Today’s guest post is from TFC member John Chi whose microbudget film Tentacle 8 was recently released by Grand Entertainment Group. We thank John for sharing his experience with TFC and the knowledge he gained during the distribution phase of his film so that all independent filmmakers might benefit.
Changing The Paradigm
The first thing every filmmaker should ask themselves before considering to make an independent feature film is: how badly do I want to do this? Are you prepared to do everything it takes, and make the necessary personal and professional sacrifices to ensure your film gets made and seen by an audience? Often times, filmmakers think the answer is yes, when in fact it’s something less clear.
You can make it easier on yourself by writing a script that’s marketable, fits the sweet spot of what other people think you should be doing, saying, feeling, and thinking. Then Google “how to win major awards at Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, Cannes and start a bidding war” and click, “I’m feeling lucky.” That’s definitely a path many people take.
But like most independent filmmakers, who aren’t answering to studios or huge investors, it’s against our nature to do what other people tell us to do, especially when it comes to what’s popular or in vogue. We’ll be the one that breaks the mold; we’ll be the one that changes the paradigm. That’s exactly what we said as we assembled our team for TENTACLE 8. We would be the one film that would change the paradigm of what’s possible. We were going to make a global espionage movie about the NSA, shoot it in 15 days, and do it within the Ultra-Low Budget SAG agreement. While many saw disaster, we saw opportunity. It was our chance to stand out from the crowd, and do something either truly brave or astoundingly idiotic.
Just Get Through Production
I was determined to make TENTACLE 8, a film that addressed social and political issues that wasn’t being addressed anywhere else. At least not in narrative features. My job was to assemble a team of filmmakers that shared my ambition, my optimism, and my foolishness to attempt what appeared on paper to be an impossible task. If we kept saying that we were going to be the one, and preached it often enough, it would become true. We would be the film that would change the paradigm of what independent films were capable of.
For most first time feature filmmakers, like I was, I thought Production would be the most difficult part of the journey. It’s what most filmmakers are pretty good at, and best prepared to do. I won’t describe at length what it took to get TENTACLE 8 made. Instead, I’ll just say that it took an incredible amount of ingenuity, effort, and hard work to pull off what we did. It was an extraordinary synergy of trust, belief, attention to detail, and commitment that made it all possible. There were many selfless acts of kindness from people who didn’t have any reason to help us, but did anyway. They were our angels. Without them, we wouldn’t have finished the movie on our budget. You can’t plan on those things happening, you just need to make sure you treat other people with respect, be humble, and always act professionally. Don’t make it easy for other people to turn you away when you ask for help. You might get lucky.
Making a movie is a labor of love under extremely stressful conditions, which tends to bond people. By the end of production, we believed that we had accomplished something very special together. We had done it. We were on our way to realizing our mantra. We were going to be the film that changed the paradigm.
High Hopes and First Impressions
Several months later, we were ready for our coming out party. We had worked really hard to put a solid, but not perfect, festival cut together for people to start looking at. One of our first calls was to The Film Collaborative. We thought they would probably put us in touch with all the festival programmers at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, et al, and we could focus on our travel plans for the next year. Jeffrey Winter, co-executive director of The Film Collaborative, was kind enough to watch our film, and give us some feedback.
I remember reading his comments the first time over, scanning it quickly looking for the words, “great, fantastic, ground breaking, change the paradigm”….but I didn’t see them. So I read the email again a bit more carefully. Maybe I missed it. “Not a festival film. Difficult to market. No marketable name talent. Challenging subject matter and run time will make it difficult to program. Proceed with modest expectations”. This had to be a mistake. Maybe the DVD screener got mixed in with someone else’s packaging. I read the comments over, and over again. Maybe if I read them often enough, cursed them loudly enough, they would magically transform into the words I was looking for. That never happened.
Filmmakers Are Often In Denial
We went ahead anyway and applied to all the major film festivals and some regional ones as well. A year later, and a folder full of spiritless rejection form letters, we hadn’t been accepted into any film festivals. Maybe Jeffrey Winter was on to something.
Putting away those dreams of being courted by rabid, hungry distributors, waving seven figure blank checks in the air, was hard. It was more than a dream, it was almost an expectation. Make a great film, and the rest will come. Didn’t anyone know that we were going to be the one?
We asked our sales agent, Glen Reynolds from Circus Road Films, to start reaching out to distributors. 1% of all feature film applicants get into Sundance. Maybe it’s less. Out of that 1% maybe half get some distribution opportunity. A long and painful eight months or so had passed waiting to get into a film festival, with no results. It was time to roll up our sleeves, and take back some of our own fate.
What happens to films that don’t win the Palm D’Or or the Grand Jury Prize? What happens to films that aren’t on the other end of Harvey Weinstein’s phone call? The first thing we needed to understand was that no one was going to do the hard work for us. There simply is no substitute for grinding it out, and doing the dirty work. The Film Collaborative, along with other indie film organizations like Film Courage, IFP, Film Independent, San Francisco Film Society, and Hope For Film, to name just a few, all have archives full of useful information written by filmmakers for filmmakers. We scoured them all, looking for nuggets of truth in every success story, hoping to recognize some shared path to that pot of gold. The only thing those stories shared in common, was that there was no common path to success. They were as unique as the films they made.
Distribution For The 99%
Finding a distributor via our sales agent didn’t take very long. After maybe two months of sending out screeners (or viewing online screeners), we had a handful of distributors that were interested in distributing our film. Hallelujah. Victory! Time to celebrate and take a much needed sigh of relief. We reached out to TFC again and sought out their counsel to help us make the best decision. We explored DIY distribution, and traditional VOD/Digital distribution, making sure we understood all the variables and decisions that went into each approach. I had a conversation with TFC founder Orly Ravid about our options, and she told us that our film wasn’t mainstream enough for any distributor to really go out on a limb for us. We could:
1) bypass the traditional distributor and go with a DIY approach, put in a lot of additional time, energy, and money with no guarantees of success; OR
2) sign on with a traditional distributor and manage/lower our expectations. Orly made it very clear that no distributor was going to spend a lot of money or expend a lot of energy marketing the movie. Whatever we could get them to commit to, we should try to get in writing.
That bit of honest feedback was an unexpected buzz kill, and didn’t exactly sound like a reason to celebrate. After going through our options again and really assessing the pros and cons of each approach, we ultimately chose to go with a traditional distributor, Grand Entertainment Group. Grand is a new distribution company that focuses on championing unique and innovative voices, founded by long time home entertainment executives that had 20+ years of experience distributing independent films for Lionsgate and ThinkFilm, among others. We felt they could help us reach a much wider audience than we could ever reach on our own. There was just no way for us to get our DVDs onto store shelves at Walmart or Best Buy, or land a cable TV deal without their help and prior relationships.
