Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Marc Schiller
April 19, 2013 12:30 PM
10 Comments
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Why Filmmakers Need to Act More Like Rock Stars

Marc Schiller
Marc Schiller, Founder and CEO of BOND Strategy and Influence, has been publishing several articles sharing his expertise after working with several direct-to-fan distribution campaigns.  In this article, written for the IFP (Independent Film Project) blog and reprinted here by permission, he explains why filmmakers need to be selling themselves, just like rock stars, in addition to their films.  Schiller announced yesterday that he would be launching BOND/360 to address the needs of direct distribution.  Read more about that venture here.

As new digital technologies continue to evolve and disrupt the landscape for independent cinema, I continually get asked by filmmakers for my thoughts on how they should adapt.

My answer lately has been…

“Stop acting like a filmmaker, and start acting like a rock star”

And I don’t mean this figuratively. I mean it quite literally.

Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of good examples and case studies on how the film industry is FULLY leveraging the convergence of social media (which in my mind is nothing more than “community building”) and digital distribution. For me “FULLY” means that the filmmaker, not only the distributor, is making more money from leveraging the new model than they would have if they had gone with the old model. While selling and renting movies on iTunes has been around for quite awhile, it’s only now that we have a truly viable set of diverse choices for how to digitally distribute our movies.

But when you look at the case studies that have indeed proven to be real success stories in this new distribution paradigm (INDIE GAME: THE MOVIEBONES BRIGADE, and BURN to name just a few) you start to see that all of the filmmakers of these films took a page out of the book that rock stars have been reading for a long, long time.

1. Treat your fans like they are the most important thing in the world to you

2. Build your community of fans yourself and then sell directly to them without a middleman

For most bands, their recorded music (which is usually owned by their record label) is only one piece of a much larger pie of their annual income. And for the most successful bands, music sold through their record label is usually the smallest piece of that pie. The real money isn’t made from selling CDs and downloads. It’s made on the road doing live gigs and selling merchandise directly to fans.

For filmmakers, the idea of treating your film like its your latest album, and then “going on tour” to do a series of live in-person events directly with fans in support of the film is a completely new and foreign concept. Common wisdom has been that live events don’t “scale”. And because of this, it hasn’t been part of the current model for film distribution.

But this didn’t stop Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky when they turned down down offers for their Sundance hit INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE, packed their bags, hopped into a van, and then took off on a fifteen city in-person US tour completely sponsored and paid for by Adobe. Not only did Lisanne and James act like rock stars, they BECAME rock stars, doing meet-and-greets with their fans each night just as a band would. They instinctively understood what most filmmakers don’t — that the key to their success was not going to come from selling their film to a distributor, but rather it would be achieved by bringing the film directly to the community of fans that they had built and nurtured while making their movie.

For most, the days when a filmmaker could earn a nice living by selling their film, immediately move on to a new project, and then return to the previous project for a couple of press days is, sorry to say, over.  Not only do filmmakers need to adapt to this new reality, so do the distributors. In the future, the real money from theatrical releases of indie films won’t be in traditional box office receipts. It’ll be made by going completely outside the current system. What bands know that filmmakers don’t, is that they can often make more money by taking a larger percentage of a smaller number of events. The key to doing this successfully is that the film itself becomes only one part of the larger attraction. Bands have known forever that what people want when they leave their couch is to be part of a live experience that feels like a truly spontaneous event where each and every night is different. And when that live event over delivers on your expectations, not only do you buy the ticket but you also buy the “t-shirt, cap, and jacket.”

If movie theaters started selling merchandise today, for most films it would be a complete disaster. The merchandise wouldn’t sell, and a lot of money would be lost. But what if that film was a true live event positioned as a  “limited engagement” where the filmmaker and cast present the film in the same way as when a band plays a gig? When you limit your audience, the average ticket price can be much higher and merchandise sales not only do quite well, they often become a significant part of the “take”. It works for most music tours and Broadway plays and, in theory, it can work for films too.

