About 2 years ago, I made a checklist on this site of major items you should prepare and duties to perform at different stages in production in order to implement the marketing strategy of your film . This is an updated list.

Some form of direct distribution (self distribution) should be incorporated into the overall distribution plan of independent films. This helps to safeguard investment should no attractive distribution offers come in for your film because you can at least start recouping the money by getting the film into the market yourself. But it also allows you to see a payoff from all of the hard work you have done in gathering an audience during production. Remember, no one will work for your film as hard as you will so why should you agree to pay sales percentages to an entity that did not take any initial risk in producing the film? In order to put this plan into action, marketing preparation needs to be completed.

Always carve out the ability to sell copies (DVD for now, streaming from now on) and set up your own event screenings where the production has first dollar payment of the proceeds.  If any company wants all rights, they should be paying VERY handsomely for them and be willing to submit a marketing proposal with budget attached that clearly outlines what their marketing plan for the film will be. Otherwise, you are squandering all of the months (or years!) you have put into building up a fanbase by giving up the monetary payoff to a third party who hasn’t clearly explained what they will do with that audience and how they will expand it.

This checklist takes into consideration that you have ALREADY identified and researched the core audience of the film. Also, you have written your marketing plan and budget. The plan is your guide, but this is actually building the road. These items are in no certain order apart from the headings and timeframes.

Marketing/Distribution Check List

Pre-Production (two-four week timeframe)

-Source an on set photographer and set schedule for those days. See this post for more details.

Also arrange for a videographer to shoot separate video content for later use.

-Draft a synopsis – paragraph, 3 lines (100 words) and one line versions (20 words) for festival submissions, website/social media sites, press kit, media inclusions etc.

-Brainstorm creative ideas for film branding, partner with graphic designer and manage production of all branded media/materials going forward.

-Publicity – draft early press release to the trades announcing principal photography.

-Continue  audience research and online listening to “influencers,” bloggers, and grassroots organizations.

-If interested in product placement/branded entertainment opportunities, prepare a pitch document for presentation to companies and set meetings with them.

-Start the process of website development for the film’s official site-source a web designer and flesh out all elements to be included.

-Choose email database program to maintain a fan contact list.

-Think about any additional media/merchandising that could be created for  maintaining audience interest/additional revenue streams.

Production (six week timeframe)

-Write content for website and digital press kits (bios/about/synopsis/production notes/trailer/blog/email signup/estore). Work with graphic designer to match film branding.

-Design website/manage website design firm.

-Publicity – coordinate with local press for coverage on the set.

-Coordinate video shoots of content to be used later for the website/released on social channels.

-Oversee stills photography shoot with actors on set for use as content on website, social networks, on the DVD, media coverage, festivals etc.

-Start researching appropriate festivals.

-Complete and launch website.

-Start utilizing Director’s/Production blog of what is happening on set, respond quickly to questions and feedback.

-Set up Google Alerts keeping a list of relevant links that you can share with your audience on social channels.

-Procure a recent film delivery list from any sales agent/distributor to ensure that you are collecting every item. Put all materials in an organized filing system.

-Start stockpiling material to be used on website/social channels in lead up and throughout release.

Post Production (4-6 months before release)

-Set up IMDB and production listings management once a firm film title and completion date is known because it can be difficult to change a title or production date later.

-Start utilizing email list with weekly blasts of material relevant/useful to your audience.

-Devise a content calendar and start releasing content to populate website/online channels. This material should be well spread out to ensure you will have regular content.

-Choose final publicity stills from the library of photos taken and retouched by the photographer. You will need a mix of scene shots and a few behind the scenes.

-Key art creation. Working with a professional designer is strongly recommended.

-Outreach to influencers, organizations and bloggers and keep them updated with regard to the film.

-Set up social networking sites and start populating. These will need continuous maintenance and responses to feedback from fans. Best to start when you have an idea of the premiere date.

-Set up online monitoring tools to analyze all conversations and press mentions happening around your film and respond to them. Collate weekly reports.

-Edit/update press kit. Multiple video clips/photos needed for various online media and website/social networking sites as well as DVD content. Upload to your website.

-Edit the most gripping trailer anyone has ever seen. Use a professional trailer editor. Choose a date to premiere it to start buzz in lead up to film’s release. Engage the services of a video seeding company.

-Coordinate test screenings of the rough cut, collate notes to give to the editor for adjustments.

-Submit inquiries/applications to festivals or settle on venue and date for film premiere.

-Finalize Key Art layout. Print the posters, business cards, postcards.

