PRODUCTION TIPS: What Google's white paper can teach Indie Filmmakers

A large part of a distributor's and filmmaker's day is spent considering how to extract that extra bit of attention from the audience to extract that extra dollar.  Hollywood and its counterparts have the time, desire and money to analyze and figure out ways to accomplish that feat (too bad that the efforts to market many times end up better and more creative than the actual film itself but that's another story).    And although many independent, specialty or art filmmakers can't invest the time or money that Hollywood does (many don't even want to), they still learn, adopt and modify what Hollywood does to effectively reach the audience.  That's why I found the new Google white paper, "Quantifying Movie Magic with Google Search" by Reggie Panaligan and Andrea Chen informative.  The paper is meant to sell the importance and value of using Google/Youtube as a search source and its intended target audience are the makers of studio-financed/distributed films with blockbuster potential.  Still, there are lessons and tips for indie, specialty and art filmmakers trying to reach their audience and here are the points that jumped at me and the key tips I gleaned from them:
1. "When it comes to researching a new movie, 61% of moviegoers state that they turn to online resources. More specifically, almost half are going online and searching for this information." (p. 2) - It goes without saying that having an effective, creative and unique online presence is a must nowadays.  But the numbers suggest that people still use non-online resources as well (39%).  Don't abandon the print, radio, local TV efforts and budget for them.

2. These charts below on pages 2 and 3 that compare and connect the relationship between box office and film-related search indexes throughout a typical year (in this case, 2012).

According to Pagalino and Chen, the charts above reveal the patterns between search activity and box office.  The box office peaks in the charts correlate with the months of May through August (the summer blockbuster season) and November through December (Thanksgiving through Christmas).  Typically those periods have been the best for blockbusters and it supports the writer's thesis that there is an uptick in searching during those times that big-budget marketers can take advantage of.  But what about the indie filmmaker? What can she learn from this?  First of all, the indie/art film calendar includes the following important film festival/film market events during the non-blockbuster season:
  • January - Sundance Film Festival and Rotterdam's Cinemart
  • February - Berlin Film Festival and Berlinale's European Film Market
  • May - Cannes Film Festival and Cannes Marche du Film (overlaps slightly with the blockbuster season)
  • September - Toronto International Film Festival and IFP's Bo Borders International Co-Production Market
  • October - Busan Asian Film Market
  • November - American Film Market (overlaps slightly with the blockbuster season) 
Notice that you can roughly measure upticks in search activity during these off-season months as partly due to interest in the aformentioned events.  In addition, at the end of February there is also an uptick of searches that is probably due to interest in the Academy Awards (with a spillover into March as people search and go see the Oscar winners).  So knowing that, an indie filmmaker/distributor is better positioned to take advantage of the offseason by (1) linking themselves or their projects to the events in the non-blockbuster calendar so that they come up in searches (more often than they would in the blockbuster calendar) and/or (2) releasing their films during the non-blockbuster calendar.

3. The footnotes at the bottom of pages 3 and 7 regarding keywords. -- The following keywords should be part of your film's online identity, whether it is slated for theatrical distribution or alternative distribution, since the white paper shows that these are the terms most commonly searched for by people:
"keywords include “[movie title]”, “[movie title] trailer”, “[movie title] clips”, “[movie title] cast”, “[movie title] tickets”, “[movie title] plot”, “[movie title] reviews”, and other common variants related to these categories
5 keyword categories include general movie terms (e.g. “new movies”, “movie showtimes”), theater chain terms (e.g., “regal showtimes”, “carmike theaters”), and
online movie ticket services (e.g., “fandango”, “movietickets”)

"Bucket of title terms including: “[movie title]”, “[movie title] film”, and several modifiers related to ticketing, cast, reviews, trailers.
12 Trailer-related searches include: “[movie title] trailer”, “trailer for [movie title]”, “[movie title] clip”, and common misspellings"

4. "The availability of content, specifically trailers, is important for moviegoers at all stages of the decision process. Earlier searches four weeks from release week for a film have the strongest link to intent... despite a lower overall search volume, presumably because the most ardent fans are among the first to search for specific film’s content." (p.8) -- You MUST have a great trailer. Not just a good one or an okay one but a great one (of course, that is determined by how great your movie is, but still...) And it should be online at least 4 weeks before theatrical release.  But notice interest via trailers peak with the release window. And that is the most important thing... getting interest and searches in your film to peak with the release of it. So you can have multiple teasers (to generate interest or appeal to different audiences) leading up to the main trailer before the 4 week window or you can release your trailer after the 4 week window as long as you can make it peak with the release.

5. This Appendix D chart on page 11

There is STILL interest in a film AFTER it is released.  In fact, the chart shows that there is slightly more interest after the film is out and seen than before it is seen (t-5 compared to t+5). Maybe it's because people are loving or hating it so much, dissecting the film or trying to learn more about it but this is akin to the buzz filmmakers seek BEFORE the film is in theaters.  Savvy marketers can use the after-buzz to keep interest of a film going to turn it into a cult-favorite or move sales in other platforms.  As an example of how after-buzz can work, note how, just recently, DNA Films raised DVD sales for it's Dredd 3D movie by fueling rumors of a sequel. 

Do yourself a favor and read the study.  The film industry is in constant flux. Some of the old habits and traditions still work and some are being discarded by new practices. Some of these new practices are effective and some are not. It is the job of a good producer, marketer, distributor or filmmaker to know what out there is worth keeping and doing and what is not.


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