The challenge ahead

As I’ve shared news about my new job, a common question after the congratulations is “So what do you do exactly?” It’s understandable that if your exposure to films is buying your ticket and the popcorn, you might not know the behind-the-scenes workings, everything that goes into getting a film from script to production to screen (and everything in between).

Put simply, my role with the film distributor will be to build audiences for the films they release – in theaters, online, DVD, community screenings, you name it. At larger studios that serve as both production houses and distributors, they often have marketing budgets as large or larger than production budgets to spread the word about a film.

Which leads us to this article, a missive about how the Opening Weekend box office metric may be shooting smaller films in the foot if they hope to find any long-lasting success.

The gist of the article is the fact that a studio’s insistence on front-loading the marketing budget to all but guarantee a strong opening weekend is hurting a film’s long-term performance, especially in an age of social media word of mouth where audiences share their thoughts as they leave the theater Friday night, not over the watercooler Monday morning.

The result for an independent film is that by pushing for a strong opening weekend, you’ve got no money left to talk up the film once more exhibitors come calling and want the film in their city. So what’s the solution? The article swears by screening the crap out of the film pre-release – let the social media word of mouth do the leg work for you, all before opening weekend. Don’t fear exhausting an audience – if the film’s worth the cost of a ticket, there are always more people to go see a movie.

Add to that a more comprehensive success metric – sales figures across channels, to begin with – and we may just be able to turn the tide of our dependence on opening weekend headlines to establish instead a film lifespan that lasts well beyond weekend one.

What convinces you to see a film opening weekend? The ad you see on TV or in the newspaper, or the post your friend put up on Facebook? And if the film isn’t opening by you (as many independent films don’t launch beyond NY and LA), how do you decide to rent it on iTunes/stream it on Netflix? Because it’s featured content? Or because the site you follow most posted a great review?