Written by Jonathan Moore
After working on our feature documentary for much longer than planned, my wife Karen and I were prepared to send it out into the world for all to see. We were excited.
“Coaches’ Wives” is a niche film, with a very specific, but large, audience of individuals in the athletic community. Chronicling the joys and challenges of being married to a coach, it examines the complex balancing act that a woman must perform when married to the coach of a sports team.
With some of the biggest names in American sports involved, we were positive that there would be no shortage of people that wanted to see the film. But how do you get it out there? Since our marketing and distribution budget was practically nil, and with a large following on social media, we decided to forego traditional distribution and do it ourselves. We’ve done it all online.
So far, it’s been a great decision for us. But it hasn’t come without its pitfalls and bumps in the road. Here are five (tough) lessons we learned – and are learning – along the way.
(#1) IT PAYS TO IDENTIFY A NETWORK OF FANS BEFORE THE FILM IS COMPLETED
If you had a crowdfunding campaign to help raise money to produce the film, then you may already have a solid group of individuals supporting you. You absolutely have to use them as a resource. If not, then start promoting your film online and through social media and seeking out people and groups that you think may be interested in your film. If it’s a narrative film about a Civil War hero, then reach out to history buffs and Civil War museums and curators. If it’s a documentary film about a local football team, then get the word out to the fans and supporters of the team.
Common sense is the key here. Set up social media pages for the film and try and get the relevant folks to like and follow you. When the film is completed, those folks will be interested in seeing/purchasing the film. Don’t wait until the film is completed to gain a following.
(#2) YOU CAN OVER-PROMOTE, TOO EARLY
This one is tricky. Once you have established a following and are getting some attention on social media, you’ll want to promote the film by showing trailers, giving information, having contests, and revving up the interest in the film.
But, don’t do it too early. Don’t get everyone in a fever pitch too soon – and then take another year or so to finish the film. Interest will wane and you’ll lose supporters. They will get tired of waiting for the film to be completed. It is in a filmmaker’s best interest to time the beginning of the promotion so that it will hit its peak just before it is released.
(#3) DO EXPECT TO WORK HARD ONLINE
As any successful independent filmmaker will tell you, making the film is only half the work. Selling it, getting it out there for people to see – maybe even making a little money – is the other half. Many filmmakers don’t see themselves as marketers or promoters, but if you’re going to do it as an independent filmmaker, you’d better be prepared to spend a lot of time online. This includes research and marketing, Tweeting others your website and trailer, meeting folks online and seeking out media exposure. All of this takes time and effort. You’d better be prepared to spend a lot of hours in front of the computer – writing people, reaching out, informing others about the film.
(#4) IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
Many filmmakers, including yours truly, have found themselves under the delusion that they are not only going to make a ton of money – but going to do so right out of the gate. It’s important to remember that the marketing and promotional process should continue on long after the film is released. There may be other media coverage or blogs or journalists that give your film attention and press several months after the online release. And in a nod above to Point #3, you should still be working hard online, promoting, Tweeting, writing emails to people that can help get your film exposure. All of this takes time. Yes, you can make some money. But it could take awhile. Perseverance is important!
(#5) DON’T COUNT ON YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
The toughest lesson for us was discovering that friends and family, though well-meaning they may be, cannot be counted on to be a significant source of sales.
One would think that of all the potential folks that would purchase your film online, that close family and friends would be the first in line to do so. This is not always true. Furthermore, many of those closest to us still regularly “like” and “share” information and updates about our film online and tell others about it. But many of those same people have not purchased the film.
That is not real and genuine support. It doesn’t mean you have to harbor resentment toward those individuals. But indie filmmakers need to understand that there are many who “want” to purchase the film or “intend” to. But wants and intentions do not make a sale. It pays to have a thick skin on this topic because you will be disappointed by some of those closest to you. But if you’re prepared, you can be ready. Eventually, many of them will come around. But it may take some time.
With a little ingenuity and a large dose of patience, you can self-distribute your film and get it in front of many eyes. It takes work and a strong belief in your film. There will be bumps in the road and you will make mistakes. But if you learn from those mistakes – you’ll be on your way.
At 7’0”, 300lbs, Jonathan Moore could be the largest filmmaker in the world. Occasionally his height allows him to play bit parts in movies. Last summer he had the great distinction of shoving Robert Pattinson in the back in a scene for the film, “Water for Elephants.” An assistant professor of Cinema/Digital Media at Vanguard University of Southern California, Moore’s feature length documentary, “Coaches’ Wives,” is a story about women who are married to the coaches of sports teams. His work has been screened in many film festivals and broadcast on public television. An avid screenwriter and director, Moore loves telling stories that touch the heart.