-Update IMDB/productions listings with photos, trailer etc.

-Identify possible affiliates for DVD/digital streaming sales if doing this through your own site in future.

-Prepare press release copy for festival acceptances, this can be altered as needed.

-Set up database of all publications and editors to contact for press opportunities. Set up separate page in database to track press breaks/mentions.

-Start theatrical/public screening booking process if possible. May not be possible until outcome of premiere.

-Determine paid advertising placement and book space. Create the ad according to specs.

-Determine and ensure long lead press placement.

-Attach a sales agent if applicable or finalize distribution roll out based on audience media consumption habits/interest from distributors.

Release (6-12 months)

-Plan and coordinate premiere party or event.

-Maintain social channels and website.

-Maintain email communication with fans/influencers.

-Set up/reply to public screening requests.

-Reply and coordinate promotional materials with theater/screening event publicist or event host.

-Apply for award competitions.

-Keep press kit updated.

-Continue to pitch press on feature stories and reviews.

-Encourage audience to leave feedback on imdb, Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon, iTunes etc.

-Set up own digital distribution outlet on website and estore goes live to sell merchandise direct. Manage fulfillment of sales and run special promotions.

These are main points and clearly the person who is primarily responsible for getting these items accomplished will not be working occasionally. A thousand little things will happen in the course of distribution so make sure you have a responsible team and a significant budget to handle it.

 

 Creative commons photo from <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/nocklebeast/6245106345/”>nocklebeast</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

The value of test screening your indie film

December 10, 2012
posted by sheric

No amount of marketing will save a film that needs improvement. Many times I am sent films that need a few more editorial passes or maybe some reshoots to get it at the level it needs to be in order to release successfully.  Mostly these rough cuts are accompanied by a caveat from the filmmaker that this is a temp sound mix or color grade, but that isn’t really what I am looking for. I want to know that the story doesn’t have structural problems, that the pacing isn’t flabby, that the acting is strong. Coloring and music can be easily fixed, but poor acting will make the film hard to save and no amount of clever marketing is going to work for a film that isn’t strong.  It isn’t worth spending significant time and money on marketing a title for a film that really won’t find an audience, not even on the torrent sites.

Test screening the film while in post production is a good way to gauge what an audience will think of your film. While Hollywood studios do this on a regular basis, they usually select a cross-section of the population because they want their film to appeal to a mass audience. They also can use it as a way to badger a director to change endings that fit their point of view, change a story to fit better into a certain, more lucrative demographic or figure out how best to market a title that needs to appeal to a very diverse audience. I am not advocating using your test screenings like this though. You NEED to make sure that the film stands up to audience scrutiny by your core audience, those for whom you made the film. These people are not your friends, the cast, or your family because those people generally offer enthusiasm, not unbiased opinion. What you are looking for is real feedback from people who should like the film you have made, but have no vested interest in sparing your feelings.

I recommend the director and editor view the film with the audience to gauge the feeling in the room. Did the jokes work? Did the tension build? Was there whispered confusion among the audience members at a certain point in the film? What parts seem to need work and what parts already work? Was there a restlessness that indicated the audience was growing disinterested?  Hiding at the local bar while the film is screened means you are hiding from the people most likely to love your work. Don’t do this. You have made the film for them and you should want to know if your vision came through. This can also bring clarity to both the director and the editor who can sometimes find the editing suite combative.

Besides watching with an audience and taking your own notes on what you felt they reacted to (good and bad), you also want to give them a questionnaire to fill out so you can analyze their feedback. A few of your questions will concern pacing (were there places that lagged?), confusion over the plot, and perhaps most importantly, would they recommend this film to their friends? If the bulk of your marketing effort is going to focus on using social media, having people recommend the film is going to be crucial to the success of that effort. Ideally, they will want to sign up to your email list so they can keep up with the news of the film so make sure you ask for this information. You may also want to engage in a post screening discussion because more issues may be clarified for you in conversation rather than only on paper.

For indie filmmakers, employing an agency to handle the test screening process will be financially wasteful. For the purpose of making your film stronger, chances are you can handle organizing these small screenings on your own. You’ll need about 15-20 people in your core audience, NOT a diverse group. Your limited resources are going to be spent on connecting only to this audience while your distribution partners later will help you to expand beyond it. Therefore, it is very important that the film resonates with these people specifically.

