The Singapore International Film Festival is on right now and, in addition to screening some of the region’s best independent movies, it’s hosting a series of panels and workshops for filmmakers to learn and ask questions of experts in the field of production and distribution. One of those experts is Peter Gerard, Head of VOD for creative video platform Vimeo, who took part in a panel on Saturday 28th November entitled The Future of Cinema: Digital Distribution, Now! during which he shared his 12-step programme for finding and reaching a paying audience online.
If you weren’t already aware Vimeo operates a VOD service, known as Vimeo On Demand, that enables filmmakers to put their content up for sale on the platform and keep 90% of the revenues. The service currently hosts 30,000 titles curated by an experienced team of festival programmers who prefer the human touch over algorithms based purely on your previous viewing history. Peter is head of that service and flew over from New York to join a panel including Jason Chan and Christian Lee of Bananamana Films (see: How To Make An Award-Winning Web Series) and James Lee of Doghouse 73 Pictures. Prior to working at Vimeo Peter was a producer, director and editor and founder of the now defunct Bargain Basement Film Festival. He is also a successful web and app designer who built The D-Word, the web’s premier portal for documentary filmmakers. So, basically, he knows his stuff and shared some of that stuff with us in a fascinating presentation as you can see below:
Peter Gerard’s 12-Step Programme for Vimeo Success
Before you shoot, before you plan, before you even think of a concept, think of the audience. This was Peter’s advice. Who are they, how many of them are there likely to be? Are they online? This is not selling out, this is what every studio and broadcaster in the world does before creating or commissioning anything and if you want to play with the big boys you need to think like them too.
2. Website + Social + Mailing List
Have a website. Vimeo is a great distribution platform but you need to have a destination for your fans to gather, you can embed your videos on there but if you want to create long term stickiness you need to engage on social CONSTANTLY and drive people to your website. Once there you must make every effort to collect their email addresses so you can contact them as and when you need. Peter didn’t elaborate on the best way to do this but I can certainly recommend a WordPress plugin called Pippity that provides best practice as well as templates.
3. ID Influencers
Whatever you’re making a film about or whoever you’re making it with, they will know people who know people, sometimes A LOT of people. The example Peter gave was for the Vimeo On Demand movie The Culture High, which is about cannabis culture. Cannabis has several high profile fans such as rapper Snoop Dogg and podcaster Joe Rogan who not only promoted the film to their sizeable online audiences but also agreed to be in it too.
4. Crowdfund & Crowdsource
These are two different sides of the same coin. The first refers to raising money to make your film but the crucial piece of advice Peter gave was NOT to give a copy of the film as one of the funding ‘rewards’. He said to provide anything but; meaning props, scripts, shout-outs, t-shirts, directors chairs, copies of the soundtrack – anything but the film. Because when the film comes out you want those fans to come back again and pay to watch it.
Crowdsourcing, in this instance, is about asking your fans to help actually create the film by providing locations, producing graphics or recording songs for the soundtrack so that you don’t have to and they can feel a part of your process. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is doing this on an epic scale with his crowdsourced production company Hit Record.
5. Make Your Film (Assets & Ecosystem)
Once you’ve identified your audience, created a website and social presence and started to build a following that will help you raise funds/create content you can go ahead and create your film but not JUST the film. DVD extras used to be made up of bits from the cutting room floor but that just won’t cut it these days so you should go into production planning to create extras that can be offered as exclusives to publishers and platforms that may help you promote or distribute your film. All journos are looking for a unique angle and to be able to provide them with some content that nobody else has access to almost guarantees you coverage. You can also create “free” extras that are exclusively available to people who purchase your film as an additional incentive for them to cough up.
6. Marketing & Distribution Strategy + Windowing Plan
One of the problems with films as opposed to series is that, like music albums or books, they are a one-off event, a single release that in Hollywood terms rely on a single weekend’s box office to determine failure or success. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Online has a ‘long tail’, which means your film can be discovered and consumed by different people on different platforms at any time now or in the future, but you need to manage that process. The best way to illustrate this is with a cheeky screenshot of one of Peter’s slides, below:
7. Build Up To Launch
You may be tired from all the research, pre-production and, of course, the shoot but you didn’t go through all that just to screen your film for your mum, so don’t let yourself down now. In the build up to the launch you can create excitement by releasing new content every single day that whets the appetite and increases anticipation for your movie. This content can be anything from behind-the-scenes pictures, to animated gifs, to trailers, to cast interviews and pre-launch reviews – whatever it takes to create some momentum around your movie. See here for Vimeo’s guide on how to cut a great trailer.
Getting paid for your movie doesn’t just mean getting paid for your movie. Think about your favourite band, you don’t just buy their singles, you buy their albums, t-shirts, mugs and concert tickets too. Kiss even sells caskets to their most ardent fans! What have you got? Let people express their appreciation and admiration with postcards, posters, t-shirts, zines, even novelty VHS versions of your film that will never be watched but may become a hipster collector’s item someday! Your film is a brand so think like one.
9. Engage Influencers
Once the film is released, that’s the time to ask your influencers to go out to bat for you. Give them free stuff if you have to, their publicity is worth so much more in the long run.
10. Drive Word of Mouth & Press
According to Vimeo research less than half of people are willing to take a chance on something they’ve never heard of so you’ve got to get your film out there. According to Peter this is the single most important factor in success and he has the research to prove it:
And think laterally, if your film is about food don’t just tell the film press about it, reach out to the food, drink and lifestyle magazines, blogs and apps too.
11. Discounts & Affiliates
If you’re engaging press, distributors or influencers to help you sell your film give them a little something extra they can offer their audience exclusively. This could be a special discount with a promo code, extra content or free swag that they can give away in a competition. The internet is limitless, which means publishers have an infinite number of pages to fill every day, if you can help fill those pages everybody wins.
12. Ongoing Engagement
Congratulations, you’ve built an audience and an ecosystem of financiers, influencers, distributors and press. Now KEEP THEM. You don’t want to have to start from scratch on your next project so stay engaged. Too many filmmakers are only in touch when they want something and get annoyed when they don’t get a response from people they’ve ignored for months in person, on email or via social. That simply won’t do. And if you can’t handle that then perhaps you should look at engaging a Producer of Marketing & Distribution (PMD), a newish role defined here by digital distribution guru John Reiss.
As co-founder of content marketing agency Click2View this all makes sense to me but it was great to hear it from an experienced filmmaker with the data, from Vimeo, to back it up. Being a filmmaker these days is kind of like being in a band. You can’t just book Wembley Arena, announce you’re playing and hope people will show up. You have to nurture a following over time, be generous, be available, be prolific and be grateful and you might just be the next big thing!
Keep up with Peter and Vimeo at the following links:
- Peter’s Blog: http://ptgerard.com
- Vimeo’s Blog: https://vimeo.com/blog
- Peter’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/accme
- Vimeo’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/vimeo
- SGIFF Website: http://sgiff.com
- SGIFF Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgiffest
Picture Credit: Lee Hidalgo https://flic.kr/p/jgC8LR