Today’s guest post was written by Gabriel Diani in response to my post asking filmmakers if Facebook is still worth their time? Gabe thinks it is for his work, but for reasons that pertain specifically to his audience demographic, which may not be the case for everyone. Ultimately, this is a decision that everyone who uses Facebook for business reasons must confront and evaluate.
Let’s be clear: I have no love for Facebook.
The changes to their sharing algorithm since they took the company public nearly torpedoed the Kickstarter campaign for my movie “Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse.” Much has been written about it since then but in case you don’t know, here are the basics:
-Facebook now only shows a small portion of your posts to your friends unless you pay to boost your post;
-Facebook only shows a small portion of your page posts to the people who have liked it unless you pay to promote your post;
-Even if you pay to promote or boost your post and more of your friends and followers see your posts, they are not paying to have their posts boosted so any LIKES and SHARES can’t go viral as easily as they used to.
There’s certainly more Facebook is guilty of, but these were the main changes responsible for Facebook dropping from our number one referrer for our previous successful Kickstarter campaigns to number three behind our personal email list and Kickstarter itself.
So, yeah, I’m not the biggest Facebook fan and was delighted by Eat24.com’s fantastic open Facebook break-up letter to the world. Sadly, though, we can’t afford to break up with them ourselves yet. Why, you may ask, dear reader? Well, I’ll tell you in an easily digestible numbered list.
1) WE HAVE AN OLDER DEMOGRAPHIC. A lot of the audience we’ve built up over the years tend to be more in the 30 years old and up range…sometimes way up. These aren’t the people constantly seeking out the next social media platform. Some of them are on Twitter, fewer on Vine, and they have no idea what Tumblr, Instagram, or Snapchat are. We have no way of migrating these people to another platform…at least not until the Facebook backlash gets strong enough to affect this group.
2) WE’RE STILL GETTING INTERACTION. It’s not like it used to be and we can’t reach a lot of our audience, but we still get interaction from them that we’re not getting elsewhere. I posted our first behind the scenes production still the other day on my personal page and got 43 LIKES and 2 SHARES. Pics on our DDMTA Facebook page and from cast and crew timelines are pulling in 16-40 LIKES as well. Is that enough for us to tell the world about our movie? Absolutely not. But in the world of micro-budget producing it’s something we can’t afford to lose.
3) FACEBOOK WAS STILL NUMBER 3 IN OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN. Despite it’s nefarious fall from grace, Facebook still was a bigger referrer than Tumblr, Reddit, Google+ or any of the growing platforms. This is partly because we haven’t spent years building up our audience base on these platforms. We created a video for our campaign with Janet Varney from the hit anime show “The Legend of Korra” that was reblogged and shared on Reddit and Tumblr thousands of times, but it didn’t translate into very many pledges.
4) WE DON’T HAVE EAT24.COM’S AUDIENCE. Eat24.com got a lot of great press off their leaving Facebook and probably got a lot of followers on Twitter and whatever other platforms they’re on, but they also undoubtedly lost some followers/fans who aren’t on those other platforms. They were starting with a much larger audience than we have so they can afford to lose some.
It would be lovely to be able to follow Eat24.com’s lead and break up with Facebook in protest, but unfortunately we’re stuck with it for the moment. We will definitely be focusing our audience building efforts on other platforms in the hopes of being able to cut the cord some day…and who knows? Maybe Facebook will start treating us like it did when we first started going out.
What about you? Have you seen a decline in your Facebook reach and interactions or is your page still holding steady or growing? Let me know in the comments along with any advice you want to share.
Today’s guest post is from one of my G+ community members, Scott McMahon of Arrowinn Entertainment. Scott recently released his ultra low budget film THE CUBE by hosting a local cinema release and via Vimeo On Demand. He is sharing some of what he is learning so that other ultra low budget filmmakers will have a better understanding of what it takes to use and make revenue from digital distribution sites. I think his experience is valuable because more and more emerging filmmakers are experimenting with content, form and release strategies. The experimentation is not likely to lead to significant paydays, but it will enable those starting out to gain useful skills for subsequent projects.
