MARKETING: YOU VS. THE BIG BOYS

For a single Hollywood studio movie, that studio will spend millions and millions of dollars on advertising and marketing campaigns to make sure that everyone everywhere knows about their movie.  It might seem outrageous, but really, they have to spend that much in order to have a chance to recoup the massive and absurd costs of making said movie.

But for anyone spending less than a million dollars on their movie, there’s hardly any money to make a dent in the world of studio-sized marketing campaigns.  You might be able to afford some kinds of ads, or some spots on TV or radio or on the web, but still you will be faced with a huge goliath standing in your way.  Without tens of millions, you will be relegated to marketing your movie in a certain niche.

Those of us who make movies for a fraction of that have even less.  So what can we do to compete with the big boys?  How can we get our movies talked about?  How can we get people to see our movies?  You don’t need stars or money, you just need promotion.  After all, people aren’t going to watch your movie if they don’t know it’s an option.

But how can you do promotion with little or no money?  By thinking outside the box!

Some of you know my dad, Clark Balderson, who appeared in the WAMEGO documentary trilogy on DIY filmmaking providing viewers with great business advice.  He runs a construction equipment attachments manufacturing business called Dymax.  To illustrate an example of how you can compete with the big boys, let’s explore what Dymax achieved at MINExpo 2004.

In the world of construction equipment attachments, Caterpillar and Komatsu reign like movie studios Sony and Time Warner.  For MINExpo, Caterpillar and Komatsu each spent millions of dollars on their exhibits, which were huge…  maybe 10,000 square feet or more.  Dymax had only $10,000 to spend.  And their booth was maybe about 200 square feet.

So Clark asked himself, “What can we do to stand out from the crowd?  What can we do differently?”  MINExpo was taking place in Las Vegas… What about something involving showmanship and an over-the-top spectacle?  But, MINExpo is for miners.  Rough and tumble customers.

After thinking outside the box, Clark created a Dymax Sideshow, featuring The Enigma who swallowed swords, breathed fire and stuck nails into his skull; Selene Luna performed strip tease; and Pleasant Gehman (Princess Farhana) did bellydance and burlesque.

The Dymax Sideshow put on shows every couple hours with the entertainers.  The Enigma, Selene and Plez walked around the exhibition floor so people saw them.  And then everyone who saw them HAD to come see them perform.

Dymax had a steady stream of people stopping by to have their pictures taken with the performers.  And most of all, they enjoyed the performances.

And when it was all over, Clark discovered that the MINExpo management had awarded Dymax two prizes for Best Marketing.  Out of a total of seven prizes handed out to the entire Expo.  And it was done for a sliver of what the big boys spent.

Use this example as a lesson on how to stand out, create your own “buzz” and how to succeed by being creative within your limits.  Sometimes people are limited by money, by location, by weather, by you-name-it.  But, I see limitations as a blessing.  Once you identify your limitation, you don’t have to think about it anymore.  Instead of thinking about what you don’t have, try asking yourself how you can achieve the desired results with what you DO have!

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Click here to see some photos of the Dymax MINExpo.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 4 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE, TWO, and THREE.

The STUCK! shoot was marvelous.

One of the best parts was the food.  See, when the cast and crew are only a handful of people it is possible to go to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You can eat superior food.  Feeding 42 people on a traditional crew likely means scraps and bulk-made meals.  And there is no intimacy about that kind of thing.  With a set like mine we eat homemade slow-cooked masterpieces every night.  We can sit around the same table.  It becomes a far more rewarding experience.

Like WATCH OUT, the STUCK! shooting days were just as efficient.  We’d work from 9 AM and wrap around 5 or 6 PM.  We worked every day with no days off.  It took less than two weeks to complete.

