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.
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:
- Does this concept/explanation make sense to you?
- Would you pay to watch this?
- Are there any glaring holes in my overview?
- 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 CarbLoaded.com 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.