Selling the Movie You Haven’t Made

For years I’ve said that the best part about going to the movies is the very beginning. No, not the opening credits, I’m talking even before that.  When the mega studio logo slowly resolves on the screen and you hear the familiar anthem letting you know something special is about to happen.

The movie might be complete rubbish from that point on. But for a few short moments you are excited about the possibilities.

It used to be, if you wanted to make a successful film, you needed a giant studio to fund your project and manage distribution.  But these days, that is no longer the case.  Thousands of independent filmmakers are creating interesting films worth watching, and they are doing it with a tiny crew and a shoe string budget.

Okay, if you are reading this article you know that already, maybe you are even thinking about how to successfully get your production out there.

Well, you came to the right place, sort of.  It was about a year ago when my business partner Lathe Poland called me up with a solid idea for a documentary.  We kicked it around for a while and about a month later embarked on what seemed an impossible mission…

Selling the Movie You Haven’t Made

One of my favorite resources when it comes to marketing techniques is a book called Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith.  If you’re not familiar with him he’s led marketing initiatives for more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies, so the man knows what he’s talking about. And while the book is about Marketing, the principle is the same:

How do you sell the invisible?  How do you sell a movie that is basically nothing more than a concept?

I am certainly oversimplifying.  But I have narrowed it down to a four step process.

  1. Crystallize
  2. Socialize
  3. Organize
  4. Publicize

Call it a mission statement, your elevator pitch, or whatever you want, but you need to consolidate your idea into a bite size concept that can be easily read and reviewed.  Now you need to take that idea to your inner circle, the people who you trust…to be completely 100% honest with you.

Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism.  It can help you mold your rough idea into the work of art it could be.  Be a good listener. If people are taking the time to review your idea and provide their honest opinion on it, than it’s likely they have something worthwhile to share.

I recommend soliciting feedback from at least a dozen friends of varying ages and backgrounds who may represent your audience.  Pick people who will have an opinion and will tell you what they do and don’t like about your concept.

Don’t just send your elevator pitch and say “What do you think?”  Give them a few questions to answer:

  1. Does this concept/explanation make sense to you?
  2. Would you pay to watch this?
  3. Are there any glaring holes in my overview?
  4. Do you think I’ve missed something that would make it more interesting/informative?

In other words, help them to be critical.  This step is huge.  You may not love all of the critiques, but remember…at the end of the day, you are in charge of the project so if after analyzing all of the feedback, you choose to go in a certain direction, it’s totally your call.

Now you need to form an outline of how the film will go from start to finish.  This is pre-storyboard or script.  I’m talking just a rough outline, maybe a couple of pages that puts your main ideas in chronological order.  This will help you as you enter phase two.

Once you’ve rounded your idea into something you think you can share with the general public, you need to get it out there.

Create those social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Reddit, etc.  Even if you already have your own personal or business social media accounts, you’re going to want to have a separate account for your film.  This provides a virtual space where people can see what you are doing, how far along you are, etc.

Depending on your project you may even want to create a website.  Our documentary is  about our food culture and how it has impacted our health…in particular the major spike in diabetes over the last 2o-plus years.  We created to give people a landing spot to see what we were up to.  At first, the site was very simple:

  • Meet (About Us) – A little bio on Lathe and myself
  • Read (Our Content) – Posts about our pre-production efforts
  • Watch (Multimedia) – Video updates on our progress as we found experts to interview
  • Reach (Contact Us)

As time went on we divided our Read page into two segments.  The first was for people to read articles about healthy eating, exercise, junk food, low carb concepts and more.  The second was just for people who wanted to see how the film was coming.

The point is – And this is another Beckwith-ism (see above), when you are inventing the wheel, you need to get it out there.  Don’t mess with it until you have perfected it and developed steel belted radial tires.  If the concept is new, people will be patient while you develop your content.

Having a website is great, because it let’s you track growth in your fan base.  Using FB, Twitter, and other social sites to steer people to your site is a great way to track how interested people are in your project.

Join social communities where people can see who you are and what you are doing.  Finding like minded individuals who would be intrigued by your film is how you spread the word organically.  Of course, as with any social media endeavor…don’t just talk about you.  Engage other people in the communities. Commend them for what they are doing. Contribute to their conversations and make it apparent, that you are a participant not a parasite.

It’s funny to call this phase three, because it really needs to happen in parallel with phase two.  While you are out there making new friends and telling people about your project.  You need to be getting organized.

If you are working on a documentary, that means nailing down interviews, researching your topic, creating a list of B-Roll that you will need to shoot, etc.

If you are working on a narrative film, you need to be writing your script, creating your storyboard and seeking your crew and acting talent.

It’s also important to start looking at your budget.  What will you need to take this project to completion?  How much of it can you finance in-house?  Will you use a crowdfunding  site?  If so, what will you ask for…and what will you offer your supporters in return?

