The effects of social media as a tool used for film marketing and promotion, an investigation of both dependant and independent filmmakers around the world.
This dissertation will help to analyse and evaluate the different ways in which social media as platform is being used as an alternative way to promote and market films by filmmakers in the media industry. Studies were commenced in order to explore the future potential of social media as an industry in the world of film making, as well as to understand the different approaches and steps taken by film makers in order to reach as wide an audience as possible.
1.1 Research Problem Defined
This dissertation will explore the ins and outs of how and why social media is currently being used by major production companies as well as independent filmmakers all around the world in order to market and promote their films. Up until recently (2009/2010) movie studios had depended largely on highly budgeted advertising campaigns in order to help drive sales and bring in the revenue for their movies. In todayâ€™s world, the situation seems to be changing. Production companies are realizing the true potential that social media has, as a platform, to directly promote and market films to interested audiences. It is efficient, cheap, and effective. One of the most striking realizations is that social media tends to level out the playing field by giving everyone the ability to showcase their work. This means that anyone with an internet connection and a touch of creativity can take part in this new and exciting way of spreading the word of their project. Needless to say, social media is creating a new world where skill and talent in the filmmaking world will be noticed, while the pretenders will eventually be weeded outâ€¦ regardless of status or money. Social media is creating a world of equal opportunities, as seen with Fede Alvarezs short film â€˜Ataque de Panico.â€™ Fede Alvarez who describes himself as â€˜just a guy from an unknown countryâ€™ created his short film â€˜Ataque de Panicoâ€™ with a budget of $300.
Within a month of uploading his video on to the website YouTube, Alvarez found himself with a thirty million dollar deal from Hollywood.
Clearly, this goes to show that with a lot of hard work, a great product, and the right social media tools, the ability to â€˜make it bigâ€™ is indeed possible. Research undertaken in this medium is for the following reasons: To understand the true power and potential that social media has as a platform, as well as to try and comprehend the different ways in which social media is being used, and by whom. Additionally, to discuss the issue with the filmmakers themselves. There are a few reasons as to why I decided to undergo extensive research in the field of social media in the filmmaking industry. This topic was chosen due to my great personal interest and enthusiasm for technology/social media, film making, and photography. As a student, and out of great passion, I have previously worked on multiple independent film and photography related projects, in which the only way of spreading my works was through the online world. This has given me a good understanding of the ability and potential that social media has, as a platform, in order to create â€˜buzzâ€™ around a certain project. This has inspired me to explore the social media landscape in greater depth as well as to take part by signing up and uploading the contents of his work to multiple online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, Vimeo, Digg, WordPress, Tumblr, and Flickr. This has allowed me to share my work, as well as to build a fan base and contact list of people who are interested in my work. The research undertaken was initiated in order to complete the final year of the BA (Hons) Film and Television Fiction degree at the University of Hertfordshire.
2.1 An introduction to Social Media
Social media is a term that has only started being used in recent years with the invention of some of the World Wide Webs most popular platforms such us Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. In its barest form, social media is a technology in the online world (the internet) which allows individuals from all over to contribute by sharing content, ideas, opinions, as well as allowing them to rate, comment, tag, and discuss different ideas and information. There are hundreds if not thousands of websites and applications with this technology built in, but only a select few are known to be â€˜large-scaleâ€™ enough to be affective in terms of marketing and promotion. The obvious main players in the world of social media are world renown websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Digg, Linkedin, and Foursquare. What is interesting here is that all of these platforms are known as social media website/web applications, but they all have different purposes. As an example, Youtube is a website dedicated to online video sharing and uploading, whereas Foursquare is a less popular geo-location application. These two platforms may be miles apart in terms of what they are able to provide consumers, but what they do have in common is that they give us the ability to share, comment on, and discuss this contentâ€¦ and this is what social media is all about. In other words, social media has created a system where anyone with an internet connection is able to constantly provide feedback, in real time, on content that is created by their online â€˜contactsâ€™â€¦ creating a two way conversation. What is most astounding, and one of the main reasons as to why social media is now being noted as â€˜game changerâ€™ rather than a â€˜passing trendâ€™, is that these social media platforms are available to anyone with access to the internet, and for free. Because of this, we are seeing a great surge of interest in this type of media from all types of businesses. Businesses ranging from online wine selling companies, to major Hollywood production companies, to independent musicians and artists. Social media is being recognized as a more efficient and cost effective way to reach audiences as well as to gain feedback from them in real time. In addition to this, and more importantly, social media is the type of platform in which the people decide whom to follow or become â€˜fansâ€™ of. This is a very important point to recognize due to the fact that companies, filmmakers, and business owners alike are able to target only those who care about their products, as opposed to traditional forms of marketing where promoting a product is made to the masses, regardless of whether or not they care about the product or company. Social media can be considered as a type of filtering system which allows marketers to focus on a loyal fan base, whom can in turn, also help spread the word of the company, filmmaker, or business they are fans of. This is especially true for the social network Twitter. As Gary Vaynerchuck, the mastermind behind www.winelibrary.com, put it, â€œTwitter is word of mouth on steroids.â€? These different types of social networks are revolutionizing the ways in which we connect and communicate, and are allowing fans to make a sincere and direct contribution.
