Help Audiences Find Your Film By Using a Language List
My friend Charles Judson wrote a recent post chastising filmmakers about their marketing materials. In a post entitled “Your Film’s Marketing Materials SUCK at Helping Audiences Find You,” he explains why filmmakers have a poor understanding of how films are found in online search results and why it doesn’t bode well for their chances at festival inclusion, distribution offers, further career opportunities and, ultimately, audience sales.With his permission, we are reprinting some of his points.
“A film no one has heard of may not exactly be burning news for the average person searching the web. However, no matter what hat I wear [festival programmer, blogger, critic], this is information relevant to me. It’s likely going to be the same for the Georgia film critics and bloggers covering film. Festival directors who track news on festivals they love – and often share programming philosophy with– would be interested. Filmmakers who have their trailer, website, Facebook page and Twitter account ready to go before they begin submitting their film to festivals are light-years ahead of their peers. But having just those materials is not enough. The vast majority of filmmakers overlook the crucial step of crafting language that can improve their chances to be discovered online, as well as differentiate their films from others.” Takeaway: Lots of different audiences are looking for information on your work, not only the viewing audience. Waiting to build up awareness of your work until right before premiere or release is a very outdated idea. There is no time like the present to start connecting with people online.
“Increasing the specificity and variation of the words chosen should be a priority for every bit of marketing material you create. Carefully thinking about how your potential audience interacts, talks and searches online shouldn’t be skipped or undervalued. First, scrutinize your film’s story, theme and genre. Who are the core fans of your film? What is your film’s niche? Then move out from there.” Takeaway: In my workshop sessions, I talk a lot about this too. If you don’t have a clear picture of who your potential audience is, that problem will plague your efforts in the marketplace. If anything, start with analyzing yourself as the model audience member because something drew you to the story you are telling.You can move wider once you are well connected with a certain audience. Don’t try to hit a wide, vague audience all at once.
“Begin generating a Language List for your film. The words and phrases you’re adding are the ones that would catch the attention of the audience you’re going after. I’m using the term “Language List” as opposed to keywords to reinforce that this is about creating a conversation. This should be an extension of how you will share and talk about your work offline, as well as online. With that goal in mind, the places to use this “Language List” will go beyond your website’s metadata. Examples of list headings would be Emotions and Emotional Words; Movies similar to this film; Genre and Genre related words/phrases; Character traits; Character actions; Character motivations; Character types; Character relationships; Character names; Themes; Setting; Influences (directors, films, etc); Film Title(s); People Connected to the film; Cast; Crew; Shooting locations; Cast and Crew’s past film credits; Production companies.
As you build your list, Google is the one-click away buddy you should rely on when you’re stumped for language. Searching the term “emotions”, I found a page on Sonoma.edu with 265 words. Wikipedia’s List of Genres includes descriptions and their subgenres. Don’t use I-couldn’t-think-of-anything as an excuse. Research films, novels and TV shows similar to your movie. Go to the sites your audience frequents and look for words that stand out, that show up repeatedly. Note how your audience identifies itself.
These questions should be in your mind as your list grows:
Who is my primary target audience?
Who are the different audiences that would be interested in my film?
What makes this movie different?
Who would spend money to see this movie?
Who would come see this movie opening weekend (pretend you scored that distribution deal)?
Where does my audience get its information?
As you build your list, it may begin to look like this example:
Emotions: devastated, insecure, distracted, temperamental
Movies similar to this film:* Fargo, In Bruges, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Character motivations: greed, fame, love
Character archetypes: tortured artist, comic mentor, shapeshifter, the judge
Settings: Minneapolis, car dealership, Fargo, North Dakota
Influences (directors, films, etc.): Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, screwball comedy, film noir
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare. Jerry Lundegaard
Crew: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Roger Deakins
Shooting locations: Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, Chanhassen, Minnesota, USA
Past Film Credits: Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing
* Use your list of Similar Movies judiciously. Comparing your film to a well known film can turn off people. It can raise expectations to a level you will never meet. So, inside metadata, in the about section of a website, and after the plot synopsis, are good places to use those titles. Placed up front, before you’ve allowed your audience to make up their own mind about your film, is dangerous. Until an audience has seen your film, they may not always peg what kind of movie they are reading up on. Compared to a well-known film or two, your audience may get a bead on the tone and feel of your movie. That’s okay.” Takeaway: By actually sitting down and writing out a list of words your audience might be looking for online, you will get a better understanding of your audience’s intent to see the film you are making. As Charles said, these words are not only used in the online space, but also in your publicity efforts and in helping you frame that language you use when speaking about your film in the offline space (such as festivals or pitch meetings). You can also use these terms in Google Keyword Planner to get an estimate of how much online traffic they could attract to your website and alternate words to use. The keyword planner is also used for PPC advertising campaigns which is helpful in your film’s release phase.
Ultimately, anything you can do to make it easy to find your film online will help you in the long run. Don’t just think of marketing materials as poster and trailer, there are many different audiences looking for your film besides viewers (journalists, festival programmers, cinema programmers, agents, grant making organizations, financiers etc) so be sure to include as many potential keywords as you can think of that will fulfill the search needs of all kinds of audiences.
Sheri Candler February 20th, 2014