Crowdfunding is an all day topic in and of itself but there are some great articles out there if you need guidance:

Ryan Koo from NoFilmSchool wrote some great stuff, and of course Jason has a wealth of resources right here on this site, that you will find invaluable.  The big thing is, you need to be doing this at the same time as you are out there socializing your film.  Too many times you see people kick off a crowdfunding campaign out of the blue with little to no support.

Unless you have some wealthy relatives who like you…a lot, your campaign will not gain traction unless you are organizing and socializing simultaneously.

In our case, since we run our own production company and live in a major metropolitan area, we were able to begin production prior to our crowdfunding campaign.  This was helpful, because instead of just making a video saying “we need money” we were able to say, “here’s what we have so far…and here’s what we need to finish.”

This is the uncharted territory for us.  Having just launched our KickStarter campaign it’s time to see if everything I just mentioned above has prepared us for what is happening right now.  But here’s the lowdown:

  • IF you have pitched your idea to some close friends who will provide constructive criticism…
  • IF you take that feedback and mold you idea into a well rounded concept…
  • IF you share it with the public via your website and social media, while being sure to engage others and making friends along the way… And IF you get organized and demonstrate that you are not simply asking for money before you’ve done any work.

THEN you may be ready to launch your crowdfunding campaign for the world to see.

Do these ideas really work?  Well, I can tell you they have for many others before we ever started our documentary film.  And there is no doubt many of the concepts have been successful for us along the way.  We’ve grown our Twitter followers from zero to over 1000 in less than a year, and we our site traffic is increasing exponentially since January 2013.

Will we get our KickStarter funding?  Drop me a line in early August and I’ll let you know what we did right, and where we could have improved.  After all, selling the invisible might be more art than science, and we are earning our degree on a daily basis.

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Eric Carlsen grew up in Scituate, Massachussetts and Tampa, Florida with his family.  He moved to New York in 1993 and ended up staying for good when he got married in 1998. After several years of IT consulting including projects for Merrill Lynch, Computer Associates and IBM, Eric hung up the pocket protector for a chance to work in video production.

Find out more about Carb Loaded here…

How To Profit From Other Filmmaker’s Mailing List

Hollywood spends a gazillion dollars on movie marketing each year. But most independent filmmakers don’t have Hollywood marketing money to toss around. And if you’re like most filmmakers, by the time you read this article, odds are good that you spent all your money in production.

If you’ve ever attended one of my speaking events, you know how much I emphasize the importance of audience list building. Long before you even make your movie, you need to start thinking about your audience. You need to start thinking about the people who actually want to watch your movie. And you need to start thinking about how to source your audience.

The reason for this is simple – You can no longer base your movie business on selling a few thousand DVDs to retail outlets. The DVD market is dying. You need to source your movie audience.

How To Profit From Other Filmmaker’s Mailing List

In my Sell Your Movie system, I provide fundamental marketing strategies that you can employ in your movie making business. One such strategy involves marketing directly to your audience through the use of email. But what do you do if you only have a few people subscribed to your audience list?

One of the easiest ways to save money and market inexpensively is called a list swap. There are a few ways to execute this strategy which may help you spread word of mouth about your movie.

1. Utilize Another Filmmaker’s List

If you are ready to sell your movie, reach out to other filmmakers with a similar genre specific movies and find out if the filmmaker would be interested in promoting your title to his or her list. In exchange for doing this, the other filmmaker would then receive a percentage of any movie sales resulting from the email blast. It is important to remember that any filmmaker who values their list will not do a blind email blast. These filmmakers will want to screen your movie and make sure it is a fit for their audience.

In making your pitch to the list owner, you may want to provide them with a link to your movie website.

2. Advertise In Filmmaker’s Newsletter

In addition to getting a dedicated email blast, you may benefit from filmmakers who send frequent newsletters to their fans. With this strategy, you simply request the filmmaker reserves advertising space to promote your movie in their next newsletter. You could then opt to pay a percentage of the sales or simply pay an advertising fee.

This is a straight forward strategy. However, you may get less of a response due to less newsletter real estate dedicated to your movie.

3. Swap Movie Promotional Emails

Lets say you’ve done the work to build a sizable audience list. Then you go on the festival circuit and meet another cool filmmaker, marketing to a similar audience. Over a few beers you learn that he also has a sizable audience list. It is at this point you realize: You could promote each other! So a week later, you send an email to promote your friend’s movie. And at the same time, he sends out an email to promote your movie. This is win-win!

While a very easy strategy, cross promotion works best when you write your own movie promotional copy. Secondly, you will want to set up a targeted landing page set up to track and capture the influx of leads.

If you would like more professional filmmaking tips, you might want to research the filmmaking tools found here.


Independent Film Budget

Creating an independent film budget requires that you get very creative. Unlike studio productions, most independent filmmakers do not have unlimited resources. Instead, most indie filmmakers will quickly realize that their budget is out of their price range. If this is you, here are some tips for reducing your independent film budget.

