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On the road to finishing my debut feature documentary I learnt a lot in the way of not only producing a film, but marketing it, pitching it, positioning it and working out a festival strategy. I learnt to be a jack of all trades and master of none, not out of a desire but out of necessity. Sometimes you have to make the opportunities for yourself and carve out the journey you want, yourself. Launching a film is like launching a business, and for the longest time I didn't want to think about it that way. In film school I didn't realise that filmmakers need sales agents to get their work in front of audiences. I think I had some idea in my head that you made the film, and the audiences appeared! Maybe that's how it was in the 70s but it isn't that way now. Ironically with the advent of instagram and social media it's never been easier to get your work in front of the right people, if you've got the advertising budget! The game has changed and many are saying that cinema is dead, well how can we be agile to the world around us now?
If you're like me, you're looking at what's happening in the world right now and wondering what you can do with your time. Well I've been knee deep in academic research but also trying to up skill my technical abilities and professional capabilities as an independent producer. In this post, I'll posit a whole range of advice that I'd suggest any independent film producer get pretty wise about before venturing into the world of feature filmmaking! A little bit of an intro first to my film. I made it between 2014-2020, beginning with scripting in 2014 very small scenes. It happened bit by bit, in an anthology form, before I knew it I had the workings of a feature film on my hands. It became more and more about people following their passions all around the world. I was obsessed with finding the stories rather than finding the marketing team, because I was only one person. I also became acutely aware in the process that I was the same as the people I was interviewing and I was also trying to be the best at making films... The film became less about being the world's very best film, and more a film about people striving to be the world's best. More on this later.
1. What to do first when setting out to make a new film? There are broadly a few very important things to be aware of when setting out to make any film. Which I've said many times before and will repeat now, it's a common sense set of internal questions.
Firstly, what is your story? (is it a drama, comedy, horror, dance. What form is it? Is it a fiction film, is it a documentary? Whose it about, think fish out of water, rags to riches, story tropes and shorthand ways of describing it for an elevator pitch)
How is it unique?
Who does it connect with? Which audiences? Which subculture? (i.e. a film about goths in Scotland, might be relevant to goths all over the world...)
Why are you making it? (What do you want to get out of this? Is it a calling card, is it a pitch for a TV series, to launch a universe?)
Who are you as a storyteller? (What is your personal connection to the subject matter? Are you producing someone else's story? Is this your own story?)
This will vary depending on whether you are the writer and director and producer or if you're working in a team with a dedicated writer. It depends upon the genre and what the film is, first and foremost.
2. Next, what kinds of films already exist in that domain, it might seem painful and counter intuitive but search festivals, find the kinds of festivals you want to screen at. Find what kinds of films certain festivals like.
For example in the documentary space, you might find that most top tier festivals will have a certain issue they are interested in one year, what happened with Harvey Weinstein was a hot topic last year at various festivals. The environmental crisis is a hot issue, the refugee crisis has been and continues to be a current concern. Many films get stuck in development so long that the issue they thought would be hot that year, by the time the film gets produced and finished several years later, is no longer as hot.
Many top tier festivals, think Cannes, Venice, Berlin etc will be concerned with not only the production value and story of your film, but the calibre of celebrity in your film or the core cast, which is why many sales agents are hesitant to acquire a film that's already made that doesn't have an established cast! It makes the marketing harder, no matter how good the film is, if it doesn't have a certain festival's wreaths on it, it's harder to sell. I heard this firsthand from various agents, without saying whom. I've seen many amazing independent films, many of which never got big releases because their cast weren't star studded and it then didn't get accepted into a top tier festival. IF you go outside the funding bodies and outside the industry, it is a much steeper road to get your film scene amongst the noise.
The following are things that you will need to get good at on the road to being your own businessman! 3. Get an understanding of contracts, employment contracts, location agreements, risk assessments, insurance and legislative requirements. Research your rights, research your cast and crew's entitlements, there is a lot of googling to be done. If you have a specific issue or dispute consult a solicitor or attorney depending upon which jurisdiction you are in.