Two long years after we finished shooting the film, finally our work was done. Everything would be clearer, and all of our problems would get solved once we signed with our distributor. Right?
Our Moment of Truth
It’s at this critical stage, that films either go on to thrive and find success or get completely lost in a giant swamp of never to be seen again films. No one cares about your film more than you do. Not your sales agent, your producer’s rep, your distributor, your publicist, no one. To them, as committed and dedicated as they might be, it’s still a job. To you, it’s your life. This goes back to the question you should have asked yourself when you started:
How badly do you want to do this? Are you prepared to do everything it takes, and make all the necessary sacrifices, personal and professional, to ensure your film will be made and seen by an audience?
My producer, Casey Poh, gave me a statistic from his studies at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC: It takes a $5M minimum marketing spend to make a dent in DVD sales. I don’t know how true that is, but for argument sake, let’s say it’s only 10% of that, which is still $500,000. There are no distributors in the world that will spend that kind of money on your movie if it didn’t win Sundance, SXSW, Toronto, etc., and definitely not for a film like TENTACLE 8. But we still had some false notions that our work was done, and that our distributor was going to be out there marketing the film 24/7.
Thankfully, like most independent filmmakers, we’re obsessive. So we plan, and plan, and plan, down to the very last detail. Website updated, new content on Facebook every day up until the DVD release, maintain and energize the interest of our cast and crew. Be active on Twitter, start tweeting things that make you an interesting follow. Share interesting things about other people and other interests. Repeat and accelerate. List all the things you want to have happen: NY Times review, University and College theatrical tour, major launch parties, DVD premiere at the Arclight, Spirit Award Nomination. Didn’t people remember that WE were the one?
My Moment of Clarity
With only a few weeks to go before our DVD release date, we noticed that our wish lists were still only wish lists. Our action plans were gathering e-dust, and we weren’t any closer to making them happen than the day we typed them into our laptop. We had put years into getting the film to this point. There was no one to blame other than ourselves if it tanked. As the creator of the material, as the producer/director/writer of the film, there was no one else more responsible for marketing and promoting the movie than me. No one else was going to come to my rescue. Not my friends, not my family, not my producers, my sales agent, my distributor, no one. I had to give them a reason to believe that my film was worth their time, their attention, their money. Just maybe after I had done all the groundwork, someone might be inspired to help. As soon as I came to terms with that, it was much easier to move forward.
We did an inventory of the assets we had:
- We had made a movie about the NSA, which by an incredible stroke of fate, had been splashed across the headlines in the previous months;
- We had several soap opera actors with very popular and loyal followings from their fans;
- We had made a completely original and different kind of movie that I could articulate to others with clarity and passion.
We had to mobilize our assets as quickly and as provocatively as we could to all those outside our bubble of cast and crew. Prior to our DVD release, there were three very influential moments that impacted our awareness:
1) NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden became an international headline;
2) Not so random acts of kindness and generosity from Soap Opera Network, Go Into The Story, and Film Courage;
3) I realized NO ONE WAS COMING TO RESCUE ME if I didn’t fully and actively solicit an audience for my movie.
Our Watergate Moment
Casey had mentioned months ago that we needed a Watergate moment to spark some interest in the movie, in reference to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, a movie that inspired TENTACLE 8. I laughed off that notion, but as fate would have it, news of NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, splashed across every news headline around the world. We finally caught a break. As tragic and as difficult as it was for Mr. Snowden, it was something that we had to capitalize on. We started branding the movie as the NSA-themed Independent Feature Film. I used that as the header for every unsolicited email I wrote to every journalist, blogger, activist, and film enthusiast I could find on the internet. I started making bold and provocative statements on Twitter regarding privacy rights, and the treatment of whistleblowers, always making sure I hashtagged #TENTACLE8 with #NSA. Slowly but surely, we were building an awareness and interest in both the film, and us as filmmakers.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Soap
We also had several cast members who had a large soap opera following, as current and former stars on some very popular soap operas. Joshua Morrow stars on the very popular “The Young and the Restless”, Matthew Borlenghi had a long and successful run on “All My Children”, as did John Callahan on “All My Children” and “Days of Our Lives”, veteran character actor Bruce Gray was on several popular soaps, and Teri Reeves, who most recently starred in NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” was a one-time “General Hospital” regular. It would be a huge mistake not to reach out to this fan base.
Two weeks prior to our DVD release, I reached out to the Soap Opera Network, and wrote them an email introducing myself and the movie. A few days later, Editor in Chief, Errol Lewis and West Coast Editor Kambra Clifford responded. We had several very enthusiastic email exchanges describing what we were looking to do, and they agreed to publish and promote an article on the film, and our actors. We’ve continued to discuss ways in which we can cross promote our mutual interests.
Scott Myers and Go Into The Story
I had written close to a hundred unsolicited emails to almost every film journalist, critic, blogger, and movie enthusiast in the indie film world known to Google. There’s something to be said for a well crafted email to introduce yourself, why you’re writing them, and a little about your film. It’s probably no accident that influential screenwriter and screenwriting teacher, Scott Myers, was one of the very few people who responded. His blog, “Go Into The Story” is widely considered to be one of the most influential screenwriting blogs on the internet. It was a real break for us that Scott offered to do a brief write up on the making of TENTACLE 8, as part of his “Movies You Made” series. This was exactly the right audience that would appreciate an intricately written, complex, and thought provoking movie like ours. The feature was posted a day before our DVD release, and links tweeted continuously for about a week. We continue to use that feature in our marketing efforts.
Lastly, I would say our feature on FilmCourage.com was the single most influential piece of internet marketing that helped our success. Karen, David, and April were among the most gracious and hospitable collaborators we were lucky enough to work with, during the entire process. They just inherently understood our situation and wanted to help. Like The Film Collaborative, their followers are really loyal and dedicated to the independent film cause and help filmmakers educate themselves. Being featured on their site gave us some much needed credibility and visibility with the community that we wanted our film to be a part of.
Early Exit Poll Results
After eight days of release, our initial DVD allotments sold out at WalMart, Best Buy, and Amazon.com. IMDB put us on a list (#12 out of 192) of Most Popular Independent Feature Films released in 2014, based on their Movie Meter Rankings. Considering there are thousands of movies made each year, this was an incredible feat, given we’re such a small film. It goes to prove that a small, but dedicated following can move mountains, and probably has a greater chance at long term sustainability.