2.2 The Blair Witch Project
One of the first films to depend mainly on the internet for heavy marketing was â€˜The Blair Witch Project.â€™ With itâ€™s great success â€˜The Blair Witch Projectâ€™ showed the world that it is indeed possible for anyone with a good idea and decent enough equipment to make it big in the film industryâ€¦ but it is their smart use of the internet which made the film as popular as it is today. Writer/director Ed Sanchez of â€˜The Blair Witch Projectâ€™ created â€˜buzzâ€™ and an online community of followers by starting up a website and stoking the Blair Witch myth (See Appendix 1). By the time Artisan, the independent film company, decided to buy the rights to â€˜The Blair Witch Project,â€™ there was already enough talk and anticipation for the movies releaseâ€¦ all of which was created only by using the World Wide Web as a direct portal to the secrets of â€˜The Blair Witch Project.â€™ â€œThe Web completely levels the playing field; you canâ€™t out-spend somebody on the Web. Itâ€™s against the grain of every other media; you create a message and give it time to breathe. If the environment is interesting, you can hold onto the fan base longer, as opposed to a 30-second ad thatâ€™s here and gone. For us, it was the most important and impactful delivery mechanism,â€? Hegeman, marketing director of Artisan. (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BDW/is_36_40/ai_56023086/). What Hegeman is trying to say is that the internet allows for a type of film marketing in which the individuals are the ones who are looking for certain information, which is a much more authentic, appealing, and powerful way of marketing. In terms of promotion on billboards, magazine covers, and television advertisements, the viewers are in some ways being forced to these advertisements, and have no way to go back to them. Although Ed Sanchez and Hegeman did not use social media tools (they had not yet been created) to promote â€˜The Blair Witch Project,â€™ they used the internet in a strikingly similar fashion. Their website was used as a hub for people to digest content as well as to comment and discuss their ideas and opinions. This created a word of mouth sensation which spread to individuals from all over the world. From analyzing both â€˜The Blair Witch Projectâ€™ and box office hit â€˜Avatar,â€™ it is fair to say that social media is a great tool for filmmakers to use for exposure and outreach, but it is up to the filmmakers to find creative and fun ways to incorporate social media in their marketing strategies. Without a doubt, â€˜The Blair Witch Projectâ€™ has gone a long way in facilitating the transition for filmmakers, especially independent ones, to turn to the online world for marketing and promotion. We have since seen many filmmakers follow in this direction.
