Sheri Candler Brings Independent Films to Market – Part 1

Published On February 19, 2011 | By admin | film distribution, film marketing, Filmmaker, Independent Film, Q&A

Filmmakers Notebook is very pleased to be able to bring you a 3 part Q&A with the very bright, talented and opinionated independent film marketing expert Sheri Candler.  We covered many topics including social media, Transmedia and the role of PMDs and I’m sure you’ll find her thoughts to be well informed and thorough, so without further adieu, here’s Part 1 with Sheri.

Since we met over a year ago in Las Vegas a lot has changed for you.  After going to Sundance, Slamdance and the various other events and festivals you’ve attended what realizations have you come away with regarding the state of the independent film industry?

I still maintain that there has been a permanent shift in how filmmakers should be viewing the work it takes to make a film and get it seen.  It is not your sole work to make a film and have someone else sell it. We were just transitioning out of being dependent into being empowered and now with the recent uptick in sales out of  Sundance this year, I am starting to hear a lapse back into thinking “phew, glad that DIY as plan A business is over!” it is really disheartening.  There is no going back, the shift has happened permanently and it is actually a good thing, something to propel forward.

If you look at the films that received distribution deals out of Sundance, 41 or so, they represent only about 1/3 of the films that played the festival. Most had notable cast or directors, nothing has changed in this regard to years past.  The prices were down, but the same elements that make up a “marketable” film were there.  If you don’t have notable cast or you aren’t a notable director, DIY/hybrid distribution is still your best bet.  That is not going to change.  The shift came when films were able to find audiences AND get out into the market without the need for a legion of intermediaries.  There is no going back now, there are just too many avenues for a filmmaker to get his work seen and control the project.

As far as state of the industry, I think it is a bad time to be a distributor and an exhibitor.  Big changes have started and will continue to disrupt their business.  In fact, I have said to young people who tell me they want to be sales agents or distributors to go into marketing instead.  That is the real role of a distributor now.  It will be increasingly more important to cut through the “noise” of all other content and distraction than it will be to bring a film to the marketplace.  Foreign sales will also be a thing of the past, the internet is worldwide and audiences can be found worldwide.  It hasn’t happened completely yet, but it is coming much faster than people think.  

While I hear most filmmakers say “people will always want to sit in a dark room and watch films in a communal environment” I strongly disagree. Filmmakers want that, but I don’t think average consumers do.  Climb out of the bubble and talk to them, I do.  The tablet is going to make significant changes to how we all watch content and it is foolish to think otherwise. Films (or whatever entertainment will be in future, it may not be in 90 minutes time chunks) will be watched at the audiences’ convenience not the filmmakers “vision” for how it should be watched.  The more filmmakers cling to their self centered notions, the worse off they will find themselves. Embrace the fact that people will see your work, period, no matter where they see it.

What do you enjoy most about your work and what frustrates you as a marketing expert when dealing with filmmakers?

I enjoy talking to people, either in person or online.  I am pretty free with my information and I think most people who have come in contact with me can attest to that.  I truly want to see everyone succeed, but I am realistic enough to know that not everyone will.  I love finding new tools that will help enable filmmakers to be entrepreneurial in their thinking.  They truly are like small business owners.

I like educating audiences on their alternatives to viewing films.  The biggest problem I have with most digital distribution platforms is they are not doing enough to raise awareness of their existence to the average consumer. Netflix, iTunes, Amazon will be leaders in that field for a while because it is hard to compete if you have no advertising cash.  The role of a digital distributor is getting audience awareness.  If they have that, films will definitely follow. Too many times they concentrate on getting films, of varying quality, and forget about marketing the platform to an audience.  I am always talking to consumers and telling them where they can see films, especially small films that will not be playing a cinema nearby.  It is a wonderful time for both films and audiences because you don’t have to depend on what screens in your town, you can find films online and most people, in the US at least, have online access.

