Make Your Film: Part Two

Elliot Grove, Founder of Raindance Film Festival, offers Top tips to help promote your film.

You’ve scoured writing groups for a hot new scriptwriter, toured film festivals for the most innovative new directors, found a cast of talented unknowns and scraped together some money and finally made your film. Now what? How do you turn your masterpiece into cold hard cash that will allow you to repay your investors and get a second crack at a film? The most common mistake filmmakers make is they don’t know who they are making their films for.

There are two types of people who buy in the film industry. Development executives buy finished screenplays and ideas, while acquisition executives buy finished films. All distribution companies have a Head of Acquisitions, you will need to target them; they can actually put your film in cinemas and onto TV.

A common mistake filmmakers make is marketing their film as a “drama”. All stories are dramas. To say you have a drama is too general and acquisition executives won’t know what kind of movie you have. A successful tool to get around this is to make genre films: Horror, fantasy, crime, love, comedy, thriller, sci-fi and detective. Genre blends like Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (comedy/horror) give a film buyer something they can visualise without actually seeing the film.

But here is the wrinkle. The film industry has changed dramatically since YouTube, specifically how films are distributed. Many of the ways that films were distributed and monetised pre-YouTube no longer work. But the basic principals of marketing and selling your film remain the same.

Here is the traditional distribution process for a film:

Cinema > Airline > Pay Hotel > Pay Cable > DVD > Terrestrial TV > Ancilliary (schools, retirement homes, cruise ships, prisons).

Adding in digital distribution upsets the whole equilibrium of the traditional model, and raises some interesting questions: Do you put your film online as pay per view? Streamed free with ads and associated revenue? Do you geoblock by territory to protect a national or regional distributor? Can you make any money by distributing your movie yourself? Regardless of your strategy, there are some basic elements you need to prepare in order to sell your film.

1. Press Kit
A press kit has four elements: 1. Synopsis: Write three different lengths of synopses: Long (one page double spaced), Medium (2/3 of a page) and Short (½ page). At the end of each synopsis, write a brief production note along the lines of: “This is the little film that nearly didn’t but did, because I am a talented filmmaker.” 2. Cast and Crew Bios: List the people who worked with you, after each name write what they did, and then a brief bio, including experience, awards and anyone famous they have worked with. Often you will be working with first timers – in which case write “Debut feature.” 3. Photographs: Picture editors are always looking for images to make their publications look appealing. Look at the press pictures of successful filmmakers and you’ll see they are always doing something, and not posing. Posing might work for the college yearbook, but not in your press kit. Make very sure that you include pictures of yourself. Without a good picture you won’t be able to capture your 15 seconds of Warhol. 4. Reviews and Interviews: To start with, your press kit won’t have any interviews. As you attend film festivals (see below) you will start to build up reviews.

2. Website
Before you start filmmaking, grab the url that most closely resembles the title of your film or production company. Keep it simple. Key pages are: About Us: List key cast and crew bios. About the Film: Include a synopsis. Production Notes / Blog: People love reading about stories from the trenches. Pictures: You can also create short videos you make during production. Contact: Make it easy to get a hold of you.

3. Role of social media
There are two types of filmmakers today. Those who abhor social media and wouldn’t be caught dead with a Twitter account, and those that embrace it. Like it or not, a strong social media presence is the surest way to build up a following. They will be ready to see your film at a festival when it screens, and eager to watch your film on DVD or online when it is released. They can also be considered as potential investors on your next project. Social media isn’t free; accounts may be free, but maintaining and building your list is time-consuming. All new movie projects are advised to have one person designated to running and maintaining the social media side of the movie.

4. Film Festivals
Film festivals are the tools you use to create a buzz. Festivals come in different flavours, and are ranked according to the numbers of acquisition executives that attend. Major:  Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Berlin where industry executives attend in droves. Mini-majors: where fewer industry attend, such as Raindance. City festivals: London, Cambridge and Edinburgh; used to promote the cultural wealth in order to attract tourism. Genre: London’s Frightfest, Sci-fi and London Gay and Lesbian. Minor:  Very few, if any, industry attend and are usually created by film lovers. Obviously, if you have a horror film, you would want to target a horror film festival like Sitges in Spain. Acquisition executives attend festivals where they think they are most likely to see the kinds of new films they would like to acquire.

5. Film Markets
There are thousands of film festivals in the different categories around the world but only three film markets: European Film Market in Berlin (February), attended by about 5,000 industry executives. Marché du Film in Cannes (May), attended by over 6,500 industry executives. American Film Market in Los Angeles (November), attended by 4,000 industry executives. A film market operates like any market for any product. Buyers line up, waiting for the doors to open, sellers prepare their booths in which they display their wares. Acquisition executives pour through the doors looking for an interesting film. They discuss the film with the seller, arrange to see the film either on DVD or at a private screening and negotiate a price. Economics dictate that only a registered seller can attend. These sellers pay a fee to join the market, transport their staff and materials and hire expensive display booths. The specialist sellers are called Film Sales Agents and sell your film for a commission.

6. Hybrid Distribution
Hybrid Distribution is exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid between self-distribution and distribution by a third party company. The filmmaker is able to choose partners who have access to contacts and channels that the filmmaker doesn’t, while the filmmaker is free to reach their fans directly. Many filmmakers reserve the right to sell DVDs directly from their website and VOD (View on Demand) from their website, or a different one that specialises in streaming indie films. Filmmakers will split the profits fairly with their distribution partners. Using a Hybrid Distribution model maximizes the film’s exposure, and has the potential to expand the film’s fan base exponentially.

7. Self Distribution
Self-Distribution leaves all the distribution rights with the filmmakers. They sell DVDs, digital download, or VOD directly from their websites. They keep more of the profits, get the money faster, and are able to learn more about their customers immediately. However, the flip side of Self-Distribution is the limit of reach. Most Self-Distributed films will never run widely in cinemas, sell DVDs in stores, or rent through distribution partners like iTunes. Filmmakers who do self-distribute are able to keep in direct contact with their fan base illustrating the importance of social media.

8. Niche and /or Ancillary Markets
Sometimes a filmmaker makes a film that will sell only to a specific audience. When British filmmaker, Stuart St Paul, realised that his son was about to study Thomas Hardy, he made a series of movies of Thomas Hardy novels and sold them himself to the parents of other high school English literature students.

Now, take these tips and get your film out to the masses.