, so I made this feature film with no crew and the marketing and sales effort is no different. It’s just me. No sales staff, no marketing team … just me.
I threw a local networking event in conjunction with the premiere of THE CUBE and it earned a small profit of $128 after the expense of the theater rental, posters, mugs etc.
You can read more about this theatrical premiere at this LINK.
So, would VOD sales prove any better after a month in release?
Here’s the actual screen grab of my total sales:
THE SALES ARE IN!
$150 Profit for one month of being on Vimeo On Demand. Let’s add that with the total from the theatrical premiere:
- $128 Theatrical
- $150 Vimeo On Demand
- $500 Production Cost of Film
- $0 Marketing Budget (All sweat-equity)
TOTAL REVENUE SO FAR: $278
That’s over half my film’s budget! Haha. Yes, it’s miserable when you think that movies are supposed to be racking up profits of $100,000 or $10 million … the idea that independent film can only earn $278 might sound “sad,” but I am also using these methods to experiment with this film, using it as a test run for different online marketing techniques for use on future projects. There is an important aspect of the “launch” for any product that sees a surge in sales. I plan on using each new revenue outlet as a potential “launch” vehicle. Again, when you’re solo-preneuring it, you don’t have the infrastructure in place to do a mass launch. You have to piecemeal the process.
Look at this screen grab from Box Office Mojo. These are the movies ranked from #37-#46 on the list of theatrical releases for the month of February 2014.
If I compare THE CUBE’s performance to that of #46 DEMI-SOEUR’s performance of only $943 … and that’s only reporting the box office returns. The actual revenue back to the distributor, Rialto Pictures, will only be about 45% of this total. The exhibitor keeps the rest. Then Rialto will take out their fees and expenses and if a sales agent was involved in making the distribution deal, they will take out the same. There is no backend profit to share with the filmmakers yet.
At THE CUBE premiere, I actually brought in $435 Gross, so comparatively … I’m doing okay!
In online marketing and sales, it’s all about the “conversion rate”.
This essentially means, that for every visitor or hit to your website, how many people actually buy your product? If you look at the number of plays THE CUBE trailer, it amounted to 482 plays. From those trailer plays, 26 purchases were made.
- 482 Trailer Plays
- 26 Purchases
- 18.5% Conversion Rate
Believe it or not, if an online marketer were getting a 1-2% conversion rate for their efforts that would be considered a normal return.
I was able to pull in 18.5% conversion rate, so I have to consider this a major success.
FAST, CHEAP, OR GOOD
I’m only a month into this direct distribution campaign. There is a saying in production that we used to tell clients ….
You can have it FAST, CHEAP, or GOOD … Pick Two.
So, I made this movie pretty cheaply, and I hope it’s fairly good … that means my marketing effort cannot be FAST.
Slow and steady as the tortoise taught us when we were kids … And that’s what I plan to do with this film product … go sloooowww.
Are these numbers depressing? Hopefully they’re giving you a reality check.
I should preface that I didn’t build any sort of audience prior to making the film … simply for the reason that I wasn’t sure if I could even make this thing without a crew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a crew, it’s just that I’m an a$$hole! Haha. Just kidding … at least I hope that wasn’t the reason.
Anyway, I’m hoping that other filmmakers can see why building an audience prior to release is so important. If I had sunk even $10,000 into this film, that’s still a lot of cash to lose so make sure when dealing with higher budgets, an audience is going to be in place.
I’m encouraged by all of this, as I’m learning to apply all sorts of different online marketing strategies to drive people to watch the film.
I can see the numbers now. If I’m going to make any sizeable profits, I have to have a larger reach and impressions in order to maximize the conversion rates.
If I hope to make at least $1,000 in profits, I would need to have a reach of over 2,000 impressions, just to get the standard 1-2% conversion rate.
So, if you’re hoping to make $100,000 in revenues from your film, and a 1-2% conversion rate is normal, your film will have to at least reach about 2 million people/impressions.
Remember, we’re peddling on average a $5 online product. This is not some piece of software that can be sold for $100-$200 a pop. It’s gonna take a lot of sales to make up for such a low price point.
If you’re going to venture into making and selling a film directly online, be ready to have a huge infrastructure in place … or keep your budgets so small that it won’t matter if you don’t make your money back.
If you want to get INSPIRED by what can be made for so little … feel free to support indie film and check out: THE CUBE-A SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE MOVIE
Thanks so much!
