Bright Star: Can passion be unlocked on the screen and online?

When a filmmaker creates a movie, she brings many tools to unlock her artistic passion, which she attempts to capture on the screen.  These tools; the screenplay, the actors, the physical setting and the cinematography all combine to bring into existence a new emotional experience that is shared with an audience.

Today, as a result of rapid digital innovation, a filmmaker has the opportunity to use another set of tools to unlock and organize the passion of her audience. When deployed successfully they give an audience a chance to share a passion with each other and connect with the creator of the movie.  Through their use the filmmaker expands her audience in every venue her film plays.  These digital tools are broadly available across many online social networks and they are free.

Are filmmakers and distributors truly taking advantage of these tools?  Let’s look at the recent release of BRIGHT STAR as an example.

BRIGHT STAR is an exquisitely realized movie in every way, from its acting, its directing, its screenplay, to its cinematography.  It was a pleasure to watch with an audience.  Jane Campion made great use of the tools she was given.

What about online?

BRIGHT STAR’s web site looks well designed, plays music that sets the proper mood and provides links to basic information about the movie.   It all looks great. Unfortunately the site just sits there, like a dressed up newspaper or magazine ad.  This is how the web was used five, even ten years ago.

At the bottom of the page there are links to MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  Aren’t they the web of today?  Look at these links closely.  The MySpace fan page has 21 friends, the Facebook page has 1,409 fans and the Twitter account has 261 followers.   These are all small numbers, even Facebook’s.  These social networks are vastly underutilized.

BRIGHT STAR put up its website and began posting to these platforms on August 13, roughly thirty days before the initial theatrical release of the film.

This was their first mistake.  You can’t engage with an audience online and get their attention within social networks on such short notice.

Since the launch online they have posted 7 times on Facebook and have created 59 Tweets on Twitter.

This is a very small number for two months of activity.On Twitter, BRIGHT STAR is called @keatstweets, on Facebook, BRIGHT STAR.  The tweets never appear on Facebook, nor do the Facebook posts appear on Twitter. In addition, none of the tweets contain a URL that directs anyone to more information about the movie, where it is playing, who is in it, who directed it, or more importantly what other people feel about it.

The mistakes include; starting late, creating only a small number of posts, naming the BRIGHT STAR effort different things on different platforms, failing to link the platforms being used and not understanding the specific value each platform has to offer.  In sum, not a great use of the tools.

More importantly, there is one fundamental mistake that undercuts all of BRIGHT STAR’s digital efforts.

The distributor is not selling the right brand to organize and deliver the audience they seek.  The brand that needs to be “sold” here is not BRIGHT STAR.  It is JANE CAMPION.  Why?  Audiences want to experience BRIGHT STAR but they want to connect with JANE CAMPION.  In the social web that makes all the difference.

What do I think should be done to gather an audience online and deliver paying customers to movie theaters?

Here are a few ideas.  They would apply to any independent filmmaker or distributor, so Jane Campion is really a stand in for every filmmaker.

FIRST- Jane Campion should have a blog that is called Jane Campion.  On it she should post anything that gives everyone a sense of her artistic vision, such as links to her movies, links to interviews she has posted on YouTube, comments about her favorite films, influences, etc.  She should have a fan page on Facebook and a Twitter account, (also under Jane Campion) so that whenever she blogs it appears on those platforms as well.

SECOND-When she starts making a film- no later than the first day of preproduction-she should post to her blog and tweet regularly about the production.  This allows the audience to share in her experience as the film evolves.  She should continue this through the completion of the film all the way up to and during the release of the movie in every market in which it appears.

THIRD-When the film is initially released she should attend as many regular theatrical shows of the film as she can and meet with her fans one on one when they exit.  She should tweet her location before she arrives to let people know she is coming and what she is hearing from fans.  She should have someone with her use a smartphone to record, publish and tag these conversations for all to see—all flowing back to her blog, to Facebook, and Twitter.   She should encourage all her fans to create and share from their phones as well.

All of these ideas use digital tools that exist today and are free.  They unlock the passion that resides in the audience, their desire to connect and share.  They generate a very large multiplying effect.  (In the old days, this was called word of mouth.)

Now, ask yourself the following.  If Jane Campion had the same number of followers on Twitter that Zoe Keating has (1,131,033, @zoecello), and she used the three ideas above, do you think BRIGHT STAR’s box office gross would be higher than it is today?

And what about BRIGHT STAR’s Academy Award campaign?  Would it be more successful?

(Note:  This was originally published in October 2009, just following the release of BRIGHT STAR.  The mistakes made with this film are being made by others and the recommendations still apply.)

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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