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.
As you may know, I recently gave the keynote address to the Federation of European Directors General Assembly in Copenhagen. The Assembly’s event was chronicled in the Danish Film Directors’ quarterly magazine Take 58 in July. Below is an excerpt from a longer article about my participation there. Thanks to all who attended the event.
8 questions for Sheri Candler
“These answers are being written from the perspective that all directors should be dedicated to building up a long term base of supporters for all of their work.” -Sheri Candler
TAKE: Should I keep my Facebook identity as a director seperate from my identity as a private person? Meaning should I have two separate pages?
SHERI: Yes, I would advise having a separate professional Facebook page for all of your professional work and leaving those privacy settings as open as possible. Your private profile should be for your actual friends, family and colleagues and the place where you put your personal thoughts and interests and that will have privacy settings optimized to only be shown to those people. While your family and friends may also want to keep up with your professional endeavors, not all of them will and having a professional page allows you to have a place to connect with your fanbase and industry people regarding your work.
TAKE:At what stage should you know the title of your film? Can you change title later on? How do you avoid misleading people, if the film changes radically after the title has been set?
SHERI: Some film titles change as soon as a distributor takes hold of it, so I wouldn’t be too worried about changing a title because your true fans, your community that you have been building for your work over time, will be the first to know the reasons for the change. Remember, you are building up a relationship with these people, they aren’t being gathered for the one film. If the title changes (and I highly recommend doing a thorough title search before you set one so that it doesn’t need to be changed later), only those who have not been with you all during the production of the project will come to know the new title.
Same thing for branding on the film. In fact, this is a way to include the supporters, take a poll onwhich title they like or on which key art they like. American director Edward Burns held a poster contest for his film Newlyweds. He asked his fans to contribute their designs and they voted on the most popular one. It became the poster for the film. American director Tiffany Shlain did the same for her documentary Connected. Don’t treat your supporters as strangers, keep them informed of what is happening with the project and why.
TAKE: What sites should a director have as a minimum? (FB, twitter, website, blog?)
SHERI: First, you must have a website, that is imperative. It is the only true piece of internet real estate you own and control. Every other platform belongs to a third party that may change the rules, go out of business or lock you out whenever they like and that would completely cut you off from your supporters if you depended solely on those for communication. I think directors should choose the social channels they feel most comfortable using and where those which would be most interested in their work frequent. For now, that is probably Facebook (with 900 million users, of course!) and maybe Twitter. But it could also be Pinterest, MySpace, Tumblr etc.
TAKE: How and where do I use my time best online if I want to engage with my audience? It seems that one can use a lot of time on many different things, but where does it have the most impact?
SHERI: The answer to this would be as unique as the audience members. The thing to realize is there are no set rules, there is no magic formula. This is all going to be an experiment and trying out services to gauge a fit. Online tools are just that, tools. It is all in how you use them and you only get out of them what you put in. The more time you spend connecting with others, the more you will get out of the process.
I would say you need an outlet to speak from, which typically means a blog on your website. That blog should be updated weekly, ideally, so that you keep the site higher in search results and it feeds your social channels. Blog pieces do not have to be long, only 500-700 words, and they should primarily be devoted to sharing valuable information and insights, not self promotion.
TAKE How do you see the relationship between engaging your audience in a dialogue and the ability to earn money on having the dialogue? Does one exclude the other?
SHERI: I want all not to start this process with the eye for making money as their foremost thought. It is like saying you are making friends with people only to see how much money you can get out of the relationship. A relationship that starts that way is doomed to fail because people can feel it, feel the insincerity.
The mindset you must start with is ”I am going to find my ’people,’ the ones who would care the most for my art.” And you truly have to believe that. The Latin saying “Do ut des” (I give so that
you will give) is extremely valid in the virtual world, in fact it is expected. The online world rewards generosity, not selfishness. Directors who already have fans or a reputation would actually find this process easier because their fans are eager to connect. But oddly, those directors are the least likely to do this right now. I think we will either see a change in that mindset or a loss of relevance for those directors because people are very fickle and they are getting very used to having personal contact with creators. Those who continue to ignore their fans will find themselves ignored in favor of artists who understand this new mindset. Money and fame are by products of relationship building, so concentrate less on those things and
more on the relationship.
TAKE: How private or personal do you feel that one should be? Many of us directors are shy people and only used to talking to journalists about our films before a release.