This will probably mean overbooking the screening because there will always be those who don’t show. You may find potential test screening audiences on Meetup.com, craigslist,  churches, community centers etc. Wherever you have pinpointed in your marketing plan that your audience is likely to be reached (this also helps you test the soundness of your marketing plan!) I don’t really recommend online test screenings because you can’t gauge the room for those screenings. After months of sitting alone with your film, it is time to venture out and see how it plays to a live audience. I am betting your perceptions of your film really will change once you are sitting in the room with strangers.

If you can, test screen again after making changes and hopefully you will find problems solved or gain different perspectives on the story. These can help you in figuring out the stance to take when presenting the film to industry people as well as your own marketing. Ultimately I am suggesting that you not attempt to distribute the film in any way until it has seen a test screening or two to insure that your story reaches its greatest potential.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cavale/5248345830/”>cavale</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

 

There is no audience for this film

September 28, 2012
posted by sheric

Many indie filmmakers, especially documentary filmmakers, hear this phrase from potential sales agents and distributors as a reason the film isn’t picked up for distribution. Let’s dissect what they are really saying.

It will take us too much time, effort, and money to reach this audience.

You may know, through spending many years making the film, that there IS an audience for it, but is that audience big enough to rake in the revenue needed by these facilitators? Distribution companies deal with a catalog of films for many years and each one needs some sort of attention if the title is to sell. Many times they use the same methods for every title because those processes and staff have been in place for a long time. They aren’t going to hire new staff and formulate new processes just to deal with one title.

The less time, effort and money they can spend on getting an audience or a subdistributor interested in buying, the better for them. They also have normal business overhead to pay like their employees, their office space, legal costs, utilities etc, which you,  the filmmaker, may not have, to the same financial degree, on a daily basis. So the revenue from each film they need to sustain themselves in business, not to mention your cut of this, needs to add up with minimal outlay. Challenging films or films with a limited audience are not attractive for this reason because too much effort will be involved to reach those people for the small amount of revenue that audience represents.

Often, I read news stories of films that are raising money and heading into direct distribution because mainstream distributors passed on the title and the stories are usually tinged with indignance, “they didn’t believe in our film” kind of sentiment. It is simply a business decision that the film doesn’t make financial sense for the distributor. It may make great financial sense for the filmmaker to self distribute though.

With this knowledge, filmmakers who have prepared their distribution strategy, allocated a budget/staff and do have a clearly defined core audience will be in a better position to incorporate direct distribution because they know exactly who supports their work, how to reach them and the outlets they should use for sales. Those outlets may be organizational/educational screenings and merchandise sales, specialist websites for affiliate sales, their own website, digital outlets that can be accessed either directly or through an aggregator on a non exclusive basis, and incorporating tools like Tugg or Gathr to book conventional theatrical screenings. These will all generate revenue that goes to the filmmaker without excessive percentages taken and waiting months (or years) for a check. Planning and preparation is needed for this during the preproduction/production phase at least.

Most films of quality do have an audience, but they may not have the masses required by a distribution company. There is no longer a need or an excuse to put a film on the shelf because a company didn’t acquire it.

 

SXSW, upcoming film events, book to be in print

August 23, 2011
posted by sheric

Just a little update for all the readers here.

I am involved in 2 SXSW panel proposals for the 2012 festival. Both contain some pretty awesome people and information that I think you will all find valuable.

Connect with Fans + Reasons to Buy = $$$

This is a workshop/speed brainstorm type of event moderated by Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt , an online blog focused on analyzing and offering insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow.

My fellow panelists are Ross Pruden, founder of the Twitter discussion panel #infdist among other things and Jon Reiss, I think most of you are familiar with him. :) We will be taking  film project examples from participants in the room and dreaming up alternative revenue streams to help maximize your ROI. Gone are the days where you can be completely dependent on making money from selling copies of your film. When copies can be obtained for free online, you could try and sue, issue take down notices OR you could build in other ways to make money so that your revenue isn’t completely dependent on selling copies. New business models are emerging every day in other sectors, why not in film?

I envision a very high energy session with ideas flying out from everywhere so bring a recording device to catch them all. If you think this would be a much more useful session than just listening to the same industry folks sitting at a table talking about how bad everything has become, VOTE! We want to shake things up at SXSW.

Selling Your Film Without Getting F*#ked

Yes the title is a little racy, but we were told that’s what gets attention when people look through the event catalog to choose sessions they want to attend. Besides, you’re INDIE so you can take it.