So, I made this feature film for $500 with no crew. Yep. No crew. How? Well, you simply set the camera up on a tripod and jump in front of the camera and act. And for the shots where I wasn’t in front of the camera, I took the camera off the tripod and moved it around.
My film is called, THE CUBE. If you’re curious to know what it looks like, click on the image below:
Since this film was made for so little, I decided to forego paying any festival fees and keep the money to be used on any future marketing efforts. With film festivals, you’re never guaranteed that you’ll get in anyway … and it takes forever to know if you’ve even gotten accepted.
Instead, I decided to reach out to some of my pseudo-famous friends and asked them if they would give me a testimonial … much like authors do when they are launching a new book. I figure I would just use these blurbs as my replacement for the laurel leaves we see plastered on every sales poster of other indie films. Instead of slapping a laurel leaf graphic of a no-name festival on my poster, I was able to use these blurbs:
“A short, sweet, and thoughtful indie. Engaging and humorous.” Bryce Fortner, Director of Photography, Portlandia
“A great example of no-budget filmmaking.” Randall Jahnson, Screenwriter of “The Doors” and “The Mask of Zorro”
WHY VIMEO ON DEMAND?
Since I didn’t have any formal crew to make this feature film, I never took any proper production still photos. A super NO-NO, if I was going to seek out a distribution deal. On top of that, it was made for $500! How much extra cash did I have to put into the deliverables and marketing … Nil.
I knew this lil’ movie would end up on some sort of digital distribution platform and I would have to handle the marketing for it all by me-self.
I chose Vimeo On Demand, because:
- Filmmaker earns 90%, Vimeo takes 10%
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have a 5.1 surround mix
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have E&O insurance
- Vimeo didn’t require me to have closed caption or subtitles added
Essentially, Vimeo just accepts your standard HD H264 file and lets you handle the marketing. It’s just a simple video hosting service with some embedded features that allow you to sell your film in your own way.
Now, there is a catch!
Vimeo On Demand requires that you sign up and pay for their PRO plan, which will cost you $199 annually. That was nearly half my budget! Haha. Thank goodness for birthday gifts In addition, I have other plans with the PRO version of Vimeo, so I decided to go for it!
BENEFITS OF DIRECT DISTRIBUTION
Generally, when you sign over your film to a distributor, there are some additional things that you will need to provide (as mentioned above):
- E&O Insurance ($7,000 – $10,000)
- Copyright Fees ($35 – $100)
- Deliverables (Your film mastered with separate M&E Tracks) [ed note: see my sample list here]
- Production Stills
- You will sign away the rights to your film for 15-20 years (generally)
- You will only receive whatever advance the distributor will grant you, forget about any promise of backend profiting … this almost never happens.
- It’s not uncommon to see film advances of only $5,000
Now, imagine if you made a film for $50,000 or $1 million? Will $5,000 advance be enough to satisfy your investors? Probably not.
With a $500 feature film, there is almost no risk involved … it’s so damn cheap! Here are some benefits by selling your film on your own through direct distribution:
- No E&O Insurance Required (Just be sure that you have your legal documents in order and of course, consult with a “real” lawyer)
- Use Creative Commons Licensing (Free)
- No Deliverables Required (Just upload your file like you would on YouTube)
- You keep the rights to your film … forever!
- All profits you earn from direct distribution go directly to YOU!
DRUM ROLL PLEASE …
Okay, so I made this feature film with no crew and the marketing and sales effort is no different. It’s just me. No sales staff, no marketing team … just me.
I threw a local networking event in conjunction with the premiere of THE CUBE and it earned a small profit of $128 after the expense of the theater rental, posters, mugs etc.
You can read more about this theatrical premiere at this LINK.
So, would VOD sales prove any better after a month in release?
