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Don’t Blame Veronica Mars: How You May Be Sabotaging Your Film Through (Lack of) Marketing

04.9.13 @ 9:00AM Tags : , , ,

You’ve written the perfect breakout indie hit. First, the budget is small, which is great because you can easily raise it on Kickstarter from all those tastemakers who just can’t wait for a signed DVD. On top of that, you’ve got a story that is so universal, anybody and everybody would enjoy it. “FWACK!” That’s the sound of the cold brick of reality hitting you in the face. In the series of Film Courage interviews below, independent marketing strategist Sheri Candler breaks down how we screw up our films by unwittingly sabotaging our marketing, and just how little we have in common with Veronica Mars.

First, Candler points out why it’s essential to think about marketing in an early stage, especially if you’re in the low-budget category:

Candler stresses that having no idea who your audience will be is the best way to ensure that no one will watch it. While it’s easier to figure out marketing if you’ve made a film about, say, Nine Inch Nails specifically for fans of Nine Inch Nails, even narratives with no obvious subculture or hook need to figure this out. Sure, sometimes it feels wrong to even think about an aspect like ‘marketing’ – we’re artists, not salesmen trying to pawn off some plastic dashboard crap! But if you think about it in Candler’s terms, you really don’t have to feel crummy – it’s actually an exercise that rings true with development. Candler says:

I tell people to look at what is the emotional core of the work…because you can figure out an audience type based on an emotional response. And you can start there.

Since our films are likely to have small marketing budgets with no known stars to “hang the marketing on”, rethinking a very generic script might be worthwhile until we have the cred of Edward Burns. Instead, thinking carefully about what kind of people will jive with the emotional core of your more original film can give you a clear path of how to reach those people. Just how much cash should we be saving from our budget to reach these people once we’ve figured out who they are? 10% says Candler:

10% of say $5,000 though will probably only get you some festival submissions and a few Facebook ads. Luckily, you’re planning on raising a real budget with your Kickstarter campaign. What could possibly go wrong?

We’ve all seen perfectly good films bomb their Kickstarter campaigns. Here, Candler suggests that if you have, for example, 2,000 YouTube subscribers, you can bet that the vast majority of them are “lurkers”. If you want to be realistic, bet on only about 1% of those 2,000 forking over any cash on your project. So unless all 20 of your core fans really want to have their name in front of the movie, you’re not going to raise that $XX,000 budget you had in mind until you grow that audience. Ideally, you’re the makers behind Veronica Mars, and you cultivated that audience years ago.

And if you’re worried that the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter will bring out every Tom, Dick, and Harvey Weinstein to usurp the crowdfunding forums with studio films and famous T.V. shows, Sheri doesn’t think there’s cause to worry because that realm still thinks they’re too good for Kickstarter. Although she points out that they may want to rethink the whole platform before the big-budget model “crashes to the ground”:

Kickstarter becoming a household name through titles like Veronica Mars (and yes, hopefully one day, Firefly) may actually help filmmakers in the future to change the investor-artist relationship:

Whether you’re deciding on a script to make or planning your Kickstarter launch, how well you’ve figured out your audience seems to factor in a lot on your success. Unless of course, you don’t care if anybody watches your work. Not me!

What are your thoughts on when and how to think about marketing on a project? Any useful lessons from failed Kickstarters out there? And what do you think about the Veronica Mars effect on the independent film world?




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  • wow! thanks for this post. I had a question on my Facebook page about crowdfunding before a production starts. Success in crowdfunding a project that is in development is very dependent on your personal connections. Personal connections can be gained at any time in your professional life so start building them now. You will need the connections for a variety of reasons in the future so the time to start is well before you have a favor to ask. Also note that these need to be mutually beneficial connections, meaning you have to give too, not just take.

    • Julian Terry on 04.9.13 @ 2:26PM

      I am about to finish school and head off to Los Angeles. The most recent advice I got was don’t just make connections, make friends. In a world full of people needing help on projects it’s always good to be the guy they call after a tough shoot to have a drink with.
      Fantastic post and very good points Sheri. I think I found a new favorite nofilmschool writer.

    • Oakley Anderson-Moore on 04.10.13 @ 1:14PM

      Thank you, Sheri! Like other comments have said, it’s really neat to listen to insight that’s honest and balanced…and learned from real life experience! I hope you do more interviews in the future.

