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Marketing Is King (Yes, It Is Still So…)

Marketing Is King (Yes, It Is Still So...)

Today marks the final installment of Orly Ravid’s 3-part “If I Was A Filmmaker Going To Sundance…” series. I have been fortunate to have been able to host Orly’s look at filmmaker options, both before Sundance, afterwards, and now in reflection. Whereas Part One considered the DIY approach, and Part Two evaluated the sales and how they may benefit the filmmaker or not, today examines what added value a digital partner may bring you. It is a rare glimpse inside the process, and who better to give it than the co-founder of The Film Collaborative, the filmmaker’s true friend, the first not-for-profit distribution partner out there.

Without any further ado, Orly Ravid…

Post Sundance what I have to say is this: there were more deals done since I started tracking them along with the rest of the industry, so for more deal counting and analysis please refer to that blog post I wrote up post Sundance.

But thank you Fox Searchlight, TWC and Oprah for injecting the biz with just the right amount of adrenaline to keep it dreaming big; we hope you’re buying big next year. What else is new? Focus has an emerging digital distribution initiative, Amazon is giving Netflix a run for its money (or not, depends on who you talk to)…. everyone is waiting on Wal-Mart to see how much voodoo VUDU can conjure up and SEARS and KMART are in the digital space just in case you though big retail was dead. Blockbuster is still for sale. Google’s stock price is high as ever and Apple is not going down any time soon judging from its (130,000,000 credit cards on file and that was just the last time I checked) even though some speculate it will meet its match.

So now that there are almost as many digital plays as they are films (hahahaha of course not literally) how can we distinguish them? TERMS and MARKETING. I have made much fuss about terms before (how long, how many rights, fees and above all, what are the splits between platform/ service and aggregator/distributors).

We hope that filmmakers and their team build community and buzz around their films and start engaging audiences and potential audiences well before and leading up to and following the first public exhibition of their films. But after a distributor or aggregator comes on board, then what? What do they do for the fees, other than the selling and servicing of the film and its assets to the platforms / services.

Here is an overview of what a few companies do to market films for home entertainment release, either DVD & DIGITAL or just DIGITAL, and mostly in their own words:


“FilmBuff is an established leader in the development of innovative release strategies, digital merchandising and promotions. Our strong retail relationships allow us to emphasize merchandising and promotional placement on all platforms and video portals. Our internal marketing builds custom outreach programs to build audience awareness and activate the online communities that are ideal for each film. Custom promos and features on FilmBuff’s social media networks across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of online video portals work in concert to ensure that films reach the widest possible audience.”

We asked FilmBuff for some more detail but we have not received anything yet. As soon as we do we will post the extra information.


“New Video’s suite of marketing services for films released on DVD, Blu-ray, digitally and on-demand includes:

Direct contact with retailers and platforms for developing and supporting in-store placements and point-of-sale promotions. (TFC notes: They have a lot of DVD volume so their relationships are more valuable than a filmmaker can get on their own dealing with the retailer).

A full-time in-house public relations team directing outreach to national and regional print, online and broadcast media for both industry and consumers-
Collaboration with partner organizations to drive grassroots awareness; a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals.

* Best practices to reach existing fan bases online and off with a solid emphasis on social media. * Strategic advertising to maximize ROI. * Promotion at consumer and trade shows.

The mission of New Video is to leverage 20 years of distribution and marketing experience to provide the broadest possible reach across all distribution channels, while raising awareness through major press, grassroots organizations, and everything in between. Titles we’ve distributed and marketed include GasLand, King Corn, Autism: The Musical, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and The Secret of Kells. We collaborate with filmmakers, create custom marketing strategies and share our best practices to build on the momentum they have developed over the life of their project. With expert in-house publicity services, our campaigns cover long lead press, short lead, online, industry, and consumer press outlets (both national and regional, in print, online and broadcast media). Our press releases are media-rich and social media-ready for posting and sharing, and we offer next-gen screener service for press review. We have a proven track record in leveraging talent to maximize press and promotion through marketing opportunities such as podcasts and exclusives. We have a hands-on, strategic approach to grassroots marketing, and we employ social network marketing through our own presence on Facebook and Twitter, and through coordination with supporters’ social networks. We prize our longstanding relationships with store merchandising teams, and add enormous value in our ability to customize and create in-store marketing strategy, such as thematic shelves, customized artwork, and priority placements. We collaborate on selective online, print and radio advertising to strategically improve ROI through targeted buys, and we build opportunities around media events, consumer and trade shows to further press coverage and consumer awareness for a property. We complement these practices with a custom affiliate program for DVD sales referrals to incent partner organizations online. New Video is committed to building and maintaining buzz organically, through extended campaigns, early editorial pitching, and social outreach. We communicate with consumers through our website and blog, social media, and a newsletter reaching 15,000 subscribers.”