Here’s the actual screen grab of my total sales:
THE SALES ARE IN!
$150 Profit for one month of being on Vimeo On Demand. Let’s add that with the total from the theatrical premiere:
- $128 Theatrical
- $150 Vimeo On Demand
- $500 Production Cost of Film
- $0 Marketing Budget (All sweat-equity)
TOTAL REVENUE SO FAR: $278
That’s over half my film’s budget! Haha. Yes, it’s miserable when you think that movies are supposed to be racking up profits of $100,000 or $10 million … the idea that independent film can only earn $278 might sound “sad,” but I am also using these methods to experiment with this film, using it as a test run for different online marketing techniques for use on future projects. There is an important aspect of the “launch” for any product that sees a surge in sales. I plan on using each new revenue outlet as a potential “launch” vehicle. Again, when you’re solo-preneuring it, you don’t have the infrastructure in place to do a mass launch. You have to piecemeal the process.
Look at this screen grab from Box Office Mojo. These are the movies ranked from #37-#46 on the list of theatrical releases for the month of February 2014.
If I compare THE CUBE’s performance to that of #46 DEMI-SOEUR’s performance of only $943 … and that’s only reporting the box office returns. The actual revenue back to the distributor, Rialto Pictures, will only be about 45% of this total. The exhibitor keeps the rest. Then Rialto will take out their fees and expenses and if a sales agent was involved in making the distribution deal, they will take out the same. There is no backend profit to share with the filmmakers yet.
At THE CUBE premiere, I actually brought in $435 Gross, so comparatively … I’m doing okay!
In online marketing and sales, it’s all about the “conversion rate”.
This essentially means, that for every visitor or hit to your website, how many people actually buy your product? If you look at the number of plays THE CUBE trailer, it amounted to 482 plays. From those trailer plays, 26 purchases were made.
- 482 Trailer Plays
- 26 Purchases
- 18.5% Conversion Rate
Believe it or not, if an online marketer were getting a 1-2% conversion rate for their efforts that would be considered a normal return.
I was able to pull in 18.5% conversion rate, so I have to consider this a major success.
FAST, CHEAP, OR GOOD
I’m only a month into this direct distribution campaign. There is a saying in production that we used to tell clients ….
You can have it FAST, CHEAP, or GOOD … Pick Two.
So, I made this movie pretty cheaply, and I hope it’s fairly good … that means my marketing effort cannot be FAST.
Slow and steady as the tortoise taught us when we were kids … And that’s what I plan to do with this film product … go sloooowww.
Are these numbers depressing? Hopefully they’re giving you a reality check.
I should preface that I didn’t build any sort of audience prior to making the film … simply for the reason that I wasn’t sure if I could even make this thing without a crew. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a crew, it’s just that I’m an a$$hole! Haha. Just kidding … at least I hope that wasn’t the reason.
Anyway, I’m hoping that other filmmakers can see why building an audience prior to release is so important. If I had sunk even $10,000 into this film, that’s still a lot of cash to lose so make sure when dealing with higher budgets, an audience is going to be in place.
I’m encouraged by all of this, as I’m learning to apply all sorts of different online marketing strategies to drive people to watch the film.
I can see the numbers now. If I’m going to make any sizeable profits, I have to have a larger reach and impressions in order to maximize the conversion rates.
If I hope to make at least $1,000 in profits, I would need to have a reach of over 2,000 impressions, just to get the standard 1-2% conversion rate.
So, if you’re hoping to make $100,000 in revenues from your film, and a 1-2% conversion rate is normal, your film will have to at least reach about 2 million people/impressions.
Remember, we’re peddling on average a $5 online product. This is not some piece of software that can be sold for $100-$200 a pop. It’s gonna take a lot of sales to make up for such a low price point.
If you’re going to venture into making and selling a film directly online, be ready to have a huge infrastructure in place … or keep your budgets so small that it won’t matter if you don’t make your money back.
