Building a relationship BEFORE asking for help

October 7, 2013
posted by sheric

A guest post from Ian Delaney, director of the short film HOLES

“The Internet has revolutionized the independent film business.” We’ve all heard it, yet how well are we actually able to utilize this resource? For the vast majority of us, the answer is “not well.” The Internet is so huge and so cheap that for many micro-budget films the answer to fund raising, marketing, and distribution seems to all be the same thing. Shout your message high and low, blanket the world and something will stick. Unfortunately this “mass mailing” technique is why we get credit card offers and Penny Saver pamphlets in the mail (and most likely why the USPS still has a job), and we all know how often we use the coupon in the Penny Saver to get our grout cleaned.

Counter-intuitively it is exactly because the entire world is at our fingertips online that the best marketing approach is the narrowest, smallest one you can devise. Why? Because online the smallest niche is still millions of people, and these people are going to be connected to your project and more likely to become involved either by donating to your Kickstarter or by downloading and consuming your material.

You can imagine that a film about a young husband’s journey through grief as he suffers the sudden loss of his wife and baby daughter, although universal in theme, would be most interesting for a narrow niche of people.

I began searching online for communities and forums that focus on helping those suffering with a loss find support and hope. The danger for any project seeking fund raising is that it’s very easy to be seen as predatory, and this is doubly so when reaching out to communities which are emotionally vulnerable. In order to be as respectful to my target groups as possible, I developed relationships with the moderators and directors of these groups, before fund raising was even a thought. Some of these generous people were fantastic resources for research as I was writing the script. Once a foundation of respect and trust was built (and that foundation is really required for anything in life), I was able to discuss partnering with them to help spread the word and help raise money for my film.

A lot is made about the “Kickstarter effect” – the first surge of donations after launching your campaign. There is an equally powerful “Kickstarter lag” when your closest contacts have donated and the momentum pauses. And there, I believe, is the trick to crowd-funding: never let them see the lag. For my campaign, I’ve tried my best to stagger my publicity and promotions so there are continual surges throughout the campaign. People want to back success, so when they see other people promoting your campaign weeks in, they’re a little more confident that you have something special.

Equally important is providing consistent, value-based updates via social media. I’ve seen campaigns where people post, “We’re still far from reaching out goal, please donate!” three times a day for their thirty day campaign. There is no value there. I’ve kept a few things hidden in order to roll them out as the campaign continues. I won’t give away any surprises, but at certain levels of progress new perks will be offered, new videos added, discounts on perks, anything and everything to be able to say something new and interesting both for those who have donated and those who have yet to donate. Nothing turns people off more than a constant drone of “I need money.” And with the popularity of crowd-funding and platforms like Kickstarter, this drone is getting louder and louder every day.

Even before the campaign began, I knew that maintaining contact with my donors, and those who maybe wouldn’t donate, was going to be a huge part of the continual progress of this project. Once the campaign ends, I’ll be writing open letters and articles expressing my thanks for the forums and communities of people who helped me during the campaign. For my donors, who are connected via Kickstarter, I’ll be creating a production blog, so they’re able to see photos and read stories about how the film is progressing. This way they’re going to be able to see how their donation is being used, not just receive their perk at the end. This is the type of personal, continued attention that I know I’d want if I was donating to my project.

No dollar can be taken lightly.

Only time will tell if all the work I put into planning and preparing for the campaign will pay off, but I do know that no one donating to my project will feel burned or abused or taken advantage of, and that’s going to make my next campaign better and even more successful!

If you’re interested in learning more about the film, or to check in and see our progress, take a look at our Kickstarter page. And while you’re there feel free to become a part of the project yourself and donate what you can!