Most of you probably have begun to realize that Facebook is not working quite as well as it used to. Just a few years back (as little as 3 years ago), you could post regularly on your professional page and expect to see Fan numbers going up (they changed Fans to Likes in 2010), comments being posted, and fans posting to your Wall (if you allowed it) on a regular basis. Then Facebook started filtering the News Feed for everyone in 2012, ostensibly to make it easier to see news their account holders cared about, but in reality it was to sell access to the fanbase that business pages had amassed. Now it seems that if you run a business page (as opposed to a personal profile), Facebook really just wants you to pay. Pay to gain a following for your page AND pay to have that following see your posts. It’s probably time to make some new decisions about whether this social network is worth your time and effort.
This article in the DigiDay newsletter really brought this question home for me. I have realized more and more over the last 2 years of running multiple Facebook pages that without a promotional budget, only a very limited amount of growth and interaction would happen on a page. I am not the only one to realize this. Big digital agencies are now starting to question whether Facebook is a good investment for their clients too.
Agency execs are seeing brand posts reach a smaller percentage of their page’s followers on Facebook, meaning organic reach for the standard brand post is down. After telling brands and their agencies that accumulating followers and creating viral posts were key to giving good Facebook, Facebook has adopted a more traditional, pay-to-play advertising model, and it has caused some strain between Facebook and agencies.
Of course, there are other Facebook marketers who dismiss this citing that by using more images, videos and kittens (?), engagement can be found. But after investing in Facebook advertising to grow a page then investing either copious amounts of personal creativity and/or money in a creative and technical team to implement the perfect posts…that still need paid promotion in order to reach those same fans… it doesn’t seem worth the effort to build that base on a site that can change the rules at any time and to mainly to their benefit.
I’m still a fan of the Facebook ad targeting capabilities though. I can’t think of any other advertising tool that can tell me, based on keyword interests, location, demographics, your personal email list and similar pages, how many people an ad is likely to reach BEFORE I even place it. I have even found the Facebook Ad Manager tool terrific in letting me gauge the size of an audience for films that have yet to be made. Facebook has over a billion accounts from people all over the world who give all kinds of personal preference information. That’s a brilliant likely audience indicator. Where else can you find that information for free? No other social site allows an audience search at such a granular level and that really allows you to be very economical and efficient with your ad spend.
But I would rather use the ad tool to drive traffic to a client website or my own than to build up a following that I have to keep feeding money to Facebook in order to access. Perhaps if I were working with clients who had untold amounts of budget to devote on a regular basis, things might be different. To be sure, Facebook has become an every day destination for consumers to talk with their friends and acquaintances and keep up the with latest meme/news/viral video. But I am not sure they would miss it if a company page disappeared. Indeed, if you aren’t paying to access their feed, your business page already has.
I have started a transition of my own to Google Plus and I like it so far. I haven’t closed my own Facebook page yet, but I have started telling my clients to consider it, or not start a new page. Not everyone is on board, most people like something they’ve grown accustomed to even when it stops working. Ad tools can be used by individual accounts so they could still run ad campaigns to their websites if they wanted to do that.
One thing is true about the online space. It is ever changing. There is no “mastery,” only constant learning, experimenting, and diving in. Facebook is only one tool of many that can keep you connected to your long term fan base. Long term connection is your goal, not your Facebook number.
Recently, I was introduced to a podcast series on the business of film from the folks over at Craft Truck. While perusing the episodes, I found one covering the creative accounting practices of studios and distributors and thought I would share some of the material here. You may be surprised at what is lurking in your distribution contracts regarding royalties and how payments are reported to you, probably unpleasantly surprised. Steven Sills, co author of Movie Money: Understanding Hollywood’s (Creative) Accounting Practices, reminds us repeatedly in his interview, “Get as much money up front as you can.”
Sills also explains that even though he is a CPA, his work in the industry has nothing to do with the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) found in financial statements prepared for companies in other industries. In film, accounting is done according to the language of the contract that was signed and the ones drawing up the contracts are the studios and distributors. Obviously, they are drafting contracts that benefit themselves and their only requirement after the contract is signed is to report to the participant in exactly the way the contract says. Sills simply ensures that reporting and payments are being made in accordance with the signed contract. If you are about to sign a contract that you expect to see revenues from, you better understand exactly what you are signing!
If I am a producer about to finalize my distribution contract from a distributor, what are the 2 or 3 things I should do to help insure I am treated fairly as a profit participant?
SS: “Everyone has different reasons for engaging in contracts. If you are a successful producer, you may be looking to make money. If you are a new producer, you may simply be looking for credits for your resume. A lot has to do with what you want to accomplish, but let’s assume you want to get your fair share.
