A guest post from Ian Delaney, director of the short film HOLES
Counter-intuitively it is exactly because the entire world is at our fingertips online that the best marketing approach is the narrowest, smallest one you can devise. Why? Because online the smallest niche is still millions of people, and these people are going to be connected to your project and more likely to become involved either by donating to your Kickstarter or by downloading and consuming your material.
You can imagine that a film about a young husband’s journey through grief as he suffers the sudden loss of his wife and baby daughter, although universal in theme, would be most interesting for a narrow niche of people.
I began searching online for communities and forums that focus on helping those suffering with a loss find support and hope. The danger for any project seeking fund raising is that it’s very easy to be seen as predatory, and this is doubly so when reaching out to communities which are emotionally vulnerable. In order to be as respectful to my target groups as possible, I developed relationships with the moderators and directors of these groups, before fund raising was even a thought. Some of these generous people were fantastic resources for research as I was writing the script. Once a foundation of respect and trust was built (and that foundation is really required for anything in life), I was able to discuss partnering with them to help spread the word and help raise money for my film.
A lot is made about the “Kickstarter effect” – the first surge of donations after launching your campaign. There is an equally powerful “Kickstarter lag” when your closest contacts have donated and the momentum pauses. And there, I believe, is the trick to crowd-funding: never let them see the lag. For my campaign, I’ve tried my best to stagger my publicity and promotions so there are continual surges throughout the campaign. People want to back success, so when they see other people promoting your campaign weeks in, they’re a little more confident that you have something special.
Equally important is providing consistent, value-based updates via social media. I’ve seen campaigns where people post, “We’re still far from reaching out goal, please donate!” three times a day for their thirty day campaign. There is no value there. I’ve kept a few things hidden in order to roll them out as the campaign continues. I won’t give away any surprises, but at certain levels of progress new perks will be offered, new videos added, discounts on perks, anything and everything to be able to say something new and interesting both for those who have donated and those who have yet to donate. Nothing turns people off more than a constant drone of “I need money.” And with the popularity of crowd-funding and platforms like Kickstarter, this drone is getting louder and louder every day.
Even before the campaign began, I knew that maintaining contact with my donors, and those who maybe wouldn’t donate, was going to be a huge part of the continual progress of this project. Once the campaign ends, I’ll be writing open letters and articles expressing my thanks for the forums and communities of people who helped me during the campaign. For my donors, who are connected via Kickstarter, I’ll be creating a production blog, so they’re able to see photos and read stories about how the film is progressing. This way they’re going to be able to see how their donation is being used, not just receive their perk at the end. This is the type of personal, continued attention that I know I’d want if I was donating to my project.
No dollar can be taken lightly.
Only time will tell if all the work I put into planning and preparing for the campaign will pay off, but I do know that no one donating to my project will feel burned or abused or taken advantage of, and that’s going to make my next campaign better and even more successful!
If you’re interested in learning more about the film, or to check in and see our progress, take a look at our Kickstarter page. And while you’re there feel free to become a part of the project yourself and donate what you can!
This week, a Youtube video featuring Ira Deutchman at the TIFF Filmmaker Bootcamp was pointed out to me. Ira always has some great information to share with filmmakers given his long and illustrious career in independent film distribution. In this 30 minute talk, he cautions filmmakers about the realities of the independent market and one key point he made about the so called long tail of sales really stood out. In order to see sizable revenue from the long tail, one must have A LOT of things to sell. In indie film circles, I think the long tail concept got confused with sales over time rather than lots of little revenue streams. If you are a filmmaker who doesn’t have a lot of revenue streams apart from selling copies of your film, you’ll want to read on so that you can be clear on this concept.
As Ira explains, in any retail business, 80% of the sales come from just 20% of the products. This is the 80/20 rule. When looking at big box stores like Walmart or Target or Barnes and Noble, one might think, “Why don’t they stock a millions titles of DVDs? It’s a really big chain with lots of stores.” But these retail outlets aren’t in the business of stocking everything, they just need to stock the titles they know will actually sell. The hot titles, with stars and big marketing spends that they know will do business. With their limited amount of shelf space in the Entertainment section of the store, they only want to stock the 20% of titles that will sell well. It is an efficient and profitable way to manage business when there is a limited amount of shelf space and there is a need to keep up with the multitude of stock in each store across the country.
In theaters, it’s the same deal. There are a limited number of screens, so cinema owners only want to play the films that are perceived to bring in box office sales. They can’t program every film, only the newest and hottest. If the ones they program don’t perform, the screening spot is hurriedly given to another film. No use clogging up screens with nonperforming films when there are plenty of others from which to choose.