The reviews were amazing:  Film Threat writes, “Balderson just doesn’t make simple films, and this is no exception. It’s not in the words, or the plot or the story; but it’s in the air, it’s in the beat, it’s in the very soul of the work.” The LA Weekly said it was “Revolutionary.”  And UK Critic MJ Simpson writes, “Steve Balderson is the best-kept secret in American independent cinema. He makes his own films – which are unfailingly brilliant – and the rest of the world very, very gradually catches up with him.”

In February, 2010, the American Cinematheque hosted the LA Premiere of STUCK! at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  The cast was there with me to present the film and do a Q&A after the screening.  One of the people in the audience mentioned that because all the actors were there, talking enthusiastically about this new way of filmmaking, it spoke volumes about the process.

I signed a deal with a sales agent who is selling STUCK! to buyers around the globe.

In the fall of 2010, I put together another top-secret film shoot and produced my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB.  A couple new stars joined the group for this shoot: namely Kevin Richardson (from the Backstreet Boys), Daniela Sea (from the L Word), and acclaimed stage actress Jennifer Grace.  We made the film in Palm Springs in exactly the same way we made STUCK! and WATCH OUT.  The entire experience is captured in director Anthony Pedone’s documentary CAMP CASSEROLE.

The shoot was a lot like summer film camp.  We rented a few vacation homes that would serve as the locations, and also would house all of us.  Staying together in the same place was magical.  Each day we’d gather to film scenes, and if any actors weren’t working, they would lounge by the pool, read a book, and basically turn their time on the set as a vacation.  This aspect of the shoot was the best.  I made sure that we’re doing the work we need to do, but it’s just as important for me to create an atmosphere that is a rewarding experience personally.

Each evening we would have a meal sponsored by one of the cast or crew, or friends and family.  Imagine being at summer camp and coming together over a meal and singing Kumbaya.  That’s exactly what it was like!  Only instead of singing Kumbaya, per se, several people would pull out their guitars and do an impromptu acoustic concert; or, there would be fun short films being made; or, night swimming and gazing up at the stars with a great conversation.

One of my favorite moments filming THE CASSEROLE CLUB came whenever we needed to do some exterior shots around the Palm Springs area.  We’d just jump in my car and drive around until we’d find the greatest place, jump out, film it, then rush back to the car and speed away as if nothing ever happened.  This is the kind of freedom I love work in.  It’s exhilarating.

THE CASSEROLE CLUB premiered at Visionfest`11 in New York City where we were nominated for 9 Independent Vision Awards and won 5: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Kevin Richardson, Best Actress for Susan Traylor, Best Production Design.  And the most overwhelming compliment came in 2012 when the U.S. Library of Congress invited the film to be a part of its permanent collection.

Making films in today’s distribution landscape is drastically different than it was even a few years ago.  It is very important to spend as little money possible to make your films.  If your film cost $200,000 that’s fine.  But maybe you could try to find a way to make two movies for $100,000 instead of putting all your eggs in one basket.

Be realistic when you’re planning your expenses.  Regardless of the storyline, regardless of the actors, stars or location, if you think your project will make $100,000 in sales, your best bet at sustainability is to make sure that project costs less than that.

These are just some of the ways the distribution landscape has changed the way films are made.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 3 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE and TWO.

We began doing research on the best equipment to invest in, best sound package, and best HD camera (we judged each camera based on the level of color captured, best sound captured, and overall user experience).  Months later, we had the whole set up.

I was ready to make my next narrative feature.  And I wouldn’t need so much money after all.  By owning my own equipment, omitting unnecessary personnel and expenses, and keeping costs as low as possible, it would be possible to make a feature film for little more than the price of a used Toyota.

This also appealed to investors.  Distribution has changed significantly since the glory days of the million-dollar buys at Film Festivals.  That simply wasn’t happening any more.  A top sales rep told me, “no company is buying low-budget independently made films for more than $50,000 up front.  And if you get that much you’d be one of the lucky ones.”

