To follow up from my last post I thought it would be a good idea to write the opposite angle. As opposed to ‘how to buy a film’, perhaps I should write about how to sell a movie. If you’re a producer, director or writer, here are some tips that should help you cut through and get some attention for your project.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discussed projects that are presented so badly that I wouldn’t consider them in a million years at first glance, and yet the films actually turn out great with a solid audience potential and good reviews. Often this is due to rambling descriptions, or a lack of clarity about your future viewers, or a lack of knowledge of what’s going on in the industry. So here are some tips for you.
Know Your Audience
I attended a seminar once where the Film Commission were presenting to independent filmmakers, talking about the necessity of figuring out what section of the population is actually going to get off their ass to see your film at a cinema, before you even start production. And there was grumbling and mumbling from all corners of the room, with one man finally asking ‘So, what you’re saying is, if no-one goes to see my film, you’re not going to consider it a success?’.
Well, I’m not sure about you, but if that was my film and no-one went to see it, I don’t think I’d consider myself or my movie too successful. The film might have turned out exactly as you wanted, but if no-one else wants to see it, you have a big problem. One, no-one’s seen your pride and joy, and two, you’re probably not going to get anyone giving you money to make your next, bigger budget, masterpiece. Knowing what age group and demographic are most likely to want to see your film is essential for everyone from funding bodies to sales agents to distributors to exhibitors.
Describe your film in a couple of sentences
The amount of filmmakers I’ve met who are incapable of describing their film succinctly is enormous. And that’s completely understandable when it’s your whole life. You know when you meet a parent who never stops talking about their child who you’ve never even met? Yeah, that’s what you sound like with your movie. People get bored quickly. You might just put people off when actually you have an incredible story or concept. So learn how to pitch very fast, and practice. See what different people’s reactions are and adapt your pitch according to their feedback till you have a kick-ass few sentences.
Know your budget
Wanting to make a massive sci-fi blockbuster is great, and good on you for thinking big, but if this is your first feature, or you know you have limited funds, please be realistic. No-one wants to end up blowing their budget in the first week and having to use cardboard boxes to represent MRI machines (After Last Season). I’ve met directors who’ve already started shooting and they don’t know what their final budget is. This is most scary for you but, also, if you’re out there trying to sell your film, the sales agents and distributors need to know your budget to figure out how much the movie is worth to them. So if you want to try and get pre-sales on your film, you have to know your budget.
Have a good written synopsis that grabs people’s attention
This is a bit different from the spoken description since you can put more information in. From my point of view in acquisitions, a well-written, interesting synopsis that leaves you wanting more or wondering how it’ll play out on screen, is essential. This, along with the poster image, are what are going to get me along to view that screening or read the script, and maybe buy your movie.
Send me a sentence which doesn’t explain anything or even has grammar and spelling mistakes, and I’m out. If you have found a sales agent to represent your film, make sure, if you don’t provide the synopsis yourself (which you should always try to do), that you see it and approve it before it goes out. It’s hugely important.
Give comparable titles
Yes, I know your film is unique and different from anything ever produced before but, honestly, it’s going to have some similarities to other films in terms of genre or audience demographic. And believe it or not, that information is incredibly helpful to us, to determine potential interest.
Another tip – try not to make those comparisons too weird or wonderful. You might know all about Bunuel or Dreyer or Medem and want to show off your knowledge but what we’re looking for is that selling point that’ll tip this movie into the mainstream. So try to pick films that are relatively well-known and have performed well at the box office or on DVD here, if you can find that information.
When you’re telling people about your movie concept, you’ll undoubtedly get people saying ‘oh, you mean like Silent Running’ or ‘that sounds a bit like a Kiwi version of Sideways’. Don’t dismiss them and moan that they don’t get how unique your vision is; embrace it and use those comparisons yourself, it’s very useful to give others an understanding of what you’re doing.
Have kick-ass artwork
You know yourself from browsing in a store, an interesting DVD cover will make you pick up that movie, read the synopsis on the back, and, hallelujah, buy or rent it. Same for us at a film market, we’re faced with thousands of poster images. Create something which looks well-made and interesting, and targets your appropriate demographic, and you’ll get people’s interest.
The following are both a little shoddy, but check out the first poster from the film market and then the final UK DVD cover (and note the title change too) and you should get what I mean:
Know Your Competition
It’s really important to understand what’s going on in the industry, what trends are happening around the world (for example, did you know dragons were HUGE last year?) and what other projects are in production so that you can use that information to your advantage. If you sound like you know what’s happening around you both locally and globally, instead of being solely focused on your own feature, you are giving yourself a better chance of being taken seriously.
Good luck, and I look forward to all these awesome submissions rolling in!