Why so many filmmakers are bad at marketing

Maybe that guy is a great marketer. It’s just an illustration

What do I mean by “marketing”

Promoting your film yourself, conceiving a strategy, writing down quantitative goals, setting milestones with means to achieve them, dedicate time, dedicate budget, track performance, adjust the tactics according to the results and repeat.
That’s basically what marketing films is all about.

What marketing is not

Finding a distributor and tell her or him “do what you think is right and leave me alone” or “let me know when I need to attend a Q&A session or a panel”.
This is not marketing.
Also, in the not-marketing-section is submitting your film to festivals in the following manner: first, to the most sought-after (Sundance, Berlinale, Toronto, Cannes, Venice, Tribeca, Hotdocs, IDFA and a few others) and after you fail — to all the rest in a semi-anarchic manner. That is definitely a step towards marketing, but it’s the basic-obvious and sometimes a huge mistake that will cause the filmmaker to waste time on lost battles.

The big question is: WHY

I’ll try to divide the community of non-marketers to a few categories, according to what I witnessed during the long years in which I’m active in the film industry:

  • Filmmakers who are shy and prefer to stay behind the camera. They will gladly participate in Q&A sessions, but will wait silently and passively to be invited.
  • Filmmakers who really want to market, but have no idea how to do it.
  • Filmmakers who are used to have the backing of large bodies , especially TV channels, who do the marketing and PR for them.
  • Filmmakers who believe that instead of marketing to large audiences, they should make efforts to develop good relationships with decision-makers such as film funds directors, buyers, selection committee members etc.

But there’s another, deeper reason for filmmakers to be bad marketers. Let’s see a counter example:

The American filmmakers

Most American independent filmmakers must be good marketers, because there’s hardly any public funding, at least not compared to the developed system which exists in Europe and other countries with government support for arts.
Since there’s hardly any public funding in the US, American filmmakers have to turn to resources which necessitate marketing, mainly crowdfunding or private funds and charities, most of them belonging to few rich families.

Fine. Does that mean that non-US filmmakers can go their own way and not market their films?

That is exactly the point where I think most filmmakers are wrong: For many filmmakers, their true target audience are the film funds and the festival directors. That keeps them away from the public. They don’t make the slightest effort to reach to the audience out there (beyond of course, festival goers, which is a small subgroup of its own).
That is a paradox, as it creates a contained ecosystem in which very few people talk only to each other: when you become an experienced filmmaker, you’ll be invited to be part of the selection committee in a film fund where you’ll select proposals from filmmakers who are similar to you (that is a known bias — to choose those who remind you of yourself, because you see yourself as the right model). If you’re a festival director, you’ll be invited to be a jury member in other film festivals, while you will be inviting other festival directors to be juries in your film festival-:) A vicious circle.

All that creates a very homogenous environment, which is, let’s admit it — quite boring

So wake up, start communicating with your natural audience. It’s there, it’s waiting for you and it’s an enriching experience to meet them.
Start marketing your film.

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Yoram Schaffer

Yoram Schaffer

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Digital film distributor and founder of Movie Discovery VOD platform, QuickRights and Movies Everywhere . A former documentary filmmaker.