2.3 The transition by filmmakers to Social Media
Only recently (within the past two years) have filmmakers been dominating the social media landscape. This is true for both independent filmmakers as well as large production companies. For independent filmmakers, social media is proving to be a great way to promote their films due to the simple fact that there is a lot of potential for outreach. In addition to this, independent filmmakers are able to receive constant feed back in real time from their fans, which is a great way to help the filmmaker advance both technically and creatively. Whatâ€™s interesting here is that this transition is happening very naturally. What makes it easy for independent filmmakers to use these social media platforms to promote and market their films is because they are already using these social networks for their personal lives. Social media is giving independent filmmakers the tools and possibilities to do what they could not have done only a few years ago. This being the case, it is also true that these social networks can probably get too crowded by independent filmmakers looking to promote and market their filmsâ€¦ the reasons being ease of use and availability. Obviously, this means that only the absolute best and most persistent will survive and end up being the ones noticed in this world of equal opportunities. In terms of production companies, things seem to be a little different. Unlike independent filmmakers, it seems that only a select few production companies are making the move to social media to promote and market their films. This is due to making sure the production companies reputations stays in tact, but things are changing fast. It is fair to note that even though Hollywood spent millions of dollars on advertising James Cameronâ€™s Sci-fi epic â€˜Avatar,â€™ a huge part of itâ€™s success was in part due to itâ€™s social media strategy. As Samuel Axon states â€œAvatar has its own Facebook (Facebook), MySpace (MySpace), and Twitter (Twitter) pages. Thatâ€™s getting to be standard these days. The 18,000-follower Twitter account has tellingly not been updated since a few days after the filmâ€™s theatrical release; once the word was out, the job was done. While it was active, though, its followers would retweet updates to their followers, who (if interested) would do the same, spreading the word all over the web.
The Facebook Page is even more impressive, with over 700,000 fans.â€™â€™
The creatives behind Avatar took these social media tools and made the most out of them by delivering content to the fans in clever and creative ways. On December 3rd, 09, MTV held a thirty minute Facebook hosted webcast called â€˜Avatar Live,â€™ in which fans were able to ask James Cameron questions about the movie. Additionally, the movies red carpet live premiere was broadcast live on Ustream, sponsored by Myspace, This, without a doubt, is another great way Avatar used social media as a way of exposure as well as creating â€˜buzzâ€™ around the film. Just because everyone now has the ability and tools to use social media, it doesnâ€™t mean that everyone will succeed. As proven by the success of Avatar, it is up to the filmmakers to find creative and fun ways to incorporate social media into a movies marketing strategy. Without a doubt, Avatars great success as â€˜biggest movie everâ€™ will surely ease the transition by filmmakers to social media.
2.4 Methods used and statistics
There are numerous platforms that can be considered social media networks, but only a few have the ability and true potential to successfully promote and market films by film makers and production companies. The obvious three main social media websites are Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. These online platforms are showing very impressive results for filmmakers, and they continue to dominate and overtake traditional forms of marketing.
Facebook, the worlds largest social network, with over 400 million people signed up to the service, is the Holy Grail when it comes to social media marketing. Facebooks main feature the â€˜News Feedâ€™ is what separates it from the rest of the competition. The â€˜News Feedâ€™ is a section of the social network website in which all of the activity by its users is broadcast for others to see. As simple as this may sound, the effects can be monumental. For example, if an independent filmmaker named â€˜Xâ€™ decides to upload his latest film on his personal Facebook fan page, it will also be broadcast on the â€˜News Feedâ€™ section of the website for all of his fans to see. Letâ€™s say a fan named â€˜Yâ€™ watches the video and decides to leave a comment on the film. Without even knowing it, fan â€˜Yâ€™ will not only be providing the filmmaker with feedback in real time, but he will also be spreading the word of film maker â€˜Xâ€™s work, as it will be broadcast on â€˜Yâ€™s â€˜News Feedâ€™ page for all of his friends to see. So if ten of the filmmaker â€˜Xâ€™s fans decide to comment or â€˜likeâ€™ the video, and letâ€™s say that each of the fans have three hundred friends each, then that video is being given the opportunity and potential to be broadcast to over thirty thousand unique visitors.
To put simply, keeping in mind the current situation, ten comments on a filmmaker â€˜Xâ€™s film would equal to a potential thirty thousand views just by being broadcast on the â€˜News Feedâ€™ of the ten fans. This is the type of â€˜word of mouthâ€™ power which makes Facebook a very valuable asset to filmmakers. What is even more incredible is that are so many different ways to interact with the content, which makes this type of broadcasting system very appealing to marketers. Also, without a doubt, this â€˜word of mouthâ€™ type of marketing is exactly what helps to create viral videos. â€œSomething like 70 to 80 percent of frequent moviegoers under 25 visits Facebook seven or eight times a day.â€? Daniel Frankel. The fact that over four hundred million people are on Facebook, most of which are moviegoers, only goes to prove how valuable of a tool Facebook can be for filmmakers.