The first project to test if my new renegade style of filmmaking would even work or not, was an adaptation of Joseph Suglia’s dazzling novel WATCH OUT.  Could I really make a feature-length movie using only two people on my crew, with me doing all the camerawork, and still make it high-quality art?

The answer was a big loud YES.

WATCH OUT, which became my third feature film, was shot in two weeks.  Our working days were incredibly light.  We’d start shooting at 9 AM and on a few days we were done by 4 PM.  It felt like summer camp and everyone had a ball.

The film was highly praised by critics as “One of the great cult films of all time, (MJ Simpson).”  WATCH OUT also premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London to sold-out crowds, where it was nominated for Best International Feature.

A review in Film Threat wrote, “(Balderson) makes movies that are so gorgeous that it’s not unreasonable to say that, cinematographically at least; he’s the equal of an Argento or Kubrick in their prime. Some people have perfect vocal pitch, Steve has perfect visual composition.”

I repeated the road-show tour concept we did for FIRECRACKER and released WATCH OUT theatrically in 2008 to sold-out audiences in the “Stop Turning Me On” world tour, to promote the self-distributed DVD release several months later, where it debuted at #24 on Amazon.com’s Top 100.

The third and final installment of the WAMEGO TRILOGY on DIY Filmmaking (WAMEGO: ULTIMATUM) chronicles how we did it.

Once I knew we could do it, I decided to raise the bar a bit more and experiment with a cast of all well-known actors.  The production would cost and be the same = the film would be shot in my new renegade style, without permits and in a secretive manner.  There would be no equipment trucks lining the street, no craft service table, no excessive lighting or camera gear, no substantial crews, or anything to attract attention.  The cast and crew would resemble tourists, which would give the production the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

With no make-up or costume person the cast would be required to do their own make-up, take care of their own costumes.  We’d all be staying in people’s homes, not hotels, and would have to accept there would be no cash per diem.

I approached several stars, some I’d worked with before, and others I hadn’t, and to my astonishment, they all agreed.

That project, my fourth film, became STUCK!

When I called SAG to ask them if they had special deals for projects under $50,000 they laughed at me and said, “It’s impossible to make a feature-length film for less than $50,000.”  They also said I “needed to seek professional help.”  Actual words.

But, they were wrong.  I had just proven it was possible with WATCH OUT.  I thought about telling them, but decided that they were just like those insecure filmmakers who needed all that phony “stuff” for passers-by.  Trying to educate SAG on the reality of the world was going to be a waste of time.

(To be continued next week)

MOVIES & HOUSES

I think it is totally illogical the way movies are sold nowadays.  Sales Agents really need to figure out a new way to do business or soon, what with the coming of VOD into the everyday consumer routine, they will all be out of a job.

When one goes to sell or buy a house, there is a very clear asking price to begin negotiations.  I think movies should be treated the same way.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to mega studio super budget movies that are all done in-house and have nothing to do with the rest of the world.  I’m talking about independently made films looking for distribution.

Say you’ve made a movie for $75,000.  I think it’s best to just say it.  If you try to make it sound like your movie is worth $500,000 you’ll look foolish.  Likewise, if a typical three-bedroom house in Kansas costs one thing and you’re asking five times that, you are likely not going to sell your house.

Of course there are dumb shits in the world who will pay for something that costs more than its worth.  But even though it seems those types have the run of the place, they really are quite rare.  So I suggest finding out what your movie is worth on a realistic level and just tell people that’s what you want for it.

If you say you want $75,000 for worldwide rights, expect an offer for anywhere $50,000 or even lower.  If your selling worldwide rights, that would be the end of the deal.  No royalties, nothing else.  There is a lot of greed out there, naturally, so people would rather “lease” their movie, or “rent it” like they would a residential property.  But, I say, just sell the damn thing and move on.

Of course, location has a lot to do with selling a house.  For instance, a $300,000 house in Kansas would be worth about $3.2million in Los Angeles, or five times that based on square footage in New York City.

