More Resources and Sanity Savers for Creatives During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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It’s day 3 of the enforced lockdown in New Zealand, and it’s definitely time for another batch of excellent resources and sanity savers for creatives during the COVID-19 outbreak. Previously I had provided resources for filmmakers who had experienced festival cancellations, as well as what Film Sprites PR is doing to help these filmmakers, but I want to expand that even further.

We’re all experiencing a time of great distress, uncertainty and confusion. Many creatives and freelancers have been hit hard by cancellations. In my case, I had both film publicity contracts and a production slate that was decimated almost overnight. As well as being a publicist and a fledgling producer, I’m also a creative and an advocate of the arts, so my way of coping with this crisis is to HELP. Below are various ways to assist creatives to upskill, find assistance and also take advantage of any free resources that are available right now. I’m also including ways in which everyone can assist creatives, especially in your local community. While it’s noble that well-known performers are giving free concerts, I want people to spare a thought for your local filmmakers, musicians and performers who have had their events cancelled and don’t have the luxury of the amounts of income and residuals that these well-known artists have.

Enough of my waffling- onto the resources!

Courses and Resources

Doc NYC has made an exceptional list of resources for filmmakers available (we’re on the list!), including classes, events, emergency funding and relevant articles. Also included on this list that is well worth noting is that Sundance Co//ab have made their Master Classes Archive FREE. There’s a wealth of incredible Master Classes available, covering excellent topics and there’s something for everyone. Sundance Co//ab also has an excellent Resources page which is worth checking out.

At the start of the year I made a list of courses and resources to help you level up your filmmaking career, which is still useful now if you are looking to do some additional upskilling. We also have free resources to assist filmmakers with publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding. We also have a list of great reads for filmmakers that might be of interest.

supporting artists during COVID 19

Free to Watch

This year’s SXSW Festival was one of the festivals cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but you can watch nearly all of this year’s Festival’s short film collection online. If you’ve loved seeing the National Theatre Live programme in cinemas (or, indeed, if you’ve been lucky enough to see the shows in the theatre), the National Theatre is giving audiences National Theatre at Home, starting with One Man, Two Guvnors on April 2. There’s also a wealth of free plays and musicals available right now at Filmed Onstage.

IndieWire has a list of the 15 Best Short Films Now Streaming From Great Directors, which includes films from David Lowery (A Ghost Story), Andrea Arnold (American Honey), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) and more.

New Zealand director Floris Van Gaalen has made his short film, Hollow Minds available to view. The film is about a struggling filmmaker makes a film about a struggling filmmaker (yes, you read that right!).

Another New Zealand-based filmmaker,Martin Sagadin, has also made their films available for free online, including feature film Spring Interlude which debuted at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2019.

Getting Creative in Self-Isolation

You might not feel like getting creative during this time, but if your creativity is firing and you’re looking for a great way to harness it the BBC Writersroom has announced the Interconnected competition, a scriptwriting competition about two to four characters in self-isolation, who connect via online video conferencing. There’s also the Shoestring Film Challenge: Lockdown Edition, New Zealand filmmaking challenge to make a short film in one month with a budget of $20.

Miscellaneous

If, like me, you’ve been watching more films during self-isolation (or are looking to do so), I created the Self-Isolation Film Festival on Letterboxd; a sort of at home festival list of great films to watch. Nick Cave recently wrote a beautiful post about the current situation that is well worth a read. YouTuber Karolina Żebrowska created a fun video about what a WWII booklet taught her about living in isolation which is a great watch.

How We Can Help Creatives and the Creative Industries

Here’s a few ideas about how we can help our fellow creatives in the current climate, as well as how we can help the creative industries rebuild from this experience:

  • Many local creative organisations and charities have been putting together surveys on how COVID-19 has affected creatives. If you have been impacted by loss of income, cancellation of performances, etcetera, please consider filling out these surveys to assist with the data collection which will  help these organisations assess the current situation and plan for the future.
  • You may have seen many musicians performing free concerts at home, which is incredibly generous, but please consider also giving your time, attention and donations to lesser-known performers to assist them during this difficult time. If they have a Patreon and you have the capacity to contribute, please think about doing so.
  • The easiest way to assist fellow creatives is by sharing their content on social media. Whether it’s a quick re-tweet of the link to their short film or a Facebook post advertising an up-coming online performance, it really does help. It’s a time to be united in our creative endeavours- let’s lift one another up!

 

Coronavirus and Cancelled Film Festivals: Where to Now?

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Last year was my first experience with SXSW, albeit in a remote capacity. Film Sprites PR was providing social media marketing for independent film Alice in the run-up to and duration of the Festival. The micro-budget first feature from Josephine Mackerras would win Best Narrative Feature and the inaugural CherryPicks Female First Award. It was a true honour to assist a filmmaker in an arena like SXSW; a Festival I had long admired.

News of the cancellation of SXSW 2020 hit me harder than I’d expected. I didn’t have any films in the Festival (either as a publicist or producer), but my heart immediately went out to every filmmaker whose film had been selected for the Festival this year. In particular, reading filmmaker Cooper Raiff’s comments in the IndieWire article about the cancellation put a huge lump in my throat. I think my heart broke further for filmmakers in that moment.

In addition to SXSW, there has also been the cancellation of the Cleveland International Film Festival, also due to Coronavirus. This, and the cancellation of SXSW 2020 is a wise decision from a disease control point-of-view, but let’s face it: it sucks. It’s a terrible situation to be in if you’re a filmmaker whose film was selected; especially if it’s your first film or your first time being selected for a Festival (or both).

EDIT: at the time of posting, the Beverly Hills Film Festival, the Full Frame Festival and the New York Children’s Film Festival had also cancelled their events due to COVID-19 fears. Denmark’s Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival has cancelled their physical event and is now planning a virtual stand-in.

