Prior to writing First World back in 2006 I would follow the film industry like most of the free world. You would learn about an upcoming film from TV, print or radio and then you would go to the theater and watch the film. From what I can remember most films in the late 70s, 80s and 90s had pretty good attendance in their first few weeks of release. Of course, VHS and DVD added substantially to the coffers and was a welcome lifeline to films that underperformed at the box office.
As I did in publishing over two decades ago, it’s one thing reading a magazine, it’s another learning how that magazine arrived in your hands from an industry point of view. But like that industry’s transition from print to digital, the independent film industry is also going through this same painful process. This article in Variety pretty much summed up the latest Toronto International Film Festival.
It’s one thing when you work in publishing and you’re managing a downturn in paid circulation (thankfully I never had to experience that), it’s entirely another when someone or some company has advanced seven to eight figures to produce a movie and is waiting for a distribution deal to materialize. The magazine has revenue, albeit less, the film has zero. Because there is so much misconception about the independent film industry, let me be clear—just because a film gets into a major film market/festival is no guarantee of distribution. There’s also nothing wrong and everything to gain win self-distribution.
What I firmly believe this all comes down to is budget and marketing. Of course everyone needs to make a living, but there needs to be a reality check on what can seriously be recouped domestically and internationally. It’s no longer about just getting the film produced, it’s about making an effort with a marketing plan to reach a target audience. Marketing takes time. Believe me when I tell you it takes longer to market a film than make it.
I don’t know. Call me old fashion or just a consummate planner. There are some solid lessons to be learned from the magazine industry. I just couldn’t deliver my magazines to our distributor and wait for revenue to roll in, I had to market on a regular basis. I had to bring enough awareness to my magazines to either get a paid subscription or a single copy newsstand buy. This all has to sound familiar if you’re a filmmaker. How do you get people to watch your film or buy it?
Stacey Parks asked in one of her blogs “You Making Money on Amazon?” Every month I get paid from Amazon from my four films running on their platform. Yes, some do much better than others. But there are sales every month. I post three times a week to their respective Facebook pages that auto post to their Twitter accounts and other broadcast functions I have set up. Google Alerts notify me of an interesting article that may warrant a pitch to an editor or, yes, a film financing entity or producer.
This all being said, I strongly believe in the future of independent filmmaking. For me the glass is always half full not half empty. It’s about coming up with a solution to a problem and seeing it through. I always pity the naysayer that says to me, “You can’t do this or that because…” Those are the people you give a wide berth to as you have, a…
Yesterday I attended the annual World War II Saturday at Battleship Cove. While there seemed to be less reenactors than last year, I found it just as engaging and interesting. If I come away with having learned a few more moments during that time in history, it’s well worth the visit.
By example, I learned some interesting details behind the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Sure, I was generally aware that the United States and China had some sort of cooperation during the war, but when it’s illuminated it puts it in perspective. That “perspective” continued after SACO dissolved which was followed by China’s civil war.
Speaking of China, Justice Is Mind has been picked up by China Mobile as a flat licensing deal. As I understand from our distributor, it’s now going through censorship and localization on their end. It will certainly be a milestone to break into the Chinese market. One does not need to be a filmmaker or read the industry trades to know that China is one of the leading film markets.
Given the tumultuous state of U.S. box office revenue this year, it’s imperative that these foreign markets are available to filmmakers. For Justice Is Mind and First World our primary foreign market is the United Kingdom. I have also noticed that viewership in Japan is picking up. But one driving force that continues to put films front and center is the importance of a marketing plan.
I can’t tell you how many times the marketing plan for an independent film seems to begin and stop at the industry trades. Never mind when you read the first cut to studio budgets seem to be in marketing. As I have often said you can have the greatest project in the world but if nobody knows about it nobody will care.
As soon as I finish writing a script, I start working on the marketing plan in terms of a target audience. With distributors relying more and more on filmmakers to assist in the marketing plan, there really needs to be one in place before the first scene is shot. With First World it was science fiction conventions. With Justice Is Mind it was law schools and universities that focused on neuroscience. With Serpentine: The Short Program it was the Ice Network. Yes, like the aforementioned, films have their primary target audience then they broaden out from there.
Amazon is a perfect example of that. Someone might have heard about Justice Is Mind from our primary plan, but found the film on Amazon. Their algorithm then points customers to other recommended films. At that point the plan is relatively complete. But it all starts with that primary plan to push consumer awareness then generally continues with social media and other digital marketing tactics on an ongoing basis.
It’s hard to believe that it was five years ago this month that we were producing Justice Is Mind. Yet here we are five years later with new markets opening. The greatest thing about the world of film is discovery. It doesn’t matter when the film was made, it’s about when a customer learns about it for the first time. In today’s world of VOD a film no longer has a shelf-life.