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

John Chi Tentacle *

Director John Chi on the set of Tentacle 8

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.

Film Courage

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.

April 23rd, 2014

Posted In: case studies, Digital Distribution, Distribution, DIY, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

March 26th, 2014

Posted In: Facebook, Social Network Marketing

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Today’s guest blogger, Jan Selby, is in the midst of running her second crowdfunding campaign. Taking the lessons she learned from prior fundraising on Kickstarter, she is using Indiegogo this time. Find out why the switch?

Crowdfunding is not for the faint of heart. It requires months of planning, hard work, and follow-up. It’s worth it if you are prepared and motivated. I’ve launched two campaigns for feature-length documentary films and found them to be powerful strategic tools to help build a community and raise money.

Sheri asked me to summarize what I’ve learned through one successful Kickstarter campaign and a second Indiegogo campaign (currently in progress). I’ve tried to pack as much as I could in this post to share what I’ve learned. I’m not an expert, but I hope my experiences will be helpful to you as you embark on your own crowd-funding journey.

My first bit of advice is to create a team who will work with you for 6 months – 3 months before you launch, then during and after your campaign. I’m a detail-oriented planner by nature.  If you’re not, find someone who is and make him/her part of your team. It’s important to avoid launching your campaign until you are fully prepared. Do all you can to be ready before you launch because you’ll be incredibly busy during your campaign.

How long should your campaign be? Most campaigns do best in the first and last week. As one friend told me, “The longer your campaign, the longer your time of suffering in the middle!”  I like having a week or so to spread the word about the campaign before the 30-day countdown begins. I also plan to use the first few days to work out the kinks that are inevitable, no matter how hard you planned ahead.

Campaign 1: Kickstarter 

My first campaign raised $21,112 to complete my first feature documentary, 9 Pieces of Peace (working title). You can check out the campaign home page at the URL www.9piecesfilm.com/fund.  Notice this URL is not the one we were assigned by Kickstarter. Create your own URL that is easy to remember and that you can use after your campaign ends. Research how to redirect your new URL to the Kickstarter URL and then you can choose what to do with it after the campaign ends. I’ve kept it directed to our Kickstarter page, but you could also redirect it to a “Donate” page on your film website.

There are three core elements of a crowdfunding campaign home page. Before you launch, you will need:

1. A pitch video/film trailer

Having both a pitch and film trailer is important if you can swing it. It’s great if the production quality can reflect your capabilities and your vision for the film, but don’t obsess over it if it can’t. Be creative and speak from the heart. Mine weren’t as good as the film will be, but they worked. Consider combining them as I ended up doing in my second campaign.

2. Well-designed rewards

Take the time to research what others have done. Carefully calculate the direct and indirect costs to deliver each reward (including the fees you will pay to the platform and the credit card processor), including shipping and your time. Add 3 to 6 months to when you think you can deliver the reward because everything takes longer than you expect. You can’t change the reward description once someone has given at that level, so be sure to add all the details.  Leave room to add new levels. Be thoughtful about the language you use and be consistent. For our Kickstarter campaign, we chose to use the words “backer” and “supporter” plus “rewards” and “pledges”. (For my second campaign on Indiegogo, we are using “donors” and “perks,” but it’s a very different film and campaign.)

3. Well-written text.

Write text that tells your story, builds trust, and motivates the reader to want to be part of the community that makes your film happen. Use subheads to break up the text and add images/graphics to make it more interesting. Remember that MANY people have no idea about how crowdfunding works, so write text for an audience that doesn’t understand it. You can change the text of your page during the campaign, but not once it’s over, so be sure you are happy with the way it looks at the end of your campaign.

Once you have your home page content defined, you might think you are ready to launch. Not yet. Here’s a partial list of what I recommend you and your team do before you launch your campaign.

Network Build up your community of followers on all your social media channels (if you don’t have them, get them), build an email list, network with organizations whose members would want your film to be made, and create a media list to use during the campaign. Meet with anyone who might be interested before and during the campaign.

Develop content and plan promotions Develop your page content, design an e-blast/e-newsletter template, design and print postcards, design a flyer that you and others can post, define your social media messaging calendar and graphics/clips/quotes/images (we used Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+), create a graphic that tracks your fundraising progress and plan to use it to update your Facebook cover image daily, define your online advertising campaign strategy (we created and analyzed Facebook and Google ads), define thank-you surprises for supporter updates, and define incentives that you’ll use to entice prospective supporters (our Kickstarter page highlights the last one we did at the top of it).

Get lots of sleep.

Once you launch your campaign, your priority will be communication. Kickstarter (and other platforms) are designed for social media users. Yet, to maximize your chances of success, you need to reach beyond these boundaries.

