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Promoting A Film Festival: A Digital Marketing Case Study

This month a company called ClickSharp marketing released a "white paper" (that's corporation-speak for "longish essay") on how one might promote a film festival using online marketing techniques. The use of the buzz phrase "long tail" is misleading; the essay doesn't really have anything to do with the long tail concept. The marketing advice, however, is spot on.

If you're a festival director you're probably already doing some of these things. Do your best to take note of the others and implement them in the way that best suits you. The white paper points out a number of online tools that have sprouted up in recent years that make previously difficult or expensive tasks (like hosting video) easy and cheap.

If you're a filmmaker, you should take a serious look at the ideas presented in the essay, substituting the word "film" for festival where you find it. It might seem silly to consider who your sponsors might be, but I just saw a film at Slamdance where, during the Q&A, the filmmakers mentioned that they'd secured sponsorship from Orbitz in the form of a handful of free round-trip flights. Orbitz got mentioned in the credits and Orbitz-logoed gear was featured prominently in a scene or two, but never to the detriment of the film. There are definitely ideas here worth considering.

Read the full ClickSharp case study here.

The people that you meet when you're walkin' down the street

Apart from the obvious celebrity spotting that goes on, one of the main attractions of Sundance and the events that orbit it is meeting new and interesting people. You can't go anywhere on the main drags in Park City (particularly on Main Street) without bumping into someone who is someone in the film industry. (And during tonight's power outages on Main Street, you may be bumping into them physically.) Filmmakers, agents, acquisitions people, programmers from other festivals -- they're all thick on the ground and all you have to do is turn around to the person behind you in line at Java Cow and introduce yourself to get an interesting conversation started. No one looks at you funny. It's expected, and if you're not connecting to other film folk in one way or another while you're here, you're doing yourself a disservice.

More later on the people I've met and the things I've learned. If you're reading this and you're in Park City (or you will be between now and Monday night), drop me a line: chris at stomptokyo dot com.

First day in Park City

Saw zero movies (Slamdance's schedule doesn't start until tomorrow) and already I'm loving it.

Met some new people, ran into some old friends, and will talk about it all when I'm not dead tired.

By the way, it's cold as heck here.

See the first batch of photos here.

See you in Park City

I'll be in Park City Thursday through Tuesday, working the crowd at Slamdance. Expect some film festival bloggy goodness while I'm there!

If by some chance you too will be in Park City this week, shoot me an email at chris at stomptokyo dot com. Maybe I'll see you there.

Festival buzz doesn't always mean box office results

A somber reminder in the Variety story Distribs reel over mixed results:

For the lucky few filmmakers who get into Sundance, dreams of career-making success can get as inflated as last year's sales figures.

But two of 2007's high-profile sales -- the John Cusack-starrer "Grace Is Gone" and the docu "Crazy Love" -- prove that buzz and heavy buyers' interest don't always translate into box office success. In contrast, the musical drama "Once" left Sundance without having landed a distrib. But it has become one of the biggest success stories from the 2007 fest, earning $9.5 million -- roughly 50 times its production budget.

The three films serve as a reminder that the chasm between what a distrib buys and what the public will pay to see has never been greater. For filmmakers anxious to sell their films, it's a stressful rollercoaster that runs well beyond the Park City dance.

IndieGoGo - funding through social networking?

IndieGoGo Launches New Online Social Marketplace Connecting Filmmakers and Fans to Make Independent Film Happen.

Founded on the principles of opportunity, transparency, choice, and action, IndieGoGo addresses the fundraising challenges and market inefficiencies affecting independent filmmaking today. IndieGoGo enables this "filmocracy" by providing filmmakers an open platform to pitch their projects to the world, and gives the fans a vehicle to experience and influence the once inaccessible world of filmmaking.

The marketspeak in this press release is practically impenetrable, but it seems to be a way to involve film fans by allowing them to contribute small amounts of money to the production of a film, and to follow along with the film's production as it progresses.

My prediction: each year, a handful of film teams on IndieGoGo will capitalize on a great script and their own charisma (and maybe an attached actor with a fan base) to get fans involved -- those people will find IndieGoGo a useful tool, but it will be their buzz driving people to IndieGoGo, not the other way around. I just don't see people trolling a site with the aim of giving their money to the next great indie filmmaker. Do you?

