Updated: May 21, 2020
In this series, we consider how the four major steps outlined in The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss relate to indie filmmakers. In this post, we discuss "Step III: A is for Automation" with a twist for the filmmaking community.
In this section of his book, Tim Ferriss doubles down on his belief that you are at your best when your time is spent doing the most important work: the 20% of the input that provides 80% of your output. To achieve this, he discusses the importance of automation and outsourcing as a means of divesting yourself of tedious, time-consuming tasks that take you away from providing the true, unique value that you alone bring to your business endeavors.
Since filmmaking is as much a creative endeavor as it is a business one, we'd like to replace "Automation" in this context with "Augmentation". As a filmmaker, you can't (and shouldn't) do everything yourself. A "Jack of all trades but master of none" does many things well, but will often fall short of the greatness needed to compete in any industry.
Filmmakers often understand this when it comes to film production, hiring Assistants to handle production tasks that, though necessary, would otherwise detract from the Producer's and Director's ability to steer the ship. But filmmakers often fall short of augmenting their creative abilities with the skills needed to operate the business of film. The result is that many (if not most) films don't make it into formal distribution and lack the assets needed to effectively promote themselves to their target markets.
As a filmmaker, you are a creative who is seeking opportunities to promote your work, demonstrate your skills, and build a network that will expand your reach into and across the film industry. As an indie filmmaker, you do this on shoestring budgets, on borrowed time, and with limited resources at your disposal. This is why it is important to focus your time and effort on what you are good at, while augmenting your skills with the support of others who can fill in the gaps.
In the business of film, there should be a production team and a distribution team. The production team brings the project to life; the distribution team helps bring the project to light. When building your next film budget, consider building in the cost of a few key resources (described below) to address what we believe to be critical gaps for indie filmmakers.
Branding and Marketing Strategy
The brand of your film is the persona it has in the marketplace. It is what differentiates your film from other content, facilitates a connection with your target audience, and sets expectations for the value and quality of your work. This is something that should be built from day one in parallel with the production of your film.
Having resources dedicated to the definition, growth, and proliferation of your brand is what will ensure that there is an audience waiting for you when your film is done. Without a brand, you have no identity. Without an identity, you don't exist.
Film Asset Management
The marketing of your film to film festivals, distributors, and would-be audiences requires far more than a complete film. Social media requires carefully curated BTS photo and video. Print marketing requires well-identified production stills and variations in your cover art. Digital marketing requires a variety of micro-video content for teasers. Public Relations requires headshots and bios.
If you plan to market and promote your film (which by all means you should), you'll need to develop and keep track of all of the critical assets. This takes dedicated effort throughout the production lifecycle and well into distribution.
Quality Control Management
The QC process is a requirement for all methods of film distribution. An efficient QC process simplifies onboarding to a distributor and reduces distribution costs (which will ultimately be billed back to the film). By focusing on QC from the beginning of your project, you will be sure to have all film artifacts available and in their appropriate formats when the time comes for distribution. Being uber-prepared for QC is a selling point for your film as distributors are looking for the easiest path to exploitation.
Web and Social Account Management
Every film project needs a digital presence to facilitate audience engagement and to optimize its prevalence in search engine results (SEO). Building and maintaining a web site and social media content is a key responsibility for a dedicated member of the team and its importance shouldn't be placed in the bucket of "other duties as assigned". Your digital presence is how most prospective viewers will find and research your content so it must be available wherever your audience lives.
Social Media Marketing
Facebook (via Facebook and Instagram) offers a host of social media marketing tools that enable you to target very specific audiences with your ads. As there is both an art and a science to social media marketing, you would be well-advised to hire a specialist in this area who can facilitate split testing, audience targeting, audience re-targeting, engagement analysis, conversion analysis, and cost analysis. Operating in a competitive market means that you need to have as many eyes on your content as possible. Social media marketing is one of the best methods for making that happen.
A PR team will help you get out into the community by getting your film, your cast, and your team in front of curated audiences. From podcasts to vlogs to digital magazines, curated audiences enable you to leverage preexisting brands to sell your film. PR companies have staff dedicated to maintaining relationships, facilitating engagement, and scheduling interviews. Having a team that specializes in this area minimizes the groundwork that you would have to do to facilitate this on your own.
Distribution deals are all about contract negotiation. Though there is certainly a legal aspect to contract review, just because a contract is legally sound, doesn't mean that it's in your best interest. Understanding how and when to negotiate with a distributor is a skill in itself. It comes down to understanding and positioning your leverage to get the best deal possible. Having someone responsible for contract review and negotiation will ensure that you don't get taken advantage of in the process.
Augmentation is all about expanding the skillset of your team to give your film the best chance for success. When budgeting for your next film, don't forget to budget for your distribution team. Just as being a great writer, director, or producer takes a specific set of skills so do branding & marketing, social media marketing, and public relations.
Be Better. Be Creative. Be Engaged.
If you're looking for someone to help you on your creative journey, feel free to reach out to us. We'd love to work with you!