  • Ashley Hakker on 04.9.13 @ 10:33AM

    On the topic of marketing, I’m only a film student but I’ve seen a lot of classmates have expressed desires to keep their projects super secret until release. On my most recent short film, a project just before graduating, I opted to total opposite. We were having a shoot out in an ER, students dressed as Toronto police, military assault rifle on campus, filming green screen in a police car in one of the school’s policing labs that we borrowed… I made sure a good number of production photos hit some forums and facebook groups of relevant interest to get people geared up and curious about what we’d be filming and looking forward to it’s YouTube release. I don’t see how sitting on every detail like it’s the recipe to Coca-Cola until release is supposed to help you get noticed.

    • That is some very wise words from a student. :-) Too many people think they’re Chris Nolan.
      Be as loud and as public as possible. It generates a ton of energy, mostly positive. Ask every successful producer, ever.
      Well done, keep going!

      • Nolan wouldn’t even get in the door (as fast) without Clooney and Soderbergh. I don’t think he’d be too secretive as a newcomer.

      • Ashley Hakker on 04.9.13 @ 1:41PM

        It also helped us get resources. We’re using airsoft guns as props, we eventually attracted a police officer with airsoft guns to supply us, give us technical advise and be on set. …Which was a huge boost since campus security gets cagey when you wanna use an assault rifle in a medical lab…

        You can check it out here if you’d like. The acting is the weakest point and it certainly has other flaws. Our program is actually a two year ‘Television Broadcasting’ program with a lack of emphasis on ‘film’. This is why I’m moving on to a film oriented post grad program to make up for what I haven’t been taught by my program.

  • Thanks for posting these great videos. Totally agree, start cultivating in the early stages. Also, something I need to do more of is to share the behind the scenes stuff, the real authentic moments – not just the highlights but the mistakes too.

  • Nice post, thanks

  • Lots of valid points there.

  • john jeffreys on 04.9.13 @ 1:31PM

    i dont think ill ever croudfund; im not charismatic enough to beg for money on the internet

  • Thanks for this post. Sheri is quite knowledgeable and hits on some interesting points.

  • Hi Oakley,

    We just wanted to thank for posting some of our previous videos with Daniel Sol along with this new series with Sheri Candler. We are longtime fans and followers of noflimschool, so it’s been quite a thrill for us to discover our work through your articles. It really means a lot. Daniel and Sheri are both passionate and outstanding people so to see them receive this recognition is pretty awesome. Thanks again.

    • Oakley Anderson-Moore on 04.10.13 @ 1:15PM

      Karen – the pleasure’s all mine! Thanks for posting all the interesting content. We all keep an eye out for it here.

  • Great interviews. Nice to see someone with such a balanced and non-sensationalist view on these things!

  • Does she even talk about how to get a known actor, etc.? Warner Bros. is forking the rewards for the Veronica Mars campaign, but I asked them (and they didn’t get back to me yet), whether I could invest in their film and make profits instead of donating. lol. I’ll let ya know what they say (if they even care to respond). I think it’s not fair play personally, for Hollywood to try and compare themselves to us independents with no budget.

  • There seems to be two threads of thought about independent filmmaking these days. 1) Making an indy hit is like getting picked #1 in the NBA Draft or winning the lottery, so don’t plan on it. And 2) There’s no reason you can’t make your movie and find an audience. But ultimately, if your movie is enjoyable to watch, the word will spread. It’s when you don’t have a watchable film that convincing people to watch it (marketing) becomes more important. Not to say that marketing isn’t valuable on all films, because it is, but making a great movie can take care of itself. I have a little motto that goes, “It’s not hard to get into the NBA. It’s actually quite easy…it’s hard to have the talent. If you have the talent, there is a system in place to notice you, recruit you, and sign you. And it’s not hard to get into Sundance. If you make a good movie, there is a system in place to find it, sell it, and distribute it.” But let’s be honest. Most indy films either aren’t very good or aren’t watchable by a large audience, and that’s why they struggle for distribution. This may be an oversimplification of the matter to a degree, but it gets to the core issue which isn’t marketing, it’s making a great movie that people want to watch.

    • “making a great movie can take care of itself.”

      I would love for you to validate this sensational statement with examples. Do you think movies bought at Sundance automatically attract a large enough audience to make marketing irrelevant?

  • Hi guys,
    BTW, talking about Veronica Mars and Kickstarter, today I launched my project “LURK CREEK.” I really appreciate if you give a look and spread the news… Thanks