FanBridge Blog

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Team FanBridge

Tired of Team FB yet? Of course you aren’t…but a little variety is nice, right? We’ve asked experts to share their knowledge on a plethora of topics covering sports, music, film, and brand fan management. Today, we have Sheri Candler, a marketing strategist for independent filmmakers. Sheri has been a featured expert on numerous panels and books. Her most recent project is a collaboration with The Film Collaborative and Jon Reiss called Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul – Case Studies in Hybrid, DIY and P2P Independent Film Distribution.

We asked:

How can independent filmmakers engage fans throughout the filmmaking process?

First, filmmakers should start by knowing for whom their story is. NO, it isn’t for everyone. You can’t reach “everyone” so really narrow it down, even beyond demographic characteristics, to interest levels. What would this person wear to your screening? Really get down into that kind of detail. Start with yourself: why do you like this story, what draws you to tell it? From there you will know where to find people similar to yourself and how to speak to them.

Social media is about authentic voice and speaking to real people, not faceless masses. If you only have a vague idea of who your audience is at the beginning, it will stay vague and you won’t effectively be able to reach them or anyone. This work cannot be done from the outside; you can’t just hire a marketing company to tweet for your film. They have no idea what to say to someone who actually starts a dialog. This work needs to be done by someone embedded both within the production and within the audience community of your film. This doesn’t mean you as a director or producer are totally off the hook to connect with people, and you shouldn’t want that anyway, but having what Jon Reiss would call a PMD (Producer of Marketing and Distribution) to help alleviate the total burden of connecting with an audience and determining the most lucrative and efficient method to release the film is a smart idea.

This work cannot wait until the film is in post because social relationships take time to build and only giving it a month or two of attention isn’t going to result in much awareness. It also takes time to prepare for distribution outlets whether you are going to use the festival circuit as your theatrical or book community screenings, or book traditional theaters. Whether you will release online at the same time, or soon after and which outlets will you use? How much will you charge? What publications do you need to develop relationships with to get great coverage, what is the website going to look like and how will it change during the production process (yes, it will change)? There will be a need for extra content, more than one trailer or a series of clips, sourcing other content or creating it. These are all jobs that cannot be done in a hurry and someone needs to be on it. What about sponsorship? Who will handle the sponsorship proposals and logistics?

These are not the skills of typical film producers but someone now needs to be overseeing it and not involved with the filmmaking process. It isn’t work that falls within the realm of traditional publicist, unit publicist or the average distribution company, so someone needs to be handling this from very early on and that someone is a member of the film team. Also, taking on the responsibility gives you more leverage. You know who your audience is, how they will consume what you make, you are in contact with them every day and you don’t need to give up rights or revenue in order to sell to them, so why would you sign away your rights to do this? It doesn’t make sense.

What are the biggest ways fans can help in this process?

I like to caution filmmakers that their fans are not free workers. You aren’t out to gather them for the sole purpose of getting them to buy or sell for you. They are real people and if you want their partnership, you have to treat them with dignity. Many times I see filmmakers who crowdfund, take the cash and never acknowledge the donors again. This is a wasted opportunity because those people have paid to be closer to the production, to be involved and you are treating them like dirt.

A true fan doesn’t need to be persuaded to help. They volunteer it. Your job is to eventually stop chasing strangers and keep delighting the people you have already attracted. If you do this really well, they will bring new people to you.


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