TFC NOTES: New Video is a key iTunes aggregator not only for its own titles but for many traditional distributors and even IndieFlix and Indie Rights and TriBeCa Films (remember filmmakers, always ask the questions that help you know how many middle men there are in any given category of distribution). I know that on the ‘Social Media Outreach’ front for iTunes releases for example, New Video sends out social-media releases with images & clips to sites such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon and they post release on PR Distribution sites such as ClickPress, i-Newswire, eCommWire, The Open Press. From past experience we know they do a feed-based announcement made available on Google blog search, Technorati, Yahoo! News, Topix, tagged with keywords for easier discovery. New Video does email marketing to its subscribers as well and Trailer or Clip Tagging Promotional clips tagged with “Now Available on iTunes” and syndicated to top video sharing sites (e.g. YouTube, Yahoo!, MySpace, Google, Revver, Dailymotion, Blip, Veoh). They monitor and post reviews in-store Individual reviews posted about the content. On the online grassroots outreach front, they connect to digital portals; targeting topical, genre and talent fansites and blogs and service those with press release and special offers (exclusives, clips, contests, review copies). And they work fans and friends via the social networking sites. (TFC notes: on Facebook New Video as a company only has a little over 1,700 people. The page is largely used to promote titles, not facilitate dialog as Sheri Candler observed.).


“25 years developing relationships with national retailers, VOD companies, the press and media, film festival programmers, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Over 25 years building traditional and electronic mailing lists, plus a wide social media presence. Wolfe believes that the key aspect to being an effective Distributor is marketing. In the absence of this expertise, a distributor is merely a middleman. Wolfe is widely known for mainstreaming films with gay content. The most invaluable asset Wolfe brings to filmmakers is experience. Wolfe has over 25 years developing relationships with VOD companies, DVD retailers, niche and traditional media, film festival programmers, broadcasters, LGBT organizations and our vendors. Wolfe has one of the largest channels in the gay niche market which includes traditional and electronic mailing lists and a wide social media presence.

One of Wolfe’s most notable assets is its direct access to gay consumers; better known as WolfeVideo.com. The website supports heavy traffic and is widely known as a commerce site for gay feature films. It should also be noted that Wolfe does not sell adult product, so the website is accessible for many audiences. WolfeVideo.com is supplemented by the QMovieBlog.com and Wolfe’s social network strategy includes a variety of ongoing campaigns across all major platforms. Wolfe has a particularly substantial and active following on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; for example Wolfe’s work on Were the World Mine generated nearly 100K views on YouTube alone and the famous re-release of Desert Hearts promotion generated over 847,000 views! Wolfe’s direct to consumer assets also include significant opt-in mailing lists via email and traditional snail mail, which continues to be a strong sales tool for the company and its products. (TFC Notes Wolfe’s Facebook page has 3,368 likes).

Sales and marketing via mainstream outlets is key to the success of Wolfe films. Wolfe leverages client relationships with VOD, EST and DVD retailers to further market films. Strategic partnerships bring Wolfe’s films front and center in programs such as the Gay Pride month feature on the home page of iTunes, Internet promotions with Xfinity & dominant presence with DVD retailers such as Amazon.com. Wolfe has also engaged companies like Sony to develop marketing campaigns. The Sony Ebridge program was designed to add value to the DVD. E-bridge gave consumers cool stuff like the chance to win a trip to Australia. It also offered advertisers unique consumer access they would otherwise not reach.