I sent private Facebook messages to hundreds of people and this worked incredibly well. I also sent hundreds of email messages out to friends who don’t use Facebook and had never heard of Kickstarter. Each message briefly explained the campaign, the status of it, and a request to either contribute or spread the word. Our team distributed thousands of postcards that directed people to our Kickstarter page and emphasized the purpose of the film and the “all or nothing” aspect of the campaign to create a sense of urgency (which was real!).  I set up coffee/lunch/drink meetings with friends, turning them into evangelists and sending them off with stacks of postcards.

Remember to continually thank your growing list of supporters! Most platforms make it easy to send out updates. Your supporters want to hear from you. They are also your best advocates. They are invested in your campaign in more ways than one. If you can keep them energized, they will continue to share it.

Communication is time consuming, whether it is online, by phone, or in person.  Your team can help in many ways. Together, your goal is to expand your reach as far as possible to people who will care about your project. You never know where your money will come from.  Sure, there will be low hanging fruit, but I was shocked when my largest contribution came in on THE LAST DAY from someone whom I hadn’t seen for a year, but who had been following the campaign the whole time, unbeknownst to me.

Overall, our Kickstarter 9 Pieces of Peace campaign was a resounding success, but I must admit, it was very stressful. It was hard for me to sleep or relax for the entire 39 days (and 936 hours).  I kept thinking: How would I forgive myself if I didn’t reach my goal because I hadn’t worked hard enough? (Yes. Very type A.  Can’t help it. Born that way.)  Was I happy with the results? Definitely! The moment I saw online that I had reached my goal, I unexpectedly burst out crying. I think it was a combination of the joy of reaching my goal and the relief that it was over. It’s important to be honest with yourself about if you and your team are up to the challenge.

Campaign 2: Indiegogo

When it was time to launch my second crowdfunding campaign for a documentary film about the transformative power of Montessori education, Building the Pink Tower (working title), I wanted to try a different approach. To be perfectly honest, I was still burned out on the stress of an all or nothing Kickstarter campaign a year later and didn’t know if I wanted to take on that level of intensity again.   But my co-producer/co-director, Vina Kay, and I chose Indiegogo because we felt it was a better match for our film.

If you conduct more than one crowd funding campaign, you may be able to build upon the community of supporters you establish with each one.   For me, there wasn’t much overlap between the two audiences (except for a few family and friends).

It’s important to think about niche audiences for your film and use this information to create a strategy for your campaign. For this crowd funding campaign, we have the opportunity to tap into an existing group of supporters. There is an established Montessori network – people who love it because they have had a direct experience with it either as a student, parent, or teacher.  Vina and I spent the last two years learning about and connecting with this Montessori infrastructure in the U.S. and beyond. Our fundraising trailer had been viewed more than 15,000 times on You Tube, and a short video we created that reflected the vision for our film had been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Our current goal of $50,000 is high, but we feel we have the potential to reach it with the support of this passionate Montessori community. We had secured challenge grants of $20,000 as an added incentive to help us reach our goal. Most importantly, although we are optimistic, we want to be able to keep the money raised if we fall short of our goal. For these reasons, we felt Indiegogo was the best platform for this campaign.

In addition to what we did for our Kickstarter campaign, here’s a list of a few more tricks we are trying on this campaign:

-We created fewer “perk” levels and designed them to minimize our expenses; we combined our pitch and trailer into one video; we created a digital image that “donors” could use as their Facebook profile photo; we created photo/quote graphics that are popular reposts on Facebook; and we have paid to “boost” posts on Facebook with strong results.

 

Indiegogo Pink Tower sharable Pink Tower Facebook profile pic

-In addition, we have created opportunities to have our campaign mentioned in Montessori media, at national conferences, and in school newsletters.

-We are also grateful to be working with a public relations expert who is donating her time to help us explore how we can attract the attention of the local and national media.

One last topic that is important to consider for any crowd funding campaign is whether a donation is tax-deductible. Both of my films have a fiscal sponsor (IFP MN). This allows donations made through the fiscal sponsor to be tax deductible.  This means that when a donation is made through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it isn’t tax-deductible. Many people won’t care about this, but a few do. We have handled this by having a brief mention on our Indiegogo home page with a link to our fiscal sponsor donation page. Donations made through this page do not count toward our Indiegogo goal. I have since learned that there is at least one fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas, who has a relationship with two platforms (Indiegogo and RocketHub) that will allow donations to be tax-deductible. It would be worth looking into whether you can gain fiscal sponsorship. [ed. It can take time to qualify, so do this long before you launch a campaign].

Our Building the Pink Tower Indiegogo campaign ends on December 18th. To follow our progress, visit www.donatepinktower.org.  If you know anyone who has been touched by Montessori education, please share our campaign with him or her.  We are committed to making a film that will change the national education debate. (Thank you!).