First, get a very good entertainment lawyer and have that lawyer negotiate on your behalf. It is going to cost you money upfront, but it could save you a fortune on the backend. Next, get as much money upfront as you possibly can because you don’t control how you will be reported to in the future. The distributor controls that whole process, how they record information, how they report information, how they interpret the contract. The more money you can get upfront, the better off you will be financially. Then, keep an eye on what happens in the reporting. Review your statements, get good consultation on reading the statements to see if anything inaccurate jumps out. Your lawyer may want to consult with an auditor before any contract is signed to see if any changes could be made that could benefit you in the future.
Certain things can be negotiated if you have good representation. When we sit down for an audit, first we read the contract and see if it differs from what we would normally see from that studio. If the lawyer was able to get certain provisions changed, chances are the studio will screw it up because they are huge multinational corporations who have certain ways of doing things, accounting systems that do the same thing over and over. If you change the language in your contract, chances are it won’t be changed in their system. This is why we audit.”
Do you find there is a habitual practice to misinterpret the contract on the part of studios or distributors? What is the state of practice when it comes to contract accounting?
SS: “Studios and distributors write the contracts to be beneficial for themselves. They interpret things for their own best interests. Unless a participant has a lot of leverage, he has very little ability to negotiate significant changes within those contracts. People in business expect that if you are writing an agreement, you will write it in such a way that it will benefit you. These agreements are written with a certain end result in mind. That result is to give a reasonable amount of money to the profit participant, but also to cover the studio’s or distributor’s own costs and that includes the whole business. However, to a profit participant who believes they are a contributor to the success of a movie, they want their fair share of that success.
There is a very famous litigation out there about the Buchwald case. It has to do with the movie Coming to America, the Eddie Murphy film. In that case, there is testimony from a former studio executive that shed a light on how this process works. He said the reason we [studios] do the practices we do is because the winners have to pay for the losers. For every successful film we make, we have 9 unsuccessful ones and we have to cover the cost of those unsuccessful movies. If we give away all the profits for the successful ones, then we lose money on the unsuccessful ones so we need everyone to participate in that. Well, a profit participant doesn’t feel that way. If they contributed to the successful movie, they want their share of that success and that’s where the tension is. So in your contract, you will need to determine if you are involved in the business of the studio, or whether you are a participant only in the profit of the film in which you were an actor/writer/director/producer.”
Do you see a major shift in where money is coming from in terms of revenues and how that impacts contract terms?
SS: “There’s definitely a major shift. The DVD market is diminishing very rapidly and the VOD market is increasing, but not at the same rate as the decline in DVD sales so there is a definite decline in overall revenue and that has to do with how people get their content.
But to understand this, it requires a little history. Go back to the early 1980s when the home video business first started. It started with the Sony Betamax machine in Japan.
The Sony equipment allowed Japanese businessmen and women to record onto tape TV shows during the day and watch a tape of the programs at night. And then a company called Magnetic Video worked with Sony to market that machine in the United States. At the same time, Magnetic Video negotiated a deal with 20th Century Fox to license their films and put them on tapes and sell them in boxes to consumers, the VHS tape. It was the beginning of the home video industry.
In negotiating with Fox, all parties figured out how much they should get out of this product. They figured that the cost to revenue ratio back in the early 80s was about 60%; 60 cents of every dollar went to buy the tape, design and make the case, market the VHS copy, market the machine just to get this product out to the public. So the 40% that was left over was split. Magnetic got 20% royalty for creating the concept and Fox got a 20% royalty for licensing their films. So that is where the 20% royalty rate comes from and persists to this day. It was the basis for this entire home video industry.
Now the cost to revenue ratio for DVDs is more like 25-30% range for cost, but making a 65% profit, but still only paying a 20% revenue share to the profit participant. That takes us into the VOD realm, which will soon become the dominant source of revenue for distribution. Most studios have decided to classify VOD as home video revenue subject to the 20% royalty even though they don’t have the same cost structure involved as in DVD. In a digital file, there is no cost to manufacture a disc and ship it anywhere, no packaging to make, marketing costs are reduced because much is done by the entity that is selling the product, but they still only pay 20% royalty to the profit participant. Why they are keeping royalties the same? Their response is they need more profits to offset the losses they incur from the decline in DVD sales. They need to maintain their profit margins.
Let’s say the distributor charged the consumer $10 for a download copy of a movie, one the consumer can keep, not just rent. Let’s say the download came from iTunes, so they keep 30% of the transaction or $3 and pass $7 back to the distributor. The distributor will report 20% of that $7 on your statement. That’s $1.40 and if you get a 10% profit participation, you get $.14.
