The attendees at the Alternative Marketing in the Digital Era workshop
In one of my previous posts I said that without an audience to watch them, there wouldn’t be films in the first place. That might seem to be stating the obvious, but the fact is that many filmmakers are so focused on making their films that they often don’t think about what comes after the film is finished. How do you get your film to its intended audience? How does it get seen?
In the established film industries, marketing and distribution aren’t usually the filmmaker’s concern. There are others whose job it is to engage in these tasks, leaving the filmmaker free to get on with the business of making his or her film. But when you’re an independent filmmaker or in a fledgling market (or both), the task often falls on you to market and distribute your film yourself. Luckily, with the advent of the Internet, there are new tools at the filmmaker’s disposal to help bring the film and the audience together. And yesterday’s TTFF workshop at the Hotel Normandie saw a number of nascent and potential filmmakers come to learn how to tap the vast resource that is the World Wide Web. The workshop took the form of a panel presentation and discussion, followed by a Q&A; session with the audience.
Leading the workshop were three individuals who come to marketing and distribution from quite different, but inter-related angles. Trinidadian Georgia Popplewell, who has been in the film and media industry for two decades, is a multimedia producer. Trinidad-born, Canada-based Frances-Anne Solomon is a well-established filmmaker. And Christopher Meir is a US academic based at the Film Programme of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine here in Trinidad.
So, how do you get a film to an audience? First, the filmmaker has to decide who their audience is, and actively go after it–a film won’t sell itself, however good it may be. “There’s no shortage of films in this world,” said Georgia.”There’s no reason for people to choose your film over another, unless you give them one.”
Frances-Anne said that even before she began making her last feature, the TTFF-award-winning A Winter Tale, she thought about her primary, secondary and tertiary target audiences. Not that she allowed thoughts about her audience to dictate her filmmaking process, but she said she found that once the film was made and began to be screened, the audiences she had had in mind beforehand became the audiences who came to see the film.
Getting to the issue of the Internet, Georgia noted that potential audiences for films (and other works of art) have increased tremendously, and one can now reach markets across the globe in way that was not possible before. If you made a film about the Amerindian presence in Trinidad, for example, you could now potentially market your film to Aborigines in Australia.
Once you’ve worked out your potential target audience, the next step is to engage the tools to reach them. The panelists listed five websites key to any filmmaker in this endeavour: IMDb, YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter. The advantages (and disadvantages) of each site in managing your online presence and your personal brand was discussed. Everyone agreed the first four sites are indispensable, while the jury’s still out on Twitter, the new kid on the block. Then Georgia mentioned the sixth key website: the filmmaker’s own. “Buy your own domain name,” she said more than once. Even if you have no real need for it now, you will in time.
But what about the old media? Are the old ways of marketing a film still useful? Of course. “Nothing beats great poster art,” said Chris. And a well-edited trailer of your film is essential. But the best marketing tool for a film, said Chris, is the film itself. “No amount of websites can made a bad film good,” he declared. Frances-Anne, however, begged to differ, saying (with some annoyance) that she had seen savvy marketing campaigns do wonders for poor films. But if that’s the case, the reverse is also true. As Chris observed, “You can really kill a good film with bad marketing.”
At the end of the day, however, as important as marketing is, it should not take over the entire filmmaking process. “We want the dog wagging the tail, not vice versa,” said Chris. He did note, however, that the creativity a filmmaker puts into making a film can also go into marketing and distributing that film. And Frances-Anne made the point that, whatever way you decide to go in marketing your film, make sure you love it, because you’re going to be using it constantly–before, during and after filming. Georgia picked up on this point, of the hard work and discipline needed to effectively get a film out to the world. “The Internet is not going to market your film for you,” she said. “You still have to do that.”