Make This One Change to Improve Your Film’s Success

Avatar Cinema Summit | April 5, 2018

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Selling Indie Films is Hard

I have been on both sides of the sword on this issue. A number of years ago I was working as the Vice President of Acquisitions at a small boutique theatrical distribution company and from there I moved on to consult in acquisitions at an international sales agency. In addition, I have produced two feature films, both of which received representation from sales agencies.

I'll be the first one to say, distribution for independent films seems like a bit of a mystery, and it can be a crapshoot.

So what can one do to increase the chances of success for a film?

A Film's Best Friend

In the world of film sales, marketing materials are a film's best friend. And no, I'm not talking about Facebook Ads.

The same way you see a poster, teaser, or trailer for a film and get really excited/eager to see it, acquisitions people see the marketing materials for a project and immediately make some subconscious decisions as to whether or not they are slightly interested, extremely interested, or not interested at all.

But, it's not enough to simply just have these things in your arsenal. They have to be done right, or it's about as useful as not having them at all.

So, What Is the One Thing?

The one thing you can do to dramatically improve the success of your film is set aside a budget for marketing materials.

But, wait. Don't sales agents and distributors make their own key art and trailers for their films?

Yes, in some instances this will happen - usually if the trailer or key art provided is not up to the potential that the agent or distributor sees. So you may now be wondering, if a film can be sold or picked up for representation with mediocre marketing materials, why should I spend the time and money to do it myself?

These are all good questions, people. Keep them coming.

Well, it comes down to setting your film up for success.

While it is possible to get representation for your film with a lame poster and amateur trailer, is that really how you want to put yourself out there? If it was me, I'd rather be the person that sends off my trailer to a dozen companies and gets a slew of emails from agents eager to see or represent my project.

Pros Really Are Better

Trust me, I know there is something fun about cutting a trailer for your own film. And you may be a really great narrative editor.

Or, you may have gotten a deal from your feature editor to also edit the trailer, but I urge you to make these decisions very carefully.

Trailers are extremely different than films. Obviously, the timing is different, as trailers are meant to hint at the story, show the interesting action, and draw the viewer in emotionally - all in about 2 minutes. But the goals and techniques for editing trailers are different as well.

The way I look at it is this (prepare for wildly absurd comparison). If you hired someone to paint your house, would you assume that the same person could masterfully render a painting of your grandmother for her birthday? I wouldn't. They are two entirely different skills. And while yes, it's possible that you could find a house painter with the skills and knowledge to paint a great portrait, you'd be foolish to assume that your house painter is one of these talented marvels.

So, in the same way, be prepared to go to an entirely different editor for your trailer. 

The same goes for key art. Just because your friend made a pretty cool poster for your cousin's band doesn't mean he knows how to make a great film poster.

Also, if you haven't noticed, many movie posters utilize images taken by a professional photographer - not stills from the film itself.

Movie Poster from The Dark Knight

This brings up the next point - hiring a set photographer. This is something almost ALWAYS overlooked by indie producers.

Still images is one of the requirements in every deliverables list I have ever seen. I can't tell you the number of times a filmmaker gave me a blank stare as I asked him for 50-100 still images. Of course, the cheat is to just pull high-ish resolution screen grabs from the film itself, but this is less than ideal.

At the time, the highest resolution you could really pull from a finished film was 1920x1080. Now, of course you could pull 4K stills, but even that is not terribly high resolution compared to a professional still camera's resolution.

These high resolution stills come into play for the key art, posters, billboard ads, websites, and any other marketing materials where it requires the extra resolution either for the size of the end product (billboard) or the quality of a composite.

Set the money aside before you enter into production, and hire a team of professionals to make your marketing materials. THEN, you can show up to your meetings like a baller knowing you have some killer stuff you are excited to share with them.

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