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.

Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt 1

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Keys to a Successful Film Launch Pt  1

By Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler

For the past six months, my company, Hybrid Cinema, has been working on the release of Bob Hercules’s new documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance,about the history of the Joffrey ballet. This is a capsule post to explain the highlights of launching a documentary into the marketplace when working with a modest budget. Future posts will go more in depth on certain aspects of this release.

With at least 35,000 feature films on the film festival circuit every year, by some estimates, very few films are going to premiere at one of the top 5 film festivals.   When that happens, filmmakers need to decide what is the best launch for their film.   We concluded that in the case of the Joffrey film (and we feel that this is the case for many films), some form of robust live event premiere would help to create awareness for the film in the oversaturated media landscape.   Live events are great publicity generators, allowing you to focus marketing efforts on a specific event.   Festivals are great partners for these types of events – even if you don’t get into a top 10 festival – because you can create a unique experience by partnering with open minded and adventurous festival that is already connected to press and audiences.

In creating a live event premiere, you need to consider the following:

1.  A premiere that will reach your audience.  Very early in creating our distribution strategy, we identified ballet fans (and more specifically fans of the Joffrey ballet and even more specifically the alumni of the Joffrey ballet-more on audience identification in a later post) as the natural audience for Joffrey:  Mavericks of American Dance.   Sure, there are other audiences for a film like this – but it is essential to go after who will be the most passionate about seeing the film.   For this reason, we targeted the Dance on Camera Film Festival which not only is one of the premiere dance film festivals in the world, it is based in New York City – the birthplace of the Joffrey ballet and the center of the dance world in the United States.

2. Creating an event that will garner attention for your film.   Festivals have many films to care for and promote as well as promoting the brand of the festival in general and often they have a small staff to accomplish all of this.  There is a lot for the media to choose from for coverage.  What will make your film unique and interesting to cover?  We decided early on to partner with Emerging Pictures to simulcast the screening of Joffrey at the DOC festival not only to reach a nationwide audience, but to create a larger story for the press to pay attention to. Emerging was a natural choice because they screen live ballet performances from Europe through a digital network of cinemas throughout the US, so their cinemas already have an audience for this type of programming. They also have the technology in place at Lincoln Center that enables a netcast to happen so the venue and the festival wouldn’t have to figure out the logistics of the simulcast.

Even though a festival premiere is an event in and of itself, that is not always  enough to attract attention from the media or from audiences.   You should always strive to create your live events to be as unique as possible, both from the perspective of media coverage and from the perspective of the audience, to create that need to attend.  Many subjects in the Joffrey film are iconic dancers in the ballet world, what ballet fan would not want to interact with them? We created a post screening panel of former dancers that the audience in the theater could interact with and meet after the screening, but we also enabled audiences even across the country the ability to interact as well.    Having this panel discussion netcast live to theaters around the country allowed audiences in to ask questions of this panel as well as interact with each other via Twitter using the hashtag  #joffreymovie – creating a unique event not only in the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, but in 44 other cities around the country at the same time. This is also a unique event for media coverage because so few films take advantage of the technology today that enables something like this to happen and having such a concentration of iconic dancers in one place makes this newsworthy.

3. The budget you have to work with.  We have a modest budget for the release of Joffrey so we had to do a lot with limited means.  We have a small staff handling publicity, audience outreach, booking screenings and organizing merchandise sales. Bearing this in mind, we needed the most bang for the effort because we launched the film into the market during our festival premiere. We won’t have separate budgets for festival publicity and then release publicity in order to start selling.

Utilizing the Emerging network only costs at most $1000 (which can be taken off the top).  Similar satellite systems through companies like Fathom and Cinedigm can cost $75,000 to $250,000 because of the cost in satellite time.

In addition, by covering much of the country at the same time – it allowed us to pursue reviews and articles in multiple markets – thereby most effective use of our publicity budget.

4. Creating assets before and during the release.

In another post, we will talk at length about the need for additional media assets to promote your film and all of the ways we have done this.   One way that you can garner additional assets during release is by filming and documenting your events.

You want to film the event itself – outside the theater, crowd shots, audience arriving at seats, applause, the audience watching the film during the screening and the entire Q&A. Very important to capture audience expectation before and reaction after the screening.  I recommend having two cameras so that one can be filming the Q&A and the other filming the crowd reaction outside.  You also want a photographer shooting the event if possible.

