Excerpt: Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution

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Excerpt from “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (2nd Edition, Focal Press) by Stacey Parks. Available in paperback and kindle versions at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

Interview With Filmmaker Jon Reiss On Target Audience

Q: Tell us about Target Audience and what will happen if a filmmaker doesn’t identify this early on in the process?

A: To me a target audience is one of the niches that exist in the world that would be interested in your film (or anything that you do).   A niche is a group of people focused on a particular interest.  They are accessible.  You can afford to market to them.

For instance in the case of my film “Bomb It”, one of the niche audiences is graffiti writers and street artists.  Another niche audience is people who love graffiti and street art.  A third audience for Bomb It is underground hip hop (specifically people who argue over how many “elements” there are in hip hop – graffiti often being called one of the “4 elements of hip hop” (some people feel that there are 5, others 9, etc).  While you may think that people who love hip hop is also an audience – that is too broad of an audience for us to tackle with limited means. It is best to drill down as deep as possible to the narrowest niche, or core within a niche, in order to begin engagement.

This process takes time and the earlier you start it, the better.  Your release will be much more successful (assuming connection with audience is one of your goals) if you have started to engage your audience (or at least the core of your audience) prior to your release.  If you don’t, you will be struggling to gain audience during your release. By not laying this foundation, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot.

Q: Once you identify your Target Audience, what’s next? Any tips on aggregating?

For me there are 3 TOTBO (Think Outside the Box Office) Steps of Audience Engagement:

1.  Who?  You must identify your audience – discussed in #1 above.  And within each niche you should identify the core audience(s) within each niche.

2.  Where?  You must determine where and how this audience(s) receives information – and it will be different for every audience.  Some audiences don’t use social networks – even today.  Others are on Facebook or Ning more than Twitter.   Each niche will have certain blogs that are important to it.  You determine this via research.

3.  How?  Does this audience consume media?  In other words – how might they watch or interact with the story of your film?   Will they go see a live event, do they still buy DVDs.  What other kinds of merchandise might they buy?  On what platforms do they watch digital content?   You need to know this in order to connect your final film (or any product) with your audience(s).

Q: I hear filmmakers say all the time how difficult it is to start any type of campaign for their film during Pre-Production because nothing is really ‘happening’ yet. In your opinion, how can filmmakers create an initial campaign for their films during Pre-Pro?

I think “campaign” is the wrong way to think about it.  I recommend that people/filmmakers think in terms of connection.  You have fans out in the world (they may not know you exist) – you need to connect with them.

Topics could include: What are you interested in?  Why are you making this film?  What are your struggles?  How might you need help? How can your audience contribute to your film, not just financially (crowd funding), but also creatively (crowdsourcing)?  Ask them questions about different concepts, techniques you are considering etc.   Crowd funding and crowdsourcing are as important for audience connection as it is for money or creative contributions.

But more importantly – don’t just talk about yourself and your film. In fact no more than 20% of what you talk about or put out through your various channels should be about your film and yourself. 80% (at least) should information valuable (or entertaining) to your audience.   Go out and listen to your community and then become an authority within that community. Talk about the film once in a while – and then when you are in release, your audience will gladly support, promote, and refer you.

Q: All this can be so overwhelming to think about doing on your own — what kind of team should filmmakers be building during Pre-Pro to facilitate the marketing of their film?

I believe that filmmaking is a two-part process.  The first part is creating the film – the second part is connecting that film with an audience.   I think the most important team member to bring on in Pre-Production is the person I call the Producer of Marketing and Distribution – or PMD.   This person is the point person for all aspects of audience engagement as outlined above.   If you recognize that it is important to connect with audiences, then you absolutely need to devote resources to this process.  Everyone with traditional film positions already has their plate full making the film.  Filmmakers need to realize that unless they themselves will take on this work, they must get someone on their crew who will, just like they have someone line produce or edit.   That is why I created the position of the PMD in Think Outside the Box Office, because unless there is a clearly defined role for these tasks, they will not get done.

Q: Tell us about “Bomb-It” – what did you if anything during Pre-Pro that set you up for a successful release of the film later?

For “Bomb It” we started shooting right away,  so our pre-production and production happened simultaneously – for about 2 years.  But all during this time we were actively engaging our audience:

1.  We set up a website and a blog.  We posted regularly to this blog, very rarely about our film.  We posted almost exclusively about our subject – graffiti and street art.  Specifically, we posted items that interested us and we felt would be interesting to our audience.  We featured artists that we interviewed as well as bloggers, journalists and influencers within our community – see #6 below.

2. On our website we incentivized people to join our email list by offering to mail them stickers (yes via snail mail). This is an early example of an Email for Media campaign.  It cost a few hundred dollars to execute but 1).  It was directed at our specific audience.  2). It gave people something in exchange for what they were giving us (their email address).   We had 1000 people on our list by our premiere.

3.  We set up a Myspace page.  Remember this is 2004/2005 when we started (Facebook wasn’t the force it is now – and our audience was not on Facebook at that time. Our audiences were on Myspace – see research above).  By the time we premiered at Tribeca Film Festival we had nearly 5000 fans on Myspace.

4.   We cut trailers as soon as we had enough footage and posted them to YouTube – and directed our audience to them.  We were on our 2nd trailer by the time we premiered.

5.  We reached out to key bloggers, journalists, galleries and influencers within the community.   We created friendships with these people that lasted beyond the release.

Stacey Parks is a film distribution expert and Producer with over 15 years experience working with independent filmmakers. As a Foreign Sales Agent for several years she secured distribution for hundreds of independent worldwide. Stacey currently specializes in coaching independent filmmakers on financing and distribution strategies for their projects, and works with them both one-on-one and through her online training site www.FilmSpecific.com The 2nd edition of her best selling film book “Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution” (Focal) is now available at www.FilmSpecific.com/Book.

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