This is a panel I am moderating and it will include several independent filmmakers who have traveled the distribution path less taken. All have retained some rights over their work and received attention and revenue for their films be it organizing their own theatrical tours, using festivals as a source of revenue by charging screening fees, or enlisting the help of high power industry people to champion their films. Some have even managed to do equitable deals with distributors! Our panelists are Ava DuVernay, Casper Andreas, Thomas Woodrow and our very own co author of Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, Orly Ravid who is also the founder and co executive director of The Film Collaborative, a non profit (on purpose!) organization dedicated to brokering equitable deals mainly with the filmmaker in mind. If you would like to hear from real people in the trenches of the business of independent film who can offer you good and usable advice, VOTE for this panel.

moving on….

I will be traveling to 2 important independent film events in September. The first is the Business of Film Conference held at Rice University in Houston, Texas on September 10. I’m going to be speaking on DIY marketing, some of the tools you can use right now and how best to use them. I will also be on a panel with my friend Orly to talk a little about why we wrote SYFWSYS, key takeaways we learned through talking to all of our filmmaker participants in the book, and how The Film Collaborative helps filmmakers who are trying to negotiate the best distribution deals for themselves, not for the distributor.

Next will be our book launch at IFP Week in New York City. I am scheduled to be a panelist on Monday September 19 for Walking the Line: The Fine Art of Self Promoting Your Film so if you are attending that talk, come up and say hi after. Our launch cocktail party hosted by SnagFilms will be in the evening from 6-8pm and if you want to be invited, leave your email address on the SYFWSYS site under the Get tab. All of the authors will be in attendance and we will be selling printed copy books that you can have autographed if you want or just stare at us in disbelief! There will be wine and I will be having some.

Speaking of printed copies of the book, yeah there will be that option. I know what you’re thinking, this was supposed to just be a digital book with all the lovely bells and whistles currently available such as video, url links, social media sharing. It still will be that and for the month of September, right after launch on September 13, it will be completely FREE on ALL platforms thanks to the sponsors who have helped us make the development of the book possible. Starting in October, that price climbs to a whopping $4.99. But now, due to a multitude of feedback that says to me filmmakers aren’t the early adopters I thought they were, we will have physical copies of the book too just so you can highlight, dog ear and not worry about the battery life of your reading device when reading it. Gigantic thanks to our sponsors, Prescreen who upped their sponsorship commitment for this and Area23a Movie Events, for enabling us to go to print without any personal outlay of money. We are planning to have the physical copies in by our launch party on September 19 and you can leave a presale request on our site. I think a Topspin shopping cart is going to be implemented within days to allow for that. The retail price on the paperback is $19.95

Ok folks, we’re in countdown to launch mode. We have a tips series going on indieWire over the next few weeks. You can find our advice about things to know before you embark on the festival circuit here and audience building tips from me and some of the participants in the book here.

Your Content Strategy

March 9, 2011
posted by sheric

You’ve heard me (and many other inbound marketing strategists) say that marketing is more about providing value to your audience; giving them information and knowledge they can use in exchange for keeping their attention; than it is about blasting out one way messages. The value you offer should not be all about you and your project. So, how in the heck to do you find other things to talk/write about? I’m reading a very useful book at the moment called Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum and there is a chapter devoted to this question. For those working as PMDs, this book will really help in implementing a content strategy.

Your Content Strategy

While you may not see yourself or your projects as a form of curation, the key to creating a community is taking a leadership role and you do it by being a guide. You and your team should become a resource for interesting content that surrounds your project without overwhelming people with self centered information. These are the steps to setting up a good content strategy.

1) Pick a blog platform-Rosenbaum recommends WordPress, Movable Type and Blogger (I recommend WordPress.org with your own URL). Or if you are more of a micro blogger, Tumblr.

2)Find your keywords- He recommends doing keyword searches if you are looking for strong SEO on your posts. Tools he suggested for this are SEMRush (which costs $49.95 per month), Compete.com (there are free and paid options), Rank Tracker (free version up to $249 for enterprise version) and Word Tracker (free version and $69 per month version). You can also use Google Keyword Tool for free.

3)Using RSS feeds-Really Simple Syndication for newbies. These tools search the internet for content that is of interest to your audience and send it directly to you rather than having to search the internet manually. A tool I didn’t know about is called FastFlip, a kind of customized magazine of topics you have chosen. Just put in a keyword you want to find info on and it brings up a page of posts in graphical form. You can do essentially the same things using Google Alerts and Google Reader. It depends on how you process information really. You can use these stories to populate your Facebook feed, your Twitter feed, your Tumblr account or as inspiration to write a blog post. This system is really the heart of your content calendar. Once you decide on what topics to cover for the month, you can start searching for posts that will provide information or inspiration to riff on in your writing. I also use Diigo to bookmark links that I think will be useful to me later, you can even highlight text on the page and save it to your library and tag it with words to help you remember what you have collected on certain topics.