Other clients that partner with Wolfe promotions include hundreds of non-profit organizations nationwide such as LGBT film festivals and political orgs like GLAAD. These organizations work with Wolfe to both screen films for hundreds of consumers and promote the subsequent VOD & DVD releases. These relationships expand consumer outreach and do the good work of promoting the important work of non-profits

Publicity is a major focus in every Wolfe campaign. Wolfe’s publicists (not in-house) facilitate reviews, interviews and other coverage for all Wolfe releases across a wide range of media outlets from national and regional print publications to blogs and websites. Broadcast networks also work with Wolfe on publicity and marketing. For example, the Logo Network is presently airing Wolfe PSA’s to educate consumers about the effects of piracy featuring actors from Wolfe films.

Additionally, they not only market films on the Wolfe label, but work extensively with larger labels such as Sony, Universal, Fox, and Showtime to name a few. Every successful distributor with gay content has hired Wolfe to support their products. Wolfe has a “soup to nuts” approach to film marketing and they work hard to reach millions of consumers for every release.”


“Independent Lens has a strong social media community including nearly 70,000 engaged Facebook fans —the largest of all PBS primetime series, second only to Antiques Roadshow. Independent Lens social networking and online impact: Independent Lens believes social networking is one key component to reaching new, younger and more diverse viewers for our broadcasts, engagement work and online distribution.

Independent Lens is the second most popular PBS series on Facebook. We post daily, and our posts average 55,000 impressions each. We receive an average of 100 interactions (Likes + Comments) on each post. This engagement rate ranks first among PBS series and means that 5 out of 6 of our fans see each post.
(e.g. their The Calling Livestream event from the Chicago Art Institute in December 2010 attracted more than 3,000 viewers on their Livestream channel on their Facebook fan page.).

We have more than 11,000 followers on Twitter.
We post three or more new Blog postings each week, and they feature interviews with the filmmakers, documentary news, dispatches from filmmakers in the field, live chats with filmmakers and the subjects of their films, and more.
In the first quarter of our current season, Independent Lens had 18,000 page views from more than 15,000 unique visitors.”


“With there being thousands of films available in the VOD marketplace, here are four ongoing tactics we use to raise the profile of Gravitas films:

1. Traditional PR- As this The Wrap article shows we believe it important to convey to the industry and entertainment enthusiasts that Gravitas continues to innovate in VOD. In this instance, we will be releasing American: The Bill Hicks Story “day and date” in theatres and on VOD in April. This is a film was adored when it screened at SXSW in 2010 and having pre-release PR supporting the film will help us get wide carriage in 100 million North American VOD homes and marketing support from cable and online operators concurrent with the film’s debut.


We have an outside PR firm on retainer and we also do PR/marketing in house. None of these expenses are charged back to the filmmaker. We work in house, w/ our PR firm and with our Licensors to ensure appropriate messaging is being conveyed. Good reviews are crucial, but of paramount importance is letting the Licensor know when and where the film are being played in VOD. To this end, we communicate with our Licensors every time their film is on a new VOD platform.

Here are a couple recent links to coverage on IFC.com


2. VOD Guide Optimization- As you know, there are over 100 cable, satellite, and telco operators in North America and each operator has their own VOD guide characteristics. As a result, we spend considerable resources internally making sure that our films are mapped so that customers can easily find them. As a result, we have Slingboxes set up in homes all across North America where we can remotely use our office internet connections to peer in to the cable boxes of friends and family to make sure our films are in as many VOD guide folders as possible. The enclosed images shows the layout of 8 different large operators. Our goal is make sure our films show up 4-5 times within each operator VOD storefront in folders frequently called “New Release”, “All Movies A-Z”, “Indy Films”, “2 Day Rentals”, “VOD Premieres”, “In Theatres”, and the appropriate genre categories like “Documentary” or “Comedy.”

Almost each guide (aka UI or User Interface) is a little different and we monitor as many of the UI’s as possible to ensure that we are aware of any guide changes that we should be taking advantage of that would be appropriate for our content so that it is merchandized appropriately. We do this for all of our licensed content.

