As post-production continues on First Signal (we are on target for an April completion), I’ve been developing the marketing plan for the film. With the majority of independent films there’s no studio marketing department, no retained agency or staff. Marketing is another skillset that filmmakers need to develop. Thankfully during my years of publishing magazines, and my own consulting business, marketing is something I’ve been doing for years. I had some excellent mentors in my early years.
I firmly believe that an independent film needs a central online destination. Building a website used to be a task that required a special set of design skills. Thankfully that is no longer the case. Wix is my preferred platform. If you know how to click a mouse, type copy and upload a video, you can have a website in no time. I no longer use their templates, but rather build my sites from scratch. Case in point my own personal website and First Signal’s.
While I was marketing First Signal through AFM’s platform, I came across one filmmaker who was promoting their project to attendees. This was not an inexpensive film. It had some known actors from the 80s and 90s. When they posted to check out the website, all the visitor found was the dreaded “under construction” notification. It was never fixed throughout the entire market. You spend all that time and money making a film, talk about a lost opportunity to introduce it. I can’t begin to tell you the thousands of films that are marketed through AFM—all looking for a home. As time is literally money at these film markets, you only really get one chance at a first impression. One critical component of first impressions is the trailer.
This past week I started to write the trailer. A trailer is perhaps the most important calling card of a film. Yes, a poster introduces the film, but a trailer brings it to life. As First Signal is what I hope to be a series of films in the “First World Universe,” getting it right is vital. In two minutes the goal is to condense the story, without giving it all away and to convince your audience to see more. There’s certainly no pressure to deliver!
While writing a trailer is challenging, it’s one that I do enjoy. It challenges me to look past the linear script and film and see how it can be presented to (hopefully) thrill audiences.
As screenwriters we all start with an idea. We look blankly at a white page on our monitors hoping it speaks to us. Our hands at the ready on the keyboard. Our notes, if any, to the side for glance. Then suddenly, the following happens:
Intro Logo/Intro Score: The Ashton Times
“This satellite intercepted a signal that originated from Lagrange Point Two.” VO General Reager over Milstar satellite.
On Thursday I returned from my second attendance at the American Film Market (AFM). By all accounts, it went well. This year I was accompanied by Daniel Groom, First Signal’s director of photography and editor. He was also representing his own feature film Alternate Ground.
My attendance at AFM in 2018 was generally a fact-finding trip and learning how a film market works. Yes, I had meetings, but it was more to promote projects in development, like First Signal, and to represent my first feature film Justice Is Mind. It’s important to note that AFM is not a film festival. Yes, AFM has screenings, but they are mostly for buyers and sales agents. AFM is one of a handful of film markets around the world. Simply put, these markets are where deals are done for independent filmmakers.
Preparing to attend a film market is the same as pre-production on a film – preparation. You research who you want to meet, make a pitch and hope for a meeting. Like an actor preparing for a part, you rehearse, memorize and have talking points. If you can’t articulate your own film, it’s hard to expect sales agents and buyers to take any interest. In a curious twist, I was in a meeting when someone wanted to present their film regarding locations they were looking for. Oddly, they couldn’t really present the logline or what the general concept was.
I would say my last meeting at AFM was the probably the best one of the market. First, they were specifically looking for films like First Signal. I met with the principal of the company and two representatives. In their suite, I was able to make a complete pitch for First Signal. From development, production to goals for a series of films in the First World Universe. I stressed the importance of marketing and kept an open mind on their points, some of those points being working with them to plan for a rollout in upcoming markets.
There is another point that’s stressed at AFM and that’s professionalism. From scheduling meetings in advance to how to introduce your projects when you don’t have a meeting scheduled. All in all, my experience was positive. But here I was in a booked meeting with a sales agent when another filmmaker arrived, interrupted my meeting and pretty much insisted the agent give them a few minutes. The agent mentioned they were in a meeting, but this filmmaker didn’t care. I just looked at this filmmaker blankly taking it all in. When the agent returned and apologized, the first thing I said was you don’t need to apologize for someone else. I’ll just say this—it’s all about first impressions.
In the end, AFM 2019 was a great market for what I was representing. This industry is rapidly changing from an economic point of view. The differences between 2018 and 2019 were apparent and stark. It’s truly about being adaptable and going with the flow. Having worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen the advent of digital change. I knew some years ago that VOD/streaming was going to truly be the primary revenue driver for most independent filmmakers. That reality is now here.
But as you will see from my pictures, my trip wasn’t all business. From the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, to the Queen Mary, Griffith Observatory and the USS Iowa, I always enjoy my visits to “Hollywood.” I also discovered a new navigation app called Waze. Given the traffic challenges in LA (although I think they’re worse in Boston), I highly recommend it!