I wish you the best of luck in your crowd funding endeavors.  I hope sharing what I’ve learned so far will contribute to your future success!

 

Jan Selby is a multiple regional EMMY© award-winning producer, director, and founder of Quiet Island Films, a full-service video production company with national clients. After 25 years in corporate marketing, Jan followed her heart to become a filmmaker and video producer/director. Follow Building the Pink Tower on FacebookTwitter and add them to your circle on G+ 

 

 

 

November 21st, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

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Today’s guest post is from Emmy winning producer/director Victor Zimet of Home Team Productions who is actively campaigning for finishing funds to complete a new documentary about Croatian/American composer Nenad Bach called Everything is Forever. But did you know campaigns now have a new promotion outlet on a TV show in Buffalo, NY?

It’s taken fifteen years to make our film, EVERYTHING IS FOREVER. But I never expected the crowdfunding process to consume half a year.

For two months, we wrote and re-wrote copy explaining who we were and what the project is about, cutting trailers for the film and a sizzle reel for our company, HOME TEAM PRODUCTIONS, and shooting on camera wrap-arounds for the campaign pitch video.

It’s been an enormous amount of effort, and it was important for us to emerge from the campaign with adequate funds to finish the film. We chose the flex plan of Indiegogo, in which we could keep what we raised even if we didn’t meet our goal.

Two tips from veteran crowdfunders I found useful were put the F-word back in fundraising, that word being fun. This loosened me up enough to stop taking everything so seriously, and sparked a wave of creativity. One example involved shooting a video replete with music, dancing, and a silly party hat, which became the centerpiece of a virtual birthday party and fundraising event posted on Facebook. That stimulated some donations.

The other piece of advice also involved Facebook; the user creates a Facebook Event announcing the campaign on the first day it is launched. Invite all of your friends and ask them to share which we found to be far more effective than just posting an announcement on a timeline.

After thirty hard-fought days of fun (and anxiety, we’re only human!), we raised two thirds of our goal and were at peace with our efforts.

But it wasn’t over yet.

On the eve of the campaign’s conclusion, we were approached by a producer for THE CROWDFUNDER SHOW, which airs on Fox 29 WUTV in Buffalo, NY, inviting us to be a featured segment on the program. Delighted that our ingenuity made an impression, we accepted. THE CROWDFUNDER SHOW is a half hour weekly show that profiles the best, brightest, and most interesting crowdfunding projects looking to make a mark, follow a dream or improve a community.

On December 29th, our campaign will be featured in a four-minute segment packaged in the half-hour show.[ed. To apply for consideration on the show for your project, go HERE].

Having gone through the rigors of a previous campaign, we were able to supply the necessary material to the show quickly and they had our campaign up on the crowdfunding site FundRazr, where they sponsor projects, within 24 hours.

Fundrazr

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting. In our original campaign, we offered perks such as downloads of some of our earlier films, including festival favorite RANDOM LUNACY. We also offered exclusive bonus interviews featuring pivotal figures from the films. Another perk provided an opportunity to do a commentary track on the EVERYTHING IS FOREVER DVD.

THE CROWDFUNDER SHOW sponsors projects on the Fundrazr site and they are providing an extra incentive to donors. They reward contributors with sponsored gift cards for the same amount of money they contribute, up to $100. With this crowdfunding model, what you give – you get! Donors receive a gift card that matches their donation, compliments of retailing giants such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Starbucks, The Gap, and more. The result? People can support our campaign and it will not cost them a dime. This model is a win-win. With the holidays coming up, you bet that I myself will be purchasing some gift cards!

It’s a brave new world in fundraising, and if this is the first wave, we’re excited to be part of it. It will be fascinating to see what donations may result from four minutes of TV time.

Victor Zimet is a veteran of the film and television business with over thirty years experience to his credit. Together with partner Stephanie Silber, he founded HOME TEAM PRODUCTIONS, producing and directing award-winning documentary films, television, and not-for-broadcast projects since 1999. For more information or to donate finishing funds for EVERYTHING IS FOREVER, visit their website.

November 14th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s guest post is from Gabriel Diani & Etta Devine who are actively campaigning on Kickstarter for their film Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse. They have some sobering news for those looking to wade into crowdfunding. 

We knew it would be tough. We’re not famous, our project wasn’t based on an existing brand, and only seven percent of Kickstarter campaigns over $100,000 make their goal. Seven percent.

We’ve run two successful campaigns in the past. One publishing campaign for $30k and a film campaign for for $27k . Because of that experience, we knew we couldn’t hit $100k with our current social media/audience reach, perhaps $60k or $70k…but $100k might as well be $1m.