3. Online Editorial Outreach: Gravitas’ marketing team has a monthly dialogue (including sending DVD screeners) with dozens of websites and bloggers that cover independent, genre, and new VOD content including:
On Demand Weekly
Hammer to Nail
Twitch Film
Film School Rejects
Gordon and the Whale
28 Days Later Analysis
Dread Central
Arrow in the Head
VideoScope Magazine
Bloody Disgusting

Here are some recent samples:


4. Online and Social Media- Each month we host monthly marketing calls with filmmakers to help implement and grow the online presence of their film prior to and after VOD debut date. Here are just a few examples:

a. Gravitas Website-We run on ongoing Film Spotlight section off of our home page where we interview writers and directors of Gravitas films currently in VOD release. http://www.gravitasventures.com/films/

(TFC notes: no info on site traffic and Sheri Candler noted that Gravitas themselves only have a little over 500 people on their own FB page and almost no engagement from fans; few likes, few comments on the material posted there.)

ORLY asked: “Do you have any plans to expand your social network marketing? Any community engagement you want to speak to? I say this because for example Independent Lens does this very well, but most distribs and aggregators don’t. Since you mention it, if you have anything to say about it please do”.

GRAVITAS answered: “To the extent that our social media sites continue to grow, yes, but it’s equally important and effective to spread best practices with our Licensors. i.e. If Gravitas licenses a film with a FB page of 10K fans, we want to share best practices with that Licensor as to harness their social network to drive VOD activity”.

Back to the rest of the GRAVITAS info about their marketing ONLINE & via SOCIAL MEDIA:

“b.) Partner Portal Marketing- Hulu is one example of a key partner portal that we collaborate with weekly to raise the profile of Gravitas films. Here is a screen shot of the well-regarded documentary Circus Rosaire that is currently being highlighted in the top carousel off the Main Hulu Movies page.

Recently, we were able to work with the website www.Jesse-Eisenberg.com to have them cross promote one of Jesse’s earlier films The Living Wake right after he was Oscar nominated for his work in The Social Network.


We also frequently collaborate with many of our filmmakers to heighten discussion, interaction and interest in many of our Hulu films.


c.) Social Media- Gravitas and its film partners are active users of Facebook and Twitter. Here is one example where are Documentaries on Demand partner PBS tweeted about the VOD release of The Buddha to its over 500 thousand followers.”


Brainstorm submitted this campaign plan in answer to our desire to what they do on the marketing front. They work with Eventful.

What Would You Give Up to Find True Love?
Submit Your Answer for a Chance to Win!

One lucky winner and three guests will win a trip to NYC, stay at the
luxurious Kimberly Hotel, get a pampering spa day and more!

Campaign overview:
Eventful will execute a social media campaign to engage consumers around the film, My Father’s Will. The campaign will allow fans to submit their answers to win a trip to NYC, see submissions from other fans, and watch the trailer for My Father’s Will. Eventful will execute digital, email and social media marketing to drive campaign participation.

The goals of the campaign include:
• Drive entries for the sweepstakes
• Build awareness for My Father’s Will through trailer views
• Build awareness for accommodations being provided, i.e. hotel
• Generate social media and viral engagement for the film and sweepstakes
• Create an engaged social community for direct marketing of VOD rentals of My
Father’s Will with including folder locations for each affiliate

Phase 1: Social media campaign – Win it!
1. Eventful will design, build and host:
• Campaign micro-site including movie trailer and hotel branding
• Custom widgets and social media apps for distribution across Facebook,
MySpace and other sites, enabling consumers to enter the sweepstakes

2. Eventful will execute a comprehensive targeted marketing and promotional plan to engage existing users from among Eventful’s audience of 16 million
• Demographic targeting by location, age, gender, and entertainment tastes
• Eventful will engage consumers via dedicated email, onsite promotions,
and one-click social media sharing tools

3. Marketing by Eventful will drive participants to the campaign micro-site which will include:
• Campaign artwork branded for My Father’s Will
• Primary call-to-action to enter the sweepstakes by submitting an answer
• Live stream of entries from fans
• Official trailer for My Father’s Will
• Campaign details with basic rules
• Social media sharing tools for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and email