What you film can be utilized in a number of ways:

  • Short promotional videos that you can release on your Youtube channel to promote the film.  For the premiere we created two videos.  The first is about the film, opening night and audience reaction.

The second piece which we are now premiering with this article concerns the simulcast of the film and the audience participation.

  • Still photography of the people and personalities at the event (especially those that are interesting to your core audience and some that may be interesting to society pages and other publications).
  • Longer pieces of the Q&A panel discussion or even of just the filmmakers in conversation.  You can use these on your extra features.  Since our extra features have already been locked and since we have received numerous requests from people around the country to see these panels, we are going to put the full-length panel discussions up on the web on Distrify and charge a dollar or two for the viewing as an additional revenue stream.

5. The need to have the next steps planned. Many times filmmakers are so busy planning their premiere, they neglect to prepare for what will happen after this. Where will all of this publicity attention go? In the past, they hoped it led to a distribution deal, but that cannot be relied upon now. There is no reason that direct distribution should not be the next step and that some kind of event theatrical screenings can be booked. In the lead up and following our premiere, we have booked over 20 other screenings and we continue to set up screenings. We also launched our online store just after the premiere and have sold several thousand dollars in DVDs/merchandise. Don’t let the efforts and the financial resources you put into the premiere stall out from waiting. In a future post, we will talk about how we prepared for sales by setting up the web store and creating the merchandise.

The Results

We ended up screening in 45 cities throughout the US to launch the release of the film.   A number of these screenings actually sold out.  We received press articles and reviews in a number of major markets (even though the film was only screening once).    Through TweetReach, we were able to quantify the exposure via Twitter for the event. According to our TweetReach report, our hashtag #joffreymovie  reached 200,549 people through 270 tweets just on that day.   Some of the comments we received through twitter:

#JoffreyMovie Santa Fe, NM – our audience loved it, thank you so much! congrats on premiering a new, high tech way of running a Q&A!”

@JoffreyMovie #joffreymovie It’s insightful, performance history is fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tBeFP9IN.”

“The excellent #joffreymovie & panel yesterday @danceoncamera made me wistful for @joffreyballet of old. I loved taking class w Mr. Joffrey.”

The release continues and we will provide some in depth posts on this site of the different methods we have used to reach audiences and generate awareness and sales for the film.

Jon Reiss is a filmmaker, author and strategist who wrote the book Think Outside the Box Office and is a year round lab leader for the IFP Filmmaker Labs.  He will be at SXSW this weekend participating in the panel “Tough Love: Why You’re Still Not Festival Ready” on Saturday, March 10, 2012 He will also be signing the book Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul that he co-wrote with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler.   Next week he will be at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for the Digital Capital Symposium March 13-14, speaking on Artistic Entrepreneurship.  If you’re in the Austin or Baltimore areas, please drop in and introduce yourself. Follow Like

Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist for independent films. Through the use of content marketing tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, and online media publications, as well as relationship building with organizations & influencers, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged & robust online community for their work that will help develop and sustain their careers. Currently, she is working with Hybrid Cinema to release the documentary film Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, a history of the Joffrey Ballet. She can be reached on Facebook, on Twitter  and on Google Plus.

10 Ways in Which I Would Release Bomb It Today

Posted on by Emy

Chris Horton asked me to write this post for the new Artist Services website that Sundance has set up. However, many filmmakers don’t have access to that site, and so I am posting it here on my blog for anyone to be able to read. Here is the post:

In 2005 I started a documentary project that became Bomb It which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007, was released on DVD, iTunes and Netflix via New Video and has had an extended life on VOD (Gravitas), Web series (Babelgum), various foreign sales (PAL DVD this month on Dogwoof) etc. As many of you know, my experience releasing Bomb It inspired me to write a manual for other filmmakers to release their films in this new distribution landscape: Think Outside the Box Office. Chris Horton approached me to write a post on how I would release Bomb It in today’s distribution landscape (and knowing what I know now). I’ve actually thought about this a lot (mostly kicking my self for what I could have done better!)
Continue reading →

Guest Post: Joke and Biagio on Self Distribution for Dying to Do Letterman

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Joke and Biagio (right to left)

Today’s guest post is from Joke and Biagio who are doing an amazing job with their Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the distribution of their film Dying to do Lettermen. Check out their kickstarter page – they’re already raised $47,000.   In it they talk about why they are releasing their film themselves (plan B is the new Plan A).  And no – I didn’t pay them for all the nice things they say about me and TOTBO :)!