Youtube, the online portal for uploading and viewing videos with over â€œ1 billion views per day!â€™â€™ (http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/09/youtubes-new-logo-shouts-from-the-rooftops-1-billion-views-per-day/), is one of the major social media tools being used by film makers to promote themselves. Youtube is somewhat similar to other social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in terms of being able to comment and rate content, with the only difference being that it is dedicated to video. This makes Youtube an ideal candidate for film makers to showcase their works. One of the main goals of film makers with in Youtube is for their works to go viral, which tends to give the creator of the content great advertising revenues with in Youtube, as well as free publicity which can eventually lead to bigger deals from production companies as seen with Fede Alvarezs short fim â€˜Ataque de Panico.â€™ Although this may be what film makers within the Youtube community hope for, the possibilities are extremely rare due to the fact that millions of videos are uploaded onto the social network daily, many of which are just useless banter. Exceptions do happen as with the case of â€˜Four Eyed Monsterâ€™ by Buice and Crumley. In simple terms. â€˜Four Eyed Monsterâ€™ was kind of a 3-5 minute reality show about the making of their movie. As Adam L. Penenberg explains in his book â€˜Viral Loop, â€œTheir first podcast was a viral hit and it didnâ€™t take long for each new installment to attract sixty-five-thousand downloads via iTunes, YouTube, Google Video, and Myspace.â€™â€™ This is an impressive feat for a viral video which has earned them a lot of publicity, as well as earned them numerous sold out screenings as well as generous revenues from DVD sales. The most interesting factor here is that Buice and Crumley are key players in changing the way in which films are being distributed. Although luck is an important factor, they have proven that it is completely possible to â€˜make it bigâ€™ without the need of a distributor. This may be far from how the movie industry works at the moment, but it may just in fact be the future of distributution.
Twitter, unlike Facebook and Youtube, is a social network based around status up dates. You can choose to follow a person or brand that you are interested in and keep up to date with their information. This is unique because it reverses the current way in which we receive information. Instead of looking for information relating to our favourite filmmaker, company, brand, etc, we can just follow them on Twitter and all of the information comes directly to us. We no longer have to go on to several different websites to receive the information we are looking for. This is especially interesting for filmmakers. An independent film maker can use his Twitter account as a link to their website or any other interesting work they have been up to by redirecting their followers to those pages. This being the case, Twitter acts as a â€˜linkâ€™ in order to facilitate the ways in which we find and receive information we are interested in. Another important part of Twitter is the â€˜trending topicsâ€™ section, the retweet feature, as well as the fact that it is based in real time. The â€˜trending topicsâ€™ section on Twitter is a place where all of the most talked about â€˜key wordsâ€™ are featured. This means that if the key word â€˜filmmakerâ€™ were a trending topic, it would be available for the entire Twitter community (of over thirty million individuals) to see. Needless to say, this is the Holy Grail for Twitter users, and just like the possibilities of creating a viral video on Youtube, it is quite a far fetch. From the article â€˜Twilight New Moon Social Media Mania Netâ€™s 81,000 Tweets Per Day,â€™ Jennifer Van Grove paints a clear picture of how Twitter can be used by fans to create â€˜buzzâ€™ around a certain movie. â€œThe rest of the tweets, 92% in total, paint a very positive picture for New Moon ticket sales. 13% of tweets include twitterers who are trying to plan ahead for their New Moon events, going so far as to use the medium for coordinating viewing parties. As to be expected, the majority of tweets, 59% to be exact, are expressing excitement and counting down the days and the hours until they can catch the flick in theaters.â€? (http://mashable.com/2009/11/18/twilight-new-moon-stats/). This clearly demonstrates Gary Vaynerchucks quote â€œTwitter is word of mouth on steroids.â€? The buzz around the movie â€˜New Moonâ€™ on Twitter has spread from follower to follower, creating a viral sensation, which has allowed for millions of people to hear about the movieâ€¦ all of which is proven to be free promotion.
