Why Filmmakers Need to Know Digital Filmmaking

Why Today's Filmmakers Need to Know Digital Marketing

So you've figured out the difference between a 'YouTuber' & a 'Filmmaker'. You've decided you're a Filmmaker. You're gonna make real movies. You've learned a lot about cinematography & lenses. You know how to write & shoot a script.

These days you're probably even doing your own Editing, Color Grading & VFX. It's taken you years to hone these skills & there's no going back now.... You're destined for greatness & nothing can stop you... Hell, you even know what a C-47 is. You've got this whole game on lock, yo'....

Well sorry, That's Not Enough!!!

These days, aside from recording audio & doing every other thing yourself too, there's still one more part of the equation you should have complete control over... Marketing, & Digital Marketing specifically.

The Key Word & SEO kind of stuff. No, sorry, really.... You got to handle it!

I can't tell you...., Well ok, I actually can tell you the number of times I've seen a legit project with serious potential fall flat on its face because the Producers didn't know enough about Digital Marketing. A lot, exactly a lot of times!

The three most immediate & common breakdowns play out like this...

1) The Crowd Funding campaign totally fails.

2) They went to Festival (& won something) but a Distro deal didn't come through, because there was no buzz.

3) They actually got the finished film up on Amazon, Vimeo Pro, or some other VOD streamer, & no one bought or watched it!

Well, basically, they didn't Market the Film themselves. That was supposed to be someone else's job later on, in a place somewhere that wasn't 'Filmmaking', so they didn't even really consider it.

In each of these cases the filmmakers felt like beat up failures. They certainty weren't pumped up, or financially set, to jump into their next project.

Now let me ask you a quick question.

Have you ever seen a short or Indie film that was just 'Ok', but it was doing really well with a big following & buzz? Oh Yea? Well, what about a major Studio Film that sucked, but it broke $100 million at the box office?

OK, one more time.

Have you ever caught an amazing indie film or documentary, seemingly by chance, and it was the type of thing that a studio wouldn't make, but you happened to see it & its one of the best films you've ever watched? Yea? And did you go watch it because you heard about it in a Blog or Article?

Every one of those instances is Good Marketing!

I'll take a minute to talk about 'Social Media' specifically.

My Social Media contacts are mostly Filmmakers & I'm in all the Filmmaking Groups & Communities. In these, I see a lot of two things, poor marketing & brilliant marketing.

Poor marketing looks like this... its usually from an inactive, seemingly random member posting a picture & link that reads “My new movie is up on (Platform), check it out”.... or even worse, “Please watch my movie.... I'm begging you! Like & Share, I need views!” and then that poster disappears from the group with nothing new & no presence in comments or discussions.

Brilliant marketing looks different. Sometimes its so good, you'll barely even see it when it happens. It starts with a filmmaker who's active in communities & shares decent content. Its either good articles, links & assets, or valuable comments & discussion that elevate the craft & conversation. Helpful tips, funny stories or interesting photos. It starts with genuine 'Engagement' that builds trust & respect.

Then, every once in a while, there's a slight shift. It could be a 'Big Announcement' or just more cool content, but the subtle nuance is, that post has a lot of eyeballs on it. The 300-30,000 people in that group, actually pay attention to this poster. There's no 'I'm doing this guy a favor' about it. People are genuinely interested & feel at ease to like, comment & share because they consider it a 'trusted source'.

Then, in a follow up post or picture, there's related news. Something like “We're gonna do a feature” or 'I'll be launching a Kickstarter for this” & the response that this person gets, the active member, that's a 'trusted source', is different than all the other random people.

Moderators welcome their campaigns & project news. People are quick to hop on board & help or be supportive. They get DM's to their in box for helpful services & resources, & they haven't even started their film yet.

This phenomenon will grow organically for months or years before there's any mention of a formal 'Marketing Campaign' or 'Crowd Funding' but by the time that comes up, there's already hundreds or thousands of 'insiders' who are all willing participants & supporters.

No one knows if this finished Film, the one that hasn't been made yet, is any good or not, but its already got a bunch of backers, collaborators & customers lined up.

