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
My latest post for MovieMaker Magazine covers social media basics for the top 5 social channels. I have written posts regarding social media basics before, but this piece will include Pinterest and Instagram which I did not cover last time. As you may know, I do not view social media as a campaign oriented endeavor. Campaigns are only conducted for a set amount of time (usually for a sales promotion), but I think it is important to understand that social channels are an every day effort; they should be integrated into your creative life indefinitely. The sooner you start using them professionally, the easier it will be to gain benefit from them, especially if you are thinking of self distributing or crowdfunding.
I am not going to republish my article here in its entirety and only the first installment has been published on the MovieMaker site, but here are some highlights:
#1 Facebook 750 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to start and maintain an ongoing relationship with your audience. Ask for feedback, start a discussion, or post your views on a current event. Try to remember, if you only talk about yourself and your work, it’s a boring conversation for everyone else unless you are a celebrity that they are truly interested in. Champion your followers and other artists. As opposed to the fleeting nature of Twitter, Facebook pages are meant for deeper discussions and closer relationships with your supporters.
#2 Youtube 450 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Build a video subscriber base. View counts on videos are great and definitely have a use in securing optimal placement in Youtube search and publicity attention (though it will take many millions of views for it to have an impact on press coverage), but your subscribers are the ones who will see your new videos in their homepage newsfeed and receive an email when you post something new. Also, encourage Likes, comments and shares of your videos as that impacts how Youtube ranks your channel in its search results. If you aren’t prepared to fill this channel with regular content that is HIGHLY compelling, don’t use this social tool.
#3 Twitter 250 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post short (less than 140 character) messages that are funny, informative, or reflect your outlook on life. Not only will you be connecting with the audience of your work, you will also find Twitter a great industry networking tool (for jobs!) and a place to connect with journalists (for media coverage). Make sure that your Twitter handle is posted on all of your communication including email signature and newsletters, website, other social channels, business cards and any About You section where your name is included.
#4 Pinterest 85 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos found or created online. Pinterest runs on well made and captivating images. People who use this social channel are looking for visual masterpieces or images that speak to their lives and emotions. Filmmakers may use Pinterest to tell a visual story about how they became the artists they are; influences, professional tools, and the tastes, style and personality behind the work. For individual projects, Pinterest can be used to tell a backstory on characters (individual boards set up to further explain a character), information on the setting of the story, and mood boards that give the audience a sense of what the film is, apart from just a trailer or poster.
#5 Instagram 50 million unique visits per month
What do you do with it? Use it to post photos and videos taken with a mobile device as your visual representation of every day life rather than a place to post high quality images. Instagram is being used to post on-the-fly photos and short videos taken on the set and making 15 second short trailers and character teaser clips specifically for mobile viewing. Feedback is instantaneous so you will know very quickly if your project is capturing attention and gaining followers.
The full article details how to set up accounts on each social channel and some examples of independent filmmakers to emulate because they excel at building an audience on these channels. The first part (covering Facebook and Youtube) is now live. The second part will be live on November 25.
The idea for this post has been spinning around in my brain for a while and comes up every time I receive a new consultation inquiry. Most filmmakers I encounter are either fairly new to filmmaking or fairly new to the business side of film. They may have been directors for hire in the past so they were only involved in physical production, or they are producers and their last film did not achieve what they had hoped so they are trying again. In these cases, what they want to happen with their film is often very different than what is likely to happen and it is important to know the difference from the outset. It will save so much energy, time and bitterness to be realistic about your chances of achieving your goal.
There are 2 kinds of trajectories producers will encounter; one is the planned course or direction they would like their film to take to market and the other is the course that their film is actually going to take based on its assets. The worst position to be in is believing your film is on track for your goal and find out that you are nowhere close and it is too late to change it. The best is to know from the start what is possible for the film you are making and accept it or change your assets in order to get on a better trajectory. Since I personally don’t like hearing people hedge their statements with “anything is possible,” I am going to forge ahead with a common example, not examples that somehow managed to beat the odds. No use in trying to replicate lightning in a bottle.
A low budget film with no notable cast, no clearly identifiable audience and no money to market and distribute on their own is now in post production and looking for advice on how to market the film in order to attract a significant sale. No one involved in the production has connections within the power community of filmmaker labs (and their mentors), top tier festivals, or reputable sales agents, but still believes a significant sale is achievable and will result in a significant release including multi-city theatrical, cable VOD, broadcast and home video.
From a distance, I know some of you can clearly see where this trajectory is sure to end up…but far too many do not even think about it until too late. It is possible to pull back the curtain on almost any indie film that you see as a success and look at the assets they had from the beginning. Their success trajectory existed before they completed the film. Even before their festival premiere, most likely they had some heavy weight help; perhaps some connected producers, several film labs/incubators lending them support and validation, grants and sponsorship from power organizations, personal connections of the director, cast and crew that could be tapped for help. Success is never 100% assured, but the chances are higher when these assets are in place. It is HIGHLY unusual for a film to come completely from nowhere, with no one notable in it or attached to it and go on to have significant success.
I’m not minimizing the talent and effort of these filmmakers, they certainly have to produce a stunning film that their connections feel proud (and safe) about championing. But if you know that your film is not going to have any of this, the success trajectory of your film will not look like these films. That’s ok, as long as you realize this and your goal is aligned. One only has to look at the recent Gotham Award nominees or the list of Oscar qualifying docs vs the short list and then nominees when it comes out to see what a successful trajectory looks like. Are there ANY that didn’t have major distributors/connected producers/prestigious labs/major festivals behind them? Are there any that DIDN’T have significant releases?