We decided to do something big and bold for our latest Kickstarter to fund our movie Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse.  Something to expand our audience and get the attention of press outlets who are becoming weary of crowdfunding stories. With that in mind, we planned a massive 30 plus video Kickstarter campaign featuring our friends and fellow cast members.

We’d start with our main campaign video to introduce ourselves, lay out what the project was about, and give people a hint of what we had in store for the rest of the campaign. We’re not fans of the filmmaker-sitting-in-front-of-the-webcam-crying videos because we believe that if you’re asking people for money to make a movie, you need to show you know how to make a movie.

We stopped cutting our hair or shaving and over the course of four months we went to seven different apocalyptic locations (some up to 3 hours drive away) to shoot the different segments of the video, slowly distressing our costumes until they were dirty rags by the end.

While we were doing that, we also shot thirty mini-shorts called “Apocatips” with the intention of releasing one for every day of the campaign. This would give us new content to post to keep backers engaged and give us new things to talk about. We also put a bunch of our talented friends in them so they would be more enthusiastic about sharing them with their circles when they came out…because we’re sneaky like that.

We also have several famous genre actors with active fan communities and we wanted to target those audiences to pull them into our campaign. We made a video with Armin Shimerman and Harry Groener who are both very well known and respected for their work in “Star Trek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and targeted the video to those audiences.

Barry Bostwick was going to be in Romania while we were prepping the Kickstarter so we gave him a script outline and he shot a bunch of crazy footage while on set for “Scorpion King 4.” We sifted through all that footage and put this together with our editor Chad Meserve.

But our biggest gun was Janet Varney, the voice of the main character in a popular anime show called “The Legend of Korra.” The audience is rabid, active (because the show is on right now), and a younger demographic that is perfect for understanding what crowdfunding is. We shot a funny video with Janet dressed as her character and knew that it had the potential to go viral.

Has it worked? 

We know a lot of people in the crowdfunding world and they have all been very complimentary about not only the quality of the videos, but the quality of our rewards (we believe in giving early adopters to our cause more bang for their buck) and the beauty and clarity of our Kickstarter page (thanks to our designer Lee Thompson).

The Apocatips have done the job of keeping our backers engaged and giving them new things to share and talk about each day, as have the supplementary videos.  We’ve gotten some great press, but the pledging through those outlets is way down from when we did our previous campaigns and most outlets seem unimpressed by the quality and quantity of the videos and usually only mention it as an aside.

The biggest surprise was the Janet Varney/Korra video, which exceeded our wildest expectations in terms of fan response. As of this writing, it is over 42,000 views on Youtube, gifs people made from it have been reblogged multiple thousands of times on Tumblr, and all of the comments on the Youtube page have been overwhelmingly positive.  It’s difficult to tell because the Kickstarter backend tells you the total pledges that came through Youtube or Tumblr, but not which specific video or post. All of those eyes on the video brought us around 13 pledges…maybe 20 if we’re generous…out of over 42,000 people watching. We had planned on a 0.01% conversion rate. We got about 0.0005%. That miscalculation has certainly made things more challenging, but there’s still hope. As of this writing, we’re at 42% with 10 days to go. It’s not where we’d like to be, but we’ve jumped about $15,000 in the past three days so it’s not impossible.

We’re not sure what all of this means for the crowdfunding ecosystem. There’s lots to dissect and many factors at play including diminishing Twitter influence and how the Facebook algorithm for sharing posts has changed drastically to limit the number of friends/followers our posts are shared with since our last campaign. Our first movie has almost 1,000 “Likes” on its fan page. We shared one of our videos on it and Facebook showed it to 38 of those 1,000. This is (of course) to encourage people to pay money to “boost” or “promote” their posts. We’ve been doing this, but our friends and audience who have been sharing aren’t paying to boost their posts so our message isn’t spreading as far or as fast as it could despite the fact that this campaign has been shared more times on Facebook than the last one (136 vs. over 2,000 at the time of this writing).

Our email list is around 2,000 subscribers and we’ve been emailing our backers once or twice a week. All of our previous backers are on that list, but we also sent project updates from those campaigns within Kickstarter in case our email was going to spam. Our number one referrer to our campaign this time is Direct Traffic, which means clickthroughs are coming mostly from this email list. It’s almost twice the traffic from Facebook which is the complete opposite from our last two campaigns.

If you’re thinking of jumping into your first (or next) crowd funding campaign, be more cautious than usual. Ours is an ambitious project to be sure, but we did our homework. We have a track record on both Kickstarter and in the world of independent film and we spent five months writing, shooting, editing, color correcting, and doing VFX on over 30 videos and planning the campaign…and yet we’re still facing a steep uphill climb.

