I remember like it was yesterday when First Signal was on the festival circuit and I was reviewing and having conversations with distributors. The duplicity of so many with their endless fees and one-sided life-binding contracts combined with promises that frankly I knew where going to go nowhere, wasn’t exactly a recipe for lifting spirts. But it was the discussions I had with Indie Rights that presented the first honest and straightforward approach to film distribution that was truly a breath of fresh air. I knew going into it, that we were weren’t just handing First Signal over to them and that was the end of it. It was a partnership – they distributed while I marketed.
As Indie Rights continues to find outlets to distribute First Signal, I continue the marketing process. Although it has been a year since First Signal was released, the film is consistently performing on established outlets like Tubi and Amazon while finding new audiences on YouTube. With over 800,000 views in the last four months, YouTube is a platform that delivers solid advertising revenue to its filmmakers while delivering a global audience.
But the one thing I can definitively state today is that First Signal is technically in the black. While I didn’t “bet the ranch” from a budget POV, my investment was a solid one that I was hoping to eventually recoup. This milestone has given me confidence that one can be “in business” as an independent filmmaker. When I say independent filmmaker, I’m not talking about those that are connected to studios, mini-majors, millionaire investors or the like, I’m talking about those that look at their personal savings and investment accounts and say to themselves, “OK, I believe in this project. I’ll take the risk.” Fortunately, in the case of First Signal, the risk paid off.
As for the next risk, a filmmaker friend and I visited Battleship Cove last weekend. With the USS Massachusetts appearing prominently in one of the opening scenes of SOS United States, I’m starting to visualize the production coming together. But like First Signal, and Justice Is Mind, it will come down to finding a variety of key locations to make this political thriller come to life.
On reflection of this revenue milestone, it took over a decade to bring the First World Universe to life with First Signal. While there was the short film version of First World to introduce this new concept in 2007, it was the production of a feature film in First Signal that has truly started the franchise. With the positive feedback First Signal is receiving on YouTube as an audience indicator, developing this new sci-fi franchise for production has taken on a renewed purpose.
As an independent filmmaker finding an audience is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the process. I recently had a meeting with a filmmaker who has largely left the industry owing to their frustration in getting their work seen. Any distributor will tell you that it’s the responsibility of the filmmaker to market their film. That’s just the way it is. Simply, there are so many films being made and the profit margins are so thin (if they even exist on most projects), that a distributor can’t justify, and usually doesn’t have the staff, to separately market each film.
But there is another aspect of this industry that every filmmaker (and even actor) needs to be aware of, the charlatans that sell their services and expertise. Having been in this industry for over twenty years, I promise you that 95% of them aren’t worth the electrons in the emails they send.
Two weeks ago I was approached by a filmmaker who tried to sell me his services as a marketer. First, if you’re going to pitch your services, know who you are pitching to. Not only was this filmmaker from the distributor I use for one of my films, but I also prepared and published a marketing case study to this group. Putting aside that he may have missed the communications in the group, it was clear he never reviewed my film’s website or social media channels. But when I reviewed his film, there was barely any social media presence to say nothing of a solid IMDb page. My point is simple; if you are pitched a service do some due diligence first.
But like any other product, once it becomes known and an audience is developed, you get the naysayers and the critics. It’s just par for the course. While it did take time for me to develop a thick Kevlar-like skin, and nobody likes seeing negative comments, just remember this – with every posting and interaction they are just propelling your product.
With over 700,000 trackable views on one VOD outlet alone, with a projected 1,000,000 plus on all channels, I am more than pleased with First Signal’s results to date. While I was hoping the film would find an audience with the marketing plan I implemented, I had no idea it would do as well as it has.
But with that kind of audience it takes a certain amount of management and interaction. Yes, I do interact with those that have a constructive comment about First Signal, but I just don’t waste the time with those that have spiteful comments. Seriously, what’s the point. Arguing on the internet doesn’t change minds, it just unnecessarily raises blood pressure. But at the end of the day every comment, good, bad or indifferent just raises your profile and profitability.
As I’ve often said to many in my circle, if you get into this business for endless accolades, you will be sorely disappointed. The goal, in my view, is to do good work that is appreciated by an audience that discovers it. By example, I love the work of Salvador Dali, but others may loath it. I’ve never understood the hype around 2001: A Space Odyssey but love The Andromeda Strain.