The good people at the Binger Filmab in Amsterdam have kindly asked me to present a one day workshop on audience identification and audience building. This won’t be purely a lecture course on theory and tools, nor is it one big presentation for myself as a consultant. We are really going to zero on audience targets for each project that signs up, dig into what tools can be used to identify influencers and engage with them and talk about other tools such as publicity, advertising and what kind of budgets will be needed to carry out an audience building plan. Also what elements will be needed as far as web sites, social content, ecommerce and merchandising. It isn’t enough to only make a good film (but you DO need that!), you also must know who you are creating it for, how you will get in touch with them, and how you will stay in touch with them throughout your career. No more waste in starting over again for each new project!
My hope is that all projects will walk out of the room with an action plan based on what we figured out together. There will be ample time for hands on work and guidance from myself and from my Dutch counterpart Heleen Rouw who will talk about Dutch specific tools.
Production teams have until this FRIDAY MAY 17 to sign up.
I am looking forward to meeting Dutch filmmakers and visiting Amsterdam again.
Immediately after this workshop, I will be headed to Sheffield DocFest to be part of the MeetMarket. If you would like to schedule time with me there to figure out your audience identification and engagement plan, please shoot me an email.
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
This post was originally published on The Film Collaborative blog on August 29, 2012
It is a question I was thinking deeply about because I encounter filmmakers and industry players all the time who say that they put up a Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, started a Youtube channel, but the people didn’t come, views didn’t go up and the sales didn’t happen. So what’s the point? It doesn’t work, clearly. I know they opened those accounts because it is “the thing to do” and besides it was free which is totally budget friendly, but just opening up accounts with no time, commitment, team, strategy, budget to maintain and grow them and truly utilize what they are best at is not going to work and I recommend to go ahead and close them. Seriously!
Yes, social media is the newest communication tool (really it isn’t that new, but some still think it is) and Americans in particular spend almost 80% of their time on the internet (30% are online globally), with 22% of their time on social networking sites and 21% of their time in internet searches (there are over a billion search queries on Google every day!). I’m sure you can find another way to communicate with these people though, perhaps visiting door to door or cold calling or throwing obscene amounts of money into advertising all over the place and crossing your fingers (works for Hollywood). You’ve got that kind of time and money, yes? Honestly, start now thinking about what tools you will be using instead.
Once I look at what is being done with these sites, I am hardly surprised that it isn’t working. Most artists do not have a commitment to building up strong ties with an audience, they do not use social tools for “listening” and researching what audiences respond to, they do not post regularly except for “please make it happen for us on Indiegogo,” “Vote for my film on (name some film contest site),” or “my film is now available on iTunes.” Basically the chatter is all “do something for me” which is really tedious to read (I would say every day, but they don’t usually post regularly). For many publicists, this is how the channels are used as well; here’s a press kit, write about my client except that instead of only reaching writers, they are broadcasting to everyone and rarely listening at all.
I wrote some time back about how Facebook wasn’t a good sales medium and I still stand by that post though there have been changes at Facebook that affect showing up in a newsfeed and the use of landing pages. Facebook, of course, would have you believe that it is a good sales tool, after all they have the most to gain from perpetuating that idea in the business community.
If all you are using social media for is sales, STOP. I release you from feeling the burden of using auto tweeting and sending that same message through all of your profiles. No longer should you hire outside companies to do it for you either and pretending to be you. If you have done this, you already know it doesn’t work. Stop paying companies to send 5 prewritten tweets a day about your film to their 60K+ followers. You will not find that it makes much difference if that is the only effort you are making. Stop making inquiries for “some of that social media stuff” so your trailer will “go viral.”
Here is what the tool is very best used for; name/brand recognition, trust and loyalty building, sustained interest, long term sales and that most indescribable feeling of connection that begins to permeate. This is really an emotional space and it is something I would think independent artists would understand, you express ideas and emotions in your own work, right? And you hope to convey that to other people and elicit some kind of emotion from them. I know you don’t usually start from “I’m making a product that’s going to sell” point of view so why do you use social sites that way?
I say indescribable because you can’t point to that one “campaign” that brought your work to someone’s attention, it is an ongoing process that sinks deeper than “a message” or tagline and begins to spread and lasts far longer because little pieces of your thoughts, your connections and projects leave footprints behind online; not just on Twitter and Facebook, but everywhere on the internet globally. Someone who stumbles across your efforts, even years later, can find you and evidence of your work. No ad campaign or newspaper clipping is going to allow for that. Many people point to Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds as being fleeting and they are, but you can make more, endlessly. Can you do that for little money with an ad in the Times (pick a city) or a magazine cover story? While you may feel like you reach more people in a short amount of time, there’s a new cover story tomorrow or next month about someone else. There are only so many covers to fill, only so many talk shows to be on, only so much space in the newspaper or magazine for ads. Should you ever use traditional media? Should you ever use advertising? Yes, of course, but now you can have one more tool to use that is available to anyone, anywhere. You can choose to use it or not, but make sure you understand how to use it correctly and commit to doing it, every day. Also come to terms with the fact that if you are choosing not to use it, you are totally dependent on having third parties promote your work. New artists emerge every day and very few companies [and consumers!] are truly committed to anyone.