So what can we do as a community to assist these filmmakers?

Thankfully the response has been overwhelming. Here’s a few alternatives that have arisen as a response to the SXSW cancellation (note: I will be adding to these regularly as new initiatives arise):

– On Twitter, the #SXSW2020 hashtag has yielded an incredible amount of reviewers who have offered to review and promote films which were going to be screened at the Festival. If you had a film that was playing at the Festival, search the hashtag and you’ll find some really thoughtful reviewers who want to help boost the signal. As I stated above, there are several other Festivals which have also been cancelled, so I encourage people who had films in these Festivals to also do a Twitter search based on posts about these Festivals to see if there are reviewers wanting to also boost the signal.

Stage 32 is offering a place to showcase SXSW 2020 projects. Stage 32 has “a global community of over 600,000 members, which includes distributors, buyers and sales agents, as well as hundreds of executives and educators who work with Stage 32 including managers, agents, financiers, development execs, and producers.” There is no fee for this service.

– If you run a film review site and haven’t offered to showcase selected films from cancelled Festivals, please think about doing so. Many Festival selections receive a boost from not only their selection at a Festival, but the reviews they receive. It’s also a great opportunity to forge a relationship with up-and-coming filmmakers and support their work going forward.

– If you have a film which was scheduled to play at any of the cancelled festivals mentioned above, contact us with your film’s trailer, your social media handles and a press kit and we will boost the signal through our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram  (please note: will will only be doing this for films that were selected to be shown at the Festivals above at this stage). If you have an initiative to assist these filmmakers, please also feel free to get in touch and we’ll update this post with the details.

Women and Hollywood wants to help filmmakers affected by the cancellation of SXSW or other Festivals; helping to amplifying crowdfunding campaigns to help recoup any losses due to cancellations. They will be publishing weekly crowdfunding features highlighting projects by and/or about women that have been impacted by a coronavirus-related cancellation.

And whether you’re a filmmaker or not: please take care of yourself. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. And let’s not stockpile toilet paper!

FAQs About Working With A Film Publicist

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The indie film landscape has changed in the past 20 years in new and exciting ways. Filmmakers can cut out the middle man and self-distribute, there are avenues for distribution open now (including the streaming services) that weren’t open at the start of the 21st century, and filmmakers can grow their audience right in the comfort of their own homes thanks to social media.

Film publicity is changing, too. Long gone are the days when it was just a matter of sending out a press release and phoning up a journalist to secure an article in a newspaper or a piece on the nightly news. Publicity now regularly involves going beyond the traditional media and connecting with social media influencers, as well as websites, blogs, and podcasts. Social media marketing is usually intertwined with publicity to give great results (and extend the reach of the filmmaker as well).

Of course, this also means the possibilities for filmmakers to self-promote are also boundless.

Does that mean the film publicist is becoming obsolete, especially for independent films?

Not quite. There are advantages to having a film publicist on board (check them out HERE). Once your film has secured distribution, chances are you will have a publicist attached thanks to the distribution company…but there are also some instances pre-distribution when a publicist can come in handy:

  • If your film has been selected by a top-tier film festival
  • If you have cinematic screenings or VOD and want to secure reviews, interviews and features
  • If you want to grow your media presence to help your work to be noticed

Those three instances are primarily the reasons independent filmmakers have come to me for assistance over the years.

And during my time as a publicist, social media marketer and crowdfunding consultant, I’ve had questions about publicity for film that pop up frequently. With that in mind, I’m answering these frequently asked questions so you know just what a publicist can be expected to do…and what they can’t (or won’t) do!

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Q: Can You Make Me Go Viral?

A: The short-and-sweet answer is ‘no’. The longer answer is that no publicist can guarantee virality. It’s not possible. If someone tries to convince you to put up your hard-earned dollars in exchange for guaranteed virality of your content, it’s a scam. The lifespan of virality is shortening, thanks to the sheer amount of content in front of us every single day.

In a previous post, I said this about virality, but I think it’s worth echoing here:

If you use virality as a sole benchmark for the success of your work, you’re going to end up feeling pretty bad about things- not because your work isn’t great, but because virality is so unpredictable and on the decline. There’s also this myth that going viral means you become an overnight success and everything is peachy keen. That can happen for some, but the experience is different in every case.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting your work to go viral, but it’s not up to anyone else, whether it’s a publicist or a social media marketer, to make that happen. Instead, I suggest securing reviews, interviews and features. Reviews in particular are useful, because they can provide quotes for your posters and promotional artwork.

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Q: Do all publicists also do social media marketing?

A: it depends on the individual publicist these days. Some publicity companies will also do social media marketing, whereas I know some freelance publicists who might only do publicity and won’t handle social media marketing. I do both, because one complements the other. By having publicity and social media marketing, you’re reaching your audience right where they’re ‘at’, whether that’s scrolling their Facebook feed or reading a local community newspaper. It’s a win-win.

Q: Can I get a friend or crew member to do my publicity?

A: if they have a background in publicity and/or have had experience writing things like press releases or your press kit, I say go for it. The one thing I caution against is using fans to do your publicity or social media, because those relationships can sour, and sour badly. I’ve seen it happen, it’s always ugly and potentially impacts on the reputation of the filmmaker. Avoid at all costs.

Q: Do I have to pay a publicist?

A: if you’re getting an outside agency or a marketing freelancer to do your publicity and/or social media marketing, then the answer is a resounding YES. I once had a filmmaker whom I’d never even spoken to in my life trolling me for about a year on social media because he objected to the fact that I charged for my services.

Here’s the thing: I trained up to be a publicist, and it took hours of study and implementation, coupled with the five years of publicity and social media marketing experience I now possess. This is a job for me, and I also have bills to pay like everyone else. That’s the same for every freelancer, regardless of their expertise. Freelance does NOT mean free.