SHERI: One would think it will be easier to speak to real people than to journalists! I don’t think you need to share intimate details about your personal life, but I do think we should see some sort of personality behind the communication efforts. All directors are creative people with lots to say to the world. If you aren’t, then perhaps you should rethink your occupation. Writing a blog isn’t journalistic writing, it is personal writing about your inspirations, helpful suggestions, recommendations, personal commentary on events happening in the world. Something that lets the supporters know who you are as an artist. Like attracts like and ideally you will attract those who love the way you tell a story no matter what the story is. We want to see the essence of the real artist, not some sound bite ”message” of the synopsis of the film.
TAKE: Can you give us inspiring examples of feature film directors that use social media to engage their audiences?
SHERI: YES! -American director Kevin Smith connects with his fans every day via Twitter and through his own channels at smodcast.com He is really an example of a director who tells stories in lots of mediums, not just film. A true storyteller.
British actor/screenwriter/director Stephen Fry is also very accomplished at using social channels as well as his own website to connect to his fans.
-Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris also has his own website and social channels www.errolmorris.com
-David Lynch uses Twitter, his tweets totally correspond to who he is as a storyteller.
I would say though that Morris and Lynch do not do a great job at having conversations with their audience, their sites and social channels seem very one sided to me.
-British director Duncan Jones uses Twitter to the extreme (several times a day!) and actually does talk with his followers.
TAKE: What do you mean when you say that a director should be a tribe leader? Does that go for all directors?
SHERI: The tribe idea originates with Seth Godin who wrote a book in 2009 called Tribes-We Need You to Lead Us. It is this idea of finding and connecting with like minded people and leading them to a place they want to go.
The means to do this are universally available to everyone now with the internet, so it isn’t based on geographical location or on having large financial resources to advertise your way into an audience. Advertising has been the default way of building an audience for films for a long time, it is costly and wasteful as you have to start again with each film. The tribe building idea is a totally different way of doing this and it is meant to be more cost efficient and longer lasting for the artist. You don’t need to sell people on the fact that they want to connect (to art, to other people, to a movement) because that is inherent human nature, we want to connect to like minded people. So as a film director, or a storyteller, your job is to connect those like minded people through a platform that you create (your website, blog, or whatever tool you choose) and eliminate the need for them to find each other on their own. They connect through you as the artist and through your work. You are the leader of the tribe and you make your work only for them. They, in turn, bring in their friends, also like minded people, and that widens the reach of your work. Your job is only to make work and nurture those people, delight those people. They will bring the others aboard.
This is a very radical idea though. When the artist is in charge of her tribe, where does that leave the chain of middlemen that once were so important to reach the mass? Mass reach is becoming less and less important because it isn’t sustainable. Audiences for entertainment are becoming fractured and very focused about how they spend their time given the multitude of options for entertainment. Advertising is becoming much less important, but social connections, trust building are becoming more important. People are trusting recommendations from their personal connections much more than advertising blasts. If you have no personal relationship with your audience, your work will be lost in the multitude of other viewing options.
My thanks to Birgitte Staermose for conducting this interview and the the FERA organization for having me in Copenhagen.
I know this is a cop out post, but I’m feeling totally guilty (and totally overwhelmed at the moment with the upcoming world premiere of Joffrey Mavericks of American Dance in a few weeks) that I haven’t posted anything new in a while. So, I started looking back over the posts from this year that received the most response, the ones that I hope were helpful to you, and thought I would recap them.
How do I know they received a good response? I use PostRank to help me gauge what kind of interest the posts received. These posts all have a score of 7 or higher (scale of 1-10). The number to me doesn’t matter so much as knowing what you respond to so I can speak more about it. I also view blogging as an experiment, trying out new topics. Some work, some don’t and that is ok. If I waited until I knew the perfect topic and made the perfect post to address it…well, the blog would probably only have 12 posts a year. Without further adieu..
10) The importance of a good trailer-This is part one of my interview with trailer editor Bill Woolery on creating a good trailer, working with a trailer editor, and the types of trailers there are. Frankly, I am surprised it ranks so low as a trailer is probably the MOST important element in the promotional efforts for your film. Hopefully if you didn’t catch this 2 part interview, you can read it now.