Today we live or die on a model that is completely dependent upon the amount of screens a film plays on. Common wisdom is that the more screens your movie is playing on, the more money you’re making. But for most films, this is a complete falicy in which demand is not meeting supply and costs are exceeding revenue. And because of this, for far too many good movies, the theatrical window has become nothing more than a loss leader.

But it does’t have to be this way.

As bands have learned long ago, the key to making money is to make things feel exclusive and special, and then work to get the “average spend per customer” higher. But today, when someone goes to the movies, the sole beneficiary of a higher “average spend” is the theater owner, as increased revenue can only come from the concession stand. But if that filmmaker “owns” the live events for their film, just as James and Lisanne did with INDIE GAME, and then sell merchandise directly to fans as Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez have done with BURN, the money they will make will be considerably more than if they had if they had sold their films to a traditional distributor.  Its not a model that will work for every film and every filmmaker. But for those that it IS right for, the rewards will be well worth the effort.

Today most filmmakers are still thinking that their interaction with the public is “film-by-film.” And because of this, the direct relationship they have with their fans is extremely limited and of very little value. But for those filmmakers who think that building community around their creative work is something that THEY need to be doing themselves 360 days a year, and not something that their distributor should be doing for them, the reward for this hard work and expense will be that as their community grows they can go directly to their fans to make money in a myriad of ways.

So if you’re a filmmaker who wants to be part of the new paradigm, stop trying to act like Quentin Tarantino and start acting like Dave Matthews.

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10 Comments

  • JC | May 5, 2013 11:58 PMReply

    Lot of good points in this article. Yes, filmmakers need to be building their brand... different words than above, but this is one key principle to longevity today. Creating and building a fan base for all your work, not just ONE film. Look at what Robert Greenwald has done with his fan base and his documentaries.

    While Marc's article didn't mention anyone by name, Kevin Smith -- due to his huge and rabid fan base -- was able to charge a high premium for people to see his last film "Red State." Along with the film, he did a talk. Because of his "Evenings with" shows he's done off & on, people knew the value (or at least assumed a value) and were willing to pay $40 - $100 to see his film and see him in-person. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for most filmmakers. Unless you've got a "name," there is a "pre-established value" for going to see a movie. Going way over that, isn't going to work until you build a following that is willing to pay that premium. (And will know that your appearance along with the screening will be fun and worth the price.)

    Going to a concert? We all know it's $30 - $100 or more, depending upon where you sit. Everyone accepts that. Same with Broadway theater or Opera. Movies? No one is going to pay $30 to see your film until you build such a following that they just can't miss it or miss you, since you'd be exceeding the "established value." So in the meantime, doing tours, selling swag, and building your base (and your brand) is very important. And when not doing any kind of tour, you can continue to build your base online. Facebook is one good place for this. (Of course, it can be frustrating for a lot of filmmakers when they don't get results with particular ads they may run, or the outreach they do. If that's you, don't quit, don't stop. Your approach just needs to be tweaked or re-tooled.)

    Jerome Courshon
    --------------------------
    THE SECRETS TO DISTRIBUTION: Get Your Movie Distributed Now!

  • Mark Hudson | April 29, 2013 1:52 AMReply

    Matt Farnsworth is the only guy out there that is a filmmaker who acts like a rockstar and MMA dude. He is really a filmmaker. He created The Orphan Killer movie. It's a huge horror icon and has over 500K fans on social media. Check him out. The film just hit iTunes worldwide and it's banned in Germany. So it's famous like original evil dead, and Texas Chainsaw. The mask of The Orphan Killer is going into stores like Hot Topic this fall. I am going to be The Orphan Killer for Halloween. Fans call him TOK.

  • Mark Hudson | April 29, 2013 1:50 AMReply

    Matt Farnsworth is the only guy out there that is a filmmaker who acts like a rockstar and MMA dude. He is really a filmmaker. He created The Orphan Killer movie. It's a huge horror icon and has over 500K fans on social media. Check him out. The film just hit iTunes worldwide and it's banned in Germany. So it's famous like original evil dead, and Texas Chainsaw. The mask of The Orphan Killer is going into stores like Hot Topic this fall. I am going to be The Orphan Killer for Halloween. Fans call him TOK.