Without a commitment to developing a community of supporters by using social media, save your time and possibly money and find another tool. You won’t be successful here.
Now that there is some form of distribution available to every project made, whether it is working with a service company to theatrically release or uploading the project online for free and enabling perpetual viewing, it is time to acknowledge that new mindsets and skills are needed not just for filmmakers, but also for film promotion. Traditionally, a publicist’s role was to leverage the relationships she had formed with editors and journalists (the media) to ensure story placement in publications and she strived to convey a cohesive message about a film. She endeavored to control the message and those who were allowed to carry it. The prominence of social channels has torn this process apart. Now, the media aren’t the only ones talking about a film and it is getting increasingly difficult to control the message. It is becoming more prevalent to create the dialog instead.
Whether you choose to take on the promotional role yourself as a microbudget filmmaker or you are looking to start working in film promotion, the skills now needed go well beyond writing a good press release and having a good database of personal contacts ( but you still need those too). Here is a look at some emerging skills with the knowledge that it is nearly impossible to find strong abilities for all of these in one person.
-Storytelling and curation. Writing skills still play a vital role in film publicity, but there’s more writing now than ever. As social tools enable a production to reach an audience directly and wherever they congregate online, something besides a “message” must be written. Stories that are memorable, relatable and “sticky” will pull people to you and keep them coming back and the stories aren’t only written by a journalist; not when one has a blog, a newsletter, a Tumblr page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Pinterest boards and possibly participating in forums. We’re now talking to the audience, not through third party media. Many more tools, many more skills needed to understand how each one works and how to get the most from them. A visual sense of storytelling is needed as well because many of the social posts that get the most interactions and shared are photos/videos/infographics. In order to develop stories that resonate, one must spend much more time getting to know the audience as people with definite tastes and interests, not as faceless, broad demographics. Also, time must be spent finding great information and sharing it which is just as important (perhaps MORE important) as creating it. Tools that help aggregate useful information and inspire self published content will need to be found and this has become a standard duty in the work day.
-Technical skills. The ability to code, photo and video edit and format, graphic design, link building and SEO, as well as keeping up with every little trick Facebook settings can throw at you will become increasingly useful. In order to use the new tools effectively and keep to a modest budget, personal training should be undertaken to develop a good understanding and at least a basic level of performance.
-Observation and monitoring. Learning to listen first is without a doubt a very useful skill in the online world. Too many times we are pushed to “sell” “convert” “promote” with no real understanding of who we are talking to and what they care about. Indeed, previously it was difficult to know what “they” care about because “we” didn’t really talk to “them”, but this isn’t the case anymore. Sharing opinions, recommendations, emotions, interests, locations, and personal details abound on the internet and there is no longer an excuse to guess about the needs and wishes of the audience. They are talking online every day, so listen. Monitoring conversations, picking out trending topics, predicting what is likely to spark interest, and THEN actively participating in those communities in an authentic way is how to get the information and interest flowing.
-Measurement. This is now the world of big data and making sense of everything that can be tracked (because lots can be accurately tracked) is increasingly needed. Analytical skills to evaluate trends, outcomes, and correctly interpret and apply data are skills that enable communicators to turn data into actionable work and measure return on investment. Also, turning data into visual interpretations for management (charts, graphs, statistics) helps show the impact of your work or where things need to be adjusted.
-Fundraising and organizational outreach. Not a week passes that I am not asked about advice on a crowdfunding initiative. Crowdfunding is not only about raising money, but also raising a profile, creating attention, building mutually beneficial partnerships and gathering an audience for a project that may just be starting. Understanding the needs and motivations of a particular group of people sounds quite psychological and it is. Communicators have always needed to be aware of psychological triggers that cause people to care about the message, but in the online space where one isn’t face to face and many decisions hinge on long earned trust, it takes a different mindset and skillset than writing out a good prospectus or pitch letter. Continual research and outreach to influencers and organizations helps to build up the long term trust that can enable one to call on help when it is needed, whether it is financial help, spreading the word on a project or collaborating together by submitting material (crowdsourcing) in order to give the project a richer life than one the production could create on their own.
