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.
While First Signal continues through the festival circuit and SOS United States just starts with festival submissions, my next decision is to decide who I’m placing First Signal with for VOD. For once the decision is made, I need to have faith in those that will be handling the majority of the rights for the next several years. But after over a year of research and discussions, I’ve narrowed it down to two companies. Look for a formal announcement shortly.
With First Signal largely wrapping up its festival run in April, my attention is now turning to theatrical. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had conversations with a small chain and a few independent theatres. The plan is the same I implemented with Justice Is Mind—one evening theatrical screenings in select markets. Of course, the world has changed over the last year with some of the theaters asking for multi-night screenings. Naturally, that would be fine with me!
There still lies the misconception that indie filmmakers must four wall (rent) a theater to get their movies screened. While I won’t divulge my method for getting films into theaters (sorry some things are my own process), my aim is to always present a win/win situation for the theater and the film. Today, more than ever, theatrical is critical not only to the survival of theaters but the film industry in general.
I understand on one hand why studios are pushing back the release of their major films, but on the other hand they just need to pick a date and get on with it. Simply, there will never be a perfect time. People will either go to the theater or stay home, it’s as simple as that. But if theatrical collapses, that is going to be not only a financial disaster for the industry, but for the local economies these theaters serve. I personally know of four theaters that are closed. Not because of draconian lockdowns, but because they can’t get contemporary product in the hope of some traffic. Seriously, would you go to a theater if that same film was on Amazon or Netflix?
I was asked the other day when I’m going to film my next project. Truthfully, I see this year largely being the marketing of First Signal’s theatrical and VOD release and breaking down SOS United States for a 2022 start date. First Launch, the sequel to First Signal, is being actively presented. But that project will require a substantial investment. Project Shinar, however, is moving along.
Since my last post, I’m delighted to report that First Signal has picked up two additional Official Selections. When I was looking at our laurels the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the international reach these festivals have. This type of placement will work well when First Signal goes to VOD.