“How Film Projects are Building an Online Presence” by Kellie Ann Benz, National Screen Institute – Canada

Mar 15, 2011 | Corporate Member News

Kellie Ann Benz

Let’s say you’ve finessed your good idea into a polished script. You’re getting buy-in from people around you. This project looks like it’s going to go ahead. You start thinking cast, keys, location and of course, solving the mystery of funding.

Regardless of whether it’s a short or web series or even a feature, the mechanics of development to production to post is a well understood process by everyone in the world of filmmaking.

Where we bottleneck in frustration is getting that finished product into the hands of those who can help us make a profit. Depending on the medium, you might submit to festivals to find your industry benefactors or simply upload your project online to find your audience one click at a time.

It’s typical that once your project is in the can you begin to ask yourself how to market this baby of yours. That is, it’s typical if you’re still living in 1991.

“You should start connecting with the audience most likely to care about your project at the concept stage,” explained respected indie film marketer, Sheri Candler

“It’s never too early to start promoting a web series.” Patrick Bardwell, president and founder of Slebisodes Web Series Guide told me. “If you are a well-known director, even a casual mention on Twitter can be the beginning of the buzz.”

“If you don’t start building an audience before you release your content, nobody will be listening when you finally do,” proclaimed Nicholas Humphries, producer of Riese the Series and director of Naomi: The Show.

The mechanics of creating filmed entertainment has remained the same but marketing that product has changed tremendously. From everyone I’ve talked with lately, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it behooves each and every filmmaker to take notice of this shift.

“The click-though revenues we’ve seen, however small, suggest a promise that if we can find a way to go viral, or build and maintain our audience, we’ll see profit from our online sales,” mused feature filmmaker Terry Miles, whose latest feature A Night For Dying Tigers premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. 

But before you go on a domain buying spree, Terry also cautioned, “If your project has a strong online component, I find that you can’t start promoting it early enough. However, if you’re dealing with something like an alternative reality game, you shouldn’t release anything until you’re ready for interaction.”

While Terry’s words suggest a more thoughtful online approach, doesn’t it seem like there is still a particular trend towards filmmakers becoming their own publicists?

“I don’t think of it in terms of promotion,” said Sheri. “An artist will find so much value in really becoming embedded in the communities most likely to support their projects.”

Which is consistent with the baby steps I’m hearing about slowly, but surely, creating effective word of mouth.

Nicholas told me that for Riese: Kingdom Falling “We distributed buttons and postcards at comic-con before we even shot a thing.”

You see, like it or not as Patrick explains “In the web series industry it’s okay to not be that good at the content creation part but one HAS to be good at the marketing part.”

I know that a lot of you just threw up a little in your mouth.

For those of you who slave away on perfecting your scripts before letting even your producing partners see them, this idea of marketing at concept, of promoting before you’ve got anything shot makes your heart turn to dust.

I get that. But darlings, no-one in their right mind can deny the success Nicholas and his team has had with Riese, and Patrick (@slebisodes) watches, reviews and engages in discussions on hundreds of web series every week. You can groan all you want about this shift, or you can embrace it. Want further proof? Join the weekly discussion at #webserieschat, and see for yourself what everyone is talking about.

Here’s what I reckon. There has to be quality in every step you take. Well run marketing campaigns – even ones with deep pockets – won’t ever supersede production value, content ingenuity, terrific characters or great storytelling. Trends come and go, but those key components have not changed since Buster Keaton leapt on to a moving train.

So don’t get overwhelmed by this, just consider it another device to reach out to your audience.

If you’ve got the money to invest in someone, they should be “a dedicated member of the filmmakers’ team who can manage the online presence on a full time basis,” Sheri instructs. “That person is the producer of marketing and distribution; it’s a constant job that most filmmakers cannot devote sole attention to.”

Or it can start really small with the basic tools available to everyone.

“If you don’t ‘get’ Twitter then sign up, watch how others are using it and join in,” advises Nicholas.

As Sheri puts it, “Share of yourself (professional self, that is) and provide value that builds an audience of people who want to see what you are cooking up next.”

“Handling your own online presence is good, because you have complete control over every aspect of your world,” says Terry, with one note of caution: “Success online largely depends on maintaining a very high level of interactivity.”

Before I let my specialists go, I asked them all the same question: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen filmmakers make when building their online presence?

“That they don’t,” said Sheri, summing up almost everyone’s answer. “Or, worst of all, failing to provide basic contact information!” added Patrick.

Inspired, even my own projects can now be found online.

Filmmakers well known for their online presence from Hollywood include Kevin Smith, Jon Favreau, Nia Vardalos and TV’s Chicago Code creator Shawn Ryan. From the indie scene, check out Nicholas Humphries and Terry Miles, as well as Miranda July, Lance Weiler and Joe Swanberg.

About Kellie Ann Benz:

Kellie Ann Benz is a columnist who (usually) writes about short film on the NSI website and also runs her own blog The Shorts Report 

About the National Screen Institute – Canada:

The National Screen Institute – Canada (NSI) is a non-profit organization with headquarters in Winnipeg. We are Canada’s national film, television and digital media training school for writers, directors and producers. Training is anchored in the philosophy that the best way to learn is by doing.

Contact us or see a map of where we’re located 

Our market-driven training programs have led to employment and successful careers for graduates by giving them a competitive edge. According to the 2008 NSI alumni survey, 96% of respondents are working in the film and TV industry.

  • Training programs are led by experts in film, television and digital media – they deliver workshops and seminars and mentor participants. 
  • Participants do not pay tuition fees or relocate.
  • Training is intensive. Participants train in one centre for a short period and then return home to work with local mentors on their projects under the leadership of the program manager.

Find out about all the training programs provided by the National Screen Institute.

After more than 24 years of training and with over 620 alumni, NSI continues to develop and deliver training to meet the industry’s needs. We produce works that:

  • appeal to Canadians
  • help advance careers that will grow the Canadian industry and contribute to the regional and national economies stimulating employment for the long term.

NSI leads in the design and delivery of programs that provide training to Canada’s visible minority and Aboriginal screen professionals.

NSI also commits to showcasing Canadian short films and providing professional development resources online.

Visit the NSI site here.

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