It is frustrating to see people who do not understand this concept.  They think their only job is to be “artistic” and not worry about the business aspects of their work.  It is pure laziness; they complain about having to do the “boring business stuff” and want someone else to take care of that aspect. But then complain when they are taken advantage of.  The business aspect is bloody hard work and if you want to shirk it, it will probably be to your peril.

Also, they see marketing as a dirty job, something done for a product that doesn’t have attributes that are apparent to everyone.  Absolutely, your film must be stellar to make people want to see it, but just the fact that it is stellar is not going to telepathically bring in an audience.  I think most artists see marketing as the hard sell, hit people over the head with a message whether they want to hear it or not.  I can see why, it is definitely the Hollywood marketing department way.  I prefer to think of it as finding the audience that already exists for your film and introducing it.  If the match is there and the film is great, that is good marketing and it takes time and effort to do that properly.

Transmedia has been coming up quite a bit lately.  How would you recommend filmmakers use it to their best advantage?

I do not profess to be a transmedia expert.  I will say I don’t see it as a marketing tool, I see it as a way to tell a story in general. I don’t believe it should be used to sell a feature film, I think transmedia IS the project and it is the future of storytelling.

Already kids expect to interact with creators and with other people online and this will only increase.  It will be quite unusual to sit in a theater or in front of a tablet and just passively watch.  Many people say that they have no desire to join in, but that thinking is a product of the old world and will be fading away. There were people who couldn’t imagine being totally accessible either, but now it is uncommon to not be connected a communication method (smartphone, internet).  So it will be with entertainment.

I think it will take development, for writers particularly, to figure out the best ways to tell a story given the tools available.  Transmedia is incredibly complex and anyone who doesn’t see it that way has never tried it.  Creating a story framework, leaving room for audience participation, while keeping the story on track, deciding on length of time the story will run are all huge considerations that don’t have to be addressed when making a straight feature film.  The mindset will totally have to change from being auteurs who makes art on their own, a sole vision, to being a collaborator.  Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work.

You talk quite a bit about building community or a tribe as an artist and how this will help sustain and build and audience for your work.  Since this takes such an investment of time what steps would you recommend for anyone who is starting out and not sure of how to do this?

First, I want to give credit where it is due.  This tribe concept is not mine, it is Seth Godin’s and I want everyone to read his book Tribes before they shake their heads and say they don’t need it.  Tribe building isn’t for everyone; it is only for those who want to make things better.  My understanding is that most filmmakers have this quality, to want to make the world better in some way through their work.  I think they have the capacity to do this and just need to step up.  There is absolutely nothing stopping someone from creating a community; not money, not power, no permission to start needed,  just doing work that matters and inspiring others.  What I do NOT mean is to start a tribe with the singular goal of making money, money will come as a by product, but it will not happen if that is your only goal.

First step, do something or make something people choose to talk about. The key here is not spreading your message to people who don’t want to hear it.  It is to inspire people to WANT to talk about it.  I think it is exceedingly rare to find an artist who genuinely shares.  Most artists are selfish, narcissistic and self centered.  Turn that on its head, choose to highlight and celebrate the work of others more than your own.  Be the ambassador who introduces concepts and people to each other. You will attract so many more people to you that way.  This is a great way to start. Remember, self promotion is about helping other people.

Next, devote yourself to making exceptional work.  Work that you are truly a believer in, not work you think will be attractive to a distributor or the industry or to the widest audience possible.  Exceptional work is not attractive to all, so do not try to please everyone, and be ok with that.  It is important to make work though, not just talk about it.

The tools you use to build the community are really up to you and what makes you comfortable.  In the end, it isn’t the tools people come for; it is just a place to connect with you and with other people.  If writing is your strong suit, choose a blog platform.  If short messages are more your thing, then use Twitter or Tumblr.  If you really like to speak in front of a camera, use video.  There is no universal tribe building tool.

We’ll have more with Sheri in Part 2 of our Q&A, but in the meantime you can keep up with her on Twitter @shericandler and visit her website at http://www.shericandler.com/.

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