The crowdfunding world is weird and wonderful, but it is constantly changing. It was never easy to raise the type of money we’re aiming for, but as crowdfunding evolves it may be getting harder instead of easier.

Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine are award-winning actors, writers, and comedians who are often compared with classic comedy teams like Nichols and May and Burns and Allen. They have performed at comedy festivals all over the country, raised over $30,000 on Kickstarter to replace the “N-word” with “Robot” in Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and garnered over 1.3 million hits on their web series Mary Olson. Gabe wrote, produced, and starred in the horror comedy feature film THE SELLING which played at over 30 film festivals, was in the Top 10 of About.com’s Best Horror Movies of 2012, and received rave reviews from The Huffington PostAin’t It Cool News, and FilmThreat. Co-produced by and co-starring Etta, the film is available on DVD/VOD and just had its television premiere on Fearnet in April. You can see their sizzle reel here.

November 13th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Distribution Platforms

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Part 3 in our series on understanding social media tools. Find the rest of the series on these links  Mindset ChangeMyths, TwitterYoutube

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.

deathcab FB page

Dwayne Johnson FB

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.

pixar FB

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.

June 12th, 2013

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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 MythsFacebookTwitterYoutube

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.

audience shouldn't be disposable

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're open

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 this talk from Thomas Power.

**based on Jon Reiss’ 5 goals common to filmmakers when releasing their work

 

 

 

May 29th, 2013

Posted In: crowdfunding, Marketing, Social Network Marketing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

By Sheri Candler

It is a question I was thinking deeply about because I encounter filmmakers and industry players all the time who say that they put up a Facebook page, opened a Twitter account, started a Youtube channel, but the people didn’t come, views didn’t go up and the sales didn’t happen.  So what’s the point? It doesn’t work, clearly. I know they opened those accounts because it is “the thing to do” and besides it was free which is totally budget friendly, but just opening up accounts with no time, commitment, team, strategy, budget to maintain and grow them and truly utilize what they are best at  is not going to work and I recommend to go ahead and close them. Seriously!

Yes, social media is the newest communication tool (really it isn’t that new, but some still think it is) and Americans in particular spend almost 80% of their time on the internet (30% are online globally), with 22% of their time on social networking sites and 21% of their time in internet searches (there are over a billion search queries on Google every day!). I’m sure you can find another way to communicate with these people though, perhaps visiting door to door or cold calling or throwing obscene amounts of money into advertising all over the place and crossing your fingers (works for Hollywood). You’ve got that kind of time and money, yes? Honestly, start now thinking about what tools you will be using instead.

artists rarely use social media correctly

Once I look at what is being done with these sites, I am hardly surprised that it isn’t working. Most artists do not have a commitment to building up strong ties with an audience, they do not use social tools for “listening” and researching what audiences respond to, they do not post regularly except for “please make it happen for us on Indiegogo,” “Vote for my film on (name some film contest site),” or “my film is now available on iTunes.” Basically the chatter is all “do something for me” which is really tedious to read (I would say every day, but they don’t usually post regularly). For many publicists, this is how the channels are used as well; here’s a press kit, write about my client except that instead of only reaching writers, they are broadcasting to everyone and rarely listening at all.

 I wrote some time back about how Facebook wasn’t a good sales medium and I still stand by that post though there have been changes at Facebook that affect showing up in a newsfeed and the use of landing pages. Facebook, of course, would have you believe that it is a good sales tool, after all they have the most to gain from perpetuating that idea  in the business community.

If all you are using social media for is sales, STOP. I release you from feeling the burden of using auto tweeting and sending that same message through all of your profiles. No longer should you hire outside companies to do it for you either and pretending to be you. If you have done this, you already know it doesn’t work. Stop paying companies to send 5 prewritten tweets a day about your film to their 60K+ followers. You will not find that it makes much difference if that is the only effort you are making. Stop making inquiries for “some of that social media stuff” so your trailer will “go viral.”

Here is what the tool is very best used for; name/brand recognition, trust and loyalty building, sustained interest, long term sales and that most indescribable feeling of connection that begins to permeate. This is really an emotional space and it is something I would think independent artists would understand, you express ideas and emotions in your own work, right? And you hope to convey that to other people and elicit some kind of emotion from them. I know you don’t usually start from “I’m making a product that’s going to sell” point of view so why do you use social sites that way?