9)Crowdsourcing as exploitation-This one got a few responses from other sites such as DocumentaryTech and The Chutry Experiment. Basically, I gave my take on the film Life in a Day and how they were using the crowd throughout the filmmaking process into the distribution process, but offering very little in return for the free labor.
8) The ugly truth about social media- A post about feeling overwhelmed with all of the startups devoted to “social media” and how they purport to make life easier, but really there is no easy work around for building up relationships. It is slow, painstaking and never ending work if you use the tool correctly.
7)Readying a crowdfunding campaign-This year saw the donation numbers for independent film projects on crowdfunding site really soar. Whereas a year ago, $10K was the norm, this year it became $20K, $50K, $100K. That’s a significant jump in just a year! But those successes didn’t come from throwing up a page on Kickstarter and watching the money roll in. This post talks about being prepared long before you actually go live with your campaign.
6)The internet expanded consumption but destroyed the industry- A Seth Godin inspired post (of course!) which talks about the redefinition of what it means to be a distributor of content. Bureaucratic and scarcity driven business models that once dominated the industry are being diminished and what will take its place is being capable of grabbing (and keeping!) attention and building an ongoing fanbase.
5)Marketing a documentary with a limited budget-The title pretty much says it all really. I took you through the starting stages of my promotional work for the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance; tools I’m using, finding the audience and getting their interest, how we will be distributing it. If you have a documentary project, you might find it interesting. If you have a narrative project with clearly defined audience, you will get something from it too.
4)Building your brand with no budget-As I say many times in interviews and in workshops, the key to building a sustainable fanbase is having an artist brand that people identify with. In this way, you won’t be starting from the ground every time you have a new project to build an audience for, you will simply transition the one you already have. This is work you can start doing right now, before you have another project going and this post is full of tips on how to start.
3)Actors don’t need social media…excuse me?- A post inspired by a Twitter discussion I was having with Paul Osborne (@PaulMakesMovies), Nathan Cole (@WaterholeMovie) and Paul Barrett (@producerpaul) about not only hiring actors with talent, but also ones with a strong social following. They largely disagreed because they see the on screen talent as superseding the need for promotion, but I’m telling you when it comes time to building up an audience with a limited budget, you are going to need all of the help you can get. If there are 2 equally talented actors, pick the one who has a fanbase (duh) and I don’t mean Brad Pitt. There are plenty of actors who are active in social media and can activate a crowd for you. And listen up actors, if you haven’t been doing this, you aren’t an asset, so become one. Even TV casting agents are looking up social footprints of potential hires so stop burying your head. Get a profile up and start interacting.
2)Humanizing your audience-A post inspired by Brian Solis that talks about the shift in communication that the internet, and more specifically social media, has brought to all aspects of our lives. Are there those not communicating online? Sure, its just that they are far from being movers and shakers and they will either come kicking and screaming or they will be completely out of touch with the modern century. But we must never forget that at the heart of social networking is a person, not a pair of eyeballs. Views, likes, and votes are all nice but very fleeting. Don’t boil your online activities just down to boosting these things, not only to the bottom line. Humans are starting to get back to wanting that connection with another human (especially now that the corporate and government trust factor has been disintegrating for the last several years and only gets worse as more transparency is coming to the fore online. Wikileaks anyone?), to feel they matter to you. The bottom line takes care of itself when trust and relationships are built and respected.
1)Facebook is not a good sales platform- This post received a 10! Wow! What more can I say about this subject, huh? I still maintain that people don’t come to social sites to buy, no matter how much those social sites are trying to reconfigure to suit the corporate bottom line. Research has suggested that many people “like” brand pages in order to get coupons though, which makes sense if you think that most corporate brands don’t give a hoot about you so in turn you will go with whichever brand offers the best deal, no loyalty and trust there. I don’t think this mentality is going to work out well for the indie artist so let’s just use Facebook to share interesting content, hold dialog and champion fans as much as we want them to champion us, OK? Let the sales happen on your own site (where you can keep the details, not give over the data to a third party) and offer the best items to your most ardent fans. Let the distributors deal with finding the strangers and giving them the non exclusive stuff. That method is expensive and transitory. Not worth spending your time chasing fickle strangers.
There you have it, the top 10 for this year. I wish all of you the happiest and most productive New Year 2012!
I’m doing research to help someone start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. We have a few months of planning before we launch which gives us a good amount of time to figure out all of the strategy and logistics involved. I have said many times that a successful campaign starts with proper research on what has worked for others, assessing your advantages in this now crowded donation centric landscape and figuring out how to motivate people to choose your project to back.
