9 Tips on Digital Distribution for Emerging Filmmakers

/ Oct 3, 2014


Whether you’re thinking of starting your film career on the internet (and possibly even keeping it there) or you’re an established brand releasing a new creative initiative to the digital world, there are some basic strategies that will help get your work noticed by the right audience.

After speaking to Vimeo’s director of audience development and content operations, Peter Gerard, and Vuguru’s CEO, Larry Tanz, I gleaned some professional tips for emerging talent and content online.

1. Decide on Your Goal

Before you make an effort to start distributing your digital content, you need a solid sense of how you want to distribute it. As Tanz describes, you may just want to get your content distributed as widely as possible, or you may be trying to build your own, personal audience. Maybe you’re trying for exposure among a niche audience.

larrytanzTanz gives one such example, “If your goal is to use your content as a calling card and appeal to an audience of people in the business, you might want to go to places where cinephiles go, like Vimeo…If you have a one-off project, what you really need to do is get someone with an audience to curate your content, like a popular YouTuber.”

2. Participate in the Conversation

If you want to get noticed on a digital platform, you’ve got to embrace the interactive opportunities that come with it. I mean, why let that aspect of the internet go to waste when you can use it to connect to your potential fans?

Consider this: Marina Rice Bader, creator of the drama “Anatomy of a Love Scene”, has a large following of viewers who respect and enjoy her work. However, speaking to Gerard the other day, she said that she “really feels like she has to work for every single viewer.” This means communicating with fans, answering their questions, and, essentially, maintaining a significant online presence. If you have to do this once you have solid fans, then you definitely have to do it before.

3. Get the Attention of Established Digital Creators

Vimeo, for example, hosts a community of accomplished filmmakers whose abilities and taste audiences already trust. By exposing such filmmakers to your work, on Vimeo and/or by reaching out on social media, YouTube, etc., you may get yourself some truly valuable fans. If they say they like your work, their audiences could very well be open to watching your online films, too.

4. Don’t Focus on the Chinese Rug

Lots of beginning filmmakers make the mistake of believing that their stellar work will automatically result in success (yes, the heading is an Iggy Pop reference), so they start delving into the kinds of logistics that count after most filmmakers make their mark. Things like how much you can charge for your work mean nothing if no one wants to (or even knows to) buy it. Don’t assume the worst, but remember you have to convince people to give you the time of day. As Gerard notes, “Once you make your film, that’s the beginning of the hard part.”

5. You Can’t Build a Community on One Video

Tanz sites this as a common mistake. “Unless a film becomes huge, there isn’t really a community that stays around in relation to that film,” he says.

So if you’re planning to start your own YouTube channel, whether a brand or an individual creator, don’t try to do it because you’ve created one film or one series that’s already reached its finale. It’s a lot of effort to maintain community-making trappings like constant engagement with fans through comments and providing behind-the-scenes footage. “Put that effort and energy into the next thing,” say Tanz.

6. Focus on Subject Matter

If your concept is straightforward and something that’s of general interest, people are more likely to watch it regardless of whether they’ve heard of you before or not.

Take Griffin Hammond’s “Sriracha” documentary. Griffin Hammond was by no means a household name at the time when his film gained loads of press attention all because of its subject — a popular hot sauce that had already cemented its place in popular culture. Lots of people love Sriracha, and lots of people were making digital videos about it. The documentary take allowed Hammond to create something novel about a product with built-in mass appeal.

7. Never Aim for Virality

As Gerard aptly puts it, “You can’t make a viral video; a video becomes viral.” Attempts to create viral videos rarely work, especially because they often build on ideas from videos that have already gone viral. Viewers generate the peter_gerardnecessary hype to make videos viral because such videos contain ideas that are unique, exciting, and new. Trying to make a viral video by mimicking a viral video goes completely against the grain of such a video’s essence.

On the other side of the coin, Tanz asks the question, “Is a viral video a figment of our imagination now?” That may sound like an out-there query, but think about brands’ access to Facebook and Twitter feeds. Videos with “advertisers or some machine behind them” target the social media feeds of those with relevant interests. If you’re already inclined to watch a video about golf, then a branded video about golf showing on your (and millions of other golf fans’ feeds) is likely to get clicked. Ultimately, don’t get discouraged if your video doesn’t wind up with those videos’ view numbers.

8. Crowdfunding Offers Money and More

It also gives you your first wave of fans. If you’ve convinced someone to help fund your project, it means they want to see the final product. Just remember that these people can also serve as future customers, promoters, and even funders once again after you’ve already delivered some great work (but don’t have the budget to create more of it). Don’t discount the importance of the people who believe in you.

9. Don’t Forget Traditional Media!

Plenty of times, content that gains popularity online has gotten its initial exposure through a film festival. Tanz encourages creators not to “rule out traditional methods along with digital,” and such festivals serve as a perfect example of getting your content known on the internet via non-digital media.


*Note: Since the publication of this article, Larry Tanz has left Vuguru and taken a VP role at Netflix.

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