Then ecommerce via the internet comes along and there are many virtual outlets selling products. There’s unlimited shelf space and all they need are some warehouses to keep small amounts of product. For a site like Amazon, as long as there is one copy of a DVD in the warehouse, it can be sent out or they pass the order along to the seller who is using Amazon as a storefront for their wares, charging a percentage of course. With Amazon Instant, they don’t even need the warehouse, just the server space.
The 80/20 rule doesn’t apply as strongly to online stores because although 80% of the business will still come from 20% of the products, there is still incentive to include a wide range of products on that infinite shelf and they will sell in the long term. The long tail principal states products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds bestsellers and blockbusters. If there is a film that only a few people know about or are interested, an online retailer can still afford to sell that film because millions of little products add up to a large business FOR THEM.
Although independent filmmakers are told that the long tail of sales is going to be good for them, it is mainly a beneficial way of doing business for the Amazons, Netflix’s and iTunes’ of the world. The money is made through selling LOTS of different things, not in selling ONE thing, like a film. Filmmakers who think having a long tail strategy for their film is the way to go will find that long tail means lots of little pennies over time and endless amount of time. While it is possible to sell a low volume of copies of your movie on your own, the major online retailers are selling a few copies of millions of movies.
These new digital opportunities to get your movies out to market, largely on your own, are a good thing. But the job of getting the audience to know it is there and interested in buying it is up to YOU. The sites don’t have to do this work, they have many, many other revenue streams and all they have to do is make sure people visit their site and buy SOMETHING, not your thing.
So, how many things are you selling? And how will you let people know about that? Before you settle into a long tail sales strategy of direct distribution, you need to answer these questions.
The other thing you must consider is the long game. If you do not YET have many things you are selling, how will you keep your work in the minds of those who are slow to act? In other words, if someone were to find out about your work a year after it is released, how will you let them know where to find it? In the film industry, the long game per title isn’t really of concern. They concentrate mainly on the big release moment and hope that splash is big enough to last in the minds of consumers. But with new distractions every day, how likely will someone remember to seek out a film they missed on initial release? Unless it comes up repeatedly by word of mouth for months or years after release, the likelihood is getting smaller and smaller, buried under the new.
Here is Ira’s video explaining the long tail for retailers. The explanation runs until 8:37, but you might like to hear the rest of his talk.
This month, I interviewed music supervisor Liz Gallacher of Velvet Ears for my latest column on MovieMaker Magazine‘s site. Actually, they are only posting an abbreviated version of the interview online. The full article will be in the print edition on newsstands in November.
I wanted to cover this topic because I was hearing from indie filmmakers who had overlooked the important aspect of music clearance during post production and thought they could get distribution deals that would pay for it later. It is exceedingly rare in today’s marketplace that a film distributor will pay to clear the music licenses on your film because that process can be so costly. Distributors are not trying to take on more debt than they have to when they acquire a title. There is debt just to release the film, plus repay the advance if one was paid (and for a hot title, an advance WILL be paid) and make money for themselves (filmmakers aren’t really part of the equation). If you are putting up financial barriers to acquisition, your chances are close to zero in garnering a deal, especially over something as fundamental as music clearance. You are also putting up barriers to getting the film out yourself unless you like being the target of a lawsuit.
Also, some filmmakers are using music tracks in their trailers or online video materials that were only cleared for in context usage. Liz explains in the article why this is an issue and how to rectify it. As she says in the abbreviated piece, “It isn’t a cheap prospect to license music. I think people are misinformed on that because music is affordable to buy and it is plentiful for personal use, so they think they can do what they want with it. They can’t if they are planning to use it commercially.”
Catch the abbreviated version on the MovieMaker site and try to pick up a printed copy of the magazine when it is published.
My second article for MovieMaker Magazine dealt with whether film festival awards make any difference. For the filmmakers, any kind of recognition is a boost to the ego and a confidence builder because it suggests that the work had value. But do festival awards make much difference to the industry or the market? I talked to several people in various capacities within the industry to give me their take. Here are the short answers:
Jeffrey Winter, Co Executive Director, The Film Collaborative
“There are three major ways that festival awards matter. First of all, an award distinguishes a film from the glut of available titles at any given festival. Meaning, if you are the kind of person (industry buyer, press, or consumer) who is paying attention to a particular festival, then of course one easy way to determine what to see is by starting with the winners. I think this is particularly true for other film festival programmers, who face the daunting task of pouring through thousands of available titles and submissions to their festival.
Secondly, discerning film consumers looking to discover new films to watch pay attention to the films that are winning the awards. I think the right festival awards have tremendous marketing value…but only for the discerning consumer.
Finally, let’s not downplay the fact that a lot of festival awards come with MONEY! There are some staggeringly large Festival awards out there…Dubai, Heartland etc. When a film starts to rack up a few awards, it can certainly get into the five figures of revenue.”
