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.
Since I returned from AFM last month, in addition to post-production work, I’ve been building out the marketing and release strategy for First Signal. For marketing, it’s about verifying media contacts, researching new outlets, creating talking points and a million other details. The goal is to create awareness and reach First Signal’s intended audience. I don’t shirk those responsibilities. In fact, it’s part of my job as a filmmaker.
The one thing that was painfully apparent at AFM, albeit not surprising, was the limited marketing/pr resources that a sales agent/distributor was going to bring to any single title. This is not necessarily the fault of the agent/distributor, it simply comes down to resources. If they have a couple of hundred films in their respective catalog, there is only so much time they can allocate. But at the end of the day, they must have some sort of plan—especially if they want to charge for it.
I recently turned down a contract from a sales agent. While the contract was littered with tens of thousands of dollars in fees, there was no marketing and release strategy for me to review. It was simply, send us your film (at considerable expense), we’ll see if we sell it, but we’ll still charge the film along the way. Um..no thanks. It shocks me that these one-sided contracts still exist. To turn a phrase “Send it and forget it” does not apply to film distribution.
Post-production is well on its way for an April completion. I wrote the trailer up just over a week ago. The VFX areas of the film are on their way to our visual effects supervisor. Every Sunday for the last few weeks I receive a section of score to review. Although I believe it’s important to maintain a schedule with an end date, it’s equally important not to be rushed. On the marketing side, I have a general idea of where and when I see our first screening. Will it be a “world premiere” or just a private screening? That I’m not sure yet, but plans are moving forward.
My notes for the sequel to First Signal are starting to turn into some actual writing. I generally have the concept for the beginning and end. The sequel will be a continuation of events in First Signal while incorporating a good part of the storyline from my ebook First World: Covenant. I can always tell when the motivation to start writing again hits me—an idea for a scene or line comes to me and I stop what I’m doing and note it.
EXT. THE PLANET SHINAR – 8282 BC
Satellite images of the Earth like planet Gliese 581 d come into view.
Good afternoon my fellow citizens. This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the military buildup on the Channel Islands in the Southern Provinces.