4. You may have to register a company in the making of a commercial film, i.e. make a pty ltd company in Australia, this may limit your liability in the event of a contractual dispute (Warning: this is not legal advice!)
5. You will want a team of people around you. In most TV productions they have a separate accounts team, a business development person or a 'development producer' who is looking for new funding opportunities or new clients, a shooting team, editorial team etc etc. Big budget films will have entire VFX houses behind them, as an indie producer this might be only a handful of people total. Choose people in your team who are multi-skilled and versatile. In the new age of cinema making in the 21st century practitioners have to be agile, nimble and able to do many roles. The age of the film professional being a dedicated professional to one task and role is slowly fading away. Now if you're the DOP you might be expected to also be the data wrangler, stills photographer, gaffer, camera assistant and maybe even the co-director... It depends on the set, the budget and the production apparatus. 6. Generate income from making ads or videos for corporate sector clients. You will learn a lot from storytelling condensing things down in advertising form https://www.finesilver.com.au/documentary-corporate 7. Research what grants are available to you in the making of your film, for example look at the following links: 1. Documentary Grants
7. Screenwriter Scholarships 8. Have your websites, business cards, showreels and trailers all linking to each other. Be searchable, be available, be findable. Remember it's not only who you know, but who knows YOU. 9. Define your film marketing plan, Film daily TV have a really good template which is quoted below:
Define your Film Marketing Goals
Do you want to make lots of money? You obviously already surrounded by investors with deep pockets. You want a wide audience to get awards and fame You want to launch your career to prepare for your next film You want to change the world with an aspiring story
Depending on what you chose, we are going to refine a message and broadcast to your excited fans.
But successful brands like Coke always do advertising in regional languages featuring local film stars . That should be done in the case of Hollywood movies marketing too."
Movies have to marketed to different audiences just like Coca Cola does for each territory.
Film Promotion and Marketing Film promotion ideas Movie advertising Movie promotion Movie promotion ideas Who is your Audience Where to find your targeted audience How large is your audience What is the viability of your campaign Film Marketing Strategy Film Marketing Budget and Predictions
Film Marketing Plan Template
Plan your Schedule by Department through to campaign launch.
Build a profile of your perfect audience member
Define your genre and keywords
Analyze the statistics, how many targets can you reach
Build your website and create social accounts
Find organisations, social influencers and partners to grow your email database
Write relevant articles, press releases and design artwork
Complete your EPK (Electronic Press Kit)
Launch your Film campaign!
Included in the Film Marketing Plan:
Film Marketing Plan Template Film Marketing Strategy Template Film Marketing Schedule Template Marketing Budget Film Marketing Schedule Goals by Department Team Sponsorship Deck Genre Examples Audience Profile Template Personas
Now that we have a good idea how large our target audience is, let's set up the website and social media accounts. Social media presence. This is not essential when you're coming up with the idea, but it is essential when you're setting out to be the best businessperson and advocate of your work. Next up we'll look at some industry tools you can use to find your team and your collaborators. The most important of which is IMDB pro 10. Once you've got your team you might want to project manage or production manage your production through one of the following: 1. Dropbox 2. Google Drive 3. Trello (Really great software for visualising tasks and keeping team members accountable) 4. Slack (great professional messenger for in office work) 11. Cross platform sponsorship. I've recently been collaborating with Zhiyun to make a video on one of their new gymbal set ups. 12. House keeping - have your CV, bio and headshot ready to go for any possible meeting or run in 13. Get good at Public Relations or hire a PR company to help you design materials and to get key media sources involved. Work out what's in it for them. There are of course many more things we can discuss, but this is a very quick glance at all the things expected of an independent film producer. There are many other things that you'll be expected to do, from being a caterer, a counsellor, a mediator, a dictator, an accountant, a publicist. The list is never-ending. Focus on narrowing what it is you want from your filmmaking career and the skills you require to fulfil that end. Other useful links: https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/10-things-to-know-about-starting-a-production-company/ https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/cinematography-business-tips/ https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/10/video-production-business-ideas-small-buisness.html https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/01/05/marketing-videos https://www.canon.com.au/explore/tips-for-young-filmmakers