Certain types of downloads will only receive a 20% royalty on the revenues received. When negotiating your deal, you need to find out how they treat downloads; as home video purchases subject to the 20% royalty or as rentals because those are more like the licensing fees received from broadcast deals.
We’re dealing with an oligopoly here. 90% of the films are being distributed by a handful of major distributors and they set the terms. If you don’t like their deal, they will tell you to go down the street, but often you will find the exact same terms everywhere else. You have to hope to get your movie made, it becomes a huge success and you will get something out of it.”
To listen to the whole podcast, jump on over to the Craft Truck site HERE I will be recording a podcast for their Business of Film show next week. I’ll post the link to it here when it is available.
Last week, I was interviewed on the BlogTalk Radio show The Art of Film Funding with Carole Dean. I usually prepare for such interviews by taking notes on what we will cover and I tend to over prepare. Often, most of what I want to say will not be covered due to time constraints. While you may listen to the full 45 minute interview here
I have also pulled out a few notes for emphasis that I think weren’t included or that I wasn’t able to go into detail as much as I would have liked.
What do you think are the best uses of social media for marketing? Example, how best can you use Facebook to help fund your film?
Sheri: “To me, social media is a non negotiable part of every professional person’s work. You don’t just jump on it because you have something to promote, you are creating and perpetuating your identity and your work EVERY DAY. You are forming relationships, expanding your professional network, learning new information to help you do your work and sharing that information with others EVERY DAY. It is a marketing tool, but it is really a life tool now. Stop viewing it as a time suck or procrastination because those are cop outs. It is essential to be able to navigate social channels as a professional, at any level. The same with being able to network in the physical world.
I don’t see social media as a campaign and I want that statement to soak in for a moment. A campaign is a short term effort to push people to do something. We very much live in a world where consumers, all of us, are resisting anything that is trying to push us to fit into someone else’s timeline. We want to do what we want, when we want, wherever we want, on whatever device we want. We are all selfish people. So companies and individuals that are still in that corral –the- people- to- do- what- the- company- wants mentality are going to lose in this new world. Think of these channels as a way to storytell what you are about, what your company is about, what your product is about, how consumers may accomplish something for their own lives whether is it physical accomplishment or gaining knowledge or well being. It isn’t about YOU, it is about THEM. Pull them to you rather than push messages out. And you have to commit to storytelling on an infinite timeframe, not for a short period.
What other social networks do you consider to be worth the time?
Sheri: “Choose a social channel you can learn and be comfortable using. If you don’t, it will be a drudge for you and you won’t have success there. If you are hiring someone to handle your social channels for your projects, choose places where the audience (again, you have to know who they are) hangs out the most and where that person has the most experience. In my case, I don’t use Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat or Youtube because I have my own blog and I don’t take regular photos or edit together video and I don’t create short term offers. So while I may set up an account just to get a better look at it, I don’t spend my personal time there. But if I find that the audience for a certain project dictates that I use those sites, I would find someone to help me create content for them.
Storytelling on each platform is different so if you think you can use automated programs to blast out one piece of content on multiple sites, you are doing it wrong. Each site has a different format (Twitter 140 characters, Instagram photos, Pinterest photos) and a different reason people use it. For instance, Pinterest is a place people go to show what they intend to buy, what they aspire to buy, what shows off their personalities. But Instagram, also an image based social channel, is more about the immediate. What the lunch I am eating looks like, what my travel is like, what I saw on the way to work, what my friends and I are doing right now. Putting out one image to all the sites is a mistake because you won’t be tapping into the reason people are on those sites.
Don’t get too used to a particular social channel. They change often and not always for the better, they fall out of fashion, they get absorbed into other companies that are not always interested in seeing them grow. Plan your strategy around reaching the audience wherever they are and build your email list instead. That is where you truly have communication control because you own the contact details.”
Do you suggest filmmakers trade hours of social networking time for credits or other things? Or what do you think is an average hourly wage to offer someone to post and tweet for you?
Sheri: “I think we need to get away from this mentality that marketing is just posting online and tweeting. This is the voice of your company and your work presented to the global public. If you wouldn’t trust someone to speak for you at a press conference or go on TV as your representative speaking about your work, you shouldn’t let them be in charge of your Twitter account. And you should never allow someone to post or tweet as you personally, you are basically allowing them to BE you and I don’t think you should be comfortable with that. If you have a team of people using your social channels according to your business strategy and goals, then let the public know it is a team effort, put a face on it.
Again, marketing is way more than an ad or a poster or a tweet or a status update. There should be strategic thinking behind what you are doing and professional people help figure out how to achieve goals. Generally, they aren’t paid an hourly wage, they are paid a salary or a retainer fee and they had better be doing more than updating your Twitter feed every day.