My friend asked me if Kickstarter was the best platform to choose and I have to say that I’ve seen many more successful film related campaigns succeed there than on Indiegogo. I love all of the people who run Indiegogo and I think their service is sound, but the all or nothing makes a difference for donors in particular. It encourages motivation and momentum because if you don’t hit your goal, you lose it all. Those who pledge to you don’t want to see that happen. It also lessens risk for the donor because the goal you have chosen is what is needed for the project to move forward. If you only raise some of the money, but less than you really need, where does the money go? With Indiegogo, you can keep whatever you raise, but if you need $5,000 and only raised $500, what will be done with that money? The risk is further lessened because if you don’t make the goal, no money is taken for the pledge if the project is on Kickstarter.
We are trying to determine what to ask for, budget wise. Should we try and raise the whole amount we really need or should we raise in stages and complete different sections of the project one at a time? I am sure this is a question that comes up a lot in the planning stages. Here are things I am considering in order to determine this.
1)Full budget breakdown of minimally what we need. No one is going to put us in business. What people don’t want to hear in a pitch is “I need equipment, actors, crew, locations, post production services, festival fees, marketing and distribution costs.” What the hell have you done so far? With no resources at your disposal, you don’t look very professional and no one wants to put you in business. We have to say what we have already accomplished, what resources we have and what else we need to move forward. Transparency goes a long way in getting people to invest in your work.
2)Analysis of the kind of help we will have. We must make up a list of our ardent supporters. The shorter and weaker this list is, the less we will be able to raise. Since most crowdfunding initiatives depend on the internet to reach donors, your list of online supporters must be full of active social media users who are connected to you. If you don’t use social media very often and you don’t have a strong base of support, the amount you can realistically raise is going to be small. Are there those who have managed it somehow, becoming much more proficient at online relationship building while in the middle of a campaign? Maybe, but who needs the extra burden of getting up to speed on technology and building relationships while under the gun of a funding deadline. Not exactly the best of circumstances to be in for raising money.
3)Analysis of our organizational ties. We have made some organizational ties during the course of development on this project, which is a documentary. Now, we must bear in mind that most organizations are perpetually looking for funding so we won’t be asking them to pledge funds. But we would like to encourage them to tell their members about the campaign. The easier we can make this for them to do, the more likely they will. It could be in an email blast, a post for their website on what the project is and why they would be interested in it, a link of our Kickstarter page on their Facebook wall and Twitter account, maybe a quote from their Executive Director about why they endorse the project or find it worthwhile. Something that is minimally taxing to them but could help us in a big way.
4)Listing our assets and perk levels. What will we be able to create as far as content and as far as perks to attract donors and give them to pass around? Ideas that spread win, so says Seth Godin. I think the idea behind the film is very powerful and will resonate with people as long as they 1)become aware of it 2)feel motivated to share it. So we need some good video to explain what we are doing and how someone can help us. But not just ONE piece, many pieces because often you have to touch someone many times with your message before it sinks in, before you can entice them to put in that card number and email address, before they decide “yes, I think I would like to become invested in this.” We have evolved beyond just one pitch video where you look someone in the eye and ask for money, now we have to regularly keep them up to date on how the campaign going, both in email and in video. It’s like having a Youtube channel, you can’t only have your trailer on it. Once someone has seen it, why go back?
Also, some people are motivated by perks. What perks will we offer that won’t cost us money from the budget we need to do the thing we are raising the money for and still satisfy the modern human need for “transaction”? And the levels of transaction? Personally I am not motivated by the perks in a crowdfunding effort, but I understand some people are and offering prized tokens to our audience is a consideration.
5)Listing the strangers. This one will come last but is quite important. I know all of you reading this have been hit up on a near daily basis by crowdfunding campaigns from your filmmaker friends…and their friends. We have to move out of the immediate circle of friends and family and organizations that know us and into the uncharted territory of strangers. About how many targeted strangers can we reach? This is where knowing your audience characteristics comes in because if you don’t have a clue, where in the world (literally!) will you start? Remember that crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money, it is equally about building an audience for our work. Backers provide encouragement, support, and public validation too. The first impression we are making to strangers is going to be this campaign and starting relationships by asking for money is really not cool. We must present differently to this group, we can’t have the same message used for friends and acquaintances. It may also be that this group is mainly reached through the core supporters so we need to arm them with the knowledge on how to help us widen the circle.
