We are at a crossroads in many areas of society right now, but in this moment the world of independent film is perched on the forefront of incredible change and opportunity. One of the major drivers behind this transition is the power of social media to level the playing field for independent filmmakers competing for the same audiences as big studios. For indendepents who tend to have limited financial resources, social media is the key to connecting with engaged audiences. This week, at the 2013 American Film Market social media was a hot topic. David Bixler, SVP, Acquisitions & Production, MGM Worldwide Distribution, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment clarified, "grassroots support is critical for unbranded films."
At the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, amidst thousands of independent filmmakers, producers, distributors, buyers and sellers from around the world, keynote speaker Adam Carolla discussed how he utilized social media as a way to build a community around his crowdfunding campaign. Carolla emphasized that building such a community for an independent film in an effort to launch a popular crowdfunding campaign is a full time job.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Carolla's success as an independent film producer is his fearlessness when it comes to leveraging social media to reach his goals outside the studio system. He explained, "This film would never have been approved by a studio, but it ended up being tremendously financially successful."
Independent filmmakers who are looking to produce low budget films can utilize social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram not just to promote films, but also to cast, staff and fund projects.
In a separate keynote presentation at AFM, producer Mark Burnett told a story about having just 6 days notice to promote his television miniseries The Bible for it's release in Australia. He emphasized the power of social media (and prayer) in helping to spread the word that eventually resulted in 10 million viewers for the series' Australian debut.
Despite the fact that not all independent filmmakers have a social following of hundreds of thousands or millions of followers to tap into like Carolla and Burnett, there are ways to strategically gain visibility on social media. Tristen Tuckfield, VP of Acquisitions for Millennium Entertainment explained, "you still need a marketable element to really get behind you and your film. Sometimes it's someone with a huge following who can reach out to a fan base."
In the Video on Demand forum, emphasis was placed on utilizing social media in every stage of the filmmaking process - pre-production, during filming and in post production as a means for independent films to stand out from the studio films that dominate 80% of views on VOD platforms like Netflix and Hulu. When speaking about the recent popularity of Sharknado, Paul Bales, COO of The Asylum shared, "The night of the premiere, when I logged on and saw that Mia Farrow watched the movie, I knew my life had changed." By documenting celebrities, well known industry leaders and niche audiences who interact with independent films on social media, filmmakers can now provide social proof that may in turn persuade investors to increase funding on subsequent projects.
Jonathan Wolf, Managing Director of AFM explained how the use of content marketing on social media has made a huge impact on reaching specialized audiences. Placing strategic retargeting ads on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn helped the American Film Market to share valuable information with independent filmmakers who in turn attended the week long event.
The race to find and capture audiences who will view and talk about films has always been a necessary part of the movie business. However, with a savvy social media strategy, it isn't just the studios who can build a massive following for films. As writer, producer, director Marc Zicree discussed in an AFM panel on Crowdfunding, the independent filmmaker can now drive sales and viewers for films by building a social community that allows the filmmaker to reach out directly to the audience. Essentially, independent filmmakers can now be their own movie studios.