It’s worth noting that when you pay a publicist, you’re paying them to do publicity work like reaching out to media outlets/influencers/websites. Their work should not be dependent on the result of that outreach. Nor is it dependent on the amount of digital sales generated for your VOD, or ticket sales for your screening. Think of it this way: a shoe-maker is paid for their work creating shoes, not on their ability to turn the wearer of the shoes into a marathon winner.

Q: Can you get me into Variety/Empire Magazine?

A: The ability to secure something in a big publication like Variety or Empire really depends on a few factors: how far along in your career are you? Does your film have well-known actors? What are the newsworthy elements of your film?

Every filmmaker wants to appear in the well-known film publications and in the mainstream news (which is an awesome goal), but depending on the factors I mentioned above it might not be possible. When a first-time director comes to me with a no-budget short film which has no well-known actors attached, it’s going to be more difficult to secure press in ‘big’ media outlets. One of the reasons for this is that these days with traditional media (newspapers, television, magazines, radio), newsrooms are being downsized, articles are being syndicated (which means less room for unique local content), and more people are turning to the Internet for their news. It means that stories about films and filmmakers have to compete for space, and so that space is quite often taken up by the big blockbusters with huge budgets and an A-list cast.

It also depends on your timeframe for requiring features and interviews in mainstream media: bear in mind that the traditional news sources (especially magazines) will tend to have their editorial calendars booked well in advance. If you come to a publicist in November wanting a feature on your Christmas story in the next edition of a magazine, your chances are slimmer than if your publicist has time to pitch at least three months in advance.

In other words, there are possibilities to appear in larger publications or mainstream news, but timing is everything. You can, however, secure quite a number of reviews, features and interviews with local newspapers, podcasts, community access radio, websites dedicated to film (especially ones dedicated to genre films if you have a horror or sci-fi film), etc. Don’t discredit these sources- podcasts are still massive in terms of reaching audiences, you’ll find hardcore fans for your film on the genre film websites, and community newspapers are often keen to pick up a story if you’ve done location shoots in their circulation area. Every positive piece of media exposure helps!

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Q: How often should I check in with my publicist?

A: It depends on the nature of your project, and how long you’re working with a publicist for. It’s completely fine to get in touch with them with regards to any queries you have (e.g. someone at a Festival coming up to you and wanting to know if you have a press kit available, etc) as that’s part of the process. The one thing I would caution against is checking in on a daily basis to see how much media exposure you’ve received. Your publicist will let you know of any interviews, reviews or features that have been posted or published, and will liaise with you to schedule interviews with journalists. They cannot push a journalist or publication to post or publish content any faster- journalists and editors work on their own timeframe (and in the case of podcasters and bloggers they’re often having to fit their film work in around other commitments unless they’re able to podcast/blog full-time).

So there you have it! Whether you hire a publicist or not, at the very least you know what to expect if you get to the point where a publicist might be handy.

Dispelling Popular Crowdfunding Myths

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Before I started Film Sprites PR in 2014 I started to test the waters of social media and publicity for film by assisting with promotion of crowdfunding campaigns. It was 2013, I was fresh from studying, and crowdfunding was a new and exciting world to me, and to filmmakers who wanted to cut out the middle man when it came to funding their films.

Fast forward to 2020 and every man and their dog knows what crowdfunding is. Thousands of shorts and features have had crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Seed & Spark and Go Fund Me (and that’s for starters!). Thousands of dollars have been raised in campaign funds, and films have gone ahead.

Since my initial dive into the world of crowdfunding, I’ve been involved in successful campaigns for films like Us Among the Stones, which debuted at the BFI London Film Festival last year, WW II film Magpie, and finishing funds for RAIN: A Fan Film About Storm. And then, as luck would have it, I took up a position at Boosted, the crowdfunding platform of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and gave artists crowdfunding advice that assisted them in creating amazing things like the short film Memory Foam, the outrageously funny webseries These Two, and the feature documentary Peter Peryer: The Art of Seeing, which debuted at the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2019. I even had the great privilege of presenting a session on crowdfunding for filmmakers with a Boosted colleague for theNew Zealand Film Commission‘s Fresh Shorts Intensive Weekend.

I’ve seen what works with crowdfunding, and what doesn’t.

I’ve also seen crowdfunding myths pop up time and again; things that don’t seem to go away. They’re things which seem reasonable enough, but are counter-intuitive to successful crowdfunding. Today, I’m going to let you in on those myths, AND give you alternatives that will help you reach your target.

Myth 1: You Have to Have a Really High Target to Be Successful

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If someone has a crowdfunding campaign for upwards of $100,000 I’m going to ask why.

Perhaps if you’re an A-List director and hiring well-known actors, have loads of location shoots, a multitude of crew and have a massive VFX budget, then that figure might be correct. But if you’re a director who is directing their first short on a shoestring and only need around $10,000 then chances are you’re not going to need that much.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, however when it comes to crowdfunding you have to think very pragmatically (especially since crowdfunding is like having another full time job in and of itself). When people tell me they want a really high target for their crowdfunding campaign, their logic tends to be along the lines of: “if we have a really high target, people will think we’ve got a huge production and that will make them more likely to contribute to the campaign.”

There’s a few problems with this:

1. If you’re on an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform and your campaign is unsuccessful, the risk of not reaching your target increases the higher your target is.

2. If you have a campaign with a really high target and it’s unsuccessful, it looks less impressive than a campaign that has reached (or exceeded) its target. A smaller target that is tracking well percentage-wise during a campaign makes people more likely to contribute to the campaign than a large target that is not tracking well.