There’s no magic solution, you just have to grind it out and do the work. Hundreds of tweets, unsolicited emails, creative Facebook posts, introducing yourself, your film, and your purpose. There’s no fancy diet, no elaborate exercise machine to get around the fact that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and exercise more. Similarly, if you want to build an audience, there’s no app, or software, or social media guru that’s going to magically build your audience for you. You do it one follower at a time.
In retrospect, one of the biggest mistakes we made was being a bit too precious about who we followed and didn’t follow on Twitter. We didn’t quite know how to exploit Twitter at first, but like everything else, we learned on the fly, and were able to course correct in time to build a strong following for the film, and us the filmmakers.
Are we the film that changed the paradigm of what micro-budget independent films are capable of? We defied the odds in many ways, making a movie without a strong marketing hook, for a niche audience that wasn’t easily identifiable, and we secured DVD and VOD/Digital distribution without getting into one film festival. We listened and valued all the guidance we got, from TFC and others we sought input from, even though we didn’t always follow their advice. So did we break the mold? I’m not sure that matters so much anymore. We never stopped believing that we could.
Sheri Candler April 23rd, 2014
Tags: Bruce Gray, Casey Poh, Circus Road Films, Edward Snowden, Facebook, Film Courage, Glen Reynolds, Go Into the Story, Grand Entertainment Group, Jeffrey Winter, John Callahan, John Chi, Joshua Morrow, Matthew Borlenghi, NSA, Orly Ravid, Scott Meyers, Soap Opera Network, Tentacle 8, Teri Reeves, Twitter
Recently, I made a post on my personal blog about why I am advising filmmakers to reconsider their use of Facebook to connect with an audience. There are lots of changes going on and it is important to understand that Facebook is a public company with shareholders to appease and a very large user base to exploit. A Facebook page is increasingly pay to play, so if you aren’t budgeting money to spend on growing your page and reaching your fans on a regular basis, you should find another way to reach them.
It’s too crowded
You may not believe it, but only 4 years ago it was not commonplace for businesses to use Facebook. Studios didn’t really get the point (most still don’t) and large corporations thought the whole social media thing was a fad that would fade. Small business pages used them to constantly talk about themselves and their products, but at least they were in the under utilized position of reaching consumers for free via a channel few put much stock into.
Now there are more than 25 million small business pages on Facebook! It isn’t easy to stand out in that crowd and only those with the most creativity, time and money can hope to compete. Sure, it feels safe now to say you have a Facebook page and you can still open a new one for free for every new project you start. But are you really going to put in the time, effort and money on a regular basis to make the page work? If the answer is no, don’t even start one.
Overcoming the Facebook algorithm
Some have said that Facebook perpetrated the biggest practical joke of the internet age by convincing brands and advertising agencies to spend money building up a large following only to restrict the ability to reach that following unless further payment is made. Others have said without the restriction, a user’s newsfeed would be inundated with useless promotional crap from companies who have no other interest than to use Facebook as a free advertising tool, ruining the ability to connect meaningfully with things users care about. However you see it, it is no secret that Facebook does indeed throttle the reach of your posts through the use of their complex and ever changing algorithms. Assume a day will come when the organic (ie, free) reach is zero.
Be platform neutral
Realize that social media channels are only tools in the long game toward building a base of support. Sure, people peruse your Facebook and Twitter follower numbers and make quick decisions about how “successful” your work is, but ultimately it is how interested, engaged and loyal your audience is that will make the biggest difference to your sustainability. None of these tools will last forever. One will eventually be usurped in popularity and the users will move on. The central idea behind all of them is the connections, the trust and the loyalty you are building and to bring that audience to the channel you do control–your own site.
Choose a social channel that you actually enjoy using, one that allows you to express your creativity on a daily basis, and where you can find like minded individuals to truly connect with. If that channel is still Facebook, then just be prepared to pay to participate.
Sheri Candler March 26th, 2014
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
In its 8 short years of existence, Youtube has managed to become a powerhouse online destination for all things video and, according to Nielsen, reaches more US adults ages 18-34 than any cable network. However, 70% of Youtube traffic comes from outside of the US. The site is so active, over 100 hours of video are uploaded every MINUTE and over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—almost an hour for every person on Earth!
Setting up a Youtube account and channel is fairly straightforward. It is generally based on having a Gmail account, which is free, and Youtube channels are also linked to a Google Plus account. Here is a video on creating a Youtube channel
Here is a video on how to create a Youtube channel if you DO NOT want to use a Gmail account:
In March, Youtube started implementing their new channel layout so if you have a channel that was launched before this time, you will probably find that it looks very different now. Now, there is only one large cover image, just like on Facebook, and it matches the dimensions seen on G+ 2120px by 1192px. All channels have this layout and it is supposed to make it easier for mobile devices to see the channels in a uniform way. Pay special attention to the middle section of your image because on mobile devices, that is what will primarily be seen. Those measurements will be 1280px by 350px.
Your cover image is the face of the channel brand. Choose an image that tells a viewer exactly what she is in for when she visits your channel (your brand personality) and what to expect from the project. Also Youtube will prominently display a little “intro to your channel” video for those who haven’t subscribed to your channel yet. It is like a channel trailer or pitch video which lets you highlight your channel’s value and encourages subscribing.
Examples of personality branding on Youtube channels:
As with most things online, you will want to integrate all of your online channels so that the viewer is aware you have them. Add in links to your Youtube channel that include your main website, iTunes URL, Amazon URL, Facebook, Twitter etc. Don’t forget to add new ones all through your production process since you won’t initially have iTunes/Amazon/Hulu etc links.
Be sure to include a call to action on your videos. This can be “subscribe to our channel” “join our email list” with a URL to the sign up page, or “Like us on Facebook.” These calls are best used as speech bubble annotations that flash on the screen while the video plays. You can set this up inside the Youtube video manager setting.
When you don’t yet have a large stockpile of videos created, build up playlists of videos that were not created by you, but suit the interests of your core audience. You can elect to feature these playlists when viewers visit your channel. There is the ability to configure what viewers see on your channel when they visit. Here is a tutorial on how to configure your channel sections:
Ultimately you are trying to build up subscribers on your channel, not just views. In fact, Youtube has recently redone their algorithm to favor videos from channels with a lot of subscribers because they want viewers to keep coming back to the site. If you plan to have a trailer and that’s all on your Youtube channel, you won’t attract many subscribers and you could be penalized in Youtube search. Also, subscribers give you the ability to be in contact with those who liked your video. They can be notified via email and within their homepage news feed when you have uploaded a new video.