Ira Deutchman, Managing Partner, Emerging Pictures
“The most reliable audience for any film that doesn’t have a major studio marketing budget is the art film audience, which is entirely dependent on reviews and word of mouth to get their attention. Film festivals offer a way to gather awards and quotes that elevate the profile and perceived quality of a film for that audience and therefore do make a difference.
While the most prestigious festivals, such as Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, etc offer the biggest potential bang because they are covered by larger press outlets, a film can build up a head of steam coming out of a number of smaller festivals as well. A collection of laurels can look impressive even if they don’t include the big ones. Also, don’t overlook the niche festival like Gay fests or Jewish fests, as they have their own cachet with their intended audiences.”
Arianna Bocco, SVP Acquisitions and Production, IFC Films
“I think it’s very specific to the film whether or not awards from regional or low profile festivals make a difference. For instance, if the film is an indie comedy and it wins the Aspen Comedy Festival, then that’s very helpful to use in marketing materials. At IFC, we try to use the awards judiciously in marketing our films. It’s the film that has to work and none of those awards are ultimately going to make or break it.”
For the full article, visit MovieMaker Magazine.
This is a summarization of a White Paper from Hubspot entitled Crash Course on the Facebook News Feed. If you aren’t receiving info from both Hubspot and Mari Smith on changes to Facebook (because they happen All. The. Time!), you should sign up for their newsletters. Social media is an ever evolving tool and you or someone on your team must be aware of the changes.
The average Facebook user’s news feed filters through about 1,500 posts a day. After the Facebook algorithm is factored in, only 20% of the stories posted by every page and every person a user follows will ever be seen organically. You know that devoted following you are working hard to build on your film’s Facebook page? You are regularly only reaching about 20% of them in an organic way with your status updates, links, photos, videos etc. Facebook reasoning for this is they want to “curate” what a person sees so that their experience on Facebook doesn’t become an overwhelming barrage of information. In order to be seen in the News Feed (without paying to be there!), we have to share or create such compelling information that resonates with our followers so that they will react in some way that signals the Facebook algorithm that they want to continue to see information from us. If they don’t, EdgeRank (the algorithm) will start filtering it out (without their realization) and we’ve lost them (or we can pay to get our news back in front of them through Promoted Posts).
How close someone is perceived to be to your page based on their interaction with the posts on it+Value of the post based on how many Likes, comments, shares+Amount of time that passes since the content was posted=How often they will see your news.
Facebook serves up about 300 stories it believes are interesting to each user based on this algorithm. The algorithm looks at the last 50 people/pages each user has interacted with and takes that to mean those are the people/pages the user wants to hear from most. It serves up those posts in chronological order as they were posted. If a particular post receives a lot of interaction (many likes, comments or shares), especially by a user’s friends, it will now bump that post to top of the news feed so a user won’t miss seeing that story.
Facebook also tracks what kind of content a user tends to interact with. If users like many photos, it will start showing more photos in their news feed. MANY people like photos, so start thinking about providing more images on your page post haste! In the new Facebook Insights, you will be able to see which posts have gathered the most Likes, comments or shares. Use that as your guide on what to post. Maybe video is better for your fans. Maybe status updates or links are better. You can read all the studies from test groups that suggest things, but ultimately, your audience is unique and you can see what they like from your own Insights chart.
Optimizing for the News Feed
Since many posts that involve an image receive greater feedback, one of the practices that is recommended is using a photo whenever possible. Rather than posting a link, which pulls in a thumbnail image, try posting an image, and pair it with a link.
As posts are now curated, in part, by what your friends and fans like, it is wise to encourage commenting and allow for sharing your content on your fan’s pages. Also, focus primarily on those who comment and share the most on your page because they are your page’s biggest assets. They are helping to insure that your posts are going to be seen in a wider way on Facebook. As a side note: I use a plug in called Booshaka on the pages I manage so that I can see who my top 50 most active evangelists are. Get to know these people! Lavish them with personal attention!
Of course, sharing and commenting only happen if your page has awesome content. It has to have value and be interesting to those fans or it won’t elicit a response. If you are posting regularly, but you aren’t getting many Likes, comments or shares, you need to re-evaluate what you are posting. It shouldn’t only be information about your film. The people you attract have other interests too, you need to find out what those interests are and create/curate material that speaks to what they love. Hopefully that also speaks to the overall identity of your film. Branding isn’t all about a logo or a “message,” it is also about an emotion, a lifestyle, an interest base. Show your fans you understand them, you are part of them, and you are bringing them together under a creative work. You will see more interaction when you walk outside of the bubble of your own work.
Last month I started writing a new monthly column for MovieMaker Magazine. For those who may have missed the debut, here’s a short excerpt. In my opinion, most low budget independent films lack a good hook. Often they suffer from storylines that are so mundane or do not take the viewer on an exciting journey that few people are compelled to seek them out. Also, they have no cast that is recognizable to an audience to draw in their attention. While many moviemakers believe all they should have is a story well told, that is not enough to make a film stand out in a sea of entertainment choices.