The retweet feature of Twitter is similar to the â€˜shareâ€™ feature on Facebook. Followers can choose to retweet any status update they like to all of their followers. This would then be available for all of their followers to see, which can certainly help with the promotion and marketing of a certain product, film, etc. Last but not least, and just like on Facebook and Youtube, followers of a certain brand, product, or filmmaker can choose to comment on status updatesâ€¦ providing them with valuable feedback in real time.
This dissertation has evaluated and come up with a large amount or information pertaining to the idea that social media is increasingly being used by film makers to market and promote their films. The contents of this dissertation are meant to cover three main areas. First of all, and most importantly, is data relating to the rise of social media being used as a platform for filmmakers. Second, the different ways and platforms used in which independent film makers as well as production companies are going about with using social media. Last but not least, an understanding and evaluation of these differences and the impact they have. The information that has been gathered for this dissertation consists of qualitative data from both primary and secondary sources.
3.2 Secondary data
Secondary data is the collection and analyzing of other peoples information. With secondary data, the researcher can collect a large variety of information from books, journals, articles, and websites from many different sources. For this dissertation, secondary data was gathered by using the facilities at the University of Hertfordshireâ€™s Library, as well as alternative locations for finding books related to the chosen topic. The Internet was a main source for the researcher to gather information due to the fact that there is not a lot of published works out there about the chosen topic. The data collected from the World Wide Web was informative and up to date.
3.3 Primary Data
Primary data is usually the collection of data for specific criteria by conducting interviews, creating questionnaires, and analyzing certain information, etc. The primary data collected for this dissertation is unique to this research. For this dissertation, only one method has been used. Interviews were conducted with filmmakers Gary Nadeau, Stuart Read, and Charles Son. This is in order to try and further understand the topic question, as well as to see real world examples of how filmmakers are currently using social media to promote and market their films.
Additionally, we are given different perspectives, opinions, and insights into how they believe that social media film marketing landscape.
It proved difficult trying to find published works relating to how social media is being used by filmmakers to market their films. Because social media as a platform, as well as social media being used as a tool to promote and market films is still in itâ€™s early stages, most of the appropriate information discovered was from the online world on websites such as www.mashable.com and www.techcrunch.com. Although a few books were used in this dissertation, they were focused more on social media in general rather than related to film, which made it hard to find specific film examples.
The interviews conducted were in order to gain real world insight as to how social media is being used by filmmakersâ€¦ all of which was valuable primary research. The interviewees were highly professional and responded within a few days. One of the interviews with speechwriter and consultant Ian Griffin seemed to be unusable for this dissertation due to the fact that it was focused on social media being used by businesses rather than filmmakers.
4.1 Where the Wild Things Are
â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ written by Maurice Sendak and directed by Spike Jonze, is a Universal Studios released film based on the childrenâ€™s book by the same author. Although â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ has a pretty solid â€˜traditionalâ€™ marketing method including posters, billboards, sponsors from Kodak, Urban Outfitters, etcâ€¦ â€˜Where The Wild Thingsâ€™ also has a pretty intelligent and top-notch social media campaign. This campaign has led their marketing agency to deliver a Facebook fan page, iphone application, Twitter integration, as well as sponsorship on www.digg.com. All of these social media platforms are being used as different ways for fans to interact with and learn more about the characters and the movie, whilst at the same time allowing them to spread the word to all of their friends via Facebook and Twitter. The logic behind this move is simple. Universal Studios is giving fans a way to sell the movie for them. And the way this is done is via word of mouth throughout the online world, with hopes of creating a somewhat viral type of effect. In order to understand this, we must analyze and comprehend the different ways and methods used by Universal Studios in terms of social media. For the first time ever, the worlds most popular social news website www.digg.com placed a â€˜sponsoredâ€™ advertisement link which redirected to an article about â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ on their website. The social news website Digg would previously only place the most requested articles on their front page. With the introduction of â€˜Where The Wild Thingsâ€™ being placed on the front page of Digg in the form of an advertisement, a lot of talk surrounded the movie, and with Digg being a â€˜socialâ€™ news website, a lot of that talk was spread throughout the interweb via integration with Twitter and Facebook. This type of social media integration for the film â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ was a smart move, as it was the first of itâ€™s kind and helped spread word of the film in the form of word of mouth. One of the movies greatest uses of social media is its Facebook page (See Appendix 2). With currently over 1.8 million fans, the movies Facebook page surely had a great impact on the films popularity and ticket sales. â€œThe movie version of the popular childrenâ€™s book Where the Wild Things Are is set to premier this Friday, and its Facebook page appears to be riding the success of a multimedia advertising blitz. It has grown from 72,000 users on the first of the month to 1.37 million fans today. The page itself has been getting updated nearly every day acting as a sort of hub for other promotional efforts. There are links to various trailer videos, behind-the-scenes footage, music from the film, sneak-peaks and other features. Besides YouTube previews, the Warner Bros. movie also has a nice-looking iPhone app, and even a hipster clothing line.â€? Eric Eldon. (http://www.insidefacebook.com/2009/10/13/where-the-wild-things-are-on-facebook/).
