In a recent interview I did for the Rebel Seed podcast, I wanted to stress something I am encountering from film producers, especially new ones. For about 4 years now, I have been keeping independent artists informed on developments in film marketing and distribution, mainly through this blog, but also in speaking, teaching, and even co authoring a book. While there are many film marketers and distribution companies in this space, FEW actually share their extensive knowledge or offer resources available for any filmmaker to use. Some don’t feel the need to share what they consider proprietary knowledge and some share only with whom they are directly working.
Still, not a week goes by that I will consult with a producer who has no idea how to digitally self distribute, little idea of who the audience for their film is and what tools and money they will need to reach them, and doesn’t participate very much in the social media space. In order to successfully navigate the waters of independent film, you MUST keep informed of the new developments. The greatest asset you can invest in is yourself and gaining new knowledge in order to clarify your thinking, manage your time, remove fear and doubt, and create new habits that will pay off immediately in how you approach your work.
In an effort to help get producers ready for the Spring festival season (including Sundance, Slamdance, Berlin, SXSW etc.), I am partnering with Atlanta Film Festival in conjunction with Slamdance Film Festival to present a 1 hour film marketing webinar. As with the last one we did for distribution, anyone with an internet connection may participate and we have 2 dates to choose from this time, December 8 and December 11.
I’ll cover researching your audience, writing your marketing plan, what items you will need in your marketing budget, feeding the content beast that is the social media channels, using publicity and advertising as part of a well rounded marketing effort, and the importance of an email database. Why would you need this BEFORE your festival premiere? If you can show a potential buyer that you have already started gathering an interested audience for your film, you have web site stats and social media stats to prove it, and you have your own plan in place to release your film IF they can’t come up with an attractive offer, you will be in such a better position to negotiate a great deal than the 95% of other producers that don’t do this. And if you don’t get into the big fests, you will be able to start distributing immediately or use the festival circuit as part of your release to start recouping your production budget. Once you show that your distribution efforts have traction on their own, you’d be surprised at the distribution companies climbing out of the woodwork to get a piece of that action. THAT’S the position you want! Don’t be in the weak position of having nowhere else for your film to go.
To sign up for the webinar on either Sunday, December 8 or Wednesday December 11, GO HERE The great thing about a webinar rather than only researching on your own is you can ask question about your particular project. The webinar will run one hour with 30 minutes for individual questions. I also offer the ability to send one question to me via email if we don’t get to yours in time. Before the New Year starts, spend some time investing in your knowledge base.
Rebel Seed kindly made an infographic out of my podcast. Have a look
If you would like to hear the podcast, listen here
These are the most common mistakes/beliefs I regularly come across from filmmakers, whether they are seasoned or newbies. I ask that you carefully consider these scenarios to see if one applies to your situation and possible solutions to either avoid them or turn them around.
#1 Not setting aside a promotional and/or distribution budget. For at least 4 years now, I have been talking about this one point and for at least 2-3 years every industry event brings up this point, so why are there still people producing films without a promotional budget? Most of you are not getting into Sundance or any other impact festival that will lead to a significant sale., so what’s the plan for getting your film noticed and into the market? Solution: Recognize that the responsibility for promotion and distribution of your film is increasingly on the production. Even sales agents and distributors are now checking out how much work the production has done on this BEFORE the film premieres. Raise and set aside this money to guard against being forced either to take a bad distribution offer or shelve your hard work. If you get a great deal, give the money back to your investors.
#2 Holding back on distribution to wait on the imaginary deal. If your film has been kicking around on the festival circuit for 6-12 months and there are no active negotiations started for a broadcast deal, for example, don’t hold back from at least distributing it from your own site, both digitally and via DVD (if that is relevant to your audience). Films are not like fine wine, they don’t get more valuable with age. The chances for a decent deal start to decay quickly after the film has a premiere and even more so if it does not find some kind of distribution path quickly. The attention you have built up will quickly dissipate with audiences who have heard about the film for a while, but are unable to see it and for industry who have heard about the film, but know that no other company has bothered to pick it up. Have a contingency plan that within 6 months of premiere, if the film isn’t in active negotiation for some or all rights, you will start to distribute it directly to the fans you are picking up on social sites and on the festival circuit. Solution: Momentum and resources die quickly, stop holding out for a deal that may never come. Sometimes the deals you are waiting for are waiting to see how the film does in the market. If after investigating outside distribution options and nothing seems to be on the near horizon, then start your own efforts. You would be surprised at the entities that will chase after films they perceive are showing success on their own.