6)Time frame of the campaign. I wanted to make this a list of 5, but this is an important consideration that didn’t fit anywhere else. When should we launch and for how long should we run? I think Christmas and tax time are not good times to launch a fundraising effort. So now that leaves January (when those holiday bills start rolling in? maybe not), February and March for us. I need to see if there are any “events” or days of special significance we might tie the campaign to in order to make it particularly relevant during this time. We might not find anything. Also, I do subscribe to the idea the shorter the campaign, the more successful because momentum and enthusiasm slows down the longer it goes on. I’ve seen it on long campaigns and I know this about human nature. We will run a short campaign.
All of these factors determine what is realistic to ask for. There is no exact science on this, no tool (yet) you can run your numbers through and come up with the ideal funding goal. We’re still working through these so ideas and experience that would help us is appreciated.
In the past year, the proliferation of online film distribution outlets has exploded. Almost every week there is a new website promoting themselves as the “new” way to get your films to an audience and make money. Often they send emails to me asking for a profile on this blog or others that I write. While I am all about innovation and entrepreneurship, I see very little difference in the sites. It is like they didn’t research the market at all and they believe their site is without competition. I have yet to see any new platforms that will compete with Netflix, iTunes, Amazon or Hulu for audience eyeballs. Yes, you can load your film up to all of these new sites, non exclusively and for no money down. But none, that I can see, have any presence in the consumer market, meaning no one knows they exist so the fact that your film is there means nothing revenue wise for you.
As there are now countless online outlets, not to mention a filmmaker’s own website, from which to digitally distribute a film, I wanted to offer some advice about how to make them valuable instead of only criticize these sites. This post was influenced by my hero Seth Godin’s recent post entitled What Talent Wants. Seth speaks to book publishers in his post. He calls his solution the four letter acronym MUSE
-M is for money. Most new platforms are offering a no money up front, 70/30 split of revenue. Since these outlets aren’t taking rights over the work, they don’t offer upfront fees to the rights holder (the filmmaker most likely) to host the film on the site. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is leading to mediocre to bad content to rule these sites. No money risk for anyone leads to a glut of content that no one will pay to see. Even though Netflix isn’t paying indies much in upfront fees, it does offer some cash and it doesn’t take every film. In fact it is becoming increasingly more particular in the films it chooses. This is a good thing for consumers who come to the site to find quality content and protects the filmmakers who have quality films from being completely drowned out from excessive, low quality content. Does some debatable quality exist on Netflix? Of course, but have you checked out the films on most of these no name sites?
To start an online distribution site that will get any traction in the consumer market, large amounts of money (like tens of millions)will need to be spent, both on advertising them to start with and in buying quality content. Most these new sites are starting with near zero to spend and won’t succeed. Filmmakers with well respected content, don’t put your films here.
-U is for ubiquity. In keeping with the money theme, only sites that can attract large amounts of attention from consumers will attract the best content and survive. This means they must saturate the market with messaging, through advertising, publicity, live events sponsorship on outlets that reach consumers, not filmmakers. Yes, having films to start with will be needed, but paying for quality content that will attract consumers is where efforts need to be focused. An online distribution outlet can’t hope to be successful by throwing up a site, getting a lot of low quality, no name films from any filmmaker it can attract and hope consumers will find it. Equally, these sites can’t be totally dependent on having filmmakers do this work for them. Yes, filmmakers need to drive traffic to THEIR film on your site, but you must make the site reach the public consciousness in the first place.
-S is for Standards. Godin refers to great book editors as the ones who attract talent to them. I am going to stretch this to consumers will be attracted to these sites if they feel like there is something for their interest. Stop trying to attract everyone. You won’t. Decide what your brand (your site) will be and stick with only that. Be the premiere site for uplifting films for children with disabilities. The site for films featuring sumo wrestling. The site for films on the artistic development process. Really narrow down your audience so that you can present them with a high quality channel of content devoted only to their interest. Films they can’t find anywhere else. Be prepared to cut the filmmaker a good deal for their content so that they wouldn’t think of putting it elsewhere because your site reaches exactly who they need to reach. Also instead of only presenting films on the channel, think of other things that could be sold to this audience and partner with companies who sell those things. Lots of revenue streams instead of total dependence on one.