Looking at the initial budget, is there anything you can get for a discount, or free, or barter? Depending on where you plan to shoot your movie, you may find that local businesses and restaurants will provide you with resources, locations and food for free.

But in order to find these deals, you must be willing to pick up the phone and ask. Make sure that you maintain your integrity and do what you say you will do.

Other areas of the script that require significant resources involve children, animals and weather. None of these elements can be predicted. While sourcing these elements may not be difficult, once on you may find that the unpredictability inherent to each can cause delays and setbacks. You must always remember the time is money. Avoid any element that you cannot easily control.

My producer friend Forest Murray taught me that your screenplay, your schedule and your budget are actually part of the same larger document. If you change one element in any of them, then you are actually changing all of them. Make sure you avoid making haphazard changes to any of the documents. Thinking this way will help you realize the bigger scope and scale of your project.

Information on creating a business plan can be found at

Filmmakers Network

I finally had an experience that reinforced the importance of your filmmakers network. Over the past six months, I’ve been working to put together a pretty big deal. When successful, what I am building will add significant value to independent filmmakers. And last week I met with two people who could decide my fate.

While building rapport, I found out that the gentleman was not only from my home state, but he was friends with the producer I worked with in New York over a decade ago. And if that wasn’t coincidence enough, the woman in the meeting had worked with one of my college buddies. In Hollywood, there is a saying that you should never burn a bridge and that your network is your net-worth. And it wasn’t until this meeting that I fully understood the power of these statements.

The meeting went well and I believe we will take the next steps. But as I was getting in my car to leave, I couldn’t help but wonder how the meeting would’ve gone if I’d screwed up my relationship with the producer in New York. Or what if I burnt a bridge with my buddy from college? But I did not.

Should either of these two prospective business partners call our mutual contacts (and they will), I am confident that whatever is said about me will be complementary. The reason for my confidence is simple: In every job that I ever accepted, I have worked hard to go beyond what was expected. I did good work. And I maintained good relationships.

Nobody in this business makes it alone. The people you meet today and the impression that you make will stay with you forever. While you do not know when and there is no way of predicting how – the people in your filmmaker’s network will impact your success.

Film Finance In Europe

Travel to Europe and you will find many independent filmmakers are feeling the pinch brought on by the lack of public funds, subsidies and traditional ways to finance movies. As a result, producers that relied on these funds must now find different ways to finance movies. I personally know various EU producers who believe that the sky has fallen and everything is over.

As European filmmakers, many of us knew this was happening. And now, after two years we are finally feeling the effects. Without the government funding for our projects, is it time to stop making movies?  My answer is NO!

Film Finance In Europe

Nowadays many European filmmakers say that there is no money! But this is not true. The money is there, but just those who are ready will have access to it. Filmmaking is art, AND a business and it should be treated accordingly! What we are experiencing in Europe is no different than what filmmakers based in the US have experienced for years. If you are serious about filmmaking, you have to change your film finance strategy and look a little bit harder.

Most of us know that outside of the government, there are many other ways to finance our movies, like crowdfunding, finding sponsors, traditional investors and distributors. So why is it that some filmmakers can take advantage of these methods, yet many wont’t? It it all about being clever, formulating a business plan and then taking action!

A good script isn’t enough. It is simply a good start. If you’re thinking of crowdfunding way, then first put yourself to the audience’s position and try to find ways to communicate to your audience. Ask yourself: Why should someone support my project? What makes my movie worth making? What do I expect to see in order to support a project? Taking time to answer these questions could help you build momentum and provide you with great results!

In addition to crowdfunding, making deals with with commercial product producers and local governments could give you some important help with your project. And if you are thinking of finding an investor to finance your project or a distributor to get a pre-sales deal, then you have to understand that they’re only interested in making a profit.

If you are not an already experienced producer, then find someone who is and get him on board. In the US, there is a saying the money follows management. Investors need to know that the people on your team can actually accomplish the goal. Think about it. Would you invest your money in somebody’s film? If yes, what you would expect from the filmmaker?

Prepare a really strong business plan. Demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. Try to get letters of intent from actors and distributors. Prepare a tentative shooting schedule and a detailed breakdown and budget. Find out everything you can about tax incentives and tax credits! DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Every prospective investor is trying to minimize the risk of investing in your movie.  This makes sense. We are talking about their money after all!

The good news is, there are many professionals around, teaching these things and trying to help new filmmakers achieve their purposes. Jason Brubaker is one of them, and I get some valuable information from his filmmaking resources. After researching Jason’s stuff, look around, observe and try to figure what other companies and filmmakers are looking for and what others have to offer. You can achieve some great things with just a little research!

One thing is for sure. Film Finance in Europe is still available, but it depends on each filmmaker and whether or not we are willing to do the work to access it.

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Yiannis Yioussef is an Assistant Executive Producer and director of photography based in Spain. He experiences to current film finance crisis and how it effects film industry every day.