The Number One Reason We Look At Self-Distribution First

The Distributor Was Very Nice…

Truly. We genuinely liked this person. Why? The distributor:

  • Came to a screening of the movie (instead of passively requesting a DVD.)
  • Wrote a cell number down during the credits and said “call me ASAP.”
  • Offered to distribute the movie.

Sounds like a dream come true, right?

The Distributor Was Also Very Honest…

“There won’t be any money up-front. When all is said and done, after a few years, you can hope to make between $15,000 and $50,000.”

Huh?

We spent more than that making the movie.

A film we worked on for six years.
Continue reading →

Guest Post: Susan Youssef Crowdfunding Habibi on Kickstarter

Posted on by Jon Reiss

In honor of the IFP Filmmaker Labs going on this week, today’s guest post is from Susan Youssef who was in the Narrative labs last year at IFP.  She learned about Kickstarter in the lab and decided to use it to raise money to finish her film.  She has generously outlined her story indicating what worked for her and what didn’t.

In December of 2010 I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my film Habibi, which is the first narrative feature shot in the Gaza Strip in over 15 years.

I waited until the absolute last minute to launch the campaign—when I needed the funds to finish the film.  I needed all the time I could get to achieve the following:  a) build a fan base that would support the film on Kickstarter, b) complete as much creative work as I could on the film in order to make it as credible as possible to that fan base, and c) seek out every other financing option available so that whatever amount I would raise on Kickstarter would be enough to accomplish my mission for the film.  I believed Kickstarter was a safe bet for financing Habibi because I had faith in the passion found in the activist base behind Gaza.  I also had faith in the friends of the project who had rallied around me during those nine years of making the film.

The amount I needed to complete the film was $15,000, which is on average about $5,000 more than what many filmmakers seek on Kickstarter.  These funds would go towards the on-line edit and color correction costs of finishing Habibi.

In the months prior to launching on Kickstarter I worked very hard at designing rewards suitable to the project. Habibi is a film about the graffiti poetry sprawling over the walls of Gaza.  Since I had a title designed by world-renowned artist Reza Abedini, I decided to make a poster with Abedini’s design, printed at the actual size of the poetry we had graffitied on the Palestinian walls. We also printed a poetry book that would feature the poetry along with images from the film.  I had made another film in Gaza, Forbidden to Wander, so I decided to include a DVD of that film as an item as well.  I also created a postcard with the key image from the film as a reward.  In comparison to other rewards offered by comparable projects at Kickstarter the Habibi rewards were expensive.  However, I wanted the film’s fans to really love the gifts.  I also wanted the rewards to represent the high quality that I envisioned for the film.   I wanted donors to feel even more excited to see the film after receiving their Habibi items, enough to tell their friends about it.

I had been advised by other Kickstarter veterans to shoot for $7,500 to a maximum of $10,000 as a donation goal.  I had also been advised that I should plan to throw in at least $2,500 of that goal myself through a loan from a family member or close friend.   Nevertheless, I decided to shoot for the $15,000 that I actually needed to finish the movie.  I believed that my film had a strong activist base that would willingly line up in support.

I designed my campaign to be 28 days long in order to meet the deadline that I had set for the on-line edit work.  This left my film on hold, waiting to be finished.  I believed that a completed film would be better received by sales agents and film festivals than a locked picture.  So, I was rushing to finish.  It never actually crossed my mind as an option to do a 90 day or longer Kickstarter campaign.  This was because I needed to finish the film as soon as possible, and I felt the urgency might push potential donors to act.

I decided to put up a trailer.  I am camera shy, so I didn’t feel comfortable just putting myself before the camera and asking for the money.  However, I believed in my trailer and I think that helped my Kickstarter campaign.  The trailer gave a sense of the rhythm and story of the film.  Most Kickstarter film campaigns that I had seen didn’t post trailers.  I needed to attract online traffic to Kickstarter, and I used my trailer to do this.

