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?
- Film Courage: The Biggest Mistake Filmmakers Make Marketing Their Films by Sheri Candler
- Sheri Candler