When First Signal was released on VOD on April 26, my goal at the time was simply to promote and market as much as I could. From digital marketing, email, video and traditional print, the aim was to simply get the word out. When First Signal was in post-production, I was already working on the marketing plan. I looked at what I did with Justice Is Mind some years ago and updated it with the best practices of the day. As I often do, I laid out the plan by day, week, month, etc. It was very comprehensive the first three months and then tapered down to what I call standard marketing.
In the world of filmmaking, unless you are doing a theatrical release and can measure box office receipts on a daily basis, you have to wait to see how your efforts faired. By example, I wasn’t going to know how our marketing efforts for the 2nd quarter did until the start of the 4th quarter. The reasons for the wait are numerous but suffice to say there’s a lot of data that has to be received, compiled and sorted between the various platforms and distributors. For the 2nd and part of the 3rd quarter, I was fairly aggressive with First Signal’s marketing plan. I set a monthly cash spend on digital media along with some other online activities. But as I wasn’t sure if it was going to fully work or not, I suspended the cash spend shortly into the third quarter. Marketing in many ways is all about testing. Basically, you’re drilling for oil. You have these charts and seismic reports that indicate certain areas may have, in this case an audience instead of oil, so you just have to hope where you put the drill yields some black gold.
You can only imagine my anticipation in waiting for these reports. While I love all facets of filmmaking, at the end of the day it’s business. When the reports arrived Friday night, I have to admit my hand shook a bit as I was scrolling the list until I came across First Signal. I kept looking at the line for a moment, because I wanted to make sure I was looking at the information correctly. The results for the 2nd quarter were in. My cash marketing investment brought a ROI of 1,733%! Naturally, I was thrilled. If anything, else, it proved that consistent marketing works.
But marketing, like producing a film, is a team effort. To the actors and crew that helped promote First Signal publicly and privately I say thank you. To the audiences that attended one of our theatrical screenings or watched online, you are the reasons why filmmakers like me are able to continue producing. But through this all, a special thank you to Linda Nelson, Michael Madison and the team at Indie Rights for distributing First Signal. For without a quality distributor all the marketing efforts are for naught.
Although I won’t be releasing figures publicly for a variety of market and contractual reasons, I will leave you all with this. I have been working in marketing for over twenty years. I was fortunate at an early age to work alongside some of the most brilliant marketers I have ever known. As they taught me at the time, I now pass along. Marketing is the key when launching and promoting a product. I have often said you can have the greatest product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, nobody cares. The adage if you build it, they will come is a misnomer. Simply, some of the world’s greatest products employ multi-faceted marketing programs that continue to bring awareness long after they were built.
When I was notified this week that SOS United States was a finalist for Best Feature Screenplay in AFIN International Film Festival, I was thrilled. The last several weeks have been good to my political thriller screenplay with festivals “boarding” the concept.
It’s one thing to write a screenplay, it’s another to develop it. When I wrote SOS, I was coming off the release and marketing of Justice Is Mind – my first feature film. For me, I need to be in the valley of quiet before I start to write another screenplay. When I’m actively producing or releasing a film, I find there are simply too many distractions to properly concentrate to allow new characters and stories to come to life. Likewise, it would be a disservice to the marketing and release of a film if my attention was on writing another story. At the end of the day, we are creating and marketing a brand. I’ve always believed that each component needs to be taken as seriously as the other.
As I near the 80-page mark in my latest screenplay in The First World Universe, I find that my writing process is starting to change. As this story tracks two other storylines along with the primary line, I find after I write out a particular scene in Word, I need to let it sit for a day or two so other thoughts come to mind. Once some of these new strings to the story come forward, it’s another round in Word before I go to Final Draft. I applaud those that can write in Final Draft from the get-go. For me, I’m thinking in so many voices and moments so rapidly that I need to type as fast as I’m thinking. Someone asked me recently, how I came up with the latest idea. It originates with this one line from First Signal.
Of course, there is one thing that every filmmaker looks forward to and that’s the quarterly payment from the distributor. My two feature films are placed with two different distributors while my three shorts are placed direct. When I think how much the world of film distribution has changed in the last ten years it just boggles my mind.
When Justice Is Mind was released in 2013, theatrical was humming, traditional media was plentiful, social media was growing and Amazon was the place to be for VOD. Flash forward to the present and while the mechanics are still there, the metrics and dynamics have changed dramatically. I’ll say this, as Justice Is Mind has been on both SVOD and AVOD platforms for some time, I can say without a doubt that AVOD platforms (Tubi) are the revenue generators for independent film. In the next couple of weeks First Signal will receive its first distributor payment. It will be very interesting to see performance by platform when compared to its marketing spend and promotion.