Think about your movie in terms of genre and star power.  If you have Julia Roberts in your movie, you’ll likely be able to ask $3.2million for it even if it only cost $200,000 to make.  Do you have a Victorian mansion, or a two-story duplex, or a mid-century modern ranch-style?  Is the home you’re selling sit in a desirable neighborhood, or is it on the wrong side of the tracks?  Is it a horror comedy, coming of age drama, or musical?

You can try and disguise your movie all you want, but at the end of the day, it might help you to understand your movie from a realistic perspective.  Bring in someone to evaluate the worth of your film, and strategize the best way to get it out there.

If you’ve made a movie for $75,000 it might serve you better to release it yourself.  For that amount you only have to sell 4,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  That isn’t a huge ordeal.  But, on the flip-side, if you’ve made a movie for $300,000 you’ll have to sell 15,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  While that’s not out of the question, it’s a lot easier to sell less.  So keep your costs as low as possible.  Or remember that if you’re selling a home, it’s best to get as much as you can and then move to a town where you can get a lot more for less.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT

Unless you’re a famous person making a movie with another famous person, a movie that will be released in cinemas around the planet, chances are you won’t find a company willing to PAY YOU to showcase their products or brand name.

Fresh off of SUPER SIZE ME, Morgan Spurlock directed THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, which, after a promise from POM to pay $1,000,000 USD, the title became, POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD.  You might not be Morgan Spurlock, but there are ways to get sponsors to donate goods and services that will help your production save certain expenses.

During the filming of FIRECRACKER we were able to receive product placement from the company Red Bull, who provided the cast and crew with cases of the energy drink to use while shooting.

When I set off to make CULTURE SHOCK, we had no investors and planned to shoot in London and Paris.  So I used product placement as a means to trade services we would other wise have to pay for.  The two most expensive elements of making a movie are lodging and feeding people.  So first, I hit on hotels.

I emailed every hotel in London asking them for free rooms in exchange for promoting their brand in the film.  There would even be scenes filmed in their lobby and guest rooms.  That process took about a week.  It’s an easy thing to do but it is incredibly time consuming.  There are over 1,000 hotels in London.  First I went to Tripadvisor to get the list of the most popular places to stay, and then I’d go to each hotel’s individual website to locate their marketing, sales or PR department.  Then, I made a spreadsheet in Excel of the people I needed to contact, and their telephone numbers and email addresses.  Once I was finished gathering data, I emailed every single one of them.

I heard back from three who were interested.  I received half a dozen declines, but other than that, none of the remaining 900+ hotels responded to my request.  Nonetheless, I had three!  So I began to do more research into each hotel, where they were located (near to an underground stop which would be convenient), what did they look like (cinematographically speaking) and how easy would they be to work with.  I chose the best one by far, and once we had lodging taken care of I went on about food.

I made a “Meal Sponsors Sign Up Sheet” which I passed around to the cast and crew, and asked if there were any meals they would like to donate.  It’s fun for the host to be able to share their favorite cuisine, and also fun for the cast and crew to eat dinner in someone’s home—to really experience the culture of where you are and who you’re working with.

Another part of product placement is what I would call a “perk.”  Items that won’t necessarily help you shave expenses from the cost of the film, but increase morale and give the cast and crew something to enjoy.

Samsonite donated some luggage for us to use as props in the film.  We would’ve used our own luggage, naturally, but having some cool Samsonite pieces really boosted the feeling on set.

Larabar, the makers of the popular heath snack, sent several cases of various styles for us to enjoy as a healthy alternative to craft service.  And if we couldn’t find a meal sponsor, we’d just eat a Larabar!  In exchange, I wrote some dialogue in the film to help promote their brand.

There are numerous items in any script suitable for a product placement trade.  Make a list of any props you need to get, and start calling around to see what kinds of stuff you can get donated.  In addition to fun stuff, like luggage or wine, think about practical things too: paper towels, shampoo, and toothpaste.  Everyone uses those items every day, and if you don’t have to buy them, you’ll save money in a variety of areas.