  • Mark Hudson | April 29, 2013 1:50 AMReply

    Matt Farnsworth is the only guy out there that is a filmmaker who acts like a rockstar and MMA dude. He is really a filmmaker. He created The Orphan Killer movie. It's a huge horror icon and has over 500K fans on social media. Check him out. The film just hit iTunes worldwide and it's banned in Germany. So it's famous like original evil dead, and Texas Chainsaw. The mask of The Orphan Killer is going into stores like Hot Topic this fall. I am going to be The Orphan Killer for Halloween. Fans call him TOK.

  • Marmuro | April 26, 2013 1:47 PMReply

    Fantastic article... you hit exactly where it hurts the most.... I'm a musician and have been working in the industry for years. The ego is a creative's worst enemy. Evolution asks us to modify our standards and to adapt to the current taste and needs from the consumer.

  • ćućko vućko | April 20, 2013 10:48 AMReply

    My soul and my DNA make me act as myself. And that's how everyone should be.
    Filmmakers are not salesmen.
    Maybe your article was more focusing on micro-hollywood wannabes. And think that's the last thing film world needs - a bunch of Filmmaker-Rockstar models, popping out unstoppably.
    Maybe that's what audience wants at this period, maybe that's what sells the best, but what the Earth needs, is filmmakers who inspire, motivate and enlighten.

  • James Nelson | May 3, 2013 8:39 AM

    You can still be yourself and promote your film. Hollywood filmmakers are not salesmen, they have the entire power of a studio's marketing team behind them. Independent filmmakers, if they want people to see their efforts without stumbling upon them on the internet or in theaters by blind luck, can't afford not to be salesmen.

    This debate has been the bane of artists since forever, and it really comes down to understanding that unless you're independently wealthy and don't have to work to pursue your craft; if you wish to be prolific, it would be great if your art could sustain you. For that to happen you need as many people to be interested in seeing it as possible. I've already seen too many incredibly talented people who no one knows about, because they don't invest a small amount of time promoting themselves. Sure the tern "rockstar" might be a bit of hyperbole, but just like when your learning anything, exaggeration sometimes helps. Odds are you aren't doing it nearly as much as you think you are.

  • Walker | April 22, 2013 11:35 AM

    Maybe you don't get it, but anyone who wants to, can be a filmmaker now.

    If all you want to do is personal projects you fund yourself, anything goes. No one can tell you what to do.

    If you want to actually make a living at it, it's a different game. That means you need to convince people with money, you and you're project is worth funding. That means selling yourself. It's always been that case.

    It's just easier now for the money people to find out if you have a fan base and can reach out to a wider audience. They want to know you're worth the money they put into you, because they want to make more money back.

  • DYAN KANE, DYRO ENTERTAINMENT | April 19, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    As a vocalist, I can die and go to heaven when I post my music up online and get responses from individuals all over the world. To me, this is what its all about, building a fan base ONE BY ONE, and rolling out the red carpet for each and every person who takes the time to listen and be interested, and treating them like GOLD when they show up to gigs. Same with my new film, ROLLING, which will be crowd funded and shot this year. Inch by inch, step by step, we will embrace all who jump in and help, and all who donate. It is a much smaller world now with social media. There is NO excuse to fail, to 'not be working', to not be creating. I've seen it work with friends in the business over and over : if they stay proactive and make films featuring themselves (or not), soon, that 1M hits on Youtube or Huffington Post puts them in another league. But we must DO THE WORK.

  • Steve Adams | April 19, 2013 1:32 PMReply

    Wow. Great article. As a filmmaker participating in the Cinecoup Film Accelerator we absolutely know what you mean. We are selling ourselves as much as our film concept in order to engage fans and keep them loyal.

    Maybe you want to become a fan, haha :)

    Search for The Mill and the Mountain and you'll be able to see what how we're trying to become socially driven filmmakers.