Mean while, some other fool is putting up “Watch my movie” for the first time in that group, & not getting 10 views. They can't figure out why a group posting to 30,000 people results in less than 10 views.

That's just 'Social Media', or 'Social Media Strategy', that can definitely be a moderate to huge part of what you'll need to realize about 'Digital Marketing' as a whole.

While Social Media with Filmmakers can get you started, & even carry you through to completing a film, its not going to be enough to sell millions of copies of your finished work to the world at large.

Understanding actual 'Advertisement', SEO, SEM & all the other techniques related to the PR & sales of your finished property, is going to be the difference between you having funds & a 'Name' to go tackle your next project, ….or possibly moving back into your parents house & considering a job in the Janitorial Arts.

So many Filmmakers, especially 'Newbs', & even experienced ones, don't have any plan for Distribution. They think they do, but their 'Plan' is “I'm going to festival” or maybe “I've got a ticket & booth at AFM” and they try to pedal their film to a distributor.

That's really a ¼ plan at best. Sure, maybe you have a good showing & someone offers up a $Million for your Indie, like you've heard about, but there's 25 other projects that didn't get bought & you didn't hear about any of them.

Some of those 25 films might have been decent movies, but they end up 'Nowhere'. They're sitting on YouTube a year later with 10,000 views. That's 20$ in earnings. Maybe they're on a small streaming service, earning 10$ there. Maybe on Amazon or Vimeo Pro & they made a $1,000.

Thats because “No Marketing Plan.”

Now another one of those 25 Films that didn't get a $Million distro deal, maybe even a pretty crappy film, had a Marketing plan. It was on the same platforms but it sold maybe 100k – 300K copies. A year later they might even sell to some foreign territories for broadcast or distro there, plus they sell a sound track, tee-shirts & posters... They also got a mailing list to advertise a Crowd Funding Campaign for their Next Film!

That's because, “Marketing Plan”. Big difference.

MARKETING .  Advertisement, Distribution, Merchandising... Marketing!!!!

As a Creative Professional, you have to handle the Marketing. Actually scheduling & executing the next year, two, three and 5 years that your film can be an equitable property.

You need to have a 3, 6 & 12 month plan of Social Media & General Marketing awareness for your project, before you get anywhere near shooting it. You've got to Hype the initial Funding, Production, Festivals, First Release & eventual Distro of your film.

YOU, yes you, not the imaginary 'Distribution Fairy' that you're bound to meet in FilmFantasia. Nope, You need to take responsibility for getting 50 million people to watch your movies trailer & remembering the title. You need to get 20 million of them to ask “Where can I see that film?” & maybe even click something or follow a page. In the end You may even need to get 5-10 million of them to follow through & order it from a paid VOD platform or even a free Streaming service.

You need to do it.

Blogs, Vlogs, (maybe Radio & Print) Video, Banner Ads, Pop Ups, Smart Phones, In App Advertisement, whatever... Any of it & all of it.

You've got to consider, even Steven Spielberg puts his stuff on McDonald's cups, so there's no real 'Low' here... Relax, its all good!!

Nobody else want's to do this for you, & certainly not for free. You're going to have to place the Ads & line up the Articles. You want actual Views & Clicks, you want high CTR (click through rates) & eventually full conversions to sales, so you're going to have to target the markets, optimize everything, hone your Ad buys to the lowest CPC (cost per click) & elevate your ROI (return on Investment). In short, you've got to be a full fledged Digital Marketer with all the analytic, split testing and Ad insights you can muster.

Its ok, you can do this. If you can piece together the 100,000 elements it takes to make a film, you can figure out a few forms of Digital Marketing.

This is a 'Why' Digital Marketing article, not a 'How To', so I'm not going to get into instructions here but its definitely something you should figure out long before launching your next project, not at the end of it.

A good Marketing Plan is something that can help you BEFORE, DURING & AFTER your next production & its an important skill set that every filmmaker ought to have & continue to develop.

To make that point simple, how about having twice the budget for your next film? Good Idea huh?

How about twice the numbers in final sales? We like that too. OK, how about twice the 'shelf life', meaning, in 10 years maybe someone still remembers & blogs about your movie, instead of everyone forgetting it in 5.

