As creatives, we spend the majority of our time thinking about ideas. How to create them, how unique they are, how to make them better.
But what if I told you that the big decision makers aren’t focused on your ideas? They’re focused on something else.
All any of the decision makers want, whether it’s Netflix or that festival down the road from you, is to get people watching their content and making m.o.n.e.y.
It’s not an overly nice idea, and most of the creatives I know avoid thinking about money like it’s the plague. But it makes 100% sense. Make a profit from a film, put that profit towards making the next one.
So how can you guarantee that your idea will make a profit? Or at least breakeven.
Sadly, you can’t really.
It’s what you do with your ideas that changes the game.
I’ve broken down the ways you can get attention from the big decision makers you’re dying to talk to.
1: Build your audience
Firstly, what counts as ‘an audience’?
A group of people that are familiar with and enjoy what you make. They’re ready and waiting for your film and will vary from just being familiar with your work to avidly binge-watching.
The easiest way to do that is via social media.
Posting consistently is far more effective than posting a ton of content once every few weeks. Which is why scheduling and automating your social media will change your life.
Instagram is the easiest platform for filmmakers to focus on because it’s so visual.
Pick 2-3 platforms to focus on and start building your audience on each of them.
Facebook and Twitter are less time-consuming to use, because you don’t have to craft content in the way that you need to for Instagram, but you can still schedule and automate on both of these platforms too.
You could also start a mailing list, to talk directly to your audience and keep them up to date with your projects and what you have coming up soon.
Remember to stay on top of the numbers. You can go into a pitch meeting and mention you 5000 Instagram followers. It sounds shallow, but it gets the attention of the decision makers because that’s 5000 people ready and waiting to watch the film.
2: Plan your releases effectively
Planning your releases is what separates professional filmmakers from the amateurs.
You know your festival run starts in August, and the online release date is set for July, 11 months later. So you plan and schedule 11 months’ worth of social media content to keep people excited about the film.
When the online release date comes, your audience is so eager to finally watch the film because you’ve been drip-feeding them snippets for almost a year.
It may seem a bit OTT, but think about how feature films market to their audiences. Most of them will release the first trailer 3-6 months before the film opens, and continuously tantalise their audience with fragments from the film for up to 18 months before it’s released.
This marketing strategy is most effective, thanks to its ability to keep the film in the back of people’s minds for months and months.
I was desperate to see Little Women for a full year before it opened, and that was based only on the initial announcement. I then watched the trailers upwards of 10 times each and of course I went to see the film as soon as it opened.
My excitement as an audience member translated into $$$ for the film.
(And it really was $$$ because I went to see it 4 times in 3 different cinemas).
So plan your releases waaaay in advance, and give yourself enough time to market effectively.
You want your audience, that you worked so hard to create, as desperate as I was to see your film.
3: Identify your niche
This is actually the very first thing I do when I work with filmmakers. I ask them, ‘what projects speak to you?’ and ‘what projects do you want to be known for?’
We go way beyond format and genre and get to the core of their ideas.
Once you know your niche, you’ll know exactly what you give to your audience. Just like Tarantino fans can rely on there being some graphic element of gore or violence when they go and see his latest films.
Sofia Coppola, for example, tends to focus on characters in transition. I also find that she humanises characters others tends to stereotype or write off, and then she leaves you to make up your mind about them. She knows her niche, and I know I like it. So I pay attention to her films and that translates, again, into sales at the box office.
Knowing your niche also makes you stand out in a big way to professionals. You’re no longer the girl with ideas, you’re the filmmaker worth watching. Especially when you go beyond the typical lines of ‘I make narrative dramas’.
Need help identifying your niche? I walk you through the process one-to-one during our call.
4: Create your film slate
Film slates are no longer for producers and production companies only. They’re for indie filmmakers and will change your pitch meetings for good.
Your film slate is really just the master list of your ideas. I have mine separated into 3 categories: low cost, mid cost and high cost. I also include the basic details:
- Estimated budget
- Key target audience
- Stage of development
This means I have an overview of my project and a clear picture of what it will be, but I’m not drowning in excess info and I don’t need to keep updating it.
Having your own slate means you can make the most of anyone asking you what you’re working on at the moment (by giving them a couple of projects from the first category).
You also don’t lose any opportunities in pitch meetings when they ask you the classic question, ‘are you working on anything else?’ (which usually means they don’t love the idea you’re pitching and want other options).
Schedule in some time to develop 15 ideas and add them into your slate.
You might also want to schedule in some regular time to review your slate and develop new ideas. Creativity is like a muscle, the more you use it, the better it gets.
Bonus: the 2 year plan
We know plan releases in advance is so effective. But planning your filmmaking way in advance is next level.
Of course it’s not possible to plan your next 2 years of filmmaking perfectly because there are so many variables. Time, money, everything else.
But having a game plan for 2 years does mean you can stick to the plan *bye bye wasted time*, keep your audience updated and excited and grow your audience with an end goal in mind.
Growing an audience for the sake of it is tough. But growing one because you know you’re aiming to be in production for your next short in 6 months is a great motivator. You can also plan your content way more effectively when you know what you have coming up.
Pitching to investors and producers is so. much. easier. when you can say, ‘this is what we have coming up and this is what we have planned’.
How to plan:
- Look at your slate, and select 2-3 projects from the low cost category. These are the ‘could make now’ ideas, so are the best ones to plan on making in the next 2 years.
- List everything you need to do/put in place to get from idea to finished film. Set a deadline for each thing on your list and add it into your calendar.
- Do as much in advance as possible, like scheduling your social media.
Now you have the audience, the numbers, the ideas and the plan. These 4 things will get you attention in any kind of pitch meeting, and from decision-makers on all levels.
The last thing you need to do? Stick to them. Grow your audience, make your plan and make those films. Consistently producing good films that get attention from your audience is the very best way to get noticed by investors, producers and companies.
Start making your films
Or just stick with the never-ending freelance jobs