So, what’s a more practical target? Here’s the formula I give people:

  • First, work out exactly how much you need to make your film/webseries. If you’re crowdfunding in pre-production, you’ll need to work out how much it’s going to cost for everything you need, e.g. equipment hire, catering, paying your cast and crew, etc. In post, work out what you need to finish the film and how much that’s going to cost (e.g. sound, colouring, reshoots).
  • Look at the percentage the crowdfunding platform will take in fees and add that percentage onto your total (e.g. if the platform charges 10%, add 10% to your figure)

That’s what your total should be. The benefit of this is that if you achieve your target prior to the close of your campaign, you can then continue promoting your campaign on social media and go for a ‘stretch goal’ of some type.

One thing to also keep in mind is whether or not you’re offering physical perks during your campaign, because that will impact on the total amount as well. Some campaigns with perks ask contributors to add an additional amount (around $10-$15) onto their contribution to cover postage and packaging costs. It’s entirely up to you as to whether or not you do this.

Myth 2: Long Campaign Durations Are Best

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One of the myths that seems to come up time and again is the idea that if you run a long campaign (two months or more), that it will be more successful because it gives people more time to contribute. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way!

Crowdfunding campaigns tend to have a pattern: the first week of campaign you’ll see a flurry of contributions, then contributions will tend to slow down in the following 1-2 weeks, with momentum picking up again in the last 7 days.

So, why do I recommend not having a long campaign duration?

  1. Crowdfunding is a time-consuming process. Successful campaigns mean a LOT of sweat equity. A 30 day campaign can be exhausting, but if you stretch it out to 60-90 days it means you’re going to have to keep going. How is that going to impact on your personal life, your professional life, and your filmmaking?
  2. Another issue is that if your campaign is not going well, you might be tempted to give up on it altogether. And I don’t want to see that happening with anyone!

A good campaign duration is 30 days. The reason for this is that it keeps to a concise, manageable timeframe, and you are able to receive contributions from people with varying pay cycles (e.g. fortnightly, weekly). It also means that your own personal momentum is maintained, and trust me- enthusiasm is infectious!

Myth 3: If People Are Cinephiles, They’ll Contribute

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Here’s the thinking behind this common myth: people love movies, so they’re going to support my campaign because of this.

If only this were true!

The reality is that the majority of your crowdfunding contributions (around 90%) will come from your immediate network (friends, family, work groups, industry groups, your mailing list and your social media following) as opposed to people unconnected to your immediate network. That doesn’t mean you can’t get those contributions, it’s just prudent to make sure they’re not the focus of your contribution hopes. You can find out more about how to prep your crowdfunding campaign (and identify your network for your campaign) HERE.

Myth 4: A Crowdfunding Campaign Doesn’t Require Any Effort

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Crowdfunding: it’s easy money, right? Your campaign page goes live, and the money starts rolling in.

Errrr…not quite.

A crowdfunding campaign is like having another full-time job. Between writing the copy for your page, getting a pitch video ready and reaching out to your networks via social media and/or e-mail, it takes time.

Think of it this way: if you were doing investor relations face-to-face with someone, you’d have things like a pitch deck, a treatment, and you’d be able to break down your film budget. Crowdfunding is very much like investor relations, but online.

Crowdfunding is not a magic ATM machine. The more time you put into prepping and promoting your campaign, the easier it will be the next time you need to do face-to-face investor relations, because the skills overlap somewhat.

If you’re looking for ‘easy money’, crowdfunding is probably not for you.

If you are just crowdfunding because you think it will bring awareness to your project or that you’ll go viral, crowdfunding is probably not for you.

If you don’t have the time to plan a campaign, keep your contributors updated and promote your campaign on social media throughout the funding duration, crowdfunding is probably not for you.

And if it’s not for you, that’s okay too! I’ve spoken with people who, after weighing up the pros and cons, have decided not to run a campaign and have successfully gained the funds they needed for their projects through other means. Crowdfunding is another option in the arts funding landscape, not the be-all end-all. You can always apply for grants and scholarships, do investor relations face-to-face with private investors, or look for angel equity.

So there you have it- some of the most common crowdfunding myths dispelled.

There’s much more about crowdfunding available on the blog. If you’re interested, check out these posts:

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Looking After Yourself During a Crowdfunding Campaign

How to Harness Twitter for Your Film’s Crowdfunding Campaign

What Part Should Publicity Play in Your Crowdfunding Campaign?

Crowdfunding and the Benefits for Indie Filmmakers

 

Level Up Your Filmmaking, Producing and Screenwriting in 2020

level up your film career

Here in New Zealand, kids around the country are going back to school. Unlike the northern hemisphere, here in NZ our school year starts at the end of January/start of February and ends in December. I was always the weird little kid that used to love the start of a new school year because of getting new stationery and potential to learn new things.

That hasn’t changed much- I still love to learn new things and I believe that learning is an ongoing, life-long process. Currently, I’m in the early stages of learning something brand new: if you follow Sprites on social, you will have seen that I am transitioning my career from publicity and social media marketing to producing. And while the best way to learn is through doing, there are lots of resources out there that can help too.

That’s why I’ve put together this list of handy resources for courses, podcasts and other materials that can help you to upskill your film career in 2020. While the title of this post references filmmakers, producers and screenwriters, the resources aren’t limited to these particular strands of the industry.

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Courses, Workshops and Webinars

You don’t have to go to film school to pick up some excellent insights! There’s lots of courses you can do at your own pace from the comfort of your own home; including courses which lead to certifications:

You can’t go wrong with the courses offered by Raindance. With branches in London, New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Brussels and Budapest, they offer excellent-quality courses with the tutors who know their stuff. For instance, if you’re UK-based there’s courses, workshops and sessions like the Director’s Foundation Certificate, the Deep Characterisation Workshop, and Breaking into the Film Industry. A few years ago I did the Producer’s Foundation Certificate online through Raindance LA and found it hugely beneficial for building my knowledge base.

Another resource for courses and workshops is Sundance Collab. They offer a wealth of courses(usually 4- 8 weeks) that cover writing, filmmaking, directing and producing. They’re pricier than the Raindance courses, but another resource to keep in mind.

