Marketing your film is arguably one of the most crucial aspects of film production today. The writer in me will say that, no, it’s actually the writing. If you don’t have a story, you don’t have a good film to market. Actors will say that great performances will draw audiences. Realistically, what is crucial is the alchemy of all elements. Yet the issue of how you market your film still comes after that: who’s the audience for that film that has received your Midas touch?
The Kevin Spacey issue
On 8th November 2017, amid a number of serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Kevin Spacey, Sir Ridley Scott stunned the entertainment world. He announced that he was going to undertake extensive reshoots to replace the disgraced actor in their upcoming film, All the Money in the World. Not just that, but the film’s release date, only a few weeks later, would remain the same.
When hearing the director speak about it, the decision was a no-brainer. He stated in an interview with the Guardian: “Whatever you do in private is not my business. It only becomes my business if it infects the business that I’m in. Then it’s my duty to do something about it.”
If you think that sounds a little mercenary, you may be right. Scott is not just one of the most iconic filmmakers of the past decades. He’s also a pro who wants to get bums in seats and get investors their money back. When the movie became more than the movie, and received backlash for something not related to the movie, he felt he needed to do something.
An overcrowded market
Technically, he could have taken his time to do the reshoots, and not be faced with such unattainable deadlines. However, the film was facing three problems. The Christmas break release date meant that there would be a market for his film (“mature audiences”). Pushing said release date, even by a few weeks, meant that the film would find its way to cinemas when a TV series directed by Danny Boyle about the same events was to be broadcast, and would lose its audience. Finally, and most importantly, Kevin Spacey was on every poster and “for your consideration” ad. Publicists at Sony had already started pushing his performance as a must-see and an award contender. The the movie was Kevin Spacey’s movie. In a word, the film was cornered, and possibly doomed.
These three reasons have very little, if anything to do, with purely artistic motivations. They are only marketing strategies. Not only that, but the market does not want to ignore anymore what an artist does after the cameras stop rolling. As Frances McDormand stated in her Golden Globes acceptance speech, the power structure of the film industry is changing. How could Sir Ridley have promoted a film, however good it is, talking about the merits of someone no one wanted to hear about?
Marketing to changing times
The circumstances around All the Money in the World are very specific. It is the case of a film, which could have been just a film, that met the extraordinary watershed moment of a political movement gaining power. If anything, this movie may well end up being remembered as just the turning point in the way the film industry works. There was no way that anyone could have foreseen either this moment or how this movie fits in it.
In a sense, studios have always decided what audiences could and couldn’t see. It may have been simply about which actor was in or out, which actor fit in a part or another (think of Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly before he was quickly recast and replaced by Michael J. Fox).
But this is now the 21st century. Unless your film is a blockbuster with a budget of hundreds of millions, you won’t be able to market it to the masses. But why would you need to market to the masses in the first place?
Marketing to your audience
If independent film has taught us anything, it’s that a film’s success doesn’t have to be measured in billions. There are other metrics: press, audience feedback, return on investment, starting a conversation… The definition of success varies from one individual to the next, as it does from one film to the other.
Marketing has now become a generic term taken to mean “advertising with the subtility of a bulldozer”. What it really boils down to is very different. It is about identifying who your audience is, and how do you best match the product you want to make to their expectations and buying potential. This process shouldn’t start once your film is in the digital can. Preferably, it should start when you’re developing the idea.
The best writers of stage and screen know that they’re here to toy with their audience’s emotion. They’re always conscious fo the viewer who’s paid to be here. It would be easy to dismiss this and say that it’s hard to know what an audience wants in those rapidly-changing times.
Not anymore. Netflix has given power to the audience. Twitter has given them a voice. Political movements are hashtags. Search for the hashtag you care about, write down the results that speak to you, and take it from there. Your audience has a voice. Use yours.