 

Finding your audience even when you have a niche

May 14, 2012
posted by sheric

Much is said about the need to find your audience and present your project to them, but how does one go about it? I think the first thing that must be done is boil down the exact characteristics of the people who will be the MOST engaged, or what my friend Jon Reiss would call the Super Core and find them and start communicating with them. I want to share the information about how we accomplished this for my most recent project, a documentary film about the Joffrey Ballet entitled Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance that I am working on with Jon Reiss’ Hybrid Cinema. We started work in October 2011 for our premiere as the opening night film of the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center in January 2012.

Obviously, this film is for ballet fans, right? We could even go wider and say those interested in dance, or performing arts, or fine arts, or classical music and theater. Maybe even a gay niche, or luxury products or wine aficionados. It is typical thinking for most filmmakers I encounter and definitely it is for distributors, let’s go for the widest audience possible! But we are dealing with a modest marketing and distribution budget, a very sparse crew (4-6 people)and reaching a wider audience was not realistically going to happen out of the gate. We needed to get more targeted, laser targeted, and then spread from there slowly.

It is my firm belief that if you are working with limited resources, you must “catch fire” with some small group first. Your “fire” will not be able to spread if there is no passionate group helping you do it. There is simply too much competition for an audience’s time and attention and trying to reach wide from the start usually results in not much traction. Your few sparks will fizzle.

I could have started with the “ballet audience.” But even that is fairly wide. Every city and town in America has a ballet school, maybe even a company. There are patrons of these ballet companies who attend performances. Many are former dancers or had dance training at some point in their lives. How can I reduce the target even further without being so narrow that the super core would only result in  2 people or so wide that I can’t easily reach them?

The laser targeted group I settled on was the alumni of the Joffrey Ballet. They are numerous (at least several hundred),  they are spread out all over the country, many are in high level positions at other dance companies, and they have a deep, vested interest in seeing this film.  Every Joffrey alumnus that I have forged a relationship with is a very passionate supporter of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the founders of the company and the main subjects of the film, and they want to see this film succeed. After all, it is also their story; a story about a very sacred and special time in their lives. Who can be more passionate than that? Now, who are they and where to find them? 20 or so of them are in the film, but what about the rest?

Luckily, a book was written by Sasha Anawaltin 1997 that had been meticulously researched. It included many names of dancers in the company as well as other associates. I read this book from cover to cover, underlining names, dates, footnotes about side stories etc. Also, the Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey Foundation had a list of names of alumni and some contact details. I also read 2 other books written by and about Joffrey dancers and made more notes. I started with these, making lists of years, who was in the company when, what happened to them if it was known and then got started on Google for more research.

With some names, I came up empty and some alumni are no longer with us, but in the end I did get a nice contact list together. It was also important to research who was connected to whom so I could plan for my circle to widen. Some Joffrey alumni went on to work with other choreographers, other dance companies and those connections could be useful to know for later help as we went into theatrical release in cities across America.

Next post: Preparing for contact.

I was reading a post this morning on the future of book publishing and some great points were brought up that reminded me of why the same opportunities now available to authors are also available to independent filmmakers. I think the future of publishing as it stands now is in big trouble and so is the future of film distribution, for the distribution companies, not for the filmmakers.

The post comes on the heels of the BookExpo America in NYC where many came out lamenting the state of publishing by looking at figures that show ebook sales are out performing physical copies already, having only been available for Kindle and the like for 33 months. This is not going to be unlike the sales for digital streaming and downloads of movies versus physical media very soon. I do think the iPad and the new similar devices are game changers for film. As much as we all have our egos and fantasies that people will still prefer to go out to see a film on the big screen, the harsh reality is that many (MANY) will just as soon curl up on the sofa or in bed and watch something they just downloaded onto their personal device. Are you making films that speak to that reality? I think indies are uniquely positioned for that; small, character driven stories ideal for the small, portable screen.

One publisher in particular embraced these changes saying “Not only are books receiving more media attention, the new technologies offer an unprecedented opportunity to engage readers. Audio and video enhancements offer authors the ability to reach a reader like never before. Social networks allow readers the chance to discover books they would never have found. Touch screens let children interact with books or play games related to the story. Educators find that reading assignments come alive as all learning modalities can be engaged. Three-dimensional graphics and spoken text transform plain words into dynamic new worlds. The book itself is being reinvented,” said David “Skip” Pritchard.