-E is for ego. Rather than offering a pat on the head and a plea to more filmmakers to bring content, think about investing in great talent by cultivating it. Push this talent to better work. Ideally your site will start to attract a bevy of talented artists and the ego of artists is very competitive, each trying to outdo another with creative work and more attention. Your site should be the outlet where they all want their work shown. Your site will attract the very best talent for the most discerning audiences, instead of being easily accessible to all. There is no prestige in being easily accessible.
I would wager a guess that few of these sites and the films that show on them are making any money. No one knows about the site, no one’s heard of the films and no one is driving traffic at all. Most of them won’t survive their first 2 years. First comes attention (money spending), then comes money making. I think revenue will come from subscription sales, partnerships and affiliations with companies offering alternate products, advertising and sponsorship and possibly live event ticket sales for the subscribers. I think only those sites that successfully establish some brand (specialized identification by an audience) will continue and grow. I look forward to hearing from companies committed to doing this.
It’s a shocking title coming from me, I know and I had a hard time typing it. It isn’t as though I hate distributors, it is just that I see them largely as exploiting filmmakers’ work where the filmmaker receives very little in the process. A post yesterday from Seth Godin’s Domino Project made me stop and think about it from their side. His post takes the publishers’ view but that is the distributors’ view in the book world. The situations are the same.
In his post, Godin explains that publishers (distributors) take on the financial risk of bringing work to an unknown audience which is a huge risk and why they take the lion’s share of the profit. They don’t know if their risk will pay off until these unknown people buy and, to mitigate the risk, they have to spend even more money on getting lots of attention from strangers over and over again, which puts them even deeper into the hole.
Next time you are wondering why you can’t get a distributor to take your film, think about what you would do in their situation? Whenever you make a film with no identifiable audience, no connection to an audience, no identifiable marketing hooks (like genre or star quality actors), no festival wins from pedigree fests, you are drastically reducing your chances of being picked up. I know you’ve heard this, but every week I am contacted by filmmakers who ignore all of this so the message isn’t sinking in. If you don’t have the previous situations for your film, you can’t get attention unless 1)your film is exceptional AND 2) you have a ton of money to spend on getting attention in the form of advertising and publicity and then you are taking on the risk of the distributor, trying to get attention from strangers and hoping it will pay off. For distributors, they can better afford the risk because they have lots of titles in the arsenal. You don’t. So you are left with the choice of “giving up more and more freedom and cash to [distributors] in exchange for their taking the risk of finding, alerting and selling to strangers,” hoping to be picked, taking whatever deal they offer and having no say in what is subsequently done with your work
doing the hard work upfront by building an interested group of supporters for your work, to gain their trust and permission for communication, to regularly speak to them and to get their buy in BEFORE the work exists. It is much more efficient than selling to strangers after the fact. “The speed, freedom and control will transform the way you [work] as well as how you engage with your audience.”
I hear a lot from artists and art critics who say you shouldn’t promote until you have work worth promoting. I completely agree. Please don’t use this as advice for how to “promote” because building a relationship with an engaged audience is separate from promotion. Promotion is one way communication. It is the thing that advertising was made for. It isn’t the thing that is best accomplished through using social media, contrary to what corporations and “digital agencies” think.
What I am saying is genuinely become interested in who your work would touch, delight and become emotionally connected to them. Start thinking about who “they” are while you are in the process of shaping your work. Start building up the relationship with them because you truly want to reach them. I think this is what expressing yourself is all about right? Reaching others? Chances are they are a lot like you so this shouldn’t be a difficult thing. You may not even do it online, choosing real life instead. The thing online allows for is finding your kindreds all over the world rather than the limited circle in your immediate vicinity. Those friends will become your base of support and won’t be able to stop themselves from telling others and online tools are a great free carrier for word of mouth, the most authentic advertising there is. When you have that support, the financial burden becomes lighter in that you can crowdfund to make work, you can spend little to reach the audience, and you will attract partners who want to help you service those you haven’t been able to reach yet without the absolute need for you to give up rights and control over your work.
This group isn’t built overnight, or even over six months. Get started right now. You need this, they need this connection.
I just love this quote. I want to put it here so I can visit it periodicallly and so you can think about it too.
“What happens when you rethink the nature of ____ [books, music, film, art] and organize it to spread, to become conversations instead of trying to create scarcity?”