Getting product placement is a time consuming task.  Be prepared to send hundreds of emails and make dozens of calls, most of which will never reply.  And most people will reply will a decline.  But, when someone replies and agrees, and sends you a lovely case of wine, or donates rooms in a four-star hotel in Europe… I’ve found the time it takes to do it is totally worth it.

FINDING INVESTORS

Anytime I’m at a film festival, I come across a group of people lined up outside the theatre, each sitting at little folding tables with signs reading: “I want to invest my money in your project” or “Pick Me! I’m the investor you want!” like in some kind of bizarre job fair.  Actually, none of that is true.  But, wouldn’t it be lovely if it were?

You might think finding investors to fund your movie is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do.  But, if you know where to look, and how to look, you’ll discover it isn’t as difficult as you thought.  First, it’s important to understand what type of investor he/she is.  Once you know the kind of person you’re talking to, it’ll help you give the best presentation of you or the project.

Philanthropists are a type of film investor.  These people regularly give their money to foundations and/or charities.  This group is more likely to want to invest in you as a person, or your message (what you stand for, your drive and desires), and less likely to care about the particular project you’re working on.  If they feel a connection with you, or to your path, and want to help you achieve your goals with their resources, you’ll win them over.  I’ve worked with investors like these before and sometimes they don’t even want to read the script.  They don’t care what the project is because they believe in YOU.  These are my favorite types of investors to work with because the connections come from a more spiritual place, and make great long-lasting friendships.  This type of investor is also less concerned about making money.  Quite frankly, I believe that many consider it a donation.

Businessmen and Businesswomen make up another type of investor.  These people are very knowledgeable, and most of them are people who have extensive and diverse investment portfolios.  Typically, these types will strategize by investing a little bit everywhere (over there in a new bar, or in a restaurant chain, or a film, a sports team, stocks, other companies, start-ups, you name it).  Their strategy is that one of those investments will be a winner, and bring a giant return.  One major win covers their losses with the rest.  One investor I knew said she was “happy to take a loss” on a film she invested in that didn’t make money.  “Taking a loss,” means the investor can write off the loss of a bad investment, which reduces their taxable income.

Another type of investor is the Vanity Investor.  This type of investor is someone who is interested in self promotion.  They see that by investing in your project, their own dream somehow becomes a reality.  Perhaps it’s an actor who wants to showcase his ability but hasn’t been given the chance.  Perhaps it’s a musician who always wanted to score a movie.  Perhaps it’s a mother of a young writer who wrote a screenplay before he died, and she just wants to give him a legacy and see his name on the screen.  This type of investor is very similar to the Philanthropic investor, in the sense that their objective is about self promotion, or the achievement of their own personal desires, and less about you or whether your project makes any money.

Similar to the Vanity investor is the Strategic Purposes investor.  The Strategic Purposes investor is one who has a defined outcome they’re looking for, and they are willing to invest in a project that directly addresses that outcome.  For instance, if you’ve written a movie about, or in support of, Gay Marriage, my hunch is you’ll likely have no trouble raising money if you approach investors who are also in support of Gay Marriage.

Investing in a film is incredibly risky.  But so was investing in the stock market just before the recession.  Or investing in Enron.  Both were considered “safe” investments at the time.

There will always be people who want to invest in movies.  Your challenge is simply to find out where they are, who they are, and most importantly—how to present yourself or your project.  If it’s the Philanthropist, come at it from the heart.  If it’s the Businessman/Businesswoman, illustrate your project in a business plan with charts and projections.  If it’s a Vanity investor, demonstrate how you can be the one to give them what they want.  If it’s the Strategic Purposes investor, connect with them about the goal and desired objective.

Hopefully, you’ll discover that finding an investor isn’t as scary as you thought.