-Constant adaptation. Most of the above skills are a catalog of communication demands that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. Nothing is constant in life but change, right? You can be sure that as new technology and platforms emerge and information gets even thicker and faster, the ability to learn something that wasn’t around even last year will serve you well. Spend time every day learning, reading, and practicing for improvement. A Google search engine is a wonderful thing and nearly everything can be researched and learned for nearly free online. Failing to understand when the shiny new tool becomes THE necessary tool in the pack could marginalize you. Keep up with the trends and adapt accordingly.
I will be participating in a half day workshop in Los Angeles on May 26, 2012 with The Film Collaborative’s Orly Ravid and Jeffrey Winter. This will be an intensive session filled with tools and strategies you should know regarding building an audience with online tools, utilizing film festivals and how to plan your distribution with particular emphasis on digital distribution. This workshop is for filmmakers who are ready to accept the new challenges of film marketing and distribution and not intended for those only seeking a traditional, all rights scenario. Tickets are more than affordable ($20 for TFC members, $50 for non members) and are on sale now.
I am scheduled to virtually appear at an event in LA on Thursday December 15 to talk about online distribution of independent films. I know what you’re thinking…you’re confused enough about all this talk. You just want to make your movie and let someone take it from there. Boy, are you on the wrong site!
This event is going to be for those entrepreneurial filmmakers who understand that making the film is less than half the war. The first battle started with the idea and the funding, continued through to the making of the film, but now how to get it into the market so people will see it? And what about festivals, are they the way to go? And putting your film online? And say you do get a distributor interested, then what? How about working with a publicist, a web designer, a trailer editor, a social media guru? Do you really need all of that? We’re going to talk about it all and more in this short 2 hours. I am going to try and convince you to be thinking about all of it before you even pick up a camera!
I’ll be joining my friend Rob Millis from Dynamo Player which is a great online distribution tool you control so that your film can be streamed on your website or Facebook in exchange for money (which is better than streamed via Youtube or BitTorrent for free, yeah?) and Jerome Courshon who regularly speaks on the secrets of distribution. The name of this great event is
And it is presented by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes who, along with my friend Chris Jones, co wrote the Guerilla Filmmaker Handbook series. I’ll specifically be talking about low and micro budget films and the things you can do yourself to ensure there is an audience for your work and you can reach them. The new hope is you don’t have to depend on finding outside distribution deals to get your film to its audience, but you will need skills that you probably haven’t needed before and we’re all here to help you get them.
Date: Thursday, 15th December, 2011.
Where: Sacred Fools Theater, 660 North Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90004. Free parking in lot next to theater.
Tel: (310) 281-8337
Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm.
Price: $35 (seating is limited. Discount code is SHERI for $15 discount which makes the night only $20. Just click Enter Discount Code and put it in).
First, filmmakers should start by knowing for whom their story is. NO, it isn’t for everyone. You can’t reach “everyone” so really narrow it down, even beyond demographic characteristics, to interest levels. What would this person wear to your screening? Really get down into that kind of detail. Start with yourself: why do you like this story, what draws you to tell it? From there you will know where to find people similar to yourself and how to speak to them.
Social media is about authentic voice and speaking to real people, not faceless masses. If you only have a vague idea of who your audience is at the beginning, it will stay vague and you won’t effectively be able to reach them or anyone. This work cannot be done from the outside; you can’t just hire a marketing company to tweet for your film. They have no idea what to say to someone who actually starts a dialog. This work needs to be done by someone embedded both within the production and within the audience community of your film. This doesn’t mean you as a director or producer are totally off the hook to connect with people, and you shouldn’t want that anyway, but having what Jon Reiss would call a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) to help alleviate the total burden of connecting with an audience [burden in the context of generating content that keeps them engaged] and determining the most lucrative and efficient method to release the film is a smart idea.
This work cannot wait until the film is in post because social relationships take time to build and only giving it a month or two of attention isn’t going to result in much awareness. It also takes time to prepare for distribution outlets whether you are going to use the festival circuit as your theatrical or book community screenings, or book traditional theaters. Whether you will release online at the same time, or soon after and which outlets will you use? How much will you charge? What publications do you need to develop relationships with to get great coverage, what is the website going to look like and how will it change during the production process (yes, it will change)? There will be a need for extra content, more than one trailer or a series of clips, sourcing other content or creating it. These are all jobs that cannot be done in a hurry and someone needs to be on it. What about sponsorship? Who will handle the sponsorship proposals and logistics?
These are not the skills of typical film producers but someone now needs to be overseeing it and not involved with the filmmaking process. It isn’t work that falls within the realm of traditional publicist, unit publicist or the average distribution company, so someone needs to be handling this from very early on and that someone is a member of the film team. Also, taking on the responsibility gives you more leverage. You know who your audience is, how they will consume what you make, you are in contact with them every day and you don’t need to give up rights or revenue in order to sell to them, so why would you sign away your rights to do this? It doesn’t make sense.