A factor in making sure that your video can be found in Youtube search is tagging. Upon uploading a new video, you will be asked to add a title and description for your video. Write titles using a relevant and, hopefully, unique keyword. You can look for keywords using Google Keyword Tool. These same keywords will be used for your tags. Place the most important keywords and keyword phrases at the start of your tags fields. Include common and specific keywords (but not spam) and their misspellings because you want your videos to be found in any way they could possibly be spelled into the search bar. Write 12 or more tags and use as much of the characters as possible. Be sure to use appropriate keywords that will attract interest from potential viewers in your core audience.
Youtube is social, just as all social media is. Interacting with other channels, leaving comments on other’s videos, subscribing to channels, answering comments on your page will help you see better results than simply using the site to host your trailer. If you have other channels hosting your trailer (ie MovieClips or a distributor’s channel), be sure to drop in to those channels and answer comments there too. The most common question is “When can we see this film?” and it will be surprising how little those comments receive an answer. You want people to know when and where the film will be available right? Be sure to answer! Engage your audience!
Having a lot of video responses in your comment section, as opposed to only text comments, will also help indicate to YouTube that your video is popular and relevant and will help with rankings. Respond to comments in the first hours after your video is published because building comments early helps build rankings in YouTube search.
Of course, everyone likes to see their videos getting a lot of views. In fact, having millions of views can turn into media coverage and reaching the trending topics section of Youtube which then perpetuate even more views. There are paid services you can use (see Virool.com or Channel Factory) to help seed your important videos across a network of online sites. These services can be very expensive to use (often $.10-$.15 a click with very high minimums to reach), but this is the way many corporations and Hollywood studios get millions of views to their videos and trailers in a very short amount of time. You didn’t REALLY think that was all organic, did you? Video seeding in essence is paid advertising, but if you need your trailer to go viral, this is the quickest way.
Youtube can be a source of revenue for your production company via embedded advertising if you are generating a lot of views. Revenue will only be significant if you are dedicated to creating video on a consistent basis and growing your subscriber base. For distribution companies, this should be something to add to their revenue streams since they are likely to have the ability to generate a lot of video. Check into joining the Youtube Partner Program for more information.
Youtube has created The Creators Playbook with all kinds of useful information regarding using the site. The Playbook is free and updated regularly.
Sheri Candler June 26th, 2013
Time to reiterate…social tools should not be used only as a means of pushing a product. Paid advertising is the best tool to do that. Social media channels are relationship building tools, so if you aren’t interested in a relationship with an audience, you will find minimal success using them. Starting a Twitter account just a few months or weeks prior to the release of your film will not help gain an audience following that will be loyal and actually support your work. A Twitter strategy should not be cold and calculated-buy, buy, buy. It is extremely obvious to anyone using these tools that you are doing this and it is a turn OFF. Approach the online audience on a human level, using a personal voice. It allows a trust to develop and helps garner more loyalty in the long run.
Pew Research recently released its findings on Twitter users. 16% of internet users are active on Twitter, and the service skews towards black and hispanic users, adults aged 18-29, and folks who live in urban areas. It trails significantly behind Facebook as the dominant social channel, but 400 million monthly unique users visit Twitter.com, and 1 billion Tweets occur every 2 1/2 days.*
For now, Twitter is the main site for second screen activity, with 66% of mobile users active on the social network in front of their televisions, and 33 percent Tweet about the shows they’re watching.** If you aren’t engaging on Twitter to find and build a relationship with an audience, you are definitely being left behind. Also it is a great way to network with other industry professionals, some you may never have encountered in your every day life.
How does Twitter work? A little bit like text messaging. You are limited to 140 characters in your messages. But unlike text messaging, your messages aren’t sent to a single person, but anyone that follows you–and viewable by the world and cached by search engines. Bear this in mind before starting an argument online or drunk tweeting! It is possible to send one on one messages, also known as DM or Direct Messages, that are only seen by you and the other person. This only works if you follow each other.
There’s a great list of basic Twitter definitions HERE
When getting started with Twitter, choose your account name with care. It should reflect who you are, your “brand voice,” and attract people to follow you. Ideally, you should use your own name and your profile photo and background images should visually represent who you are or what your project is. Do not pick something cute and nonsensical! As opposed to Facebook, you can change your Twitter name, or handle, and all details about your account with ease on your own, so if you have made the mistake of choosing a Twitter name that doesn’t give good representation of who you are or what you are about, you can change it. All account names will be run through a checker to make sure they are unique so you may have to try a few different names if yours is somewhat common.
Here are a few good examples:
Write a clear, concise bio and include a URL link to your professional website or landing page. There are only 160 characters to use in this About section so get to the point and leave a link for people to click to find out more about you. It is up to you to choose whether to name your location city, but do add the country to give an idea of your origin.
Once you have everything set up on your account to make a good impression to potential followers, let’s find some interesting accounts to follow. Using keywords that reflect the type of creator you are and topics you are interested in, find accounts with similar interests in search tools like Twitter itself, WeFollow, Twellow, and Twiends. Twitter will work best for you if you are following interesting people who offer a lot of value. Often, people give up on Twitter early on because they don’t “get” what the platform does. This is the case when you follow a small group of people who also don’t “get” what the platform does. A useful account will give you great links to information, make connections between you and their following, hold regular conversations and generally use Twitter to make connections with people. Be judicious with whom you follow as your newsfeed will fill up with tweets on a constant basis and you want that stream filled with useful content, not irrelevant or obnoxiously self promotional crap.
For a while, you should only “listen” and take in the way people interact with each other. Best not to start in with “Hi world, I’m on Twitter. Check out my work” because your first impression will not be good. As with all things social media, overt self promotion is not appreciated and won’t win followers straight away. When you do launch in, try responding appropriately to a post someone made or retweeting it. You might also post a useful link yourself, prefacing it with why you think it is useful to those with similar interests.
Now, the thing every filmmaker wants to know. How to get followers? Unless you are a celebrity who has built a vast audience on other media channels, attracting followers will take time and consistent effort. You can buy advertising from Twitter in the form of Promoted Accounts which is part of the “Who To Follow” feature suggesting accounts that users don’t currently follow and may find interesting. More info on that HERE.