I say indescribable because you can’t point to that one “campaign” that brought your work to someone’s attention, it is an ongoing process that sinks deeper than “a message” or tagline and begins to spread and lasts far longer because little pieces of your thoughts, your connections and projects leave footprints behind online; not just on Twitter and Facebook, but everywhere on the internet globally. Someone who stumbles across your efforts, even years later, can find you and evidence of your work. No ad campaign or newspaper clipping is going to allow for that. Many people point to Twitter streams and Facebook newsfeeds as being fleeting and they are, but you can make more, endlessly. Can you do that for little money with an ad in the Times (pick a city) or a magazine cover story? While you may feel like you reach more people in a short amount of time, there’s a new cover story tomorrow or next month about someone else. There are only so many covers to fill, only so many talk shows to be on, only so much space in the newspaper or magazine for ads. Should you ever use traditional media? Should you ever use advertising? Yes, of course, but now you can have one more tool to use that is available to anyone, anywhere. You can choose to use it or not, but make sure you understand how to use it correctly and commit to doing it, every day. Also come to terms with the fact that if you are choosing not to use it, you are totally dependent on having third parties promote your work. New artists emerge every day and very few companies are truly committed to anyone.

Without a commitment to developing a community of supporters by using social media, save your time and possibly money and find another tool. You won’t be successful here.

 

August 29th, 2012

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

By Sheri Candler

Now that there is some form of distribution available to every project made, whether it is working with a service company to theatrically release or uploading the project online for free and enabling perpetual viewing, it is time to acknowledge that new mindsets and skills are needed not just for filmmakers, but also for film promotion.

Traditionally, a publicist’s role  was to leverage the relationships she had formed with editors and journalists (the media) to ensure story placement in publications and she strived to convey a cohesive message about a film. She endeavored to control the message and those who were allowed to carry it. The prominence of social channels has torn this process apart. Now, the media aren’t the only ones talking about a film and it is getting increasingly difficult to control the message. It is becoming more prevalent to create the dialog instead.

Publicists need to be comfortable speaking to journalists and audience

Whether you choose to take on the promotional role yourself as a microbudget filmmaker or you are looking to start working in film promotion, the skills now needed go well beyond writing a good press release and having a good database of personal contacts ( but you still need those too). Here is a look at some emerging skills needed by today’s publicists with the knowledge that it is nearly impossible to find strong abilities for all of these in one person.

Storytelling and curation. Writing skills still play a vital role in film publicity, but there’s more writing now than ever. As social tools enable a production to reach an audience directly and wherever they congregate online, something besides a “message” must be written. Stories that are memorable, relatable and “sticky” will pull people to you and keep them coming back and the stories aren’t only written by a journalist; not when one has a blog, a newsletter, a Tumblr page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Pinterest boards and possibly participating in forums. We’re now talking to the audience, not through third party media. Many more tools, many more skills needed to understand how each one works and how to get the most from them. A visual sense of storytelling is needed as well because many of the social posts that get the most interactions and shared are photos/videos/infographics. In order to develop stories that resonate, one must spend much more time getting to know the audience as people with definite tastes and interests, not as faceless, broad demographics. Also, time must be spent finding great information and sharing it which is just as important (perhaps MORE important) as creating it. Tools that help aggregate useful information and inspire self published content will need to be found and this has become a standard duty in the work day.

Technical skills. The ability to code, photo, audio and video edit and format, graphic design, link building and SEO,  as well as keeping up with every little trick Facebook settings can throw at you will become increasingly useful. In order to use the new tools effectively and keep to a modest budget, personal training should be undertaken to develop a good understanding and at least a basic level of performance.

Observation and monitoring. Learning to listen first is without a doubt a very useful skill in the online world. Too many times we are pushed to “sell” “convert” “promote” with no real understanding of who we are talking to and what they care about. Indeed, previously it was difficult to know what “they” care about because “we” didn’t really talk to “them”, but this isn’t the case anymore. Sharing opinions, recommendations, emotions, interests, locations, and personal details abound on the internet and there is no longer an excuse to guess about the needs and wishes of the audience. They are talking online every day, so listen. Monitoring conversations, picking out trending topics, predicting what is likely to spark interest, and THEN actively participating in those communities in an authentic way is how to get the information and interest flowing.

Measurement. This is now the world of big data and making sense of everything that can be tracked (because lots can be accurately tracked) is increasingly needed. Analytical skills to evaluate trends, outcomes,  and correctly interpret and apply data are skills that enable communicators to turn data into actionable work and measure return on investment. Also, turning data into visual interpretations for management (charts, graphs, statistics) helps show the impact of your work or where things need to be adjusted.

Fundraising and organizational outreach. Not a week passes that I am not asked about advice on a crowdfunding initiative. Crowdfunding is not only about raising money, but also raising a profile, creating attention, building mutually beneficial partnerships and gathering an audience for a project that may just be starting. Understanding the needs and motivations of a particular group of people sounds quite psychological and it is. Communicators have always needed to be aware of psychological triggers that cause people to care about the message, but in the online space where one isn’t face to face and many decisions hinge on long earned trust, it takes a different mindset and skillset than writing out a good prospectus or pitch letter.   Continual research and outreach to influencers and organizations helps to build up the long term trust that can enable one to call on help when it is needed, whether it is financial help, spreading the word on a project or collaborating together by submitting material (crowdsourcing) in order to give the project a richer life than one the production could create on their own.

