The days of multi-skilling are well and truly here to stay. It’s no longer enough to be a hyphenate writer-producer or writer-director. These days, you need to throw marketing skills into the mix. Marketing is defined as the efficient strategic and profitable positioning of goods and services to the consumer.
Today’s film distribution system is in financial chaos. Even the studio films which throw $30-50 million at marketing budgets are quaking in their boots. However, after every apocalyptic, earth-leveling ground zero event, new opportunities arise. Reframing an old mindset occurred when talkies replaced silent films, with the advent of television and mass home distribution systems of movies. The time has never been better, or scarier, to consider self distribution strategies for your film.
Over the past decade, the cost of producing a film has dropped exponentially, flooding the marketplace with excessive film product. This didn’t translate as higher quality. Film buyers and their sales agents mercilessly drove down prices, although the number of theatrical slots remains saturated. Currently around 0.5% of independently produced films secure a theatrical release, and dropping fast.
The cliched paradigm of the starving artist is now a thing of the past. Marc Rosenbush, talks of empowerment of filmmakers as they take control of producing, marketing and distributing their films. The starving artist is now the well-fed artist/entrepreneur. The days of scrimping to make a film and hoping a distributor will purchase it at Sundance have been replaced by filmmakers building their audience before, during and after their films have wrapped. The days of exhibition being controlled by middlemen (and women) are now the days where filmmakers directly communicate with their audiences as they build a brand and business model around their films. This represents a 180 degree shift in mentality. Film makers no longer need to concern themselves with film distributors building a one-off “love ’em and leave ’em” relationship with audiences, because they now control multi-level, ongiong relationships with their fan bases.
The internet never ceases to amaze me with its breadth of reach and power of mass communication. Facebook now has more citizens than any country on the planet, excluding India and China. Social marketing is no longer a novelty, but a must have marketing tool.
This mammoth shift in film marketing consciousness has created numerous inexpensive paths to distribute films via VOD or simple selling DVDs online. The principles of marketing still hold true. Filmmakers need to create value for audiences by identifying a need, interest or benefit.
The challenge of characterizing and defining audiences is deeper than ever. It is no longer enough to identify them by age and gender. Filmmakers must know where they shop, where they live, what newspapers they read, where they take their vacations, through careful segmentation.
Broad mass marketing is now personalized mass marketing. Emails are a powerful tool to broadcast messages to potential audiences. The former is adequate for studio films (albeit still inefficient) because they will hopefully recoup their costs at the box office. Smaller films need time to develop their specialty audience and need special nurturing.
Build a web site for your film ahead of time. Include a link so people can subscribe to updates. Make it interactive. Include interviews as Quicktime films, clips, set and cast photos, behind the scenes tidbits so that your audience becomes as intimate as your family. Ask yourself basic marketing questions to define your target audience. How will watch this? After I’ve identified this core group, what elements can be included in your film. For instance, audiences of Mike Moore films are also generally interested in environmental issues.
Leverage your audience with film merchandise and carefully selected affiliate products. Don’t bombard them with endless products and links as they will quickly develop clicking fatigue. Furthermore, don’t only communicate with your audience when you have something to sell. Consider informational and relationship marketing. The more contacts you make with your prospective audience, the higher the likelihood of a sale.
The beauty of online marketing of specialty films indicates that you can’t communicate in general terms. Marc Rosenbush discussed his marketing strategy of his horror film to fans of the rock band “Tool”. These fans tend to enjoy horror films and can be defined as goths, educated, aged 14-24 and slightly spiritual. Niche audiences are becoming increasingly segmented into sub-niches. Faith audiences are being subclassified as “Christian” or “New Age”.
Online film exhibition is an unknown quantity in terms of viable business models. The rules are literally being made up as we go along. The days of linear thinking are behind us. We are becoming more creative as we think laterally and holistically of multi-pronged marketing campaigns.
Much like internet dating, you need to add a human face to your website. Respond to those comments, reply to those emails. Add a photo. If you’re funny, tell a joke. If you’re into baseball let people know. I know of a case of football traffic being driven to a filmmaker’s site. Establish trust and rapport with your audience.
The psychology of marketing remains consistent across all industries. After all, we’re still dealing with people. If you’re anything like me, you’re a jack of all trades, but a master of screenwriting. Build a power team with the specialist skills required. I’ve manage to learn the basics of internet marketing, but I’ve hardly earned a masters degree in it. Similarly, we can’t fully dispense with sales agents, but we no longer solely rely on them.
Part of motivating your audience is by freebies. If you have a DVD of your short film or a t-shirt, give it away. People like that and in turn, like you. Awww.
When approaching investors, don’t beg. Desperation is a sour-smelling cologne and won’t win you any suitors. Present your project as a viable business opportunity. Tell investors you have a mailing list of 20,000 people interested in the topic of your film.
Be creative, my friends. I bet Justin Bieber never imagined his phenomenal success after posting a clip on YouTube. The laws of abundance dictate that there is plenty of honey in the universe. Make sure you get your share.