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August 15 at 8:15am

10 Questions Every Filmmaker Should Ask Themselves

By Ted Hope

By Marc Schiller

Back in early May, I had the pleasure of attending “A2E: Artist To Entrepreneur” a fantastic lab organized by Ted Hope and the San Francisco Film Society. Over a three day period, a group of extremely talented filmmakers, technologists, marketing and distribution experts came together to explore new paradigms for film distribution.

On the first day of the lab, Ted and his team passed around a worksheet that all of the filmmakers were asked to complete. While filmmakers are often asked to submit information when applying for funding, few are compelled to explore their film from a marketing and distribution perspective as effectively and as thoroughly as the A2E worksheet demanded.

In the weeks following the A2E sessions, I’ve found myself adapting, expanding, and – most importunity – relying upon, the worksheet to set the foundations of our marketing and distribution strategies. Now at over seventy questions, it’s become an essential part of the BOND360 process.

Included in the worksheet are ten essential questions that every filmmaker should explore. In many ways they create the backbone of any successful marketing campaign.

So if you are embarking on a release of your film here are ten questions that you should ask yourself and then share with the broader team:

  1. What does the film say about the world we live in?
  2. What universal themes are explored in your film?
  3. Briefly describe the appeal you think your film will have for audiences (and why)
  4. List ten or more keywords to describe your film.
  5. What emotions do you feel your film brings forth in viewers?
  6. What are your film’s strengths?
  7. What are your film’s weaknesses?
  8. What are the unique opportunities with your film?
  9. What are the threats?
  10. How does your film primarily differentiate or distinguish itself from other work?

Links: San Francisco Film Society A2E Website

Marc Schiller, Founder and CEO of BOND Strategy and Influence, is an accomplished executive with a wealth of industry and entrepreneurial knowledge in brand strategy, marketing, and public relations. Marc has recently lead the marketing strategy for such films as Exit Through The Gift Shop, SENNA, The Imposter, and many others. 

 

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  • liz tomkins

    Thanks Marc. Marketing and distribution is such a critical part of the filmmaking process, it seems crazy to not consider these questions until after the film is shot

  • IndianaApple

    Sorry, but this is total bull****. No true artist sits down and consciously grocery lists guidelines to qualify it as a sellable story.

    Create an inspired, well written piece of cinema, and it will sell itself.

  • PizpotGargravarr

    Movies don’t sell themselves, ever. There are countless cases of inspired, well written pieces of cinema that have either failed or underperformed commercially due to the way they were marketed/distributed.
    Some movies may lend themselves to be more easily marketed, but honestly, those films are often not the most inspired or well written, but rather those whose concepts and/or tone can be easily conveyed to the audience (like “high concept” films), ones that have big “trailer moments” in the first two thirds, or ones that have marketable people attached. Real, quality pieces of cinema are actually often the hardest films to sell because they can be difficult to distill down to their essence (in terms of tone/story/ideas) and often don’t have “big” moments or star-power.
    You may not think that true artists should assess their own films to identify what makes them worthwhile but if you want them to actually reach their greatest potential audience, somebody has to figure out what elements of the film can be easily conveyed and will draw people in. The “grocery list” approach may not be the most organic but it is not necessarily a bad idea.
    If you want to be one of the countless filmmakers who thinks that properly considered marketing/distribution, or even trying to reach an audience in general, is beneath a true artist, that’s fine, but don’t expect people to see your films.

  • TheW

    Agree.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Yes. Because it is exactly THAT easy…

  • http://hopeforfilm.com/ Ted Hope

    If you read the post again, you’ll notice that this is about a completed film, not a script. It’s not about the process of creation but what you do after it is made.

  • IndianaApple

    Very interesting point, doesn’t hurt an already created work. There are indeed many great films with terrible marketing campaigns, and mainly I think because the filmmakers were not in charge of that process. In the end I think these aspects of the storytelling above come through on a subconscious level, and if if your trailer is aesthetically interesting and an emotional fascinating work that THAT is what comes through and strike a chord.

    People have always scratched their heads at why certain films explode, and certain ones tank and they credit timing, or political relevance, among other reasons. Its really about the art of it, and making trailers and advertisements requires tasteful artistic execution. Trailers are a work of art and should be treated organically as such. I have seen many trailers that brought me to tears, and sometimes they are better than the film, but that is not necessarily that bad (for example the watchmen trailer, and cloud atlas trailer).

    Every artist I idolize always says that they don’t reach to an audience, or bend over backward to please an audience, simply that they are their OWN audience, and that is why they’re so successful.

  • IndianaApple

    I believe every moment that follows, is still a process of creation. Like I said up there, trailers themselves have always been unique works of art of their own. No artist has ever been successful by bending over backwards to satisfy an audience, and the only way to create a good marketing campaign is to create something that pleases your own personal aesthetics.

