Early Bird Catches the Buzz…
More often than not when I’m approached by filmmakers about helping them with marketing and publicity strategies for their campaigns – the film is finished, distribution has been achieved and budgets are LEAN… and by lean in some cases nearly non-existent, and the filmmaker is searching for final funding to help with strategic planning for festival, theatrical release and/or broadcast premiere outreach.
My first question while talking to a filmmaker about representing their film is “what marketing assets already exist?” I’m less interested in media coverage and more interested in how they’ve been able to document the progress of the film and engaging with potential audiences. What’s the film and filmmakers footprint on Twitter, Facebook, IMDB and Website? It’s always surprising to me when a filmmaker learns about being accepted at a Festival and spends the first days after announcement scrambling to put together a Facebook page and set up a Twitter account. In my mind, you should start tracing the story of your film years in advance when the film is still a dream versus a reality.
In speaking with different filmmakers I understand their reasoning – invest as much into the film as possible and then come up with the rest of the money needed to finance the marketing campaign. While I understand their thinking I also believe a solid marketing campaign is critical and filmmakers should have a clear idea of what their strategy will be, what it will cost and how you’re going to get those final finishing funds. If you make a fantastic film but aren’t able to engage and get people to check out your film then what’s the point?
Some filmmakers see their first short film or project as their calling card; and if that’s the case you still need to build an effective marketing campaign to promote it even if the only one promoting is you.
There are so many variables for creating an effective marketing campaign and building a realistic budget – it comes down to your goals. What do you want and how do you see yourself getting there? If you’re not sure that’s OK – find out and use your fellow filmmakers as a resource. On the road to building your personal brand as a filmmaker you’re going to make mistakes and often times your friends will have made those same mistakes so ask questions and reach out to the film community as you prepare.
Building the Nest Egg
The million dollar question – and while you don’t need a million dollars to put together a fantastic campaign you do need to be motivated to do the heavy lifting. One figure I’ve seen bounced about as far as a film budget is 10-20%; while that might make sense for studio and commercial films I don’t think that’s a “safe” figure for indie filmmakers. It’s a gamble simply because there are films out there with budgets in the 10-30K range – and securing $1,000 for marketing your film won’t get you far and you certainly won’t be in a position to hire an agency. That’s OK, but you need to understand the best bang for that $500-$1,000 and the amount of work you’re going to need to take on.
Think about some of the elements you’ll need once there’s some movement with the film – whether being accepted at a film festival, screening opportunity or (Hallelujah…) broadcast or theatrical debut. With some distributors once the film has been picked up, they’ll invest the necessary time and money into marketing the film but with some distribution models (public TV for instance), you are going to need to have a solid budget for public relations, marketing, advertising and grassroots outreach.
You’ll need to be ready not only with a budget but you’ll need to become part marketer, part negotiator, part publicist and part writer.
Recently I spoke with Jennifer Kang, a filmmaker who has worn many hats over the years including publicist. Kang teamed up with Michael Challenger writer/director/producer of Where Do We Go from Here the short. Together, Challenger and Kang are developing and producing the WDWGFH feature under the banner, ANU Productions. WDWGFH, the short, has been at running at festivals since April – at least 2 to 3 festivals a month. Their goal is an aggressive one, 20 festivals by the end of 2013 and they’re very close to making that goal. They’re strategy is clear – to build up enough interest in the short through festival presence to help with development and production of the feature version. Where Do We Go from Here tackles story about an African American family and how they handle the news of their homosexual son’s coming out.
Kang also has background in a number of areas, including creative director, management and publicity and is well aware of what it takes – funding and energy – to support a heavy film festival and screening schedule once the film is complete.
“Publicity and marketing of a film is not the same thing, but they are two sides of the same coin,” says Kang. “Most filmmakers and artists aren’t really aware of that. Through the surge of social media, the boundaries are starting to cross. Most indie filmmakers and artists think of marketing as an after though and don’t understand that a PR and Marketing plan is the most crucial element to the success of anything. That plan or campaign should be put together as soon as possible not after you have a finished product. Like the steering wheel, it can drive the trajectory of the success of the project.”
The indie film world is in a unique place right now – there are outstanding films getting made and finding distribution channels like nothing we’ve seen before. I’ve been impressed with how filmmakers are turning the tables and working to create distribution models that work and benefit the filmmaker.
If you have no money, I suggest you research and figure out how you can create an impactful campaign that can help elevate your film. If you can spend some limited funds it might be good to get a consult from an agency to have them help you develop a strategic plan for your film that you can manage yourself.
If you do bring someone in to support the marketing and publicity for your campaign – Kang says it best: “Bring someone onboard that you trust and understands the vision and tell them about the project in the early stages of pre-production.”
Learning to Fly and Handling Bumps along the Way
Mistakes, sure we all make them… but don’t let that fear stop you. I turned to Dan Mirvish, American filmmaker, author and co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival and whose award-winning film, Between Us, originally screened at 22 festivals and enjoyed a 50-city theatrical release; the film is currently available on VOD, iTunes and DVD.
“The biggest mistake is when filmmakers DON’T prepare for a marketing campaign,” says Mirvish. “They need to start thinking years before they even make their film. You can’t be a week away from your opening and instantly expect to get 5,000 friends or likes on Facebook and 10,000 followers on Twitter. That has to be grown organically and it takes time. So those basic elements to a social media campaign have to be cultivated early.” Mirvish adds, “Key art for posters is something that has to be ready to go and consistent from the first festival through to distribution. Filmmakers also shouldn’t wait for a hypothetical distributor to do a trailer. That’s something they should do themselves, and also from the beginning of their festival run or even earlier. More often than not, if it’s good, their distributor will embrace it anyway. Another thing that takes years of prep work (or at least it should) is to cultivate relationships with film critics. You want to be able to get those early reviews or blurbs, and even if you don’t have a publicist, you need to be able to get some blurbs on your poster and website right away.”
Hooo has the answers?
Is there a solid formula for budgeting and developing an effective marketing campaign? If there is, I haven’t been able to find it! As Mirvish points out, even if you do allocate a percentage of your budget to marketing, “Believe me, at some point you WILL raid this line item during production or post. First priority is to make and finish the best film you have. If need be, you can always raise money for marketing.”
I agree, but as I stressed earlier, filmmakers need to plan and be prepared – even if it’s getting your head wrapped around the fact that you’ll need to do additional fundraising at some point to finance the marketing. If you know you will need to do this down the road then get ready to be your own marketing guru until that point.
Multilayered marketing is so important; from the start of your project and through to your goal is critical to the success of any film marketing campaign. Be prepared and develop and design your marketing materials, build supporters and establish a strategy for additional funding before you get slammed with the day to day energy it’s going to take to generate awareness for your film. If you can hire an agency or publicist, great, but if not, be prepared to do the bulk of the work yourself. If you’ve applied to film festivals you should have information out there already about this film – not just the materials you send in but show the Festival decision makers who you are and what kind of energy you’ve already built for the film. If you went through a crowdfunding campaign, then you should be reporting back to your supporters and looking for new ones to help with the final stages. Part of this is also building up your own story – who are you? Do you have a presence via your website, IMDB or through social media?
In those early days, it may just be you out there making noise, handing out flyers, reaching out to friends and family for support and creating grassroots interest in your project. You are your best cheerleader to make sure this project happens and that it’s done to the best of your ability.
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