How to change your trajectory? If you need connections, start making them or choose people to help you who can deliver these. Making an undeniably stunning film will pull powerful people to you, but someone has to make the introduction. If your story is going to need a bigger budget with notable names in order to succeed in the market (with buyers, with press, with audiences), don’t tell that story without those things. If you can’t attract that kind of financial backing yet (and most first, second and third timefilmmakers cannot), change your story to suit what you already have at hand or what you can realistically raise including marketing and distribution money so you have more options for release on your own. Often, proving your success will attract the attention of those with more financial muscle who can change your trajectory.
Most importantly remember, it is VERY difficult to change your trajectory once your project is in “motion.” Better to give it more thought before starting.
Photo credit Nathan Wells on Flickr
Quick note of thanks to those who attended my independent film distribution webinar with Atlanta Film Festival. The feedback so far has been positive and we are working on scheduling a marketing plan webinar in the future. As much as I know filmmakers are curious about distribution outlets, the place they encounter the most difficulty is in marketing their work. Hopefully we can sort that out together.
-Content platforms like cable VOD and Netflix are becoming much more selective about the films they choose and the deals they offer, and certain factors weigh heavily into these decisions. “It helps to have played at major festivals, have a small theatrical, great reviews, notable names, a broadcast deal, anything that shows your film has merit and exposure. For documentaries, even if the film hasn’t played the major festivals, playing at some of the major niche festivals shows there’s an audience for the film. If the film has a good outreach campaign and partners with organizations or has a big email list, those can be attractive,” said Danielle DiGiacomo, manager of film distribution at The Orchard
-A film that isn’t attractive for a big buy in foreign countries, but serves niche audiences amassed outside of the U.S., has a range of options. “iTunes is our most comprehensive multi-language, global support platform because we can service about 50 countries, wherever there are iTunes stores. To access iTunes, your film must meet quality standards and have subtitles for those languages and that cost is on you. When we can go worldwide with other platforms, we do.”
-One advantage of using a digital distributor rather than an aggregator is the ability to influence placement on the digital platforms. “This is a new release-driven market, getting on the ‘New and Noteworthy’ or ‘Now in Cinemas’ sections is a big deal. Giving sites like iTunes exclusivity for two weeks before anywhere else also helps with placement. While our team pitches the platforms where we would like the film to be, the sites also determine the placement based on how much they believe in the film and what else is coming out that week. If there are a lot of high-profile titles being released, it will be harder to get good placement. Sometimes they suggest release dates because they know what is coming out when. They also look at artwork, so that is important.”
-The Orchard also operates a multichannel network (MCN) on YouTube, currently ranked fifth in unique visits. As a YouTube-certified company, they have a team dedicated to helping creators optimize their videos for viewer search, monetize their content through advertising and grow channel subscriptions on YouTube. Recently, they formed a relationship with online horror film publisher Shock Till You Drop to jointly promote and distribute horror films worldwide.
We also talked about release strategies and why waiting too long between release windows is a bad idea. Check out the whole interview HERE.
Last week, I talked with Chris Holland on the Film Festival Secrets podcast about what 3 things a producer should consider when choosing a distribution path for a film. I say producer because typically this is a job under their purview…but many times microbudget filmmakers are their own producers (and writer and director and editor). This podcast was recorded in preparation of my upcoming webinar on film distribution hosted by Atlanta Film Festival. I wanted to give everyone a taste of what the hour will cover..it will cover A LOT!
You can listen to the audio of our discussion HERE…or you can read the abbreviation below:
Question #1 Is there a market for this film? What elements does my film need to have in order to get a meaningful release?
There is so much information available online these days that speaks to what is selling. There are a myriad of case studies on various types of films and how they were distributed. A producer needs to be curious about distribution prospects BEFORE getting into production. As I stated in my last blog piece (point #4), if after speaking to industry representatives, you find the film you are hoping to make doesn’t appeal to the industry, you will most likely encounter challenges in the market.
Question #2 Do I have the means to distribute directly?
Since significant distribution deals are rare compared to the amount of films being produced, have you planned for self distribution? How much does that cost? What avenues will be open to your film? Are there barriers to entry on platforms like iTunes, Amazon, cable VOD, Vimeo? We’ll talk about all of this during the session.
Question #3 How to structure the release?
The mantra “Every film is different” couldn’t be more true in the world of independent film. There is NO ROADMAP to success mainly because success doesn’t look the same to every production. Does a film need a theatrical release? Is day and date the right strategy? Should a film go straight to digital platforms? What about broadcast and educational markets? What part do film festivals play in a release strategy? I will talk about all of this including companies to vet and what the repercussions are in deciding on the strategy for your film. Yes, in each choice there are trade-offs and you have to be comfortable with that. But there are also instances where rearranging the release window can actually work in your favor, despite the common opinion that windowing patterns must be closely followed.
From experience, I know that many of you attend markets and panels where a lot of talk happens and you walk away almost more confused than when you went in. I hope to take some of that confusion away with this session. The final half hour will be devoted to answering your specific questions so be prepared.
To sign up for the session, visit this LINK
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>
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.