In my experience, most indies drastically underestimate the gargantuan efforts involved in long-term audience engagement.
They majorly undershoot the process on nearly all measures: they budget far too little time to get to where their target audience resides. They invest far too few funds in the various supporting materials intended to lure in their targets. And once they do the requisite budgeting and strategizing, they are grossly inconsistent in the campaigns they pursue. They hate blogging, if they manage to fire off any posts at all. They don’t follow up on emails and comments. Essentially, they don’t deliver on what they promise.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons why this might be so, and while on the one hand I upbraid fellow indies for their lack of a consistent approach, on the other I completely get their reluctance and tentativeness.
Audience engagement – of the guerrilla variety we’ve been describing here at this blog all along – isn’t just a completely knew skillset to master…it’s a completely new series of time commitments. Most indies aren’t accustomed to either, and despite the fact we’ve been fully ensconced in democratized filmmaking mode for a while, the majority of indies aren’t getting it.
In the past, when minimum guarantees were as common as bananas in Costa Rican plantations, distributors were actually snapping up projects like they were going out of style. This process was seamless to the filmmaker since it was the distribution companies who were responsible for doing the marketing heavy lifting. They didn’t trouble filmmakers with any of this, and accordingly took their percentage cut. Filmmakers paid for this privilege, understood that they’ve have to pay the going rate, and everyone was happy. Especially since this is what distributors did best and what filmmakers expected them to do. The thought of actually reaching out to fans directly, beyond the perfunctory media scrum or festival appearance was abhorrent to the average indie. Perhaps they’d help out enough to get their film a degree of escape velocity, but once the ball was rolling, independent filmmakers were only too delighted to hand off this duty to their distributors. In fact, the thought of marketing gave them anxiety attacks: wasn’t the business side of filmmaking totally against what indie represents? Wasn’t marketing antithetical to creativity?
But we all know what happened to this situation post-2008.
It’s gone and won’t be returning. Filmmaking, like Paul Schrader recently mentioned on the pledge video for the successfully Kickstarted The Canyons: “Filmmaking is returning to its pre-studio era existence. It’s a time for constant experimentation and I’m excited to be playing a part in it.”
So what does all of this mean? It means there’s no way of avoiding the difficult decisions and making the arduous time commitment to actually get films in front of a target audience. There’s no way of getting around what I call the “slog work.”
Filmmakers who think they can get away with:
- blogging about their film – plus the processes which went into making it – just once per week.
- releasing subpar marketing materials that don’t compete with the excellent extra-diagetic materials I see on other campaigns.
- poorly understanding the makeup of the present distribution marketplace, handing off this responsibility to other professionals.
- shoddily researching the present state of the indie market.
- not watching other indie pictures just to see what they’re up against and as a kind of research.
and then expecting their films to become viral sleeper hits are in for heart failure. Not with some of the films I’ve been seeing lately. I’m shocked some of these films are even being released…the quality bar in many cases has been seriously lowered.
There are no more runaway hits. They are only earned hits.
There are no more sleeper sensations. There are only campaigns meticulously pursued by filmmakers tapped into the beating viscera of their pictures on a day-by-day — sometimes even hour-by-hour — basis.
There are no more accidents in indie film. There are only deliberate marketing strategies waged almost like a military campaign.
For filmmakers who don’t want to do the work…there isn’t a single person you can hire – there is no PMD, no production coordinator, nor any distribution specialist – who can address all of these duties for you.
Sure, you can employ a PMD to captain much of your marketing and indie distribution approaches – even to perform many of the tasks you’re unprepared to do – but when it comes to your film there’s only one individual knowledgeable enough with its intricate ins and outs and that’s you.
Since you can’t be cloned the chances of any marketing person coming close to your level of familiarity is almost nil. And expecting your PMD to have the deep pockets of a distribution company isn’t realistic.
We PMDs have our contacts. We have our tried and true methods. We even have our cost savings which we can afford you by opening up our treasure chest of tips and tricks.
But what we don’t have is your ownership of the vision. That resides with the filmmaker and hence their daily involvement is vital.
BOTTOM LINE: There’s just no way around it. There are quick fixes. You’ve got to do the work. Get mired in the slog, because it’s a long climb up to the summit, one foot after the other.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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