Phase 2: Drive VOD rentals of My Father’s Will

1. Eventful will promote VOD sales for My Father’s Will through a digital and
direct marketing campaign targeting all sweepstakes entrants plus a broader
target audience within the Eventful user base. Campaigns include:
• Dedicated email
• Onsite promotions
• Email newsletter insertions

Proposed Timeline:
• “Win it!” Sweepstakes: 2/15/11 – 4/15/11

To see the campaign, access it here. http://movies.eventful.com/campaigns/myfatherswill2011

(TFC note: we hope to look forward to hearing the outcome on this campaign)

So, in conclusion, you can see a range of what companies do. In general, some companies are more focused on consumer marketing and publicity and social network marketing than others and some are focused more on marketing to retailers and services and getting best placement and some may do both. We recommend the latter when you have a choice and of course, no one can market your film better than you can. In my experience most companies lack on the publicity side, though I will say First Run Features, for example, (since we did not cover them herein) seems to do a great job on that front working with a wonderful publicist, driving Netflix queue action, hiring outreach teams, posting the trailer all over, and take out ads, e-blast loads, as well as work social network sites etc.

I am sure other companies will want to chime in here about what they do and filmmakers too about their experiences, good or not-so-much. We want to hear from you so weigh in! Please offer specific examples, not just marketing speak. In the meantime, our resident social network marketing guru, Sheri Candler, has offered her take on what the above distributors have described.

Sheri Candler says: I am happy to see distributors explaining what they do to market titles under their control. Often, the text on their websites sounds like a generalization of typical activities conducted by any marketing department in any corporation. I urge filmmakers to press for a customized, detailed plan of EXACTLY what will be done on their films and how much it will cost. Ultimately, that cost will be deducted from your backend, so it is important to understand what you can expect from your distributor before you sign up with them. It also gives you an idea of what you will still need to do yourselves. This isn’t fix it, forget it and the money just rolls in.

As noted above, I think social networking activities by most distributors is minimal at best. If you already have 10K fans on your Facebook page and the distributor offering to perform social networking activities for your film only has 500, they really can’t offer much. Especially look at how they handle their pages. Is it mostly shill? Is there any engagement going on? Evaluate them on what they can bring you that you can’t do yourselves.

The only impressive distributor in the above list with regard to social networking and utilizing it effectively is Independent Lens. Look at their page and see how they are using it. Very impressive. No wonder they have almost 70K fans. Ask if your distributor has a social media team (not 2 interns!) and ask to speak with those people to get a sense of what they will do with your title or how you can combine efforts effectively. Just getting a large entity to tweet about your title once is not going to do much; it is not a Twitter strategy.

Retail DVD placement (for the next few years anyway), iTunes, Netflix, and VOD marquee placement, relationships with major publications for reviews and feature stories, these are things a typical filmmaker cannot get on their own and are worth utilizing with a distributor. Sending out eblasts and unsolicited screeners to journalists is really spam; so if that is the extent of your distributor’s publicity efforts, it isn’t worth paying for. Be sure to ask EXACTLY which publications will be approached and evaluate whether those outlets reach your target audience. You should also be consulted on what story angles will be developed for the publications. This is especially necessary if you do not have notable stars or notable accolades from festivals attached to your film as publications will be more reluctant to cover it.

Since grassroots relationships were mentioned, press your distributor to name which organizations they work with. Are they just affiliate sales relationships? Are they just a member of the distributor eblast list? Real communication should be happening and for a relationship really to be fruitful, it has to be 2 way. Of the above mentioned distributors, only Wolfe strikes me as having actual relationships with target organizations. Their content is of value to the organizations they are affiliated with and I would venture a guess that Wolfe strongly champions the orgs cause and mission too. THAT is a relationship.

Advertising placement makes sense, but find out what the spend will be and what publications/sites. While I understand that distributors get better rates going with a media broker, the spend is wasted if the placements are in publications or on sites that do not reach your target audience.

My view on this is a distributor is a marketing partner. The bulk of what they should be bringing you is marketing prowess. Really dig into what their plans are for your film and ask to see examples of work on similar films. When deciding on which distributor to sign with, don’t just sign with someone offering you access to 15 million homes. It sounds great, but if few of those homes know your film exists, there won’t be many sales.

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema. Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.

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