Film festivals as the ignition point

This week Park City, UT will once again come alive with the pitter patter of thousands of people who are looking to alternatively show off their films, find films to distribute or cover the movies appearing there as the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals commence.


There will also be a ton of conversation in the ensuing days around distribution, in groups both large and small up and down Main St. While there appears to be somecautious optimism (Hollywood Reporter, 1/19/10) that the indie market looks better this year than it has in the past few we’re by no means returning any time soon to the glory days of the late 90s since there continue to be fewer players in the market and less that’s going to willingly risked on something new.

All of that, though, overlooks the tremendous potential each and every filmmaker who’s attending either Sundance or Slamdance has to kick-start the word-of-mouth around his or her film, word-of-mouth that can have benefits lasting throughout whatever distribution cycle winds up being utilized.

By building a network of friends and followers on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere – a network that includes the press (however loosely we define that term) and others – filmmakers can send updates on how a distribution deal is coming along, where it might be available and more, as well as just engaging in a conversation with people that encourages interaction and keeps the updates alive in-between big news updates. Many of those updates wind up becoming the basis for long blog posts on movie sites about the filmmaker and the movie. The benefits are potentially even bigger if the filmmaker has their own blog.

The best part of all this is, of course, that it continues to be something that’s managed by the filmmaker themselves and, while certain compromises may have to be made, the effort is independent of studio or distributor control. Meaning, primarily, that even if the studio isn’t willing to put money toward an online word-of-mouth strategy the filmmaker can keep doing what he or she is doing. I’ve seen this happen at big levels – Jason Reitman, Kevin Smith, etc – and small – Hunter Weeks, Ted Hope and others – and each is just as successful in their own right.

Because Sundance and Slamdance aren’t primarily buyer’s markets it can be months – if not a year or more – before movies that debut there are available to the audience. Social media platforms can help bridge that gap and keep awareness of the films alive as the conversation progresses. And, as I’ve stated before, the big studios do a lousy job of acknowledging the buzz that emerges from these festivals when it comes time for a formal campaign despite the ignition of that buzz being the primary reason for a film to make an appearance there. The tools are very much in place for filmmakers large and small to step up and become what they need to be, which is the advocate-in-chief for their productions, by participating in the conversation.

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