Indie filmmakers must change how they do things. Too many filmmakers’ actions are predicated on antiquated business practices. These old ways limit a filmmaker’s ability to build audiences and earn revenue. It is time for a serious change.
We now live in an era of cultural abundance and all of our practices need to take this into account. Audiences are overwhelmed with demands and options on their leisure time. It is harder than ever to get people to commit to doing anything. If you accept this is a reality why would you take your film to a film festival (other than the five leading market ones) without having your next steps well planned?
How are you going to build word of mouth for your film? How are you going to do that on timely basis so it does not seem like an old hat by the time audiences can access it? You need to manufacture desire for your film. And you want that desire to infect a forever enlarging community.
Filmmakers need to identify audiences that will most likely react positively to their work. They need those audiences to be aggregated and ideally already developed into a community that shares and discusses films and/or issues. Filmmakers need to think through how they can incite that community to engage, act, and spread.
Studios have long employed two key traditional techniques to refine their marketing and spread interest in a film: test screenings and word-of-mouth screenings. They spend heavily for each of these services, with test screenings costing over $50,000/each and word of mouth screenings as much as $10,000/per. A test screening often involves detailed questionnaires as well as a focus group. Word of mouth screenings are often a challenge to get the right audience to the screening and hence the high cost.
Digital communities offer both studios and independents a way to economically utilize both test screenings and word of mouth screenings. The internet allows us to target specific demographics as well as monitor their behavior while viewing (did they pause? where? and for how long?). Geo-blocking allows for specific regions to be focused on. When the digital community already has a built in video player a screening can easily be accommodated.
I suspect we are not very far away when savvy filmmakers will follow a festival premiere with a one day only digital premiere for a pre-selected audience. They will then follow with more regional festival screenings and corresponding digital screenings. They will utilize those festivals as hosts for digital transactional premieres. They will use the digital community to help proselytize the film. They will bring their film to the local art house armed with an engaged community of fans that will help make sure their friends prioritize the theatrical release on their busy schedules.
VHX is a small, New York-based video-streaming startup company. VHX’s CEO, Jamie Wilkinson, expressed his concern, writing on the VHX blog: “The companies with which we compete—Apple, Amazon, Google, the cable companies themselves—can afford to pay for a ‘fast lane’ … We do not have that luxury.” VHX will “live or die” he wrote, based on the strength of net neutrality rules.
“A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.”— Stanley Kubrick (via estebanvaldez)