I started the Habibi donation/reward level at $10.  I felt that people who wanted to give would at least give $10.  I didn’t want to produce premiums for less than a $10 donation because I wanted to offer items that I would personally enjoy.  Anything less than $10 would amount to lost time and money.

In the first week of the campaign I sent an announcement out to my film’s subscriber list.  I also wrote to all of the Habibi Facebook fans, and I tweeted about the campaign daily.

The first few days of the campaign were grueling.  I noticed a trend that I was attracting $100 or more donations from a limited number of passionate donors, but not many at the $10 and $25 levels.  I was also surprised to find that instead of attracting money from the usual suspects–old friends and family members–I attracted support from many people whom I had never met before.

I decided that I needed to look at soliciting support as a full-time job, or my project might not make its goal.  I aggressively asked people who had large Facebook and Twitter followings to post a link to the campaign.  For every eight people whom I asked for help, one helped me.

Mid-way through the Kickstarter campaign I wound up sick in the hospital, resulting in the loss of a few days of promotion activity.  Fortunately, there were people writing to all their friends on my behalf, asking for help.  These people who took it upon themselves (without even asking me) to ask their friends to help me are the true heroes of my Kickstarter campaign.

During the last 72 hours of the campaign I don’t think I slept at all.  I was constantly looking online for new contacts to write to for help.  Then, with 24 hours to go the campaign turned out to be $2,000 short of its goal.  This was when three miracles happened.

A young woman in Qatar helped me make the $15,000 goal.  She pledged the exact amount I needed to get to $15,000.  I had contacts in Qatar because of a Habibi work-in-progress screening that had taken place three months prior.  Those contacts were now asking their friends to help Habibi.  That is how she learned about me and Habibi.

After I had made the $15,000 goal another young woman donated $1,000.  She was an assistant at a production company.  For over four years I had been speaking with her off and on while attempting to bring her production company on board as a producer for Habibi.  While it didn’t work out with the production company, all my efforts resulted in her becoming a fan of the film.

Finally, a whopping $5,000 came from a friend of a friend who had been promoting the film to everyone he knew.  That donor was a filmmaker himself and later told me that he gave to the film because he was impressed by the nine years I had put into making it.

When Kickstarter provided me with the statistics behind the campaign I was shocked to find that donors had come from all over the world:  Americans, Chinese, Finnish, Qatari, Jordanian, Brazilian, Kuwaiti, English, Cypriot, Dutch, French, New Zealander, Palestinian, German, Swiss, Canadian, Australian, Mexican, and Austrian.  I never thought the campaign would have had such diverse international support since Kickstarter is based in the United States.  Then again, Palestine is an international issue.

Getting funded wasn’t the only success I experienced with Kickstarter.  I made new friends that I now speak with regularly.  Most importantly, the Kickstarter campaign gave me faith that I would have a wide audience for the film.  Months before, Jon Reiss had suggested Kickstarter as a way to grow the film’s fan base.  I didn’t really understand how right he was about this until I actually conducted the campaign.

It is now three months since the campaign ended and I am still sending out Kickstarter rewards.  Thankfully, the donors have been patient.  One of the largest donors said “Don’t worry about the rewards!  Finish your movie first.”  So, that’s exactly what I did.

I would definitely recommend Kickstarter to other filmmakers—not just because of the financial support it provided to my film, but also because of the growth it created in the Habibi fan base.  I feel even more driven to work for my film’s release knowing that support for Habibi comes not only from Palestinians inside and outside the U.S., but also from people around the world, many of whom I met thanks to Kickstarter.

——-

Susan Youssef is a New York and Amsterdam-based filmmaker.  Habibi is her first feature.  The film is an IFP Lab Fellow, and has received support from grantors including Cinereach, The Princess Grace Foundation, Austin Film Society, Women in Film Foundation, and others.

You can learn more about Habibi at www.habibithefilm.com and on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/dTpFIZ.

Susan Youssef is on Twitter as @susanyoussef.

Back to Writing – 3 More Books

Posted on by Jon Reiss

I have embarked on writing again and have two new books in the works and one more on the horizon.   First off, I am writing a book on the Producer of Marketing and Distribution or PMD.  In the tradition of Think Outside the Box Office, the book will define the role and responsibilities specific to the PMD, lay out best practices for those wanting to be PMDs,  lay out the tasks for a PMD over the lifecycle of a film, provide guidance on how to fulfill those tasks.  This includes developing a marketing and distribution plan and budget, the PMD in prep, production and post, audience engagement, timing of rights, as well as different marketing and distribution options available to films.  The book will cover education of PMDs and will propose a curriculum of study for PMDs.    I will be tweeting my progress on this book starting next week.

