Before the psychological thriller “The Savage” can begin shooting next year, there’s plenty of work to be done, including shoring up the remainder of its $2 million budget, hiring more actors and picking shooting locations.
But the film already has a head start on one critical part of the process: marketing.
As part of a social media campaign, the movie’s producers have partnered with FilmBreak, an online Hollywood startup that launched last month to allow filmmakers to post updates about their unmade projects early in the process.
“We want to help filmmakers build an audience as early in the cycle as possible,” said Darren Marble, co-founder of FilmBreak. “A filmmaker now has the ability to find and engage their audience early on.”
Just a few years ago, a movie in preproduction was all but a secret to the public, but the rise of social media has led producers to provide fans with tidbits of production news throughout the process. Now, a diverse group of companies, from FilmBreak to technology giant IBM, is offering filmmakers a way to use social media to gauge whether fans are interested in their movies.
FilmBreak, for instance, features early trailers, synopses and fan comments, and it even allows visitors to show their interest in projects by clicking a big red button, demonstrating to potential financiers that a film has a built-in fan base. The company, which has four employees, including Co-founder Taylor McPartland and Chief Technology Officer Stephen Corwin, is based at io/LA, an entertainment and technology co-working space and business incubator in Hollywood.
The new companies specializing in social media marketing and analytics hope to help filmmakers both promote their projects and cut through the social media clutter to extract usable data – and the companies are already changing the way movies are being marketed.
“We’ll certainly focus on marketing earlier than we traditionally have with other films,” said Jed Weintrob, a producer of “The Savage.” “The excitement starts as you (begin) actually building the project in a public way.”
Big studios are increasingly looking to social media as a tool for marketing and audience engagement, but the strategy can be hit or miss. For instance, viewers often take to Facebook or Twitter to share their reactions to new trailers – and it’s not always positive.
The question has become how to use such information.
With that in mind, an L.A. unit of IBM recently rolled out a software and hardware platform to analyze sentiment from vast numbers of social media users. The information can be a harbinger for a movie’s success or failure at the box office, with possible applications that include steering a studio’s other marketing efforts or, possibly, casting decisions.
“There’s an incredible amount of information in the public domain and most of it is expressing opinions and recommending things,” said Steve Canepa, vice president of the global media and entertainment industry at IBM. “Media companies (need) to figure out how they can embrace this digital connected world they’re operating in.”
There are large sums of money at stake for the studios, which can spend $100 million or more to market a movie. That inefficiency was made clear this year, when Walt Disney Co. took a $200 million write-down after its science-fiction movie “John Carter” flopped in theaters despite a vast marketing campaign.
While the large studios have long relied on telephone polling to understand whether audiences are responding to their campaigns, the hope now is that social media can provide similar insights into a far larger number of people in an efficient manner.
Currently, however, relatively few executives are paying attention to social media sentiment, Canepa said. IBM recently surveyed media and entertainment chief marketing officers and found that only 35 percent track third-party reviews and just 42 percent use consumer-generated reviews to help shape marketing strategies.
“This is a new area the studios are still trying to figure out,” he said.
With social media analytics still in its infancy, there is a growing field of firms launching to take advantage of potential growth.
MoviePilot, a Berlin startup that won favor with venture capitalists and raised $7 million earlier this year, launched a social media agency at its Venice office in October.
The core MoviePilot website displays custom fan pages for future releases, and similar to FilmBreak, allows users to follow a forthcoming movie’s progress. MoviePilot users connect to the site with their Facebook profiles, so they are also offering up data about their preferences and interests.
The new companies are monetizing their businesses in different ways. FilmBreak, which has secured less than $500,000 in startup capital, will generate revenue by distributing movies digitally and to on-demand platforms. The company has a deal with home entertainment distribution company GoDigital, a distributor of films to platforms such as Hulu and cable video on demand. FilmBreak will refer movies to GoDigital and get a cut of the sales.
MoviePilot sells the data it collects, and the company’s social media agency is now working with studios to determine how best to use such information.
“At this stage, all the studios believe in digital marketing,” said Amy Elkins, executive vice president at MoviePilot and a former marketing executive at MGM Studios. “It’s (now about) building intelligence around how they should spend their money.”
For example, if next year’s release of “Texas Chainsaw 3-D” were to be especially popular on social networks with, say, high-income professionals in big cities, an adjustment could be made to spend more money to target such consumers.
Rather than simply blasting marketing materials to huge numbers of people, the idea has evolved to targeting select audiences, Elkins said.
Reaching the right people is similarly important for smaller movies, such as those listed on the FilmBreak website. The listing service is free and intended as a way to build relationships with filmmakers.
Once a visitor clicks a button to hype up a project on that site, he or she can be sent regular updates via email by producers, with the end goal being to create a fan who will eventually pay for a theater ticket or a digital download.
“You need to be able to connect with people in a meaningful and interactive manner to get them interested in your product,” said movie producer Weintrob. “That pays off with your fan base who will take a journey with you.”
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