Here, here. The same advancements are available for film. In fact, transmedial properties could be embedded in the small screen experience. Alternate storylines could be explored from a menu option, geolocational apps that immerse the viewer in the story as it is happening on screen. A real opportunity to engage viewers in not just the passive experience of watching a film, but offering interactive ways of exploring the story further, seeing any source material (book adaptation) or historical data behind the film (a biography of a real person), providing ways they can help with a cause (for a social justice documentary), or even gaming aspects built around the story and characters. DVD and cinema experiences don’t offer this level of engagement and it will become more and more expected from an audience. The main jist of this is that a distribution company won’t be the ones making these things available, talented writers and filmmakers will.

It will open up new business opportunities for those who can adapt. Instead of figuring out physical production, companies will spring up to help with the technical aspects of the interactivity components. Instead of keeping films away from reaching audiences by being a gatekeeper, companies and individuals will provide services for finding niche audiences and helping to form relationships with them. In fact, I would suggest that distribution companies immediately start shifting their focus off of providing content and onto cultivating audiences, being the curators for specific content instead of a catchall of content in a library of titles. Many of you will fail to do this and business will end for you. For those who have developed online social skills and technologically creative minds, there will be a strong demand for this.  The ability to deliver content in any way it is demanded (physically for the holdouts and digitally for those seeking immediacy) is the new way forward for filmmakers and companies that can provide this will flourish.

I do not believe even for a moment that indie film is dead. Indie film will always survive as it is the basic need of storytellers to make work and share it with others. I do believe that there are momentous changes already happening and will continue to happen. Are you able to adapt and flourish?

Your Film Needs a Sneezer

October 27, 2009
posted by sheric

megaphoneThe keys to gathering an audience for your film via a successful word of mouth campaign are twofold 1) creating compelling content that people will share and/or talk about and 2) finding your ”sneezers,” as Seth Godin calls them, to help pass the content around and bring their people into your circle.  Sneezers are the people who spread the “gospel” of your work. They are influencers who generally have a following within a particular niche. People listen to a good sneezer and if the sneezer talks to them about you or your film, they will check it out. So how do you find these sneezers?

Identify the niche audience that your film will attract. Within that niche, there are people who stand out as “experts” or are “the voice” of that niche. Most likely they have an online platform (blog or website) that they use to speak to their audience. If you can identify them by name, do a Google search to find out where they hang out online and get an approximation of their following. Do they have a lot of Facebook fans? A large Twitter following? A YouTube channel with many views? Once you find one sneezer, you are likely to find more because they tend to follow each other, comment on each others’ posts, speak on Twitter or are active on the same forums. You want to know what vehicles they use to communicate with their audience; your audience.

When approaching them, you have to be cautious. Their credibility is at stake any time they recommend something so you don’t want to undermine that or bombard them with requests from an unknown entity. Start by listening. Monitor what they say, read their blog posts and twitter posts, subscribe to their newsletter or RSS feed. I know it sounds a little stalker-like and it is, but you aren’t going to be malicious. You should have interests in common with this person if they are part of your target audience, they just don’t know you yet. After you get a handle on what they talk about, try commenting on their blog posts or their Facebook page entries. Suggest topics unrelated to your film but interesting to their audience. In other words, engage them in conversation, but not a one sided, all-about-you conversation. Keep in mind that their content is also something that you can perpetuate on your platforms. If they have a good video or blog post, repost it. Your followers will be interested in what they have to say. This should lead to some reciprocity.

This is a time consuming process, but totally worth it in terms of gathering an audience for your work. If you can get some of these sneezers into your circle and they help you enlarge the circle, you will reap the rewards of a large following. When you find your sneezers, embrace them and empower them, because they are your strongest “viral” marketing tool.