Secondly, I am working with The Film Collaborative and Sheri Candler on an electronic book of film case studies.    Each of us are drilling down to the specifics of a number of films distribution and marketing paths and providing hard numbers on their successes (and failures) to help filmmakers make informed decisions about the releases of their films.  This project was generated by The Film Collaborative who brought Sheri and I on board and is part of their educational initiative.  (as you know from my book and previous writings I am a big fan of what TFC does – and you know I’m a big fan of Sheri’s as well!).   We are currently locking down the title – and would love your input:  Please participate in our on-line survey.

On the horizon – I am writing a book about how all the art forms: music, film, art, photography, book authorship, journalism, dance,  comedy, gamers and expanded storytellers (etc) are all utilizing similar techniques to get their work made, marketed and distributed.   I came upon this idea while researching examples for my TOTBO workshops and discovered that many of the other art forms (music especially of course) were much further ahead than film in using these techniques.  But I also discovered that while some people used some of the techniques available, many would leave numerous opportunities unexplored – didn’t even know those opportunities existed.  As a result I saw a purpose for writing a book in which I would adapt and expand the system that I outlined in Think Outside the Box Office for all the arts.  This project will allow artists to learn from others and create opportunities for themselves that they may not have thought of by the nature of the traditional paths of their respective fields.   It will also provide a guide in how to use these techniques.   Over the next months, year, I will be interviewing a wide range of artists on this topic and I will be sharing excerpts on this blog.  I look forward to your input and feedback!!  (Look out for a revamped website and FB page in the future as well).

Conclusion of Guest Post: The Secrets of The Secret

Today concludes Julie Eckersley’s wonderful 5 part series on the methods used by The Secret to create such a success – big kudos to Julie for being so generous with her information. I love that she emphasizes audience engagement at the earliest stages and being generous to your partners and fans!: Here’s Julie:

In early 2006, Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne launched her feature length documentary online. It was called The Secret. The film spread like wildfire around the globe as viewers took up the viral campaign Byrne had begun.

This blog post is part 5 of the lessons we can learn from her success.

So far:
Lesson 1: Start strong
Lesson 2: Tap into people’s passion
Lesson 3: Understand the power of your title
Lesson 4: Plan your marketing campaign from day 1.
Lesson 5: Align yourself with the key influencers in the area.
Lesson 6: Alternative release and some very good news.
Lesson 7: Shoot a promo first

Lesson 8: Cultivate your audience

One of the places that many people go wrong online and in social media circles is that they don’t understand the etiquette of the medium.

Here is a summary of online manners from a fabulous internet marketing company called Thinktank Media.

1. Build a relationship first, sell second.
2. Thank people that mention you online in their blog or site. To keep track of this start using Google analytics and Google Alerts. You may also want to sign up for Social Mention.
3. Share great content. It doesn’t always have to be yours.
4. Be open and honest
5. Stick to your brand or style
6. Don’t spam or constantly broadcast one way
7. Engage in and encourage 2 way conversations.

The internet is actually a very intimate medium. If you get earmarked as a spammer there is no going back. It is the same as if you try to sell every time you communicate. It is a medium much more aligned with building relationships.

Byrne did this by communicating with her audience long before there was anything she was selling. In the lead up to her release had a clear brand and message – I am going to tell you a secret? and she traded on the exclusivity of her information.

Once the film was launched she continued to communicate directly with her extensive mailing list through the intimacy of her “secret scrolls”. Again, these are not about selling they simply offer a communication with the film maker and are full or advice about things that the niche group are interested in.

Lesson 9: GIVE GIVE GIVE

Once you have established a rapport with the key influencers think of what you can give to them. Ask yourself – what’s in this for them? The same applies to people that opt in to your publicity though an email or newsletter sign up.
Continue reading →

Part 4: The Secrets of the Secret

Today is Part 4 of Julie Eckersley’s 5 Part amazing Guest Post Series on the distribution and marketing of “The Secret”. Here’s Julie:

In early 2006, Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne launched her feature length documentary online. It was called The Secret. The film spread like wildfire around the globe as viewers took up the viral campaign Byrne had begun.