You could also go the no monetary cost route by doing these things:
-Make sure that your Twitter handle is posted on all of your communication including email footer and newsletter, website, other social channels, business cards and your official bio that you use in festival catalogs, at the bottom of a guest blog post, really any About You section. The easier you make it to find your Twitter handle, the more followers you will get. Makes sense;
-Tweet interesting things! The more links to great content you post, the more likely people are to retweet (RT) it, thus spreading your Twitter handle to more potential followers;
-Interact with other twitter accounts. Remember, this is conversation in 140 characters. Take few minutes of your day at least twice a day to drop in on those you follow and see what they are talking about. See what you might add to that conversation;
-Post your own links several times a day. The Twitter stream moves very fast so if you post something only once a day, or once every few days, it gets buried quickly. Post several times throughout the day, every day. Where to find these links? Use TalkWalker or Feedly to monitor blogs and publications that post news relevant to your interests and the interests of your audience. You can post these on your other social channels too;
-Take part in Twitter hashtag (#) discussions. On Sunday night, there is a weekly Tweetchat for scriptwriters (#scriptchat). On Wednesdays, a weekly Tweetchat for post production people (#postchat). Almost every film related live event has a hashtag associated (#sheffdocfest, #sundance, #ifpweek, #LAFilmFest etc) and by participating in these events, even if you can’t attend, you will interact with people on Twitter with similar interests and it helps build up a following. You can also do this for events or discussions related to your target audience. Related to hashtag discussions-anytime you post something that is of interest to your target audience, use a hashtag within the tweet so that those who follow hashtags will see it (ie. Making a ballet film? use #ballet. Making a film about civil disobedience? You may want to connect with those following #Taksim or #occupygezi right now). To find popular hashtags, check HERE;
-Did you read a great post or see a great film by someone you want to know on Twitter? Give them an @ mention complimenting their work or sending congratulations. Chances are you will get a follow by that person. Be genuine. Do not use this in an obsequious manner, it is very obvious;
-Include your account to Twitter directories like the ones I mentioned above so your account will be found by others;
-Add a Twitter widget to your website that displays a list of your latest tweets and a button to follow your account. These widgets are plug ins that can be integrated into Tumblr, WordPress, Joomla, Blogger etc platforms. Either ask your developer to integrate it or visit the blog platform FAQ section to find out how.
Most people do not manage their Twitter accounts via the Twitter website and often they use mobile devices rather than a computer. Tools such as Hootsuite allow you to set up columns on one screen to see your newsfeed, your @mentions, your DMs, your Sent tweets and any other keyword or hashtag you want to follow. If you manage more than one Twitter account, you can set that up in Hootsuite too.
As with anything online, you will want to monitor your results. Obviously, you’ll want to see your follower count climbing, but you should also want to know what kind of material you are posting that is making an impact by being shared (RTd), how many people are interacting with you and who they are (these are your super fans), and whether your activity on Twitter is driving interest in your work. Tools like TweetReach, Who Shared My Link?, Who Tweeted Me, and Google Analytics to measure the Twitter traffic to your website. A great article on how to set that up HERE.
A few Twitter DON’TS:
-Don’t autofollow. You want a quality news feed, not one full of useless tweets;
Sheri Candler June 19th, 2013
Facebook is the KING of the social networks (for right now anyway) and, with over 1 billion accounts, there is bound to be some measure of audience for your work to be found there.
Some Facebook stats:
Over a 170 million of the 572 million people who reside in the United States and Canada use Facebook. Europe ranks second in total penetration with 38% of 595 million people using the service. In Asia, Facebook counts just 5% of the 4.3 billion people who live there.
Since this series is geared to basics of getting started or for those who have started, but haven’t progressed very far, I am including this video tutorial [I didn’t make it] on opening up a business (fan) page. You WILL need to have a Facebook personal profile in order to administer a Facebook business (professional) page. If more than one person on your team will be administrating your page, they must first Like the page and then you can choose them as an admin.
A couple of things to think about:
-Are you mainly interested in building this page to show a distributor that you have audience awareness for this film?
-Are you mainly interested in building up audience for all of your work now and in the future?
The reason I am asking you to consider this is it is a little difficult to change the name of your page after it reaches 200 “likes.” Rather than opening a lot of pages and abandoning each one (and the audience you have built) after the film’s marketing push is finished, think about opening one page either for yourself as a professional or for your production company and keeping that audience with you for all of your projects. The way Facebook is set up for search is a little wonky because if someone searches for the title of your film in Facebook search, they may not find it if listed under your production company. But they are improving their graph search all the time and if you do a good job promoting the name of your page on your website, in social ads and in all communications, the chances of people making that connection increase. If you have already opened pages, there is a way to change the name of an existing page, but it isn’t easy if you have over 200 likes. Facebook wants to discourage the practice of building up an audience on a page and then selling it to the highest bidder and confusing those who have liked one page that is then turned into something else.
More on how to request a name change here.
If your only interest is trying to sell to a distributor and have them take over the page, then proceed with setting up under the film’s title. If you have read any of my writing, you will know which route I think you should take 🙂
As for category, you can change this later, but you might choose Company, Product, or Movie as a starting place.
Chances are you won’t be aware of even half the ways you can control and customize your new fan page. Luckily, Mari Smith made a great infographic that breaks it all down for you HERE. I suggest you just print it out and tape it to your monitor!
Ok, so you’ve set up the page how you want it and you’re fairly versed in how to navigate it. Now what?
Create a descriptive cover image. Consider this space the visual representation of whatever it is you want your audience to connect with when they first visit your page and are in decision mode about joining it.
If you want to highlight your current project, make some variation of your key art the main image with a photo of yourself or your logo as the small, profile image. I often refer filmmakers to band and actor pages because they use their cover image to promote their latest work, while keeping their own fanbases.
If you want to showcase all that you are involved in as well as what kind of person/company you are, consider a creative montage.
What do you want people to associate with your brand and feel emotionally about joining this page? They will make judgments about it before they have read one word of synopsis and it will be the difference between joining the page and clicking away. Make your cover image something that defines your identity. Dimensions for the cover image on Facebook are 851 pixels wide and 315 pixels tall.
You can hire a professional designer to make your cover images, you can get them made pretty cheaply on Fiverr, or you can try it on your own by using sites listed here.
Facebook guidelines have changed and now images may contain calls to action (subscribe, like our page), contact info (a URL or email address) or references to price or purchase information, while maintaining the 20 percent limit for text overlay, meaning that your text can take up no more than 20% of the image.
–Why Facebook is no longer FREE. The company readily admits that it uses its EdgeRank algorithm to restrict your posts to reach only about 16% of your fans in their newsfeed for free. What is EdgeRank? It is the Facebook algorithm that decides which posts appear in each user’s newsfeed. The algorithm hides boring status and post updates, so if your posts don’t attract comments, likes, shares, they stop showing up in your fans’ newsfeeds. Why should you care? In order to keep reaching your fans for free, you need them to take an action on your posts so it stays in their newsfeed. While you could desperately beg them to act, you could also start posting things they would care about and want to share. For more on EdgeRank, see this post.