4)Using Twitter-Rosenbaum says consider Twitter your uber-aggregator. It will help you find links to stories AND the people who are sending these around so you can be sure to follow them and strike up a conversation. He recommends TweetAlarm to monitor your keywords, your project mentions, your @mentions. I use TweetDeck, but whatever.

5)Provide a mix-You don’t have to create every piece of content yourself. It can come from guest bloggers, your audience, videos someone else has made, a Flickr feed of photos etc. You and your team will set the tone based on your personality and the characteristics of your project. Is it casual and fun, serious and mission oriented, informative and technical? This tone will serve as guidance to others on what to expect from their experience on your site.

Ideally, you will have someone devoted to doing this work (hence the PMD reference above) because I understand you don’t have time to do this every day or even a few times a week. Having new content is imperative if you plan on keeping your audience interested in your projects over the long term and getting in the habit of servicing that interest by using tools to make it easier will pay off in not having to start over again every time you have new work to release.

Live in The Production Office

July 1, 2010
posted by sheric

Today was the season finale of Chris Jones’ webshow The Production Office. When I visited him in May, we shot this interview and it aired on the show today. In case you missed it, here it is again. To watch all of the past shows, encore presentations are available on his site www.chrisjonesblog.com

Live in The Production Office

check listI have been asked many times if I am planning to write a book about my knowledge of social networking and independent film marketing in today’s distribution landscape. I think that book has been written already and that’s why I work to support it. Since I hammer home the idea of starting this marketing process as early in production as possible, I thought I would make a little checklist of things you should remember when organizing your marketing plan. The list is primarily targeted toward new PMD’s or filmmakers handling their own marketing. The checklist is to be followed AFTER you have identified your target audience. The timeframes are rough estimates for completion.

Pre-Production (two-four week timeframe)
-Breakdown script for publicity shot opportunities on set-source a photographer and set schedule for those days
-Draft a synopsis – paragraph, 3 lines and one line versions for festival submissions, website/social media sites, media inclusions
-Brainstorm creative ideas for film branding, partner with graphic designer and manage production of all branded media/materials
-Set up IMDB and production listings management
-Publicity – draft early press release to the trades announcing principal photography
-Start research and outreach (if haven’t already) to “influencers,” bloggers, and grassroots organizations
-If interested in product placement/branded entertainment opportunities, pitch these to companies, also ask for cross promotion
-Start the process of website development for the film’s official site-source a web designer and flesh out all elements to be included
-Choose email database program to maintain a fan contact list
-Think about any additional media (some call it transmedia) that could be created for additional interest/revenue streams

Production (six week timeframe)
-Write content for website and digital press kit
(bios/about/synopsis/production notes/trailer/blog)
-Key art and one-sheet creation
-Design website and manage website design firm
-Publicity – coordinate with local press for coverage on the set
-Create digital press kit -trailer plus content for the website including hi-res downloadable/reproducible key art and publicity stills used for traditional press, bloggers, organizations, social networking sites, festivals and future distributors
-EPK/stills photography shoot with actors/producers on set for use as content on website, social networks, on the DVD, media coverage
-Start researching appropriate festivals
-Complete and launch website
-Set up social networking sites-these will need continuous maintenance and responses to feedback from fans
-Set up and start utilizing Director’s/Production blog of what is happening on set, respond quickly to questions and feedback
-Keep influencers, organizations and bloggers updated with regard to the film
-Set up Google Alerts, or other clipping services like Metro Monitor or Burrelles Luce, and respond in comments to anyone who mentions your film
-Set up Twitter alerts, columns in TweetDeck etc. to monitor conversations about your film and respond to them

Post Production (five to seven week timeframe)
-Choose final publicity stills from the library of photos taken, mix of scene shots and a few behind the scenes
-Edit EPK. Multiple clips needed for various online media and website/social networking sites as well as DVD content
-Edit the most gripping trailer anyone has ever seen. Put it everywhere
-Finalize one-sheet layout. Print the sheets, business cards, postcards
-Update IMDB/productions listings with photos, content
-Submit applications to festivals
-Complete website and launch
-Set up digital press kit on a site such as drop.io-you will continually add clippings as they come in
-Coordinate test screenings if applicable
-Identify possible affiliates for DVD sales if doing this through your own site
-Continue to monitor online conversations about your film and media write ups. Respond appropriately
-Prepare press release copy for festival acceptances, this can be altered as needed
-Set up database, or access previous one, of all publications and editors to contact for press opportunities