If you want to get INSPIRED by what can be made for so little … feel free to support indie film and check out: THE CUBE-A SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE MOVIE
Thanks so much!
You say you want transparency in the entertainment industry? Many of us say we do, from Ted Hope to John Sloss to Liesl Copeland. But you know who is REALLY serving up some transparency in the way his company operates? Joseph Gordon-Levitt and HitRecord!
I must admit, I was intrigued when Gordon-Levitt launched HitRecord at Sundance 2010 and I had dropped in on the site a few times since then to see what was happening. I just didn’t get it. It seemed to be a site for collaboration much like Wreck a Movie or Talenthouse. A fine concept for those who want to do projects with like minded people for fun, but not a place where anyone would get a project out in the world and certainly not be paid to do it. To my knowledge, most are built on donating talent with no compensation promised. But now that HitRecord has a TV show on Pivot, I went back to have a look at what that entails and how an open, collaborative community could pull it off without devolving into one big “he’s stealing our work and making money off of it” fiasco.
The show itself revolves around one main theme each episode. For its inaugural episode, also on Youtube, the theme was ONE. 426 contributing artists were part of the first episode. Pretty amazing to think of the complicated process that went into choosing from thousands of submissions and keeping track of how much each artist contributed. Now, why does it matter how much they contributed? Because that is how they get paid. There is no flat fee system with HitRecord.
Their payment terms and conditions can be read in entirety HERE, but this is a synopsis:
-If you have contributed a RECord and it is selected by the Operating Committee as a Production to be commercialized in accordance with the rights granted in the TOS, you will be deemed a “Contributing Artist” for such Production;
-Each Contributing Artist to a Production shall share in an applicable Contributing Artists Profit Pool;
-The Contributing Artists Profit Pool is 50% of the Profits from a Production and any pre-determined amount allocated for productions sold or licensed to third parties for distribution on any form of linear or on-demand television or amounts negotiated by hitRECord.org for allocation to Contributing Artists as part of a line item in an approved budget for any programming incorporating the Production;
-Profit allocation is at the discretion of The Operating Committee and based on feedback from the hitRECord.org community of users through the use of a comment system.
In other words, the company publishes a FULL profit statement online for everyone to see with preliminary allocations to each contributing artist of the project. These are called profit proposals drawn up by the community director, the software engineer and the financial comptroller and they can be changed based on feedback from the HitRecord community. Have you ever heard of such a business model in the entertainment industry?? If you know of an open, collaborative community for artists that is actually paying the artists, please speak up because we need to hear WAY more about this than any lip service about reporting on VOD numbers! Business models that take into account how to deal with intellectual property and revenues need a lot more coverage than they are currently getting in the industry press. That could be because of the lack of real researching journalists in the current media landscape. Apparently, it is so much more attractive to report on the glamorous actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt rather than his complicated business model for HitRecord.
The other thing I find extremely refreshing in this approach is the truth he tells on revenue in his model. Right upfront on the home page, he explains that HitRecord is primarily not about making money. It is a for profit company, but that doesn’t mean it is making millions nor does it exist for that purpose. This is a good thing to acknowledge because far too many independent filmmakers and film investors have unrealistic expectations of what working in the arts really means. As is mentioned on the site, you make money to make more movies, not the other way around.
Anyone with a modicum of business knowledge will know it is extremely rare for a company to show much profit in its early years. The trick is to make enough to get to the next year, and the next, until finally (or never) sustainability is found. In 2010, HitRecord paid out $39, 651 to contributors. In 2011, that amount had climbed to $109, 695. In 2012, they paid out $399, 289. It is a remarkable year over year jump! Then comes the process of calculating the pay outs and I don’t know of ANY company that would go to this kind of tedious work. They go frame by frame in each episode and breakdown the contributions and decide amongst themselves on the percentage allocations first, then send it out to the community to give feedback as to its fairness.