#3 Thinking your first film is sellable. That thesis film you made for film school or your first short film may just be practice. So may your second, third and fourth film. The fact that you completed a film does not mean it will sell and you should not have automatic expectations that it will. Films are a commodity, and not a scarce one anymore, so audiences are getting discerning about what they are willing to pay for versus what they will watch for free. While there is certainly nothing wrong with putting your film up on Vimeo Pro or embedding a Distrify player on your website, be realistic about its revenue prospects. Solution: First try to get some pedigree built up on your work before asking for payment. The more distinguished titles earn a right to ask for payment from an audience.
#4 Believing your film has more merit than the market does. There are hints along the way to making a film that indicate that it will be tough to attract financing and reasonable distribution. Usually it starts with the script (you pitch and pitch and executives pass), then with the talent (you fail to attach anyone notable willing to take a pay cut in order to have a juicy, well written role), then in trying to attract a presale or significant distribution deal (the film fails to make it into the impact fests and reputable distributors won’t return your calls). Making the decision to go against all of these judgments because YOU believed the project had merit is very indie, but it doesn’t mean that the film is going to attract a sizable deal in the market or an interested audience. Solution: If you are committing to the decision that the market doesn’t know what its talking about and you do, then go all the way with the budget to back up a direct distribution plan. You’re going to need it. But it still may not succeed.
#5 Not spending marketing money believing it will make you money. Admittedly, filmmakers are not the only people who do this. I’ve worked in marketing on and off for a while and usually in a sales downturn, management thinks that cutting the marketing spend will somehow increase sales. This doesn’t happen. By refusing to spend money to market your film, you are in effect keeping your project a secret and this will not increase your film sales. Also, spending a lot to launch a film and quickly stifling the spending will not prolong that initial burst of sales. Good word of mouth can only do so much and 4 months into release, that word of mouth is gone if no other marketing/publicity efforts are continuing. Solution: While you may spend the significant portion of your marketing budget for the initial release and then pull back on the spend, don’t blow the whole budget on the first week of release. There are new films releasing every week. In order to stay top of mind and keep those sales coming in, new marketing initiatives need to happen regularly over time. If you have let efforts fall the ground, recognize in order to raise them again, you are in essence starting all over.
Some of these topics will be covered during my upcoming webinar hosted by Atlanta Film Festival on October 20. Anyone with access to the internet may participate. Visit the Atlanta Film Festival site for details.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jazbeck/8025692978/”>jazbeck</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>
Since I will be speaking on Monday, April 29 at the Sync Up Cinema Conference, I thought I would share some details about that free event and give you a taste of a few things I will talk about.
Sync Up Cinema will be presented by the Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) in conjunction with The New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) and held at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is a conference focused on Louisiana film production and the emerging opportunities in the film industry.
My conversation with Clint Bowie of the New Orleans Film Society will start at 5:30pm and we’ll be talking about all things independent film marketing, film festivals and film distribution in the digital era. As this won’t be a panel discussion, I have created some notes of case studies, statistics and other information that you won’t want to miss. How can a filmmaker brand herself using the internet? How to formulate a film festival strategy? What is an impact festival? How to decide which distribution route to take based on the film you have? What are typical advances being paid and for what kinds of films? How much to budget if you plan to have a self release of your film? Do you need a theatrical release in order to have a successful ancillary release? Why social media cannot be the only tool you use to market a film?
I don’t know if the session will be recorded and uploaded online later for those who are not in New Orleans, but I will keep you posted if that happens. The hashtag for the event is #SyncUpCinema if you want to start following it this weekend. I hope to see many New Orleans filmmakers at this event!
Sync Up Cinema is free and open to the public. Major sponsors of Sync Up Cinema include National Endowment for the Arts, Cineworks Louisiana and Entertainment Partners.
For more information about the conference and the up to the minute schedule of Sync Up Cinema events visit novacvideo.org/syncupcinema
(I’m working on the audience building post, I promise!)
In the next few hours and continuing throughout the week, both festivals will be making their public announcements about the lucky chosen for this year. If you are one of those people, listen up.
You should be ready to press send on a press release right after they announce. DON’T SEND ANYTHING out ahead of their announcement. No need to piss them off or get disqualified. But be ready with at least a release. Then you need to find a publicist if this person isn’t already on board.
