Case Study: Documentary Marketing – Beautiful Losers & I.O.U.S.A.
September 18, 2008
This panel was about how to consider the marketing dimensions of a film. To think through how to secure fan, organizational and subject support. Every film is unique and marketing is expression of film’s core values.
Case Study: Beautiful Losers
The film’s subjects were urban misfits, skateboarders and underground artists. It initially started as traditional documentary on small groups of artists influencing pop culture. The built in, core audience graffiti heads and skateboarders, and as a result, the film turned out to be a cinematic essay.
Twenty years ago this scene was just starting out. Now the artists are older and present in the mainstream. But the marketing campaign for film had to be DIY and grassroots in order to speak to audience. A lot of the filmmakers’ peers were creative directors at Nike, Boost Mobile, and the like… and they wanted to approach this marketing plan differently. The idea was that the core audience was so big, the reach out was going to be non-traditional outside of 30 second spots. The producers got a deal with Nike by also going to Vans, so Nike preemptively got involved because they already have foothold with this niche.
The filmmakers decided to premiere at SXSW because it was outside of major market festivals. They ultimately needed to excite the base to offer revenue streams when showing film out there. And in the mean time, the filmmakers wanted to inspire people to go out and paint, draw—do something.
In the end, some of the marketing initiatives are built around activities that were art projects in their own right. They offered something positive to the communities and relied on PR and word of mouth. The director wanted to do workshops with the artists in NY and San Francisco. Zine making. Sign making. And then do them around release dates of film. It overlapped with underground music and SXSW was a great platform for that aspect of the film. They hired a “scenester” publicist as opposed to traditional publicist for the film circuit. They wanted to save the real one for the national campaign. They started with AIGA, Art Centers and Universities to get the film out to their lists while also hitting up stores for promotions. The film’s website had an art-share aspect for artists and fans to upload their own work. The marketers wanted to speak to audience that wouldn’t necessarily respond to box office ads. A lot of times, they were reeling in kids (around 12 years old) who wouldn’t spend cash on film at the movie theater that they couldn’t get to. Then those kids would mention to their friends, etc and it became cool to go see the movie.
The goal was to get people out to make something. Most people are compelled to make stuff and the filmmakers wanted to encourage that. The emotional core of film is that you can do what the subjects in film can do.
Case Study: I.O.U.S.A.
The filmmaker started with noting that you should market for festivals first—this is critically important. You can sell your film if it plays well. Then there’s separate kind of marketing for theatrical release. They are two different things and you can do the latter without doing well at festivals.
When he was at Sundance with his first film, Wordplay, they came up with idea to make a handout with a crossword puzzle, all the clues and a pencil. It was the best $5,000 ever spent to print these. They handed them out every where. There were tons of lines for other screenings, so that was a good time to hit people with a time-passing piece of marketing. IFC said that was smartest piece of marketing they’ve ever seen at festivals. People in line were board and wanted the puzzles. They got 7 offers and sold it for a million bucks. A film is big investment of time and money. You need to go to festivals with a plan. Connect to audience. IOUSA was eventually bought after Sundance.
The subject matter was the national debt. It is a timely, Feel Good Movie of the Summer.
When they started production, people thought that this was silly idea for a subject. Things were fine a year ago. But 8-9 months into shooting, the sub-prime crisis happened. And so they scratched the film and started over because its prophecies ended up rearing their ugly heads. During this time, the producers found a lack of understanding of their subject and found purpose in that.
A non-profit bought the movie for one million and set aside another million to promote it. Roadside Attractions partnered with the film and said there are a couple thousand of theaters in country that are wired to digitally distribute film. The nonprofit organized a town hall meeting with Warren Buffet and president of AARP. They settled in Omaha and Becky Quick of CNBC moderated it. They had huge event premiering film where they fed the film to 430 theatres and showed it live. Taxi to Darkside sold 30,000 tickets total over its run and I.O.U.S.A. sold 45,000 tickets in one night. They got people there because the subject of film is on every cover of every magazine. Also, Buffet is a superstar, and everyone wants to know what he thinks.
They shopped around to all the business channels to get the moderator and event. The channel they went with promoted the event the entire week before the screening. National CineMedia has consortium of theatres, so for a month ahead they ran commercials for opening night. And the filmmakers didn’t pay for any of it. It all boils down to you really need to understand your film and understand why someone is going to go pay 10 bucks in theater.
All told, television, Netflix and the Internet are great and all, but theatrical distribution is at the top of the pyramid. People write reviews when it’s in the theatre and it activates people more than anything. If it opens in New York (for at least a week), the Times will review it. Every filmmaker needs and wants that.