Constant adaptation. Most of the above skills are a catalog of communication demands that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. Nothing is constant in life but change, right? You can be sure that as new technology and platforms emerge and information gets even thicker and faster, the ability to learn something that wasn’t around even last year will serve you well. Spend time every day learning, reading, and practicing for improvement. A Google search engine is a wonderful thing and nearly everything can be researched and learned for nearly free online. Failing to understand when the shiny new tool becomes THE necessary tool in the box could marginalize you. Keep up with the trends and adapt accordingly.

May 22nd, 2012

Posted In: Marketing, Publicity, Social Network Marketing

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By Sheri Candler

This post was originally published on the Sundance Artists Services blog on March 26, 2012

To start with, I’d like to say that filmmakers should focus on the word social and less on the word marketing. This type of promotion is about relationship building and it is really difficult to build a relationship that starts from the premise that you are only there to sell something. Also, I take the position that all artists should be connecting directly with an audience not on a project-by-project basis, but on a personal one. Instead of starting over again for each project that is incredibly wasteful of time and money, you strive to keep building up the audience base for all of your work, really for you as an artist with a unique vision and a unique voice. No one else can tell the story the way you can. Even behind the scenes crew have a unique vision and unique talents. They should be sharing those with the world.

We all sell every day, we sell a concept of ourselves in how we speak to people, how we present ourselves and I think we inherently understand this. But before I want to do business with someone, I want to know I can trust them, and that I am not being used. I think many corporations still don’t get that about this medium yet. People don’t join your Facebook page to be your word of mouth sales force. Building up trust with your audience is paramount and you do that by giving first. You have to give something, and often for a long time, before you can ask. In fact, if you do this right, you won’t have to ask, they will ask you, they will offer to help.

Don’t attempt this begrudgingly or because everyone says it is something you are supposed to be doing. Start from the place that you are trying to find the people who would love what you do and you want to interact with them. Unless you are anthropophobic, this should be human nature, to connect with kindreds. There are people in the world who are like you and now you have this amazing tool to find them wherever they live in the world. Leave behind the notion that this is about numbers, this is only about sales, this is about buzz and think of it as a way to meet those who will love what you love. All of that other stuff is a by product of this. It will come, but it won’t come immediately and you need plenty of time to build up to that and it will take consistent effort daily.

I realize this is not the stance that most businesses take or understand. They want numbers, they want quantifiables. Utilization of social is no longer something that needs to be justifiable for business goals. Along with advertising, it is a business tool, increasingly a major one. Internet users expect to find you on social platforms whether or not you feel like that benefits the bottom line yet. It is and it will continue to do so.

Also note that this will not be your only tool when you are ready to start selling. Publicity, advertising, and email communication still very much have a place in your overall marketing efforts, but if you build a following consistently, your reliance on those more expensive tools will be minimized.

The key platforms for social network marketing:

I believe pretty much any site on the web is a social networking site. Any place where people can post links, comment, upload information, follow others has a social aspect to it. So those could be blogs, forums, publication websites (New York Times, WSJ), photo sites like Flickr or Instagram, video sites like Youtube and Vimeo, podcast sites like BlogTalk Radio, streaming sites like Ustream. I think people hear social networking and mostly think Facebook and Twitter, but really to be effective in reaching an audience, you have to know where they particularly hang out and it may be on Facebook and Twitter, but it also may be a LinkedIn group, or on Amazon, Meetup or certain blogs.

Any priority ranking to them?

It is hard to argue not being on Facebook since they have over 800 million users worldwide and 435 million are using Facebook from a mobile device. While 155 million of those users are from the US, 43 million are from India and the same from Indonesia. Other top countries are UK, Mexico, Brazil and Turkey.

Based on Alexa rankings, the top social networking sites for the US market are:

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. LinkedIn
  4. MySpace
  5. Google Plus

But there are surprising ones in the top 15 such as: Tagged, deviantArt, Orkut, Ning and CafeMom. Don’t underestimate the power of Pinterest too.