Want a quick dose of knowledge? Try their Master Classes. There’s one Master Class per month with a knowledgeable practitioner in the field, and take place online. They’re reasonably priced as well.

They also offer free webinars on occasion, and I find their newsletter is one I actually take the time to open and read because the content available is really valuable.

Speaking of webinars, Stage 32 offer some excellent on-demand webinars that cover a really wide and varied range of topics, like distribution, financing, pitching, directing, and international co-productions (just to name a few!).

And, finally, it’s time to take your seat in class, because today’s instructor is David Lynch. Or Spike Lee. Or Mira Nair. Yes, I’m talking about MasterClass, the online platform where the greats will teach you what they know. The film and TV offerings in MasterClass include Natalie Portman teaching acting, Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting, and a generous handful of directors teaching their craft. MasterClass classes are the kind of gift you give yourself when you want a dose of inspiration and insight from a practitioner in your field that you greatly admire.

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Film Guilds

Your local film guilds can provide great opportunities for working (and networking), including workshops and clinics. In New Zealand, we have incredible industry guilds, like WIFTNZ, which provide workshops covering various topics. For instance, there’s an up-coming safety workshop being held by WIFTNZ which will no doubt have excellent attendance. Membership fees vary, but with some guilds their workshops are free for members, with a very small fee for non-members to attend.

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Skill Sharing

Want to learn something completely different from someone you know? Offer a skill-sharing arrangement. I am about to undertake a few skill-sharing arrangements this year; including sharing social media insights and knowledge in exchange for producing know-how. If you want to learn from someone or have a mentor, think about how you can skill-share with them. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can do it face-to-face if you both live in the same location, but you can also do it via Skype if you’re living in different cities.

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Hit the Books

Of course, you can always find new insights in a good old fashioned book. A few years back, I made a list of Great Reads for Filmmakers you might want to check out.

Cheap and Cheerful Options

Learning something new doesn’t have to break the bank (and let’s face it, when you’re in indie filmmaking there’s not a lot of $$$ to spare)! Here’s some no-cost ideas:

  • YouTube: I’ve found that many of the big film festivals have great YouTube content, including Q&As with directors and actors, as well as the odd master class or two. TIFF Talks is excellent and includes industry masterclasses, Q&As, In Conversation sessions, and more.
  • If, like me, you like your knowledge on the go, think about subscribing to filmmaking podcasts. There’s many excellent podcasts to choose from, but here are a few of my favourites that I have found most valuable: Indie Film Hustle, Screen Australia, Film Threat, and IndieWire Screen Talk. The Big Screen Symposium in NZ have also made many of their talks and masterclasses available via podcast, as have the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Our Blog and Free Resources

Finally, you can find 7 years of publicity, social media marketing and crowdfunding experience distilled down into blog posts right here on the website, and FREEresources available for download. Topics include putting a publicity budget into action, how to prep for a crowdfunding campaign, and more.

Deadly Sins of Social For Your Indie Film

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Have YOU been naughty with your film’s social media?

Social media provides us with a whole new world of possibilities; from connecting with our potential audience through to crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

BUT….when it goes wrong, it tends to go spectacularly wrong.

From celebrities being exposed for offensive tweets they made years ago, to Instagram posts sinking entire careers, social media may be an easy way to achieve your goals but it also needs to be navigated with care and caution when you’re building your personal brand for your filmmaking.

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With this in mind, I bring you the Deadly Sins of Social. You’ll notice that while it takes the form of the Seven Deadly Sins, there’s a few missing. That’s deliberate on my part and not a mistake! Avoid these Sins like the plague, and you’ll be away laughing:

PRIDE: Expecting to Go Viral

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In the course of my career, I’ve been asked “can you make me go viral?”

The answer is, no. Nobody can make you go viral, any more than they can guarantee you’ll have a billion dollars in your account tomorrow morning. Just as a human virus can be unpredictable, virality in the virtual world is very unpredictable. In fact, it’s more difficult to go viral in 2020 than it was in 2007 (I wrote about the state of virality in the 2010s here if you’re interested in reading more).

Every single one of us, regardless of our career aspirations and our goals on social media, need to stop viewing virality as a panacea, and thinking that ‘overnight success’ is going to be the answer. You build your social media following slowly but surely.

There’s something Mark Duplass said to CNBC Make It about building a career on your own terms that I think also applies to building your brand and your audience on social media:

“I would say if you have a dream — and whether that is you want to be some sort of artist or you want to start a start-up or a business, anything that very much feels like it’s uniquely yours and you may not be able to get traction going through traditional channels — the way to do it is to build it brick by brick on your own in microsteps…”

Brick by brick, and you’ll get there. And those bricks include selecting your social media platforms, providing your followers with exciting regular content, and being genuine in your message.

WRATH: Getting Into Arguments on Social Media

seven sins wrath

Trolls. They’re everywhere online. The world is literally burning, and social media can be an absolute dumpster fire at times. But when they come for you or your work, the impulse is probably to clap back immediately. DON’T. Trolls are not worth wasting oxygen and keystrokes on, even if you’re dying to throw some major re-tweet-worthy shade. Just don’t. Block and move on.

SLOTH: Not Updating Your Social Media Regularly

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It’s a common thing: set up social media for your film’s crowdfunding campaign, or when you have a short film coming out, you’ve finished with that particular project, and then….

Zip.

Zilch.

Nada.

You’ve moved onto the next project.

I recommend instead of setting up individual social media profiles for each short film that you set up a profile for ALL of your filmmaking. That way you can continue to grow your audience, bring new fans into the fold, and provide your fans and supporters with regular updates on your filmmaking.

