I’m the sort of guy who likes to learn new things all the time, and in that spirit I usually carry around a notebook and a pen with me at practically all stops throughout my day.
Don’t know if you’re similar, but when watching Bonus Features on a TV series or film whose characterizations I’ve really sunken my teeth into, I liken the experience to something akin to “filmmaking in a box.”
Everyone knows I didn’t attend film school. Everything I taught myself in this business I know from countless many hours spent in front of my DVD player, the several laptops I’ve owned since I began seriously computing in 1995, at film festivals, or by interviewing filmmaking greats face-to-face, creatives whose work I’ve admired who I reached out to for mentorship and guidance along my journey to becoming a producer.
I can’t say I’ve had a bad run of it, either, doing things my way, that is..
What you see in front of you is nearly fifteen years of concerted effort to master my craft, to grasp how this industry works from the inside-out. I’ve gotten this far, I believe, only because I’ve been this unforgiving about my desire to learn — quickly — and it’s this passion I want to share with you.
Make any cinematic experience count.
Not just the obvious sessions watching a film, but think about that precious trove of opportunities available to you while out at a live event.
For example, rather than do the obvious during your attendance of a live event, taking photos of obvious targets and subjects, turn the camera around to fire off a few snaps of the surroundings so you can learn about the logistical struggles surrounding how a particular event was organized. Grab shots of the banners and personnel and the configuration of the trestle tables via-a-vis the stage. Take photos and then blog about your experience to share the educational possibilities. Don’t be a passive observer, in other words.
If you’re the supremely confident type, approach the event’s organizer afterwards to congratulate them on a job well-done and let them know what you do and the sorts of films or docs you shoot (helps if you’re attractive/charismatic and that you’ve showered).
Have a better mousetrap? Then think about opening up these suggestions for improvement with the organizer and be bold while you’re at it! Let them know that were you in charge of this event, you’d have added several more elements to the puzzle. Perhaps you may have been dissatisfied with the way co-sponsors took pole position as the guests streamed through the doors; prime real estate that should have been better “colonized” by event organizers for their own initiatives, rather than give it up to their partners. These partners would have conceivably followed anyways because your guest list was riddled with A-Listers of all industry stripes, contacts galore for any aspiring marketer. In other words, you may have sold your team short where you didn’t need to…like I
But that’s just for live events…what about film festivals?
What if you’ve got a filmin the lineup and have several screenings slotted for the duration of that week? So how do you efficiently spend your precious hours rather than squandering it at parties and the like (I can just hear my detractors already!)? How do you make the film festival actually work for your benefit?
My smart money is on wading out into the awaiting lines with your lead actor(s) to introduce yourselves to the crowds. Have your actors hand out some collateral from the film – postcards or other promotional material – and thank the waiters for coming and kin gup on such a hot/cold/rainy/busy day when they could be doing something else. Let fans snap off as many photos as they want as they’re going right up onto Facebook anyways.
Ensure the cards you distribute have your key festival promotional goal printed prominently on its face, so you can obtain the desired marketing action you seek.
For example, if it’s a mailing list you’re in the process of building, then direct people to a mobile-friendly site (since people are waiting in lines outside armed with their cellphones) where they’re required to add their email address first to receive a one-time only festival premium, right off the card.
Get to know more about the type of audience awaiting your screenings and it will go along way towards cementing your future live event strategy. This on the ground “intel” may give you clues whether you’re actually hitting your target and when you treat audience members with respect they will spread the word with their networks. Sure, they know what you’re up to, but the point is you’re not being slimy about it and what’s more, while other filmmakers will be leaving this up to their sales agents/publicists to tackle during your festival run, you’re taking control of your marketing efforts, which is the only way to go in 2012. Going through the motions of this yourself increases your chances of really making an audience connection, as opposed to slick pitches by oftentimes not so interested 3rd-parties. Just be real about everything and those waiting in the queue or sitting in cinemas will cut you slack. They understand you’re busy, but will give you a break if you show shades of humanity despite the pressures weighing upon you.
Film magazines aren’t just full of pretty pictures and zinging copy.
I often find myself covering articles and learning things about directing or producing I couldn’t have seen anywhere else. I suppose the comparative “disarming” nature of the magazine interview, which media mavens today slot rungs below more hot-button media like social media outposts or YouTube, is truly the bigger trove of secrets. I talk often during my presentations about “going analog” and this is a perfect example of what I mean. Just when we thought digital was the answer to all our prayers…
Observe closely peoples’ purchasing behavior as well as having an eye out at all times for how people in cafes or standing at bus stops, in post office lines, or at the gym consume media.
Most of this stuff is being viewed on the go…and if you’re not offering it to them in the manner they like to take it in, you’re not even in the ballpark, let alone playing ball.
If you notice something which stands out, whip out your smartphone and take a note or keep a pen and paper handy to scribble down a few pointers for you to research later.
Don’t rely upon fallible memory to remind you of the dozens of stimuli crossing your path. As you refine your list, you have a running scroll of potential blog posts to compile later, which you can scribble out and publish for reader comments and the leaning cycle continues.
They aren’t going to teach you these things in film school.
There exist several cutting-edge institutions that have incorporated these sorts of radical DIY modules into their curriculum, but the majority continue to abuse their understanding of their students’ motivations for continuing to shell out for their exorbitant tuitions: it’s that name drop potential of the school’s name and the network of contacts graduates and alumni can tap into.
What these schools don’t teach you, though, are the things which will sustain a healthy income-earning career in this indie industry over the long-term.
Common sense things, you say? Not from my vantage point. If you don’t take care of your own education, no one else will.