  • PizpotGargravarr

    Of course, you wouldn’t want a checklist like this to affect the creation of the film itself (although you may need to do something akin to it beforehand, if you have to pitch the project to producers). On the other hand, considering themes and what you are actually trying to say, at times, while you’re writing, may not be a bad thing.
    In any case, marketing, and trailers in particular, are a tricky beast because you need strike a balance between teasing the elements of the film that will be the most intriguing to a potential audience, while also being a true representation/distillation of the film as a whole.
    As far as this list goes, the first half of the questions, more or less, seem to be intended to help in this distillation process, and the second half to help identify those intriguing elements.
    If you come at the marketing from a purely artistic standpoint, without carefully considering these aspects of the film itself first, then you may come up with something interesting (and maybe even powerful/with artistic merit in and of itself), but it won’t necessarily be a good representation of the film, or even draw people to see the film in the end. You may think, as the creator of the original piece of art, that you understand it implicitly, but making yourself look at it again, or consider it in a different way, could make you see/realise things about it that you hadn’t before.
    Also, you may not want them to directly affect your approach to, say, cutting a trailer, but thinking about these kinds of questions (along with others relating to characters/tone/etc.) may be helpful as a jumping off point in the creative process (particularly the first 6).
    It is interesting that you bring up the Cloud Atlas trailer, because I would be willing to bet that when they were making that, they would have spent a hell of a lot of time figuring out how to convey what the movie was about, and how the story is told, in as economical and interesting a way as possible. Also, have a look at question 2, then think back on that trailer- they literally had title cards flash up, in the middle of it, explicitly stating what universal themes are explored in the film.
    I understand the impulse of the artist to try to avoid commercialization, or letting business decisions affect art, but unfortunately, films are generally too expensive to make without these considerations. The sad fact is, great art doesn’t necessarily sell (you may notice that the two trailers you gave as examples of being better than their respective films, both failed to get people to see them opening weekend- Fincher’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had an abstract trailer that many people were calling the best of the year, but it also underperformed). If you want to be commercially successful, as well as artistically successful, the trick is working out how to put your best, most presentable, foot forward without compromising yourself creatively.
    Wow, sorry about the long rant, marketing and distribution are subjects I am interested in- particularly as they relate to different types of films.

  • IndianaApple

    It is obviously an impulse of mine to gag at such articles, there are too many “10 easy steps” articles, and I confused this for one of them.

    I totally forgot that Watchmen, Cloud Atlas, as well as Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were not hits by any means – which is obviously frustrating, considering those trailers blew my mind.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion.

  • Joe Mahma

    Oh-boy. Movies are made FOR an *audience*. Without tailoring a film to an audience, all you’re gonna have is an experimental film.

  • IndianaApple

    The only way to understand what an audience is feeling is to gauge how YOU are feeling about the emotionality, therefore you are your own audience. If you bend over backwards worrying what specific demographics might think all you will get is a convoluted piece of junk.

  • Joe Mahma

    I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted by filmmakers who practiced the “you are your own audience” ethos. When you make a film, you’re making for an audience, not yourself. It’s not a mix tape, it’s a film.

  • IndianaApple

    Quoting great Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance “a film is like a mixtape, you put what you like in it”.

    How can a great film be personal if they’re making it for an audience. Another legend Mike Leigh – “Audiences don’t know what they want, artists do, or else audiences would be making the films.” Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola all work in the personal filmmaking industry, so I have no Idea what you’re talking about.

    Not to mention every great author to speak of.

  • Joe Mahma

    “great Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance”

    Wow, that’s a stretch. Now I see where you’re coming from.

  • IndianaApple

    I may be unique in my opinion in that Cianfrance is a great artist (although 1 or 2 films from now most will agree and many already do) BUT I also happened to mention Mike Leigh, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg AND Martin Scorsese in my comment. Just shows you have no argument and you’re desperate.

  • Joe Mahma

    I’m “desperate?” WTF are you talking about? You want to make experimental films to show your friends? – fine. Mike Leigh – whatever. My “argument” is based on hundred of thousands of dollars in Indie film failure. I’ve seen first hand what happens when filmmakers practice your “artiste” style of filmmaking and it’s certainly not success.

  • IndianaApple

    Just read some of your other comments from another article out of curiosity “Chloe Moretz is too Jewey looking to play hit-girl.”?!

    Didn’t realize I was speaking to an insane person, this is why they should not provide wifi in mental hospitals. My part of this convo is over – enjoy your life.

  • Joe Mahma

    Congratulations on finding a way to discount my comments here. I know you needed that.

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