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Diary of a Film Startup: Post # 30: Movie Live on VoD…Now What?
By Roger Jackson
Previously: The Vision Thing
If you’ve submitted a feature or documentary to KinoNation, you were probably a little overwhelmed at first by all the metadata that’s required. We just made the process much easier by including a real-time Progress Bar, with a dynamic list of what required metadata is still missing. We’ve also radically simplified the signup & login process. Check it out, the sooner you submit (or complete) a film, the sooner we can get it distributed.
Movie Live on VoD…Now What?
KinoNation films are now going live every day on our beta partners Hulu, Amazon and Viewster. And they’re getting watched. And generating revenue for the filmmakers. So now’s a good time to get into the weeds about marketing. i.e. what concrete steps can get people to discover your film on video-on-demand? And once they’ve discovered it, how do you get them to start watching…and keep watching ‘till the end credits roll? What’s at stake is whether your film makes, for example, a trivial $250 on Hulu in 2014 — or it makes $25,000. And then repeat that across a dozen other platforms? It’s what Gravitas Ventures CEO Nolan Gallagher calls “The Last Mile” — and like every other part of the filmmaking process, it requires imagination, hard work and persistence.
Roseanne Liang submitted her documentary “Banana in a Nutshell” to KinoNation a few months ago. Roseanne in the doc is the “banana” — that is, white on the inside, yellow on the outside. She’s a Chinese girl who grew up in New Zealand, and she’s in love with a white boy. Her Chinese parents are not happy. Conflict follows, and it’s a damn good story. We delivered Banana to Hulu a couple of weeks ago, and since then it’s been watched over 4000 times.
As Roseanne says, “The first 2 weeks of ‘Banana in a Nutshell’ on Hulu have far exceeded my expectations. Taking the step to make it available on-demand has been a tremendously gratifying experience so far, and while the numbers are modest in terms of the big budget stuff, it’s gone hotcakes compared to the audience it was getting before.”
So how can Roseanne build on this momentum? Ultimately it’s the filmmaker who has to drive the audience to VoD. And that means figuring out the audience to target, and why the story is relevant to their lives. Here’s Roseanne’s thoughts:
“As a filmmaker I’m not that great with marketing and promotion…I would target the ‘meet the parents’ market – couples who are getting along just fine, but have families or parents who disapprove of the union. If I had a marketing budget, I might target dating sites, or love/advice columns. The next obvious niche market would be immigrant communities, especially the Asian diaspora. I feel though that the modern Asian-American or Asian-anywhere feels like they have heard this story a million times. Obviously I think the documentary tells the story from a different perspective, but it’s an interesting marketing exercise to try and re-invigorate discussion on cross-cultural negotiations in a way that doesn’t seem trite.”
It’s not easy…but as Roseanne indicates, the thread that you MUST weave throughout this marketing process is the story of why you made this film and why people should spend the time & money to watch it. Above all, why and how they will benefit from the experience.
With that in mind, here’s my list of The Basics — 10 tactics that are mission critical to success on VoD.
Don’t be wedded to a title just because it’s there on the script. It must be catchy & compelling. e.g. the uber-successful VoD documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” Or a movie opening this week that’s compelling for me simply because of the title: “How to Make Money Selling Drugs.” It must NOT be bland or boring. If people aren’t finding your title provocative and intriguing, consider changing it, however painful that may feel.
One in three films submitted to KinoNation have posters that would look stunning on the side of a bus-stop, but are barely readable at thumbnail size on iTunes or Amazon or Hulu. Here’s the re-worked Pulp Fiction poster on Hulu. It’s lean, nothing unnecessary. No credits since they’re unreadable at this size. Compare to the original. The Hulu version has even lost the references to Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender, because they’re more or less unreadable at this size. Credits are nice, but they waste valuable real estate on a VoD poster. Likewise with festival laurels and press quotes. Pare them down so they’re big and bold and readable…or get rid of them.
We limit the synopsis to 255 characters, including spaces. That’s not much, but it forces lean, spare writing where every word counts. The audience is scanning a page, taking in a lot of information is a few seconds. This short description should tease them, make them want more, hopefully click on the trailer.
There’s lots of expert writing on trailers. I was talking to producer Chris Moore last night, who said that studios typically hire 4 different trailer houses, then test the hell out of each one, re-cut, sometimes mash them up, then test and test again. You don’t have those resources, but you can avoid what I think is the biggest mistake, which is wasting the first 5-10 seconds with irrelevant & useless stuff — like “Global Productions Presents” a “Roger Jackson/Klaus Badelt Film.” Ditch it, go straight to a cold open in the first frame that grabs the viewer and doesn’t let go until the end. Add the title somewhere near the beginning.
This is how search engines find your film. Not just Google but also search within each VoD platform. And not just search…keywords drive the internal algorithms that suggest films to the browsing viewer. I could do a whole post on keywords alone, but for now I’ll just say put yourself in the mind of the searcher, don’t waste keywords on bland generic notions (e.g. “life affirming”) but look for specifics that people search for, like names, nouns, etc.
6. Facebook, Friends & Family
As soon as your film is live on its first VoD platform, you should tell everyone you know or have ever befriended. All the obvious means — Facebook, Twitter, email. Get your cast & crew to do the same. But expect only a short term bump from this — so do it again every time the film goes live on a new outlet.
7. The Passion
I’m a big proponent of filmmakers making a simple 60-90 second video (webcam is fine) where they explain “the passion” that drove them to make this film. Why DID you expend 3 years of your life, max-out credit cards, destroy relationships…this is powerful marketing, and it’s super-easy to make and distribute.
8. Audience Comments
When you’re thinking of buying an object on Amazon, you read the customer reviews, right? So when your film goes live on Hulu or Amazon or iTunes, ask your 20 closest pals to write reviews…you want them to be positive, but also credible and objective.
9. Press Reviews
There are now hundreds of movie review sites, blogs, apps. You must ask as many as possible to review your film. Reviews make a huge difference to whether or not VoD platforms select a film in the first place, and they make your film orders of magnitude more “findable” online.
This is the holy grail of VoD marketing. i.e. spending $20 on Facebook ads to get $50 worth of VoD revenue. Similarly with Google adwords. It works best with transactional VoD (e.g. Amazon Instant Video.) And also with selling DVDs. The price point of the film has to be high enough to make the math viable. We know plenty of filmmakers who are making this work. It’s arbitrage, basically. And if you can make it scalable — meaning you can reach a bigger and bigger paying audience — then it can be gloriously profitable. I’ll write more in a future post…executing on this is a big part of the KinoNation master plan.
Roger Jackson is a producer and the co-founder of film distribution start-up KinoNation. He was Vice President, Content for digital film pioneer iFilm.com and has produced short films in Los Angeles, documentaries in Darfur, Palestine and Bangladesh, a reality series for VH1 and one rather bad movie for FuelTV. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.