To read the entire piece, click here.
Bill Woolery worked 2 decades in trailer editing for major studios and TV campaigns. There are mistakes he continually sees with trailers that are edited by inexperienced filmmakers. Three of the biggest are use of music cues that are too slow and weak to make the trailer work, use of very slow fade-ups and downs, and telling the story chronologically.
Regarding music, Bill says, “Music is the life-blood of a trailer. All theatrical movie trailers have wall-to-wall music and documentary fundraising trailers do, too. That’s because the tension and flow in a trailer cannot be broken from top to bottom. Also, the music must have a momentum. Or at least some kind of pulse that constantly moves the trailer forward. If the film has been scored, my first step is to review all the cues. Obviously, it’s best to use cues that are in the main piece and have no licensing issues. In a majority of cases, however, I have to go elsewhere to get the right trailer music. Sometimes mystery or poignant cues from the main piece will work in the first part of a trailer, but when I get to ‘the build,’ I usually have to find new cues. As for licensing: I first try using the royalty-free cues I have in my library. If I can’t make these work, I move on to other cues that are in a legally gray area. If I’m cutting a fundraising trailer, there’s no problem. These trailers are not intended for the general public and there’s no ‘profit’ involved. I feel free using any music I think is appropriate. But I do avoid well-known songs with well-known singers. Instrumental cues are generally fine. I never touch anything that Disney owns – they’re very protective.”
I asked him about setting the tone or the emotional impact of a trailer. For me, this is the key to making a good trailer. It isn’t so much about what is the story, but giving a sense of what you will experience when you see the film. I also want the trailer to be “sticky” or resonate deeply. “As I mentioned earlier, a trailer is emotion from beginning to end. It should have a distinctive ‘emotional temperature,’ a specific tone to it. It should live in its own little emotional world. Many times, it’s what people remember about a trailer – whether they’re conscious of it or not. It’s critical that your trailer editor can create this ‘world’ and it is one of the most important reasons for hiring a professional. This isn’t about adding something new to your material, it’s about selecting certain elements from your whole piece and utilizing them in different, creative ways.”
Motion graphics and voice overs are two common elements found in today’s film trailers. I asked Bill if the typical trailer editor has a skill for motion graphics and when a VO is best used. “I enjoy motion graphics and I’m always amazed by what can be done with After Effects. When it appeared on the editing scene, I wanted to learn everything about it, but discovered these type of programs are enormously complex. They require major learning curves and are continually being updated. I don’t hesitate to use motion graphics when I think they’re appropriate, but I’m a story-telling editor and working out these complex graphics required hours of my time. It took me away from doing what I do best –which is finding the ‘heart’ of the story and creating a great trailer around it. The After Effects people I work with have little interest in story editing. So it’s a great fit. They love what they do and I love what I do.”
“My VO rule goes like this:
A. Let’s try and tell this story without any VO. I think people naturally resist being told what to think. It’s much better to let the dialogue bites tell the story and the viewer can draw their own conclusions.
B. Sometimes there are certain story points or links that are not stated in the dialogue bites. It’s then time for title cards or a VO to fill in the missing info. This doesn’t have to extend thru the whole trailer. VO or cards can setup the story in the first 20 seconds and then you can let the dramatic portion flow unimpeded through to the end.”
Many times you’ll notice that there are green band and red band trailers. Green band trailers are approved for all audiences by the Motion Picture Association of America. Do trailers and films HAVE to be rated by the MPAA? “There’s no law that says movies (and docs) theatrically released in the U.S. must be rated by the MPAA, but it’s the policy of all the major theater chains to only show MPAA-rated movies. Even when I was cutting trailers for studio features (at Paramount), every trailer had to be green-band (G or PG) even though the feature might be rated R (red-band). Studio movie trailers are often attached to release prints of other movies and sent all over the country, so the trailers had to be able to play without any restrictions.”
Finally, I asked the question most of my readers would want to know. How much should you budget for a trailer editor? “When I created my business as a trailer editor to the documentary community, I realized the financial levels were much lower that those found in the commercial entertainment world. For a full-service documentary trailer coming from the original material, $3500 would be a realistic figure for 3 weeks of work. If I’m working only with scenes in your edited project, it can be less. If that doesn’t work with your budget, I offer detailed consultations that can significantly improve your existing trailer. These range in costs according to the depth of my involvement. I can write up notes and suggestions to improve your trailer or I actually edit a re-assembly of it that you can smooth out and finalize yourself. Costs for these services run from $175 to $500. Consultations are, by far, the most popular way my clients are able to achieve a successful trailer.”
My thanks to Bill Woolery for taking time to share his knowledge and expertise. If you would like to work with him or take one of his trailer workshops, head on over to his website.