Say that the majority of your fans have stopped interacting with your page and you want to regain their attention or announce something really important. To overcome the confines of EdgeRank, you will need to have an advertising budget from which to pay for sponsored stories, promoted posts and Facebook advertising. All of these methods are relatively inexpensive compared to pricing out AdWords, newspaper/magazine,TV, radio and outdoor advertising. You wouldn’t pay to reach all of your fans with every post, but it is a good way to push out important content and updates that you want all of your fans to see. As guidelines change all the time, use Google search to look into your best options for using Facebook ads to help build up a following on your page and to direct traffic to your own website or screenings/online store.
–Lots of Visuals. As Facebook continues to change its newsfeed optimization, they have recently said photos and videos will take precedence in the newsfeed. This means you will want to post a lot of visually compelling material as it will have more weight with EdgeRank. These could be photographs, infographics, video clips (not hosted on Youtube, hosted on your Facebook page), Instagram images, and perhaps pulling in your Pinterest Boards through a Pinterest app on Facebook.
–Post several times a day. The more engagement you have on the page, the more likely your fans will continue to see your posts in their newsfeed (the free way to reach your fans). The newsfeed is constantly updating and if you only post once a day or once every few days, your news quickly disappears. Many of your fans do not visit your page specifically, they only see your posts in their feed so make sure you are updating often.There are tools like EdgeRank Checker that tell you, based on your page’s history, what times of day are best to post for maximum engagement.
–Let’s get some fans! An organic and low cost way to start building your fanbase is by inviting your personal friends and family and the friends of your page administrators to like your page. The more administrators you have for your page, the bigger that pool of friends so consider adding several administrators. Note that administrators have power to make changes to your page so be judicious about whom you select for administration and be sure to revoke that power if an admin leaves the production.
Another way is driving traffic from your other online endeavors. If you have a website, Linkedin page, Twitter account, and/or email signature, post a link to your Facebook page on those. Every place that you are communicating with people should have your social channel information. Probably ALL of those people have Facebook accounts, they just don’t know you have a page to join.
Another way is through spending money. While you can complain about this, think about how else you might potentially reach 1 billion users? There isn’t another way that doesn’t involve money and Facebook is no different. What I like about Facebook advertising is you can get so granular about who you are trying to reach. There is much less spending waste here and you can see fairly immediately how the campaign is going and make adjustments.
For instructions on placing Facebook ads and promoting stories, go here.
–Use Facebook Insights. Monitor what kinds of posts get interaction and are popular so that you will know what kind of content works best on your page.
This is going to take time, patience, experimentation, creativity and consistency. Don’t start a month before you need to start asking the fans to do something. If you are opening the page as your professional or production company page, START NOW.
The next post in this series will cover Twitter.
Sheri Candler June 12th, 2013
In the last post, I talked about the mindset change that artists have to go through in order to successfully use social networking. In this post, I want to dispel some myths that people have about how social networking works so that you won’t fall into unrealistic expectations. Other posts include Mindset Change, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube
Myth #1 Social networking is FREE
While it is possible to set up accounts on social channels for free, the expense of time and money to maintain them is not. To accomplish goals on social channels takes planning, creating compelling content, optimizing it for search engines, and publishing it on a consistent basis. If you plan to have a person dedicated to handling all of this for you, they should be paid. If you plan to have Facebook as your main channel for audience engagement, you’ll need a budget just for promoted posts and advertising to help build up the page and keep in contact with the fans you attract (more on EdgeRank when I cover the Facebook platform). Running social media “campaigns” of any kind will take money as they are essentially an advertising function (Campaigns are short term efforts meant to have maximum impact. More on this below.)
Myth #2 It works FAST
As anyone who has been active on social channels will tell you, building up a significant following takes time. Lots of time. Everyone starts with zero. If you were planning to use social channels as your main tool for gathering attention for your work, I hope you have already started giving to a community well before you will ask favors of them like spreading the word on your work, attending screenings, buying merchandise, etc. This isn’t a 10 minutes a day kind of activity (contrary to what some social media authors would have you believe), it is an activity that should be ingrained into your creative life starting now.
Myth #3 You won’t need a website, just use Facebook
It is extremely unwise to be completely dependent on a 3rd party site to keep you in touch with an audience. What if that site gets shut down? What if they close your account? What if they change the rules about what you can do with your page/take away functionality? That direct connection to an audience is in jeopardy when you allow a 3rd party to have control over your account. Your website is YOUR online real estate on which you are building your creative empire and you must have control over it. You will want to control how it looks and how it functions as well as collecting data on your online efforts and on your supporters (email, location, interests etc). While you will use certain social tools, first and foremost you must have a site that is under your control and from which you can make money.
Myth #4 An intern is fine to handle it
Would you let an intern speak for your production on Entertainment Tonight or in the New York Times? Social media channels have a global reach and are cataloged in search engines to be found at any time in the future. Anything published from your social accounts represents YOU and your work. Letting just anyone speak for your brand is not a good idea. The best person to let loose with that kind of responsibility is not your 23 year old intern just because she is “good at Facebooking.” That isn’t a knock on 23 year old marketing professionals because, if they have business training and marketing skills, they are definitely a great member for your team. Social media is really many things wrapped into one: marketing, customer relations, media relations, crisis management, and branding. It will probably take a small team of professional people working from inside of the production (as opposed to hiring an outside firm) to find long term success using these tools. If you entrust a member of the production, intern or otherwise, with this responsibility, make sure your social accounts use your company’s email and everyone has access to the passwords. Otherwise, you could wind up with no access to these accounts if and when that person leaves.
Myth #5 Social media works like advertising
Unknowingly, you may be using your social channels like advertising. Advertising puts out one way messages designed to interrupt the widest audience as possible usually to sell something. It is a paid tactic where the receiver has little choice but to be interrupted from what they are trying to do (watch a TV show, listen to music, read an article, drive in traffic etc). Advertising is about pushing a message with little regard for those who hear it.
Social media is a pull tactic. Rather than interrupting people with messages they don’t want to receive, social channels enable people to give their permission to speak to them by following your page or your account. They expect not only to hear from you, but to speak back to you and they expect you will listen and respond. A dialog, not a monologue. Also, they follow you based on things you share that are valuable to THEM, not just to you. Advertising doesn’t listen, or require any dialog. It is a one marketing tactic of several you can use, but don’t confuse it with what people expect on social channels.