It really depends on who your audience is and what they respond to, where they spend their online social time. You will have a mixture of sites, not just one and you will need to test which ones are giving you the most interaction. Maybe your audience really loves watching videos or they really love deep discussions at the end of blog posts. You will need to test what posts are popular and elicit interaction, even from your own website, which I will say you also need. You should never be totally dependent on a third party site. Just ask those who had free Ning sites instead of websites. When the free option went away, they risked losing their communities and had to pay to upgrade or start from scratch again. The same with Facebook and their EdgeRank algorithm. If Facebook deems that one of your fans doesn’t interact with your page enough, they remove it from their newsfeed, often unbeknownst to that fan. Since you haven’t been able to message them directly, there really isn’t a way to bring them back into awareness of your page barring spending money to advertise.

A website you own is the only true online real estate you can control. It is the central hub of all of your activity, everything else is just a spoke on that central hub. Collecting email addresses is also extremely important, but that is for another post.

There is no magic formula for being successful at social, everything has to be tested and the results will vary with each project.

Does it depend on the nature of the film?

No. The decision to be social really isn’t up for debate anymore. Americans spend 22% of their online time each day visiting social networking sites, 65% of all adult internet users have a social network account of some sort. This is not a fad that is going away, the upcoming generation doesn’t even know a time that social networking didn’t exist. It will get bigger, not smaller. Deciding which sites to spend time on will be determined by the kind of audience with which you need to connect.

What are key tips for social network marketing?

  1. Get a personal account going on the sites where you think your audience hangs out and start using it. I am astounded at agencies that sell social networking solutions and don’t have much of a presence themselves on social sites. How can you advise how to use them when you don’t personally do it for your own business? How can you handle someone else’s account when you don’t have one of your own? Every filmmaker hoping to connect with an audience needs an account.
  2. Start by listening first. This is best accomplished when you don’t need to build an audience by tomorrow, you know what I’m saying? If you have this pressing need to start connecting, people can sense it right away and they won’t interact. It is like the insurance guy who walks around a networking event handing out cards in order to meet a sales quota, not actually speaking to anyone other than a sales pitch. No one likes it in real life and they don’t like it online either. This is not a one-way message medium like advertising. If you want to speak, but not interact, just buy an ad. Listen first, determine how best to interact and then dive in.
  3. You are now a publisher. No way around this, it is just the way it is now. A new term for this is social business. A business that can collaborate, share insights and knowledge, and provide value to their audience is going to be way more profitable and sustainable than those who remain closed off from them. This means publishing content of some sort, either generated from your production or generated by your fans, but probably a mixture of both. It needs to be entertaining, insightful, worthy of discussion and sharing, and pulls the audience back for more again and again. We just entered an era of waaaay more work than we used to do. Not one piece of creative advertising, but hundreds of pieces in different mediums and across multiple channels that are meant to lead to discussion with the brand (yes, you are a brand) and with others also connected to that brand.

What are some key mistakes? Some “Don’ts”:

Waiting too late to start and using social only to self promote. Remember, self-promotion is about helping OTHER people. It sounds counterintuitive, but when you help others, THEY promote you. If they don’t, then you weren’t really helping (the help originated through clearly selfish motives) or you just haven’t connected with the right people.

A couple of examples of filmmakers who really get it right:

I hate to give the same examples as everyone else, but the best I’ve seen as far as sustainable interaction (meaning they aren’t clearly doing it just to promote their latest project and then drop out of sight again) are Kevin Smith and Edward Burns. They are consistent, they interact, they use multiple mediums, they don’t use social as a one-way shill mechanism and I don’t think they have an outside agency cultivating their communities.

I also really admire Tiffany Shlain, she has a great grasp of the power of social networking even though she advocates unplugging (gasp!) for a day each week. Her film, Connected, is about the power (and the curse) of the Internet to connect people, but Tiffany was doing this long before she made the film.

I know there are now more and more filmmakers building up their own audiences, but they may have only started in the last few years and they didn’t come out of the old machine so their followings aren’t as large as those examples. People like Gregory Bayne (Driven), Zak Forsman (Heart of Now), Kirby Ferguson (Everything’s a Remix), Jennifer Fox (My Reincarnation), Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) are all building up their own followings, not just around their films, but around themselves as artists. Even people like Hal Hartley and Abel Ferrara are now starting to embrace social networking and crowdfunding. I really hope to be able to list tons more doing this every year.

It is completely perplexing to me that those who already do have a following from the traditional machine, do not reach out, really have no idea who watches their films and have no interest in knowing. This mentality is not going to serve them well with the consumers coming up in the world today who are used to interacting, who expect to have a dialog. The only thing I can think is, well, no one is popular forever, no one retains power forever. There will always be a new crop coming up behind and I think indie filmmakers who are embracing this concept now are well positioned to be the new crop.

 

Sheri Candler, social network marketing strategist can be contacted at info@shericandler.com or sheri@thefilmcollaborative.org and found at SheriCandler.com

April 24th, 2012

Posted In: Marketing, Social Network Marketing, Uncategorized

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