Here is the excerpt:
“Hooks are the elements of your film that will be used during promotion to attract its core audience. Often hooks are comprised of things such as notable names, specific and recognizable locations, a title that can be visualized, gripping or familiar subject matter and something that solicits an emotional response. Hooks allow an audience to immediately recognize what is interesting about your story and decide whether they want to investigate further.
While the hook may make someone buy on the spot (at a pitch meeting, while flipping through the Netflix database or standing in front of a cinema marquee), usually the goal is to have the audience open up their minds to the idea that they are interested in potentially supporting/buying your project. A good hook may not pull the wallet out right away, but hearing about it over and over from different places eventually will make the target audience’s hands move closer to their credit cards.
A marketing hook can come in the form of subject matter that is compelling to a certain audience segment, like environmental causes, women’s rights, human rights – as long as it is being covered from an angle that hasn’t been seen before, or it offers new or normally inaccessible material. Food Inc on the surface is a documentary about where our food comes from, but the marketing hook was how the story lifted the veil on the surprising degradation of food quality and the millions in marketing money that goes into supplying food at an affordable cost to the consumer. It is not just a film about farming.
A hook can also come in the form of a recognizable property, like a book, or the talent attached to the project, like A-list actors or a well known director. Often the first words out of a person’s mouth when hearing about a film is “Who’s in it?” They are looking for the reason to hear more about the film or dismiss it as uninteresting. This is also the case when a publicist pitches journalists for media coverage. Notable names definitely turn a writer’s head in your direction and make media coverage a lot easier to obtain.”
Anyone who reads this blog, sees me in person or in videos online will know that I am a huge advocate of direct distribution. If an artist has put in the hard work and time to reach and cultivate an audience for her work, why give all rights away and a cut of that potential revenue to a third party?
But there are situations where the best option might be to take the deal.
Most artists are either avoiding the work of connecting with an audience or still haven’t caught on to the fact that they should be doing it and for those people, a distribution deal is their only option. In order to successfully direct distribute, 3 things have to be in place:
1) a clearly identifiable audience that the artist/production can easily reach;
2) enough resources, both labor and financial, to release the work into the market;
3) the expertise to navigate the best distribution route with several revenue sources.
The trouble with most independent filmmakers who want to go the direct distribution route (or need to) is they do not have these 3 things in place. They may not be happy with the distribution offers they are receiving (or haven’t received), but they can’t realistically turn them down if there is nothing else in place.
I ask you to consider a couple of things when trying to decide which route to take. Of the distribution offers you have received, are you receiving an advance (MG/minimum guarantee)? If the answer is yes, is it more than what you put into producing the work or is it more than you can conceive of earning on your own without putting in even more of your own money to promote the film? Note that you will almost definitely not receive any further revenue (back end) from your distribution deal. If it is higher than the production budget, take the deal. If it isn’t, realize that in order to come out ahead of what is being offered, you will have to not only earn more than the advance if you distribute directly, you will have to earn MORE in order to recoup the cost of promoting the film on your own which could realistically run between $50K-$100K in domestic marketing costs. Do you think that is possible, based on what you know to be the audience potential of your film? If you don’t know or have serious doubts, you may want to take the deal. While you probably will never see any more money from the deal, you won’t be spending even more of your own. Remember, any money spent by the distributor to promote the film will have to be recouped by them before there is any further revenue to disperse to your sales agent and to you, so you are paying for these costs either way.
Next, is the distributor offering the type of release you had envisioned for your film? If the answer is no, and it often is, will you be happy knowing that you have full control and the ability to release the film in the way you envisioned even if you don’t earn the money back? This question is very crucial because in indie film it is likely that you will have a more significant release if you do it on your own. But if you can’t financially afford all of the components needed to release the film, you will be better off to hand it to a company that could at least help you accomplish reaching a wider audience and insist they put in writing how they plan to release it and what efforts they will do to promote it.
It is very possible that you will not financially recoup either way, so the decision really rests on which way the film will get a release. This is a hard truth to swallow, but someone needs to make you aware of this.
I will be talking about this in depth on July 27 in Atlanta for a very intensive 4 hour session hosted by Atlanta Film Festival 365 on identifying and connecting with the audience for your film and the distribution options that are now available to get the work into the market. I gave this talk in Europe late last year and the response was enthusiastic with much furious notetaking! Do bring your laptops or notebooks with lots of paper because I will be sharing very useful information on the ever changing landscape of indie film distribution.
Early bird tickets are now on sale and the price is intentionally affordable for the independent artist. If you are near Atlanta, join us.