LUST: Using Your Film’s Social Media Accounts Like a Dating Site

seven deadly sins of social media lust

Social media has opened up possibilities for so many people (myself included) when it comes to collaborating with people in the film industry, but in the era of #MeToo I continue to see some rather unflattering and uncomfortable behaviour happening online. If you’re building your film’s audience on social media, it’s not an opportunity to flirt or be inappropriate.

Also, bear in mind that on platforms like Twitter your ‘likes’ are visible to your followers. Remember when the Ted Cruz twitter account ‘liked’ a pornographic image? YIKES. Not a good look.

Social media can be exciting, enjoyable and connect you with wonderful fans and fellow industry professionals, but there are just a few things to be aware of. Don’t forget: a tweet may last a second, but a screenshot lasts a lifetime!

Want some more handy hints and tips to help with your film’s social? Check out our FREE resources.

 

What Did the 2010s Bring Indie Filmmakers?

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Happy New Year to you…and Happy New Decade! I decided to leave this post until after New Year’s so it didn’t get lost in the sea of lists that tend to come out at the end of each decade.

For me, the 2010s hold a particularly important place in my heart, because not only was it the decade I began my career in the film industry, it was also the decade I launched Film Sprites PR. Throughout the 2010s I kept a close eye on what was happening in the film industry, and how things were changing. The indie filmmaking landscape I was welcomed into in the 2010s is a genuinely remarkable one: there have been technologies and changes that have paved the way for filmmakers to create on their own terms, often cutting out ‘the middle man’. What a decade to work in indie film!

Check out some of the changes in our society (and the industry) which changed the way filmmakers can fund, create, promote and distribute their films:

Crowdfunding Changes the Film Funding Landscape

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Before I founded Sprites, I started my career by helping to publicize crowdfunding campaigns for films. Over the years, I have continued to do so, as well as working at Boosted, the crowdfunding platform of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. Who knew that this wonderful world of funding opportunity would exist in the 2010s? Crowdfunding has given filmmakers the opportunity to secure funding in a timely fashion, while also helping to build an audience for their films. While there are various other funding opportunities for filmmakers available, crowdfunding has been a successful way for filmmakers to secure their finance, whether in pre-production, post-production, or to pay for things like trips to festivals or post-production colour grading and/or ADR. Well-known successfully crowdfunded films include Lazer Team by Rooster Teeth, The Veronica Mars Movie Project, and Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here.

Crowdsourcing of Cinema Screenings Becomes a Reality

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Similar to crowdfunding, crowdsourcing became a great option for filmmakers when it came to various aspects of filmmaking. One particular crowdsourcing option that materialized in the 2010s was the crowdsourcing of cinema screenings of films.

Platforms like Tugg meant filmmakers could screen their films at selected cinemas provided the required amount of tickets were sold. This is a great way for filmmakers to provide the big screen experience. It’s a system which has proven particularly successful for niche films; like films with environmental themes. Demand.Film also provides a selection of films which can be screened, including films from Australia and New Zealand and films with niche audiences. This is particularly beneficial for community groups or interest groups who want to bring a film to the big screen.

Social Media Gets Serious

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Social media started to sprout in the late 2000s. Remember Tom from MySpace? In the 2010s social media platforms exploded onto the scene, giving us many ways to share our daily happenings and memes. And as social media began to grow, so too did the opportunities for filmmakers to share their message and grow an audience for their films or webseries. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been joined by the likes of TikTok and Snapchat to provide many options for spreading your message. Before the advent of social media, radio, print and television were primarily the ways of gaining awareness for your filmmaking and growing your audience. Now you can connect with your audience (and potential audience) right through their smartphone.

Streaming Services Rule Screens

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Hop onto your Facebook feed and I can guarantee you’ll see at least one of your friends talking about something they watched via a streaming service. Netflix, which was founded in 1997, expanded into offering streaming services, as did other platforms like Prime Video. The new world of streaming offers filmmakers another route for distribution of their films. Filmmakers can also offer downloads or streaming of their films via their own website. Gone are the days when hopes hung on a cinematic release; now indie filmmakers can reach audiences in their own homes and open them to a world of new ideas and concepts far beyond the traditional Hollywood blockbuster.

What will the 2020s offer? Only time can tell…

 

Identifying the Most Important Supporter of Your Creative Career

Forget _Overnight Success_And Embrace the Long Game(1)

We’re moving towards the end of another year, and (gulp!) moving into a brand new decade. As well as pausing to reflect on the holiday season, December and January are often a time to reflect on our dreams and goals, and looking at how far we’ve come in the past twelve months.

With that in mind, I’ve been writing some posts that veer away from film publicity and social media marketing and more towards motivation and inspiration for creatives (check out my previous post about why “overnight success” is anything but), to hopefully help you get into a really great headspace for 2020. This post is no exception.

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In the past on the blog I’ve discussed the importance of creating your own “Creative Brains Trust” to help you with your career goals and creative projects. But even before the formation of your Creative Brains Trust, there’s one person who is the most important supporter of your creative career. Have you guessed who that person is yet? Flip your phone camera to the front-facing view, because it’s YOU.

Does that sound cheesy? Perhaps, but hear me out.

Supporters, mentors, fans, friends…they all come and go. You may achieve success in one area and find a flock of supporters suddenly rallying to your side; some with the purest of intentions, and some who are drawn to ‘fame by association’. Fortunes can ebb and flow. Regardless of your outside circumstances, you need to back yourself 100%. You need to back your vision and your dream when nobody else does, or will. The reason? If you don’t back your vision, it’s hard to get anyone else on board to do so as well.

Being your own best supporter also gives you the resilience to get through the tough times. It’s extremely hard to keep going when outside circumstances aren’t favourable, and that’s where backing your vision and your talent comes in. I’m going to get a bit ‘woo’ for a second: some practitioners of the art of manifestation say that in order to help your desired circumstances to manifest, you need to believe in the desired outcome, regardless of evidence to the contrary. A bit of healthy delusion? Perhaps, but it gives you more resilience when rejection emails land in your inbox, a deal falls through, or nothing seems to be moving forward.