You should also have a website up, even you short form filmmakers. When people hear about your film, they look you up online. I know you think this is common knowledge, but even last year some of the Sundance features did not have a website up before the festival. Tsk, tsk.
Next, you should be making a hit list not only of the major publications, but the publications that actually reach your target audience (which is NOT everyone). Getting coverage is one of the main reasons this fest means anything to you. Get your story to them as soon as possible, the earlier the better. I would advise against sending screeners if this is your world premiere. In the case of Slamdance, this may not be your premiere and you may already have some coverage and reviews. Put it all together in your press kit, online. Ditch the notion of having a paper press kit, I don’t care what the Sundance/Slamdance press office tells you. But do have all your elements together. Plenty of hi res, good quality production stills of the action, director’s statement, bios for all the major people, synopsis (both long and short), reviews if you have them, laurels from other fests if you have them. You’ll also want to remember to get a copy of the laurels as official selection.
Also, you should be devising a steady stream of content to release at intervals during the lead up. Make several trailers or release small clips. Customize them to the publication that is doing the coverage. What does this mean? In the case of a horror flick, there are lots of different horror sites. Some bloody, some scary, some monster-centric. The audiences who read those sites are all looking for something different from their horror movie so don’t release the same content to all of them. Know what I mean? Find something that is customized to their audience, it also gets people talking about all the different content out there for your film. You may even pick a publication to whom you only give exclusive content. But make every piece of content kick ass! Good god hire a professional trailer editor! If you are ever going to do that, it is now when you will have benefit of the most coverage. Think up lots of different angles to your film’s story because after a few have covered the fact that you are an official selection, there really isn’t that much more to talk about if you don’t have other story angles to pitch. This all happens in the lead up to the fest. During the festival, you’ll be doing work on the ground too.
The next 7 weeks or so are non stop promotion. If you aren’t ready, you need to get on the stick. Don’t waste this opportunity. It might be the biggest push your film ever gets. Also, have your distribution plan in place. I know you think this will just happen automatically since you’ve been accepted. Don’t count on that. Go into it like that isn’t going to happen and then be pleasantly surprised if it does. Everything you can do to get attention for your film will only help your distribution chances no matter how the film gets distributed.
Congratulations on your acceptance and make the very most of it.
Today on Twitter a discussion erupted between Film Threat’s Mark Bell, Atlanta Film Festival Communications Director Charles Judson and myself about why panel discussions at independent film festivals and film events rarely break new ground or feature new voices, just the same old legacy people talking the same old stuff. So I think I suggested that we start our own discussion on new ideas and feature new voices and host it on Twitter. #filmin140 was born.
Starting September 29 9-10pmET we will do a bimonthly discussion on prearranged topics with guests representing various views but with participation from anyone wanting to participate, ask questions, offer solutions and case studies etc. The first topic under discussion is Film Piracy-Does it help or hurt? We think it will be a lively discussion.
We are open to suggestions from participants for future topics of interest. It is our goal that this forum will forward innovative thinking, champion voices we aren’t hearing who are experimenting and finding success and allow those who do not live in major urban centers or can’t regularly travel to them a place where they can learn and participate. We look forward to hearing from you on Wednesday.
Plant your marketing and distribution seeds at pre-production / production stage. Think about your audience in advance of making your film and think about your title carefully from a marketing point of view too. Do a little research to see if the title has been used recently and might cause confusion with another film currently in the market.
Buy up all related and possibly desired urls and start on the site, draw in traffic and collect names and contact info. Make sure your set photography is top-notch from a marketing and publicity point-of-view. Start building community around your brand as a filmmaker and the film itself, and possibly even sharing parts of the content with your future audience.
TFC has a marketing services menu that includes options for access to a DIY Marketing Toolkit to guide microbudget filmmakers in their own marketing initiatives.
The quick answer is YES….well, maybe. It depends how sought after your film is, and who is representing your film. If you have a world premiere at one of the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, then Festival programmers will request to see your film.
The general rule is if a programmer REQUESTS to see your film and then accepts the film, you can ask for a rental fee (usually between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you SUBMIT to a Festival, then generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. ALSO….niche festivals such as Latino Fests, Jewish Fests, LGBT Fests, Asian fests etc. are much MORE likely to pay you fees to screen your film, because there is less product for them to choose from, so they are more likely to NEED your film in their Festival.