Personally, I charge a monthly retainer fee with a minimum time frame or I charge an hourly fee for consultation and guidance. But with the retainer, I had better have a marketing plan and budget in place to work with. That fee is just for my time and experience, a labor cost. My work includes influencer outreach, blogger outreach, community management, advertising placement, content creation and curation, and measurement analysis. I also charge to research and write a marketing and distribution plan if that isn’t already in place or those plans may be implemented by others, so if you already have people in place to implement the plan, but you are unsure of how to start, I can help figure that out and work to train those people. I wouldn’t advise skipping over the marketing strategy and just let people post on your behalf.”
Have you seen films with good marketing plans be successful especially because of the marketing plan?
Sheri: ”Define success. Did they make all of their money back? No, usually independent films don’t. Did the filmmakers go on to get other work or have a much more significant release because they were prepared and able to give their film the release they wanted? Yes, and that was a success for them. Remember, not everyone’s goal is money. In fact, let’s be very upfront and say that money is rarely going to be made by the original investors of an independent film. If that is the main reason for making a film, stop now. Find another avenue for your talent. Invest in some other industry.
But if you are interested in expressing your storytelling talent, showcasing the talent of others (because films are made in collaboration with others), putting your voice into the world that only a film could help you do, investing in something that can last and may even change minds, hearts, bring people closer together or create a cultural dialog, then filmmaking is a great medium for that. Humans invest in things all the time that do not financially recoup. We put our names on buildings, we buy yachts, we take vacations. None of those things will have financial rewards, but they do reward emotionally and that is valid.
It isn’t ultimately the marketing plan that makes a film successful. It is the film! Failure is less often on the execution of the marketing plan and more often on the failure of the film. It isn’t hard to get word of mouth to spread on a stellar film; people love to talk about stellar. It is sooo hard to make a mediocre or bad film succeed. What constitutes good and bad is debatable of course, but if the people you have identified as the ones who should be the most excited by your story aren’t talking about it, then you are going to be in big trouble. They HAVE to like it or your story failed. And that happens in studio films as well as indies and TV shows.
I am not going to say that a good film will just naturally be found. I’ve heard many filmmakers say such nonsense. A great film in your hard drive isn’t going to be found. Someone has to see it and you have to get it in front of them, and that’s marketing (to get their initial attention) and distribution (getting it onto a screen for the public). But once you get that attention and an audience does see it, and their reaction is MEH, uh…you can’t just throw more marketing at it and make it successful. And that is why you see distributors pull the plug early on films. They know the return on the film won’t justify more expense and they can take that money and throw it behind the next film in the slate.
Now, it is possible to have poorly identified who the audience was and tried to attract the wrong audience and the film didn’t take off, but if you do the proper nurturing ahead of time and you really feel like you nailed the story based on early feedback from the right core audience, you may give more time and more expense to letting the word of mouth spread and slowly build. Unfortunately, this is not done enough in the industry, everyone wants a quick hit. There are very few entities that have the patience to let a film sink in with an audience once it has been released. It is much better to deeply cultivate the audience for a film early so that when it is released, it will flower sooner. That cultivation is only going to happen if the production does it. Distribution entities have far too many films to release. They can’t give a lot of time to each one in advance of a release.
No one that I know of is posting their marketing plan and budget online and even if they did, it wouldn’t help your film unless you are making one exactly like it. Plans are unique to the film, they are organic in that they do shift and change according to what is learned in the field and new tools cropping up that weren’t there when the plan was written or tools that changed or fell away. Some event may happen in the news that is unforeseen and you have to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.
It is not wise to copy, but it is useful to read a lot of material of what others are doing and see if you might incorporate something similar. That information might even come from another industry like gaming, or software, or apps, not just film. If you don’t want or like to keep up with the trends, you should hire someone who does! I don’t keep up with happenings in editing software or cameras or audio recording because I don’t make films. I keep up with marketing trends and tools and tactics, that’s my professional work and that is why you hire someone like me for that job. I am not merely your tweeter or your facebooker, so if you think that is all there is to marketing, you are seriously mistaken and all the tweeting and facebooking in the world isn’t going to help you.
There are many blogs and industry publications and videos from panels at film fests where the filmmakers all talk about how they marketed and distributed their films. If you want to spend lots of time studying this, Google is your friend and get used to using a search engine regularly. There is absolutely no excuse not to know how to do something if you really want to handle it on your own. But if you don’t, then you need a budget to pay someone who has expertise in the field and has handled releasing films or may just be starting out doing that (as you probably have in making films) and you need to get that person on your team. Simple as that.”