This blog post is part 4 of the lessons we can learn from her success.

So far:
Lesson 1: Start strong
Lesson 2: Tap into people’s passion
Lesson 3: Understand the power of your title
Lesson 4: Plan your marketing campaign from day 1.
Lesson 5: Align yourself with the key influencers in the area.
Lesson 6: Alternative release and some very good news.

Lesson 7: Shoot a Promo First

Now this is interesting.
Before Byrne even started shooting her film – she shot a promo for it and began garnering online support.

Initially, three short promos were released via the Internet in 2005, in the form of
‘clues’ as to what ‘The Secret’ was. They were posted intermittently one at a time
on the the secret website and
assured that viewer that ‘a secret was about to be delivered’. Byrne’s viral campaign was in keeping with her title. It played in the on the idea of a ‘secret’. And people wanted to know what ‘the secret’ was.

The promos were intended to drive people to the website where they could then be in direct contact with the filmmakers and receive a new level of inside information and updates. Her campaign centered on making people feel special, followers were given intimate access to parts of the film and those in it that was not available to others. This sense of belonging was key to the projects success and also the ownership that the public took of the project through engaging in the viral campaign. Then, the producers created a trailer and posted it online.
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Part 3: The secrets of the Secret

Today is Part 3 of Julie Eckersley’s 5 Part excellent Guest Post Series on the distribution and marketing of “The Secret”. As anyone who has read this blog or my book, knows that I am always talking about the subject of today’s post: Start your campaign as early as possible and engage your audience, natural allies in the process. Here’s Julie:

In early 2006, Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne launched her feature length documentary online. It was called The Secret. The film spread like wildfire around the globe as viewers took up the viral campaign Byrne had begun.

This blog post is part 3 of the lessons we can learn from her success.

So far:
Lesson 1: Start strong
Lesson 2: Tap into people’s passion
Lesson 3: Understand the power of your title

Lesson 4: Plan your marketing campaign from day 1.

If you have done Jon’s workshop you would also have been in discussion about the role of PMD or Producer of Marketing and Distribution. I think this is a vital new role in the film industry and whether she knew it or not, The Secret was a great example of this in action. The online campaign was foundational to the project from its inception.

Before she had even shot the film, or planned the schedule Byrne built a website, began building followers online, bought url’s that would support her campaign (to release the project as if it were a real secret) and very early on she even released a promo DVD of stock footage and released it online, directing it into the hands of key influencers.

Which brings us to the all-important point 5.

Lesson 5: Align yourself with the key influencers in the area.

From very early on in the project Byrne identified the key influencers in this area and aligned herself with them. As it was a documentary she could do this by actually using them in the film, but it could also be done by having interviews linked on a website, articles, blog posts etc. She got these people (some of which already had their own community of hundreds of thousands of followers) and she involved them from the beginning.
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Part 2: The secrets of the $300 million independent film.

Today – Part 2 of Julie Eckersley’s 5 Part series Guest Post on the distribution and marketing strategy and execution for The Secret:

Lesson 3: Understand the power of your title

In early 2006, Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne launched her feature length documentary online. It was called The Secret. The film spread like wildfire around the globe as viewers took up the viral campaign Byrne had begun.

So far we have learned the following lessons from her success:
Lesson 1: Start strong
Lesson 2: Tap into people’s passion

While Byrne’s viral campaign was clever and well organised (more on that in my next 3 posts) it was also the passion that she tapped into which propelled her film around the globe. Not only did this idea have followers, she also tapped into universal themes that resonated with a wider group of people.

She brought the passion of a subculture to the mainstream in a way that appealed to the masses.

As a film and communications critic this point is one of my bugbears with The Secret. She watered down her ideas so much that she was not communicating with any depth. But I do acknowledge that the way she generalised in her film (and left people to do their own research if they wanted to know more) was also part of why her audience base was so wide.

She gave words, voice and a medium to something, which had been seen as a subculture until then.

Ultimately the real marketing is going to be driven by your fans, not by producers. While this is always a point of contention for artists, finding stories that will evoke a strong and enthusiastic response should be high on your list if you want to make a successful film. Continue reading →