Shortly after my last post, the news came that Beyond the Curve International Film Festival had awarded First Signal Best Sci-Fi Movie. About a week later Aasha International Film Festival granted us the same award. It’s one thing to be accepted into a festival, it’s another to win an award. My sincere thanks to both festivals.
One thing I have noticed since First Signal started on the festival circuit was what festivals do for marketing and promotion. Some just don’t notify filmmakers through Film Freeway, they actively promote official selections and award winners on numerous social media channels, their websites and newsletters. This is a marketing practice that I’ve employed for many years.
When those festivals awarded us Best Sci-Fi Movie not only did I post enthusiastically to my social media channels, but included the news in my email newsletter. Naturally, I’m posting this news to my blog and have it on First Signal’s official website. Whether you are a film festival, filmmaker or actor, promotion is critical to stand apart in a field dominated by those that want to be heard. This industry is a visual one, being seen is paramount. But there is that line between being a braggart or promoter. I always aim to promote to bring awareness to a project or something of substance. “Look at me” postings don’t go very far with audiences. At the end of the day it’s about asking yourself, why do audiences need to know what I’m promoting?
As First Signal continues down the festival route, AFM returns “virtually” next month. As the registration fee is nominal, I plan on attending. I’m going to be particularly interested to learn about any new VOD/PVOD trends and what distributors stand out from the rest. In their case it’s not so much about promotion but reputation. I’ve previously posted about some unscrupulous sales agents and distributors that have approached me about First Signal (and other filmmakers I know about their projects). The one thing I’ve learned is not to be desperate to do a deal. It’s about taking the time for due diligence. I look at it like this, you wouldn’t buy a house without a home inspection, so conduct the same when a sales agent wants to do a deal—contact filmmakers that have signed with them.
While there’s no question that all our respective streaming channels are being put to excellent use, sadly the theatrical industry is struggling. Although Tenet did its best to bring audiences back to theaters in the United States, there simply wasn’t enough studio content to keep audiences coming back. When Regal announced the closure of all their operations in the United States, others like AMC and some smaller chains have vowed to stay open with some innovative marketing. I guess time will tell what type of market will emerge. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins had this observation, “It could be the kind of thing that happened to the music industry, where you could crumble the entire industry by making it something that can’t be profitable.” Remember folks, every industry needs to be profitable to be an industry—that also goes for the production of the films that go into the theaters. Without profitable returns, product won’t get produced.
In closing, whenever someone asks me “Is it safe” I never think about the current situation, but rather this film.
I think it’s safe to say that there isn’t a filmmaker on the planet that isn’t affected by the current world crisis. The one saving grace with First Signal is that it was always scheduled to be in post-production during this time and won’t be finished until May anyway. Color grading and sound mixing is moving right along.
While we all monitor for the opening of the economy (it’s vital this happens as soon as possible), the question is when and how to ramp up marketing and distribution efforts. I will say this, after submitting First Signal a few weeks ago to two film festivals, I have formally stopped until the film is 100% complete. With future submissions I will also require an assurance that a film festival will not default their festival from live to online. I have ZERO interest in premiering First Signal online with a film festival. It will never happen.
I’m not surprised that only seven films took up Amazon’s virtual film fest offer. Unless Amazon’s screening fee was going to offset production costs, why bother. Any filmmaker can upload their film direct to Amazon, why dilute future distribution opportunities with an online premiere.
A few days ago a film festival I submitted to with a December event date, sent this long winded email stating generally that if people don’t feel comfortable attending or their theater isn’t available, they’ll make it online – and won’t refund submission fees. I frankly couldn’t believe the gall. I guess they’ll have to answer to the credit card companies who will chargeback the submission fees to the filmmakers. Having produced many live events, you as the organizer/promoter are responsible to execute what was contracted with the customer. If you don’t you must refund. It’s as simple as that.
I have never been a traditionalist. From publishing to filmmaking, I have always taken an unconventional approach. When I launched my figure skating magazine years ago, I was told it was never going to work as I needed to do this or that or whatever. Whether it was budget related or simply because I had a different idea, I executed the way I could to accomplish what I needed to do. I brought that same approach to filmmaking. When I produced First World and quickly learned that festivals wanted shorts under 15 min long, I found science fiction festivals, unique events and, yes, online (a fledgling platform called Hulu) to present my first film.
My point in all this is being able to pivot. For better or worse the world has changed in the last couple of months. I’m not going to try to roll a square rock up a hill, when I can slide it on rails at ground level to the same destination. As filmmakers we think unconventionally when we create our projects, the same should hold true for marketing and distribution.