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Does that mean you don’t listen to healthy advice from people in the know? Absolutely not. If someone is telling you that this isn’t a good avenue for you, or there’s a better option, then you listen. It means that you adjust your sails and shift course a little to accommodate more favourable winds. It doesn’t mean you give up on your dream or yourself altogether.

Another reason to be your own best supporter is because although humility is vital (and I’ve met so many incredible creatives who have a massive amount of humility), sometimes we can be our worst enemy when it comes to putting ourselves forward and showing the world what we have to offer. In the course of my career I’ve spoken with filmmakers who were reluctant to crowdfund because they felt funny about asking friends and family for money, or were reluctant to promote their work. Believe me, I completely understand! But one of the benefits of truly backing your work and what you have to offer to the world is that you will be able to pitch yourself to anyone. Imagine bumping into someone at random who could become a vital creative collaborator or help fund your work, and you have the confidence to talk freely about your work and what you bring to the table. That’s quite a good skill to have, but sometimes it can be SO difficult to put it into words.

Let me share my own experience: it was two and a half years into running Film Sprites PR, and I was a guest on a filmmaking podcast. It was a great experience, but when the hosts asked me about why filmmakers should use Film Sprites PR for their publicity, social media marketing or crowdfunding strategy and promotion, I didn’t really have an answer. I was a creative, energetic publicist who had the benefit of also being a cinephile, I’d helped filmmakers achieve their goals (including media placements internationally, growing their social media audience and raising thousands of dollars through crowdfunding), but I couldn’t articulate anything about my own abilities enthusiastically. I realised at that point that I didn’t back myself…and that was a tough realisation.

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It was, however, a huge kick up the butt. And it produced some interesting results. I got re-focused. I started to back myself. As a result, as I was backing myself, other people were backing me too. I put myself through a sort of self-belief boot camp, which then led to the writing of this post on strategies for reluctant self-promoters. This post then led me to write a similar article on how to best promote your work as a reluctant self promoter, which appeared on The Big Idea‘s website. As a result of this article, a producer at Radio New Zealand contacted me to see if I wanted to discuss the article on the RNZ (yes please!). All of that came from backing myself and being my own best supporter.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been dark times. I’m sure we’ve all had those dark teatimes of the soul at one point or another, right? I think it comes with the territory of being a creative: we have a huge capacity for creating good, but our brains are so nebulous that we’re also prone to going down dark rabbit holes as well. So when times are lean, things aren’t progressing or opportunities that seemed promising fall through, I just remind myself what I have to offer, why I started in the first place, and what I aim to achieve in the future.

And that’s the absolute best advice I can offer you, too. If you have to carry it around on a small card in your wallet, put it on your mirror, or use it as a mantra, then do so: remind yourself what you have to offer, why you started in the first place, and what you aim to achieve in the future. It also serves as a really good quick pitch during networking situations as well!

So, are you ready to slay 2020? I am.

 

 

Forget “Overnight Success” And Embrace the Long Game

Forget _Overnight Success_And Embrace the Long Game

We live in a media and technology-saturated world now, so it’s impossible to get away from posts, blogs, and news proclaiming the latest “overnight success”. Sometimes it’s tied with something going viral, but more often than not it’s a musician, filmmaker, or actor suddenly receiving praise and accolades. For creatives in any field it can seem like an enticing career trajectory that’s available to them. You mean I put something out there and become an overnight sensation? Not quite. Even with the promise of going viral as a tasty carrot, the reality is very different.

Everyone’s trajectory is unique, based on their skills, experience, personality and goals. You can’t look at one artist and emulate their formula for success exactly, because you are you and not them. I can’t examine Beyoncé’s career trajectory in minute detail, try to copy it and hope that it sticks (also, I can’t sing, so there’s that).

What people don’t tell you about creatives that we see as “overnight successes” is that before that award or praise is the countless years (sometimes decades) that have gone into honing their craft. The rejection letters, the detours, the blood, sweat, tears and ambition that have carried them forth in their darkest hours. It’s something that many creatives with identify with right now. It’s the times you were ignored by your peers, made to feel ‘not good enough’, had to work multiple jobs on top of your creative endeavours just to stay afloat. So that success is well won and very, very hard earned.

Then there’s the naysayers and unhelpful comments from friends and family who don’t understand your goals. You probably know them (or a variation of them) well: “so, where’s your Academy Award?” “Have you made your film yet?” “You should get a real job…” What’s a creative to do?

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It really is true that slow and steady wins the race. Any endeavour is a marathon, not a sprint. At times, it may seem pointless and you may even want to give in. Don’t.

I’m only seven years into my journey through the film industry, and it’s been tough. At one point, I was working a full-time administration job whilst also juggling Film Sprites PR clients, and I also worked as the Christchurch publicity assistant for NZIFF 2014 at the same time. I didn’t have a holiday or a weekend for the first three years. Recently, I relocated temporarily for a position and could afford to eat one meal a day. I’ve had people who have asked for my help and I have enthusiastically obliged, only for them to completely ghost me with no acknowledgement of my help whatsoever. I’m not where I see myself being in the future, but in order to get there I have to bridge the gap by doing exceptional work, being of excellent service to the film industry, and keeping the faith (and yes, I still require a ‘day job’ to get by, and that’s okay!).

My advice is to embrace the “long game”. Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do the work. Be present and enthusiastic. When times get tough, remind yourself WHY you’re doing this. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a session at the Big Screen Symposium where one of my favourite directors, David Michôd (who most recently directed The King) was discussing the development of his feature film Animal Kingdom. The script development was a ten-year process, and the film was nominated for and won a slew of awards, including eight awards at the 2010 Australian Film Institute awards. Many of the world’s most beloved filmmakers have worked on shorts, music videos and/or television before progressing to features.

