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IFFR 2019 IFFR Pro

IFFR Pro Hub gives pointers on how to reach an audience


- At the IFFR Pro Hub panel, international experts shared stories and tips on how to get through to the right people

IFFR Pro Hub gives pointers on how to reach an audience
(l-r) Mathias Noschis (AlphaPanda), Breanne Thomas, moderator Matthieu Darras, Michael Arnon (WOLF) and Lorna-Lee Torres (Magnolia Pictures) during the panel discussion (© Melanie Lemahieu)

At the IFFR Pro Hub panel “Maximise the International Potential of Your Film and Reach an Audience” (29 January), organised by the industry section at International Film Festival RotterdamIFFR Pro, and moderated by Matthieu Darras, experts Lorna-Lee Torres (Magnolia Pictures) and Michael Arnon (WOLF), filmmaker and social-media strategist Breanne Thomas, and Mathias Noschis (AlphaPanda) wittily discussed the hurdles faced by today’s independent emerging filmmakers, as they struggle to make their mark within an increasingly competitive environment. And they all agreed on one thing: the earlier you start thinking about it, the better.

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“Some films are hard to pre-sell, but having them early on helped us position the film in a way that’s honest to the vision of the director,” said Lorna-Lee Torres, with Arnon adding that as far as social media, publicity and marketing go, some things just can’t be done later, or it will cost you much more. “We care about what information can be released when and how, because information is also an asset. You can work with it to generate attention,” he said, underlining that an early start shouldn’t be a hasty one, and every piece of information or promotional material should come out at the right moment. “I know that when you are gearing up for production, the last thing you want to think about is marketing,” said Breanne Thomas. “But you don’t want to end up with an inconsistent message. Figuring it out at the beginning is your biggest asset, whether it’s social media or traditional marketing. But as for what you put out there, you have to be smart about it – even on your personal profile.” Especially in an industry built on first impressions.

“With a first-time filmmaker, you want to forge a reputation. What really counts is marketing to the industry, and these people can read between the lines,” admitted Mathias Noschis. “Think about the positioning of your film. If it’s an awkward love story, make sure you create material that ties in with that, instead of having your still photographer taking photos of the assistant director eating a sandwich and celebrating his birthday.” In addition, saving money on something as crucial as stills can be a problem later on, actually generating extra costs. Thinking about how the movie might be promoted later, and in different territories, can be also essential. “Instead of a general idea, it’s better to pick moments that have the potential to capture attention and generate headlines,” said Thomas. What generated headlines for Arnon was the fact that Wadjda [+see also:
film profile
by Haifaa Al-Mansour, handled by WOLF, was the first film shot in Saudi Arabia by a female director. “It’s important not to do anything that feels wrong, but there are not so many ‘firsts’ these days. I wouldn’t shy away from it,” explained Arnon. 

Once the shooting is done, it’s all about striking the right balance between artistic integrity and finding what’s most appealing for the industry, the press or a specific audience. “Sometimes, when we talk about marketing, it can be difficult with the director in the room,” observed Noschis. “A filmmaker takes an idea and tries to make it as complex as possible. With marketing, you take a complex film and simplify it. That’s why directors should never be the ones to choose stills, edit trailers or design a poster. Unless you are Xavier Dolan, because he can do everything.”

“You can say that you disagree, and that’s fine, but I empower filmmakers to practise thinking about what could be marketable,” said Thomas. Interestingly enough, the discrepancies between budgets don’t really influence the strategy. “Whether you are marketing X-Men 7 or a small documentary about an old lady living in the mountains, the thinking is exactly the same,” added Noschis. “You can compensate for the lack of money with a tiny bit more creativity. Maybe one difference is the role of the director – whenever we are working on an indie European film, we are marketing the director as much as the film.” This also comes in handy, as it’s nigh on impossible to migrate audiences across platforms. “Of course, sometimes it can feel tricky because you don’t know if that director will come back to you with their next project. But maybe that’s a good way of ensuring they will.”

The experts also commented on documentaries, with Lorna-Lee Torres discussing her company’s latest success, RBG, about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Your role is to convince the people you need. If you really believe in your film, you should defend it like a lawyer.” In addition, you should target different audiences – a goal made easier with the invention of social media. “Five years ago, I was saying: ‘You can’t have multiple positionings.’ Now, I say: ‘Actually, you can,’” said Noschis. “We get different messages across, and that’s really fascinating.” Still, there is a downside to social media, and not just because you need to pay if you want your things to be seen. “Facebook has strict rules on what can and cannot be shown,” observed Noschis. “Our job used to be to promote films, and now it’s to censor films. We watch trailers and go: ‘There is a middle finger; you have to remove that. Someone said, ‘Fuck’; you have to remove that. You are zooming into acne; you have to remove that.’”

Apart from traditional marketing, simply being active on social media is no longer enough either. As stressed by Breanne Thomas, aspiring filmmakers need to look for individual solutions. “After seeing your film, people might want to follow you on social media, so give them a reason to.” But it’s not about blasting your content brashly across every single channel. “You have to be thinking about your audience. Is your film inspiring discussions? Ok, then maybe Twitter is going to be a better approach; and if it’s visually stunning, maybe Instagram. Keep it small and consistent, and you will be more successful.”

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