You may use the term “campaign” to speak about using social channels to advertise your work, but social networking is not a campaign. Social networking is a long term, ingrained activity that professionals now have to incorporate into their lives. A campaign is a short term effort meant to drive toward one specific goal and definitely involves spending money to make sure that campaign is heard.
In actuality, any place online where information can be published, commented upon or shared is considered social media. That pretty much encompasses the internet. Now that I have outlined over the last 2 posts how to approach your efforts on social channels, the next few posts will dig into the main 3 sites commonly referred to as social media being used by most people; Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
Sheri Candler June 5th, 2013
For the next several weeks, we will feature information for filmmakers who want to get started in using social media for their personal career and for their projects. These posts will be very basic in nature as we have realized that many members are confused/apprehensive/non tech savvy and we want to encourage them to be excited and proactive about sharing their work with an audience. At the heart of all social network marketing is the authentic, human need to connect and communicate with like minded people. This first post will prime you for the mentality change you need to succeed in using social channels. Quick jump to subsequent posts Myths, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube
Changing the mindset and finding the time
Before starting with questions like which is better, Facebook or Twitter, we need to recognize that the whole idea of sharing online and communicating directly with an audience takes a monumental shift in thinking. While it was the accepted norm that an artist would be separated from her audience and expected to create away from the public eye, only allowing them to see the work when it was launched into the market, this is no longer the case. Artists, and all people and companies really, are now expected to be open, accessible and willing to speak with the public.
Whether one agrees with this expectation is immaterial, it is a fact and those unwilling to accept it are quickly falling behind. Are there well known artists who haven’t accepted this, who still enjoy popularity despite being inaccessible? Yes, for the time being. But 99% of artists reading this post do not fall into that category and cannot compare themselves to these personalities. Even within that category of artists, there is a changing mindset with very prominent directors (ie., Ron Howard, William Friedkin, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Lee etc), cinematographers (Roger Deakins, Matthew Libatique), producers (Frank Marshall, Dana Brunetti, Gale Anne Hurd) and screenwriters (John August, Craig Mazin, Roger Avary) actively using social channels on a consistent basis. If they can find time in THEIR schedules, so can you and you must.
Ending the disposable audience mentality
Every project you make is a startup product, but meant to further the whole of your career in the future. Your body of work should build on itself, growing in experience and helping to push out to the wider world with each successive project . However, it is a mistake to think that audiences also have to be looked at as a new startup with each new project. I would like to do away with the practice of discarding the audience after a film has run through its release windows. This goes for artists as well as distributors. It is extremely wasteful and even rude to court an audience for a period of time and then drop them only to start up again in a year or two or to regard them as mere receptacles for your one way advertising messages. The audience is growing used to expecting access on a near constant basis with brands (if you are an artist, you are a brand) and your brand needs to be more than a logo. It has to be a personality, an identity, it has to show the world what you believe if you expect any loyalty or relationship.The days of viewing your audience as some abstract entity or eyeballs with wallets are over and the days of thinking that all you have to do is make great work and it will just be found are over. Artists need to start cultivating their own audiences for a sustainable living.
Starting from Open, Random and Supportive*
Closed, Selective and Controlling. This is the mindset we have been used to in most aspects of the arts and in business. We have been operating mostly away from the public, hidden behind a logo and faceless entities we hired to speak for us (distributors, managers, agents and publicists). We listened to selective voices and we allowed only a selective group behind our closed doors of creation. We controlled all access in how our work was seen, experienced and who could talk about it or share it. This is NOT the world we live in any longer.
We need to open ourselves up to meeting all kinds of people and listening to all kinds of voices. Openness helps us grow. Be Open in accepting that this change in how people communicate has already happened, no matter how much you wish it hadn’t or how much you think it is just a phase. A major change in human communication has happened and the days of closed, selective and controlling are not returning.
Accept Random information. There is an endless supply of information streaming at us every day and the answer is not to cut yourself off from it. Learning to filter the noise, analyze the random in order to find the relevant is becoming a human skill that we will need in order to evolve and survive. Our children are already learning to do this, we need to catch up.
The Internet operates best in an open environment where sharing information, educating people, and building a large number of connections breeds success. Rather than thinking from greed and competition, think about how much faster you can grow your success by being Supportive of others and giving instead of only figuring out how to take from them.
Social channels are only tools
No matter which channels you choose, know that they are only tools to help accomplish your goals. When evaluating the tools, be realistic about the strengths you are going to bring to them yourselves. If you aren’t much of a writer, blogging probably won’t be a good tool for you I don’t care how much people say you should blog. Having a poorly maintained blog is worse than having no blog. If shooting video or photos is more your speed, then using Youtube, Instagram, Vine etc are tools on which to concentrate. If you would rather engage in short, pithy dialogue, Twitter will be your best tool. Not only will you need social accounts, you will need to populate these channels regularly. If you pick a tool that is torture to maintain, you won’t do it and you won’t accomplish much with it.
Goals to accomplish**
One goal for artists is to secure funding and one of the biggest opportunities in funding art projects is crowdfunding. You know what is at the foundation of successful crowdfunding? Having online connections with a core group of supporters. Crowdfunding can help you expand an audience, but it is extremely rare to have a successful campaign starting at zero connections. If you don’t have an active presence online, it will be exceedingly difficult to raise money this way.
Another goal is industry networking. I haven’t met a first time or unknown filmmaker yet who didn’t say they wanted their work to be a calling card to lead to future work. While you can tour the festival circuit or hit all of the pitchfests in hopes of making industry connections, you can also accomplish this by following prolific industry executives online and interacting with them in a valuable way. Valuable in this instance meaning how you show your value to them, not how they can be valuable to you. We’ll talk about adding value in subsequent posts.
Reaching a group of interested people. While you can do this only through releasing remarkable work, you can do this on a daily basis as well. In sharing what drives you artistically, professionally, you can pull in those who have the same sensibilities as yourself. You can also be a catalyst for meaningful dialog and change. If the thing that drives you as an artist is to raise awareness or give a voice to the voiceless through your work in a visual medium, you can do the same thing on social channels every day. You can mobilize communities and create change.
In the next post, I will talk about the main myths behind social network marketing and you may recognize a few that you believe to be true. In subsequent posts I will highlight the main social channels in use today. Bear in mind that new channels are being adopted and existing ones are being replaced every day. Also there are near constant changes to the capabilities on existing channels. Such is the challenge to using these tools, but the core of what you are trying to do with them is not changing. Connecting and relationship building with an audience will become a cornerstone of your creative success no matter what online tools you use.