â€˜Where the Wild Things Areâ€™ has a multimedia based Facebook fan page which is based around content pertaining to the movie. The fan page consists of a â€˜Wild Thingsâ€™ tab which allows you to customize and take a look at posters, a â€˜Videoâ€™ section where fans can watch behind the scenes footage as well as trailers and interview, and finally a â€˜soundtrackâ€™ section where fans can listen to and purchase music from the film. Last but not least, the Facebook fan page has a main â€˜wallâ€™ section where all the information about the movie is updated. Fans can then comment, share, discuss,â€˜likeâ€™, and much more on all of this content that is being released. This social media integration for â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ means two things. First of all, the content we are being given such as movie trailers and samples of the movie soundtrack are nothing new. Film studios have been releasing trailers, interviews, soundtrack clips, as well as posters for a long time now. What makes it different is that the marketers of â€˜Where The Wild Things Areâ€™ are releasing this content all in one place, and in a social environment. For most fans, the fact that all of this content is in one place and on their favourite social website, makes it a lot easier for them to keep up to date and informed of the latest on goings of the movie. The fact that all of this content is being delivered to fans in a social content makes it more interesting for fans, as they can see what others think of certain trailers, etc, while giving their own two cents as well. Whilst all of this is going on, unbeknownst to most fans, in a very discreet and indirect way, they are selling the movie for the Universal Studios.
4.2 Paranormal Activity
The story of â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™ is very similar to that of â€˜The Blair Witch Project.â€™ Both movies were produced on a low budget and harnessed the power of the internet in order to build buzz and gain a large enough following for movie studios to buy and release the films nationwide. Unlike â€˜The Blair Witch Project,â€™ which was created prior to what is known as social media today, â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™ has a different story. â€œWe have the advantage with all these digital tools of allowing word of mouth to spread much faster than before, which is sending â€œParanormal Activityâ€? into wide release in more theaters this week.â€? Amy Powell, senior vice president of interactive marketing for Paramount Pictures Corp. (http://www.seattlepi.com/movies/411245_paranormal16.html). After eight free screenings at theatres across The United States, the producers decided that they would let the fans decide weather or not the movie should be released nation-wide (See Appendix 3). The way they did this is by partnering up with Eventful and using social media to ask viewers to request the nation-wide release of â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™â€¦ and only after one million requests would they release the movie. After four days, and a million requests later, â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™ was released nation-wide. With every request, fans would be able to tweet it about it, which has without a doubt contributed greatly to the buzz created for â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™. What is interesting with this type of social media marketing campaign is that the producers have given the power to the audience. This has never been done before, which was quite a risky move for the producers, but nevertheless proved successful. First of all, it is vital to understand that allowing the audience to decide whether or not the film â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™ should be released was a very smart move. By giving fans the power to request the film, they are also given them a feeling that they are being part of a community.
Obviously, this would give fans one of the two main reasons to â€˜tweetâ€™ about the movie and spread the word about â€˜Paranormal Activityâ€™. The second reason simply being that if someone requests the movie, it would be because they have an interest in watching that movie, so naturally they will â€˜Tweetâ€™ about it so that all of their friends will request it as well. This type of marketing is very unique, as it has never been done before due to technological limitations. This is why it is very important to understand that social media is allowing companies