If you would like to know more on how the payment process for HitRecord on TV works, check out this video
Big props to the whole team at HitRecord and I hope they get a lot more worldwide attention for the work they are doing and compensating contributing artists. Getting artists paid fairly should be paramount!
You’re excited to tell your story. I can definitely identify with that feeling. I think every person can. It could be a story you dreamt up yourself or one that you heard from someone else and, as a filmmaker, you can’t wait to bring it to life visually and you’re sure everyone will be thrilled to see it.
I get it, you want to dive head first into making it. And that’s cool. Nothing wrong with taking the vision in your head, creating a work of art and laying it out for the world to see.
But here’s a wrinkle…
The world is a BUSY place and you aren’t the only one trying show your work to other people. They have work they are trying to show to you and other people too. How are you going to get yours to the top of the “look at this” pile?
First, it has to be stellar. Stellar is very subjective, by the way, and it is far from a given that most creators will create something stellar. But let’s say that you do. You need to know WHO else will find your work stellar? This helps to narrow down who to go after first in order to gain their attention. You probably know that gaining attention from those predisposed to liking your work will be easier than getting attention from people who will never like it, right?
Narrow down the potential audience and then narrow it down again. Narrow it down until you can actually describe what they would look like standing in front of you. Do you know these people? Do you like these people? I hope so, because you are making work for them.
You’re going to be fighting the urge to widen out from the start, trust me. I have met many a creator who thinks of their audience as a big, amorphous group as well as investors and companies that encourage this thinking. Your stellar work is really just for some people, not for all. And that’s ok. Reaching some and not all, on your own, is waaay easier to do.
Next, try to pull those people to you, rather than only shouting at them. What do I mean by shouting? Advertising is shouting. Self promotion, as in only talking about features and benefits, is shouting. Shouting involves interruption and one way conversation. You need a dialog. How do you do that?
Your vision about the work you are making, the stories you are telling, started with something. A feeling, an experience you had, your take on the way the world works or the way you would like it to work. These are things you can express in a style and tone all your own and not just in the medium of film (which is perhaps your primary medium), but in micro content like photographs, graphics, text, articles, short videos, comments, and the things you share created by other people you admire. All those things can be conversation starters leading to a back and forth dialog. Slowly pulling people closer to you; closer together. Making them pause to have a look at what you create.
And finally, decide where these kindreds of yours spend their time and where you are comfortable spending yours. There should be an overlap here because if you are pulling people to you with the same sensibilities as you, they won’t be found in places you wouldn’t be comfortable spending time in. Some of these places are now going to be in online spaces and I know there are some storytellers who are not yet comfortable spending time there. If this describes you, then you have a choice. You can hope they will seek out your work on their own, pay a lot of money to shout constantly or choose to become comfortable online and acclimate yourself. This means choosing your hangouts with care, not trying to be present everywhere. You can’t be everywhere effectively and if you don’t like where you’re spending time, you won’t go there enough to gain attention.
Broken down in this way (Who, How and Where), you now have the most basic building blocks of a marketing strategy for gaining attention for your work. That’s all you are trying to do with that icky concept that creators want to avoid. Marketing.
As Seth Godin has said, “Tell a story that spreads, that influences people, that changes actions…that’s marketing.”
The question isn’t online or offline? Facebook or Twitter? Advertising, publicity or social media? Those are only marketing tools of the How. First you have to know WHO? Who are you? Who will like the kind of work you are making? It’s a simple question that takes some effort to find the answer to and then act on it.
This Sunday, December 8, I am going to spend some time talking more about this for films as well as filmmakers during a webinar hosted by the Atlanta Film Festival. If you can’t make it Sunday, we’ll do the same webinar on Wednesday, December 11.
To sign up with an automatic discount, GO HERE.
I’ll also take your individual questions during the session and one additional question via email if you are a participant in the webinar.
Start thinking about your strategy now and I will help you refine it a bit as well as talk through tools you will find helpful in reaching your audience. I hope you can join me.
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