**based on Jon Reiss’ 5 goals common to filmmakers when releasing their work
Sheri Candler May 29th, 2013
I recently sat down with David Branin of Film Courage to discuss the latest Kickstarter campaign sensation, Veronica Mars. As of this writing, the campaign has received $4.1 million in pledges backed by over 62,000 people. It is even notable that if one Google’s Veronica Mars Kickstarter, press mentions overshadow the actual campaign page showing its power to generate mainstream press coverage that will not only widen its donation pool, but also further raise the profile of crowdfunding and Kickstarter, in particular.
No, this kind of reception is not to be expected for the unknown indie artist, especially one that has done little to nothing to cultivate an online base of support and who does not have a project that would entice mainstream press coverage. But is crowdfunding really here to stay? Is this type of funding becoming the new default for indie artists? I think it is and will continue to be. Crowdfunding is not a fad that will pass quickly into history. It is on the rise and becoming an acceptable, if not preferable, means to raise money for arts related projects.
In 2011, over $1.5 billion was raised via crowdfunding worldwide. Estimates for 2012, a mere one year later, say this grew to $2.8 billion. The National Endowment for the Arts, the largest annual national funder of the arts in the United States founded in 1965, has an annual budget of $146 million that it distributes to many organizations and individuals every year. They are perpetual targets for funding reductions and if you have ever applied to grantmaking organizations, you know the reams of paperwork it takes just to apply, let alone receive a grant.
Kickstarter, since its inception in 2009, has collected $450 million in donations for arts related projects, over $85 million just for Video and Film projects as of January 1, 2013. Artists still have to submit their campaign proposal and there are 2 main guidelines for acceptance. One MUST submit a project, something that will be completed and produce a result (a film, a game, a performance, a book etc). And the platform is only open to Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology, and Theater projects. It cannot be used for causes or to sell shares! The well prepared projects can receive an answer of acceptance within a week.
But Kickstarter is not the only game in town..as of April 2012, 452 crowdfunding platforms were operating globally.
If we are all honest with ourselves, earning a living from making art is pretty rare. I see many middlemen making good livings, but the artists themselves…not so much. And a lot of the money used to make the art comes from the artist or from grants and sometimes from investors who are not likely to ever see that money again. Crowdfunding (donation, not investment) offers a far less risky antidote to all of this. From the start, the artist determines a budget based on what she is willing to risk personally and on what she should expect to raise in donations. This is better than taking all of the financial risk personally (credit cards, remortgages, life savings etc) or asking others to do this because with donations, no one expects the money back. Taking investment means she has to make a good faith effort (and ideally show in a business plan how) to repay the investor and, often it means, having to compromise on the work in order to ensure its commercial prospects. Creating with debt hanging over one’s head is probably not as healthy and productive as creating with the knowledge that the pressure to conform to market expectations is lifted. The artist can still make money on the project by selling to those who did not donate. Her profit could start at dollar one!
So what of these donors? What motivates them to support, if not the prospect of making money? It seems that they are drawn to donation, not just because of perks, but because of altruism. Indiegogo reports they recently have seen a rise (33%) of all contributed dollars in excess of perk amount or without any perk requested. This is compared with 23% in 2011. Personally, I believe sites that are trying to mix crowdfunded donation and crowdfunded investment are not going to be successful. The motivations are vastly different.
There are 2 other components of a crowdfunding exercise that aren’t often talked about. One is asset protection. Since digital goods (films, books, music) can be easily reproduced at zero cost, crowdfunding helps insulate against piracy loss. The creator agrees to provide content only if enough people commit themselves to paying for it in advance. This also overcomes the “big talker problem,” whereby people say they are interested in seeing a project created, but then don’t actually purchase. This does put the onus on the creator to put out spectacular projects and would be successful mainly for those with a track record of doing so. As consumers, we like to have an idea of what we are buying into.
The second is market proof. Say that the scope of the project is so large that it is going to be a candidate for investment, but, as with most films, the investors want concrete evidence that the project has interest in the market. Crowdfunding would serve in testing the market for upcoming productions. If enough people express interest and are willing to pay in advance, even in small amounts, this shows a strong reason to go ahead with the production. The Veronica Mars campaign is an example of this. Warner Bros studio agreed to allow the making of the film and to distribute it, ONLY if Rob Thomas reached a minimum funding goal.
For a producer that has an interesting concept, but needs to entice outside investment, a crowdfunding exercise helps to gauge interest in a way that can be demonstrated to potential partners as well as widening the audience net beyond their personal circles. I have also suggested this as a way for foreign film commissions to decide which producers will receive ever shrinking government arts funding. If audience can be demonstrated through a crowdfunding effort, it shows that the producer (or distributor/sales agent because typically they receive the funds first so they should also prove they can reach an audience) is committed not only to making the work, but making sure it will be seen. In this case, money may not be the primary objective, but audience interest is still shown through the number of backers. That audience can come from anywhere in the world, not just the home country.
With the knowledge that crowdfunding IS here to stay, then we must also agree that creators need to be mindful of their audience and how to cultivate it online. The amount of money one can raise depends on how many supporters one already has and how many potential supporters can be reached with supporters’ help. “Crowdfunding is really about your social-media network. Make sure you have built out your Facebook fans, your LinkedIn connections, your Twitter followers, your email list. All of that is your social currency,” says Geri Stengel of Venturneer. We at TFC are continually consulting with producers about how to get active online and keep their audiences maintained. This is not a skill to use for one project, but an ongoing process to use throughout a professional career. The sooner that is embraced, the more prepared for the future of filmmaking. Film schools the world over should have training in audience building as a requirement to a degree and those who don’t attend film school should be studying how to do it right now. There is an abundance of workshops, seminars, online courses teaching these skills and tools. The longer artists (and their schools) resist, the more they are resigned to falling behind or obscurity.
For more on my thoughts regarding crowdfunding, view these videos.
Sheri Candler March 29th, 2013
Tags: crowdfunding, David Branin, donation, donor motivation, Film Courage, financial risk, grants, indiegogo, investment, Kickstarter, National Endowment for the Arts, Sheri Candler, The Film Collaborative, Veronica Mars
A continuation of the previous video interview, Writer/Director Edward Burns talks about the value of using Twitter to connect with his fans and collaborate with them on his projects…to a point. His next project, Winter Spring Summer Fall, is now in production with a Kickstarter campaign planned to help finance the film.
Sheri Candler February 28th, 2013