Filmmaking the Hard Way

If you’ve been visiting filmmaking stuff for any length of time, you know that I am relatively bullish on the ways new methods in film distribution are shaping our industry. Never before have audiences been so fragmented. And never back have filmmakers had the vast array of distribution tools available.

There is no doubt that distribution is confusing.

But as an entrepreneurial filmmaker, it is equally important that you learn everything you can about growing an audience. Below you will find an excerpt from Josh Folan’s new book, Filmmaking, the Hard Way – Where he shares his experience with distribution.

Filmmaking The Hard Way

As securing and conducting distribution can be convoluted, here are some steps, which are not in chronological order, to keep in mind as you forge ahead.

✓Marketing Materials  ✓Publicity  ✓Niche Marketing  ✓Event Marketing

✓Festival Strategy  ✓Seeking Distribution & Approaching Film Markets

✓Distributor Negotiation & Delivery  ✓Self-Distribution

✓Indie Distribution Legal Checklist

We started working on assembling our marketing materials, reaching out to reviewers, and tapping into target niches long before we were in a position to profit from any interest we created.

There are pros and cons to the creation of buzz before the monetization phase; a stockpiled audience (email list subscribers, Facebook and Twitter followers, etc.) can easily be accessed once the film is ready, and that existing audience can be an exciting beacon for traditional distributors, as well as a bargaining tool in your negotiations with them.

On the other hand, an individual’s interest in your film could very well never be as incentivized to buy as it is when they first become aware of it, so to not have the movie available for sale at the brief moment you have someone’s attention could result in lost sales.

Given that we endured the anguish of not formulating one in advance, I strongly recommend you devise a well-planned and advantageously timed marketing strategy that will allow you to make informed decisions… Instead of the blind stabs we were taking for over a year before securing a distributor.

Unsure of our traditional distribution prospects, we decided to engage in some self-distribution around the time of our festival premiere at the Hoboken International Film Festival in June of 2011 – which amounted to having a small run of DVDs printed up and sold from the website, as well as placing the film on the online VOD platform IndieFlix.

Some distribution personnel would argue this course of action diminishes a title’s attractiveness to a distributor, as they want to be able to direct the film’s initial release to their liking and hate the idea of having already missed sales when acquiring a title. Still, it ultimately did not prevent us from securing a deal.

Osiris Entertainment did ask that we pull the DVD offer from the website and remove the film from any VOD platforms, but that was the extent of the “backlash.”

Based on that experience, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to recommend against this type of “soft self-release” if you are in an open-ended distribution search with no potential A-list festival premieres on the horizon.

With that distribution and marketing climate stated, I’ll cover how we tackled each of these categories.

Marketing Materials

You’ll have an endless need for content – teasers, trailers, promo videos, stills, etc. – so start stacking it all in a neat, organized little pile that you can quickly sift through when the need arises. Some critical tools will be covered here, but you should tirelessly cook up new, unique ways to spin the content you can compile to market the film.

Key Art. I initially took some conceptual drafts we kicked around as critical art possibilities and just went off on my own with Adobe Fireworks to put together the poster we would use until securing distribution, after which Osiris retooled it into the image currently in circulation. I used stills from John Harris, tracked down a cool font on the interwebs, and did what I could with my limited design proficiency.

We were ever-so-proud of keying the word “LOVE” in red into the film’s title and a few other little hidden messages in the production company text at the top. With our second feature, What Would Bear Do, I turned to Craigslist and sought out a young artist, James Eads, to put together an illustration based on stills we had from the shoot – again, for his first feature film credit and a nominal stipend.

Press Kit. You should already have the groundwork for this by the distribution stage, so you’ll just be updating and rounding out the existing document here. Update the bios of key cast and crew, including a page about the bands you’ve been involved in the music of, a thoughtful note from the critical filmmakers about what the film means to them, and update the entire cast and crew credit listing with post-production personnel.

After that, write a short background paragraph explaining all the trials and tributes weathered to make the film a reality, include any press coverage you could drum up during the shoot, and highlight anything else that makes sense to your film’s unique/interesting/superb. Ultimately, the document’s purpose is to sell the movie, so sell the film! You can pull up the press kit for All God’s Creatures, and the press release for What Would Bear Do here.

Videos. This is where you have to get creative. The effectiveness of the promotional video content you create to market the film will hinge on whether you can encapsulate the best aspects of your movie and convey them to a viewer in the short attention span you are likely to be afforded.

That means you need to pinpoint what is unique, engaging, and captivating – whatever the selling point of your product is – and be able to fire it at the speed of light into the potential consumer’s psyche in a fashion that leaves them longing for more.

In the case of All God’s Creatures, we catered to the love story theme by creating 30-second matching his and hers teasers that touched on the troubled individual lives of the lovers.

We were very aware of the micro-budget filmmaking aspect of our work. We didn’t hesitate to highlight it in a short documentary interview series we shot with Tym Moss, one of the day player actors in the film, while talking with him for his internet radio show.

We ended up naming the series Shoot to Kill: The Making of All God’s Creatures – you can watch the entire series on YouTube.

On What Would Bear Do, with the comedic subject matter in mind, I’ve cut similarly styled his and hers teasers that were, of course, a smattering of the funny moments between the guy and girl pairings in the lead foursome. I’ve also been using some of the better outtakes as short teasers.

You’ll need a full two to three-minute traditional trailer, though I’d try to keep it much closer to the former. You’ll likely have a natural inclination to try to tell the story here, as we struggled to defy with both films, but you have to resist that urge and keep in mind that this is a sales tool – your goal is to sell the movie, not tell the story told in it.

What accomplishes that best is project-specific, but understand you don’t need to follow any rules.

If it’s more interesting to put something from the end of the film as the opening image of the trailer, where you should be setting up the characters and plot, then, by all means, put it there. Making two minutes of awesome that leaves the viewer telling their friend to google the trailer is the sole purpose here.

The one counter to this theory is if you full-on mislead the consumer about what the film is about, you risk them reacting negatively when they watch the movie itself and trashing the film in their social circles because it wasn’t their cup of tea.

I’ve seen that happen with art films being portrayed as something they’re not, to get butts in theater seats – Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are examples of this.

Things have worked out alright for both filmmakers in those cases, but they had Ryan Gosling and James Franco at their disposal.

Filmmaking the Hard Way

My book, Filmmaking, the Hard Way, puts low-budget filmmaking under the microscope by analyzing the process of making a film from top to bottom with honesty and transparency rarely found in writings of its kind.

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Josh Folan is a producer, writer, director, and actor with professional credits dating back to 2005. His first feature-length film venture, the romantic thriller All God’s Creatures, was released through Osiris Entertainment in May 2012. Folan’s second feature, a slacker buddy comedy titled What Would Bear Do? You can follow Josh @joshfolan and his production company, NYEH Entertainment.

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