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You know why wine, cheese and whisky are so good? They require ageing and maturing. In fact, here in New Zealand we had a great ad campaign for Mainland Cheese whose slogan was: “Good Things Take Time.”

So, as this is a blog attached to a publicity and social media marketing consultancy service, what can you do during the “long game” to assist your career? Here’s a few tips:

  • Establish social media profiles for your creative career: If you’re a filmmaker, set up profiles that will assist you with all of your projects, as opposed to setting up pages solely for one short film or feature. The reason? If you set up a page solely for one project, you will most probably use this for the duration of your promoting of the project (e.g. screenings, Festival appearances, etc) but then you will move onto your next project and the page might sit dead with little to no posts being generated. If you have pages which encompass all of your projects it means that you can build up a large audience who will hopefully follow your work from one project to the next. It’s also great for helping to build support for any crowdfunding campaigns you might run in the future.
  • Don’t pin your hopes on going viral: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go viral, but the efficacy of virality is on the decline. You can find out more about this, and better alternatives, on this post.
  • Consider doing guest blogs about your areas of expertise: you don’t have to wait for your project to be released to start generating content that will help with publicity of your creative career! Find some handy blogging ideas here.

Lastly, check out this great keynoteat SXSW 2015 by Mark Duplass for some timely inspiration.

Great Reasons to Support Your Local Independent Cinema

Support Local Independent Cinema

We have such a wealth of choices when it comes to how, when and where we watch films now, but there’s still nothing that beats the cinema-going experience. In every large city there’s generally several options to indulge in that cinema-going experience (including cinema chains), but how often do you see a film at your local independent cinema?

There’s a scene (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) in Craig Brewer’s fantastic film Dolemite is My Name that I find truly inspiring: after the blood, sweat, and tears of making Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore fails to secure a distributor. Things come to a head when a radio DJ wants to know when people can see the film. Off air, Moore confesses that they don’t have a distributor, which prompts the DJ to suggest a small cinema that might host the film. Moore would have to pay for a screening, but could keep the profits. And after some enthusiastic hustling to promote the film it not only sells out, but has a genuinely appreciative audience. Thank you, independent cinema owner!

I can honestly say that this year I saw only one film at a cinema chain. The rest of my viewings were at independent cinemas in Wellington (during NZIFF 2019) and Christchurch. This wasn’t a strategic decision…it just turned out that the independent cinemas were screening the films I wanted to see over the blockbuster fare that was available at the cinema chains. As a result, I fell back in love with independent cinemas, and I hope after reading this you will too. Below are some reasons to support your local independent cinemas; both as an audience member and a filmmaker:

They screen great independent, foreign language, and genre films: Parasite, High Life, Amazing Grace, Maiden…chances are, if you were a New Zealander and saw any of these films this year in cinema, it was probably at one of the independent cinemas dotted around the country. Sometimes you don’t want to wait for something to come out on VOD or a streaming platform, and independent cinemas are great at bringing those films to you. They can’t bring everything to the big screen, sadly, but they bring their audiences a very fine selection each year.

They’re a great destination for film festival fare and small festivals: in my home town, Christchurch, we are fortunate enough to have Lumière Cinemas as one of the screening destinations for the New Zealand International Film Festival (along with the Isaac Theatre Royal), but this year they have also hosted the inaugural Christchurch leg of the Terror-Fi Film Festival and are soon to host Madman Reel Anime 2019 as well!

The Hollywood Avondale in Auckland is known for their legendary 24 Hour Movie Marathon, which is in its 20th year in 2019. Check out your local independent cinema, as they can often host great festivals which bring you unique fare (and sometimes before general release).

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They host special and limited screenings: whether it’s a Rocky Horror Picture Show sing-a-long screening, a big screen showing of The Room or a movie marathon, independent cinemas bring you the good stuff. Scrolling through the event listings of an independent cinema on their website can feel like their offerings were tailored for you, and you alone. After seeing Midsommar at NZIFF 2019, I absolutely jumped at the chance to see the director’s cut on the big screen (and traumatise my partner, who didn’t see the theatrical cut beforehand).

There are independent cinemas that are opting to screen some of the Netflix films which were available for theatrical release as well (The Guardian has a great explanation of why some theatre chains are opting not to offer these screenings). I went to see The King on the big screen before it hit Netflix, partly because I wanted to be a sort of ‘guinea pig’ for the small theatrical release window, but mostly because I’m a massive fan of David Michôd’s filmmaking, as well as the Shakespeare Henriad that the film is based on. It was definitely well worth seeing on the big screen due to the battle scenes, but it’s also a bit of a treat to see it before it hits Netflix. It will be interesting to see how this format of screening windows develops in the future, but for now there’s independent cinemas that are embracing it wholeheartedly.

In 2016, Academy Cinemas very graciously hosted the advanced screening and Q&A session of Life Off Grid (a film Film Sprites PR was doing the NZ publicity and social media marketing for). Despite the fact that Quentin Tarantino was in town for the Hateful Eight premiere, ardent fans of independent documentaries and sustainability turned up to welcome the film wholeheartedly.

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They’re designed with cinephiles in mind: the one thing I’ve noticed about independent cinemas over cinema chains is that the independent cinemas are a haven for cinephiles. Plush seating, opulent surroundings, and quite often there’s wine and cheese platters on offer for those who really want to revel in their cinematic experience (also great for date night!).

Enjoy a signature cocktail at an indie cinema bar, or catch up with a friend post-screening for coffee. And trust me, I’ve never met a coffee at an independent cinema I didn’t like.

They often support local content: here’s a tip for independent filmmakers if you are self-distributing (or want to host an event or cast screening of your film): get in touch with your local independent cinema. Often they have reasonable rates for screening films or fundraising nights, so it’s worth checking out what they may be able to do for you. And, hey, you might end up doing a Dolemite….