Yup, Marketing. You can only make a film once, but you can market it again & again for years. The critical thing is that you're only going to have one 'Opening Opportunity' & that will sort of set the stage for everything that follows.

A film with a Marketing Plan & Marketing Budget...

….Is going to (Maybe) get funding at the very beginning. Without it, you definitely won't even get considered. A legit investor wont even pass it to someone else without a Marketing Plan.

….Is going to (Maybe) get distro, or a higher price at distro. A Distributor looking at buying your film is asking one question. “Can I market this?”. Remember 'The Blair Witch Project'? It was sold at festival for 1 million. The Distribution company put about 20 or 30 million into marketing, & they made 100 million back. If you go into a festival with proof of millions of existing followers/fans/customers and a budget & current campaign that's pumping that film to millions of people, the potential Distributor is going to offer you a lot more. They're going to see that you're making a million yourself & they're going up their bids for a chance to profit.

….is going to get views when you distro yourself. Ok, so lets say you don't get theatrical distribution. Definitely not the end of the world. You could still make 2-3, maybe 5-10 million dollars yourself if you've got a good film, decent poster & catchy synopsis. The trick is, you've got to get as many interested viewers to want to watch it in the first year & you've got to parley that into getting onto every pay platform that you can. Some VOD platforms wont run films unless they have a certain number of sales & search request. That's why you market.

…...is going to get a higher price/value on small VOD services. You know the small VOD Streamers that are popping up everywhere? Sometimes they have an actual 'Channel' that people can watch on their Smart TV's. There used to be 5, all modeled after Netflix. Now there's hundreds, next year there will be thousands. They're all small operations, free & pretty easy to get on. A lot of them have a review process & 'tiers' of payment. They only pay you the higher percentage if you're bringing higher views. With a large fan base & a known film, you'll go straight up to the top of their 'Featured Content' & the highest pay grade.

….... is going to have much more 'Name Recognition' and long term value for continued Sales. Weather its HBO, Netflix, Foreign Theaters & Television, or Cable Syndication in the U.S., any film with a strong & memorable opening, is going to command a higher offering price, a higher resale/renewal price & its going to get better billing on that platform. (They'll advertise it there & feature or play it prominently. Not on the back page)

A marketing plan is basically 'Production Value'. In some ways it might actually be more important than 'Production Value'. If I had to decide between $10G for a Marketing Budget or $10G for an exotic location for my love scene.... my love scene might turn out to be an establishing shot from stock footage & a lot of close ups. I hate to say it, but in the end I'd rather have 20 million people see a trailer for my new release, than 2,000 people see the film where the love scene is in a cool mansion or castle.

Internet Advertisement is incredibly sophisticated (& simple) these days. You can target your audience & buy a guaranteed click for as little as 1 cent. Basically that means $10,000 is 1,000,000 views of your Trailer. That's actual clicks onto a site that streams it. If you just want a banner ad that plays a clip with your title, that's even cheaper.

Now, lets not forget that there's Film Fan groups that have 1-3 million members, & you can post into those for free. There's a bunch of those on every Social Network in existence. The long & short of this is, if you want to get 20-50 million people aware of your film, you can definitively do that in a short period of time. In fact, its cheaper & easier then its ever been in history, but somebodies got to do it. Somebody actually has to punch the buttons & make it happen.

So, like everything else on your film, you're going to want to ensure quality control & cost effectiveness. Why wouldn't you handle the Marketing too?

In this day & age that means the Digital Marketing. The fact of the matter is, the internet is absolutely the long term home of all media produced today. Even with a Theatrical Release or Television Sales, its still going to wind up on the internet, by next year at the latest.

Do you really want to blindly delegate that to somebody else? Do you want to let them charge you for it, or handle the Sales & Billing?

Not a good Idea.

At the very least, you need to have a functional grasp & understanding of what digital marketing is. You may not be the actual operator placing the ad buys & running the campaigns, but you've got to understand those things, look at the results & analytics,  & know that you can improve those results day by day.  

You've come so far, You've learned so much, It's time you take control of the 'back end' & ensure you can maximize the reach, recognition & sales of your property. Its time for you to master the final piece of the puzzle. Its time for you to know Digital Marketing.