"Dusty" Cohl, Founder Of Toronto International Film Festival, Dies


Murray 'Dusty' Cohl died Friday in hospital from cancer. He was 78.

Cohl was known in film circles for his trademark black cowboy hat, premium cigars, salt-and-pepper beard and Cheshire-cat grin.

Bill Marshall, one of TIFF's founders, said that there wouldn't have been a festival without him.

Things you don't want to be known for

Palm Springs FF director Darryl Macdonald in indieWIRE's dispatch from Palm Springs:

"We have an adage at film festivals--I probably shouldn't be saying this for your outlet--but the smaller the film, the bigger a pain in the ass the filmmaker's going to be. It's not a generality, and it seems to bear itself out. Anybody who works at a film festival, either in hospitality or programming, will tell you this, "It's the people who haven't yet tasted success who are the most demanding people to deal with. In general the bigger the star, the easier they are to deal with. It's not always the case, but often enough it is."

"With a certain amount of success comes a certain amount of self assurance. Directors you particularly see this in. Actors less so. They have no demands and if something goes wrong at the screening-- heavens forbid it's the screen in the wrong aspect ratio or the print is scratched or whatever--they tend to be mellower.

"But a first-time filmmaker, who it's his baby up there on the screen in front of an audience for the first time, will just freak out, go ballistic, and think the world has ended.

You don't want to be a festival staffer's war story in years to come -- keep your cool, acknowledge the hard work that festival staff and volunteers do even when mistakes get made, and always express gratitude at just being included in the festival.

New doc film awards seek to reflect "nonfiction film" community more accurately

Fueled by online discussion via blogs, a coalition within the nonfiction and film festval community is launching a new outlet to celebrate the best documentary films of the year.

It's unclear to me as yet how the documentary community at large benefits from this but I wouldn't say that docs are an overcelebrated art form, so the more the merrier. I'm sure there will be some discussion over at the D-Word.

Read indieWIRE's story: 15 Documentaries Named to New Shortlist; Festival Programmers, Doc Insiders Unveil New Nonfiction Awards.

Update: After reading AJ Schnack's entry on the rationale and purpose for the new awards, I have to say that it sounds like they fill a clear and present need to honor filmmakers whose work is going otherwise unrecognized (except, of course, at film festivals, which form the central basis for the nominations themselve). I'm looking forward to seeing how these awards develop.

50 unmissable film festivals according to Variety

On the one hand I'm always suspicious of lists, but it's always interesting to see what Variety has to say. As one of the few media outlets dedicating to covering film festivals worldwide they have a perspective that really can't be matched. Personally I don't have the means to treat this as a travel guide, but it will definitely influence where filmmakers will spend their festival submission dollars when they're done wooing Sundance and Toronto.

Notable inclusions: Indianapolis' Heartland Film Festival (dedicated to "beautifully made films that celebrate the positive aspects of life"), CineVegas (which cultivates its home town's "naughty nightlife image"), and Sitges ("Europe's biggest fantasy-film fest").

Read Variety's full list of 50 unmissable film festivals.

Don't miss your niche: special interest marketing

Planet Out recently published their Queer Park City preview for the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals this year. It's a terrific reference for those interested in gay & lesbian programming at both festivals, but why should the LGBT crowd have all the fun? Why not a cheat sheet for animal lovers? Where's the environmentalist's guide to Park City? Seems to me there's a filter for just about any special interest group out there, if only you're willing to dig through the program guides to find the relevant films.

You should know the marketing niches for your particular film backwards and forwards. Prepare a number of different press releases highlighting the special interest appeal and make sure you can plug in the name of your festival contact to give it local relevance. When you're accepted to a new festival, you'll be ready to contact the local organizations with news of specific interest to them. When you learn about the festival's full lineup, you can create another press release highlighting the other films in the lineup that match up to those interests (being sure to focus on your own film, of course).

Example: When attending the Austin Film Festival in 2006, the makers of Prison Pups contacted the local Humane Society about the screening. Not only did the HS contact their members about the screening, but they also brought animals to the theater (with prior permission, of course) to add to the screening's appeal.